In the wake of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's recent regional upping of the terrorist threat level, former prez candidate Gov. Howard Dean has accused the DHS of jacking the rainbow whenever the Bush administration has a bad week.
However unfounded Dean's statment may be, Ridge's response is equally dubious: "We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland Security." Of course you don't, Tommy. After all, you're a political appointee in a presidential administration. Politics is the last thing that enters your mind.
Which isn't to say that this particular warning was sent out in order to boost Bush's poll numbers. But it's a totally plausible charge and one that underscores an often-overlooked problem in fighting the war on terror: the public's justifiably cynical attitude toward all sorts of government proclamations.
In its current form, this skepticism goes back at least to LBJ's credibility gap on Vietnam and various Nixonian machinations (ranging from his "secret plan" to end the war in Southeast Asia to his secret bombings in the same place to Watergate and more). Ford's pardon of Nixon stunk to high heaven and Carter's presidency just stunk. Reagan had more than a few credibility problems (e.g., Iran-Contra) and he also (legitimately) talked about government as the "problem"–a shtick that helped him take control of the very institution whose credibility he undermined. Poppy Bush dissembled on Iran-Contra (and his tax pledge) and Clinton was simply breathtaking when it came to highly suspicious actions. Does anyone really believe that the precise timing of air strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan and the Balkans just happened to coincide with Monica Lewinsky's testimony and his impeachment trial?
While never the out-and-out government critic that Reagan was, Dubya took office being skeptical of government solutions to most problems, yet his years in office have alienated hard-core conservatives such as Pat Buchanan as much as they have lunatic-fringe lefties. His administration's penchant for secrecy and the undermining of most of the pre-war intelligence don't help him seem like a politics-free sort of guy. Neither does his half-assed capitulation to the 9/11 commission's recommendations re: reorganizing U.S. intelligence operations.
All that and more (e.g., ongoing government farces such as the crap science and rhetoric coming out of the drug czar's office) add up to a public that is rightly dubious about all official pronouncements.
Given that Bush that is president in no small part to the anti-government rhetoric the GOP has mastered, it's more than a little ironic (and scary for the rest of us) that such an attitude may make it harder for him to prosecute the war on terror. But trust is easy to lose and hard to earn–and to keep. And the past 30 years haven't made that any easier.