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Leading With The Left
March 7, 2003 PERMALINK
On a day when a poll showed that a Dem would beat Bush if the election was today (via Counterspin), the Resident took to the airwaves, looked America in the eye, and gave us a scattershot rehashing of talking points.
It's official. They are out of PR ammo.
Bush gave the hard sell at the State of the Union. Powell gave his at the UN.
There was a bounce. Now it's long gone. The people weren't moved. Gen. Rove surely pulled his one hair out.
So, in advance of the actual war speech, the handlers decided Dubya needed to go through the motions and take a few pointed questions.
The lone twist: they coached the hell out of Bush to make sure he was smirk-free.
On that score, they largely succeeded.
It's a fine line between "properly somber" and "it's a little past my bedtime."
But for one evening, Bush acted like -- to paraphrase John Kerry -- he didn't want to go to war, but he had to.
Even though his handlers got Dubya's mouth in check, they couldn't get many cogent, direct answers to come out of it.
Here are the four hard questions that Bush plain dodged:
1. If North Korea restarts their plutonium plant, will that change your thinking about how to handle this crisis, or are you resigned to North Korea becoming a nuclear power?
2. If all these nations, all of them our normal allies, have access to the same intelligence information, why is it that they are reluctant to think that the threat is so real, so imminent that we need to move to the brink of war now?
3. Do you believe it is essential for the security of the United States and its allies that North Korea be prevented from developing nuclear weapons? And are you in any way growing frustrated with the pace of the diplomacy there?
And finally, the question from ABC's Terry Moran, that also gets the one-time only LiberalOasis Patriot Journalist Award:
4. In the past several weeks, your policy on Iraq has generated opposition from the governments of France, Russia, China, Germany, Turkey, the Arab League and many other countries, opened a rift at NATO and at the U.N., and drawn millions of ordinary citizens around the world into the streets in anti-war protests.
May I ask, what went wrong that so many governments and people around the world now not only disagree with you very strongly, but see the U.S. under your leadership as an arrogant power?
Amongst all the dodging, Bush did manage to make one bit of news: that he wants a UN vote no matter what.
And so, we have circled back to what LiberalOasis argued on Sept. 18 was the case:
The Bushies never wanted UN support as much as they wanted to deem the body as irrelevant.
(UPDATE Mar. 7 4:15 PM ET -- Counterspin takes issue with this point.)
LiberalOasis concedes that they went after a resolution harder than was expected back in the fall (in large part to help out Tony Blair.)
But deep down, the Bushies have no use for the UN, and no use for any real coalition that involves real input from other members.
And you can bet they're dying to spin a French veto as the last gasp of a fading power.
Though a French-Chinese-Russian veto? That'll be a little tougher.
March 6, 2003 PERMALINK
LiberalOasis has criticized Al Sharpton before, and said that liberals should resist his candidacy.
But some are taking their criticisms too far.
There is a movement afoot in some Dem circles to drum Sharpton out of the party -- probably the stupidest thing Dems could do.
The New Republic's Peter Beinart arguably kicked off the crusade last month:
If the Democrats confront Sharpton, they could well lose the White House in 2004. But, if they allow him to become the party's primary spokesman on race, they could forfeit it for a generation.
What the Democrats need today is a caucus devoted to calling Al Sharpton the bullshitter he is.
Now a few politicians are jumping on board, including Rep. Barney Frank and former WH Chief of Staff Leon Panetta.
And The New Republic continues to pound the issue, yesterday telling Sen. John Kerry to publicly denounce Sharpton.
Calling for such drastic measures makes Sharpton seem like he's a racist or anti-Semite on par with David Duke or Louis Farrakhan.
There's a fair amount to be critical of (the Prospect piece lays out the danger of Sharpton best).
But anything that rises to the level of bigotry?
There was a troubling "diamond merchants" comment in 1991 and a "white interloper" remark in 1995. Not defensible, but they don't fairly represent Sharpton's overall views on race and religion.
(For a full picture, read this Village Voice profile).
