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Leading With The Left
The daily view from the oasis

March 26, 2004 PERMALINK
Gauging The Clarke Effect
(posted Mar. 26 1 AM ET)

One hates to rely too much on a Fox News poll, as they are often littered with questionable wording, and even questionable questions.

But a new Fox poll offers the first examination of Richard Clarke's impact, and has some instructive numbers.

Keep in mind the poll was taken on Tuesday and Wednesday, during the 9/11 Commission hearings. So Clarke's own testimony isn't really being gauged.

First, the poll shows that Phase One of Operation Smear Clarke didn't work.

52% said Clarke's "accusations" were either "very" or "somewhat believable". And that number is somewhat weighed down by GOPers.

80% of Dems said the charges were believable, as did 55% of Indys, while 65% of GOPers said the opposite.

Still, Clarke made inroads with GOPers, with 26% saying believable.

Bush's smears did not reach Dems. Only 5% of Dems said Clarke was not believable.

Second, there's been a notable drop in the number of Americans who believe we are "winning the war against terrorism."

It's down to 41%, from 55% in September.

Although, how much of that can be attributed to the Clarke story is unclear. The Madrid attack probably is a major factor in that drop as well.

Third, despite all that, there does not seem to be any movement in Bush's national security advantage over John Kerry.

In the Fox poll, Bush holds a 50-27 lead over Kerry on who will "better job of protecting the [US] from terrorist attacks".

That's about the same size gap found in two other polls taken just before Clarke's 60 Minutes appearance.

Now two days ago, LiberalOasis talked of Bush's national security advantage being chipped away.

That's still true in LO's book, even if the numbers don't technically show it yet. (And again, this is just one early poll, and Fox at that.)

That so many find Clarke's charges believable show, as LO said, the "folklore is fading, and most likely, people's minds are becoming open to the uncomfortable facts."

That softening up is an important step, but the overall national security number shows what a tough nut this is to crack.

The gap won't be closed by knocking Bush alone. They help. They're necessary. But they don't finish the job.

Kerry likely won't close the gap unless he takes advantage of the softening to make his case that he has a better counterterror strategy and superior national security experience.

March 25, 2004 PERMALINK
Bush's Best Punch Falls Short
(posted Mar. 25 1:30 AM ET)

The Bushies saved their best for last in Day 3 of Operation Smear Clarke.

But Richard Clarke was better.

After a couple of days of loud but sloppy (sometimes contradictory) attacks, the White House pulled out a low but ingenious move:

Lifting the anonymity of an 8/02 background briefing Clarke gave as a "senior administration official," where he said positive things about the Bush anti-terror effort.

And then, feeding it to Fox News, which would not be so offended at the blatant manipulation and violation of media protocol, in the service of this president.

It was beautifully timed to blindside, just before Clarke was about to testify.

And, by luck or design, two GOP members of the 9/11 Commission were eager to grandstand in front the cameras and nail Clarke with the apparent flip-flop.

Pretty perfectly orchestrated.

And certainly, the punch landed somewhat, with some negative wire stories and play on the main nightly news shows.

But Clarke, with his laconically bad-ass unflappable Cheneyesque demeanor, and his desperately needed classy apology, still came out ahead.

The apology, not the smear, was the lead news, on TV yesterday and in print today.

And not only did some major dailies bury the smear, but often the media pulled back the curtain on the White House's hardball tactics.

The W. Post:

Administration officials inside and outside the commission's meeting room continued to wage fierce attacks yesterday on Clarke's motives and credibility.

ABC World News Tonight:

The simplicity of [Clarke's apologetic] statement belies the ferocity of the fight the White House is waging to discredit Richard Clarke.

NBC Nightly News:

...a further attempt to undermine Clarke...

Reuters:

Seeking to discredit Clarke...

The AP:

The Bush White House has a history of attacking those who attack the president.

The list includes Gen. Eric Shinseki, who told Congress that postwar Iraq would require a massive presence of U.S. troops; former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who questioned Bush's use of U.S. intelligence; and Richard Foster, who differed with the White House on the cost of Bush's prescription drug plan.

So the Bushies may have dinged Clarke (and note that some media assessments say they didn't).

