Conspiracy theorists strike out

Teresa Heinz Kerry said a few weeks ago that she would not be surprised if al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden turned up before the election — and she was not referring to the latest videotaped message.

The wife of the Democratic presidential nominee was not the only one voicing that sentiment. Others believed the White House would raise the terror threat level to reap an advantage heading into the election, or replace Vice President Dick Cheney on the ticket. There were also assertions that Saudi Arabia would help lower oil prices to provide President Bush with a boost.

The biggest October surprise, to those making those predictions, must be that none of the above came true. Many Democrats believe that the Bush administration is consistently shrouded in secrecy and ruthlessly political, and they see the White House as masterminded by political powerhouse Karl Rove.

But Grover Norquist, a key GOP strategist and head of Americans for Tax Reform, argued that the Bush administration should not be confused with the Clinton White House. “Everything Bill Clinton did was done for political purposes,” he said. “They think Bush does the same thing.” But Norquist asserted that the administration is “insufficiently political” and that Bush acts out of conviction, not political motivation.

Cornell University sociologist Robb Willer found last month that Bush’s approval rating increased nearly three points whenever a terror warning was issued, indicating that raising the threat level, especially after the latest message from bin Laden, could have paid political dividends.

Earlier this year, former Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean said, after a new terror alert, “It’s just impossible to know how much of this is real and how much of this is politics, and I suspect there’s some of both in it.”

Katie Mynster, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokeswoman, said yesterday: “We have said repeatedly that there are no politics at [DHS]. Any decision it makes regarding the threat level is because of intelligence and security, but there are no politics at [DHS].”

CBS’s “60 Minutes” earlier this year aired a segment in which it indicated that Saudi Arabia had cut a deal with Bush to lower oil prices to help his reelection bid. At the time, Saudi Arabia vehemently denied the charge. Today, the price of oil per barrel is more than $50, twice the amount that Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan said would be “good for the American people,” and analysts said the high prices hurt Bush.

Norquist called Democrats’ hinting at different October surprises, such as the capture of bin Laden, “a sign of desperation, their willingness to do anything or say anything to win an election.”

Norquist added that Democrats were trying to protect themselves against GOP gains that would follow a major event, such as getting bin Laden, by saying it was timed to help Bush politically.

But it was not just Democrats who said bin Laden would be caught. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told The Hill he was sure that the al Qaeda leader would be caught before the election. Grassley later modified his
statement, saying he was sure bin Laden would be caught in the coming months.

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Christine Iverson said all the claims about a politically motivated October surprise show that “the Democrats have never had a positive agenda.”

Iverson likened statements of those saying that bin Laden would be found just before the election or that the threat level would be raised for political reasons to assertions by Democrats that Bush would privatize Social Security or reinstate the draft if reelected. She added that these “lies” show the Democrats’ willingness to resort to “scare tactics” to attempt to win the election.