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Leading With The Left
February 7, 2003 PERMALINK
The insider media threw an elbow at Howard Dean yesterday and he should respond.
ABC's The Note (via Political Wire) said:
Has he boxed himself in a bit on Iraq?
He has said the United States should go in Iraq in the face of convincing evidence of weapons of mass destruction.
Now, with his Democratic rivals all talking about how powerful the evidence is, he is left arguing that the evidence doesn't show that.
The New Republic blog &c took it farther, criticizing, "the gaping hole in Dean's logic...The man just isn't serious."
While the broader public isn't hearing this (or focused on Dean, or focused on the campaign), the punditocracy and the campaign beat reporters surely are.
That's a problem for Dean, because as the candidate most starving for cash, he needs the media on his side.
A lingering perception that he is being politically expedient, just playing to the base, and not sincere and smart in his views, could diminish the amount of his coverage.
So, he should take the criticism head on.
And fast, because once the bombs drop, all the candidates (except perhaps Kucinich and Sharpton) will have a practical need to nominally support the president.
If Dean is invited back to Meet The Press this Sunday (after being bumped last week), he'll have no choice but to explain his views in detail.
(UPDATE Feb. 7 2:30 PM ET -- No Dean on MTP Sunday.)
Regardless, it would be a good idea to give a real foreign policy speech and give his stance some intellectual heft.
(And by the way, get some foreign policy material on the campaign web site.)
LiberalOasis has a suggestion of how it should go.
Before that, keep in mind that what Dean has already said on the issue:
-- He's not a pacifist
-- If he was a congressman, he would not voted for the war resolution, but for the Biden-Lugar alternative, which called for multilateral action, but not for regime change
-- If there was hard evidence that Iraq was an imminent threat, he would go to the UN immediately. If he could not get support, he'd attack unilaterally in 60 days
-- He said Powell's presentation did not make the case for "unilateral" action
And now, the rough outline of the speech Howard Dean should give:
War is certainly on the horizon, and I will fully support the president and the troops in that event.
But as a candidate for president, I have an obligation to explain how a President Dean would handle the current situation in Iraq.
Saddam Hussein is a murderous tyrant, and the people of Iraq and the world would be better off without him.
Sadly, he is not the only murderous tyrant in this world.
And while the proud US military can certainly take out Hussein, war always has unintended consequences.
Which is why we never choose war unless it is truly the last recourse.
It remains unclear to me, and to many Americans, why Iraq now?
Last fall, the message from the Bush Administration was that Saddam was one year away from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Of course, an operational nuclear weapons program would be an urgent threat and clear violation of past UN resolutions.
If there was evidence to support that, and I was president, I would not hesitate to present it to the UN, and I am confident I could secure committed international backing.
However, we don't hear any more the warning that Saddam is a year, or less than a year away, from a nuclear weapon.
In fact, Bush's arguments have been shifting and sloshing around during this entire process, culminating in Colin Powell's presentation this week.
Powell's presentation made one thing fairly clear.
Based on the recorded conversations among Iraqi officials, it appears that Iraq is trying to hide something.
But there is no evidence to suggest that the something is nuclear in nature.
Most likely, what is being hidden involves chemical and biological weapons, which obviously are serious problems.
Yet they do not pose nearly as ominous a threat as nuclear weapons would.
Since Saddam's overall arsenal is so depleted, thanks to what the inspectors and military action achieved in the 1990s, what chemical and biological weapons he may still possess are unlikely to add up to an imminent threat.
Saddam knows full well that if he ever attacked another nation with such weapons, the might of the US would strike him down.
And Saddam, unlike those in Al Qaeda, has no interest in being a martyr. On the contrary, this man wants to stay in power.
Why does he have them? Probably to use in the event that he is attacked. He doesn't have the military to successfully attack someone else.
That doesn't excuse it. We still need to disarm him of such weapons and uphold the UN resolutions. But it argues against war as the means.
Now George Bush and Colin Powell say that there is still a risk that a mere vial of deadly poison could be passed to Al Qaeda and cause substantial damage.
Yet the evidence of an Al Qaeda link to Iraq was widely considered to be the weakest argument in Powell's presentation.
