Continuing to excavate a political mine that I thought had long been exhausted, George Bush and John McCain both repeatedly evoked 9/11 in delusional, peace-through-escalation speeches on Iraq this week.
Speaking in front of American Legionnaires in Fairfax, Virginia, the president brought to mind a played-out nostalgia band, dragging out the moldy-oldie hits from days long past. There were the four mentions of September 11, the nod to the heroism of the passengers on United Flight 93, and the reminders of his tough-talking, dead-or-alive glory days: "I vowed that day that we would go on the offensive against an enemy... I vowed that if you harbor a terrorist you're equally as guilty as the terrorist. That's a doctrine." He even threw in a "It's hard work." I half-expected one of the Legionnaires to toss the president a megaphone so he could recreate his Ground Zero "I hear you" smash. And, remarkably, he offered four different versions of his classic Flypaper rationale for continuing the war (c'mon, everyone, sing along, you know the words):
"We want to defeat them there, so we don't have to face them there."
"The best way to defeat the enemy is to find them overseas and bring them to justice so they will not hurt the folks here at home."
"What's interesting and different about this war is that the enemy would follow us here."
"It's in our interests....to pursue the enemy overseas so we don't have to face them here."
If the news ticker at the bottom of the TV screen hadn't been filled with stories about Imus, Gonzales' subpoena, and Anna Nicole's baby, I would have thought I was watching a presidential speech from 2002.
The day after Bush's blast-from-the-past justification for the surge, McCain, also appearing in Virginia (at VMI), took on the role of Bush cover band, trotting out note-for-note renditions of the president's Iraq war favorites. He gave us 9/11 nostalgia ("In the early days after 9/11, our country was united in a single purpose: to find the terrorists bent on our destruction"); he gave us the Iraq-9/11 link ("the potential consequence of allowing terrorists in Iraq is another 9/11 -- or worse"); he gave us the be-very-afraid guitar solo ("In Iraq today, terrorists have resorted to levels of barbarism that shock the world... and we Americans are their ultimate target"); he gave us the exploitation of America's fallen soldiers ("Let us honor them by doing all we can to ensure their sacrifices were not made in vain"); and he gave us Democrats "who deny our soldiers the means to prevent an American defeat."
Harry Reid said this week that Bush is as isolated on Iraq as Richard Nixon was during Watergate "when he was hunkered down in the White House." If so, McCain is right there beside him, talking to the portraits of Lincoln and JFK.
Bush and McCain are still desperately trying to sell the war by tapping into the wellspring of 9/11 emotion and playing to our fears of another 9/11 -- or worse. The president's low approval ratings and McCain's plummeting poll numbers (he's now trailing Fred Thompson, who hasn't even entered the race -- and just announced he has cancer) appear to show that the public is no longer buying it.
Let's hope that when it comes to Iraq, that spooky old 9/11 mine shaft has nothing left to give to Bush and McCain but political fool's gold.