Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.V.) questions "the motives of a deskbound president who assumes the garb of a warrior for the purposes of a speech." Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) wants a General Accounting Office inquiry into the trip, citing its "clear political overtones." Rep John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) demands that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld "determine what the cost to taxpayers was for transporting the president to the carrier, his stay on the carrier, his flight from the carrier to shore, and any changes made in the carrier's or the jet's schedule or procedure for the president's visit." Well, guess what, guys? Presidential travel is inherently political -- like when President Clinton spent taxpayer dollars to fly onto an aircraft carrier on the very day his defense secretary announced a new round of base closings -- and wore a green flight jacket to boot while he watched fighter jets catapult off the carrier. (Major distinction here: Mr. Bush got the bottom half of the outfit, too.) Presidential staffs -- and we know this is a shocking concept -- worry quite a bit about the way their visits will look on TV -- and they work to get the most picturesque backdrop! And a president who wins a war -- whether you agreed with that war or not -- pretty much gets to greet returning troops wherever he wants.
Not since the ado over whether Mr. Clinton held up Air Force One on the tarmac for an hour to get a $200 haircut has there been a controversy this fundamentally silly. The difference is that the Republicans scored political points with haircut-gate; here, Democrats are only hurting themselves with churlish and petty complaints. Their real gripe with Mr. Bush is that he looked great; the president pulled off his "Top Gun" act as much as Michael Dukakis flubbed his spin in a tank. And what was the result of their agitating? Even more showings of the same dramatic footage of a triumphant commander-in-chief. The only rational explanation for this conduct is that it is a brushback pitch designed to intimidate the Bush campaign from using carrier footage in campaign commercials -- but even then, it seems destined (a) not to work and (b) to backfire.
Yes, yes, Republicans seemed to demand investigations every time Mr. Clinton -- or Hillary Clinton, for that matter -- went outside the Beltway, but Democrats are sorely mistaken if they think the "they did it too" argument is going to have any sway with voters. Mr. Bush's visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln may have been the real kickoff of his presidential campaign. If the Democrats' tone-deaf handling of this episode is any indication, he may well get his four more years.
Sunday, May 11, 2003
Even the Washington Post editorial page wonders if Democrats are working for Karl Rove.
Posted by Betsy Newmark at 8:35 AM