The anti-war, anti-Bush MSM both here and abroad have reached a state of near-rapture. The president's problems, Tom DeLay's indictment, the diminishing support for the war and the growing (and healthy) fight between fiscal conservatives and big government Republicans has enthused them like nothing since the last helo lifted off from the American embassy in Saigon. They're ready to declare conservatism over. But, like the Washington Post's reports that Rep. Mike Pence's "operation offset" was dead, they will be proven wrong if actions take the place of speeches.
A little-noticed role reversal has occurred in American politics. The MSM are performing the service that Heritage, AEI, Cato, and the Hoover Institution provide for conservatives. The media have filled the political and intellectual vacuum that left the Dems entirely bereft of ideas, able to say nothing other than "no." Today the opposition party to the Republicans is not the Dems but the mainstream media itself. They write, they speak, and the Dems follow.
Sometimes it's so obvious it's comical. Before the Roberts confirmation hearings, the CBS News website ran a column by Andrew Cohen that set forth four questions for Judge Roberts. The New York Times went CBS one better on September 12, with five questions for Roberts posed by each of five columnists. If you watched some of the hearings and compared, as I did, the questions asked by Sens. Schumer, Feinstein, Leahy and Biden from the scripts written for them by CBS and the NYT, you'd have concluded that the senators and staffers cribbed them pretty much word for word. Need more proof?
Following the president's New Orleans speech, David Brooks, the NYT's token conservative, wrote on September 18 that the rebuilding of the south would be a "Bushian laboratory," for testing school vouchers and social engineering ideas such as the "urban homesteading" proposal the president made. The next day Vichy John Kerry said in a speech that, "The plan they're designing for the Gulf Coast turns the region into a vast laboratory for right wing ideological experiments. They're already talking about private school vouchers, abandonment of environmental regulations, abolition of wage standards, subsidies for big industries..." If you want more, just look. It's all around. The MSM is busying itself developing campaign themes for the Dems to use next year: incompetence, cronyism, and corruption.
In the UK, this is practiced openly by the Economist. In its lead editorial this week, it admits to "have all sorts of ideological disagreements with Mr. Bush." It then goes on to say that "our main problem with his administration has increasingly become incompetence." It accuses Mr. Bush of cronyism and states, as examples, both former FEMA chief Michael Brown and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. (Confluence of incompetents with political enemies is not even clever.) It says the incompetence is evidenced by the response to Katrina, and the "shambles overseas in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay," and says Mr. Bush's opposition to an independent investigation into what went wrong on Katrina is "heinous." The Economist hyperventilates, "A thousand people have died and the tax payer faces a bill of up to $200 billion. If those two things do not merit independent investigation, then what on earth does?" If you listen to the Economist, NPR, and the rest, the only other thing that merits independent investigation is the repeatedly disproved allegation that prisoner abuse -- at Gitmo, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and everywhere else an American soldier takes a prisoner -- is a Bush policy and a commonplace.
The drumbeat in the media about administration incompetence will be one of the Dems' campaign themes in 2006. You can hear and see the American MSM testing it on its unfocused focus group audiences. David Gregory, the absurdly biased NBC White House correspondent, rehearsed it repeatedly on Chris Matthews' show yesterday.
THERE'S ONLY ONE SOLUTION to this: leadership from the White House that takes the initiative, acts decisively, and pushes a real conservative agenda. Bypassing the media, talking directly to Americans and getting back to core conservative principles, he can provide the leadership the nation, and the conservative movement, need and deserve. The first step is the next Supreme Court nominee.
This week the president will nominate someone to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. The president should -- and I believe will -- come up with someone who is conservative to the core. The Dems, after reading the talking points they get from the NYT and CBS, will go bonkers. Presidential aspirants, such as Biden, Hillary, and Evan Bayh, and every Blue senator representing a Red State are under the most extreme pressure to accede to the demands of the hyperlibs. The presidential wannabes know they can't vote for any nominee or even fail to join in a filibuster against anyone with a drop of conservative blood in their veins and still have any prayer of being nominated by the MSM Party. Those who want to hold onto their current jobs know their political futures ride on how the home folks feel about social issues.
The president knows he has an opportunity to reshape the court for years or decades to come. That is why he should discriminate among the candidates on one principal basis: age. Chief Justice Roberts is a young 50. Clarence Thomas is not all that much older. Antonin Scalia, though older, is in very good health. If another young conservative can be added to the court, the Roberts Court could coalesce around the fourth. A conservative court will produce results that solidify the conservative base like nothing else can.
CHARGES OF INCOMPETENCE AND CRONYISM stuck to FEMA's famously unqualified Michael Brown, who managed to look bad even in comparison to Kathleen Blanco and Ray Nagin. You'd think -- incorrectly -- that a lesson had been learned. Even Republican senators are questioning the nomination of Julie Myers -- whose only law enforcement experience is two years as a federal prosecutor -- to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. ICE, second only to the FBI, is the biggest federal law enforcement agency. Ms. Myers may well be a rising star (she does, after all, come from the best of stock: she's the niece of retired Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers) but she ain't the kind of gunfight-winning border protection expert for that job. Dubya can put the cronyism and incompetence charge to rest if, from this moment on, he insists that his administration be comprised only of hard cases that can win the war and achieve conservative domestic goals. Every nomination should be announced with a parade of credentials. Not just a good resume, but hard-won experience is the key criterion.
Last, and certainly not least, the president needs to take two steps to take the debate on Iraq back from the media. First, let's get back to prosecuting the war. If you saw Meet the Press yesterday, you saw former Clinton adviser Rep. Rahm Emanuel duck the war issue. Emanuel implied that we should withdraw from Iraq if the Iraqis don't do better, quickly, we should withdraw. When Tim Russert asked specifically if Emanuel was saying we should withdraw from Iraq, he refused to answer. The Dems have no war policy other than withdrawal and surrender. Actions and results, not speeches, are what will win the real war as well as the one with the MSM party.
Second, Karen Hughes -- the president's ambassador for public diplomacy -- is targeting the wrong adversary in trying to improve our "image" in the Middle East. She should focus her effort not on the Arab governments but the Arab media. Last week, the Egyptian government daily, Al-Ahram, published a column by one Mustafa Sami, who -- plagiarizing Dick Durbin's talking points -- said Gitmo was like the Nazi death camps. He wrote: "During the past four years, 10% of the Guantanamo prisoners have committed suicide, which is the highest suicide rate among prisoners anywhere in the world!" Ms. Hughes should blast Al-Ahram with the facts. No detainee -- as in zero, zip, zilch -- has died in custody at Gitmo. According to the Pentagon, 22 detainees have made 35 suicide attempts at Gitmo since 2002, and all have been saved from themselves.
The MSM Party was weakened last year not just by Gunga Dan's forged memos, but also in every instance its political agenda was laid bare. The MSM is facing a political reckoning it has never faced before. Conservative leaders who recognize the role reversal between the media and the Dems can help bring this about. Let's get on with it.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004).