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October 31, 2005

Barone: Dems Won't Muster Filibuster

From the always enlightening Barone Blog:

My guess is that the left Democrats are not going to be able to get the 41 votes they need for a filibuster. Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, both up for re-election next year in solidly Republican states, voted for Roberts. So did Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Max Baucus of Montana. They're not likely filibusterers. Bill Nelson of Florida, up for re-election next year, would take some political risks by opposing him. That's five—enough to defeat a filibuster right there. When you add to that the senators listed above from states with large numbers of Italian-Americans, many of whom in my judgment will be lukewarm at best about joining a filibuster, you can see why I think Schumer and company will not get up the head of steam they need.

I think whether Barone turns out to be right or not depends on the first forty-eight to seventy-two hours of the life of this nomination. If the Dems can get even a little bit of traction on Alito early it will feed a sense of confidence and momentum on the part of the Schumer-Kennedy-Durbin crowd that could influence other members of the caucus. The Democrats feel Bush is weak and I suspect the red-staters up for re-election fear a confrontation with this president over a conservative judicial pick far less today than they did even six weeks ago.

Democrats who were eager to strike early and get the upper hand on Alito have to be lamenting this politically tone deaf hatchet job that backfired. If the public relations battle over this nomination is to be won or lost in the first few news cycles, the anti-Alito forces got routed today.

Expect a Filibuster Attempt

The last 4 days have not been kind to the Democrats. Thursday morning I wrote:

The Miers withdrawal sets the stage for a dramatic Bush comeback....

And then on Friday, "Fitzmas" turned into a complete bust for all the conspiracy theorists on the Left. David Brooks summed it up perfectly on Meet the Press:

What people want to know, is there a dark, malevolent conspiracy in the middle of the White House? Is there a cancer on the presidency, to use John Dean's phrase.  And I think what Fitzgerald showed, you know, he was in there for 22 months.  He had full cooperation from everybody.  And what he found was no criminal conspiracy to out a covert agent.  He indicted one person of perjury, which is serious.  But the White House has to be breathing a sigh of relief, and the American people have to know that the wave of hysteria, the wave of paranoia, the wave of charges and allegations about Karl Rove and everybody else so far is unsupported by the facts.  So what we have is a serious indictment of a senior government official, but we do not have a cancer on the presidency. 

Now, that's not what many in the press and of course what the Democrats want to hear, but the average Joe American out there knows Brooks is way closer to the truth than the conspiracy spinsters on the Left.

So that is the backdrop coming into this morning when President Bush uncorked Judge Alito. The New Republic's Jeffrey Rosen wrote this about Judge Alito in November last year:

Known as "Scalito," or little Scalia, he is considered less blustering than the big guy, but liberals will undoubtedly balk at his abortion record. In 1991, he dissented from a decision to strike down Pennsylvania's spousal notification provision--a decision the Supreme Court later upheld in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the decision that reaffirmed Roe v. Wade. What should be far more troubling to Senate Democrats, however, is Alito's 1996 dissent from a decision upholding the constitutionality of a federal law prohibiting the possession of machine guns. Applying the logic of the Constitution in Exile for all it's worth, Alito insisted that the private possession of machine guns was not an economic activity, and there was no empirical evidence that private gun possession increased violent crime in a way that substantially affected commerce--therefore, Congress has no right to regulate it. Alito's colleagues criticized him for requiring "Congress or the Executive to play Show and Tell with the federal courts at the peril of invalidation of a Congressional statute." His lack of deference to Congress is unsettling...... 

Their (the Democrats) best hope lies in a principled conservative judge as opposed to an activist eager to undermine Congress's power in the name of the Constitution in Exile. By this measure, Alito, Brown, Clement, or Garza may be worth a Senate fight.

Given that the Right essentially vetoed Harriet Miers, who was a much better bet to end up like O'Connor or Souter, as compared to Alito, who given his 15 year judicial record, is almost a guarantee to line up with Scalia and Thomas, there is no question that the Left will demand a full scale war. The problem is the Democrats simply don't have the votes to defeat Alito outright or the votes to prevent the detonation of the nuclear option if they were to attempt a filibuster.

Like I said, though you might not know it from the MSM coverage, it has been a very good four days for President Bush.

PFAW Ready To Rumble

Here is the title of the People For the American Way press release on Alito: "PFAW will wage massive national effort to defeat nominee who would dramatically shift balance of Court."

There has been a lot of happy talk this morning about how Alito will be able to win Democratic votes because he was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 1990, blah, blah, blah. I'm not buying it. The liberal special interest groups are going to wage massive war on Alito and they're going to demand absolute purity from the Democratic caucus when it comes time to vote.

Remember, once upon a time Scalia was unanimously confirmed by the Senate, too. Despite being universally acknowledged as one of the best and brightest (if not THE best and brightest) legal minds of the era, how many votes would Scalia win from Democrats if Bush nominated him today?

Does USA Today Read Its Own Polls?

On the front page of the USA Today web site there is a link to the new CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll that says, "Poll: Presidency failing." Click through to the data and you'll find Bush's job approval for current sample (Friday 10/28- Sunday 10/30) at 41%. That number is unchanged vs. previous pre-Libby indictment sample (Monday 10/24 - Wednesday 10/26).

Other interesting tidbits about the "failing" Bush presidency: Bush up 2 points (versus last survey) on question of whether he's seen as "honest and trustworthy." Bush up 3 points on question of whether he's seen as a "decisive leader." VP Cheney favorable rating down one point and Karl Rove favorable rating up two points.

A forty-one percent job approval rating is nothing to crow about, but it's laughable that USA Today can suggest the Bush presidency is "failing" when the President's approval rating is unchanged from earlier in the week. It would be the equivalent of USA Today running a headline "MARKET CRASHING" with the knowledge that Dow Jones Industrial Average hadn't dropped a point.

The Evil We Fight

These pictures are beyond disturbing, but I think they are important to be seen so that people understand the true nature of the evil we fight. The people who hacked off these poor girls heads, for no other reason except they were Christians, are no different than the fanatics who sawed off Danny Pearl and Nicholas Berg's heads, killed schoolchildren in Iraq and Russia, and the 19 who flew those planes on September 11. And make no mistake about it, this enemy is striving to bring this evil to our shores again and they are hoping and praying that the next time it will make 9/11 small in comparison. (Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

More on Alito

Great post from Mark Levin at Bench Memos:

I have known Judge Alito for two decades. We served together in the Meese Justice Department, where he worked in the Solicitor General's Office and was considered the sharpest of Charles Fried's assistants. He is every bit as smart and personable as Chief Justice John Roberts. He is an expert on constitutional law. And he obviously has a longer judicial record, so his judicial philosophy is well-known. Judge Alito is soft-spoken. He is his own man (efforts in the media this morning to paint him as "Scalia-lite" or "Scalito" are intended to fire-up the leftwing base). If he is not qualified to serve on the Supreme Court, then no conservative is qualified.

Schumer Speaks

Statement from Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY):

It is sad that the President felt he had to pick a nominee likely to divide America instead of choosing a nominee in the mold of Sandra Day O’Connor, who would unify us.

This controversial nominee, who would make the Court less diverse and far more conservative, will get very careful scrutiny from the Senate and from the American people.

 

Scalito It Is

It's Scalito.  100% guaranteed to send Ralph Neas and Nan Aron into cardiac arrest and to put the  Senate Dems on a war footing.  The main focus, of course, will be Alito's dissent in the abortion rights case Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Patterico has already done the analysis on it, and you can read it (in part) for yourself here.

For more on Alito, see this recent US News profile and this more dated look from Law.com. We've set up an Alito resource page with bio information and links to notable opinions.

Now quickly to the politics. You can expect almost every Dem to oppose Alito.  But as I've written before, the nomination really comes down to a Republican Gang of Four:  McCain, Graham, Warner, and DeWine. The GOP can (and probably will) lose the usual "moderate" suspects in Chafee, Collins, and Snowe.  They can afford to lose up to two more Senators and still have 50 votes, which would allow Cheney to come down and cast the tie-breaker (something that would drive the Dems even more insane). 

