Right Hook

Mark Steyn says a "deluded" John Kerry is "frozen in the '60s," while Trent Lott tags the Boston native "a French-speaking socialist." Plus: Defending dubious terror alerts. And: Drudge rips off Tom Tomorrow.

Published August 5, 2004 12:07AM (EDT)

Last Sunday, with the Democratic National Convention barely a wrap, the Bush administration warned of potential terror attacks inside the United States. Since then, both the New York Times and the Washington Post have reported that the alert was based on some rather moldy intelligence. Nonetheless, Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge told Americans that "We must understand that the kind of information available to us today is the result of the president's leadership in the war against terror."

While it's hard to gauge the validity of the alert without access to classified information, Ridge's politic refrain seems only to reiterate that the White House is betting its reelection campaign on the national security issue. The Bush team has consistently raised the specter of more terror attacks and what it's doing to defend against them. (National security remains the sole issue where Bush has any notable lead in the polls over John Kerry.) A number of Kerry supporters, including Howard Dean and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, wondered out loud this week about the opportune timing of the headline-grabbing announcements. In addition to Sunday's urgent terror warnings, there was the suspiciously timed news of the capture of a high-level al-Qaida operative in Pakistan -- withheld for days and made public just a few hours before Kerry's big nomination speech last Thursday night.

Kerry detractors didn't need the lightning bolt of a terrorist threat to cast a dark cloud over the Democratic gathering in Boston. In the Chicago Sun-Times, syndicated columnist and uber-hawk Mark Steyn wrote that the "deluded" Dems are patronizing their way to certain defeat.

"There's a narcissism about the tone of this convention that cuts to the heart of the Democratic Party's difficulties: They don't believe in anything except their monopoly of goodness. That's why John Edwards' supposedly 'appealing biography' is appealing only when put next to John Kerry's. Instead of marrying his money, he sued his way into it. But his message doesn't resonate with most Americans because it boils down to: If I can do it, you can't. But here's some government programs instead. On the other hand, Edwards' very condescension to the downtrodden masses confirms middle-class liberals in their sense of their own virtue.

"That's the essence of this convention: a condescending media congratulating a condescending leadership for effectively communicating to their condescending activists their plans for everyone else. John F. Kerry should enjoy it while he can. It's downhill from here."

While even some Republicans expressed surprise at the hawkishness in Kerry's acceptance speech, Steyn continued his long-standing argument that Kerry will flounder on fighting terrorism. Floundering somewhat himself, Steyn spent a portion of his Sunday column criticizing Kerry's military background with an odd metaphor.

"John Kerry says he's running on his record, but, of his four decades of adult life, he's running on his four months in Vietnam. Of the other 39 years and eight months, there's nary a word.

"Take any one of the showbiz luminaries at the Dem convention -- Glenn Close, say. Imagine if she's up for a big role in a new movie and the producers say, 'Well, what have you done?' And she says, 'I've got a great resume. I did summer stock in Vermont in 1969. Third Indian maiden in Rose-Marie.' And no, I'm not comparing Vietnam to summer stock: What I'm saying is that, whatever you were doing in 1969, it's simply unnatural to emphasize that at the expense of the subsequent 35 years. Certainly, no previous veteran -- Dole, Bush Sr., Carter, McGovern -- ever thought to do it.

"Vietnam's paying diminishing returns for Kerry. The more he harps on it the more hollow seems the post-Vietnam Kerry -- i.e., Senator Kerry -- and the more he sounds like a man whose world view was frozen in the '60s."

Dems deserting for Bush?
David Horowitz's FrontPage Magazine is highlighting a Kerry-bashing op-ed by "lifelong Democrat" Jerome Zeifman from Insight Magazine. Zeifman, who was chief counsel of the House Judiciary Committee during the Nixon impeachment proceedings, traces his decision to vote for Bush this November to a deep rancor for the Clintons.

"During the Clinton administration I was described jokingly by Insight Managing Editor Paul M. Rodriguez as 'The Leper of the Democratic Party.' Since then I have continued to be a renegade Democrat -- and I am now supporting the re-election of President George W. Bush. It started with Bill Clinton. I had first met Clinton in 1975, when he was courting Hillary Rodham. Over the years my unfavorable impressions of him have increased. ...

