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The LiberalOasis Blog
The daily view from the oasis

May 6, 2005 PERMALINK
Bolton Battle Heats Up
Are Dems Ready For What's Next?
(posted May 6 2 AM ET)

Sen. Joe Biden and the Dems on the Foreign Relations Cmte appear willing to fight John Bolton, embattled nominee for UN Ambassador, to the last breath.

The AP, Reuters and the LA Times report that Biden may try to delay the scheduled May 12 vote on Bolton if GOPers don’t fully cooperate with the investigation into Bolton’s background.

The steeliness from the Dems is notable considering the ferocity of the White House pushback -- the defiant messaging, the intense pressuring of Senate GOPers, and the obstructing of the investigation.

Furthermore, yesterday’s W. Post article, “Senate Staff Interviews Show More Nuanced Image of Bolton” threatened to slow the anti-Bolton momentum that had been created.

And last evening, the in-house pundits at Fox News were spinning hard the AP report that Colin Powell’s close friend Richard Armitage endorsed Bolton, spin that today’s W. Post swallowed.

(Though the AP report makes it clear that the endorsement was tepid, perhaps even made under pressure: “Asked if Bolton was a good choice, Armitage replied carefully, ‘It was the president's choice and I support my president.’”)

The Dems seem determined to not let such things deter their mission.

But while the will may be there, the messaging arguably hasn’t been.

The White House has been blowing past the specific Bolton allegations and boiling down the nomination to a single principle: “A vote for John Bolton is a vote for reform at the United Nations.”

Last month, LO counseled Dems to respond to an ideological defense with one of their own, so win or lose, we communicate to the public the foreign policy principles that drive us.

That hasn’t happened. Dems are clinging to a purely non-ideological approach focused on Bolton’s past abusive and deceitful behavior.

That is understandable, since it has gotten them this far.

But it also indicates that Dems aren’t really thinking about the larger political impact of this fight.

They are strictly doing what they can to stop Bolton, without worrying about the ramifications the fight has on the Democratic Party.

So their messages are just tailored to the fight at hand, the nomination, and not to fights down the road regarding national security strategies.

The GOP better understands that you can’t separate the immediate and the long-term, that every fight has broader political consequences.

That’s why even if the Dems succeed in getting a GOPer to vote "No," deadlocking the committee, the White House will calmly push the nomination to the floor anyway, because they feel comfortable fighting for Bolton based on the broader principle they outlined.

Perhaps the Dems would filibuster at such a point. They have already gone farther than many might have thought.

But if they do filibuster, raising the profile of the story, they would be best served with messages that took the GOP messages head on.

Not just explaining why Bolton is a bad guy, but explaining why Dems believe so strongly that a person like Bolton would harm our national security interests.

May 5, 2005 PERMALINK
Time For Dems To Propose A Plan
(But Not For What You Think)
(posted May 5 1:15 AM ET)

Yesterday, ABC’s The Note played up this quote from the Wall Street Journal:

Some Democratic aides on Capitol Hill said privately that the new details of the president's plan were pressing them to consider eventually putting forward their own fix.

Of course, it’s not clear how much stock one should put in that anonymous paraphrase since the preceding sentences were:

In both chambers, Democratic lawmakers insist Mr. Bush has strengthened their position by embracing an approach that would reduce promised future benefits for seven in 10 Social Security recipients.

"There is no seat that Democrats are going to lose because we stand up for the principle of guaranteed benefits," says Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, who is chairman of the party's campaign committee.

We’ve seen past reports implying that Dems were on the verge of caving: moving from playing offense against Bush’s plan, to playing defense on a plan of their own.

But they haven’t yet. The party’s leaders seem to be keeping the Chicken Littles in check.

And even though the media Establishment has stepped up the pressure, continually asking Dems where their plan is, Beltway fave E.J. Dionne’s column, telling Dems to walk away from the table, takes some of that pressure off.

Both factions within the party can point to this week’s Gallup poll.

With Bush’s ratings on Social Security so low, it’s indisputable that the non-negotiation strategy has worked by keeping Bush on the defensive.

But as James Carville and Stan Greenberg contended back in March, the new poll indicates that Dems still aren’t picking up too much support as a result of Bush’s failure, arguably because they are perceived as lacking principle and seriousness.

How to resolve this conundrum? How can we keep a good thing going without fear of backlash?

LiberalOasis has a strategic manuever that will continue the effective non-negotiation strategy, maintain the principles that have been driving the strategy, while shoring up their rep for seriousness with the media and the public.

