Regular readers of this column will know that it maintains no great affection for former President Bill Clinton. A Democratic Leadership Council stalwart, Clinton got elected president by promising health care and education for all and then proceeded to give the country fiscal conservatism and a corporate-sponsored free trade agenda. His missteps handed control of Congress to Newt Gingrich and the radical right, rendering the Democratic party largely dysfunctional at the legislative level to this day.
But there has never been any doubt that Clinton was more serious about combating terrorism than his successor, George W. Bush. Clinton actually worried about threats to the United States, while Bush dismissed warnings at precisely the moment when the threats were most serious. And, as the intelligence community now confirms, Bush's failure of focus and practice have made the Americans more vulnerable.
The fact that Bush's supremely political presidency treats "homeland security" as a slogan rather than a necessity is the fundamental flaw in the current commander-in-chief's deeply flawed tenure. And his handlers are well aware of the problem. That's why they have worked so hard, along with their amen corner in the media, to create the false impression that Clinton and the Democrats were somehow more responsible for the 9-11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon than Bush and the gang that couldn't shoot straight.
Unfortunately, the so-called "leaders" of the opposition party have done a lousy job of challenging the spin job... until now.
Clinton used an appearance with "Fox News Sunday's" Chris Wallace to challenge the lies of the Bush administration and its media acolytes.The interview, which was broadcast over the weekend, got to the heart of what's wrong not with the Bush presidency but with a media that covers that presidency from the on-bended-knee position.
Clinton recognized that Wallace, one of the more competent members of the Fox team, was under pressure to mouth the Republican talking points that the network uses as its reference points. And the former president pounced on that vulnerability.
When Wallace started in on the "Why didn't you do more to put Bin Laden and al Qaeda out of business when you were President?" line of questioning, Clinton leapt.
"Okay, let's talk about it," the former president began. "I will answer all of those things on the merits, but I want to talk about the context (in) which this (discussion) arises. I'm being asked this on the FOX network… ABC just had a right-wing conservative (program) on "The Path to 9/11" falsely claim that it was… based on the 911 Commission Report with three things asserted against me that are directly contradicted by the 9/11 Commission Report. I think it's very interesting that all the conservative Republicans who now say that I didn't do enough claimed (in the 1990s) that I was obsessed with Bin Laden. All of President Bush's neocons claimed that I was too obsessed with finding Bin Laden when they didn't have a single meeting about Bin Laden for the nine months after I left office. All the right-wingers who now say that I didn't do enough said (then) that I did too much. Same people."
By now, Wallace was sputtering: "I understand...," "with respect, if I may, instead of...," "But Mr. President..."
But Clinton was on a roll.
Despite Wallace's stumbling attempts to interrupt him, Clinton went year-by-year, incident-by-incident, initiative-by-initiative through his anti-terror efforts.
"I authorized the CIA to get groups together to try to kill (bin Laden)," the former president explained. "The CIA was run by George Tenet, who President Bush gave the Medal of Freedom to and said he did a good job. The country never had a comprehensive anti-terror operation until I came to office. If you can criticize me for one thing, you can criticize me for this: after the Cole, I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban, and launch a full scale attack/search for Bin Laden. But we needed basing rights in Uzbekistan, which we got (only) after 9/11. The CIA and the FBI refused to certify that Bin Laden was responsible while I was there. They refused to certify. So that meant I would have had to send a few hundred Special Forces in helicopters and refuel at night. Even the 9/11 Commission didn't (think we should have done) that. Now the 9/11 Commission was a political document, too? All I'm asking is if anybody wants to say I didn't do enough, you read (former National Security Advisor) Richard Clarke's book."
Wallace finally asked: "Do you think you did enough, sir?"
Clinton replied: "No, because I didn't get him."
Wallace chirped, "Right."
Clinton countered, "But at least I tried. That's the difference in me and some, including all the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying. They had eight months to try and they didn't. I tried. So I tried and failed. When I failed, I left a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and the best guy in the country: Dick Clarke. So you did FOX's bidding on this show. You did your nice little conservative hit job on me. But what I want to know…
Stung, Wallace was again interrupting. But Clinton held firm. "I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you've asked this question of. I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you asked ‘Why didn't you do anything about the Cole?' I want to know how many you asked ‘Why did you fire Dick Clarke?' I want to know…"
"We ask plenty of questions of…" sputtered Wallace.
"Tell the truth…" Clinton shot back, before revealing that he had Wallace's number.
"You set this meeting up because you were going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers because (Fox owner) Rupert Murdoch is going to get a lot of criticism from your viewers for supporting my work on Climate Change. And you came here under false pretenses and said that you'd spend half the time talking about (climate change.) You said you'd spend half the time talking about what we did out there to raise $7 billion plus over three days from 215 different commitments. And you don't care."
Truer words have rarely been spoken on a nationally-televised "news" program.
When a beaten Wallace tried to cover for himself – "… all I can say is, I'm asking you in good faith because it's on people's minds, sir. And I wasn't…" – Clinton nailed him: "There's a reason it's on people's minds. That's the point I'm trying to make. There's a reason it's on people's minds because they've done a serious disinformation campaign to create that impression."
Love Bill Clinton or hate him, but understand that his appearance on Fox New Sunday was one of those rare moments in recent American history when a target of our drive-by media shot back.