The 9/10 President

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MARCH 10, 2003

The 9/10 President

It disappeared so quickly that it is easy to forget the bipartisan
patriotism and common purpose that existed in Washington immediately
after September 11, 2001. Perhaps the most memorable event from
that period was the gathering of members of Congress from both
parties on the steps of the Capitol to sing "God Bless America."
Another such episode--little-noticed, but actually more
remarkable--occurred the following month. Shut out of their offices
due to anthrax attacks, Democrat David Obey and Republican Bill
Young, the ranking members of the House Appropriations Committee,
set about investigating the nation's readiness to repel future
terrorist attacks. The two met with representatives from every
major security agency: FBI, CIA, National Security Agency, Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, and so on. And what they found
frightened them. Even though Congress had speedily approved $20
billion in homeland security spending in the immediate aftermath of
the attacks, prime terrorist targets around the country remained
appallingly vulnerable.Working together, Obey and Young compiled a list of the most
immediate security needs neglected in the first round of funding.
They decided that only those items agreed upon by both parties
would make the list. "We stripped the list down to its bare
essentials," Obey recalls. "When that was done, I asked my staff to
cut the remaining list in half to make sure there was absolutely no
'soft stuff.'" They came up with a list that was very hard to argue
with-- computer upgrades for the FBI, improved security for ports
and nuclear facilities, new customs agents, and other top homeland
security priorities totaling about $10 billion. On November 6,
2001, Obey and Young, along with their Senate counterparts Robert
Byrd and Ted Stevens, were ushered into the White House Cabinet
Room to meet with President Bush. "I understand some of you may
want to spend more money on homeland security than we have
requested," Bush told them, according to members of both parties
who attended. "My good friend [Budget Director] Mitch Daniels here
assures me that our [$20 billion funding] request is adequate. ...
I want to make it clear that if Congress appropriates one dollar
more than we have requested, I will veto the bill."

Bush declared that he had time to hear four comments, one from each
of the four congressmen, before he had to leave. In his allotted
comment time, Obey explained to the president that the funding
requests had come from the president's own agency appointees and
that he and Young would remove any particular items to which Bush
objected. He also described specific federal installations he had
learned were vulnerable and asked if the president had been
informed of them. "If [Bush] had been briefed," Obey recounts, "he
gave no evidence of it."

Unable to win agreement from the president, Obey sought a vote in
the House to add more money for homeland security. The
post-September 11 climate, even among Republicans, remained highly
receptive to homeland security spending. Republican Representative
Hal Rogers, chairman of the Transportation Subcommittee, said,
"There are needs we are unable to meet" with $20 billion alone.
John Duncan, chairman of the Water Resources Subcommittee, told the
Scripps-Howard News Service that two GOP House leaders had agreed
with him to spend $1.5 trillion over five years.

From the White House's point of view, this represented a problem.
Even before the September 11 attacks, growing deficits were
undermining political support for Bush's signature tax cuts, and a
spending outburst, however necessary, would increase the pressure
even more. So the administration dispatched Vice President Dick
Cheney to personally lobby Congress to hold the line against
further homeland defense spending. By all appearances, Cheney
appealed to pure party discipline. "Stay in lockstep, stay behind
the president, " urged Young, now towing the party line, in a
November 14, 2001, floor speech in the House. As The New York Times
noted two weeks later, when the House voted along party lines to
not even permit debate on Obey's proposal, "No Republicans
challenged any items Mr. Obey said were needed. But Representative
Ray LaHood of Illinois said, `Nobody knows more about this than the
commander-in-chief.'"

This episode is not an anomaly. Through passivity or, more often,
active opposition, President Bush has repeatedly stifled efforts to
strengthen domestic safeguards against further terrorist attacks.
As a consequence, homeland security remains perilously deficient.
"President Bush vetoed several specific (and relatively
cost-effective) measures proposed by Congress that would have
addressed critical national vulnerabilities. As a result, the
country remains more vulnerable than it should be today," concluded
a report published last month by the Brookings Institution. A
December 2002 report sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations
concurs: "America remains dangerously unprepared to prevent and
respond to a catastrophic terrorist attack on U.S. soil."

