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The LiberalOasis Blog
The daily view from the oasis

April 29, 2005 PERMALINK
Bush Quacks
(posted April 29 1:30 AM ET)

''I'm going to come out strong after my swearing in,'' Bush said [at a confidential lunch with supporters in Sept. ‘04,] ''with fundamental tax reform, tort reform, privatizing of Social Security.''

The victories he expects in November, he said, will give us ''two years, at least, until the next midterm. We have to move quickly, because after that I'll be quacking like a duck.''
-- NY Times Magazine, 10/17/04 (via The Talent Show)

After last night’s press conference, it appears he’s quacking much earlier than he thought.

The presser was an attempt to assert Bush's relevance, following his plunge in the polls and after the failure of his Social Security tour gradually relegated him to the back pages.

But if you’re going to demand an hour of the public’s TV time in order to regain relevance, you better have something relevant to say.

Bush didn’t.

He only came in with a wisp of new news, an overt embrace of Social Security benefit cuts, something the White House has signaled for some time.

Otherwise, it was a lot of talking points rehash.

It was a dramatic setting without any dramatic substance.

Instead of galvanizing public support for his agenda, he likely left the public wondering why normal programming was pre-empted at all.

And without the constant milking of 9/11 from a “wartime president” (after the election, no need to do that anymore), the media and public feel less obligated to pay attention.

That’s why most of the networks felt comfortable cutting Bush off a few minutes early, as he rambled past 9 PM ET.

You can’t get away with that for a wartime prez, but you can for a lame duck prez.

Of course, the presidency is inherently relevant (as Bill Clinton clumsily reminded the media at his own desperation prime time presser 10 years and 10 days ago.)

As such, Bush didn’t become a nobody overnight last night.

But he did become a smaller, less imposing figure, with a weaker grasp on the nation’s political agenda.

April 28, 2005 PERMALINK
"Ethics War Is Declared"
(posted April 28 1:15 AM ET)
(minor edit April 28 10:45 AM ET)

The NY Times says the news is “House Overturns New Ethics Rule as G.O.P. Relents.”

The W. Post says it is “Hastert Willing to Repeal Ethics Rules.”

And the AP says it is “House Votes to Reverse GOP Ethics Rules.”

But none of that is the real news.

This is the news, from The Hill, “Ethics War Is Declared”:

Republican lawmakers … said it is inevitable that their colleagues will file complaints against Democrats once the ethics panel is again operational.

...

One Democrat who is likely to suffer from the reorganization of the ethics committee is Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), who is the target of a complaint filed in the last Congress...

...“There are other Democrats who are just as interesting from an ethics standpoint,” said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), vice chairman of the Republican Conference.

“Unfortunately, the Democrats have been throwing a lot of mud and it is going to be thrown right back at them.”

Kingston said it is inevitable that Republicans will file complaints against other Democrats.

He cited reports that Reps. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) and Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) took trips that were paid for by lobbyists, a violation of ethics rules, and that 10 aides in the Democratic leader’s office failed to report trips paid for by outside groups.

“The ethics committee is going to get organized, and when it does it’s going to get down to business,” Kingston said.

When asked if he meant that it would investigate Democrats, Kingston said “absolutely.”...

...[Rep.] Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said of the prospect of an ethics war between Republicans and Democrats: “It’s inevitable. Don’t think its not going to happen.”

As you can see, scrapping the new ethics rules intended to block an investigation into Tom DeLay is not a retreat.

Just a change in strategy.

They’re tired of playing defense for DeLay.

So now they’re gearing up to play some offense.

Now that the GOP has relented on the rules of the Ethics Cmte, the Dems will allow the cmte to organize and function.

And the GOP will begin trumping up any two-bit charge they can sniff out.

While they can’t fully bump DeLay off the front pages, they can potentially muddy the waters, turning the narrative into an “everybody does it” kind of story.

Now, this is very much a high-risk strategy for the GOP.

