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December 5, 2003 PERMALINK
Visual Turkeys
(posted Dec. 5 12:45 AM ET)
(edited Dec. 5 9 AM ET)

More evidence that, as Dubya‚s polls have fallen to earth, the media‚s traditional skepticism is back.

The media may have rolled over for the surprise Thanksgiving trip, giving Dubya two-plus days of glowing coverage.

But they have been quite happy to puncture holes in it after the fact.

Yesterday, W. Post‚s Mike Allen -- who was blessed with a secret Baghdad invite and gushed about the trip on Meet The Press Ų uncovered that the money shot of Bush with the picture-perfect turkey, featured only a decorative turkey centerpiece, not what the troops ate.

(UPDATE Dec. 5 9 AM ET -- The original post described it as a "fake turkey," which was an oversimplification. Thanks to John_I over at the LiberalOasis SoapBox.)

The story was buried on page 33. But other major media picked up on it anyway, including CNN‚s Newsnight, CBS News, Reuters and ABC World News Tonight.

It‚s possible that the media are motivated to take shots in this case because they‚re chafing at being lied to by the Bushies about the whole trip in the first place.

(Despite feeling obliged to mostly bite their collective tongue about it initially.)

But it would also seem that from this point forward, the finer Rovian stage-managed photo-ops will be subject to intense scrutiny.

No more free passes and knee-jerk fawning coverage.

And since the use of visuals has been such a key part of the Bush PR strategy, this is not a good development for them. (link via Network-Centric Advocacy)

Because if every major visual moment turns into a controversy, it only perpetuates the polarization that keeps Bush in a dead heat with the Dems.

QUICK HIT

Did We Just Say "Dead Heat"?

A new poll from the Program on International Policy Attitudes has the Dem nominee pulling ahead of Bush, 48%-42%.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

December 4, 2003 PERMALINK
Teflon Is Earned
(posted Dec. 3 11:45 PM ET)

There are two great ways to turn a one-day negative story into a multi-day negative story:

1. Give multiple, inconsistent explanations

2. Get your facts wrong

Howard Dean appeared to make both of these mistakes in handling the flap over his sealed gubernatorial records.

He was inconsistent over why they were sealed.

He has said it was done for an altruistic reason, to protect other people‚s privacy.

And he has given a more selfish reason, „Every governor that I know tries to get their records put aside as long as reasonably possible.š

Further, he got his facts wrong when he argued Dubya‚s gubernatorial records were also locked away. In truth, he tried to do that, but was rebuffed by the courts.

(Although, Bush‚s records are not as accessible as they‚re cracked up to be, see Daily Kos.)

Of course, these kinds of mistakes usually speak more to incompetence or inexperience than sleaziness. Accomplished charlatans know better than to make such missteps.

But the big question for many Dem voters continues to be: who is most capable of beating Dubya?

And how competently one handles the inevitable heat has a lot to do with one‚s electability.

Dean is being tested on this score more than others, because he‚s in the frontrunner hot seat right now.

(If that should somehow change, one hopes we‚ll get to see the others under fire before they get nominated. No one wants any autumn 2004 surprises.)

So how is Dean stacking up? Let‚s look at the three biggest flaps so far.

On this records issue, he gets a D-.

Keep in mind that he wasn‚t even blindsided here. This issue had been percolating for some time.

It was June when a W. Times columnist, in a piece loaded with half-truths, dug up the now infamous „smarty remarkš that Dean sealed the record for 10 years because „we didn't want anything embarrassing appearing in the papers at a critical time in any future endeavor.š

And the right-wing group Judicial Watch made news two months ago with its efforts to unseal the records.

The story only broke bigger when Newsweek did a little hit piece this week, but Dean should have been ready for this long ago. (The blame falls on his staff too.)

However, his handling of the confederate flag issue deserves nothing less than A+.

Yes, he made a big mistake during that Rock The Vote event, but he turned it into proverbial lemonade.

When it was all said and done, he had the SEIU and AFSCME endorsements, the backing from the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, and the full-throated defense from Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

Ending up farther ahead then before the flap? That almost never happens, and it shows impressive political skill.

