Saturday, September 16, 2006

Allen’s Debate Dilemma

Facing a live debate with his opponent on national television on NBC’s Meet the Press, Sen. George Allen has a new problem: The red hot potato of an issue that popped out of the oven on Thursday is sure to be lobbed his way by the news program’s moderator, Tim Russert. No doubt Russert is going to ask both the Republican incumbent and his Democratic opposite, Jim Webb, to plainly say on which side of the torture chasm they stand.

Both candidates are sure to be asked to state whether they support the position of President George Bush, or that of Virginia Sen. John Warner’s Armed Services Committee.

Reporting for the Richmond Times-Dispatch Peter Hardin draws a line of distinction between Virginia’s two senatorial hopefuls:

“Democrat Jim Webb sides philosophically with Republican Sen. John W. Warner and former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on rules for trying suspected terrorists, Webb’s Senate campaign said yesterday. Sen. George Allen, seeking a second six-year term, was not taking a public stand. His spokesman said the Virginia Republican was studying the legislation.”

Well, Allen’s 97 percent pattern of agreement with the Bush administration’s agenda would suggest he’ll stay with Bush, at least for the time being. Still, as Warner is not only an influential Republican elder senator, but he’s also very popular in Virginia, it complicates Allen’s position.

What Webb has in common with the three prominent Republican senators -- Warner, John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) -- who are challenging the president’s desired tactics for interrogations and trials of detainees, is that he too has a military background. So, should Allen stick with Bush it underlines the notion that Allen’s lack of such a background appears to have rendered him less able to understand threats to Americans in the armed services, and matters military, in general.

As long as Bush wants to frame the issue as a matter of whether America is going to be tough on the terrorists, or not, that puts Allen in a real bind. Allen doesn’t want to appear to be softening his stand on the War on Terror, but that stand may be going out of style fast. Of course, I don’t know what promises Allen may have made to Bush, which may tie his hands. Anyway, Allen has until 9 a.m. tomorrow to figure out how in hell to answer the question he knows is coming.

Meanwhile, AP reports that Bush is not in a mood to change his mind, “Bush Digs in Heels Over Detainee Bill.”

“President Bush is standing firm in his battle to get Congress to approve the White House plan for detaining, interrogating and prosecuting suspected terrorists. The Senate, though, isn't backing away from its plan either. The president's standoff with lawmakers is over legislation authorizing military tribunals and harsh interrogations of terror suspects.”

In what should come as no surprise McCain isn’t backing down either:

“‘Weakening the Geneva protections is not only unnecessary, but would set an example to other countries, with less respect for basic human rights, that they could issue their own legislative reinterpretations,’ McCain said in a statement released Friday. ‘This puts our military personnel and others directly at risk in this and future wars.’”

The timing of all this is the worst part of the dilemma for Allen. His aides would like to let this potato cool off for a couple of weeks, giving them time to study poll numbers. But Russert isn’t likely to give Allen that luxury.

If Allen waffles, if he ducks the question, Russert shouldn’t let him off easy.

Neither should Webb. The emergence of this now sharply carved issue concerning torture, justice, and the moral high ground, could be the defining moment in the 2006 campaign Jim Webb has been waiting for. Which should make Sunday’s Meet the Press (9 a.m.) must-see-TV for Virginia’s political junkies.


Howling Latina said...

I couldn't agree with you more.

The gods of fortuna seems to be smiling at Webb. One lucky break after the next, which is good for Virginians and good for the country.

Webb is by legions the better candidate.

Anonymous said...

The thought of Allen "studying" the legislation is so laughable.

This was the line he used up until the day he voted in his committee to KILL Net Neutrality, a topic he had too much time to study and make up his mind.

In the Net Neutrality issue Allen studied the issue until the moment he voted....and then his website presented the issue like he had supported Net Neutrality nstead of killing it.

When Allen says study you can bet the farm that he's voting for whatever the Bush reebime and/or their corporate cronies want, regardless of the effects on Allen's constituents.


F.T. Rea said...

howling latina,

This issue is made to order for Webb. And, the timing of this couldn't be better. I hope he's ready to seize the moment.


Allen has less than 12 hours left to study the matter. If he won’t take a position on this, whether he stands with Bush or with Warner, et al, he’s going to get hammered from all sides.

Waldo Jaquith said...

Very interesting, Terry. I will be watching with all of this in mind.

F.T. Rea said...


No surprise, Allen ducked. He didn't answer the question.

The torture issue is bigger than anything that's happened in this year's campaign, so far. Webb now has a chance to score big.

Bill Garnett said...

I absolutely support Webb. I only wish some of his Hollywood friends would put him in touch with a coach who might enable him to better project his passion, his connection to middle class Virginians, and his sense of humor.

Allen has long ago mastered his high schoolish popularity style, but to his discredit now comes across as a bit slick and patronizing.

I wish Webb had just given a short and clear statement of regret over his youthful stance on women in the military, rather than muddle his position.

And Allen seemed to step on Webb’s approach of moving American troops over the horizon to Qatar and Kuwait rather than to the massive new isolated bases we are building in Iraq. I recently lived in Saudi Arabia for six years – these people adamantly don’t want permanent American forces on their land – this applies equally to Iraq.

The military has been focused on having a footprint in the Middle East for sometime, and not to have to rely so heavily on the base at Diego Garcia – they tried it with their “secret base” in Saudi but that proved too potentially volatile and was abandoned for reasons similar to those we now face in Iraq.

We have another debate today In Fairfax – perhaps Webb will have profited from Sunday’s practice.