Media furthered false claim that Democrats have "no plan" for national security

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

Several media figures and news outlets have uncritically repeated or lent credence to the false Republican talking point that Democrats, for all their criticism of the Bush administration's Iraq war policy, have no plan of their own to deal with Iraq, terrorism, and national security in general. In fact, Democrats have offered several plans for addressing various issues related to U.S. involvement in Iraq and national security.

Recently, several media figures and news outlets have uncritically repeated or lent credence to the false Republican talking point that Democrats, for all their criticism of the Bush administration's Iraq war policy, have no plan of their own to deal with Iraq, terrorism, and national security in general. In fact, as Media Matters for America has noted, Democrats have offered several plans for addressing various issues related to U.S. involvement in Iraq and national security, but these plans either have gone largely unnoticed in the media or have been mischaracterized using GOP talking points.

The Associated Press reported on September 4 that Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA), along with 10 other senior congressional Democrats, sent the White House a letter criticizing President Bush for the administration's Iraq policy and urging Bush "to change course and adopt a new strategy to give our troops and the Iraqi people the best chance for success." The AP noted that the letter "suggests several changes long called for by Democratic leaders," but did not explain -- or even mention -- any of those changes.

On the September 3 broadcast of CBS' Face the Nation, guest host and CBS anchor Russ Mitchell, during an interview with Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, uncritically repeated the Republican claim that "Democrats are quick to criticize, but thus far they've had no plan of their own, no specific plan as to how to fight the war on terror, how to end the war in Iraq," and asked Dean whether Democrats will "announce a specific plan before Election Day." Dean contradicted Mitchell's statement, saying: "That's actually completely untrue," and noted that Republicans have voted against Democratic proposals "for more port security, more aviation security, more rail security." Nevertheless, Mitchell asked Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) later in the same program whether he "agree[d]" with Dean's statement that "the Democrats have, in fact, offered a plan to fight the war on terror." When McConnell answered: "I haven't seen it," Mitchell offered no challenge.

On the September 1 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Chuck Todd, editor of the National Journal's weblog The Hotline, claimed that the Democrats "have not set a policy of strength at all," and that "they don't talk about, OK, this what we're going to do to make us stronger."

On the August 31 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, guest host John Kasich claimed that "the Democrats are in a weak position [on Iraq], because I don't understand what their strategy is there," and said of Democrats, "They can criticize the president, but that's not very effective if you can't say what the heck you would do." Responding to Kasich's analysis, Fox News analyst and National Public Radio senior correspondent Juan Williams stated: "I agree. You need a coherent strategy," later adding, "I don't think anybody has a plan." Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, claimed that Democrats "don't have a clear plan because they're divided into several different factions," adding: "They will have to come up with a specific plan for the presidential election in 2008." When Sabato asserted that some Democrats favor "immediate withdrawal," Kasich interrupted, stating that most Democrats are "talking about a gradual withdrawal," but added: "I don't know what that quite means. You know, I'm not sure what it means when I even talk about it."

From the September 4 Associated Press article:

In a letter released Monday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and 10 other congressional party leaders told Bush that considering making such a change would show he recognizes the problems his policies "have created in Iraq and elsewhere."

"While a change in your Iraq policy will best advance our chances for success, we do not believe the current civilian leadership at the Department of Defense is suited to implement and oversee such a change in policy," the lawmakers wrote.

The 850-word letter criticizes Bush's policies in Iraq, calling them part of a "stay the course strategy" that has failed to make the U.S. more secure, and it suggests several changes long called for by Democratic leaders.

Others who signed the letter were Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Carl Levin of Michigan, Joe Biden of Delaware, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii; and Reps. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Ike Skelton of Missouri, Tom Lantos and Jane Harman of California, and John Murtha of Pennsylvania.

From the September 3 broadcast of CBS's Face the Nation:

MITCHELL: Governor, Republicans say the Democrats are quick to criticize, but thus far they've had no plan of their own, no specific plan as to how to fight the war on terror, how to end the war in Iraq. Will you announce --

DEAN: That's actually --

MITCHELL: Will you announce a specific plan before Election Day?

