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July 30, 2003

Hey-Hey, Ho-Ho, Swing Voters Say Bush Has Gotta Go!


Well, not exactly.  But they’re getting there.  Check out these two new poll analyses released by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and Ipsos/Cook Political Report The Ipsos poll analysis looks at a group of swing voters who believe the war in Iraq was worth fighting but also believe the Bush administration intentionally exaggerated evidence on Iraq’s WMDs.  These voters, disproportionately moderate Democrats, residents of southern states, male, lacking college experience and working in sales or skilled trade positions, give Bush only a 49 percent overall approval rating, with 48 percent disapproval.  (The approval rating for all registered voters in the Ipsos poll was 54 percent.)


That’s pretty poor already, but not nearly as bad as these swing voters’ views on Bush’s handling of the economy: only 33 percent approval with 67 percent disapproval.  Wow.  That’s 2:1 disapproval over approval.  And Bush’s rating among these voters on handling domestic issues like health care, the environment and energy was almost as abysmal: 36 percent approval and 64 percent disapproval. 


Do these voters want to re-elect Bush?  They’re not so sure, to put it mildly.  Just 33 percent say they would definitely vote to re-elect Bush, compared to 32 percent who would definitely vote against him and 33 percent who would consider voting for someone else.


The PIPA poll analysis defines swing voters in a more conventional was as respondents who say they’re extremely confident they will vote in the upcoming election and identify themselves as independents.  But the news for President Bush isn’t much more comforting.


These swing voters give Bush a negative rating on handling the situation in Iraq (46 percent negative/38 percent positive) and a majority believes (52 percent) that Bush was being misleading when he presented evidence to justify going to war (only 36 percent of the general public believes this).  A majority of swing voters also say that the presentation of false evidence lowers their confidence in the President (52 percent) and that the war in Iraq was not necessary to stop Iraq’s WMD program since a regional military presence and a strong inspections regime could have contained the threat (51 percent, compared to only 36 percent with that view among the general public).


And do these swing voters want to re-elect Bush?  Nope.  If the election were held today 41 percent say they would vote Democratic, compared to 37 percent who say they would back Bush.  And, when asked how they would probably vote in 2004, 57 percent say they would vote for the Democrat and just 32 percent for Bush.


It’s a bit early, for sure, but these kind of numbers among two differently-defined groups of swing voters suggest that Bush may have some real difficulty capturing the center in the next election.  And that’s good news for donkeys everywhere.

July 29, 2003

What If They Gave a Faction Fight and Nobody Came?


That’s what DR hopes!   And it just might happen, judging from reaction to the DLC’s latest jeremiad against the dread forces of Mondale-McGovernism, delivered at their “National Conversation” (or should it be lecture?) in Philadelphia.   “The DLC has saved the Democratic Party once, and we’re bound to do it again”, thundered Al From, “We can’t afford to do anything less because the stakes are so high”. 


Oh really?  Just remember, Al, you put your pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us, so a bit more humility might be in order.  And also remember that the DLC isn’t quite the growth stock it used to be, so rants against liberals don’t get quite the same receptive audience.  As the article by Adam Nagourney in The New York Times pointed out, none of the Democratic Presidential contenders bothered to show up at the conference this year to tout their wares, in contrast to last year, when four of them addressed the conference.  As Nagourney points out, “the council has become increasingly politically radioactive in this primary season”.  Their rants just aren’t playing well with the rest of the party and, even, apparently, with some the attendees to their own conference.  As Laura Ruderman, an attending state representative from Washington put it, referring to the intra-party bickering: “I don’t think we can be successful if we let ourselves go down that rat hole”


Amen, says DR.  Imagine if the DLC had gone to Philadelphia and actually called for party unity against the real enemy, George W. Bush and his hard right GOP.  That would also have been news (Democrats bury the hatchet!) and would actually have done some good.  But no, instead they choose to bash their fellow Democrats and get on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers telling everyone how the Democrats are sinking fast because the public thinks they’re pacifists and big government liberals.  (Did they perhaps read by mistake from Matthew Dowd’s RNC talking points about the declining Democrats?)


