- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2003

Reckless criticism?

“In their eagerness to prove President Bush wrong on Iraq, Democrats are throwing caution to the wind and setting themselves up for what could be big fall in the 2004 elections,” Richard Benedetto writes at the USA Today Web site (www.usatoday.com).

“Their shrill criticisms of the Iraq operation” and of the president’s assertions that Saddam Hussein and his weapons posed a danger to America “could bounce back on them,” Mr. Benedetto said.

“Rather than cause a majority of Americans to turn on the president when the vote comes up next year, Democrats may be reminding voters of their party’s biggest weakness: They are perceived as soft on national defense and therefore cannot be trusted to manage the national security.

“They don’t have to march in lockstep with the president on everything he says and does. But they should carefully consider the words used to criticize or raise questions on Iraq and avoid making it sound like they wish the other side had won,” Mr. Benedetto said.

“But many of the 2004 Democratic presidential candidates and Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who continue to harbor the false belief that their party’s antiwar left wing represents the views of the nation as a whole, just can’t help themselves.”

Ari’s last day

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer yesterday bid adieu to the White House press corps as he stepped down to pursue a more private life, one that doesn’t require a 24-hour devotion to news and a daily, hourlong grilling by foaming-at-the-mouth reporters.

The White House press corps, many of whom were openly disdainful of the longtime politico, gave Mr. Fleischer a round of applause as he appeared for his final briefing — his 300th as press secretary.

The press feted him with a goodbye cake, but one who chose not to join in the festivities was heard to mumble “Good riddance” as he walked back to the press work area.

Asked by The Washington Times what he plans to do tomorrow, his first day of freedom, Mr. Fleischer, standing in his half-packed office, stretched his arms wide and said: “I just want to say, ‘Ahhhhhh.’”

Mr. Fleischer, 42, plans to become a professional consultant for private firms that need help handling the press. He will hit the lecture circuit, stopping to chat with David Letterman on Thursday, and is likely to write a book.

At the end of his briefing, Mr. Fleischer thanked Mr. Bush, “who gave me this opportunity to serve my country, in whom I believe so deeply, both on policy and as a person, as a leader, and as somebody I’ve come to be very close to.”

He also acknowledged that there was at least one fringe benefit to working in the White House — it’s where he met his wife, Becki, who attended the final briefing.

“I can’t wait to see you at regular hours,” he told her with a smile.

Scott McClellan, 35, takes over today — there was no word on whether he will don the flak jacket handed down from spokesman to spokesman.

Untenable position

“‘It’s beginning to sound a little like Watergate,’ Howard Dean said over the weekend, referring to last week’s hubbub over a 16-word sentence in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union Address. MoveOn.org, the Deanite political action committee, issued an ad last week labeling the president a MISLEADER,” James Taranto notes in his Best of the Web Today column at www.OpinionJournal.com.

“But here’s what’s really interesting: The Democratic National Committee also put out an anti-Bush ad — a bit less shrill, but with essentially the same message. ‘President Bush Deceives the American People,’ screams the headline on the DNC’s Web site.

“The Democrats are now more united on the war than they’ve been at any time since that brief burst of bipartisanship immediately after [September 11]. Trouble is, they’re united behind the views of Howard Dean, and that puts the more mainstream candidates — John Kerry, Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman — in a logically untenable position. All are now arguing against a war they voted for,” Mr. Taranto said.

“To those of us who supported Iraq’s liberation without reservation, the 16 words in the president’s speech are an irrelevancy … And let’s be honest: For Howard Dean, the African uranium question is equally irrelevant. His Watergate comparison is telling. Watergate, after all, was a criminal conspiracy; Dean seems to view the liberation of Iraq as a crime (and Saddam Hussein as the victim?).”

Brand leader

House Republicans have earned a substantial “brand advantage” over Democrats among American voters by engaging Democrats on their issues, Rep. Deborah Pryce, House Republican Conference chairman, argues in a memo to her colleagues.

According to a poll the conference commissioned by the Winston Group, Republicans are seen favorably by 51 percent of voters, while 38 percent view them unfavorably — a plus-13 positive image. Democrats, meanwhile, are seen positively by 46 percent and viewed negatively by 44 percent — a plus-2 image.

More important, Ms. Pryce argues, Democrats have fallen since January, when they were at 49 positive and 39 negative, while Republicans have remained about the same.

“We have sustained this strategic brand image even when we have been engaged on issues that generally have been perceived as more favorable to Democrats — specifically, health care,” Ms. Pryce said.

Offending Hicksville

Residents of Hicksville aren’t too happy that Jerry Springer is using the northwest Ohio village as a symbol for a U.S. Senate campaign against Republican incumbent George V. Voinovich.

Mr. Springer, 59, is raising money for his campaign by charging $100 for autographed photos of himself pointing to a Hicksville corporation-limit sign. The photo is shown on his Web site, www.runjerryrun.com, the Associated Press reports.

The photos are superimposed with words that commentator Jonah Goldberg uttered on a CNN politics program recently: “If Jerry Springer shows up, he’ll bring all these new people to the polls. They will be slack-jawed yokels, hicks, weirdos, pervs and whatnot.”

The photo was snapped after Mr. Springer was in the town about 70 miles southwest of Toledo on May 5.

The 3,600 residents have defended the community against the inevitable jokes since land agent Henry Hicks gave the town his name in the 1830s.

“I’ve got a sense of humor, but this makes us look like a bunch of … ,” said village administrator Kent Miller, trailing off before the “H”-word tumbled out.

“If Springer’s running for office, I don’t know why he’d want to tick off 3,600 people.”

Farmer vs. Edwards

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was briefly diverted from touting his economic plan Sunday by an Iowa farmer critical of his agriculture policies.

Jerry Burger, a fourth-generation family farmer, stopped the Democratic presidential candidate as he crossed the street Sunday in Waukee and engaged him in a spirited argument. The town of 5,126 is near West Des Moines, one of Iowa’s fastest-growing cities.

“This is some of the best land in the world and it’s getting bulldozed and turned into malls and all kinds of development,” Mr. Burger said. “All you want is more regulations on livestock production and farm production. Farmers leave faster the more rules you make.”

Mr. Edwards, who had just delivered a speech focusing on his economic policies in the town square, told Mr. Burger he was wrong, the Associated Press reports.

However, Mr. Burger, who raises hogs and crops on a 2,000 acres near Waukee, said Mr. Edwards was as “far left as you can get” on the environment.

Mr. Edwards turned and walked away after it was apparent he wasn’t swaying Mr. Burger.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes.com.

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