Saturday, December 21, 2002
FRIST IS IT: Lott is out and it's all but certain that Frist is in as Senate Majority Leader. This is undeniably a good thing for the GOP and my impression is that Republicans and conservatives feel as if they have passed the political equivalent of a kidney stone: they're happy, relieved and exhausted after two weeks of painful effort.

PATRIPATRONAGE: I've invented a new word to describe this story: former Alaska GOP Senator and now Governor-elect Frank Murkowski just appointed his daughter to serve out his term through 2004. Unless she's the best qualified candidate in Alaska (which may be the case, though I doubt it) this seems like an egregious case of patronage that should be condemned. Here's what one of the candidates interviewed for the job said:

"Certainly he will be criticized by some for picking his daughter," he said. "But the Republican Party needs to have a big tent and needs to be inclusive rather than exclusive."

Is it more inclusive to appoint a member of your family - even if it is a woman? Forgive me if I think this guy has got it exactly backwards.

HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM: Okay, I've already admitted somewhere along the line I grew up in Washington - not D.C., the state. So why do lawmakers from my former home keep embarrassing themselves? First Jim McDermott, now Patty Murray.

I don't think her comments about Osama bin Laden are worth much - nor is her defense - and I always cringe when people rush to try and make idiotic comments big deal by questioning patriotism, etc. (Let's stop here to note that this is to a certain degree exactly what transpired with Lott. And for those who argue that Lott had a long history of racist behavior I'll bet that Murray's insensitivity to the families who lost loved ones on 9/11 at the hands of bin Laden's al-Qaeda is matched by a voting record - pre September 2001 of course - that is soft on national defense and funding for the agencies responsible for protecting America against terrorism.)

But Patty Murray isn't a traitor or a terrorist-lover, she's a moron. She is one of many misguided "root-cause" liberals who think if we had just spent $500 billion in instead of $50 billion around the world in foreign aid over the last decade people would love us instead of Osama and this icky terrorist stuff wouldn't be happening.

By the way, if you saw this CBS/NY Times poll of DNC members on Thursday you'd know that despite Murray, McDermott, Bonior and losing the midterm elections, Dems still have a colossal blind spot when it comes to national security. Here are some highlights:

  • When asked what the Dems "most important" problem is now, only 5% responded it was their "stand on national security."
  • Only 14% said the Democrats were hurt most in the 2002 elections by a perceived weakness on national security.
  • When asked what the most important issues will be for the 2004 elections only 31% of DNC members responded "war and national security" (compared to 71% of RNC members).

Even more astounding is that despite all of these answers, a whopping 93% of DNC members responded that George Bush made "some" or "a lot" of difference in this year's midterms. What do these people think Bush was talking about on the stump the entire time? - T. Bevan 8:41 am

Friday, December 20, 2002
HATCH: We've been asked to review Senator Orrin Hatch's new book, "Square Peg. Confessions of a Citizen Senator." Last night, while reading the chapter devoted to Hatch's gaffes and mistakes, I came across this passage. It's lengthy, but well worth a read:

Every now and then you make a mistake that cannot be rectified, and it bothers you for the rest of your career. One of the worst decisions I have made as a senator was to vote against making Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday...

I convinced myself that there were valid and fair reasons to vote against the holiday. It would cost taxpayers an estimated $1 billion each year. Very few of our nation's greatest leaders have commemorative holidays celebrating their lives. Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower all had yet to be singled out for commemoration. The same is true of other African American leaders, such as Fredrick Douglass, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois.

What I failed to see was the emotional and spiritual bond that millions of Americans who have suffered the sting of prejudice and discrimination felt with Dr. King. The proposed holiday was not simply a testament to a remarkable man. It honored the courage, conviction and dedication of all who had sacrificed themselves and even their lives for racial freedom. I did not appreciate that the holiday was a tribute not only to Dr. King but to those who stood with him, who fought intolerance with compassion, hatred with love, and physical abuse and assault with nonviolence to ensure that America's promise of freedom and opportunity was not qualified by race or any other discriminatory factor.