The main principle of the current strategy is that “There Is No Crisis,” meaning that there is no pressing need to cut a bad deal with people who can’t be trusted to protect Social Security.

A secondary argument has been that Medicare is clearly closer to crisis than Social Security and we should be talking about that instead.

That’s been said largely to sharpen the point that Social Security isn’t in crisis.

But why not take that argument to the next logical step? To be specific:

1. Declare the Social Security debate over, as the public has clearly rejected privatization and is not demanding any immediate action.

2. In turn, announce that Dems will no longer participate in any Social Security hearings on Capitol Hill, or any Social Security debates in the media.

3. At the same time, unveil a comprehensive Democratic plan (or perhaps, multiple plans) to control the skyrocketing cost of health care and to prevent the Medicare trust fund from becoming insolvent in 2020.

4. Announce a series of Democratic-led hearings on Medicare, with an open invitation for Republicans to participate if they like.

This strategy has several desired benefits.

It takes away the GOP’s control of the agenda.

It renders their Social Security strategy worthless. They cannot win outright, nor can they "win by losing" by painting Dems as ostriches.

It turns their hearings into a waste of time, as observers will know that whatever legislation clears committee will be dead on the floor.

It accelerates Bush’s lame duck status.

But by sincerely addressing what everyone considers to be the more pressing problem, the Dems can’t easily be mocked by the Establishment poo-bahs for being unserious.

(In particular, the W. Post ed board would be forced to eat their words.)

Dems not only look serious, they also solidify their principles.

They acheive their goal of protecting the guarantee of Social Security. They lay claim for caring more about our health care.

All without being accused of ducking tough issues for political purposes.

The worse that can be said is that they are addressing tough issues for political purposes (and they can always throw Karl Rove’s favorite quote back in his face: “Good policy is good politics.”)

And all that keeps Dems on the offensive and the GOP on the defensive.

The key to this strategy is having the guts to put a comprehensive health care proposal on the table. As Matthew Yglesias has noted, it’s “genuinely hard to figure out what we should do.”

That’s why, instead of proposing one plan, it may be easier to propose a few plans from across the Democratic Party’s ideological spectrum, then use the makeshift hearing process to air out the pros and cons.

For example, Sen. Ted Kennedy recently proposed “Medicare For All” which would ”expand Medicare over the next decade to cover every citizen - from birth to the end of life.”

(Ezra Klein likes. Yglesias doesn’t.)

Another idea comes from Leif Wellington Haase of The Century Foundation, who notes, as does Paul Krugman, that the problem is not Medicare itself, but rising health care costs that put pressure on the Medicare trust fund.

Instead of what he calls “politically infeasible single-payer plans,” he proposes to address the cost issue by “enact[ing] a universal health insurance system, administered by private insurers, in which the government sets national benefit and coverage standards for different levels of insurance coverage.”

A more market-based idea to indirectly control costs comes from Harvard’s David Cutler, who advocates a “pay-for-performance” system, as opposed to today’s “fee-for-service.” Political Animal recently analyzed the approach.

A concerted effort to debate ideas like these wouldn’t exactly rivet the nation’s attention over time, as health care policy is deadly boring.

But it would provide a real public service, give off the general vibe of seriousness, and make the GOP look silly for not doing it first.

It would be even more impressive if Dems used the makeshift hearing process to come up with a singular plan and dared to run on it in 2006.

But let’s take it one step at a time.

May 4, 2005 PERMALINK
Stop Rationalizing
(posted May 4 1:30 AM ET)

Both Sen. Joe Biden and columnist Nick Kristof recently turned in generally good pieces, in the W. Monthly and NY Times respectively, criticizing aspects of Dubya’s foreign policy.

But both pulled back from hitting Bush where it hurts, his true interests and goals.

Instead, when faced with the glaring hypocrisies in Bush’s foreign policy, they sought to rationalize them, leaving the reader to think Bush is merely a decent guy facing some tough calls.

For example, Kristof, who has been admirably putting pressure on Bush to do something about the genocide in the Sudan, laid out why he thought Bush was hesitant.

Kristof called it a “legitimate” concern that “Sudan's leaders have increased their cooperation with the C.I.A. As The Los Angeles Times reported, the C.I.A. recently flew Sudan's intelligence chief to Washington for consultations about the war on terror, and the White House doesn't want to jeopardize that channel.”

Uh, wouldn’t that be completely illegitimate under the vaunted Bush Doctrine?

Instead of propping up one mass murderer to nab a second mass murderer (that was once harbored by the first, no less), shouldn’t we be trying to lock up the first mass murderer too?

