Obama versus the bed-wetters



Regarding President Obama's national security speech yesterday, I was particularly struck by the shots he took at the bed-wetters in his own party.

As noted previously in this space (albeit with tongue in cheek), Senate Democrats on Tuesday fell to their knees and canceled the money to close Guantanamo, apparently out of fear that fear-mongering Republicans might somehow convince Americans that the terrorists might wind up roaming the land at will, laying siege to our peaceful burgs. (The GOP's message is merely an update of its infamous Willie Horton TV ad about the furloughed black rapist. And the Democrats, despite their recent successes, apparently still think it's 1988.)

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, terrified of being labeled "soft" on the eve of his 2010 re-election race, declared to the press on Tuesday, "We will never allow terrorists to be released into the United States...We don't want them around the United States." By that point, meanwhile, the House Democrats had already caved; last week they too erased the money to close Guantanamo - even though more than 140 of them had signed a letter to President Bush in 2007 demanding that he close Guantanamo.

Which brings us to Obama's speech yesterday:

...we will seek to transfer some detainees to the same type of facilities in which we hold all manner of dangerous and violent criminals within our borders - highly secure prisons that ensure the public safety...nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal "supermax" prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists. As Senator Lindsey Graham said, "The idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees within the United States is not rational."

Nice touch - quoting a Republican senator to make the point that the trembling Dems are behaving irrationally. By last official count, roughly 350 convicted terrorists currently dwell in prisons on American soil, most notably at the top-security facility in Florence, Colorado, which is located in the middle of nowhere and encircled by a $10-million fence.

Later in the speech, Obama returned to the topic:

As our efforts to close Guantanamo move forward, I know that the politics in Congress will be difficult. These issues are fodder for 30-second commercials and direct-mail pieces that are designed to frighten. I get it. But if we continue to make decisions from within a climate of fear, we will make more mistakes...I have confident that the American people are more interested in doing what is right to protect this country than in political posturing.

In other words, Obama has the crazy notion that Americans can be addressed as if they are grownups. Harry Reid, by contrast, appears to believe that Americans (or, at least, voting Nevadans) deserve to be treated as gullible children who will swallow whatever slop the Republicans serve up - this, despite the fact that traditional GOP rhetoric has been soundly rejected in two successive elections. (New slop arrived today, in the form of a Republican National Committee web ad that links the closing of Guantanamo to audio of a nuclear explosion. The audio is lifted from LBJ's infamous "Daisy" TV ad, which implied in 1964 that Barry Goldwater might recklessly blow us up. Take a guess what president and party, by closing Guantanamo, might recklessly blow us up.) 

It's true that Reid is not particularly popular at the moment in Nevada; a recent poll reports that nearly half the state's voters disapprove of his job performance, and that might portend a tough re-election fight in 2010. He's worried that he'll suffer the same fate as the last Senate Democratic leader, his friend Tom Daschle, the South Dakotan who was bounced from office in 2004.

But the Republicans were at high tide in 2004, and Daschle lost to a popular and well-financed challenger, John Thune. By contrast, the Republicans today can't seem to find a credible challenger to go up against Reid, and the Nevada GOP is notoriously disorganized and fractured. Reid, as Senate Democratic leader, has enough wiggle room to speak rationally on the prison issue - to point out, for instance, that, according to Pentagon chief Robert Gates, only around 100 Guantanamo detainees might wind up on American soil, and that we can hardly expect to ask our allies to take some of the detainees if we don't take some ourselves. 

Yet instead Reid is simply pandering - incoherently so. After he declared on Tuesday that "we will never allow terrorists to be released into the United States," a reporter pointed out to him that "no one's talking about 'releasing' them." To which Reid replied, "Can't put them in prison unless you release them." (Really? They would "released" first? That would be a much better deal than what Richard Kimble got in The Fugitive. Kimble had to flee a train wreck in the woods.)

Reid's spokesman did try to walk back his comments on Wednesday, telling liberal blogger Greg Sargent that Reid opposes the transfer of terrorists to American prisons "at this time," and that Reid will examine any future Obama plan with the aim of making another judgment "at that time." But that doesn't trump the Senate's 90-6 vote to cancel the closure money, nor the broad-based Democratic bed-wetting.

The whole prison episode illustrates anew the persistence of polarized politicking in Washington, and the triumph of emotion at the expense of rationality. Obama no doubt will persist in his efforts to redress the balance, but, with so much cowardice in his own ranks, he'd do well to remember - as he did yesterday - that his friends can be even more troublesome than his Republican foes.

And on that ruminative note, have a great holiday...Phillies versus Yankees? Life is good.