"In 1996, I began (for the first time in my career) to consider voting for a Republican. I discussed Clinton vs. Dole with former House Judiciary Committee chairman Jack Brooks of Texas. More than anyone else I knew in the Democratic Party, Brooks had close-up personal dealings with both Dole and Clinton. Jack's opinion was: 'Slick Willy is a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch ... I will probably hold my nose and vote for him.'"

But unlike Brooks, Zeifman does not plan to remain loyal to his dear party by voting for a candidate he considers a "weather cock."

"As for John Kerry I see him as a demagogue who panders to the lowest common denominator of our party. He also fits Edmund Burke's description of the kind of politician who is no more than 'a weather cock, moving in the direction of every changing political wind.'

"Yet, despite my support for two Republican presidential candidates, I intend to remain a Democrat. My reason is simple: I have not lost hope that one day a new generation of Democrats will win our continuous fight to redeem our party's political soul."

In Saturday's Opinion Journal, the vinegary Sen. Zell Miller, D-GA, explained why he, too, is planning to defect from the party at the voting booth this November.

"The reason I didn't attend the Democratic Convention in Boston is that I barely recognize my party anymore. Most of its leaders -- including our nominee, John Kerry -- don't hold the same beliefs that have motivated my career in public service."

Miller, too, blames his partisan disillusionment on President Clinton.

"[In 1992] I praised Bill Clinton as a moderate Democrat 'who has the courage to tell some of those liberals who think welfare should continue forever, and some of those conservatives who think there should be no welfare at all, that they're both wrong.'

"Bill Clinton did deliver on welfare reform, after a lot of prodding from the Republicans who took hold of Congress in 1995. But much of the rest of the promise I saw in his candidacy withered during his two terms in office."

Regarding the current election, Miller is fired up about special interests corrupting the nation's leadership -- but if he's concerned about Halliburton's price gouging or Enron's multibillion-dollar fraud, he doesn't say so.

"Today, it's the Democratic Party that has mastered the art of division and diversion. To run for president as a Democrat these days you have to go from interest group to interest group, cap in hand, asking for the support of liberal kingmakers ... No longer the party of hope, today's Democratic Party has become Mr. Kerry's many mansions of cynicism and skepticism."

Having Kerry for breakfast?
According to the Clarion Ledger, Sen. Miller's colleague, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., spent some serious time thinking about how to portray Kerry to a crowd of Mississippi fairgoers last week.

"U.S. Sen. Trent Lott today told an enthusiastic Neshoba County Fair crowd that Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry is 'a French-speaking socialist from Boston, Massaschusetts, who is more liberal than Ted Kennedy.' It was a line that Lott said he'd been working on for a while, and it produced loud applause from hundreds of Mississippians gathered at Founders' Square, the centerpiece of the historic fair. Lott took the podium to blast Kerry, the senator from Massachusetts, and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. Lott also told the crowd that America is fighting a war on terrorism, and 'you don't want to change horses in the middle of the stream.'"

He had another way to make the Dems look unappetizing.

"Lott referred to the Kerry-Edwards ticket as 'waffles and grits.'

"'We've got the most liberal ticket for president of the United States,' Lott said. 'I have confidence that George Bush and Dick Cheney will be re-elected for four more years.'"

Lott's message seemed to be getting through to some denizens of his home state.

"Neshoba fairgoers like retiree Jack Winstead, 67, of Newton County, said Kerry and Edwards represent 'the most liberal ticket we've seen up there. They don't express the views of Mississippi.' Winstead says he plans to vote for the Bush-Cheney ticket in November."

Terror alerts and "trashy spin jobs"
With hot debate continuing over the timing and validity of the Bush administration's latest warning of a terrorist attack, syndicated talk show host, blogger and Fox News Channel regular Hugh Hewitt insists that it's Hillary Clinton who's forced the Bush administration to sound the terrorist alarm.

"Americans would be outraged if, in the weeks after an attack on our soil, it came to light that our government had an inkling of the attack but said nothing. When Hillary stood on the Senate floor, New York Post in hand with the headline 'Bush Knew,' the standard was laid out and cannot be denied: Every serious bit of intel warning of an attack has to be revealed."

More, Hewitt sees insidious scheming between Kerry sympathizers in Washington and two of the nation's most prominent newspapers.

