Friday, November 21 2003
Could there have been any more of a contrast yesterday between the leaders of two free, peaceful nations standing before a group of skeptical reporters, speaking passionately about the values and rights of man while thousands of miles away the Turks were combing through the rubble and shattered bodies created by terrorist monsters?

Days like yesterday should remind all of us exactly what is at stake. Whether you believe in the fundamental cause for action in Iraq or not, the continued expansion of terrorism at the hands of radical Islamists is impossible to ignore or rationalize away. We are faced with an enemy that knows no boundaries, geographical or moral, and will stop at nothing to continue to inflict suffering on the innocent peoples of the world.

We can argue strategy, we can argue tactics. But we can't argue the basic truth that this is a struggle against evil that must be pursued with every resource at our command, and every piece of determination we, as free people, can muster.

THE FURY OF LILEKS: I can hardly imagine a fate worse than being fisked by James Lileks. The last item in today's Bleat gives you an idea of what I'm talking about.

GETTING BUSH ON THE BALLOT: Here's a laugher. Republican lawmakers in Illinois scrambled yesterday to get President Bush's name on the ballot for next year's election.

State law says presidential candidates must be certified by late August, but this is impossible given that the GOP pushed their convention date back to the first week of September. Oops.

To get the deal done Republicans in the House had to agree to two things. First, they had to waive more than $900,000 in election fines - nearly all of them levied against Democrat Secretary of State Jesse White. Second, they had to agree that in next year's elections, any paper ballots containing "dimpled" or "hanging" chads are counted as yes votes for a candidate. Sound familiar?

One last ironic twist. The bill now moves into the Senate where it will be considered along with a high-profile ethics bill. Some Republicans are threatening to scuttle the deal:

"The day we pass the most historic ethics package this General Assembly has ever seen, we won't waive fines for candidates who can't follow the law," said Patty Schuh, a spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson (R-Greenville). "It's ludicrous."

I'm not sure Illinois will truly be in play for Bush next year, but it would certainly be a disaster to not have him on the ballot. Stay tuned to see what happens. - T. Bevan 7:49 am

Thursday, November 20 2003
This Medicare thing has really put Democrats in a pickle. They're staging rallies, resigning from the AARP, doing whatever they can to stop seniors from receiving a massive $400 billion increase in the Medicare program over the next 10 years. Think about that for a second.

One of the Dems' main objections to the bill is the provision allowing private health providers to compete with Medicare. But as the bill stands, this is going to be tested in only six cities. And it won't start for another 7 years. These are pretty meager changes to a system that everyone agrees is woefully outdated and failing financially.

Alas, even these modest changes are still too much for the Dems to stomach, which begs the question: at what point would the Dems accept even the slightest reforms to Medicare? What if the bill came out of conference at $800 billion, or even $1 trillion over ten years?

Unfortunately, we know the answer. With the AARP's endorsement of the bill, maybe America's seniors will also finally realize that the Dems are (and have been for a long, long time) much more interested in winning elections than getting meaningful legislation done on their behalf.

The irony is that, from a conservative perspective, this bill a complete disaster. It's 99% of what Democrats want, and have wanted for years. Yet Republicans are going to hold their noses and vote for the largest increase in Medicare since it was established in 1965 (which will create its own political fallout as Bob Novak writes today) while Democrats are going to set new lows demagoguing the issue in hopes of holding together one of their most vital constituencies.

DO YOU TRUST THE LA TIMES?: Fifty-four percent approval rating for President Bush.

ANOTHER DEAN MISTAKE: How do you like that? He's for higher taxes AND re-regulating parts of the American economy.

Credit Virginia Postrel for calling Dean "the thinking man's Bustamante" and for saying of Dean's plan:

The specifics are all rather vague, but the underlying attitude is clear. Dean is running as a guy who wants to control the economy from Washington and who sees business as fundamentally bad. "Any business that offers stock options" covers a lot of companies, including some of the economy's most promising and dynamic.

Regulation tends to be relatively invisible to the general public, in part because it's mind-numbingly technical. That makes it much more difficult to reverse, much easier for interest groups to manipulate, and much more dangerous to the general health of the economy than the taxing and spending that attract attention from pundits.

Naturally, Dean's rivals piled on - which they should. Not only is this bad policy, it's bad politics and it enhances the big government, tax-and-spend image of the Democratic party. How many mistakes does Howard Dean get to make before he pays a price?

On the bright side for Dean, another Dem candidate said something so outrageous yesterday that it may make his re-regulation comments look good by comparison. According to the Washington Post this morning:

Democratic presidential candidate Dennis J. Kucinich said yesterday that U.S. military action against Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was not justified and has proved to be a "disaster" and a "nightmare."

Kucinich called back two hours later to "clarify" his remarks.

The obvious difference between Kucinich and Dean is that the former is a pacifist from the loopy-left of the party with no hope of being elected and the latter is the front-runner and the presumptive nominee of the party. Still, taken together, it's clear this group of candidates is not doing themselves or their party any favors right now. - T. Bevan 8:42 am

Tuesday, November 18 2003
Fifty-seven percent approval rating for President Bush in the ABC/WaPo poll released yesterday, only 50% approval rating in the USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll out this morning. Both numbers are virtually identical to the last polls taken by each group.

In the national Dem horse race, USAT/CNN/Gallup has Wes Clark picking up three points to tie Howard Dean for the lead at 16%. Everyone else was basically static, except for John Edwards who lost nearly half his support, sinking to 5% from 9%.

As we've said before, the national polls on the Dem race are fun to look at but basically meaningless. The state polls tell the real story, like this one released yesterday by Marist College on the race in New Hampshire: Howard Dean has a 21-point lead over nearest rival John Kerry (44%-23%). According to the press release, Wes Clark has lost ground since the last poll and is running in the single digits.