A steady stream of “everybody does it” stories can create an anti-incumbent “Throw The Bums Out” dynamic, as the House Bank scandal did in 1992 (43 congresspeople were defeated, another 52 retired.)

While the GOP margin in the House has been fairly slim for several years, Dems have never been given much chance to regain control, because incumbency re-elections rates have been so high.

A Throw The Bums Out dynamic, while possibly stinging some Dems, may well be the party’s best chance in 2006.

Certainly the GOP knows this. They didn’t enter into this strategy lightly.

They just concluded their defensive strategy was unsustainable, and an offensive Ethics War the least worst option remaining.

So, what does that mean for the Dems?

Just because a Throw The Bums Out mood may be helpful to the party in no way means they can lie back and absorb the GOP ethics attacks.

There are two things Dems need to do.

One they appear to be doing already: digging through their own records, seeing what mistakes they might have made, and making it right or pre-emptively admitting error.

The second thing to do is to repeatedly stress that DeLay’s activities go far beyond what “everybody” supposedly does.

That what matters about DeLay is not just that he is merely unethical.

It’s that he represents a Republican Party that unethically sells off Congress to the highest bidder, creating policies that hurt most Americans (as the DCCC’s House of Scandal site shows).

While the GOP tries to tag Dems with random petty-ante stuff, Dems should be using the DeLay allegations to make a deeper, broader case about who the two parties serve and fight for.

That means routinely connecting each new drip about DeLay to the larger story, not just trying to play up each drip separately in hopes of forcing him out -- a la Al Capone on tax evasion.

And that means showcasing how Republicans are embracing DeLay, how they openly say that attacks on DeLay are attacks on the conservative movement.

Not overanalyzing and overhyping every time a GOPer says something that can be interpreted as criticism of DeLay.

Playing up the dissent to undermine DeLay’s support is not only factually suspect (Bush’s photo-op with DeLay was far more relevant than Scott McClellan’s answer to a question about how Bush doesn’t socialize with Delay.)

But it also undercuts the bigger message: that DeLay’s unethical politics are what the GOP is all about.

This is not to say the Dems should be holding back in order to keep DeLay around for the ’06 elections, as some are arguing for and against.

That is a silly debate. By no means do Dems remotely control this situation enough to decide if DeLay stays or goes.

Dems should be fueled by a principled desire for clean government, and a political desire to make clear distinctions between the parties.

In turn. Dems should be relentlessly hitting DeLay as the bag man for a party beholden to Fat Cats and Fringe Fundamentalists.

If that forces DeLay out of the leadership or out of Congress, fine. Score one for the Dems and the public, then keep working to find new ways to press the same message about the GOP.

If not, fine. Use DeLay as the poster boy come ‘06. And may the public win then.

April 27, 2005 PERMALINK
The GOP Spins ... And Misses
(posted April 27 1 AM ET)

This week’s ABC/W. Post poll offered damning evidence that the GOP push to end judicial filibusters is a dud with the public.

Of course, the GOP is not a group willing to accept reality so quickly.

Admittedly, this can sometimes be an admirable trait. But sometimes, it’s just pathetic.

The GOP desperately tried to push back on the ABC/W. Post poll, which found that 66% opposed the nuclear option and a 48% plurality said Dems were “right” to “block these nominations.” (Only 36% said they were “wrong.”)

How did they push back? By whining about biased poll questions while releasing their own poll.

(The right-wing blogosphere and Rush were making wild “bias” claims as well.)

RNC Chair Ken Mehlman released a memo at a lunch with GOP Senators, trumpeting the party's own poll with 80% saying it’s “time” for Bush’s nominees to get an “up-or-down vote.”

And Mehlman succeeded in getting the NY Times and Fox News to juxtapose his poll with the ABC/W. Post poll.

But Mehlman, the NYT and Fox neglected a key bit of info.

Mehlman’s poll is not all that new.

And not all that flattering to the GOP.

It’s the same GOP poll that was leaked to the AP and The Hill last week.

