Posted on June 8, 2002
Stream Of Con
Dems drift from one smear to another
The stream of criticism that has recently been directed at President Bush, contrary to most streams, started at the mouth. More specifically, it originated from the hole under the nose of Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.
It all began when the National Republican Senatorial Committee launched a fundraising campaign which involved the sale of a photo series entitled "George W. Bush: The First Year." Included in it was a picture of the president speaking on the telephone from Air Force One on September 11th. If you fail to find anything outrageous about this, you obviously haven't yet heard it explained by McAuliffe, who responded like this:
"For the congressional Republicans to sell an historical photograph of President Bush talking to Vice President Cheney on September 11th is nothing short of grotesque. We know it's the Republicans' strategy to use the war for political gain, but I would hope that even the most cynical partisan operative would have cowered at the notion of exploiting the September 11th tragedy in this way. White House photographers are meant to create, present and document a real time historical document. This potentially illegal misuse of a White House photograph is incredibly disrespectful to the families of the thousands of Americans who lost their lives just hours before this photo was taken. I call upon the White House to cease and desist from any further political use of this photograph." (emphasis added)
With all of his typical recklessness, the former Clinton fundraiser publicly accused the NRSC of committing a crime, without having checked any facts beforehand. Simply because he had recognized the photo as one that had been taken by a White House photographer, he jumped to the conclusion that the Republicans, by selling copies of it, were guilty of theft of government property. But White House photos are made available to the public over the internet, and the Republicans purchased the Air Force One picture perfectly legally, from a site called Corbis.com.
McAuliffe could easily have obtained this information himself, if only he'd wanted to, but he didn't. He probably didn't know, and definitely didn't care, whether the Republicans had actually broken any law. As DNC chairman, he must help his party win congressional seats in this November's election, or he's out of a job. The greatest obstacle now sitting before the Democratic Party is the popularity of President Bush. If the Democrats are to be as successful as the opposition party usually is during midterm elections, Bush's approval ratings must drop sharply. Now that most of the primaries are over, and the DNC is turning its attention toward the general election, they realize that if no scandal befalls Bush in the near future, they will have to create one.
Enron hasn't been working for them, because the Bush administration refused to bail that company out. The best the Democrats could do to make a connection was to point out that Enron is an energy company, and therefore closely aligned with Big Oil -- although it doesn't produce or sell any oil -- and that this means that it is "in bed with" Oil-Man Bush. This line of reasoning being so visibly riddled with holes, the public hasn't been foolhardy enough to follow along. What the Democrats need in order to smear Bush is a controversy from which he can't be separated. Ideally, they'd like that controversy to be Bush himself. It seems only natural, then, that someone like McAuliffe would seize upon the fundraising photos as fodder for scandal.
The Democrats' insinuated criminal charge blew up in their faces almost immediately, but like Wile E. Coyote, they dusted themselves off and proceeded to set their next trap immediately. Actually, it was even sooner than that, because McAuliffe established their fallback position while delivering the original accusation. Not only did he suggest that a crime had been committed, but he also complained that the somehow controversial photo exploited the thousands of people who died on September 11th.
McAuliffe knows what exploitation of terror victims is like, and this isn't it. His ex-boss, Bill Clinton, used the 168 victims of the Oklahoma City bombing as leverage to deter criticism of himself, by blaming the destruction on conservative commentators on talk radio. ( But not -- his staffers tardily interjected -- not Rush Limbaugh. Heavens no.) That was exploitation. A picture of the president talking on the phone doesn't resemble that at all.
Naturally, Al Gore sees it differently. The former vice president fuddily lectured that, "While most pictures are worth a thousand words, a photo that seeks to capitalize on one of the most tragic moments in our nation's history is worth only one -- disgraceful." If one were generous enough to assume that Gore really means this, one must wonder how he might react to a transcript of his 1996 convention speech, where he used his own sister's death in an effort to explain why he and President Clinton deserved to be reelected.
In his May 16th column posted on CNN.com, Bill Press tries to help his party smear Bush, while at the same time excusing Clinton and Gore of their crimes. "Now, asking for money is often seedy," he writes. "Who can forget the Buddhist temple? Or the Lincoln Bedroom? But Bush's selling of that third photo, taken on September 11, sets a new, disgusting low in political fund-raising." It takes a lot of gall to employ the everybody-does-it defense, while at the same time arguing that the one guy who really didn't do it is worse than those who did. Soliciting campaign funds from foreign sources, like Al Gore did at the Hsi Lai Temple, is illegal. Raising political donations by renting out the Lincoln Bedroom, which is the taxpayers' property, is also illegal. Press does his allies no favor by reminding us of those events while criticizing the legal use of an innocuous photograph.
Press even whines that the Republicans reversed the image, as if that were relevant to anything. "In the original, Bush is looking out the window to his left; the marketed photo shows Bush looking to his right, so it would look better on the page." The fiends! Will they stop at nothing? If the former Crossfire co-host ever tires of this nonsense, he might want to start examining Bush's speeches for backward messages. Those stammerings of his can't all be accidental, you know.