Bush's record on homeland security ought to be considered a scandal.
Yet, not only is it not a scandal, it's not even a story, having
largely failed to register with the public, the media, or even the
political elite. One reason is that it's simply hard to believe
that something as essential as protecting Americans from terrorism
would be resisted by any serious person in Washington. We have been
hearing for a year and a half, after all, that September 11 altered
the basic dynamics of American politics, at least as far as
security issues go. "Pieties centered on individual rights have
yielded to pieties of collective purpose and national security,"
observed an essay published in Time magazine two months after the
attacks. It's even harder to believe that the resistance would come
from Bush. The president has asserted over and over that he has
made homeland security his "highest priority." "What's important for
us, as we work to secure the homeland," he declared at a campaign
stop last fall, "is to remember that the stakes have changed. After
September the eleventh the world changed." The media have repeated
Bush's claim again and again. "THREAT OF TERRORISM IS SHAPING THE
FOCUS OF BUSH PRESIDENCY," asserted a headline in The New York
Times on September 11, 2002. Bush's "deeds--especially the $2
trillion federal budget he'll submit next week--demonstrate that for
him the overriding priority now and for the rest of his term will
be waging the war on terrorism and ensuring homeland security,"
reported USA Today a year ago.

The notion of a once-unsteady Bush transformed by September 11 is
also a central theme of the president's supporters. As former Bush
speechwriter David Frum tells it in his White House memoir, The
Right Man, "There was no more domestic agenda. The domestic agenda
was the same as the foreign agenda: Win the war--then we'll see."
Columnist Charles Krauthammer contrasts the Clinton years--"our
holiday from history"--with the steely resolve of Bush: "We now
recognize the central problem of the 21st century: the conjunction
of terrorism, rogue states and weapons of mass destruction."

It's certainly true that September 11 prompted Bush to abandon the
soft isolationism he advocated during the campaign. (Remember his
obsession with "humility" in foreign affairs?) It's also true that
many liberals have allowed their discomfort with U.S. military
power, especially when wielded by a Republican president they
despise, to blind them to the potential danger of a nuclear-armed
Saddam Hussein. And yet the most striking thing about the Bush
administration's behavior in this new era is the degree to which the
president has clung to his pre-September 11 priorities--foremost
among them, slashing taxes--even to the detriment of girding the
nation against terrorism. The disturbing truth is that Bush's
domestic agenda has not only made the nation less prosperous and
less fair, it has also made it less safe.

When Bush signed the Homeland Security Act last November, he
announced, "Our government will take every possible measure to
safeguard our country and our people." His use of such
pay-any-price, bear-any-burden rhetoric has been near- constant.
Following a speech a year ago, The Washington Post noted that the
president "fram[ed] his [homeland security] proposal in a manner
that echoed President John F. Kennedy's race to place a man on the
moon." But a closer examination of Bush's actual policies finds
them sorely hobbled by his conservative agenda and ideology.

Consider, for instance, the problem of protecting the private
sector--power plants, chemical facilities, trucking, office
buildings, you name it. Terrorists, of course, have not limited
their attacks to government property-- the World Trade Center was
attacked twice. A Brookings Institution study suggested that some
combination of mandatory safety standards and terrorism insurance
would give the private sector the needed impetus to impose basic
protections. The administration, though, has done nothing--literally
nothing-- to require this. (And, therefore, as The Washington Post
reported this week, "Most U.S. businesses are electing not to buy
terrorism insurance.") A forthright explanation for this inaction
can be found in the administration's National Strategy for Homeland
Security, published last July. The report insists that "sufficient
incentives exist in the private market to supply protection."