Don’t these people read the papers?   Haven’t they been following all Bush’s troubles in the last few weeks and his declining poll numbers—don’t they realize Democratic criticisms of Bush, including on the war and intelligence abuse, are actually having some effect?   It is no longer December, 2002 or even April, 2003—it’s July, 2003 and the incumbent President is in some real difficulty.


Let’s not help him out by fighting.  Let’s make his troubles worse by uniting.

July 28, 2003

Tax Cuts Vs. Tax Reform


Beyond Iraq and national security (which aren't looking quite as good as they used to), Republicans are hoping tax cuts and the inability of Democrats to politically counter them will carry them through the 2004 election. (Talking points 1, 2 and 3 from the RNC: "Democrats want to raise your taxes!") But will that approach really work?


David Broder, who normally doesn’t stick his neck out too far, thinks it might not. He cites a just-released Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll that found the factor bothering people the most about taxes was not the large amount of money they pay (14 percent). Instead, the complexity of the tax system (31 percent) and, especially, the feeling that the wealthy and corporations don’t pay their fair share (46 percent) bothered people much more.


That, of course, suggests that simply opposing GOP tax cuts, or proposing to roll them back, does not exhaust possible Democratic approaches to the tax issue. Instead, perhaps it is time to reconsider the issue of tax reform, where Democrats can build on the initial advantages they have over the GOP on making the tax system more fair (12 points), reducing the tax burden on middle class and working families (11 points) and closing tax loopholes and tax shelters (8 points).


In this poll, the two proposals most strongly favored by the public for reforming the tax system also seem like Democratic naturals: closing the tax loophole that allows corporations to create off-shore tax havens (57 percent strongly favor) and changing the Social Security system so that everybody pays into social security on all their income (55 percent strongly favor).


Note that these proposals receive significantly more support than either a standard Republican proposal to make tax cuts passed over the last two years permanent (41 percent strongly favor) or a standard Democratic proposal to cancel recently passed tax cuts for the top 1 percent and invest that money in education, homeland security and Social Security (42 percent strongly favor). And pretty much every proposal finishes way ahead of a Steve Forbes style flat tax proposal (19 percent strongly favor).


Maybe it’s time for Democrats to revisit the tax reform issue and stop playing on the GOP-tilted tax cut terrain.

July 26, 2003

Deanapalooza!


They just can’t stop talking ‘bout that man!  DR just doesn’t have the time to comment on all the recent additions to the debate, but here’s the raw material for those who want to keep up.


Garance Franke-Ruta in Salon.com goes after the DLC for going after Dean.  &c., The New Republic’s blog, worries that the Niger uranium flap is making Dean over-confident about his antiwar position.  And the two Jonathans (Chait and Cohn) continue their argument over Dean’s electability, also on The New Republic’s site. 

The Case for Kerry


Harold Meyerson does a nice job making the case for Kerry as the candidate who can unite the party against Bush.  Dean he sees as more of a Eugene McCarthy-type insurgent, riding antiwar sentiment among Democratic activists dissatisfied with the party establishment’s handling of the issue.  As he points out, Dean was, unsurprisingly, the candidate more voters in the MoveOn primary said they could support “enthusiastically” (86 percent), but Kerry was a close second (75 percent).

The Case Against the Greens


Soon-to-be American Prospect executive editor, Michael Tomasky, delivers a stern rebuke to the Greens for their apparent intent to run a Presidential candidate in 2004.  No more Mr. Nice Guy, he urges the Democrats.  Nader and Co. screwed up the 2000 election and delivered the White House to Bush.  Time to signal to the public that Democrats are tough enough to stand up to Ralph and his merry band of lunatics.

This Just In: Republican Area Leans Republican!


The Washington Post had an article last Sunday about an area in Michigan where the economy’s poor performance didn’t seem to be turning anybody against Bush.  Locals appeared to have memorized the RNC’s talking points on the economy: Eight years of Bill Clinton caused the recession! 


