Monday, November 14, 2005

# Posted 7:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ATTACKING THE DEMOCRATS' PATRIOTISM: WRONG. What the President said was wrong in both senses of the word. It was wrong because it was unethical and it was wrong because it did far more damage to the President than it did to his opponents.

Well aware of how provocative his message was, Bush prefaced it by saying that "it's perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war." He nonetheless concluded that
The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges. These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will.
The first thing Bush should have known was that these two sentences would become the next day's headlines, overshadowing all of the other important messages in his long (50 minutes) and otherwise well-crafted speech.

The next thing Bush should have known is that the media instinctively side with those who have their patriotism questioned. It doesn't matter that Bush avoided using harsh words such as 'treasonous' or 'unpatriotic'. He was setting himself up for a fall.

If the President had been wiser, he would've focused on a simple and straightforward message: that the Democrats are lying. Bush was in a very good position to claim the moral high ground in spite of lesser flaws in the administration's case for war, such as the aluminum tubes debate.

But now the discussion has become about whether Bush went too far instead of about whether the Democrats are lying. The strongest point in Bush's favor is, of course, the Democrats' own lavish statements about the threat Saddam Hussein presented because of his weapons of mass destruction.

In his speech, Bush quoted John Kerry' statement that
"When I vote to give the President of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat, and a grave threat, to our security."
In its major story on the speech, the WaPo at least noted this critical aspect of Bush's argument and republished half of the quote from Kerry. In contrast, the NYT made no mention of the Kerry quote, although it did report with consummate detachment that
Mr. Bush asserted that Democrats as well as Republicans believed before the invasion in 2003 that Saddam Hussein possessed banned weapons.
As if it were only an "assertion" that the Democrats believed Saddam had WMD. But this is what happens when a president attacks his opponents' patriotism. The substance of his arguments gets ignored.

Often, the substance of a president's argument gets ignored even when he comports himself with greater decorum. But this time the president had a strong hand to play, and he could've thrown the Democrats back on the defensive if he hadn't let his anger get the better of him.
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