Creating a federal holiday for Martin Luther King was the right thing to do. My vote against it was the wrong choice. I'm grateful I was on the losing side.

The hyper-cynical among us might conclude that Hatch, whose name was tossed around as a possible Supreme Court nomination a while back, is proactively going on record repudiating his vote to avoid any trouble it might cause during a future confirmation hearing. I'm not one of those people.

Not only do I think Hatch is sincere, I think his explanation underscores what Trent Lott and some other Republicans are learning today: when it comes to racial issues in America, it's impossible to separate the substantive from the symbolic.

Affirmative action is a classic case. A dispassionate analysis of the policy on its merits is easy: it's discriminatory, wrong, unconstitutional and the antithesis to a colorblind society. But the GOP has failed to address the strong, emotional symbolism African Americans attach to affirmative action by saying: "Yes, we recognize that the playing field hasn't always been level, and yes there is still work to do. Now let's sit down and work together to find ways of helping African-Americans get ahead without resorting to the same sort of discrimination we've been fighting against for so long."

Until Republicans make a determined effort to address the symbolic nature of affirmative action and try to build an emotional connection with African Americans it will be a struggle to win them over, no matter how strong the merits of the case. Meanwhile Democrats, whose relationship with the African American community is based almost entirely on symbolism and emotion, will continue to win support with policies that are actually harmful to African Americans and continue to turn out votes by ginning up fear and anger in the black community. - T. Bevan 8:55am

Thursday, December 19, 2002
A LETTER'S DIFFERENCE: What a difference changing a "b" to an "m" makes - as in changing the amount of the insane award given to a former smoker by a California jury from $28 billion to $28 million. That's still an awful lot of money for doing something of your own free will for the better part of four decades that is hazardous to your health.

Of course, we all know the legal march against fast food companies is underway, despite the fact that 97% of consumers don't blame McDonald's for getting them hooked on Big Macs or for making them fat (81%). That won't stop a whole boat load full of lawyers from taking 30% of whatever they can shakedown.

The only question is, "who's next?" I'm considering filing a lawsuit against The New York Times. I read it everday and it gives me indigestion, not to mention the way it addles my brain and keeps me from thinking straight. The editorializing on the front page, the rigged polls, the spiked columns. I know I should quit, but I can't. Howell Raines has got me addicted to his product and it's bad for my health! Anybody think I can find a lawyer willing to take my case?

CLINTON, LOTT AND THE GOP: America's first black President speaks out on Lott, Republicans, and race. There are tons of choice quotes, but none crystallizes the Dem strategy more than this one:

"I think the way the Republicans have treated Senator Lott is pretty hypocritical since right now their policy is, in my view, inimical to everything that this country stands for," Clinton said.

So there it is: Republican ideology as a whole is racist. Let's take a quick tour down the slippery we've been on over the last two weeks that has led us to this point:

  • Trent Lott says something stupid regarding Strom Thurmond's segregationist past.
  • Lott's record contains enough votes and associations with questionable groups in Mississippi for some to make the assumption he is an out-and-out racist.
  • Once branded a racial bigot, Lott is then held up as proof of a systematic racist GOP strategy in the South; one where every vote cast for Republican candidates like Sonny Perdue, Mark Sanford or Jeb Bush is assigned a racist motivation.
  • At the national level Republican policies including tax cuts, welfare reform, school choice, charitable choice (and presumably other items like a strong national defense and energy policy) become "anti-black" policies driven by a racial hatred that is "inimical to everything that this country stands for."

There you have it: racism in the Republican party is a fait accompli.

LOTT-CENTRIC: Over the last two weeks conservatives have demanded, prodded, asked and even begged for Trent Lott to step aside and spare the party and its principles the indignity of being branded racist. Not only has Lott refused, his futile efforts at rehabilitation have made matters worse and seriously undermined the credibility of his entire caucus with respect to reaching out to African-Americans.

Yesterday, in one of the greatest egocentricities of all time, Lott said:

"I'm going to find a way for myself, my family, my friends, you the people of Mississippi and America to benefit from this experience."

