Flashback: As I watched the debate last night while IMing with a person of a different persuasion, I typed in the comment “Amy Carter” at the point where Kerry started talking about “nuclear proliferation.” First, here are the two similar-sounding sound bites from last night and the famous “Amy Debate” of 1980:
JIM LEHRER: If you are elected president, what will you take to that office thinking is the single most serious threat to the national security to the United States?
KERRY: Nuclear proliferation. Nuclear proliferation. There’s some 600-plus tons of unsecured material still in the former Soviet Union and Russia. At the rate that the president is currently securing it, it’ll take 13 years to get it. I did a lot of work on this. I wrote a book about it several years ago — six, seven years ago — called “The New War,” which saw the difficulties of this international criminal network. And back then, we intercepted a suitcase in a Middle Eastern country with nuclear materials in it. And the black market sale price was about $250 million. Now, there are terrorists trying to get their hands on that stuff today. And this president, I regret to say, has secured less nuclear material in the last two years since 9/11 than we did in the two years preceding 9/11.
HOWARD K. SMITH: President Carter, you have the last word on this question.
CARTER: I think, to close out this discussion, it would be better to put into perspective what we’re talking about. I had a discussion with my daughter, Amy, the other day, before I came here, to ask her what the most important issue was. She said she thought nuclear weaponry – and the control of nuclear arms. This is a formidable force. Some of these weapons have 10 megatons of explosion. If you put 50 tons of TNT in each one of railroad cars, you would have a carload of TNT – a trainload of TNT stretching across this nation. That’s one major war explosion in a warhead. We have thousands, equivalent of megaton, or million tons, of TNT warheads. The control of these weapons is the single major responsibility of a President, and to cast out this commitment of all Presidents, because of some slight technicalities that can be corrected, is a very dangerous approach.
First, let me say I agree with John Kerry and Amy Carter (and Jim Lileks for that matter, but I don’t have time to search down a link to his essay on this topic). However, I find both answers far removed from the personal fear I have regarding a terrorist walking around with a suitcase containing a nuclear device. First Kerry and Carter attempt to establish their expertise on the topic in, well, interesting ways: “I had a discussion with my daughter, Amy.” “I wrote a book about it several years ago.” Then they wade into some statistical didactics that leave viewers scratching their heads. “Nuclear proliferation.” “Nuclear weaponry.” In 2004, those terms seem so academic and, what, Cold War era?
Why not say something like, “If the war on terror has several fronts, the Normandy invasion of this war should be aimed at ridding the world of nuclear weapons…and that includes our own.” Beschloss was right: Adlai Stevenson vs. John Wayne. (Halley, on the other hand, thinks it was Abe Lincoln vs. Alfred E. Neuman [although her spelling of his name shows she hasn’t wasted as much time with Mad Magazine as I have]. See what I mean? Inkblot test.)