AT - Swing And A Miss. Sen. Kennedy whiffs in attempt at hardball with military leaders
July 2, 2005
Swing And A Miss
Sen. Kennedy whiffs in attempt at hardball with military leaders
By Jeffrey Gardner, Tribune Columnist
Sen. Ted Kennedy glared down at Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and said: "In baseball, it's three strikes and you're out. How many strikes does the secretary of Defense get?"
Of course, this depends entirely on the game.
The popularity of slow-pitch softball, for example, has required most leagues to go to a three balls/two strikes rule to get games over in a timely fashion.
But Kennedy wasn't talking about softball or baseball, actually. This pitched drama was couched during a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the war in Iraq and related subjects.
Initially, the senior senator from Massachusetts began his rambling rant by framing what he termed a "disconnect" between what the administration says is going on in Iraq and, at least in Kennedy's opinion, what is truly going on there.
The tension in the room was so thick you could cut it with a knife. At least that's how it appeared on television.
Kennedy glowered at Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld unflinchingly glared back. It was a Homeric moment, a bottom of the ninth in a World Series Game 7 the winning run at the plate kind of thing. Oh my, my! Was there ever a more perfect moment for a good sports clich??
Never. So Kennedy delivered a high, hard one. Rumsfeld responded with a vicious swing. He offered a disgusted sigh, then said, "Well, that was some statement." Then Rumsfeld mentioned that no one at the table he was sitting at would agree with Kennedy's assessment.
An important point? Absolutely, if a recent Gallup Poll on institutions Americans trust is at all accurate.
At the top of the survey, conducted in late May, is none other than our military. Forty-two percent of those polled said they had "a great deal" of confidence in our military. Another 32 percent had "quite a lot." That's a whopping 74 percent.
You see, all of the guys at the table with Rumsfeld during his duel with Kennedy were wearing uniforms covered in gold stars and ribbons and stuff. Military guys.
Seated at the table with Kennedy? His peers. Congressional celebrities like Sen. Robert Byrd. Guess where these guys shake out on the old confidence scale? Twenty-two percent - tied with big business but five ticks higher than HMOs.
If you got past the Kennedy-Rumsfeld rumble, you learned from the uniformed guys that the situation in Iraq, though brutal, was not a quagmire. Progress is being made, and slowly Iraqi security forces are becoming more effective.
As to the other table? Kennedy and Byrd have 90 years combined in the Senate - a mind-numbing thought. Fresh ideas aplenty are flowing in those Democratic leadership meetings, right?
If anyone is bogged down in a disastrous quagmire, it's an opposition party stuck in the past and relying on a "damn the message, kill the messenger" strategy that's just not inspiring much confidence in the heartland.
Gardner is an Albuquerque writer and political consultant.