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November 30, 2005

Is Bush's Best Good Enough?

In many ways today's speech was Bush at his best.  He was tough, resolute, and confident - all things which the American people tend to like in their Presidents - but he also effectively emphasized that the policy on the ground in Iraq is "dynamic," "flexible," and constantly evolving and adapting tactics and techniques. He cited specific, tangible examples of progress in training Iraqi forces but did so without rattling off a bunch of eye-glazing statistics. He became emotional when talking about the troops (as he always does), but in the context of today's speech his deeply held belief that finishing the job in Iraq is the only way to honor the sacrifices of our fallen soldiers is something I think resonates with a great number of people.

Will this speech revive Bush's political fortunes on Iraq? Not by itself, no.  Today, supporters of the war heard "we're making progress" and opponents of the war heard "more of the same." Maybe Bush changed a few minds in the middle, but probably not many (how many people are watching cable TV at 9am?). I do think, however, over the next 90 days or so Bush has a chance - perhaps the final one of his presidency - to swing public opinion back in his favor on Iraq with the elections on December 15 and a concerted effort by the President to educate and inform the public on the continuing progress. The trial of Saddam could also provide a boost, as would the capture or killing of Zarqawi, bin Laden, or both.

The President would be in a much better position today if he had given a speech like this or held a press conference on Iraq every 10 days for the last six months. But the White House has done a poor job of defending the most important policy of this presidency, and it's only gotten worse in the last three months since being buffeted by a string of bad news including Hurricane Katrina, Harriet Miers, and the Libby indictment, all of which have indirectly hurt support for Iraq by driving down Bush's overall job rating. At the same time, Democrats have stepped up their attacks across the board and have effectively been handing the administration its hat for weeks with little to no resistance.

In that sense today's speech was important. Bush reestablished an aggressive strategic political position on Iraq not only articulating the current policy and promoting progress, but by saying in plain terms that artificial timetables for withdrawal are out of the question while he is president.  Timetables for troop withdrawals will be private, not public. They will be set by military commanders, not politicians. And they will be based on one criterion: achieving victory. Of course, Bush has now established he is the one who determines what victory is, not Congress.

All in all it was one of Bush's best efforts. The question is whether Bush's best will be good enough to win back the upper hand on the Iraq debate.

Waiting On Bush

In about 20 minutes President Bush is going to give a big address on Iraq at the U.S. Naval Academy. Here's a copy of the 38-page document sent out by the White House earlier this morning titled "National Strategy For Victory in Iraq."

I glanced at the Executive Summary (pages 4-5) and frankly I don't see anything that we don't already know or haven't already heard.  The first page of the document itself says it "articulates the broad strategy the President set forth in 2003 and provides an update on our progress as well as the challenges remaining."

That doesn't mean this isn't an important address or that it won't be helpful to Bush in trying to turn around public opinion on the war.  I'll be back after the speech with more thoughts.

November 29, 2005

2006 Governors Races

SurveyUSA is out with approval rankings for all 50 Governors.  Four out of five with the highest numbers are Republicans (Rell, Hoeven, Rounds, and Huntsmann) as are five out of six with the lowest (Taft, Murkowski, Fletcher, Schwarzennegger, and Blunt). John Lynch is the highest ranked Democrat (#5) and Kathleen Blanco the lowest (#47). 

Taking a quick look at 2006, of the 18 governors currently with approval ratings under 50%, 10 are facing reelection and three are leaving open seats. Here is the breakdown by party:

Republicans  - 4
MD: Ehrlich (48% approval rating)
TX: Perry (47%)
CA: Schwarzennegger (35%)
AK: Murkowski (26%)

Democrats - 6
PA: Rendell (46% approval rating)
WI: Doyle (45%)
OR: Kulongoski (44%)
MI: Granholm (40%)
ME: Baldacci (40%)
IL: Blagojevich (38%)

Open - 3
CO: Republican seat, Owens (48% approval rating)
NY: Republican seat, Pataki (45%)
OH: Republican seat, Taft (18%)

Overall, we're looking at 36 governors races next year with Republicans defending 22 seats and Democrats 14.  In addition to the three open seats mentioned above there are five others:  Arkansas (Huckabee-R), Florida (Bush-R), Iowa (Vilsack-D), Nebraska (Heineman-R), and Nevada (Guinn-R).

Carter's Son Will Run For Senate

We've just gotten word that Jack Carter, eldest son of former President Jimmy Carter, will challenge Nevada Republican John Ensign for Senate in 2006.  It's been rumored to be in the works for a while, and the LV Review Journal ran a story last week quoting former President Carter saying he thought his son would make a decision in January. No news stories out on it yet, but the message up on Carter's web site seems to confirm he's officially in the race.

One Question For Charlie Cook

Taegan Goddard poses one question to Charlie Cook: "Are retirements a reliable leading indicator on forecasting a change in control of the House of Representatives?" Click here to read Cook's answer.

Also, if you missed Cook's recent column summarizing the data from his new Cook/RT Strategies poll, you can read it here: Fatal Flaws For 2008 Frontrunners?

Quote of the Day

Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus on the effort in Iraq:

It's like trying to build the world's largest airplane, while in flight, and while it's being shot at. 

There's more interesting stuff in Petraeus' interview with The Tampa Tribune. By the way, The Trib is running a series of interviews with military personnel who've recently been on the front lines of Iraq. You can find the rest of the interviews here.

The Vet Strategy

Read Dick Simpson's rebuttal to Rahm Emanuel's "Vet Strategy" in Illinois' Sixth District.

Jackson's Tired Act

Every now and then Jesse Jackson has to try and convince people he's still needed. But since it's increasingly clear he's not, fearmongering is the only arrow left in the quiver:

Fifty years later [after Rosa Parks' bus trip], the forces of reaction are gathering strength, even as we see how far we have yet to go. It is time for this nation to move forward once more or face a reckoning that none of us wants.

For twenty-odd years Jackson has been criss-crossing the country exploiting every possible opportunity to mug for tv cameras with sinister warnings about the "forces of reaction."

Thankfully, Jackson's "It's Selma 1965 Again in America" act is so tired and out of touch today that he comes off like a star who once played to big crowds on Broadway but now does dinner theatre in Sarasota.

November 28, 2005

Duke vs. Duke

Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham on June 12, 2005:

"My whole life I've lived aboveboard. I've never even smoked a marijuana cigarette. I don't cheat. If a contractor buys me lunch and we meet a second time, I buy the lunch. My whole life has been aboveboard and so this doesn't worry me...The last thing I would do is get involved in something that, you know, is wrong. And I feel very confident that I haven't done anything wrong."

Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham's "personal statement" to the public on June 23, 2005:

"First and foremost, I want my constituents to know that I have acted honorably and honestly....I welcome any and all appropriate investigations. I have faith that any investigation of these allegations will confirm that I have acted honestly....Recent press reports have incorrectly suggested that I secured a government contract for Mr. Wade’s company or that I improperly influenced the awarding of contracts to MZM. These reports are simply false...In short, I categorically reject any suggestion that I secured a contract for Mr. Wade’s company or that I supported funding of this important human intelligence program because MZM purchased my home in Del Mar Heights. I am deeply saddened by this distraction from my regular duties....I ask only that my constituents reserve judgment until any investigation is concluded and I have had the opportunity to defend myself against these false allegations."

Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham in court today

A somber-looking Cunningham stood with his hands clasped in front of him, answering the judge's questions with a muted "Yes, your honor," or, at times, "Yes, sir."

"Between the year 2000 and June of 2005 in our district, you conspired to accept bribes in exchange for performance of official duties. Did you do that?" Judge Burns asked Cunningham.

"Yes, your honor," Cunningham replied.

"Did you take both cash payments and payments in kind?"

"Yes, your honor," the congressman said.

"Did you follow up by trying to influence the Defense Department?"

"Yes, your honor."

I've always thought it's best not to judge a man by his worst moment, and this is certainly it for Randy Cunningham. At some point over his fifteen year career in the House, however, Cunningham lost his way badly and instead of being remembered as a war hero he'll join the pantheon of crooked Congressmen who violated the public trust. What a shame.

Daschle's Dirty Revisionism

Ron Brownstein serves as a witting accomplice to Tom Daschle's underhanded attempt to rewrite the history of the Iraq war debate:

Tom Daschle, the former Democratic senator from South Dakota, remembers the exchange vividly.

The time was September 2002. The place was the White House, at a meeting in which President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney pressed congressional leaders for a quick vote on a resolution authorizing military action against Iraq.

But Daschle, who as Senate majority leader controlled the chamber's schedule, recalled recently that he asked Bush to delay the vote until after the impending midterm election.

"I asked directly if we could delay this so we could depoliticize it. I said: 'Mr. President, I know this is urgent, but why the rush? Why do we have to do this now?' He looked at Cheney and he looked at me, and there was a half-smile on his face. And he said: 'We just have to do this now.' "

Daschle's account, which White House officials said they could not confirm or deny, highlights a crucial factor that has drawn little attention amid rising controversy over the congressional vote that authorized the war in Iraq. The recent partisan dispute has focused almost entirely on the intelligence information legislators had as they cast their votes. But the debate may have been shaped as much by when Congress voted as by what it knew.

Brownstein is smart enough to know that Daschle sold him a bill of goods with this story, but he couldn't resist: the anecdote was just too juicy, too suggestive, and too perfect to support Brownstein's predetermined angle that the Bush administration politicized the Iraq vote by ramming it through Congress before the election.

The record shows that by the time Daschle met with Bush and Cheney on September 18, 2002 he had already concluded - after a heated, public debate among members of his party  - that the best way to handle the Iraq vote was to move it through Congress quickly and get back to "kitchen table" election issues. In fact, a quick check of Google shows that the night before Daschle's September 18 meeting CNN ran the following story:

Congress will vote on a resolution about war with Iraq "well before the election, " despite the nation's last-minute pledge to allow the return of United Nations weapons inspectors, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle predicted Tuesday.

"I think there will be a vote well before the election, and I think it's important that we work together to achieve it," said Daschle, who had been pressed by some Democrats to hold off action on the resolution until after November's mid-term election.

Daschle could have easily postponed a vote authorizing the use of force in Iraq until after the election if he had wanted to - though to do so would have been political suicide.  Remember, this was the week after the first anniversary of September 11 and just days after Bush laid out a powerful case against Saddam Hussein before the United Nations.  Daschle was under tremendous political pressure - not directly from Bush but from members of his own party - to deal with Iraq before the midterm and he made the right political decision by holding the vote in early October. Now that the political climate has changed, it's shameful that Daschle is trying to rehabilitate himself politically by peddling a revisionist story using Ron Brownstein as an uncritical media mouthpiece.

November 23, 2005

Quote of the Day

"Miers was a disappointment, not a betrayal.... There are no waves left. It dropped in the water and the water is still. The movement is happy." - Grover Norquist

Ruben Cantu & The Culture of Life

A Houston Chronicle investigative report lays out the case that Ruben Cantu was wrongly put to death in Texas on Aug. 24, 1993 (via Talkleft). Read the article and you'll see that Cantu was hardly a sympathetic figure; a gang-banging teenager who did drugs, stole cars and shot an off-duty police officer in an altercation in a bar in 1985. But the evidence compiled by the Chronicle strongly suggests Cantu was executed for a crime he did not commit.

Back in March at the height of the Terri Schiavo case I wrote a column for The Chicago Sun-Times arguing that those who believed we should always "err on the side of life" were morally obligated to reconsider support of the death penalty. For those who are interested, I've reprinted the full column below the jump:

Erring 'On Side Of Life' Opens Whole New Can Of Worms
By Tom Bevan
Chicago Sun-Times, April 1, 2005

Those who favored Congress' intervention in the Terri Schiavo case used a two-tiered argument to justify their support. The first tier was strictly legal: a variety of factors, including concerns over Michael Schiavo's fitness as a guardian as well as questions about whether Ms. Schiavo was properly diagnosed as being in a “persistent vegetative state,” gave Congress the right to mandate that all the evidence in the case be given a fresh look (known as de novo) at the federal level. The second tier of the argument - which represented the broader issue propelling the first - was strictly moral: our society should place an exceptionally high value on innocent human life and should take steps to prevent a severely handicapped woman from being starved to death, especially when questions lingered as to what her own wishes might have been.

If one is convinced of the moral strength of the argument for saving Terri Schiavo (which millions upon millions of Americans are), and if one further adheres to the proposition every innocent life is worth protecting and that we as a society must not countenance a system that results in the death of a single innocent soul, are we not then obligated to reconsider support of the death penalty under all circumstances except those in which confessions have been given voluntarily?

The fact is, while it cannot be said for certain that we have yet executed an innocent person in the United States, it also cannot be said with certainty that we have not. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since 1973 one hundred and nineteen people sentenced to death row have been exonerated prior to execution.  That statistic should force any rational person to consider the very real possibility that out of the 956 persons executed in the since 1976 we have taken the life of at least one innocent person.

Whether one supports the death penalty under the moral justification that it deters crime or that our society must exact retribution against those who commit truly heinous acts, after the outcry over Terri Schiavo it seems extremely difficult to reconcile that support with the new standard established by Congress and the President to intervene in cases where any doubt exists to ensure that we always "err on the side of life.”

Questions about the death penalty, however, merely segue to an even larger issue. During the last two weeks many have argued that the moral questions raised by the Schiavo case outweigh the legal considerations and that any means of preventing her death (including sending in the National Guard) would be morally justifiable.

If this is true, then aren't we obligated to ask the following: if one believes abortion is the taking of innocent life and that we have a moral duty to prevent infanticide, shouldn't Congress immediately pass a law outlawing abortion at the federal level regardless of its Constitutionality? Wouldn't the saving of even a single life (or preventing a single death by abortion, if you prefer) justify such an action?

And if we accept the idea that deeply held moral beliefs can compel extralegal or even unconstitutional action, doesn't that argue in favor of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision last year to begin issuing marriage licenses to gays and lesbians in violation of California law? After all, Newsom acted on the belief, deeply held by many on the left, that denying gays the right to marry is morally indefensible and akin to the legal racial discrimination of blacks in the 1950's.

At its core, the dilemma is this: at what point are we forced to live within the law even if we disagree morally with some of the outcomes resulting from its application?

The questions raised by the tragic case of Terri Schiavo are not easy ones at all. But they are important, and the country would benefit from an effort to consider them as honestly and thoughtfully as possible.

"Be The Bridge, Danny"

On Monday Tom Friedman took home the £30,000 first prize in the inaugural Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year for The World Is Flat. Lucky for him the judges voted before they got a chance to read his NY Times column today (Times Select) which attempts to set a new standard for liberal pablum:

Truly, I hope Mr. Bush rises to the challenge. We do not have three years to waste. To do that, though, Mr. Bush would need to become a very different third-term president, with a much more centrist agenda and style. If he does, he still has time to be a bridge to the future. If he doesn't, the resources he will have squandered and the size of the problems he will have ignored will put him in the running for one of our worst presidents ever.

Generally I'm a fan of Friedman's work but this reads like a bad parody of Ty Webb talking to Danny Noonan in Caddyshack. "Just be the bridge to the future, Danny. Be the bridge...."

News of Cheney's Political Death Greatly Exaggerated

It's interesting how the D.C. parlor game works. Two weeks ago Tom DeFrank wrote a column in The NY Daily News under the headline "Dubya-Cheney Ties Frayed By Scandal" wherein DeFrank quoted an unnamed White House source saying "there has been some distance for some time" between Cheney and President Bush. The column set off a spasm of hyperventilation inside the beltway - led by the excitable, Cheney-obsessed Chris Matthews - asserting various reasons for the Vice-President's demise and writing his political obituary.

Since then, Cheney has come out swinging against charges the administration manipulated pre-war intelligence, first on November 16 and again on November 21. Yesterday Michael A. Fletcher and Jim VandeHei reported White House aides view Cheney as a "major asset in the war debate." Though fallout from the Libby indictment has saddled Cheney with low approval numbers, the Daily Telegraph carrries another sign that contrary to the description provided by Tom DeFrank's anonymous source, Cheney's stature within the administration remains undiminished:

Juleanna Glover Weiss, an influential Republican lobbyist and a former senior Cheney aide, said: "I have a lot of friends in the White House and no one has hinted at or winked at the idea that the vice-president has been reduced in power or status."

I guess this means we're back to the pre-Tom DeFrank-Hardball hysteria status quo. Until we get a juicy quote from another unnamed source to start the process all over again, that is.

Scalia v. Franken

Guess who won this battle of wits? Scalia spoke at a recent event hosted by Time's Norman Pearlstine. Page Six has the goods:

When Pearlstine opened the floor for Q&A, Franken stood up in the back row and started talking about "judicial demeanor" and asking "hypothetically" about whether a judge should recuse himself if he had gone duck-hunting or flown in a private jet with a party in a case before his court.

Franken was clumsily referring to the fact that Scalia had gone hunting and flying with Dick Cheney before the 2000 election.

First, Scalia lectured Franken, "Demeanor is the wrong word. You mean ethics." Then he explained, "Ethics is governed by tradition. It has never been the case where you recuse because of friendship."

Time Warner chairman Dick Parsons later told PAGE SIX: "Al was not quite ready for prime time."

 Lloyd Grove has another report on Scalia's appearance in The NY Daily News.

Bush Approval at 39.8%

Newly-updated RCP Bush job approval index shows the President edging back toward 40%. 

By the way, we've added the new Cook Political/RT Strategies poll to the mix. It's a collaborative effort by Charlie Cook of National Journal and two veteran pollsters who've opened their own shop: Thomas Riehle, formerly of AP-Ipsos and Lance Tarrance, formerly of Gallup and founder of The Tarrance Group. View the full questionnaire (in pdf format) here. Read Charlie Cook's write up of the results here.

November 22, 2005

al-Qaeda & The U.S.-Mexico Border - Part II

Earlier today I left you with a two-part question: Is the U.S.-Mexico border a threat to national security and is al-Qaeda exploiting it to gain entry to America?

