THE POLITICS OF TERRORISM. The re-emergence of Osama bin Laden raises a natural question three days before the presidential election: who benefits politically? This is dicey territory, and it's easy to come off as flip or disrespectful. But since bin Laden almost certainly wants to influence the outcome of the election, we ought to try to figure out what he's looking for. Not that it should change our minds about anything.
I can't seem to find the link this morning - I remember seeing it on Slate, but maybe it was elsewhere - but I subscribe to the bipartisan view that bin Laden would like to see George W. Bush win, because he's such a great recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, but that the Iraqi insurgents would like to see John Kerry win, because they're convinced he'll cut a deal (or cut and run). So, terroristically speaking, it's a wash.
Now, if it's true that bin Laden wants Bush, then it's fascinating to see how he weaves in bits from Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, including the part about Bush continuing to read My Pet Goat to the schoolchildren after the second World Trade Center tower had been hit. Kerry has adopted some of this rhetoric in his own campaign. Nothing wrong with that - Bush should be criticized for his seeming inability to excuse himself politely and get to work in the midst of Pearl Harbor II. Atmospherically, though, it can't help Kerry to have bin Laden delivering the same lines during the campaign's final hours. Is that deliberate on bin Laden's part?
And by the way, Kerry has been getting ripped lately for being a Monday-morning quarterback by criticizing Bush for "outsourcing" the job of killing bin Laden after he'd escaped to Tora Bora. The New York Times' David Brooks has a column today that's typical.
Well, fine. But shouldn't Kerry's critics point out that Monday morning took place not during this campaign but in June 2002? That's when Kerry appeared on Meet the Press and leveled that criticism for the first time. Kerry said:
Al Qaeda, a thousand strong, was gathered in one single mountain area, Tora Bora, and we turned to Afghans, who a week earlier had been fighting for the other side, and said, "Hey, you guys go up there in the mountains and go after the world's number-one terrorist and criminal who just killed 3000-plus Americans." I think that was an enormous mistake. I think the Tora Bora operation was a failed military operation.... And the fact is that the prime target, Al Qaeda, has dispersed and in many ways is more dangerous than it was when it was in the mountains of Tora Bora.
HUMAN TOUCH. The stakes in this election are so high that it's almost impossible not to personalize everything. If you're a regular Media Log reader, then you know that I think Bush is the worst president since Richard Nixon, and that the war in Iraq was by far the biggest foreign-policy blunder since Vietnam - maybe bigger. And on and on: tax cuts for the rich, the environment, civil liberties, etc., etc. You know the drill.
Anyway, I want you to read this post ("Bush for President") by John Ellis about his cousin. I know Ellis a bit and like him. He has been unfairly skewered for doing his job at Fox News four years ago - that is, calling Florida for Bush and, like everyone else, getting it wrong. Ellis does not change my mind about anything. But it's a useful reminder that Bush is human, and that - though I find his arrogant, bird-flipping, good-old-boy act incredibly off-putting - in his private life he's a perfectly fine person.
When it's all over, be it Wednesday morning or January 2009, I think the tragedy of the Bush presidency will be that he lacked the wisdom, the judgment, and the maturity to know enough not to surround himself with the likes of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, and to do everything they tell him.
Bush is not my kind of guy. Remember his mocking Karla Faye Tucker after her execution? I think the country's future depends on his losing on Tuesday. But still, we should remember that there's an actual person behind the caricature.
WHO'S WINNING? Oh, who knows? Electoral-Vote.com: Bush, 280; Kerry 243. Slate: Kerry, 272; Bush, 266. Zogby: Kerry, 47 percent; Bush, 46 percent. (Four years ago at this time: Bush, 46 percent; Gore, 42 percent.) Real Clear Politics: Bush, 48.7 percent; Kerry, 46.2 percent.