Friday, December 27, 2002
SELF-DEFENSE: You may remember Glenda Gilmore. She's the Yale University history professor who made headlines a while back with the notorious observation of the Bush administration and the pending war on Iraq that, "We have met the enemy, and it is us."

In today's Los Angeles Times, Gilmore co-authors a response to Daniel Pipes' original charge of the rampant anti-Americanism pervading academia. Let's just say Gimore's defense is less than convincing.

LOTT OF PRESSURE ON FRIST: USA Today highlights the legislative shakedown underway against Senate Majority Leader Frist by civil rights groups:

Also likely to request a meeting with Frist: Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md. He's glad the GOP replaced Lott, but he wants more. "If there's no change in policy, the person doesn't matter," he said Thursday.

This is only the beginning of an attempt to turn any opposition to affirmative action, minimum wage increase, extension of unemployment benefits and a whole host of other policies into racially charged issues. - T. Bevan 10:27 am

Thursday, December 26, 2002
SECURITY GAMES: In a speech at the Brookings Institution last week, Senator John Edwards (D- NC) made news by attacking the Bush administration over the issue of homeland security. "Washington is not doing enough to make America safe," Edwards said.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post's Bart Gellman bolstered the charge with a front page story detailing America's defenselessness and concluded that "U.S. exposure to ruinous attack, more than 15 months into the war with al Qaeda, remains unbounded."

Finally, here is Adam Nagourney's lede from today's NY Times:

"Democratic contenders for president are beginning to challenge President Bush's record on terrorism, arguing that Mr. Bush has failed to do enough to prevent another fatal attack on American soil and that the nation is barely safer than it was before Sept. 11, 2001."

According to Nagourney, the Dems plan to make the issue a "central theme" in the 2004 elections. Is this smart politics?

In some ways, it is. By focusing on homeland security Democrats get to talk tough on security issues and terrorism without getting into a discussion of the wider War on Terror and matters of international foreign policy where they traditionally lack credibility with the public. Homeland security can also be seen as a plausible extension to the portfolio of domestic issues where Democrats score well with the American public and it also offers an irresistible upside for Democrats: expansion of the federal government, more spending, and more civil service jobs. Perhaps most importantly, harping on America's lack of domestic defenses to terrorism pushes the public's emotional buttons of fear and vulnerability - very powerful tools for generating votes and something the Democrats are well versed in exploiting.

The obvious problem with this strategy is that it only gains traction if America is attacked again. If the US doesn't suffer another attack, if the Justice Department and the FBI continue to make headlines by arresting suspected terrorists and investigating/shutting down Islamic charities that funnel money to terrorists, and if civil libertarians continue to assert that the government is going too far in its effort to crack down on terrorists domestically, it's hard to see how the argument will make even the slightest dent in President Bush.

But no matter how cynical the strategy, like most other things politics is often about playing the odds. And realistically, the odds of another attack on America in the next 18 months are fairly high - and they will probably increase as the election nears and terrorist groups (or other violent radicals who hate the Bush administration) may come to see another attack as a possible chance to effect the outcome of the election.

Should such a thing come to pass, Democrats will be ready to take advantage. I think, however, the opportunity to capitalize on another terrorist attack may be less than the Dems think and that they may be underestimating the emotional bond and the trust the public has in this President. It surely wouldn't be the first time Democrats have underestimated how America feels about him.

CHRISTMAS: We took the day off yesterday, but here's a nice Christmas Day column by Austin Bay that's worth a retroactive post. - T. Bevan 10:00 am

Tuesday, December 24, 2002
FRIST'S MISSED OPPORTUNITY: Watching Bill Frist's news conference yesterday I couldn't help but think of what a great opportunity he was missing. Instead of coming out and tackling the issue of race head on, Frist made a couple of vague references "healing" and to the "trying times" of the last two weeks but then basically said "let's all go home and enjoy the holidays." He didn't offer to elaborate on why the last weeks were "trying" and he didn't take any questions.