Let's take the last part first. One of the myths debunked in Richard Miniter's new book Disinformation: 22 Media Myths That Undermine The War on Terror is "the U.S. border with Mexico is the most likely place for al-Qaeda terrorists to sneak into the homeland." After thoroughly researching the issue Miniter concluded, "At this time, the balance of evidence shows that no known al-Qaeda terrorist has entered the United States from Mexico."

As Miniter points out, this doesn't mean that al-Qaeda can't or won't try to exploit vulnerabilities on our southern border at some point in the future, only that as things currently stand "the threat from Mexico is purely speculation."

Miniter then goes on to explain in great detail why the evidence proves the Canadian border is a much more real and significant threat for al-Qaeda to penetrate the United States. "If history is any guide," Miniter writes, "al-Qaeda will come from the north."

So, yes, the U.S.-Mexico border is a potential threat to national security and needs to be taken seriously, but we need to separate speculation from fact in assessing just how much of a threat the southern border is relative to other threats we face.

Which leads me back to the claims of al-Qaeda related activity on the border that have popped up recently. One claim was retracted and two others are based on speculative information that either hasn't been or can't be confirmed by official sources.  Coincidentally, all three claims have been made by Republicans pushing tougher immigration measures in Congress.

Miniter demonstrated how these types of claims, once made, have a way of becoming part of a myth.  Until we get more solid evidence , I suggest viewing reports of al-Qaeda activity on the U.S.-Mexico border with a good dose of caution and skepticism.

Bleak And Desperate For Santorum

Not to beat a dead horse, but Franklin & Marshall College (the folks who do the Keystone poll) has released some more internals on the PA Senate race and, well, things look bleak for Santorum. In addition to losing most demographic and geographic groupings, Santorum is getting only 62% support from Republicans (compared to 74% Dems for Casey) and he's losing Independents to Casey by 31 points (52-21).

Bret Lieberman of the Patriot News writes that despite the power of incumbency, the brutal numbers have Santorum and his team running like a frustrated challenger:

Advisers to Santorum concede they are growing increasingly frustrated by his weak support and the tactics of state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr., his likely Democratic opponent.

Some analysts and party officials say Santorum's campaign tactics, such as calling for 10 debates a year before the election, are bordering on desperate, particularly for a two-term incumbent.

"I think there is a certain frustration on my level," said John Brabender, Santorum's longtime adviser and media consultant.

"Every day I have to hear Bobby Casey's criticizing without saying what alternative he would offer," he said. "At least be man enough to offer solutions as well or stand on the same stages."

At some point well down the road Casey will have to engage, but until that time comes he's going to keep his distance and let Santorum stew.  It's going to take a perfectly executed plan, a bit of luck, and perhaps some help from his opponent for Santorum to have a chance to pull this one out.

al-Qaeda & The U.S.-Mexico Border - Part I

On November 16 I wrote about Rep. Sue Myrick's explosive claim - now retracted - that it was "a fact" that we were holding three al-Qaida members who came across from Mexico into the United States.

That same day a reader sent through this article from WorldNetDaily reporting that Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) said it had been confirmed to him we did in fact have a suspected al-Qaeda member in custody who was captured by Mexican authorites living just across the border and handed over to U.S. authorities. The following Monday, Culberson repeated the claim to the nation on Hannity and Colmes:

CULBERSON: The Hudspeth County sheriff, Arvin West, and the Brewster County, Ronnie Dodson, confirmed for me that they had an Al Qaeda terrorist, an Iraqi national who was on the FBI's terrorist list as an Al Qaeda member in the Brewster County jail...

HANNITY: Congressman, are you going just based on what he's telling you or are you going based on the evidence that you've seen? And do you have any other evidence to corroborate this?

CULBERSON: Both Sheriff West and Sheriff Dodson, the two sheriffs from Hudspeth and Brewster County, had this information confirmed for them by the FBI and the Department of Justice, who came down, and this guy was on the FBI's Al Qaeda list of terrorists. He was picked up and questioned. First, questioned carefully by the FBI and then picked up and taken out of the Brewster County jail.

And I just discovered tonight, Sean, the border patrol confirmed that this is not the first time that an Arab from a special interest country, a country with known Al Qaeda connections, has been handed over by the Mexicans to a local sheriff and then picked up by the FBI.

The reason you can't confirm it is the FBI won't talk about it.

Today Human Events is touting an exclusive interview with Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) under the title, "Senator Says There's No Stopping Al Qaeda From Crossing Mexico Border." In the in interview Cornyn says he's been shown anecdotal evidence of Muslim activity on the border including pictures of discarded juice boxes with Arabic writing on them. Senator Cornyn continued:

To some extent, people are in denial. Every time I talk about the vulnerability of our Southern border, people say the 9/11 people came her legally and that’s a problem, and then they overstayed. Or they say, our Northern border is longer and easier to penetrate. But it just seems so obvious to me that a coyote, a human smuggler, who charges $1,500 to bring in a bartender or construction worker, would also, for the appropriate price, bring in somebody from a country of special interest. And, in fact, that is well known to the federal government.

What to make of these reports? Is the U.S.-Mexico border being exploited by al-Qaeda and is it a serious threat to national security? Back in a bit with some more thoughts.

November 21, 2005

The 2008 Dress Rehearsal

John McCain and Lindsey Graham made a joint appearance at a South Carolina fundraiser last night where they talked about the troubles currently facing the GOP.  McCain laid out three basic priorities the party should focus on to regain its footing: make progress in Iraq, enact comprehensive energy reform and "stop this profligate spending." McCain also teased the crowd about 2008 by turning to Graham and saying, "some people have said this might be a very attractive vice presidential candidate."

Pulling a related thread, Ross Douthat spanks David Broder for the rather dull suggestion that McCain's support for the war puts him at risk politically:

McCain's combination of unwavering support for the war and fierce criticism of its prosecution and excesses has placed him in a perfect position politically - he has credibility as a hawk and as a war critic, and if the war succeeds he can claim to have supported it all along (which he has), whereas if it fails he can say I told you so, and with some reason. And when Americans sour on a military conflict, they don't usually elect outspoken doves - they elect politicians with hawkish credentials who insist that they'll bring the war to a successful conclusion (see Eisenhower, Dwight; or Nixon, Richard). So if McCain runs in on 2008 promising to "win the war," or "win the peace," or something like that, it won't be a gamble at all, but sound political common sense.

Wouldn't you know that's exactly the theme the probable 2008 ticket-mates sounded last night. Graham told the crowd:

"Democrats who have this cut-and-run strategy -- the public doesn't want to follow that. They want to follow Republicans who understand the war is not going as well as it should but who understand that our security is better off with a successful outcome in Iraq."

Kaus notes that Chris Matthews and David Brooks both said they hear that conservatives are "warming to McCain."  As I mentioned last week, McCain's stock is definitely on the rise but he's still got a ways to go to repair his standing among the type of Republican primary voter he'll need in 2008.

Bill Cosby & Friedrich Hayek

Michael Eric Dyson is currently the Avalon Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of "Is Bill Cosby Right (Or Has The Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind)?"

Princeton Alumni Weekly recently ran a rather flattering feature on Dyson and his crusade against Cosby titled "The Street Smart Professor." Much more interesting, however, is the letter in this week's issue from Princeton University lecturer in politics Russ Nieli responding to the article on Dyson:

Critics of Bill Cosby like Michael Eric Dyson see in Cosby’s self-help and “get-your-act-together” message little more than the smugness and self-congratulatory arrogance of the successful black middle class. The Coz and his well-heeled supporters, they say, fail to recognize the enormous obstacles faced by today’s black poor, who continue to suffer because of institutional racism, structural changes in the economy, heartless Republican presidents, and the like.

While there may be a grain of truth in what Dyson and others like him have to say in this matter, their own message, which downplays personal responsibility and tends to blame the plight of poor people on forces entirely outside their control, is surely more destructive to the aspirations of the poor than the facile “pull-yourself-up-by-your bootstraps” message of their opponents. The reason for this was well stated by economic theorist Friedrich Hayek almost 50 years ago. “It is often contended,” Hayek wrote, “that the belief that a person is solely responsible for his own fate is held only by the successful. Its underlying suggestion ... is that people hold this belief [only] because they have been successful. I, for one, am inclined to think that the connection is the other way around and that people often are successful because they hold this belief. ... And if the smug pride of the successful is often intolerable and offensive, the belief that success depends wholly on [individual effort] is probably the pragmatically most effective incentive to successful action, whereas the more a man indulges in the propensity to blame others or circumstances for his failures, the more disgruntled and ineffective he tends to become” (The Constitution of Liberty, University of Chicago Press, 1960).

What Hayek says here has been confirmed by more than 25 years of social psychology research into what is sometimes called “self-efficacy” or “internal locus of control.” People who have a strong belief that their success in life (however defined) is determined largely by forces internal to themselves — forces such as determination, perseverance, hard work, etc. — are much better at seizing the opportunities that life accords them than people who believe that outside forces over which they have little control — such as luck, circumstances, “the economy,” or the malevolent powers that be — are the ultimate determiners of what they will become in life. The implication of this research is quite clear: Cosby’s message for the poor is ultimately more liberating than Michael Dyson’s.

Maryland Senate Poll

Rasmussen:

Steele (R) 41
Cardin (D) 49

and

Steele (R) 45
Mfume (D) 44

Only In America

Drop out of high school. Join the Marines. Go to the Naval Academy. Become a Rhodes scholar:

"I wouldn't recommend the route I took to anyone," said Schmitz, a fourth-year student at the academy who is majoring in political science and economics. "But if you show enough initiative, eventually people will notice it."

Indeed.

Iraq Strategy For Dummies

Simple question: why'd he do it? Why did John Murtha, who went sour on Iraq back in September 2003 and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Nancy Pelosi back in May of last year and called the war "unwinnable," choose to come out last week and call to bring the troops home immediately? The short answer is probably that Murtha wanted to capitalize on the dazzling display of weakness and timidity by Senate Republicans last week.

The bigger question is why we are having the discussion about pullouts and timelines for troop withdrawals now, only two weeks before Iraqis go to the polls to freely elect a representative government. The timing borders on the insane, and is at least as counterproductive as it is dangerous.  As Ralph Peters points out in a particularly hard-hitting column today, we look an awful lot like a winning team who can't wait to find a way to lose.

For those who have been paying attention (and you would hope to count our folks in Congress among this group) the White House and the Pentagon have been signaling for months that the plan is to begin pulling out troops as soon as humanly possible after the completion of the elections in December.

General Casey floated the idea back in late JulyThe Washington Post also reported that Lt. Gen. Vines mentioned something similar in June:

A top U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, told reporters last month that four or five of 17 battalions, roughly one-quarter of U.S. forces in Iraq, could be pulled out if security conditions improved and if Iraqi national elections scheduled for December went smoothly.

At the time, Bush publicly downplayed the idea of setting a "firm" timeline for troop withdrawals from Iraq as "speculation" (which was the right thing to do given the precarious state of affairs negotiating the Iraqi constitution) but it's clear both the administration and DoD were already thinking about various scenarios for drawing down U.S. forces:

Their "best scenario" target is to reduce numbers to 60,000-70,000 by next autumn if Iraqi forces start to make progress against the insurgents. The fall-back option would be Gen Casey's minimum 30,000 reduction by the summer.

The Pentagon signaled its plans again on September 29:

While the Bush administration has refused to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, Casey has repeatedly said a "fairly substantial" pullout could begin next spring and summer as long as the political process stayed on track, the insurgency did not expand and the training of Iraqi security forces continued as planned.

But when reporters asked Casey on Wednesday whether he still believed that to be the case, he said, "I think right now we're in a period of a little greater uncertainty than when I was asked that question back in July and March."

"Until we're done with this political process here with the referendum and the elections in December, I think it's too soon to tell," Casey said.

We now learn that Casey submitted a plan for troop withdrawal to Rumsfeld last week, probably right around the time Bill Frist was orchestrating the Republican debacle in the Senate.  CNN reports what should be obvious to anyone with a clue: "implementation of the plan, if approved, would start after the December 15 Iraqi elections so as not to discourage voters from going to the polls." Unfortunately, thanks to the actions of leaders in Congress last week, we've probably done just the opposite.

November 19, 2005

Hats Off To Three Democrats

Let's recap what happened last night. After months of publicly berating President Bush as a liar over pre-war intel and after invoking a rarely used rule to shut down the Senate two weeks ago, Democrats are crying foul because....? Because Republicans challenged them to stop trying to have it both ways on Iraq after a leading, well-respected member of the Democratic party came out and called for the immediate withdrawal of troops.

Did the resolution contain the language the most Democrats would have liked? No. But politics ain't beanbag (which the Dems have shown by the examples listed above) and the bottom line is that you have to win elections if you want to control the process.

That being said, you'd have to be a fool to believe there are only three Democrats in the House who support the language of the resolution offered last night to bring the troops home immediately. At the top of the list is Nancy Pelosi who, instead of voting her conscience and representing her constituents, decided to play victim and accuse Republicans of "politicizing the war" - something she's been doing non-stop for more than two years now. 

Wanting to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq doesn't make you a coward. What does make you a coward is when you truly believe we should get our troops out of Iraq immediately, you have a chance to vote for doing exactly that, and you choose not to because you fear the political consequences of being on record revealing your position to the public. This was not a vote on some obscure provision of the budget, it was the most supremely important subject on which members of Congress have the privilege and duty to vote.

So hats off to Cynthia A. McKinney of Georgia, Robert Wexler of Florida and Jose E. Serrano of New York for having the courage to vote what they really believe. And shame on those who didn't.

November 18, 2005

Woodward's Source

I've been watching the Woodward/Plamegate saga from afar over the last two days. But this new piece by Viveca Novak just posted on Time.com contains an interesting passage:

According to Woodward, that triggered a call to his source. "I said it was clear to me that the source had told me [about Wilson's wife] in mid-June," says Woodward, "and this person could check his or her records and see that it was mid-June. My source said he or she had no alternative but to go to the prosecutor. I said, 'If you do, am I released?'", referring to the confidentiality agreement between the two. The source said yes, but only for purposes of discussing it with Fitzgerald, not for publication.

So according to Woodward the source didn't go to Fitzgerald on his/or her own with the intent of trying to help Libby and/or discredit Fitzgerald. Chris Matthews is going to be devastated.

In fact, a straight reading of Woodward's account shows this source to be very much by the book, claiming "no alternative" but to contact Fitzgerald once Woodward jogged his or her memory. It certainly doesn't seem like Woodward was threatening the source with "either you contact Fitzgerald or I will" and the source looks to have granted Woodward the waiver to speak to Fitzgerald without any fuss. Of course, if we learn that the source had already been interviewed by Fitzgerald the odds of it being an innocent oversight on his or her part decrease significantly (but don't disappear altogether). 

One final related oddity: why is Woodward giving this "web exclusive" account to Time?

Index of Middle Eastern Freedom

The Economist Intelligence Unit has put out an index ranking political and civil freedom across the Middle East. The good news: Iraq ranks fourth with a score of 5.05 (out of 10). Bad news: ally Saudia Arabia tied with Syria in second-to-last place (2.8) ranking below Iran (3.85).  Israel is tops with a score of 8.2 and Libya finishes last with a rank of 2.05.

Quote of theDay

"Well, I would be in favor of wrapping virtually every Republican Senator in asbestos, and using them to insulate my attic. I think that would be a more useful deployment of them, than what they're doing in the United States Senate." - Columnist Mark Steyn on the Hugh Hewitt show responding to a quote from Majority Leader Frist saying that an asbestos will be the top priority for Republicans in the Senate when they return in January.

Poll Dump

Scott Rasmussen has just dumped a bunch of new poll numbers, including:

Bush Job Approval (11/15-11/17): 42/58

How Is Bush Handling Iraq? (11/16-11/17):  16% excellent, 17% good, 15% fair, 51% poor

Set Firm Deadline For Troop Withdrawal? (11/16-11/17):  45% in favor, 41% opposed

Rasmussen also has recent numbers on 2006 races in Ohio:

Governor:  Ted Strickland (D) 42, Ken Blackwell (R) 36 and Strickland (D) 39, John Kasich (R) 33.

Senate: Paul Hackett (D) 42, Mike DeWine (R) 41 

November 17, 2005

McCain, Rudy, Condi & The GOP

The freshly released Diageo/Hotline poll has some interesting numbers on John McCain. The good news is that in a hypothetical '08 matchup McCain crushes Hillary 52-39 with 23% of Democrats saying they would vote for McCain. McCain also scored well when surveyed as an Independent in a 3-way race with Clinton and Jeb Bush, leading Republican analyst Ed Rollins to boast “According to these numbers, the GOP needs John McCain more than McCain needs the GOP.” Let's not get carried away just yet.

When asked "who represents what the Republican Party should stand for," Republican voters were evenly split between McCain, Condi Rice, and Rudy Giuliani. And then there's this:

In addition to the national sample, the Diageo/Hotline Poll studied an oversample of 100 registered Republicans to probe opinion on the party’s future and John McCain.  Republicans are divided on who they would support in the 2008 presidential primaries, Giuliani, Rice, or McCain, (22%, 22%, 21%, respectively).

As I mentioned some time ago, Giuliani did signifcantly better than McCain (29.5% vs 8.2% respectively) in Patrick Ruffini's last straw poll with more than 17,000 respondents (as opposed to the 700 in the Hotline poll). Furthermore, in Ruffini's "fantasy ballot" where respondents could name their first choice, Condi Rice was the decisive winner (36.7%), obliterating both Giuliani and McCain.

Condi continues to give off signs she won't run, Giuliani continues to signal he will, and McCain hasn't stopped running since 2000. While McCain's stock has definitely been on the rise of late and the current issue mix seems to be working in his favor, he's still probably the least well liked of the three among Republican primary voters. Needless to say, speculating on 2008 based on polling in November 2005 is fun but ultimately a waste of time.

UPDATE: Recent poll from Rasmussen (sample size only 310 likely GOP voters):
Giuliani 26%, Rice 24%, McCain 21%.

Perle on Chalabi, Iraq

Some very interesting tidbits from Richard Perle's talk yesterday at my alma mater. On Ahmed Chalabi:

"Almost everything you've heard about [Chalabi] is false," Perle said. "The CIA, which doesn't like him, has been out of control on this issue."

