You can set your watches these days by presidential speeches about victory in Iraq. They come across the cable news networks a few times a week, like the clanging of Big Ben, always hitting the same tired talking point -- more Iraqi police, fewer terrorists, more freedom, less bad news.
So when it became clear Wednesday morning that yet another Bush address on Iraq had been scheduled to compete with congressional Democrats' big-splash announcement of a new national security policy, I figured the Democrats would win the showdown in a walk.
But I was wrong. Bush pulled out all the stops. By the time he left the Capitol Hill Hyatt, he had strayed far off script, spoken in French and cracked a joke about his aversion to books without pictures. Then, in a coup de grâce, he told America that he did not plan to wear a Speedo tomorrow in Cancun when he meets with the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Canada. I'm not kidding.
Meanwhile, a few blocks away, the Democrats released a 138-page foreign policy treatise (PDF) that used the word "security" 253 times and "leadership" 32 times. After making a cinematic "West Wing"-type entrance to sweeping horns and snare drums, Sen. Harry Reid spoke for a while about the "dangerous incompetence" of Republicans. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told the crowd that she was "dreadfully sad when I read the papers every day." And then Harold Schaitberger, president of Sen. John Kerry's favorite union, the International Association of Firefighters, began waxing about how the world changed on Sept. 11. Not a word about Speedos or picture books.
As for the substance of the Democratic proposal, there were few fireworks. Mostly, the new "Real Security" plank just reprints long-standing Democratic initiatives and talking points. In other words, a vote for Democrats in 2006 is apparently a vote for more money for veterans, more money for securing nuclear materials, properly armored troops, good WMD intelligence and a less laughable Department of Homeland Security.
But if you want French-speaking leaders, stick with Bush.