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June 27, 2003 PERMALINK
Seniors Ain't Buying (Part 2)
(posted June 27 12:30 AM ET)

Earlier this week, the W. Post reported:

Republican strategists see the 2004 election as their best opportunity in a generation to construct a durable governing majority...

...under the direction of White House senior adviser Karl Rove, preparations are underway for a comprehensive assault on the electorate.

The plan would use every political and governmental strategy available, such as...neutralizing a Democratic strength by adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare...

Well, Rove must have gagged on yesterday's NY Times:

In Washington, President Bush and Congressional leaders praise the Medicare legislation as historic.

But...retirees are experiencing what Robert J. Blendon, a health policy expert at the Harvard School of Public Health, calls "sticker shock" ÷ the realization that, after so many promises, the proposed drug benefit will look nothing like what they expected.

They are confused by the complex structure of the plans, and upset that the coverage will not begin until 2006...

They do not understand why the proposals have a "doughnut hole," a gap in coverage.

And yesterday's W. Post:

...retirees expressed deeply mixed feelings about the voluntary prescription drug benefit scheduled for votes in Congress as early as today...

...They were disappointed that in most cases, benefits would not begin until a person spent nearly $1,000 a year on prescription drugs.

And they were annoyed -- but not totally surprised -- that the program would not begin until 2006.

That grand '04 strategy for GOP dominance might need some tweaking.

Whether or not Dems vote for the final legislation (how ugly the bill that escapes the House-Senate conference is not clear), the law will be seen as Dubya's.

And last week, LiberalOasis said that prez candidates would be positioned to nail Bush if seniors began complaining.

Clearly, the complaining has begun.

Even some on the Right see the political trap Rove has inadvertently created for his boss.

Here's Bay Buchanan on CNN's Inside Politics:

They're basically selling their soul, in my personal opinion, for the gains, political gains, which I don't believe are long-term at all.

The elderly are smart. They're going to see they're not getting it fast enough. They're not going to get what they want.

And the Democrats are going to be able to say:

Look, we're going to get them everything. Vote us in and we'll get you everything.

And Republicans cannot go that route. This is a terrible mistake.

Rove surely thought he was being the next Dick Morris, as Dick Morris himself believed:

If the Republicans deliver a viable prescription drug benefit to America's elderly, as part of traditional Medicare, it will represent a coup for them as fundamental as was Bill Clinton's signing of the welfare reform bill prior to the 1996 election.

No longer will the Democrats have their pet issue to kick around. Medicare prescription drug benefits will be the law of the land, and it will have been accomplished under a Republican administration.

But it's a foolish parallel.

Most people (wrongly and unfortunately) thought welfare was a problem that desperately needed fixing.

Conversely, most seniors basically like Medicare. They just want a drug benefit added on.

In turn, meddling with the nature of the program, and selling seniors a half-assed benefit, will not be the political masterstroke that welfare reform was cracked up to be.

The Bushies are too frightened to fail and face the voters with no bill at all. They're in too deep to turn back.

And you can bet that with Dubya's trademark arrogance, they'll just dig the hole deeper as the campaign continues.

QUICK HIT

Truly Historic

This is not hyperbole. Yesterday was a truly historic day for gay rights.

LiberalOasis has no great insights about the Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court decision, but for more, check out Balkinazation, The Antic Muse, Ignatz, Daily Kos, and Is That Legal?

FROM THE MAILBAG

A reader takes issue with LO's contention yesterday -- that Rep. Dennis Kucinich had not yet shown how he can make his case to non-liberals:

[Kucinich's] attacks on corporate America reveal a position in line with a vast majority of the public.

His opinions on media consolidation and the FCC reflect the thousands of letters sent by citizens all over the country.

I sent a speech Kucinich gave on agricultural policy to two friends of mine (both belong to families with small farms) who are to the right of Atilla the Hun, and they were ready to sign up to work for his campaign for that reason alone.

His anti-war stance was principled and, especially as we get further and further along, correct, whereas Dean's was equivocal and unclear.

Kucinich's opposition to the Patriot Act has enormous grassroots support, and nobody likes Ashcroft.

In short, Kucinich is the only candidate with the guts and the courage to run against the entire administration and against everything they stand for...

...You need to recognize that what the Beltway views as liberal fringe is not seen that way at all here in the real world.

You also fail to note that in 1994, one of Gingrich's lieutenants won his district by a 2:1 margin.

In 1996, Kucinich beat him in a dead-heat. In 1998, Kucinich won with 65%; in 00 and '02, he earned 74%.