Couldn’t the subsequent democratically elected regime Sudan then help out us with intelligence to fight terror in the region? (Or does Bush think the Sudanese aren’t ready for democracy?)

If Bush was sincere that ridding the world of criminal regimes is the only way to get at the root causes of terrorism, then he wouldn’t care about any channel with Sudan, because doing business with them perpetuates the core problem.

Similarly, Biden rationalized Bush’s hypocrisies in other areas of the word:

While the administration talks tough to dictatorial adversaries like Iran and North Korea, it rarely sustains the heat on illiberal partners like China, Russia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.

After all, we need China to help roll back North Korea's nuclear program.

We need Russia's help to assure the destruction of those loose nuclear weapons that could fall into the hands of the wrong people, and to prevent Iran from going fully nuclear.

We need Pakistan's help to root out al Qaeda and the remainder of the Taliban.

We need Egypt's help on the Mideast peace process and in Iraq.

So, here's the problem: The president's very strength—the absolutism of his rhetoric—creates a very mixed message when it runs into the reality of our short-term security interests.

It would help if the president acknowledged and explained that tension to the American people and others around the world.

But those examples don’t really explain why Bush doesn’t pressure Pakistan, Russia and China.

Bush hasn’t never made a serious effort to work with Russia to round up loose nukes, as he has regularly sought to cut funding for programs that would do so.

Pakistan is allowed to prevent US troops from chasing militants within its borders, and recently transferred $540,000 to Al Qaeda as part of a peace deal with militants.

And Bush doesn’t really want China’s help with North Korea.

Bush is just going through the motions with the multi-party talks while waiting and hoping for the North Korean government to fall, so he can get a friendly regime on China’s border and constrain China from becoming a rival superpower.

(That’s why we never make any serious offers to North Korea to stop their nuclear activities. It’s not stubbornness or incompetence. It’s conscious strategy.)

Biden argues Bush merely needs to be up front about the “tensions” between his rhetoric and our immediate security needs.

Granted, those tensions can exist. Idealistic goals can’t be attained without some pragmatism.

But Bush’s problem isn’t that he won’t cop to pragmatism in the pursuit of democracy.

Bush’s problem is that he’s a complete hypocrite when it comes to democracy.

It's not for cosmetic reasons that Bush has undermined our moral authority to lead on democracy. It's substantive.

At one point Biden comes close to hitting Bush on hypocrisy, smartly noting how Bush’s pro-democracy program largely steers money to dictators.

But still, he flinches from connecting the dots.

The hesitancy from a couple of guys who clearly know their stuff, and whose views carry great weight in the Beltway Establishment, is nothing short of maddening.

May 3, 2005 PERMALINK
Learning Nothing From Abu Ghraib
(posted May 3 1 AM ET)

The rampant torture at Abu Ghraib disgusted the nation.

Support for the Iraq War dropped after the story came to light.

Practically nobody defended the actions. The best right-wingers could do was to try to minimize the relevance of the torture and deny that it was official policy.

It was a rough road, but the White House spin machine was eventually able to keep the charges from sullying Bush and Defense Sec. Rumsfeld.

Gradually, the public’s attention moved on.

There appears to be general acceptance that this was an isolated incident, and that the White House remains sincere about fighting terror by supporting human rights throughout the globe.

But in recent days, the evidence has been mounting that nothing has changed since Abu Ghraib.

An American UN human rights monitor was dismissed by the UN, under US pressure, right after he accused American prison officials in Afghanistan of torture, unlawful detentions, illegal transfers and the hiding of prisoners.

(The State Department contends his position was terminated because things have gotten so much better in Afghanistan that there was no longer a need for an independent human rights monitor. Human Rights Watch disagrees.)

And on Sunday, the NY Times reported that we are sending prisoners to the human rights wasteland of Uzbekistan, known for boiling dissidents to death.

Clearly, Abu Ghraib was not an isolated incident. Torture continues. Human rights continue to be violated.

Beyond the basic immorality of it all, our ability to spread freedom and liberty – the alleged goal of the White House – is undermined by the loss of our credibility.

Why aren’t these stories given more attention by the media? Very simple. No pictures. Just words.

Abu Ghraib’s visuals made the story compelling for TV news editors, and also were impossible for government officials to deny.

So if stories like these can’t break through the clutter, should Democrats bother talking about them?

Absolutely.

But without any expectation to score short-term political points. Being anti-torture is unlikely to be the ticket to victory in 2006 or 2008.

If Dems are going to gain the public’s confidence on national security, they have to continually articulate the party’s national security principles, and how their moral principles have pragmatic benefits.