If you recall, the AP covered it this way:

Private Republican polling shows scant support for a plan to stop minority Democrats from blocking judicial nominees, officials said Thursday...

...These officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a recent survey taken for Senate Republicans showed 37 percent support for the GOP plan to deny Democrats the ability to filibuster judicial nominees, while 51 percent oppose.

(The AP also noted the 80% result, which is why we know it’s the same poll. In addition, both the Mehlman memo and the AP story indicate that the poll was taken for Senate GOPers.)

And according to The Hill, Sen. Rick Santorum thought the poll was so bad for the GOP that he privately recommended that they hold off on going nuclear.

Obviously, the “up-or-down vote” talking point is the most compelling thing they have in their arsenal, so they are playing up that part of the poll and getting everyone on message.

But while that line theoretically works in a vacuum, clearly all the rest of the polling shows that the public accepts that the issue isn’t that simple.

Bottom line: the “up-or-down vote” line doesn’t hold up once the battle is joined.

Public opinion is clearly against this right-wing power grab. The GOP ignores this reality at its own peril.

April 26, 2005 PERMALINK
Nuclear Compromise?
(posted April 26 1 AM ET)

Lots of activity yesterday from Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid on the nuclear option.

The big news from the AP is that Reid has privately offered Sen. Bill Frist a compromise.

Though it’s an offer Frist is highly unlikely to accept.

Reid is proposing to let just two of the seven contested judicial nominees clear the Senate, if the GOP drops the nuclear option.

And not just any two. He is specifying which two (it does not include the two the GOP is most eager to confirm, Priscilla “Enron” Owen and Janice “FDR Was A Socialist” Brown.)

Furthermore, on CNN’s Inside Politics, Reid knocked down the proposal floated by Sen. Joe Biden on Sunday, to let five of the seven through (“his numbers are … not quite right.”)

If Frist gave up on the nuclear option for a mere two judges, in all likelihood, the Fringe Fundamentalists in the GOP base would be livid.

Frist would be better off calling for a vote on the nuclear option and losing it than taking this deal (at least then he could lay the blame on other GOPers.)

Now, LiberalOasis would far prefer Reid not offer any undeserved and unwarranted compromises.

But this offer is not necessarily evidence that Reid will bend over backwards, and sacrifice principle, to cut a deal.

It may just be so he can legitimately say he tried to find common ground but was rebuffed.

Reid other actions yesterday speak to a strategy of principled confrontation, not wimpy compromise.

Earlier in the day, Reid’s team announced their post-nuclear plans, which are creative and thoughtful enough to indicate they fully expect the button to be pushed.

The strategy was further explained in a conference call Reid held with several bloggers.

Reid also distributed a tough audio statement justifying the blocking of these particular judges:

They want to clear the path for President Bush to appoint Justices who will not protect the right to privacy or the separation of church and state. Abusing power is not what the American people sent us to Washington to do.

Reid appears to be steeling the base for confrontation, not preparing them for compromise, even as he signals a nominal willingness to compromise.

Is it politically necessary to do go through the compromise motions?

No, as last evening’s ABC/W. Post poll shows:

Would you support or oppose changing Senate rules to make it easier for the Republicans to confirm Bush’s judicial nominees?

Support – 26%
Oppose – 66%

Do you think the Senate Democrats are right or wrong to block these nominations?

Right – 48%
Wrong – 36%

Clearly, Dems are in the driver’s seat and have no political need to concede anything.

But Reid may feel an internal need to go through the motions, to appease squeamish senators like Biden that are publicly calling for a compromise.

While Reid’s actions are less alarming than those of Biden and Dodd on Sunday, the situation is still fuzzy and fluid, and there still is a need for the grassroots to tell Dems “No Deals.”

And to tell increasingly nervous GOPers “No Nukes.”

April 25, 2005 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted April 24 7 PM ET)

Despite acknowledgements from within the GOP that they’re getting beat on the “nuclear option” battle, two key Dems foolishly offered the GOP an escape hatch during yesterday’s talkshows.

