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January 24, 2003 PERMALINK
TGIF, Right Dubya?
(posted January 24 12:45 AM ET)

As the week winds down, it appears that this is the worst week for Bush, politically, since 9/11.

Poll after poll had Bush's approval falling back to earthly levels.

Mainstream journalists responded with an increased willingness to draw blood (See Boxgate and Jerry "Gay Plague" Thacker)

The week-long pro-war PR initiative wasn't helped by Rumsfeld who first insulted draftees, then France and Germany.

The initiative itself is failing on its merits.

The main argument, laid out in a Condi Rice op-ed, shows little sign of stopping the public opinion slide (See Joe Conason, 2nd item).

And one of the slivers of evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program, heavily hyped by the Bushies, was just shot down by weapons inspectors.

Finally, the Administration is already acting defensively as a result of its weaker political standing.

Bush has found it necessary to reverse course on ER services for the poor, and on its controversial AIDS panel nominee.

That's a bad week.

Not exactly the kind of ramp up a President wants for one of the most important State of the Union addresses ever.

Nine days ago, LiberalOasis raised the question: "Might this be the rare SOTU that actually hurts the President's poll numbers?"

It still a little crazy to fathom, and Bush's numbers are already pretty bruised.

But nothing that's happened in the last week has made the job any easier.

QUICK HIT

It's Tommy's Fault

Note how Ari Fleischer tried to the put blame for the now-scuttled Thacker nod on HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and off of Dubya:

...it is not a presidential appointment, it's an appointment that comes at the Cabinet level...

Thompson was already viewed as eager to leave the Administration. With support like this, he may be compelled to resign even quicker.

January 23, 2003 PERMALINK
Watch The Guy Who Has Nothing To Lose
(posted January 23 12:30 AM ET)
(edited January 23 10:30 AM ET)

Some thoughts on the recent Dem "cattle call" events: the Linn County Dem Banquet in Iowa, and the Naral Pro-Choice America Dinner.

The strongest crowd response in each? Howard Dean, no question.

He's got no money, little name ID, measly poll numbers. He's gotta scrap for every vote and every dollar.

And he's acting like it.

He doesn't have the luxury to worry about whether he's going to offend some constituency down the line.

He has to leave it on the stage, and he is.

Most of the top-tier of candidates who were at the Naral event wrote their speeches the way a lot of politicians do.

A lot of rote language, and a line or two tailor-made to be the media-friendly sound bite.

For Edwards it was "a chill wind blows tonight." For Kerry, "I trust women to make their own decisions, and you don't, Mr. President."

But Dean, seemingly working without a prepared text, instead ginned up the crowd with a gutsy takedown of the term "partial-birth abortion," calling it a divisive scare tactic.

By the end, he set his fire on Bush and the Rehnquist Five:

What in the world can they be thinking that they have the right to decide the life of a young woman who has the choice of adopting, keeping, or aborting.

They have live with that decision for the rest of [their] life. President Bush can go cut brush on his ranch in Crawford and not give it a second thought. We can do better.

And like a show biz pro, with the crowd in a fever pitch, he left the podium, left them wanting more, without even so much as a "Good night, please tip your wait staff."

Does this guarantee victory for Dean? Of course not.

But he is getting more press than a candidate at 2% normally would get, because reporters are seeing his potential.

And in low turnout caucuses and primaries, passion matters. In that category, Dean has the early lead.

As for some of the others...

Rev. Al Sharpton

As stated by the LA Times and ABC's The Note, Sharpton was the only other candidate to provoke a passionate crowd response at the NARAL event.

His smart, savvy, on-target and flat-out entertaining oratory gets increasingly seductive each time you hear it.

Which makes him all the more dangerous.

LiberalOasis discussed the danger of Sharpton back in August, but just to sum up again:

The main problem with Sharpton is not that he is anti-Semitic. (If Ed Koch gives him a pass, so should you.)

It's that he is recklessly selfish, to the point of disloyalty to his party and his causes.