At first glance, the administration's assumption that private
industry has sufficiently strong incentives to shore itself up
against terrorism appears sensible enough--nobody wants their
property to be blown up, after all. This logic works perfectly well
when it comes to encouraging private industry to guard against,
say, burglary, where the victim bears the entire cost of the crime.
But, as Brookings' Peter Orszag has noted, businesses hit by
terrorism would not bear the entire cost themselves. First, they
have every reason to expect a government bailout, like the airlines
received after September 11. Second, some firms have interdependent
security, which means their security precautions are worthless
unless all their competitors follow suit. (The bomb that destroyed
Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland in 1988 was transferred to Pan Am
after being initially checked through another airline.) Terrorist
strikes upon a private business impose costs, both psychological
and economic, upon the entire country. So, while a business owner
may have no interest in spending more money to prevent terrorism
than to prevent, say, an electrical fire, the nation's interest is
quite different. For all these reasons, the logic of individual
incentive breaks down when it comes to terrorism.

But, because of the administration's ideological resistance to
government action, Brookings concluded in its report last month,
"the Federal government made little or no progress in guiding
private-sector firms--even ones that handle dangerous
materials--toward improving their own security." The reductio ad
absurdum of the White House's neglect is its failure to require
tougher standards at chemical plants, which Al Qaeda is known to
have studied. The chemical industry is a textbook case of a private
interest that would not bear the cost of a terrorist strike
alone--an explosion at a chemical facility could harm thousands or
even millions in the surrounding area. But Bob Bostock, the
assistant Environmental Protection Agency administrator for homeland
security, told The Washington Post that, even in the absence of
federal action, the chemical industry "has a very powerful
incentive to do the right thing. It ought to be their worst
nightmare that their facility would be the target of a terrorist
act because they did not meet their responsibility to their
community. " The "incentive," then, that Bostock believes will
cause chemical firms to invest in security is not economic but
rather the industry's own sense of civic duty.

Just in case the consciences of chemical-plant owners proved
insufficiently reliable to entrust with public safety, Senator Jon
Corzine sponsored a bill toughening security standards at chemical
plants. Last summer, the Senate Committee on the Environment and
Public Works approved it by a 19-to-zero vote. But, as John B.
Judis reported in these pages (see "Poison," January 27, 2003), the
chemical industry lobbied Republicans to turn against the bill, and
the White House stood by while they killed it. As a result, the
chemical industry remains a ripe target. Last year, an
investigation of 60 chemical plants by the Pittsburgh
Tribune-Review found a pattern of lax security, including problems
at four plants in Houston and Chicago that could endanger more than
one million people each. A July article in the New York Daily News
revealed that at the Matheson Tri-Gas facility in East Rutherford,
New Jersey--where a chemical release could endanger up to 7.3
million people--there was virtually no security at all: Gates were
left open, tanks were exposed, and no security personnel were
present on site.

More dangerous even than the prospect of a chemical attack is the
potential for terrorists to capture, or set off, a nuclear weapon.
The risk sufficiently alarmed Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham--a
conservative Bush appointee--that he requested $379.7 million to
protect various Energy Department facilities where nuclear weapons
are designed, manufactured, and stockpiled. On March 14, 2002,
Abraham wrote to Daniels pleading his case. "[W]e are storing vast
amounts of materials that remain highly volatile and subject to
unthinkable consequences if placed in the wrong hands," Abraham
implored. "[T]he Department now is unable to meet the next round of
critical security mission requirements. ... Failure to support
these urgent security requirements is a risk that would be
unwise."

Apparently this warning failed to move the White House, which
approved just $26.4 million for Energy Department security--7
percent of Abraham's request. The list of improvements Bush
declined to fund included more secure barriers and fences, computer
improvements to defend against hackers, equipment to detect
explosives in packages and vehicles entering department sites, and
a reduction in the overall number of sites that store bomb-grade
plutonium and uranium. The department's chief financial officer,
also a Bush appointee, wrote to budget officials in March, "We are
disconcerted that OMB refused our security supplemental request. I
would have much preferred to have heard this from you personally,
and been given an opportunity to discuss, not to mention appeal,
your decision." (Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss defended Bush's
position by arguing, "If we are talking about protecting the entire
nuclear world, where does it end? I know we need some measure of
security, but is the taxpayer willing to say we gotta have one
hundred percent security at every single facility in America?"
Chambliss subsequently won a Senate seat by portraying his
opponent, triple-amputee, Vietnam veteran Max Cleland, as
insufficiently committed to homeland security.)