DR’s crack research team swung into action and has now uncovered the reason for this strangely pro-Bush reaction to economic woes.  The area, Grand Rapids, MI, is a hardcore Republican area.  In 2000, when Gore carried Michigan by 5 points, he lost Kent County, where Grand Rapids is located by 21 points. Clinton also lost the county both times he ran by 14 points (1992) and 16 points (1996).  So the political significance of this pro-Bush reaction to a poor economy is pretty much nil.  Bush will carry that county and by plenty in 2004 no matter what happens.


But the rest of Michigan?  In the latest EPIC/MRA poll of Michigan likely voters, Bush’s approval rating on the economy was 39 percent, with 59 percent disapproval.  In DR’s view, that’s a much better guide to Bush’s probable fate in Michigan than man-in-the-street interviews in Grand Rapids.

July 25, 2003

Bush Moving Downward


Yesterday, DR reported on Gallup data showing Democrats moving upward.  Today, DR is pleased to flag just-released Democracy Corps data showing Bush moving downward.  How sweet it is!


According to the DCorps data, Bush’s approval rating is now 55 percent, down 6 points from their poll last month.  His margin over an unnamed Democrat for reelection in 2004 is 6 points, down from 11 points last month.  And the classic right direction/wrong track question has flipped from slightly positive to 6 points negative (43 percent right direction/49 percent wrong track).


Consistent with other recent surveys, the poll shows substantial erosion of the public’s trust and confidence in Bush’s approach to foreign affairs, especially the Iraq situation.  Right now, 47 percent say they cannot trust what Bush is saying about WMDs in Iraq, up 7 points in one month.  And 52 percent agree Bush did not adequately plan for the postwar Iraq situation and doesn’t have a plan to win the peace and bring the troops home.


In terms of whether the war was worth the costs, that perception, too, is headed south.  In May, the public thought the war in Iraq was worth the costs in lives and dollars by 28 points, 61 percent to 33 percent.  That margin is now down to 10 points, 52 percent to 42 percent.  No wonder the public is now split on whether to continue in the direction Bush is headed on foreign policy (47 percent) or go off in a significantly different direction (46 percent).  That’s a substantial change from last month when the public wanted to continue in Bush’s direction by a 14 point margin.


And on a range of domestic issues, the public wants to go in a different direction than the one Bush is heading in.  The public endorses changing direction on the federal budget and deficits (27 points, up from 15 last month), the economy (19 points, up from 11 last month), health care (18 points), prescription drugs for seniors (14 points, up from 9 last month, despite the Republicans’ efforts to co-opt this particular issue), retirement and social security (8 points), the environment (5 points) and even taxes (2 points).


This is definitely a vulnerable President.

July 24, 2003

Things Are Looking Up for Democrats


That's what the latest Gallup poll says.  Consider the following.


Democrats are now favored by 17 points over Republicans on the economy.  That's up from a one point Democratic disadvantage in January.  The Democrats also have increased their margin on the federal budget deficit from 4 to 13 points over that same time period.  Their margins on unemployment (+19), education (+12) and, significantly, prescription drugs for older Americans (+22) remain impressive, despite Republican attempts to co-opt the latter issue.


Furthermore, while Democrats remain behind on foreign affairs, they have have shaved that deficit from 17 to 5 points.  Similarly, while still behind by 15 points on the situation with Iraq, that deficit has declined from 24 points in January.


Bush's overall approval rating in this poll shows a 3 point decline to 59 percent over the last week and a half.  And, over that same time period, his approval rating on the economy has declined the same amount to an anemic 45 percent with 51 percent disapproval.


Finally, the poll shows Bush's margin over an unnamed Democrat in 2004 at just 6 points (47 percent to 41 percent) among all adults and at just 4 points among registered voters (46 percent to 42 percent).


These are the kind of numbers that get 'ole DR wiggling his ears happily!

July 22, 2003

Once Again on the Dean Question


DR’s posts on the Dean electability question (July 14, 16 and 17) have generated some comment, including most recently this post by MyDD and this post by Demosthenes, in which they hasten to assure me that my misgivings about Dean’s electability are misplaced.


I can’t say I was convinced, any more than I was by Jonathan Cohn’s fine case for the good doctor in The New Republic.  But I think their posts are instructive because they reveal some of the assumptions that Dean boosters tend to make when arguing (in essence) that only Democratic wimps, hopeless Establishment types and/or DLCers believe Dean can’t beat Bush. 


