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May 2, 2003 PERMALINK
Cutting Some Campaign Spots
(posted May 2 12:45 AM ET)

You could go on and on about the unfairness of it all.

That the major networks allowed the White House to occupy its choicest prime-time slot for a newsless political ad, while ABC can't even get a single affiliate to air its Democratic debate live.

That so few will stress the tragic irony of Bush declaring major combat to be over on the same day US troops were hit with a grenade attack.

That Bush can milk this moment for all its worth while the Administration tries to cover-up embarrassing finds from the 9-11 investigation.

You could go on. But don't. It's not necessary.

First off, don't be shocked if many Americans didn't even watch.

Recent polls indicate that much of public has begun moving on, with the economy resurfacing as the prime concern.

In fact, 54% say Bush isn't paying enough attention to the economy. Yesterday's theater surely won't change that.

Second, and more importantly, it is not at all clear if this campaign footage will end up as powerful as Karl Rove thinks.

If Iraq and Al Qaeda are still prominently in the news next year, it will probably be because of terrorist attacks killing US troops abroad, or US civilians at home.

If the international arena is relatively calm, allowing Iraq and Al Qaeda to fade from the headlines, but the economy remains shaky, then spreading the Commander-in-Chief propaganda this thick could easily backfire.

In that vein, it was a big mistake for White House aides to cockily hint that the show was potential campaign footage.

Even though reporters are lapping up the theater now, being transparent will make it much easier for reporters to be cynical down the road.

The bottom line: the Bushies have basically put all their chips in the military basket.

And anyone who's taken a bath in Bush's stock market knows the importance of diversifying your portfolio.

May 1, 2003 PERMALINK
Daschle In Charge
(posted May 1 12:15 AM ET)

The decision by Tom Daschle to allow judicial nominee Jeffrey Sutton to slip past the Senate, while drawing a line at Priscilla Owen, is at once heartening and disappointing.

It's politically heartening in that Daschle made it very clear that he's controlling the nominating process.

Only two Dems crossed over to vote for Sutton, a loud signal that the caucus remains united in regards to right-wing judges.

If Dubya ever gets the chance to nominate a extremist Supreme Court justice, that person is sure to face a brick wall in the Senate.

And by coupling the Sutton vote with the Owen announcement, Daschle also made it clear that the bottling up of Miguel Estrada is not a special case.

Ari, Rush and Orrin can cry obstructionism all day long.

It doesn't change the reality that Dems can stop anyone they want, when they want.

And the vast majority of the public could care less. There's no political downside for the Dems.

Which leads to the Sutton disappointment.

His ideology is clear, and just as bad as Estrada and Owen.

He is part of the "federalism" revolution, the classy way to say "states' rights."

The movement has been undermining the ability of Congress to pass laws that protect civil rights.

It has extremely difficult to arouse much public outcry about federalism, as it comes across as abstract, not directly relevant to people's daily lives.

(Even though it affects everyone's life).

And so, Jeffrey Sutton has not, and likely will not, become a household name.

But his anonymity also makes it even easier to thwart his nomination.

(Does anyone love this guy except for the cigar smokers of the Federalist Society?)

Daschle spun the Sutton decision as one of generosity:

We probably could have sustained a filibuster on Mr. Sutton.

But we want to be selective. I don't want to abuse the practice of filibusters.

By keeping the Dems essentially unified against Sutton, he backed up the assertion.

But what Daschle was really concerned about, in all likelihood, was his own caucus.

He had to realize that there was no political gain in generosity.

The Right won't stop calling him an obstructionist. That talking point is burned in the GOP brain.

And again, the broader public isn't paying attention. Only the Left and Right political bases are watching.

More plausibly, Daschle was worried his caucus would eventually break if he rode them too hard over time.

Keep in mind that the Dems are new to playing the legislative game this way. They're used to the give-a-little to get-a-little.

They've come a long way, but Daschle wants to be a little careful.

It's understandable, but still disappointing.

