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Leading With The Left
June 6, 2003 PERMALINK
Like an insecure high-schooler, the DLC just has to lash out when it sees liberals making strides.
As liberals convened in Washington this week for the Campaign for America's Future "Take Back America" conference, did the DLCers go, listen, offer suggestions, have constructive discussion, find ways to work together?
No, they just fired off another self-serving condescending memo, and fueled a contrived left-right debate within the party.
And like the last one that smeared Howard Dean and the "activist elites," this one also relies on being disingenuous.
In particular, the DLC writes:
We cannot regain the White House if we raise new doubts in Americans' minds about Democrats, or if we deepen, rather than rebut, the lingering doubt that Karl Rove and company exploited in the midterm elections:
that too many Americans don't much trust us to protect them against terrorists and other threats to our national security.
We're not convinced that your panel on "Next Stages for the Peace Movement" will reassure the country on this count.
Oh no? Then maybe you should have attended the higher-profile plenary session: "Security in a Changed World."
The fact is while the DLC is taking cheap, baseless pot shots, leading liberals are working on pragmatic strategies to win on a foundation of principles.
Unlike the DLC, these liberals are being constructively introspective, not merely putting down others.
For example, in the lead-up to the conference, Robert Borosage of CAF laid out a vision:
...Democrats would do well to learn from how the New Right responded to life in the political wilderness in the mid-1970s...
...They built the Heritage Foundation...
...They invested in the Moral Majority...
...They nailed together a network of conservative PACs...
...They mobilized a movement that transformed...the national political debate...
But he also notes:
The rise of the New Right wasn't solely due to its own organizing.
Liberalism failed to answer the challenges facing the country in the 1970s -- stagflation, growing pressures on families, moral decline, America held hostage.
Carrying the DLC's water, Leon Panetta can't stop talking to the right-wing W. Times and complaining about "special interests":
If each special interest decides they are going to require the [party«s] candidate to pay a price, that candidate will find himself literally torn apart when it comes to appealing to the broad band of voters out there who will decide who wins.
The implication is that this week's conference is nothing but a special interest orgy.
Except that the conference organizers are five steps ahead of Panetta.
W. Post's E.J. Dionne recently wrote:
Consider this quotation:
"The interest group dynamic has been a problem these last 20 years. The party's whole has seemed to be less than its parts."
This thought comes not from [DLC's Bruce] Reed or [Al] From but from Eric Hauser, a former top lieutenant in Bill Bradley's 2000 presidential run and a liberal who is working with [CAF].
Hauser says he is not knocking the groups. Republicans depend just as much on their own interest groups as Democrats do on theirs.
But the GOP, he says, has been more successful up to now in "projecting its collective interests as a national agenda."
As destructive as the DLC is being, liberals must not let their disgust of the DLC spill out into a brawl with more moderate voters.
And as it stands today, there are not enough self-described liberals to beat Bush.
And there are not enough steadfast war critics to beat Bush.
Of course, that's a two-way street. You need liberal votes too.
And so constantly trashing proud liberals is nothing but defeatist cannibalism.
The fact is, just because some voters don't feel comfortable calling themselves "liberal," doesn't mean they reject liberal views, and would not be receptive to a liberal message.
(Back in Nov., LO compared this to how many believe in women's equality, but bristle at "feminist.")
Even the DLC memo implicitly acknowledges this:
We believe the Bush administration has been disastrously irresponsible in its economic and fiscal policies,
willfully negligent in its energy, environmental and health care policies,
disappointing in its abandonment of constructive proposals in education and social services,
and threatening in its quiet but firm embrace of extremist social views.
And even though the DLC supported war with Iraq, it concedes:
In foreign policy, the administration's record [is marked by] dangerous doctrine and faulty diplomacy...
What's not liberal about all that?
Of course, the DLCers feel that certain aspects of liberalism are self-defeating.
Liberals feel that parts of the DLC agenda amount to a capitulation that is also self-defeating.
