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The daily view from the oasis

December 20, 2002 PERMALINK
Random Friday Thoughts
(posted Dec. 20 1 AM ET)

Lott Of Confusion

Think you know what the morally just position on Trent Lott is? Think again.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) is against Lott specifically because he apologized for his vote against the Dr. King holiday.

While Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) is for Lott because he believes it will force the Republican Party deal with race issues head on -- “If he resigns, this whole issue goes away and we sweep it under the rug again.“

Best Exchange of the Week

From CNN’s Inside Politics:

Jonathan Karl: Why were you so slow to denounce what Senator Lott said?

Sen. Tom Daschle: Well, maybe for the same reason you were so slow in reporting it.

Why Isn't This Guy Running For Prez?

Good stuff from Rep. David Obey (D-WI), also from CNN’s Inside Politics earlier this week:

The public has been diverted into thinking that the argument about the reorganization of the bureaucratic boxes was the homeland security debate.

In fact, that's minor league stuff.

The real issue that counts is: What kind of resources are you putting in the hands of the FBI, the Coast Guard, the customs people, the immigration people, the police and fire people back home, the people who have to defend us against a terrorist attack?

And there, the White House has been resisting, strenuously, efforts made by the Congress on a bipartisan basis to increase that funding...

...the first one they resisted was our efforts to provide additional money to the FBI so that 50 percent of the FBI computers weren't helpless in terms of simply sending a picture of a suspected terrorist to another FBI computer.

We got that fixed, over the objection of the White House, in terms of the money.

We have tried to get additional money into the hands of the first-responders, police and firemen, who will have to handle any attack that comes...

...But the fact is that, on a bipartisan basis, the Congress has tried to add billions of dollars in additional funding to protect homeland security.

And the White House Budget Office, at every step of the way, has resisted what we've been doing and they've been trying to hold that funding down.

This is Homeland Security?

Surely we all feel much safer after the INS detained as many as 2,500 foreigners who were voluntarily complying with a new “anti-terror” registration program.

Many appear to have been arrested for minor paperwork glitches in the course of pursuing green cards.

Detainees have been subjected to “horrifying” conditions for, in some cases, four days and also denied access to lawyers.

So this is what fighting for freedom feels like.

(UPDATE Dec. 20 10:15 AM ET -- Some detainees are being released, while others are facing deportation.)

Americans Love Government, Hate Tax Cuts

As you may recall, during the midterm election season, a few GOP congressional campaigns attacked Dems because this "liberal" site linked to their sites.

They all zeroed in on a line from the LiberalOasis Manifesto:

LiberalOasis believes in paying taxes happily, because believing that government can play a positive role in our society and economy means paying for it.

Of course, they just repeated the opening clause.

Is LiberalOasis talking political suicide? Far from it.

Check out this snip from a recent ABC News poll analysis:

Americans by a huge margin, 62 percent to 34 percent, say it's more important for the government to provide needed services than to cut taxes.

But Bush is widely seen as having the opposite priority: By a 57 percent to 32 percent margin, Americans think it's more important to him to cut taxes than to provide needed services.

Message to Dems (especially those that backed the Bush tax cut last time):

American voters are adults. We know that paying taxes is necessary. Just let us know that the money is being put to good use, and there’ll be no problems.

By the way, LiberalOasis is working on an updated Manifesto, and “paying taxes happily” will likely be improved to “paying taxes is patriotic.”

December 19, 2002 PERMALINK
Affirmative Abdication
(posted Dec. 19 12 AM ET)

If there’s one thing the Axis-of-Punditry loves to tell us, it’s that George Bush is the pinnacle of “moral clarity.”

Bush enjoys telling us that too.

Perhaps the only higher praise you can get from Bush than being a “good man” or a “plain-spoken fella” is for him to bestow upon you the mantle of moral clarity.

It’s how JFK and Reagan won the cold war. It’s what Romania brings to NATO. Tony Blair has some, as does drug czar John Walters.

