PRESIDENT BUSH MET with ten or so columnists Wednesday afternoon for over an hour, answering questions on a wide variety of topics. Much of what the president said was, naturally, familiar; and some of his most interesting comments and reflections he put off-the-record. But there was at least one on-the-record answer by the president that should make news. For the first time, President Bush weighed in on the debate over the MoveOn.org ad that accused Gen. Petraeus of "cooking the books" and "betray[ing] us," chastising Democrats for their failure to condemn the ad.
The president had been discussing the battle over the legislation re-authorizing the terrorist wiretapping program. One of the columnists noted, "But Jane Harman says that Mike McConnell [the Director of National Intelligence] is political; the same way the Democrats have been portraying Petraeus...." The President jumped in, seeming to welcome the opportunity to address the attack of Gen. Petraeus:
"When I saw the ad by the far left-wing people, I was incredulous at first and then became mad, because I--it's one thing to attack me, it's fine. It's another thing to denigrate the integrity of somebody who's wearing this uniform, because I felt that this attack was not just on General Petraeus, it was on the military up and down the line. And I expected there to be people on Capitol Hill standing up and saying this was wrong. And I was listening for those voices from the leadership up there, from the Democratic party, saying, this isn't right. I didn't hear many loud voices."
The president concluded, "...that was uncalled for, that ad. And so was the silence." The president then went on to defended the integrity of McConnell as well.
The president struck at the Democrats' key vulnerability in the wake of the MoveOn ad controversy: their silence in reaction to an attack on Gen. Petraeus that was also, in a way, an attack "on the military up and down the line." For to accuse Petraeus of cooking the books is to accuse a host of his subordinates and staff of colluding with him in lying to Congress and the American public. And to remain silent in the face of this slander--indeed to maintain friendly relations, not to say a political alliance, with the MoveOn slanderers--is to show a striking lack of concern for the reputation and honor of the American military.
It was only a brief intervention by the president, yesterday. But he showed he still knows how to hit the Democrats where it hurts.