Saturday, June 26, 2004

A Tale of Two Speeches

Within the last two weeks both Al Gore and Joe Lieberman have given speeches addressing the war on terror and how the Bush Administration has handled matters. Reading each of their speeches, it's hard to believe that just four years ago these men were on the same ticket.

Joe Lieberman, in a speech on June 16th before the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, provided an excellent summary of the war on terror, and showed that he understands exactly what's at stake. Here's a key excerpt:

The terrorists can never defeat us militarily. But they can divide us and defeat us politically if the American people become disappointed and disengaged, because they don't appreciate and support the overriding principles that require us to take military action. The same, of course, is true for our allies in Europe, Asia and throughout the Muslim world. They need to better understand and embrace our purpose and what it means for them.

What we are fighting for in Iraq and around the world is freedom. What we are fighting against is an Islamic terrorist totalitarian movement which is as dire a threat to individual liberty as the fascist and communist totalitarian threats we faced and defeated were in the last century.

What we are fighting for is an expanding worldwide community of democracies. What we are fighting against is the prospect of a new evil empire, a radical Islamic caliphate which would suppress the freedom of its people and threaten the security of every other nation's citizens.

(Link via Instapundit)

Unfortunately, the man who was at the top of the Democratic ticket in 2000 has not displayed a similar level of understanding. Instead, in his last several speeches, most recently on June 24th, former Vice President Gore has made clear who he thinks is the real threat to America:

A little over a year ago, when we launched the war against this second country, Iraq, President Bush repeatedly gave our people the clear impression that Iraq was an ally and partner to the terrorist group that attacked us, al Qaeda, and not only provided a geographic base for them but was also close to providing them weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear bombs. But now the extensive independent investigation by the bipartisan commission formed to study the 9/11 attacks has just reported that there was no meaningful relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda of any kind. And, of course, over the course of this past year we had previously found out that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So now, the President and the Vice President are arguing with this commission, and they are insisting that the commission is wrong and they are right, and that there actually was a working co-operation between Iraq and al Qaeda.

The problem for the President is that he doesn't have any credible evidence to support his claim, and yet, in spite of that, he persists in making that claim vigorously. So I would like to pause for a moment to address the curious question of why President Bush continues to make this claim that most people know is wrong. And I think it's particularly important because it is closely connected to the questions of constitutional power with which I began this speech, and will profoundly affect how that power is distributed among our three branches of government.

Unfortunately for Mr. Gore, not only is there credible evidence of a "meaningful link" between Iraq and al-Qaeda, but the very next day, the New York Times itself published an article on an Iraqi document offering further evidence of such ties. In addition, as Stephen Hayes points out, the Clinton/Gore Administration itself made a case for a Saddam-al Qaeda link on several occasions.

What's disturbing about Gore's speech is not that he says the Bush Administration is wrong about an Iraq-al Qaeda connection, that's what healthy democratic debate is all about. It is that Gore insists on saying that the administration can only be lying when it says that such a link exists:

President Bush made a decision to start mentioning Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein in the same breath in a cynical mantra designed to fuse them together as one in the public mind. He repeatedly used this device in a highly disciplined manner to create a false impression in the minds of the American people that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. Usually he was pretty tricky in his exact wording. Indeed, Bush's consistent and careful artifice is itself evidence that he knew full well that he was telling an artful and important lie -- visibly circumnavigating the truth over and over again as if he had practiced how to avoid encountering the truth. But as I will document in a few moments, he and Vice President Cheney also sometimes departed from their tricky wording and resorted to statements were clearly outright falsehoods. In any case, by the time he was done, public opinion polls showed that fully 70% of the American people had gotten the message he wanted them to get, and had been convinced that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

So let me get this straight, the fact that Bush was careful in how he described the Iraq-al Qaeda connection means that he was dishonest? Being circumspect in terms of phrasing amounts to "tricky wording"? In other words, according to the former Vice President, the fact that President Bush told the truth means that he lied. In addition, Mr. Gore refers to "public opinion polls" showing that 70% of the American people believed that Saddam was involved in 9/11. He is probably referring to an August 2003 Washington Post poll that showed that 69% of Americans believed it was at least "somewhat likely" that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks. However, the former Vice President leaves out one detail: When the Post conducted the exact same poll on September 13, 2001, 78% of Americans though it likely that Saddam was involved in the attacks. In October 2002, the figure was 71%, and in February 2003 72%. Thus, the belief among the majority of the American people that Saddam may have been involved in 9/11 has been consistent since the immediate aftermath of the attacks, long before Bush's "lies" and "tricky wording". Exactly who's doing the lying here?

