Friday, February 7 2003
BILL AND LARRY: I only watched a few moments of Bill Clinton being interviewed by Larry King last night - not because I had something better to do but because I simply couldn't stomach the former President's self-congratulatory answers to almost every single question.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about:

KING: Should we stay with humans going into space?

CLINTON: I believe so. I gave the approval for the Israeli astronaut to go.

KING: Really? It started then.

CLINTON: And on the day that he went up, former Prime Minister Barak called and thanked me and reminded me that he and I had done this deal to allow this remarkable human being to go into space.

Could any other person take such a simple, general question about the US manned space flight program and turn it into a paean to himself?

Here's another:

And let me just say that, you mentioned Rwanda. One of the reasons there's a picture of me in a clinic in Rwanda with all these women nursing their newborns is they at least at this clinic have the medicine to stop mother to child transmission.

Thank God the world has been alerted to the fact there is a picture of Bill Clinton in an AIDS clinic somewhere in Rwanda!

Clinton's need for validation - especially as he watches his presidency shrink in comparison to George W. Bush's - is so palpable it's both amusing and frightening. You can feel Clinton trying to work the rhetorical eraser on history, smudging what's written just enough to diffuse culpability for the problems we now face on Iraq, al-Qaeda, and North Korea.

This isn't to say that Clinton and his administration are 100% responsible for the many dangerous situations America now faces in the world, only that it's obvious the former President feels his record needs defending. And it does.

UPDATE: Some quantitative proof of Clinton's egocentricity - if such a thing is even needed: A reader sends word he sifted through the Larry King transcript and found that Clinton used the personal pronoun "I" a whopping 197 times.

Charles Krauthammer made a similar point on Fox News last week contrasting Bush's speech memorializing the Columbia astronauts (one mention of the word "I" in the entire speech) with Clinton's speech in Oklahoma City after the 1995 bombing (eleven mentions of "I" and three mentions of "Hillary and I").

POWELL MOVES THE BALL: We've posted a lot of this commentary to the front page over the last few days, but here is a nice summary from the Washington Times on the media's reaction to Powell's speech.

A second story from the WT catalogues the Dem presidential crop's reaction. The net result of the Powell speech is that it solidified the split within the Democrat caucus on the issue of war with Iraq. The serious presidential contenders are now in support, while the more far-left members (and a solid portion of the rank and file) remain opposed. The Dems realize they will have to live with this split and, as a result, they're already trying to shift the debate to focus on the question of "what happens in Iraq after the war?" and criticizing Bush's "failure" to deal with the formidable threat posed by North Korea. - T. Bevan 8:43 am

Thursday, February 6 2003
THE FLAG IS BACK: Terry Neal reports that the South Carolina Confederate flag issue is back, and now it's the Democratic presidential hopefuls who are squirming. Gephardt and Dean have already put their foot in it, and John Edwards has proposed - the way only John Edwards can - a "symbolic" boycott to pander to the state NAACP. Just wait 'til Al Sharpton gets to town......

ONE REASONABLE DEMOCRAT: Which Democrat Senator said the following yesterday about Miguel Estrada?

"He's qualified, I'm going to vote for him and I'm opposed to a filibuster."

The sad part is that there are only about 2 or 3 Democrats to choose from. It was John Breaux.

The rest of the Senate Democrats threw themselves on the ground and wailed over the Estrada nomination. I still get the feeling, however, they will have a tough time getting the 41 votes needed to sustain a filibuster - seen as the nuclear mushroom cloud of Senate procedure - and will save it for Pickering or for Bush's first Supreme Court nomination.

The obvious problem with this strategy is if Bush's first Supreme Court nominee turns out to be....Miguel Estrada. Republicans will immediately point out that Estrada was good enough to be confirmed to a lifetime appoint on the DC circuit without a filibuster the first time and chastise the Democrats for playing politics. It's a tough spot and I think it's driving the Dems (especially Tom Daschle) crazy that Bush has put them in another box.

TIMES POLL: Rick from Minnesota wants to make sure we post this poll from the LA Times showing President Bush's reelect number slipping to under 50%."I realize this article doesn't kiss Bush's ass like you'd hope," he says, "but you should post it too." Done.

Yes, Rick is a liberal. Actually, we get quite a few liberals visiting the site which is a testament (we think) to the fact we try to present some of the best, most thoughtful commentary out there every day.

