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The daily view from the oasis

January 16, 2004 PERMALINK
The Bush Cycle Spins Some More
(posted Jan. 16 1:15 AM ET)

As noted here, USA Today tried last week to tell its readers Bush's approval was growing, even though its poll had his approval dropping 3 points.

Yesterday, it was the Wall Street Journal's turn.

The latest NBC/WSJ poll showed Dubya's approval dropping from 58% to 54% (and disapproval shooting up 7 points to 41%).

That essentially returned Bush to the 52%-41% approval-disapproval he had in that poll the day before Saddam's capture.

And it's more evidence that the Bush Cycle -- how Bush only gains support after dramatic events, and always steadily returns to earth thereafter -- is still in force.

Yet how did WSJ sum up the poll?

...a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows President Bush has preserved much of the political benefit derived from the economic recovery and the capture last month of...Saddam Hussein.

In fact, WSJ didn't even mention what his overall approval rating was, let alone that it declined.

But the slanted analysis by WSJ isn't what's most important here.

There are two more important points.

1. The next time something big happens that gooses Dubya's numbers -- yes, even nabbing Osama -- there is no reason to assume the resulting poll spike will be permanent.

(That's not a reason to delay thinking about a post-Osama environment.

As argued here after the Saddam capture, LO still strongly urges Dems to start making a broader critique on how Bush is mishandling the war on terror that does not fall into the all-about-one-man trap.)

2. The current downward phase of the Bush Cycle is evidence that Bush is struggling to move beyond his base.

This month, he tried to maintain his latest spike with efforts to appeal to the middle: immigration reform, and missions to the moon and Mars.

But polls show both plans fell flat with voters. In turn, the Bush Cycle stayed in force.

Karl Rove hasn't figured out how to break the Bush Cycle. And he's running out of time.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

January 15, 2004 PERMALINK
Can Anyone Spin Second?
(posted Jan. 15 1:30 AM ET)

In the '92 NH primary, Bill Clinton lost to Paul Tsongas by 8 points.

He audaciously acted like he won going away, dubbing himself "The Comeback Kid." The rest is history.

In the '00 NH Primary, Bill Bradley lost to Al Gore by 5 points.

Bradley called it a "remarkable turnaround," but his demeanor betrayed his words. He never won a single primary.

The moral of the story: sometimes it's not whether you win or lose, but how you spin the game.

Now, the spin game is getting very tricky for everybody.

As is widely known, the early contests are often about beating expectations. But the expectations have been sloshing around.

However, if there is one thing that's shaping expectations right now it's the Zogby tracking poll, the only daily poll on Iowa publicly available.

ABC's The Note recently dubbed the poll "crack for the weak."

That's because not only is polling in Iowa notoriously unreliable, tracking polls aren't even meant to provide hard figures. They simply gauge movement.

But clearly the entire political press corps are Zogby crack junkies because every tick in the poll is the explicit or implicit starting point for much of the current coverage.

(The Note also notes that a Des Moines Register poll is slated for Sunday. That will likely affect expectations as well.)

Yesterday, the Zogby poll showed a virtual three-way tie, with Dean falling to 24% and Gephardt and Kerry at 21% (new results may well be released by the time you read this).

With the race fully tightened, most likely there will be no worse-than-expected first place finishes.

Dean can win by 1% and easily spin it as a victory for the people against the vicious attacks of the Establishment.

Gephardt can win by 1%, and easily spin it as a victory for his "tortoise" campaign strategy, defying the naysayers who said he was old news.

And of course, a Kerry or Edwards win would be a major surprise that would spin itself.

Where the spin has to get more creative is in the second and third place finishes.

There are all sorts of bars that have been amorphously set by the pols and journos.

Gephardt must win or he's out. A Dean second may mean he's hit a wall, though he has the resources to continue. A Kerry or Edwards second would be a surprise.

All that bar-setting is the game that politicians have learned to play.

But great politicians aren't slaves to the game. They turn the game on its head. That's what Clinton did in '92.

Winning a tight race in Iowa may be the test of organizational strength, no small thing.

