TCS Daily

Daschle's Distortions

By Greg Buete - September 26, 2002 12:00 AM

If you're a political aficionado, if you enjoy the twists, turns and 'strategery' of policy, then you probably got a kick out of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's antics Wednesday. The usually reserved but always "concerned" Daschle was a different person on the Senate floor; he was direct, accusatory, demanding and covertly defensive. He was James Traficant, only shorter.

Daschle's inflammatory statement was brief, packed with demands for apologies in between allusions to Vietnam and World War II. For good measure he even threw in the Founding Fathers - Hat Trick for Daschle! What on earth could make the cool, calm and collective Daschle "outraged" - yes outraged - enough to invoke powerful language not heard in a award-winning performance since Marlon Brando's Terry Milloy proclaimed "I coulda been a contenda!"?

It was a President Bush comment reported in a Washington Post article. Actually, it was a comment by President Bush reported out of context in a Washington Post article. The comment is as follows:

Four times in the past two days, Bush has suggested that Democrats do not care about national security, saying on Monday that the Democratic-controlled Senate is 'not interested in the security of the American people.'

Daschle must have grinned like the Grinch that Wednesday morning. For with that, he had some ammo given to him by the president himself to claim that the president was politicizing the war.

But what was the true context of the Bush comment? Bush had not been speaking about Iraq, or even about the war on terror. Bush had been speaking about the Homeland Security bill, reminding voters that, having passed in the House, the only thing holding back the bill was the Democratic-led Senate. But Bush didn't blame Democrats en masse. In fact, Bush even praised the effort as bipartisan, saying "both Republicans and Democrats" were working hard to pass the bill. As for his "outrageous" comment, read it below in the proper context:

The House responded, but the Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people. I will not accept a Department of Homeland Security that does not allow this President, and future Presidents, to better keep the American people secure.

Bush was making a simple comparative remark, saying that the only reason the Democrats in the Senate have not passed the bill is because unions, who financially support Democratic candidates, consider the ability of the president to hire, transfer, reward and fire members of the Department of Homeland Security - as provided by the bill - an encroachment on their power.

On the same day that Daschle made his "outrage" speech, it was reported that he had just before also accused Vice President Dick Cheney of politicizing the war. Daschle said he was "chagrined" that the vice president would "make the assertion that somebody ought to vote for this particular Republican candidate because he was a war supporter and that he was bringing more support to the president than his opponent."

But did Cheney really assert that? Here's what Cheney actually said while campaigning for Kansas Republican Adam Taff:

President Bush and I are grateful for the opportunity to serve our country. We thank you for your support - not just for our efforts, but for good candidates like Adam Taff who will be a fine partner for us in the important work ahead.

Note Cheney didn't say, "Vote for Taff or Democrats will make us lose the war on terror." He simply said that Taff will "be a fine partner" for the administration in the "work ahead." He didn't elaborate that "work ahead" meant "in Iraq" or "in the war on terror." It could mean any number of things including tax cuts, social security reform, and other issues.

But the real issue here isn't who is or is not politicizing the war. That's silly. By definition war is an extension of politics. A continuation of the war on terror in Iraq is foremost on the voters' minds, as it should be. The issue is that a lot of Democrats - with some notable exceptions such as Joe Lieberman, and, for his part, Al Gore - are sitting on the Iraqi fence, hiding behind the UN and talk of renewed weapons inspections.

Right now the Daschle Democrats want to talk about Iraq without really talking about Iraq; that is, they don't want to discuss anything of substance such as military action, and they certainly don't want to make a decision before November elections. Consider the remarks of Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois who questioned the Republican goals, asking, "Is it regime change in Iraq or regime change in the Senate" they are after? So many Democrats on Capitol Hill keep saying they want "the case to be made" again and again, even though we've discussed Saddam Hussein regime change since Gulf War sanctions began 11 years ago.

One irony in the current debate is that Democrats didn't need any extra discussion time in 1998 for Operation Desert Fox. They certainly didn't need a coalition, either. Back then Saddam Hussein was public enemy number one, no questions asked. Back then the Democrat's leader, Bill Clinton, warned that since the UN weapons inspector were gone from Iraq Saddam would "rebuild its arsenal of weapons and delivery systems in months - I say again, in months - not years."

Clinton also argued regime change saying, "The hard fact is that so long as Saddam remains in power, he threatens the well-being of his people, the peace of his region, the security of the world. The best way to end that threat once and for all is with the new Iraqi government, a government ready to live in peace with its neighbors, a government that respects the rights of its people."

Almost 48 months later Saddam Hussein is still ruling Iraq, still free to develop weapons of mass destruction and promote terrorism. So what has changed since December 16, 1998? Just the political party in the executive office, that's all. Tell me again who is "politicizing the war"?



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