So Bush has to have at least two of the Republican Gang of Four supporting Alito, and that's assuming there are no other random defections in the GOP ranks (like, say, Voinovich). Yesterday Graham made some aggressive noise that a filibuster would not be tolerated, and McCain has made similar sounding statements recently which would suggest this nomination is going to be in decent shape when all the dust settles. And there will be a lot of dust.

Obviously, the other key player in this drama is Arlen Specter.  He's pro-choice but has ties to the NJ-born, long-time 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals judge. It's hard to imagine Specter won't support Alito, and his blessing will provide additional cover for members of the GOP caucus who might start feeling uncomfortable when the liberal attack machine revs up and portrays Alito as a right wing monster. Specter also has control over the process, which is no small thing.  In other words, it's time for Specter to earn that Judiciary Committee chairmanship and to return the favor to the White House for backing him over Pat Toomey in the 2004 PA Senate primary.

October 30, 2005

Watergate Cancer Or Not?

In The New York Times this morning, Frank Rich gives us his best effort at the "Watergate redux" argument:

To believe that the Bush-Cheney scandals will be behind us anytime soon you'd have to believe that the Nixon-Agnew scandals peaked when G. Gordon Liddy and his bumbling band were nailed for the Watergate break-in. But Watergate played out for nearly two years after the gang that burglarized Democratic headquarters was indicted by a federal grand jury; it even dragged on for more than a year after Nixon took "responsibility" for the scandal, sacrificed his two top aides and weathered the indictments of two first-term cabinet members. In those ensuing months, America would come to see that the original petty crime was merely the leading edge of thematically related but wildly disparate abuses of power that Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell, would name "the White House horrors."

 On the same page David Brooks says the exact opposite:

On March 21, 1973, John Dean told President Nixon that there was a cancer on his presidency. There was, Dean said, a metastasizing criminal conspiracy spreading through the White House.

Thirty-two years later, Patrick Fitzgerald has just completed a 22-month investigation of the Bush presidency. One thing is clear: there is no cancer on this presidency. Fitzgerald, who seems to be a model prosecutor, enjoyed what he called full cooperation from all federal agencies. He found enough evidence to indict one man, Scooter Libby, on serious charges.

So who's right? Let's just put it this way, Brooks is writing about the facts as we know them and Fitzgerald's own declaration that the"substantial work" of his investigation is done . Rich is speculating (and fantasizing) about what might be in the future based on nothing more than his assumption that Bush is Nixon and Cheney is Agnew.

Another must-read piece of the puzzle is Matt Cooper's new column in Time Magazine. Cooper says the only thing Mr. Libby did was respond to a question by by him about Joe Wilson's wife working at the CIA with the phrase "yeah, I heard that too." It seems insane that Libby would grant waivers to all of the reporters in the case allowing them to testify about conversations with him before the grand jury and then go in there himself and purposefully lie.  Cooper seems mystified by this as well:

I was surprised last week that the Libby indictment even mentioned me. But apparently his recollection of the conversation differed from mine in a way that led the prosecutor to think he was lying. As for me, I still have no idea if Libby or anyone else has committed a crime.

October 29, 2005

Libby Indictment Is Wilma, Not Katrina

Since hurricane references are in vogue these days I'll use one for the Libby indictment: it's Wilma, not Katrina. I mean two things by that: first, that it could have been a lot worse. Fitzgerald apparently didn't have or couldn't prove a conspiracy charge and he couldn't indict on either of the main underlying laws of the case. An indictment (albeit a solid five-count one at that) of a single player in the Bush administration who is not well known to the public will not do nearly as much lasting damage to the Bush presidency as either mulitple indictments or the indictment of Rove would have done.

The second reason the Libby affair looks to me like hurricane Wilma is because if the Libby indictment is, in fact, all that ends up coming of Fitzgerald's probe, it's going to hit and be gone as a media event outside the beltway. The frenzy will continue through the weekend and the Sunday shows tomorrow,  but the Libby story won't be packing nearly the same punch on Monday or Tuesday morning when America wakes up to find that President Bush has nominated someone new to the Supreme Court.

I'm under no illusions that the mainstream media (especially those in Washington who live and breathe this stuff every day) won't try to keep the Libby story as big as possible for as long as possible.  But unless there is damaging new information that comes out or until such time as there is a trial with some very high profile witnesses, if the White House is smart and stays on the offensive with a SCOTUS appointment and big policy announcements, the Libby affair will go from being a Category 3 storm back to a tropical depression pretty darn fast in the eyes of the public.

October 28, 2005

Election 2005 - New Jersey

New Marist poll has Corzine with a 10-point lead over Forrester. More on our RCP 2005 NJ Gov Election Page.

Reaction to PlameGate

My initial reaction is Scooter Libby is in BIG trouble. Fitzgerald in his press conference made a devastatingly effective case against the Vice President's Chief of Staff. At first, that may seem like bad news for the Bush administration, and while it certainly is bad news for Mr. Libby, the fact that Fitzgerald came across as such a competent, aggressive and in control prosecutor makes the fact that he did not charge anyone with the original alleged crime and the fact he did not charge Karl Rove or anyone else, that much more powerful.

In his answer to the first question Fitzgerald makes it pretty clear that he is basically done and these five counts against Libby are likely the only charges we will see in relation to this entire investigation.

Question: Mr. Fitzgerald, this began as a leak investigation but no one is charged with any leaking. Is your investigation finished? Is this another leak investigation that doesn't lead to a charge of leaking?

Fitzgerald: OK, is the investigation finished? It's not over, but I'll tell you this: Very rarely do you bring a charge in a case that's going to be tried and would you ever end a grand jury investigation.I can tell you, the substantial bulk of the work in this investigation is concluded.

And then later on in response to another question:

Question: A lot of Americans, people who are opposed to the war, critics of the administration, have looked to your investigation with hope in some ways and might see this indictment as a vindication of their argument that the administration took the country to war on false premises.

Does this indictment do that?

Fitzgerald: This indictment is not about the war. This indictment's not about the propriety of the war. And people who believe fervently in the war effort, people who oppose it, people who have mixed feelings about it should not look to this indictment for any resolution of how they feel or any vindication of how they feel.

This is simply an indictment that says, in a national security investigation about the compromise of a CIA officer's identity that may have taken place in the context of a very heated debate over the war, whether some person -- a person, Mr. Libby -- lied or not.

The indictment will not seek to prove that the war was justified or unjustified. This is stripped of that debate, and this is focused on a narrow transaction.

And I think anyone's who's concerned about the war and has feelings for or against shouldn't look to this criminal process for any answers or resolution of that.

Of course the indictment of the Vice President's Chief of Staff is not a trivial matter, but politically the bar had been set much, much higher by the press and the left; and at the end of the day given the realm of possibilities I suspect the White House is feeling very relieved. 

Election 2005 - Virginia

New Rasmussen poll has Kaine moving slightly ahead of Kilgore (46-44) with Potts at 4.  Our RCP average of the last four polls in the race currently has Kaine up less than a point over Kilgore. Nearly every poll taken in the last three months has fallen within the margin of error, so it's safe to say that with 11 days left it remains anybody's race.

And if you haven't been following the Gilliard-Kaine controversy here's a rough outline of what went down:

  • On Wednesday morning at 8:41am Steve Gilliard put up a post calling MD Lt. Gov. Michael Steele "simple sambo" and portraying him as a minstrel.
  • About two hours later, Robert George decried Gilliard's outrageous antics in a post titled "Why I Am Not a Democrat (Part II)"
  • Two hours after that, at 12:31pm, Andrew Sullivan linked to Gilliard's post (and George's response) under the title "The Racist Left."
  • Thursday morning Gilliard received an email from the Internet Director of the Kaine campaign asking him to pull the ad. At 11:08am Gilliard published the email request along with a lenghty diatribe against George, Sullivan, and the Kaine campaign titled "Tim Kaine is a Coward."
  • An hour and a half later Robert George circled back in reponse to Gilliard with this post: "Gilliard's Kaine Mutiny"

Bush's Best Week in Two Months

Todd Purdum leads off the NY Times' front page news analysis:

George W. Bush has been in the White House for 248 weeks, through a terrorist attack, two wars and a bruising re-election. But it seems safe to say that he has never had a worse political week than this one - and it is not over yet.