But turning a less-than-expected second (Gephardt? Dean?) or any sort of third place (Kerry? Edwards?) into its own victory?

That's a test of political skill and inner confidence. To do that requires far more than just mouthing some fighting words.

And seeing who could pull that off may be just as fascinating to watch as seeing who actually wins.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

January 14, 2004 PERMALINK
Operation Puppet Government, Take 32
(posted Jan. 14 12 AM ET)

Do the Bushies think that Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani can't get the NY Times?

Sistani, apparently not being an idiot, has been seeing through Bush's transparent attempts to dress up a complex system of caucuses and appointments to choose an interim government as actual democracy.

(As LiberalOasis argued in November, the White House fears real democracy because that won't result in their boy Chalabi taking over.)

After the most recent rebuff from Sistani, the Administration is trying to say that its flexible. As the NYT reported yesterday:

Now that Ayatollah Sistani has rejected the system as not democratic enough, administration officials said they were intensifying efforts in all of Iraq's governorates and in cities and towns to hold local meetings to select delegates to the caucuses.

But in the next line, the Bushies tip their hand:

The new hope in Washington, the officials said, was in effect to make the caucus system look more democratic without changing it in a fundamental way.

Translation: let's try to snow a guy that we haven't been able to snow for months.

And tell the entire world about it in the paper. Brilliant.

Sistani probably already felt burned.

He initially signaled that he supported the US plan for a transitional government, but backed away, most likey after realizing the details didn't match the sell job.

Not a way to build trust.

So more than likely, he's hip to Bush's game.

And seeing in print that more smoke and mirrors are afoot won't entice him to cut a deal.

Now, last night on CNN, Viceroy Paul Bremer floated a new plan: direct elections for a few Shiite areas, including Baghdad, and more easily manipulated caucuses elsewhere.

But he insisted that complete direct elections were unworkable at the present time.

Will that fly with Sistani? Doubtful.

Sure, it's always possible that Sistani will blink, perhaps because he's worried about increasing Shiite unrest in Iraq getting worse.

Though Juan Cole suggests Sistani is more worried about what unrest could follow an illegitimately created Iraqi government.

And the way the Bushies have handled this, doesn't make it likely Sistani will be so easily played.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

January 13, 2004 PERMALINK
Who's Attacking Who?
(posted Jan. 13 1:45 AM ET)

Let's put something in perspective.

Dean attacked Gephardt in a TV ad on the war.

Gephardt attacked Kerry, Edwards, Dean, and Lieberman for their past trade positions.

Kerry attacked Clark for not being a true Democrat, and for his recent lobbyist past.

Clark attacked Dean for proposing to re-regulate certain industries, and for his lack of foreign policy experience.

Edwards attacked Dean over his Confederate flag comment, and for his ╬98 comment knocking the Iowa caucuses.

Clark attacked Edwards for using Gen. Hugh Shelton as an adviser.

Dean attacked Kerry for lacking "the courage to stand up" on some issues, and on his farm policy views.

Edwards attacked Gephardt for voting for fast-track trade legislation.

Dean attacked Clark for flip-flopping on the war, and for not being a true Democrat.

Gephardt attacked Dean, Edwards and Kerry, saying they support policies that lead to "slave labor and sweatshops".

Lieberman attacked Clark and Dean, saying they would have kept Saddam in power.

Edwards attacked everyone for attacking each other.

This, of course, isn't even a comprehensive list.

Why bother mentioning all of this?

Because we're heading into the final days before the first Dem contests, and attacks will be flying faster than ever.

It will be near-impossible to check the accuracy of all of them.

Diehard supporters of one candidate will complain about the unfair attacks from the others, while insisting all their candidate is doing is mere responding or crystallizing differences on issues.

When the truth is no one is a saint, no one is the devil, and most everyone is open to being called a hypocrite.

(Note that Dean, Kerry and Clark have stated they will run a "positive campaign," while Edwards has essentially said as much by attacking the attacks.)

Welcome to politics.

In any event, few Dems are looking for the nicest candidate.