This can be a healthy debate that doesn't undermine all that we agree on.
Part of the problem is that DLCers fear the ghost of 1972, where the liberal, anti-war George McGovern was trounced by Richard Nixon.
And Republicans, giddy at the prospect, are feeding the DLC fears.
But the McGovern story is not exactly a failure of liberalism.
McGovern won a bitter primary, and the right-leaning Dems never got over it.
That led to a divisive and comically mismanaged convention, depriving McGovern of a typical bounce.
And McGovern, in an attempt to appease his intra-party opponents, hastily picked a VP candidate who was more moderate, Sen. Thomas Eagleton.
It was soon revealed that Eagleton had received electro shock therapy treatments for depression. A media frenzy ensued.
Eagleton was eventually dropped, but the damage was done.
The missteps and the bloodletting were too much to overcome.
The lesson is not that a message rooted in liberal principles is a sure failure.
The lesson is that if everyone stands strongly behind whoever the nominee is, there will be no repeat of '72.
And do a good background check.
June 5, 2003 PERMALINK
In last week's installment of "We're On To Something"...
The argument that Bush's tax-cutting is designed to cripple important government services was shown to be painting conservatives in a corner.
They have either conceded the plan, or instead, insisted that the GOP is making government bigger. Either way, a loser retort.
Now, the pressure being putting on the White House, by the media and select Dems, about the phantom WMDs is having a similar effect.
The standard response has been to deflect, and then recycle old charges against Saddam (see last Sunday Talkshow Breakdown).
But that's a stall tactic, and GOPers are starting to be forced to come up with something else.
And the something else is wholly unimpressive.
For example, yesterday Sen. Bob Graham smartly stepped up the pressure, and specifically placed the burden on Bush.
[Graham] said political manipulation of intelligence information is just one possible explanation for why an extensive weapons program in Iraq has yet to surface.
But he said responsibility would fall directly on the president if such manipulation occurred.
"In our system of government, the president is ultimately accountable whether it's his decision, or the decisions of those responsible to the president,"...
..."It would raise serious questions about the political leadership that engaged in that manipulation and the misleading of the American people."
Graham...also decried what he called a "pattern of hiding information" by the administration leading up to the war.
The GOP resorted to their old stand-by, attack the messenger, ignore the message:
"Senator Graham sounds increasingly more like a conspiracy theorist than a presidential candidate," [GOP spokeswoman Tracey] Schmitt said.
"Whether it's national security or the strength of the economy, the Democrats' best hope seems to be to hope for the worst."
Graham, in particular, has far too mellow a demeanor for the "conspiracy theorist" charge to stick.
But more importantly, this retort also functions as another stall tactic.
It doesn't prepare the public for an explanation if WMD are never found.
And no critic will sound conspiratorial if nothing is ever uncovered.
On Fox News last Monday, Bill Kristol and Mort Kondracke tried to think ahead and establish arguments to handle a "no WMD" scenario:
KRISTOL: If we didn't find them it could mean they are out of the country somewhere.
There was a lot of traffic over to Syria in the first week or so of the war.
So, I think you have real policy consequences of what happened to what we know were preexisting stock of weapons, if we don't find them.
KONDRACKE: On Friday, the Washington director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a respected London-based organization, said they're all in Syria and they have proof of it.
Why we haven't heard more of it, I don't know. But if they're in Syria, the danger is they get into the hands of Hezbollah.
It's clear why these guys have no problem speculating about Syria. It offers a new excuse for more regime change.
But what they blithely ignore is that such a scenario was also a main concern of those against the war from the beginning.
The vast majority of war opponents never seriously argued that Saddam had no chemical and biological weapons in his arsenal.
Just that he did not have the capability to use them on Americans.
The big fear was that either they would only get used if we went to war, or they would be scooped up by terrorists in the midst of all the chaos.
In turn, war with Iraq was not the smart way to fight terrorism.
