Here's a Washington political riddle where you fill in the blanks: "As Alberto Gonzales is to the Republicans, Blank Blank is to the Democrats -- a continuing embarrassment thanks to his ama- teurish perfor- mance."
If you answered Harry Reid, give yourself an A. And join the long list of senators of both parties who are ready for these two springtime exhibitions of ineptitude to come to an end.
President Bush's highly devel- oped tolerance for egregious incom- petence in his administration may have met its supreme test in Attor- ney General Gonzales, who at vari- ous times has taken complete responsibility for the firing of eight U.S. attorneys and also professed complete ignorance of the reasons
for their dismissal. This demonstra- tion of serial obfuscation so impressed the president that he rushed out to declare that Gonzales had "increased my confidence in his ability to do the job."
As if that were not mind-boggling enough, consider the mental gyra- tions performed by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., as he rationalized the recent comment from his major- ity leader, Harry Reid, the leading light of Searchlight, Nev., that the war in Iraq "is lost."
On Fox News Sunday, Schumer offered this clarification of Reid's comment. "What Harry Reid is say- ing is this war is lost -- in other words, a war where we mainly spend our time policing a civil war between Shiites and Sunnis. We are not going to solve that problem . . . The war is not lost. And Harry Reid believes this -- we Democrats believe it. . . . So the bottom line is, if the war continues on this path, if we continue to try to police and settle a civil war that's been going on for hundreds of years in Iraq, we can't
win. But on the other hand, if we change the mission and have that mission focus on the more narrow goal of counterterrorism, we sure can win." Everyone got that clear?
This war is lost. But the war can be won. Not since Bill Clinton pon- dered the meaning of the word "is'' has a Democratic leader so confused things as Harry Reid managed to do with his inept discussion of the alternatives in Iraq.
Nor is this the first time that Sen- ate Democrats, who chose Reid as their leader over Chris Dodd of Connecticut, have had reason to ponder the political fallout from Reid's tussles with the language.
Hailed by his staff as "a strong leader who speaks his mind in direct fashion," Reid is not a man who misses many opportunities to put his foot in his mouth. In 2005, he attacked Alan Greenspan, then chair of the Federal Reserve Board, as ‘‘one of the biggest political hacks we have in Washington."
He called President Bush "a loser," then apologized. He said Bill
Frist, then Senate majority leader, ‘‘has no institutional integrity'' because Frist planned to leave the Senate to fulfill his term-limits pledge. Then he apologized to Frist. block Reid is a party liability, the way Alberto Gonzales is for the GOP.
Most of these earlier gaffes were personal, bespeaking a kind of dis- placed aggressiveness on the part of the one-time amateur boxer. But Reid's verbal wanderings on the war in Iraq are consequential -- not just for his party and the Senate, but also for the more-important question of what happens to U.S. policy in that violent country and to the men and women whose lives are at stake.
Given the way the Constitution divides the war-making power between the president as com- mander-in-chief and Congress as the sole source of funds to support
the armed services, it is essential that at some point Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi be able to negotiate with the White House to determine the course America will follow from now until a new presi- dent takes office.
To say that Reid has sent con- flicting signals of his readiness for such discussions is an understate- ment. It has been impossible for his own members, let alone the White House, to sort out what ground Reid is prepared to defend -- for more than 24 hours at a time.
Instead of reinforcing the propo- sition -- defined by the Iraq Study Group -- that a military strategy for Iraq is necessary but not sufficient to solve the myriad political prob- lems of that country, Reid has mis- takenly argued that the military effort is lost but a diplomatic-politi- cal strategy can still succeed.
The Democrats deserve better, and the country needs more than Harry Reid has offered as Senate majority leader. ©2007 Washington Post Writers Group