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Leading With The Left
The daily view from the oasis

July 16, 2004 PERMALINK
"The President Has Many Friends Who Are Members of the NAACP"
(posted July 16 3 AM ET)
(minor edit July 17 1 AM ET)

Could conservatives get it any less?

You can't win the votes of minority groups, and you can't unite the country, by ignoring those who disagree with you.

Yesterday, WH Press Sec Scott McCellan, clung hard to the "scheduling conflict" excuse for skipping the NAACP convention.

Though one reporter (ABC's Terry Moran?) made it difficult for him:

Q: ... I'm wondering if the schedule that the President couldn't get out of is really more of an excuse because he didn't want to go to this group.

Because he is the President and he can manage his own schedule.

McCLELLAN: Well, he's going -- as a matter of fact, Terry, next week he is going to -- yes, that's all part of the politics. Again, look at --

Q: No, I'm interested in the facts.

McCLELLAN: You're asking what Senator Kerry said.

Put aside the talk, the political talk during an election year --

Q: I'm interested in the facts. Is it the schedule, or is it that he doesn't like the way the NAACP leadership talks?

Because if it's the schedule, he's the President, why can't he rearrange his schedule?

McCLELLAN: You can look at the political talk during an election year, but let's look at the action during people's terms in office.

And the record reflects the President's commitment to improving the quality of life for all Americans.

Despite sticking with the schedule story, McClellan made a point to take a shot at the NAACP leadership:

I think it really is disappointing to see the current leadership continue to repeat the hostile rhetoric that they have used, which really shows that they're not interested in a constructive dialogue.

This was an attempt to separate the leadership from the rank-and-file, to avoid sounding like he was disparaging all blacks.

In a new twist on the old "some of my best friends are black" defense, McClellan offered that, "The President has many friends who are members of the NAACP."

This might induce less eye-rolling if Bush's approval rating among blacks wasn't a pathetic 16%.

Nevertheless, by attacking NAACP's leaders, McClellan was implying that if a constituency expresses a strong difference of opinion with the President, then they're not worth meeting with.

Fox News' pundits amplified that notion yesterday on "Special Report with Brit Hume". Here's Mort Kondracke:

Some thanks [Bush] got for going to the 2000 [NAACP] convention.

The NAACP took out the most scurrilous single ad of the 2000 campaign, [the] James Byrd ad that said Bush's failure to sign a hate crimes bill in Texas was the equivalent of the lynching of James Byrd.

I mean that is so off the chart.

(Note: that's a mischaracterization. The ad featured Byrd's daughter describing how she personally felt when Bush looked her in the eye and refused her request to back the bill.)

So why should he go and reward these people with his presence?

He can go to the Urban League and make the statement that he wants to make to the black community there.

This is the way many Washington types think of presidential appearances, as one-way conduits of message and "rewards" for well-behaved groups.

Of course, Bush can deliver "the statement that he wants to make" anywhere he feels like.

But just maybe, the black community (more of whom are in the NAACP than the Urban League) wants to say something to him too.

And maybe, they want to see some policy shifts that would actually better their communities.

Kondracke thinks Bush's record on race is just swell:

Kerry said today that Bush is not a uniter. He's a divider by race...

...He's got a black secretary of state, a black national security adviser, two black cabinet officers. He is not dividing this country by race...

...Did Bill Clinton have a black secretary of state?...I don't think so.

Perhaps the black community doesn't look at it that way.

Maybe they think the time for symbolic gestures is long past, and the time for substance is long overdue.

Perhaps they think a president who disparages affirmative action, while presiding over an economy where blacks are twice as likely to be unemployed as whites, is dividing the country by race.

But to find out, you'd have to ask them.

Until the GOP learns how to listen, it will never realize Bush pollster Matthew Dowd's goal of increasing its black and Latino support.

Which, in Dowd's view, the party needs to do if it ever wants to win the White House again.

July 15, 2004 PERMALINK
Losing Russia
(posted July 15 3 AM ET)

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial condemning the apparent Moscow contract killing of western journalist Paul Klebnikov, who was head of the publication Forbes Russia.

(14 journalists have been murdered during Putin's reign. None of the crimes have been solved.)