And as any Trent Lott defender will surely tell you, there are other white Dems with imperfect pasts on such issues.
But isolated comments don't always indicate a currently held, deeply felt belief.
Sharpton's career has a great deal of discomforting racial polarization, but not outright racism.
And if you notice, when those who are trying to get rid of him make their case, they don't give a lot of specifics to back up claims that he is a bigot.
The point is, there is no moral necessity to disavow Sharpton's presence in the party.
Furthermore, as a practical matter, attacking Sharpton's presence in the party is plain foolish.
Now, polling indicates that African-Americans are split on Sharpton. It's not accurate to assume that every black voter will support him.
But there is a history of white leaders going after black pols -- Marion Barry, David Dinkins, Doug Wilder, Harold Washington to name a few.
It's a sensitive issue, and picking at the wound will only spark more division.
On top of that, Sharpton isn't saying anything that controversial right now, nor is he being racially divisive.
He's just creatively and forcefully laying out a progressive agenda. To respond to that with attacks will come across as grossly unfair.
Finally, we just had a congressional election where black turnout lagged because Dem leaders weren't speaking to their issues.
That means the best way to minimize Sharpton's influence in the party is not to go after Sharpton, but to aggressively go after black votes.
Since no one is going to trump Sharpton on style, candidates are going to have to do it on substance.
And just like most groups of voters, explaining how you will bring jobs to their communities will likely go a long way.
March 5, 2003 PERMALINK
Part of the mission of LiberalOasis is restoration.
To rediscover ways to articulate liberal ideas and philosophy to all corners of America, and to take away the Right's ability to use "liberal" as a catch-all slur.
For the last few days, LiberalOasis had been pondering which presidential candidate would do the best job of realizing that vision, and checked out how some have handled queries about liberalism.
Sen. John Kerry, in the 11/10/02 Boston Globe, after being asked if he was a liberal, said:
On some things. I'm also a conservative on some things. I'm also maybe a Libertarian on a couple of things. Maybe I'm a Green on a few things.
I'm a practical, independent-minded person. I am a Democrat because I believe the Democratic Party fights for working people and fights for the little guy and fights to make opportunity more available to folks.
Politically wise perhaps, and not offensive, but not inspiring either.
While Kerry said he was everything, Sen. John Edwards, responding to a similar question on CNN's Inside Politics last January, tried to say he was nothing:
I'm a mainstream North Carolinian. I think my views and my values represent the values of most people in this country.
I don't make ideological decisions about anything. I decide about what I think is in the best interest of the regular folks that I grew up with and have fought for all my life, and without regard to where it fits on some ideological spectrum.
It seemed for a little bit as if Gary Hart might be the only candidate willing to position him or herself as a liberal, when he told the NY Times Magazine:
The essential intellectual challenge is how to make liberalism relevant for our time. How do you make the principles of equality and justice and fairness work in a time when everyone's well off?
I struggle with that every day. In my darkest soul, I sometimes wonder if it takes an economic depression.
(Though as the reporter noted, "Hart: It Takes A Depression" is not much of slogan.)
Then Rep. Dennis Kucinich jumped in, openly running as a liberal:
I was told before I started it would be a cold and snowy day in Hell before a liberal Democrat made it back to the White House. Yet the moment I began my campaign last week, sure enough freezing temperatures and blizzard conditions hit from Iowa to Washington DC.
It is the sign we have all been waiting for. I tell you I am ready, so is this party and so is America.
But Kucinich has not yet displayed how he can expand the appeal of liberalism. Merely running as a liberal isn't good enough.
And the fact that his "cold and snowy day" line implied that Hell is a swath between Iowa and DC, raises the question if he has the skills to do so.
Then this week, Former Gov. Howard Dean stepped up:
The press is all writing about Dean is the big liberal of the race... Well, if being a liberal is balancing the budget that's fine with me. And I'll bet it's fine with most Americans.
If being a liberal is joining Canada and Britain and France and Germany and Japan and Italy and Israel in having universal health insurance for all of its citizens, then you may call me what you want... I'm proud of it.
