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The daily view from the oasis

February 27, 2004 PERMALINK
Good Debate Stuff
(posted Feb. 27 2:30 AM ET)
(minor edits Feb. 27 10:45 AM ET)

Some positive developments from last night's Dem debate:

Jobs vs. Gay Marriage

Back in November, LiberalOasis wrote:

...if Bush supporters try to make marriage by gays the big issue in '04, perhaps the best response should be: "My opponents want to talk about gays. Apparently they don't have much to say about jobs."

That's because campaigns come down to priorities, and winning campaigns match the priorities of the public.

John Kerry squarely hit this point last night:

You know, this is a president who always tries to create a cultural war and seek the lowest common denominator of American politics, because he can't come to America and talk about jobs.

He can't talk to America about health care; he doesn't have a plan.

He can't talk to America about the environment, our legacy to our children, because he's going backwards. He can't talk to America --

Well, the list got too long at this point.

Still, it was right tack, if not better than LO's suggestion in that it calls Bush on how low he goes.

Pointers on how to shorten it came from Al Sharpton:

The issue in 2004 is not if gays marry. The issue is not who you go to bed with.

The issue is whether either of you have a job when you get up in the morning.

Defense of Marriage Act

Kerry wasn't ready for the question: would he vote for the Defense of Marriage Act today?

In turn, he awkwardly dodged without answering directly.

On the other hand. Edwards handled the same question quite well -- considering he flatly opposes marriage for gays, a stance LO considers problematic politically and morally.

(This was particularly interesting, since at an earlier debate, Edwards gave the impression he was ignorant on what was actually in DOMA.)

Edwards was unequivocal in opposing DOMA, even if he had to vote for it today:

...I would not vote for it...for a very simple reason...

...There's a part of it that I agree with, and there's a part of it I disagree with.

The Defense of Marriage Act specifically said that the federal government is not required to recognize gay marriage even if a state chooses to do so. I disagree with that.

I think states should be allowed to make that decision. And the federal government shouldn't do it.

This novel thread-the-needle response will be hard for Kerry to co-opt if he ends up the nominee, as he has been so adamant in backing civil unions and opposing marriage for gays.

To then accept federal recognition for some gay marriages would be seen as a flip-flop.

But Kerry should say clearly that he would still vote no, and there's a politically tenable way to do it.

As LO noted earlier, one of Kerry's reasons for voting no in 1996 was that DOMA didn't do anything positive that actually defended marriage. And he laid out what should be done.

When challenged now, he can spit that back out word for word with no problem.

Death Penalty

Dems haven't put up a national candidate since Michael Dukakis that opposes the death penalty, like Kerry (who only supports it for terrorists).

Kerry hasn't been asked about it much so far, but Larry King hit him with, "A person who kills a 5-year-old should live?"

Kerry was ready:

Larry, my instinct is to want to strangle that person with my own hands.

I understand the instincts, I really do. I prosecuted people. I know what the feeling of the families is and everybody else.

But we have 111 people who have been now released from death row...because of DNA evidence that showed they didn't commit the crime...

...I myself worked to get a person out of jail who had been there for 15 years for a murder that person did not commit.

That's safe ground, and he should probably leave it at that. But he went on:

Secondly, I don't believe that, in the end, you advance the, sort of, level of your justice and the system of your civility as a nation.

And many other nations in the world, most of the other nations in the world, have adopted that idea, that the state should not engage in killing.

Because they have very bad memories of what happens when the state engages in killing.

Saying we should do something because others nations do it is dangerous political ground, and extraneous to the argument.

But this is probably just a slip. In the general election, Kerry is more likely to overcompensate to his right than drift too far to the left.

(In fact, you can bet his advisers have already scolded him.)

Haiti

Here's where Kerry's experience comes in handy.

Haiti, serious as the situation is, is not the kind of issue an election is likely to turn on.

But crises pop up in a campaign season, and you need to be ready to respond, lest you look unprepared for the job.

Edwards has been a touch shaky on Haiti, having little to say a couple of days ago, though he brushed up and had a respectable answer last night.

But Kerry really showed his knowledge of an issue few Americans truly understand, while drawing a clear distinction between him and Bush:

This administration set up an equation. They have a theological and a ideological hatred for [President] Aristide. They always have.

...they said to the insurgents, "...Until you reach an agreement with Aristide and the government about sharing power, we're not going to provide aid and assistance."