The WSJ editorial painted a grim picture of Russia:

...Russia has been taken over by a criminal elite in which gangsters, businesses and corrupt officials work together. The result is a climate of fear and public cynicism.

And pointed the finger at President Vladimir Putin:

Attempts to shut up the press have been made by the Federal Security Bureau, formerly the KGB...

...Putin, who has systematically seized control of Russian TV, retains some of the habits he developed [at the KGB].

And the editorial called on other countries to exert pressure for reform:

...Putin is welcomed to international parleys, such as G-8 meetings, as if he were the leader of a normal country...

...Perhaps it's time for the leaders of free democracies to ask Mr. Putin whether the rule of law exists in Russia.

But the WSJ saw no need to criticize Dubya directly.

Even though he's the one that in 2001 said of Putin:

I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy...I was able to get a sense of his soul.

Even though last Sept., Bush praised "Putin's vision":

I respect President Putin's vision for Russia:

A country at peace within its borders, with its neighbors, and with the world, a country in which democracy and freedom and the rule of law thrive.

Even though Bush decided in 2002 to "end democracy support" for Russia, according to the Center For American Progress.

The very same Bush that the WSJ recently praised as a champion of liberty (while in its view, "Faustian bargains" are John Kerry's "forte".)

When the current Russia policy appears to be yet another case of Bush violating his own stated principle that "stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty."

There certainly isn't an easy way forward at this point, and the problems don't necessarily originate with Bush.

Both The Nation and the Philadelphia Inquirer note that Bill Clinton's push for free-market reforms backfired and led to the hated oligarchy, embittering the Russian public towards the US.

But the Center For American Progress argues (here and here) that Bush's curtailing of support for democracy is worsening the situation.

Fundamentally, regarding Russia and beyond, if the US is consistently on the side of democracy and freedom, it will have more moral authority at its disposal.

When concepts of liberty are exploited to mask more selfish agendas, as Bush has done, moral authority is shot.

This will be one of the toughest challenges for Kerry once he takes over.

He will have much repair work to do on global perceptions of America's moral authority, and time will not be on his side.

(Do read these op-eds on the life of Paul Klebnikov, the importance of his work, and what his death means for Russia, from those who knew him personally, in the NY Times and W. Post.)

(UPDATE July 15 11:15 AM ET -- More details on Klebnikov's murder from Romenesko.)

July 14, 2004 PERMALINK
The Wedge Issue Gets A Wedgie
(posted July 14 1:30 AM ET)

I think you can only conclude, about the administration's priorities, that this constitutional debate [on denying marriage rights for gays] is more important than our national security or any other issue that is pending before the Senate right now.
-- Tom Daschle, news conference, 7/13/04

This morning, the GOP is expected to lose a Senate procedural vote, preventing them from even bringing the anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment to the floor.

And so will end the sad attempt by GOPers to make gay marriage the wedge issue that saves their collective ass -- dying in pathetic, anti-climatic fashion.

(Their "we'll be back" false bravado notwithstanding.)

Of course, all the warning signs were there, if the GOP chose to peer out from their right-wing bunker.

In Nov., LO noted that swing voters, even if they nominally opposed gay marriage, didn't prioritize the issue highly and greatly preferred discussing issues that affected them personally.

And in May, LO flagged a NYT report saying even the GOP base wasn't ginned up over the issue.

Yet they plowed ahead anyway, operating under the foolish notion that by keeping the issue alive, they could spook voters into galvanizing against some sort of Queer Eye conspiracy to de-hetero-fy the nation.

As the GOP heads for an embarrassing defeat today, it would be wise for Dems to kick them while they're down.

To use the opportunity to expose their shameful tactics and out-of-whack priorities.

As you can see in the quote above, Daschle's saying the right things (and John Kerry has offered similar messages previously).

But it doesn't seem to be a party-wide orchestrated message yet.

Daschle's comments were not stressed enough to ensure pick up by most media (though this ABC World News Tonight piece touched on them.)

The Bush-Cheney campaign strategy rests on disingenuous attacks and distractions, as opposed to selling their own record.

So any chance to show how they prefer to avoid talking about their record should be seized.

