August 02, 2004

The Democrats Take on the Latest Terror Alert

Check this NYT article out.

News of the terror threat on Sunday also stirred renewed suggestions from some Democrats that the White House was manipulating terror alerts for Mr. Bush's political gain. They said the alert had been issued just as Mr. Kerry emerged from a convention that was described by Republicans and Democrats as a success.

"I am concerned that every time something happens that's not good for President Bush, he plays this trump card, which is terrorism," Howard Dean, a former rival of Mr. Kerry for the Democratic nomination, told Wolf Blitzer on CNN on Sunday.

"His whole campaign is based on the notion that 'I can keep you safe, therefore at times of difficulty for America stick with me,' and then out comes Tom Ridge," Mr. Dean, the former Vermont governor, added, referring to the homeland security secretary. "It's just impossible to know how much of this is real and how much of this is politics, and I suspect there's some of both in it."

White House officials denied that suggestion, and other Democrats and Mr. Kerry's advisers would not embrace it. "I certainly hope not," Steve Elmendorf, Mr. Kerry's deputy campaign manager, said. "You have to take them at their word."

Imagine, for argument's sake, that this terror alert had been made public during the convention. We'd have a replication of the whole HVT/ Pakistan capture--with the predictable actors on the left loudly crying set-up.

Now instead, of course, they are unhappy that the warning was made public after the Convention--as if Tom Ridge is purposefully crowding out all the rosy news about a Convention "described by Republicans and Democrats as a success."

That's disingenuous on a bunch of levels. For one, Kerry's 'bounce' (if there even was one) wasn't that great (his pretty underwhelming speech likely kept him from getting a healthier shot in the arm). So it's not even as if there is such great news to 'distract' the American public from.

But, much more important, what alarms me is that Howard Dean would openly suggest that the Administration, at least in part, simply is making up the terror threats. That's a damning charge to just let hang like that, isn't it?

Remember, Dean is Kerry's de facto emissary to the left-wing of the Democratic party. He's the guy tasked with reducing the Nader defections, getting the hard-anti-war-in-Iraq crowd on board, generally consolidating Kerry's left flank. So he's got a pretty key role in Kerry's campaign, I'd say. And now, he's telling the nation's most important paper, quite directly, that he believes this Administration, at least in part, is simply making up terror threats.

If (when?) a financial target in NYC gets blown up--someone should remind Howard Dean of his remarks. And also remind everyone that Dean made them on behalf of Kerry.

Note, as well, the slippery quality of Kerry's spokesman half-hearted attempt to distance himself from Dean's remarks: "I certainly hope not," Steve Elmendorf, Mr. Kerry's deputy campaign manager, said. "You have to take them at their word."

"I certainly hope not." Subtext: It's quite possible. Thus does the Democratic nominee for the Presidency of the United States allows his spokesman to insinuate that the Bush Administration would violate or otherwise muddy its most basic compact with its citizenry--protecting their personal security in their own homes and communities.

But, conscious of how incendiary such a charge is, Kerry's spokesman walks it back a bit--"(y)ou have to take them at their word." In other words, it's pretty classic Kerry. I thought the terror alert was ginned up before I thought it wasn't. Put differently, whatever works for me...

Mr. Kerry--if he thinks this latest terror alert was false--should proclaim it loudly and clearly. Conversely, if he thinks it was real--he should renounce Howard Dean's comments unequivocally (really, what he should be doing, is telling us what (if anything) he'd be doing to make the NYSE or IMF buildings safer--but maybe that's a bit too much to ask).

Otherwise, I suspect, many voters will increasingly wonder if he takes the terror threat seriously. The threat of massive casualty terrorism on the American homeland simply can't be treated like a political football. The threat is too urgent and real. To insinuate that such threats are simply made up to keep the masses cowed so as to better buckle under the fearless, Great War Leader and facilitate his re-election is a narrative to be expected from the Michael Moore's and, I guess, the Howard Dean's (lest we forget, pre-Iowa, the presumptive Democratic nominee).

But is this Kerry's view too? If so, I'd like to know. It's, er, important. Just to put things in perspective....

UPDATE: Note that much of the information that led to the issuance of this latest terror warning stems from intel unearthed as a result of the recent arrest of the Tanzanian al-Qaeda suspect arrested last week.

I've got a question for the July surprise crowd. Do they really believe--not only that the Bush Administration waited until the Democratic Convention to spring this alleged al-Q terrorist--but also that the Administration therefore withheld information about threats to the Pru, Citi and NYSE buildings until the time was ripe to crowd out the Boston going-ons?

Just how horrible are these Evil men who run the country? And wouldn't they want to protect all those rich I-bankers schlepping to work on 53rd Street?

MORE: Lest I be accused of creeping Dowdianism, check this post out too. I don't really think it materially changes my analysis above, however. But hey--I report, you decide!

STILL MORE: A blogger, unintentionally I guess, kindly helps remind me how good the Kerry team can be at at talking out of both sides of their mouth.

I should mention some people think I'm being unfair to Howard Dean.

I'd ask a reasonable person to read the entire transcript and then consider my original contention (emphasis added) that Dean: "openly suggest[ed] that the Administration, at least in part, simply is making up the terror threats."

Here's some key language:

DEAN: It's just impossible to know how much of this is real and how much of this is politics, and I suspect there's some of both in it.

BLITZER: Well, when you say that, that's a very serious allegation, that the federal government, Tom Ridge, the president of the United States, may be playing politics with the whole issue of fear and terror threat levels. And I want you to explain specifically, so there's no confusion, what you mean by that.

DEAN: What I mean by that is the president himself has played politics with it. The president is basing his political campaign for re-election on the notion that he ought to be re-elected because terrorism is a danger, and his case to the American people is, "I'm the only person who can get us through this." So of course this is politics.

The question is, do I believe this is being fabricated? No, of course I don't believe that. But I do think that there is politics in this, and the question is, how much is politics and how much is a real threat?

I have no doubt there's a real threat here, but I also -- this is a long history of orange to yellow, yellow to orange, orange to yellow without a lot of explanation.

Does Dean suggest, at least to a limited extent (per my initial commentary), that the latest threat reports are being made up (perhaps it would have been slightly better if I had used the word 'exaggerated' instead)?

Res ipsa loquitur, no?

UPDATE: Now that was an embarassing typo, no? Corrected thanks...

Posted by Gregory Djerejian at August 2, 2004 11:55 AM
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