“The vice president stands by my explanation of the statement,” the harried aide said. "I’m going to leave it at what I said. I’ve explained what the vice president was saying.”
The aide is Anne Womack, Vice President Dick Cheney’s spokeswoman. She was trying to explain away the lowest point yet in the low-blow rhetoric of the 2004 campaign.
The Vice President of the United States of America, El Numero Dos in the Bush administration, had emerged from his undisclosed secret location just long enough to warn of the calamity that would befall our nation if we made the wrong choice in this election.
“It’s absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we’ll get hit again and we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States,” Cheney explained to a small crowd of 350 or so in Iowa.
Stranger than fiction
Enter Anne Womack, who went to work explaining that Cheney wasn’t talking about the election. But then what other choice looms on Nov. 2? Reading Cheney’s words again, it is clear that's exactly what he was talking about. Still, Womack had to try and defuse the cheapest shot yet in a series of cheap shots that emerge regularly from beneath the office if of Vice President.
The only truth in Cheney's statement is “the danger is we’ll get hit again”. The truth, Mr. Vice President, is that the danger will exist if you are re-elected or not.
But the line that really struck me was this one: “... we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States.”
Ergo, vote for John Kerry and the United States will suffer devastating attacks.
If the threat to our national security wasn’t so real, and if the current administration had been more effective in its efforts to reduce that threat, the Vice President’s statement could have been written off as one really bad joke.
The real WMDs
For instance, had the administration bothered to continue dealing with the real source of WMDs on the planet, I might be a bit more forgiving. That source is not Iraq -- it is the former Soviet Union.
For a decade now, independent panels and experts have warned that the Soviet nuclear arsenal - still the world's largest -- is poorly guarded and vulnerable to the black market. As long ago as 1996, a bipartisan panel from the Nixon Center and the Council on Foreign Relations said:
“….the most important immediate issue on the U.S.-Russian arms control agenda involves the safety and security of Russia's huge inventories of nuclear weapons and fissile material. Any significant leakage of such material out of Russia would fuel nuclear proliferation, undermine the international nonproliferation regime, increase the feasibility of nuclear terrorism, make it possible for those hostile to the United States (whether states or non-state actors) to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, and increase the likelihood of nuclear attack against targets on U.S. territory.”
During the Clinton administration, an equally bipartisan effort was made to make sure this enormous stockpile did not fall into the wrong hands. Under the Cooperative Threat Reduction Act of 1993, the U.S. agreed to fund the dismantling and destruction of these weapons and weapons grade material, a program expanded in 1999.
That program, often referred to as Nunn-Lugar after the senators who inspired it, has been gutted by the Bush administration, its funds diverted to other priorities -- Iraq, for instance. Here's a hint, Mr. Vice President: We actually know where some weapons of mass destruction are, and it would only cost us a few billion dollars (not to mention no lives) to take them out.
But none of this stops the Vice President Cheney from warning, on the eve of the Sept. 11 anniversary, that your vote may cost you dearly if you make the wrong choice on November 2nd. “We’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States.” No aide is going to explain that away.
Comment? E-mail JTrippi@MSNBC.com
Joe Trippi, Howard Dean's former campaign manager, is an MSNBC contributor and a political analyst for "Hardball with Chris Matthews." He's contributes to Hardball's "Hardblogger," weblog, and is author of "The Revolution Will Not be Televised: Democracy, the Internet and the Overthrow of Everything."