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Leading With The Left
November 26, 2003 PERMALINK
Yesterday was a day that Dubya and Karl Rove had dreamed of for a long time, the day that they stole the Medicare issue from the Dems, like Clinton did welfare reform.
But instead of getting ready to take a victory lap, theyâre about to take a damage control lap.
Some readers may be frustrated that Dems didnât successfully filibuster the bill, but this wasnât anything remotely like a cave-in.
In fact, the job the Dems did to get the truth out about the bill, and to neutralize the AARP endorsement (Sunday notwithstanding), has been excellent.
And it has put Bush in a worse political position.
The big proof: check the results of the recent Annenberg poll asking ăShould Congress pass this bill or not?ä
65 and over
And the initial broadcast media coverage, which is usually heavily slanted to the victors, instead gave a fair amount of time to Dems and the underbelly of the bill.
ABC World News Tonight zeroed in on the role of private companies (which still makes seniors nervous):
The most controversial part· is the $12 billion set aside to give to private health firms which will administer drug coverage.
Opponents say that money should be used to lower the monthly premiums·
ABC also played up concerns about drug costs:
·The billâs supporters say, ădonât worry, drug costs will go down.ä But even some of them say they arenât really sure.
NBC Nightly News also gave Dems decent face time, airing clips of Sens. Tom Daschle and Dick Durbin, while reporting:
The political debate is far from over as leading Democrats continue to call this bill a sell-out.
And NBCâs characterization of the bill?
Itâs a complicated piece of legislation and those whose lives will be touched by the Medicare bill have a lot of questions.
Thatâs not quite the spin the GOP was looking for.
Such coverage doesnât happen when the opposition caves, only when the opposition actively opposes and gets its message out.
And so, while the Bushies are putting on a triumphant face, they have also indicated they know theyâre in a hole.
The W. Post reported Monday:
[Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy] Thompson acknowledged the legislation is not perfect and committed to a massive public education campaign if it is enacted.
You donât do a ămassive public education campaignä if everyone loves the bill already.
And yesterday on CNN, John King reported that Dubya will be ătalking about it, and talking about it, and talking about, especially in key states.ä
King also delivered the Rove line that ăthe White House believes this is a very big deal that can help the president considerably,ä but Thompsonâs comment belies that.
But Kingâs reporting also shows the Dems cannot treat this like the fight is over. Dems are currently winning the argument, but it is not won.
Bushâs ătalking about itä means heâs going to spin this as hard as possible all throughout the next year.
He has an uphill battle, but he does have the bully pulpit.
So Dems need to do all they can to stay in Bushâs face every step of the way.
Daschle has set the right tone, already introducing legislation to repeal parts of the bill.
But the prez candidates need to play the lead role, as they are commanding more and more of the media spotlight.
Simply criticizing wonât make much news now.
They need to take it to the next level: offering their own plans on how they will fix the law to provide a real benefit that dumps the insidious privatization and doesnât screw the poor.
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November 25, 2003 PERMALINK
The most dramatic part of last nightâs Dem debate was when John Kerry relentlessly pressed Howard Dean on whether he plans to slow the growth of Medicare, which isnât technically a cut, but often can be fairly interpreted as one.
KERRY: Are you going to slow the rate of growth, Governor, yes or no?
DEAN: We're going to do what we have to do to make sure that Medicare lasts...
KERRY: Are you going to slow the rate of growth, Governor? Because that's a cut.
DEAN: Well, I'd like to slow the rate of growth of this debate, if I could. But we're going to make sure that Medicare works.
Dean never answered the question directly, finally ending the long exchange with:
We are not going to cut Medicare in order to balance the budget.
Whatâs particularly odd here is that Dean has not hidden his potentially controversial position that he would seek to slow growth.
Itâs not in his stump speeches, but on the Iowa TV show ăIowa Pressä just a few weeks ago, Dean said:
We're going to have to limit the growth of entitlement programs. We don't have to cut.
He didnât specify Medicare, but it was a clear implication.
Yet he didnât go near that statement while under fire yesterday. Why?
Dean doesnât want the Medicare spending issue to be the flashpoint of the Iowa caucus. Itâs not his best turf. Iraq is.
So he apparently calculated that the risk of dodging was less than the risk of taking the bait and amplifying the Medicare dispute.
This is not the way LiberalOasis argued Dean should handle the Medicare issue. LO recommended a more specific Medicare plan, where he could put his statements in context.
Since Dean isnât doing that (for now at least), whether that would work politically will not be definitively proven.
But Deanâs more cagey strategy appears to have worked so far.
Dick Gephardt has been pounding Dean on Medicare in Iowa, and while it may have slowed Deanâs progress for a time, the first Iowa poll taken since Deanâs big union nods shows a sizeable Dean lead.
Hence, even though Kerry landed as clean a punch on Dean as has been done (outside of the flag flap, which Dean got past), itâs LOâs bet that it wonât cause Deanâs support to weaken.
Putting aside Deanâs money and organization advantages, the difference of opinion on Medicare doesnât get at the big issue that almost all Dems are weighing:
Who has the best chance to beat Bush?