As a man who cherishes moral clarity so, surely he would know where he stood on affirmative action, right?

How America should foster a society where no one is denied opportunity because of their race is fundamentally a moral issue.

Yet Dubya has never been straight with the public about affirmative action, hiding behind the rhetorical smokescreen of the still undefined "affirmative access."

And now, we learn that Bush won’t make the call on how to handle the upcoming Supreme Court affirmative action case involving University of Michigan (via Talking Points Memo).

...Bush's legal and political advisers are split over whether to take a stand on the racially charged subject of affirmative action as the Supreme Court prepares to take up a landmark case on racial preferences...

...The issue is ultimately likely to be resolved by Bush's chief political strategist, Karl Rove, who is the architect of Bush's effort to broaden the GOP appeal to minorities.

If there was a moral vision from the top, the advisers would not be split, as there are no odd twists complicating the case.

The university's admissions policy, like many other universities, is straight out of the last major Supreme Court decision on the matter.

Basically, you can consider racial background in concert with several other factors, but you can’t set aside specific slots for minorities -- by no means a “segregated” system as Bill Bennett and others claim.

LiberalOasis would say that’s a morally sound policy rooted in reality.

It recognizes that what a person has to overcome in life is just as valid a consideration as a test score or an extracurricular activity.

Can one make a moral case that affirmative action is wrong since the goal of colorblindness should be strictly adhered to? Sure.

But Bush isn’t making that case, or any case.

If he was comfortable saying what he truly believed, he wouldn’t delegate this decision to his political guru.

We know that Dubya is against segregation (there’s a tough call).

But since he presides over a nation where blacks and Latinos continue to suffer from higher unemployment, lower income and higher poverty, he has the moral obligation to tell the nation -- whether it’s affirmative action or not -- what should be done about it.

December 18, 2002 PERMALINK
How Crazy Are They?
Will The Bushies Really Raise Taxes On The Poor?
(posted Dec. 18 1:15 AM ET)

Monday’s Washington Post made it seem like the Administration is gearing up for a politically suicidal overreach.

As the Bush administration draws up plans to simplify the tax system, it is also refining arguments for why it may be necessary to shift more of the tax load onto lower-income workers.

Dems, to their credit, pounced hard (though with the Lott frenzy, not many noticed).

From Rep. Charlie Rangel (NY):

These people are setting the tone in saying the poor really are not being taxed enough and that the burden is too high on the rich. We're going back some 70 years.

And Rep. Robert Matsui (CA):

I don't think there's any question you have a number of extremists in the Republican ranks that would like to see the wealthy do very well.

And Sen. Tom Daschle (SD):

[The Administration has a] secret plan for tax cuts for the wealthiest by raising taxes on middle- and lower-income working families.

But the White House realized quick that the W. Post piece was potentially damning. The AP reported yesterday:

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said it was wrong to contend that the administration had any secret plan to raise taxes on low-income Americans.

She said Bush's position was clear that he believes all Americans are paying too much in taxes.

That’s more in line with the arguments used in the last tax cut debate, such as:

-- We’re cutting taxes for all income taxpayers

-- The only reason why the wealthy are getting more back is because they put more in

-- Regardless, the wealthy will now shoulder an even larger tax burden

These are all misleading, of course, but the fact is they worked last year.

(Although, “worked” is debatable. They worked in that they let Bush roll enough Dems to pass the tax package. But polls showed that the public would have rather had the surplus go towards the debt than into tax cuts.)

The whole game has been big tax cuts for the rich, teeny tax cuts for the middle, and nothing for the poor.

And since the amount of tax revenues is diminished, the Bushies can still say that the rich pay a higher proportion of the tax burden, even though they pay less actual money.

That reality exposes how ridiculous the current arguments coming from Bush aides are.

Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary J.T. Young recently wrote in the W. Times:

First, as the tax code has gotten more progressive, the revenues it produces become more volatile because they must be generated by an increasingly narrower base.

Second, this narrow base is already shouldering a tax burden that is high by historical standards in relation to the American economy.

Third, if more revenues are to be raised, it will be difficult to depend on the upper middle class and above to pay them alone.

And Glenn Hubbard, Bush's Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, last week said:

...the increasing reliance on taxing higher-income households and targeted social preferences at lower incomes stands in the way of moving to a simpler, flatter tax system. Reform is more important than ever, but will not be easy.

Both make it sound as if the wealthy are being squeezed to the point of suffocation.

Yet a simple rollback of the Bush tax cut for the top bracket could raise as much as $500 billion for the next nine years (See Oct. 16), and the rich wouldn’t feel a thing in the process.

Also, both of them seem to hint at a desire to increase taxes on the poor and middle classes, which is what led to the W. Post story.

But that is only one way to read their remarks.

They are also suggesting that severe cutbacks in societal investments would help achieve their goals.

As great as it would be (for Dems) for Bush to advocate tax hikes on the poor, the more likely direction for Bush to pursue is a slashing of government spending.

Hence, the appointing of two deficit hawks to the economic team -- people happy to cut. (See Dec. 10)

There are political risks to massive cuts, but not nearly as many as hiking taxes on anybody -- let alone the poor -- that would violate Bush’s “over my dead body” promises.

LiberalOasis hopes to be wrong, and that Dubya seriously overreaches. But chances are, they are craftier than that.

FOR ADDITIONAL INFO

Get important details on this issue from Citizens for Tax Justice, MaxSpeak, and Slate.

Good posts as well from RuminateThis and Ted Barlow.

(UPDATE Dec. 18 10:15 AM ET -- Check out Wyeth Wire too, via Tapped.)

And LiberalOasis' progressive tax simplification suggestion, in the 9-Point Plan is still relevant.

December 17, 2002 PERMALINK
While Lott Squirms
Are Dems Ignoring The Big Picture?
(posted Dec. 17 2 AM ET)
(minor edit Dec. 17 11:30 AM ET)

The crosscurrents impacting the Trent Lott saga are varied and fierce, making it next to impossible to predict the outcome.

Some conservatives desperately want the GOP to be racially inclusive, so they can define the party as progressively colorblind and more forcefully oppose affirmative action. They want Lott out.

Some conservatives think Lott is a bumbler and an unprincipled deal-cutter. They are happily milking the current flap.

Some conservatives don’t believe the GOP should be pushed around by the “liberal media” and the Congressional Black Caucus, and contend Lott’s apologies are sufficient. They're sticking by Lott.

Other Senate Republicans, like Sen. Mitch McConnell (KY) and Sen. Rick Santorum (PA), are simply personally loyal to Lott.

On ABC's This Week, McConnell, in particular, let hang in the air the notion that if Lott were removed as Majority Leader, he would quit the Senate, allowing Mississippi’s Dem governor to appoint a Dem Senator.

White Democrats, after a spate of harsh criticism, are hanging back, hoping Lott will stay on as Leader and become a punching bag, a la Newt.

Black Democrats, feeling more personal outrage and having more outraged constituents, don’t really have the choice or desire to be quiet.

Still, they are pushing harder for censure than resignation. And civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) now says Lott’s apology is sincere.

Karl Rove and other White House aides reportedly want Lott out because he interferes with their ‘04 plans to pump up Bush’s share of the Latino and black vote.

(LiberalOasis suspects that Rove is even more worried about how Lott would hurt outreach to white suburban moms).

Dubya, in a classic waffle, wants credit for speaking out against the evil of segregation, but won’t risk losing a smidge of conservative support by picking up the phone and directly forcing him out.

While he’s winning much praise in the “liberal media” for his “tough talk,” the reality is he’s making the whole thing worse for his party by letting Lott twist in the wind and dragging out the story.

