- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 29, 2002

A sinister calm has fallen over America since our military victory in Afghanistan last winter. The air is filled with grievous terror forebodings from our government officials, while revelations of appalling bureaucratic incompetence (even intentional malfeasance) prior to September 11 suggest how imperfect even now is our capacity to detect and defeat the next terrorist strike.

It was at such a moment (two weeks ago, tomorrow) that senior Democratic Party congressional leaders Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt and Senator Hillary Clinton dashed to the cameras in an attempt to make a political pig's feast of the moment.

Mr. Daschle expressed his "grave concern" that the president had been informed of an impending al Qaeda plane highjacking prior to September 11. Mr. Gephardt asked the historically loaded question: "What did the president know, and when did he know it?" And Ms. Rodham-Clinton went to the floor of the Senate and asked the president to explain the New York Post headline which disgracefully stated: "He Knew."

Within days, six major public polls showed that these libelous charges had not even dented President Bush's popularity (average approval rating 75 percent statistically identical to his ratings in March and April). As a result, the three Democratic leaders promptly retracted their charges. Mr. Daschle's whining and grumbling apology on "Meet the Press" this past weekend is particularly worth noting.

Under a heartless grilling from "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert, Mr. Daschle was reduced to explaining that he had been misinformed about the facts: "Well, we were told on that particular morning that the president had received [the] facts." The word "told" was Mr. Daschle's way of saying he saw it in the morning papers and TV. In fact, Mr. Russert pointed out and the pained senator admitted, as an ex-officio member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mr. Daschle himself had had access in August to the same information provided the president.

Hillary's defense was, essentially: I was just reading the morning tabloid on the floor of the Senate, on behalf of my millions of constituents. I wasn't suggesting anything, Heaven forfend.

In an age when even Taliban Johnny Walker Lindh claims to be a patriot who had merely joined the enemy to plunk away at some Uzbeks (even though he was among the scum who killed our young CIA officer Johnny Micheal Spann), I suppose it would be incongruous to state that these Democratic leaders acted unpatriotically.

I'll just be objective: With a wanton disregard for the facts, Mr. Daschle, Mr. Gephardt and Ms. Rodham-Clinton attempted to undermine public confidence in the president of the United States during wartime by suggesting that but for the fact that he was either a fool or a traitor he could have prevented the September 11 attack on New York and the Pentagon.

Whatever the level of their patriotic fervor, as professional politicians they proved to be stumblebums. A carefully hedged, but incomplete account of the briefing was broadcast Wednesday evening on CBS news. Later that evening, CNN carelessly inflated the story by reporting "Bush knew that al Qaeda was planning to hijack a U.S. airliner."

The next morning, esteemed journalist Katie Couric asked in her plucky way: "What did the president know and when did he know it?" With lower ratings than Miss Couric's "Today Show," ABC's "Good Morning America" host Charlie Gibson, in a what-the-heck mood, wondered on the air whether Mr. Bush was "really surprised" when he was told that the World Trade Towers had been hit.

Presumably without checking with their own intelligence experts or the White House, the three Democratic leaders went public with their incendiary innuendos. The next morning, Friday, both the New York Times and The Washington Post wrote stern editorials in which they completely exonerated the president of culpability in the matter. The Post had a major front-page story that provided the history and context of the briefing and pointed the finger, correctly, at the FBI bureaucracy.

But by then it was too late for the heroic Democratic Three. They had allowed themselves to be swept up on a high-tabloid tide. Then, as the tide receded, they were stranded on the beach three jellyfish, their venomous sticker-laden extremities hanging helplessly and harmlessly on their drying bodies. This is not the sort of loyal opposition leadership that the Democrats need and our nation deserves.

When, in the future, there are mistakes even presidential mistakes while fair comment is proper, the loyal opposition should recall the words of Winston Churchill in 1940: "Long, dark months of trials and tribulations lie before us. Not only great dangers, but many more misfortunes, many shortcomings, many mistakes, many disappointments will surely be our lot. Death and sorrow will be the companions of our journey; hardship our garment; constancy and valour our only shield. We must be united, we must be undaunted, we must be inflexible. Our qualities and deeds must burn and glow through the gloom of Europe until they become the veritable beacon of its salvation."


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