Sen. Joe Biden was the most specific, on ABC’s This Week (video at Crooks and Liars):

I think we should compromise and say to them that we’re willing to, of the seven judges [filibustered last year and now re-nominated], we’ll let a number of them go through, the two most extreme [will] not go through, and [we’ll] put off this vote [on the nuclear option].

Afterwards, Sen. Chris Dodd, on CBS’ Face The Nation, didn’t embrace Biden’s proposal specifically, but supported it conceptually:

...I know my colleague Senator Biden made a suggestion on another program this morning. There are various other ideas kicking around out there.

Certainly I’d urge people to examine ways to avoid this, because I really think [we would do] damage … to the institution of the United States Senate … Let’s look for a compromise.

And as LiberalOasis noted on Friday, Sens. Joe Lieberman and Ken Salazar proposed the same Filibuster-For-Freaky Judges Swap last week.

We don’t know if Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid backs the Swap, though some anonymous GOPers have been gossiping that he’s been shopping that around.

But clearly, the troubling notion of compromise is building up steam.

To be fair to these Senators, they likely are acting, at least in part, on a well-intentioned impulse: to keep the filibuster in the place for when a Supreme Court nomination comes.

But let’s not forget four things.

One, you cut this deal now, who is to say that the GOP won’t stab Dems in the back and go nuclear later? Because of their great track record of keeping their word?

Two, Supreme Court seats are for life. But so are seats on federal appeals courts.

And they will hear many more cases per year than the Supreme Court does, impacting the lives of many Americans.

Three, as LiberalOasis has noted the last several days, and the LA Times reported yesterday, the GOP base is torn over the nuclear option, while the party is losing public opinion.

Furthermore, the party has been losing public opinion on Tom DeLay, Social Security and Terri Schiavo.

They’re on the defensive on several fronts. It’s time to jack up the pressure and make them squirm more.

It’s not time to offer up a compromise that’s gives away much of the store.

Finally, to capitulate on judicial nominees that Dems have battled back for years is to once again forget the principles that have driven our actions.

Granted, few Americans have even realized that there has been a fight of appellate court nominees, let alone what principles are involved.

But now, as the profile of this fight is raised, it’s time to raise the profile of the principles too.

Is it a matter of deep conviction to save the judiciary from people from people who would spit on workers wronged on the job, trash progress towards racial equality, stop our government from cleaning our air and water, and permit right-wingers to violate our right to make private personal decisions?

If it is, then say so and act on it. Fight nominees at all levels that would turn the judiciary over to the Fat Cats and Fringe Fundamentalists.

Worst-case scenario, you lose the immediate fight in Congress. But you win respect among the public, better set the stage for fighting Supreme Court nominees, and build trust for future elections.

But, is the real deep conviction just about having the filibuster, so you can say you have it?

If you suddenly let radical right nominees go through, in order to “save” the filibuster, you have signaled that you are happy to junk principle in order to protect your own personal procedural powers.

We are standing with Democrats to save the filibuster so it can be used on behalf of the public interest.

If you’re not going to use it here, to block the craziest of the crazy, what’s the point in having it?

On Friday, LiberalOasis encouraged readers to contact their Dem Senators and say “No Deals.”

It’s even more urgent now.

(UPDATE 4/24/05 9:30 PM ET -- "Justice Sunday," the Family Research Council's telecast to rally support for the nuclear option, was heavy on calls to contact Senators Monday morning. Counter their efforts by doing the same. Tell GOPers, "protect the filibuster." Tell Dems, "no deals.")

April 22, 2005 PERMALINK
GOP Leaks Show Fracturing on Nuclear Option
(posted April 22 2 AM ET)

Speculation from the GOP regarding the nuclear option was all over the map yesterday.

Some of it indicates that the GOP is on the verge of caving.

The first bit of chum came in the morning. The Hill reported that internal GOP polls were so bad, that Sen. Rick Santorum had begun privately urging his colleagues to pull back on going nuclear.

