Between polls and pols, it's hard to keep a firm grip on reality.
Polls, for instance, show that the majority of Americans consider the war against Iraq to have been justified without clear evidence of weapons of mass destruction.
A majority (64 percent) don't believe that the Bush administration deliberately misled the country, according to the latest Gallup figures. Also, a more recent Harris poll found that "a majority of Americans feel good about the war" and 55 percent believe what they were told about WMD prior to the war.
Bush opponents, meanwhile -a majority of whom seem to be running for president -have ramped up speculation that the Bush administration may have cooked the data and purposely misled the public.
Notably, on Wednesday, presidential candidate John Kerry threw down his hair blower and more or less called Bush a liar.
"He misled every one of us," said Kerry. "I will not let him off the hook throughout this campaign with respect to America's credibility and credibility to me because if he lied, he lied to me personally."
I'm all for credibility and exposing liars, but let's whoa-down just a minute and try to remember that until 30 seconds ago, most everybody -including Kerry, the previous administration, the U.N. Security Council and even apparently Saddam himself -believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. For a collection of relevant quotes, read National Review Editor Rich Lowry's June 3rd column on Townhall.com.
Today's absence of WMD is matched only by an absence of memory.
Kerry's own remarks to the U.S. Senate on Feb. 12, 1998, and recorded in the Congressional Record plainly reflect his belief that Saddam was committed to developing WMD, was in defiance of U.N. demands to disarm and posed a threat to his neighbors.
Yet, suddenly, to judge by the political rhetoric, Bush made the whole thing up. The truth, which falls short of riveting sound byte, is that we don't know what happened to the weapons. We may find them in Iraq or stashed elsewhere; we may discover that our intelligence was flawed. Either case demands our urgent attention. Bring on the congressional investigation.
In the meantime, however, turning WMD into a political rallying point is a dangerous strategy for Bush challengers. Here's why: Americans who live in the real world -and who will vote come 2004 -are smarter than politicians in love with their own spin.
Americans know that 9/11 changed their lives and were willing to take risks -even to step out of character -in order to preserve life as they know it. Something needed to be done, a strong message delivered to every would-be terrorist and tyrant. Iraq, like the Twin Towers, was large and looming.
WMD, meanwhile, were a legitimate justification for war against Iraq. We knew through U.N. inspectors that Iraq had had WMD and had not produced evidence of their disposal. Saddam had continuously ignored U.N. resolutions demanding disarmament.
Most Americans believed that the U.S. was justified in enforcing U.N. Resolution 1441 with or without broad international support. Finally, post-war revelations about Saddam's brutality -mass graves, torture chambers, children's prisons -have done much to ameliorate doubt and assuage the guilt of Americans who otherwise might condemn their country's aggression.
In other words, if we goofed on intelligence, a majority of Americans seem to be saying, we did the right thing. The effect of our efforts, which killed far fewer Iraqis than Saddam has by willfully starving or murdering citizens, has not been for naught.
We have demonstrated to the lunatic fringe and to governments that support terrorism that when threatened we will respond with ferocity; we have forced out a vicious dictator whose crimes against humanity rival Stalin's and Hitler's; we have helped create movement in the Middle East that has the potential to cast light into some of the world's darkest corners.
That's the message between the poll numbers, which pols would do well to note.