But by going after the messenger far more than the message, and running up against a deft messenger, the substance of Clarke's charges remain standing, if not amplified.

And by repeatedly going below the belt and chronically engaging in cheap spin, the negative image of a White House that plays nasty has been furthered as well.

When that's the result of your best move of the week, it's not a good week.

QUICK HIT

Clarke's Defense

In case you missed it, Clarke's explanation of the 8/02 background briefing on CNN's Larry King Live was notably better than what he said to the commission (which was still pretty good).

He smartly turned the tables by further exposing the Administration spin machine.

Here's the exchange:

CLARKE: Time Magazine came out with a very explosive story saying, that, in fact, the White House hasn't done everything it could have done.

That in fact, that the administration had been handed a plan by me at the beginning of the administration to deal with al Qaeda and that they ignored it...

...Well, that hurt the White House a lot for obvious reasons. It was true.

And they asked me to try to help them out.

I was working for the president of the United States at the time. And I said, well, look, I'm not going to lie. And they said, look, can't you at least emphasize the things that we did do? Emphasize the positive?

Well, you had no other choice at that moment...

...if you want to stay inside the government and try to continue to change it from inside, you can stay on, do what they ask you to do, give a background briefing to the press and emphasize those things which they had done....

But, you know, it seems very ironic to me that what the White House is sort of saying is they don't understand why I, as a special assistant to the president of the United States, didn't criticize the president to the press.

If I had criticized the president to the press as a special assistant, I would have been fired within an hour. They know that.

This is part of their whole attempt to get Larry King to ask Dick Clarke this kind of question. So we're not talking about the major issue.

KING: We're going to get to that in a minute. But who told you to do that briefing?

CLARKE: The national security adviser, the press secretary, the communication's director, they all talked to me, asked me to do the briefing and were telling me to spin it in a very positive way.

March 24, 2004 PERMALINK
The National Security Advantage Dwindles
(posted Mar. 24 2:30 AM ET)

A quick check of the day's headlines show how Dubya has fallen to earth on his prized issue: national security.

LA Times: "Panel Cites Clinton, Bush Failures in al-Qaida Emergence"

NY Times: "Bush and Clinton Aides Grilled by Panel"

W. Post: "9/11 Panel Critical of Clinton, Bush"

ABC World News Tonight: "The commission investigating the September 11th attacks says the Bush and Clinton Administrations should have done more to prevent them."

But Fox News' Bill Kristol had a different take yesterday:

I think the Democrats [are] insane to decide to...make this the battle field they want to fight on.

Who was more negligent in fighting terror? And they're going to try to go after Bush on that? I think it's crazy.

Kristol may be the crazy one.

As you can see from the above headlines, the political lines around terrorism are becoming blurred.

Up until now, the media narrative was Clinton largely ignored terrorism, Bush is relentlessly focused (though before 9/11, the opposite was true).

But today, there is no distinction between the Administrations.

Both were treated equally bad, both accused of not doing enough.

That means Bush is being dragged down on his signature issue, his national security advantage over Kerry being chipped away.

Unlike Kristol's characterization, this chipping away has nothing to do with Democrats, at least so far.

The salvo from Richard Clarke comes from a registered Republican who served three GOP presidents and one Dem. No Dem is pulling his strings.

And the grilling that all parties got yesterday came from a bipartisan commission.

The fact is, the national security advantage is being chipped away not because of political gamesmanship, but simply because the truth is beginning to supplant the folklore.

At the same time, it's unfair that Clinton's record, while imperfect, is still being excessively trashed and oversimplified.

There's a strong argument to make that he far better understood the nature of threat than Bush did before 9/11, and had tangible results to show for it.

Sidney Blumenthal, in his interview with LO last May, covered this quite well:

We barely missed killing Bin Laden. There were numerous findings issued by the President to kill him.

We rolled up terrorist cells. We stopped the millennium bombings...

...What happened to the Bush Administration regarding terrorism is that they regarded it as a secondary issue, and associated with Clinton. One of those Clinton issues.

(He also included an early taste of the Clarke accusations.)

And a close look at yesterday's testimony showed the discrepancy in the two Administrations focus and attitude.

For example, Madeline Albright summed up the Clinton approach:

We certainly recognized the threat...Although terror was not new, we realized we faced a novel variation.