Assumption #1: Dean’s association with liberal social issues like gay marriage won’t hurt him much—or, at least any more than any other Democrat will be hurt by social liberalism--because he is conservative on other social issues (guns, death penalty).  Anyway, the country is becoming more liberal on issues concerning gays (witness the recent Supreme Court decision), so Dean won’t seem nearly so out-of-step as a lot of commentators think.


Problem #1: Yes, all Democrats, including nominal front-runner Kerry, will have to battle social liberalism critiques and hit jobs if nominated.  But that’s exactly why you don’t want to present too much of an easy target and Dean does, due to not only the specific issue of gay marriage (still a bridge too far for most of the public, as opposed to legalizing gay sex, which they support), but also his geographic origins and the general profile of his candidacy.  


Assumption #2: Dean’s antiwar stance will not hurt him; in fact, it’ll help him, now that Iraq has evolved into a seemingly intractable mess and the public is starting to wonder whether the whole adventure was worth the costs.  Dean’s been consistently against the war, while the other candidates, like Kerry, have not and voters will reward that consistency.


Problem #2: Voters do not necessarily reward consistency.  They reward those who seem to represent their view of the world and what needs to be done.  The fact of the matter is that Kerry’s ambivalence-but-reluctant-support of the Iraq war more fairly represented the public’s view of the war going in than did Dean’s intransigent opposition and Kerry’s  current move from ambivalence toward a critique of Bush’s approach also fairly represents how the public mood is evolving.  So the inconsistent Kerry is probably in a much better position than the consistent Dean to capture the moderate voters who are becoming disaffected with the war’s aftermath, as well as the administration’s mendacity.  And don’t forget: Kerry’s war hero status does matter and will help allay moderate voters’ fears that a critique of Bush comes from Democratic softness on national security, not from a realistic, tough-minded appraisal of what it’ll take to beat terrorists and keep America safe.


Assumption #3: Sure, Dean may have some trouble with some independent voters.  But he will do well with independent-leaning members of the public who do not currently vote.  In fact, he will bring out enough of these currently nonvoting independents to more than cancel out his losses among today’s independent voters.


Problem #3: This almost never works.  The idea you can make up serious losses among existing voters by turning out lots of nonvoters is a very dangerous game indeed.  Nonvoters rarely differ enough from voters of similar characteristics to warrant such an approach.  (For those who want the long course on why this is so, DR recommends, in all due modesty,  The Disappearing American Voter)  Instead, stick to the tried and true: get out your base (the folks you know will vote for you); fight like hell for the swing voters; and hope that an exciting campaign will bring in some new voters that will lean your way.  But to vest your hopes in new voters is a serious—albeit common—mistake. 


Well, all for now and, as DR is fond of saying: let the debate continue!


Coming soon in DR: The Demographics of Deanism

July 21, 2003

Now That You Mention It, I’m Starting To Have My Doubts About This Bush Guy….


On Saturday, DR reviewed some new public opinion data that suggested the public is starting to sour on President Bush, including their sense of personal trust in, and favorability toward, Bush, which is key to his political support. 


Today, DR is pleased to report that additional data released over the weekend by CNN/Time confirm this trend.  In the CNN/Time poll, respondents were asked: “Do you think George W. Bush is a leader you can trust or do you have some doubts and reservations?”  At this point, more say they have doubts and reservations (51 percent) than say he’s a leader they can trust (47 percent).  That’s a 19 point swing against Bush since the end of March, when the public said they trusted Bush by a 15 point margin (56 percent to 41 percent).  And it’s a 30 point swing against Bush since late January, 2002 when the public said they trusted him by a 26 point margin (62 percent to 36 percent).  In fact, Bush’s status on this trust question today is basically the same as it was in May, 2001, before September 11th happened and the Bush presidency was suddenly transformed. 


