In a speech on Monday, President Bush suggested that Democrats are going to "wave the white flag of surrender":
"There's a group in the opposition party who are willing to retreat before the mission is done," he said. "They're willing to wave the white flag of surrender. And if they succeed, the United States will be worse off, and the world will be worse off."
But Think Progress notes that when asked about this statement, Bush adviser Dan Bartlett was unable to name a single Democrat to which this description applies:
LAUER: The white flag of surrender — that’s a very dramatic and harsh expression to use against the Democrats. Have you heard any Democrats calling for the white flag of surrender?
BARTLETT: Well, I have heard a lot of Democrats call this President a liar, saying we’ve gone into Iraq for the wrong reasons, saying that he’s incompetent. So there is a lot of heated rhetoric in Washington. But what we see in the heart wrenching developments, when we see our 2 soldiers lose their lives in such a horrific way, is that we’re up against a very determined enemy. This is an epic struggle in which we have to be committed to winning.
This kind of baseless accusation is classic Bush. As the Washington Post's Dana Milbank pointed out in 2004 and the AP's Jennifer Loven reiterated in 2006, he has a penchant for attacking straw men. Here are some examples from Milbank:
In a speech on May 21 mentioning the importance of integrity in government, business and the military, Bush veered into a challenge to unidentified "people" who practice moral relativism. "It may seem generous and open-minded to say that everybody, on every moral issue, is equally right," Bush said, at Louisiana State University. "But that attitude can also be an excuse for sidestepping life's most important questions."
No doubt. But who's made such arguments? Hannibal Lecter? The White House declined to name names.
On May 19, Bush was asked about a plan by his Democratic opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), to halt shipments that are replenishing emergency petroleum reserves. Bush replied by saying we should not empty the reserves -- something nobody in a responsible position has proposed. "The idea of emptying the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would put America in a dangerous position in the war on terror," Bush said. "We're at war."
The president has used a similar technique on the stump, when explaining his decision to go to war in Iraq in light of the subsequent failure to find stockpiles of forbidden weapons. In the typical speech, Bush explains the prewar intelligence indicating Saddam Hussein had such weapons, and then presents in inarguable conclusion: "So I had a choice to make: either trust the word of a madman, or defend America. Given that choice, I will defend America every time."
And here are some from Loven:
"Some look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude that the war is lost and not worth another dime or another day," President Bush said recently.
Another time he said, "Some say that if you're Muslim you can't be free."
"There are some really decent people," the president said earlier this year, "who believe that the federal government ought to be the decider of health care ... for all people."
It's also a classic Bush tactic to amp up his suggestions that Democrats don't care about national security before an election, as he is doing now:
Bush's tone has turned tougher as he appears at more political events. At a Washington fundraiser this month, he said it was important that lawmakers "not wave the white flag of surrender" without asserting that any of them were actually doing so. In his appearance in this St. Louis suburb, he said directly that some Democrats want to surrender, adopting the more cutting approach of his senior political adviser, Karl Rove.
As we wrote in All the President's Spin on p. 116, Bush progressively amped up his attacks on Democrats in 2002 for not supporting his legislation to create the Department of Homeland Security (a department whose creation he had previously opposed). On Sept. 5, he said, "I am not going to accept a bill where the Senate micromanages, where the Senate shows they're more interested in special interest[s] in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people" - a loaded hypothetical. The same day, he said in a different speech that there are senators in Washington who are "not enough concerned about the security of the American people." But by Sept. 23, he was going much further, stating directly that "the Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people."
After almost six years, we shouldn't be surprised when he uses these tactics again. They worked for a long time. But will they work now that his 9/11 popularity boost has worn off?