Opinion | Democrats Need to Stop Playing Nice

Opinion | Democrats Need to Stop Playing Nice

Both Michael Dukakis and John Kerry were distressingly saintly in their presidential campaigns, failing to respond to Republican attack ads. Hillary Clinton endured a classic “Recount” moment in her second debate against Donald Trump. Mr. Trump stalked her around the stage. “He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled,” Mrs. Clinton later wrote. “Do you stay calm, keep smiling and carry on,” she wondered. “Or do you turn, look him in the eye and say loudly and clearly, ‘Back up, you creep. Get away from me. I know you love to intimidate women, but you can’t intimidate me.” Throwing the haymaker might not have won the election, but Mrs. Clinton would have instantly changed the impression that she was a hapless, patronizing, liberal elitist.

Why are Democrats so congenitally weak? Why did it take a group of former Republicans — the Lincoln Project — to create the nastiest, most effective anti-Trump ads in 2020? There are several reasons, which are near-impossible for Democrats to admit in public. The first is that they have a reputation as the favored party of the American Bar Association; they’re rife with lawyers; they see poetry in a well-turned codicil. They are also the party of the so-called helping professions — teachers, social workers, speech therapists, home health aides, ivy-clotted academics. In general, these are not people comfortable throwing a fierce left hook. And they are the party of identity politics, always sensitive to insensitivity, often to a fault. They care a lot more about appearances, and propriety, than Republicans do.

On Tuesday, we will see more evidence of where Democratic high-mindedness gets them. Special Counsel Robert Hur will testify before the House Judiciary Committee, led by Representative Jim Jordan, who will be respectful and very much out of bellicose character. What will the Democrats do?

Mr. Hur, a Republican, was appointed by the excessively dignified Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate President Biden’s alleged misuse of secret documents. Why a Republican? For the appearance of fairness, no doubt. So Mr. Hur took the opportunity to demolish Mr. Biden as a “well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory.”

I can’t imagine that Republicans would ever hire a Democrat to investigate a president of their own. In fact, Republicans would be more likely to appoint a wartime consigliere, as Mr. Trump did when he brought in William Barr to help defend him against Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia inquiry.

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