Finally, Dean deserves a B for his handling of the Medicare attacks, centering on his 1995 support for a GOP senator‚s plan to limit Medicare growth.

Dean left himself open for attack by not filling in the blanks on his current plans for Medicare.

And Gephardt appeared to have taken advantage, appealing to Iowa big senior constituency and reclaiming a decent lead in Iowa polls in the aftermath.

But Dean‚s strategy of relying on his health care record in Vermont looks to have helped him ride out that storm, as now the last two Iowa polls have him in the lead.

(Nowhere else did the issue seem to have a noticeable impact.)

So there‚s no pattern of sloppy crisis management. The mishandling of the records issue may well be an isolated incident.

And Dean is also showing he can stop bleeding, wisely expressing interest in determining if some records can be unsealed.

But there are lessons for him and his team to learn here.

USA Today‚s Walter Shapiro suggested yesterday, „Dean seems in many ways to be the first Teflon-coated Democrat.š

That‚s a good thing. Dems could use a guy for whom petty charges don‚t stick to.

But being Teflon doesn‚t happen by accident. It happens with savvy media management and political skills.

Dean has gotten this far because he and his team have shown such skills, far more than any of his rivals.

But if mistakes like this week‚s are repeated, the Teflon coating won‚t last.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

December 3, 2003 PERMALINK
"We Don't Do Body Counts"
Until Now
(posted Dec. 3 12 AM ET)

It was just one month ago that the head of the Pentagon insisted that the military doesn‚t tally up enemy casualties.

And this week? The Pentagon is arguing with local Iraqis in the media about how many got shot up.

On November 2, Don Rumsfeld had this exchange with Tony Snow on Fox News Sunday:

SNOW: Are we taking out or imprisoning more of them than they're killing of our people?

RUMSFELD: Oh my goodness, yes. We're capturing or killing vastly more than are being killed of ours.

SNOW: It's an interesting thing, because I get e-mails all the time, and people say, "We hear about our death counts. We never hear about theirs. Why?"

RUMSFELD: Well, we don't do body counts on other people.

Compare that with yesterday‚s NY Times account of a bloody firefight in the Iraqi town of Samarra:

American commanders vowed Monday that the killing of as many as 54 insurgents in this central Iraqi town would serve as a lesson to those fighting the United States[.]

[B]ut Iraqis disputed the death toll∑saying only eight people had been killed, several of them civilians∑

∑The Pentagon insisted the body count was accurate.

That‚s quite the unannounced policy shift.

So what changed?

The NYT characterized the rationale for the official no-body-count policy as such:

The Pentagon typically does not publicize the number of enemy dead or wounded to avoid comparisons to the frequent enemy body counts in the Vietnam War, counts that ultimately proved to be a poor indicator of American military performance.

However, that doesn‚t fully explain the policy going into the Iraq War.

Facing a largely dilapidated Iraqi army, one suspects that „poor American military performanceš was not a big fear of the Rummyites.

Just the opposite, they didn‚t want Iraqi body counts because they would be so lopsided.

The US would look like a monster, not a liberator.

But it's no longer „major combat operations.š It‚s guerilla war. And PR problems are less global and more local.

Simply put, Rummy does not want Americans to think we‚re losing.

Hearing our casualty numbers and not theirs can do that.

The NY Times sensed the shift:

But after weeks of suffering casualties∑American military officials seemed to relish the opportunity on Monday to claim credit for dealing the fighters a punishing blow.

Of course, as long as the info is accurate, body counts, unseemly as they are, are a good thing in that people will know what is really going on.

(Though there is speculation the info in this case is not accurate, see Juan Cole and Talking Points Memo for more.)

But as a PR move, the Pentagon and the White House will find quickly that Iraqi body counts won‚t mean much.

Why? Because Americans don‚t want more dead Iraqis. They want less dead Americans.

And nominally winning on the scoreboard doesn‚t mean our men and women are dying any less.

A LIBERALOASIS FLASHBACK

With new reports that Ralph Nader is gearing up to run again in ‚04, cries of „spoilerš are sure to resurface.

