Tuesday, October 05, 2004


In time for the vice presidential debate tonight, some thoughts about last week’s lopsided confrontation between President Bush and U.S. Sen. John Kerry.


Bush’s campaign is doing some weak and unconvincing spinning, including continued attempts to paint Kerry as inconsistent that mainly address, as The New York Times puts it,

his promise that he would never “give a veto” to other countries when it comes to national security but also saying that major actions should not be conducted unless they pass “a global test.” [Nicole] Devenish, the campaign communications director, said: “John Kerry last night said he would subject national security decisions to a world standard, a world test. Nobody in America wants their president to subject America’s national security decisions to a world test.”

This is yet another Republican insult to the intelligence and fairness of the American people, and of course they’re more or less getting away with it. Unfortunately, sometimes insults are deserved.

Ignore that the word “veto” implies letting one vote kill action even if many other votes are in favor. What Kerry said in the Sept. 30 debate, which Republicans and Democrats are welcome to confirm from this Commission on Presidential Debates transcript, was:

I’ll never give a veto to any country over our security ... No president, though all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America. But if and when you do it ... you have to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you’re doing what you’re doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.

If that qualified past-tense justification sounds anything like what the Republicans are trying to spin, well, go ahead and vote for George Bush on Nov. 2.


It’s not just campaign workers that engage in this. The Times’ less blatantly deceptive of its conservative columnists, David Brooks, wrote Saturday that Kerry “is unable to blend his specific proposals into guiding principles,” and “That’s why he’s been fuzzy about the big things over the entire course of his career. That’s why he has changed his mind on big issues with such astonishing rapidity. That’s why he gets twisted into pretzels, like vowing to continue fighting the Iraq war, which he says was a mistake to begin.”

Brooks passes himself off as a great thinker, but on the matter of Kerry being “fuzzy,” he is intellectually lazy or complicit in intellectual bullying. His key example of Kerry being twisted into pretzels is merely a key example of Kerry being a realist — disagreeing with a war but agreeing to see it through to the best possible conclusion because, in the words of Bush himself, “The best way to defeat [terrorism] is to never waver, to be strong, to use every asset at our disposal, is to constantly stay on the offensive and, at the same time, spread liberty.”

Or, in Kerry’s own mature words from the debate, “I believe that when you know something’s going wrong, you make it right.”

Or, once again, from the debate, “Secretary of State Colin Powell told this president the Pottery Barn rule: If you break it, you fix it. Now, if you break it, you made a mistake. It’s the wrong thing to do. But you own it. And then you’ve got to fix it and do something with it.”

If that sounds like a pretzel, well go ahead and ... wait a minute. Didn’t Bush almost die choking on a pretzel?


Ah, President Bush. He is a shining example of style over substance (which makes his weak performance last week so odd), and one of the worst possible role models this nation could imagine for young people who pay attention. His demeanor at the debate, veering repeatedly into the tone of a man justifying his pay to a downsizing consultant or a little boy desperately needing a toilet, did surprisingly little damage to his poll numbers. This is why insulting the American public is sometimes deserved.

But did no one find it odd that in his several earnest and slightly cheap admonitions to Kerry not to insult the “brave,” Bush glossed over attacks made by his own friends and family on Kerry, who volunteered to command swift boats for four months in Vietnam knowing the service had a suicidally high rate of casualties? Bush doesn’t “appreciate it when a candidate for president denigrates the contributions of these brave soldiers,” although Kerry didn’t. And the Iraqi prime minister, “a brave, brave man,” shouldn’t have his credibility questioned, because “You can’t change the dynamics on the ground if you’ve criticized the brave leader of Iraq ... That’s no way to treat somebody who’s courageous and brave, that is trying to lead his country forward.”

Unlike Kerry, a decorated veteran who’s trying to lead his country where, exactly?

There has also been no criticism, let alone a cocked eyebrow, over Bush’s unseemly squirming over North Korea, where Kerry’s suggestion to talk directly about nuclear proliferation would, according to the president, “cause the six-party talks to evaporate.”

What happened to tough-guy Bush? The man who’s not going to give any nation a veto over American interests, the preemptive cowboy, the leader of the free world, the rejector of the International Criminal Court, the unsigner of the Kyoto Treaty, the steel tariff magnate, the flight suit mission-accomplisher, the guy who’s not going to sit around and let the United Nations slap another sanction on Saddam Hussein? He quails and runs for cover when real nuclear weapons are involved.

Here’s what Bush has to say on the matter, and if it sounds like the same man who talked so tough on Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, well, go find that man and vote for him:

We began a new dialogue with North Korea, one that included not only the United States, but now China. And China’s got a lot of influence over North Korea, some ways more than we do. As well, we included South Korea, Japan and Russia. So now there are five voices speaking to Kim Jong Il, not just one.

And so if Kim Jong Il decides again to not honor an agreement, he’s not only doing injustice to America, he'd be doing injustice to China, as well. And I think this will work. It’s not going to work if we open up a dialogue with Kim Jong Il. He wants to unravel the six-party talks, or the five-nation coalition that’s sending him a clear message.  The minute we have bilateral talks, the six-party talks will unwind ... It will mean that China no longer is involved in convincing, along with us, for Kim Jong Il to get rid of his weapons. It's a big mistake to do that.

We must have China's leverage on Kim Jong Il, besides ourselves. And if you enter bilateral talks, they'll be happy to walk away from the table. I don't think that'll work.

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