How did he turn around a 2:1 pro-Gingrich district into a 3:1 Kucinich district if he didn't somehow appeal to those who are not liberal?

June 26, 2003 PERMALINK
Dean Week Marches On
But What About Kucinich?
(posted June 26 1:45 AM ET)

When bad buzz followed a John Edwards performance on Meet The Press last year, he left the media spotlight for a bit, allowing the buzz to stick.

Through the luck of his schedule, Howard Dean's poorly reviewed MTP slot was followed up by a massive declaration of candidacy, and yesterday's major foreign policy speech at the Council of Foreign Relations.

That helps Dean burnish his image as a candidate who won't back down under fire.

(Note that such an attitude helped Bill Clinton immeasurably in 1992, following the Gennifer Flowers and draft-dodger allegations.)

Most interestingly, in yesterday's speech, Dean simply ignored the charge that the MTP interview exposed him as weak on national security.

He did so by forcefully making the case for a multilateral foreign policy:

Conducting foreign policy by posse may be expedient, but it is short-sighted and far less stable than a world order built on enduring relationships and viable international institutions.

That also tackles global poverty:

...we must recognize the importance of spreading the benefits of economic growth as widely as possible...

As long as half the world's population subsists on less than $2/day, the U.S. will not be secure.

Poor states and failed states provide breeding grounds for disease as well as recruits and safe havens for terrorists.

A world populated by "hostile have-nots" is not one in which U.S. leadership can be sustained without coercion.

But eschews pure pacifism, while narrowly focusing any future rationale for military action:

...it is essential that America lead by example and exercise power responsibly. Only in that way can we hope to eliminate support for the next generation of extremists...

...We must strengthen nonproliferation treaties, limit access to nuclear and other dangerous materials, apply coercive diplomacy, and, as a last resort, take military action to remove weapons programs and facilities.

All of these steps are best taken in concert with other countries, not alone.

The upshot is that Dean has largely controlled his headlines all week, crowded out his rivals and prevented the post-MTP chatter from consuming him.

While Dean solidified his grip on the top-tier, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, looking for an upset win in the MoveOn primary, began to attack him from the left.

In an email titled "Who is the Peace Candidate?", that focused on Sunday's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition forum, the Kucinich campaign wrote:

Congressman Dennis Kucinich received warm applause when he declared:

"...The only way we're really going to close the divide in this country is to start cutting the Pentagon budget and put that money into education."

Howard Dean spoke next and commented:

"I don't agree with Dennis about cutting the Pentagon budget when we're in the middle of a difficulty with terror attacks."

That's a stark contrast on one of the biggest questions facing Democrats. Dean describes himself as a fiscal conservative adamant about balanced budgets.

But if the soaring Pentagon budget is untouchable, are we being candid with voters about delivering them an enhanced domestic agenda that Democrats can be proud of?...

...Dennis Kucinich has made cuts in the bloated military budget central to his campaign.

Also this week, Kucinich supporter Bob Harris posted a Kucinich-Dean comparison that is receiving much blogosphere attention, making the argument that Kucinich, not Dean, is the true liberal.

(Dean supporters will surely contest some of the negative spin put on Dean's positions, even after Harris made some corrections).

So what should a liberal do?

First off, let's not forget that there's a lot of time to go, and every candidate deserves a hearing.

For example, Tapped notes that "every liberal should read" Edwards' new campaign speech.

While, Nathan Newman makes the case for liberals to rally around John Kerry.

Don't forget that only Dick Gephardt is pushing a global minimum wage.

But as the Harris table indicates, the battle for the hearts and minds of liberals appears to center on Kucinich and Dean.

As far as that battle goes, LiberalOasis offers the following.

There's no question that Kucinich is the more liberal candidate on paper.

If voting for a candidate who is anti-death penalty, pro-single payer, pro-Department of Peace is important to you, vote Kucinich.

But an issues checklist isn't always what closes the deal on one's vote

With less than 20% of country self-identifying themselves as liberals, a winning candidate needs to display an ability to win backing from beyond the converted.

Dean -- who is a maverick mix of liberal and moderate, and arguably a splash of conservative -- has shown an interest in taking liberal positions and selling them to non-liberals.

So far, Kucinich has not shown how he would do the same.

If that kind of pragmatic strategy and style matters a lot to you, Dean is probably your guy.

What is plain unfair in all of this is the charge that Dean is being disingenuous about his ideology. (Slate just called him, perhaps jokingly, a "left-wing impostor.")

As LO has pointed out before, Dean has been admirably straight with liberals that he is not a party-line liberal.

Don't let the media's timeworn "label-then-trash" cycle manipulate your thinking.