This may be the MSM wisdom on the state of the Bush White House and how bad this week has been for the President, but it completely misunderstands the political dynamics at play. In reality, the worst week the President has had since reelection was three weeks ago when he nominated Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. The core of George W. Bush's political strength has always been the unified support of his conservative base. That energized base is one of the core reasons the President was able to win reelection with 51% of the vote and pick up seats in Congress in both 2002 and 2004.

With one seriously misguided decision the foundations of that support were starting to crumble.

It is not as if conservatives don't have disagreements with this White House, they certainly do; from the inability to control spending, to the unwillingness to seriously address the lawlessness on our border. But tax cuts, national security and the courts were always big agenda items where the President and his base were on the same page. The Miers nomination needlessly kicked out a key leg of that support.

His father kicked out the tax leg in his Presidency, laying the seeds for his ultimate defeat in 1992 to Bill Clinton. Had the Miers nomination been pushed through, a disastrous 2006 for the GOP would almost have been guaranteed.

With Miers doing the President an enormous favor and gracefully bowing out under the cover of documents and presidential prerogative, the President is now poised to reestablish control. Claims that this has divided Republicans are equally misguided, if the President follows through with an A+ nominee in the mold of Roberts or more recently Bernanke for the FED, Republicans will rally hard and enthusiastically around Bush.

The politics of this is very simple to distill: 24 hours ago liberals were giddy in anticipation of multiple indictments and what other early Christmas presents the Special Prosecutor might bring. Meanwhile, conservatives were despondent over the prospect of having to beat up on a President they want to support, all because of the unfortunate Miers nomination.

With the announcement of Miers' withdrawal everything changed. Conservatives are the happiest and most energized they have been in months. Liberals like Chuck Schumer and Ted Kennedy have a sick feeling in their stomach, because they realize the conservative suicide pact has been called off and the Senate is likely to get a rock solid appointment who is anathema to everything they believe - and they know there is little they can do to stop that person from getting on the court.

 

October 27, 2005

Pataki's Brief Swim

The headline from today's NY Times says "Pataki Goes West to Test Presidential Waters," but George doesn't have to look much further than this NY state poll from Strategic Vision to see that the answers about presidential waters are, unfortunately for him, "ice cold" and "not very deep." 

Despite having a respectable but slightly-above-middling job approval rating of 47%, Pataki registers just 9% among New York Republicans when asked who they would support for president in 2008.  That's 37% less than fellow New Yorker Rudy Giuliani and only 5% better than conservative icon Newt Gingrich.

Even worse, in Patrick Ruffini's most recent online straw poll which generated more than 17,000 votes among a national audience of conservative-leaning readers and activists, Pataki finshed dead last out of a field of 11 candidates with only 95 votes (0.5%).

Both McCain and Giuliani would have to bail on 2008 to give Pataki any chance to offer himself as a "moderate" or "centrist" alternative in the Republican primaries - and even then his odds would be minimal at best. Even a VP nod seems unlikely.  A cabinet post or an ambassadorship in a future administration is possible, but in the meantime the only thing Pataki is likely to get out of these cross country trips is a lot of frequent flier miles.

Have You Ever Wondered....

what it would feel like to get smacked down by Charles Krauthammer? Brent Scowcroft is about to find out. Get Krauthammer's new syndicated column tonight at 12:01am Eastern Time on the RCP home page.

The Democrats' National Security Awards

The Boston Globe wins the award for the most painfully ironic title of the day:  "Democratic leaders offer a national security plan." You don't say? I guess coming up with something four years after being attacked by Islamic fundamentalists is better than nothing.

Award for the most painfully ironic quote goes to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who presented the Dems' new national security initiative by announcing, ''The Democrats are basically supportive of the troops." (emphasis mine).

Finally, the award for the most painfully clueless former Presidential nominee goes to John Kerry, who demonstrated again yesterday why he lost the 2004 election and why he doesn't have a prayer in 2008:

''History will judge the invasion of Iraq as one of the greatest foreign policy misadventures of all time," he [Kerry] said.

But later, during a question and answer session, Kerry resisted comparisons to the Vietnam War, and said he told US troops in Iraq that ''their cause is noble" in risking their lives as Iraq stumbles toward democracy.

 Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.....

Churchill at DePaul

Chaya Gil has an amusing report on Ward Churchill's recent speech at DePaul University. The CU "professor" told the crowd: “Hitler exterminated the wrong people. He should have exterminated your American grandparents instead of the Jews.” Nice. Brought to you by the DePaul Cultural Center.
 
In related news, I'm sure Ward Churchill and the rest of his merry band of multiculturalists and defenders of free speech will recoil in shock and horror at the news that theUniversity of Colorado has established a Center for Western Civilization. David Harsanyi of the Dever Post writes:

Conservatives in Colorado - and elsewhere - have long groused about the need for some ideological balance at CU.

Some, myself included, aren't exactly sure why studying Greek philosophy or the Federalist Papers is considered conservative, but maybe I'm naive.

Then again, the Center for Western Civilization is located on the same campus as the Ethnic Studies department, where victimhood and half-baked conspiracy theories are valued over scholarship. That fact, I suppose, could make anyone feel like a conservative.

"Originally, we talked about how we could increase intellectual diversity on the Boulder campus," Kopff says. "We were looking for ways to encourage more participation, to create the kinds of traditional courses and bring in top speakers. ... We also wanted to encourage outreach to the community."

The community that Kopff speaks of is a growing classical education movement, comprising home-schooled and parochial-school kids and thousands of ordinary parents who value traditional curricula.

So far, Kopff hasn't felt any pressure from his colleagues at the left-wing campus, pointing out that there is a difference between academics who are conservative and academic conservatives who value the rigors of a classical education.

Kopff is currently working with a miniscule annual budget of $5,000 supplied by CU department of arts and sciences. But he is hoping to grow the Center dramatically through federal grants and private donations, so if this is a cause you believe deeply in you can reach Professor Christian Kopff by clicking here.

"The World Without Zionism"

Repeat after me: Axis. Of. Evil. That phrase has been roundly ridiculed by internationalists since Bush first used it in his 2002 State of the Union address, but the shoe just keeps on fitting:

Iranian Leader Causes Storm Over Call To Wipe Out Israel

Reverting to the vitriol of Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the Iranian revolution, Mr Ahmadinejad urged the destruction of Israel by Palestinian militants: "There is no doubt that the new wave in Palestine will soon wipe off this disgraceful blot from the face of the Islamic world," he said. "As the Imam (Khomeini) said, Israel must be wiped off the map."

"Anybody who recognises Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation’s fury. Anybody who recognizes the Zionist regime is acknowledging the surrender and defeat of the Islamic world," Mr Ahmadinejad is reported to have said.

Within hours of the speech a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in an Israeli market, killing five people in the deadliest attack in the country in three months.

According to Shimon Peres, Ahmadinejad's remarks are unprecendented: since the United Nations was established in 1945, no head of a sitting member state has ever publicly called for the elimination of another member state.  Peres is calling for Iran to be expelled from the U.N.

Ahmadinejad's call to "wipe Israel off the map" is generating the typical condemnations from the international community ("disturbing", "deeply troubling", etc), but words simply aren't good enough any more.  At some point, no matter how impolitic it might be to say out loud, responsible nations have to accept the fact that the current Iranian regime is evil at its core and represents a dire threat to peace and stability. For the world to allow the Iranians to acquire nuclear weapons is utter insanity.


The Beginning of the Bush Comeback

The Miers withdrawal sets the stage for a dramatic Bush comeback, irrespective of whatever Fitzgerald may or may not do.

Miers Withdraws

The Krauthammer strategy reaches a successful conclusion:

Bush said he reluctantly accepted her decision to withdraw, after weeks of insisting that he did not want her to step down. He blamed her withdrawal on calls in the Senate for the release of internal White House documents that the administration has insisted were protected by executive privilege.

