George W. Bush, 2.0

We have found the enemy, and it's the Democrats, again.

Published March 23, 2006 8:30PM (EST)

"Democrat leaders' talk of censure and impeachment isn't about the law or the president doing anything wrong. It's about the fact that Democrat leaders don't want America to fight the War on Terror with every tool in our arsenal."

That's the pitch Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman made in a fundraising solicitation sent to GOP supporters today. And when we saw it, we thought of it as little more than a particularly stark example of the straw-man politics favored by George W. Bush. Yes, Russ Feingold and John Conyers and a few of their allies are talking about things like censure and impeachment, but they're not what you'd call "Democrat leaders" -- a group that's distinguished by, as much as anything, its members' unwillingness to talk about such things. And if there are "tools" for fighting terrorism that "Democrat leaders" don't want America to have, we'd sure like to know what they are: Virtually every Democrat we've heard says, "Keep spying on suspected terrorists -- just follow the law when you do."

So straw men? They're everywhere. But Newsweek's Howard Fineman suggests that there's something else going on here, too. With the "educator in chief" business not working -- at some point, even Bush's advisors have to realize that the problem with Iraq isn't that the president hasn't explained it enough -- the White House is making a pivot to Plan B: Forget the Global War on Terror; now it's time for the War Against Terrorists Inside the Homeland. And as part of the usual "with us or with the terrorists" theme, the War Against Terrorists Inside the Homeland also means the War Against the Traitor Media and those Spineless, Security-Hating Democrats, Too.

As Fineman explains it, the White House and the GOP are fixing to set up Bush as some sort of tough-guy cop fighting against the "wussie lovers of legalistic niceties that get in the way of investigations and MSM news organizations that focus obsessively on explosions and mayhem in Iraq, even as they print or broadcast classified information and ask nasty, argumentative questions at hastily called press conferences." The underlying strategy: Move away from all the Iraq talk and get back to the question of homeland security.

Now, we'll admit that we're not sure how this is different from what the Bush administration has been doing all along. Dick Cheney used to complain that John Kerry wanted to show terrorists our "softer side." Cheney and Bush both talk often about the Democrats' "pre-9/11 mindset," and Karl Rove has been known to say that Democrats want only "therapy and understanding" for those who attacked the United States.

But the White House has to do something -- a bounce from new blood on the staff can only do so much -- and there aren't many storylines available at this late date. "It takes some chutzpah to do this rewrite, given the latest run of stories about the pre-9/11 terrorism signals that were missed by the new Bush administration," Fineman writes. "But the White House's strategic bet -- and it's a pretty good one -- is that Bush has a better chance of playing Tough Cop than any prominent figure in the Democratic Party, in or out of Congress."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

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

George W. Bush Iraq War War Room