. . . Wednesday March 31, 2004

Beyond the Middle Finger

It would seem too obvious a point to make that we tend to focus more on the game of politics than on the substance of policies, but it’s probably worth a word or two when it comes to the 9-11 panel. While there is firestorm over the Clark book and the Condi testimony, most of the panel members I’ve seen interviewed suggest that the bipartisan group is in basic agreement over the criticisms and recommendations that they plan to make. Chances are we’ll focus a lot less on those recommendations than on the inner political workings of a White House that reversed itself once again with the decision to allow Rice to testify. In the case of the Rice issue, we may see a place where politics and policy merge. In the midst of this finger pointing, here are few thoughts about which fingers we should be focused on – and for a change, maybe that focus shouldn’t be on the middle fingers the party leaders and followers so often point at one another.

1. No one did a good job on terrorism prior to 9-11. Nineteen guys backed by a few hundred grand pulled off, in relative terms, one of the deadliest and most shocking attacks in history. Clinton wasn’t good enough. Bush wasn’t good enough. The focus should be on how we get better.

2. Opinions are like assessments on the war on terror. Everyone’s got one. But do you really have any idea how we’re doing in the war on terror? Is Al Qaeda stronger or weaker? What are our strategies outside of intelligence and military might? Aside from hating Bush or Hating Clinton, or discrediting Rice or soiling Clarke, don’t you really want to know if we’re on the right track? Don’t you want the best and the brightest from both parties working on this issue?

3. I don’t think that Condoleeza Rice’s testimony will add anything particularly new to the discussion. But what is key here is this administration’s almost uniform position that secrecy is good. They have resisted sharing information at almost every step of the way when it comes to the 9-11 panel. And that philosophy goes beyond this issue.

4. The battle between Clarke and Bush has been one for the ages. But what can voters really extract from the war of words and innuendo? You have to decide how you feel about the White House reactions to the Clarke book and their subsequent efforts to discredit him. Again, these techniques are not unique to their dealings with Clarke. Do you see this is fair play and honorable loyalty to the White House or as an act of bad faith?

5. Iraq. Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. It’s is stupid to even debate whether or not the Bush administration had its sights on Saddam. Forget the piles of evidence from testimony and tell-alls. Just focus on this. We just had a war with Iraq. And it’s also stupid to question whether or not that war diverted resources and attention from the specific war or terrorism as represented by Al Qaeda. It’s also stupid to pretend that it’s not pretty great that one of recent history’s biggest thugs was hiding in a hole. These facts are all self-evident. The question is whether you think going to war in Iraq was the right thing or not. This is jury time. The facts have been in for months.

6. We no longer have time for transitions. But with the two party system so infused with contempt, how can we expect a smooth transition from one party’s administration to another?

7. The fact that Bush and Cheney will be testifying together in front of a portion of the 9-11 panel is incredible. It plays directly into the worst assumptions about who is actually running things in D.C.

8. There’s a pretty good chance that none of this stuff will make a difference come November. Why? Because almost none of it has so far. If someone had told you, shortly after 9-11, that there wouldn’t be another terror attack on U.S. soil for years, you would have said that’s it, Bush clearly wins. If someone had told you, shortly after we entered Iraq, that there would absolutely WMDs found, you would have said that’s it, Bush clearly loses. Are these factors leveling each other out? Or are we so locked into which team we’re on that nothing will shift the polls?

Concentration is important!