05/16/2008 05:58 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Friday Talking Points [32] -- Democrats Throw Bush A Few Elbows

Borah Peak, at 12,662 feet high, is the highest point in Idaho.

[That may sound like a strange place to begin this column, but please bear with me.]

It was named for Senator William Borah, known as "the Lion from Idaho." He had an impressive political career, even running for president at age 71, the first Idahoan ever to do so (of any age). Borah was a progressive, and clashed with his party over his often left-wing stances. He was even friendly toward Russian communists, while he was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was also a Republican.

But we speak of Borah today not for his lofty namesake peak, but because he also set the mark for senatorial shame from Idaho. Not even Larry Craig, the sitting (with a wide stance, no doubt) senator from Idaho is a bigger black eye for the state, in one respect. William Borah actually fathered a child with Teddy Roosevelt's daughter -- while they were both married to other people. Top that, Senator Craig!

Sexual escapades aside, Borah is currently being vilified (by a member of his own party, I should point out) for reportedly saying, after Hitler had started invading other countries, "Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided." Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer loves to quote this line, as an example of "appeasement" and everything that's wrong with it.

Which is why we're talking about William Borah. Because President Bush has been using the line. And a few others. Bush wants warn the world of the dangers of any politician (cough... Barack Obama... cough, cough) reckless enough to talk with anyone Bush has labeled an enemy.

Here is the entire (lengthy) passage from Bush's speech, from the official White House transcript, so you can see the full context.

We believe that free people should strive and sacrifice for peace. So we applaud the courageous choices Israeli's [sic] leaders have made. We also believe that nations have a right to defend themselves and that no nation should ever be forced to negotiate with killers pledged to its destruction. (Applause.)

We believe that targeting innocent lives to achieve political objectives is always and everywhere wrong. So we stand together against terror and extremism, and we will never let down our guard or lose our resolve. (Applause.)

The fight against terror and extremism is the defining challenge of our time. It is more than a clash of arms. It is a clash of visions, a great ideological struggle. On the one side are those who defend the ideals of justice and dignity with the power of reason and truth. On the other side are those who pursue a narrow vision of cruelty and control by committing murder, inciting fear, and spreading lies.

This struggle is waged with the technology of the 21st century, but at its core it is an ancient battle between good and evil. The killers claim the mantle of Islam, but they are not religious men. No one who prays to the God of Abraham could strap a suicide vest to an innocent child, or blow up guiltless guests at a Passover Seder, or fly planes into office buildings filled with unsuspecting workers. In truth, the men who carry out these savage acts serve no higher goal than their own desire for power. They accept no God before themselves. And they reserve a special hatred for the most ardent defenders of liberty, including Americans and Israelis.

And that is why the founding charter of Hamas calls for the "elimination" of Israel. And that is why the followers of Hezbollah chant "Death to Israel, Death to America!" That is why Osama bin Laden teaches that "the killing of Jews and Americans is one of the biggest duties." And that is why the President of Iran dreams of returning the Middle East to the Middle Ages and calls for Israel to be wiped off the map.

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. (Applause.)

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. Israel's population may be just over 7 million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because the United States of America stands with you. (Applause.)

America stands with you in breaking up terrorist networks and denying the extremists sanctuary. America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. Permitting the world's leading sponsor of terror to possess the world's deadliest weapons would be an unforgivable betrayal for future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. (Applause.)

He gave this speech, complete with Hitler reference, in a speech to the Knesset, Israel's governing body. This isn't the first time he's dragged Hitler into a political speech, as I pointed out last November. But it is the first time he's used the Hitler argument in Israel, to the best of my knowledge.

So we will call this the "Knesset Corollary" to Godwin's Law (more precisely, to the Reductio ad Hitlerum fallacy). Properly stated: "Bringing up Hitler in an argument on a blog comment thread is one thing, but bringing up Hitler to bolster your argument in front of the Knesset is a whole different ballgame."

The most ironic thing in this whole sorry episode is what Bush said in Israel before he gave this speech:

"Mr. President, and Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for inviting me to speak at the Knesset tomorrow. I hear it's a place of many a sharp elbow. (Laughter.) I'm looking forward to giving my speech. (Laughter.) I'm not going to be throwing any elbows."

Maybe he just hadn't read what his speechwriters told him to say at this point, I don't know.

Maybe he was just ignorant of the entire history of diplomacy in the world. Who knows, with Bush?

But this long introduction has a purpose. And that is to point out that this time, Democrats threw some elbows right back. For once, Democrats needed no prompting to come out with both barrels blazing. Note to Democratic candidates for office: this is the correct way to react when someone questions your sanity or patriotism. Strongly denouncing such idiotic statements is the one way to make the other side think twice about making them in the future.

