First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
What Bush Should Have Done
Democrats with a conscience have had a hard time of it in the past decade or so.
Clinton's presidency put a terrific strain on our loyalty to our party, especially as we watched spokesmen for "our" side pretend that there was no proof of Clinton's guilt and that even if he was guilty, it didn't matter because everyone did it anyway.
The worst part of it was the way other people's honor was so readily sacrificed to make Clinton look like something other than mildew on the White House walls.
Eisenhower, for instance, was convicted of adultery on no better evidence than the fact that he had a female driver during the war years in Britain -- though she denied it to the end of her life, and there was no hint of any philandering at any other time in his life.
Even worse from a Democrat's point of view, however, was how eagerly Democrats savaged the honor of Thomas Jefferson, founder of the party. There was nothing in his life, either, to suggest him capable of repeated adultery with a slave woman. And the DNA evidence, such as it is, points not to him alone, but to several Jefferson males -- one of whom, a nephew, was a far more likely candidate for ancestor of the Heming offspring.
But in the effort to make Bill Clinton seem acceptable, any slander of any person would do the trick. Just count the number of men and women whose reputations were trashed in the effort to keep Bill Clinton in power.
So when, in 2001, we finally got the mildew out of the White House, no one was more relieved than those Democrats who actually valued truth above political advantage. Perhaps now our party could recover some of its integrity.
Perhaps now we could end the game of recklessly slandering anyone we thought it advantageous to smear.
Well, it looks like the Democrats haven't shaken off that habit yet, after all.
Because right now Daschle and Gephardt and the press are having a field day going after George W. Bush over an early August intelligence report that said that Bin Laden's group might be planning a terrorist event that involved the hijacking of an airliner.
The Daschle/Gephardt spin on this is that Americans died because George W. Bush did nothing with this information.
The accusation is so vile, so low, so vicious that even ordinary neighborhood gossips would usually think twice before accusing someone of such a thing.
Yet even Bill "Moral Outrage" O'Reilly from the "No Spin Zone" is on record as pontificating that President Bush should have told the American people what he knew in August and let them judge for themselves.
What do they think should have happened when that snippet of information crossed the president's desk?
"Look at this report! Bin Laden is planning a hijacking somewhere, someday. All right, alert the media at once. The American people must be warned."
"But ... Mr. President, we don't know when or where or even if this hijacking is going to happen. It will cause severe damage to the airline industry if people start cancelling their travel plans. And then if nothing happens, it will make you look like an alarmist and, if you'll excuse the expression, a fool for having put out such a warning."
"If it saves even one life, it's worth it. What does it matter whether my presidency is damaged? We're not Clintons here, we're Bushes -- we do what's good for the people, not what's good for us politically."
"But it won't save any lives at all, Mr. President, because Bin Laden will just wait till things get back to normal before he strikes."
"Nothing will ever be normal again. Don't you see that this will not be a normal hijacking? No, these are suicide bombers -- remember the Cole? So when they hijack airplanes, they will choose long-range flights so the planes are full of fuel, and then they will crash them into symbols of American might. Obviously they will target both towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the White House. That will require four planes, and the hijackers will undoubtedly have to be trained to pilot them. So I want an immediate search for obscure FBI reports about Arab-looking people taking commercial jet training, who don't want to learn about takeoffs and landings. That information has to be out there somewhere."
"Mr. President, you are such a genius. Obviously that is what Bin Laden is planning."
"But wait. What was I thinking? If we prevent Bin Laden's people from this horrible crime and save all those American lives, then he will simply do something else later. And in the meantime the American people won't be outraged, so we won't be able to persuade them to let us invade Afghanistan. And if we can't invade Afghanistan, how will we be able to murder Afghan women and children by making sure there's collateral damage from our bombing?"
"You're right, Mr. President. I was forgetting the big picture."
"We must allow Bin Laden to provoke the American people, the way Sam Houston did when he refused to go save the men holding out against Santa Ana at the Alamo, and the way FDR did when he refused to warn the commanders in Pearl Harbor about the Japanese attack."
"So the plan is ... we conceal this information and let Bin Laden go ahead, and then use the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the White House as an excuse to start our war against the evil Taliban?"
"That's right. Make sure the FBI and the CIA don't share information, and keep the INS out of the loop, too, so these Muslim fanatics can move freely through the U.S."
"But Mr. President, you're forgetting something. When Bin Laden blows up the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the White House, and the people are outraged and we start our victorious war against Afghanistan, your popularity numbers will go through the roof. It will almost guarantee your reelection."
"Oh, no. Papa would be so hurt. I promised him I'd stick to one term and then get defeated by a lying snake as Democrats and the press unite to savage my honor. It's a family tradition."
"OK, I've got it, sir. We proceed according to plan, but then sometime next May, when the press is running out of war coverage and the Democratic leadership is going crazy trying to find a way to get your numbers down, we'll leak this intelligence report. Then the American people will see that you should have forewarned them about the terrorist attack so they could stop flying on airplanes for several months, causing the entire air transit business to go bankrupt, along with most of the hotel business, in order to prevent hijackers from crashing planes into buildings, even though we had no information indicating that was their plan."
"But what if the Democratic leadership looks at this intelligence report and decides that no reasonable person would have released this vague information? What if they conclude that we couldn't possibly know that the hijacking wouldn't be the ordinary kind? What if they act in a statesmanlike manner and tell the press that everyone was surprised by the terrorist attack and it would be shameful to try to second-guess a president who has handled everything as well as it could possibly be handled?"
"Golly, sir ... do you really think they might do that?"
"Ha ha ha ha! You silly fellow, can't you tell when you're being teased?"
I did hear one rational Democratic voice on the news. Evan Bayh of Indiana went on record as saying there was nothing Bush could have or even should have done in August based on the information he had, and instead of blaming him, we should be working to improve communication between the intelligence and security agencies.
Which pretty much guarantees that you'll never see Bayh as a leader of the Democratic Party. How could we Democrats possibly be led by someone who is reasonable and honest? That would be like ... like ... having Carter as president again.
No, the Democratic Party is searching for another Bill Clinton. Someone with a pretty face, from a southern state, who will say and do whatever it takes to get elected and then reelected, someone who stands for nothing until he finds out what the polls say.
Wherever will we Democrats find another candidate like that?
Oh, wait. North Carolina already has just the man.
Copyright © 2002 by Orson Scott Card.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.