And as LO reads the Dem electorate (no hard evidence here, just consider this pure gut speculation):
Whatever concern in the electorate that exists about Deanâs electability is not that he is a ăbalanced budget freak,ä as Kerry labeled him yesterday (using Deanâs own words).
Itâs mainly centered on the possibility that he might be a loose cannon ö making gaffes, losing his cool, showing too much irritability and anger.
Of course, relentless attacks on Dean are a way to bring that side of him out, but Dean pretty much kept his cool yesterday.
It would seem that if Kerry, Gephardt and the others are to stop Dean, theyâre going to have to find a way to really get under Deanâs skin.
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November 24, 2003 PERMALINK
As the Medicare showdown heats up in the Senate, congressional leaders in both parties hit the shows to make their case.
But both parties, suffering rifts on the issue, were unable to deliver clear, coordinated messages on Sunday.
That hurt their ability to win the larger political argument that will continue whatever happens to the bill in the Senate.
On the Dem side, Sen. Minority Leader Tom Daschle and Sen. Ted Kennedy were the key guests yesterday.
Kennedy, on ABCâs This Week, wasnât especially articulate, though he has the essence of what the Dem messages should be.
For example, Kennedy, who is leading a possible filibuster, started off by saying:
Well first of all, we passed a good prescription drug bill.
Beyond this, Medicare works. All our seniors understand it. They believe in it and they trust in it.
If you didnât already know that the ăgoodä bill was the June compromise Kennedy helped hammer out (which actually wasnât all that good), and not the bill currently on the table, then you may well thought Kennedy liked the current bill.
Which would have confused you a few seconds later when he delivered his clearest statement:
What is now coming before the Senate is basically hijacking the Medicare program.
They want to replace it. They want to undermine it. And they want to privatize it.
Later on, Kennedy sounded the alarm about the steps to privatize:
If we pay the drug companies and the HMOs more, they will provide health insurance, and leave the sickest and most elderly people in the Medicare system.
Itâs cherry picking. Everyone understands·
·[Itâs] going to be skyrocketing premiums and ultimately the breakdown.
Again, it wasnât smoothly explained, but heâs on the right track.
On the other hand, Daschle, while on NBCâs Meet The Press, wasted the high-profile appearance by not even getting into the substantive arguments against the bill.
Instead, he allowed Tim Russert to lead him into only talking about ăinside baseballä process stuff.
And that was not great ground for Daschle, since the party is split over whether or not to filibuster:
RUSSERT: Will you vote for filibuster, for cloture to stop it?
DASCHLE: ·We donât have the votes right now for cloture on a filibuster·
·because there is a lack of consensus with regard to the process itself, we really want to focus on the other parliamentary options we have available to us·
·weâre going to fight this bill with all weâve got as we have the last several days. We are going to fight it tomorrow as well, and weâll see how it goes.
Not quite fighting words.
Now, LiberalOasis has argued that a filibuster in this case isnât necessarily the way the go.
But in lieu of a filibuster should be a merciless pounding of the bill on the merits, to win the long-term political argument even if you canât win the short-term legislative argument.
Talking at length about how your caucus canât agree on what to do does not accomplish that.
For example, when asked about voting for a filibuster, Daschle should have said:
"Youâll see what we do when the time comes.
"But rest assured, weâre going to fight as hard as we can to stop a bill that will result in nearly 3 million seniors losing retiree benefits from former employers, and 7 million poor seniors losing crucial Medicaid coverage, while putting us on a dangerous path to privatization, and undermining Medicare."
Having said that, even though Daschle didnât coordinate well with Kennedy, and didnât swing as hard as he should have yesterday.
It still doesnât negate that Daschle, along with Rep. Nancy Pelosi, did successfully set a fighting tone last week after the AARP endorsement.
They could have rolled over instantly.
But they went straight at the AARP, ginned up senior anger, made the endorsement far less worthwhile than the GOP hoped, and prevented triumphant media coverage of the bill.
Meanwhile, the GOP had itâs own message problems on Sunday.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, on CNNâs Late Edition, put the sunniest face possible on the bill.
What this bill means is that $400 billion that is not present today is going to be put into the health care security for seniors.
So seniors no longer will have to choose between food and buying that prescription drug.
Over at Fox News Sunday, House Speaker Dennis Hastert also offered a similar feel-good line.
But at the same time, when asked how people who arenât poor would react to a benefit that wasnât all that generous, Hastert played down the billâs reach, in gruff fashion:
This is a deal to cover your risk. It's insurance. That's what it's all about. This is not a government give-away program.
And, you know, that's what conservatives and middle-income people have to understand.
That kind of blunt talk for the Fox audience was an attempt to mollify right-wingers who donât want to pass any kind of government benefit.
Still, it muddles the upbeat message that Frist, and Dubya, want to convey.
Most seniors surely wouldnât appreciate truly comprehensive coverage being dismissed as a ăgive-away.ä
And it wasnât winning over some conservatives, as evidenced by Sen. John McCain on This Week.
