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  By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 4, 2002; 9:28 AM

From the moment American bombs started dropping on Afghanistan, there was an effort to pigeonhole people based on ideology.

Quick: Hawk or dove? USA booster or America-basher?

This was always somewhat phony, but it quickly took hold.

Conservatives applauded the war effort by a Republican president. So, in truth, did most liberals, even those who had hardly been big fans of W. or the Pentagon.

A few left-wing types criticized the war or seemed to blame American imperialism for the terrorist attacks. Aha, said some commentators on the right, the libs are at it again though the dissenters were a ridiculously small minority. (This was sort of like blaming the loony Marin County culture for John Walker joining the Taliban, ignoring the fact that 99.99 percent of Marin teenagers somehow resisted the lure.)

It's called re-fighting the '60s: one of the political culture's favorite past-times. The old Vietnam hits are played again and again, like a scratchy Woodstock album.

But even as most Democrats backed the commander-in-chief just check those poll numbers there was some uneasiness about saluting. Most agreed that we had to strike back against the evildoers who delighted in slaughtering thousands of civilians. But some, quietly at least, were trying to reconcile their hey-hey-LBJ protest days with their present enthusiasm for daisy-cutter bombs.

Now comes David Talbot, the editor of Salon. Unabashed San Francisco liberal. Published details of a 30-year-old affair by Henry Hyde as retaliation for Ken Starr's investigation of Bill Clinton's sex life, declaring that "ugly times call for ugly tactics."

Talbot has been doing some soul-searching about Afghanistan. And he proudly declares himself a hawk:

"Any liberal who came of age during the Vietnam War, as I did, feels some kinship with these implacable critics of American policy, even a lingering sense of alienation from our own country's world-straddling power. But most of us, at some point during the last two decades, made a fundamental break from this pacifistic legacy. . . .

"Most liberals of my generation, however, feel deeply uneasy about labeling themselves hawks to do so conjures images for them of Gen. Curtis 'Bombs Away' LeMay, it suggests a break from civilization itself, a heavy-footed step backwards, toward the bogs of our ancestors. What I have come to believe, however, is that America's unmatched power to reduce tyranny and terror to dust is actually what often makes civilization in today's world possible. . . .

"In recent years, it has once again become fashionable among the pundit class to denigrate those who protested the war and to venerate those who chose to serve. But the antiwar activists I knew and worked with did not make their choices lightly or selfishly. The decision to break with our country's policy was a wrenching one for us, and we paid for it in various ways. Many of us, including myself, were sentenced to jail for our protests; some, like a close college friend, served two years in a federal prison for burning his draft card. I was prepared to join him if my number had been called in Nixon's macabre lottery system. . . .

"The only members of my generation I have contempt for are those who loudly supported the war but found convenient ways to escape serving in it. . . . The conservative tycoons and politicians who sent their sons to the academy were finding face-saving ways for their offspring to dodge the war the preferred escape hatch was enrollment in the National Guard. This allowed these 'fortunate sons' (in the words of the acidic antiwar song by Creedence Clearwater Revival) to appear patriotic and not disturb their career trajectories, while saving their asses. It was an easy out made famous by two of the nation's most prominent fortunate sons, Vice President Dan Quayle and the current occupant of the White House. . . .

"I continued to wear my antiwar record as a badge of honor years after Vietnam, eliciting predictable sneers from conservatives and mandatory respect in liberal circles. . . . By the time Milosevic and his henchmen began bombarding defenseless cities and filling concentration camps and mass graves with undesirables. . . . I had come fully round to a conviction I had not embraced since I was a boy: America is not only capable of using its unrivaled power for good it must. . . .

"If commentators or any citizens call for American troops to go to war, I think they must be willing to enlist themselves or if they're too old for duty, be willing to picture their own sons or daughters in uniform. My boys are years away from fighting age. . . . I've talked to my oldest son about Vietnam and why I opposed the war, and I hope he will deeply search his own conscience before he makes up his mind. I don't believe in 'my country, right or wrong.' But if the cause is compelling and just, I also hope he does the right thing and serves his country."

Until that war arrives, we'll stick with the current one, with the Los Angeles Times reporting a new round of bombing: "U.S. warplanes yesterday struck a military compound in eastern Afghanistan where members of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network were regrouping, the Pentagon said. The attack was the latest in a series of calibrated strikes designed to pound Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders so they cannot regain power.

"Thursday's strike was the third since Dec. 20 in a campaign to destroy sites where intelligence analysts believe that elite elements of the ousted regime and the terrorists it sheltered are seeking to consolidate and regroup. The attacks draw a stark picture of the dogged U.S. military pursuit of what Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Thursday called the top '10, 12, 15, 20' Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders.