That's why he endorsed Republican Al D'Amato in a "quid pro quo" (Sharpton's words) back in 1986.

And that's why, just two years ago, he humiliated NYC mayoral candidate Freddy Ferrer in a protracted public dance to secure his endorsement.

The crowd ate up Sharpton on Tuesday. More performances like that will surely lead to many pieces about how he has grown.

But he must be resisted nonetheless.

Sen. John Edwards

Based on the Naral event (which, granted, is just one event), he needs to show he can bring a crowd to its feet.

His speech was fine, but he needs to be better than fine.

However, he's a quick study, clearly he knows how to perform in front of a jury, and one must assume he saw Dean and Sharpton and took mental notes.

Recall that after he botched a Meet The Press interview, he dusted himself off, made some tweaks, and gave a much improved performance on This Week.

So LiberalOasis expects that he will find his groove, but if he takes too long to get it, the "lightweight" murmurs may grow louder.

(Click to watch video of the Linn County event and the Naral event.)

QUICK HIT

Another poll smacks Bush

This time it's the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll dragging Bush's approval down to 54%, and the MSNBC story minces no words.

But the most interesting part of the story is that there have been so many bad polls for Dubya, the Administration was forced to craft a talking point in response:

On Wednesday, White House officials said the president's numbers were certain to come down from their meteoric levels just after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and noted that former presidents Reagan and Clinton had approval ratings much lower at the same point in their presidencies. Both went on to huge victories ...

Points for effort, Karl. But we all know the point isn't that Bush can win in '04.

It's that he's screwing everything up now, voters are taking notice, and your response is to flog your unpopular plans even harder.

So, y'know Karl, good luck with all that.

January 22, 2003 PERMALINK
Wartime For Bonzo
(posted January 22 12 AM ET)

Hans Blix is cutting deals with Iraq.

The international community, led by France, is resisting war.

Nearly half the American public disapproves of how Bush is handling Iraq.

And about 70% want to give the inspectors significantly more time.

How does Dubya respond?

He gets testy:

This business about, you know, more time -- you know, how much time do we need to see clearly that he's not disarming?

As I said, this looks like a rerun of a bad movie and I'm not interested in watching it.

A prediction: that line won't make it into the State of the Union.

Bush's petulance is coming to the surface at precisely the wrong time (for his sake).

If there's one skill that a president must have, it's the ability to reassure a nervous public.

After 9/11, Bush did just that. He reassured the public that he was going kick much ass.

What he doesn't get is that the public, in general, has taken a breath since 9/11 and has expanded its world outlook.

It has no love of dictators with nuclear weapons, but it doesn't want reckless confrontation that will, in the end, make us less secure.

That's a nuanced stance, and Bush can't grasp it. He's still in "dead or alive" mode.

Meanwhile, it is indisputable that Bush's numbers are going down (the latest proof, ABC/W. Post has Bush dropping 7 points in the last month, to 59%).

The mainstream media is reporting such data, but with some restraint, taking the cue of ABC's The Note: "To say that President Bush is ╬sinking' in the polls... just might be a bit strong..."

Although there's reason to complain about the media emphasis of the data, there's a larger point -- why the data has come about.

Bush simply hasn't received good press in a while.

It may not always be overtly bad press. But neutral press hurts him too.

People got to hear arguments for and against his economic plan, and then rejected it.

People saw inspections moving forward, then heard Bush's rhetoric, and noticed it didn't match reality.

And people saw the massive disconnect between Korea strategy and Iraq strategy.

In turn, Bush lost the aura of invincibility, and with it, the ability to easily reassure the public and mute his critics.

And to show flashes of petulance, when people are increasingly questioning your competence, will only expedite his (yes) sinking poll numbers.

A cautionary note: many may be questioning Bush's competence, but not necessarily Bush's character.

There still seems to be some personal affinity for him. Notice that people rate some of personal qualities higher than his job approval in this recent Gallup poll.

But he's been in office long enough that people are moving past the surface charm.

And that's bad news for Bush.