Nor is the administration's disregard for safety against nuclear
terrorism limited to our own shores. The disintegration of the
former Soviet Union left behind a landscape littered with
unemployed nuclear scientists and poorly guarded weapons
facilities. Because of this, the $1 billion the United States
devotes to locking down unsecured nuclear material and scientists in
Russia and elsewhere is perhaps the most cost-effective money in
the entire federal budget. But it is still not nearly enough. In
order to airlift enriched uranium out of Serbia last summer--a
needed safety measure by any reasonable calculation-- the
administration was forced to rely upon private donations (see "Old
Guard," by Michael Crowley, September 9 %amp% 16, 2002). A
bipartisan Energy Department study in January 2001 urged raising
the budget for such programs to $3 billion-- still less than 0.15
percent of the federal budget. Bush, by contrast, last year
proposed to cut overseas nuclear security funding by 5 percent and
this year proposes less than $100 million of additional funds.;
"Bush's stinginess extends even to his own signature
initiatives...."

Bush's stinginess extends even to his own signature initiatives.
Last December, the White House unveiled plans to vaccinate 500,000
health care workers against smallpox so they could safely treat a
terrorist-induced outbreak. The administration set a 30-day
deadline to complete the job, but, after a month, only 4,200--less
than 1 percent--have taken the vaccine. One reason for the low
take-up rate is potential side effects: For every one million
people inoculated, an estimated 15 or more will suffer blindness,
swelling of the brain, or other severe reactions. This has made
health care workers particularly reluctant because most of them
lack proper insurance to cover the risk of disability or lost wages
from such side effects. Hospitals, doctors, and unions have asked
the administration to create a compensation fund to cover such
contingencies--a notion members of Congress in both parties
support. But the administration has refused, with the result that
few health care workers have been inoculated. This means that, in
the event of a terrorist smallpox attack, many may have second
thoughts about treating the victims. Imagine you're an uninoculated
nurse, and there's a smallpox attack causing hundreds of patients
to be rushed to your hospital. Do you care for them--or flee to
your home and get out the duct tape?

In his many photo-ops with police officers and firefighters,
President Bush has also promised $3.5 billion in new funding for
"first responders." Everyone who studies homeland security agrees
that firefighters and police officers need better training,
protective gear, and communications equipment when they rush to the
scene of a terrorist attack. (On September 11, 2001, police
helicopters saw that the South World Trade Center Tower had
collapsed but could not warn the firefighters in the remaining
tower because their radio frequencies are not compatible.) But, in
fact, Bush only provides $800 million in new money--he merely
shifts the other $2.7 billion from other, existing grants to police
and firefighters. As Congressional Quarterly reported last month,
"The fact is, according to the administration's own budget
documents, the Bush plan for funding first responders amounts to
double-entry bookkeeping: changes in the ledger that would result
in no net increase in the amount of federal funding flowing to
cities, counties, and states."

Or consider port security. Ninety-five percent of America's imports
get here via sea. Of the containers that make their way through our
ports, though, only one in 50 is ever searched. As Stephen Flynn, a
former Coast Guard commander who directed the Council on Foreign
Relations' homeland security report, told a TV interviewer last
month, "We have virtually no security there." The Coast Guard has
estimated it would cost $1 billion immediately and another $4.5
billion over the next nine years to make domestic ports sufficiently
secure. But, since September 11, they've received just $318
million. One program, the Container Security Initiative, which
would screen cargo at foreign ports, was specifically endorsed by
Bush last June. "The Customs Service," he told an audience in Port
Elizabeth, New Jersey, "is working with overseas ports and shippers
to improve its knowledge of container shipments, assessing risk so
that we have a better feel of who we ought to look at, what we ought
to worry about." And yet Bush's budget provides not one new penny
of funding for the program.

