NY Times, Hamdan, and National Security: Swift Gifts for Republicans

July 6th, 2006 12:25 PM

The following is an op-ed of mine first published by The American Thinker.

Did you hear that sound on Thursday, June 29? That was millions of conservatives gasping in horror when the Supreme Court issued its Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision seemingly giving the Bush administration a stunning defeat over terrorist detention centers at Guantanamo Bay.

Irrespective of such justifiable concerns, when combined with another leak by the New York Times of a counterterrorism program just six days prior, Republicans were actually handed a tremendous gift dramatically improving their chances to hold both chambers of Congress in the November elections.

To be sure, the nine months following Hurricane Katrina weren’t as hard on the Bush administration as on the citizens of New Orleans, but that’s certainly not what the dominant media would have you believe. As energy prices rose, other events such as a withdrawn Supreme Court nomination, increased chaos in Iraq, revelations about a covert terrorist surveillance program, the proposed sale of U.S. ports to an Arab nation, and illegal immigration protests led to continual declines in the President’s popularity.

As these events transpired, the left and their media minions began a campaign to convince Americans that the midterm elections were all but over, and it was a metaphysical certitude that the Democrats would win back the House of Representatives, while having a good shot at the Senate as well. So strong was their confidence that members of the media started referring to Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, and Harry Reid as Senate Majority Leader.

Despite such unwarranted enthusiasm, the currents dramatically changed in June. This tidal shift began with the killing of al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, followed by President Bush’s surprise visit to Iraq, and culminating with the New York Times SWIFT article and the Hamdan decision. As a result, in a matter of just three weeks, the political discussion moved from illegal immigration, same-sex marriage, and Iraq, to an issue that Americans still feel Bush and the Republicans are better at handling…the War on Terror.

In effect, the Times and the Supreme Court changed the playing field of political discourse as drastically as moving a Yankees-Red Sox game from Fenway Park to the Bronx. In doing so, they also served Republicans up a fastball right over the heart of the plate that should be easy for them to whack out of the park.

In the past few days, noted Republicans have already taken some good swings. According to a July 2 Agence France Press article

“Senator Lindsey Graham told the Fox News Sunday television program that Congress could conceivably pass a new law allowing the government to try the prisoners by military commissions by September.”


“Republican Senator John McCain said on ABC television’s This Week program that new legislation for Guantanamo trials would likely fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the military legal system.”

By contrast, the Democrats, having just lost homefield advantage, weren’t seeing the ball very well. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi despicably said the following about the Hamdan decision:

“The rights of due process are among our most cherished liberties, and today’s decision is a rebuke of the Bush Administration’s detainee policies and a reminder of our responsibility to protect both the American people and our Constitutional rights. We cannot allow the values on which our country was founded to become a casualty in the war on terrorism.”

A few days later, the Los Angeles Times reported this opinion issued by and for a high-ranking Democrat:

“‘The American people increasingly question this administration’s credibility when it comes to national security. They have promulgated reckless policies that endangered the country and destroyed America’s reputation around the world,’ said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and director of the Senate Democrats’ ‘war room’ for responding to Republican charges.”

And, the New York Times reported on July 3:

“Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said on Meet the Press on NBC that ‘this White House has felt it could just change things unilaterally.’”

“Mr. Schumer added, ‘The administration has not only largely ignored the Congress, but has also badly miscalculated how its efforts would be evaluated by the Supreme Court.’ Efforts to ‘marginalize the other two branches of government threaten to undermine, rather than promote, counterterrorism efforts,’ he said.”


“Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, one of the Democratic Party’s point men on national security, suggested that the court ruling was a broad rebuke to the Bush administration’s expansive use of executive power in the fight against terrorism.”

The disparity in sentiment and reaction to this issue between the two parties was even evident at the Times:

“[Republican Senator Mitch] McConnell, appearing on Meet the Press, said Congress must quickly address that issue, along with creating military commissions. ‘There’s nothing more important than the war on terror,’ he said, ‘and I think we will have to act on this very soon.’

“[Republican Senator Arlen] Specter, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said on Face the Nation on CBS. ‘We have to get the details as to what the administration thinks they can do. We’ve got to look at the Supreme Court decision. And we have to reconcile it. But it has to be Congress because it’s our constitutional responsibility.’”

Amazing difference, isn’t it? On the right came a determination to use this Court decision to create legislation that would not only address the detention centers at Gitmo, but also how captured terrorists should be treated in the future. On the left came the typical castigations of the president and his policies without any suggestion as to how this matter should be resolved.

This gave the Republicans such a huge advantage in the debate that even the Los Angeles Times recognized it:

“‘The Supreme Court ruling on Guantanamo was a real blessing in disguise,’ said Whit Ayres, another GOP pollster. It ‘allows us to have a debate on whether terrorists should receive the same legal protections as American military personnel…. It’s hard to see Republicans losing when that’s the debate.’”

By contrast, the Times wasn’t so pleased with how the Democrats were behaving:

“But the Democrats’ response so far has been less unified, less pointed and less memorable than the Republicans’ attacks.

“‘The Democratic leadership has not been very good at this,’ said George P. Lakoff, a linguistics professor at UC Berkeley who has advised some Democrats on ways to sharpen their message. ‘They’re still debating whether you should say as little as possible and hope the Republicans fail, or stand up for what you believe.’”

The Times also cited one of its recent polls indicating how strong June has been for Bush and the Republicans as it pertains to terrorism:

“Voters said they thought Democrats would do a better job than Republicans on issues including the economy, immigration and Iraq. The one exception was national security and terrorism: 39% of registered voters said Republicans would do a better job; 30% favored Democrats.

“The poll also found that Bush’s approval rating on his handling of the war on terrorism had improved markedly since April — a swing at least partly attributable to signs of progress in Iraq, including the death of Abu Musab Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.”

Add it all up, and the last three weeks represent one of the most dramatic shifts in politics since Jim Jeffords’ defection from the Republican Party less than five months after Bush was first inaugurated.

Most importantly, as was the case in Novembers 2002 and 2004, the War on Terror and national security are again on the front burner with the Republicans taking the lead, and the Democrats having absolutely nothing to add to the discussion but vitriol aimed at the president.

This raises an oft-repeated question the past nineteen months: When are the Democrats going to realize that Bush is not running for re-election?

Regardless of the answer, if Republicans do push for legislation on terrorist detention centers and national security issues in the weeks to come, this will likely further divide Democrats seeking re-election in November versus those seeking a presidential nomination in 2008.

Much as what transpired in the previous two elections, such a division will, once again, make the Democrats look soft and indecisive on this important issue while making it easy for Republicans to illustrate the critical differences between the two parties when it comes to defense and national security.

As a result, it looks like the Republicans are going to once again be playing in their own ballpark this November. And, although Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid don’t see it yet, Hamdan and SWIFT have likely doomed their hopes of becoming Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader.