In the decades following our Civil War, Republican politicians utilized a campaign tactic that was called “waving the bloody shirt.”
The purpose of the strategy was to remind voters — both black and white — that Southern Democrats were the party of succession and that the Democratic Party should not be trusted with power. For a while it worked.
Between the end of the Civil War and the election of 1912, Grover Cleveland was the only Democrat to win the presidency. After that, things changed. The strategy had worn out its welcome.
Republicans, under the leadership of master strategist Karl Rove, are once again trying to “wave the bloody shirt.” This time the issue is terrorism and 9/11.
Rove gave a speech to the Republican National Committee recently urging that Republicans in the 2006 elections once again emphasize the war on terror and accuse Democrats of not being willing to defend our nation. This strategy worked in the elections of 2002 and 2004, but it is quite possible that Rove’s effort to go to the same well one more time may fail.
This is like a football team running the exact same play on the straight offensive possessions. Eventually the other team catches on and changes its defensive alignment.
Let’s look at the facts and why Rove’s strategy may not work this time:
First, it is now clear that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. He certainly was a horrible dictator, but it was Al Qaeda and not Saddam who flew the planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
Secondly, the Bush administration botched the effort to find Usama bin Laden in Afghanistan and should have kept more troops there to hunt him down rather than shifting our military effort so quickly to Iraq.
Third, even if you accept the premise that our attack on Saddam might have been justified as a part of the war on terror (giving the administration the benefit of the doubt that he could have produced weapons of mass destruction in the future and turned them over to terrorists), the Bush administration has badly botched that effort too.
The Administration ignored the advice of Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki about the number of troops necessary to secure the country after the initial phase of combat, sending far too few to seal the borders to prevent foreign terrorists from entering Iraq and far too few to secure the main population centers.
We now know that the administration’s top civilian administrator in Iraq, L Paul Bremer, urged the Defense Department to send more troops to Iraq, including an additional 35,000 troops just to secure Baghdad, and that these requests were rejected. And, as a result, we are still having American soldiers killed in Baghdad today.
Also, due to an insufficient number of troops on the ground, our Marines and soldiers have been required repeatedly to retake strategic locations like Fallujah because the residents cannot be pacified and held for sustained periods of time. This also has led to additional casualties.
And, in one of the most grievous failures of this administration, we have recently learned that many Marines and soldiers have died because the Department of Defense has not supplied enough up-to-date body armor for all our troops in the field. This is a scandal beyond comprehension.
That brings us to the domestic aspects of the war on terror.
The administration was totally tone deaf about potential political opposition — from both Democrats and Republicans — to its plan to transfer control of the operation of six major U.S. ports to a company controlled by the UAE, home of two of the 9/11 terrorists and a transit point for terrorist money and nuclear technology to some of our greatest enemies. This matter has not yet been resolved, but it has alienated some of the administration’s strongest supporters.
And the Bush administration has stubbornly insisted that it has the legal authority to violate American citizens’ constitutional rights against warrantless searches in order to keep us free. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is quite clear on this subject. No warrant, no search.
The administration also ignores the fact that Congress in 1978 passed a law (FISA) providing for quickie warrants from a special court when national security is involved and permitting warrantless searches to go forward for 72 hours if law enforcement doesn’t have time to seek a warrant in advance.
Why didn’t the Bush administration simply comply with this congressionally passed statute if it felt domestic spying was so important? There are two possible answers: arrogance, or perhaps the administration was spying on its domestic political enemies and didn’t want to reveal this to the court.
Karl Rove and his friends ignore the fact that some high-ranking Republicans, most notably Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter and Sen. Lindsey Graham, share the concerns of Democrats about searches without a warrant. If the administration doesn’t feel the 1978 FISA law is adequate to provide for warrants to authorize wiretapping of telephone calls and interception of e-mails between American citizens and foreign terrorists, then the administration should send Congress amendments to the law to solve this problem. Democrats will join Republicans and amend FISA to protect America from attack.
Unfortunately, the administration, as indicated in recent Senate hearings, appears to want an issue rather than a solution.
Democrats stand for a strong America and should not back away from this particular fight.
Waving the bloody shirt in 2006 will not cover up the Bush administration’s failures in Iraq nor will it cover up their failures at home (the response to Katrina, the incredibly poor implementation of the new prescription drug plan, the large federal deficits).
It’s time to put the bloody shirt back in the drawer and work together on a bipartisan basis to make America safe.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel, and is a scholar in residence at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.