WASHINGTON, D.C.—The brutal Bush attack machine ran wild all across the country last week. The hurricane gave the president more free advertising, and his surrogates easily turned aside Kerry’s attempted counterattack on the war.
Bush is making sure that the war stays the main issue of the campaign. And the Democrats are belatedly taking him up on it. At NYU Monday, Kerry declared, “The president’s insistence that he would do the same thing all over again in Iraq is a clear warning for the future. And it makes the choice in this election clear: more of the same with President Bush or a new direction that makes our troops and America safer.”
A New York Times/CBS poll over the weekend shows Bush ahead of Kerry among both registered and likely voters. Meanwhile, Bob Novak writes that his sources inside the administration are saying Bush will get out of Iraq in a second term when Condi Rice is secretary of state and Paul Wolfowitz has replaced Donald Rumsfeld. If there is any truth to this, Kerry’s war positions may be rendered more or less moot.
Meanwhile, the Republicans continue to bash Kerry as too weak for the job and as someone whose election would be an invitation for an Al Qaeda attack. Two weeks ago Dick Cheney said “it’s absolutely essential” to re-elect Bush lest “we get hit again.” Last Saturday, while introducing Cheney at a $1,500-a-table fundraiser in DeKalb, Illinois, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, usually pictured as a genial old fart but recently transformed into a rabid attack dog, repeated the same charges. “I don’t have data or intelligence to tell me one thing or another,” Hastert said, “[but] I would think that they would be more apt to go [for] somebody who would file a lawsuit with the World Court or something rather than respond with troops.”
Sunday on Meet the Press, John Thune, the former South Dakota congressman and now Republican candidate against Tom Daschle in a tight Senate race, said Daschle’s criticisms of Bush on the war had emboldened the enemy. He held to this line of attack even after Tim Russert played a video showing Daschle hugging the president, and after Daschle said he did not regret his vote for the war nor his support of the $87 billion in war appropriations. Hugging Bush, said Thune, was a “very cynical and manipulative effort on Tom’s part to connect himself to a popular president.”
Bush himself was in Florida, walking among the hurricane victims and saying such things as “Hang in there” and “I want to tell the citizens of this part of the world that we’re praying for you, that we’ll get help out here as quick as we can and that we ask God’s blessings on you and your families.”
Hurricanes are widely thought to be among early signs of intensifying storm systems caused by global warming. The Bush administration, which doesn’t officially believe that there is such a thing as global warming, has kept the U.S. out of international agreements aimed at controlling it. Among other things, global warming and rising oceans swollen by melting North Pole ice bode ill for the Sun Belt (where Bush is strongest), threatening cities like Miami and New Orleans with truly catastrophic floods and leading to a gradual retrenchment of urban development all along the American coastline.
But the Christian fundamentalists don’t believe this is what God’s got in store for the planet, so it made good sense for the president on Sunday not to open a discussion on global warming and instead offer the Lord’s blessings. Bush’s line on the hurricanes also happens to be another example of the GOP’s call to the working class to stop selfishly thinking about jobs or health care, and instead concentrate on things that really enhance the quality of life, such as religious beliefs. (It may be interesting to note that the Republican right is inching its way toward a theocratic state with the creation of Christian wings in prisons, faith-based social welfare schemes, and the Heritage Foundation’s most recent proposal to establish faith-based health insurance.)
Additional reporting: Laurie Anne Agnese and David Botti