I want to thank Democratic leaders and their liberal pundit enablers for reminding me that despite Republicans sometimes straying from the reservation of conservatism and good sense, they will never match the mischief and folly of Democratic leaders.
At issue is the propriety of Republicans using a White House photo of President Bush performing his presidential duties on Sept. 11 as a fund-raising tool for GOP congressional candidates. The photo depicts Bush on Air Force One with a phone in his hand talking with Vice President Cheney -- though the picture itself, not being captioned in funny-paper style, reveals nothing about whom Bush is talking to, what he's talking about or what day it is.
I'm not sure how the Democrats caught on to this sinister scheme, but they did -- and promptly became unglued, or so they pretended.
That paragon of ethics and good taste, Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe, said the solicitation was "nothing short of grotesque" and that "even the most cynical partisan operative" (a stunningly accurate, though unwitting self-description) "would have cowered at the notion of exploiting the Sept. 11 tragedy."
Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler, whose own moral compass was best demonstrated by his voluble defense of Bill Clinton's myriad transgressions, added indignantly, "That the Republican Party sees no problem with this profit-from-pain scheme says a lot about the moral state of the party."
I was pleased with the White House reaction. It did not pause to test public opinion before responding, but unapologetically admitted its prior knowledge that the photos would be used.
Can you imagine if this had happened during the previous administration? Press secretary Joe Lockhart probably would have denied White House knowledge of the "scheme." Or, White House operatives would have commissioned an overnight poll to determine the political fallout involved in admitting it.
The denial would have been a lie because the Clinton "war department" wouldn't have used a photo of actual events. Rather, it would have staged the scene showing Clinton in a Hollywood mock up of Air Force One, sitting around a table decorated with a presidential seal, talking with Al Gore and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He'd be in full-throated Commander-in-Chief mode, authoritatively gesticulating and biting his lip, with an open daybook in the background conspicuously opened to Sept. 11.
So what is the Democrats' beef with the Republicans showing Bush doing what he does best as a means of engendering pride among the ranks?
Well, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd claims that the use of the photo "obliterates the White House's professed principle of not using Sept. 11 to divide." But Al Gore's carefully scripted reaction takes the cake. "While most pictures are worth a thousand words, a photo that seeks to capitalize on one of the most tragic moments in our nation's history is worth only one ... disgraceful."
Maureen and Albert are all wet. There is nothing wrong with emphasizing the Republican president's deft handling of the war -- a war destined to continue past the election. Nor is there anything divisive about the photo. To the contrary it reminds us that the president has done a masterful job in drawing us together. Nor is there anything offensive about it. It does not, for example, show the ruins of Ground Zero. If it is healthy in a republican government for voters to be informed, then it is wholly proper for the GOP to inform them that their guy is uniquely suited for the job.
I wonder if these same objectors will argue during the 2004 presidential campaign that the subject of the war on terrorism should be off limits, because to discuss it would conjure images of "that terrible tragedy."
Think I'm going too far? Then you may not remember last January when Democrats went ballistic because Karl Rove announced that Republicans would use national defense as an issue in the next elections. Congressman Gephardt forthwith accused him of politicizing the war.
The Democrats know there is nothing exploitive about the Bush photo, just like they know there is nothing wrong with the Republicans campaigning on defense and the war. To do otherwise would rank among the stupidest errors in political history and would also be contrary to the national interest, which requires that Republicans accentuate their differences with Democrats, especially in a matter as critical as prosecuting a war.
Once again, it is the Democrats who are trying to exploit Sept. 11 by implying it is too sacrosanct even for political parties to discuss. That's insane.
The truth is that the Democratic leadership is beside itself over Bush's sustained popularity and are desperate to fabricate an issue. And when this effort fails, they'll find others to throw against the wall, hoping that eventually one will stick. It's pathetic, really.