Perle described Chalabi as a brilliant patriot who sacrificed a life of comfort in the United Kingdom for an active role in the rebuilding of Iraq.

"We should have handed him the keys the day Baghdad fell," Perle said.

On Iraq: 

"I think we made serious mistakes after the initial military action," Perle said. "It was a benign occupation but it was an occupation nonetheless, and people don't like to be occupied."

And finally, a passage that the left will no doubt view as confirmation of their deepest, darkest conspiracy theories about Iraq:

After Sept. 11, 2001, he said, the Defense Policy Board unanimously agreed that Iraq was one of the states most likely to supply terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. Perle said the U.S. government felt it could not tolerate that risk, no matter how improbable it seems in retrospect.

Most will recognize the Defense Policy Board as the roughly 30-member advisory group of former politicians, military officers, and defense experts chaired by Perle from 2001-2003 which many on the left firmly believe was ground zero for the hijacking of U.S. foreign policy by the neocon/Likudnik cabal.

In fact, DPB members who were part of the unanimous vote Perle refers to included former Democratic Speaker of the House Tom Foley, former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, Nobel Prize winning Professor Gary Becker, Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the Brookings Institution,  Henry Kissinger, Dan Quayle, Pete Wilson, and Tillie Fowler.

Bush's Approval Ratings, 2006, and 2008

One would think that the people who were so sure in the spring and summer of 2004 that George Bush would lose because his job approval was only 45% and the right direction/wrong direction polls were so negative, would be a little more circumspect when drawing sweeping conclusions about the state of the Bush Presidency from the current public opinion polls.

This is not meant to be a detailed analysis of the political landscape, but suffice it to say the Bush critics have once again been a little too premature in pronouncing this President's political obituary. As much as Democrats and the press want this White House to end up like Jimmy Carter or Richard Nixon, the reality is quite different.

None of this is to suggest that the President and the Republicans don't have problems, they do. But the hyperventilating among the pundits that you can already pencil in a 1994 type of tidal wave against the GOP in 2006 is ridiculous. While you hear a relentless drumbeat of "Bush ratings at a new low," how often do you hear "Bush ratings at new low, but Democrats ratings even lower"?

Today's Harris Poll is another dose of bad news for the President, but when you read a little deeper into the poll results you see that the public actually rates the President's job performance 9 points better than Congressional Democrats, 34% - 25%. FOX News' last poll showed a similar type of result, giving the President a 36% job approval and Democrats in Congress only 33%. (Republicans in Congress polled better than the Democrats in both polls as well, though not by much.)

Bottom line, the Democratic enthusiasm should really be muted because right now the most likely '06 result is the Dems pick up a handful of House seats and 1-3 Senate seats. That still leaves the GOP in control of Congress, and when we look ahead to 2008 I would at this (very early) time rate McCain as the front runner. And if McCain is the Republican nominee he will win 40+ states for the GOP and carry in a stronger Republican Congress.

That doesn't sound like "Happy Days Are Here Again" for the Democrats any time soon.

 

A Prosecutor Out Of Control

I'm not talking about Patrick Fitzgerald. As Washington exploded yesterday with the revelation of Bob Woodward's involvement in the Libby case, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle and his deputies were busy in court defending their conduct prosecuting Tom DeLay.

We already know Earle misfired badly on the first indictment and then tried to paper over the blunder by going to a second grand jury two days later and frantically asking it to return a new indictment. That grand jury refused to bring charges against DeLay, a fact the public did not learn until almost a week later, after yet a third grand jury agreed to indict DeLay on charges of money laundering.

But now we've learned something new. Yesterday in court papers filed in Austin, Earle's office admitted that in the two days following the second grand jury's decision to issue the no-bill on Friday, September 30, "an investigator with Earle's office telephoned several members of the first grand jury, which had been dismissed, and asked whether the evidence they heard would have warranted a first-degree felony charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering."

The Austin American-Statesman (reg req) also reports that, "the opinions of the former grand jurors might have been shared with a third grand jury on Oct. 3, but jurors were told nothing of the secret deliberations by the previous grand jury. On the first day of its term, the third grand jury returned the first-degree felony charges after hearing evidence for a few hours."

I am not a lawyer or legal expert, so I'd love to know if surveying the opinions of former grand jury members on a case and then allegedly using those opinions to try and influence a subsequent grand jury (while purposefully excluding what could only be considered exculpatory information from an immeidately preceding grand jury) is considered standard practice or whether it is well outside the bounds of ethical prosecutorial behavior. I suspect it is almost certainly the latter.

I'd also like to know (as would DeLay's lawyers) how it is that the final grand jury could have gotten this case on the Monday (Oct 3) immediately following the previous grand jury's decision not to indict DeLay (Friday, September 30) and come to a decision after "hearing evidence for a few hours."

Earle was seeking fresh indictments on different charges (money laundering) since it was obvious the charges in the original indictment (criminal conspiracy to violate state campaign laws) weren't going to hold water. Is it plausible to think the final grand jury received a full and fair presentation of the facts and testimony in this case and were able to deliberate on the material with appropriate diligence in less than a single day? Not very likely, especially when you consider the original grand jury took months to hear evidence and deliberated right up until the final day of its term.

November 16, 2005

Cheney Emerges From Bunker, Drops Hammer

Cheney says:

the suggestion that's been made by some U.S. senators that the President of the United States or any member of this Administration purposely misled the American people on pre-war intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city.

 Full text of remarks here.

Myrick's al-Qaeda Myth

Last Wednesday Hugh Hewitt noted a press conference by Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC) in which she said the following:

"I mean, they just arrested, down on the border -- what? a couple of weeks ago? -- three al-Qaida members who came across from Mexico into the United States. That's a given fact. They were holding them in the jail down there."

Hugh commented this was either "a blockbuster story, or a complete urban myth." Turns out it's the latter. Tim Funk of the Charlotte Observer did some investigating and found out Myrick's claim wasn't even close to being true. According to Funk, Myrick says she based her claim on an an unproven account of a border crossing appearing in the November 22, 2004 issue of Time magazine which she confused as being current. That is not a misprint: the article in question ran almost a year ago and did not mention any actual border crossings or arrests.

Myrick's spokesman called it "an honest mistake." Perhaps.  But given that she made the claim in the context of promoting tougher requirements for drivers licenses in North Carolina saying the measures were important for national security, it looks like Myrick got caught demagoguing. At best she looks sloppy and ill informed, which is the last thing we need from our elected representatives when it comes to matters of terrorism and national security.

How To Lose The Big One

That's probably not going to be the title of Bob Shrum's coming book - though it most certainly would be an accurate one (he's 0 for 8 in Presidential races).  The NY Observer reports Simon & Schuster paid more than $100,000 for a Shrum memoir due out in 2007 which supposedly will include a behind the scenes look at the 2004 Kerry campaign.

Polls: PA, FL, WI

The latest:

Pennsylvania (Strategic Vision, 11/11-11/13, n = 1,200 LV, MoE = +/-3.0%)
'06 Senate:  More bad news for Rick Santorum. Job approval only 38%. As with two other polls released earlier this week, he trails Casey badly (51-36).
'06 Governor: It looks like Ed Rendell is going to have a fight on his hands. Job approval at 48%. In head to head matchups, Rendell runs 2 points ahead of Lt. Gov. Bill Scranton (46-44), 3 points ahead of NFL legend Lynn Swann (45-42), and 9 points ahead of State Sen. Jeff Piccola (46-37).

Wisconsin (Strategic Vision, 11/11-11/13, n = 800 LV, MoE = +/-3.0%)
'06 Senate: Kohl registers a 54% job approval but trails by 2 points in a hypothetical matchup with Former Governor Tommy Thompson (44-42).
'06 Governor: Democrat Jim Doyle's approval rating is 47% and he holds slight leads against potential GOP challengers former Congressman Mark Green (Doyle +3, 47-44) and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker (Doyle +6, 46-40).

UPDATE: Rasmussen has new numbers out of Florida. '06 Senate: Nelson 53, Harris 36 and '06 Governor:  Davis (D) 40, Gallagher (R) 40 and Davis (D) 41, Crist (R) 38.

Now for the 2008 numbers from both of these states along with a new FL poll by Quinnipiac:

Democrats - 2008
Candidate
PA
WI
FL
Hillary Clinton
38
31
50
Al Gore
13
14
--
John Kerry
10
5
26
John Edwards
6
7
18
Russ Feingold
2
13
--
Wesley Clark
5
5
--
Mark Warner
5
4
--
Joe Biden
5
3
--
Tom Vilsack
1
2
--
Evan Bayh
1
2
--
Ed Rendell
2
1
--
Barbara Boxer
1
1
--
Bill Richardson
1
1
--
Undecided
10
11
5

 

Republicans - 2008
Candidate
PA
WI
FL
Rudy Giuliani
40
32
56
John McCain
30
29
27
Newt Gingrich
8
12
--
George Allen
1
1
9
Bill Frist
2
3
--
Mitt Romney
2
2
--
Rick Santorum
2
2
--
George Pataki
2
1
--
Chuck Hagel
1
1
--
Undecided
12
17
6

November 15, 2005

Looking Ahead in Florida

New Quinnipiac poll shows Bill Nelson maintaining a 24-point lead against Katherine Harris. Nelson's job approval is just under 50% (49 approve, 18 disapprove, 33 "undecided") but the more troubling numbers come from the reelect question: 37% in favor, 33% not in favor, 29% undecided.

According to Quinnipiac, Republicans prefer Harris to U.S. Rep Mark Foley (46%-29%), though in the matchup against Nelson GOP voters only give Harris 63% support. Foley runs 4 points worse against Nelson than Harris in a general election matchup.

By way of comparison, a Strategic Vision poll from the end of September had Harris losing to Nelson by 12 points (48-36) and Foley losing to Nelson by only 4 points (45-41).  When General Tommy Franks' name was thrown into the mix against Nelson the race was dead even, 45-45 with 10% undecided.

In the governor's contest, Quinnipiac shows the two declared GOP candidates (Tom Gallagher and Charlie Crist) locked in a dead heat while on the Dem side U.S. Rep Jim Davis is running 10 points ahead of competitor Rod Smith, though 56% of Democrats remain undecided. Davis runs dead even with both GOP hopefuls, Smith runs slightly behind.

A footnote to consider: Unlike a number of polling outfits, both Quinnipiac and Strategic Vision did well in hotly contested Florida in 2004. In the Presidential race, Quinnipiac's final poll had Bush +8, SV had Bush plus +4. Final vote: Bush 52, Kerry 47. In the Senate race, Quinnipiac's final had Martinez +5, SV had Martinez +3. Final vote: Martinez 50, Castor 48.

"Joementum" on Iraq

Senator Joe Lieberman today on the floor of the Senate:

It is no surprise to my colleagues that I strongly supported the war in Iraq. I was privileged to be the Democratic cosponsor, with the Senator from Virginia, of the authorizing resolution which received overwhelming bipartisan support. As I look back on it and as I follow the debates about prewar intelligence, I have no regrets about having sponsored and supported that resolution because of all the other reasons we had in our national security interest to remove Saddam Hussein from power – a brutal, murdering dictator, an aggressive invader of his neighbors, a supporter of terrorism, a hater of the United States of America. He was, for us, a ticking time bomb that, if we did not remove him, I am convinced would have blown up, metaphorically speaking, in America's face.

I am grateful to the American military for the extraordinary bravery and brilliance of their campaign to remove Saddam Hussein. I know we are safer as a nation, and to say the obvious that the Iraqi people are freer as a people, and the Middle East has a chance for a new day and stability with Saddam Hussein gone.

 The full text of Senator Lieberman's statement can be read here.

Progress For The Better Half

One of the most underappreciated, least reported aspects of the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq is the progress made by women.  The Daily Telegraph reports that women are defying the odds in the recent election in Afghanistan and will claim 68 of the 249 seat in the lower house of parliament when it convenes later this month, one of whom hopes to stand for the role of speaker.

And if you needed any more evidence of the mentality of the people we've helped liberate Afghanistan from, the Telegraph article also reports, "Remnants of the Taliban responded to the results by detonating two suicide bombs in Kabul, killing a German peacekeeper and three Afghans." Clearly, the Islamofascists can see that if democracy wins, they lose.

For more on the subject see my post from earlier this year: "The Arab Street Rises - With Women." 

The Paranoid Style

In November, 1964, Professor Richard Hofstadter penned an essay in Harper's Magazine attempting to explain the paranoia and anger manifested by the right wing of the Republican party in the era of McCarthy and Goldwater.  Forty-one years later to the month, however, it's impossible to read Hofstadter's The Paranoid Style in American Politics without seeing similarities to the mood and mentality of today's Democratic party.

We've reproduced the full essay here, which I very much recommend reading, but I've pulled out a few particularly relevant quotes. The first is Hofstadter's explanation of the term "paranoid style:"

I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. In using the expression “paranoid style” I am not speaking in a clinical sense, but borrowing a clinical term for other purposes. I have neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past or present as certifiable lunatics., In fact, the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.

Of course this term is pejorative, and it is meant to be; the paranoid style has a greater affinity for bad causes than good. But nothing really prevents a sound program or demand from being advocated in the paranoid style. Style has more to do with the way in which ideas are believed than with the truth or falsity of their content.

In another striking passage Hofstadter argued that technology - specifically the advent of mass media - helped feed the paranoid style both by personalizing the objects of the paranoid's obsessions and by opening up grand new worlds to the paranoid's imagination:

The villains of the modern right are much more vivid than those of their paranoid predecessors, much better known to the public; the literature of the paranoid style is by the same token richer and more circumstantial in personal description and personal invective...

Events since 1939 have given the contemporary right-wing paranoid a vast theatre for his imagination, full of rich and proliferating detail, replete with realistic cues and undeniable proofs of the validity of his suspicions. The theatre of action is now the entire world, and he can draw not only on the events of World War II, but also on those of the Korean War and the Cold War. Any historian of warfare knows it is in good part a comedy of errors and a museum of incompetence; but if for every error and every act of incompetence one can substitute an act of treason, many points of fascinating interpretation are open to the paranoid imagination. In the end, the real mystery, for one who reads the primary works of paranoid scholarship, is not how the United States has been brought to its present dangerous position but how it has managed to survive at all.

Hofstadter suggested another salient feature of the paranoid style is militancy inspired by a perfectly polarized view of the world in terms of good and evil:

As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated—if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. ...

The enemy is clearly delineated: he is a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman—sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, luxury-loving. Unlike the rest of us, the enemy is not caught in the toils of the vast mechanism of history, himself a victim of his past, his desires, his limitations. He wills, indeed he manufactures, the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way. He makes crises, starts runs on banks, causes depressions, manufactures disasters, and then enjoys and profits from the misery he has produced. The paranoid’s interpretation of history is distinctly personal: decisive events are not taken as part of the stream of history, but as the consequences of someone’s will. Very often the enemy is held to possess some especially effective source of power: he controls the press; he has unlimited funds; he has a new secret for influencing the mind (brainwashing); he has a special technique for seduction (the Catholic confessional).

Finally, Hofstadter pointed out that the paranoid style is exacerbated by a lack of political power and control:

The situation becomes worse when the representatives of a particular social interest—perhaps because of the very unrealistic and unrealizable nature of its demands—are shut out of the political process. Having no access to political bargaining or the making of decisions, they find their original conception that the world of power is sinister and malicious fully confirmed. They see only the consequences of power—and this through distorting lenses—and have no chance to observe its actual machinery.

Five years ago I'd say the "paranoid style" described an extremely small percentage of the Democratic party - no more so than the Republicans' own version during the Clinton years.  Today, however, after three lost elections and the tumultuous events of September 11 and the invasion of Iraq, that number seems to be much larger and growing by the day.The Libby indictment, though immaterial to the debate over the quality and handling of pre-war intelligence, seems to have been a tipping point in this regard. Hofstadter speculated that "certain historical catastrophes or frustrations may be conducive to the release of such psychic energies, and to situations in which they can more readily be built into mass movements or political parties." He seems to be as much right now as he was forty-one years ago.

November 14, 2005

Quote of the Day

"I always figure when somebody goes after your motives, they're on their last leg, because they actually think you're doing something good that's gonna have good consequences.  Attacking somebody's motives is the last refuge of somebody who's on the short end of the stick."

It's impossible to read the above quote by Bill Clinton - referring to criticism of his Clinton Global Initiative confab in Manhattan earlier this year in Joe Conason's flattering and well-written profile in the December issue of Esquire Magazine - without putting it in the context of the Democrats' attacks on President Bush and Iraq. The "BUSH LIED" meme is the intellectually dishonest foundation for the myriad attacks the left has launched on the president's motives on Iraq (oil, revenge, empire, etc) from the very beginning. 

Schumer On Alito

Statement from Senator Chuck Schumer on the new reports of Alito's views on Roe:

One thing is clear – because Judge Alito so firmly and specifically stated his personal and legal opinion about a very controversial issue, he has an obligation to answer tough questions from the Committee about whether his views have changed and whether he would advance a particular ideological position that is contrary to decades of legal precedent.  Past nominees have said they could not discuss these issues for fear of creating a perception of bias.  Here, unfortunately, the memo itself creates the perception of bias and it will be crucial for this nominee to address the issue head on.

The filibuster train is on the tracks..... 

What's The Plan?

John Heilemann has a good piece in this week's New York Magazine. Heilemann quotes DLC guru Bruce Reed as saying that no one in the Democratic party understands the need to formulate a concrete agenda more than Rahm Emmanuel, Illinois Congressman and Chairman of the DCCC.  "He totally gets it," Reed says.

But when Heilemann went to Emmanuel and asked him what the plan is, Rahm responded: “We’re going to talk about cronyism, corruption, and abuse of power and how it ties to everything that’s gone wrong.”  Heilemann writes than when he pressed Rahm for details on the positive aspects of the Democrats' agenda, Emmanuel's vision got "a good deal less vivid and precise."

