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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Gaze In Awe

You might think that having savaged John Kerry for four days on national television, the Bush-Cheney campaign would give it a rest for a week or so. But no. Dick Cheney’s remarks yesterday in Iowa said it all about the tone we can expect from BC04 in the runup to Election Day: “It’s absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we’ll get hit again–that we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States and that we’ll fall back into the pre-9/11 mindset, if you will, that in fact these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts and that we are not really at war.”
In response to these pithy remarks, John Edwards accused Cheney of trying to “scare voters,” which Cheney’s flack called an “overreaction.” “Whoever is elected in November faces the prospect of another terrorist attack,” said Anne Womack. “The question is whether or not the right policies are in place to best protect the country. That’s what the vice president is saying.”
Nice try, Anne, but that’s not what the vice president is saying. Look at the words. He’s directly saying that John Kerry doesn’t believe we’re fighting a war with terrorists, and that terrorists will immediately take advantage of that and hit America again.
It would be nice if the news media would follow up by asking Cheney exactly how Kerry would differ from Bush in fighting the war on terrorism. Unless I’m missing something, Kerry would do five things differently: (1) beef up homeland security, in part by making this a core mission of the National Guard; (2) refocus on Afghanistan, where the Taliban appears to be making a comeback; (3) get serious about finding and securing nuclear materials that may wind up in the hands of terrorists; (4) provide some international support and clear direction to our troops in Iraq, resolving the mess that’s currently the number one recruiting tool for al Qaeda; and (5) rebuild our alliances and international institutions to make the war on terrorism a collective security mission instead of a unilateral U.S. effort.
Now Cheney is perfectly free to disagree with any of all of these suggestions, but the idea that Kerry is less worried about terrorism than the incumbent, or less committed to waging an aggressive war to defeat terrorists, is a conscious lie.
But it points to an even bigger act of deception that was at the center of the GOP convention: the not-so-subtle claim that the only reason terrorists haven’t struck the United States since 9/11 is that they are terrified of what George W. Bush would do to them.
Nobody knows why there hasn’t been another attack. Maybe al Qaeda’s going after softer targets elsewhere. Maybe our military and intelligence operatives have disrupted their leadership (though not because of any distinctive Bush administration policies). Maybe they’re planning an operation right now. But the idea that George W. Bush’s steely Texas character has intimidated them into inaction defies everything we know about al Qaeda and about jihadist terrorism generally.
But expect to hear this line of “reasoning” often from the GOP. The implicit claim that Bush has somehow already defeated al Qaeda may be audacious demagoguery at its worst, but it’s the one claim they can make about Bush’s record that cannot be refuted by the evidence before our eyes.

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