PROVING THAT HE IS, if nothing else, politically flexible, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt staged an impressive about-face last week on the question of politics and Sept. 11.
Last Wednesday, Gephardt joined the Maureen Dowd–led chorus of Democrats who were outraged that Republicans would sell a Sept. 11 photograph of the President to GOP supporters. "We cannot break into partisan fighting about the war on terrorism," Gephardt admonished Republicans. "We’ve got to stay together to win this war."
Then on Thursday, Gephardt led Democrats into the very partisan skirmish he had just so piously denounced. Invoking the language of Watergate, he offered what have become infamous insinuations against the administration: "I think what we have to do now is to find out what the President and what the White House knew about the events leading up to 9-11, when they knew it, and, most importantly, what was done about it at that time."
In just one day, Gephardt like, many other prominent Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle had traveled the path from self-styled uniter to sanctimonious divider. He dropped the pretense of the prudent elder statesman, choosing instead to go slumming in the left’s netherworld of cheap political opportunism and repugnant conspiracy theorizing.
Whether consciously or not, Gephardt and Daschle have ceded control of their party to the lunatic, anti-American, Cynthia McKinney wing.
Ironically the rise of the McKinneycrats has followed the same pattern that Democrats perceived back in 1998 to be the standard operating procedure of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. At the time, the left devised an elaborate schematic of what it envisioned to be the strategy of the conservative mafia which Democrats themselves have now executed to near perfection.
According to the old Democratic flow chart, Clinton scandals began with dirt-digging conservative wingnuts, usually under the direct or indirect employ of Richard Mellon Scaife or Rev. Sung Myung Moon, who would concoct some outlandish anti-Clinton accusation. Then a right-wing publication usually the old American Spectator, the Washington Times, or the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page would take the charges public. From there, the "respectable" (read: mainstream/leftist) press would repeat the allegations, thus giving Congressional Republicans and uber-bogeyman Ken Starr sufficient pretext to start up yet another mean-spirited and politically motivated investigation.
Now compare the Democrats’ imagined trajectory about the attacks on Clinton to the evolution of the 9/11 sniping against President Bush. The effort began back in March, when McKinney, a Georgia congresswoman, took to the radical left-wing media (San Francisco’s Pacifica radio station, KPFA) and accused the White House of letting the terrorist attacks take place so that its friends in the armaments industry could profit from the ensuing war.
Three weeks later, the establishment press, (specifically, the Washington Post) reported on McKinney’s remarks, but fellow Democrats were initially unwilling to embrace them. For that, they needed the semblance of factuality that McKinney lacked, but which another establishment media outlet, CBS News, lent last week with its "revelation" that the White House knew that terrorists might be interested in hijacking American jetliners. At that point, the mainstream media provided the necessary credibility, and Democrats were able to jump aboard, professing their "concern" and demanding what else? investigations, both in Congress and from some sort of special commission.
It was as if the McKinneycrats were reading from the old VRWC playbook. To be sure, the rest of the party refrained from indulging in McKinney’s sort of rhetorical excess. None, for example, has charged war profiteering yet.
But the implication is clear in the breathless questioning of "what did the President know?" a markedly different question than "where did American anti-terrorism measures fail?" Whereas the latter suggests that the American government might be inefficient or ineffective (no surprise there), the former suggests that Bush would, for whatever reason, allow thousands of American innocents to die needlessly. Responsible Democrats need not publicly speculate on his motivations thanks to McKinney’s earlier bombast, the seeds have already been planted.
In a matter of a few months, the idle speculations of one of the Democratic Party’s most leftward legislators have become the preoccupation of some of its most preeminent leaders, including New York’s junior senator. Hillary McKinney Clinton had nothing to say about the failures of her husband’s administration to confront the threat of terrorism, but she, too, is calling on the President to "answer the questions so many Americans are asking today," because "it’s the not knowing that hurts the most."
The vast left-wing conspiracy seems doomed to a short life. The latest poll shows that public support for the President remains high despite the unseemly allegations against him, and on Sunday’s Fox News Sunday, Gephardt backpedaled from his earlier, more strident remarks. Proving yet further political flexibility, the Missouri Democrat insisted that he "never ever, ever thought that anybody, including the President, did anything up to September 11 other than their best."
Their credibility now almost completely decimated, the McKinneycrats may soon be looking for a new campaign issue once again.