On a recent morning in early March, the Senate Judiciary Committee convened to protect the American flag from burning, stomping, shredding, and the notion that, as Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch put it, "urinating or defecating on the flag is some form of speech." The Committee's Republican majority had carefully assembled the audience for this hearing. The room was filled with dozens of aging veterans, wearing medals and dark red VFW hats. Also in attendance was a hero of perhaps even greater red-state status: nascar driver John Andretti, who would testify that "those who desecrate the flag have total disregard for our military."I don't want to underestimate the Democratic party's ability to self-destruct at any moment - they're kind of the Chicago Cubs of the political world, if you think about it. A lot of native talent, some great guys you really like (plus corporate backing you try not to think about), and a general sense that it's all about the underdog... combined with an unnatural tendency to collapse coming down the stretch. I happen to think that the Cubs could have a shot at the World Series this year. Somehow, while everyone's been snickering about what perennial losers they are, they've managed to line up a phenomenal bunch of players - particularly their rotation, which has the potential to completely shut down the other guys' offense.
In other words, the hearing had all the trappings of a perfect, election-year GOP stunt. But then things got a little more complicated. Committee Democrats, such as Richard Durbin of Illinois, noted that Republicans had voted down a Senate amendment increasing veterans' health spending the previous night. "Giving a veteran a flag is not a substitute for giving our vets the quality health care they were promised," Durbin said, causing brows to furrow under those VFW caps. Committee Republicans were furious. GOP Senator Larry Craig of Idaho nearly sputtered with rage as he defensively rambled about shortened lines at a veterans' clinic in Boise and vowed that veterans' spending would eventually be "plussed-up" in the budget process. The cultural issue had become an economic one; Democrats had found a soft spot.
Democrats (see? this really is an analogy!) are getting better and better at shutting down the other guys' offense. This story about the veterans is a perfect example of the kind of thing we should be doing: puncturing the Republicans' carefully-constructed theatrics and morality plays with a stark consideration of what's happening to real people under Bush Administration policies. This is beautiful. But we need to keep playing as a team. Right now, at this moment, we're doing a great job of presenting a unified party - and it's working. We can't fall apart coming down the stretch.