April 30, 2003 PERMALINK
Killing Time?
Or Preparing For Killing?
(posted April 30 12:15 AM ET)

Last week, was progress made with North Korea or not?

The headlines highlighted the North Korea admission of having nukes, and the horrified reaction of the Chinese hosts.

And yesterday, the official Administration posture was stubborn and defiant.

But knowledgeable observers see promising possibilities, if Bush would play ball.

From Talking Points Memo:

...it seems likely to a lot of people now that [the State Department] could give President Bush a very big diplomatic victory in Northeast Asia over the next year or so.

The price, however, would be going back to the basic model that was pursued by the previous administration.

Tougher, more comprehensive, to be sure. But the same basic idea: aid and security guarantees in exchange for getting out of the nuclear biz.

Can the White House swallow its pride?

From Slate's Fred Kaplan:

...the question that the Bush administration must now face is this: What's the problem?...

...If Bush were to accept [Kim Jong-Il's] terms, how exactly would that harm U.S. interests?

And from NYT's Nicholas Kristof:

The North Koreans' new proposal is encouraging, although, as President Bush put it, it means that "they're up to their old blackmail game."

Mr. Bush's refusal to reward North Korean bad behavior is perfectly admirable, but it's also entirely impractical.

The three, all who appear professionally inclined to resist cynicism, hold out hope that Bush may eventually see the light and make the deal.

LiberalOasis has no such professional obligations.

As LO discussed in early March, the deeper agenda of the Bushies is China -- keeping it in check and preventing it from becoming a superpower rival.

North Korea is a mere obstacle to planting US troops on the Chinese border.

That's a major reason why China hasn't been so helpful with North Korea the last several months.

And that's why no one should expect a good-faith agreement to be struck.

The question that Bush is probably facing is:

Do we provoke a confrontation now, or do we kick the can down the road, beyond '04, because the prospect of a third war in three years is just a little too crazy, even for us?

They may be hoping to get regime change without war, giving economic destabilization a chance to destroy Kim's rule.

If that's the plan, Bush may be giving Powell some string to play with, allowing him to work towards an agreement -- maybe even forge one -- as a way to buy time.

But at the same time, they may be faced with black market sales of nukes (or threats of the same) before Nov. '04.

And that could provoke Rummyites to insist on a military strike.

At minimum, significant elements of the Administration are actively undercutting the talks. From yesterday's NYT:

"There are some people in this administration who argue that there's little point in talking to the North Koreans because they are always going to cheat," one official said.

But he added that North Korea's latest proposal was such a "nonstarter" that it was worth pursuing in order to show the futility of negotiating with the North.

Not the way to build the necessary trust to make a deal. And the hardliners know it.

More importantly, Bush isn't stopping them.

April 29, 2003 PERMALINK
Getting Muddy
(posted April 29 12:30 AM ET)

Many Dems are likely disheartened today after watching the Kerry and Dean campaigns explore the fine art of mudslinging.

(UPDATE April 29 12 PM ET -- Links galore on this matter in today's The Note.)

Two things. 1. Get used to it. 2. It's not all bad.

Yes, ideally Dems should not bloody each other when we all should be setting our collective sights on Dubya.

Realistically, presidential politics is a nasty game filled with humongous egos.

When someone sees an opening to land a punch, there's gonna be a punch.

With a nine-way race, such squabbling will be rampant. It will be unpleasant to watch.

But it's unstoppable, and hence, not worth grousing about.

And by no means does it ensure defeat in 2004.

The race in 1992 between Bill Clinton, Paul Tsongas and Jerry Brown got real mean.

Clinton was quite bruised at the end of it, running behind Bush and Perot in some polls. But he still won.

In 1988, the Poppy Bush-Bob Dole race was no tea party.

After Bush used misleading ads to beat Dole in New Hampshire, Dole went on TV and told Bush to "stop lying about my record." But Bush still won.

Despite the negative punditry that surrounds such fighting, there is an upside. It's good practice.

Most presidential candidates have never embarked on anything as daunting as a national campaign.