And with homeland security legislation being delayed in Congress, the urgency (mis)placed on banning gay marriage is ripe for merciless juxtaposition.

QUICK HIT

Air America Expands

In case you haven't heard, this month Air America has landed in Miami, FL (WINZ 940 AM) and Northampton, MA (WHMP 1400 AM), for a total of 17 stations carrying Air America programming.

July 13, 2004 PERMALINK
How Not To Be a Base
(posted July 13 12:30 AM ET)
(minor edit July 17 1 AM ET)

Liberals should watch closely as conservatives, like Kate O'Beirne, Rush Limbaugh and Paul Weyrich whine and complain that they are not represented in the GOP convention prime-time speaker roster.

It's a lesson of how a base should not act once in power.

Conservatives have much to be happy about.

They've won massive tax cuts, a unilateral foreign policy, a slew of conservative judges, money funneled to religious groups and marriage promotion, rollback of environmental protections, restrictions on abortion, an "Unborn Victims of Violence" law, steps towards privatized Medicare and an effective denial of stem cell research funding.

After all that Dubya has done for them, they're going to throw a tantrum over a speakers list?

That's just extremely short-sighted on their part.

And it's that kind of idiocy that gives political bases a bad name, and prompts political strategists to keep them at arms length.

Furthermore, it also shows the right-wingers don't accept their own failings.

If they had done a better job on convincing the public that conservatives were on their side (and they certainly had their shot) then they'd be up on the prime-time dais.

Now, if (when) John Kerry wins, the hard work will begin for liberals.

We will have to fight -- not only GOPers, but on assorted issues probably some Dems as well -- to realize our goals.

And Kerry may have the toughest job of all, keeping a majority coalition together over something besides Dubya.

But as we tussle with fellow Dems, we will need to be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the GOP base.

It will behoove all of us to remember in the end, it's not about one faction of the party triumphing over another.

Because when one faction is a loser, that faction could take its marbles and go home. And there goes the majority coalition.

Instead, from the liberal perspective, it's about convincing the so-called moderates of the party that liberal ideals and views are also politically pragmatic.

This is a necessary step for us.

Even though there are enough liberals who have financially backed the Kerry campaign to show that we cannot be ignored, there aren't enough self-described liberals in the country to have earned the right to call the shots.

We cannot sit back and just expect Kerry to do what we want.

We have to go out into the country, make our case to the people, and show the Establishment how it can be done, so Kerry will want to do what we want.

And at some point, come election time, we may well have to accept that we didn't win on every issue, be it Kerry's fault, Congress', or ours -- if we didn't find a way to connect with the public.

Except in very rare situations, the time to push your party is in the off-years. The election years are when you close ranks.

A healthy party needs a smart and savvy base -- one that provides money volunteers and energy, one that doesn't alienate the center but defines it -- for long-term success.

Whereas a demoralized base kept at arms length by the Establishment may provide some short term wins, but cannot sustain in the long-term.

Similarly, a myopic base, as the right-wingers are showing themselves to be, can give away substantive gains and destroy trust within its party.

If we fight tough and smart in the off-years, and we avoid the myopia of the Right in the election years, we will build a very healthy party for years to come.

July 12, 2004 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted July 12 12:30 AM ET)

Right before the Senate Intelligence Committee report on Iraq intel came out, Salon led the argument that the Dems blew it, cutting a wimpy deal that allowed the report to blame the CIA and get Bush off the hook.

Now, it certainly has been a GOP goal for some time to deflect blame away from the White House, towards the CIA.

But this appears to be a case where the GOP won the battle and lost the war.

And a case where the Beltway Dem inclination to finesse issues, as opposed to playing smashmouth, worked pretty well.

By agreeing to the deal, the Dems were able to get the report out the door, generating big headlines.

And in doing so, it furthered the argument that the war was launched on, at best, flimsy grounds.

Which, on the Sunday shows, forced the GOP to dance around the question on most every American's mind: was the war justified?

And they don't have a clean answer.

On ABC's This Week, George Stephanopoulos put it to Sen. Trent Lott:

Knowing what you know now, that there were no stockpiles of weapons, there was no nuclear program...that the Iraqi army wasn't much of a threat to its neighbors.