Instead of being directed by a hostile country, the new breed of terrorist was independent, multinational and well-versed in modern information technology...

...As early as 1995, President Clinton said that, and I quote, Our generation's enemies are the terrorists who kill children or turn them into orphans, unquote.

The president repeatedly told the United Nations that combating terrorism topped America's agenda and should top theirs...

...Before Y2K, we undertook the largest counterterrorism operation in U.S. history to that time.

Cabinet members or their representatives met virtually every day for the sole purpose of detecting and preventing terrorist attacks.

Compare that with the commission's executive director, who reported on Don Rumsfeld's pre-9/11 recollections:

[Clinton Defense] Secretary Cohen said he briefed Secretary-Designate Rumsfeld on about 50 items during the transition, including bin Laden and programs related to domestic preparedness against terrorist attacks using weapons of mass destruction.

Rumsfeld told us he did not recall what was said about bin Laden at that briefing...

... Secretary Rumsfeld said the transformation was the focus on the administration.

He said he was interested in terrorism, arranging to meet regularly with DCI Tenet.

But his time was consumed with getting new officials in place, preparing the quadrennial defense review, the defense planning guidance, and reviewing existing contingency plans.

He did not recall any particular counterterrorism issue that engaged his attention before 9/11, other than the development of the Predator unmanned aircraft system for possible use against bin Laden.

Having said that, it's not necessary to win the Clinton v. Bush argument for Dems to win in November.

But any knocks on Bush will help create a Bush-Kerry stalemate on national security, which would go a long way, as Kerry will have the leg up on the economy.

Of course, unpredictable events, out of the Dems' hands, could shape the public's views on terrorism before election day.

But for now, the post-9/11 Bushian folklore is fading, and most likely, people's minds are becoming open to the uncomfortable facts.

QUICK HIT

An Inside Peek At Air America Radio

Here's a first-person report from LO Executive Editor Bill Scher on Air America Radio, the liberal radio network launching 3/31:

I was pleased to be asked to join Janeane Garofalo and Sam Seder yesterday as a guest for a rehearsal of their upcoming nightly program "The Majority Report," which will air Monday-Friday from 8 to 11 PM.

And I'm further pleased to report the show will definitely be a lot of fun to listen to.

Janeane and Sam, both politically sharp comedians, create the right environment for intelligent, hard-hitting, yet breezy discussion. The three hours should fly by each night.

Most importantly, the two are blog-savvy, recognizing the value the blogosphere brings to the national debate.

In addition to myself, they plan to reach out to other bloggers on a regular basis, amplifying our collective voices.

From what I saw, things are looking good for the launch next week. Get ready.

March 23, 2004 PERMALINK
Thoughts on Clarke
(posted Mar. 23 1:30 AM ET)

Some observations on the Richard Clarke bombshells, and the White House smear effort.

1. Memo to Press: Fierce Damage Control Means Something To Hide

Remember when, oh 96 hours ago, when suspected Al Qaeda loyalists were fighting back so fiercely that Pakistan assumed they were protecting a "High-Value Target"?

And remember how that HVT has seemed to slip away?

The White House is fighting the Richard Clarke charges extremely fiercely. They're protecting a HVT.

So don't let it slip away.

2. Liberals Not Hysterical Enough, Who Knew?

Liberals are often charged, by the Right and the condescending Establishment media, with making wild, angry accusations about Bush.

But this is the second major instance where the worst-case assumptions of the left about Dubya were not nearly as awful as the reality.

First, during the war build-up, liberals in general did not go so far as to assert that there were no WMD, but only expressed doubts at how much he had, and how significant a threat it was to us.

The reality: no WMD at all, a notion too ludicrous to believe by most before the war.

Second, up until now, liberals mainly agreed that Bush did the right thing in going after Al Qaeda and the Taliban after 9/11.

Most of the criticism has been that they didn't keep the focus after the Taliban was overthrown.

The reality: as Clarke has shown, Bush went after Al Qaeda reluctantly, only after failing to pin 9/11 on Iraq.

On Sunday, Sen. Joe Biden noted the dynamics that were at work, on ABC's This Week:

We went into Afghanistan after someone suggested the president bypass, go straight to Iraq.