If the WMD has gotten in the hands of terrorists as a result of war, that's making us less safe.
That's what war critics warned about. That would be a massive failure on the part of the White House.
So Kristol and his PNAC buds may be wishing Syria's hands are dirty. But they should watch what they wish for.
LO can't find any back-up for what Kondracke said about the International Institute for Strategic Studies, claiming the WMD are in Syria.
But did find this 6/4 piece on Economist.com:
Some materials or scientists may have left the country, perhaps to Syria, as intelligence reports have suggested...
...[But e]ven if there are WMD still in Iraq, they may not be of the order that Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair described in their pre-war case.
Gary Samore of London's International Institute for Strategic Studies...concedes that, if Iraq had retained large stocks of chemical munitions, they probably would have been found by now.
The chances of finding such caches could well deteriorate rather than improve with time, as ongoing looting will erase more paper trails.
June 4, 2003 PERMALINK
Somewhere along the way, even Bush critics became less likely to call Dubya a moron.
Notably, a Pew poll last month said that 2.5 times as many people called Bush "arrogant" than an "idiot."
Were the critics misguided? Is Bush more of a devilish genius? Was the simpleton shtick just an act?
Don't put him on a pedestal just yet.
Yesterday's W. Post front-pager on the Middle East peace process brings back the "Stupid Is As Bush Does" notion.
The killer quote, amazingly, comes from a Bush official:
He does not have the knowledge or the patience to learn this issue enough to have an end destination in mind.
(Bushies may not leak as much as Clintonites, but when they do, they're more like water main breaks. You can bet Andy Card had a busy day tracking down the source.)
But the piece doesn't make it out to be that simple. One could argue Bush's stupidity is, in fact, complex.
He's seen as wanting peace and a Palestinian state.
But he also is shown to possess a bizarre mix of hubris and ignorance -- a cross between Russell Crowe and Chauncey Gardner.
There's a sense that he is completely in over his head, and at the same time, completely unaware of it.
The president has baffled some of his aides with comments they thought minimized the obstacles toward the two-state solution he talks about.
For instance, the president has told aides that the Israelis are wasting their money on expanding settlements in the West Bank because ultimately those projects will become housing developments for Palestinians.
Some aides suggest this is a naive view of the settlement issue...
...Other Bush advisers say the president's comments simply reflected his determination to create a Palestinian state.
Oh if we could only see how straight were those spinners' faces.
And Dubya's childish, boorish nature -- the one that deluded Bush-backers will say is "refreshingly candid" -- resurfaces as well.
The W. Post piece recounts an eyebrow-raising exchange between Dubya and Ariel Sharon:
Bush interrupted Sharon when he began to say he was a "man of peace and security," according to a witness to the exchange who recounted it.
"I know you are a man of security," Bush said. "I want you to work harder on the peace part."
Then, adding a bit of colloquial language that first seemed to baffle Sharon, Bush jabbed:
"I said you were a man of peace. I want you to know I took immense crap for that."
The piece doesn't say what Sharon said in response, but if he had his druthers (and a few colloquials of his own), he would have said:
"Don't go blaming me for your dumb-ass political timing."
"So sorry you had your day sullied with all that Îimmense crap.' From who exactly? Daddy? Prince Bandar? Boo-frickin'-hoo. You wanna trade places for two measly minutes and fight a real war, Mr. AWOL?"
But perhaps the most politically interesting part of the piece is something that may rile the Rummy-Wolfowitz-Perle Axis as much, if not more, than liberal critics.
Bush's close relationship with the head of Saudi Arabia:
Aides said the one leader in the region who has earned Bush's respect is [Crown Prince] Abdullah, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia...
[In April 2002,] Abdullah arrived at Crawford with a book showing pictures of Palestinian suffering and a 10-minute videotape of images of children shot and crushed by Israelis...
The adviser said Abdullah...laid it on the line for Bush: Was he going to do something about this or not?...
