President Bush had two big things going for him in this year’s election. He was seen by a majority of Americans as a straight shooter. And he was viewed as the natural leader in the war on terrorism. Now both perceptions are in jeopardy. That explains the ferocity of the White House attack on Richard Clarke.
But the attack on Clarke, the White House’s former anti-terrorism expert, could prove to be the fatal mistake of the Bush campaign. Instead of undermining Clarke’s credibility, the White House has called its own into question.
It is also calling new attention to the administration’s standard operating procedure since Sept. 11, 2001: Do whatever is necessary to intimidate and undercut all who raise questions about the president’s handling of terrorism, answer as few of those questions as possible and keep as many secrets as you can.