Is that so? Thanks, Trent, but I think the rest of the country can do without you forcing us to try and find some benefit in your stupidity, racial insensitivity or your selfish drive to hold on to power.

Lott has single-handedly ceded all moral and political ground to Democrats on a host of issues, and they are standing by, ready and willing to drop the racial guillotine wherever they can:

"Republicans have to prove, not only to us, of course, but to the American people that they are as sensitive to this question of racism, this question of civil rights, this question of equal opportunity, as they say they are," Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle told CNN. "But whether or not they truly are depends on who they nominate, what actions they take, how they vote."

Again we see the argument that it's not just Trent Lott who has to prove something, its all Republicans. And the only way Republicans can prove they are "sensitive to the question of racism" is to vote the way Democrats want on judges, taxes, etc.

Thus Democrats have established the canard that even if Lott steps aside as leader, racism in the GOP remains. Now any future vote by Republican members will be susceptible to the charge that it's racially motivated. - T. Bevan 4:40 pm

Wednesday, December 18, 2002
THE SAGA CONTINUES: It looks like Lott is out, even though he vows to fight on. John Lewis provides support, as does Rick Santorum, but rumors abound that the White House is working to show Lott the door. Mississippians are divided over the issue, and GOP leaders ponder just how much damage Lott has done to the party. And Maureen Dowd uses the occasion to make more of a fool of herself.

FITZGERALD: I mentioned a while ago that I couldn't believe a vulnerable GOP Senator from a state like Illinois wouldn't come out quickly and denounce Lott's remarks. A reader emailed to add that Fitzgerald's status as the highest elected Republican representative from the Land of Lincoln would also add some important symbolism to a public repudiation of segregationist policies.

Well, nearly two weeks later this is what we get. The Senator admits "he needs to attract independent and Democratic voters to win a second term," but he 1) didn't think there should be new leadership elections 2) still has not called for Lott to step down and 3) won't say if he'll vote to retain Lott as leader.

I understand Fitzgerald not wanting to publicly rebuke the leader of his party, especially if he truly likes Trent Lott as a person and doesn't believe he's a racist. But there is a way to unequivocally denounce Lott's remarks without attacking him personally. Again, this isn't just good politics, it's the right thing to do.

AL-QAEDA: The release of this UN report coincided with the arrest of suspected terrorists in France and London yesterday. It should be yet another wake up call to the world that terrorism is an insidious cancer, one we haven't even come close to eradicating yet. The fact that America hasn't been attacked again also leads me to believe this guy is doing a pretty good job. - T. Bevan 8:06am

Tuesday, December 17, 2002
THE LOTT SWITCHEROO: I didn't see it, but it sounds like Lott's interview on BET last night was another sorry chapter in the saga. Now he's for affirmative action, would have voted for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, etc. No need to point out that by doing this Lott surrenders the argument that you can be against these things and not be a racist. Lott went on to say that, "As majority leader, I can move an agenda that would have things that would be helpful to African-Americans and minorities of all kinds and all Americans."

Here's a cynical thought: now that Lott has capitulated and effectively signaled to the CBC that he'll be at their legislative beck and call, will they now move to save his job and claim that because Lott is now "committed" to African-American issues any attempt to remove him is another example of the racist GOP trying to stymie African-American progress? I know it's a long shot, but stranger things have happened.

IRAQ POLL: Here's the headline from this morning's write up on the LA Times' new poll on Iraq: "Most Unconvinced on Iraq War." Sounds pretty ominous - until you read the article:

  • 58% say they support a ground attack on Iraq
  • Three-quarters of Americans approve of the way George W. Bush is handling the threat of terrorism in the country.
  • 64% of respondents, including 49% of Democrats, believe the United States should reserve the right to launch a preemptive attack against regimes that threaten the country.
  • 90% of those surveyed believe Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction and 92% have no confidence that Iraq's 12,000 weapons declaration is truthful.

