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The daily view from the oasis

May 9, 2003 PERMALINK
Demand Campaign Coverage
(posted May 9 12:30 AM ET)

Here's a poll statistic that didn't make much news, but surely has been noted by news editors.

According to Pew Research Center, only 27% are either "very" or "fairly interested" in the Democratic race for president.

(The stat was buried in this AP story and mentioned on CNN's Inside Politics.)

The top five? Iraq (92%), SARS (78%), North Korea (67%), Laci Peterson (62%), tax cuts (61%).

A mix of the legit and the overblown.

Now, it's ridiculous to think there would be copious attention paid to the Dems at this point. Things have barely gotten started.

Unlike the Peterson case -- the outcome of which will not dictate the course of globe -- news coverage has been relatively light.

And no one would even show the last debate in prime time.

Without such coverage, how can the public become "very" or "fairly interested"?

Nevertheless, an unfair perception may be settling in that the Dem 9 are too trivial to care about.

The NY Times began to feed that yesterday.

Arbitrarily comparing the attendance of a rare speech by svengali Karl Rove, to that of the daily appearances of the Dems, top political reporter Adam Nagourney wrote:

Mr. Rove's visit [to New Hampshire] served to miniaturize the stature of the nine Democrats who are struggling to do what Mr. Bush was doing in this state just three years ago...

What we have here is a chicken-egg situation.

Dems won't get stature until they get face time. News editors won't give them much face time because they lack stature.

Surely, the coverage will come as we get closer to the primaries.

But as many of these candidates are not well known to the public, more face time would lead to more informed decisions.

As well as a greater comfort level for the whole field.

How to get more face time? Without having access to aircraft carriers and the ability to use soldiers as props?

Since news is more of a commodity than ever before, news editors will only respond to their customers.

And news junkies are their best customers.

So why not send a quick letter to the major cable and broadcast networks, and tell them you want more coverage of the Democratic race?

Here are the links you need.

ABC World News Tonight
ABC's Good Morning America
CBS Evening News
CBS Early Show
NBC Nightly News
NBC's Today
Fox News Channel
CNN
MSNBC

FROM THE MAILBAG

A reader writes in to take issue with LiberalOasis' Tuesday column supporting the rollback of state-approved gambling:

...your idea to attack gambling, however virtuous in a "good government" sense, would actually damage workers with some of the best paying service jobs around, those employed in the almost 100% organized casinos of Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

Even James Dobson, believe it or not, when he served on the National Gaming Commission, acknowledged that these stable, good paying, high benefit union jobs actually promoted "family values," even if they were derived from "sin."

Moreover, one of the key reformist cogs of the AFL-CIO, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE), is the main union for gaming workers, and is now expanding its organizing to include the grossly exploited workers in the rapidly growing Indian gaming sectors of the California economy.

Las Vegas is, by most accounts, the strongest "union town" in the U.S., and the HERE local in that city is able to drive a progressive political and economic agenda not only for its members, but for much of the state--Harry Reid would not have been re-elected by just 500 votes in 1998 without HERE (and, I can tell you for a fact, he knows it).

Another reader wrote in support the LO position:

Consider that when state gambling was first introduced, the excuse was that some people (the poor) supposedly had a propensity to gamble.

Better then that the money go to a worthy state cause (the schools, perhaps) than into the hands of the criminal rackets. That's what they said back then.

Two things happened, however.

First...the legislatures used the gambling money to fund the schools, and, with the other hand withdrew an equivalent amount from the general funds they previously used to fund the schools. The schools netted nothing in the deal.

Secondly, as the gambling addiction proceeded, soon that "propensity to gamble" required a boost of massive TV and radio advertising. Some propensity.

May 8, 2003 PERMALINK
Watching Out For The Wishy-Washy
(posted May 8 1 AM ET)

NYT's Nicholas Kristof and W. Post's Richard Cohen are columnists that come from a frustrating ilk.

The kind of guys who are generally liberal in their outlook, but bash liberals from time to time -- apparently so they can prove they are no slaves to ideology.

They have a converse relationship: Kristof is far more competent on international issues than on domestic, Cohen the opposite.

As such, their views on Iraq diverged. Kristof was generally against, while Cohen gradually came to support it.

But they both speak to the "wishy-washy" segment of the political spectrum.

The folks that told the pollsters they would only support war with UN backing, then supported it in polls anyway.