Howard Dean was even less convincing on Meet the Press yesterday when Tim Russert pressed him on the specifics of the Democrats' agenda. Dean said:

Right now it's not our job to give out specifics.  We have no control in the House.  We have no control in the Senate.  It's our job is to stop this administration, this corrupt and incompetent administration, from doing more damage to America.  And that's what we're going to do.  We're doing our best.

As I said in my post the other day about the Democrats' new "wedgie strategy," there is only so much mileage that can be gotten out of going negative on the Bush administration. Democrats need to present a plan of concise, specific proposals drawn from an overarching set of principles.  Obviously, that is turning out to be harder than it looks for Emmanuel and his party because they seem unable to reach a consensus on "the vision thing." As Republican pollster Frank Luntz told Heilemann:

Today, you can’t tell me what the Democratic Party stands for. I go to House Democrats and ask them, ‘What is your philosophy?’ And they can’t tell me, either.”

The Unthinkable Becomes 'Inevitable'

From the Detroit Free Press on Friday:

November 11, 2005

BY MICHAEL ELLIS and SARAH WEBSTER
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITERS

General Motors Corp. is unraveling -- fast.

Its stock price plunged to a 13-year low Thursday after the latest in a string of financial problems dismayed shareholders once again.

Wall Street experts say the unthinkable is more likely than ever before: Michigan's largest company could be bought by a corporate raider like Las Vegas billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, forced to file for bankruptcy, or both. [snip]

Experts say a buyer like Kerkorian could sell GMAC (the division that lends money for everything from cars and homes to Manhattan skyscrapers) for $10 billion to $15 billion, take GM's $15 billion in cash and stock, put GM's automaking business into bankruptcy, and walk away with a huge profit.

In a note to investors on Thursday, Bank of America said bankrupcy for GM is now "inevitable." It looks like GM's day of reckoning is approaching faster than most thought, and it will be extraordinarily painful when it arrives. GM workers agreed to a first round of cuts over the weekend, and the company announced a new "red tag" promotion today to try and boost sales, but the writing is on the wall.

On a related note, two weeks ago The New York Times ran a predictably biased article bemoaning the decline of African-American union membership under the headline "Labor's Lost: For Blacks, A Dream in Decline." Here is an excerpt (reg req):

Immigration, retirement, automation, the shifting of work overseas, low seniority and privatization have all played a role in the lopsided decline of unionized jobs held by African-Americans. That decline is especially noticeable in manufacturing and the federal government, two strongholds of black employment that have gone through cutbacks in union workers in recent years.

The cutbacks are particularly severe in the auto industry. In addition to the latest problems at G.M., Ford Motor said Thursday that it would soon announce ''significant plant closings.''

The impact on blacks has gradually drawn the attention of labor leaders, including John J. Sweeney, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. ''The percentage of black workers who have been knocked out of union jobs is one of the little-known tragedies of the last five years,'' he said.

The flipside, of course, which The New York Times fails to mention is that African-Americans are thriving in non-unionized factories all across the South like this brand new $1.1 billion Hyundai plant in Montgomery, Alabama.

Not too long ago a good friend of mine who works for a GM supplier in the midwest spent roughly two months on assignment at the Hyundai plant. His report: more than 90 percent of the workers on the floor are African-American. Wages are high for the region - but still only half of GM workers in Michigan and Wisconsin. The cost of living is low. Health benefits are excellent. And - here's the kicker - the quality of the work is five to ten times better. The result is that Hyundai is kicking Detroit's butt with a higer-quality, lower-priced car made right here in the USA.

The Coming Alito Filibuster?

Ever since Miers withdrew and the President promptly nominated Judge Alito I felt the likelihood for a filibuster was rather high, given that the Democrats were in a mood to fight and the only way they could really fight, would be to filibuster.

I will concede that after Alito's first meetings with Senators on the Hill, and then Senator Biden's comment last week on ABC's "This Week" that Democrats should commit to a vote, one had to figure that the filibuster odds were getting rather small.

However, yesterday's editorial in the New York Times and the Democratic Chairman's appearance on Meet the Press reaffirms my belief that a serious filibuster attempt is at least a 50-50 bet. From the Times editorial:

Judge Samuel Alito has been working hard to win over moderate Democratic senators. But just as it would be irresponsible to reject his nomination to the Supreme Court without giving him a full hearing, it is unwise to embrace it - or rule out the possibility of a filibuster - until more is known.

The Alito nomination is a defining moment for the country, and for the Democratic Party. Given the sharp divisions on the court, the next justice could decide the scope of reproductive freedom, civil rights and civil liberties, and environmental and workplace protections that Americans will live with for years. Although many questions remain to be answered, there is reason to believe that Judge Alito could do significant damage to values Democrats have long stood for.

Conservative Republicans demonstrated that they have a clear idea of what they want for the Supreme Court. They proved that once again with their insurrection against Harriet Miers. Now Democratic senators have to show their supporters that they are no less willing to fight for their vision.......

The Alito nomination comes at a critical moment for the Democratic Party. With President Bush's poll numbers plummeting, Democrats are finding a new optimism about their chances in 2006 and 2008. But to capitalize on the Republicans' weakness, the party needs to show that it has an alternative vision for the country. As the Democrats refine their message for next year's elections, the first thing they need to be able to say to the American people is that they did not sit by idly while the far right took over the Supreme Court and began dismantling fundamental rights and freedoms.

And then Howard Dean on Meet the Press:

MR. RUSSERT:  The Supreme Court...
DR. DEAN:  Yes.
MR. RUSSERT:  ...the president has nominated Sam Alito to the Supreme Court. Should the Democrats in the Senate--there's only 45 of them, but if they stayed together as a block...
DR. DEAN:  Right.
MR. RUSSERT:  ...they could filibuster and prevent Judge Alito from going to the Supreme Court.  Should they?
DR. DEAN:  I must say I rarely read editorials and I rarely agree with the ones I read.  But The New York Times ran an editorial today which I think is very instructive for the Democratic Party.  This could be a defining moment. Judge Alito is a hard-working man, a good family man, but his opinions are well outside the mainstream of American public opinion.  He condones a strip-search of a 10-year-old when the police had no such warrant or indication to do so.  He condoned the crafting of an all-white jury to hear a black defendant's case by a prosecutor.  He condoned the states not having to listen to the Family Medical Leave Act.  He condoned government interference in private family matters and family decision- making.  This is well outside the mainstream of where Americans are.  I think the Democrats are going to have to think long and hard as the hearings progress about whether we should support him.  There's some grave questions about him, and I do hope that they will stick together.

This morning it seems pretty clear to me where the NY Times and the Chairman of the Democratic Party are heading in regards to an Alito filibuster.

Interestingly, I think the determining factor on whether there will be a filibuster is the President's Job Approval. If Bush continues to get beat up and his poll numbers stay in the 30's or fall lower, I suspect the Democrats might have the political wisdom to just let the President stew in his world of hurt and not provide an opportunity to get the conservative base energized with a filibuster.

However, if the President's counterattack on the war begins to staunch the bleeding and his poll numbers stabilize and get back over 40%, I don't know that the liberal base will allow for the Democrats to just sit back and let Alito get on the court without a serious fight. That means a filibuster.

Given that I feel the President's poll numbers are in the process of bottoming (Rasmussen has shown a four-point bounce over the last week {Late Update: today's Rasmussen dropped 3 pts}) I think the odds of a serious filibuster attempt are very real. The delay in the hearings until January will provide more than enough time for the Democrats to craft a strategy and begin the public process of "questioning" whether Alito should take O'Connor's swing seat.

Yesterday was a clear warning to the White House and the Senate GOP. They would be well advised to take notice.

November 13, 2005

The Political Outlook for the GOP

We received many letters/emails following the election on Tuesday last week. Here's a particularly insightful one:

I agree one should be wary of reading too much into the election results but there is undoubtedly a growing undercurrent of unhappiness with the Republicans in general and Bush in particular. There are already majorities or pluralities that now believe the administration lied or at least distorted the intelligence supporting the attack on Iraq and it seems likely there will be a continuing trickle of documents supporting this view which will be added to the general buzz from Libby. 

 At the end of the day Bush is going rise or fall with his fortunes in Iraq, if you feel the outlook there is good buy Bush's, if not now is the time to short. The congress is a more complicated equation but the Frist and DeLay problems are not going away, while Abramoff simmers in the background, and there are likely to many more subpoenas to add with Bob Ney. If this explodes, a distinct possibility, and frankly it should, as a more blatant example of corruption is hard to find. Then the Republicans are in serious trouble.

Also I wouldn't count on the Democrats not crafting a compelling program in the spring which will be plenty of time to sell it, it's not as if the Republicans haven't given them plenty of targets.

The other elephant in the room is the economy, it looks fairly good at the moment but there are some scary fundamentals. 

The email makes several good points.

While the results from Virginia and New Jersey don't in and of themselves point to a disaster next year for the GOP, there is no question that the Republican's base is disillusioned and demoralized. The Democrats, on the other hand, are showing the first signs of life in almost 5 years, beyond a few specific weeks in 2004 when Bush's numbers hit temporary lows (at that time in the 44% Job Approval range). In the simplest analysis, a depressed GOP base and energized Democratic base will lead to big pickups for the Dems in 2006.

I'm not an expert on the Ney situation, but it seems pretty safe to say that more indictments are not what the GOP needs.

I'm skeptical about the ability of the Democrats to offer a program of any substance, ala "The Contract With America," but Joe Klein already is picking up the storyline in his Time column this week talking enthusiastically about the Democrat's "Five Big Ideas." It won't take much by the Democrats (with the aid of a press dying to see Bush and the Republicans get creamed) to come up with a program that they can sell to the public as a positive agenda.

And then lastly, the point on the economy is well taken. The U.S. economy's performance since the NASDAQ implosion and 9/11 has been nothing short of amazing. There is nothing to say that the economy has to keep growing at 3% plus GDP growth with ever higher housing prices. If the press thinks the economy today is bad, just wait for the media coverage if growth slows.

All of this stirs a pretty powerful cocktail that could work big-time in the Democrats favor. Then again, Iraq could get better, the economy could keep chugging along, Alito could break the Democrats, Bush could get his mojo back and the Dems could wake up Nov 8 feeling like Charlie Brown and the football again.

We are a year out, nothing is set in stone yet.

November 11, 2005

Cheney vs. Reid

The White House is finally showing signs of life, pushing back hard on accusations about Iraq pre-war intel. Yesterday it was Stephen Hadley in the briefing room, today it was President Bush at at the Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania.

Here is something else they can do.  The other day Harry Reid stood up and accused Dick Cheney of being involved in "the manipulation of intelligence."  (Howard Fineman confirmed on Wednesday that the Dems' new plan is to focus all lines of attack on Cheney). 

If The White House wanted to get really aggressive (and they should), Cheney should fire off a letter challenging Harry Reid to debate the subject on the Senate floor next week.  Let's go ahead and have at it, British-parliament style.

Let's see Harry Reid defend his accusations the Cheney manipulated pre-war intelligence.  Let's also see Reid explain why he and so many other members of his party have changed their tune on what they believed about Saddam's WMDs. And let's see the Vice President defend the administration's decisions and their interpretation of pre-war intelligence as well. 

My hunch is Reid would almost be forced into taking the bait. Refusing to debate Cheney would be a devastating display of weakness (not to mention cowardice) that would suck the life right out of the Dems' base.  If Reid did try and take Cheney on I suspect he'd have a very rough go of it. Cheney is as highly skilled as he is unflappable, and betting money says Reid would do well just to manage a draw. Either way, it would be a maneuver that would keep the White House aggressively on the offensive.

The End of Blair

A British reader who befriended me via email a few years back sent through this priceless bit on Tony Blair the other day:

Blair was defeated in parliament today for the first time as PM. The vote was 322/291 with 49 Labour MPs including 11 former ministers rebelling....

The MSM say this is the beginning of the end for Blair.  How many times have we heard that?  Blair is a conservative unloved in his party, although he is very handy for winning elections.  I can't think of an American equivalent.  Maybe Bloomberg pretending he is a Republican comes closest!  Blair is a mass of contradictions, the conservative who claims to be a socialist, the Scotsman who pretends to be English and of course the Anglican who claims not to be a Catholic after attending Mass with his family every week and sending his kids to Catholic voluntarily aided state schools.  He pretends to be a soccer buff, but hasn't a clue about it and the shift from Oxford English to the infamous glottle-stop Estuary English is a class comedy act that fools nobody.

 Apparently, the consensus among the chattering class in Britain is that Blair will be gone within the year.

Battle of the Buffoons

I guess today is the Battle of the Buffoons.

In the red corner is Pat Robertson, who suggested in all seriousness yesterday that God is deeply upset and may seek retribution over a few hundred votes cast in a local school board election in central Pennsylvania this week (Dover, pop. 1,914). This comes just weeks after Robertson made news doing the Lord's work by publicly calling for assasinating a foreign head of state (he apologized for the remark two days later).

In the blue corner is John Cusack who, somewhere in the middle of this interminably long blather at the Huffington Post, calls Jon Stewart "the most important media watchdog right now" and a "vanguard." I like Stewart as much as the next person but if, as Cusack says, he's "all we've got right now" then Hollywood liberals have indeed reached the end of their rope - and perhaps their meds as well. A thread from the comments says it best: " Love your movies! Love your sister! Hate your painfully long blog post filled with weird metacharacters!"

So who wins? I'd have to give this one to Robertson in a split decision.

The Vital Signs

It's hard to see how they can get much worse for Bush and the GOP. Here are the latest RCP Indices:

Bush Job Approval: 38.2% approve, 56.2% disapprove

Congress Job Approval:  32.8% approve, 58.3% disapprove

Direction of Country: right track 29.7%, wrong track 63.0% 

Generic Congressional Vote: Democrats +11.7%

For The Toughest Stains

According to the Sydney Morning Herald (reg req), one of the 18 terrorist suspects nabbed in  Australia on Tuesday was found with hydrochloric acid in his home and authorities found another  suspect in possession of a manual for making bombs with the substance. Prosecutors say the suspect in possession of the acid, Mirsad Mulahalilovic, was at home when a group accused of plotting terrorist acts showed up with some plastic caps and 3 feet of PVC. Defense lawyers say it's all just a big misunderstanding:

But Mulahalilovic's barrister Phillip Boulten, SC, said there were other uses for hydrochloric acid such as cleaning, and that police were told it was not being used illegally.

"During the search of this young man's premises the police were told by others that lived there that these particular items of hydrochloric acid were not there for any illegal purposes," said Mr Boulten.

Mulahalilovic, who moved to Australia from Bosnia in 1996, is a painter with his own business.

However, prosecutor Wendy Abraham, QC, said instructions on how to make explosives using hydrochloric acid were found at the home of one of the other accused terrorists.

Quote of the Day - November 11

"It's always easy to look back. As a matter of fact, you know, if I would do another Terminator movie, I would have Terminator travel back in time to tell Arnold not to have a special election. ... I should have also listened to my wife, who said to me 'Don't do this.' But anyway, the bottom line is we did it, the bottom line is that we didn't win. See how I'm making this glass half-full? We didn't win. We lost. The bottom line is that we've just got to go and now, look at the reality of this (and) shift gears, because in the end, remember I came up here for one reason, and this is to serve the people of California." - Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday's election defeat.

 

The Wedgie Strategy

Howard Fineman outlines the Democats new "wedge strategy:"

If you are a political junkie, you’ll remember Wedge Strategy 1.0.  Invented by the Republicans in the 80s, the idea was to create division within the then-majority Democratic Party at the grassroots by highlighting “wedge issues” such as affirmative action, abortion, gay rights, free trade and immigration. The aim was to create friction between, say, black Democrats and white unionists over affirmative action. Party-building is about papering over conflicting views; the Republicans’ goal in those years was to expose them.

It was an outside, grassroots game.

The Democrats’ New Wedge Strategy is an inside one, aimed at Bush-led Republican Washington, where team loyalty is supposed to be the number one virtue, and where the president has ruled with an iron hand. The Democrats want to unhinge that discipline by exposing — or creating — friction between: Bush and Cheney, Bush and his political advisor, Karl Rove; the White House and the Republican-run Congress; and between competing Republican leadership tongs on Capitol Hill.

None of these figures or factions is popular in the country right now, and the Dems’ rather simple idea is to force them to defend each other in broad daylight.

The obvious difference is that Republicans actually discussed issues, Democrats are simply slamming the members of the administration daily but have yet to offer any alternative vision to the public.

Furthermore, while Fineman is right that Republicans have had a good deal of success using values issues over the last twenty years to exploit fissures within the Democratic party, he completely misses the fact that the engine that drove the Republican take over of Congress, 1994's Contract With America, had very little to do with values issues. It was a document firmly grounded in conservative principles of limited, effecitve government that offered a concise, specific set of reforms: budget reform, welfare reform, tax reform, tort reform, and reforming the "business as usual" rules in Congress.

Continuing to bash the Bush administration may keep the GOP down, but it won't lift the Democrats up.  Without presenting a detailed plan or statement of principles to take advantage of the public's extreme dissatisfaction with Congress and the general direction of the country, Democrats risk watching their new strategy turn from being a "wedge" into a "wedgie" - in other words, it could backfire into a most uncomfortable missed political opportunity.

November 10, 2005

The Case For War

Kevin Drum responds to Norman Podhoretz's essay detailing the case for war in Iraq:

Nor does Podhoretz apply himself to the entire period before the war. He stops his investigation at the end of 2002. But that's not when we went to war. We went to war in March 2003, and by that time UN inspectors had been combing Iraq for months with the help of U.S. intelligence. They found nothing, and an increasing chorus of informed minds was starting to wonder if perhaps there was nothing there. In response, President Bush and his supporters merely amped up their certainty that Saddam was hiding something.

Let's go back, look at the record and see if we can't refresh our memories a bit. The issue, as it stood throughout all of 2002, started with this declaration by the President in his State of Union address in late January of that year:

Our nation will continue to be steadfast and patient and persistent in the pursuit of two great objectives.  First, we will shut down terrorist camps, disrupt terrorist plans, and bring terrorists to justice.  And, second, we must prevent the terrorists and regimes who seek chemical, biological or nuclear weapons from threatening the United States and the world.