Indeed, you could tell a story such as the ones above for any of a
dozen homeland security improvements shot down or dramatically
underfunded by the Bush administration. The Immigration and
Naturalization Service (INS), to cite one more example, has just 14
agents to track down 1,200 illegal immigrants from countries where
Al Qaeda has been active. "They just have nowhere near enough
people," James Kallstrom, a former assistant director for the FBI
and current security adviser to New York Governor George Pataki,
told The New York Times last May. "They need a geometric increase."
INS requested $52 million to hire more agents but was turned down
by Bush. Obey's bill--the one Bush lobbied congressional
Republicans to kill--would have boosted funding for all these
things, along with FBI computer upgrades, grants to airport
security, state health departments, more customs agents, vaccine
research, and so on.

Since Obey's meeting with the White House in 2001, Democrats have
kept trying to bolster homeland security spending, and Bush has
kept stymieing them. Last summer, Congress overwhelmingly approved
a $5.1 billion spending bill, half of which consisted of
desperately needed homeland security funding. Bush theatrically
declared a pocket veto. "I understand their position. And today,
they're going to learn mine. We'll spend none of it," he announced
at his economic forum in Waco, Texas, where the handpicked crowd
burst into applause. Later, in the fall of 2002, the Senate and the
House couldn't agree on how to meet Bush's spending limits and left
town before the elections without appropriating any new funding for
homeland security. Denied funds they had been counting on, the
Energy Department, Customs Service, and other frontline fighters
against terrorism had to freeze planned improvements. The
administration actually celebrated this development. "There's a new
sheriff in town, and he's dedicated to fiscal discipline," crowed
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer last October.

When the GOP subsequently took control of Congress last November,
Bush demanded they cut $10 billion from previously approved
spending levels to meet his budget. This not only further delayed
the dissemination of homeland spending, it forced Republicans to
cut below even Bush's funding levels for some programs. "If the
tardy fiscal 2003 appropriations bills are any indication,"
observed Congressional Quarterly earlier this month, "the future of
homeland security is going to be fights over every penny, whether it
is radios that allow New York City police and fire departments to
talk to each other or radiation detectors for ocean shipping
containers in Long Beach, Calif. "

Yet, even when the mainstream media reports on Bush's efforts to
limit homeland security spending, they still accept his basic
assertion that homeland security is his top priority. Take, for
instance, this Washington Post story from October 19, 2002:

[T]he White House appears to have put more emphasis on holding the
line on overall spending levels than on winning the spending
increases it has sought. The president's high-stakes demand for
fiscal discipline in areas he has not emphasized has jeopardized
his top priorities. In limbo are billions of proposed dollars to
secure the nation's ports and skies, defend against bioterrorism.
... Instead of funding those proposals, lawmakers voted this week
to keep federal agencies running at current spending levels until
Nov. 22, leaving town with the non-military side of government
practically operating as if Sept. 11 never happened. Yet White
House spokesman Ari Fleischer sought yesterday to paint the impasse
as a Bush victory.

Isn't it just a bit odd that the president would work tirelessly to
scuttle his own "top priorities" and then revel in their failure?

What ought to be obvious but has somehow escaped public attention is
that Bush's top priorities are not new spending on homeland
security but the same conservative aims that animated him before
September 11, 2001. The traditional conservative view of government
spending celebrates military outlays while disparaging pretty much
everything else. And, despite the lip service it pays to homeland
security, the Bush administration continues to view spending
through that prism. Daniels gave voice to this view during a press
briefing earlier this month. "There is not enough money in the
galaxy to protect every square inch of America and every American
against every conceivable threat that every hateful fanatic in the
world might conjure up," he replied testily to a question about
Bush's commitment to homeland spending. "So the real essence of
homeland security is going to be, number one, go after terror where
it lives." Of course, nobody is talking about all the money in the
galaxy--Senator Joe Lieberman may be the most extravagant proponent
of homeland security spending, demanding an extra $16 billion per
year, or less than 1 percent of the federal budget. And most
analysts think homeland security programs are, as Brookings put it,
"among the nation's most cost-effective mechanisms for reducing the
risk of terrorism." But, then, it's unnatural for the people around
Bush to relinquish an ideology that has guided them, in most cases,
for their entire adult lives.

