March 24: The Day Bush Was 'Defined' as a Traitor, a Coward and a Creep
Wednesday March 24 seemed like an ordinary day. There were no major terrorist attacks or natural disasters, no major celebrity crimes or verdicts. There weren't even any nasty presidential campaign attacks, since John Kerry was snowboarding in Idaho, blissfully out of the fray.
But March 24 was historic nonetheless, because it was the day George W. Bush was "defined" as a traitor, a coward, and a creep.
Remarkably, this "defining" occurred only four days after the NY Times declared the Bush campaign would spend the next 90 days "defining" John Kerry:
"President Bush's campaign is following an aggressive and precise 90-day media strategy to define Senator John Kerry as indecisive and lacking conviction, with a coordinated blitz of advertisements, speeches and sound bites, senior campaign advisers said this week. The goal, several campaign aides said, is to first strip Mr. Kerry of the positive image that he carried away from the Democratic primary contests and then to define him issue by issue in their own terms before the summer vacation season. The central thrusts will be national security and taxes, they said. The aides said the strategy was planned weeks ago in coordination with Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's chief political aide, while Mr. Kerry was battling for his party's nomination."
Indeed, "national security" would turn out to be a defining issue - for Bush.
March 24 began with Richard Clarke's testimony before the 911 commission. His testimony was eagerly awaited as a result of his blistering attack on Bush on 60 Minutes, when he said:
"Frankly, I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know.' Clarke went on to say, 'I think he's done a terrible job on the war against terrorism.'"
The White House launched a furious counterattack, trying to portray Clarke as a "disgruntled" former employee who was "bitter" for being denied a plum job and trying to "cash in" by hypeing his exaggerated book.
So when Clarke was sworn in to testify before the 911 commission, the world was watching with rapt attention. Would he challenge Bush? Would he come under fierce attack from Bush's defenders? Would he be able to withstand the attack?
In reality, Clarke won the war just by showing up. Everyone knew he would face brutal questions from Bush supporters, but he proved himself willing to stand in the line of fire. This powerfully demonstrated his integrity and strength of character - and made the world wonder what George W. Bush (and his National Security Advisor, Condi Rice) had to hide.
He added steel to his armor when he swore to tell "the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." Merely by doing so, he put himself at risk of perjury. From that moment on, his critics could attack him all they wanted, but if they wanted to call him a liar they would have to do it in a courtroom. As Dan Abrams told Bush supporters on the Abrams Report that evening, "if the Bush administration is saying these are lies, they should put their money where their mouth is and prosecute him."
He made himself a hero in the eyes of 911 victims when he did something George W. Bush has failed to do in two and a half years - he sincerely apologized to the families of the victims for failing to protect their loved ones. Slate's Fred Kaplan called this "a stunning blow to the Bush administration - the political equivalent of a first-round knockout."
And he became Bush's biggest nightmare when he looked straight into the eyes of his Republican critics and knocked down their ineffectual partisan attacks like King Kong swatting prop planes from the top of the Empire State Building. Indeed, he left former Navy Secretary John Lehman speechless when he declared: "By invading Iraq, the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terror."
If you're running for president as the commander-in-chief who is winning the war on terror, you do not want to be "defined" as "greatly undermining" that war - especially by the man who was in charge of fighting terrorism in your administration and those of your predecessors. This would "define" Bush as someone who is aiding America's enemies. In the unsubtle vocabulary of Busheviks like Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity, this would "define" Bush as a traitor.
So how did Bush defend himself against the most serious charge that could be levelled against him? He didn't even try. As he does whenever he's in serious trouble, he hid behind a woman's skirt. For this occasion he chose Condi Rice, who summoned reporters to her office for an off-camera briefing. Whatever she said was irrelevant, because no one could see her say it. But by hiding behind Condi, he "defined" himself yet again - as a coward.
Unfortunately for Bush, he did have to make a public appearance that evening, and is was before banquet room full of reporters where he had to be funny. And it was there that he "defined" himself as a creep, by repeatedly joking about his failed hunt for weapons of mass destruction - a hunt that had cost the lives of 589 US soldiers, not to mention the lives of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians and $166 billion from America's struggling taxpayers.
As David Corn wrote in The Nation:
"Even if Bush does not believe he lied to or misled the public, how can he make fun of the rationale for a war that has killed and maimed thousands? Imagine if Lyndon Johnson had joked about the trumped-up Gulf of Tonkin incident that he deceitfully used as a rationale for U.S. military action in Vietnam: 'Who knew that fish had torpedoes?' Or if Ronald Reagan appeared at a correspondents event following the truck-bombing at the Marines barracks in Beirut--which killed over 200 American servicemen--and said, 'Guess we forgot to put in a stop light'. Or if Clinton had come out after the bombing of Serbia--during which U.S. bombs errantly destroyed the Chinese embassy and killed several people there--and said, "The problem is, those embassies--they all look alike." Yet there was Bush--apparently having a laugh at his own expense, but actually doing so on the graves of thousands. This was a callous and arrogant display. For Bush, the misinformation--or disinformation--he peddled before the war was no more than material for yucks. As the audience laughed along, he smiled. The false statements (or lies) that had launched a war had become merely another punchline."
When Karl Rove marked 90 days on his calendar to "define" Kerry, he should have circled March 24 - because that will go down in history as the day that "defined" Bush - as a traitor, a coward, and a creep.