April 8, 2004

The Lion of Hyannis

Senator Edward Kennedy is receiving some much deserved blowback for Monday’s diatribe at the Brookings Institution - you know, the one where he argued that George W. Bush is a Nixonian, pathological, habitual, sociopathic liar. According to Kennedy, the war in Iraq was spawned by a long stream of lies. So were the president’s tax cuts, his Medicare plan, his “no child left behind” program (crafted with and for Senator Kennedy), and everything other than his taking the presidential oath.

Kennedy, like many in the Donkey Party, has become unhinged by George W. Bush, and can’t speak about the chief executive without getting read in the face and frothy in the mouth. The only thing missing from Monday’s performance was the spitting of split-pea soup and a summons for the nearest exorcist. From a substantive point of view, the anti-war rant was piled atop a loose assortment of lies and mischaracterizations, capped off by the declaration that “Iraq is George W. Bush’s Vietnam.” This analysis places him in a highly exclusive club. The most recent new member is Muqtada al Sadr.

Democrats have reacted with mute embarrassment to the whole thing. None has dared say the obvious, which is that Kennedy made a fool of himself. As a result, the unchallenged speech soon will harden into party orthodoxy, and Democrats will have to lug the argument - and the implied insults to the president, Vietnam veterans, Vietnamese refugees, students of history, and anybody serving in the Iraq war - into the election campaign. That would be a disaster, which is why I observed on yesterday’s show that Kennedy’s outburst may have sealed a Bush victory in November.

The only party elder to speak out since the Kennedy address is Sen. Robert C. Byrd, who seconded Kennedy’s motion in one of the most stunningly defeatist speeches delivered since the end of hostilities in Vietnam.

John F. Kerry has gone AWOL on the issue, which may explain why honorary Democrat John McCain has decided to bolt decisively into the Republican fold. He was not amused and, bless him, he delivered a scorching rebuke to Byrd on the Senate floor, and has taken to the airwaves to challenge Kennedy.

The Democratic establishment seems almost to be wishing for an American humiliation in Iraq, oblivious to the disaster it would provoke throughout the world. If that happened, Iraq would become a vast failed state and a new haven for every goofball terrorist clan on earth. Syria and Iran would gain new boldness from the debacle and one or both would try to place an exclamation point on things by trying to annihilate Israel. You can begin constructing your own nightmare scenario from there.

Worse, this latest Kennedy eruption seems to have been designed primarily to destroy the president. That tracks with the Kerry campaign, which has yet to stake out a discernible position on any issue of consequence, deciding instead to settle for the heat-seeking one-liner. So far, the approach seems to have worked. The president has dropped six points in the Rasmussen poll over the last week, and Kerry has vaulted into a three-point lead in the latest track. Don’t read a whole lot into that, though. If Americans come to the conclusion that the Kennedy-Kerry axis is willing to risk global humiliation in exchange for 271 electoral votes, the Democrats are doomed.

Meanwhile, on the Republican reservation

Bill Buckley got it right in a column this week: While Democrats are fulminating, the president is spending time on the ranch, attending to every important presidential duty but one: Speaking to the American people.

George Bush behaves marvelously under fire, but he has done an abysmal job of defending his honor against critics, and he has done an even lousier job in keeping his promise to keep the American people apprised of our progress in smashing the global terror network.

Americans are getting apprehensive about the war in Iraq, mainly because Democrats have had the megaphone to themselves for months and reporters, covering the most interesting pictures in Iraq rather than the most typical, have given the impression that the land is on the verge of complete Hatfield v. McCoy chaos. Only returning servicemen and -women provide countervailing accounts, and they don’t have nearly as much public access or exposure as the Kennedy-Kerry brigades.

The White House right now looks timid and defensive, as if it has a great deal to hide. The president has been trying to take care of business by firing off a few comments during photo ops in the Oval Office or coughing up one-liners in otherwise forgettable addresses about domestic topics. That’s not good enough.

