Mr. Bush, You’re President of America, Not Iraq
Published 12:00 am Monday, June 7, 2004
The defining issue President Bush needs to press in this election is domestic security against terrorism. Only by expanding the terror issue and relocating it from Iraq to the United States can he hope to win the votes of the women who are backing Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).
Thus far, Bush’s message has been the need to attack terrorists where they live and hide – in the “axis of evil” nations that harbor or support them. But he had not correlated this offensive with the need for domestic security. He needs to point out that we have not had a major terror attack for the past three years because we have the terrorists back on their heels, fighting close to home, hiding out in caves, and unable to pull off a Sept. 11 type of strike.
He should say that there is a group of terrorists who want to kill Americans and that most of them are gathered in Iraq these days. He should point out that those we kill or capture over there cannot then come here to spread their mayhem.
The Bush campaign is off to a good start by its ad attacking Kerry’s opposition to extension of the Patriot Act, but it needs to relate our foreign activities to the requisites of domestic security.
As I make this argument, I can hear the White House staff caution that we must not make too big a deal of our domestic safety lest we tempt another terror attack or risk political disaster if one occurs. But if there is another terror attack, it will only demonstrate the gravity of the challenge we face and the nation is likely to rally around the president as it did after Sept. 11.
The best argument for Bush’s presidency is his success in keeping America safe despite attempted terror attacks on such diverse targets as the Lincoln and Holland tunnels in New York, the city’s subway system, the United Nations, planes taking off from Newark Airport and other targets throughout the nation.
Bush had an excellent opportunity to sound just such a theme in his televised speech to the nation at the Army War College last week, but it is obvious that the geniuses at the National Security Council (NSC) cut the political people out of the preparation of his speech. It was one that only a policy wonk could love, and an Iraqi policy wonk at that.
Loaded with facts and figures that mean little to Americans, it seemed as if the president forgot which country he was president of. His multipoint program for Iraq left voters uninspired.
The proof is in Rasmussen’s daily tracking polls, Kerry broke a dead-even tie that had lasted for more than a week and took a three-point edge after the speech was finished. What a great showing for a prime-time televised speech to the country!
The speech was pathetic. Imagine the president speaking in the middle of an oil-price crisis where gas costs are soaring up to $2.50 per gallon and Bush lauds Iraq for pumping 2 million barrels per day and does not even mention the contribution of this increase in production to holding down further hikes in prices!
And which political genius sought to rally the American people with the stirring news that Iraq was now sending a representative to the World Trade Organization? That was worth at least five points right there.
When the president addresses the nation on foreign-policy topics these days, the NSC staff shows up, as it did in the Clinton days with stone-engraved tablets of what it wants him to say. The staff frowns on editing as much as Moses might have as he brought down his tablets to the Hebrews. Bush needs to look beyond the policy wonks and address his political needs with greater sensitivity and sagacity.
He also needs to avoid male venues like the war college for these kinds of speeches. He must choose locations that emphasize the needs of domestic security as he brings his message home that action abroad equals safety at home. This theme needs to dominate his convention and his speeches in the run-up to New York. It is the best way to appeal to those voters whom his militaristic rhetoric has failed to convince.
Dick Morris was an adviser to Bill Clinton for 20 years. Look for his new book, Rewriting History.
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