When you're doing something as unprecedented as selling an unprovoked war, you gotta do more than bang on the table and say you're "sick and tired." People want the goods.

If he can't show ╬em in the State of the Union, or soon thereafter, he better pray the war goes smoothly.

Otherwise, his reassurance capabilities will be a touch hampered.

January 21, 2003 PERMALINK
Surprise, Tort Reform Can Hurt People
Those Who Have Already Been Hurt
(posted January 21 12:15 AM ET)

We may not hear much about malpractice tort reform coming out of Bush's mouth for some time.

That's because of the major media coverage given yesterday to Linda McDougal.

Ms. McDougal was given a double mastectomy after being misdiagnosed with cancer.

When sob stories like hers hit the air, austere caps on jury awards just sound cruel.

Without a payoff from John Edwards, McDougal drove the point home on NBC Nightly News (click "Free Video" icon), calling out to Bush:

Don't penalize the patients. Don't penalize the victims.

And her lawyer stuck it to Bush as well, on CNN:

President Bush intends to add additional harm to Linda and other victims. I mean, 98,000 people per year die of medical malpractice, not to mention the hundreds of thousands that are injured.

And the president wants to tell them, I don't care what you've been through, we're going to put a cap on your damages of $250,000.

Sure, there are messages that Bush can push back with to obscure the issue -- that the main cap is only on "pain and suffering" damages, that economic damages are not capped in his plan, and that punitive damages can be double economic damages.

But those points ignore that economic damages just pay back the cash that you have already lost.

It's the "pain and suffering" damages that can help victims, who have had their lives brutally altered, move forward with some dignity.

Nevertheless, it's the sob stories that put a human face on the issue.

Bush can parry with all talking points he wants, but he's still facing someone who suffered a mistaken double mastectomy.

That's why he's likely to lay low on the issue for the near future.

But the risk for him is, the next time he forces the issue, another sob story can easily bubble up to the surface.

Especially now that the media is probably on the lookout for them.

And maybe John Edwards' staff too.

(UPDATE Jan. 21 3:30 PM ET -- Some more insight on malpractice tort reform from PLA.)

January 20, 2003 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted January 20 12 AM ET)
(edited January 20 10:30 AM ET)

Death To Non-Cooperators

With American support for war growing softer, and with Tony Blair reportedly going wobbly, the White House went full throttle -- dispatching Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice to the five talkshows.

Early news coverage of the interviews focused on comments from Rumsfeld and Powell trying to nudge Saddam into exile.

But that's just a Hail Mary gambit (and it also helps them create a perception they're trying every option before war).

The main message of three was: we don't need no smoking gun, lack of Iraqi cooperation is enough for war.

This party line was previewed in yesterday's NY Times.

However, while the trio was consistent on the "cooperation" talking point, the rifts in the Administration still showed.

The key divergence: how to treat the discovery of the 11 empty chemical warheads last week.

On Friday, Ari Fleischer gave the official view:

The chemical warheads found by the inspectors were not...on the declared list that Iraq provided to the world...

The fact that Iraq is in possession of undeclared chemical warheads, which the United Nations says are in excellent condition, is and of itself a serious and troubling matter.

Powell and Rice echoed that view, linking it to the "cooperation" message point.

Here's Powell on CBS' Face The Nation:

The inspectors should not be sneaking around, trying to find out who might have something hidden. If Iraq were serious, they should be presenting everything that they have...

...The chemical warheads that were found earlier, on the rockets this week, [the] question whether that's a smoking gun or not is not the issue.

The issue is: once again, here are items, dangerous items, that were not reported by Iraq, that should have been reported. They should have been destroyed.

And Rice on NBC's Meet The Press:

[UN] Resolution 1441 set up a test for the Iraqis. After 12 years of deception, was the Iraqi regime ready to disarm? Was it ready to comply? Was it ready to fully cooperate? We are not seeing compliance....

...Instead, with Iraq...we're finding chemical weapons shells sitting around that the Iraqis just somehow forgot.