Lott rival Sen. Don Nickles (OK) has succeeded in calling for a formal meeting on Jan. 6 to consider whether Lott should be removed. And he probably has enough Senators to force a vote.

But Jan. 6 is a long way away, politically speaking.

Lott didn’t do himself any good last night on BET, pathetically trying to position himself as a supporter of affirmative action, when he has voted against it his whole career.

Nevertheless, the fervor could easily die down over the holidays. Hell, we could be on the verge of war by the first week of January, pushing the story off the front pages.

Taking all of that into account, what should Dems do?

They should forget about keeping Lott in place to use as a foil. He will not become another Newt.

Newt was a particularly weird case. Someone in such a vaunted position of power doesn’t usually say and do outlandish things so wantonly and regularly.

Offensive as Lott may be, he doesn’t get into trouble nearly as regularly as Newt did.

The other problem with holding back is that you don’t stand for anything, you’re seen as political and not principled, and you lose moral authority.

(Does any Dem in Congress remember the midterm elections?)

While Dems are relatively passive, there are conservatives looking to seize the high ground on race relations.

By overthrowing Lott, conservatives could get newfound credibility to leverage on issues like affirmative action -- which they would love to gut in the name of colorblindness.

For example, self-appointed morality czar Bill Bennett, on CBS’ Face The Nation, said:

This is the party of Abraham Lincoln. Some of us take these principles, most of us, I think, take these principles very seriously, and I'm sure Senator Lott does, too.

But there are some things you just can't, if you're in a leadership position to, give credence to, and one of those things is the old idea segregation...

...We have one of the biggest and most consequential cases on race coming up before the Supreme Court, the Michigan case, which I think describes a segregated admission system, blacks over here, whites over here.

How are we going to stand with the Senate majority leader when that issue comes up and the response from Democrats, who will take full advantage of this, is to say, "Well, you have a leader who is in favor of segregation"?

The Michigan case, Grutter v. Bollinger, is a huge deal.

Court watchers believe the Supreme Court accepted the case because it wants to end affirmative action for university admissions -- which was deemed constitutionally acceptable in the muddled Bakke decision three decades ago.

Dems need to lay the groundwork for this expected outcome, and make the case to the public why affirmative action is still needed.

“Mend it, don’t end it,” won’t cut it this time.

What Bush will do on this is a mystery. He dodged the affirmative action issue in the campaign, with his empty calls for “affirmative access.”

Notably, on a lower-profile affirmative action case, Bush took the liberal view, though the Administration said it was just being consistent with the feds’ past position.

However, according to CNN’s Bob Novak, Solicitor General Ted Olson -- the man who represents the Administration at the Supreme Court -- is asking Dubya to side with the conservatives on Grutter.

It would be a risky thing to do, but could produce political benefits if Dems don’t counter with a strong case.

Just like with Social Security, Dems have to learn that just repeating the same buzzwords will have diminishing marginal utility.

The arguments need to be periodically updated and revitalized -- or risk being blindsided.

Dems need to remind people that black and Hispanic unemployment is still higher than for whites, and that racist hiring practices persist and have been documented.

Dems also need to repeat that many blacks and Hispanics don’t begin from the same starting point as many whites, as evidenced by the inadequate school funding in impoverished areas.

And Dems need to stress what affirmative action actually is -- that it does not shower benefits on the less qualified, but it helps assess who is most qualified.

By chortling on the sidelines while Lott squirms, Dems score short-term points but risk losing the long-term battle.

Whether or not Lott stays is a fascinating Beltway drama, but Dems should stay focused on the bigger issues at play.

December 16, 2002 PERMALINK
The Disappointment
(posted Dec. 15 11:30 PM ET)
(minor edits Dec. 16 11:30 AM ET)

Put simply, Gore’s departure is bad for Dems, and a huge blow to those who have stood by him for the last two years.

