LEADERSHIP VACUUM: Is gotcha politics a Democratic specialty? Could be, given what we saw in recent weeks when, after eight months of relative post-9/11 comity, leading Democrats decided it was high time to accuse the current president and his administration of engaging in some odd mix of devious coverup and unpreparedness in connection to that day's terrorist attacks. But even if it is the Democrats' game, it's not an easy one to play, and from all indications its instigators quickly backed off once it dawned on them it was costing them points. Like all instinctive competitors they'll no doubt regroup and try, try again. If so, they could perhaps use a new captain, as Tom Daschle's sad performance on last Sunday's "Meet the Press" confirmed. Under Tim Russert's sharp questioning, Daschle appeared churlish, graceless, contradictory, and small. He even lacked the grace to distance himself from Cynthia McKinney's rhetoric. Republicans are mighty fortunate Daschle hasn't proved to be the second coming of George Mitchell.
OUT OF THEIR LEAGUE: Republicans are also lucky that two can't necessarily play the gotcha game, or that when they sometimes try no one bothers to notice. Last week some Republicans on Capitol Hill thought they had a golden opportunity to turn the tables on Democrats by accusing them of premeditated dishonesty. They felt they had a smoking gun, in the form of an e-mail exchange between two Democratic House staffers that had inadvertently reached a Republican staffer. The e-mail included a crudely argued draft of a Democratic op-ed accusing the Bush administration of wanting to privatize and Social Security, threaten the survival of seniors, and enrich the rich and Enron-like corporations. Even Al Gore would have argued the case in subtler language.
More interesting was that at the top of the would-be op-ed, one staffer asks: "Does the rhetoric match the facts?" To which the other staffer replies: "In response to your question: not entirely factually accurate." Then he adds: "I hope this is not under consideration for the pull out. Talk about scaring seniors -- this may be a little over the top. But it is sooo fun to bash Republicans." (And he added a smiley face.) It was here that Republicans somehow saw their opening, even though the memo's jokey expression of anti-Republican partisanship was accompanied by a clear admission that the draft in question didn't pass muster. A bottom of page one story in last Friday's Washington Times dutifully reported, "Social Security memo gives GOP smoking gun, ammunition." It quoted Rep. Tom Davis, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee: "This is exactly what Democratic leaders have been saying -- scaring seniors, lying, going over the top." And that was pretty much the end of the hopped-up story, unless you include the coverage the memo received late that afternoon on Fox News:
LINDA VESTER: ...Congressman Tom Reynolds, I understand that you have had a look at this memo that accidentally made it into Republican hands. What is the most damning part of it?
REP. TOM REYNOLDS (R), NEW YORK: Well, what I think the biggest problem is, it's an outrageous lie that has been put together and fabrication to scare seniors. And just the whole tenor of the memo that accompanied the draft showed that we're not going to debate the issues or the facts in this country by Democratic tactics, we're going to lie, distort facts, and scare seniors. It's outrageous....
(So outrageous that the story evidently didn't make the cut for Brit Hume's show.)
The Fox item continued in this vein for another minute or two, most of it filled out with harrumphing by Rep. Reynolds, who called the Democratic tactics "outrageous" an additional five times. You'd think if it were a real scandal other Republicans would have been interviewed as well.
What no one bothered to mention is that the obscure e-mail in question was two months old, which only adds to the impression that if Republicans couldn't clutch at straws they'd do no clutching at all.
CANNES LAUGHTER: In politics, as in other areas, it remains true that most often it's just not worth emulating the other guy. If he plays cheap, you should play expensive. Consider President Bush's recent trip to Europe. In France he did fine, especially when asked a demagogic, leading question by an NBC correspondent, who then in French asked President Chirac to pat him on the head for putting the cowboy president on the spot. At that point Bush cut the NBC guy off at the knees, mid-section, and neck. An American reporter who wanted to show up the representative of the American people before a foreign audience was taught a costly lesson in etiquette.
Too bad the lesson did not extend to all Americans in France last weekend. At the Cannes film festival, for instance, a seriously unfunny lefty clown by the name of Michael Moore won a special award for a Canadian-backed documentary he'd done on America's obsession with "violence." In accepting his prize last Sunday night, Moore wouldn't shut up, though his French was about as fluent as a junior high school student's after a week of lessons. But more embarrassing was Moore's gratuitous reference during the English portion of his remarks to a fellow he contemptuously referred simply as "Bush." He said he had seen his arrival in Paris earlier that day on CNN and thought maybe someone should invite him down for a special screening of Moore's documentary. One couldn't tell from the Independent Film Channel's live coverage how those remarks went over with sophisticates in the audience, some of whom appeared to be under the influence of opium. But the camera did capture Cannes jury member Sharon Stone laughing at Moore's anti-Bush line as if she were reliving her favorite murder scene in Basic Instinct. As for the French, while it's clear what they may see in Stone, it's totally unclear what they see in the uncouth Moore -- unless it's that he is a most useful idiot, an ugly American who regales foreigners with stories about how ugly Americans are.
A Scotsman by the name of Paul Laverty would later pile on. In accepting his award for best screenplay, he praised rainbow-colored diversity, denounced lazy rich white privilege, and derided the intelligence of a man he called "Mr. George Biuoosh." Smug, cocky fool he was, but at least no one could mistake him for an American.
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