The intelligence is not persuasive and raises more questions than answers.
The only thing that would push two long-time rivals like Saddam and Osama together is if Saddam knew that his demise is forthcoming. Then he would have nothing to lose.
Otherwise, they are not natural partners.
Osama wants to reign over an Islamist-Fascist theocracy. Saddam wants to rule via a secular cult of personality.
The Bush Administration knows as much. That is part of the reason why it is considering heightening the color-coded threat level to orange.
Because the prospect of war is making us less safe.
If the threat was truly imminent, we would have to attack, despite the increased risk of terror at home.
But it isn't. We have other options.
We could enhance the inspection process by sharing our intelligence. If the Iraqis refuse to destroy suspected weapons sites, we can attack those sites.
I have also said that we should work with the UN and act multilaterally.
In turn, some have noted that Bush is doing so. And a second resolution explicitly backing war is still possible.
Furthermore, I have said that if we had real evidence, and the UN did not support military action, I would go in unilaterally.
And so some have stated that I should be on board now, following Powell's speech.
But I am still not supportive of Bush's approach to date.
Even if the UN eventually backs this war, it is all too obvious that the resolution will be the result of overwhelming pressure and arm-twisting, not because of a true commitment from the international community that war is the only way.
A coalition created through browbeating is not as strong and effective as a coalition forged with common purpose.
To those who say that is an unreasonable standard, I simply point them to the Persian Gulf War carried out with the leadership of George Herbert Walker Bush.
As far as the evidence is concerned, evidence that would be truly compelling -- a strong link to Sept. 11 or Al Qaeda, or of a nuclear program -- is not on the table.
None of this is to say that our brave military won't get the job done. I have no doubt they will.
And this is not to say that the world wouldn't be better off without Saddam. Because it would.
But for world's lone superpower to do it, in the role of aggressor, broadcast for the Arab world to see on Al Jazeera, will likely serve to create more terrorists, not less, and make us less safe, not more.
Again, I suspect it will soon be inappropriate for me to criticize the President's foreign policy, once any war begins. And so you may not hear me speak on this for some time.
But as a candidate for the office of president, I want the voters to know that in a Dean presidency, Al Qaeda would have been the primary focus.
North Korea, a far likelier candidate to sell weapons of mass destruction to terrorists, would not have been blithely neglected.
And Iraq would have been dealt with, in a sensible, steady, multilateral way.
February 6, 2003 PERMALINK
If nothing else, Conason shows how two people can look at the same set of facts and come to different conclusions.
Which, for the antiwar forces, is part of the problem.
While the evidence is subjective, Powell's forceful demeanor and perceived credibility are tough to trump with debating points.
And many Dems aren't going to try.
Sen. John Kerry, who got much play with his "Mr. President, do not rush to war" line, practically crumbled after the presentation.
Sen. John Edwards, who was quieter with his war waffling, did the same.
Of course, this is not much of a surprise, considering how the war resolution went down in Congress last fall.
The remaining question: will skittish Americans be won over?
The American media will surely tilt pro-war now, with too few Establishment figures willing to cross Powell and balance the coverage.
(The European media is not as easily swayed.)
Without critical coverage, it's hard for the majority of passive news watchers to accept that the arguments are suspect.
But there is hope.
Maybe, just maybe, people's skepticism has hardened enough that a single presentation, no matter how stylish, will not be enough.
If that is the case, it will be Bush's own fault.
Instead, he treated the war like a marketing project -- constantly teasing, trickling out "evidence," building the suspense, to the point of near-climax yesterday.
While that is the model to run a presidential campaign on (you never want to peak too early), it doesn't work as well when selling war.
Refusing to show your cards breeds skepticism and mistrust.
You give your other enemies ample ability to make mischief (It's no accident that N. Korea flipped the switch on its nuke plant yesterday).
And the dragged out timetable gives critics the opportunity to expose holes in the argument.
(For example, since we're likely not going in until March, critics have time to explain that the so-called link to Al Qaeda is arguably just playing Six Degrees of Osama.)
