Sleepwalking into the storm?

Mid-term elections are when voters decide whether they made the right choices last time. And except for 1994, when Newt Gingrich led Republicans to their present majority status, voters have been largely satisfied. Since World War II, the average mid-term gain in the House of Representatives has been just 25 seats.

But something feels different this time. In the most expensive mid-term election in U.S. history, leading national Democrats are conspicuous by their silence on the defining issue of our era: the war on terrorism. Instead of laying out their plans in detail for voters to assess, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have in recent weeks stepped back into the shadows and watched as President Bush endured blow after blow. Their silence may be a brilliant, indeed admirable, tactical move. But San Franciscans, as all Americans, need to hear more.

We know too little of what Democrats will do should Tuesday’s voting return them to majority status in either or both chambers of Congress. In making Bush the focus of the campaign, however, Reid, Pelosi and company still cannot avoid this stark fact: America is under attack by Islamic fascists who killed thousands of us on 9/11 and who intend the deaths of millions more of us in the future.

This is indeed another time for choosing. Embattled Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn., said it well in a recent speech. “The war is at our doorsteps and it is fueled, figuratively and literally, by Islamic fascism nurtured and bred in Iran,” Santorum warned. “Many Americans are sleepwalking, just as they did before the world wars ofthe last century. They pretend it is not happening, that it all has to do with the errors of a single American administration, even of a single American president … It’s time to wake up.”

It is true that, despite a booming economy for which they get little credit, Bush and the Republican majority in Congress often have been a disappointment. Massive deficits and secretive earmarks have made a mockery of the GOP’s traditional claim to fiscal austerity. Add congressional ethics scandals, the administration’s mishandling of Hurricane Katrina and its failure to control the nation’s borders during its six years in power, and it’s no wonder many voters are in the mood to deliver a stinging rebuke.

But we must remember that, as America faces a mortal threat, too many Democrats who would lead us have not yet demonstrated that they recognize our peril. We know only that they have urged withdrawal from Iraq, but are always vague about what happens after that.

Despite Bush’s missteps, Iraq remains a crucial battlefield in a worldwide struggle. Are Americans willing to commit to “victory at all costs,” as Winston Churchill urged his fellow Britons, or will we join the Democrats who ignore the gathering storm clouds ahead?

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