The bottom line is there's no right or wrong for liberals on this matter.

Whatever you eventually do, do what feels right to you, and do it with your eyes wide open.

June 25, 2003 PERMALINK
Medicare Mush (Part 2)
(posted June 25 12:15 AM ET)

The Dems are failing to improve the Medicare bill as it moves through the Senate. Good.

Some stubborn conservatives are hinting they won't back a new prescription drug benefit as is proposed. Good.

The big Dem "failure" in the Senate yesterday was a rejected attempt to close the "donut hole," giving seniors no drug benefit for annual costs between $4,500 and $5,800.

It's the most glaring thing wrong with the proposal (the House hole is even bigger).

And Dems have made it clear where the two parties stand on it.

Whereas if the Dems succeeded in closing the gap, the GOP would have taken a bigger step to blur the distinctions between the two on Medicare.

On the other side of the aisle, "about two to three dozen" House GOPers, according to CNN, are threatening to withhold support.

That's on top of last week's letter to Bush, where 27 Senate GOPers formally expressed their displeasure with the pending compromise.

Let's give these wingnuts some credit. They're at least trying to stick to their principles.

It's safe to say that Dubya and Rove won't quite see it that way.

The White House knows this election is no slam dunk.

They know their re-elect number is mired below 50%. And they know they are relatively weak among seniors.

The Bushies refuse to fully take on the Right and embrace truly moderate policies.

But they are more willing than the purists to use phony rhetoric and selectively capitulate when the political need is manifest.

As such, Bushies cannot afford to enrage seniors.

Confusing seniors by obscuring their long-term goals is another story.

Without a sincere policy shift, that's their best chance to get the job done.

However, the Bushies clearly don't have their own party completely on board, and now they risk having the whole gambit implode.

Even if they get a bill passed in both the House and Senate (as remains likely), these stubborn conservatives could still screw things up for Bush.

Their influence could veer a House-Senate compromise far enough to the right that seniors will not be confused, just angered that the Medicare they trust is being meddled with.

All in all, these recent developments make it more likely that the parties' differences will be plain.

That can only help the Dems and hurt Bush.

QUICK HIT

The Lies Don't Stop

I don't know anybody that I can think of who has contended that the Iraqis had nuclear weapons...

...I don't know anybody in any government or any intelligence agency who suggested that the Iraqis had nuclear weapons. That's fact number one.
-- Donald Rumsfeld, 6/24/03

We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.
-- Dick Cheney, 3/16/03

June 24, 2003 PERMALINK
Where Does The White House Stop
And Tim Russert Begin?
(posted June 23 10:15 PM ET)

Much of the political buzz yesterday focused on harsh assessments of Howard Dean's imperfect performance on Meet The Press.

Overlooked was the suspect process in which Tim Russert developed one of his questions for Dean.

Russert said to Dean:

...you said last month:

"It has become clear what this president is attempting to do and why we must repeal the entire package of tax cuts."

The Department of Treasury, we consulted and asked them: What effect would that have across America?...

...they said, a married couple with two children making $40,000 a year, under the Bush plan, would pay $45 in taxes.

Repealing them, under the Dean plan, if you will, would pay $1,978, a tax increase of over 4,000 percent.

A married couple over 65 making $40,000 and claiming their Social Security, under Bush would pay $675 in taxes.

You're suggesting close to $1,400, a 107 percent tax increase.

Can you honestly go across the country and say, "I'm going to raise your taxes 4,000 percent or 107 percent," and be elected?

Russert did say that NBC "consulted and asked" the Treasury Department about the effects of repeal.

But one might assume based on that, NBC journalists objectively reviewed what the Bushies gave them to ensure the data was on the level.

But the W. Post shows that's not the case:

The Bush administration yesterday released a highly selective analysis of the cost to families of rolling back scheduled tax cuts, an early sign of the White House's plan to brand Democrats as tax raisers...

...The research was prepared at the request of "Meet the Press," NBC and Bush officials said.

So NBC, in effect, prompted the Administration to create some political propaganda.

Then NBC carried Bush's water by using the propaganda to whack a Bush opponent.

If NBC did its own analysis of the data, in the interest of actually educating its viewers, it would have found what the W. Post did:

The analysis does not include single people or lower-income couples, two groups that benefit little from Bush's cuts...

...[Brookings economist] Peter R. Orszag... said the document "gives a misleading impression of the overall effect of the tax cuts."

Just 27 million of the nation's roughly 140 million households consist of married couples with children, he said.

Brookings figures show that under the most recent law, 81 percent of households would save $1,000 or less.

