Perhaps I am looking for consistency in all the wrong places - the Times manages to flip-flop from the Saturday editorial page to the Sunday "Week in Review".
On Saturday, the Times denounced as "un-American" the recent tactic of various Bush surrogates who have expressed their opinion that Osama and other terrorists are rooting for John Kerry.
The cryptically-titled "An Un-American Way to Cam" says that:
President Bush and his surrogates are taking their re-election campaign into dangerous territory. Mr. Bush is running as the man best equipped to keep America safe from terrorists - that was to be expected. We did not, however, anticipate that those on the Bush team would dare to argue that a vote for John Kerry would be a vote for Al Qaeda. Yet that is the message they are delivering - with a repetition that makes it clear this is an organized effort to paint the Democratic candidate as a friend to terrorists.
Oh, for heaven's sake. Saying "I think Bush will be tougher on Al Qaeda than Kerry" is not the same as saying "Kerry is a friend to Al Qaeda". The Times cites this Dana Milbank WaPo article, which is similarly unconvincing in its "killer quotes".
This inspires a hint to Kerry in his debate prep - if this comes up, the correct rebuttal is not to whine about un-American attacks on your patriotism (although I appreciate that this reponse is a bit of a reflex by now).
The response is, and try to get some swagger going when you deliver it, "If Osama, Zarqawi, or any other terrorists think they will have an easier time with John Kerry, they are in for a surprise." (And I'm begging you - get the names right. This would be a terrible time to win a "Brandini".)
If you can't stop there, explain that with America and the world united behind you, you will trounce these fools in a way the divisive George Bush never could, and if the terrorists don't understand that, it is because they don't understand our society and they are about to get a valuable lesson in the power of democracy.
Do NOT get abstract, and ruminate that this election is not about what is worse for Al Qaeda, it is about what is better for America. It is certainly arguable that an America with a better health care system, higher taxes on the rich, and a less confrontational approach to militant Islam would, in the long run, be a safer, stronger country. DO NOT make this argument! Presenting your election as a win-win - "We're better off under Kerry-Edwards, and so is Al Qaeda!" - only makes sense if you plan simultaneously to announce your withdrawal from the race.
Now, back to the Times editors - the notion that foreign baddies are not paying attention to the rhetoric emanating from the American candidates is absurd; the notion that they do not have a preference seems improbable. Surely Zarqawi in Falluja would view a Bush defeat as a personal triumph; Osama, on the other hand, may prefer the Bellicose Mr. Bush as an aid to recruitment - that argument has been made (see below), without Reps whining that Bush's patriotism is under assault.
David Sanger presents the rebuttal case to the Times editors in his assessment of our approaches to Iran and North Korea:
Mr. Kerry vowed on Friday that "I will talk directly to the North Koreans to get a verifiable agreement that will eliminate their nuclear weapons program completely and irreversibly.'' A noble goal, one that Bill Clinton attempted in 1994, before settling for a "nuclear freeze'' that the North has now terminated. Perhaps North Korea would take a grand bargain, but its leaders have declared that they cannot negotiate with President Bush. No doubt Mr. Kim, an avid viewer of satellite television, will be tuned to the debates for any hint that Mr. Kerry would give him a better deal.
No doubt. And if, on the Friday following the debate, I write that based on what I heard last night, Mr. Kim should prefer Mr. Kerry, am I un-American?
MORE: I need to add a Richard Clarke link - his comment about Bush seeming to be under the influence of Osama's mind-rays when he decided to invade Iraq is illustrative of the "Osama prefers Bush" theme. And yes, Reps howled, but we did not invoke the daft "patriotism" argument.
More broadly, is there a reason to doubt that a change in government in the US following a terror attack will be promoted as a victory for Al Qaeda? Isn't that what happened after Madrid? I guess we will get another data point after the Oct. 9 Australian election.