"Mindful of other recent conflicts notably the 1991 Persian Gulf War with Iraq in which the U.S. pulled its troops out quickly, leaving remnants of a militarily defeated force to rebuild its power base, Rumsfeld said Thursday that the Bush administration has no intention of following suit in Afghanistan."

Domestic Politics Heats Up

Domestic politics is starting to heat up (just as the press needs a new story line), says the New York Times:

"Worried about President Bush's wartime popularity, Democrats are beginning a concerted election year drive to criticize his stewardship of the economy and portray themselves as the party of job growth and fiscal responsibility.

"Senator Tom Daschle, the majority leader, will start the offensive in a speech here on Friday, trying to frame the debate over the budget and recession three weeks before Mr. Bush's State of the Union address.

"Mr. Daschle, of South Dakota, is to set out a seven-point Democratic program for growth, including a tax credit for businesses that add workers and a package of unemployment insurance and health benefits for displaced workers. He will sharply criticize the $1.35 trillion tax cut enacted last year as the centerpiece of Mr. Bush's legislative program.

"The House minority leader, Representative Richard A. Gephardt, is to amplify the themes in his own speech just before the State of the Union address. And the Democratic National Committee is deploying lawmakers and local elected officials across the country this month to talk about the recession and the federal budget."

'Economic Security' Plan

The Bush response? He's changing the name of his economic stimulus package to get this the "economic security" plan. (That should break the gridlock, by gum!)

"By casting his economic plan as a matter of national security," says USA Today, "he hopes to generate public pressure on Democrats to take action. Bush and his advisers also realize that the economy will be a crucial factor in November's mid-term elections and beyond, when the president prepares for his own re-election campaign.

"Even though some indicators suggest the worst of the recession may be over and polls show that most people blame former president Bill Clinton and Congress for the downturn Bush wants to demonstrate that economic recovery is a top priority.

"In Ontario, Calif., on Saturday, he'll take questions from laid-off workers and make the case that quick passage of his plan would prevent more job cuts and hasten recovery. Later Saturday, he'll visit a job-training center in Portland, Ore. Oregon has a 7.4% unemployment rate, the nation's highest.

"In his Saturday radio address, Bush will repeat his call for passage of his package.

"On Sunday, members of the administration's economic team, including Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, will be on TV talk shows to make the president's case.

When Bush returns to Washington Monday, he'll meet with economic advisers. He'll also confer with Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan. . . . Over the next few weeks, Bush advisers say, he will argue that expanding trade and finalizing a comprehensive energy policy will also boost the economy."

Remember all those stories about the Torch in deep trouble? He's dodged the legal bullet.

"Federal prosecutors said yesterday that they will not file charges against Sen. Robert G. Torricelli (N.J.), ending a three-year probe of financial dealings that once threatened the political future of a prominent Democratic lawmaker and fundraiser," The Washington Post says.

"Manhattan U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, in her final week in office, said federal authorities have completed an 'exhaustive investigation' into whether Torricelli broke the law in taking gifts from New Jersey businessman David A. Chang, who previously pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions to Torricelli's campaign. White said she has referred information from the investigation to the Senate ethics committee.

"Republicans had hoped a federal indictment would boost their chances of toppling Torricelli in this year's election, which might enable them to regain control of the Senate. But the probe's conclusion, coupled with the New Jersey GOP's recent inability to recruit a top-tier challenger, makes Torricelli's reelection prospects look much brighter than they did a year ago.

"The investigation was politically ticklish for the Bush administration's Justice Department, which was concerned it might be accused of partisanship if it brought anything less than an iron-clad case against a Democratic senator."

The New York Post gives the city's new mayor a front-page raspberry with the headline "Readers to Hizzoner: Don't Even Think It!"

"Hey, Mayor Bloomberg don't make any cuts in our police and fire services! That's the loud-and-clear warning from thousands of Post readers who by a 2-1 margin insist that not a single job be sacrificed among the rank and file of New York's Finest and Bravest.

"They say trimming Police and Fire department budgets and staff would not only weaken morale and encourage crime, but would be a stinging slap to the memories of the hundreds of uniformed workers who died on Sept. 11th. . . .

"Bloomberg stunned the city this week by asking for reductions of up to 20 percent from most agencies, and as much as 10 percent from the NYPD, FDNY and other uniformed services. And when The Post asked you for your thoughts on that idea, you flooded us with e-mails urging that those vital services be left alone."

This is totally unscientific, of course, but why mess with a great headline?

The Weekly Standard's Christopher Caldwell resists the knee-jerk reaction on a recent profiling incident that garnered surprisingly little press:

"On Christmas Day, Wallid Shatter, an Arab-American member of President Bush's Secret Service detail, was ordered off American Airlines Flight 363 from Baltimore to Dallas. He was on his way to join the president at his Crawford, Texas, ranch.