And, of course, Bush's highest priority--above constraining spending
or anything else--remains tax cuts. The tax cuts Bush has already
passed have been major contributors to burgeoning federal deficits;
those deficits, in turn, have made Republicans in Congress queasy
about acceding to further tax cuts. So Bush has tried to rein in
those deficits by cutting spending wherever politically feasible,
including on homeland security. Indeed, it is in Bush's interest to
engineer showdowns with Congress over spending, in order to connect
growing deficits in the public's mind with profligate spenders in
Congress rather than with tax cutters in the White House. Thus,
Bush waited until his economic summit last August, when he had the
attention of the national press corps, to dramatically announce his
veto of a spending bill that contained vital homeland security
improvements. That the bill, at $5.1 billion, amounted to a tiny
fraction of the annual cost of his tax cut hardly mattered--to the
folks watching the evening news, anything over $1 million sounds
like a lot of money.

Republican Senator Ted Stevens admitted what many in his party no
doubt privately believe when he said last month that he would have
supported more spending on homeland security were it not for the
endless red ink: "I confess that, if we didn't have the limitations
we face, the deficit we face, I would once again support Senator
Byrd's funding in each of these items." Bush's priorities are
perfectly clear. He cares more about tax cuts than reducing the
deficit. He cares more about controlling the deficit than boosting
spending on homeland security. Ergo, Bush cares more about cutting
taxes than boosting spending on homeland security.

Why has Bush's myopia not become a major political liability for the
administration? Perhaps because it simply doesn't fit any existing
storyline. The idea that Bush has little regard for the
environment, for instance, has been implanted so deeply in the
political narrative that every time his administration contemplates
even the slightest softening of environmental regulations, it
merits a screaming headline in The New York Times. But there is no
psychological framework in place to absorb Bush's lack of interest
in domestic anti-terrorism. The component details have been
reported, but the larger story has passed by almost entirely
unnoticed.

Grover Norquist, the Republican strategist par excellence, explains
that Democrats cannot hurt Bush on homeland security because it
sits at the intersection of two issues--crime and national
security--where his party enjoys an advantage built up over
decades. The public perception is that "Republicans are tough on
crime to the point where they'll take away your civil liberties.
Republicans are so tough on foreign policy that they'll flatten
cities." Democrats, in other words, can't convince voters that Bush
is soft on homeland security for the same reason Republicans can't
convince voters they care about affordable health care more than
about corporate profits. Some Democrats have speculated that Bush's
opposition to tougher domestic security will become an issue if
there is another major terrorist strike. But, as Norquist argues,
"nobody heard the original requests" for more funding by the
Democrats. And, if the Democrats do try to say, "I told you so," it
will simply confirm the stereotype that, in times of crisis, rather
than rally around the commander-in- chief, they blame the United
States first.

The White House appears to grasp that Bush's standing on national
security issues, especially after September 11, is so unassailable
that he does not need to shore it up. Instead, the administration
seems to view his wartime popularity as a massive bank of political
capital from which they can withdraw and spend on other, unrelated
causes. In the short run, this strategy is a political boon for
Bush and his party. But, in the long run, it divides and weakens
the nation against its external threats.

The most relevant historical example, invoked occasionally since
September 11, is America's response to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Franklin Roosevelt decided that, in order to unite the country and
to muster the resources to prosecute the war, he would shelve his
ambitious domestic agenda. "Dr. New Deal, " he later declared, had
given way to "Dr. Win the War." The White House has studied this
example, but it has gleaned precisely the opposite lesson. The
administration's thinking once again finds its crassest expression
in the person of Mitch Daniels. In an op-ed published a year ago,
titled "A WARTIME BUDGET," Daniels cites the fact that, under
Roosevelt, "non-war spending was slashed more than 20 percent.
Among the early casualties were several of F.D.R. 's own
inventions." From this analogy one might conclude that Bush would
shelve his tax cuts, which drain away hundreds of billions of
dollars in revenue that the government now desperately needs. But
Daniels reasons from F.D.R.'s example not that Bush should curtail
his domestic agenda--which, indeed, he has only pursued more
aggressively--but rather that the Democrats should curtail theirs:
"[T]he president has directed that all other activities of
government must be constrained." Daniels proceeds to impugn the
patriotism of all those who desire to spend more than Bush on
domestic programs. "Washington is a capital overrun by vested
interests whose livelihoods depend on extracting ever-increasing
quantities of taxpayer dollars for their narrow causes," he writes.
"It is not clear that they will subordinate their interests even to
the needs of wartime."