DEAN: That's actually completely untrue, and I think you can ask Senator McConnell, who voted against a Democratic proposal to increase money for first responders so they can synchronize their radio, voted against the proposal -- with many of the other Republicans -- for more port security, more aviation security, more rail security. In many ways, the Republicans have turned down the suggestions that the Democrats have for improving our ability to defend our homeland, and we think it's time for a new direction.

[...]

MITCHELL: Senator McConnell, let me ask you this. Howard Dean just said the Democrats have, in fact, offered a plan to fight the war on terror. Do you agree with that?

McCONNELL: I haven't seen it. Their plan is to leave. They're having a big debate among themselves, sort of the McGovern wing, represented by Howard Dean and his group, that beat [Sen.] Joe Lieberman in the primary up in Connecticut, and the more reasonable people who understand that if you cut and run in Iraq, the terrorists will soon be back here, like they were on 9-11.

From the September 1 edition of MSNBC's Hardball:

A.B. STODDARD (associate editor of The Hill): I think it's good for Democrats to make Republicans defend [Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld. I don't think they can lose. I mean, on balance, I don't think they lose. But I am not someone who thinks the Democrats have to, at this stage, set an Iraq policy, specific timetable.

TODD: But they still need to set -- they -- what they haven't done is they have not set a policy of strength at all. They have still sit there and said everything that's made us weaker, and they make that case very well these days, but they don't talk about, OK, this what we're going to do to make us stronger.

STODDARD: Well, I know, but, please, they are not on the ground. They are not executing this war. It's not their war. They are not supposed to give General [George W.] Casey [commanding general of the Multi-National Force-Iraq] his marching orders. I just don't see why Democrats have to do that.

From the August 31 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

KASICH: You know, when the president's opponents say that, you know, the fact is we want to get out of Iraq, but they don't say exactly what they mean. In other words, there's real [sic] no clear exit strategy for those that oppose the president's policies. They don't like it, but they don't say what they want to do. Does that make -- is it really harder to take the president on to go toe-to-toe with him when they don't have a clear message and a clear plan?

SABATO: Absolutely. And they don't have a clear plan because they're divided into several different factions, some wanting immediate withdrawal and some wanting it within a year and --

KASICH: But that's a small number, Larry, right? That's a very small number. Most of them are talking about a gradual withdrawal, but I don't know what that quite means. You know, I'm not sure what it means when I even talk about it.

SABATO: Well, sure. Gradual could mean the end of this year.

KASICH: Right.

SABATO: Could be gradual at least for some of the troops. Or it could mean five years. But the whole point is this is a midterm election. And the out-of-power party, the Democrats, gets a pass from the voters on this for the most part. They simply are allowed to oppose the incumbents, to oppose the White House party of the Republicans. They will have to come up with a specific plan for the presidential election in 2008.

[...]

KASICH: Well, I do -- I do respect a politician with -- with resolution. I do. Now, Juan, I think the Democrats are in a weak position, because I don't understand what their strategy is there. They can criticize the president, but that's not very effective if you can't say what the heck you would do.

WILLIAMS: I agree. You need a coherent strategy. And at the moment, it's interesting. Actually, the president and all this charge of appeasement and satisfying the terrorists coming from [Vice President Dick] Cheney, from Rumsfeld -- you know, the Democrats have pretty much been supportive of the administration, [inaudible] now this claim that somehow if the Democrats win they're going to take away the money from the war. Where does that come from? People have asked the White House, you know, who did you see --

BARBARA COMSTOCK: (former Justice Department official): Nancy Pelosi.

WILLIAMS: -- who on the Democratic side said they'd do that? Nobody. But what you see -- I agree with you, John, you need a plan. It would be good if the Democrats had a plan.

KASICH: They're not gonna get a plan, Juan, it's Labor Day. I mean, how can they put a plan together?

WILLIAMS: Well, I don't think anybody has a plan. I mean, on the other hand, you can -- let's reverse it, John. Where's the Republican plan except "stay the course"? And you know where "stay the course" is taking us, it's taken us down the tube.

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