Later in the day, Santorum denied the report.

But after the existence of the poll was leaked to The Hill by anonymous GOPers, more (or the same) GOPers leaked the specifics of the poll to the AP.

There’s no plausible reason for GOPers to do that other than sabotage.

Either from rebels dead set against the nuclear option, or from supporters who see the writing on the wall and want to prepare the base for defeat.

But also yesterday, another group of anonymous GOPers was whispering in the ear of Fox News’ Mort Kondracke.

Kondracke dutifully shared the gossip with his audience:

That Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid was trying to cut a deal with the GOP, where he’d end the filibuster on some of the controversial judges in exchange for scrapping the nuclear option.

Also, that Santorum had rejected any such deal (Kondracke didn’t share with the Fox audience the report that he may be behind a cave-in).

And that these GOPers claimed Reid’s attempts had a “certain frantic quality” which indicated that “the Democrats are showing weakness.”

Granted, there is some grains of plausibility to this gossip.

Sens. Joe Lieberman and Ken Salazar floated a similar compromise on Wed.

And Reid has talked vaguely of compromise, as has Majority Leader Bill Frist, though few have taken those words seriously.

But overall, Democratic actions have shown tenacity, not hesitancy, on protecting the filibuster and opposing right-wing judges.

For example, yesterday afternoon, Sens. Dick Durbin (Reid’s #2), Chuck Schumer (Dem point man on judges) and even Lieberman, participated in an anti-nuclear option rally.

And the top of the Minority Leader’s home page is a call to arms to defend the filibuster.

It’s more likely that this GOP gossip, fed to Fox, was not on the level.

And instead, was intended to plant seeds of doubt in Dems (particularly accommodationist Dems) in hopes that they would lose confidence in Reid and flinch.

But, things are a little murky out there, and you can never be too careful.

So if you have a GOP Senator, contact him or her and tell them to save the filibuster.

And if you have a Dem Senator, contact him or her and tell them: no deals, we got the GOP on the run.

(UPDATE 4/22/05 2:30 PM ET -- More evidence Reid is not flinching.

Here's an email statement from him, responding to today's pro-nuclear option comments from Dick Cheney:

"Last week, I met with the president and was encouraged when he told me he would not become involved in Republican efforts to break the Senate rules.

"Now, it appears he was not being honest, and that the White House is encouraging this raw abuse of power.

"It is disturbing that Republicans have so little respect for the separation of powers established by our founding fathers.

"Based on his comments last week, I had hoped that the president was prepared to join Democrats in taking up the work of the American people, but it is clear this is no longer the case.

"If the White House and Congress insists on proceeding down this road, Democrats will do all we can to ensure that Congress pursues an agenda the American people can be proud of.")

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

Drive Democracy and Chuck Currie offer "Justice Sunday" dispatches

Gristmill has the Earth Day roundup

The American Prospect: "A former federal prosecutor who worked with [PlameGate investigator Patrick] Fitzgerald in the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago says ... 'You have two people who had a conversation, [Bob] Novak and an administration official. If both of them are going to lie -- Novak and the source -- there is no way to penetrate that. None. It doesn't matter how meticulous you are a prosecutor, or that you have unlimited resources at your disposal.'"

Seeing The Forest has a statement from the National Council of Churches: "To brand any group of American citizens as 'anti-Christian' simply because they differ on political issues runs counter to the values of both faith and democracy. It is especially disheartening when that accusation is aimed at fellow Christians."

War and Piece: Did John Bolton commit perjury?

MaxSpeak takes Greenspan to task

Raw Story and The Stakeholder have more DeLay drip drip drip

The Mahablog: "I remember well the years before Roe v. Wade. ... the legislatures of several states spent so much time fighting over abortion little else was getting done. I was living in Missouri when ... Roe ... was handed down, and it seemed to me the state legislators were, if anything, relieved they could shove abortion up to the federal level and get back to running the state."

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