And Democrats did so this time around. Democratic voters should be proud.

Because there were so many good responses to Bush's idiocy from Democrats this week, for the first time in this column's history, I have no better talking points this week than the ones already spoken by many prominent Democrats. So we turn over the entire rest of the column to these responses.


Most Impressive Democrat of the Week

The sentimental choice for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week was Representative Kirsten Gillibrand, who showed up in the House to vote one day, and the next day gave birth to a baby. Congratulations, Congresswoman Gillibrand!

Two other strong contenders for MIDOTW were John Edwards and "all the superdelegates who have been getting off the fence and making their endorsement known." Almost 600 superdelegates (out of 800 total) have now done so. But I couldn't quite hand them this week's award, because I'm still miffed at Edwards and the supers for taking their own sweet time to get to this point.

Which is why the MIDOTW award goes to none other than Joe Biden this week. Biden's response to President Bush's Knesset speech was the best of anyone's. Sure, he actually (gasp!) used profanity, but there are times when you've just got to call a cowpie, you know, "a cowpie." This is one of them, and Biden knew it.

"This is bullshit. This is malarkey. This is outrageous. Outrageous for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, sit in the Knesset...and make this kind of ridiculous statement," Biden said angrily in a brief interview just off the Senate floor.

"He's the guy who's weakened us. He's the guy that's increased the number of terrorists in the world. His policies have produced this vulnerability the United States has. His intelligence community pointed that out not me. The NIE has pointed that out and what are you talking about, is he going to fire Condi Rice? Condi Rice has talked about the need to sit down. So his first two appeasers are Rice and Gates. I hope he comes home and does something."

He quoted Gates saying Wednesday that we "need to figure out a way to develop some leverage and then sit down and talk with them."

C'mon, Joe... tell us what you really think!

Heh heh.

Later, Biden tried to walk back his choice of language a bit, but he still blasted Bush while doing so:

In a conference call with reporters later in the afternoon, Biden said his initial word choice was "not very eloquent" and said he should have just stuck with the word "malarkey." Biden said he "reacted viscerally" when asked about Bush's speech after stepping off an elevator.

However, Biden again did not mince words when discussing Bush's remarks, accusing the president of engaging in "long-distance swiftboating" with his speech in Israel. Biden also cited numerous examples of the Bush Administration reaching out to unfriendly regimes in Libya, North Korea and Iran, arguing that Bush's insinuation that the Democrats were soft on terrorism was "truly delusional ... and truly disgraceful."

Biden even told Bush to "get a life."

"This is the same president, who talks about appeasement, the same one who asks me to get on a plane and talk to Qaddafi," Biden said. "The same president who made a deal with Qaddafi. He writes letters, 'Dear Mr. Chairman' to Kim Jong Il.

"He oughta get a life here ... Under George W. Bush's watch, Iran, not freedom has been on the march ... They're a lot closer to the bomb... He calls Maliki our guy ... Whose policy produced that? Whose watch was that? ... Iran's proxy Hezbollah is on the ascendancy. Don't take my word for it, look at NIE ... Afghanistan, Pakistan, Al Qaeda is stronger now.

"We should take zero backseat to this pres, talking about appeasement. ... Under him, Israel is less safe."

So this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week goes to Senator Biden. A special statuette of Biden chucking a cowpie at Bush will be struck for this week only, to honor Biden properly. Well done, Joe!

[Congratulate Senator Biden on his Senate contact page to let him know you appreciate what he said.]


Most Disappointing Democrat of the Week

I would have awarded Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week to Joe Lieberman, for his brown-nosing response to Bush:

"President Bush got it exactly right today when he warned about the threat of Iran and its terrorist proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah. It is imperative that we reject the flawed and naive thinking that denies or dismisses the words of extremists and terrorists when they shout "Death to America" and "Death to Israel," and that holds that -- if only we were to sit down and negotiate with these killers -- they would cease to threaten us. It is critical to our national security that our commander-in-chief is able to distinguish between America's friends and America's enemies, and not confuse the two."

Alas, Lieberman is no longer a Democrat and therefore ineligible for the MDDOTW.

Instead, a group award is given to all remaining uncommitted Democratic superdelegates (with the exception of those from states who have not yet held primaries). It is time to get off the fence. There's no excuse anymore for waffling.

So to the more than 200 super-timid superdelegates in our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week group -- stand up and be counted, already!


Which brings us to the Talking Points part of the program.

In another first, since there were so many good talking points coming out of the mouths of Democrats in the past day or so, this column will run to an unprecedented eight items this week, instead of the usual lucky seven.

(Sniff)... I'm just so proud of you guys this week!

OK, enough of that. Onward to Democratic leaders showing me (instead of the other way 'round) how to do talking points right.

