After the Coup, a Gloomy Political Climate for Democrats

AND now many Democrats are getting so desperate that they are asking, even begging, Mario Cuomo to run for the sake of the nation even if defeat is inevitable.This point of view was echoed by New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen who, in urging Mr. Cuomo to make the race against the president, wrote that a candidate was needed who would forget about winning and concentrate on speaking up, fighting hard, setting his own agenda, and "giving people something to vote for for a change." Then she asserts that "by stature, intellect, and disposition Mr. Cuomo is qualified to do that. And so he should." Those words were published only a few hours before the coup attempt in Moscow burst on the world scene. Now, with President Bush once again the highly visible leader of the free world during this crisis and its immediate aftermath, it will be even more difficult to persuade Cuomo to fall on his sword. The president looms large on the world stage once again at a time when many Democrats have been saying to the voters: "Hey, the Gulf war is over. We've given Mr. Bush his credit. Now let's move to an agenda on how the health cares of the country are to be met and how we can put the jobless back to work and how we can help the poor, needy, and disadvantaged." Democrats were trying so hard to change the subject, to move public attention to domestic problems when, boom!, the president was once again on all the TV screens, calling the leaders on the phone, and coordinating the strategy. Expressing this opinion over breakfast the other morning, Republican Sen. Richard Lugar said that Democrats he was talking to were saying that the political climate for them was "very discouraging." "Suddenly," he said, "all this happens.... And the president is back doing these things which he does so very well and in a role in which the American people have an enormous amount of confidence." Public confidence, indeed, is the key element in assessing the president's current political strength - and the Democrats' weakness. People have grown to have immense trust in Bush at the tiller in a global crisis. How many people would have felt comfortable with Tsongas or Harkin or Wilder or Jackson or Clinton or even Cuomo at the helm under similar crisis circumstances? Certainly people might have grown to have that confidence after one of the above had become president and come through a crisis test with flying colors. But we are talking about right now. And right now is what we are referring to when potential adversaries of Bush are being assessed. So it is clear that as long as Bush can walk this global stage the Democrats are in deep trouble. By election time it just might be that the political climate will have changed to the Democrats' advantage. It is conceivable that the public by then will have forgotten both Iraq and Moscow and become preoccupied with domestic problems, perhaps with even a deepening recession instead of the better economy that now appears to be on the horizon. By then, or even by the time of the primaries, the climate might look more encouraging for Democratic candidates. But by then it will be too late for a tardy entry to get anywhere. The Democrats have to deal with today - particularly with a field of potential candidates that is getting smaller (Albert Gore has just dropped out, pleading personal reasons. But he could not be unmindful of how formidable Bush had become) and with some other potential candidates promising to announce their decisions shortly after Labor Day. Little wonder that Democratic party officials are so gloomy. There is no doubt that among all Democrats Cuomo would be the best opponent of Bush. Cuomo's eloquence is well known. He's formidable in debate. In a hard-slugging campaign, if Bush isn't at the same time managing another global crisis or starring at some summit, it is conceivable that Cuomo might give the president a run for his money. But if, as foreign-policy expert Lugar contends, "the spotlight will stay" on Russia for some time to come, it's going to be most difficult for any Democratic candidate to receive much attention, at least during the early months of his or her candidacy. Lugar says world attention will remain on Russia: "On how to get the Soviet economy on track. On how the evolution of military authority that we think is so important comes about.And," Lugar adds, "there will be a continuing preoccupation with the Soviet Union because they will have their nuclear warheads aimed at us and could destroy most of us. That keeps our minds fixed on how to deal with all of this."

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