But Rumsfeld, on ABC's This Week, went his own way and downplayed the whole discovery:

One has to almost think that anything that's found, quote discovered, has to be something that Saddam Hussein was not uncomfortable having be found.

Why the inconsistency? NYT sheds some light:

Aides to Mr. Bush immediately labeled [the found warheads] as evidence that Iraq had failed to disclose all it was obliged to in its declaration.

But many in the administration lament that the discovery of the empty warheads presented a misleading model of what the inspectors were trying to do.

One official made the analogy to the Securities and Exchange Commission trying to audit a company's financial records, only to find that the company refused to hand them over.

This goes back to the whole dispute between the Powell and Rumsfeld factions whether or not to have inspections at all.

Said This Week pundit Fareed Zakaria:

I think the fear that the Administration has, the reason it is not sharing intelligence [with the inspectors], is that the inspectors will find something.

He then referenced this W. Post passage:

If inspectors had found something [emphasis original], Rumsfeld groused to reporters, "the argument might then have been that inspections were in fact working and, therefore, they should be given more time to work."

So now, all the Administration is left with is a "cooperation" argument, and as NYT also reports:

Some officials acknowledge that basing a cause for military action against Iraq on its passive noncooperation, rather than concrete evidence of illegal weapons, is the least desirable way to make a case among allies in the Security Council.

Faced with an uphill battle, and a slippage in domestic and international support, the Bushies decided to ramp up the PR offensive early, before the inspectors submit their formal report next Monday.

But with the UN officials reaching out to the Iraqis, and the Iraqis playing ball with them, the warmongers have their work cut out for them.

Affirmative Waffling

Both Rice and Powell gave particularly weak performances trying to square their respective views on affirmative action with their boss's.

Rice made a notable move on Friday, releasing her own statement insisting she believes that race should be a factor in school admissions.

That came after a story, seemingly engineered by the White House, saying Rice played a major role in Bush's decision to oppose U. Michigan's affirmative action system.

Why would Rice feel the need to partially distance herself from Bush?

Perhaps because she's thinking about challenging Sen. Barbara Boxer in solidly Democratic California next year.

But despite her interest in having a relatively moderate position, she still refused to explicitly acknowledge how affirmative action helped her career:

RUSSERT: Do you believe that you personally have ever benefited from affirmative action?

RICE: I have said that I benefited at Stanford University from the fact that they were trying to diversify their faculty.

I went to Stanford as a young fellow fresh out of graduate school. I'd never had a job doing anything.

I think they saw a person that they thought had potential, and, yes, I think they were looking to diversify the faculty.

She wouldn't let the words "affirmative action" pass her lips when discussing her own life, which might have generated headlines, angered conservatives and embarrassed Bush.

Politically deft, but substantively disingenuous.

Powell, on the other hand, had to deal with his own passionate words at the 2000 Republican convention, which were thrown back at him on CNN's Late Edition:

We must understand the cynicism that exists in the black community.

The kind of cynicism that is created when, for example, some in our party miss no opportunity to roundly and loudly condemn affirmative action that helped a few thousand black kids get an education.

But you hardly hear a whimper when it's affirmative action for lobbyists who load our federal tax code with preferences for special interests. It doesn't work.

In response to his own argument, Powell did what he does so well -- mask his true feelings and cover for his boss:

One thing I'm absolutely sure is that President Bush is committed to diversity in education...It's just that he found that the University of Michigan case did not meet what he believed was a constitutional test.

But what was most strange in both interviews was the admission that Bush's legal brief in the Michigan case intentionally ducks the key issue: is it constitutional to use race in university admissions?

From Meet The Press:

RUSSERT: But [your position is] at odds with the president's brief.

RICE: No, it's not at odds. The president's brief is silent on this matter.

And I think it's wholly appropriate for the president, as opposed to a former university administrator¸it is wholly appropriate and I think best for the president to remain silent on this and to leave to the courts the question of the limits of the Constitution in the pursuit of diversity.

And Late Edition:

POWELL: I think what the President has done in this case is to leave open the possibility for the court to make a judgment as to how race can or can not be used.