And wait, there’s more!  The poll has Bush’s approval rating at just 55 percent, a decline of 8 points since late May.  And his approval rating among swing-voting independents is down to 50 percent with 44 percent disapproval.  In terms of specific areas, only 55 percent now he’s doing a good job handling the situation in Iraq, sharply down from 69 percent in late May.  And his ratings on most domestic issues have become not just low, but more negative than positive.  On handling the economy, 52 percent say he’s doing a poor job, compared with 42 percent who say he’s doing a good job.  On handling unemployment, it’s 54 percent poor/36 percent good; on handling the budget deficit, it’s 52 percent poor/36 percent good; on handling health care, it’s 47 percent poor/42 percent good; and on Medicare, it’s 42 percent poor/40 percent good. 


The one domestic exception is education, where 51 percent say he’s doing a good job—hardly overwhelming, but considerably higher than the 37 percent who say he’s doing a poor job.  In DR’s view, this number represents a missed opportunity for the Democrats.  Given the havoc that state budget cutbacks are playing with education funding and Bush’s refusal to do anything more for public education other than to legislate tough standards (despite the promises that he made during the 2000 campaign and accompanying the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act), there is a devastating case to be made against his record in this area.  But Democrats in general and Democratic Presidential candidates in particular have been unaccountably reluctant to put much emphasis on the education issue.  DR suggests they wake up and start wheeling out the heavy artillery on this one.


On Iraq, the poll makes clear that the public’s view of the Iraq campaign and its aftermath is becoming more jaundiced by the day.  In late March, 52 percent described the military campaign as successful (as opposed to unsuccessful or somewhere in between); that number is now down to 39 percent.  More than two-fifths (41 percent) now believe Bush deliberately misled the public about Iraq having nuclear materials in order to gain support for the war.  And, critically, the public is now about evenly split about whether the war in Iraq was worth the toll taken in American lives and other costs (49 percent say it was; 45 percent say it wasn’t).  That’s down from a 26 point margin (59 percent to 33 percent) in favor of the war being worth the costs in late March. 


And the public is not optimistic about how things are likely to evolve in Iraq.  They overwhelmingly believe (67 percent) that either attacks will continue at their current level (42 percent) or actually increase (25 percent).  Just 27 percent believe the attacks will eventually stop.


And, oh, the public did not take it kindly when Bush taunted the Iraqi opposition with his “Bring ‘em on” statement.  By 55 percent to 36 percent, they thought this particular Bushism was a bad idea. 


Pretty soon they may conclude the whole Bush presidency was a bad idea.  In fact, that sentiment is becoming more and more common already.  The poll shows just 50 percent saying they would be very or somewhat likely to vote to re-elect Bush, compared to 46 percent who say they would be very or somewhat unlikely to vote for him.  Intriguingly, the number (36 percent) who say they would be very unlikely to vote for him is actually higher than the number (33 percent) who say they would be very likely to support him.


The supposedly invulnerable Bush is starting to look distinctly vulnerable.  And that brings a smile to this donkey’s face.

July 19, 2003

Is the Public Souring on President Bush?


It's fair to say that GOP fortunes, in general, and Bush's political fortunes, in particular, are pretty closely tied to Bush's personal popularity.  That is, many voters who aren't enthusiastic about, or flat-out disagree with, many of his policies nevertheless support the President because they believe he's been a strong leader, can be trusted and is--for want of a better term--just a good guy.


Evidence has been accumulating that this perception is changing.  In a late June Gallup poll, the president’s personal high standing on a number of important indicators was already sinking to unimpressive levels. Just 50 percent claimed that he has a clear plan for solving the country’s problems, compared to 47 percent who thought that he doesn’t. Only 54 percent said that he is a person they admire (down ten points since the beginning of May), while 45 percent say he is not a person they admire. And 57 percent said he cares about the needs of "people like you" (down eight points since early April), compared to 42 percent who said he doesn’t.


A just-released Zogby poll suggests this souring in Bush's popularity is real.  The poll has Bush's job performance at just 53 percent positive and 46 percent negative (note: Zogby measures job performance differently than most other polls, so his figures are not strictly comparable with theirs).  And his rating on various domestic issues is truly abysmal: 36 percent positive/61 percent negative on health care; 33 percent positive/66 percent negative on jobs and the economy; and 31 percent positive/65 percent negative on the environment.  Even his rating on taxes is more negative (54 percent) than positive (45 percent).


