Thursday, March 04, 2004

We can counter their attacks! 

In the coming weeks and months, we're going to be hearing a lot of attacks by Bush proxies on Kerry's votes to cut intelligence spending. We've already started hearing them. If we want to counter these attacks, democrats need to be armed with the real story.

Here's the real story. During Reagan's second term, Kerry chaired the senate committee that investigated the administration's illegal funding of the Contras in Nicaragua. He researched and publicized the Contras' ties to drug cartels and money laundering operations. In the face of dirty tactics from the administration, which tried to intimidate and discredit witnesses, Kerry helped expose the corruption and mismanagement in the CIA, which funded the Contras even though it knew of their criminal ties. Now, Republicans are already attacking (scroll down to the comments) Kerry for having advocated a cut in CIA funding in 1986. When you point out that Kerry had just discovered that the CIA was illegally funding drug traffickers in Central America, his proposal to cut CIA funding suddenly seems a bit more reasonable! Context, context.

Later, in 1992, Kerry's work uncovering the massive money laundering and fraud at the Bank of Commerce and Credit International (BCCI) led him again into conflict with the CIA, which he learned had not stopped working with the bank even after it knew it was a "fundamentally corrupt criminal enterprise." The Contra affair and BCCI scandal, both of which implicated the CIA, convinced Kerry that the agency had to be reformed. It is in this context that his votes on intelligence spending need to be considered.

Recently, the WMD debacle has made it clear that the intelligence community is in need of serious reform. The great thing is, John Kerry reached that conclusion a long time ago! Kerry should use the recent attacks as an opportunity to tout his record, and to point out that he was a champion of intelligence reform long before it was in vogue.

Intelligence reform looks like a winning issue. It showcases Kerry's past accomplishments and allows him to respond effectively to Republican attacks, while at the same time making Bush look bad. Two quick examples. Former chief weapons inspector David Kay recently accused Bush of "hampering intelligence reform." And here is an article describing the view of Richard Steele, a former CIA spy (and registered Republican) on intelligence reform:

Before 9-11, there were 15 books published that detailed the serious deficiencies in U.S. intelligence, but the Bush administration in particular didn't pay attention, Steele said. "Nobody wanted to do intelligence reform."

Finally, let's remember, it's a piece of cake to attack someone with a 19-year record in the senate. Over the course of his career, Kerry has voted on thousands of bills, many of them hundreds or even thousands of pages long. Republicans will try to spin those votes into negative one-liners like "Kerry voted to raise taxes" or "Kerry opposes intelligence spending." Our job is never to let them forget the context of those votes.

Every time they attack, our response should be: context, context, context. A yes/no vote on a bill that's hundreds of pages long means nothing out of context. Kerry's challenge will be to explain this context in simple enough terms so that voters get it. Simple sound bites are not his forte, but he needs to try.

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