The 20-30% that now say they approve of Bush's performance, but also say:

-- Bush is out of touch with their problems

-- Bush doesn't pay enough attention to the economy

-- Bush's tax plan is a bad idea

-- The war hasn't made them more confident of Bush's ability to handle other problems

Of course, it's not fair to label every person who holds these seemingly paradoxical views as truly wishy-washy.

Some may be self-styled mavericks.

Others may be casual news watchers who have enough going on in their lives that they don't put in the needed time to form deeply held, informed opinions, and tend to go by gut feeling.

But even though it can get frustrating for liberals to deal with this portion of the spectrum (either in print or in regular conversation) remember this:

You can't beat Bush in '04 without their votes.

That's why it's a very good sign that this week both Kristof and Cohen began attacking the Bushies for their deceptive campaign to build support for the war.

Not because they are going to change anybody's minds about the war at this point.

As the two noted, many folks are simply happy that Saddam is gone, to the point where nothing else matters.

But as we all know, Establishment punditry sentiment has a way of trickling down, especially in presidential campaign season.

And if the nuanced, tortured, wishy-washy, self-loathing, liberal-leaning pundits lose whatever trust and sympathy they have for Bush, very good things should follow.

May 7, 2003 PERMALINK
Covering Coverage
Kerry-Dean Round 3
(posted May 7 12:45 AM ET)

Earlier this week, LiberalOasis said Howard Dean got the upper hand after claiming Kerry had his stats wrong regarding health care coverage in Vermont.

Turns out there's more to the story.

To recap, at the debate Kerry said:

...when [Dean] became governor, 90.5% of the citizens of Vermont were already covered...When he left as governor, 90.4% of the people of the state of Vermont were covered.

Dean responded:

That is silliness...about 96.4% of all our people are covered today.

Yesterday, the AP took shots at both of them.

On Kerry:

He was wrong...

...Kerry's figures came from the US Census Bureau, but his first figure is from 1990: Dean became governor in 1991...

...the same Census Bureau report...says 87.3 percent of Vermonters had health insurance that year, which would mean the percentage of insured climbed from 87.3 percent in 1991 to 90.4 percent in 2001.

But even so, health analysts say the Census Bureau figures on health care coverage, especially from the early 1990s, are unreliable because of the small sample size used in the survey.

On Dean:

Dean, however, didn't make things any clearer when he...said...that "96.4 percent of all our people are covered today."

That figure is the percentage of Vermont children with health insurance...

...a health analyst with the non-partisan Joint Fiscal Committee of the Vermont Legislature...said more accurate surveys [not done by the Census] show that the percentage of Vermont's insured climbed from 89 percent in 1993 to 93 percent in 1997 before dropping to 91.6 percent in 2000.

(Note to wonks: the survey referenced is the Vermont Family Health Insurance Survey.)

All that is in line with what is on Dean's website.

The "Universal Health Care" section of his site says:

As a Governor, I am proud that virtually every child under 18 and more than 92 percent of adults in Vermont are eligible for health coverage.

If 91.6% of all Vermonters are actually covered, it makes sense that "more than 92 percent of adults" are eligible for coverage.

And in a January speech, he used the accurate stats for kids:

In Vermont, everybody under 18 has health insurance.

We expanded Medicaid so that it's a middle class entitlement and we cover everybody under 18 with Medicaid if they don't have private insurance.

So we essentially have 96% covered, 3% eligible, so we have 99% of all our kids eligible to have health insurance.

Overall, it looks as if Kerry's staff was sloppy in its oppo research.

And Dean was sloppy responding to a blindside in the heat of the moment.

In the AP story, Kerry, through his spokesman Robert Gibbs, didn't dispute the facts, although Gibbs kept up the attack on Dean's record:

I think he leaves people with the strong impression that he dramatically decreased the number of uninsured throughout Vermont - children and adults - and the numbers simply prove that is not true.

That looks like a stretch. The info on the Dean website is clear that the work he did in Vermont focused on kids.

And considering that the adult numbers were quite good when he came into of office, it's hard to expect dramatic increases there.

The fact that he had any increases at all is worthy of note.

While it appears the AP didn't give Dean the chance to correct the record, Dean still has a responsibility.

Either admit he misspoke, or explain where the 96.4% stat is coming from.

And it's plausible he may be able to do the latter.

In 2001, a report from the Governor's Bipartisan Commission On Health Care Availability & Affordability, gave an 1999 estimate of 95.1%, not far off from "about 96.4%".

And that report also gave an important cautionary note:

It is difficult to state with certainty how many people have insurance coverage in Vermont at a given time, and how many are uninsured, since different methods exist for estimating these numbers.