As such, they have never experienced life when every position and every utterance is mercilessly scrutinized, and often oversimplified and distorted.

Kerry probably thought he was brilliantly threading the needle by supporting the war resolution while hitting Dubya on unilateralism.

In turn, he probably wasn't expecting to be repeatedly slammed by a two-bit, no-name governor, let alone have that governor cut into his NH lead.

Dean probably thought saying out loud, "we won't always have the strongest military," was simply a harmless observation.

And he probably didn't think another campaign -- by slyly using the word "suggesting" -- would arbitrarily extend his comments to imply Dean plans to personally degrade the military.

(And did anyone expect that campaigns, not to mention supporters, will throw punches via blogs? Time will tell if this is a good development.)

As tough as it may seem, what Dean and Kerry are doing to each other is a sliver of what Karl Rove will do in the fall of 2004.

So it's good that they are getting their bumps and scrapes now, early in the race, when very few voters are paying attention.

Certainly, the Kerry-Dean rivalry will get tenser.

They both need to win NH desperately. And so, they will get pretty desperate.

But now that the two of them see what they are up against, you can also bet that they will be much sharper as the race progresses.

And if one of them isn't, that one will lose. Thankfully so.

April 28, 2003 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted April 27 11:45 PM ET)

Last month, The NYT Magazine profiled GOP moderate Lincoln Chafee, and found a guy searching for a successful strategy to deal with his conservative colleagues:

[Chafee asked rhetorically,] "If you're saying, ideally, what would I do to effect the change that I believe is best for my country?"

He creased his brow, shook his head. "I'm trying to answer that question also."

Perhaps he's answered it. Get on TV and expose the Right.

Here's Chafee on yesterday's Face The Nation:

...I'm trying to figure out why these conservatives are pushing the bigger and bigger tax cuts when traditionally conservatives have been opposed to deficits.

And all I can figure is that if we get these big deficits, then the pressure will be on to strangle...what is called the "wasteful social spending."

Whether it's Section 8 [housing for the poor] or Medicare or Medicaid or Social Security [or] Head Start programs or Pell grants.

And I think that's the tactic. Once we get these deficits, then we can attack these so-called wasteful social spending programs...

[But] I think these social programs have made a lot of people's lives a great deal better.

Chafee was just one Senator taking shots at Bush & Co. on Sunday.

Sen. George Voinovich was another, as Dubya's attempt to publicly pressure him officially backfired.

It not only elevated the Ohioan's profile, it got him the plum slot as lead guest on NBC's Meet The Press.

Voinovich was careful not to personally attack Bush or his GOP colleagues.

Nevertheless, he inadvertantly gave the Dems a few juicy quotes to pocket for later, such as this damning answer:

...when we voted for the last tax reduction--and I was a leader in supporting that in 2001--we had a $5.6 trillion surplus.

Today it's projected in the next 10 years that we're going to have a $2 trillion deficit, and we're going to be borrowing this year...

...I know that a lot of people can't believe this number--but we're going to borrow over $500 billion this year and next year to run our government...

...recently the economists from Goldman Sachs told The New York Times that the percentage of our debt to our gross domestic product is moving from about 33 percent to 49 percent.

...and they believe that will undermine our economy instead of stimulating it.

But whereas Chafee wants to protect social investments, Voinovich is offering Bush a compromise: massive spending cuts to offset the massive tax hikes.

That's in line with Voinovich's intellectually consistent, but heartlessly Republican, ideology -- balancing budgets on the backs of the poor.

For example, when he was Governor in the early 90s grappling with a $1.5B budget gap, he ended a state welfare program, cutting off more than 100,000 out-of-work adults.

(Notably, at one point he humanly responded to criticism of the plan saying, "I'm doing the best I can with what we've got," as he publicly shed tears.)

It wasn't just Republicans whacking Bush.

Presidential candidate Sen. Bob Graham in effect debuted his campaign on ABC's This Week, and was unsparing.