But it's not just job ratings that are taking a hit.  The poll also asked respondents whether they have a favorable view of Bush as a person.  That number is now down to only 57 percent with 42 percent unfavorable.  That's a drop of 9 points in personal favorability since late January.


Probably not coincidentally, for the first time in this poll, more likely voters say it's time for someone new in the White House (47 percent) than say Bush should be re-elected (46 percent).  And in another question, Bush just nudges out a generic Democrat by 48 percent to 43 percent in a hypothetical matchup for the Presidency. 


John Zogby offers this assessment of the possible effects of a decline in Bush's personal popularity:


What has been propping up the President in the past few months is his personal favorability rating. To me, what is most ominous is this alone has slipped 9 points in the past month. If he cannot count on a large majority of Americans to like him personally, this could spell doom for his re-election hopes because he has little support for his overall performance and how he is rated on the issues.


That's it in a nutshell.  If Americans decide they like the guy much less than they thought they did, then they'll be much less inclined to overlook the various ways in which they disagree with him.  And that  means trouble for both him and the GOP.  Stay tuned.

July 17, 2003

Take Two Dean Articles and Call Me in the Morning


The good doctor is on trial today in the pages of The New Republic.  Can feisty Ho-Ho (if nominated) actually beat George W. Bush and become President of these United States?  Yes, he can! says Jonathan Cohn.  Don’t be ridiculous, says Jonathan Chait


DR urges you to read both of them and then pick your Jonathan.  Both are fine articles.  Cohn’s is possibly the best defense of Dean’s electability I’ve seen.  Chait’s, if a bit over-the-top at times, raises so many good questions about Dean’s electoral viability that honest Dean supporters will be forced to slow down for a minute and ask themselves: gee, could this guy really, really beat Bush? 


DR doesn’t entirely agree with either article, but he is inclined to think Cohn is more wrong than right and Chait is more right than wrong. 


Cohn’s case is that Dean’s centrism is real and misunderstood and that his appeal to liberals is based mostly on the fact that “he’s as angry as they are” and tells it like it is about Bush and the sins of his administration.  Cohn further argues that Dean’s blunt-speaking persona will be just the ticket with voters, including swing voters, who are looking for someone who speaks like a human being and tells you what they really think in clear, short sentences.  That authenticity, Cohn argues, will be the key to reaching the political center, even on contentious issues like the Iraq war (where, he reminds us, Dean’s consistent stance against the war looks less far-out with every day that goes by).


Well, maybe.  As Cohn himself cogently puts it:


[V]oters will quite properly demand that presidential candidates demonstrate their ability to protect national security. That's a difficult challenge for any governor lacking foreign policy or personal military experience. Make that governor a New Englander, load him up with a few cultural positions (such as pro-civil unions) that some voters interpret as "soft," then have him oppose a war that was widely popular at the time, and what you have--it would seem--is a recipe for disaster. 


I’m not sure Cohn ever really extricates Dean from these problems in his article.  And Chait’s article sticks this knife in and twists it.  The article, ominously (biblically?) subtitled “Howard Dean and the Tempting of the Democrats”, systematically marches through all the ways (like the ones Cohn mentions and then some) in which Dean can easily be portrayed as out-of-step and too liberal for centrist general election voters.  As Chait points out, Dean’s heterodoxy on issues like guns and the death penalty is unlikely to help him that much in the general because voters do not carefully examine each candidate’s individual positions.  Instead, they go for a broad impression of the man, which Rove and Co. will be happy to supply based on the abundant raw material that a Dean candidacy will supply. 


There are some problems with Chait’s article.  He spends too much time upbraiding Dean for being unfair to his fellow Democrats (quit lying about their records!)  And he never really deals with the energy and mobilization issue, which is surely a strong point of the Dean candidacy.  Any Democratic candidate will need energy and mobilization in abundance to be successful and Chait, shall we say, doesn’t really give the devil his due on this one.


No matter.  It’s a good article and so is Cohn’s.  Read ‘em both and you’ll be up to speed as the Great Dean Debate continues.