We all know Bush explicitly singled out Iraq:

Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror.  The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade.  This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens -- leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children.  This is a regime that agreed to international inspections -- then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.

The first four sentences of the above paragraph represent uncontested fact. The last is a reasonable, logical, and prudent conclusion flowing from the previous four.

The implication of Bush's words were clear and supremely significant: in the aftermath of 9/11 America would no longer tolerate Iraq's deception, its cat-and-mouse games, its flouting of international authority.  The burden of proof on WMD, which for so long had rested on the international community's ability (or lack thereof) to make a case, shifted directly to Iraq. It was Hussein's responsibility to come clean once and for all, to open up to inspections and make a full and complete accounting to the world.

Eight months later (a pretty pathetic rush to war, if you ask me) Bush made the same cogent, powerful argument directly to the United Nations on September 12, 2002. The UN Security Council responded by unanimously approving Resolution 1441 on November 8 which gave Iraq "a final opportunity" to "provide accurate, full, final, and complete disclosure" of its past and present WMD activities.

Almost three weeks went by before inspections resumed in Iraq on November 27, 2002. At this point there was still a general consensus among intelligence agencies around the world - not to mention policy experts and politicians from both sides of the aisle in the U.S. dating back nearly 10 years - about what type of WMD Iraq was potentially concealing.

Yes, we now know there were some dissenting opinions in the mix of intelligence, but that only serves to highlight a point that cannot be overstated: our ability to know exactly what Saddam had or didn't have depended almost exclusively on his willingness to cooperate with the inspection and disarmament process.  Everyone, including Hans Blix, knew this and stated it openly and repeatedly, often citing South Africa as the model for full, accurate, and complete disarming of WMD.

The record shows that is not how Saddam behaved. On December 7 Iraq submitted a 12,000 page weapons declaration which both the U.S. and the U.N. found to contain "gaps" and "inconsistencies" which Iraq either could not or would not explain.  Inspectors gained access to sites but were accompanied by groups of Iraqi "minders" in ratios as high as five to one.  Iraq initially refused to allow inspectors to interview its scientists under conditions set by the UN. And on and on.

Far from being open and cooperative, what little compliance the UN received from Iraq came at the point of the gun. Saddam became a bit more responsive as the first U.S. soldiers began massing in the Persian Gulf in early 2003, but even after eight full weeks of inspections Hans Blix opened his status report before the U.N. on January 27, 2003 by saying:

Unlike South Africa, which decided on its own to eliminate its nuclear weapons and welcomed the inspection as a means of creating confidence in its disarmament, Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace.

At the point Bush made the decision to go to war in March 2003, Saddam had had more than four months worth of opportunities after the passage of Resolution 1441 (and another 12 years and 15 resolutions before that) to make a meaningful display of cooperation on the issue of WMD disarmament to the US and the UN. He never chose to do so.

We now know one of the reasons Saddam never felt pressured to cooperate is because he had been running a multibillion dollar bribery scam through the U.N. itself. Support for sanctions was on the verge of crumbling.  And everyone knew maintaining a huge U.S. military force on the Iraqi border to force continued inspections was untenable for any serious length of time.

In the end, the story of the run-up to the Iraq war is about intelligence, but not in the way most people think.  Intelligence is always flawed and imprecise, even more so when you're dealing with a closed, paranoid and authoritarian regime like Hussein's. It's foolish to suggest Bush should have bucked consensus estimates on Iraq WMD built from more than a decade of intel, and it's even worse to suggest he lied for not doing so. 

What President Bush did instead was put an end to the decade-long guessing game and place the burden squarely on Saddam Hussein by saying in front of the world: "This is what we think you have. It's now your responsibility to prove us wrong." In the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack in the history of America, it was absolutely the right thing to do.

Santorum is Finished

New Keystone Poll out in Pennsylvania and the news keeps getting worse for the current GOP number three in the Senate.

In the same poll in March Senator Santorum trailed by 1 point, in June by 7 points, in September by 13 points, and in the latest (Nov. 2 - 7) Casey leads by a whopping 16 points, 51% - 35%.

Bottom line, barring a major event that totally reshuffles the national playing field, or a major scandal involving Bob Casey, Santorum will lose in 2006.

UPDATE BY TOM:  Rasmussen has it even worse for Santorum, down 20-points to Casey (54-34) in a just released poll.

Is Arnold Finished?

Yesterday I suggested that the results from the three big races on the east coast (VA, NJ, and NYC) proved nothing about the 2006 political prospects for either Republicans or Democrats. Arnold's defeat in California this week is another story.

Schwarzenegger was the king of the political world 2 years ago when he swept the politically moribund Gray Davis out of office and browbeat and intimidated Democratic legislators over the next year. But just like President Bush, the last 12 months have not been kind to the actor-turned-Governor.

Arnold is getting plenty advice on how he can turn things around. Conservative Hugh Hewitt suggests Arnold needs to remember that he is a Republican Governor and does need conservative support to succeed:

There is no such thing as a fusion candidate, no such thing as a bipartisan campaign or a non-partisan issue, and come election night, there are just two parties, one at the GOP HQ and one at the Dem HQ. There's a winners' party and a losers' party. Last night you were
speaking to the losers' party........

As Nixon often remarked: You can't win with just the conservatives, but you cannot win without them...

So you've got to get serious about winning in '06, and that means getting serious about the GOP base......

I don't doubt that you are more energized than ever and ready for a knock-down 12 months.

It is going to be sweet to win re-election, especially after all the doom-sayers on this Wednesday morning, but you can't get there with the tactics or the team of 2005.....

You're the producer and the director. Change the script. Change everything. Or go back to making movies in 15 months.

In many ways this is good advice (you should read the whole post to see the specific proposals Hewitt outlines). However complicating this advice is:
1) California is not exactly a hard-core Conservative state, and
2) a politician shouldn't try and be something he is not. It would be a mistake for Schwarzenegger to try and push conservative social issues when everyone knows he is a libertarian who is liberal or agnostic on most social issues.

According to LA Weekly, his wife Maria Shriver "wants him to move back to the bipartisan center." This may sound good to some of the Governor's advisors but that is where Hewitt is right, the mushy middle isn't going to work when your political opponents are out to terminate you. The Bloomberg approach will not work in California, especially if Schwarzenegger actually wants to do something in office, as opposed to just get reelected.

Arnold needs to re-fashion himself as a populist Governor who wants to make California work again. There is nothing wrong with picking smart fights, over issues that matter, with the liberal special interests. And the fights have to be with the Democratic base, because he needs Republicans and conservatives to be enthusiastic about his Governorship.

He needs to turn his defeat this week into a positive. Go back to work, try and get some real reform done with the Legislature, and if he can't go back to the people in 2006. Don't apologize, don't sugar coat the facts, tell the voters what they don't want to hear. Tell them that you tried to reform the system to make the state government work in 2005, and work your hardest to get real reforms done in 2006 and if you don't, run unapologetically against your liberal opponents.

I am not suggesting that he should just ignore what happened this week and not try and make good faith efforts to compromise where he can with his opponents. If he is able to get something of consequence agreed to, great for California, and he will win reelection in a walk. But, if there is no real compromise to be had, he has to be willing to go to the mat another time.

Give the people a choice between real populist reform vs. status quo liberal interest group politics in Sacramento. Make it clear that this is what is in the best interest of California, that you have no political ambitions, that you can't be President, and if you lose you'll just go back to your sad life as a multi-millionaire Hollywood mega-star.

In some ways California voters were able to have their cake and eat it to in this election. They said no to all of Arnold's changes but they still get to keep Schwarzenegger in the statehouse as a counterbalance to the special interests. Don't give the voters that option in 2006, make them choose between going down the road with you or a Bustamante/Gray Davis look alike and the Sacramento Democrats.

If this sounds like a re-run of what we just saw, maybe it is in some ways. But it's better to have lost in the pre-season this past Tuesday than in the post-season next November. Make the necessary adjustments and get back on the field.

November 09, 2005

Judy's Gone

Here is Katharine Seelye's just-posted report on Miller's departure from the NYT:

Lawyers for Ms. Miller and the paper negotiated a severance package, the details of which they would not disclose. Under the agreement, Ms. Miller will retire from the newspaper, and The Times will print a letter she wrote to the editor explaining her position. Ms. Miller originally demanded that she be able to write an essay for the paper's Op-Ed page challenging the allegations against her. The Times refused that demand - Gail Collins, editor of the editorial page, said, "We don't use the Op-Ed page for back and forth between one part of the paper and another" - but agreed to let her write the letter.

In that letter, to be published in The New York Times on Thursday under the heading, "Judith Miller's Farewell," Ms. Miller said she was leaving partly because some of her colleagues disagreed with her decision to testify in the C.I.A. leak case.

Can't wait to read Judy's letter. 

UPDATE: Here it is

'Better Neither Than Either'

An email from a reader in Williamsburg:

Just an observation from a voter who observed the festivities here on the ground in Virginia.  The race was considered Jerry Kilgore’s to lose and he went about losing with a bafflingly proactive verve.  He was afraid to run as an open conservative, taking multiple positions on taxes (among a host of other issues) being his chief sin.  He descended into a fever swamp of negative campaigning – the negative ads were so abysmally bad, so pointless and unnecessary that they screamed “elect anyone but me.” The death penalty – Adolf Hitler ad just sealed it! Several weeks ago, I began to feel that he had contracted with a Democrat campaign specialist to run his absolutely abysmal effort.  In short, he campaigned as a loser and proved himself to be one.

Kaine’s campaign was certainly little better, but Kilgore outstripped Kaine’s own tin ear, position waffling, and hiding behind Mark Warner’s skirts by an order of magnitude. Frankly, I was surprised that the turnout on Tuesday was as high as it was.  This was for me a “better neither than either” election.

Quote of the Day

 “I’m going to tell you that I don’t use the word in a derogatory manner. I find it no different than when people use the word dago and honkie or a spic. I find that people use it in their day. I actually find your line of questioning here extremely insulting to me.” -  Pennsylvania Democrat Greg Matta from a 2003 deposition responding to an attorney who asked Matta to explain his admitted use of the "n-word." The case was one of six suits filed against Matta by former employees shortly after taking offfice as theAllegheny Clerk of Courts, two of whom accused Matta of racial discrimination.  Roll Call (reg req) has a story today with all the details on Matta, who is considering a 2006 bid against Republican Tim Murphy in Pennsylvania's 18th District.

Bush's "Disaster"

The MSM is trying to spin yesterday's election as a disaster for President Bush. But a simple exercise of just checking the election results from four years ago shows this to be partisan spin.

2001 Virginia: Warner (D) 52%, Earley (R) 47%
2005 Virginia: Kaine (D) 52%, Kilgore (R) 46%

2001 New Jersey: McGreevey (D) 56%, Schundler (R) 42%
2005 New Jersey: Corzine (D) 53%, Forrester (R) 44%

2001 New York City: Bloomberg (R) 50%, Green (D) 47%
2005 New York City: Bloomberg (R) 59%, Ferrer (D) 39%

The Democratic sweep of New Jersey and Virginia foreshadowed absolutely nothing for 2002. So the idea that the election results are proof of Democratic strength or Republican weakness is partisan blather, parroted by a sympathetic media.

Now none of this is to suggest that President Bush and the GOP don't have some serious problems, they do. If there is a difference between 2001 and 2005, it can be summed up in President Bush's job approval. On Election Day 2001 Bush's job approval in the RCP Average stood at 85.2%, today it is hovering at an all time low of 38.5%. Below 40% is a problem.

The fact that the President has not received any bounce from the Miers withdraw and subsequent Alito nomination (at least yet) is an indication that the relentless Democrat pounding that "Bush lied," has taken its toll. Perhaps the the Libby indictment, as it has been filtered down to average Jane and Joe American, has provided just enough credibility to lend credence to the Democratic attacks the public has heard for months.

I suspect the White House does have a plan to counterattack, and maybe they are just waiting to make sure the coast is clear as far as Rove is concerned before they go on the full scale offensive. But they better get their act together soon. Public opinion is starting to calcify, and the longer the President's job approval sits below 40% the more that number will start to become a ceiling, as opposed to a floor.

The Gergen/Duberstien/MSM advice on how to right the ship is fools gold and, if followed, would completely demoralize his base and insure a Republican disaster in 2006. I suspect that Kenneth Walsh's US News article where he suggests the President is going back to who brought him to the dance is closer to the road he will follow:

Far from being chastened by recent setbacks, including the indictment of his chief of staff, Vice President Dick Cheney is thumbing his nose at his critics--and encouraging President Bush to do the same. "Bush and Cheney are standing as one," says a prominent Republican who regularly advises the White House. "Their strategy is to get the conservative base solidified again"

Behind the scenes, Cheney is feeding Bush's instinct never to give ground when under attack........President Bush, meanwhile, is thinking in bigger terms. Friends say he has decided that he will never catch a break from the Democrats or the media--on the CIA case or anything else--so he will govern from the right, as he did on most issues in his first term.

Bush would be well advised to follow the above path. He will never placate his political enemies or foes in the media.

While there is no question that the President has taken a pounding these last few months starting with Cindy Sheehan, Katrina, Miers and then Fitzgerald; he still holds some powerful cards not the least of which is the fecklessness of the Pelosi/Reid/Dean opposition. Democrats would be well advised to remember that Republicans put a hard and specific agenda in front of the American people in 1994, which combined with the unhappiness with Congress is what led to the big GOP win. Right now there is no Democratic agenda. Simply repeating "NO" or "BUSH LIED" is not a program.

If Bush is willing to fight he can turn things around. The final round of elections in Iraq, Saddam's impending conviction and execution, and the potential for many American troops to come home could provide a backdrop to turn around public perceptions about Iraq. A strong economy, coupled with firm housing and equity prices are another positive for the President. And then finally, the Alito nomination will provide a forum for a partisan fight, that as long as Alito is confirmed, will energize his base and demoralize the Left.

This isn't meant to be all happy talk for Republican prospects. The table is set for a very good 2006 for the Democrats. And the Republican recruiting woes and Democratic successes provide an early indication that the Bush election run may be coming to an end. But everyone should take a deep breath and remember it is November 2005 not November 2006. And because the Democratic "success" these last few months has come almost exclusively from Bush's woes and nothing the Democrats are pro-actively offering, the President has it in his power to turn things around for the GOP. But he better get out there and fight, because he is not going to catch a break from his political enemies, and he better get that job approval back above 40%.

Election 2005 Post Mortem

Some quick wrap up on Election 2005:

Virginia: Kaine beat Kilgore by an almost identical margin (52/46) to Warner's 2001 victory over  Mark Earley (52/47). Kaine picked up roughly 35,000 more raw votes than Warner did in 2001 while Kilgore only added around 20,000 to Earley's 2001 total. Voter turnout this year was reported at 43%. 

A few points of interest comparing county level returns from 2005 to 2001:

Fairfax & Arlington Counties: Kaine ran almost six points better than Warner did four years ago (60.2 to 54.5) in Fairfax County. Fairfax is the largest county in the state by an order of magnitude (13.76% of all votes cast yesterday came from Fairfax), so Kaine netted a 60,000+ vote lead in Fairfax alone, more than double what Warner got in '01. Kaine also ran 6 points better than Warner in neighboring Arlington County - and Warner is from Alexandria.

Loudoun & Prince William Counties: Kaine ran much stronger in the Northern Virginia ex-urbs than Warner. Kaine beat Kilgore in Loudoun 51.3% to 45.7%. Four years ago Warner lost Loudoun to Earley by seven and half-points. Same in Prince William, where Kaine managed to post a 1.8% win yesterday. Warner lost it by five and a half in 2001.

New Jersey: Corzine won by 9.5%, outperforming most of the polls in this race. According to an AP-Ipsos exit survey:

Corzine captured the New Jersey governor's race by expanding on his party's traditional edge among women and minorities, but also by blunting Republican Doug Forrester's drumbeat on property tax reduction, according to a voter survey conducted Tuesday.

Corzine voters said the economy and jobs were most important to them. People who cited property taxes as the most important issue favored Forrester. The Republican scored even more strongly among voters who said corruption was a factor in their vote, according to the survey by The Associated Press and its polling partner, Ipsos.

Forrester wasn't an ideal candidate and his pro-choice, pro-stem cell positions siphoned off valuable support from the conservative base. It also looks like all the mud slinging at the end of the race ended up being a plus for Corzine because it drove up the negatives of both candidates and drowned out any real discussion of the two issues which Forrester had a chance of gaining traction: propterty taxes and corruption.

Now to the "what does it all mean?" segment:

Ron Brownstein says last night lifts the hopes of Democrats, though he does make note that Dems won both these races in 2001 when Bush's approval rating was at it's post-9/11 peak.

John Podhoretz says:  "To sum up: Incumbent party victories in two states and one city. A Republican state rejected Democratic initiatives. A Democratic state rejected Republican initiatives. Don't let the Democratic spin doctors fool you. Election Day 2005 has nothing to tell us about where the electorate is going in the wake of Bush's terrible year."

Larry Sabato says:  "There's no way to spin this than anything other than a major defeat for Republicans and for President Bush. This [Virginia] is a red state, he came in on Election Eve and he had no discernible effect. If anything, he may have cost Kilgore some votes."

Stuart Rothenberg says: ``Given the state of things, the Republicans really needed to win one of these races. Because of the way the cycle is setting up, the way the momentum is right now, it's not good enough for the Republicans to say, `These were Democratic seats, we put up a good fight and still lost.' ``

Charlie Cook says: "Republicans on Capitol Hill are so scared already.  This is just going to make them more fearful that 2006 could be a disaster."

Rahm Emanuel says: `This confirms that our voters are extremely mobilized, agitated and activated; theirs are despondent. Right now, I've got about 15 [potential candidates] I'm recruiting; this makes the sale a lot easier."

Ken Mehlman says: "From the beginning, we have viewed these as not national but state races. History is consistent with that, and the results tonight are consistent with that."

I think it's unwise to try and assign these races any value in analyzing what may or may not happen in 2006. Certainly the topline vitals (direction of country, Congressional approval, generic vote, etc) are not generally favorable for Republicans right now.  But a year is a very long time and the political landscape can - and probably will - change dramatically over the next twelve months.

