Sometimes, when time forbids it, I post entire columns from the pros. I don’t like to do that as much as I like to post my own opinions, but time, as I said, sometimes forbids thoughtful, complete original posts.
So, having said all of that, I present the following comments from Wesley Pruden, an insightful observer of the passing scene. If you are at all interested in the truth, read this.
The mean trick on the critics
By Wesley PrudenPublished November 15, 2005
Now for the pause that refreshes. George W. Bush is off to China, where with a little luck he'll hear nary a discouraging word and the skies will be cloudy for only part of the day.
He let the Democrats have the other barrel of double-ought buckshot just as he left on the long flight to Asia, reprising the harsh rhetoric of last week targeting critics for sending mixed signals to both the troops and to an enemy that needs no encouraging.
"Reasonable people can disagree about the conduct of the war," he said, "but it is irresponsible for Democrats to now claim that we misled the world and the American people. Only one person manipulated evidence and misled the world -- and that person was Saddam Hussein."
The president can be rightly warmed by the reaction to his long-overdue blast at Democrats who diet on milk and crackers, and his friends can be cheered that maybe he really means it -- that his Friday speech in Pennsylvania, calling out critics rewriting the history of the liberation of Iraq, was not merely a one-off outburst of pique and frustration.
He returned to the theme again at a refueling stop in Alaska, with a nod to congressional Democrats who can rightly say they have opposed the war all along. "I disagree with them, but I respect their willingness to take a consistent stand. Yet some Democrats who voted to authorize the use of force are now rewriting the past."
The president's willingness to mix it up with his critics, after months of offering mostly boilerplate clichés about duty, honor and country, altered overnight Washington perceptions of his grit and resolve. The Sunday talk shows reflected something new on the public airwaves.
Chris Wallace of Fox News confronted Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia with the meanest trick in the journalist's playbook, quoting, accurately, a politician's words back to him: "The president says that Democratic critics, like you, looked at prewar intelligence and came to the same conclusion he did. In fact, looking back at the speech you gave in October 2002 in which you authorized the use of force, you went farther than the president ever did. Let's watch."
Onto the screen flashed a slightly younger visage of Mr. Rockefeller, fished from the video archives, saying: "I do believe that Iraq poses an imminent threat, but I also believe that after September 11 that question is increasingly outdated."
How soon we forget when the rubble is cleared, but videotape has eliminated the places where timid politicians hide. And indeed, the senator's characterization of the Saddam threat as "imminent" was something the president never said.
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan had a high old time on CNN the other morning, accusing the president of distortions, prevarications, falsifications, deceptions and other euphemisms for "lies." He even accused the president of persuading the nation that "Saddam Hussein had participated in the attack on us on 9/11," which is the senator's own distortion, prevarication, falsification and deception. A bit more than ingenious, too, because here's what the senator himself said about Saddam Hussein on the eve of retribution:
To the Senate Armed Services Committee on Sept. 19, 2002: "We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region."
Or this, on Dec. 12, 2001: "The war against terrorism will not be finished as long as [Saddam Hussein] is in power."
In early October 2002, Hillary Clinton, every Democrat's vision of the Joan of Arc scheduled for arrival three years hence, was the queen of the mob mongering war on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Saddam Hussein, she said, "has also given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11 ... "
John Kerry's on-again, off-again enthusiasm for war in Iraq (which could in fairness be described as well as his on-again, off-again enthusiasm for doing nothing) is well-known, of course. He told interviewer Larry King a few days after September 11, when it was safe to be a courageous Democrat, that "this doesn't end with Afghanistan by any imagination ... I think we have made that clear. Terrorism is a global menace. It's a scourge. And it is absolutely vital that we continue, for instance, [after] Saddam Hussein."
But that was then. Not now, of course. Sticks and stones may, or may not, hurt. But whoever said words never hurt never met a Democratic senator trying to hide from his earlier self.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.