Jewish World Review May 31, 2002 / 20 Sivan, 5762
If there ever was a time for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) to avoid a big rendezvous with destiny, it was earlier this month. But no. There she was, picking up a frothing static of media reports suggesting President Bush had prior, perhaps actionable, knowledge of Sept. 11. Vague murmurings of "gotcha" filled in the air, growing more insistent, if not more distinct. Something was going to happen, but what? Rather than demand more intelligence, or just sit out the next news-cycle, Clinton decided to launch a strike from the Senate floor at George W. Bush's approval ratings.
Oops, she missed. While the "What did the president know and when did he know it" crowd, including House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), has since retreated into sanctimonious protestations of good will and non-partisan intent, Clinton has just retreated. The very public point-gal behind Democratic efforts to finesse questions about intelligence failures into political mileage has piped down.
"I am only seeking answers," she said before she clammed up, parrying the thrust of Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer's pointed expression of displeasure at her call for multiple investigations into the pre-Sept. 11 White House. (But probably not so "pre" as to include the Clinton years.) "Nobody is more entitled to answers to some of these questions than the people of New York," she said. "We have a responsibility to ask."
Sure we do. But was Clinton only "seeking answers"? If so, she could have been more imaginative in her questioning, which aimed exclusively at President Bush -- not at the intelligence agencies that bottled up urgent information; the rules that outlawed vital surveillance of suspected terrorists; or the congressional committees that saw some of the same intelligence as the White House. Clinton took her grand Senate stand, armed with last Thursday's New York Post (headline: "Bush Knew") to turn up the heat on an expedient notion of malfeasance. "The President knew what?" she asked. "My constituents would like to know the answers to these questions. Not to blame the president or any American. But just to know."
Right. While eager to express the ennobling grief of New York, Clinton very obviously kept her sights on the president, and the Democratically delicious implication that he was actually hiding something. All in all, not a pretty sight.
At the same time, Clinton decided to reminisce about the Clinton White House, probably intending to pad her Bush-barbs with some old-time empathy: "I know some things about the unique challenges faced by the person who assumes the mantle of Commander in Chief ... " That statement reminded us about the administration that for eight years failed to respond to terrorist acts of war against the United States, from the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 to the assault on the USS Cole in 2000. Even tightening airport security and immigration would have been nice. Too bad we weren't paying attention to national security, and not just the economy (stupid), all along.
Fear not. Clinton recently announced in a little-reported speech cited by http://www.newsmax.com that national security is now America's new, No. 1 national priority. Which just goes to show they don't call her the smartest woman on pumps for
JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2001, Diana West