But we all know how the press loves to savagely nitpick the Dems. (Kerry should by now.)

So one way or another, Dean can and should set the record straight, and stick to one set of supportable numbers for the duration of the campaign.

The quicker the better.

May 6, 2003 PERMALINK
Taking a Gamble
(posted May 6 1 AM ET)

Like Sen. Trent Lott, professional moralizer Bill Bennett was forced to recant (if not quite apologize) for his excessive gambling.

Conversely, Sen. Rick Santorum has gotten away with being defiant, following his expressions of anti-gay bigotry.

The difference?

Lott and Bennett were abandoned by the soul of the GOP, the Religious Right, which warmly embraced Santorum.

In Lott's case, much of the Right was looking for an excuse to bump him off, because he wasn't recalcitrant enough in his Senate dealings.

In Bennett's case, the substance of the charge was too much for the Right to handle.

More secular conservatives tried to help Bennett wriggle free.

But the Christian right wasn't buying.

From the Christian news service AgapePress:

The news of Bennett's gambling habit is likely to disturb many conservatives, including James Dobson of Focus on the Family [who] has lamented the widespread acceptance of gambling in contemporary America as an example of moral decline...

...Rob Schenck of the National Clergy Council expresses what many pro-family leaders are feeling in the wake of Bennett's revelations.

"I am enormously disappointed with Bill Bennett. I think this was a side of his life that he deliberately tried to keep very quiet and undetected..."

...Schenck says one aspect of this disclosure bothers him more than any other. "The monies that he gained from selling a book on moral virtue was actually eaten away in slot machines and other forms of gambling."

And what may have been the crushing blow, Brit Hume -- the face of Fox News -- had this to say Sunday morning:

I think gambling is a vice, and I think [Bennett] would acknowledge it's a vice.

And I think it is therefore, inescapably, in some sense, damaging to him.

Clearly, Bennett quickly concluded he didn't want to go through the wringer like Lott.

So he did a 180 and swore off gambling, to the delight of his Religious Right cohorts.

Beyond knocking Bennett down a peg, this mini-scandal may serve another purpose:

Shining a light on the disturbing expansion of state-approved gambling.

The NY Times reported last week:

Facing daunting deficits and with little appetite to raise taxes, a growing number of states are going where the money is to help balance their budgets.

In recent months, more than half the states have tried tapping into the thriving $50 billion gambling industry through measures to expand state lotteries, license new casinos and negotiate higher payments from Indian casinos.

Back on August 6, LiberalOasis argued that liberals should adopt the anti-gambling cause, because state governments are using gambling as a massive tax on the poor.

But clearly, the Right has more of its heart in this fight for the moment.

In fact, Fox News' in-house pundits were making liberal-sounding arguments against gambling, yesterday on Special Report With Brit Hume. Here's Fred Barnes:

Gambling is...metastasizing in this country...[And lottery tickets are] the most regressive form of taxation.

However, because of the Right's passionate position, Dems may be able to creatively use this to their advantage.

Recall that one of Karl Rove's priorities is getting four million Religious Right voters, whom Rove believes stayed home in 2000, to turn out for Bush in '04.

With that in mind, what if...

1. Dem leaders spoke at a handful of local Christian Coalition meetings.

2. Dems criticized states for turning to gambling.

3. Dems blamed Bush for turning his back of the states, leaving them at the mercy of the gambling industry.

Of course, it's a serious longshot that such an argument would fully turn the Christian Right away from Bush.

But simply fighting on your opponent's turf has its strategic advantages.

It gets media attention. It shows strength. It forces your opponent to expend resources where he doesn't want to.

Nevertheless, all this is unlikely to happen.

The gambling industry doles out enough cash to both parties to make most politicians unwilling to speak out.

But it would be the right thing to do, and the smart thing to do.

May 5, 2003 PERMALINK
The Dem Debate Breakdown
(posted May 5 1:30 AM ET)

Instead of the usual Sunday Talkshow Breakdown today, LiberalOasis is offering a candidate-by-candidate breakdown of Saturday's Dem debate.

Overall, everyone gave decent, B- to B+ performances. No standouts, but no embarrassments either. Perfectly fine for Round 1.

While most the media seems to have played it straight, a few pundits appear overeager to crown Joe Lieberman the closest thing to a winner.

From Salon's Jake Tapper:

... even top aides from opposing campaigns acknowledged that he shined more than the others, emerging as the event's twinkling star...

With a crowded field of nine sparring with each other, no one could really emerge as a clear victor.

But Lieberman... seemed to slightly rise above his peers, at least this night.

