Why We Changed Horses Mid-Tsunami

So what was this tsunami that wiped out Republicans in both the House and the Senate?

For me, it’s not complicated—I need think no further than the wounded soldiers I met at Walter Reed’s Amputee Rehabilitation Section a year ago today, especially one whose arm and shoulder socket were severed from his body, and whose nose was also partly severed.

Simply put: Our nation faces grave challenges—especially vis-à-vis the Iraq War/Mideast volatility—and Republicans were, not surprisingly, found wanting. Mount Olympus is a tall order. Whereas Democrats appeared to fill the void with sweeping promises to solve these, and other such intractable problems. Add in the scandal factor and the presumption that, if Republicans are wearing the black hats, Democrats must be wearing the white hats, and Republicans were sunk—divided-government-as-the-solution won.

Now Democrats have the chance to deliver.

But, what they’ll discover—all their tub-thumping talk and white-hat-clad imperiousness notwithstanding—is that, in fact, the problems have no easy solutions and President Bush’s “whatever it takes” resolve is the beginning of wisdom in tackling them. (Even New York Times’ columnist Frank Rich admits as much.)

Mark McKinnon put it best when he said this election would test the theory of whether you can beat something—President Bush’s clearly staked-out positions on fighting terrorism—with nothing, i.e., Democrats’ claim they can do better. (Runaway spending is another “something,” which has galvanized support behind Mike Pence’s candidacy to lead the House, given his well-articulated stands on curbing Tsunami-like red ink—advanced even before the election in conjunction with “Why Republicans Need to Clean House.”)

Clearly, it’s not enough for Democrats to say, rather than “stay the course,” they will “change course.”

As the great state of Missouri would say, “Show me!”

What I would give to be a fly-on-the-wall at the President’s first meeting on Iraq with Democrat leaders. While gracious, he’s also a canny reader of human nature and will likely ask what has become his refrain: “So, what’s your plan to win the Iraq war and by extension the Global War on Terrorism?”

We know his plan now includes infusing “fresh” leadership at the Pentagon with his appointment of former CIA Director Robert M. Gates. And, that’s a good thing! Fresh leadership always is.

And, the Baker commission promises some new thinking. The Pentagon, too, is conducting a stem to stern review.

But, the reality is, as Staff Sgt. Mark Brown of the Army’s Joint Personal Effects Depot, who fought in Iraq along with his son, told me, “We’re there. We’re there.”

What are Democrats going to do about this reality on the ground? Withdraw the troops? The Washington Post ran a story on A13 the day before the election reporting, “Soldiers in Iraq Say Pullout Would Have Devastating Results.”

That may be more reality than the Democrats can deal with. They say they want to start withdrawing troops, but are they really ready to assume responsibility for the resulting devastation?

If, as Andrew Sullivan claimed, this election was an "intervention" for the president to face reality, now it’s the Democrats’ turn. And, what they’ll discover is “reality bites.”

Let’s hope as they grow in their new leadership roles, that divisive government will likewise be swept away Tsunami-like so that together, as a nation, we might finally confront national security threats with clear-eyed realism and unity—working together to come up with solutions, not designed for campaign rallying cries, but that keep faith with and honor the sacrifices our fighting men and women have already rendered.

If not, Democrats should not be surprised if voters give them an “intervention” in 2008.

Oh, and one more quality Americans will look for—courage. The kind of courage that Walter Reed soldier exhibited, who on Memorial Day, in a TV interview, said he was eager to get back to Iraq—to win.

And, the kind of courage on display at Iwo Jima during World War II, immortalized in that image of Marines planting the American flag atop Mount Suribachi. Stunningly portrayed in Clint Eastwood’s "Flags of Our Fathers," the film sears into our consciousness how an image can make all the difference between an America intent on winning and an America resigned to lose.

Photo by Joe Rosenthal of the second flag raising
on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi, Feb. 23, 1945