It is an unfortunate truth of our current political culture that when our nation has cause for celebration, there is often a corresponding urge for politicians, the media, and other interest groups to take cynical advantage of the moment.
Sadly, this truth has been borne out in response to the dramatic capture of Saddam Hussein.
The ability of this brutal dictator to elude capture for more than ten months after U.S. troops entered Iraq undoubtedly sapped the morale not only of our servicemembers, but also of millions of Iraqis willing, even eager to try to build a new nation. Pres. George W. Bush, who has done precious little right in his Iraq policy, showed wisdom this past Sunday when he coupled his announcement of Hussein’s capture with a clear warning that more violence was likely and more work needed to be done. The “Top Gun” swagger that he assumed on his aircraft carrier landing on May 1 was thankfully absent this time around.
Cool heads will recognize that the capture of Hussein may well have been necessary in the stabilization of Iraq, but it remains to be seen whether it is sufficient.
If only Bush had shown his newfound statesmanship when he sat down with ABC’s Diane Sawyer this week and fielded a question about the Massachusetts same-sex marriage ruling. For months, the president has walked a fine line—between appeasing his far right supporters who demand a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and avoiding a politically divisive fight that could reawaken concerns among moderate swing voters that Republicans are willing to countenance ugly, bigoted rhetoric and actions to hold their base.
In the immediate aftermath of the June Supreme Court ruling and the move toward marriage in Canada, Bill Frist, the Republican Senate leader endorsed a constitutional amendment, seeming to signal an all out move by the GOP. But for more than a month, Bush remained mute, speaking out for the sanctity of traditional marriage only during a week in which the Vatican also issued it latest anti-gay jihad.
Then having several times between July and Novemeber teased the right with pledges to protect marriage that fell short of support for a constitutional amendment, Bush took the plunge this week under cover of euphoric, though perhaps short-lived, spikes in his popularity.
The president has carefully hidden his nods to the right behind a ailing and aging pope and a humbled, even bewildered dictator.
Alas, Bush was not the only born-again cynic.
The broadcast and cable media were a cheering section when Bush marched into Iraq, and only slowly started asking questions when Americans kept dying at a rate of more than one each day into the summer. With Hussein in captivity after being found in a hole, anchors couldn’t scramble back to Bush’s side fast enough. In his “Late Edition” program at noon on Sunday, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer must have repeated half a dozen times his gleeful observation that Hussein “looked like a homeless person,” perhaps the only time this year that he broached the issue of people living without shelter. The following morning, Anderson Cooper on CNN’s “American Morning” could barely conceal his incredulity as he asked Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry what issues were left to debate in a country with a Dow hitting 10,000 and Hussein in custody.
The biggest disappointment, however, came from a trio of the Democratic presidential contenders, Kerry included.
Joe Lieberman, who has apparently never gotten over the fact that his political career missed most of the Cold War, spun this masterful Nixonian lesson from Hussein’s capture: “If Howard Dean had his way, Saddam Hussein would be in power today, not in prison.”
For his part, Kerry warned that Dean “threaten[s] to take us down a road of confusion and retreat.”
And as the days go by, it is becoming ever more apparent that the campaign of Rep. Richard Gephardt has ties to Americans for Jobs, Health Care and Progressive Values, a vehicle created to mount attack ads that warn against a Dean candidacy by using a camera zooming in on a picture of Osama bin Laden.
In the face of these attacks, Dean earns points for his mettle. In a major foreign policy address in Los Angeles just 24 hours after the capture was announced, he bucked the tide and declared, “The capture of Saddam Hussein has not made America safer.”
The Democratic front runner hung touch with his blistering critique of the Bush foreign policy. It may prove to be a defining moment in his campaign.