Friday, July 09, 2004

Dick Cheney has been more visible on the campaign trail lately. And yesterday Tom Ridge made an announcement about a possible massive al-Qaeda attack on the U.S.

Is there a connection? I think so. Take a look at the front page of today's New York Times.

Read the top of the page from right to left, the way you're supposed to. The main headline, top right, is "BIN LADEN SAID TO BE ORGANIZING FOR A U.S. ATTACK." Then, just to the left of that and dominating the above-the-fold area, is a big picture of Tom Ridge and Dick Cheney at "the new Homeland Security Operations Center" -- which looks just the way you'd expect it to from every ten-minutes-to-Doomsday movie you've ever seen.

Then, just to the left of that, is a story about John Edwards.

Surely the Bush people always planned to get Cheney out in public more around the time Kerry announced his running mate -- there's nothing sinister in that. But I think they also had a detailed plan for a pick of John Edwards (or, say, Tom Vilsack -- anyone who wouldn't instantly be associated with foreign policy, such as McCain or Clark or Graham). That plan, I think, is what we're seeing now. And the latest booga-booga terror warning is a part of it.

The message: We live in perilous times. In perilous times, you can't rely on lightweights. You need tough men, men who may even at times seem secretive and unsavory ... men like hardened, snarly Dick Cheney.

Cheney = safety and security. Edwards = mass destruction and death at the hands of terrorists.

I think Bush and Rove believe Cheney's story -- even the parts many of us find offputting or criminal -- confers certain advantages. I think they believe they can sell Cheney as an archetypal figure, the unsavory but ultimately straight-up guy you need to fight the real bad guys. Think Harrison Ford in Star Wars; think Kurt Russell in Escape from New York (and all the Clint Eastwood performances Russell based Snake Plissken on); think Vin Diesel in the cult sci-fi movie Pitch Black (though I guess its big-budget sequel sucks).

That's why Cheney is in that photo.

Edwards has a brain as well as a thousand-watt smile. He can go toe-to-toe with Cheney, and he will, but I wish he'd hurry up. Very soon, he and Kerry need to drop the waving-and-smiling schtick and start making a few hard-nosed policy speeches.


(By the way, some of you may think it's appropriate to continue reading across the top of the Times front page to the far left, where Ken Lay is doing a perp walk. You might conclude that the terror warning is meant to drive Kenny Boy off the front pages. Well, maybe -- but if so, I wonder why it didn't happen yesterday. I think the Bush team is happy that Lay is being indicted -- "See? We're tough on white-collar crime." And, of course, he's being indicted just as the campaign is heating up. Think there might have been a little pressure on prosecutors to get this done now?)

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