In Search of an Election Surprise

The last two times a Bush ran for president, each was the victim of an “October surprise.” In the week before the Bush-Clinton election in 1992, Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh indicted former Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger in an apparent attempt to shower the elder George Bush with Iran-Contra fallout. The indictment was so transparently flimsy that it was soon dismissed by a Federal judge. The Clinton momentum was so strong at that point, that Clinton would have won even without the indictment, but the incident serves to illustrate a partisan attempt to influence the political process through a last minute dirty trick.

One week before the 2000, Bush-Gore election, Tom Connolly, a Gore delegate from Maine, released information that George W. Bush had been arrested for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) some twenty-four years earlier. Connolly had been in possession of the information for some time, and while one may argue that the information should have been public, the timing of its release was deliberately calculated for maximum political damage, not for a thorough vetting of the issue. Given the closeness of the 2000 election and the fact that the last-minute poll movement was toward Gore, a plausible case can be made that this October surprise cost Bush the popular vote and threw the nation into weeks of divisive political and judicial conflict.

It is, therefore, no surprise when some on the Left engage in what psychologists term “projection” and fret about the possibility that the Republicans will manufacture a spectacular news event and dramatically tip the election toward Bush. In a recent New Republic article, John Judis and his co-authors suggest that the Bush Administration is not only pushing the Pakistanis to turn over high value Al Qaeda operatives, but precisely timing such an event for maximum political advantage. Now the Bush Administration would be negligent if it were not pressing Pakistan to be as forthcoming as possible with regard to rooting out Al Qaeda leadership, but the charge in the New Republic is that Pakistanis are being urge to time the news of such a capture for July 26, 27, or 28, during the Democratic National Convention.

This sort of paranoia would be humorous if it did not afflict writers for what generally is a more responsible journal. On one hand, the Left suggests that the Bush Administration is incompetent and not running the post-war Iraqi transition to a democracy correctly, and that the same Administration is so clever and omnipotent that they can arrange the timing of a capture of a member of the Al Qaeda leadership to a three-day window. One cringes at the mental gymnastics required to twist oneself into such an intellectual pretzel.

All of us have a world view, an understanding of the way the world works. If events or other evidence buttress this view, we tend to grant them high credibility. If the evidence conflicts with our perceptions, we are likely to be more skeptical it. There is nothing wrong with this, indeed it is an important coping mechanism. If someone claims there is a blue car on the street, we probably would accept the assertion because there is nothing in it that challenges any of our assumptions. If, on the other hand, the same person makes the claim that there is a blue flying saucer in the street, no matter how otherwise credible the source is, we would probably attempt to confirm the assertion by looking out the window for ourselves.

Allow us to respectfully suggest that perhaps Judis is infused with a world view that might tend to lend excessive credibility to sources that might suggest a nefarious Bush conspiracy. Judis graduated with a BA and MA from Berkeley, a garden in which Conservative ideas are thought to be weeds, not the beautiful political blossoms we know them to be. Judis strengthened his Left-wing credentials by co-founding the journal the Socialist Revolution and later joined the editorial staff of the New Republic. Of course, all this does not mean the Judis was trying to deliberately mislead his readers. A strong point of view is not inconsistent with honesty. Rather, we suggest that his world view and perhaps partisanship have made him susceptible to irrational notions of a conspiracy on the weak reeds of evidence he presented. Hopefully, he and the New Republic will soon recover from their ideological stupor.

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