Pre-emptive Paranoia

By MAUREEN DOWD

New York Times

September 16, 2004

Here's how bad off the Democrats are: They're cowering behind closed doors, whispering that if it should ever turn out that Republicans are behind this, it would be so exquisitely Machiavellian, so beyond what Democrats are capable of, they should just fold and concede the election now - before the Republicans have to go to the trouble of stealing it again.

There's no evidence - it's just a preposterous, paranoid fantasy at this point. But it speaks to the jitters of the Democrats that they're consumed with speculation about whether Karl Rove, the master of dirty tricks and surrogate sleaze, could have set up CBS in a diabolical pre-emptive strike to undermine damaging revelations about Bush 43's privileged status and vanishing act in the National Guard, and his odd refusal to take his required physical when ordered.

In this vast left-wing conspiracy theory, Mr. Rove takes real evidence on W.'s shirking and transfers it to documents doomed to be exposed as phony (thereby undermining the real goods), then funnels it through third parties to Dan Rather, Bush 41's nemesis on Iran-contra. A perfect bank shot.

The secretary for W.'s squadron commander in the Texas Guard told The Times that the information in the disputed memos is correct - it's just the memos that seem fake.

"It looks like someone may have read the originals and put that together,'' said a lucid 86-year-old Marian Carr Knox, who was flown up to New York yesterday by beleaguered CBS News executives.

She told Mr. Rather that her boss, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, wrote a "cover-your-back file,'' a "personal journal'' to keep a record about the politically connected Bush in his charge. She said the contents of that mirrored the CBS documents, but she said those documents were not on the right forms and contained Army terms rather than Air National Guard argot. She confirmed that young Bush had disobeyed a direct order from Colonel Killian to take a physical.

"It was a big no-no to not follow orders,'' she said, adding that the Bush scion's above-the-rules attitude caused some snickers and resentment among fellow officers.

Those who suspect Mr. Rove note that when he was Bill Clements's campaign strategist in a 1986 governor's race in Texas, he was accused of bugging his own office to distract from a debate, according to James Moore and Wayne Slater, authors of "Bush's Brain.'' They said it turned the election because after that, the Democrat could not get any attention.

Was the same scenario playing out yesterday evening on CNN? After a five-minute report on the CBS memo controversy, CNN spent about 30 seconds reporting that two more marines had been killed in Iraq.

House Republicans started clamoring for a Congressional inquiry into the documents used by "60 Minutes,'' saying it might be an attempt to manipulate the election. (Isn't that what the Democrats are scared the Republicans are doing?)

These same Republicans never wanted investigations into missing W.M.D., why Congress passed a Medicare bill based on faulty figures, Abu Ghraib or even whether those Swiftie guys were lying, for Pete's sake.

The Democratic paranoia is a measure of the intimidation the West Wing is wielding in a race where John Kerry can't seem to take advantage of any of the Bush administration's increasingly calamitous blunders.

The administration has been so dazzling in misleading the public with audacious, mendacious malarkey that the Democrats fear the Bushies are capable of any level of deceit.

Iraq is a vision of hell, and the Republicans act as if it's a model kitchen. The president and vice president brag about liberating Iraqis and reassure us that they are stopping terrorist violence at its source and inspiring democracy in the region by bringing it to blood-drenched Iraq.

But what they haven't mentioned is that they have known since July that their rosy scenarios are as bogus as their W.M.D. That's when the president received a national intelligence estimate that spelled out "a dark assessment of prospects" for stability and governance in Iraq in the next 18 months, as Douglas Jehl wrote in today's Times. Worst-case estimates include civil war or anarchy.

Unlike the president, the young men and women trying to stay alive in the unraveling chaos of Iraq can't count on their daddies to get them out of the line of fire.