54 Percent Say: ”I Wouldn’t Trust Him Further Than I Could Throw Him”


No, not George W. Bush (at least not yet).  Instead this truly fine poll result refers to the British public’s view of Tony Blair, reported in an article by Glenn Frankel in today’s Washington Post.  It was Blair, of course, who today told the US Congress that history will absolve him and Bush (Fidel, are you listening?) even if nothing whatsoever is ever found in the WMD department.  In short, even when we’re wrong, we’re right.


Tony, is it any wonder the British public, well, wouldn’t trust you further than they can throw you?  Sad, sad days for Mr. Blair.  For Blair-watchers, DR recommends this article by John Lancaster in The London Review of Books, which explains how Blair wound up going off the rails on the Iraq issue, after being so sure-footed politically for so many years.

July 16, 2003

The Bush Lies Watch Continues!


So much material, so little time!  But be sure to check out the Walter Pincus article in The Washington Post today, which points out just how crucial those 16 words on Niger uranium were to Bush's unraveling case for going to war.  Then read Michael Kinsley's hilarious column "...Or More Lies from the Usual Suspects?", which advances the radical concept that the President should actually be held responsible for the words he himself spoke (!).  Finish up by visiting Josh Marshall's site for the truly painstaking deconstruction of administration nonsense that the press is still too lazy or craven to do (or too embarassed by the dumb stuff they said before the war, as Josh documents in this post). 

The Dean Debate Continues!


Yesterday TAPPED responded to DR's response to TAPPED's response to John Judis' Salon.com article about Dean's (non)electability.  It appears we've reached unity on some the problems likely to beset a Dean general election candidacy  As TAPPED puts it:


[There is] much that is appealing about Dean, but we'd have to agree that his ability to resonate with moderate voters in center-right swing states will probably be the acid test of whether his straight talk can overcome his geographic undesirability.


Exactly.  That is where the case for Dean has to be made.  An interesting contribution along these lines was made recently in &c., The New Republic's blog.  The post is essentially a response to a column by The Los Angeles Times' Ron Brownstein, where Brownstein argues that Ho-Ho's fervent denunciations of Bush play great with Democrats but are probably frightening away centrist voters Democrats need in the general election. 


&c. reasonably points out that any successful candidate for the Democratic nomination winds up frightening at least some centrist voters, due to the nature of the process: you're marketing yourself to Democrats not the general electorate.  The question therefore is not whether there's damage but how much there is and how fixable that damage is.  &c. argues that Dean's liberalism is more tonal (he let's 'em have it!) than based on policy (many of his policies--though not Iraq, which is a big exception--are relatively conservative for a Democrat).  And that's good because tonal liberalism is much easier to modify for the general than policy liberalism, which tends to box you in with commitments that are hard to keep if you want to appeal to moderates. 


&c. argues further that there are aspects of Dean's aggressive tone that could even help with some moderate voters, especially white men, since many of these voters see Democrats as hopelessly wimpy.  Dean may be many things, but wimpy he's not!


There are problems with this argument, but it is crisply put and again focuses us on the central question that has to be convincingly addressed to make the case for Dean's electability: can he really get those moderate voters in the swing states--and can he get them better than the other Democratic candidates? 


Well, maybe more on this tomorrow.  DR's spies tell him that The New Republic's two Jonathans (Cohn/pro and Chait/con) will weigh in tomorrow on the Dean electability question and they'll no doubt have new and interesting things to say. 

July 15, 2003

Bush's Other Big Problem


Bush continues to stumble and just flat-out make stuff up in response to questions about the bogus Niger uranium intelligence prominently featured in the State of the Union address.  His latest howlers: CIA's doubts about the intelligence were after the SOTU; and, incredibly, we invaded Iraq because Saddam wouldn't let in the weapons inspectors!  As The Washington Post story on this drily observed, "The president's assertion that the war began because Iraq did not admit inspectors appeared to contradict the events leading up to the war this spring".   


But the very same edition of the Post that had that story on the front page above the fold also had two stories about economic and budget woes, also on the front page, also above the fold: "Budget Woes Trickle Down: Hard-Hit State and Local Governments Say Bush and Congress Left Them to Make Cuts, Raise Taxes" and "Budget Deficit May Surpass $450 Billion". 