So we empowered them to simply veto any agreement, which is what they're still doing...

What this president ought to have done is to have given them an ultimatum:

...we're going to restore the democracy, have the full democracy in the region -- notwithstanding that I think Aristide has some problems, and I do.

And I think there have been serious problems in his police, the way they've managed things.

But our engagement should have been to try to restore the democracy, to bring those people together.

Of course, being the most knowledgeable candidate is no assurance of victory.

Further, he should have hit Bush on "hypocrisy" for claiming to be a consistent supporter of democracy abroad, while failing to protect democracy in Haiti.

But he did look ready to be president.

And when the next unforeseen crisis surfaces, chances are he will again.

February 26, 2004 PERMALINK
2000 Replay?
(posted Feb. 26 1 AM ET)

There has been a presumption that 2004 won't be like 2000.

That while Al Gore and George Bush ended up blurring distinctions between them by using similar centrist rhetoric, there will certainly be clear distinctions this time.

Maybe, but maybe not.

Check out some of the early sparring between the Kerry and Bush camps.

On Their Records

I think George Bush is on the run and I think he's on the run because he doesn't have a record to run on.
-- John Kerry

Senator Kerry cannot expect to run on his record in the Democratic primary and then run from it in the general election.
-- GOP Chair Ed Gillespie

On Special Interests

[Bush is] the politician who's taken more special-interest money than anyone in history.
-- Kerry Web ad

[Kerry is] the number one recipient of special-interest money in the Senate over the last 15 years.
-- Bush campaign spokeswoman Nicolle Devenish

On Principle

...it's his hypocrisy that I think is a character issue.
-- Gillespie

I think the president is a walking contradiction.
-- Kerry

Senator Kerry says one thing and does another.
-- Bush-Cheney spokesman Scott Stanzel

...they're the "say one thing, do another" administration.
-- Kerry

On Campaigning

...the Bush White House is going to run a gutter campaign.
-- Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter

...they intend to run the dirtiest campaign in modern presidential politics.
-- Gillespie

And it's not just attacks. The rhetorical similarities are beginning to extend to issues.

Both Kerry and Bush, while differing on the federal marriage amendment, both say they oppose marriage for gays. Kerry backs civil unions, and Bush hints at allowing them.

And while Bush is playing up his national security credentials and attacking Kerry's, Kerry is arguing he has "voted for the largest defense budgets in the history of our nation."

We can't know for sure if this will continue all year.

But it is an indicator that, like in 2000, we will have two campaigns run by old Establishment hands who will run uncreative, textbook operations.

And that can lead to, like in 2000, a lot of a similar rhetoric, as both try to claim the center.

So what does that mean? If both sound the same, who comes out ahead?

In 2000, sounding the same was a net plus for Bush, the challenger.

Against a backdrop of peace and prosperity, sounding alike helped Bush cut into Gore's natural advantage as the qausi-incumbent, by intimating that he didn't represent a major shift.

(Though it should be noted that it wasn't enough to make the case for a change in party, and hence, did not put him over the top in actual votes.)

The current backdrop is more muddled.

GDP up, but jobs down. Saddam gone, but troops still dying and no WMD. No terror attacks on US soil since 9/11, but Al Qaeda still active and Osama still at large.

But right now, jobs and Iraq are tilting the playing field towards the Dems, with both Kerry and Edwards leading Bush.

Those aren't flash-in-the-pan issues. They are likely to be the main issues that the election turns on.

So in the long-term, assuming these issues remain a net negative for Bush, trading identical insults and blurring positions could hurt Dems.

By making everyone look bad, the Dem advantage could be reduced as some swing voters stick with the "devil they know."

That is not to say there aren't sensible short-term reasons for what Kerry is currently doing.

Clearly, the Kerry camp recognized "special interests" and "hypocrisy" as potential attack lines against their man.

By throwing the charges back at Bush, backed up with facts, those attack lines are potentially neutralized, while scuffing up a president who hasn't been scuffed much in the last three years.

That's fine for now.

But in the end, the Dem nominee needs to make distinctions, to show why he will perform better than Bush and put the country on the right track.

Tit-for-tat, similar rhetoric cannot do that in the end.

February 25, 2004 PERMALINK
Base 1, Bush 0
(posted Feb. 25 1 AM ET)

If the Bushies thought a constitutional amendment banning marriage for gays was a political winner, Dubya would have backed one a long time ago.

