There it was at the tail end of Brian Faler's "Politics" roundup column in last Saturday's Washington Post. It was headed, simply, "Quotable":
"I wouldn't be surprised if he appeared in the next month." Teresa Heinz Kerry to the Phoenix Business Journal, referring to a possible capture of Osama bin Laden before Election Day.
As well as being "quotable" (and I wish it had been more widely reported, and I hope that someone will ask the Kerry campaign or the nominee himself to disown it), this is also many other words ending in "-able." Deplorable, detestable, unforgivable. …
The plain implication is that the Bush administration is stashing Bin Laden somewhere, or somehow keeping his arrest in reserve, for an "October surprise." This innuendo would appear, on the face of it, to go a little further than "impugning the patriotism" of the president. It argues, after all, for something like collusion on his part with a man who has murdered thousands of Americans as well as hundreds of Muslim civilians in other countries.
I am not one of those who likes to tease Mrs. Kerry for her "loose cannon" style. This is only the second time I have ever mentioned her in print. But I happen to know that this is not an instance of loose lips. She has heard that very remark being made by senior Democrats, and—which is worse—she has not heard anyone in her circle respond to it by saying, "Don't be so bloody stupid." I first heard this "October surprise" theory mentioned seriously, by a prominent foreign-policy Democrat, at an open dinner table in Washington about six months ago. Since then, I've heard it said seriously or semiseriously, by responsible and liberal people who ought to know better, all over the place. It got even worse when the Democratic establishment decided on an arm's-length or closer relationship with Michael Moore and his supposedly vote-getting piece of mendacity and paranoia, Fahrenheit 9/11. (The DNC's boss, Terence McAuliffe, asked outside the Uptown cinema on Connecticut Avenue whether he honestly believed that the administration had invaded Afghanistan for the sake of an oil or perhaps gas pipeline, breezily responded, "I do now.")
What will it take to convince these people that this is not a year, or a time, to be dicking around? Americans are patrolling a front line in Afghanistan, where it would be impossible with 10 times the troop strength to protect all potential voters on Oct. 9 from Taliban/al-Qaida murder and sabotage. We are invited to believe that these hard-pressed soldiers of ours take time off to keep Osama Bin Laden in a secret cave, ready to uncork him when they get a call from Karl Rove? For shame.
Ever since TheNew Yorker published a near-obituary piece for the Kerry campaign, in the form of an autopsy for the Robert Shrum style, there has been a salad of articles prematurely analyzing "what went wrong." This must be nasty for Democratic activists to read, and I say "nasty" because I hear the way they respond to it. A few pin a vague hope on the so-called "debates"—which are actually joint press conferences allowing no direct exchange between the candidates—but most are much more cynical. Some really bad news from Iraq, or perhaps Afghanistan, and/or a sudden collapse or crisis in the stock market, and Kerry might yet "turn things around." You have heard it, all right, and perhaps even said it. But you may not have appreciated how depraved are its implications. If you calculate that only a disaster of some kind can save your candidate, then you are in danger of harboring a subliminal need for bad news. And it will show. What else explains the amazingly crude and philistine remarks of that campaign genius Joe Lockhart, commenting on the visit of the new Iraqi prime minister and calling him a "puppet"? Here is the only regional leader who is even trying to hold an election, and he is greeted with an ungenerous sneer.
The unfortunately necessary corollary of this—that bad news for the American cause in wartime would be good for Kerry—is that good news would be bad for him. Thus, in Mrs. Kerry's brainless and witless offhand yet pregnant remark, we hear the sick thud of the other shoe dropping. How can the Democrats possibly have gotten themselves into a position where they even suspect that a victory for the Zarqawi or Bin Laden forces would in some way be welcome to them? Or that the capture or killing of Bin Laden would not be something to celebrate with a whole heart?
I think that this detail is very important because the Kerry camp often strives to give the impression that its difference with the president is one of degree but not of kind. Of course we all welcome the end of Taliban rule and even the departure of Saddam Hussein, but we can't remain silent about the way policy has been messed up and compromised and even lied about. I know what it's like to feel that way because it is the way I actually do feel. But I also know the difference when I see it, and I have known some of the liberal world quite well and for a long time, and there are quite obviously people close to the leadership of today's Democratic Party who do not at all hope that the battle goes well in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I have written before in this space that I think Bin Laden is probably dead, and I certainly think that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a far more ruthless and dangerous jihadist, who is trying to take a much more important country into the orbit of medieval fanaticism and misery. One might argue about that: I could even maintain that it's important to oppose and defeat both gentlemen and their supporters. But unless he conclusively repudiates the obvious defeatists in his own party (and maybe even his own family), we shall be able to say that John Kerry's campaign is a distraction from the fight against al-Qaida.