...Few leaders had ever spoken so directly to Bush.
The president, the official said, concluded that Abdullah was a good person who has a vision of where he wants to lead his country.
As LO has mentioned before, the Rummyites want to put aside the Bush royal family's long-standing oil ties with the House of Saud, and push for more regime change.
Surely, they don't want to see Abdullah propped up in print.
What does this all mean? (Besides that somebody at State is seriously screwing with people's heads.)
Is Bush at least sincere about peace, if still slow in the head? Or is this just an elaborate PR ruse to soften Bush's image?
Since it's impossible to get inside a person's heart, let's stick with the political dynamics.
No matter what Bush's true desires are, if he doesn't have "the knowledge or the patience," the process stalls.
If the process stalls, the political benefits to reap are still with the Christian Right and a slice of the Jewish vote.
That means whatever it is that's in Bush's heart, it's trumped by what's in Karl Rove's heart.
June 3, 2003 PERMALINK
In June 2001, one Washington reporter wrote:
Less than six months into George W Bush's presidency, the ship of state appears to be losing speed and becoming increasingly rudderless.
Despite major legislative victories on tax cuts and education, the latest opinion polls show a steady erosion of public confidence in Bush himself...
That was because Bush didn't have much of an agenda beyond tax cuts and education.
And three months later, just before 9/11, his poll numbers sunk to their lowest point.
Now, Bush has passed another round of tax cuts (followed by another poll drop).
So what's next? Does he have a strong domestic agenda that can lead him to true, broad popularity?
Or is he headed for another rudderless patch?
Let's go back to the last State of the Union, when Bush laid out plans to address:
-- Prescription drug benefit
The big kahuna looks to be prescription drugs and Medicare. As yesterday's WSJ reported:
...the summer's biggest challenge could be the debate over Medicare.
Having full control...Republicans feel immense pressure to deliver a long-promised prescription-drug benefit...
...The future of Medicare itself will be an issue, and Mr. Bush wants to encourage private market alternatives to the government-administered Great Society program.
Republicans are supportive but will demand a more-equitable drug benefit for what's envisioned to be two track, old and new Medicare system.
Basically, they all want to gut Medicare through privatization.
This seems destined to be a messy fight, with little opportunity for Bush to reap political benefits.
Sure, a drug benefit will likely pass (broader Medicare reform is much less likely).
And something passing is always seen as a "win" the next day by the press.
But will those high-turnout seniors hail anything that has the HMO stink on it? Doubtful.
And the rest of the agenda?
Controversial Social Security reform is behind controversial Medicare reform in the queue
Which means Bush will likely hear in '04 how he didn't do anything about it.
Malpractice tort reform is a mixed political bag.
People hate frivolous lawsuits. People hate it when victims get screwed by big corporations and reckless doctors.
And since Bush doesn't express much sympathy for the victims when discussing these matters, the issue cuts against his "compassion" agenda.
The hydrogen car funding will probably survive the FY04 appropriations process, but it is seen for what it is -- a token gesture, with no short-term benefits.
No matter what happens to the enviro bills, no matter how much green PR the Bushies use, no one ever buys it.
The faith-based program has been stalled for some time.
What was a nice poll-tested sound bite for the campaign has never resulted in a groundswell of centrist support.
On citizen service, there's not much there there. As W. Post's Neal Pierce recently reported:
Despite President Bush's call for 4,000 hours of lifetime service by all Americans, he sees little federal role. He's even seeking to cap and restrict AmeriCorps.
But their political value is completely swamped by all the other cuts in service Americans are suffering.
For example, GOPer Arnold Schwarzenegger (in a bit of self-serving triangulation), showed Bush was hurting mentoring.
Arnold Schwarzenegger says he couldn't have become all he has become - championship bodybuilder, presidential fitness adviser, "The Terminator" - without mentors early in life.
Yet many kids would lose that kind of support under the Bush administration's plan to cut $400 million in after-school spending, Schwarzenegger told a Senate subcommittee...