"It is clear that senators would not be satisfied until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House — disclosures that would undermine a president's ability to receive candid counsel," Bush said. "Harriet Miers' decision demonstrates her deep respect for this essential aspect of the constitutional separation of powers — and confirms my deep respect and admiration for her."

One interpretation of the Miers withdrawal is that the President realized (or was informed by GOP Senators) that she didn't have a chance of being confirmed. A more speculative interpretation of the timing of the withdrawal is that the President knows there are indictments coming down tomorrow and needs to have his base support consolidated.  He can use news of a new appointment to deflect attention from any possible bad news from the Fitzgerald investigation.

Indictments or not, expect Bush to nominate someone who will immediately set off a firestorm from liberal special interest groups and provoke a major battle on the hill that will get his administration off the defensive.

October 26, 2005

Delphi: 'There Is No Alternative'

Foundering auto-parts supplier Delphi submitted a proposal to the UAW with cuts even stiffer than previously imagined:

According to the proposal, Delphi wants new hires to accept wages as low as $9 an hour, compared with $14 an hour today. The company wants hourly workers making $25 to $27 an hour to accept wages between $9.50 and $10.50 an hour. Delphi also wants overtime to be accrued after working a full week, as opposed to a full day.

Moreover, Delphi wants to freeze its pension plan and said it does not want to accept new pension plan participants after Jan. 1.

Out-of-pocket costs for health care would increase to a maximum $5,000 a year for a family or $2,500 annually for an individual. That would compare to the $500 per family and $250 per person workers currently contribute to the company's traditional health care plan.

Additionally, vision and dental benefits would be eliminated. The company said it also would discontinue "current health care options" but may offer other affordable plans in the future.

The proposal to the UAW concludes, "Delphi recognizes the hardship that this proposal imposes on your members. There is no alternative."

Delphi is the fourth largest publicly traded company in Michigan, where 14,700 of their 185,000 employees live and work.  The company filed for bankruptcy on October 8 after losing $4.8 billion last year. Needless to say, Delphi's predicament is dire and failure to come to terms with the unions may set off a strike that could mortally wound a U.S. auto industry already hemorrhaging cash and groaning under the weight of ballooning health care costs and expensive pension plans.

We've run some great commentary on the Delphi case recently, so if you're interested and you missed it the first time around, here are a few pieces worth reading:

Public Sector Unions Still Living In A Dream World - Thomas Bray, Detroit News (10/23)
GM Rolling Out of Its Welfare State - George Will, Washington Post (10/20)
GM's Suicide Pact With The UAW - Daniel Gross, Slate (10/19)
The Fate of 'Made in the USA' - Robert Samuelson, Washington Post (10/19)
Bailout For Auto Industry Not Likely This Time - Thomas Bray, Detroit News (10/16)
The Delphi News - Michael Barone, Baroneblog (10/14)
The Vanishing Middle - Harold Meyerson, Washington Post (10/12)

Luntz on the GOP

As a follow up to my last post, here's a quote from GOP pollster Frank Luntz on the state of the Republican party:
The Republican majority is in jeopardy.... There is this wave that hits, and it is worth between 4 and 6 percent [of the total vote]. These are people who don't even know who they are voting for because they are just voting against [incumbents]. Am I predicting that the Republicans will lose in 2006? No. If this were Oct. 25, 2006, I would say yes, they would lose the majority. But they have an entire year to get their act together.
 Fred Barnes was at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast and has more on Luntz's talk here.
 

Polls & GOP Problems

Obviously, lots of bad news in the national polls for Republicans these days. Bush's job approval stands at a paltry 41.3% in our latest RCP Average. Congress' job approval is an even more dismal 29.8%Less than 3 in 10 Americans feel the country is headed in the right direction, and Democrats lead Republicans by more than 7 points in the generic Congressional vote.

Even worse than the topline numbers, however, are the results from some of the internals. Here's one in particular that should send chills down the spine of the GOP leadership in Washington: in the new Battleground Poll Democrats had a 14-point advantage over Republicans (49-35) when respondents were asked which party would do a better job holding down federal spending. A related question found that 72% of people favored "removing items from the recent highway bill that are not directly related to road construction."

Similar stuff from today's Gallup poll. Dems led Republicans by 6 and 8 points respectively on the issue of handling Iraq and, if you can possibly believe it, on taxes. That may be a first. 

At this point, the only issue where Republicans still maintain a big lead over Democrats in the polls is fighting terrorism. That's a biggie, of course, but probably not enough by itself to maintain a majority if the GOP continues to lose ground to Democrats on key domestic issues like taxing and spending.

The Betting Line on PlameGate Fallout

Washington is buzzing in anticipation of potential indictments from the Special Prosecutor either today or tomorrow. The excitement on the left is bubbling over in the hope that finally the Bush administration will be exposed as the criminals and liars they have always presumed them to be.

There is no question that the White House should be on edge before Fitzgerald lays down the law. However, because of the ratcheting up of the hype and expectations by the media there is plenty of room for some major disappointment on the left.  

The way things stand right now, anything less than an indictment of Rove will be, in political terms, a victory for the White House. Of course, the indictment of the Vice President's Chief of Staff is not on its surface a minor issue.  But because almost no one outside of Washington has ever heard of Scooter Libby (coupled with the massive expectations for much, much, more) indictments of Libby and one or two other smaller players from the Vice President's office won't be the Bush killing moment so many are hoping for.

On the other hand if Rove is indicted, along with a host of others, the President is going to have a problem he is going to have to deal with. It won't be the Watergate redux that so many in the media and on the left are pining for, but it would be foolish for Republicans to spin this as anything but bad news. If Rove gets indicted you can almost guarantee that the Miers nomination will be withdrawn (which would be a big plus for the President).

On the extremes of what Fitzgerald could do, no indictments at all will cause all of this frenzy and speculation to backfire utterly on the MSM and will be a huge boost to the President's climbing out of his current hole. And of course if the left-wing nirvana scenario comes down and somehow Joe Wilson is right and Cheney is indicted along with Rove, Libby, et al, the Bush administration is going to think the last 6 weeks weren't that bad in retrospect.

Are They Statistics or Heroes?

It's truly hard to fathom how warped the media culture is in this country.  Most major newspapers are leading this morning with the 2,000th U.S. combat death in Iraq.  Apparently, this is a "milestone" the media deems worthy of expanded coverage - including news analysis of the "grim" numbers, stories of family grief, and "interactive graphics" of our fallen men and women.

Buried at the bottom of all the coverage ostensibly intended to "honor" our troops is the little tidbit that, oh by the way, the Iraqi constitution passed.

Look at the treatment at The Washington Post web site, which even manages to negatively phrase news of the Iraqi charter vote:

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How about above the fold at The New York Times


nyt.jpg

This isn't honoring our soldiers, it's using their deaths to try and negatively influence the public about the war in Iraq.  You think I'm being too harsh? Ask any soldier in Afghanistan or Iraq if they think this type of coverage  "honors" their fallen comrades or their mission and see what kind of response you get.

The problem is that to truly honor something means, by definition, to hold it in high respect and esteem.  Members of the media may hold the sacrifices of individual soldiers in esteem but it's fair to say that, as a whole, they have significantly less respect for or belief in the causes for which those soldiers are fighting and dying in Iraq. The result is that much of the mainstream media can't separate the men from the mission, and feel that to write positive stories about Iraq or stories truly honoring our soldiers would be seen as propaganda supporting the policy (and indirectly the President).

To get a better idea of what I'm talking about, look at this:  

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The left will say this is propaganda from a right-wing rag.  But the one striking difference between the Post and the rest is that at least The Post is willing to treat our dead soldiers as "heroes." The New York Times had no problem writing exhaustively about the heroes of 9/11, but when it comes to Iraq all we get are body counts.

October 25, 2005

Cook's Suggestions

In his freshly minted column, Charlie Cook says it's time to shake things up at the White House. Cook's recommendations include:

  • Bring in someone who is experienced but not a loyal friend to replace Andy Card. Possible names include Ken Duberstein, Dennis Thomas, Will Ball, Howard Baker, Vin Weber, or Bill Cohen.
  • Get Karen Hughes out of the State Department and back in the White House as Deputy Chief of Staff as soon as possible.
  • Hire someone with experience and gravitas to run the Congressional Laison office and put greater emphasis on managing relationships on the Hill. Cook suggests former Congressional leadership aide Dan Mattoon.
  • Finally, bring in some new blood on national security. Cook suggests John Lehman (fmr Navy Sec), Richard Armitage, Robert Zoellick, or possibly John Danforth.