That's part of the reason why a recent Gallup poll showed half the nation is mistrustful of the Administration on Iraq.
So it remains a possibility that even a dose of Powell won't be enough to move those numbers.
And if France, Russia and/or China prevent a second UN resolution, that could influence the coverage and help keep the skepticism alive.
Of course, no matter how much skepticism is reflected in future polls, the war still goes on as scheduled and a lot of people die.
But a vocal, skeptical people puts pressure on the media.
And the more pressure, the more truth.
February 5, 2003 PERMALINK
What Dubya has done with his latest budget is known as the "dump truck" method of delivering bad news.
By dumping so much bad news at once, your critics have a tough time sifting through it and returning fire in a focused way.
The nature of the federal budget, of course, is ideal for the "dump truck."
The Dems initial handling of it was quite good (if a touch hyperbolic).
They hammered Bush on deficits, drove the charge of recklessness, and plausibly staked their own claim on the mantle of fiscal responsibility.
Most importantly, the Dem leadership wasn't looking for a worthless compromise (in keeping with the LiberalOasis 9-Point Plan). They were looking to draw blood.
Still, that was the easy part.
Now, Dems have to further the attack, without muddling the message with too many attack lines and an eye-glazing statistical overload.
The "Rule of 3" comes in handy at times like this.
Even though there are lots of targets, pick the top three you really want to drill repeatedly.
Also, an overarching theme couldn't hurt. In this case, an old favorite comes to mind: disingenuousness.
The game plan could look something like this:
1. Bush broke his promise. He wants to raise taxes on veterans.
Last year, George Bush told the nation, "not over my dead body will they raise your taxes."
Yet in Bush's budget proposal, certain veterans would have to pay a new tax to enroll in a veterans health care program.
Dubya calls this a "fee," not explicitly a tax.
But as his father's budget director once said in this regard, "if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck."
In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, there is "$2.1 billion in new or higher fees" in the Bush budget.
While the wealthy are being showered with tax cuts, why does Bush choose to break his pledge when it comes to veterans and their health care?
2. The Bush budget is all "bait-and-switch."
On energy: Bush said he wanted to wean us off of oil, but he cuts funding for energy-saving technology, and supports oil drilling in the environmentally-protected Alaskan wilderness.
On jobs: He claimed his plan would result in job growth, but he slashed investment in job training, and even predicted that unemployment wouldn't budge this year.
On education: He insists he is a backer of education, but he is withholding funds from his own education bill, and cut funds for rural schools and for comprehensive school reform.
3. Bush wouldn't admit to another $1.8 trillion of spending.
Bush's own numbers show a five-year deficit of more than $1 trillion.
But he doesn't include the cost of war with Iraq, which some estimate at as much as $300 billion.
He doesn't address reform of the alternative minimum tax -- which, as it stands, threatens to raise taxes on many middle-income families -- that may cost $500 billion.
And the budget doesn't include his proposal (mentioned in the SOTU) to partially privatize Social Security, which will likely cost $1 trillion.
All that would nearly triple the already record deficits that Bush has projected.
Which means Dubya is treating the government's books the way Johnny Depp treats a hotel room.
(Note to prez candidates: steal that line if you want).>
LiberalOasis has been remiss lately in calling attention to the pending appointment of the right-wing Miguel Estrada to the U.S. Court of Appeals and the fast track to the Supreme Court.
Best of the Blogs offers a thorough roundup.
A vote could happen today. Some Dems are considering a filibuster.
You can help by contacting your Senators and letting them know you demand one.
Book of the Month: What Liberal Media?
LiberalOasis is starting a new "Book of the Month" feature. Selected books will be plugged in the page header.
This month, it's Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media?
Based on the merciless excerpt available for free on the promotional website, this book can't lose.
February 4, 2003 PERMALINK
When pondering the Bush fiscal plan, the one that blows a $300B hole in the budget, one must also ponder the question that hangs over this entire Administration:
Are these guys audaciously brilliant or mind-numbingly idiotic?
Before answering, consider how Dubya's budget director handled a CNN query whether Bush cared about deficits:
...the deficit is one priority among many. And those who would make it our top priority will have to step forward and say what they wouldn't do.
