- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2001

In an effort to make him appear taller, aides to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle have taken to stacking phone books in his chair when he and Dick Gephardt hold joint news conferences seated behind a conference table, The Hotline (Washington's political tidbit bible) reported.

While Mr. Daschle's little visual deception was innocent enough, it betokens a more fundamental instinct to deceive. The subtle shade of the Daschle method was made visible last week when he accused President Bush of being an isolationist, citing as evidence Mr. Bush's support of missile defense and opposition to the proposed Kyoto treaty.

Last Wednesday, in an exclusive interview with USA Today/Gannett, Mr. Daschle made the isolationist charge and also claimed that British Prime Minster Tony Blair's offer to serve as an intermediary between Mr. Bush and European leaders was evidence of Mr. Bush's incompetence. Those charges appeared in the Thursday USA Today, just as Mr. Bush was flying to England to start his week-long European G-8 Summit meetings.

When Mr. Bush and some reporters accused Mr. Daschle of violating the tradition of not attacking our presidents when they are beyond the water's edge, Mr. Daschle excused himself with the explanation: "Had I given some thought to the fact that the president was departing, I probably would have chosen a different time to make those comments."

The casual observer might well see these remarks as the straightforward words of a sincere man, especially when they are delivered in Mr. Daschle's patented hesitant, self-effacing, more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger manner. But they were consciously deceitful and intended to do unfair damage to the president.

The charge that the president is an isolationist is risible. Mr. Bush is a thoroughgoing free-trade internationalist. He proposed that both Europe and Russia share in the protection that will be provided from outlaw nations by our missile defense plan. He is actively and personally negotiating a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms deal. His opposition to the Kyoto treaty is a difference of opinion - not an act of isolation. Indeed, when Mr. Daschle had a chance to vote for the treaty he also didn't support it (the Senate vote was 95-0 against the treaty). Mr. Bush's actions fairly might be called unilateralist - but not isolationist.

The choice of words matters - and Mr. Daschle knows it. Back in 1995, when I was then-Speaker Newt Gingrich's press secretary, the Clinton White House focus-grouped the word isolationist. Finding out that the American public reacts with strong negativity to that word, they started accusing Newt of being isolationist - even though they knew that Newt was a passionate free-trade, pro-NAFTA internationalist. I was told by European journalists and government officials at the time that Mr. Clinton's European embassies were spreading the charge, particularly with their leaders just before they were scheduled to meet with Newt. Both Senate and House Democrats then parroted the Clinton slander. Mr. Daschle didn't have to think this one up - it was already in the Democratic Party play book.

Mr. Daschle's charge that British Prime Minister Tony Blair's offer of help was a sign of Mr. Bush's incompetence was equally calculated to unfairly damage him. As anybody with the slightest knowledge of Anglo-American relations knows (and Mr. Daschle is very smart and very knowledgeable), every British prime minister, in jealous guard of Britain's "special relationship" with the United States, takes pride in acting as an intermediary between every American president and the European leaders. Whether they need it or not (and they usually do need it), American presidents always say thank-you. It is one of the honored rituals of post-WWII Anglo-American relations. For Mr. Daschle to turn this long-established tradition into a charge of presidential incompetence is not only an act of malicious deception, but is evidence of the contempt with which he holds the American public's (and the Washington media's) knowledge of foreign relations.

After sticking the stiletto into Mr. Bush's ribs while Mr. Bush is on his way to meeting the British prime minister - the most newsworthy moment - Mr. Daschle then protects his carefully crafted Boy Scout image with the howler, "Had I given some thought to the fact that the president was departing …" That is about as plausible as former President Clinton saying "Had I noticed Jennifer Lopez has a great body when I hugged her yesterday …"

When the Senate majority leader gives an exclusive interview with a national newspaper in which he trashes the president's competence on foreign policy the day before a summit trip, he can bet his career it will be reported the next day - as, of course, it was.

The Daschle deceptions are beginning to pile up. Two weeks ago, a source close to the Senate Finance Committee told me that Mr. Daschle - who publicly talks about bipartisan cooperation - instructed the Democratic chairman of that committee, Sen. Max Baucus, not to take up Mr. Bush's Medicare reform legislation because Mr. Daschle "… doesn't want a bipartisan bill to emerge."

Many politicians have enjoyed successful careers by relying on the art of deception. But at the highest levels of national politics - as Presidents Nixon, Clinton and others have found out the hard way - they are almost always found out. If he doesn't soon change his methods, Mr. Daschle will learn that the hot glare of the klieg light melts even the sturdiest facades.

E-mail: tonyblankley@erols.com

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