I notice, however, Rick didn't send me these two articles which also came from today's Times poll:

Bush's Opposition to Racial Preferences Gets Big Support

U.S. Nowhere Near Eliminating Racism, But Race-Based Affirmative Action Not the Answer

Nor did Rick mention this little tidbit buried in the story on Bush's reelect numbers:

Though Bush's job approval rating has fallen in recent months, it remains at 56% in the Times poll. Matthew Dowd, director of polling at the Republican National Committee, said that that job approval rating is the best predictor of Bush's 2004 support because increasing cynicism about elected officials is lowering the share of voters who tell pollsters they will back any incumbent. Dowd noted that no president with an approval rating above 50% on election day has been defeated for a second term. "Even at a point where ... people are nervous and concerned about the economy, [Bush] still has a job approval that any president would love," Dowd said.

The bottom line is that it's way, way too early to speculate on President Bush's reelection prospects. His numbers will go up and down a dozen more times between now and next September, which is when it really matters. In the meantime, at least we've made Rick happy. - T. Bevan 7:51 am

Wednesday, February 5 2003
THE CASE IS MADE: As expected, Powell's presentation laid out a pretty comprehensive case against Hussein's regime and their continued violation of UN resolutions in pursuing biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Powell also offered some fairly compelling evidence of Iraqi links to terrorist organizations, including top operatives of al-Qaeda, and he topped the whole thing off by reminding UN members of Saddam's deplorable record on human rights. All in all it was a masterful job, presented in a thoughtful and forceful way by one of the most highly respected diplomats in the world.

I must say, however, I thought Jack Straw's statement in response to Powell's presentation was the coup de grace. It distilled Powell's evidence into the inescapable moral choice the UN now faces, and presented that choice against the stark backdrop of history:

The United Nations' pre-war predecessor, the League of Nations, had the same fine ideals as the United Nations, but the league failed because it could not create actions from its words. It could not back diplomacy with a credible threat and where necessary, the use of force.

So small evils went unchecked. Tyrants became emboldened. Then greater evils were unleashed.

At each stage good men said, "Wait, the evil is not big enough to challenge." Then before their eyes, the evil became too big to challenge. We slipped slowly down a slope, never noticing how far we had gone until it was too late.

Exactly. - T. Bevan 12:53pm

IT'S SHOWTIME AT THE UN: Colin Powell is going to lay down the administration's cards (some of them anyway) before the UN this morning. All indications are that Powell will construct a compelling case, built solely with circumstantial evidence, of Iraqi possession of WMD's and of noncompliance with UN Resolution 1441. As far as we know there will be no smoking gun.

CNN is also reporting that Powell will trace the movement of al-Qaeda operatives in Iraq but won't allege "an alliance." It's probably worth noting that Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw reiterated yesterday that both he and PM Tony Blair are convinced of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, but the extent of those links remains unclear.

Getting back to Powell. According to this report, UN envoys are demanding "undeniable evidence" of Iraq's WMD's. They aren't going to get it. But Powell will provide UN members with a convincing argument against Iraq and a clear choice: ignore the evidence and trust Saddam (see below), or acknowledge that Saddam remains in violation of international law and accept the obligation to disarm him with the use of force. I don't think I exaggerate when I say that Powell's speech today is going to be a crucial moment for the UN and its future legitimacy as an international body.

GET BACK IN YOUR BUNKER: Read this transcript from former British Labour Cabinet Minister Tony Benn's interview with Saddam Hussein that aired on Britain's Channel Four yesterday. Here's a peek at what Saddam said:

"There is only one truth and therefore I tell you as I have said on many occasions before that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction whatsoever."

Meanwhile just north of Baghdad at the al-Taji ammunition depot, probably about the same time these words were coming out of Saddam's mouth, inspectors stumbled across another empty chemical warhead, the 17th such weapon found in Iraq over the past month.

This is just another example of Hussein's contradictions, deceptions, and outright lies to the international community. Unfortunately, it shows the Iraqi dictator is intent upon continuing this pattern through to the very end. Those who choose to trust Hussein display a profound naiveté, one that borders on reckless endangerment.

PAIGE LEADS: Great article in the Washington Times today quoting Secretary of Education Rod Paige on his involvement with the Bush administration's brief on the U of M case. Paige says:

"I was pretty clear on what my position was, and so I haven't had to wobble on it very much, and that is that I think the president was absolutely correct on his decision with the Michigan situation. ... And I believe that, where it is true that there are still lots of barriers in front of certain ethnic groups, you can't fight discrimination with discrimination."

Paige is a great spokesman for the administration and should be doing more of this type of high-visibility PR stuff. I've got a couple more thoughts on affirmative action, but I'm going to have to save them for later in the week. - T. Bevan 8:13 am

Tuesday, February 4 2003
BACK WITH A VENGEANCE: Okay, maybe not with a vengeance, but at least we're back. It was a very long week last week....but the good news is that the case of bloggus interruptus we've been experiencing is over and we're back to daily posting.

