September Surprise

Election '04

The Department of Homeland Security issued an official press release on August 10 that announces September as National Preparedness Month. The timing is probably just a coincidence. But wait, the "official" announcement is on September 9th.


Why September 9th? That's awfully late if it's supposed to be the entire month. My guess, thinking like Karl Rove: This year's 9/11 anniversary falls on a Saturday, so an announcement on that date or even Friday would only get a burst of free media on a weekend. But by timing it for the 6:00 p.m. news on Thursday, it will reach the Friday papers and thus be fully injected into all of the emotion-laden anniversary coverage, plus the Sunday morning talk shows.

The idea, obviously, is to throw a large amount of focus, possibly for weeks on end, on the only issue on which Bush outpolls Kerry. And of course this will come on the heels of the GOP convention. So where the Democrats' post-convention media got blitzed with terror warnings based on years-old intelligence, the Republicans' afterglow might well be favorably extended, implied message being:

"Why, with George Bush and enough shovels, we'll all be just fine."

And what else is going on during National Security Month? The "America Prepared Campaign" has a downloadable .pdf calendar of events. Let's see what's going on.

The very first scheduled event is an August 30 "preparedness quiz" in Parade magazine, coinciding with the kickoff of the GOP convention.

(Parade, incidentally, is a flag-waving Sunday supplement to over 340 newspapers, with a readership of (seriously) almost eighty million people; purchasing a full page costs over $800,000. How nice that they're plugging the GOP's key issue on the opening day of the convention, probably with a cover story, free of charge... sweeet deal.)

Other September Surprises: a whole "educate the family" campaign, with kits available at various retailers; an in-school "Ready Deputy" duck-and-cover training program; and a website called (not yet online), all launched in the first week.

Brilliance. Tie the concept of Bush's only winning issue to family and children. Unspoken, deniable implication: "Vote for Bush if you want your kids to live." Nice.

On the 7th, there's another newspaper supplement, then there's the official announcement on the 9th. Look for Tom Ridge, possibly flanked by tremulous herds of frightened waifs, sometime around noon EST.

On 9/11 itself, there's a "NASCAR race in Richmond" listed. This would be the "Chevy Rock 'N' Roll 400" at the Richmond International Raceway. Obviously, a NASCAR race has nothing – nothing – whatsoever to do with homeland security. It is, however, a GOP-friendly event in Virginia, a battleground state where Bush's lead is within the margin of error.

Hmm. There are two other NASCAR races in September: one in New Hampshire, the other in Delaware. Both are solidly in the Kerry camp. And, gosh, nothing is scheduled. Apparently non-swing state voters just don't need to be quite so, ahem, "prepared."

If we don't see "preparedness" rallies at the other two races – and they ain't scheduled, folks – that certainly suggests Bush & Co. are using fear as a political tool.

This is transparently a continuation of the Bush campaign by other means, financed with everyone's tax dollars, out of funds that could be used, say, to hire more actual first-responders, Pushtun translators, or troops to replace the exhausted guardsmen.

Bush should be called out on this – now – by journalists, by the Kerry campaign, and by everyone who prefers actual security over campaign propaganda.

My tipster in Washington said something I want to share: "Those of us who actually work on this sort of thing, in addition to wondering what the other 35 months since 9/11 have been, are of course not thrilled that this is so obviously being politicized."

It's three years after 9/11, and less than three months before an election. Now we get a National Preparedness Month.

And yes, let's ask Bush and Tom Ridge the simple question: What the hell do you people think the previous 35 months were?

USA Today asked Sec. Ridge about National Preparedness Month in an interview on August 10:

USA Today: Talking about politics, some might wonder why you've designated next month as "National Preparedness Month" so close to the elections?
Ridge: I'm going to dismiss that conclusion. We can't stop doing what we think we need to get done because we're holding an election. People can look at it through a political prism. But if we say we're not going to do anything else for the balance of the year because people may interpret it as being politically motivated, it's just not the approach we're prepared to take.
We said toward the end of last year that one of our public goals is to get 50% of Americans involved in some form of preparedness. And we began almost a year ago with an annual preparedness effort. We worked exclusively with the Ad Council. You remember those black-and-white ads with the burly firemen talking to America about being prepared? Well, we got pretty good results from that. The polls say that 40% of the families in America have taken some step in embracing a preparedness kit and making a communication plan.
But clearly we need to do much more. So we decided in our second year to be much more aggressive. With this campaign, the focus is on kids, and a good time to focus on kids is September, not June, July, August. We'll deal with whatever commentary is forthcoming with whatever we do.
Ridge says this is not a political – much less – partisan enterprise, but he's targeting the self-avowedly pro-Christian, pro-family, pro-business GOP base: the groups they've signed up to participate are really quite telling. Look at the list. You'll find the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, something called "The National Fatherhood Initiative" (which, one presumes, is courageously taking on the powerful anti-fatherhood lobby), the American Legion, the VFW, the USO, the Points of Light Foundation, and a whole slew of various military, religious, law enforcement, and business lobbying organizations.

Aside from the obvious inclusion of emergency health organizations like the Red Cross, there are only a handful of other listings (the DC Metro Transit Authority, for example). And while many of these groups are expressly conservative, you won't find a single group – not one – with a progressive agenda. Not one. Was the ACLU involved, to make sure that our civil liberties are factored into emergency discussions? Nope. Obviously, that's not part of the equation here.

This is, in short, a deeply politicized, partisan, Republican deal. On its face.

What troubles me most of all, really, is the one other set of groups pledged as active participants – the media, in the form of the Ad Council, the NAB, the Outdoor Advertising Association, and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

...and then the deluge.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

This article has been adapted from an entry on This Modern World.

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