From Joe Klein on CBS' Face The Nation:

At debates like this, it's all about body language.

And [Lieberman's] body language was very certain, as opposed to some of the others who were a little bit more uncertain their first time out...

From The Note's Mark Halperin, on ABC's This Week:

Joe Lieberman was as effective as anyone on that stage last night when he said: this party has a problem with national security. We got to confront it.

These three (and these supposed "top aides") are simply delusional.

Ideological differences aside, Lieberman did a fine job.

But rest assured, if you saw the debate, you know Lieberman was in no way head and shoulders above anyone else, in style or substance.

Without further ado, here's the breakdown.

DEAN

Pros

-- Showed that upholding national security is not synonymous with supporting unilateral, pre-emptive wars:

I want to become the next President...so we can have a secure nation.

Not by engaging in preventive war.

But by regaining our strength, building a strong military and being the United States that we used to be, where our military values are consistent with our American values.

-- Got the best of his showdown with Kerry.

In particular, he convincingly swatted two of Kerry's harsher jabs.

One, Kerry chastised Dean for attacking his courage on gay rights issues (in the SF Chronicle).

Kerry said, "I don't need any lectures on courage from Howard Dean" and argued that he had a better record on gay rights.

Dean calmly noted that he was misquoted, that the paper ran a correction, and then praised Kerry's gay rights record.

Two, in an unprovoked attack, Kerry tried to undermine Dean's health care record, claiming the percentage of insured in Vermont fell slightly -- from 90.5% to 90.4% -- during Dean's tenure as governor.

Dean retorted that those numbers were "silliness" and the current stat was 96.4%.

-- Particularly good closing statement (which the Dean team recognized, posted it on its blog, and distributed it via email):

Cons

-- Hasn't yet mastered the 2-minute answer.

He often spoke too fast, trying to jam in as much info as he could, which made him hard to follow at times.

(Tapper made far too much out of Dean's use of note cards. Watching it on TV, it wasn't a big deal.)

EDWARDS

Pros

-- When he was on, he was Clintonesque.

For example, he smartly drew a line for the future of Iraq:

This is a test for this President. And he should be held to this test...

...we have a chance to show the world that we were in fact in Iraq for the right reasons.

That we were there for the purpose of liberating the Iraqi people.

That this was not about the expansion of American power. That this was not about oil.

The President has that test going forward, and we ought to lay this marker down...

-- Alone among the so-called "top-tier," he came out strong against Ashcroft and his encroachment on civil liberties:

We see people like John Ashcroft in the name of protecting America...eroding our rights to privacy, eroding our civil liberties, eroding the very heart and soul of what makes this country great.

-- Helpfully noted after the Kerry-Dean spat that both would be better than Bush, resulting in one of the night's few outbreaks of applause.

(Stephanopoulos had asked the audience to refrain from applause.)

Cons

-- When he was off, he seemed out of his league, like when he stuttered while stressing his "conviction."

-- His attack of Gephardt's plan was way off target.

"Reaganomics"? "You're in good hands with Enron"? For a plan that puts a mandate on businesses to provide insurance? Doesn't wash.

Furthermore, he was hypocritical to criticize Kerry and Dean for fighting, when he attacked Gephardt soon after.

-- After his statement on civil liberties, Moseley Braun hit him on why he voted for the PATRIOT act.

And instead of honorably apologizing for his vote, he nonsensically reiterated his support, and only criticized Ashcroft's execution of it.

GEPHARDT

Pros

-- Did what he set out to do: defined himself as the steady, reassuring, experienced candidate.

-- Made the clearest argument against the Bush tax cut:

The Bush tax cuts have failed. They are not making the economy better, they are not helping people get jobs.

-- The health care discussion centered on his plan, and the attacks on it mostly misfired.

Cons

-- Kerry pierced him on the environment, addressing him directly:

You're the one member of Congress here who...doesn't support raising fuel efficiency standards.

(Gephardt countered that he would raise the standards if it was part of a larger plan, and implied he would try to forge a compromise between the automakers, oil companies and enviros).

-- Showed troubling tendency to use Beltway acronyms, which confuse most voters.

GRAHAM

Pros

-- Established himself as the anti-terrorism candidate, out to get Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

-- Got good press on his counter-Dean soundbite:

I'm from the electable wing of the Democratic party.

Cons

-- Didn't attack Bush as hard on his record fighting terrorism as he has in recent media appearances.

-- Didn't attack the Administration on covering-up findings of the 9-11 investigation, as he did to Newsweek earlier in the week.

