Revisiting the 'Gravitas' Factor

Isn’t it ironic that as the Republican primaries were gearing up four years ago, Democrats and the media began their refrain that George W. Bush was not presidential material because he lacked “gravitas”?

Today, Bush is overflowing with the stuff, and not one of the Democratic presidential contenders can rise above “dwarf” status.

But in 2000, there were so many allusions to Bush’s dearth of gravitas that it’s difficult to narrow a Nexis search to find fewer than 1,000 entries on it.

In January 2000, Chris Matthews asked George Pataki, “And you have to ask about George W. Bush, is the package full? And there have been questions raised about his gravitas, his weight, his I.Q., have you ever been suspicious that he may not have the weight to be president?”

In February, the New York Times quoted an unnamed strategist as saying, “It’s gotten to the point where the issue of Bush’s gravitas and abilities as a candidate are the driving issues of the campaign.”

In March, Stuart Rothenberg wrote, “If Bush suffers from questions about gravitas, Bush-Dole might look like the helium ticket of all time.”

In April, columnists Germond and Witcover wrote, “Happily for Gore, Bush has hard-to-fix problems of his own. Although his personal negatives are less daunting than those of Gore, the Texas governor is viewed by a least a significant minority of voters as lacking the required gravitas for the office.”

In May, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote, “Al Gore ??? raised an important question: Does George W. Bush have the experience, the gravitas and, by implication, the brains to run U.S. foreign policy?”

In June, Kansas City Star columnist Steve Kraske wrote, “Jack Danforth for vice president? ??? The former Missouri senator would bring gravitas and intellectual heft to the GOP ticket??? A seriousness of purpose hangs on him like yellow on corn. It’s precisely the quality that would serve as an effective counterweight to George W. Bush, whose image as something of a lightweight endures.”

This pattern continued through the November election and beyond. Where are those questions today about the Democratic hopefuls at a time when presidential gravitas is more important than ever given our ongoing war on terror?

Indeed, the “gravitas” factor is haunting the Democrats this year. President Bush is now widely regarded as a mature leader, and the Democratic candidates are squabbling and sniping like a bunch of schoolyard adolescents.

Sure, intramural conflict is inevitable during the primaries, but not rank childishness. Immaturity is abounding, even from those we might expect consummate maturity, such as Vietnam War hero John Kerry, who said that John Edwards was still in diapers when he (Kerry) returned from serving in Vietnam.

The Democrats’ not only need to show gravitas; they need it in the very area they characteristically lack it: national defense. But the ones who might come forward here have shot themselves in both feet. John Kerry’s military record isn’t sufficient to negate his opportunistic waffling on Iraq. General Clark’s four stars are insufficient to overcome his disturbing strangeness, and legitimate questions about his integrity and judgment raised by colleagues with as many stars as he has.

Further compounding the Democrats’ problem — and this is a much more serious matter — is that a significant segment of their agitated left-wing base is demanding anything but adulthood from its candidates. Instead, they want a spokesperson through whom to vent their white-hot anger. They have been punishing those, like Joe Lieberman and Richard Gephardt, for being on the adult side of national defense issues.

Obviously Democrats will curtail their self-destructive backbiting and unite during the general election campaign and aim all their firepower at President Bush.

But Republicans can take some comfort in knowing that the left’s unquenchable lust for political vengeance against George Bush will persist through the general election, even though it will work against the Democrats’ chances of attracting essential swing voters, because it will reveal their instability. They are blinded to a logically driven political strategy by their pathological obsession to rectify an allegedly stolen 2000 election that was never stolen. It’s one thing to have righteous indignation; it’s another to carry an unrighteous, delusional and unrepentant grudge.

Just when the Democrats need serious adults to recapture their party’s leadership, they’ve got the grumblings of the nine dwarfs, the embarrassing ravings of Ted Kennedy, and the puerile party chairman Terry McAuliffe leading the charge.

Meanwhile Hillary is waiting in the wings for 2008, wisely working on her national defense “gravitas.”