"According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has lodged a complaint with American Airlines, Shatter had already gone through the paperwork required of armed federal agents. It was the flight's captain who first raised concerns about him. Then, according to CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper, 'when the agent asked to go back on the plane to retrieve his jacket, the captain said, "I don't want him back on that plane."' The flight was delayed 75 minutes, and took off without Shatter.

"CAIR has demanded both an apology and a clarification of policy from American Airlines. The Secret Service has launched an inquiry. And President Bush, by his own account, is irate. 'If he was treated that way because of his ethnicity,' Bush said, 'that will make me madder than heck.'

"The president is trying to score cheap p.c. points off the incident, because this is malarkey. Consider the position of American, which has of late, let us not forget, seen a good deal of its personnel and clientele blown out of the skies by people who fit Shatter's profile. . . .

"Some guy who claims to be going to see the president tries to get on a plane with a gun and the captain doesn't like the look of his paperwork. Specifically, Shatter was taking Flight 363 because he had been bumped from an earlier flight. According to the captain, the information he gave on the form for the second flight didn't match the information he'd given on the same form for the first. Then, to top it off, the guy tries to get back on the plane."

The Wall Street Journal editorial page finds a new reason to despise the Senate majority leader:

"Well, hallelujah, it turns out there is one trial lawyer menace to the economy that Tom Daschle draws the line at when lawsuits might stand in the way of a tasty piece of home-state pork barrel. This one is rich, in so many ways.

"Just two weeks ago the Senate Majority Leader was instrumental in stonewalling a government terrorism-insurance bill, a piece of policy that everyone claimed to think was a good idea at the time because it would have protected building owners and the like from being sued for acts committed by terrorists.

"But we have since learned from the New York Times that that same week Mr. Daschle turned on a dime, using his estimable powers to arrange a sweeping piece of lawsuit protection for Homestake Mining, a company in his native South Dakota. The Senator wants a gold mine that Homestake was going to close down for a large-scale federal science project in his backyard.

"These priorities are worth mulling over. Tort feeding frenzies like those over cigarettes, breast implants, Cessnas, etc., apparently must not in any way be hindered, even in the midst of a war against terrorism. But let the possibility of a lawsuit stand in the way of federally sponsored neutrino research, the ostensible purpose of the Homestake handout, and suddenly tort reform is mom's apple pie."

Andrew Sullivan says Bush is getting a bum rap in one respect:

"Imagine, for a moment, that Al Gore was now president. Now stop shaking for a minute and think hard.

"If Gore had built a presidential ranch that was one story high, got all its electricity from the sun, and was described by the New York Times as a 'model of the yuppie modern ranch,' don't you think it would become an emblem of his presidency? So why hasn't it happened to Bush?

"Here's the Times: 'The first lady, Laura Bush, has overseen the planting of native Texas grasses. The house is environmentally correct, with a passive solar design, geothermal cooling and heating, a cistern to catch rainwater and purification tanks and filters so that water from the house can be recycled for use in irrigation.'

"Does Bush get any credit for this? Do his environmental critics who have yet to find a substantive difference between Bush's and Clinton's environmental policies acknowledge that Bush is an actual, living, breathing environmentalist? While Gore talked a good game, does he know anything about tending to thousands of acres of actual brush land the way W does?

"I point this out just to show how lazy the press is. You start with a picture of Bush as a gas-guzzling, arsenic-pushing tool of Big Oil, and you sure as heck try and avoid anything that might complicate this picture. Of course, Bush is partly to blame. Unlike most modern yuppie pols, he doesn't see his private life as just another propaganda tool. But that doesn't mean the press shouldn't notice more."

 

Finally, get ready for a steady flow of Reagan stories, beginning with this wire report in the Washington Times: "President Reagan's image as a 'man's man' was hurting him with women voters, adviser Elizabeth Dole says in a memo released yesterday in a batch of Reagan records.

"'While this characterization has been helpful with men, it may have worked to his detriment with regard to women,' Mrs. Dole, then special assistant to the president for public liaison, wrote in the handwritten draft of a 1982 memo to three Reagan advisers. 'An often-heard question is whether the president takes women seriously.'

"Mrs. Dole went on to become Reagan's transportation secretary. She now is running for a Senate seat in North Carolina. . . .

"In one memo, adviser Lyn Nofziger complains the Reagan White House was too supportive of liberal AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland. 'When are we going to quit trying to be nice to Lane Kirkland?' Mr. Nofziger asks in his July 1, 1981, memo to White House chief of staff James Baker. 'He's out to beat us.'"

So much for the idea that presidents don't worry about politics.

2002 The Washington Post Company