By MARC McDONALD
Most Democrats greeted Republican Sen. Rick Santorum's absurd and implausible WMD claims with laughter last week.
The last time I heard such loud laughter from the Democrats was back when Bush's election people initially raised John Kerry's distinguished record in Vietnam as a campaign issue.
At the time, Democrats were stunned that the Bush people would dare raise Kerry's military record as a campaign issue when their own candidate had run away from serving in combat in Vietnam. This initial stunned reaction soon gave way to laughter, with Democrats firmly convinced that Karl Rove's tactic would never possibly work.
Unfortunately, the GOP enjoyed the last laugh in 2004. While any clear-thinking, rational adult knows that Kerry served with distinction, the GOP did find success in raising doubts in the minds of some voters about Kerry's record. And as a result, what should have been a slam-dunk plus in Kerry's favor was diminished somewhat by Election Day.
I fear that Democrats who are laughing at the GOP's recent silly WMD claims may find that the Republicans could get the last laugh this time around, as well.
Anyone who doubts that the GOP can succeed in convincing large numbers of Americans that Iraq did indeed possess WMDs is simply underestimating the awesome power of today's GOP Fox News/talk radio/right-wing propaganda machine.
The truth, of course, is that Bush's case for war was based on a pack of lies. No WMDs were ever found in Iraq. The U.S. invasion of Iraq has cost the U.S. more than 2,500 troop deaths and hundreds of billions in dollars, as well as countless Iraqi deaths. The entire enterprise now stands as perhaps the most colossal fiasco in the history of the United States.
With the November elections growing closer, GOP campaign strategists clearly have their work cut out for themselves. If indeed they can succeed in convincing at least some of the voters that the Iraq war was justified and that WMDs were indeed found there, this could well salvage the GOP's hopes in November.
Can the GOP pull it off? I think it's entirely possible. One thing I will give the GOP strategists credit for is that they excel at taking a simple message ("Kerry is a flip-flopper") and ramming it home through endless repetition. It's not the most subtle election campaign trick, but it's highly successful in its brute force simplicity.
This time, the GOP once again has a simple message: "Iraq did have WMDs!" It's a message that we can expect to hear repeated countless times between now and Election Day.
It doesn't matter that the "weapons of mass destruction" in this case are nothing more than useless, degraded, 20-year-old junk. That's not the point. All Rove and his minions have to do is plant the message in the minds of voters that the Iraq war was worthwhile, after all. By ramming home the message that "Iraq had WMDs" a million times between now and Election Day, the GOP could very well tip a number of closes races their way.
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter whether the GOP's claims of WMDs in Iraq are, in fact, absurd. After all, so was their claim that Kerry wasn't really a war hero. The fact is, Democrats underestimate the relentless power of the Republican propaganda machine at their peril.