Generally, I think the prospect of change among the senior White House staff is good and would provide a needed spark and energy and enthusiasm to help the administration get back on track. That said, there is value in continuity of leadership and a potential danger of too much change happening too quickly.

Election 2005 - NYC Mayor

New Quinnipiac poll (10/18-23) shows Bloomberg maintaining a huge lead (60-32) over Freddy Ferrer in the NYC Mayor's race. Bloomberg leads 77-18 among whites, 48-44 among blacks, and trails Ferrer by only 5 points among Hispanics (43-48). 

Get all the latest news, commentary and polls on this race on our RCP NYC Mayor's Race page.

Election 2006 & 2008 - Michigan

Strategic Vision is out with a new Michigan poll (10/21-10/23). Highlights:

  • 2006 Gov Race:  Despite having a job approval rating of only 44%, Governor Granholm currently holds an 11-point lead over Republican Dick DeVos.
  • 2006 Senate Race: Debbie Stabenow's approval rating is even more anemic than Granholm (only 42% approve) yet she bests both potential GOP challengers easily. 58% of Republicans polled say they're not satisfied with either of the Republican candidates (Keith Butler and Jerry Zandstra).
  • 2008 Republican Presidential Primary:  McCain 30, Giuliani 23, Gingrich 11, Romney 9
  • 2008 Democrat Presidential Primary: Clinton 37, Kerry 12, Gore, 12, Edwards 8

October 24, 2005

New Poll On Immigration

CBS News is out with a new poll on immigration (pdf). Some highlights:

  • 75% say we aren't doing enough to keep illegal immigrants from crossing into the U.S.
  • 51% say immigration should be decreased
  • 65% say volunteers like the Minutemen should not be allowed to patrol U.S. borders. 
  • 53% disapprove of the way President Bush is handling the immigration issue. Among Republicans, only 30% approve of Bush's handling of the issue while 44% disapprove.

 

Krauthammer Gets Results!

Talk about your fast track.  On Friday Charles Krauthammer suggested a document request/denial exit strategy for the Miers nomination.  Sunday Senator Brownback was on FOX  reiterating a call to see documents from Miers' time in the White House. This morning the Los Angeles Times ' Maura Reynolds wrote about the outlines of the document request/denial strategy taking shape, and this afternoon President Bush declared that he's not going to waive executive privilege on the Miers documents. "That would breach very important confidentiality," President Bush said, "and it's a red line I'm not willing to cross."

So it appears we're on the verge of an impasse. Maybe in his next column Krauthammer can suggest who the White House should nominate to replace Miers. 

Bernanke for Federal Reserve Chairman

Larry Kudlow calls the Bernanke nomination "a good choice" and is happy that Greenspan's reported preference of Donald Kohn to be his successor was rejected:

Thank heavens that Fed board member Donald Kohn, who is a demand-sider and a Phillips Curver, did not get the nod.

After the disastrous Miers nomination the President had little room for another screw up. Bernanke's a solid choice similar to the Roberts nomination and should be confirmed easily. More importantly he should also be a solid successor to Alan Greenspan.

New Polls in Virginia

Two new polls out in the Virginia Governor's race: 

Rasmussen (10/20): Kilgore (R) 48, Kaine (D) 46, Potts (I) 2

Mason-Dixon (10/18-10/20): Kilgore (R) 44, Kaine (D) 42, Potts (I) 5, Undecided 9

For more, see my previous round up on the race and our RCP Election 2005 Page.

Bush's Frustration Mounts

Thomas DeFrank of the New York Daily News writes an account of President Bush's mounting anger and frustration at the direction of his second term.  Two paragraphs in particular deserve more attention. Here's the first:

The vice president remains Bush's most trusted political confidant. Even so, the Daily News has learned Bush has told associates Cheney was overly involved in intelligence issues in the runup to the Iraq war that have been seized on by Bush critics.

I agree with something Josh Marshall said last week, which is when dealing with a White House as notoriously disciplined and tight-lipped as this one, the presumption has to be that the leaks we're reading about these days have some sort of purpose.  To see a direct criticism from Bush about his Vice-President in print suggests to me the administration is indeed preparing for one or more indictments in Cheney's office this week and the attendant implication (perhaps real, perhaps not) that Cheney was aware of or directly involved in the campaign to discredit Joe Wilson.

Quote number two from DeFrank's article is this:

A second senior Bush loyalist disagreed, saying Bush knows "some of these things are self-inflicted," like the Miers nomination, where Bush jettisoned contrary advice from his advisers and appointed his longtime personal lawyer.

 The quote is inconclusive as to the balance of opinion (i.e. did Bush overrule a majority of his advisers who counseled against Miers or just a few?), but DeFrank's language certainly implies there were a number of people inside the White House warning him against appointing Miers. 

UPDATE: John Fund has more background on the White House dynamics of the Miers nomination.

October 22, 2005

Miers Nomination Hangs In the Balance

This morning's Washington Times: "Insiders see hint of Miers pullout." Ralph Z. Hallow and Charles Hurt report the White House is quietly making phone calls gathering advice about an exit strategy. The White House denies making such calls. The last five paragraphs of the article are particularly interesting:

     Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove no longer appears to fill the role as chief political strategist in the White House, a role he has filled from the start of the first Bush term. Mr. Rove's clear leadership hand went missing some time ago, Republican insiders say, when speculation grew that he might face indictment in the CIA leak investigation led by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.
    The eruption of conservative disapproval over the choice of Miss Miers surprised the president and others in the White House but not Mr. Rove, the insiders say. They say he has shown, in most instances, a keen sensitivity to the complex concerns of various interests on the political right that, until the Miers nomination, had been pretty much in lock step with Mr. Bush, even when they privately disagreed with him.
    Republican insiders said the choice of Miss Miers, who has had no judicial experience, over a list of sitting judges with records of having written opinions on constitutional matters and who are conservative in their political views, probably was made by Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.
    Some White House aides privately acknowledge astonishment at the administration's response.
    "Who would have believed the wheels would be coming off this early in the second term, and with our own people firing at us?" a White House aide confided yesterday.

I have a great deal of respect for Karl Rove, but it doesn't take a particularly high political IQ to recognize that the Miers nomination was a train wreck waiting to happen. There may be "complex concerns of various interests on the political right" on some issues, but this wasn't one of them. If there wasn't a single other person inside the White House with access to the president who could see this, then the Bush administration is in much bigger trouble than anyone can imagine.

October 21, 2005

Election 2005 - New Jersey

Good news for Jon Corzine: in all likelihood the New Jersey Governor's mansion will cost him less than $30 million, which is a 50% discount off the $60 million he spent on the Garden State's Senate seat five years ago.

Three new polls from Monmouth/Gannett, The NY Times and Rasmussen have Corzine comfortably ahead at 7, 9 and 9 points respectively. These follow a 7-point Corzine lead recorded in the most recent Quinnipiac poll (10/11-10/17).  Both Rasmussen and Quinnipiac are trending slightly in favor of Corzine.

The four-way debate on Tuesday provided Forrester few opportunities to engage Corzine and plenty of space for the frontrunner to maneuver away. Efforts to tie Corzine to the corrupt machine of New Jersey politics in general - and to the corrupt former Governor Jim McGreevey and former Senator Bob Torricelli in particular - don't seem to be gaining enough traction for the Forrester campaign.

Now that I've basically written Forrester off, let's try and find a few slivers of hope, because if you look hard enough, they're there. Sliver One: Corzine currently stands at 47.5% in our RCP average and except for the latest Quinnipiac poll he hasn't touched 50% in any of the last 16 polls taken since the beginning of September.  Another sliver: Corzine's current state-wide Senatorial approval rating is under 50% as well. Sliver Three: though Corzine's lead in the latest Monmouth poll was basically unchanged from their last poll three weeks ago, he dropped 7 points among self- described independents.  Like I said, a few tiny slivers, but with 18 days left it's better than no slivers at all. 