November 08, 2005

Election Night Blog Thread

*****SCROLL DOWN FOR UPDATES THROUGHOUT THE EVENING****

New York City
UPDATE (10:03pm EST): with 10% reporting Bloomberg at 57, Ferrer at 41. Turnout light. I would think this race will be called for Bloomberg in the very near future. That was fast. AP called it for Bloomberg with 26% reporting, Bloomberg 56, Ferrer 41.

Virginia

***UPDATE (9:23pm EST): AP CALLS RACE FOR KAINE****
***Latest Numbers (11:18pm EST): 97.90% precincts reporting, Kaine 51.61%, Kilgore 46.11%)

------------------------ 

UPDATE (7:42pm EST):20% reporting, Kilgore 55, Kaine 43. Real-time election results here. Looks like the state gov web site is not responding. Alternate site for real-time results here. Good election map here.

UPDATE (8:00pm EST): 30.92% reporting, Kaine 52.19, Kilgore 45.65. 

UPDATE (8:04pm EST): Reports from around the state: James City County | Loudon County | Alexandria | Roanoke Valley

UPDATE (8:18pm EST): 48.19% precincts reporting, Kaine 51.55, Kilgore 46.29.

UPDATE (8:52pm EST):  57.49% precincts reporting, Kaine 51.83, Kilgore 45.95. NBC12 has reports of voting 'glitches' in Richmond. Here is an AP update from 2 minutes ago saying Kaine has a 55,000 vote lead with 63.48% precincts reporting.

UPDATE (8:57pm EST): Reports of problems with voting machines in Roanoke County as well.

UPDATE (9:04pm EST): 73.08% precincts reporting, Kaine 50.75, Kilgore 46.98. Potts pulling 2.18. 

UPDATE (9:32pm EST): The AP has called the race in favor of Democrat Tim Kaine.  Other winners declared by the AP: Ben Cline (R), District 24; Chris Saxman (R), District 20; Ward Armstrong (D), District 10.

New Jersey
****UPDATE: AP CALLS RACE FOR CORZINE***
***Latest Numbers (11:19pm EST):
91% reporting, Corzine 53.5, Forrester 43.2)

--------------------- 

UPDATE (7:51pm EST): Polls close in nine minutes. Real-time election results here. Results and map here.

UPDATE (8:15pm EST): From the nj.com election blog:

As election day wound down, the atmosphere was noticably different at each of the gubernatorial candidates headquarters.

At the tomb-quiet campaign offices of Republican Doug Forrester in suburban Lawrenceville, a handful of volunteers answered the phones and chatted as the evening rush hour began to build on Route 1.

In downtown New Brunswick, Democrat Jon Corzine's campaign offices were a hive of activity as scores of volunteers and staff bustled about the back rooms.

Dynamobuzz is live blogging the election results.

UPDATE (8:25pm EST): Here's a recently updated story from the Asbury Park Press

UPDATE (8:28pm EST):  Steve Kornacki has a report that Corzine folks are handing out tacos and fried chicken in front of polling places.

UPDATE (8:35pm EST) Enlighten NJ says the buzz is that turnout is heavy in GOP areas and light in Dem strongholds.  Early returns have Forrester 51, Corzine 47.

UPDATE (8:37pm EST): Check that last post: latest results are now Corzine 52, Forrester 46.

UPDATE (8:59pm EST): Cool. Watch live coverage streamed on NJN.

UPDAE (9:12pm EST):  Bergen County 55% reporting, Corzine up 26,000, a 56/44 split.  Analysts saying this is same split McGreevey had in 2001 and he ended up winning big statewide, so if Bergen Co. is in fact a bellwether Corzine is looking to be in good shape.

UPDATE (9:18pm EST): Sussex 97% in, Forrester has 10,000 vote plurality which is twice what Schundler had four years ago. Essex county (only 18% reporting) breaking heavily for Corzine as expected, but the question is how heavy turnout will be. McGreevey netted 80,000 votes out of Essex in '01, but low turnout would net Corzine around 50,000. Big difference.

UPDATE (9:50pm EST): With 58% reporting Corzine still maintaining an 11 point lead. NJN has now called the race as well, and analysts expect Corzine's lead to grow as urban Dem strongholds like Camden, Patterson and Newark come in.

Looking Ahead

In the event that Election 2005 is just not providing enough excitement, you can begin ruminating on next year using this new batch of WSJ/Zogby Interactive polls on potential 2006 match ups for Senate and Governor.

The Perfect Latin American Idiot

laidiot.jpg

Two of the most astute commentators on Latin American affairs are Carlos Alberto Montaner and Alvaro Vargas Llosa, both of whom we are proud to carry on RealClearPolitics.  They also happen to be co-authors of "The Guide To The Perfect Latin American Idiot" (along with Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza). 

Today Montaner dissects the origins of the protests at Mar del Plata:

 

The devastating protest was not surprising, however. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of the Soviet Union, the Left everywhere stopped offering options for governance or serious theories about development and equity and sought refuge in protest.

The enemies of globalization explain their ideas by stoning McDonald's to smithereens. Anticapitalists hurl pies at the president of the International Monetary Fund.

Anti-Americanism has turned into ideology. The communists have exchanged Das Kapital for T-shirts with the image of Ché Guevara and choruses of brief (and badly rhymed) slogans. The Left today is nothing but circus and street violence.

But that strategy, along with the corruption and follies of many governments, has burrowed deeply, especially in Latin America, where a growing number of citizens despise democracy as a method to organize coexistence and reject the market economy as a way to create and assign wealth.

Over in The New York Times, John Tierney quotes Alvaro Vargas Llosa in his sharp column explaining why Diego Maradona, whose rise from abject poverty in Argentina to global superstar making $10 million a year in endorsement contracts from multinational corporations like Puma and Fuji only to become a socialist anti-free trader, is the epitome of the perfect Latin American idiot:

What distinguishes the Perfect Latin American Idiot is his persistence. No matter how far the continent falls behind the rest of the world, its populists cling to the same beliefs in socialism and big government, the same distrust of capitalism and free trade, the same conviction that Latin American poverty is the fault of the United States.

"Maradona embodies the wonderful possibilities of globalization, yet he does everything in his power to deny people poorer than himself to participate in that world," said one of the "Perfect Idiot" authors, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian journalist (and son of the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa). "Everything Maradona and Chavez stand for has been tried before. These populists are repeating the mistakes of the Mexican Revolution, of Brazil in the 30's, of Argentina in the 50's, of Peru in the 80's."

You can read more from Alvaro Vargas Llosa - which I strongly suggest you do starting with this fantastic piece taking 10 Shots at Che Guevara - in his author archive page. Equally worthwhile is time spent digging through Carlos Alberto Montaner's archive page.

Virginia Governor: Kilgore vs. Kaine

The Governor's race in Virginia is coming down to the wire. Each side brought in their big guns yesterday, President Bush was with Kilgore and Kaine had the current Gov. Mark Warner by his side.

Mason-Dixon has had this a 1-2 point race since July, and in talking to Brad Coker after his final poll showing Kaine 45%, Kilgore 44%, Potts 4%; he still calls this a 1-2 point race with the edge now to Kaine.

Since Labor Day we have seen polls with Kilgore ahead 7 and just yesterday Survey USA had a poll with Kaine up 9. (Survey USA's final poll had Kaine ahead 5, with their Monday only data showing the race tied.)

The trend in this race over the final month clearly favors Kaine and given the current national political backdrop Kilgore is not likely to get the same boost that a Republican would normally expect in Virginia.

The final RCP Average in this race gives Kaine a three point lead, with the independent Potts drawing 3%. Kilgore supporters can look to few factors that might give their guy some hope:

1) In 2004 several polls at the end had Kerry within 4-5 points of Bush, including Survey USA's final poll which had Bush ahead only 4. Kerry lost Virginia by over 8 points.

2) Kilgore is from the Southwestern part of the state, which is a part of Virginia a Democrat usually carries when they win statewide. Kaine is unlikely to carry that part of the state.

3) Virginia is a red state.

In the end, I suspect Kaine's momentum over the last month, President Bush's current problems and the 3-4% Potts is likely to draw will all combine to be enough to get Kaine over the top.

November 07, 2005

Final Marist Poll: Corzine 51%, Forrester 46%

Here it is. Only 3% undecided using likely voters with leaners. Favorable/unfavorable ratings:  Forrester 44/50, Corzine 46/49.

Meanwhile, Wally Edge reports county clerks across the state are reporting record numbers of absentee ballots and suggests Democrats may in fact have the advantage in absentees.

Topinka Will Run

Illinois Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka announced she's "ready" to enter the GOP primary race for Governor. Topinka also said Jim Edgar, the popular former Governor of Illinois (1991-1999) who recently mulled and then declined a bid to run against Rod Blagojevich, will endorse her candidacy in the near future.

Topinka is the fifth candidate to enter the field so far. She's a pro-choice moderate with ties to George Ryan and currently the only Republican holding statewide office. Despite her suggestion that Republicans "keep our powder dry during the primary," Topinka can expect a rough and tumble race among a group of candidates representing the fractured constituencies of an Illinois Republican party in a continuing state of disarray.

UPDATE: We'll be talking more about Blagojevich's problems (and there some biggies) in a future post. In the meantime, check out this article from last week's Chicago Tribune where Terry Barnich argues Edgar did Republicans a favor by bowing out, forcing the GOP to get their act together to beat Blagojevich on the strength of leadership, ideas and pro-growth principles instead of trading on Edgar's reputation and popularity.

Press Release of the Day

I'm on the mailing list for both the DNC and the RNC, so I get tons of stuff every day, from texts of statements to favorable clippings to press releases pushing certain issues.  For example, today from the DNCC I received an email titled "Republican Leaders Turn Their Blind Eye To Oil Proifts" and from the RNC I was forwarded the text of a favorable article on Judge Alito that ran in today's Los Angeles Times. Rarely are these pieces of spin helpful or even interesting, but every now and then there is an exception. Look at this biting release from the NRCC today:

Countdown to Democrat Rollout: 17 Days
Americans Eagerly Anticipate Arrival Of Latest Installment In Minority Party's Series of Failed Agendas

WASHINGTON - Recently, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi ruminated, "It's funny, when I travel around the country, how few people know about our Democratic agenda." (Congressional Quarterly Today, 9/29/05)

That's probably because no such thing exists. But, maybe not for long?

According to published reports, Democrats had planned to release their initiatives next year, but recent events have prompted Democratic leaders to consider releasing their plan before Thanksgiving. (San Francisco Chronicle 10/16/05)

To whet your appetite before the rollout, you can catch up with the most recent futile Democrat plans, including 2002's Securing America's Future For All of Our Families and 2004's New Partnership for America's Future.

"If Democrats ever get around to formulating an agenda, we look forward to talking about it," National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director Carl Forti said.

I've said before, when done properly, few things in politics are more powerful than sarcasm. Democrats should do more along these lines; they'd score better with the public by trading out some of the overbearing righteousness and vitriol for a little softer-edged, humorous ridicule. Heaven knows they have a target rich environment to work with at the moment.

Pirro's Challenge From The Right

Fred Dicker of The New York Post reports that Jeanine Pirro's already troubled Senate bid is in danger of losing the critical backing of the Conservative Party to former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer:

Tactically, Spencer, a tough-talking ex-Marine who is far more conservative than Pirro on a range of issues, plans to use Conservative Party backing as leverage to convince many still-uncommitted GOP leaders to back him as the only candidate with a chance to defeat Clinton.

Dicker quotes Spencer as saying he thinks the Conservative endorsement is "in the bag."  Dicker also notes that no Republican has won statewide in New York in more than 30 years without Conservative Party support.

Smear Politics.....From Joe Klein

The Weekly Standard's Scrapbook takes on Joe Klein's distortion of the truth in last week's Time magazine column "The Perils of the Permanent Campaign":

Joe Klein last week went after the Bush White House for what he alleged was its reflexive technique for dealing with unpleasant news: "destroy the messenger." Klein's evidence?

A prominent Republican . . . told me that the White House had sent out talking points about how to attack Brent Scowcroft after Bush the Elder's National Security Adviser went public with his opposition to the war in the New Yorker magazine. "I was so disgusted that I deleted the damn e-mail before I read it," the Republican said. "But that's all this White House has now: the politics of personal destruction."

Take it from The Scrapbook, Joe: You need to find yourself a better class of prominent Republican, starting with one who reads his email and doesn't lie to you about its contents. We're assuming, of course, that your source even received the email, although he may simply have read a rumor of its existence on an especially hysterical anti-Bush blog, which claimed that "the White House revenge-team is out to get Brent Scowcroft."

Why does The Scrapbook speak with such confidence about your source's unreliability? Because, notwithstanding our own lack of prominence, we received the email in question. Not only were we not disgusted, we actually read it, and it was about as ad hominem as a seminar paper.

In the interest of further enlightening the public on the "smear" machine at the White House, here is the entire rebuttal from the email in question:

Some Thoughts in Response
 
1. Bernard Lewis is perhaps our greatest living historian on the Middle East.
 
2. Ronald Reagan calling the Soviet Union an "evil empire" was accurate, courageous, and important, as we learned from (among others) Soviet dissidents.
 
3. The assertion that we have had "fifty years of peace" in the Middle East is an odd one, if you consider (a) America's 1991 war against Iraq (which General Scowcroft favored); (b) the Iraq-Iran war (in which there were a million casualties; (c) the conflict in the early 1970s between Jordan and the Palestinians; (d) the civil war in Lebanon; (e) the four wars between Israel and Arab nations; and (f) the attacks of September 11, 2001 (which was carried out by Islamic radicals who emerged from the broader Middle East).
 
In some ways this point underscores the enormous difference between the worldview of Mr. Scowcroft and those in the Bush Administration. Mr. Scowcroft seems to believe that the status quo in the Middle East is tolerable, maybe even preferable; we do not. The President believes that if the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation and anger and violence for export. In the words of President Bush, "In the past, [we] have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. Longstanding ties often led us to overlook the faults of local elites. Yet this bargain did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time, while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold."
 
4. The "bad guys" -- the most ruthless among us -- do not "always" rise to the top. In fact in many elections - in Spain and Portugal, Nicaragua and El Salvador, the Czech Republic and Romania, South Africa and the Philippines, Indonesia and Ukraine, Afghanistan and Iraq, and many more - we have seen enormous strides toward freedom. For example, the Western Hemisphere has transformed itself over the last two decades from a region dominated by repressive, authoritarian regimes to one in which the overwhelming number of countries there have democratically-elected governments and growing civil societies.
 
It's also worth bearing in mind that some pretty bad guys (like Saddam Hussein) "win elections" in authoritarian and totalitarian societies. Indeed, non-democracies make it far easier for the "bad guys" to prevail than is the case with democracies. Is it the supposition of Mr. Scowcroft that from a historical point of view dictatorships have a better record than democracies? Or that because democratic elections don't always turn out well they can never turn out well? Or that because democratic elections don't always turn out well we should prefer authoritarian and totalitarian regimes? The habit of mind that sees all the weaknesses in democracy and all the "strengths" in authoritarian and totalitarian regimes is, well, curious.
 
5. Mr. Scowcroft insists we will not "democratize" Iraq and that "in any reasonable time frame the objective of democratizing the Middle East can be successful." Except that in the last two-and-a-half years Iraq has moved from tyranny, to liberation, to national elections, to the writing of a constitution, to the passage of a constitution. By any standard or precedent of history, Iraq has made incredible political progress. Iraq still faces challenges, including a ruthless insurgency -- but there is no question that the people of Iraq long for democracy and for victory over the insurgency.
 
The charge that the way we have sought to bring democracy to Iraq is "you invade, you threaten and pressure, you evangelize" is itself deeply misleading. Mr. Scowcroft's invasion was in fact a liberation -- and overthrowing one of the worst tyrannies in modern times and replacing it with free elections is a good start on the pathway to liberty. And of course this year we have also seen political progress -- not perfection, but progress -- in Kuwait, Egypt, and among the Palestinians.
 
6. The notion that democratic progress in Lebanon is "unrelated" to the war in Iraq is undermined by what the Lebanese themselves have told us. To take just one example, here are the words of Walid Jumblatt, who was once a harsh critic of American policy: "'It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."
 
7. Mr. Scowcroft seems to wish that Syria were still ruling Lebanon with an iron fist. Brutal repression may be;wicked -- but (Scowcroft seems to believe) it does keep a lid on "sectarian emotions."
 
8. Sometimes when given a chance, we humans don't screw up. Sometimes ;human beings reach for, and (even if imperfectly) attain, nobility and the advancement of freedom and human dignity.Which seems to me to be an argument against cynicism and despair -- to say nothing of repression and tyranny. Let the debate proceed.
 We will let you decide who is really doing the smearing in Washington these days.

Bloomberg Poised to Make History

There are only two questions left in the NYC Mayor's race:

1) Will Bloomberg go over $100 million in spending on his reelection bid?  No way. He's only rung up about $66 million so far, which is about $5 million less than the total amount spent on the Governor's race next door in New Jersey.

2) Will Bloomberg win by the largest margin ever for a Republican mayoral candidate? Yes. Rudy topped Ruth Messenger by 17.3% in 1997 and Fiorello LaGuardia beat Jeremiah Mahoney by 19.7% back in 1937.  Bloomberg has been leading Ferrer by more than 20 points in every poll taken since the beginning of October and Quinnipiac is out this morning with a new poll showing Bloomberg extending his lead to 38 points. 

 Get all the late breaking news and polls on the RCP Election 2005 NYC Mayoral Race Page.

Virginia Down To The Wire

President Bush will be in Virginia today trying to give Jerry Kilgore a last-minute lift.  The latest Mason-Dixon poll has this a one-point race (Kaine 45, Kilgore 44), so to the extent Bush can energize the Republican base at all it will be a boon for Kilgore. The big question is whether Tim Kaine can close the sale with voters as a conservative Democrat in the Warner mold. I'm not sure he can. Either way, this race is going to end up looking like the end of the New York City Marathon yesterday.

