With just a few days remaining before Congress adjourns for the midterm election, Washington, DC has turned into the fear capital of America.
It's an all-out Fear Face-Off, pitting the GOP's fear of reality against the Democrats' fear of perception, with control of Congress riding on the outcome.
After years of using voter fear as their favorite campaign weapon, Republicans are suddenly the ones running scared -- terrified that the reality contained within the new National Intelligence Estimate will confirm the undeniable: that the war in Iraq has fueled terrorism and made us all less safe. And that President Bush has been intentionally misleading us with his insistence that Iraq is the centerpiece of the battle against terrorism, and his assurance that "America is winning the war on terror."
The administration spin machine was in high gear yesterday, with the president himself trying to take the focus off the facts, and shift it to a discussion of whether news reports about the NIE's findings were intended to "create confusion in the minds of the American people" -- and Attorney General Gonzales indicating that the Justice Department might investigate the disclosure of those findings. Once again, it's forget the facts -- let's kill the messenger.
The White House also declassified, released -- and struggled to put a positive spin on -- portions of the document, while keeping classified the section of the report that, according to the New York Times, "contained a more detailed analysis of the impact of the Iraq war on the global jihad movement."
Even so, the material that was released makes it clear that the 16 intelligence agencies that contributed to it agree that Iraq "is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives" and has "become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement." Hard to put that in a positive light.
No wonder Republicans are deathly afraid of voters getting a heaping helping of reality. Hell, they are even afraid of getting it themselves. How else to explain the 217 Members of Congress (all but two of them Republicans) who voted against a motion that would have allowed them to read the full classified report -- preferring instead to run from reality, stick their collective head in the sand, and follow the White House's talking points. As Nancy Pelosi said after the vote: "What they're saying by voting against this is, 'Spare me the facts, spare me the truth.'"
Democrats meanwhile are facing their own fear moment of truth on the military tribunal bill (aka the torture bill). Republicans are desperately trying to finalize and pass it in time for a big pre-adjournment signing ceremony. And after making strides in refusing to give ground on the national security issue, Democrats are once again falling prey to the fear of being perceived as soft on terror -- and refusing to take a principled stand by blocking the detainee legislation.
The bill threatens to gut many of our most fundamental standards of justice, and allows the president, at his discretion and with precious few exceptions, to pick and choose which parts of the Geneva Conventions he wants to follow, and which ones he doesn't.
Voting against this radical bill should be a matter of principle, not political calculation.
Back in 2002, many Democrats, afraid of being branded as weak on security, voted to give the president the authority to decide if and when it was necessary to invade Iraq. A power he quickly abused. So now, still wracked with the fear of perception, they seem willing to give him the power to decide if and when it's okay to breach the Geneva Conventions.
Haven't the Democrats learned anything over the last 4 years? The only thing they have to fear is the fear of being true to themselves.