Monday, November 24, 2003
Where to get advice: President Bush won't be looking to the New York Times editorial page anytime soon for advice on running a successful campaign. After all, the Times endorsed that
tree guy, Al Gore, last time -- and we know how that worked out.
Anyway, in the interest of being a good corporate citizen, the Times on Sunday came out with some guidelines on how it believes the president should behave as he campaigns for a second term over the next 11+ months.
My advice: Do exactly the opposite.
[I]f there was ever any doubt that President Bush would run for re-election as the commander in chief of the war on terror, it will end when the Republican Party begins broadcasting its first campaign commercial on Mr. Bush's behalf. "Some are now attacking the president for attacking the terrorists," says the ad, as it shows film of Mr. Bush warning of the potential dangers ahead.
It was inevitable that Sept. 11 was going to wind up in the messy center of presidential politics. The war against terror is by its very nature a war with no conclusion, and Democrats who lined up behind the president after the World Trade Center was destroyed cannot be expected to give him a free pass into a second term. The Republicans, meanwhile, are bound to base their campaign on the public's natural reluctance to change chief executives in dangerous times.
Republicans are not so much going to campaign on a "reluctance" to change the commander in chief, but on the larger issue that Democrats cannot be trusted to defend the nation from terrorism.
The Democrats need to find ways to attack Mr. Bush's stewardship without attacking his character; most Americans remember the president's firm resolve after 9/11 with admiration and do not want those memories challenged.
This is actually good advice for Democrats -- accomplishing that task, however, will be difficult.
Mr. Bush has what may be the trickier task. He undoubtedly regards maintaining control of the White House for a second term as critical to winning the war on terror. Yet in order to maintain credibility while he runs for re-election, he must convince people that the decisions he makes are not just based on political self-preservation. On that front, so far, he has come up short.
Bush's decisions when it comes to the war on terrorism are undoubtedly based on what the president believes to be right, because, despite what some on the left would like to believe, Bush would not sacrifice American troops' lives for political gain. On the domestic side, the president is supposed to reflect the interests of the electorate -- to the Times this is "political self-preservation."
The sight of the president in London last week, standing next to Prime Minister Tony Blair, was a study in contrasts. Mr. Blair has taken enormous political hits to support Mr. Bush, and he has done so because he believed the Iraqi invasion was in the best interests of both his own country and the rest of the world. Mr. Bush has undoubtedly been grateful in private. But in public he has failed to lend the prime minister any of his own political capital. The president, for instance, could have provided support on an issue of great concern to Europe by pressing to end Israel's suicidal expansion of its West Bank settlements. That would be good for Israel, aid the cause of Middle Eastern peace and greatly strengthen Mr. Blair's position. The fact that Mr. Bush has not made the effort suggests he is setting a higher priority on conservative Christian and Jewish lobbying groups in his own political base - groups whose support he is unlikely to lose under any circumstances, but whose enthusiasm could be helpful in both turning out the vote and collecting campaign contributions.
The Times editorial writers, like their friends on the elite college campuses and the Manhattan dinner party set, have bought into the myth that somehow peace will come in the Middle East once the Palestinians have their own state. (It's also ironic that the Times would characterize the West Bank settlements as "suicidal" considering which side in the conflict uses that tactic.) An Associated Press photo published last week shows, if there was any doubt, what the Palestinians really want and how useless pressuring the Israelis on the settlements will be in the near term (i.e. my lifetime).
Ignore the fact that the "moderate" Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (on left) is meeting with the "spiritual" leader of Hamas Sheik Ahmed Yassin (second from left). Take a look at the shape of the Palestinian flags on either side of Yassin. Does it look like there's any room for Israel there?
The Times also ignores Bush's "Three Pillars" speech last week in Britain where Bush said:
(Israel) should freeze settlement construction, dismantle unauthorized outposts, end the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people and not prejudice final negotiations with the placements of walls and fences.
Do the Times editorial writers even read their own paper?
One area in which the president has certainly damaged his image of a commander in chief above the fray is on the very delicate question of the treatment of the war dead. The White House, as is well known, has done everything in its power to keep the image of coffins and grieving families as far away from the TV screen as possible, and neither the president nor his representatives have attended the funerals of any of the fallen soldiers. One of the explanations given for this is the desire to leave the families to their private grief, but that could certainly be a decision left to the families themselves. Another is that the president and his chief lieutenants are too busy to attend so many memorials.
If this weren't so stupid, it'd be ridiculous. Bush hasn't let the press shoot images of the coffins being taken off transports at military bases. Big deal. There's nothing, except perhaps uncharacteristic good taste, stopping the Times from going to the funerals of fallen soldiers and getting their "coffin photos" there. As far as grieving families go, the Times knows there's nothing stopping them getting those images except the families themselves.
It's also technically inaccurate that "neither the president nor his representatives have attended the funerals of any of the fallen soldiers." The president is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, I've heard no word of a color guard and bugler being unavailable for the funerals of fallen soldiers. I'm sure if they'd been unavailable, the Times would have reported it.
The explanations are valid, no matter what the Times would like you to believe. Imagine what a funeral would be like with the president attending, with the Secret Service security measures required. Not to mention that it is unlikely that you could count on anti-war/anti-Bush protestors from taking a pass when Bush came to town for the service. I can picture it now, the insulting ANSWER crowd picketing and chanting their inane slogans as the funeral procession makes its way down the road.
According to Public Citizen, which keeps exhaustive statistics on the topic, George Bush has attended 35 campaign fund-raisers since June 17 and is expected to attend at least 7 more by the end of the year. Vice President Dick Cheney has attended 31. That averages about three a week for the two men, most of them much farther away from the White House than Dover Air Force Base, where the bodies of the dead soldiers arrive back home.
No surprise here. The Times falsely juxtaposes necessary political fundraising with an alleged lack of concern regarding fallen U.S. soldiers. The Times does not call on the Democratic presidential hopefuls to make similar sacrifice. Besides, at least Bush is still doing his job. The Democrat presidential hopefuls in the House and Congress are AWOL while on the public payroll -- missing large percentages of the votes in Congress (Rep. Dennis Kucinich is the only one in single digits as of about two weeks ago.)
We respectfully suggest that Mr. Bush change his priorities. If he wants to run for re-election as the leader in a time of war, he needs to behave like a president, not a politician. The public needs some reassurance that he is willing to sacrifice something himself to win the struggle to which he has committed us.
The Times would like him to "sacrifice" a second term. That would be bad for America and bad for the world -- but not bad for the Democratic Party.
The Times' dishonesty ensures that its editorial page becomes increasingly irrelevant.