 The other interesting question about this race is what it means, if anything, for 2008. Hillary's camp thinks it has significant meaning for them:

 "Hillary stole the oxygen out of the room because she is who she is, but the consensus was that Mark Warner was the breakout candidate in Columbus [at the DLC annual meeting]," said a top party official in the Clinton camp. "But if Kaine loses, we think it will hurt [Warner's] chances to become the so-called 'anti-Hillary candidate.'"

Don't buy this preemptive spin. Mark Warner is going to remain a popular, conservative-leaning figure within the Democratic party and a threat in 2008 regardless of what happens in Virginia tomorrow. Unlike Hillary Clinton and Evan Bayh, the other DLC-alternative in the potential 2008 race, Warner isn't stuck in the Senate casting votes on Supreme Court nominees and other crucial matters trying to walk the fine line between presenting a moderate face to the public and placating  the far left wing base of the party.

But back to the race at hand.  The current RCP Average stands at Kaine +2.0 with a SurveyUSA poll in the pipeline and scheduled for release around noon.  With anywhere from 3-7 percent still undecided, it's anybody's race. Get all the late breaking news and polls on the RCP Election 2005 VA Gov Race Page.

Corzine Stumbling To The Finish

This one has gotten ugly. Corzine's affair with Carla Katz, head of New Jersey's largest public employee union, is well documented, as is the $470,000 "loan" to her which Corzine eventually forgave.

But on the heels of a devastating quote from Corzine's ex-wife Joanne appearing in the New York Times last week that the Forrester campaign quickly turned into a television ad ("Jon did let his family down and he'll probably let New Jersey down, too") new rumors surfaced involving Corzine, a staffer, and an abortion. The Corzine camp fired back with a rumor that Forrester also has been involved in an extra-marital affair, something Forrester flatly denies.

Adding to his woes, Corzine stumbled in the final debate Saturday night when asked a question about lowering the drinking age in New Jersey. Corzine was unaware the legal age in the state is 21, and he apologized after the debate for "being unprepared" and "making a mistake."

Two new polls out this morning show that while Corzine is fading down the stretch, the demographics in New Jersey might be too much of an advantage for Forrester to overcome:

Quinnipiac has Corzine with a 7-point lead (52-45) in their final poll allocating leaners. Republicans back Forrester 90-9, Dems back Corzine 90-9, and Forrester is winning independents 49-46.

Scott Rasmussen just released a poll showing Corzine's lead shrinking to 5 points over Forrester (44-39), down from 9 points two weeks ago. Normally, getting only 44% in a final poll while registering a favorability rating of only 36% would mean certain death for a candidate. Not in New Jersey.  Despite all the bad news for Corzine, Forrester remains stuck at 40% or lower in the Rasmussen poll with a favorability rating of 37%.

The latest RCP Average stands at Corzine +6.4  Get all the late breaking news on this race on the RCP Election 2005 NJ Gov Race Page.

UPDATE: SurveyUSA out with a new poll showing Corzine's lead shrinking to six points from nine. From the analysis:

In the past 2 weeks, Corzine has dropped 12 points among women, down from a 20-point lead on 10/25/05 to an 8-point lead today. 2 weeks ago, Corzine trailed by 2 among men; today he's up by 5. Among Independents, Forrester had trailed by 15, now by 2.

November 04, 2005

Brooks v. Krugman: Dueling Satires

I must come clean: a few days ago I broke down and subscribed to Times Select. Why? Well, a big part of my job is knowing what's in the editorial pages around the country and, like it or not, The Times is still fairly influential.

That and I missed tracking the deterioration of Dowd, Herbert and especially Krugman into tinfoil hat lunacy during the Bush administration. It's been the editorial equivalent of a slow motion car crash 6 times a week for the last 5 years and frankly, I found myself unable to look away with three solid years of carnage left. Perhaps this was the hidden brillance of the Times Select strategy all along. All I know is that my $49.95 fate was sealed the day Scooter Libby got indicted and I have not been disappointed (I'm still on the "14 day free trial" so technically I've got an out).

Yesterday David Brooks wrote a blistering satire of Harry Reid. Today Paul Krugman followed with one of his own on the Bush administration. In the spirit of a Friday afternoon at the end of a long week, I hereby present, "Dueling Satires." Cue the banjo music from Deliverance:

Brooks: Harry Reid sits alone at his kitchen table at 4 a.m., writing important notes in crayon on the outside of envelopes. It's been four weeks since he launched his personal investigation into the Republican plot to manipulate intelligence to trick the American people into believing Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Krugman: Hans Christian Andersen understood bad rulers. "The Emperor's New Suit" doesn't end with everyone acclaiming the little boy for telling the truth. It ends with the emperor and his officials refusing to admit their mistake. I've laid my hands on additional material, which Andersen failed to publish, describing what happened after the imperial procession was over.

Brooks: It has been four weeks since he [Reid] began investigating this conspiracy and three weeks since he sealed his windows with aluminum foil to ward off the Illuminati. Odd patterns now leap into his brain. Scooter Libby was born near a book depository but was indicted while at a theater. Karl Rove reads books from book depositories but rarely has time for the theater.

Krugman: Fox News repeatedly played up possible finds of imperial clothing, then buried reports discrediting these stories. Months after the naked procession, a poll found that many of those getting most of their news from Fox believed that the emperor had in fact been clothed.

Brooks: Harry Reid sits alone at his kitchen table at 4 a.m. Odd thoughts rush through his brain. He cannot trust the letter "r," so he must change his name to Hawwy Weed. Brian Lamb secretly rules the world by manipulating the serial numbers on milk cartons.

Krugman: After the naked procession, pro-wardrobe pundits denied that the emperor was at fault. The blame, they said, rested with the C.I.A., which had provided the emperor with bad intelligence about the potential for a suit.

Brooks: Reid realizes there is only one solution: "Must call a secret session of the Senate. Must expose global conspiracy to sap vital juices! Must expose Republican plot to manipulate intelligence!" Harry Reid sits alone at his kitchen table at 4 a.m.

Krugman: Two and a half years after the emperor's naked procession, a majority of citizens believed that the imperial administration had deliberately misled the country. Several former officials had gone public with tales of an administration obsessed with its wardrobe from Day 1. But apologists for the emperor continued to dismiss any suggestion that officials had lied to the nation. It was, they said, a crazy conspiracy theory. After all, back in 1998 Bill Clinton thought there was a suit.

RealClearPolitics Blog Coverage - November 4

Some big names in today's daily dose of blog coverage: Kaus, Hinderaker, Foer, Althouse, and more...

Bonus highlight: Carol Platt Libeau calls John McCain's statement on Alito "self-important, pompous poppycock." Ouch.

Jarhead

As the father of two small kids, I hardly ever get out to the movies any more. On the rare occasions that I do, the selection process almost always involves a vicious compromise with my wife that leaves me in the dark staring at something just this side of Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood.

In seven years of marriage I've only found one exception to this rule: if I can find a macho/war/blow stuff up/action thriller starring a leading man that my wife has a bit of a crush on she'll be willing to sit through it. Thanks to Jake Gyllenhaal, I'm still holding out hope I have a slim chance of seeing Jarhead, the adaptation of Anthony Swofford's 2003 book about his experiences as a Marine in the first Gulf War that opens in theaters today. 

Here is a great review by Jonathan Last at The Weekly Standard, and another one by David Edelstein at Slate. Mother Jones is also running an interview with Swofford here.

UPDATE: David Denby review in the New Yorker. (via Galley Slaves).

UPDATE II: Donald Sensing, retired Army officer and father of a Marine currently serving in Iraq, gives Jarhead three out of five bayonets. 

Neither Criminal Nor Unethical

That's the title of a piece in today's Wall Street Journal by David B. Rivkin, Jr. and Lee A. Casey which serves as a follow up to their effort in The Washington Post on Saturday.  This morning they write:

"The reason Mr. Fitzgerald did not charge anyone with leaking Ms. Plame's name, then, is clear.  It was not because, as he implied at his Oct. 28 press conference, there was insufficient evidence.  It was, rather, because there was in fact no crime as a matter of law. The true scandal here is that, despite Ms. Plame's non-covert status, Mr. Fitzgerald pressed ahead, forcing numerous journalists to testify and actually jailing Judith Miller....

In view of this history, and precisely because the CIA was skeptical of the Niger claims, sending an outside expert to assess them was absolutely correct.  The fact that the expert chosen by the CIA was so closely connected to its own bureaucracy was indispensable in assessing the value of that expert's work - especially after he had openly waded into the debate.  In short, the revelation of Ms. Plame's name in connection to the CIA was a public service, neither criminal nor unethical." 

November 03, 2005

WaPo/ABC News

New poll from The Washington Post/ABC News (10/30-11/2) has Bush job approval at 39%, which is  unchanged from their last sample taken just days ago (10/28-10/29). We'll have a further update when the full survey results are published on the Washington Post site.

UPDATE: Here are the full results. And here is a look at the sample: Dem 31%, Republican 27%, Independent 38%.

According to the data, that's the same breakdown they used in the survey from early September (9/8-9/11) that resulted in a job approval rating of 42% for Bush.

UPDATE II: Ap-Ipsos (10/31-11/2) is out now with Bush at 37%. That's down two points from their last survey in early October (10/3-10/5). Waiting on full data.

 

Chertoff Says Catch & Release Will End

Immigration reform is finally coming to the front burner.  In Houston yesterday, DHS Secretary Chertoff outlined what his department is calling the Secure Border Initiative.  In addition to technology enhancements such as unmanned surveillance planes and electronic sensing equipment, USA Today reports the SBI will include:

• Adding 1,500 Border Patrol agents to the current force of 11,000.

• Building more fences. Chertoff has authorized completion of a 14-mile wall near San Diego — a project that had been stalled for a decade by lawsuits from environmentalists. A law passed by Congress allowed him to waive environmental-protection laws. "We are not talking about building a giant wall across our borders," he said. "But in areas where it makes sense to do so, we will look at ... improvements."

• Ending the "catch and release" policy that allows tens of thousands of illegal immigrants from countries other than Mexico to stay in the USA.

In fiscal 2005, Chertoff said, the Border Patrol caught 160,000 non-Mexican illegal immigrants. Because there wasn't enough detention space to hold them until their cases could be heard in immigration courts, 120,000 were released. Most of those didn't show up for court. Chertoff plans to add 2,000 detention beds in 2006 — bringing the total to 21,000 — and he has ordered faster removal of illegal immigrants.

Meanwhile, The Houston Chronicle reports Attorney General Gonzalez was back in D.C. yesterday trying to drum up support for Bush's immigration policy among the Latino community - and getting mixed results:

Drawing on his own family's migrant worker history, Gonzales, who grew up in the Houston area, outlined Bush's immigration plan, but also acknowledged the "great deal of passion" the issue has created.

"I am a product, like virtually all of you, of the immigrant dream. So I understand how important it can be for people looking to provide for their families. The president understands that, too," Gonzales said.

"But the president and I also know, being from Texas, that the security of our citizens depends upon our ability to control the border. We need to know who's coming into this country," he added.

Gonzales helped draft the Bush immigration policy and would not comment on competing proposals in Congress.

A Texas lawmaker who attended the speech complained that the administration has not done enough to punish employers who create a market for illegal immigrant labor.

"There's no way you are going to deport a minimum of 11 million people," said Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D-San Antonio. It has to go beyond border enforcement, he said.

Among the competing propoals in Congress that Gonzales would not discuss are the McCain-Kennedy and the Kyl-Cornyn bills in the Senate. Today Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) is introducing a bill in the House (co-sponsored by Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia) calling for a two-layered fence to be built along the 2,000 mile U.S.-Mexico border.

Dems Upset Cheney Didn't Clean House

Earlier today top Senate Democrats (Reid, Schumer, Durbin, and Stabenow) fired off a letter to Vice President Cheney expressing how dismayed they are about his choices to replace the recently departed Scooter Libby (who pleaded not guilty today to the indictment charges, by the way) and claiming it signals "business as usual" from the Vice President. You can read the full text of the letter here (pdf).

As an aside, I can't help but give Senator Schumer a "chutzpah award" for publicly castigating Cheney over not "cleaning house" in the wake of the Libby indictment when Schumer's own staff at the DSCC was caught up in a criminal scandal just weeks ago.

You might recall that Katie Barge and Lauren Weiner, the "plumbers" who used Michael Steele's social security number to illegally obtain a copy of his credit report, stayed on Schumer's payroll for almost two months after being suspended when the report of their actions surfaced in July.  In the end, Schumer went ahead and paid their legal bills as well.

RealClearPolitics Blog Coverage - November 3

On tap today: Belmont Club, The Plank, Captain's Quarters, Camp Katrina, Gateway Pundit, Politics in Focus, and more......

Politics & Elections News - November 3

An unbelievable amount of good stuff in our politics and elections section this morning. A couple of highlights:

The Boston Globe reports Mitt Romney has put Iowa political consultant Gentry Collins on the payroll in yet another sign of his impending run for the White House.

Newsday reports that Hillary is paying eight Senate staffers additional salaries to moonlight as campaign operatives for her 2006 staff. Newsday says the tactic, referred to as "double dipping," is used by a few other Senators and is legal under Senate and FEC rules but is seen by some as blurring the line between public duties and campaign related activities. More Hilary news: she's going to Israel next week to meet with Sharon.

Newsday also has the story of a pipe bomb explosion outside the offices of Republican Rep. Peter King last night in Massapequa Park, NY. No one was hurt and the police are investigating possible suspects and motives for the crime.

Abramoff, Reed, and the "Wackos"

Ralph Reed is in a bit of trouble. Reed's quest for elected office (starting with the Lt. Gov race in Georgia) is in danger of being derailed by his high-powered lobbying practice and specifically his relationship with friend and fellow lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Reed is under intense scrutiny for receiving $4 million in fees from Abramoff for conducting grassroots campaigns to drum up public opposition to the expansion of gambling in Louisiana and Texas. It turns out, however, that Abramoff's client (and thus the source of the payments to Reed) was the Coushatta tribe, owners of the largest casino in Louisiana.  In other words, the implication is that Reed's effort was something of a political black op paid for by, and designed to protect the gambling interests of, the Coushatta tribe.

Reed insists he had no knowledge that the Coushattas were the source of the money and says Abramoff assured him the funds did not come from gambling interests. But as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, the plausability of Reed's denial took a hit in testimony before the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee yesterday:

Current and former Coushatta leaders described the path that $400,000 took to reach Reed's consulting firm. It went from the tribe to Southern Underwriters, a company run by the tribe's chief financial officer. From there it went to the American International Center, a think tank whose chief officer was an odd-jobbing lifeguard. Then the money went to Reed's firm.

"The payments were made to Ralph Reed. This was done with the whole council's approval," William Worfel, a former tribal government official, testified. Asked if Reed knew the origin of the money, Worfel replied: "I don't want to speculate, but he should know."

To be clear, while Abramoff is under criminal investigation for his activities as a lobbyist, Reed is not accused of any wrongdoing. His problems are purely political. Reed is battling the perception that he's enriched himself quite handsomely by manipulating the evangelical base he's spent so many years cultivating and leading.

The unkindest cut of all came in an email from Abramoff's partner, Michael Scanlon, to a former lawyer for the Coushatta tribe that demonstrates the contempt with which the lobbying and gambling interests viewed the evangelicals they were paying Ralph Reed to influence:

"Simply put, we want to bring out the wackos to vote against something and make sure the rest of the public lets the whole thing slip past them. The wackos get their information [from] the Christian right, Christian radio, e-mail, the Internet and telephone trees," Scanlon wrote.

That won't go over well with the people Ralph Reed needs to win office as Georgia's Lt. Governor. The best he can do is to try and convince evangelicals he was a victim of manipulation as well. Only time will tell if it will work or not.

Salazar on Alito

On FOX & Friends this morning Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Co), a member of the "Gang of 14" sounded very hostile to the Alito nomination, and when responding to a question about a filibuster and extraordinary circumstances said:

It may not even be that Judge Alito has the 51 votes to be confirmed.

This is not going to be Roberts-lite with Alito getting 65-70 "yes" votes.

November 02, 2005

CBS News Poll

New CBS News poll out tonight. Highlights:

  • Bush job approval at all time low of 35%
  • Bush favorable rating at 33%
  • Right track 27%, wrong track 68%
  • Congress job approval 34%
  • Congressional Dem favorable rating 41%, Congressional Republican favorable rating 35%

Now for the numbers behind the numbers. Take a look at the composition of the respondents:

Total Respondents (Unweighted) = 936
Republicans =  259 (27.67%)
Democrats = 326 (34.83%)
Independents = 351 (37.5%)

Now look at the weighted sample:

Republicans: 223 (23.80%)
Democrats: 326 (34.79%)
Independents: 388 (41.4%)

The result is a 35% job approval for the president, which is roughly 4-8 points lower than the other polls out right now.

Background on the Senate Stunt

More on Harry Reid's stunt invoking Rule 21 to shut down the Senate yesterday. The Note offers differing perspective from Senate staffers as to the result of yesterday's dust up over "Phase 2" of the Senate Intel Committee's investigation:

GOP Staffer: "We're agreeing to do what we're already doing — but Democrats needed to spin a victory."

Dem Staffer: "Frist can't take a punch. Republicans prove [they have a] glass jaw."

Meanwhile, The WaPo's Chris Cillizza has gotten word from a Democratic leadership aide that "red-state senators have been quietly supportive of the Reid maneuver."

Cillizza also confirms something I posited the other day in the context of discussing whether the Dems would try to filibuster Judge Alito. I wrote:

"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."

Cillizza writes today:

A Senate Democratic strategist, who requested anonymity to speak frankly, said Bush's falling approval ratings nationwide make red-state Democrats less fearful of bucking the president than they had been in previous years.

"The White House's ability to intimidate red-state senators is significantly diminished," said the source. "In 44 states his approval rating is under 50 percent."

 We'll see if the red-staters end up bucking the president or their own party on Alito. Ben Nelson made some favorable comments about Alito this afternoon, but it's still early in the process. The Gang of 14 meets tomorrow.

