THE LAST REFUGE. The idea that anyone not on his side isn't patriotic has been a consistent, ugly theme of George W. Bush and his presidency. So I was struck by these words, which Bush spoke during a campaign rally yesterday in Derry, New Hampshire:
Our work in Iraq is hard work. There are people there who want to stop the march to democracy, that's what they're trying to do. They want us to leave. They want us to quit. Our work in Iraq is absolutely essential - Iraq - essential for our country's security. For our children and grandchildren to grow up in a safer world, we must defeat the terrorists and the insurgents, and complete our mission in rebuilding Iraq as a stable democracy.
I'm going to New York after this, and in the next couple of days I'll be meeting with Prime Minister Allawi, the prime minister of Iraq.
He is a strong and determined leader. He understands the stakes in this battle. I hope the American people will listen carefully to his assessment of the situation in his country. We must show resolve and determination. Mixed signals are the wrong signals to send to the enemy. Mixed signals are the wrong signals to send to the people in Iraq. Mixed signals are the wrong signals to send to our allies. And mixed signals are the wrong signals to send to our troops in combat.
Obviously the president is talking about John Kerry. But what does he mean? I'll grant that one way to read this is as criticism of Kerry's own tortuous rhetoric on Iraq, which Bush has managed to characterize neatly and inaccurately as "flip-flopping." (Kerry went a long way toward untangling his views yesterday.)
For instance, a few paragraphs before this Bush said, "He [Kerry] also changed his mind and decided that our efforts in Iraq are now a distraction from the war on terror, when he earlier acknowledged that confronting Saddam Hussein was critical to the war on terror. And he's criticizing our reconstruction efforts, when he voted against the money to pay for the reconstruction."
But I would argue that Bush intended a darker meaning as well. Look at what he said again. "Mixed signals are the wrong signals to send to the enemy ... to our troops in combat." This is harsh stuff - Zell Miller with a human face. This is close to denying that anyone has a right to criticize Bush's war policies because, after all, Bush is a wartime president, and the country is at war.
As Samuel Johnson once observed, patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. For Bush to insinuate that Kerry, by making the case for what he would do differently, is helping our enemies and harming our troops is reprehensible. It's also, sadly, business as usual.
I'D RATHER NOT. I'm getting tired of the story surrounding the inauthentic Jerry Killian memos. Media Log readers know I'd concluded they were probably fakes within a couple of days of the original broadcast on 60 Minutes, nearly two weeks ago.
This will be devastating to CBS's credibility, but no worse than what the New York Times went through with Jayson Blair, or USA Today with Jack Kelley.
With that, two observations:
- I thought Dan Rather's apology last night was complete and sincere. I was impressed that he said, "I want to say, personally and directly, I'm sorry." His concession came many days later than it should have, but not too late, if you define "too late" as meaning that he's going to have to resign. But it certainly wouldn't surprise me if, at some decent interval after the election, the 72-year-old anchor retires.
- Since Rather took personal responsibility last night, I hope that CBS stands by that and doesn't try to whack anyone below him. John Ellis has some hilarious - and chilling - advice for Mary Mapes, who produced the story that made use of the Killian memos: "Call your lawyer immediately. DO NOT, under any circumstances, allow CBS counsel to represent your interests." There's lots of other good stuff, so start here and scroll down.