That means highlighting where the two parties principles unequivocally diverge.

And only one party is squarely against torture.

May 2, 2005 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted May 2 1:30 AM ET)

The big news from the Sunday shows is that the two GOP Senators, both rumored to be ’08 prez candidates, distanced themselves from Dubya’s latest Social Security idea.

On CBS’ Face The Nation, Sen. Sam Brownback tried to be polite about it, but made his position clear:

BOB SCHIEFFER: Basically [Bush] said, larger benefits for those at the low end of the income scale [sic], and lesser benefits for those at the high end of the income scale.

Do you think that is a good idea?

BROWNBACK: Well, I don't personally think it's the route to go on it, but I do applaud the president for putting another thought, another idea out on the table.

Sen. George Allen, on NBC’s Meet The Press, wasn’t as clear, but was obviously reluctant to explicitly embrace the benefit cuts that Bush proposed:

ALLEN: ... I don't think we ought to be cutting benefits for those middle income and low income.

...

TIM RUSSERT: Stop right there. Stop right there, Senator Allen.

President Bush has said 40 percent reduction for those making $90,000. And a 30 percent reduction for those making $59,000.

ALLEN: Got it. Right.

RUSSERT: You disagree?

ALLEN: I think that --

RUSSERT: And you oppose the president? Be clear.

ALLEN: Don't put words in my mouth. Understand what I'm trying to get --

RUSSERT: Do you support or oppose the president? That's fair.

ALLEN: I support what I'm for and my own ideas.

And my ideas are those of middle-income, working people ought to have better retirement security in addition to what Social Security has provided.

RUSSERT: So you're disagreeing with the president?

ALLEN: I think when you look at the president's specific proposal, which only has to do with middle income and higher income and lower income, that is just one narrow part of all the retirement benefits.

Of course, neither Senator wanted to dwell on their differences with Dubya.

They don’t want to be tagged with backing a loser proposal come ’08, but they don’t want to be tagged as disloyal either.

So they sought to deflect attention from themselves and onto the Dems, pushing the longstanding talking point that Dems don’t have a plan.

And all the Sunday show hosts helped them out by taking the same line when questioning Dems.

But that’s merely an attempt by the GOP to do to the Dems what the Dems have done to them, shatter their unity.

And Dems aren’t taking the bait.

As Talking Points Memo said yesterday, Dems aren’t interested in debating “how we should phase Social Security out.” They’re debating “whether or not Social Security should be saved.”

All the Dems on the shows yesterday -- Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and Sens. Chris Dodd, Carl Levin, Pat Leahy and Dick Durbin – withstood GOP and media Establishment pressure to accept Bush’s premises and move away from fighting privatization on principle.

With the GOP still fractured on Social Security following the Bush press conference, and with “middle-class benefit cuts” unlikely to move public opinion towards the GOP, Dems have no incentive to budge.

QUICK HITS

Allen, Not Ready For Prime Time

Allen also got smacked around a bit by Russert when discussing judicial filibusters (video at Crooks and Liars):

RUSSERT: Bill Clinton nominated 51 people to the Court of Appeals. 35 were confirmed.

Sixteen were blocked by the Republicans by not giving hearings or not allowed out of committee.

George Bush nominated 52. 35 were confirmed because the Democrats threatened filibuster.

[Democrats] don't run the committees, so they can't block it in committee.

What's the difference?

ALLEN: I think you'll find on the Circuit Court judges that President Bush has the lowest percentage of Circuit Court judges --

RUSSERT: I just gave you the numbers.

Clinton nominated 51. 35 were confirmed. Bush nominated 52. 35 were confirmed. Those are the numbers.

ALLEN: Well, I have different numbers than that.

Clearly, the early ’08 frontrunner has the requisite will to blatantly ignore facts, but hasn’t mastered the art of doing so.

However, his flip-flop skills are farther along.

At one point yesterday, he said to Russert and Dodd, “you're assuming, he's assuming, like Al Gore did, talking about a lock box as if there's a Social Security Trust Fund.”

But in 2000, when Allen was first running for Senate, he took the National Political Awareness Test from Project Vote Smart, where candidates state their position on a wide range of issues so voters can make informed decisions.

And in that test, Allen's attitude about Al Gore's lockbox was quite different than yesterday.

He responded that he would “support a lock box measure, limiting Congress's ability to spend Social Security and Medicare surpluses on any other federal programs except Social Security and Medicare, until each program's long-term solvency is guaranteed.”

(More thoughts on Allen from Sunday Morning Talk.)