(He did repeat the charge, when prompted, on Fox News Sunday. But doing it during the debate could have brought big headlines).

-- Bad luck. On ABC's This Week, George Will wrongly attributed Graham's "electable" line to Lieberman.

No one corrected him, not even George Stephanopoulos, who hosted the debate.

KERRY

Pros

-- Worked his Vietnam service in plenty, and there's no evidence that he should worry about doing that too much.

-- Emphasized his enviro credentials in his question to Gephardt (see above).

Cons

-- Not his fault, but he had a slightly hoarse throat that weakened his delivery throughout the debate.

-- More than anyone, came across like the attack dog -- not just with Dean, but also with Gephardt.

-- Clearly he has his opposition research team up and running.

But that team most certainly failed to uncover the SF Chronicle correction.

And if you're going to throw around disputed stats, as he did on Dean's health care record, you better give a source to avoid looking foolish.

KUCINICH

Pros

-- Did what he set out to do: differentiated himself to the left of the field.

He stood alone in embracing single-payer health care, repealing NAFTA, opposing the World Trade Organization, and cutting fat out of the defense budget.

-- Didn't sing (unlike at a event earlier in the day).

Cons

-- Didn't do anything to indicate he can sell his liberal message to those who are not reflexively inclined to accept it.

LIEBERMAN

Pros

-- Did what he set out to do: differentiated himself to the right of the field.

He clearly stated the rationale of his candidacy:

I am the one Democrat who can match George Bush in the areas where many think he's strong, defense and moral values, and beat him where he is weak, on the economy and his divisive right-wing social agenda.

Cons

-- It's one thing to be a right-of-center Dem. Carter, Clinton and Gore took right-of-center positions on a number of issues.

It's another thing to bash your own party, as he did when he criticized Gephardt's plan as a "big-spending Democratic idea[] of the past."

And it's also another thing to be a hypocrite, since earlier he frowned on the Kerry-Dean spat, saying it sent the wrong message about "our party."

Apparently, for Lieberman, it's the right message to equate "Democrat" with "big-spending."

How does any of that make for a sensible Democratic primary strategy?

MOSELEY BRAUN

Pros

-- Came across as solid, poised and articulate.

She may be lumped in the "second-tier" because of her tiny fundraising take, but she was just as competent on the stage as her competitors.

(Though she would help her own cause if she stepped up her campaign activity.)

-- Got some news mentions for her joke that the black vote won the election for Bush: Clarence Thomas' vote.

-- Lambasted the PATRIOT Act and called for its repeal.

Cons

-- Didn't find a dramatic way to break out of the pack and vault herself into the "first-tier."

SHARPTON

Pros

-- Still the king of the one-liners: "I call George Bush's tax breaks...like Jim Jones giving Kool-Aid. It tastes good, but it will kill you."

-- Made strides to pacify those who are concerned (including, still, LiberalOasis) that he will be a disruptive force in the party, or will eventually disavow the party.

He attacked no one on stage, and also said:

I...hope that we elect a new president from the Democratic Party, because it is mandatory that we save this nation from where it is, and where it is headed under George Bush.

-- Ensures that Lieberman is not the only one quoting Bible scripture.

Cons

None.

The Sandbox
Humor by John Cougarstein

NEWSFLASH
Religious Right Decries Iraq War

WASHINGTON, May 3 -- Leading religious conservatives said today that war with Iraq has wrongly opened to door to Communism and prostitution, leading to a breakdown of the moral underpinnings of Iraqi society.

Their dismay followed reports that the first independent newspaper published in Iraq was by the Communists, and Iraqi prostitutes had returned to sell their services on the street.

At a news conference organized by the Christian Coalition, President Bush's former rival Gary Bauer noted, "When Saddam was in charge, the Communists were underground and the hookers were decapitated. We shouldn't have been dropping bombs. We should have been taking notes."

Sen. Rick Santorum echoed the comments, "Once you have pinkos and sluts banging each other, before you know it, the liberals will be crying out for a Department of Prostitution. And then how can you crack down on the rampant man-on-dog action? It's constitutionally impossible."

Bill Bennett also expressed indignation. "Prostitution is wrong and we can't let it fester. I mean, I go to prostitutes. Have since I was a boy. But I keep it under control. Just a few hours from time to time so I can relax. But I never use my wife's money. It's on my dime and nobody gets hurt. If you can't handle it, you shouldn't do it. And nobody in Iraq can handle it."

President Bush was busying regaling his aides on how cool it is to fly an F-18, and could not be reached for comment.

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

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