Don't let them fool you. Despite their hasty retreat since, many leading Democrats last week impliedly accused President Bush of having foreknowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks and doing nothing to prevent them.
Based on a leaked report, we learned that during an intelligence briefing on August 6, 2001, President Bush was told that Osama bin Laden might attempt domestic airplane hijackings.
Administration officials have since explained that there was nothing threat-specific in the report to indicate the terrorists' intentions of using the planes as guided missiles to attack civilian and military targets. In fact, there was nothing new about this information at all, since the threat of plane hijackings has been ongoing for years.
Even Democrat Senator Bob Graham, the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman, corroborated the White House in affirming that the terrorist warnings President Bush received were not detailed enough to warrant actions beyond those the White House took.
But sensing a window of Bush vulnerability, Democrats seized on it. House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, in the unmistakable vernacular of Watergate, said that Congress needed to find out what Bush knew, when he knew it and what he did with the information.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle expressed "grave concern" about the report. "Why did it take eight months for us to receive this information? And secondly, what specific actions were taken by the White House in response?"
Attack maven Congressman Jerry Nadler went further, suggesting that if it were discovered in hearings that Bush had prior knowledge and failed to act, it would be akin to "malfeasance of the highest order." "We need a clear investigation."
Dr. Sheila McGuire Riggs, the Iowa Democratic Party chairman, said, "But right now the pieces from the CIA and FBI that we have in front of us lead us to believe [Bush] failed to protect the American people."
I could cite many more examples, but you get the point. Democrats were on message, suggesting impropriety on Bush's part. Why else ask what he knew, when he knew it and why it took him eight months to tell us?
The answers to those questions are that he knew nothing that could have helped him prevent the terrorist attacks and there was therefore nothing to report to the American people. There is no reason to cover up when you have nothing to hide. There is simply no "there" there.
Of course, after Democrats floated their slanderous trial balloons, and they were all popped out of the sky by the White House's justifiably indignant reaction, they ran from their statements as fast as their spin would carry them.
"I never, ever, ever thought that anybody, including the president, did anything up to September 11, other than their best," said Gephardt on Fox News Sunday. Then, calling the kettle black, he added, "sometimes people overreact to things and think we're in a political campaign. This is not about politics." Please hold your laughter. Mr. Gephardt apparently wasn't trying to be funny.
Let's be clear. Democrats have every right to disagree with President Bush and criticize him over any policy matter under the sun, including his handling of the war. But Republicans aren't trying to deny them that right.
This is getting so predictable. Every time the mother of public opinion catches Democrats with their hands in the cookie jar of sinister partisan politics, they immediately counter attack, whining that Republicans are questioning their patriotism. Republicans aren't jumping on Democrats for their act of criticizing the president, but for the substance of that criticism -- which was way below the belt.
The only reason Democrats asked their accusatory questions was to raise the possibility that Bush might have known of the attacks and let them happen. They might as well have asked whether he was capable of committing genocide.
This, I think, is what Vice President Cheney was getting at when he described his "deep sense of anger that anyone would suggest that the president of the United States had advance knowledge that he failed to
President Bush did absolutely nothing wrong here, and Democrats know it. It is destructive for them even to hint otherwise. Our intelligence services doubtlessly need improvement in analyzing and communicating terrorist threats, but we should not delude ourselves into thinking that we'll ever be completely bulletproof from random terrorist attacks.
This is one area where partisan politics really should take a back seat. Let's work on bolstering our domestic security not by playing the mutual blame game, but by assessing our weaknesses and formulating strategies to overcome them.