"Given that backdrop, this New York Times piece and this Washington Post article are just trashy spin jobs, transparent help-the-Kerry-campaign-get-back-on-its-feet-after-a-disappointing-convention rush efforts, designed to prop up the Howard Dean loons that think Tom Ridge has a hotline on his desk connected to Karl Rove's office. What low-lifes. Does anyone doubt that braying Timesmen and Post reporters would be leading the lynch mob if an attack occurred about which the Administration had an inkling but about which it had remained silent? So Kerry affiliates within the government put out a line that undermines the idea that the threat is serious. If an attack occurs, will they step forward with their apologies?

"There is a standard: Serious threats require immediate disclosure, whether the info is a decade old or yesterday's buzz in the chatter. If a different standard ought to apply, let John Kerry articulate it, and let Hillary agree. Until then we are operating under the terms laid down by the loyal opposition."

The New Republicans blog, whose mission is to defy stereotype and offer "the most intelligent and original site in righty politics" is likewise fed up with insinuations that the Bush White House could be manipulating the terrorism issue for political gain. Pseudonymous contributor "Vaughn," an actor-producer and nonprofit arts advocate in New York City, says politicians who hail from outside the allegedly high-risk areas of the country should keep their criticisms to themselves.

"First of all, to all would-be Presidential yahoos (read: Gov. Dean), unless you're willing to move to New York or Washington, you have no right to sling libelous nonsense such as [the] claim that the Bush Administration is politically motivated when it raises the terror alert."

The Bush administration still deserves the benefit of the doubt, he says, even if the public has little to go on. "We have no idea, as the public citizenry, how often this heightened awareness has saved lives. If it saves lives or even minimizes the loss of life at any point going forward then thank God for Secretary Ridge and the entire DHS for risking humiliation when advising the public to be more aware. They're damned if they do and damned if they don't. If they don't warn us then there will be hell to pay after another attack."

The purportedly nonpartisan though often right-leaning DEBKAfile, an Israeli publication specializing in counterterrorism and international security, has raised doubts about whether two al-Qaida suspects, detained in Pakistan, provided intelligence for the latest U.S. terror alert. The first detainee, DEBKAfile says, is only a foot soldier.

"[Tanzanian national Ahmed Khalfan] Ghailani fled to Afghanistan after the 1998 twin US embassy bombings in East Africa and reached Pakistan after US troops invaded Afghanistan in 2001. He remained in hiding among low-ranking al Qaeda adherents from then on without holding any important jobs in the organization."

According to the New York Times, a Pakistani intelligence official said that the other detainee, Pakistani national Muhammed Naeem Noor Khan, "told investigators that most of Al Qaeda's communications were now done through the Internet." But DEBKAfile says that's also wrong.

"Khan is equally improbable as al Qaeda's present communications manager. According to DEBKAfilems terror experts, the use of coded Internet and e-mail messaging for transmitting signals and orders was more or less abandoned from mid-2001, months before the 9/11 attacks. Since then, messengers and personal couriers have carried most of al Qaeda's coded messages, usually without knowing what was in them or even the identities of the recipients.

"The two men are not of the usual al Qaeda caliber for preparing a complex, spectacular attack in the United States -- or even acting as the top level's repositories for the necessary foreknowledge. Only very limited information must therefore have been elicited from the two men detained in Pakistan and their computers."

Drudge's image problem
Leftie political cartoonist and Salon contributor Tom Tomorrow went to the Democratic convention in Boston. He snapped a digital photo of Michael Moore and Bill O'Reilly squaring off outside the Fleet Center. He posted the photo on his blog. The next thing Tomorrow knows, Internet gossip Matt Drudge had stolen the image, used Photoshop to flip the image and alter a couple of background details, and posted it on his site, calling it his own.

Just in case there any doubts about Drudge's digital heist, Tomorrow has posted the two images side by side on his blog.

"As I expected, the altered version of my photo mysteriously disappeared from Drudge's archive after I posted this link. But here's a cached version thanks to the wonder of Google. And I've got a screen cap[ture] in case this one disappears too."

Tomorrow is understandably peeved over Drudge's behavior. And the fact that Drudge never returned his calls seeking to rectify the situation.

"So basically, rather than just give a leftie cartoonist a small photo credit, [Drudge] steals the picture and goes to the trouble of changing a red traffic light to green, flopping the image and altering traffic signs, all presumably in a clumsy attempt to give himself some sort of imagined plausible deniability.

"What an asshole."

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2004 Elections 9/11 Al-qaida John F. Kerry D-mass. Pakistan