woody zimmermann 120Congressional election-years that are not presidential election-years often feature crazed attempts by the party that is out of power to regain the Congress and neutralize the sitting president for the second half of his term. The out-of-power party usually believes using the Congress to damage the president is a necessary first step to regaining the White House.
Democrats used this strategy in 2006 with considerable success. Memories of that time prompted me to review some events that roiled that congressional election year. Of the many available, six seemed to demonstrate the political distractions of that time. (I have numbered them [n] for later reference.)

[1] On August 10, 2006, British authorities announced discovery of a massive plot to destroy, in-flight, at least ten transatlantic American jetliners with binary explosives whose ingredients would have been brought onto the planes in carry-on luggage. (Binary explosives are made by mixing separate chemicals which, individually, are not dangerous.) British police arrested 24 suspects. Two of the three ringleaders apprehended had reportedly visited Pakistan and received funds wired from that country.

The plot could have caused thousands of passenger deaths over mid-ocean. But the media’s primary story-line dwelt on annoyed passengers whose shampoo, hair-gel, perfume, bath oil and after-shave lotion were seized by airport security inspectors. Margaret Gavin, 67, waiting to board a train, asked, “Why should I change my life because some idiots want to blow something up?” That she might have been that “something” seems not to have occurred to her. The media made much sport of the “shampoo-campaign.” (The War on Terror was becoming a real nuisance.)

[2] On the day the shampoo plot was busted, six Egyptian students (of 17 who originally entered the USA on student visas) were arrested for not reporting to their scheduled college classes. Another five were still being sought by the FBI. (Six had reported properly.) Within a few days the missing five were also found. None appeared to be connected to terrorist activity in the USA, but Customs and FBI officials said foreigners on student visas are now tracked carefully because one of the 9/11 hijackers had reportedly held an expired student visa.

[3] On June 23, 2006, the New York Times revealed a secret National Security Agency program which tracked terrorist finances through the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Transfers (SWIFT), a private Belgian cooperative. The Times article’s authors defended the public’s “right to know,” but President Bush and some congressmen denounced the article as “treasonous.” Rep. Peter King, Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, urged Attorney General Gonzales to pursue “possible criminal prosecution.” Officials of the NY Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times – all of which published the controversial report – argued that the published report was not a security-breach, as the NSA program was common knowledge. But critics noted that some terrorists were ignorant of the program before those disclosures.

[4] John Knox Press – a division of the denominational publisher for the Presbyterian Church USA – released a book in July 2006 which claimed that the attacks of September 11, 2001, were orchestrated by the United States government, not by terrorists. Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11: A Call to Reflection and Action was the third book on 9/11 conspiracy theories written by David Ray Griffin, a prominent “process theologian” who is a Professor Emeritus of Claremont School of Theology. (Process Theology is a doctrine which denies the omnipotence and omniscience of God. No Presbyterian branch accepts it.)

griffin 9 11 book cover

Dr. Griffin claimed that hijackers were not on the crashed planes. He believes planted explosives brought down the World Trade Center towers. The 5,000 copies of the book’s first printing were quickly sold out, and it had several later printings. In an interview with Washington Times religion reporter Julia Duin, Dr. Griffin claimed that “neo-conservatives” orchestrated the attacks so their war-program could become official policy. Miss Duin’s article1 of August 18, 2006 noted that many Presbyterians – including John H. Adams, then-editor of Presbyterian Layman – were furious that John Knox Press put the denomination’s imprimatur on Griffin’s wild charges.

[5] Since voters retired him in 1980, Ex-President Jimmy Carter has migrated from respected Christian humanitarian to sanctimonious foreign policy gadfly to all-around pain-in-the-patootie. In a series of clearly unhinged post-9/11 interviews and articles Mr. Carter –

  • Called the war against Iraq and Al Qaida “unjust;”
  • Claimed that American troops in Iraq caused more violence;
  • Denied that Hamas is a terrorist organization;
  • Trashed the Bush administration’s efforts to defeat world-wide terrorism;
  • Defended his own administration’s pusillanimous response to Iran’s 1979 kidnapping of American diplomatic personnel and holding them hostage for over a year;
  • Violated the long tradition of ex-presidents to keep silent on foreign policy matters.

Some of Mr. Carter’s statements smacked of treason, but his age and status as a liberal ex-president protected him from prosecution.

[6] Sixth Federal District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor2 struck down the National Security Agency’s warrantless electronic surveillance of terrorism suspects. In a 43-page opinion, Judge Taylor said the wartime practice violated citizens’ rights to free speech and privacy, as well as the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution. Judges in other districts had let the program stand, but Judge Taylor concurred with the ACLU, which had brought the suit on behalf of journalists, scholars, and lawyers. ACLU executive director Anthony Romero jubilantly called Taylor's opinion “another nail in the coffin in the Bush administration's legal strategy in the war on terror.” (Wonderful. Do you feel safer now?)