And in a separate article, Susan Pinkus, the Times' poll director, offers this:

More than half of the American public believe George W. Bush is not getting a balanced view of whether to go to war or not from his advisors, but rather a more hawkish view favoring military action in Iraq, according to a new Los Angeles Times poll. They also believe Bush and his administration are dealing with the war on terrorism as a reaction to events, rather than from a clear, formulated policy...

Still, almost three-quarters of Americans approve of the way George W. Bush is handling the threat of terrorism in the country, and nearly three out of five also approve of his handling the country’s foreign affairs.

It's not quite a Howell Raines poll hatchet job, but it looks like the Los Angeles Times is working pretty hard to put an anti-war spin on its results.

THANK GOD: Speaking of Howell, this NY Times editorial captures the glee, relief and thanks felt by Democrats everywhere over Gore's decision not to run. I wonder if Raines wrote it himself.......- T. Bevan 8:47am

Monday, December 16, 2002
EARLY DEMOCRATIC ODDS: With Gore out and Hillary likely to stay on the sidelines my favorite for the Democratic nomination is Senator John Kerry. Kerry is sufficiently liberal for the party's nominating base, projects an image of seriousness and gravitas, and seems poised to inherent critical black support. Ryan Lizza reports that "Harold Ford of Tennessee has said he would back Kerry if his good friend Gore drops out. And NAACP president Kweisi Mfume recently said, 'I think the Democratic Party is going to embrace John Kerry.'"

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean and Gen. Wesley Clark could possibly emerge as serious darkhorse candidates to win the nomination, but they certainly would have to be considered longshots at this point. And I just don't see Edwards, Daschle, Lieberman or Gephardt beating Kerry. So my early call is a Kerry/Edwards ticket. John M. 4:49 pm

AL GORE: "Al Gore is not going to run for president in 2004, because he'll only have one more chance to run for president, and his choice is going to be to run in 2008. What he's doing is consolidating liberal interest groups, those that have a strong influence in the primary process, reinforcing his credentials. He's against extending the tax cuts, making them permanent. He's trying to oppose the president and his initiatives in Iraq. He's, you know, taking positions for nationalized health care. So he's consolidating that base. He'll make a decision that he's not going to run. But at the same time, in consolidating the base, remain a player in the run-up to 2008, and even remain a player in the selection of the nominee for 2004." Senator-elect John Sununu, Nov. 23 on CNN's Capital Gang.

When I heard this several weeks ago I thought this was a rather persuasive argument for why Gore would not run. I think with this decision Gore has made a calculated gamble that his best bet to become President is to run in 2008. First, I think Gore correctly observed there is a large constituency in the Democratic Party that does not want him to run. And he said as much in his 60 Minutes interview last night:

And while I have the energy and drive to go out there and do it again, I think that there are a lot of people within the Democratic Party who felt exhausted by that. Who felt like, OK, I don't want to go through that again. And I'm frankly sensitive to that feeling.

With a prospective war with Iraq on the horizon and the specter of 9/11 still fresh in the voters minds Gore may be politically savvy enough to realize a rematch against President Bush in 2004 doesn't offer him very good odds to win the Presidency. A loss in '04 would unquestionably end Gore's political career. However, if Gore sits out this election and the Democratic nominee gets trounced, suddenly Gore's loss in 2000 doesn't look that bad.

Gore can sit on the sidelines in '04 enthusiastically bashing Bush, supporting the Democrats all the while solidifying his credentials with the liberal base of the Democratic Party. If the economy continues to muddle along, which is very likely, or continues to get worse (which certainly can not be ruled out) Gore suddenly is in a decent position to become President in 2008.

Sure it will be harder for him to win the nomination in 2008 than it would have been in 2004, but if he were to get the nomination he has a much better chance of actually becoming President in 2008 than he does in 2004.

So, I agree with Senator-elect Sununu and suspect this whole PR campaign was orchestrated to maximize publicity and improve his standing in the party and with the base and they made that decision sometime shortly after the November election. It will be Hillary vs. Al for the 2008 Democratic nomination, and in '04 they will let Kerry, Edwards, Daschle and Gephardt run into the Bush/Rove 18-wheeler. John M. 10:53 am

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