Along the Tracks

Friday, March 01, 2002
 
Senator Tom Daschle has decided it’s time to show his leadership ability and start tearing down the president in the midst of a war:
"I don't think it would do anybody any good to second-guess what has been done to date," Senator Daschle, the majority leader, told reporters Thursday. "I think it has been successful. I've said that on many, many occasions. But I think the jury's still out about future success."
"I think there is expansion without at least a clear direction," he added.

Let’s dissect this foggy attack on current U.S. policy, shall we?

“I don't think it would do anybody any good to second-guess what has been done to date.”
Insincere. It would do a great deal of good for Republicans if Daschle had the audacity to “second-guess” our response in Afghanistan and efforts on the intelligence, financial and law-enforcement fronts. After all, the Taliban is gone, al Qaeda is running scared and, most importantly, there have been no new terrorist attacks on Americans. Indeed, several planned attacks have been foiled and their perpetrators brought to justice. What Daschle meant to say is it would do him no good, politically, to second-guess the president.

“I think it has been successful. I’ve said that on many, many occasions.”
Daschle says here that it is his analysis that things have gone well so far. His analysis could be wrong, because mean old George W. hasn’t kept him instantly updated on everything. So if things start looking a little shaky, his analysis can - and will - change. “By the way,” Daschle adds defensively, “you pesterers in the press need to stop asking me what I think about our success. That just forces me to admit Bush has been doing a good job. Not helpful at all.”

“But I think the jury’s still out about our future success.”
Here, the good senator goes out on a limb and ventures into metaphysics: Our “future success” has not already been decided. Thank you, philosopher-king, for that nugget of knowledge. The president’s strategy is failing because we don’t already know how and when we are going to win this war. Very insightful.

“I think there is expansion without at least a clear direction.”
On September 20, 2001, George W. Bush said we would fight this war on multiple fronts, sometimes behind the scenes, sometimes with big military actions, sometimes with small, quick hits. Daschle stood, applauded, and after the speech, hugged the president. Did he not listen, not understand or just conveniently forget what he so ardently agreed with less than six months ago?

Look, it’s easy to discern the difference between a sincere policy disagreement and a bald-faced political attack: Look for specifics. Policy disagreements are based on specifics. Things like, “We shouldn’t be in the Philippines because Abu Sayyef is not a terrorist group, but just a band of local thugs” or “We shouldn’t attack Iraq until we’ve used the resources of the coalition to their fullest in tracking down and dismantling al Qaeda.” A political attack uses shadowy differences and truisms to tear down the other side without offering any serious alternatives. Things like, “Our strategy seems unclear” or “We don’t know what the future holds.”

Policy disagreements add value to the debate by forcing each side to defend its position with facts and logic. Political attacks subtract from real debate by forcing responses to vague criticisms for which there really are no answers. Political back-and-forth then develops a life of its own, never offering clarity for the exercise.

How can George W. answer Daschle’s “criticism?” Let me try.

“I don't think it would do anybody any good to second-guess what has been done to date.”
Bush: “I strongly encourage Senator Daschle to offer a prime time speech, certain to be picked up by the networks, second-guessing the war to date.”

“I think it has been successful. I’ve said that on many, many occasions.”
Bush: “Could you repeat that for the folks at home? Again? Again?”

“But I think the jury’s still out about our future success.”
Bush: “Actually, I’ve contacted three phone-psychics, two Vegas oddsmakers and some guy from Armenia that reads the entrails of goats. Don’t worry. We’re good.”

“I think there is expansion without at least a clear direction.”
Bush: “Here is a map of the world. All those little red dots are known or suspected terrorist strongholds. Those arrows aimed at the biggest concentrations of dots point the direction we are going. Comprende?”


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