Yesterday morning I had the privilege of interviewing Senator Orrin Hatch over the phone for about 30 minutes. I'm going to finish transcribing my notes later today and we should have something posted tomorrow or the day after.

In other news, we've been getting a lot of sign ups for email alerts lately and for those of you eagerly awaiting an RCP alert, we should have our email program reconfigured in the next seven to ten days, so please continue to bear with us.

TURNING THE TABLES ON THE UN: How much longer can the antiwar crowd cling to the idea of U.S. (or, if you prefer, Bush) unilateralism? Eight countries publicly came on board last week (Czech Republic, Britain, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain), and USA Today reports up to ten more countries are getting ready to issue a statement of support this week (Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia and Macedonia).

"But," the antiwar folks will say, "with the exception of British (and maybe the Italians and the Spanish) most of these countries are insignificant on the world stage. Who cares whether Estonia supports Bush's war? Besides, they owe the President a favor for his promoting their recent entry into NATO. The French, Russians, Chinese (and to a lesser extent the Germans) are the important players here and it's their opinions, or in this case their opposition to war, that matters."

This same group of people, the internationalist crowd who constantly demand the United States conduct its world affairs through a system where Ghana's vote stands on equal footing with its own, will now want to say that some country's opinions do, in fact, matter more than others.

I'm sorry, but this is what is known as an ironic twist. Bush's coalition may end up containing the British, Italians, Spanish and a bunch of other countries with names ending in "stan" or "nia" but its a multilateral coalition nonetheless.

I'm hoping that after tomorrow this stuff is all going to be academic anyway. Powell's presentation before the UN, even though it won't contain a "smoking gun" on Iraq, should be compelling enough to convince a number of other countries, possibly even one of the Obstinate Four, to come along.
UPDATE: Jim Baker says the argument for war is already academic and that Powell and the US are "going the extra mile" at the UN tomorrow.

COLUMBIA: We've gotten some email from people asking us to comment on the Columbia tragedy. I'm with Sullivan on this, not to mention ours is primarily a political blog and I just don't see much political effect there.

I will offer this: I agree with Charles Krauthammer in today's Washington Post (here's a similar, longer version we posted yesterday from the Weekly Standard) about needing to recalibrate the risks and aspirations of our manned space flight program. I was less than four months old when we landed on the moon and I had just turned twelve years old when the first shuttle - which was also Columbia, by the way - launched.

During my lifetime we've dramatically lowered our sights in terms of space exploration but still continue to engage in an expensive, high-risk manned space program. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people and for the work done at NASA, but if there is a singular good that can come from the tragic death of those seven heroic astronauts, it may just be to make the folks in Houston start dreaming really big dreams again.

SPEAKING OF BIG DREAMS: I get a kick out of watching Bush leave the media slackjawed. He's done it again with his 2004 budget, which has prompted the typical "analysis" pieces in both the NY Times and the Washington Post. Let's compare ledes:

Times: When all the proposals are tallied in the budget President Bush submitted today, they amount to the most ambitious changes in government operations that any president has put forward in decades.

Post: With his budget blueprint for 2004, President Bush appears to have stepped back from his "compassionate conservatism" agenda and picked up the fallen standard of the Reagan Revolution.

Both articles are replete with all sorts of loaded words and phrases: Bush is going to "push" people into managed health care systems, Bush is driving up deficits by pursuing "disputable" programs like a national missile defense, etc. You know the drill.

The Times' David Rosenblum writes that the President:

"also wants to change Medicaid so that many poor people, including some in nursing homes, will no longer be guaranteed benefits."

Now, I haven't had a chance to read the budget in detail, so you'll excuse me if I'm a little skeptical of the Times' claim that Bush's budget actually advocates stripping people in nursing homes of their Medicaid benefits. This sounds eerily familiar to the rhetoric employed against Reagan throughout the 1980's and Gingrich in the mid-90's.

I'd be willing to speculate there is some sort of provision in Bush's budget that alters the Medicaid structure so that people who were once "guaranteed" Medicaid may now have to offer up a small co-pay and the Times has spun it to the hilt. This is just a guess on my part, of course. I'll have to go find out.

It's a little ironic that we used to rely on newspapers like the New York Times to present the unvarnished facts every day. But now, in order to get at the truth we have to march over to Google or Lexis-Nexis or various other sources of information to try and strip the spin off the Times' news stories. - T. Bevan 8:02 am

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