But instead of stressing, check out LiberalOasis‚ July 25 post, which said:

„The Green vote will likely be a non-factor in 2004∑Their overall vote total will likely decline, making it near impossible for them to throw the election to Bush.

„While some Green voters are no doubt dedicated ones, there‚s also a notable őrepentant‚ camp.

„It‚s extremely difficult to envision how Greens hold on to those őrepentants‚ and expand their vote next year.š

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

December 2, 2003 PERMALINK
Don't Fear The Rove
(posted Dec. 2 2:15 AM ET)

Respecting your enemy is smart. Shrinking in awe of your enemy is fatal.

Even more so when it is unwarranted.

If there is a bad tendency among some grassroots liberals, it is assuming that the ruthless political genius of Karl Rove is so overwhelming that there is no hope for 2004.

When the truth is Rove makes mistakes like everyone else. And sometimes they are big ones.

For example, in 2000, his cockiness nearly (actually) lost the whole race for his boss.

Thinking he had a landslide in the making, he blew at least $12.4M on TV ads alone in CA, a state he had little chance of winning, when that money was dearly needed in several battleground states.

(Gore spent nothing in CA and won by 11 points.)

And of course, the beautifully staged „Mission Accomplishedš photo op on the Abraham Lincoln is now solely used by critics as a club with which to beat Bush.

Rove‚s latest blunder: the steel tariffs fiasco.

As you probably have read, Dubya is on the verge of a humiliating about-face.

After shelving his free-trade principles last year to back steel tariffs, the World Trade Organization ruled the move illegal last month, siding with Europe and Asia.

And Bush is expected to humbly accept the decision (though there is a last-ditch effort by Big Steel to get Bush to keep the tariffs).

The tariff call was a Karl Rove Special, a supposed political masterstroke to steal union support from the Dems and gain ground in the swing states of the Rust Belt.

Yet apparently, Rove didn‚t bother to think ahead.

The substance and the timing of the WTO decision was predictable. He should have recognized the pitfall and concluded the wiser political move was to beg off tariffs.

The only other plausible scenario is that Rove did think ahead, and plotted a defiant stand against the WTO. But then, as other industries and key states were hurt by the tariffs, Rove lost the stomach for a fight.

Either way, Rove created the worst possible political outcome: betrayal. Nothing is more damaging then getting someone‚s hopes up, then subsequently crushing them.

Whereas if Rove foresaw the probable WTO outcome and never pushed the tariffs in the first place, swing state steel executives and workers would have been displeased, but not betrayed, since Bush was not expected to promote any such protectionism.

It appears that once again, Rove got cocky, believed his own hype, and paid the price.

Rove may be tough. He may stop at nothing. But he is far from infallible.

He is quite beatable, and should be treated as such.

*** Share your thoughts at The LiberalOasis Soapbox ***

December 1, 2003 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Dec. 1 12:45 AM ET)
(edited Dec. 1 9:15 AM ET)

It was a bit of a slow, post-holiday Sunday, as both NBC‚s Meet The Press and CBS‚ Face The Nation had no politicians booked, just pundits.

But on two other shows, ABC‚s This Week and Fox News Sunday, the Medicare debate raged on.

No liberal Dems were booked (all the criticism of the bill came from GOPers), so few of the basic Dem messages were aired yesterday.

But the mere fact that the Medicare debate continues in high-profile forums is indicative of the political difficulty Bush will have in claiming victory, as also noted here last week and last June.

(For the skeptics out there who still think Dems are political losers in this, read the NY Times‚ „Florida Elderly Feel Let Down by Drug Benefitš.)

Of the shows, This Week gave Medicare the biggest play, pitting Sen. John Breaux, one of two Dems that cut the Medicare deal with the GOP, against Sen. Trent Lott, who voted against the bill.

From the Dubya-Rove perspective, Breaux was not exactly the best defender of the legislation.

He tempered his own praise, saying that it is „not a perfect bill, but it is 100 percent better than what seniors had in the past.š

And when George Stephanopoulos Ų noting that budget analysts believe the real 20-year cost may be as much as $2 trillion Ų asked how the bill was going to be paid for, Breaux‚s response was devoid of feel-good spin:

Some out of general revenue. Some out of the pockets of the beneficiaries.

