It's about time that somebody in the leadership of the Democratic Party had the backbone to stand up and confront the right-wing drivel that passes for respectable news. The coverage of Bill Clinton's response to the questions raised about Osama bin Laden in his interview with Chris Wallace of FOX News has been replete with charges that Clinton "flew off the hook," "lost his cool" or was "unpresidential."
Totally understated was the truth of his message — he had attacked bin Laden with more vigor than George W. Bush ever has, and almost got him. But Republican critics at the time charged that it was a "wag the dog" action to divert attention away from the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Just a cursory look at Clinton's record reveals that in 1996 he proposed and led the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act, partly in response to the bombing of the Oklahoma federal building by home-grown terrorist. Some of its instruments were used when Clinton prepared battle plans to go after the Taliban in Afghanistan in response to the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. But the action was canceled because the FBI and the CIA refused to certify that bin Laden was the source of the bombing, and the military was unable to secure basing rights in Uzbekistan.
USA Today reported that the Clinton administration's use of reconnaissance satellites to record bin Laden's phone calls prevented six more bombings of U. S. embassies after the Kenya and Tanzania bombings. And in May 2000, Clinton announced the addition of $300 million more to the terrorism fighting units of the governments. I don't think that is a bad record, considering he had nothing like the unity of public support behind his policies that Bush had after Sept. 11.
Rebutting Republican charges that his administration was ultimately to blame for Sept. 11 creates some running room for Hilary Clinton's presidential aspirations. Right now, she has strongly supported her husband's response to these charges, saying that he was right to defend his administration and agreed that Bush dropped the ball when he came into office.
And there's a need to shore up the Democratic base for the fall election, and this is the kind of red meat that gets the blood flowing. Democrats have been rolled over by the aggressiveness of the GOP, beginning with the impeachment of Clinton.
I agree with commentator David Gergen's comment that this might have just given the Democratic base what it needs. Howard Dean, Democratic Party chair, has suffered rebuke from his party when he has tried to directly confront Republicans. Party leaders have been either timid or preferred a more moderate approach, because they were afraid of being labeled as soft on terror.
But Clinton proved that he is not afraid of anything.
Ron Walters is a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.