The war has defined him as a president, and it will serve as the issue on which his political future hinges. He needs to talk - with confidence, fire and honesty - rather than dodging. Within a month of September 11, George Bush had made clear his desire to become a truly transformational president - to give substance both to Jimmy Carter’s faith in global democracy and Ronald Reagan’s determination to answer national-security challenges with clear assertions of American power.

The Bush Doctrine provides not only a worthy legacy for this presidency, it also could become a world-saver – literally. It thrums with boldness and idealism. It captures America’s yearning to embrace grand, humane causes; it fulfills our destiny, first expressed by the founders, to snip the fetters of tyranny everywhere in the world - to become not just a beacon of liberty, but its historic champion.

The president isn’t making that case right now - although there’s talk that he may deliver a speech tomorrow at Ft. Hood, Texas - and neither are Republicans on Capitol Hill.   

The economy, stupid

Senator Kerry yesterday unveiled the second portion of his economic plan. It was boilerplate for the most part: a class-warfare riff on taxes and a show of “fiscal discipline” by promising budget freezes and cuts when the budget fails to balance. The second part is classic flip-floppery: The senator promises to break whatever spending promises necessary to bring the budget into balance.

The senator has embraced the approach to development that has brought the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund into disfavor - austerity programs, tax increases and currency devaluations (trust me, if President Kerry were to pull off the first two, the dollar would streak earthward like a flaming meteorite). To be fair, some of his promised corporate-tax measures have limited appeal. For two takes on the matter, consider these analyses by Larry Kudlow 
and Steve Moore, who has words of praise in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Kerry says the president has committed himself to something like $6.5 trillion worth of new spending over the next decade. That may be a little hyperbolic, but it’s indisputable that George W. Bush’s single greatest failing as president has been his refusal to reject any spending bill of any kind. (Look here and here). If he wants to develop some street credibility, he ought to turn thumbs down on the Highway Bill making its way through Congress and demand that Congress spend less for once.

While I like the idea that Kerry might make vigorous use of the veto pen, it’s not as if he has suggested that Washington go on a diet. Just the opposite. Depending on who’s doing the counting, he has proposed anywhere between 70 and 79 new spending programs, with a pretty hefty long-term price-tag of their own. The worst idea, expanded government health care, would go a long way toward making us all broke and spawning a generational war already made inevitable by those avaricious, money-sucking blobs, Social Security and Medicare.

Kerry also has embraced full-throttle protectionism with his promise to fight outsourcing and personally review every trade agreement on the books. That act of bad faith certainly would offend the foreign leaders with whom he claims to be on affable terms, and it would reduce the international trading system to complete chaos. The outsourcing hysteria is utterly bogus.
We receive more outsourced jobs from abroad than we lose at home. Check out this and this and this.

Furthermore, if you want to check the performance of economies operating on the Kerry model, read this story about the economic plight of the European Union.

Keep in mind, however, that everything in Kerry-land is fungible. Yesterday, Kerry put on his chaps and cowboy boots, slapped on a saddle, hopped squarely atop the fence and hollered “giddyap!” He didn’t commit to any particular cuts, didn’t set any priorities and didn’t move beyond his droning declaration that he, John Kerry, has one overriding qualification for election to the world’s most important office, and that is that he is John Kerry.

Quadruple axel, anybody?

Condoleezza Rice’s resume looks like a daring hoax: concert pianist, competitive figure skater, multilingual foreign policy adept, university provost, National Security Adviser, aspiring Commissioner of the National Football League. But she is all these things and more, which is why today’s testimony before the 9-11 commission will seem, upon greater reflection, an entertaining waste of time. Sure, Richard Ben-Veniste  got snarky, and Bob Kerry a little testy, but so what? The Second Guessing Commission took its shots. She deflected the punches. She looks good. Her tormenters look silly. And now, can we go back to fighting a war?

Speaking of which, here’s yesterday’s Pentagon briefing, featuring Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Myers, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.