‘October surprise’ could be crucial

I sometimes like to think of President Bush as a magician. He made $100 billion disappear, along with 1,000 American lives. He made weapons of mass destruction appear out of thin air in Iraq, then they disappeared just as quickly. He pulled Saddam Hussein out of a hole in the desert. What magic trick will Bush try next before November?

In presidential elections, there is something called the “October Surprise.” It is a political maneuver, a strategy of last resort, a final effort to win votes by doing something spectacular just before the election. It could be passing a law, cutting taxes, or saving a litter of puppies from a burning building. Not every candidate does it, but it has been done.

The origin of the October Surprise came when Ronald Reagan, the Republican candidate for president in 1980, allegedly tried to stop President Jimmy Carter’s negotiations with the Iranians for the release of 52 American hostages. Carter’s goal was to free them before November, making an October Surprise of his own. Supposedly, if the Iranians agreed to keep the hostages until after the election, Reagan would secretly supply them with weapons. Reagan was elected, the hostages were freed not a half hour after his inauguration, and it was later discovered someone in his administration was giving weapons to Iran.

Thus, the October Surprise was born, and many believe there will be another October Surprise this year. Of course, some Web sites are counting on it. One site, www.octobersurprise.net, lets visitors vote on what they think the surprise will be. So far, about 38 percent of 16,000 voters think U.S. forces will capture Osama bin Laden. Another site has taken this one step further, allowing visitors to bet on when they think bin Laden will be found.

The Associated Press reported in January that the U.S. military was “sure” it would catch bin Laden sometime this year, according to Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty. In early September, Reuters carried a similar story.

“If he (bin Laden) has a watch, he should be looking at it because the clock is ticking. He will be caught,” said Cofer Black, U.S. state department coordinator for counter-terrorism.

Last month, The Buffalo News asked readers to write in and comment on whether they thought bin Laden was captured. A lot of readers speculated that the military had already found him, or would very soon.

Osama bin Laden is not the only rabbit Bush could pull out of his hat. Newspapers from the Cleveland Plain Dealer to the International Herald Tribune have printed stories discussing the possibility of opening another front in Iran. While the military lacks the manpower, and another war might hurt Bush’s re-election chances, the development of a potential nuclear threat may bring voters to his side.

If the escalation of a new conflict in the Middle East is not exciting enough, how does a complete withdrawal from Iraq sound? Syndicated columnist Robert Novak has told CNN some sources high in the Bush administration say a pullout is inevitable sometime soon, but it would be convenient if it happened this month. This way Bush can say he brought our men and women home safe and sound, and give us one less reason not to vote for him.

Finally, the most unfortunate October Surprise would be another terrorist attack in America. Homeland Security warned us is could happen, and granted it does seem like if terrorists were waiting for a good time to attack, that time is now.

I would not go so far as to suggest Bush would have anything to do with another attack, but at the very least he could exploit the public’s fear and convince them of the need for an experienced leader in a time of crisis.

At this point it is all speculation, but keep in mind as the election gets closer that only time will tell if this is all just smoke and mirrors.

Torin Sweeney can be reached at email4t@temple.edu.

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