The truth is, Bush made a politically dangerous move that he didn't want to do, while in a position of political weakness, under heavy duress from the Christian Right.

In 2000, both Bush and Cheney spouted state flexibility on marriage for gays.

(Today, the WH press corps pressed press secretary Scott McClellan relentlessly on Bush's past views, and NBC Nightly News aired the ╬00 clip.)

The Right let it go, as the issue wasn't a frontburner one.

That changed after the initial Massachusetts court ruling this past November, and the Right wanted action.

So in Dec., Bush told Diane Sawyer "if necessary," he would support a marriage amendment, but -- in a hat tip to the swing -- signaled he was OK with states enacting civil unions.

Why the hesitancy about backing the amendment?

The public may not be inclined to back marriage for gays yet, but some bristle at mucking with the Constitution. (Two polls out yesterday show an even split on the amendment.)

So Bush tried to finesse it, trying to push the issue enough to put Dems on the defensive, but not so far as to come off extreme.

But the finesse was awkward, and the Right was pissed.

With the State of Union coming up, Bush tried to make amends.

In mid-January, the White House floated a trial balloon: $1.5B for government marriage promotion targeting the poor to be announced in the SOTU.

But not only was that far short of clear support for an amendment, it wasn't even a new proposal. It had been proposed by Bush before and was already kicking around Congress.

So it flopped. Conservatives demanded more.

The $1.5B proposal never made it to the SOTU. In its place was another suggestion that Bush may back an amendment, this time leaving off the hint of civil union support.

Yet it was still not good enough for the Right.

Then last Friday, after some punk-ass mayor completely showed Bush up, Christian Right leaders aired their dirty laundry to the White House's favorite daily, the W. Times.

If Bush's approval was in the mid-60s, he could tell the Right to suck it up.

But he's below 50%.

While what he really needs is to get the swing back, he can't afford more defections and intra-party squabbling. He needed to appease.

So he went where he didn't want to go all this time, into the amendment pool.

And even though he still tried to signal civil unions were OK if states want them, the amendment on the table that's he supporting looks like a back-door ban on them, despite protestations from the amendment's authors.

In turn, he got the Right to stop bitching.

Does this mean Bush will become a high-profile crusader for this amendment? Not necessarily.

In his stump speech preview Monday night, Bush didn't mention gay marriage specifically, only alluding to it with this:

We stand for the confirmation of judges who strictly and faithfully interpret the law.

We will not stand for judges who undermine democracy by legislating from the bench, and try to remake the culture by court order.

That's classic code: a way to stoke the informed base, without cluing in more passive swing voters to what you're talking about.

What Bush still wants is to keep the issue alive, to distract attention from job losses and make Dems dance, without going off the deep end himself.

That was already a tall order, particularly in the key state of Ohio, where job losses are steep.

And it ignores the reality that many voters in the middle just don't want to talk about gay marriage at all.

(In fact, a number of key congressional GOPers seemed to get that, and did not sound enthusiastic to have this issue dropped in their lap.)

But now, a congressional debate and vote on the amendment is likely.

During that time, at minimum, it will be harder for Bush to finesse the issue the way he ideally wants.

And it's the Right's anti-gay bigotry and incessant pouting that broke Bush and made his job harder.

Three years of hard-core base stroking wasn't enough for these guys. You can bet that's driving Karl Rove nuts.

February 24, 2004 PERMALINK
On Jobs, Is the GOP On Message?
(posted Feb. 24 1:45 AM ET)
(edited Feb. 24 9 AM ET)

Yesterday, Dubya went on the offensive in a speech to GOP governors, further previewing his '04 strategy:

With the largest tax relief since Ronald Reagan was President, we have left more money in the hands of those who earned it.

By saving and spending and investing and to help create new jobs, the American people have used their money far better than the federal government would have.

Our opponents have their own plan for these tax cuts -- they plan to take them away. They will use that money to expand the federal government.

I have a better idea: To keep this economy growing, we will have fiscal discipline in Washington, D.C. To keep this economy going, the tax cuts must be permanent.

There you go. The nut of the Bush message for November. Tax cuts = Jobs. Surprise.

Yesterday's speech could have been written in advance by Karl Rove back in 2001 (and it probably was), as it completely ignores that job losses followed both Bush tax cuts.

Remember that the '01 tax cut was supposed to create 800,000 jobs, and the '03 cut 1.4M jobs.

