08/17/2006 — Vice President Dick Cheney came to Boise Wednesday afternoon to say he needed Bill Sali in Congress to stay the course in Iraq.
Cheney spent 11 minutes of his 19-minute speech on the war on terror. But he treated Sali like a stranger, without a personal word or anecdote. And he hurried from the stage as if he were late for one of his cherished fishing trips on the South Fork of the Snake in eastern Idaho. "Either we are serious about fighting this war, or we are not," said Cheney at a $125-per-person Sali fundraiser at the Boise Centre on The Grove. "And with George W. Bush leading this nation, we are serious, and we will not let down our guard."
Sali had just seconds to share the stage with Cheney, whom he introduced in a minute. Reading through a 90-second talk after the vice president left, Sali urged GOP supporters to join his race against Democrat Larry Grant.
"I need your help to send a strong message of national defense with effective, efficient and limited government," he said. "If we don't get that done, the Democrats have a real chance to win. And so will their philosophy: that they know best for you and your family; that we all need to pay higher taxes to pay for it; that we don't really need the kind of strong national defense the vice president just spoke of. At risk are the very safety of our nation and the security of our families."
Tuesday and early Wednesday, I was in Twin Falls with Sen. Larry Craig, who once held the seat sought by Sali, Grant, Constitution Party candidate Paul Smith, United Party candidate Andy Hedden-Nicely and independent Dave Olson.
Craig acknowledged public concerns about Iraq but said history suggests Americans will be wary about handing Democrats a victory. "When it comes to their national security and their troops — unless convinced, and I think they are not yet convinced — Americans don't want to change in the middle of a fight."
Craig is right. We stuck with Lincoln for the Civil War, Roosevelt during World War II, Johnson as the Vietnam War escalated, and Nixon as Vietnam neared a close. Craig noted polls show more support for the president on national and homeland security than for his conduct of the Iraq War. Hence a campaign focused on security.
Withdrawal would invite attack, Cheney said. "What these Democrats are pushing now is the very kind of retreat that has been tried in the past and has failed. It is contrary to our values, it would betray our friends, and it would only heighten the danger to the United States. So the choice before the American people is becoming clearer every day. For the sake of our security, this nation must reject any strategy of resignation and defeatism in the face of determined enemies."
Craig carried a similar message to the Twin Falls GOP barbecue Tuesday. To my taste, Craig did a far better job, speaking extemporaneously and from the heart.
He noted our role as the leading nation in a new world that demands international engagement for economic, political and humanitarian reasons. "Can we stay the course? Can we work toward a freer world? Or do we withdraw within our borders and our oceans into what we once believed was a protected sanctuary?"
Craig said the matter goes beyond terrorism. "Terrorism is a tool, a tactic of another 'ism.' We learned to understand communism was antithetical to a democracy and a free people. We understood that about Nazism. And so we stood and we fought and we made a freer world. What we have failed to understand is that radical Islamic fundamentalism is an 'ism' that is antithetical to what we believe. Terrorism is a tactic, it is a tool, it's how fundamentalism brings down free people, imprisons and controls."
Cheney asked that we trust the president. But he did it with a growl, recalling a disciplinarian vice principal, not a statesmanlike vice president. Craig, by contrast, acknowledged differing viewpoints, but called upon the values that underlie our tradition of supporting presidents in troubled times.
"You may question what our president proposes," Craig said. "But please never question his resolve, his commitment, his understanding, his sense of his role as a leader in making a freer world, and in doing so making a freer and stronger America."
Craig's talk was stirring, bringing warm applause. Cheney was respectfully received by a similar audience of loyalists, but his brusque manner compromised his appeal. Before Sali could even call for a second round of applause, Cheney had rushed from the room, leaving Sali looking at a fluttering blue curtain.
Dick Cheney mailed this one in. He's fortunate to have Sen. Craig carry the president's message in Idaho.