(Those cuts offset Bush's mentoring proposal, $450M over three years).
And of course, another tax cut proposal is probably in the offing.
But he has never passed a tax cut that wasn't followed by a poll drop.
Bottom line: the Bush agenda looks to be a mix of hollow wins, messy fights and stalled proposals.
Welcome back to the rudderless presidency.
June 2, 2003 PERMALINK
A rare moment of Sunday talkshow drama on CNN's Late Edition yesterday.
WOLF BLITZER: We have a caller, Senators, from Georgia. Go ahead, Georgia, with your question.
CALLER: Hello, good afternoon.
My question concerns the weapons of mass destruction that the president, secretary of state and other officials on the way down claim that knew specifically exist.
They sent many of us service members into duty and many of us died.
And I'm afraid someone might recognize my voice because I'm military.
When are you guys going to investigate who knew what, when, where and how does this happen --
[Caller appears to be cut off]
BLITZER: All right. He's obviously very passionate about this.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: As you should be.
And thank you for service to country, together with your wonderful men and women of the armed forces, who put all of these debates to one side.
They performed magnificently in this mission in Iraq as well as Afghanistan and around the world.
But back to your question.
Like you, I have a duty.
My credibility is on the line, because I relied on that same intelligence, together with my colleague [Sen. Evan Bayh] right here, when we interfaced with the public, when we addressed troops and the like.
So under my leadership of the Armed Services Committee and that under Pat Roberts on the Intel, we're going to conduct a very thorough review and investigation.
And I guarantee you, this is one senator that holds people accountable when we feel they have strayed from what is right.
Warner's "get to the bottom of this" attitude, in the face of a soldier, differed in tone from his comments just a few minutes earlier:
I've had an opportunity through many years to work with Colin Powell, with Rumsfeld and with George Tenet...
...These men would not manipulate for the political purposes, or in any other way, that information.
Every guest on the shows -- and almost every one, D or R, voted for the war -- was supportive of an investigation, like Warner envisions.
Yet none of those pro-war politicians would concede that the war's justification would be shredded if intelligence were faulty or manipulated.
On ABC's This Week, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Chris Dodd (D-CT) were the most painful examples.
George Stephanopoulos threw at McCain this damning report from US News:
...the Defense Intelligence Agency issued a classified assessment of Iraq's chemical weapons.
It concluded: "There is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons . . . ."
At about the same time, Rumsfeld told Congress that Saddam's "regime has amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons, including VX, sarin, cyclosarin and mustard gas."
"Straight Talk Express" McCain began with a bit of a stammer:
I -- I just think their -- I -- First of all I don't have privy to the -- I'm not on the intelligence committee.
And I'm glad I'm not, because I never got anything in a secret briefing that I didn't read on the front page of a newspaper.
I just know the following. He's used weapons of mass destruction...
[blah blah blah, insert old pre-war argument here]
Was the intelligence politicized? I think that's a very serious charge, and the burden of proof [is on] those who make the charge.
And I have not seen evidence of that...
Never mind that George just showed him some evidence (and George, to his credit, said as much).
Dodd was not much better:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you now feel misled?
DODD: I don't know yet. I'd like to know the answer to that question.
But I would still come to the same conclusion.
This is a regime that has...stored, housed and used weapons of mass destruction against its own people.
And clearly other evidence demonstrates his capacities to acquire additional weapons of mass destruction were there.
So I'm satisfied that this was a just war. And it was necessary to remove Saddam Hussein in the end.
A relatively better, but still quite wishy-washy, response came from Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) on CBS' Face The Nation:
...it was reasonable to presume that [Saddam] had [chemical and biological weapons], in my view...
...[And] there was a concern on the part of many of us that if he [was] left unfettered for another five years with the billions of dollars in revenue he had, that he would get [a nuclear] program.
But...I think the administration hyped...the connection to Al Qaeda...the prospects of nuclear weapons on the horizon.