Not content with attacking the integrity of the administration, Mr. Gore turns his sights to the president's supporters:

The Administration works closely with a network of "rapid response" digital Brown Shirts who work to pressure reporters and their editors for "undermining support for our troops." Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist, was one of the first journalists to regularly expose the President's consistent distortions of the facts. Krugman writes, "Let's not overlook the role of intimidation. After 9/11, if you were thinking of saying anything negative of the had to expect right-wing pundits and publications to do all they could to ruin your reputation.

"Digital Brown Shirts"? People like Paul Krugman regularly question President Bush's honesty, integrity, intelligence and patriotism. Yet when some on the right call Krugman on his numerous errors and distortions, they become "digital Brown Shirts"? Nope, no double standard here. I'm the first person to admit that the responsibility for the abysmally disrespectful tone of political discourse in this country goes both ways. However, to the best of my knowledge, this is a first. Congratulations Mr. Vice President, you are now the first major American political figure to compare his domestic political opponents to Nazis.

As someone who once respected Al Gore as a voice of reason and responsibility within the Democratic Party, it pains me to say this, but the man has simply lost it. You can say he has a right to be bitter, but Joe Lieberman has just as much right to feel that way. In their own way, Gore and Lieberman represent the two possible paths the Democratic Party could have taken after 9/11. Lieberman's path is one of principled policy disagreements with the Republicans combined with wholehearted support for the war on terror. Gore's path is one in which policy disputes become suffused with bitterness and Bush-hatred, to the point that the enemy stops being Osama bin Laden and starts being George W. Bush. Sadly, the majority of Democrats appear to agree with Gore. As James Lileks wrote this past week:

I ask my Democrat friends what they'd rather see happen: Bush reelected and bin Laden caught, or Bush defeated and bin Laden still in the wind. They're all honest: they'd rather see Bush defeated. (They're quick to insist that they'd want Kerry to get bin Laden ASAP. Although the details are sketchy.) Of course this doesn't mean they're unpatriotic, etc., obligatory disclaimers, et cetera. But let's be honest. People are coming up with websites that demonstrate ingenious technology for spraying anti-Bush slogans on the sidewalks; it would be nice if they sprayed "DEFEAT TERRORISM" or "STOP AL QAEDA" now and then. Wouldn't it?

Of course not all Democrats think that way, certainly not all of the ones I know. However, it is both sad and telling that the two Democratic candidates most supportive of the war on terror, Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt, were the two major candidates whose primary campaigns fared the worst. Even much of the party establishment has joined in the madness. This week's Washington premiere of "Fahrenheit 9/11" was attended by numerous Democratic politicos, many of whom fulsomely praised what they saw. DNC chair Terry McAuliffe, after viewing the film, even bought into Moore's ridiculous theory that Bush invaded Afghanistan to build a natural gas pipeline. Nevermind that the liberal American Prospect demolished this infantile nonsense two years ago.

I usually vote Republican, and I agree with Republicans on the majority of issues, though certainly not all. However, I believe strongly that we need a healthy two party system. We are locked in a global struggle with radical Islamist barbarism, a conflict that will last years if not decades. This country needs to be able to rely on a bipartisan consensus to effectively wage this struggle, as we did during the first two decades of the Cold War. Let us have policy disagreements, they are necessary in a democracy, but let there be fundamental agreement on the necessity of defeating the jihadists. This country needs the Democratic Party of FDR and Truman and John F. Kennedy, not the Democratic Party of Bush-haters and conspiracy theorists. We need the party of Joe Lieberman, not the party of Michael Moore.


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