They're looking for a candidate who is tough enough, engaging enough and savvy enough to have the best chance of beating Bush.

And a good scrum will be helpful in figuring out who can stand the heat -- because no one will survive running a strictly positive campaign come November.

Having said that, no one wants to back a guy who plays dirty. We still have principles, even when faced with the prospect of four more years of Dubya.

But with the state of the media what it is, objective referees are hard to come by.

Trying to determine what's a fair, factual attack and what's unfair distortion is hard, and it will get even harder as the campaign becomes a frenzied blur.

(And trying to get to the bottom of possible "dirty tricks" in speedy fashion is really hard, though Talking Points Memo is looking into one allegation.)

So it's practically futile to try to base your decision on who is the cleanest campaigner.

And arguably, it's more important to determine who can best survive and thrive in a hostile campaign environment.

So far, we've only seen Dean get a critical mass of attacks. Therefore, he's the only one we've had to chance to assess.

(Unless you're in Iowa, where the attacks on Gephardt, Kerry, and maybe soon Edwards, are stepping up.)

On one hand, you could say Dean's showed he has the grit and tenacity to be able to stand his ground under enormous pressure.

On the other, the attacks make him seem like the most controversial choice, which has caused a bit of slippage in some polls.

But now that Clark has moved up in some national and NH polls, it looks like his turn is next.

Good. Just as it would be best for a fresh face like Dean to be tested before getting the nod, same with Clark.

And it will be useful to many to have a basis for comparison.

In addition to learning more about Clark's views and record, we'll also find out if Clark is more or less adept than Dean in handling attacks?

Of course, if Gephardt wins Iowa, or if Kerry and Edwards pull off a big surprise, they'll attract more attacks too.

In many ways, this stage of the primary season isn't fun.

The attacks are unseemly.

It isn't pleasant seeing people, most of whom you'd be willing to support in November, being nasty to one another.

And it's natural to worry about what the long-term impact of all these attacks will be.

But it's necessary. It's inevitable. And we'll have a strong candidate at the end because of it.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

January 12, 2004 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
(posted Jan. 12 1:45 AM ET)

All hail Paul O'Neill!

As Treasury Secretary, the man didn't know how to talk about currency markets in public.

As a civilian, he sure knows how to expose the Administration.

His Sunday interview on 60 Minutes, along with author Ron Suskind who wrote The Price of Loyalty using O'Neill as the primary source, was simply devastating to Dubya and Cheney.

(Suskind, you may recall, did the famous "Mayberry Machiavellis" piece for Esquire back in '02.)

60 Minutes was one bombshell after another:

-- Plotting the Iraq war way before 9/11

-- The March '01 Pentagon doc titled, "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts"

-- Cheney dismissing giant deficits because they can't stop re-election

-- Bush admitting privately that his tax cuts are for the rich

-- Don Rumsfeld warning O'Neill not to cooperate with Suskind

The Sunday morning shows were able to address some of the revelations, because on Saturday, CBS released excerpts and Time had its own O'Neill interview.

And the W. Post had a Sunday piece as well.

On CNN's Late Edition, Commerce Secretary Don Evans was made to dance the most, though he mainly took the "I'm not going to respond to a book that's not out yet" tack.

Wolf Blitzer did ask Evans several questions about O'Neill's comments, but unfortunately he didn't ask him the obvious follow-up:

If you won't respond, why is the Administration responding anonymously in the press by smearing O'Neill?

The stock blind quote they're giving -- variations of which have popped up in several articles:

We didn't listen to [O'Neill's] wacky ideas when he was in the White House, why should we start listening to him now?

Wacky ideas, like, balancing a budget?

Over on ABC's This Week, Treasury Secretary John Snow was hit with O'Neill's recounting of when he pressed Cheney on deficits.

Cheney scoffed, "Reagan proved deficits don't matter."

Snow didn't directly defend Cheney or his words, saying:

The Administration's made it clear that they do matter.

And he even moved away (intentionally?) from the Administration line that the deficits are "manageable."