And he restricted the brief that he submitted...to the merits of the Michigan case.

Similarly, on Face The Nation:

POWELL: The manner in which the brief has been filed to the court allows the court to make its choice on the Michigan case, but doesn't go to the underlying issues.

Both make a completely ridiculous argument, in defense of a completely ridiculous brief.

You don't file a legal brief with the Supreme Court just the let the justices know that they are free to make whatever judgment they wish.

That's not exactly new information for them.

You file because you have an interest in the outcome, in what legal precedent is going to be set that will affect every American.

To submit a brief that ignores the overarching issue facing the Court is to unnecessarily kill a tree.

Powell's and Rice's comments are more evidence that Bush treated the case as a pure political matter -- one to escape, not to tackle -- and abdicated the Administration's unique role to weigh in on historic cases on behalf of the public.

Clip 'n' Save Quote

From ABC's This Week:

RUMSFELD: [The White House] Office of Management and Budget estimated [war with Iraq] would be something under 50 billion dollars.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Outside estimates say up to 300 billion.

RUMSFELD: Baloney.

Remember to get out your calculators after the war is over.

Protest Impact

The huge anti-war protests on Saturday had an impact on the Sunday shows, with every show mentioning the large turnout, most showing visuals, and Russert asking Rice if this really is about "blood for oil."

Also, excerpts of MoveOn's dramatic TV ad were shown on This Week and Late Edition.

(For more on media coverage of the protests, check out this piece from Intervention Magazine.)

BEST OF THE BLOG LAST WEEK

Lean Left on Bush's welfare proposal

Groupthink Central on Labor's tough election battle in Israel

Daily Kos on the difficulties awaiting US troops in the Gulf

The Sideshow on public ignorance about Iraq and the 9/11 hijackers

Bear Left on Bush's miserly foreign aid budget

The Sandbox
Humor By John Cougarstein

Oldies & Oddities, a weekly program of San Diego's KKSM radio, recently announced that John Cougarstein's hit, "Total Collapse of Dick's Heart," was the Number 1 requested song of 2002.

Leaving John Ashcroft's "Let The Eagles Soar" far off in the dust at Number 24.

To mark the occasion, the lyrics are reprinted below. You can also download the MP3 at Iuma.com.

Total Collapse of Dick's Heart
Lyrics by John Cougarstein

Sung to "Total Eclipse of the Heart"

(Come around)
Every now and then I get a little bit worried that you're never coming 'round

(Come around)
Every now and then I get a little bit tired memorizing nuclear codes by myself

(Come around)
Every now and then I know I'll never get the budget without all the cartoons you draw

(Come around)
Every now and then I need you to remind me not to dance in front of John Ashcroft

(Come around, Big Dick)
Every now and then I fall apart

(Come around, Big Dick)
Every now and then I fall apart

(Come around)
Every now and then I mix up King Hussein of Jordan and Saddam Hussein of Iraq

(Come around)
Every now and then I tell a racist joke in front of Colin Powell 'cuz I forget he is black

(Come around)
Every now and then I get a little bit edgy and I need you to score me some blow

(Come around)
Every now and then I wonder why did they cancel "Small Wonder," that was such a good show

(Come around, Big Dick)
Every now and then I fall apart

(Come around, Big Dick)
Every now and then I fall apart

And I need you now tonight
and I need you more than ever

I lost the number for Condi Rice
and I lost a rematch with Grenada

And I can't call my Dad for advice
'cuz he's cutting me off

Together we can make it to the end of the term
I promise not to stain Lynne's dress with my sperm

I really need you tonight
Grenada kicked my ass tonight
Grenada kicked my ass tonight

Once upon a time it was parties and brew
now they make me work until dark

Don't know what to do
Total collapse of Dick's heart

Once I was the dumbest guy in the room
[silence]

Don't know what to do
Total collapse of Dick's heart

For more Cougarstein, check out The Cougarstein Ramble and download Cougarstein songs at Iuma.com

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

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