While announcing he would join Kennedyâs filibuster despite holding the ăexact oppositeä view on the program, McCain said:
Over the next 75 years, Social Security and Medicare have an 18 trillion dollar unfunded mandate.
This new entitlement program, lashed to one that is·going to go bankrupt·is going to add another 8 trillion dollars in unfunded mandates that weâre laying on our kids·
·Whatâs ever happened to my partyâs fiscal discipline?
So, the GOP had as hard a time as the Dems did in getting their own members to best frame the issue as the legislative process heads into the homestretch.
And once the divisions over legislative strategy are past, Dems should tighten up their messages and keep fighting.
A LIBERALOASIS FLASHBACK
ă·meddling with the nature of the [Medicare] program, and selling seniors a half-assed benefit, will not be the political masterstroke that welfare reform was cracked up to be.ä
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As any daily viewing of CNN will confirm, the thin line between politician and celebrity has been irreversibly blurred in the new millennium.
Interestingly, the fame and flubs of Hollywoodâs finest are now the problems of Washingtonâs careerists as well.
Call it schadenfreude if you must --- a German phrase meaning ăstupid sunzabitches get what they deserveä --- but we secretly take glee in the frequent public revelations that the rich and famous are ill-mannered, insecure, pathetic trash, just like the rest of us.
Or, more accurately, that they are far more ill-mannered, insecure, pathetic and trashy than we could ever be.
So now, as the Paris Hilton sex video circulates through the electronic ether, ready to take its place beside those accidental works of art by Rob Lowe, Pamela Anderson and Dr. Laura, the world of Politics is about to follow, yet again, in the footsteps of Hollywood with a naughty video of its own.
While some of you may have been hoping for clearly shot footage of Ann Coulter riding roughshod on the stud of her choice, instead we are presented with a randy, homemade video by a sitting President, George W. Bush.
I should add that for most of the video, Mr. Bush is not sitting.
Because I am certain the White House will clamp down on this leak quicker than they did that whole Novak-CIA agent thing, you will have to be content with my blow-by-blow review of the video presented here. By the time you read this, the video is likely to have been pulled from the net.
The video appears to have been shot on a digital camera, set up on a tripod or desk in the living area of the Presidential residence.
It opens with a clunky movement, and then we see George W. Bush walk into frame; he has apparently set the camera in place and pressed the record button.
He is wearing a silk kimono style robe, and dark socks that reach just below his knees.
He then turns to the camera and says, ăHoney, this is for you,ä and starts to peel off his robe in a seductive manner.
I should emphasize that he attempts to be seductive; watching Bush try to mimic a Chippendales dancer is like watching a salamander do higher math. It just isnât happening.
Although he seems to have some internal rhythm that drives a slight undulation in his hips, it is the beat of a half-wound clock, sporadically punctuated with an over-the-shoulder glance that makes Eddie Izzard look downright pouty.
Of course, soon our President is butt-naked beneath the silk, and presents ăhimself,ä at half mast, to the camera in a daring and confident manner.
There will be much speculation as to the length and girth of the Commander-in-Chiefâs snigglybit, but suffice to say that the evidence presented seems to reinforce the theory that there was a sockful of nickels stuffed in that flight suit that day.
As with his foreign policy, Bushâs confidence here is undeserved.
From there, however, the video gets a bit off course, as the phone rings and our bare-assed Leader of the Free World saunters over to the side table, dark socks still clinging to his skinny calves like tar on a La Brea sabertooth.
He answers the phone, and is soon distracted to the point where he obviously forgets the camera is running.
Apparently taking a call from Bill Frist, there is some discussion about judicial nominees and Mr. Bush gets quite animated, pounding his fist on the table, causing all sorts of wrinkles and appendages to wiggle uncomfortably.
While this may be an historical insight into the determination of George W. Bush, it is also an unsettling look at his varicose veins and cottage cheese abdomen. Suddenly, HBOâs autopsy specials look like family viewing.
Hanging the phone up, Mr. Bush is now oblivious to the camera, confirming suspicions that our Presidentâs attention span is roughly equivalent to that of a mantis egg.
He sits, eats some pretzels (no choking!), watches about ten minutes of football, and then leaves the room. At one point, he does scratch his buttocks, and what he then does to his hand is best left to the imagination.
The rest of the video is about two hours of the empty room, and Mr. Bush makes no reappearance, having clearly --- and permanently --- forgotten about his video.
One must wonder, however, if First Lady Laura would have approved of such a steamy endeavor, assuming that Laura is in fact the ăhoneyä the film was intended for!
(If this were not the first such video, it would certainly explain her fixed, wide-eyed stare, for viewing this is like looking into the sun.)
While it would have been far more damning (and funny) had Mr. Bush given us reason to make a joke about hanging a red, white and blue banner behind him boasting ăEMMISSION ACCOMPLISHEDä (let Scott McClellan explain that one away!), in the end the footage is more embarrassing than arousing.
Clinton may have had his sex scandals, but at least he had a partner. President Bushâs sexual legacy has been left to his own devices, or rather device (in the singular), and that device is hardly worth writing home about.
But at least I managed to get a thousand words out of it.
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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