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The Bush administration's unforced error

Good article in Slate today detailing how the administration muffed its response to Rep. Murtha's call for withdrawal:
...When Murtha first made his proposal, the White House press secretary pounced. Scott McClellan issued a statement directly targeting Murtha for "endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party." In calmer times, McClellan would have made the point in his regular daily briefing. But White House aides are in rapid-response mode, so they didn't wait. They rebutted Murtha's proposal immediately, the way they would have during the week before an election, and their disproportionate response itself became the issue.

...How did the Republicans screw this up so badly? Two weeks ago, the White House decided to go back into full campaign mode. A war room was formed. No charge would go unanswered. Staffers began issuing press releases rebutting claims by the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Sen. Edward Kennedy.

The first indication of trouble was the president's effort to make John Kerry the face of the opposition ... the effort to re-fight a campaign he won last year made Bush look a bit petty and desperate.

The effort ran further aground when administration aides had the bright idea of linking Murtha to Michael Moore. Comparing any opponent to the toxic filmmaker would only work after months of softening up his reputation. Murtha's history probably makes even that impossible. In his 37 years in the military, Murtha won two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star with a Combat "V," and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

The bungled Murtha response gave him more energy, validity, and acclaim than he probably would have gotten otherwise. It has made the withdrawal option in Iraq a far more serious topic of conversation than it would be otherwise. No one is signing on to Murtha's quick timetable for withdrawal, but the idea can no longer be dismissed by merely mentioning the name of the person who offered it. Murtha's next proposal will arrive with far more credibility because of this episode. People will pay attention to what he has to say. After all, he's a good man. Just ask the president.

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