 Don't forget, the RCP NJ Governor's Race Page is the ultimate resource for polls, news and commentary for the final days of this race.

Another Test For The UN

The Detlev Mehlis report issued last night implicates top Syrian officials in the assassination of Rafik Hariri. Predictably, Syria flatly denied the accusations today while President Bush and Secretary of State Condi Rice called for the UN to convene a speedy investigation into the matter. So we're staring at another important pass/fail test of the UN's credibility.  We all know the UN's dismal report card over the years, so I won't be holding my breath. But it would be a nice surprise to see a budding sign of reform and accountability from Turtle Bay.

Welcome To The RCP Blog

As you can see, things continue to change here at RealClearPolitics. Sort of. Yes, we're using new software and yes, we have a bit of a new look.  But the commentary is going to remain the same Except now there'll be lots more of it, because starting Monday we'll be updating The RCP Blog throughout the day. So welcome to The RCP Blog.  Bookmark us now and be sure to check in early and often. We hope you enjoy.

Second Term Blues

Bush has definitely got them at the moment.  But for the glass-half-full types out there I recommend this Linda Feldmann article from today's Christian Science Monitor which points out that recent history indicates second-term blues are the rule rather than the exception. Both Reagan and Clinton worked their way through rough patches in their respective second terms. 

One suggestion to cure Bush's current slump is to shake up the White House staff and bring in some new  blood.  Another is to buckle down and refocus on policy:

If Bush is looking for an "exit strategy" out of all the bad news, "it's policy, policy, policy," especially a push for smaller government, says Michael Franc, vice- president of the Heritage Foundation. If Bush reinvigorates his policy agenda, "that will make the last few weeks and next few weeks a hiccup," he adds.

The problem, however, is that in addition to dealing with the firestorm on the right over the Miers nomination and bracing for the unthinkable media frezy that will erupt should high-level adminsitration officials be indicted next week, Bush doesn't have a particularly powerful agenda to push.  Social security reform is dead.  Serious tax reform is also unlikely.  Immigration reform, a hot button issue for the conservative base, is nowhere to be seen on the President's radar.  The Republican base is upset over runaway federal spending and has lost trust in the President's (and Congress') claims of fiscal responsibility.

Put another way, unless the President totally revamps and reprioritizes his agenda, I'm not sure focusing  on 'policy, policy, policy' is going to generate the sort of traction Bush needs to turn things around because his political capital among the base has been slowly slipping away.  He could recoup some of that capital by withdrawing the Miers nomination (something I don't see happening) but the larger structural issues of Bush's agenda would still remain. Mr. Franc's suggestion that President Bush launch a push for smaller government is a good one. The question is whether after the last five years there are enough people left in the Republican party who would find such a policy credible coming from this President.

October 20, 2005

McCain: The Media's Anti-Bush

Jon Friedman reports that Senator McCain was the star attraction at the American Magazine Conference this week in Puerto Rico where he further cemented his status as a press favorite:

At the conference McCain worked hard to show the editors and publishers that he is a regular guy. He spent hours shooting craps in full view of dozens of fairly stunned (and impressed) conference attendees on Sunday night. They cheered him on -- and he in turn gave vocal encouragement to the other bettors at the table....

During a question-answer session on Monday with Newsweek Magazine's Evan Thomas, McCain felt so confident in front of the audience that he jokingly referred to the media as "my base."

Friedman concludes:

McCain is many things -- above all he appears to be the anti-George Bush. He bears little resemblance to a president who disdains press conferences and treats reporters like they were his enemies.

A candidate McCain? For the national media, that's a good thing.

McCain's love affair with the media is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing in the obvious sense that having the press on your side during a campaign can be worth, according to an estimate given by the aforementioned Evan Thomas during last year's race, a boost of perhaps double digits in the polls. But it's a curse in the sense that McCain has established a reputation for not only being a first-rate media hound but also for a seeming desire to want to please the press. Given that the Republican base generally views the mainstream media as liberal, elitist, and hostile to their values, that's not a good thing for McCain.

President Bush has the exact opposite problem. With the exception of a brief honeymoon period after 9/11, the press has been contemptuous of Bush since the day he stepped foot in Washington D.C. Such overt hostility has only endeared Bush to the base, but over time the White House's public image has definitely been worn down by the consistently negative coverage.

If for no other reason, a McCain presidency would be interesting because liberals are constantly grousing about a press corp they think has gone totally soft on Bush. Imagine the vein-popping outrage on the left that would ensue from the media's fawning coverage of President McCain.

October 19, 2005

Election 2005 - Virginia

The Virginia gubernatorial race is going right down to the wire. Every poll taken in the last month has the race within the margin of error, but at the moment the trend looks to be favoring the Democrat Tim Kaine. Our current RCP Avg of the three most recent polls has Kaine (D) at 44.0%, Kilgore (R) at 43.7%, and Potts (I) at 3.7%.

A couple of interesting notes: the latest Rasmussen poll (10/10-11) shows a two-point move toward Kilgore versus the previous sample (9/28), while the latest SurveyUSA poll (10/14-16) shows a 5-point swing in favor of Kaine versus their last poll (9/8-18). Further complicating matters is the most recent Diageo/Hotline poll which has Kaine ahead of Kilgore by 1 point (41-40) among likely voters but behind by 1 point (42-41) when the screen is tightened to "extremely" likely voters. Obviously, this one's going to be all about turnout.

On the money front, the latest fundraising numbers are out, and while Kilgore raised more than Kaine last month ($2.7 million vs. $2.2 million), the campaigns have a virtually identical amount of cash-on-hand for the final three weeks of the race ($5.3 million for Kilgore, $5.2 million for Kaine).

The Kilgore campaign put two news ads into rotation this week, one focusing on domestic violence and the other featuring Senator George Allen. These ads are running along with the death penalty ads that caused such controversy last week.

Finally, the Virginian Pilot runs a profile of Independent Russell Potts this morning. Yesterday Potts declared he would remain in the race "till the last dog dies." That's seemingly bad news for Kilgore because most consider Potts - despite the fact he favors higher taxes and said as governor he would strongly endorse retaining Roe v. Wade if it ever was thrown back to the states - to be a Perot-like figure who is more of a drag on Kilgore's campaign than on Kaine's. In a race this close, Potts' candidacy could make all the difference in the world.

Bookmark our VA Governor's Page to stay on top of the latest polls, news, and commentary in the home stretch of this race.

October 18, 2005

The West's Last Chance

Tony Blankley settled into the black leather chair across from me in his office and for a split second I felt as if we were on the set of The McLaughlin Group, the long-running political talk show on which he is a featured weekly guest. I suppressed the urge to blurt out "ISSUE ONE!" and instead asked Blankley how he'd come to the subject matter of his thought-provoking new book, The West's Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations?

Blankley explained that he's been keenly focused on the issue of terrorism since the morning of September 11, 2001 when he stood in a field outside his house watching smoke rise from the nearby Pentagon. In conversations with experts both inside and outside of government over the last four years, however, Blankley said he'd come to the conclusion the West remains in a state of "deep denial" over the nature of the threat we face. "The danger," he tells me, "is more than just bombs, it's also the cultural assertiveness of Islam."

Blankley argues that we must view terrorism and its practitioners like Osama bin Laden in the broader context of a cultural upheaval taking place across the Muslim world. One fifth of mankind, Blankley says, is "in turmoil, and insurgent as it has not been in the last five hundred years, if not fifteen hundred years." Blankley says we can't know whether the radical jidahist elements of Islam will eventually peter out or whether they will strengthen and deepen over time, though he suggests "the latter is far more likely."

Of particular concern to Blankley is the speed at which Islam is asserting itself throughout Europe; a process exacerbated over the last few decades by liberal immigration policies, falling birthrates across the Continent, a decline in the willingness of Muslims to assimilate, and an adherence to the diktat of tolerance among Western elites that has prevented any meaningful discussion of the issue.

