Man Without Qualities

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose XLIX: UPDATE TO: Misquoting And Not Paying Attention At The Washington Post

Another, more extensive, Kerry quote:

Democrats shifted their attention from the report's limited faultfinding to what is likely to be the next political battle: a pre-election struggle to turn the commission's extensive policy recommendations into law. Kerry issued a statement applauding plans by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) to write legislation based on the recommendations. "The administration and the Congress must get to work on this legislation immediately," Kerry said. Promising to convene an "emergency security summit," he added: "If I am elected president and there has still not been sufficient progress on these issues, I will not wait a single day more."
Same evasions. Still no call for Congressional "enactment" of any particular reform proposed by the Report. Same ambiguous call for others to "get to work" while he holds back on all substance until such time as he is elected president.

And we also have this:

Democrats served notice that they will try to deny Bush an opportunity to rebuild his terrorism credentials and that they will do this by fighting for more expeditious action on the recommendations -- an unusual proposition three months before the election. Former Clinton chief of staff John D. Podesta complained that GOP leaders "have promised no action on the recommendations until after the November elections." He added: "Americans deserve that this report be taken seriously and acted on without delay and with bipartisan support."
Mr. Podesta's primary loyalties are to the Clintons, and he is likely speaking for them - especially her. It is also probably no accident that he is well ahead of Senators Kerry and Edwards. It will be interesting to see what happens if the administration forces Senator Kerry's hand by actually having Congress step up before election day, as Mr. Podesta demands - and as today's reports now indicate the White House favors.

FURTHER UPDATE: More nuanced evasion from the Kerry-Edwards camp. This press release/open letter to the September 11 Commission was posted today on the Kerry-Edwards campaign website. It is designed to suggest that Senator Kerry is all for legislation enacting the Commission's recommendations (quoted extensively in the addendum):

I support the recommendations you have made for making our nation as safe as it should be. You said Thursday that we look back so that we can look forward. I agree, and I share the Commission's view that America must act now, without delay. A number of the recommendations can be implemented directly by the President, while others will require legislation. I offer my full support for immediate action and will work with you to implement the recommendations.

But a closer reading indicates that the letter/release is not such an endorsement at all. Of course, the first tip-off is that it is preposterous to expect Senator Kerry or anyone to endorse every recommendation of almost any commission reporting on a topic this complex. Yet Senator Kerry's letter/release seems to do just that - quoting and endorsing what seems to be every single Commission recommendation, right down to the Commission's semicolons. How could that be?

Well, it isn't. In fact, any suggestion that the letter/release is intended to actually bind the Senator to actually supporting enactment of the recommendations for which he says he "offer[s his]full support for immediate action and will work ... to implement" is undermined by this caveat:

Your Commission has provided an excellent roadmap to make our nation as safe as we can be and now we must work out the details in a bipartisan manner that lets us accomplish our goal of defeating the terrorists and protecting our nation.
Ah, yes. We all share the same "goal" of "defeating the terrorists and protecting our nation." But our approach to reaching those "goals" must be "bipartisan" - and on the Democratic side, that, of course, means something like the Church Committee approach that erects a wall between criminal and intelligence investigations. The Patriot Act - which is clearly endorsed by the Report's recommendations? Well, there's no real "bipartisan" support for that Act.

Work out the details in a bipartisan manner, is it? The devil here is clearly in those very details. What else could Senator Kerry mean?

In any event, the caveat that now we must work out the details in a bipartisan manner that lets us accomplish our goal of defeating the terrorists and protecting our nation is quite clearly intended to reserve Senator Kerry's right to respectfully disagree with any one of the recommendations he purports to "support."

Now that's what I call nuance.

But all the fancy, evasive, nuanced wordplay isn't likely going to hold up if Congress actually has to step up to the plate before the election. For that matter, it probably won't hold up through the first Presidential debate.


It seems likely that once Congress is seriously pressed to act, or Bush presses the point in the debates, Senator Kerry is simply going to have to choose. He can repudiate the essence of the basic recommendations of the September 11 Report, which would be consistent with his own history and that of his wing of the Democratic Party, but will pose very obvious problems for him that he is now trying desperately to avoid with his nuancy, non-responses. Or he can embrace the basic specific recommendations of the Report, in which case the Senator is going to have to deal with alienation of his left wing, which of course is what Ralph Nader is waiting for. That is, Senator Kerry is going to have to deal with the reaction of people who write this kind of thing in The Daily Kos:

Certainly, our intelligence operations need improving. ... On the other hand, this call to do something right this instant gives me the creeps. The 9/11 Commission has, after all, recommended the broadest overhaul of U.S. intelligence in five and a half decades, one that will be with us for many decades to come. Every great change generates unintended consequences. Speedy change offers vast potential for more such consequences. For instance, one key recommendation is centralization. That could be beneficial or terrifying. ... Finally, if you're like me and took a dim view of certain aspects of the CIA and our overall intelligence operations long before the failures associated with 9/11, you'll want Congress to make any changes slowly enough that issues such as those brought up in the 1975 Church Committee report are not forgotten.
Ah, yes. The 1975 Church Committee. It certainly will be interesting to see how the recommendations of this Report - which, as noted above already encompass the Patriot Act so hated by the left and then a lot more - can be reconciled with the approach and imperatives of the Church Committee, which essentially shut down human operations in the CIA, prohibited many necessary intelligence operative dealings with "criminals," erected all of those "walls of separation" between intelligence functions and institutions, and lots, lots more to impede the connecting of dots. The 1975 Church Committee, whose leavings Senator Kerry and the entire left wing of the Democratic have embraced as sacred catechism for a very long period spanning the entirety of John Kerry's career in the Senate - and which are still no doubt as fresh and dear to him and them as a Linda Ronstadt song heard on a 1970's "Oldies" station.

None of this is intended to suggest that Mr. Bush is likely to embrace the entire set of Report recommendations. He and his senior administration representatives have been fairly clear about that, as recounted in this Associated Press report, for example:

Legislation that would carry out two of the report's recommendations will be the focus of an unusual round of hearings in August while Congress is in recess. "The 9/11 commission's recommendations will help guide our efforts," said the president. "We will carefully examine all the commission's ideas on how we can improve our ongoing efforts to protect America and to prevent another attack."

Kean, a Republican, has left no doubt what he thinks should be done, saying that unless the panel's recommendations are implemented swiftly, "we're more vulnerable to another terrorist attack." "We're in danger of just letting things slide. Time is not on our side," Kean said.

Bush has not said how quickly the administration will act. Two important administration officials, Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge and acting CIA director John McLaughlin, oppose a Cabinet-level overseer of the intelligence apparatus, saying improving the current structure is what is needed.
But "improving the current structure" through legislation tending substantially in the direction of the establishment of a Cabinet-level overseer of the intelligence apparatus, or otherwise materially advancing the recommendations of this Report, would be violently inconsistent with the 1975 Church Committee approach. Liberal foes of the Patriot Act vigorously pointed out that inconsistency in connection with that Act's passage - and the Report recommendations go much further.

And the White House seems to have figured that out.

STILL MORE EVASION: From the New York Times:

Mr. Kerry said he had skimmed parts of the report overnight and found at least two dozen proposals that could be adopted through presidential prerogative, saying, "I would act with great haste."

"If I were president today, or yesterday, I'd be appointing one person in the White House responsible for liaison with the Congress and the agencies immediately to implement immediately the vast majority of the recommendations of the 9/11 commission," he said. "I wouldn't waste a moment in order to make America as safe as it can be."

"I regret that many of these have not been put in place over the course of the last few years," Mr. Kerry added.
Whatever is that response supposed to mean? The Report's recommendations that the Senator regrets "have not been put in place over the course of the last few years" only amount to "many of these" made in the Report. But that seems to be fewer that the "vast majority of the recommendations of the 9/11 commission" that he refered to one sentence back. And his open letter to the September 11 Commission Co-Chairs wants to imply that the Senator supports all of the Report's recommendations. So does he support Congressional enactment of "many of these" recommendations, the "vast majority" of those recommendations or "all" of those recommendations?

Senator Kerry is perfectly capable of saying clearly and consistently whether he supports immediate or rapid Congressional enactment of "many" or a "vast majority" or "all" of the Report's recommendations, if that's what he believed. But whatever his various responses mean, or are supposed to mean, one should keep in mind that the Senator hasn't said that he supports Congressional enactment of "all" of the Report's recommendations, or the "vast majority" of them, or "many" of them - although his responses can be reasonably read to suggest all of those possibilities. In fact, the Senator has not said that he supports Congressional enactment of any of the Report's specific recommendations.

As noted above, there are good reasons for that straddle.

And, for the record, maybe someone can let me know how the Senator managed to write that open letter to the Commission Co-Chairs that's on his campaign website, the one listing and putatively supporting all of the Commission's recommendations, even though the Senator told the Times that he had skimmed parts of the report overnight?

He's a remarkable man, that Senator Kerry. A remarkable man.

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