He called Bush "reckless and irresponsible" in his handling of the economy, lamenting budget deficits that he felt could not be rectified in less than 5 to 10 years.

But he was harshest when discussing terrorism:

We have virtually abandoned the war on terrorism.

We have withdrawn military intelligence capabilities from Afghanistan, and because of that, Al Qaeda has been able to regroup...

...we have not taken on the A-Team of [terrorism] -- Hezbollah, [Hamas and Islamic Jihad] -- in Syria and Lebanon...

...we have allowed our alliances, which are going to be absolutely critical to winning the war on terrorism, to disintegrate.

I don't think that's a very impressive national security record.

That broadside got Graham some quick ink.

And that kind of talk is how Graham's candidacy will be useful to the Democrats overall.

His earlier, disturbingly casual, remarks -- "We threw a few cruise missiles into the terrorist training camps in Afghanistan...that's what we may have to do in Syria" -- remain troubling.

And he definitely needs to answer how can the US be a honest broker in the Middle East peace process if it continues an active military campaign in the region.

But his relentless focus on terrorism, his credible perch on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and his willingness to attack Bush directly, should help soften up Bush on the security issue.

And that will help no matter who the eventual nominee is.

QUICK HIT

USA Puppet-In-Waiting Ahmed Chalabi hit the Sunday circuit for the third week in a row, this time stopping by Fox News Sunday and CNN's Late Edition.

But finally, we heard an anti-Chalabi voice on Sunday, Jordan's Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher (fresh from a NYT op-ed appearance) on Meet The Press.

After being asked about Chalabi's conviction in Jordan for embezzlement, Muasher said:

...Ahmad Chalabi is not just wanted in Jordan.

He is involved in financial irregularities in Lebanon. He's caused the collapse of two banks in Lebanon.

He's involved in financial irregularities in Switzerland, where another institution, financial institution, collapsed.

Ahmad Chalabi is a divisive character...we believe that [he] does not have credibility, either inside Iraq or in the region...

...I think if the Iraqis are given a free choice, he would not emerge as the leader of Iraq. If he is pushed as the leader of Iraq, he will be seen as a U.S. agent.

That should send a message to the talk shows. Stop treating Chalabi like he's the only game in town.

BEST OF THE BLOG LAST WEEK

VanitySite is elegantly upset about everything

The Talent Show looks at Bush's aborted attempt to go after a university prof who (*gasp*) teaches the theory of evolution

Busy Busy Busy sees the Right in a fight with the GOP leadership over Santorum (and makes a very unfortunate observation about LiberalOasis)

Idols of the Marketplace digs up an interesting 1980 Forbes article on the rise of Saddam

It's been a month. Where Is Raed?

The Sandbox
Humor by John Cougarstein

A Sandbox Flashback
From 10/6/02

NEWS OF THE FUTURE
Bush Promises Attack on Armenia “Is the Last One”

WASHINGTON, April 24, 2004 -- President George W. Bush prepared the nation for his 11th pre-emptive strike by insisting that the impending invasion of Armenia will be his last.

“I gotta tell ya, after your first military strike, it’s hard to stop. The rush is incredible,” said Bush, “But believe you me, these Armenians are nothing but trouble.”

In his address to the country, Bush wistfully remembered several of his more successful attacks, including “Operation This Really Isn’t About Islam” and “Operation Who You Calling Hitler.”

At the same time, his did not address some of the costly failures. Left unmentioned was the Italian War, part of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness’ War on Obesity.

And the Guam Quagmire -- which ended only after it was explained to Bush that the island was part of America even though it was not a state -- received just a passing mention.

Nevertheless, Bush was clearly fired up when talking about Armenia.

“We gave them 60 days to change their name,” said Bush, “as our Patent Office found that the name Armenia sounded too much like America, and therefore was a trademark violation.”

“But them Armenians have been crawfishin', po'daddyin', and skeepalunkin' for too long. And so they shall feel the brunt of American justice.”

For more Cougarstein, check out The Cougarstein Ramble and download Cougarstein songs at Iuma.com

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

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