And...their absolute certainty that they had some sense that they knew where these weapons were...
...what really confused things was the neo-conservatives in the administration. They wanted to go in no matter what...
...our credibility is going to be called in question in other parts of the world...
...and as a consequence of not giving [the American people] the straight facts sometimes, we make it harder to make the legitimate cases that we have to make that are hard to swallow because they're painful.
...it's not good, but it's not fatal.
Neither of these Dems exploited the opening to put more pressure on Bush, even though both of their questioners were really serving it up.
But it seems Rockefeller's still ahead of his party's curve.)
And you don't have to get hysterical and overstate the case in order to exert pressure, as Sen. Bob Graham showed on Late Edition:
If they are not found...that will indicate a very serious intelligence failure.
Or, the attempt to keep the American people in the dark by manipulating that intelligence information.
If we reach the point that one of those two is the basis for our inability to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it is going to undercut the confidence of the American people.
And raise serious doubts with the international community as to the basic truthfulness of the United States.
And you don't have to have voted against the war resolution either.
Earlier this week, Sen. John Edwards drew a line, that if weapons are not found:
I think people in this country are going to be entitled to an explanation.
But even Graham and Edwards weren't as pointed as they could have been.
The sharp claws were only found on the pundits -- on the Left and the Right.
W. Post's David Broder, on NBC's Meet The Press:
BRODER: ...the interpretation that was given to the public, by the Bush administration, was at the far edge of what was plausible, in terms of the intelligence information that came to the White House...the State Department and...the Pentagon.
[CIA Director George] Tenet is in a difficult position.
He cannot repudiate the president that he serves.
But he also has to try to protect the reputation of his own agency, which in my view, has been misused by this administration.
TIM RUSSERT: Misused? Politicized?
BRODER: I think so.
Also, on MTP, Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt:
...if we don't find sufficient numbers to justify the clear and present danger that was depicted by the president and other top officials, then I think it's a tremendous blow to American credibility.
It's going to make it very hard the next time we try to marshal any kind of world opinion or rally world opinion for Iran or any other issue, and I think it's going to have consequences at home.
Even the conservative pundit Robert George from the NY Post, made a similar point on Late Edition:
If this is an intelligence failure, which some people are saying that it is, we then have to ask then, are the same intelligence problems we had before 9/11 still continuing?
And if there is an intelligence failure, should we believe them when they talk about the problems with Iran?
...if it's a political situation, whereas Paul Wolfowitz seemed to somewhat flippantly suggest, saying, well, there were a number of reasons, and we just all decided to just push the weapons of mass destruction, I think that's a lot more problematic.
Because you had a number of members of the administration saying that the weapons of mass destruction were there.
You had Dick Cheney saying that Saddam does have nuclear weapons.
And that's a black eye on the credibility of the administration in front of the American people and the rest of the world.
George's distinction between an "intelligence failure" and a "political situation" is key.
You can sense, based on what the various pols said today, that they are laying the groundwork to set up the intelligence community as the collective fall guy.
Basically, lamenting our intelligence infrastructure as weak and providing shoddy info.
That may certainly be true.
But by stressing "intelligence failure," no one need be accused of lying -- or the more socially acceptable, "politicizing" -- in regards to intelligence.
How convenient for faceless bureaucrats to be to blame, and not elected officials and presidential appointees.
It's painfully clear that congressional Dems are watching the poll numbers, and are in no rush to push for more proof of "politicization."
But poll numbers can change. In fact, Late Edition reported the numbers from a Newsweek poll showing an increasing concern.
The media has finally sniffed what the rest of us were choking on.
The Georgia caller surely speaks for many, and if the stories continue, many more to come.
Yet too many Dems remain scared to grab the issue.
That means it's up to the media (with a helping hand, perhaps, from renegade spooks).
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.
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."
Noted role model 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.
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July 26, 2002
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July 29, 2002
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