WHERE are the Democrats now that they have President Bush on the ropes?

They are going to blow it big time if they fail to take advantage of Bush's political failings which have left the country in a state of uncertainty and with a glaring lack of direction.

What has struck home is the incompetence of this administration, especially in dealing with the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the reconstruction of Iraq. That is political pay dirt for the Democrats.

Judging by the drop in his approval ratings to 37 percent in the latest USA TODAY-CNN-Gallup poll, the American people appear to be fed up with the debilitating war.

Congress witnessed a moment of high drama Thursday when Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa. — one of the most hawkish members of the House — delivered a stunning repudiation of the war that he had previously voted for.

Murtha called for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

It appeared to be a sign of the gathering storm for the Bush administration to wrap up its Iraqi misadventure, which has taken more than 2,080 American lives.

In response to the growing criticism, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and other Republican leaders have sounded a shrill call to "stay the course" and accused critics of wanting to "cut and run," a phrasing popularized by defenders of the Vietnam War.

But nobody's listening any more.


Advertisement

Murtha's declaration that it is time to leave spells a death knell for the administration's provocative go-it alone military strategy for the 21st century.

But without an agenda of their own, the Democrats have no reason to gloat. They can't just sit there.

They have to articulate their vision for the future, both domestically and in foreign policy. On that score they have been remiss.

The party needs a positive message and an agenda that will rally the American people to return to the nation's core values and ideals.

The U.S. has to regain its moral compass to regain its standing in the world.

The Democrats should take a firm stand against torture of prisoners of war and detainees. The image of the U.S. approving the cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of anyone as a national policy has to be abhorrent to all.

Incredibly, the president has the chutzpah to be preaching human rights on his Asian tour. Surely, he's kidding in view of what we know about U.S. abuses of prisoners.

The Democrats should demand that detainees have access to U.S. courts and the right to habeas corpus, rather than keeping them in limbo.

Murtha, a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam, made a courageous declaration that should start a drive among Democrats — doves and hawks — to bring American troops home. With the help of a United Nations peacekeeping force, the Iraqis will have a better chance to stabilize the country when the U.S. occupation ends.

The Democrats should also try to bolster the U.N. budget to finance a takeover of Iraqi security by the U.N. "blue helmet" peacekeepers.

We have done it in other trouble spots.

Former President Jimmy Carter, a Nobel peace prize winner, would be the best emissary to explore the possibility of a peaceful reconciliation between Iraq's divided religious and ethnic factions — the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

Lest we forget their personal sacrifices, top priority should be given to the benefits and needs of the thousands of America war veterans — especially the wounded.

The Democrats also should try to restore or reaffirm some of the treaties that were spurned by the Bush administration, including the global warming pact and collective security covenants.

On the domestic side, the Democrats should propose a universal health insurance plan based on payroll deductions — the same way that Social Security and Medicare are financed.

With gasoline prices still high and the giant oil companies making whopping profits, the Democrats should propose special taxes on those corporate windfalls.

It's time for the Democrats to speak up and say what they stand for.

They may never have a better chance.

Helen Thomas writes for Hearst Newspapers.