[Click on the person's name to see the article where the quote came from.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 32 (5/16/08)



   Senator Barack Obama

"It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel," 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."

The Illinois senator added: "George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with 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."

From a separate article, also worth reading:

"I'm a strong believer in civility and I'm a strong believer in a bipartisan foreign policy, but that cause is not served with dishonest, divisive attacks of the sort that we've seen out of George Bush and John McCain over the last couple days," Obama told about 2,000 voters at a town hall-style meeting in a livestock barn.

Obama said McCain had a "naive and irresponsible belief that tough talk from Washington will somehow cause Iran to give up its nuclear program and support for terrorism."

During his swing through South Dakota, the Democratic front-runner said he had intended to focus on rural issues, but felt compelled to respond to the criticism from Bush and McCain.

"They aren't telling you the truth. They are trying to fool you and scare you because they can't win a foreign policy debate on the merits," said Obama. "But it's not going to work. Not this time, not this year."



   Senator Hillary Clinton

"President Bush's comparison of any Democrat to Nazi appeasers is offensive and outrageous on the face of it, especially in light of his failures in foreign policy," Clinton said. "This is the kind of statement that has no place in any presidential address."

When a reporter reminded the New York senator that she too has criticized Sen. Obama for his statements on meeting with Iranian leaders, Clinton said, "I have differences with Sen. Obama on certain foreign policy matters, but I think we are united in our opposition to the Bush policies and to the continuation of those policies by Sen. McCain."

Clinton continued, "I disagree that any president would ever meet with a leader of a country which we have such deep and profound differences as Iran, for example. However I believe there should be diplomatic engagement, which President Bush has resisted from the very beginning. So I think that I have more in common with Sen. Obama and the Democratic position in our understanding of what we have to do to re-engage with the world."



   Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

[This one's even got video footage, if you want to watch.]

"You know, we have a protocol, sort of, a custom, informally, around here that we don't criticize the president when he is on foreign soil," Pelosi told reporters this morning. "One would think that that would apply to the president, that he would not criticize Americans when he is on foreign soil.

"I think what the president did in that regard is beneath the dignity of the office of president and unworthy of our representation at that observance in Israel, and I would hope that any serious person would disassociate himself from the president's remarks, who aspires to leadership in our country."

Asked if she was referring to McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, the California Democrat repeated: "Any serious person. Any serious person."



   Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

"The engineer of the worst foreign policy in our nation's history has fired yet another reckless and reprehensible round," the Nevada Democrat said. "More than seven years into his Presidency and in the sixth year of the directionless Iraq war, President Bush has yet to learn that his brand of divisive partisan rhetoric is precisely what has made America and our allies less secure. And for the President to make this statement before the government of our closest ally as it celebrates a remarkable milestone demeans this historic moment with partisan politics.

"President Bush's own actions demonstrate that he believes negotiations -- at the right moment, under the right conditions and with the right leaders -- can both show strength and produce results," Reid continued. "He has relied on negotiations with North Korea and Libya, two state sponsors of terror. And by conducting discussions with Russia, China, Libya, North Korea and Iran in recent years, President Bush has demonstrated his belief that negotiations can be a tool to advance America and Israel's national security interests."

Reid called on Bush "to explain the inconsistency between his Administration's actions and his words."



   Senator John Kerry

In a separate statement, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said that Bush "is still playing the disgusting and dangerous political game Karl Rove perfected, which is insulting to every American and disrespectful to our ally Israel. George Bush should be making Israel secure, not slandering Barack Obama from the Knesset."



   DNC Chairman Howard Dean

"Bush's outrageous comments are an embarrassment to our country, not based in fact and bring us no closer to our goal of ending terrorist attacks against Israel and bringing peace to the region," Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said in a statement. "If John McCain is really serious about being a different kind of Republican, he'll denounce these remarks in the strongest terms possible."



   Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin

The White House insists that Bush wasn't referring specifically to Obama, an argument that Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) called "baloney."

"There is no escaping what the president is doing," said Durbin, who supports Obama. "It is an attack on Sen. Obama's position that we should not be avoiding even those we disagree with when it comes to negotiations and diplomacy."

Durbin called Bush's remarks "unfair and really unfortunate."



   Representative Rahm Emanuel

"The tradition has always been that when a U.S. president is overseas, partisan politics stops at the water's edge. President Bush has now taken that principle and turned it on its head: for this White House, partisan politics now begins at the water's edge, no matter the seriousness and gravity of the occasion. Does the president have no shame?"

I saved Rahm for last, because he's also head of the House Democratic campaign committee, and he put the icing on the cake this week by visiting the Republican campaign committee and not being too smug when he told them that they're in a ditch, and they might want to think about not digging it any deeper.


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