The Gore-haters are sure to get their “fresh face,” and in their view, the party is in better shape for it.

LiberalOasis vehemently disagrees.

The loss of Gore means the Democratic Party has lost it’s best voice on the environment, it’s most credible and principled figure in the realm of foreign policy, it’s most self-assured and battle-tested candidate, and the politician with the highest name ID and most loyal base.

But having said that, LiberalOasis also believes that the 2004 outcome rests far more on Bush than on any Dem, as re-election campaigns are usually a referendum on the current occupant.

If the economy is bad, Bush is probably done for. An Iraqi war that does not go well would also be a major factor.

And another Al Qaeda attack on America also has the potential to politically damage Bush (though it could also spark more patriotic fervor that he could exploit).

Gore’s decision does not change that dynamic at all.

So to the fellow, and former, Gore-backers out there, take a deep breath and shake it off.

It may take a little bit of time to accept that there is a wrong that happened two years ago that will never be fully righted.

Gore has to take some blame for that.

Yes, the media never gave him a fair shake. Yes, many craven, disloyal, myopic Beltway insiders did everything they could to push Gore out.

But Gore could have displayed some leadership and fight by taking them on. And he didn’t.

Which is just utterly bizarre, since he was showing leadership and fight -- more than any other candidate-- on the major issues of the day.

And that’s why this is such a major disappointment.

It’s not every day that someone of Gore’s stature actually uses it to raise the level of political discourse.

But if you haven’t felt political disappointment before, then you have never backed any good candidates before.

Now, we have a whole new crop of candidates to scrutinize.

Most of us have reservations about one or more them.

Some may be too pro-war, too pro-gun, too pro-big business, too inexperienced, too bland, too pompous, too milquetoast, too short, not liberal enough, not electable enough.

But there is never a perfect nominee. Even liberals who backed Gore had to rationalize his support for the death penalty, welfare reform and increased military spending.

Plus, pretty much every candidate will never have been subjected to the rigors of a national campaign.

Some who seem appealing now may wear over time, and others who seem unimpressive may surprise.

So LiberalOasis’ advice? Take your time, don’t stress, enjoy the political theater of the free-for-all.

And learn more about the expected candidates (and some possible unexpected candidates) in the GET 2004 section on the bottom-right of this page.

QUICK HIT

Did anyone outside of the National Council of Women’s Organizations notice that while Dubya claims to reject racial discrimination, he seemingly came out for sex discrimination?

REPORTER: Yesterday you talked about that (sex discrimination) was not a disqualifying matter in terms of the Augusta Golf Club.

Would it make a difference if Augusta Country Club disqualified or didn’t allow people on racial or ethnic basis? Would that be different for a Cabinet Secretary?

ARI FLEISCHER: Do you have something specific in mind here? No, I think that would be a very different category for the president.

BEST OF THE BLOG LAST WEEK

PLA announced he’s accepting votes for the first yearly awards for left of center blogs, The Koufax Awards

Thinking It Through notes that Dubya is a little late on extending unemployment benefits

Bloviator has the lowdown on the smallpox vaccination plan

Body and Soul explores what it means to be a feminist

The Sandbox
Humor By John Cougarstein

NEWS ALERT
Winona Ryder Named Treasury Secretary

WASHINGTON, Dec. 9 -- The White House announced today that Winona Ryder was picked to join the Cabinet and head up the Treasury Department.

Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said, “Winona Ryder understands better than anyone that just because you’re rich doesn’t mean you don’t deserve that little bit extra.”

Asked if her shoplifting conviction disqualified her from joining the Administration, Fleischer smiled and said, “Have you met John Poindexter?”

Winona Ryder was reportedly eager to accept the position. Spokesman Mark Geragos noted that her government service would count towards her 480 hour community service requirement.

Fortuitously, Ryder's schedule was clear for the next two years. “We were just putzing around, waiting for that Mr. Deeds 2 script,” said Geragos.

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

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

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