As a result, Blankley argues the fate of Europe now hangs in the balance. "The threat of radical Islamists taking over Europe," he writes, "is every bit as great to the United States as was the threat of the Nazis taking over Europe in the 1940's."

Blankley's book went to press just days before the July 7 suicide bombings rocked London. The aftermath of that shocking event saw Europe engage in a vigorous debate over the central question Blankley poses in The West's Last Chance:

"So what does the West do with a growing population of Islamists who have no desire to integrate into Western civilization - especially when some of these Muslims are true jihadists, when many Muslims would protect jihadists, and when many Muslims say they want to take over Europe by expanding Muslim population and culture?

Blankley's answer to the question is by no means easy or comfortable:

It is increasingly likely that such a threat cannot be defeated while the West continues to adhere to its deeply held values - as it currently understands them - of tolerance, the right to privacy, the right even to advocate sedition, and the right to equal protection under the law. The day is upon us when the West will have to decide which it values more: granting these rights and tolerance to those who wish to destroy us, or the survival of Western civilization. And this is another reason the West has been slow to react - because reacting violates its own values."

Blankley told me he thought Britain had responded "reasonably well" to the 7/7 bombings and he remains cautiously optimistic that Europe will assert itself and avoid becoming "a launching pad for Islamist jihad."

But in another example that underscores Blankley's thesis about the danger and difficulty facing Europe, The New York Times reported last week on the case of the Asparagus 18 in Belgium, where a routine traffic stop by police in March 2004 eventually unearthed a network of terrorist sympathizers:

None of the 18 men indicted - most of them born in Morocco or of Moroccan descent and from 24 to 42 years old - have been charged with committing or even plotting a specific terrorist act in Belgium.

Instead, the trial will highlight how over the past decade Belgium has become a support center for terrorists in Europe, offering safe haven, false documents and financing. Prosecutors hope to prove that the suspects provided material support to a terrorist group, including lodging and false papers for the bombers who killed 190 in Madrid last year.

In Part II later this week I'll discuss the strategies Blankley offers for dealing with the threat of radical Islam.

October 14, 2005

The Myth of Incompetence

Last weekend I was on a radio show debating a Democratic strategist and when the subject turned to Iraq he immediately charged the Bush administration with utter incompetence in managing the war. I've never quite understood why some on the left (and the right) are so eager to make this argument, because it strikes me as neither true nor terribly convincing.

Here's the problem: It's easy to sit back and see in hindsight where things could have been done differently which may - and I stress the word "may" - have led to a different result. But even those things which war critics cite most often as examples of mismanagement do not, in and of themselves, represent evidence of "incompetence". For example, it is by no means certain we would be in any better position in Iraq today if we had devoted an additional three weeks to pre-war planning, or if we had decided to try and de-Bathify the Iraqi military instead of disbanding it.

Even the charge of not having enough troops in Iraq (to my mind the most legitimate criticism of the war, coming mostly from the right) is debatable. Such a policy might possibly have fueled a greater sense of occupation, strengthened the insurgency and also resulted in more U.S. casualties. There is no way of knowing what could have been based on decisions that weren't made.

Set aside, for the moment, the favorable historical context of the achievements in Iraq thus far: Toppled Saddam's government in less than two weeks. Avoided doomsday scenarios of environmental and humanitarian disasters. Established provisional government. Held the most open, free and fair elections in decades. Established interim government. Reached deal on Constitution. Tomorrow a referendum on the charter and two months later, full elections. All of this accomplished in just over two and a half years with less than 2,000 U.S. combat deaths. The war in Iraq is not without problems, but despite the relentlessly negative press coverage pumped out to the public every day, from a historical perspective we've made astonishing progress.

Again, setting all that aside, ask Democrats who charge the Bush administration with incompetence what they'd do differently in Iraq under the same circumstances and you get silence and a blank stare. Can they identify a single thing we should be doing in Iraq that we aren't? Is there something we should try that we haven't?

John Kerry is a perfect example. Last year, after spending months formulating an Iraq policy for his general election campaign, Kerry and his advisors finally emerged with a five-point plan that didn't contain a single substantive difference from the Bush administration's policy. The best Kerry could do was to offer that he'd "do a better job persuading the international community to share the burden in Iraq." That's more platitude than policy, and it was obviously far from convincing.

The other problem with the myth of incompetence is that it falls flat when put to the people responsible for running the war. Don Rumsfeld is no Michael Brown. Few people in America are as intelligent, qualified, and have as much of a track record of managerial efficiency and competence as Rumsfeld. The same can be said of Dick Cheney. Yet after decades of bi-partisan praise for their service and skill - particularly at DoD - Democrats want the country to believe these two men have suddenly morphed into complete boobs.

If Democrats want to say the war in Iraq was a mistake because it simply wasn't winnable in the first place, that's one thing. History may eventually bear out the merit of such an argument. The problem, however, is that Democrats who voted to authorize the invasion forfeited the right to make that argument, because no one in their right mind would vote in favor of doing something they believed was impossible.

Unable to articulate a policy difference and trapped between the pull of a fervent antiwar base and a mainstream public that remains solidly against cutting and running, Democrats abandoned debating the merits of Iraq long ago. Instead they've been focused on building the myth of Bush administration's incompetence in Iraq by touting whatever chaos and carnage is reported in the press and downplaying consequential events like tomorrow's vote. This strategy got an inadvertent boost by the domestic tragedy inflicted by Katrina last month (score another assist for the mainstream media), and the myth of incompetence will almost certainly be a major part of their effort to make electoral gains in 2006.

October 13, 2005

Frist Subpoenaed

Bill Frist's presidential stock takes another hit:

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has been subpoenaed to turn over personal records in an investigation into possible insider trading, two leading U.S. newspapers reported Thursday.

Sid's Envy

The stench coming from The Guardian this morning is Sidney Blumenthal, the former journalist now most well known for being the hack Bill Clinton hired to destroy Monica Lewinsky using his savvy and relationships with members of the press corps, complaining about what is, in his view, an unconscionable restraint on the part of the press in the CIA leak case:

Unlike in Watergate, which was largely advanced by the press, this scandal has unfolded despite much of the press corps' efforts to avoid, demean or restrain the story. Also, unlike in Watergate, major influences in the press have been aligned with their sources in the administration, not with the professionals in the government acting as whistleblowers. Bob Woodward, who has written two books describing events from the perspective of the Bush administration, supported the White House version of the Niger incident by charging in July 2004: "There were reasonable grounds to discredit Wilson."

Ironic that Blumenthal, the type of person who would use the press to discredit his own mother if it would help advance his career, has chosen this as the subject of his complaint.

October 11, 2005

Rather's Bravado

Here's an interesting item from New York Magazine on the updated paperback version of David Blum's book about CBS News' 60 Minutes:

Among Blum's new revelations: The night before last fall's controversial National Guard piece aired, Rather called 60 Minutes Wednesday executive producer Josh Howard from the anchor desk to find out why he wasn't running promos for the story. When Howard told him he couldn't promote it - CBS News president Andrew Heyward hadn't seen it yet, nor had the lawyers, and they hadn't even contacted the White House for comment - Rather threatened to take the story to the Times that night. (Rather later backed down.) The anchor was feeling a good deal less of a cowboy after the story blew up in his face. According to the book, on the night before his on-air apology, Rather confessed to Howard that he'd had doubts about the veracity of the memos all along. "I knew when I did the [document consultant Marcel] Matley interview that something wasn't right with all this," Rather confessed to Howard, belying his stalwart public position.

So Rather had doubts about the authenticity of the TANG memos from the beginning. And yet he still pestered his executive producer to give the story more promotion and threatened to take the story somewhere else. The only way this makes sense is if you're a masochist, a journalist who puts partisanship above professional integrity, or an uncontrollable egomaniac. Or perhaps all three.

That Creep Columbus

Only a paper in Madison, Wisconsin would print this op-ed on Columbus without labeling it a parody. The author asserts that "the world has suffered ever since" Columbus' ships touched ground 513 years ago. Furthermore, we are told, honoring him with a holiday and parades is a moral abomination:

Every member of every group in these parades furthers the belief that slavery was OK. Every politician who speaks at the ceremonies honors the belief that stealing resources, including land and people, from natives in the Americas and Africa was OK. The executions that Columbus started in these Americas have to end, and we must stop singing his praises. What are you celebrating?

