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You Probably Think This Speech Is About You
President Bush spoke before Israel's Knesset yesterday. According to Barack Obama, Bush's speech was a "political attack" on Barack Obama, as the Jerusalem Post reports:
"It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel's independence to launch a false political attack," [Obama] said in a statement. "Instead of tough talk and no action, we need to do what Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan did and use all elements of American power--including tough, principled, and direct diplomacy--to pressure countries like Iran and Syria."
Obama added that Bush was aware that the candidate had never supported talking to terrorists, "and the president's extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel."
Other Democrats backed Obama and bashed Bush. Politico quotes this statesmanlike pronouncement from Sen. Joe Biden: "This is bullshit, this is malarkey. This is outrageous, for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, to sit in the Knesset . . . and make this kind of ridiculous statement."
Fox News reports that "even Hillary Clinton . . . piled on":
"President Bush's comparison of any Democrat to Nazi appeasers is both offensive and outrageous, on the face of it and especially in light of his failures in foreign policy," she said. "This is the kind of statement that has no place in any presidential address and certainly to use an important moment like the 60th anniversary celebration of Israel to make a political point seems terribly misplaced."
So, what exactly did President Bush say? Here's the relevant passage from his speech:
There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain away their words. It's natural, but it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.
Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is--the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.
Some people suggest if the United States would just break ties with Israel, all our problems in the Middle East would go away. This is a tired argument that buys into the propaganda of the enemies of peace, and America utterly rejects it.
Note what is absent from the speech: any reference to Barack Obama, to any other Democrat or to the Democratic Party. As we noted in 2006, when a speech by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld prompted a similar response from Sen. Harry Reid, the unnamed U.S. senator to whom the president alludes is William Borah of Idaho, who was elected in 1907 and served until his death in 1940. Borah was a Republican.
So what are we to make of the pricky defensiveness of Obama and his fellow Democrats in the face of the president's speech?
The cynical interpretation is that Democrats have concluded Bush is so unpopular that opposing any position he takes will redound to their political benefit. By this logic, if Bush says "God bless America," voters can be expected to rally behind the fellow who says "God damn America."
But it's also possible that Obama & Co. are sincere--that when they hear the president talking about countenancing hatred, appeasing terrorists and breaking ties with Israel, they think: He's talking about us!
If Obama agrees with Bush that terrorists can't be appeased, he could say so, or refrain from saying anything. If he disagrees, he could put forward an argument to the contrary. Instead he whines about an imaginary Bush "attack" on him. Maybe--maybe--this is politically expedient. Certainly it is deeply unserious.