Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Last Month's Democratic National Convention Column

We're catching up. My web subscription to The Tribune kicked in yesterday, so I could retrieve the column that ran on Monday, Aug. 2. The newspaper version is available here, for a while, anyway.

The column ran with a charcoal drawing of speakers at the Democratic Convention, a pyramid with Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at the bottom, then Teresa Heinz Kerry and John Edwards, and then John Kerry. Because it's The Tribune, they put a fuzzy drawing, in a box, at the bottom of the pyramid; it appears to be Ted Kennedy. Maybe you have to be a 'winger and get the email to know for sure. Not the best "pull quote" but that's the way it goes.

Convention Wrap-Up
If you follow politics, you've decided on your candidate; if you haven't decided, you don't care

East Valley Tribune, Aug. 2, 2004

I watched the Democratic National Convention on CNN because of Larry King, the sovereign of the non sequitur. I pitied CNN’s “convention comedian” Mo Rocca. How do you seem amusing when your straight man is funnier -- even if inadvertently?

Worse, Mo was only CNN’s third-funniest guy. He got edged out by both Larry and by Bob Dole, who sounds increasingly like his Saturday Night Live imitation. Maybe going to Senate spouse events with Bill Clinton helps Dole hone his self-imitation.

Dole’s essential task was to repeat the GOP talking points, and he performed his job gamely. His comments became increasingly compressed, a few buzzwords thrown up resignedly against the relentless cheerleading of the designated Democrats. (This year, there are no informed impartial observers. People who know anything about politics have made up their minds. People who haven’t made up their minds don’t follow politics.)

Dole first would growl the backhanded compliment that’s the currently-required opener to a full-fledged political put-down. As each evening wore on, Dole’s comments got briefer and more cryptic: “Military service nice, but flip-flopped on Iraq. Flip-flopper, Larry.”

That’s a shorthand preview of the primary GOP attack: John Kerry flip-flopped on Iraq. Sure, anybody thinking in sentences longer than four words might seem hopelessly complex next to George (“I’m a war president.” “Good versus evil.” “Bring it on.”) Bush.

Kerry indeed did say much about Iraq, very little compressible into four words. But maybe the problem isn’t Kerry’s. Maybe it’s that the Bush administration keeps changing the reason for the war, so Kerry’s position on one reason doesn’t make sense once Bush changes his justification again.

Bush has been constant on only one thing, that we must invade Iraq. He’s been all over the lot explaining why we went to war -- so don’t blame Kerry if his position on one version of Bush’s war isn’t the same as on another.

Bush gave so many different reasons for the Iraq war that it’s difficult to remember them all. The administration led people to believe that Iraq was connected to 9/11, al Queda, or the anthrax letters (remember those?). Now only Dick Cheney thinks there’s any connection -- and even he only says that nobody has proven, to his satisfaction, that one didn’t exist.

We had the atomic Iraq war, with claims that Iraq had nuclear weapons, or a program, or the ingredients for a program, or plans for the ingredients of a program. Again, nobody who isn’t recycling Ahmed Chalabi rumors believes that anymore.

Then we had the WMD war, claims that Iraq had stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons ready for use, that could be delivered against the U.S., either directly or through terror groups. That hasn’t panned out, either.

Then we had the democracy-for-Iraq war, which required believing that giving Iraqis a new government was more vital than stopping North Korea or Iran from developing nuclear weapons, or finding Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, or stopping genocide in Sudan. But we’ve installed an Iraqi president with connections both to the CIA and the former Baathist regime, who is busily imposing emergency decrees and generally acting more like Juan Peron than George Washington. The democracy justification isn’t looking too healthy, either.

Given how it’s turning out, shouldn’t everybody have doubts about the war? So before accusing Kerry of flip-flopping, first specify exactly which of Bush’s many different Iraq wars you mean. Then explain why Kerry having different positions on Bush’s ever-changing justifications is bad, while Bush being repeatedly wrong about Iraq, but refusing to reconsider his policies, is good.

Maybe reasons to go to war needn’t be timeless. But is expecting one to last a whole year too much to ask?

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