Russert's question --

Can you honestly go across the country and say, "I'm going to raise your taxes 4,000 percent or 107 percent," and be elected?

-- made it seem like every American was facing a massive tax hike under a President Dean.

Loaded questions are part of the game, and candidates have been dealing with them since the dawn of politics.

But essentially asking the Administration to feed you slanted info for a loaded question is beyond the pale.

The real question is, can Russert honestly call himself an objective journalist?

June 23, 2003 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted June 22 11 PM ET)

A mixed bag for Howard Dean yesterday, as he had a somewhat contentious, hour-long exchange with Tim Russert on Meet The Press.

Some of his answers were spot-on.

But other times, he was knocked off-stride by Russert.

He never really lost his composure, and he often recovered. But he also left some inelegant responses along the way.

In the spot-on category, he took on the Bush tax cuts directly and fiercely:

...let's look at what the tax cuts have done.

Property taxes are going up in places in New Hampshire because the president has cut services.

Because he has not given the right amount of money to the states for special education, for No Child Left Behind, for all these unfunded mandates that he's passed.

The real effect of the Bush tax cuts has actually been to raise taxes on most middle-class people and to cut their services.

Also, when asked about Canada's new policy of legal gay marriage, Dean smartly framed the issue as one of fair principle:

We focus so much on gay marriage that I think we've missed the real point of what this debate is about, which is equal rights...

...inheritance rights, insurance rights, hospital rights--that's what this is all about.

...Will I recognize the equal rights of people who get united in Canada, whether it's married or anything else? Yes...

...if a couple goes to Canada and gets married, when they come back, they should have exactly the same legal rights as every other American.

But Russert dragged Dean into a messy exchange with a seemingly straightforward, but atypical question:

RUSSERT: Let's talk about the military budget. How many men and women would you have on active duty?

Dean initially did what you're supposed to do when thrown something unexpected.

Admit you don't know the specific answer, but address the larger issue, so you make your point and avoid sounding clueless:

DEAN: I can't answer that question. And I don't know what the answer is.

I can tell you one thing, though. We need more troops in Afghanistan. We need more troops in Iraq now...

...[In Afghanistan,] we need more people there. We cannot be making alliances with warlords...

...And what I would do in Iraq now is bring in NATO and bring in the United Nations...

...our troops on the ground deserve better support than they're getting.

Instead of delving into what's happening on the ground in these war zones, Russert saw a different opening:

RUSSERT: But how many troops--how many men and women do we now have on active duty?

DEAN: I can't tell you the answer to that either. It's --

Then Russert stopped being a journalist, and became a scold.

RUSSERT: But as commander in chief, you should know that.

And Dean started to wing it:

DEAN: Tim, you have to understand, and I know you do understand, that as you run a campaign and as you acquire the nomination and as you go on to be president, you acquire military advisers who will tell you these things.

This is true, and perhaps in this Era of Dubya, it's not so damaging to show what's behind the curtain.

But Dean could and should have phrased it better, without sounding like he would just be spoon-fed military info.

Nevertheless, after that slip, Dean regained his footing and turned the tables on Russert.

DEAN: For me to have to know right now, participating in the Democratic [primary], how many troops are actively on duty in the United States military...it's silly.

That's like asking me who the ambassador to Rwanda is.

RUSSERT: Oh, no, no, no. Not at all. Not if you want to be commander in chief...

DEAN: So...your position is that I need to know exactly how many people are on duty today in the active military forces --

RUSSERT: Well, have a sense --

DEAN: Six months away from the first primary?

RUSSERT: If somebody wants to be president of the United States, have a sense of the military.

DEAN: I do have a sense of the military.

RUSSERT: Of how many people roughly --

DEAN: I know there are roughly between a million and two million people active duty.

I know that we don't have enough people in Iraq...

...and I'm prepared to assume the burden and have the proper people around me advising me on what needs to be done.

Of course, if having a rough sense was really enough for Russert, Dean could have given the 1-2M estimate at the start and avoided the whole dust-up.

But that's what can happen when you're caught off-guard.

(You can bet that now every campaign, including Bush's, will tattoo on their brain the exact number -- 1.45M.)

(CORRECTION June 23 9:15 AM ET -- The original post used an out-of-date stat of 1.37M as of 2001)

While many folks will probably dwell on that and other points of contention with Russert, there's something more important for the Dean team to focus on.

Dean did not hammer a singular theme or message for his candidacy that would stick with the audience.

There were elements, for example, when Dean said:

My message is be strong for the Democratic Party. The only way to beat this president is to be proud of who you are and stand up for what you are...

