Skip to comments.The Great Divide
Posted on 02/06/2004 9:10:24 PM PST by RWR8189
The 2004 race will pit a September 10 candidate against a September 12 president.
GEORGE W. BUSH is a September 12 person. John Kerry is a September 10 person. The difference is real. A September 12 person was traumatized by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. A September 12 person believes the world we thought existed before the attacks doesn't exist anymore. A September 12 person is convinced the world has fundamentally changed. A September 12 person favors a full-scale war on terrorism, including the use of military force for regime change in Iraq.
In contrast, a September 10 person was outraged by the attacks but not traumatized. A September 10 person thinks the world still exists as we perceived it before the attacks and thus hasn't fundamentally changed. A September 10 person regards the fight against radical Islamic terrorism as chiefly a matter of law enforcement and intelligence. Full-blown military engagement is not required.
The difference between the two types is significant politically as well as substantively. If September 11 and the war on terror are not salient issues in the campaign, Kerry benefits. To the extent they are, Bush gains. At the moment, Kerry has the upper hand. In the latest Gallup poll, terrorism is the fourth biggest worry of voters, trailing the economy, jobs, and anxiety over Iraq. And when voters in exit polls in Democratic primaries this year are asked which of six problems facing America is most important, it usually comes in sixth.
Absent an event that transforms terrorism into the paramount issue again, it will be up to Bush's campaign and the president himself to do so. Bush has already begun, devoting half his State of the Union address last month to terrorism and Iraq. In a speech last week in Charleston, South Carolina, he insisted September 11 "was a lesson for America, a lesson I will never forget and a lesson this nation must never forget....I will not stand by and hope for the best while dangers gather," notably in Iraq. Republican strategists are confident September 11 and the war against terrorists can be rejuvenated as a major focus in the campaign. Democrats doubt it.
I've come up with five criteria for distinguishing between a September 10 person and a September 12 person. Kerry, the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination, and Bush differ on all five.
The first is how seriously one views the terrorist threat. Kerry believes it's been exaggerated. At a debate in South Carolina in January, he said there's "a long list of clear, misleading exaggeration" by the Bush administration. Bush, however, believes terrorism dwarfs any other threat or problem facing the country. Bush said in his State of the Union address that defending America against terrorism is "our greatest responsibility." It's "tempting to believe that the danger is behind us . . . [but] the terrorists continue to plot against America and the civilized world."
The second criterion is the war in Iraq. A September 10 person believes the war is wrong, at least in the way Bush has carried it out. Kerry says it has detracted from what he calls "the real war on terrorism," which would concentrate on capturing Osama bin Laden. By invading Iraq without the approval of the United Nations and more allies, Bush "is not conducting the war on terror in a way that is the most effective way," Kerry said while campaigning in New Hampshire. The president, naturally, defends his decision to invade Iraq. The liberation of Iraq "was an act of justice [that] removed an enemy of this country and made America more secure," Bush said in Charleston.
Number three is the appropriate method of combating terrorism. Last October in a debate among Democratic presidential candidates, Kerry said: "This war on terror is far less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering, law enforcement operation, and the American people deserve somebody who can lead them to do it correctly and make us safer and stronger in the process." Bush says this policy was tried in the 1990s and failed to stop terrorist attacks on the United States. "After the chaos and carnage of September 11, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. The terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States, and war is what they got," he said in the State of the Union speech.
Criterion number four: the Patriot Act, passed shortly after September 11. It gave the Justice Department new powers to combat terrorists in the United States. Kerry voted for it, but now claims "there have been abuses of that act" and says Attorney General John Ashcroft has "overreached" in applying it. Bush strongly backs the act as "a vital tool" in homeland security. By allowing the FBI and CIA to share information, the act helps "uncover terrorist plots before they are carried out in America," he said in Charleston. "Congress needs to extend the Patriot Act."
The fifth criterion: how frequently one raises September 11 in speeches and comments. Kerry practically never mentions September 11, except when asked about it. For Bush, it seems always on his mind. His standard speech at fundraisers refers to terrorists as having declared war on America. In the Charleston speech, which was nominally on cargo security, he mentioned the September 11 attacks four times.
Kerry's greatest vulnerability against Bush in the presidential campaign is his Senate record on national security. He proposed, for example, to cut the CIA budget by $1.5 billion. Then, post-September 11, he complained that American intelligence was inadequate. He has voted against both offensive and defensive weapons systems for the military. He has voted to cut the defense budget. The list of Kerry's anti-military, anti-CIA positions is a long one. But these won't matter particularly unless September 11 and the war on terrorism become the context for the presidential race. For now, battling terrorism seems merely one of several issues and not the most important of them. It's a political environment in which a September 10 person could be elected president.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.
There are no honorable Democrats in this race (are there any at all?), so America's choice is between the strong likelihood of victory in this war, or the certainty of defeat. Simple enough.
These words contain ominous portents for those of us who wish Bush success in this election. Bush did not get the bounce which historically has automatically flowed to presidents after the State of the Union speech. Now Bush feels compelled to raise the stakes and redeem his fortunes by submitting to an inquisition by Russert with all the obvious attendant risks of gaffs which could certainly be exploited by the establishment media to Bushs great cost.
This scenario is reminiscent of his fathers hapless campaign in 92. He had won the Gulf War within a week, without casualties, in the teeth of Democrat opposition, and on television, but he was unable to engage the electorates enthusiasm. It was pitiful to watch the diminishment of the man in that campaign until, at the end, he was dismissed by whole chunks of the voting populace as irrelevant. So bizarre was the mindset of the voters that they entrusted the White House, including the Lincoln bedroom and the oval office ante room with its sink, to a sociopath who was spectacularly unfit for the office and whose moral unfitness was obvious to any dispassionate observer.
The son is fully aware of the fathers decline. In fact, I believe he is so concerned about the trends in the polls that he has decided to gamble on the Russert interview to arrest the decline. The difference now, of course, is that the son has the vision thing in him and can articulate it. The vision is that America has been thrust into mortal combat with crazed Muslim fundamentalists who would rhapsodically murder Americans in their millions if they could only get the chance and, in the age of asymmetrical warfare made more terrible by the lights of perverted science, it is not entirely unlikely that they will get their chance.
What is ominous is that since the State of the Union address it seems that America does not want to hear about this vision and that is indeed a very great pity because this time the stakes are not the defilement of the White House but the very survival of our representative government.
If Kerry is elected in November, it will be proof that we, collectively, deserve whatever happens to us.
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