Would they not prosecute the war on terror, would they not build homeland security?
Would they not act to try to generate more economic growth in this country and so forth?
Those are legitimate points of view, but the president has chosen to make it a high but not our highest priority.
Inherent in that answer is this bit of evil genius.
If it's 2004, and the economy is good, unemployment is down, Osama and Saddam are dead, and the deficit mushrooms to $500 billion, Bush wins in a cakewalk.
That's because few feel how the deficit impacts their day-to-day life.
So to position Bush on the side of economic growth, protecting the homeland and defeating terror -- at the expense of fiscal responsibility -- has potential.
But it also has its limits.
When the economy is bad, a huge deficit becomes an easy symbol of government incompetence, even though it is not directly responsible.
The obvious, if wrong, connection: if the government can't manage its books, then it can't manage the economy.
In that vein, the immediate problem for Dubya is that the economy is bad right now.
And he just willfully sparked a thousand headlines of light with the words "record deficit" in them.
All of which could have been easily avoided by never backing a dividend tax cut in the first place.
That one proposal exceeds the entire deficit in the Bush plan.
They surely knew as much when they proposed it. They chose not to care.
Why such recklessness?
Step back for a moment and revisit Poppy's presidency.
There was a reason why Bush the Elder didn't do anything to kickstart the economy -- basic Republican ideology.
In sum: The economy is cyclical. That's life. No need to panic with government meddling. Suck in your gut and ride out the bad times.
And today? Nothing's changed.
Sure, there's plenty of tax cuts and supply-side rhetoric thrown around nowadays.
But they are all long-term strategies, not intended to stimulate the current sluggish economy.
And the long-term game plan isn't really about ensuring a healthy economy.
It's about starving the government coffers, destroying the network of government services and paying off wealthy benefactors with tax cuts and privatization.
Because they don't believe they can (or should) help the economy.
Though following Poppy's demise, they do realize they have to fake it along the way.
But like Daddy, Dubya is essentially gambling that the economy will break out of the bust cycle just in time for ╬04.
And since it is all a gamble, why not shoot for the moon and try to grab all the right-wing goodies you can?
At least it looks like you're doing something.
Besides, if the cycle does turn up on it's own, you're a hero. If it doesn't, you were screwed anyway.
Which may sound like brilliance, but it's still idiocy.
Because every day that the budget picture and the economy look shaky, is a day where people lose confidence in the president.
To bet that you can turn the tables at the last minute is nothing but a foolish risk that you don't have to make.
And every Dem should be thankful that Dubya is making it.
More Proof of No SOTU Bounce
CNN's Bill Schneider analyzed the most recent Gallup poll on Inside Politics yesterday.
Here are the key quotes:
Before the State of the Union, President Bush's approval rating was 60. Now it's 61. No big change...
...The number of Americans who say the president is not paying enough attention to the economy actually went up after the speech to 60 percent...
...Before the speech, 49 percent felt he had made a convincing case [on Iraq]. Now 53 percent do.
The momentum had been going against the president on Iraq. The State of the Union speech stopped the slide.
But, you know, there's still no evidence out there of war fever.
FROM THE MAILBAG
A reader writes in to take issue with a line from last week's refutation of Bush's pro-war rhetoric.
No one (outside of the A.N.S.W.E.R. steering committee) is assuming the best of Saddam.
The reader responds:
What is the deal with attacking the most successful anti-Bush organizers in the country? Isn't the right wing doing a good enough job of attacking our side without your help?!
I don't agree with all (or maybe even most) of what A.N.S.W.E.R. says. Hell, I don't even know most of what they do.
But no one else has been able to slow down the Bush trainwreck until now.
And we have Ramsey Clark and the hard working organizers working with him to thank for this.
So get drop the snide remarks and give Clark's people the respect they deserve.
Let's beat Bush, let's work together as much as we possibly can. Let's criticize one another--if we have to--PRIVATELY. And praise each other's successes in public, loud and clear.
February 3, 2003 PERMALINK
The Sunday shows grappled with the Columbia tragedy, with varying degrees of success.