Seniors hear „pockets of the beneficiariesš and know it means their pockets.

More specifically, „higher premiums,š which is exactly what Dem critics like Sen. Ted Kennedy have warned against.

Meanwhile, both Lott on This Week, and Sen. John McCain on Fox, criticized the bill from the Left and Right.

Lott mainly took a stingy, anti-big government line, stupidly deriding the bill as „Leave No Senior Behindš for spending too much to give benefits to seniors at all income levels.

(Who in their right mind wants a senior left behind?)

But he also found common ground with Kennedy:

I think they will wind up, as Senator Kennedy said, with some of our Medicare beneficiaries losing benefits rather than gaining.

McCain‚s approach was similar, but smarter:

His conservative attack also played up the costs, but without sounding as stingy, calling the bill:

∑a $7 trillion unfunded mandate on top of a $13 trillion unfunded mandate∑We are laying a burden of debt on future generations of Americans.

Then he seamlessly shifted Left, going after Big Pharma:

We did such incredible favors to the pharmaceutical companies.

We banned Medicare from negotiating with the drug companies for lower prices for prescription drugs∑

∑And we also banned any re-importation from Canada∑

∑it wasn't an accident that the pharmaceutical stock went up $9 billion the day before we passed the bill.

It‚s important not to forget that both McCain and Lott attack Medicare‚s costs as a way to build support for even more insidious privatization than there is currently in the bill.

But even though their motives are suspect, on balance their attacks help Dems more than they help their own cause.

Why? For one thing, they haven't been that successful in building grassroots support for privatization among seniors.

But more importantly, they help keep the Medicare bill in the „controversialš category, where attacks get heard, and out of the „political masterstrokeš category, where attacks get brushed off.

QUICK HIT

LiberalOasis In USA Today

LiberalOasis is mentioned in today's USA Today piece on the "sudden emergence of an outspoken left wing".

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The Sandbox
Humor Column by John Cougarstein

NEWS OF THE FUTURE
Massachusetts Couples Divorce In Droves

May 28, 2004 (BOSTON) Ų After the highest court in Massachusetts formally decreed in a follow-up ruling that the state must immediately grant marriage licenses to homosexuals, heterosexual spouses wasted no time dissolving their own marriages in record numbers.

Bill Bennett, America‚s beloved paragon of virtue, recently instructed that marriage by gays „hurtsš heterosexuals because „it devalues the currencyš of marriage.

Massachusetts heterosexuals apparently agree in spades. Huge lines formed outside Family Court offices across the state, as couples sought to file for divorce.

In interviews with these couples, there was widespread agreement that since an estimated 2% of all marriages would be between gays, the formerly sacred institution of marriage was incontrovertibly corrupted.

„Now that just any two people can get married, what‚s the point?š shrugged Shannon O‚Malley, 45 of Beverly. „It‚s really lost its cache.š

Dorchester‚s Mary Williams, 52, echoed the sentiment.

„You think I‚ve stayed married all this time,š said Williams, „because of the belabored small talk over leftovers, and the thrill of scheduling time to watch that lame Jim Belushi show together?š

„Y‚know when you‚re in high school,š said 31-year-old Patrick Meany of Worcester, „and you‚re at a party, and that loser kid Josh shows up, and all of a sudden you‚re like, őMan, this party sucks,‚š

„That‚s what this is like,š Meany concluded. „Marriage now sucks. The gays killed the party. In fact, I think that Josh guy was gay.š

Sam Needleman, 53 of Ipswich, also had an epiphany after the ruling, but of a different sort.

„I was having typically lifeless, mechanical sex with my wife and I realized, I can totally do this with a guy now, and it will still be a marriage. I pulled right out and said, őYou can keep the house and the dog!‚š

Victory in hand, Human Rights Campaign Executive Director Elizabeth Birch was unrestrained in analyzing the ramifications of the state court ruling.

„Marriage is ours! All ours!š said Birch. „You breeders will never have stable families, and gays will rule PTA meetings and school boards across the land! Ha ha ha ha ha!š

Download Cougarstein song parodies at Iuma.com

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

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