This is even more surprising, considering last month's Salon.com report from Jake Tapper:
"Now why would you say that?" Dean bristles, citing his fiscal conservatism and his support for the death penalty. "What makes me a 'big liberal'?" he asks.
I say that I thought he might be arguably the most liberal of the five elected officials who are candidates...
...He ends up agreeing that calling him the most "un-Bush" candidate is a fair characterization.
"I don't mind being characterized as 'liberal,'" he says. "I just don't happen to think it's true."
Since there is a shift in tone and (less so) in substance, some will call this a calculated move to appeal to the base. Maybe it is.
But it seems more like Dean had an epiphany.
He appears to have a bold strategy in mind, one the LiberalOasis would love to see implemented.
Instead of playing to the base for the primary, then running to the center for the general, Dean is doing both at the same time.
That is the best way to re-energize liberalism, showing that it is not the opposite of centrism, but that it is part of the American center.
Dean was already previewing such a strategy in his stump speech:
I thought that one of the most despicable moments of this President's Administration was three weeks ago when, on national prime time television, he used the word "quotas" seven times.
The University of Michigan does not now have quotas, has never had quotas, and "quota" is a race-loaded word designed to appeal people's fears of losing their jobs.
I intend to talk about race during this election in the South. The Republicans have been talking about it since 1968 in order to divide us, and I'm going to bring us together.
Because you know what? White folks in the South who drive pick-up trucks with Confederate flag decals on the back ought to be voting with us because their kids don't have health insurance either, and their kids need better schools too.
Of course, Dean's going to have to move beyond talking about the strategy at some point and start actually doing it.
And along the way, he's going to hear from pundits trying to make him out to be a chameleon, like CQ columnist Craig Crawford:
Dean likes to call himself the champion of the "Democratic wing of the Democratic party," a line rival campaigns insist he stole from the late Sen. Paul Wellstone.
But Dean fails to mention he flunks a leading question on any liberal's litmus test: gun control.
He gets an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association. He argues that this makes him stronger against Republicans in a general election, especially in the South.
[What Crawford fails to mention, however, is that "A" rating is going to drop because Dean supports the federal assault weapons ban, the Brady Bill, and closing the gun show loophole.]
Even Dean's primary claim for liberal support comes with a caveat. He boasts to Democratic interest groups of his victory as governor of Vermont to allow civil unions for gay couples.
But gay rights lobbyists note that Dean refuses to endorse similar changes at the federal level, rendering his support irrelevant to them.
Dean also irks advocates of drug law reform for successfully opposing a Vermont bill to permit seriously ill and dying patients access to medicinal marijuana.
Thank you Craig, for informing us liberals what our litmus tests are.
Of course, some of these issues, or his support of the death penalty, may lead a liberal to cast about for someone else.
But there is no arbiter that formally determines what mix of positions makes one a liberal (not even LiberalOasis).
And if someone is willing to stick his neck out and accept the label, most likely he'll be liberal far more often than not.
If Dean can snatch the nomination after all this, the liberal label will surely lead to comparisons to Gov. Michael Dukakis.
But recall that the Duke only called himself a liberal in the waning days of the campaign, as a last ditch attempt to counter Poppy Bush's slurs.
That was a defensive move. Dean is most certainly on offense.
Evan Bayh (IN)
Meanwhile, Friend-Of-Bush Ralph Reed got a little off-message when selling Estrada on MSNBC's Hardball last night.
When responding to a question about the appeals court decision to ban the recital of the Pledge of Allegiance that includes the words "under God" in public schools, Reed ╬fessed up to Estrada's ideology:
I think it helps underscore why confirming conservative judges, like Miguel Estrada, is so critical because this is probably the most liberal appellate court in America that made this ruling...
Emergency MoveOn Petition
MoveOn is rallying support within the UN for inspections, not war. It will deliver an emergency petition to the UN tomorrow. Go sign it.
Diversifying the Military, Without a Draft
After Rep. Charlie Rangel called for a return of the draft, to ensure that the burdens of military service were shared by all segments of society, liberals appeared split on the idea.