That's how we can beat George Bush.

Or when he said:

Karl Rove and others have talked about going back to the McKinley era before there was any kind of social safety net in this country.

Really that's what [my] campaign's about. It's to undo what I consider radical Republicanism.

But no fundamental message was drummed over and over.

Dean, like most of the candidates, is still barely known among the vast majority of voters.

So when given media opportunities like this, you have to take advantage and define yourself and your candidacy.

Granted, it's easy to say, and hard to do. But you gotta do it.

Even if, as Dean said of himself yesterday, you're not a "scripted candidate."

(UPDATE June 23 9:15 AM ET -- The NY Times piece about the interview grossly mischaracterized it.

The reporter Katharine Q. Seelye, who some will recall was the source of many unfair Al Gore articles in 2000, wrote that Dean "who prides himself on his straightforwardness, equivocated on several issues."

She then writes that Dean "sidestepped answering whether he would support the prescription drug plan backed by the Bush administration and some Democrats."

Here's what Dean said:

Well, this is a tough one...let me speak about the dilemma...

First, this is an opportunity to set up an entitlement program for people who need a prescription drug benefit. We need to do that.

Secondly, the bill won't work...because it uses the private insurance companies to deliver the health-care benefits...

...I don't know how I'd vote on this bill right now, and I'd want to see the last amendments before it goes out the door.

Technically an equivocation, but fair considering the bill is in flux. More importantly, he made clear what his preferred bill would look like.

Seeyle also claimed Dean equivocated on gay marriages from Canada, but as you can see from LO's original post above, Dean made it quite clear how he would handle that.

Dean did say, as Seeyle wrote, that on a constitutional amendment to balance the budget, "I go back and forth on that."

That's certainly an equivocation, and not an ideal response.

But one must also concede, it's as straightforward an equivocation as one can make.)

QUICK HITS

How Cool Is It...

...that Dean's official site includes a public comments section about his Meet The Press performance.

Officially, the Party is Tough

Many of us may be frustrated that congressional Dems are not tough enough on Bush.

But on Face The Nation, DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe was not one of those Dems.

He was tough on foreign policy:

There's a huge credibility gap...

...you had the president of the United States in a State of the Union speech giving incorrect information.

You have the vice president of the United States on March 16th of this year saying that they're reconstituting their nuclear program. We have, obviously, no evidence of that...

...We now have members of the Central Intelligence Agency that say they were pressured to give information...

...this goes to the credibility of our country all over the world.

He was tough about the economy:

We're going to beat George Bush just like we beat his father because, as you know, three million people have lost their jobs since George Bush became president.

You've seen unemployment go up 49 percent. Long-term unemployment up 192 percent. Consumer confidence just dropped 30 percent.

These are what the issues are going to be...

And he was confident of victory next year:

He is personally popular, but if you ask the second question, "Would you vote to re-elect George Bush?" He's at 45.

Any candidate under 50 percent is in trouble.

He's at a 45 percent after he's done his aircraft carrier landings and all this other stuff...

...People are asking: Where's my job? What happened to my 401(k)?

Where's my health insurance? Where's my prescription drug benefit?

Where's Osama bin Laden? Where's Saddam Hussein? Where's the proof of the weapons of mass destruction?

He supposedly speaks for the party. Is the rest of his party listening?

The Sandbox
Humor by John Cougarstein

Have You Forgotten?
(Reality Remix)
Sung to Darryl Worley's "Have You Forgotten?"

VERSE 1
I hear Bushies saying
That was one cool war

But what was it again
That we were fighting for?

What about those weapons?
The W-M-D?

Think I was more threatened
by Avril Lavigne

They say we've made Iraq
safe for democracy

While we wait for that election
Let me ask you just one thing

CHORUS 1
Have you forgotten
What they used to say

Like the day when Iraq had nukes
Was just six months away

Have you forgotten
About that Osama guy

Bush don't say his name no more
Hmm, I wonder why

On that carrier you said "Mission Accomplished"

Have you forgotten?

VERSE 2
Who cares about weapons?
Iraqis are now free!

We now return you
To who killed Laci

And those free Iraqis
Their memories do seem short

They keep killing our troops
The ones that we support

Some say we won
since Saddam's no longer a threat

But Osama Bin Laden
don't seem all that upset

CHORUS 2
Have you forgotten
What they used to say

We'd be greeted with flowers
Then we'd all be home by May

Have you forgotten
Who attacked us that day

Not Saddam, or Scott Peterson
Or even Natalie Maines

We once vowed to get the ones behind Bin Laden

Have you forgotten?

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

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

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