Can the war -- which has cost more than 800 American lives, over 150 billion dollars -- can the war and your vote still be justified?

Lott couldn't answer candidly without undercutting himself:

I think it absolutely can.

I think part of what I'm going to say is a part of the problem. It led to sort of the group-think.

And information was layered, without double-checking [if] that information accurate. It just became a part of the information flow.

But we know that Saddam Hussein did gas his own people [and ]his neighbors. We know that he had a nuclear program. We knew that he was supporting terrorism in a variety of ways.

So there was plenty of justification...

Over at NBC's Meet The Press, Tim Russert was particularly tenacious.

Interviewing Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Intelligence Cmte Chair, Russert began by digging up Dep. Def. Sec. Paul Wolfowitz's classic quote from 5/03:

We settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction...

...there have always been three fundamental concerns.

One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people...

The third one by itself...is a reason to help the Iraqis but it's not a reason to put American kids' lives at risk, certainly not on the scale we did.

Russert then logically followed:

If there are no weapons of mass destruction and the link of Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda is murky, at least in terms of the operational sense, then it leaves the third: to help the Iraqis and Saddam's criminal behavior.

Do you agree with Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz [that] it was not reason enough to go to war?

Roberts' initial response?

Well, that was then. This is now.

Ahh, the reassuring tautology. Always a winner.

Roberts then went on to use the "mass graves" talking point, but that wasn't enough for Russert:

But, Senator, if you went to the Senate in October of 2002 and said:

"We're not sure about weapons of mass destruction and the relationship between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda operation is murky, but he is a bad guy and there are mass graves, we have to go to war."

Would you have voted for war?

Roberts', like Lott, was candid yet self-defeating:

I don't know if I would have or not.

So the Dem deal succeeded in forcing the GOP to flail on the false basis for war.

But was it at the expense of letting the White House off the hook on the issue of pressuring the CIA to produce the intel the neocons wanted?

Nope.

While the report nominally clears the White House, Intelligence Cmte Vice-Chair Jay Rockefeller did an excellent job preventing the GOP from getting any mileage out of it.

At Friday's press conference releasing the report, Rockefeller wasted no time making it clear that the conclusion was far from unanimous, and gave proof of pressure:

We had major disagreements on pressure. And I felt that the definition of pressure was very narrowly drawn in the final report...

...George Tenet indicated that he was approached by analysts from the CIA... and [Tenet] said [to them], to relieve the pressure, "Simply don't answer the question if there is no new information."

But the key phrase there is "to relieve the pressure." He was agreeing, assenting to the fact that there was.

[And] the ombudsman of the [CIA]...said that the hammering on analysts was greater than he had seen in his 32 years of service...and he was referring to pressure.

Rockefeller pushed these points on MTP as well as Fox News Sunday (he didn't seize the opportunity on CBS' Face The Nation).

Sure, Roberts had his rebuttal points, so it was a bit of a he said-he said.

Nevertheless, Rockefeller made the "pressure" issue a point of contention, making it the report's "conclusion" on pressure close to worthless for the GOP.

At the same time, the GOP was still stuck with defending the war based on shoddy intel.

Which made the deal on the report a pretty bad one for the GOP.

QUICK HIT

Dump Cheney Chatter Continues

Most of the Sunday shows discussed how Cheney is a drag on the Bush ticket.

CNN's Late Edition put Al D'Amato's "I think we can do better" comment to Cheney's wife.

The MTP roundtable kicked around how polls show more want Edwards as veep than Cheney. Fox News Sunday raised them with the Bush-Cheney pollster.

And a This Week focus group of 10 undecided Columbus, OH voters found 8 saying to dump him.

Moderator Stephanopoulos' response was, "Wow."

But it's no surprise to LiberalOasis readers.

This space saw it coming two years ago. From 8/23/02:

It's official. Dick Cheney has become a liability.

The latest Harris poll pegs his positive rating at a mere 45%, coupled with a negative rating of 43%.

...

His positives have dropped 10 points since Harken and Halliburton were thrust into the public eye six weeks ago following Dubya's "in the corporate world sometimes things aren't exactly black and white" news conference.

...

