Profile in fence-sitting

Posted: Sep 27, 2002 12:00 AM
Senate majority Leader Tom Daschle doesn't get it: War is a political issue. If voters elect more hawks, America gets more military -- which can be good or bad, depending on the circumstances. If voters elect more doves, they get less military -- for better or for worse. A true leader -- such as President Bush -- takes stands on tough issues, such as Iraq. Daschle, on the other hand, seems offended that politics compel him to explain how his course of action is best for the country and by Bush's passionate defense of his policies. "We ought not to politicize the rhetoric about life and death," Daschle said Wednesday. Yes, that's the same Daschle who had wanted to put off a vote on an Iraq resolution until after the November election. Does anyone believe that Daschle was afraid the Democrats would gain a few Senate seats and clinch his leadership position? Enter that cutout of a human being, Al Gore. Gore could give Daschle lessons on rhetorical hedging. The former vice president's speech on Bush's Iraq policy before the Commonwealth Club here on Monday was a big news story. Don't ask me why. It's not as if it took political courage to bash Bush in San Francisco. And Gore didn't say much. Consider this much-cited line from the speech: "If you're going after Jesse James, you ought to organize the posse first, especially if you're in the middle of a gunfight with somebody who's out after you." What does that mean? That it's a good idea to organize a posse while a gunslinger is shooting at you? And the worst of it is, Gore didn't just say that line off the top of his head. He wrote it into a carefully planned speech. The New York Times reported that Gore consulted with actor-director Rob "Meathead" Reiner as he was writing Monday's speech. But don't blame Meathead. Gore's always had a gift for talking out of both sides of his mouth. This is vintage Gore. If Bush succeeds in the war on terrorism, Gore can cite lines to show that he was supportive. (Before the posse line, Gore said America can fight Osama bin Laden and build an international coalition.) If Bush fails, well, Gore warned him how tough it would be to fight bin Laden and Saddam Hussein simultaneously. Like Daschle, Gore shuddered at "the role that politics might be playing in the calculations of some in the administration. I have not raised those doubts, but many have." Translation: Gore doesn't even have the spine to charge that Bush is political, so he'll hide behind other people who say it. No surprise then if Gore doesn't have the backbone to take a stand on a life-and-death issue. Then, there's Gore's cheap-shot charge that Bush is pursuing Hussein because defeating Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda "is proving to be more difficult and lengthy than predicted." Bogus. Bush never said the war on terrorism would be a quickie. Gore asserted that Bush "has quickly abandoned almost all of Afghanistan" -- even as some 9,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon. Gore warned that the United States may lose if a war is fought on two fronts -- which made Cliff May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, laugh. "We're the nation that fought Germany, Japan and Italy all at once," said May. The day after the speech, Commonwealth Club member Alexa Vuksich said she still didn't understand what Gore was saying. But she knew it was "intellectually dishonest." All that sanctimony -- and so little no substance. Or as Sen. Joe Lieberman, Gore's 2000 running mate, told The San Francisco Chronicle, "Al didn't really indicate how he would vote on a resol ution." Maybe Gore's just busy organizing a posse, waiting for someone else's gunfight to blow over.