Can we cancel the 2005 Columbus Day celebration? It should be a day of mourning and reconciliation.

Can we admit that he was a liar, thief, rapist and creep? When we honor him, we say his actions were OK.

Another America-hater avails himself of the right to free speech from the idyllic confines of Verona. At least Randall Robinson, noted black activist and best-selling author who says he was "worn down by an American society that is racist," had the courage to move out.

Ronnie Earle's Law

In the Houston Chronicle today, Janet Elliott looks at the law Ronnie Earle used to get his original indictment against Tom DeLay.

Believe it or not, the law was written with the intent of trying to curb vote fraud at nursing homes. It was passed on September 1, 2003, the year after the alleged money laundering scheme that Earle says DeLay participated in. In other words, there was no law on the books prior to September 1, 2003 that would have allowed Earle to prosecute DeLay for criminal conspiracy.

Think about the details and timeline of this case for a minute: after years of effort and five failed attempts, Ronnie Earle finally got a conspiracy indictment returned on the final day (September 28) of the term of his sixth grand jury. Two days later (September 30), after discovering problems with the original indictment, Earle rushed to present charges before another grand jury. That grand jury issued a "no-bill," effectively rejected Earle's charges against DeLay. Finally, on October 3, after impaneling yet another grand jury, Earle got an indictment returned against DeLay and two associates on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to launder money.

You don't have to be a huge fan of Tom DeLay (and I'm not) to see this as a frantic, reckless, and astonishingly brazen example of prosecutorial abuse that has gone virtually uncommented on by the mainstream media. We've gotten plenty of reports parroting the charges contained in the indictments, but it's almost impossible to find any fact-based reporting or criticism on the dubious ethics and questionable tactics Earle has applied in his fervid pursuit of Tom DeLay.

October 10, 2005

Either Way, It's A Crap Shoot

John Fund inadvertently makes the case in favor of Harriet Miers this morning by pointing out that conservatives have been burned on SCOTUS appointments by every Republican president since Eisenhower.

Presumably, all these nominations were made with the best of intentions; namely to seat qualified conservative-leaning justices on the court with the intention of either maintaining its balance or shifting it to the right. Yet conservatives got Blackmun from Nixon, Kennedy & O'Connor from Reagan, and Souter from Bush 41.

The point, of course, is that the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice is inherently a crap shoot. Miers may not be a movement conservative, but she could easily end up being another reliably conservative vote on the Court similar to Rehnquist or White. And John Roberts, the nominee conservatives just bent over backward to defend based on little more than intellectual pedigree and indefatigable charm, could just as easily turn out to be another Anthony Kennedy. Or it could be the reverse. There are no guarantees.

Does that mean the court needs a crony? No. But don't be misled by breathless recitations of Federalist No. 76. Only a fool would claim that Miers has "no other merit" to her nomination besides being a friend of Bush. Miers has a record of accomplishment and it's now up to her to demonstrate and defend her record and her views in front of the Judiciary Committee and the country. That's exactly how it should be.

The reason the Miers nomination was a bad one, in my opinion, is because it needlessly split the Republican base in two. Bush made the entire process (and by default the prospect of enacting the rest of his agenda) much more difficult than it had to be, and his presidency may suffer as a result.

In the end it may work out that Bush did conservatives a favor by eschewing another traditional pick like Roberts in favor of someone with practical experience and someone with whose character he had personal knowledge. But that, as they say, is something we won't know until we know.

In the meantime, the Republican base is in turmoil and Democrats can stand back and watch with glee, gather their breath and come up with a strategy to deal with Miers when she enters the Judiciary Committee hearings.

October 07, 2005

Corporal Cueball's Miscue

James Carville came to town last night. Speaking at Northwestern University's Cahn auditorium - just down the street from the RCP world headquarters - Carville told the sold-out crowd that Democrats need to a better job of laying out a strong, compelling political narrative and to stay away from the “kumbaya crap.” That part I agree with.

According to the write up in the Daily Northwestern, Carville continued:

In addition to breaking away from a laundry list of special interests, Carville said, Democrats need to learn that a candidate who can’t campaign can’t succeed.

“If you’re not competent in campaigns, you don’t have a chance to be competent in government,” he said.

Using Al Gore as an example, Carville said being a smart candidate is not enough.

“It’s actually possible to be wise, right and strong,” he said.

As it turns out, we had an observer in the audience last night who tells us Carville's gushing over Al Gore's intellect reached comedic heights. Our source quotes Carville as saying, "Al Gore has been more right about more things than any other person I've known."

This, of course, is the same Al Gore who recently punctuated a rambling, fatuous, and contradictory speech by telling the audience that he believes "American democracy is in grave danger." And he wasn't talking about terrorism.

Which leads us to the other certifiably insane thing Carville asserted to the many malleable minds in attendance at NU last night. According to our observer Carville told the group, "9/11 wouldn't have happened if Al Gore had been president, I can tell you that right now."

With the Democrats' leading strategist traveling around the country spewing nonsense like this in public, maybe the party is better off sticking with "the kumbaya crap."

October 05, 2005

The Ultimate Trojan Horse?

She's polite. Shy. Smart. Modest. Hard-working. Goes to church. Helps the poor. She immediately won the praise of the leader of the Democrats in the Senate. And yet she may end up making Justices Scalia and Thomas look like a couple of card carrying lefties.

I'm exaggerating for effect, of course, but the point is that despite the dramatic tearing of flesh that has gone on in some conservative quarters over the last 48 hours, the indications are that Bush has chosen someone who is extremely culturally conservative. Based on what little we know at this point, he's also chosen someone who favors the Patriot Act, wider presidential authority and an aggressive national security posture.

I understand the disappointment on the right. Conservatives wanted a first-rate legal and ideological gladiator to go do battle with liberals in the Senate. Instead, Bush gave them the Church Lady.

But gladiators don't receive - nor should they expect to be given - any mercy from their opponents. A humble, accomplished, God-fearing woman is a different proposition. Those who know this process understand that the first few hours and days are absolutely critical in shaping the image of the nominee for the public. Thus far, aside from the griping of conservatives, Miers' public image is developing rather favorably and isn't being radically influenced by attacks from left-wing interest groups the way other nominations would have been.

George Will argues this morning that these types of political considerations are unimportant. Qualifications are all that matter and, according to Will, Miers isn't remotely qualified:

The wisdom of presumptive opposition to Miers's confirmation flows from the fact that constitutional reasoning is a talent -- a skill acquired, as intellectual skills are, by years of practice sustained by intense interest. It is not usually acquired in the normal course of even a fine lawyer's career.

I find this line of reasoning deeply elitist and unpersuasive. Will is setting a standard (years of practice of constitutional reasoning sustained by intense interest) that would exclude a vast number of people who would make perfectly fine justices (including Senators like Orrin Hatch) as well as a number of those who've served ably on the court (including William Rehnquist who spent 16 years in private practice in Arizona and then only 3 years in the Nixon administration before being nominated to the Court).

I also find Will's complete and total deference to constitutional scholarship unsettling. Yes, we want talented, high-caliber appointments to the Court which represents, we should remind ourselves, a co-equal branch of government. It's not at all convincing to say, if you follow Will's logic, that a court made up of nine of the country's most eminent, ivy-league pedigreed constitutional scholars is going to be any better for America than a Court composed of justices who have demonstrable talent of varying legal backgrounds and perspectives. And it is undeniable that Harriet Miers is an accomplished lawyer.

So where does all this leave us? I suspect most Republicans and conservatives will become more comfortable with Miers as we move forward and most Democrats, including Harry Reid, are going to find themselves with an increasing urge to sink her nomination.

One way of doing that is to attack her religious convictions and to imply they make her unfit to serve. This is a very perilous strategy. The other way for the Democrats to derail Miers is to argue that she is unqualified due to a lack of experience and/or intellectual-horsepower. Still a tough case for the Democrats, in my opinion, though certainly a lot easier to make when conservatives are already out there doing it for them.