This is indicative of the general Bush strategy of leveraging his
status as a popular wartime leader to advance his non-war-related
goals. Take the president's use of the Department of Homeland
Security. When Lieberman first proposed creating such a department
in October 2001, the administration opposed it. Then, last June,
just as FBI whistle-blower Coleen Rowley finished her testimony
about the FBI's mishandling of terror warnings, it announced that
it would create such a department after all, even though the White
House had only an embarrassingly vague proposal to offer at the
time. Bush then seemed to go out of his way to ensure Democratic
opposition. He demanded that department employees be stripped of
civil servant protections--a surefire way to draw union opposition.
Even though Bush himself had categorically opposed the creation of
the department just months before, he immediately began telling
audiences that any Democrats resisting his version were "not
interested in the security of the American people." In the
meantime, he spurned overtures from conservative Democrats, such as
John Breaux, seeking a compromise. By opposing the department's
creation at first and then resisting any compromise, Bush created
the very delay he bemoaned as injurious to the national
defense--but gave himself a political issue with which to club the
Democrats.

The tactic of using the patriotic glow that has enveloped Bush since
September 11 as a partisan cudgel has succeeded--most notably in
winning back control of the Senate for the Republicans. But it has
also left the partisan split in the country deeper than it was even
before the World Trade Center fell. As liberal columnist E.J.
Dionne has written in The Washington Post, "By using his popularity
on foreign affairs to push for domestic policies that Democrats
genuinely despise, [Bush] has made those in the opposition who
actually support his objectives abroad look like chumps."

One manifestation of this split is intensified opposition to the war
in Iraq. When you bring up the war with liberals--even those who
supported past non-U.N. -sanctioned military actions in the
Balkans--they cannot seem to get past their intense distrust and
loathing of the president. Last summer, with Democrats buoyed by
public concern over the economy and corporate scandals, a reporter
asked Democratic campaign strategist Jim Jordan whether he
anticipated Iraq overshadowing those concerns. Jordan replied, "You
mean, when General Rove calls in the air strikes?" Jordan is far
from the only Democrat suspicious of Bush's motives. Last
September, a Newsweek poll asked if the White House was
"deliberately using talk of war with Iraq to distract attention from
other issues in this year's congressional elections." Thirty-seven
percent of all respondents, including 55 percent of Democrats,
replied yes. The president does not merit all the blame for this
perception, of course: An inability to judge the merits of Bush's
foreign policy, rather than merely the motives of Bush himself,
represents a failure of imagination on the part of his critics. But
Bush certainly merits some of the blame for the corrosive cynicism
he has engendered. By using his wartime popularity to advance
contentious political goals, he has made it inevitable that
partisan division would spill into foreign policy.

What makes this all so depressing is that it's easy to imagine the
different path Bush could have taken. Rather than use the war on
terrorism as a pretext to ram through his preexisting agenda, he
could have truly demanded a reordering of national priorities, with
security taking precedence. No one should have expected him to
transform himself into a New Democrat on September 12, 2001. But he
could have scaled back part of his tax cut to make room for the
homeland security increase that experts and members of both parties
in Congress agreed was needed. He could have adopted Lieberman's
homeland security proposal early on, rather than delaying for eight
costly months and then wielding it as an election-season club. In
short, he could have used his instant popularity to unify the
country and safeguard it. President Bush is a clever politician who
has astutely taken advantage of the opportunities offered to him by
the changed climate of September 11, 2001. But the times don't
demand a clever politician. They demand a leader.

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