The Progressive Policy Institute is adding a twist to the debate.
A new report argues that a "citizen soldier" program that recruits college students for 18-month stints would bring wealthy Americans into the service without requiring a draft. Worth checking out.
The MSNBC Strategy
Is there any doubt that MSNBC is moving to the Right? Last night, it aired this teaser:
Tonight, minimal coverage of those supporting the president's war plan. Is a liberal media hiding half the story? "MSNBC Reports," tonight at 10 on MSNBC.
When their ratings still suck six months from now, let's see if anyone blames it on conservatives.
March 4, 2003 PERMALINK
The question is not, are we going to war with Iraq? The question is, who's next?
The answer is looking like North Korea.
On Friday, NY Times' Nicholas Kristof wrote:
...several factions in the administration are serious about a military strike if diplomacy fails, and since the White House is unwilling to try diplomacy in any meaningful way, it probably will fail.
The upshot is a growing possibility that President Bush could reluctantly order such a strike this summer, risking another Korean war.
The following day, NYT reported that Dubya was "off the wall angry" after the Deputy Secretary of State pushed a negotiation strategy in testimony to Congress.
All that lines up with what Seymour Hersh published in the New Yorker earlier this year:
One American intelligence official who has attended recent White House meetings cautioned against relying on the day-to-day Administration statements that emphasize a quick settlement of the dispute...
"Bush and Cheney want that guy's head"¸Kim Jong Il's¸"on a platter. Don't be distracted by all this talk about negotiations. There will be negotiations, but they have a plan, and they are going to get this guy after Iraq. He's their version of Hitler."
Of course, comparing Kim Jong Il to Hitler makes it sound like a just and moral mission.
Bush himself has laid the ground work for such a justification, calling Kim a "pygmy" who starves his people.
That kind of talk also helps them dismiss negotiation to resolve the current "not-a-crisis."
But there's another, more likely reason that the Bushies reject negotiation -- China.
Open up your Bush Administration textbook -- The Project For The New American Century's "Rebuilding Americas Defenses."
(See Feb. 27 for more on how this document is linked to Bush)
An obsession with China as a possible rival superpower is a thread throughout the document. Some examples.
-- ...information and other new technologies -- as well as widespread technological and weapons proliferation -- are creating a dynamic that may threaten America's ability to exercise its dominant military power. Potential rivals such as China are anxious to exploit these trans-formational technologies broadly.
-- The military's job during the Cold War was to deter Soviet expansionism. Today its task[s include]...deter[ing] the rise of a new great-power competitor...
-- Raising U.S. military strength in East Asia is the key to coping with the rise of China to great-power status.
This hardline attitude was reflected in the 2000 campaign, when Dubya said:
The current administration calls China a 'strategic partner.' China is not America's strategic partner.
China is a competitor, a competitor which does not share our values, but now, unfortunately, shares many of our nuclear secrets.
And it also showed up back in April 2001, when Bush was initially brusque following the spy plane collision over China.
The PNAC document goes on to lay out the perceived strategic importance of North Korea:
Conventional wisdom has it that the 37,000-man U.S. garrison in South Korea is merely there to protect against the possibility of an invasion from the North.
[But t]hey will still have a vital role to play in U.S. security strategy in the event of Korean unification and with the rise of Chinese military power.
In case it's unclear what this document means by "Korean unification," more subtle hints follow:
While Korea unification might call for the reduction in American presence on the peninsula and a transformation of U.S force posture in Korea, the changes would really reflect a change in their mission...not the termination of their mission.
...in any realistic post-unification scenario, U.S. forces are likely to have some role in stability operations in North Korea...it is not too early to recognize that the presence of American forces in Korea serves a larger and longer-range strategic purpose.
What need would there be for US troops following unification, unless unification was the result of war or an otherwise violent overthrow?
In sum, what is intended to look like an extension of the war on terror is actually another long-planned, geopolitical chess move.
That will risk the lives of not only our troops, but also of more than 1 million Koreans.