THE CLINTON STRATEGY: Despite Howard Dean's seemingly unstoppable march to the nomination, Wes Clark's folks insist the race is far from over. They point to Bill Clinton's position in 1992 (he was polling at an anemic 2% in New Hampshire at this point) as a precedent. If they can just keep the race alive until the focus shifts south on February 3, Clark may have a chance.

"Howard Dean is nowhere in the South," said Clark spokesman Matt Bennett. So true. And Clark is leading in the latest ARG poll out of South Carolina.

But the race may well be over by the time voting starts in SC. If you believe Stuart Rothenberg and David Yepsen, the race ended last week with Dean winning the support of AFSCME and SEIU.

For Clark's strategy to have a fighting chance, he's going to need some help. First, he'll need Gephardt to hold off Dean in Iowa, which is still a very real possibility. Second, he'll want to see John Kerry's campaign continue to disintegrate, giving Clark a chance to improve his finish in New Hampshire. Even though Kerry voters overlap more with Dean and will probably migrate to his camp and not Clark's, it's a big boost for Clark if he can say he finished second in New Hampshire as opposed to third or fourth - even if he still runs twenty or thirty points behind the victorious Dean.

So that's the plan. Is it a good plan? Not really, but it's about as good of a plan as any of the candidates have at this point in the race against Dean.

My problem with Clark (and I'm not part of the Dem base so take this for what it's worth) is that in addition to being a political neophyte, he lacks Dean's authenticity. It's more or less the same point I made about John Kerry last week. Clark may have a more attractive resume to some in the party, but parts of that same resume make him come across as a craven opportunist.

If this somehow does get down to a two-man race, Dean will beat Clark's brains in over his past support of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. As long as Clark's record remains at issue (his shifting support of the war, questions about his "character and integrity", etc.) Dean's going to have the upper hand. This strategy may not work in South Carolina or Oklahoma, but there is a high probability it will work with enough people who control the nominating process in enough places around the country to give Dean the nomination. - T. Bevan 9:27 am

Monday, November 17 2003
Josh Marshall took some criticism (a jaw dropper for you I'm sure) over recent comments regarding the strained relations between the U.S. and South Korea. He responded with this long post summing up the Bush administration's handling of the North Korea crisis. Josh finished, as he is normally wont to do, with this catchy, if somewhat snide rejoinder:

"The president loaded us all into the family van, revved the thing up to 70 MPH, and slammed us into a brick wall called Reality."

Now, we all know Josh is a bright guy, which is why those of us who read him regularly should be concerned that in his recounting of the episode with North Korea, he describes the 1994 Agreed Framework as:

"basically our deal to give the Koreans various stuff if they would shutter their plutonium-based drive for nuclear weapons.

Though imperfect and requiring revision, this approach was widely supported by our allies and sometime-allies in the region. Bill Clinton supported it. Colin Powell supported it, and wanted to continue it. But the White House didn’t support it. And it got deep-sixed for that reason.

"Imperfect and requiring revision." That's it? That's setting a pretty low bar for describing a policy we now know was a complete and total failure.

The "Reality" is that right about the time Albright, Clinton, and Carter were celebrating the Agreed Framework as the solution to the North Korean nuclear problem, Pyongyang was filing those same papers under the heading of "public relations victories" and going right back to the business of making nukes. Criticize the President and his policy all you want, but can't we at least agree on the basic facts?

Have we come full circle back to an "imperfect" policy with respect to North Korea? The answer is probably more or less "yes" - but with an important exception. We've confronted Pyongyang on their violations and - even though the process has been a long and arduous one - we have brought to bear the influence of the Chinese, Japanese, South Koreans and Russians on the issue and laid down markers for "verifiable and irreversible" dismantling of the North Korean nuclear weapons programs. This time there will be no assuming that North Korea is upholding its end of the bargain, and no looking the other way if they don't.

There's a larger context here that continues to baffle me. Clearly, September 11 shattered many illusions we had as a country and proved beyond a doubt that the world is a very dangerous place. But every day since 9/11 a rift has been growing in the country between those (generally on the right) who still think there are real and present dangers abroad that need to be battled aggressively and those (generally on the left) who think the real and growing danger isn't rogue regimes or terrorists overseas but a "unilateral, imperialist" President at home. To the political left, Bush isn't reacting to danger, he's creating it.

What's really striking about this theme that continues to spread throughout the left is that it's accompanied by a call to return to pre-September 11 policies with little or no recognition of their failure or contribution to the circumstances we now find ourselves in (see above).

This is not a "blame it all on Clinton" argument. To the contrary, the point I'm trying to make is that there is a lingering nostalgia for the Clinton years coming from those on the left that amounts to an almost head-in-the-sand mentality when trying to deal with a post 9/11 world.

North Korea is just one example. Iraq is obviously another. Implicit in the left's attacks on Bush over Iraq is the idea that the status quo (i.e. leaving in place a murderous tyrant with a penchant for WMD's and an affiliation - at the very least - to various terrorist groups) was just fine.

A desperate desire to return to the framework of the UN, which did a wonderful job of producing resolutions during the Clinton years, is another example. Bashing Bush over failures in the intelligence community and the administration's interpretation (or misinterpretation) of that intelligence. Ranting about the Patriot Act without acknowledging the serious problems it tried to remedy. The list goes on.

Every attack on Bush, every call to pull back or to return to some past policy comes without the acknowledgement - one which I think the public wants from elected leaders today - that the world is, in fact, a different place than it was on September 10, 2001 and that we need to be doing things differently to deal with it. While I hear lots of nostalgia coming from the left, I don't really hear anything different. -T. Bevan 9:18 am

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