What can we make of all this? Some observations –
• Terrorists were still after our vital air-travel industry. [1] Another successful attack could have destroyed it. Yet a judge appointed 25 years earlier by a politically rejected ex-president struck down one of the government’s vital security tools. [6]
• National security authorities were diligently chasing truant foreign students, [2] but fastidiously refused to profile likely terrorists. White-haired Methodist grandmas were being forced to remove their corsets at airports, while sinister-looking Middle-Eastern men cruised blithely through security. I – a blond, middle-aged WASP as ever was – have been rousted by female security inspectors wearing full Muslim costume. (I thought I was in a Saturday Night Live sketch.)
• Reports indicate that airport X-ray machines can’t really detect explosives in shoes. Robert Poole, Director of Transportation at Reason Foundation, noted that airport security was fixated on finding “bad things” instead of identifying “bad people.”
• Disclosure of the NSA finance-tracking program by the nation’s premier newspapers [3] and Mr. Carter’s declarations [5] showed that media and political figures were willing to do and say things which might damage the country’s ability to win a war. Such behavior by media and political figures was unknown during World Wars I and II.
• The Presbyterian Church USA’s legitimization of wild conspiracy theories [4] and the inclination of significant numbers of people to believe them are perhaps the most troubling aspects of this stroll down Memory Lane. Dr. Griffin has had plenty of company on the “lunatic fringe.” Conspiracy-theories being propagated include:

  • WTC buildings were hit by military planes that carried explosive “pods;”
  • The Pentagon was struck by a missile;
  • Burning jet-fuel alone could not have melted steel beams in the towers;
  • Explosives detonated in the towers and WTC Building 7 caused their collapse;
  • Jews who worked in the WTC were notified to “stay home” on 9/11/2001;
  • Interceptor jets were ordered to “stand down” on the morning of 9/11.

• These and many other 9/11 myths have been debunked by experts since the attacks occurred. But conspiracy aficionados ascribe the debunking to an official “cover-up.” True believers cannot be dissuaded by mere facts.

How did these events play out in 2006? Legal, journalistic and political efforts intended to damage the president distracted us from the issue of greatest moment at the time – i.e., the ongoing War on Terror. Instead of working together to defeat radical Islam, parts of the media, the Church, the courts and the body-politic were essentially working to help us lose.
Mr. Bush’s political enemies played a deadly game of “dodge ball” with the war in 2005-‘06. He dodged bombs thrown by the media, courts, churches, lawyers, politicians, academics and assorted nutcakes. Many throws missed, but some scored. Each hit weakened the country a little more. The “throwers” seemed willing to accept this if it damaged Mr. Bush and the Republican Party. We didn’t lose the War on Terror, but those attacks crippled Mr. Bush. He tried to stand aloof from Democrats’ onslaught, but his failure to return fire certainly contributed to his party’s loss of both houses of Congress in the 2006 elections.

The current year resembles 2006 in some ways. Democrats and their media allies are again waging a furious war on a Republican president and Congress. This has included:

  • A special prosecutor (endlessly) investigating the president on suspicion of colluding with Russia to corrupt the election;
  • A “dossier” of spurious anecdotes meant to smear the president, used to support a FISA warrant allowing a wiretap of the president’s campaign;
  • A parade of bimbos making unsupported salacious accusations against Mr. Trump;
  • A politically motivated uproar over children separated from their illegal immigrant parents via regulations made by earlier administrations;
  • Federal judges attempting to micro-manage Mr. Trump’s immigration orders;
  • A steady, antagonistic drumbeat from the media against Mr. Trump’s family;
  • Charges of racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, acrophobia, hydrophobia; etc.
  • Media failure to report Mr. Trump’s notable economic and foreign policy achievements;

G. W. Bush is a good and decent man who did respectable service as president at a very challenging time. He wasn’t perfect, but who is? But whatever he was, Mr. Bush wasn’t a brawler. Not only didn’t he bring a gun to a knife-fight – he didn’t get in the fight at all.

Coaches since the original Olympic Games have repeated the adage: you can’t win the game if you don’t get on the field. Either Mr. Bush didn’t know that, or else he had no intention of playing the game his enemies were playing. There was no way his team could win in either case.

As in ’06, Dems hope to gain control of the Congress so they can block the president’s agenda, impeach him, and possibly expel him from office. If they succeed, it will be their towering moment. The difference between now and 2006 is that an entirely different kind of man is in the White House. Mr. Trump seems determined not to lose the Congress during his tenure, so he is returning fire with a ferocity that has shocked and angered Dems, who are used to gentlemanly non-responses from GOP presidents. The president’s tactic seems to be working.

abe lincoln

Abraham Lincoln ca 1860

Calling the America of his time a “house divided,” Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.” He might have been talking about us today.

We cannot continue indefinitely as we are. In the next few months we shall decide if we are warriors or dead men walking. Civil liberties and shampoo bottles mean nothing to a corpse.

1. “9/11 Book Rankles Presbyterian faith;” The Washington Times, August 18, 2006. http://www.washtimes.com/national/20060818-122729-2030r.htm
2. Judge Taylor was appointed to the Sixth District Court in 1979 by President Carter. In 1997 she became the first African-American woman to be named chief judge of the Eastern District of the United States District Court.