When Democrats accuse the Republicans of "exploiting" Sept. 11th, they're really just acknowledging that the war is a bad issue for them, so they're demanding that the Republicans agree to expunge the 2002 campaign of any mention of it. Remember that Bill Clinton won the 1992 presidential election by arguing that foreign policy doesn't matter. Well, it certainly matters now, to the chagrin of the all-politics-is-local party. By warning their opponents against making even the most oblique reference, the Democrats, ironically, are using the victims of the WTC and Pentagon attacks to shield themselves from the "exploiters."
The news media's halfhearted pursuit of the fundraising photo story showed just how desperate they perceived that attack to be. Just because most reporters and editors identify themselves with the Democratic Party doesn't mean that they're willing to share in its self-inflicted embarrassments. If the media were to join their party in this fight, they were going to need a more sensational story, and one that was too complicated to be refuted overnight.
Lo and behold, CBS News revealed that President Bush had been warned in briefings, before the attacks, that al-Qaeda was likely planning future terrorist acts, and that these might involve hijackings. The piece stopped short of implying that W purposefully left Americans vulnerable to be slaughtered, but the next day's network morning shows weren't so generous. Embittered, sleep-deprived, zillionaire Today co-host Katie Couric invoked Watergate, by asking, "What did he know and when did he know it?" -- a question later repeated by House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D, Mo.). Charles Gibson of Good Morning America wondered aloud whether Bush was really surprised when the Twin Towers were destroyed.
The headline of the New York Post blared: BUSH KNEW. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, N.Y.), of all people, gleefully accepted this open invitation to demagoguery. The wife of the ex-president who cautioned us not to "overreact" to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing took to the Senate floor armed with a copy of the Post and asked, "The president knew what?" That's an interesting question, coming from the woman who didn't know where her subpoenaed billing records were for eighteen months, and whose husband didn't know whether he'd had sexual relations, or what the meaning of "is" is.
As it turned out, all Mrs. Clinton needed to do in order to answer her question was to read beyond the hysterical headlines, because the content of the articles that ran in the papers that day showed how little there really was to the story. What Bush "knew" was no more than any sensible person would have suspected in the first place. Al-Qaeda, which had already committed at least four massacres against Americans within the past decade, was probably planning more attacks, and they might be considering hijacking an airplane somewhere in the world, at some point in the future. The revelations were so non-specific and so unremarkable that some of the senators who criticized Bush probably honestly didn't remember that they'd received the same information shortly after the president did.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham (D, Fla.) admitted that Congress knew about as much as Bush did in an interview with Human Events. "Yes, we had seen all the information," he said, "but we didn't see it on a single piece of paper, in the way the president did." Oh. So there was enough information in these vague and highly speculative intelligence briefings that President Bush should have been able to deduce that twenty al-Qaeda members were going to smuggle box cutters aboard four airplanes, take them over, and fly three of them into buildings, killing thousands of innocent people. Yet the Democrat-controlled Senate can't be expected to put two and two together, based on a less condensed version of the same information.
Like the president, the Senate had received its information last summer, before the attacks. So why was the story only leaked to CBS in mid-May, just as the fundraising photo controversy was fizzling? It's as if the story had been put in a case for safe keeping, under a sign that read "In case of unsuccessful smear campaign, break glass."
Perhaps the idea was to encourage people to connect the dots, and conclude that BUSH KNEW that the attacks were going to occur, and deliberately allowed them to so that he could look more presidential speaking on the phone, and sell ill-gotten photos of himself in order to help his party win back control of the Senate. Sure, that sounds ridiculous, but not that much more so than McAuliffe's original accusation.
Since they've had to admit that Bush had no particular knowledge about a specific terrorist attack, the Democrats have directed more of their attention toward the communications breakdown between the FBI and the CIA, figuring that Bush, the chief executive, should naturally be held responsible. It's early yet, but it seems fairly safe to say that this approach will run into a dead end also. Bush had only been president for eight months. Most of the significant intelligence communications now being discovered were made during the Clinton administration.
While that doesn't automatically attach blame to Bill Clinton (bureaucratic inefficiency wasn't exactly invented in the 1990's), the Democrats will ultimately implicate their man if they are adamant enough about demanding presidential accountability. The state of rot in which Clinton left our national security apparatus has been well documented. There's no way that Bush could have reconstructed it by last September, even if he had obsessed over it from the moment he entered the White House.
This isn't the way that American politics normally works. We're used to seeing the Democrats stare down or outmaneuver their timid and tactically dim Republican foes at every opportunity. But now, when they should be hard at work on their fall campaign strategy, the Democrats have inexplicably wandered off in pursuit of mirages of their own making. Their every move over the past month has been ill-planned, irrational and overzealous ... as well as thoroughly dishonest. That just goes to show what can happen, when you start appointing leaders like Terry McAuliffe.
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