Politics & Policy

The Mayflower Gasbag Disaster of 2004

Ted Kennedy flips out on President Bush--again.

Senator Edward Kennedy narrowly escaped a lightning bolt Wednesday when he gave a speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. Okay, I don’t know that he dodged a lightning bolt. Maybe God couldn’t get a good one through the ceiling of the Mayflower without hurting innocent people. Or maybe Kennedy makes the interns stand on the roof with lightning rods so he can speak freely. All I know is that if I’d been in the room when Ted Kennedy had the untrammeled chutzpah to give that speech Wednesday, I would have leapt for cover for fear that the Almighty had finally decided to 86 that guy.

Kennedy, a man so convinced of his entitlement to the Oval Office he couldn’t be bothered to explain why he was running for the job, declared that the Bush White House is “breathtakingly arrogant.” A guy who recently took to the well of the Senate to deny scholarships to poor black kids because the teacher’s unions own him and his party had the effrontery to declare this White House “vindictive and mean-spirited.”

I don’t mean to get too worked up. I know people think Ted Kennedy is the “conscience of his party” (that’s the Democratic party; any other party where Ted’s involved you’re gonna want to bring your snorkel). So let’s deal with what the “conscience” had to say. Apparently, Teddy thinks the war was too “political.” Or in Kennedy’s words yesterday, it was a “political product.” Or in his words last Fall, “This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud.” Or in his words most other times, “Ah, er. Ah, mmm I asked for extra olives in this.”

There are so many criticisms of the war in Iraq which can–though often don’t–have intellectual credibility. But the idea that this war was fought because of the obvious political windfall which would redound to George W. Bush is among the dumbest. The riskiness of the Iraq venture was so colossal, so fraught with unknowns and downsides, it pushes the idea George W. Bush was willing to do it simply for the political benefits beyond the critical mass of asininity.

I frankly don’t care if you agree with me or not; if you think this war was a no-brainer political coup for the president, you’re a moron. If you think this White House saw it as such from the beginning, you’re a moron with ADD. Nonetheless, I would point out that this notion that President Bush toppled Saddam simply to get reelected contradicts numerous other theories held by Brother Ted and/or his fans. For example, if this was a crass reelection ploy, could the perfidious bagel-snarfing Rasputins we call “neocons” still be the string-pullers behind the scenes? After all, if their real interest is in helping Israel, or “perpetual war,” presumably Bush’s reelection is an afterthought.

More importantly, if the war was nothing more than a reelection strategy, why did the president “lie” about weapons of mass destruction?

You see, Kennedy & Co. believe (at least) two fundamentally contradictory things: The president lied about WMDs and the war was a “political product.” Does Teddy really think it’s a brilliant reelection strategy for Bush to hinge his case so overwhelmingly on Saddam’s WMDs when it was inevitable that the American people would find out there were no WMDs? That’s a pretty shaky political product to hitch your reelection hopes on.

If Kennedy was right last October when he said, “Before the war, week after week after week after week, we were told lie after lie after lie after lie,” then it seems pretty unlikely to me that Bush planned the war to be the centerpiece of his 2004 run since there would be a full year for the American people to discover that there were no WMDs. That would be like knowingly selling a car with an engine that could last a week but counting on the fact that the customer would return next month. In fact, Kennedy invokes Paul O’Neill’s 60 Minutes interview this past Sunday to insist that the administration wanted to invade Iraq on “Day 1.” Excuse me: Do serious people honestly believe that such a bold and risky reelection “product” was rolled off the assembly line even before Karl Rove sharpened his pencils? I’m not even sure Kennedy believes that since he’s already on record saying that this war was “made up in Texas,” which presumably means it was hatched before “Day 1.”

Regardless, let’s refer back to Wednesday’s gas leak…I mean, speech: “Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill has now revealed what many of us have long suspected. Despite protestations to the contrary, the president and his senior aides began the march to war in Iraq in the earliest days of the administration, long before the terrorists struck this nation on 9/11.”

Well, okay, in a sense that’s true. If by “march to war” Ted means “did some bureaucratic planning” and if by “revealed” he means “denied” then–Yes!–O’Neill blew the story wide open. Indeed, here’s how Paul O’Neill responded to Ted Kennedy’s view on The Today Show a full day before what will one day no doubt be known as the Mayflower Gasbag Disaster of 2004:

COURIC: So you see nothing wrong with that being at the top of the president’s agenda…

Mr. O’NEILL: Absolutely nothing. You know, and one of the candidates…

COURIC: …10 days after the inauguration?

Mr. O’NEILL: …one of the candidates had said this confirms his worst suspicions. I’m amazed that anyone would think that our government on a continuing basis across the political administration doesn’t do contingency planning and looking at circumstances. Saddam Hussein has been there forever. And so I was surprised, as I’ve said in the book, that Iraq was given such a high priority, but I was not surprised that we were doing a continuation of planning that had been going on and continuing looking at contingency options during the Clinton administration.

O’NEILL’S SHOCK AND AWE

Now, please let me take a brief moment to weigh in on O’Neill’s long day’s journey into self-parody.

I’m on record as believing that Paul O’Neill is a feckless crapweasel, and I stand by that. But in his defense, he’s astoundingly stupid about how Washington works (no really, stupidity is a defense). He seems legitimately surprised that people think this book he dictated to anti-Bush author Ron Suskind is negative. Suskind, you’ll recall, was the guy who managed to “find” unnamed White House senior officials to criticize the White House when no other journalist actually working that beat had in two years. Suskind got John DiIulio to say some unflattering things about the White House, but DiIulio denied remembering saying some of them (and–to be fair–he then apologized like John Belushi to Carrie Fisher in The Blues Brothers for the things he did remember).

That Suskind takes journalistic liberties is not a new charge. After his profile of Karen Hughes, for Esquire then-Press Secretary Ari Fleischer suggested that Suskind get himself a tape recorder. In response to that swipe, Suskind told Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post, “I’m a good note-taker….My notes are admissible in court.” That’s cool, although, when Bob Novak talked to several of the people Suskind interviewed, they said he hadn’t taken any notes at all.

Whatever. I don’t know if Suskind pads his prose or not. But when Howard Kurtz describes someone as a “fast-talking, self-promoting” guy “who gives speeches, does 90-minute shows in theaters, appears on television, is writing his second book and has his own Web site” and that his DiIulio story “gives him something new to promote,” most Washingtonians understand Kurtz is talking about an operator. One would certainly think such a description would ping the radar of a former treasury secretary and Washington hand. But no, O’Neill is supposedly shocked and awed by the “red meat” (his words) in the book he dictated. Worse, he apparently told Suskind that he was taken aback by the political nature of this White House. A political White House! This ranks somewhere between voicing surprise that rocks are hard to chew and being scandalized that bears continue to use America’s sacred parklands as toilets.

Kennedy, on the other hand, is not new to anything–including, I believe, all seven of the deadly sins and the naughty side of at least nine out of ten of the Ten Commandments. When President Clinton was in the Oval Office–a year before Kennedy voted for the Iraqi Liberation Act which authorized the “secret plan” O’Neill now denies he found–Ted Kennedy told Tim Russert that America could no longer tolerate Saddam’s intransigence. “I don’t think we should rule anything out, even military force. Those sites have to be accessible. They have to be available. They have to be inspected…I support the president’s movement of military forces into the region and I think it has to be very, very clear to Saddam Hussein that those sites are going to have to be accessible and available, otherwise there’s–nothing will be ruled out.”

That is, nothing will be ruled out–unless a Republican president is in office.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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