The president made the right decision. I believe he made the right decision because I remember the conversations with Powell saying Mr. President, if you do this, you'll lose the whole world.

It was the right decision.

But now we see Bush lacked the follow-through because the decision was a half-hearted one, as the Iraq itch had to wait to be scratched.

( As mentioned here yesterday, Biden also acknowledged Bush was fixated on Iraq, something he did not believe until recently.)

In both situations, the reality was far more disturbing than Bush's liberal critics could possibly imagine.

3. Clarke has done the Dems a huge favor. He moved the markers.

Before now, Kerry would not have been able to get away with baldly saying Bush "ignored terrorism". The punditocracy would have chewed him up Dean-style.

Now, instead of the outer boundary of criticism merely resting at "acknowledging Bush's successful handling of 9/11", it's now moved to "Bush ignored Al Qaeda before 9/11".

The Bushies may be having some success in pushing back on Clarke, but it is impossible for them to totally discredit a guy with his bipartisan record and resume.

(And as Whiskey Bar notes, it's a hawk's record.)

That means Clarke's charge, at minimum, becomes a credible one -- even if it doesn't become a majority-accepted one right away.

And it scuffs up the notion that Bush has a flawless national security record.

In effect, it creates more turf for Bush to defend.

Kerry has already laid his own marker. In a major terror speech last month, where he laid out his vision for a comprehensive war on terror, he said:

I do not fault George Bush for doing too much in the War on Terror; I believe he's done too little.

Clarke's revelations help Kerry build on that statement.

With Bush on the defensive, Kerry needs to keep drilling the themes of that speech.

Not only to pile on Bush, but to take advantage of the newly sparked discussion of anti-terror strategies, call attention to his own positive agenda, and increase the comfort level among voters with the idea of Kerry as Commander-in-Chief.

March 22, 2004 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Mar. 22 1:30 AM ET)

Everyone's talking about former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke's 60 Minutes interview, showing how far the Bushies went to pin 9/11 on Iraq in the attack's immediate aftermath.

What may be overlooked is that another Republican yesterday was revealed to believe Dubya was fixated on Iraq.

On ABC's This Week, Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), was making a little confession of his own:

I was wrong about Bush...

...In my many hours of discussions with him after 9/11, before we went into Iraq...I didn't think he was so fixated on Iraq.

I didn't think he really was unrelenting, go into Iraq no matter what.

Some people told me he was.

And as he referred to "some people," he patted his friend Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) three times on the knee.

Hagel didn't seem to mind, and he sought no clarification.

In fact, Hagel seems to be slowly emerging as another John McCain, another GOPer who nominally backs Bush but never attacks John Kerry and does not follow the party line.

Throughout the discussion about Clarke and his new book, Hagel did not defend the Administration or try to discredit the messenger (as the White House is doing, per usual).

Instead, Hagel helped legitimize Clarke, saying the accusation that Bush didn't do enough on Al Qaeda before 9/11 was a "serious charge" and "a fair indictment or question to ask."

In addition, when asked if Kerry was "soft on defense," as McCain was asked previously, Hagel not only rejected the charge, he went even farther, implicitly trashing the main GOP attack strategy:

No I don't [agree Kerry is soft on defense].

And I tend to agree with John McCain on this, the facts just don't measure the rhetoric.

You can take a guy like John Kerry who's been in the Senate for 19 years, and go through that voting record -- you can take it with Biden, Hagel, any of us -- and pick out different votes, and then try to manufacture something around that.

All that is on top of Hagel's blistering words for the White House, on CNN's Inside Politics last week, on the attempted nomination of Tony Raimondo for manufacturing czar, with some subtle criticism of Bush's unilateralism in Iraq to boot.

It's unclear what Hagel's motivation is here. (It sure doesn't help any presidential ambitions he's rumored to have.)

Is he angling for surprise veep pick? Kerry Cabinet post?

Or is he simply a hard-core multilateralist who, like McCain, shares a Vietnam vet bond with Kerry?

Whatever it is, it's not helpful to Bush to have a growing list of campaign co-chairs who don't follow the script.

Now, we have our own wayward Senator trying to kick up dust.

Fortunately, he's Joe Lieberman, who holds no sway, coming off an embarrassing repudiation in the '04 primary (unlike McCain, whose 2000 race gave him a national constituency).