And in both cases, those promises were new jobs above and beyond the job growth the government assumed would happen without the cuts.

(For example, Bush's team said that without the cuts, from mid-'03 to the end of '04, about 4.1M new jobs would be created anyway, and the cuts would jack that up to 5.5M. Either way, they're a bit off the pace.)

Considering that massive record of failure, Bush still dares to argue that making the tax cuts "permanent" (as different provisions sunset in various years) is the way to "keep this economy going."

How bad is "making the tax cuts permanent" as a main message?

Bush can't seem to get other prominent GOPers to say it.

On Sunday, Governors Mike Huckabee (AR) and Bill Owens (CO) were on CNN's Late Edition, and Owens and Haley Barbour (MS) were on Fox News Sunday.

They were supportive of tax cuts in general, of course. (The party knew better than to book the several GOP governors who recently deemed it necessary to raise taxes, thanks to Dubya's fiscal policies.)

But none of them explicitly echoed Bush's call for making the past cuts permanent.

In fact, it seems that without an appealing message from the top for other GOPers to rally around, a floundering is going on, with inconsistent messages being tried out.

Huckabee responded to a question about Bush's job record with this weak dodge:

Well, jobs are important, but leadership is even more important.

Owens tried to turn the tables back on the Dems:

John Kerry and most of my friends in the Democratic Party want to raise taxes, which actually will drive more jobs offshore.

Problem with that attack is that both Kerry and Edwards have called for tax cuts for companies that produce goods in America, and ending tax incentives for companies to move offshore.

Barbour at first stuck to a basic "we've turned the corner" message, crediting the tax cuts.

But when pressed about Bush's shifting job projections, the best Barbour could do was state the obvious:

Look, the American people are going to judge job creation by what actually happens, not by what somebody predicts.

Clip ╬n' save that quote.

The public floundering continued yesterday, as NY Times' Bill Safire offered his own approach to defending Bush's jobs record.

Apparently, it involves a speech that sounds like a Beltway elitist pathetically straining to sound like a regular American:

The other night, a woman came up to me and said: "Mr. Candidate ¸ I have a 12-year-old son growing up fast.

"He said to me, `Momma, I need new shoes because these old ones with the holes hurt my feet and the other kids in school are laughing at me.'

"But I couldn't afford no $50 on new shoes made in America."

So I said ¸ what did you do, Momma?

"I took him to a factory outlet center. In the back of the Rockport store they were having a clearance of shoes made in China or Indo-someplace.

"I bought him a pair of fine leather shoes for $24. You shoulda seen my boy's face light up."

Free trade is helping that lady make ends meet because her hard-earned dollar now has more buying power.

If those fast-talking protectionists had their way, the high cost of living would deny her boy those shoes.

LiberalOasis must concede, Bush's messages may be stale and off-key, but they beat "Indo-someplace" any day.

February 23, 2004 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Feb. 23 12:15 AM ET)
(minor edit Feb. 23 12:15 PM ET)

As you probably know, Ralph Nader announced his intention to run for president as an independent on NBC's Meet The Press.

LiberalOasis said last July that such a candidacy would not affect the Dems chances and was not worth stressing about. That still holds.

Yet too many Dems on the Sunday shows were stressing about it.

Party chair Terry McAuliffe, on CBS' Face The Nation, called it "very unfortunate." NM Gov. Bill Richardson, on Fox News Sunday, attacked Nader's "personal vanity."

All that sends a signal of weakness: that you're worried he'll be a factor.

That gives the media incentive to treat Nader like he is a factor, and provide him with more attention.

In turn, a consistent "So what? We're so united it doesn't matter" attitude would have been smarter.

(John Kerry and John Edwards essentially did that, but since every other prominent Dem didn't follow suit, that message was undercut.)

Critiquing the Dem response may be a small point. Unless there are polls, particularly in swing states, showing Nader making a difference, the media will largely ignore Nader.

LO is doubtful such polls will materialize, with one caveat.

Third-party candidates tend to poll higher than they do on election day (when voters flinch, worried they are "wasting" their votes).

So a poll could show a "spoiler" scenario, even if the actual probability of spoiling would remain low.

All the more reason for the Dems to minimize the risk of increased media attention, and instead, put on a brave face and stop showing anxiety.

One final point on Nader.

He appears to be leaving the door open to a "last-minute" endorsement of a Dem.