If the public opinion trend continues, there will likely be increased pressure for Dubya to force Cheney off the 2004 ticket.

The Sandbox
Humor Column by Mark Spittle

Things To Do With Chalabi Now That The Pentagon Is Done With Him

Many Americans awoke a few days ago with the heartbreaking news that Iraqi exile and Iraqi National Congress founder Ahmed Chalabi is a "con man."

Those of us who read the occasional dissident press of the Europeans knew --- as far back as pre 9/11 days --- that Chalabi had been convicted of bank fraud in Jordan and sentenced in absentia for 22 years, and that his word was less than trustworthy.

Now, thanks to our state-run me... erm, I mean "aggressive free press," all Americans have finally been told about Chalabi's dark past.

That the release of this news to the American press coincides with the White House's reversal of position on Chalabi is, I suppose, just a really, really weird coincidence.

But pity poor Chalabi! Here was an Iraqi leader who had been supported by the Pentagon for decades and thought he was going to take the place of the last Iraqi leader who was supported by the Pentagon... but, alas, the twists of Fate are meandering, thorny brambles.

I did some poking around, though, and found a lot of people still have a warm place in their hearts for our little bean-headed buddy from Baghdad.

Assuming Chalabi escapes without a chemical glow stick inconveniencing his posture in any way, let's look at some future career possibilities for Iraq's prodigal son.

1) TELEVISION

CBS executives have already been trying to get communications over to Chalabi's office, asking him to host their new reality television series, "I'm A Former Dictator, Get Me Out of Here!"

The premise of the show is that various nefarious international leaders (Hussein, Pinochet, Kissinger) are abandoned on a desert island until only one remains. The winner will get to rule Burkina Faso.

CBS feels Chalabi "has the right stuff" for hosting the show, seeing as how he "has unprecedented experience in handling rulers of various nations across the world."

It's also thought that Chalabi may "add some excitement" to the program by enticing the dictators to do various ratings-enhancing stunts, like resorting to cannibalism or (worse yet!) denouncing conservatism in exchange for chocolate.

2) POLITICS

There may yet be a role for Ahmed Chalabi in the Bush administration!

Sure, his international street cred may be in tatters, but that takes nothing away from his ability to sway policy makers with only the most scant bits of evidence and huge gobs of deception.

Such traits would do him well on the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign team, where the American people will occasionally need to be convinced that destroying Iraq, alienating the UN, polluting the US Constitution with discriminatory amendments, ignoring the Geneva Convention and ruining the US economy are actually "compassionate" deeds, making the nation better than it was under that evil sicko Clinton.

If anyone can spin Bush's record to the general public, it's the guy who convinced Colin Powell that an abandoned Iraqi trailer park was an active nuclear weapons facility.

3) FINANCE

With his Bush family connections, Ahmed can probably turn his Jordanian conviction to his advantage.

After all, Dubya had problems with Harken, Arbusto and the Texas Rangers. Jeb caused the Florida S & L collapse. Neil had the Silverado Savings & Loan debacle. And Poppy Bush topped them all with the BCCI scandal.

If anything, Chalabi's work is downright quaint compared to his patrons.

Given that, perhaps Chalabi could put his white collar criminal past to good use and gain a position of power like the Bushes... perhaps replacing Dick Grasso at the NYSE?

4) CARTOONS

Ahmed Chalabi left Iraq at age 12, studied at Chicago University and MIT --- but he still has that funky, broken-English accent!

How's that, you ask? Unbeknownst to many, Chalabi is a skilled voice actor.

In fact, a Freedom of Information Act request discovered that Chalabi's vocal talents have been heard on The Simpsons (he's Dr. Nick), Batman (he's Alfred the butler) and Kim Possible (he's Kim.)

He's even overdubbed quite a few Asian films, including a new release of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (he was the ugly ronin) and Godzilla vs. Megaguiras (he was the old scientist.)

With this impressive resume already on his record, is there any question that he won't take advantage of what he once called "an amusing hobby" and turn it into a lucrative career?

The producers of Toy Story 3 are already sending offers, I'm told.

Mark Spittle is one half of the political satire duo Spittle & Ink. He is a former Washington lobbyist and congressional assistant.

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

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