Snow said:

We're not happy about the size of these deficits. They're larger than they should be.

Recall that the original deficit line was "modest and manageable", which was cut to just "manageable" last July when the deficit got too big to call it "modest" with a straight face.

Now it's "larger than they should be." What's next? Bigger than a bread basket, yet smaller than a beanstalk?

On the Dem side, John Kerry was on NBC's Meet The Press, Dick Gephardt on CBS' Face The Nation, and Joe Lieberman on Fox News Sunday and CNN's Late Edition.

Dems should have been amplifying and driving the O'Neill revelations in a comprehensive fashion, as a way to shatter notions of Bush's moral clarity.

But the overall response was lacking.

Kerry wasn't even asked by Tim Russert to respond to the O'Neill news, but Kerry didn't work it in either.

On Fox, Lieberman smartly concluded that O'Neill was fired for speaking the truth on the deficit. But he wouldn't be Joe Lieberman if he left it there.

His response to the charge that Iraq was being cooked up pre-9/11, was mainly that he wanted to get Saddam since the early 90s.

Try not to hurt yourself as you roll your eyes.

And Gephardt lacked any sense of the jugular.

When asked if O'Neill's remarks should be taken seriously, instead a proper, "Hell, yes," he offered:

Well, I think he obviously spent a lot of time with the president, and his comments should be looked at.

I haven't seen them and I don't know exactly whether or not he's, you know, what he has said and whether it's correct.

The "I haven't seen it" line is what you say when a guy on your side is in trouble, not when it's the other guy!

Later on Sunday, in the MSNBC/Telemundo "Brown and Black" debate, only Dennis Kucinich mentioned O'Neill, saying:

...now we find from Secretary O'Neill that the president was planning on attacking Iraq before 9/11, and that the American people in effect have been misled about this.

Everybody ought to be talking about this.

Listen up Dems. He's right.

QUICK HIT

Is It The Economy Stupid? Or The Stupid Economic Team?

Snow and Evans, Bush's economic duo, tried to talk up the economy yesterday.

But they only proved their inability to face up to reality on jobs.

From CNN's Late Edition:

BLITZER: ...what are the number of jobs lost since the Bush administration took office?

EVANS: Wolf, I don't know the exact number...

Obviously, he doesn't want to have the words come out of his mouth, and would rather dodge.

But not even know the number?! C'mon, don't insult the audience.

(For the record, it's now 2.4M private-sector jobs lost since the recession began in March '01.)

Over at ABC's This Week, Snow won the prize for Best Bald-faced Delusional Spin:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You said [in October] that:

"Everything we know about economics indicates that the sort of economic growth expected for next year, 3.8 to four percent, will translate into two million new jobs from the third quarter of this year to the third quarter of next year.

"That's an average of about 200,000 new jobs a month."

But when you look at the third quarter of this year, it's only about a third of that: 100,000 in October, 43,000 in November, only 1,000 in December.

And even last February, the president's advisers said the tax cuts are going to create 510,000 new jobs this year.

And instead we've lost 74,000.

Why didn't the president's tax cut create these jobs you promised?

SNOW: Well George, we're in a good recovery...

Hate to see a bad recovery.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

The Sandbox
Humor Column by Mark Spittle

Bush In 41.2 Seconds

Viewing the great selection of amateur political ads being generated over at MoveOn.org's Bush in 30 Seconds competition, I decided to work up my own bit.

I misunderstood the rules, however, and didn't realize that the resulting film was supposed to last 30 seconds... I thought that was the amount thought one was supposed to put into it.

Anyway, here's your pal Mark Spittle's very own anti-Bush ad. It came in too late to submit to MoveOn.org, but it broke a few of the competition rules anyway.

Too bad, because I think of all the political ads ever made, this one truly captures what we really want to hear during an election cycle. And, as always, everything in it is absolutely, irrefutably true.

Click here for the Bush In 41.2 Seconds ad.

Mark Spittle is one half of the political satire duo Spittle & Ink. He is a former Washington lobbyist and congressional assistant.

**************

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