Why go through the very public, painful effort of forcing one of your own leaders to step down for racial insensitivity and then not take the time to reaffirm the party's position regarding race in unambiguous terms?

Perhaps something like this:

The last few weeks have taught us that America's past, particularly with respect to race, still represents a difficult and emotional chapter in our nation's history. And while we can and should both acknowledge the scars of the past and continue to learn from them, we should also not forget to celebrate how far America has come and continue to focus our energies on moving even further forward into the future.

America remains the greatest country on earth, and we learn anew each day that her greatest strength is diversity, tolerance, and a belief in the freedom and equality of all of her citizens. As Republicans, we are steadfastly committed to equal rights for all individuals regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion. We are committed to equal opportunity for every American, including access to a quality education, affordable health care and to promoting a strong economy that will provide jobs to every willing and able citizen.

Just minutes ago on the phone my colleagues and I unanimously reaffirmed our commitment to these Republican ideals and to our heritage as the party of Abraham Lincoln. Our coming agenda will reflect a set of ambitious, innovative ideas to achieve these goals.

Okay, so I'm not a speech writer -but you get the point. It's seems like a case study for Politics 101: Define yourself before somebody else defines you.

Frist came across as smart, sincere and ready to work hard to lead the GOP forward. However, I think the moment called for something more: it was a chance for the GOP to speak openly and directly about race, to take a step to disassociate itself from some of the ugly racial politics of the past and to reaffirm a commitment to equality and opportunity for all citizens. The bad news is that Frist missed that chance yesterday. The good news is that he'll get plenty more. - T. Bevan 8:15am

Monday, December 23, 2002
LOTT AND THE DEMS' OVERSTEP: I'm sure Trent Lott is devastated and angry. It has to be hard to watch your career crumble - not to mention being held up as the GOP's racist poster boy by those on the left. But it's still hard to square his claim of falling into a "trap" set by his political enemies when it was really conservatives who gave the story life and kept the pressure on by demanding that Lott step down.

That being said, I think Bill Kristol was right when he said this weekend that Democrats are on the verge of "wildly overplaying their hand" with respect to the Lott affair. Hillary Clinton's recent statement offered the implied accusation that Lindsey Graham and Saxby Chambliss were elected by virtue of running racist campaigns. Senator Clinton followed with this wholesale indictment of the GOP:

"If anyone thinks that one person stepping down from a leadership position cleanses the Republican Party of their constant exploitation of race, then I think you're naive."

Bob Herbert's screed today (The Other Trent Lotts) is similarly hysterical and libelous:

"Having thrown Trent Lott overboard, Republican leaders seem to think they are now absolved of any further responsibility for the racism and ethnic insensitivity that have tainted their party. The problem is now supposed to go away.

They are deluded.

The problem isn't going away because Republican leaders haven't rid themselves of the habit of playing to the closet racists and the Confederate flag-waving yahoos who mean so much to the G.O.P. For 40 years the party has gone out of its way to court the enemies of black people. It's an offense for which it should be begging forgiveness.

Americans have made tremendous progress on matters of racial and ethnic tolerance over the past three or four decades. But those gains were made in spite of the ugly, backward, divisive and destructive behavior of many, many politicians in the Republican Party, including those at the very top."

It's hard to see how such ugly rhetoric won't have consequences for the Dems. This effort to sell the "big lie" to the public that all Republicans (or even a majority of Republicans) are racists will collapse under the weight of its own untruthfulness. The American people, and particularly the constituents of Senators like Lincoln Chafee, Olympia Snowe, Gordon Smith, John McCain, or Peter Fitzgerald are not going to be convinced their Republican representatives are either overt or covert racists.

Furthermore, most Southerners (both Republicans and Democrats) aren't racists and won't take too kindly to the flood of righteous indignation by Northern liberals branding them all as such or trying to draw on the scarred racial history of the South to score political points with the national liberal base. It's an incredibly divisive move and one that will make it that much harder for them to be competitive in the future. - T. Bevan 9:26 am


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