The challenge for the shows was to gracefully overcome the shock and grief in order to ask the needed questions and air all views.
Certainly, the willingness to pose difficult questions was relatively stronger than compared with the aftermath of Sept. 11.
For example, both Meet The Press' Tim Russert and Face The Nation's Bob Schieffer had NASA Administration Sean O'Keefe address the recent warning to Congress from Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel chairman Richard Blomberg:
I've never been as worried for space shuttle safety as I am right now.
And all the major shows touched on controversial issues including budget pressures at NASA and the old age of shuttle vehicles.
But many of the shows made the same mistake.
Turning to former astronauts, who are not interested in criticizing NASA, without also hearing from knowledgeable watchdogs.
This is not to say that everything the critics have to say is right and everyone from NASA is playing coverup.
This is to say that the media has an civic obligation.
Not to simply mythicize space travel and lionize astronauts.
But to fully inform the public about all the factors that may have contributed to the disaster.
And to help the public decide what direction the (taxpayer-funded) space program should now take.
As Boston College professor Diane Vaughan told Salon this weekend:
One of the lessons from the Challenger accident is that in investigating what happened and why it happened, you had to go beyond the technology and the technical failure to external circumstances that might have affected it.
That's something that should be looked into: NASA's funding, how were decisions being made, did they have adequate resources, what were the kinds of pressures on the organization and did anything like that play a role in this catastrophe?
ABC's This Week did the best job on this score.
Though George Stephanopoulos' interview with O'Keefe was the most softball of all, the show also ran two tough, yet balanced, taped segments: one on safety, the other on cost.
Both those segments featured prominent shuttle critic John Pike, of GlobalSecurity.org, who seven years ago said:
It would be very surprising if there were not another big shuttle disaster over the next decade.
I don't think the shuttle will fly again after the next accident. There was some sense that Challenger was a fluke, that this sort of thing just doesn't happen.
But if you have two of these accidents, people will say there's a pattern and that it's just not safe to fly.
Pike is not the only seemingly prescient one.
And yesterday, he came out against the shuttle program altogether.
The views of Pike and Easterbook were nowhere to be found on Meet The Press, Face The Nation and Fox News Sunday yesterday.
Their voices should not be drowned out.
Unless we fully delve into this matter, we'll unnecessarily risk more lives and waste more money.
That means having the strength to hear all voices and views, which is just as much a part of America's fabric as is the pioneer spirit that led us to the frontier of space.
(UPDATE Feb. 3 11:45 AM ET -- Dateline NBC picked up the slack last night, interviewing former NASA engineer Don Nelson, who had been a public advocate for enhanced shuttle safety.)
Sorry Howard Dean fans.
He had the plum Sunday slot on Meet The Press before being bumped following the shuttle disaster.
Let's see if he gets to return next week.
Meanwhile, Dean had an interesting exchange with Capt. Jonathan Riggs, USMC, during a visit to a South Carolina military base, aired on C-Span:
DEAN: My brother's a POW/MIA. He was killed in Laos....He was not in the service... It's not clear exactly why he's a POW/MIA. But uh --
RIGGS: CIA, [unintelligible]?
DEAN: Well, you know, if he was, nobody's saying anything about it. I don't think so but he might have been. Who knows?
You can find out more about his brother, Charles, from P.O.W. Network.
BEST OF THE BLOG LAST WEEK
Daily Kos on Cheney and support of the Confederate flag
Dennis Hans from Liberal Slant on how the so-called "evidence" against Iraq will actually weaken the case for war
Eschaton gives Salon some advice
Nathan Newman sounds the alarm on Roth IRAs
PLA on the insidious Washington Legal Foundation and its attempts to deny legal representation to the poor
Ruminate This is back after a respite and a renovation
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
(Come around, Big Dick)
(Come around, Big Dick)
(Come around, Big Dick)
(Come around, Big Dick)
And I need you now tonight
I lost the number for Condi Rice
And I can't call my Dad for advice
Together we can make it to the end of the term
I really need you tonight
Once upon a time it was parties and brew
Don't know what to do
Once I was the dumbest guy in the room
Don't know what to do
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