Putting the Red in Red State

Fringe Fundamentalist icon Pat Robertson got us all nostalgic for McCarthyism yesterday, as he tried to paint Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a commie on ABC’s This Week (video at Crooks and Liars):

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You said also that you believe Democrats appoint judges who don't share our Christian values and will dismantle Christian culture.

So do you believe that Justice Breyer and Justice Ginsburg, who were appointed by President Clinton, they're trying to dismantle Christian culture?

ROBERTSON: Justice Ginsburg served as a general counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU.

That was founded, as you probably know, by about three members of Communist International.

Their leader, [Roger] Baldwin, said that he wanted to be a Communist in order to make this a workers state --

[Factual point: Baldwin turned against Communism and banned anyone tied to totalitarian groups from the ACLU board.]

STEPHANOPOULOS: So she's a Communist?!

ROBERTSON: He was! He said, it's in my book, I mean, he said it.

He made a declaration. He said, I want to make America a workers state. Breed communists.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But I was asking about Justice Ginsburg. And you now seem to be trying to equate her with these Communists.

ROBERTSON: Well, she was the general counsel for this organization whose purpose right now is to rid religion from the public square.

While Robertson was making stuff up about liberals and Communists, a Republican appeared to be sticking up for the former Soviet Union!

On CNN’s Late Edition, Dem Sen. Carl Levin and GOP Sen. Norm Coleman were debating the Bush approach to North Korea.

Coleman was giving the basic GOP line, that we shouldn’t have bilateral talks directly with North Korea, just multilateral talks that include neighboring countries.

Levin retorted:

That's a false alternative ... We can work with the neighbors and with our allies just as we did with NATO talking to the Soviet Union.

But we also talk[ed] directly to the Soviet Union. [That is] not inconsistent.

Strangely, that comparison got Coleman all hopped up*:

COLEMAN: I think it would be a sad, tragic mistake to somehow equate a Putin with King Jong-Il. One, he is --

LEVIN: I said the Soviet Union. I didn't say Putin. I didn't say Putin.

COLEMAN: Even the Soviet Union, Khrushchev, who are you talking about?

The reality is that we're dealing with a guy who is a mad man. That's the reality and so we're working with the region.

Who knew Coleman was such a Khrushchev fan?

Hey Norm, if you know what’s good for you, don’t let Pat Robertson know. He talks to God and all.

*Note: The rush CNN transcript wrongly attributes parts of the above exchange to the opposite Senators.

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

Tapped: Bush is forging closer ties to Sudan's genocidal regime in the name of the War on Terror

Think Progress dissects the Bush presser

NRDC says the Bush energy plan does "nothing to boost fuel efficiency or transition us to renewable domestic sources," while The Stakeholder quotes Rep. George Miller: "Republican energy legislation continues to reward the energy industry even as Exxon Mobil posts one of the largest quarterly profits in U.S. history."

Taking The Initiative: "what kind of environmental policy emerges from this kind of centralization of power?"

Princeton Progressive Review is in its fourth day of a round-the-clock "filibuster" of Princeton U.'s Frist Center

Not In My Bible, Tapped and The Sideshow praise Al Gore's speech defending the filibuster from "this aggressive new strain of right-wing religious zealotry [which] is actually a throwback to the intolerance that led to the creation of America in the first place."

Seeing The Forest: "Senator Reid said something that I don't think the public is being made sufficiently aware of. He said that the Senate Parliamentarian has stated that this idea the Republicans have of changing the rules of the Senate to disallow filibusters of judicial nominations is itself against the rules of the Senate!"

The Washington Note hears that Bolton may have been snooping on Gov. Bill Richardson, while War and Piece warns "that the situation has moved in favor of Bolton getting to the UN by hook or by crook in the past couple days."

Preemptive Karma: "Yes. Santorum is trying to save us all from the evils of weather."

Abu Aardvark: WSJ oped from Paul Bremer's media adviser, bashing Al Jazeera, explains his "almost unbelievable record of failure in the realm of building a credible, independent, critical Iraqi media."

Informed Comment rips mainstream corporate media

Left In The West spots a brewing scandal involving GOP Sen. Conrad Burns

Daily Kos' ePluribus Media interviews Joe Wilson about the latest in the PlameGate investigation

Daily Kos has a statement from Bolton accuser Melody Townsel in anticipation of fresh attacks on her credibility

MyDD, Daily Kos and Talk Left report on a blogger conf call with Sen. Harry Reid

Drive Democracy, Chuck Currie, Liquid List, Hullabaloo, Shakespeare's Sister, Meanwhile Back At The Ranch and The Green Knight offer "Justice Sunday" dispatches

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