March 3, 2003 PERMALINK
Last Wednesday, Dubya laid out a brazen vision for a political reshaping the Gulf region through military might.
And (not so) surprisingly, on the Sunday talkshows, nobody discussed it in any meaningful way.
Instead, the shows mostly offered a rhetorical spinning of the wheels. But there were a few highlights.
Impact of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed
There was much rightful glee, conveyed by journos and politicos, following the capture of top Al Qaeda operative Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
This appears to have gone down in a close-to-ideal fashion, working in concert with another government, nabbing the suspect alive.
But the successful operation has the potential to, illogically, lead more Americans to support war with Iraq.
It creates the perception that the war on Al Qaeda is not hampered by the heavy focus on Iraq -- countering a main criticism.
On CNN's Late Edition, right-wing pundit Jonah Goldberg expressed such sentiment:
...every single opponent of the war says that a war on Iraq distracts from the war on terrorism. And it's just simply not true.
They are totally different things...and people should stop using that talking point.
But Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), who in the Iraq debate has carried much water for Dubya, raised the question of what might have been, on Fox News Sunday:
I think this is a phenomenal breakthrough, but...this is[a] guy[who was] living in plain daylight...in the home of one of the leaders of the political party that has gained electoral strength all along the...border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
It is in a totally uncontrolled area...and there is overwhelming reason to believe that the other 22 of the top 25 we're looking for, including Osama bin Laden, are in the vicinity...
... I [ask] a rhetorical question.
What would happen if the focus of the last 10 months and the focus of forces -- of having 200,000 forces to exaggerate the point in Afghanistan -- [was] on that border?
How much would that have changed the dynamic in being able to shut down all of Al Qaeda?
Dean Gets Face Time
Howard Dean gave a fine, not stellar, performance on CBS' Face The Nation.
Though in fairness, the genial but dull Bob Schieffer doesn't make it easy for guests to shine.
Dean came down on a handful of issues. In sum, he's in favor of:
-- CIA funding hikes
And he's against:
-- torturing terrorists
His support of assassinating terrorists is politically smart -- he can only take so many dovish positions without being dismissed as a wimp.
But it may not be smart policy, as Seymour Hersh noted in the New Yorker:
"I don't think Richard Nixon signed the treaty outlawing biological warfare just because he had a deep aversion to biologicals," [Harvard Law prof Philip] Heymann told me.
"He signed it because it was against U.S. national interests to have a lot of little guys running around with biological agents that could not be deterred by our nuclear arsenal. Assassination is in the same ballpark¸it doesn't take much to assassinate a U.S. Secretary of State or another Cabinet member."
Jeffrey H. Smith...the C.I.A.'s general counsel during the Clinton Administration, said, "I'm not opposed to shooting people, but it ought to be a last resort. If they're dead, they're not talking to you, and you create more martyrs."
Hersh also paraphrased an unnamed Pentagon consultant:
Eventually, the intelligence will be bad...and innocent people will be killed.
It's A French World After All?
On ABC's This Week, George Stephanopoulos interviewed French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.
When asked if France will veto the US-Brit resolution, de Villepin wouldn't answer directly, but said:
The time has not come. Time has not come. And it is not France who say that. It is the world community.
And just earlier, he observed:
...90 percent of the world community is not for the use of force...
Looks like France is setting itself up to be seen as speaking for the world, against war.
BEST OF THE BLOG LAST WEEK
Altercation, Counterspin, Body and Soul and Alas, A Blog delve deep into the underreported story of Iraqi defector Hussein Kamel, who told the CIA in 1995 that Iraq destroyed its chem and bio stockpiles
Back To Iraq 2.0 has some insider analysis on the Turkish Parliament's rejection of war
South Knox Bubba says you can tell when Bush is lying
Nathan Newman fears the affirmative action movement is being hijacked by a "thuggish and violent" group.
Porn Star Ron Jeremy Busted in Qaeda Raid
American officials were shocked to find porn star Ron Jeremy in a roundup of top Al Qaeda officials. "I learned how to love from him," said one teary-eyed CIA agent. "This is worse than Mr. Rogers dying."
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