Tim Russert asked him if he would do that if the race looked too close.

Nader dodged, first saying it was more likely Dubya would "start declining in the polls."

Then, calling Russert's scenario a "hypothetical," he said, "in the rare event that it occurs, you can invite me back on the program, and I'll give you my answer."

That's another reason to avoid antagonizing Nader.

Even though LO assumes he simply won't be a factor in the end, just in case, you might as well help keep that door open, and lay off the direct attacks.

The Sandbox
Humor Column by Mark Spittle

Tax The Rich...Celebrities

"Taxing the rich" is an old Liberal platform plank that generates far too much partisan conflict to get broad appeal.

Face it, conservatives are never going to get on board with this one, even if it would mean a permanent end to deficits and an increase in tax revenue.

But one thing that every American can agree on is that Hollywood celebrities deserve more pain.

Failing the implementation of any plan to drop them into deep pits filled with poisonous vipers (something that would be inhumane to the vipers), I propose we begin an aggressive program for the taxation of celebrities that aims to accomplish two main goals:

First, that the taxation be so severe that the nation's deficit is not only converted to a surplus within 18 months, but that by 2006 all government programs, including defense, Social Security and the Antique Library Card Restoration Program, are fully funded.

Second, that the taxation be so outrageously punitive that the current crop of celebrities are slowly reduced to whimpering, panhandling beggars on street corners.

Sure, local laws would have to be revised to allow the "formerly famous" to roam the streets like bums kicked off of freight trains, but this is a small price to pay for fully-funded fire, police and critical services.

Why, the taxation on Jay Leno alone could pay for universal health care.

And additional monies could be generated by selling tickets to watch Kelly Ripa sort through trash for a meal, or paying ten dollars to have a disheveled Sharon Stone clean your car's windshield with a grimy squeegee.

I'm sure many of you can come up with creative and lucrative "spectator events" for Rosie O'Donnell or Robin Williams, some which may involve turpentine and a Zippo.

If the country is again forced to face the harsh realities of military conflict, let our rich and famous do their patriotic part by paying for the defense budget.

Oprah could focus her fortune on making sure our Navy is well-armed, while Martha Stewart could make sure our boys in the Marines get a deserved pay increase.

If Steven Spielberg is really so enamored of war heroes, let him personally pay veterans' benefits for the next decade or two.

Some of you may see this a harsh, Draconian proposal aimed at fellow Americans whose only fault is their fame and wealth.

And you would be right.

In light of the behavior of celebrities these days, paying for our entire government and social prosperity on the backs of Tom Hanks, Madonna and Michael Jackson seems only fitting.

They are, after all, apparently above the law and immune to any form of justice, able to murder (OJ Simpson), expose themselves to children (Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake), and generally act like asses (Carrot Top) with impunity.

If the courts cannot reign in these miscreants, then let the IRS do it. It's how we eventually nailed Capone, after all.

I call this plan the Reallocation of Assholes' Wealth Initiative.

The disgust we feel when we see Ben Affleck and Matt Damon receive an Oscar for a movie they didn't actually write (Good Will Hunting), or the horror at watching a mannish Diana Ross grope Li'l Kim's boob on national television, can now be used as a vehicle to unite both Left and Right in a sound fiscal policy that will improve the lives of the non-famous.

Furthermore, taxation under this plan will be directly proportional to the amount of fame each celebrity has, with additional penalties assessed for particularly annoying public stunts.

Like dangling babies in front of angry crocodiles (Steve Irwin) or getting six face lifts and then crediting your new look to a line of cosmetics you just happen to sell (Naomi Judd and Victoria Principal.)

Republicans might have a hard time with this concept because they've thrown in their lot with Arnold Schwarzenegger who, because of the damage he's done to society by releasing Terminator 3, Last Action Hero and Kindergarten Cop, would have to be taxed into obscurity.

But neocons could rest easy knowing that Liberal icons like Barbra Streisand would be similarly drained, and I'm sure a majority of conservatives would surrender the Austrian Oak to poverty in exchange for a future free of Babs' grating warble.

Okay, so we may have to toss in Susan Sarandon as an incentive, but it'd be worth it.

The United States needs leadership that can come up with fresh ideas that unite its citizens and solve its problems permanently.

Taxing celebrities, along with my other plans for enslaving the Dutch and legalizing home invasions of record industry executives, present a positive, structured path towards a prosperous economy and responsible society.

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

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