Don't Fear The Caliphate

Let's all hope Mark Steyn got a glimpse of this.  In yesterday's Guardian, Osama Saeed, spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, put a happy face on the idea of restoring a Muslim caliphate. Saeed suggested a reunification of the Muslim world would be a tool for political and economic development that would be roughly similar to the European Union. Saeed continued:

There is no point in comparing the political form a caliphate might take to those in centuries past. Institutions such as the British monarchy or the papacy have existed for centuries, but bear little resemblance today to what's gone before. A restored caliphate is entirely compatible with democratically accountable institutions.

But what about the issue of sharia? Opposing it is apparently also one of the western world's raisons d'etre, according to Clarke. Terms such as "sharia" and "caliphate" have important meanings to Muslims quite different from the distorted connotations they often carry in the west. The aim of Islamic law, contrary to popular belief, is not punishment by death or amputation of body parts. It is to create a peaceful and just society, with Islamic scholars over centuries citing its core aims: the freedom to practise religion; protection of life; safeguarding intellect; maintaining lineage and individual rights. This could be the basis for an Islamic bill of rights.

The reason popular belief about sharia is what it is, unfortunately, is because the world is constantly reminded of the draconian sentences handed down by sharia courts (amputations for thievery, stoning to death for adultery, and the public hanging of minors for "acts incompatible with chastity") as well as other displays of violence that at least some parts of the Muslim community claim are acceptable under sharia (like wife beating and honor killings).

The idea of an Islamic bill of rights is a good one, but it's impossible to square such a concept with the vision the caliphate as its being offered (or should I say imposed) by bin Laden and the rest of the bloodthirsty Islamic jihadis around the globe.

A real and legitmate Islamic bill of rights would need to be fashioned by the broad center of Islam and based on a categorical rejection of terrorism, oppression and violence against innocents. I've seen no indication that such a movement is underway.

One final acute point of irony in response to Saeed's argument: it might well be true that the closest thing to an Islamic bill of rights in the entire Muslim world right now is the charter approved by the Iraqi people last month.

RCP Blog Coverage - November 2

Featured today are posts from Big Lizards, Donkey Rising, Zen Politics, The Huffington Post, Betsy's Page, Polipundit and many more. Get them all on our new RealClearPolitics Blog Coverage Page, updated daily between 12-1pm Eastern.
 
And let me repeat that if you're a blogger (left, right, center, wherever) and you have a post you'd like us to consider, please send it through via email to "blogs-at-realclearpolitics.com."

Politics & Elections Update

We're now under a week until the 2005 elections.  From today's RCP Politics & Elections edition:

CA Special Election Polls: Survey USA | Los Angeles Times | Field | Poll Summary
NJ Governor Polls: Quinnipiac | Strategic Vision | RCP Average
NYC Mayor Poll: Bloomberg 62% Ferrer 31% - WNBC/Marist
NYC: Mayor, Ferrer Go At It in Final Debate - Newsday

In other news, folks in Colorado yesterday voted in favor of suspending TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) 53-47 which will allow the government to keep $3.7 billion in tax dollars it was scheduled to refund. Governor Bill Owens has taken a huge amount of heat from conservatives for supporting the measure, and now that it has passed it will be a thorn in his side should he decide to make a run for the White House.

Party Trumps Race

I'm constantly amazed by the lengths some black Democrats will go to savage fellow African-Americans who may not share their views.  Here is a depressing account of the treatment currently being given to Michael Steele, Lt. Gov of Maryland and recently declared Republican candidate for the United States Senate. Miller quotes State Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, an African-American Democrat from Baltimore:

"Party trumps race, especially on the national level," she said. "If you are bold enough to run, you have to take whatever the voters are going to give you. It's democracy, perhaps at its worse, but it is democracy."
    Delegate Salima Siler Marriott, a black Baltimore Democrat, said Mr. Steele invites comparisons to a slave who loves his cruel master or a cookie that is black on the outside and white inside because his conservative political philosophy is, in her view, anti-black.
    "Because he is a conservative, he is different than most public blacks, and he is different than most people in our community," she said. "His politics are not in the best interest of the masses of black people."
    During the 2002 campaign, Democratic supporters pelted Mr. Steele with Oreo cookies during a gubernatorial debate at Morgan State University in Baltimore.
    In 2001, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. called Mr. Steele an "Uncle Tom," when Mr. Steele headed the state Republican Party. Mr. Miller, Prince George's County Democrat, later apologized for the remark.
    "That's not racial. If they call him the "N' word, that's racial," Mrs. Marriott said. "Just because he's black, everything bad you say about him isn't racial."

This is truly despicable stuff. Uncle Tom is no longer racial? By this logic Mrs. Mariott will have no right to be offended if in her next race for the State Senate her opponent calls her "Aunt Jemima." It's not racial, just politics, right?

Of course it's not just politics. That is precisely the problem: too often we see members of the African-American left refusing to engage in serious policy debates and instead hurling racial insults and epithets at their opponents. It's one of the reasons we seem unable to have a rational discussion about race in this country and unless it stops it will also be one of the reasons America will never be the colorblind society most people deeply want it to be.

RELATED: See Powerline and Sensible Mom for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's silly remark attacking Clarence Thomas.

Coming Unhinged Over Restricting Roe

Remarkable. If you want to know how out of whack editorial boards are with the mainstream of the country, read this Des Moines Register editorial. It rakes Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Nussle over the coals for telling a reporter that one of the reasons he believes in parental consent for minors who want to have abortions is because he himself is the product of a teenage pregnancy:

 "She [Nussle's mother], I'm sure, had many tearful moments with her parents, and prayer and everything else you can imagine. I certainly thank God she made the decision she made. She chose me."

Why this statement should be offensive to anyone is beyond me, but read the rest of the Register editorial to see just how derisive it is toward Mr. Nussle and to the idea that his views on abortion are shaped by personal experience.

As a policy matter, twenty-one states currently have laws on the books requiring parental consent  (many of which have additional bypass mechanisms for health, incest, etc) so Nussle is hardly proposing something radical or draconian. Furthermore, Nussle has always had a solidly pro-life voting record in Congress so calling him a panderer on the issue is flatly unfair and untrue. The Register editorial team seems to have come completely unhinged on this one.

November 01, 2005

Senate Democrats Counterattack

If there was any any doubt that the Democrats have had a string of miserable days since last Thursday, today's invocation of Rule 21 makes it pretty clear Democrats have had enough of the Bush counterattack. Frustration over the Miers withdraw, the Fitzmas fizzle and yesterday's Alito nomination pushed the Democrats to take today's action.

Short term, this is a smart move by the Democrats because it puts the intelligence issue and the Libby indictment back into the headlines and gives energy to their base who have become severely depressed over the last few days. Steve Clemons writes at The Washington Note:

I'm impressed. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is currently on C-Span lambasting Reid and his leadership for this move, which Frist is calling sneaky and underhanded.

Frist actually just said that he will be "unable to trust Senator Reid for the next year and half of this Congressional session." Frist said that the Democrats have gone into the gutter to fight.

I think it was bold and a very constructive move by Reid.

While it may be a positive short-term maneuver, I question the wisdom of this move over the longer term. The Alito nomination has laid the groundwork for a real nasty couple of months in the U.S. Senate and this stunt by the Democrats is only going to serve to unify the entire GOP caucus, at exactly the time when the Democrats only hope to beat the Alito nomination is their ability to fracture GOP loyalty and pull 6 Senators over to their side (either to vote outright against Alito or a refusal to vote for the nuclear option). Today's invocation of Rule 21 is not going to help Senate Democrats in this cause, and in fact, it makes whatever small chance the Dems had of defeating Alito, even smaller.

As far as the "reason" for the stunt today, Fitzgerald made it pretty clear on Friday that his investigation had nothing to do with the war in Iraq:

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.

And no matter how often the Democrats repeat the myth that Bush and Cheney manufactured the Iraq WMD story, the facts clearly do not support that argument. Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, the French, the Russians, the Egyptians, the Israelis, the Germans, the Brits, the U.N......I could go on and on, ALL believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

One can honorably debate the wisdom of whether or not it made sense to go to war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. One can also debate whether the war has been prosecuted intelligently of competently. Serious people, however, can not debate whether or not the majority of the intelligence agencies of the world believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Senate Democrats need to read Peter Beinart's piece in the latest Blueprint Magazine and recognize that their party's weakness on national security issues is a major liability in this post 9/11 world. And while short-term fantasies about Cheney machinations and Rove cover-ups may make their base happy and excite some in the MSM, they do little in the long-term to convince the American people that they are a party prepared to seriously deal with the national security threats this country faces in the years ahead.

Another MSM Myth

From Eric Deggans' column in The St. Petersburg Times:

At least 98 stories and opinion columns in U.S. newspapers said former FEMA head Michael Brown was a college roommate or friend of his predecessor, Joe Allbaugh. He wasn't.

Frist Draws Line In The Sand

More firm rhetoric on the confirmation of Judge Alito from Majority Leader Bill Frist:

"President Bush got it right when he called Judge Alito the most experienced nominee in 70 years.
 
He is – to say the least – unquestionably qualified to serve on our nation’s highest court.
 
A devoted husband and proud father, he has a brilliant legal mind … a passionate voice.
 
And let me assure you, Judge Alito WILL get a fair hearing, and a fair up-or-down vote on the floor of the United States Senate. 
 
We have but one constitutional obligation before us …to provide advice and consent.
 
Our job is to assess the merits of this nominee through the prism of ability, not ideology.  
 
Bottom line … the nominee may have changed, but the guiding principle remains the same:
 
Fair and civil Hearing. Fair Vote.
 
Obstruction will not be tolerated.
 
As Majority Leader, I look forward to bringing Judge Alito’s nomination to the Senate floor for a fair up-or-down vote soon." (all emphasis in the original)

RealClearPolitics Blog Coverage

Another new feature we've recently rolled out is RealClearPolitics blog coverage. Every day we'll be combing the blogosphere and compiling the best 7-10 posts of the day and publishing them around 12:00pm Eastern.  Here's a peek from today's edition:

Scalito's Way - Jon Henke, QandO Blog
Filibuster Is Bad but Alito Is Worse - Matthew Yglesias, Tapped
Sliming Alito - And Badly, at That - Mike Krempasky, RedState
The Nuclear Option - Kos, DailyKos

Get the rest of the links here and be sure to bookmark the page for another easily daily fix from RCP.

Note to bloggers: If you've written a great post you'd like to submit for consideration, please email us a heads up by clicking here.  

More From The Gang

Building off my previous post about Senator DeWine, here's a brief round up of reactions from members of the Gang of 14:

GOP Members 
John McCain:  Alito a "thorough, experienced, capable and principled jurist and lawyer."

Susan Collins: "I need to get a better sense of his respect for precedent and his judicial philosophy. I don't have that yet. At this point, it's far too early for me to reach a judgment based on what is in some ways one of the most important factors that I consider, which is judicial philosophy."

Lindsey Graham“I do not believe a filibuster attempt (against Alito) based on ideology will be successful.”

John Warner: Alito "has an impressive record of legal accomplishments in his career and has been confirmed twice by the Senate. I will participate with others in reviewing his entire record fairly and objectively." Also said, "There is a potential for the Gang of 14 to perform a pivotal -- if not decisive -- role."

Lincoln Chafee: "I'd say, yes, there's no doubt" that Alito would push the court to the right "on women's reproductive freedom, based on his record."  More Chafee: "it's early", "I anticipate a bruising battle ahead" resulting in a "razor-thin vote."

Olympia Snowe: "I will evaluate Judge Alito based on his lengthy record, including all of his opinions, scholarship, judicial methodology and philosophy." Here's a bit more on Snowe's predicament from the Portsmouth Herald:

The decision on Alito’s nomination will weigh more heavily on Snowe, who is up for reelection in November, 2006 and could face a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ choice.

Longtime Republican stalwart and York attorney John Campbell said she could face a fight from her own party.

"She’s just asking for a primary contest if she was to" buck the party over Alito’s nomination. She has to be thinking about that right now," said Campbell, who has long been a power broker in Maine Republican politics and counts among his friends George H.W. Bush. He feels it would be a "political mistake" for either senator to oppose Alito.

Maiman said if Snowe does vote with her party, despite Alito’s pro-abortion record, she will face a fight in the general election from the Democrats.

"If the Democratic strategy is to oppose Alito strongly and if the issue is abortion and if Snowe isn’t also against Alito on this, then it gives the Democrats a big issue in running against her next year. It could be the first and maybe only issue in which Snowe could be in trouble with the electorate."

Democratic Members
Ben Nelson: "As I said with the nomination of Judge (John) Roberts and with Harriet Miers, I am looking forward to the confirmation process and looking forward to learning more about Judge Samuel Alito. Judge Alito needs to have a fair and thorough hearing, and we should withhold judgment until that process unfolds."

Robert Byrd: "If confirmed, Judge Alito will likely serve a lifetime appointment. The stakes are too high for a rush to judgment. In the coming days, I look forward to learning more about Judge Alito, his judicial philosophy, and his temperament."

Mary Landrieu: "As I have said before, Justice (Sandra Day) O'Connor should be succeeded by a justice who, like her, will inspire our nation and embody the fundamental American values of freedom, equality and fairness -- someone who will put the principles of law ahead of partisan ideology. Judge Alito's career of accomplishment speaks to his experience, but also raises questions as to whether he meets this standard and possesses the qualities necessary for a member of the nation's highest court."

Mark Pryor: "It does seem that he [Alito] might be more of a divisive nomination than what we saw with (Chief) Justice (John) Roberts. I'm not sure this is the type of nomination that brings the country together."

Joe Lieberman:  Connecticut Post reports: Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., held back, saying he did not know enough about Alito to say whether he would support him.

Daniel Inouye: says he will keep and open mind and hopes Alito is "forthright and cooperative" with the Judiciary Committee.

Ken Salazar:  "The manner in which the President handled this nomination is disappointing. He did not consult with the Senate about this nominee. It remains to be seen whether Judge Alito will satisfactorily fill the mainstream position being vacated by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor."  More  on Salazar from the Rocky Mountain News:

From fellow Democrats, Salazar "got a lot of opposition in the state to the Roberts vote," said Pat Waak, chair of the Colorado Democratic Party. "I felt he sort of made an agreement with the voters: 'I'm going to go ahead with this one, but I'm going to be a lot tougher on the next one.' "

UPDATE: He's not part of The Gang, but this transcript from Arlen Specter's press conference last evening is important "tea leaf" reading as well (via Polipundit

Politics & Elections News

For those who aren't aware, every day around 9am Eastern time we publish a compendium of the top politics and elections news from around the country.  If you're a political junkie and haven't bookmarked the page, I strongly suggest you do. Here's a brief sampling from this morning:

NYC Mayor Poll: Bloomberg Has 28-Point Lead In Home Stretch - Quinnipiac
CA Special Election Poll: NO Leads YES on 4 Propositions Backed by Gov - Field
FL: GOP Leaders Not Gung-Ho For Harris - Tampa Tribune
CO: Battle Over Immigration Set Up for '06 - Denver Post
MI: Republican Bouchard Enters U.S. Senate Race - Detroit Free Press/AP

There's lots, lots more. As I said, it's up every morning around 9am Eastern, so make it part of your daily routine. 

DeWine Will Go Nuclear If Necessary

From today's Cleveland Plain Dealer (reg req):

DeWine, who will meet with Alito this morning, said President Bush's nominee appears to be "well within the mainstream of conservative judges." [snip]

"From everything I know about him, I can't think that anyone would believe that his nomination constitutes 'extraordinary circumstances' that would lead them to filibuster him," DeWine said.

"This is not that type nomination at all. And if a filibuster was attempted, I would certainly oppose that and if it came to that, vote to change the rules of the Senate to stop that type of filibuster." (emphasis added)

Will There Be a Filibuster?

There is no question that the Alito nomination is going to be the war everybody expected earlier this summer when Justice O'Connor first submitted her resignation. The big surprise with Roberts was just how little fight there really was, it had become pretty clear by day three that Roberts was going to be confirmed, and confirmed without any filibuster issues. But by swapping Roberts from the O'Connor seat to Chief Justice, Bush returned focus to the fact that his second nominee would be filling the O'Connor seat. Now obviously constitutionally or legally there isn't an O'Connor seat, or a woman's seat, or a moderate-swing vote Republican's seat; but there is no question that this was going to make it harder to get a a serious conservative confirmed without a fight. 

I just don't see how the Democrats don't attempt a filibuster. Politically I don't think they have another option. Their base is incensed over Iraq and the fact the President appears to have dodged a bullet in the Fitzgerald investigation. They were upset at what they perceived to be the Democrats' weak resistance to the Roberts nomination.  So the Left (like the Right) was spoiling for a fight before Bush even nominated Miers. And then the President's conservative base essentially vetoes the Miers nomination and gets exactly what it wanted all along in Samuel Alito.

There is no way the Democrats are NOT going to put up a MAJOR fight. And the reality is given their 44 seat minority status the only way they can realistically fight, is to filibuster.

I think it is safe to assume that all 22 who voted against Roberts would be open to supporting a filibuster. You figure of the 22 Democrats who voted for Roberts the seven who make up half the Gang of 14 are going to be the most likely to resist a filibuster. But if you look closely at those seven (Joe Lieberman, Robert Byrd, Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, Daniel Inouye, Mark Pryor, Ken Salazar) only Ben Nelson, Mark Pryor and Robert Byrd stand out as ones who might resist a call to filibuster. Nelson and Pryor for ideological reasons and Byrd for reelection/protecting Senate tradition reasons. Lieberman, Landrieu and Inoye would probably go along with the rest of the caucus, and I don't know that the freshman Salazar wants the heat he would get if he publicly stepped out of line.

Bottom line, the Democrats have to fight, and they have to fight seriously, and that more than likely is going to mean a filibuster.

Maybe, all of the happy talk is right and the Alito confirmation will go down like Roberts except 35-40 Dems will vote against, instead of 22, but I wouldn't hold my breath. This is going to be a war. And in a war each side brings all the force they can muster. And for the Democrats that means an attempted filibuster and if Reid is able to keep 40 votes on board, for the Republicans that will mean invocation of the nuclear option or defeat.