Asked about the Clarke revelations on Fox News Sunday, Lieberman tried to snuff them out:

The charge, if I hear it correctly, that Dick Clarke has made, that the Bush administration was more focused on Iraq in the days after September 11th, than...getting back at the terrorists, I see no basis for it.

And I think we've got to be careful to speak facts and not rhetoric...

Apparently, in Lieberman's mind, Clarke's corroborated accounts of his time in the White House are not "facts".

There is no chance Lieberman would ever be accepted in a Bush White House, (he did say some negative things about Bush in the primary).

And his state of CT is no red state, so he has no local reason to be a heretic.

It seems to LO that the only reason he could have in acting this way is he thinks he could be another McCain: a media darling, revered for his fresh, independent insights.

But Lieberman is the opposite of fresh, and rarely insightful.

So the only thing Lieberman should expect of out this tack is further isolation from his own party.

And more Fox News bookings.

The Sandbox
Humor Column by Sally Sheklow

The New Axis of Evil: Gays, Pets and Furniture

"Does that mean you have to allow a man to marry his pet or a man to marry his chair?"
¸The Honorable Jon Bruning, Attorney General of Nebraska, regarding marriage equality

Does removing legal barriers to spouses of the same sex really put us on a slippery slope to pet and chair marriage? Don't get me wrong, I'm as fond of a slippery slope as the next dyke.

But I don't buy marriage equality being the slip 'n' slide to hell.

Still, I could see marrying my cat.

We have a fulfilling, egalitarian relationship, even though I'm a lot older and have opposable thumbs.

I adore her, and the feeling is mutual.

She cuddles me. She touches her nose to mine. She leaves her regurgitated kibble exactly where my foot will land when I step out of bed.

The cat is into me.

I wouldn't have a problem with marrying my chair either.

My favorite chair never lets me down. It's accommodating yet independent enough to stand on its own four legs.

My chair has comforted and sustained me through many a trying time.

It unselfishly shares its collected spare change and popcorn kernels. My chair accepts me for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, good times and bad, happy and sad.

I trust my chair will support and honor me as long as we both shall live.

If the slippery slope leads to chair-marrying, go ahead and sign me up.

Not that the chair is eligible for much in the way of retirement benefits or social security, or that a floral recliner would be especially judicious if it ever had to oversee my estate.

But were I to wind up in the emergency room, say, I wouldn't mind opening my eyes to the soothing sight of my beloved chair.

If we are on a slippery slope for real, and marriage equality is really a crazy wild ride into chaos and eventually polygamy¸as constitutional amendment supporters predict¸I can state unequivocally, I would be willing to marry both my cat and my chair.

If it comes down to the law allowing me to marry the woman I've been sharing a bed with for sixteen years and jump the broom with my cat (she's a good jumper!) and get hitched to my chair (it's stable!), I'm certain my cat and my chair would be fine with that.

All three objects of my affection accept my multiple devotion, and they are only rarely just a teensy bit jealous when one gets more attention than the other (except my chair -- never jealous!)

So what's the hullabaloo?

Homos aren't all that scary anymore. Years of exposure from the likes of Ellen and the Queer Eye guys and all of us coming out have made an impact.

These days most people tend to like us. Regular folks aren't feeling threatened the way they did back when they believed we were recruiting their children and doing all the other icky things the OCA said in the voters' pamphlet.

Apparently marriage between loving same-sex partners doesn't engender enough panic in the public. To get folks seriously lathered up, now the bigots have to throw in the cat, too (she doesn't like being thrown), and the poor chair.

As if marrying a pet or a chair is some deep-seated nightmare -- the looming terror people will do anything to avoid, even vote to amend the constitution.

A cat in a bridal veil. A chair in a tux. Ooooh! The new Axis of Evil.

Did we think we'd ever see the day when affection for pets and chairs would rattle the public cage more than two sissyfaggots or two bulldaggers dropping out of the patriarchal paradigm to make it with each other? We have come a long way, baby!

To protest the Federal Marriage Amendment, visit DontAmend.com.

Sally Sheklow lives in Eugene, Oregon with her wife, her cat, and her favorite chair. You can find more of her work at SallySheklow.com.

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

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