The Bush administration is awash in these and other economic problems.  And they're unlikely to go away anytime soon.  A just-released Gallup poll analysis points out that "improvement in consumer sentiment has not continued to gain momentum as the summer has progressed".  The reason?  Consumers need to see some real economic improvement and so far they haven't seen it--in fact, more people now say the economy is getting worse (47 percent) than say it is getting better (43 percent).


In the same poll, half the country now disapproves of Bush job performance on the economy and 58 percent say he is not paying enough attention to the economy.  Moreover, in just-released Ipsos/Cook Political Report data, voters age 50 and over, whose turnout tends to be relatively high, are particularly negative about Bush's economic job performance (53 percent disapproval to 44 percent approval). 


Not a pretty picture for the Bushies.  And how about this one: Bush's "hard re-elect" number in the Ipsos data (those who would definitely vote to re-elect him) is just 41 percent. 


Looks like the Democrats are finally getting some running room.

July 14, 2003

Is Dean Electable?


That's really the question, isn't it?  Now that his boosters are getting over the euphoria of his fundraising numbers and his indisputable status as one of the top tier candidates in the Democratic race, they are (to their credit) starting to engage on the issue of his electability.  Yes, indeed, Dean has a reasonable chance of capturing the Democratic nomination.  But does he have a reasonable chance of actually beating Bush?


John Judis' piece in Salon.com argues: not really; in fact, he'll probably get clobbered.  The essence of Judis' argument is that, while Dean can fairly be said to represent the ethos of the country's increasingly influential professional class, which plays a leading role in today's Democratic coalition, his ability to appeal outside that group and other elements of the Democratic base is likely to be poor.  His aggressive antiwar stance and liberalism on issues like gay marriage will turn off swing voters, especially white working class and culturally conservative voters, and especially in swing states the Democrats need to win to build an electoral vote majority.


DR thinks Judis is right.  But TAPPED and Jerome Armstrong (writing in MyDD) offer some counterarguments that deserve attention.  Perhaps their dominant theme is that Judis is contradicting his own thesis in The Emerging Democratic Majority by saying that Dean represents the views of the professional class--which EDM annoints as the ideological leader of the new Democratic coalition--but somehow can't put that coalition together.


DR is pretty familiar with the EDM thesis and can assure TAPPED and MyDD that there is no contradiction.  The key point is that political leadership involves building coalitions that reach outside your base and absorb independent and moderate voters who are leaning your way.  Clinton's strength was being able to synthesize the views of professionals with those of older elements of the Democratic coalition and present that synthesis in a way that made enough independent and moderate voters feel it was safe to vote Democratic.  That includes the white working class and culturally conservative voters Dean is likely to have the most trouble with.


Really, it seems to DR that Dean supporters' main argument has to be that the Dean straight talkin', McCain mojo, aggressive alpha-male thing will obviate any need for the kind of electoral finesse displayed by Clinton.  Independents will hear that straight talkin' and they'll rush to sign up, especially as the administration continues to dissemble on Iraq, etc.  But DR believes that not all independents are created equal and that Dean's approach and persona is still likely to yield its most success with socially liberal, upscale independents in relatively liberal states.


None of this is to say that Dean couldn't possibly beat Bush in any situation.  If the administration gets into enough hot water on Iraq and the economy anything is possible.  But, if they get into that kind of hot water, then a more moderate, less polarizing--less purely professional class!--candidate like Kerry or Gephardt is even more likely to be able to beat Bush.


It's all a matter of probabilities.  Dean's supporters can make a case that he possibly could beat Bush if enough things went his way.  But we need to look at probabilities not possibilities and that's where Dean's candidacy falls short.

July 12, 2003

More Bad Bush Numbers!


Nothing brings a bigger smile to DR's face and makes him wiggle his ears more happily than a spate of bad Bush numbers.  Yesterday DR went over all the bad news for W in the lastest CBS News poll.  Today, we have both a Newsweek poll and an ABC/Washington Post poll that are chock full of downers for the Bushies.


In the Newsweek poll, Bushs' approval rating has fallen to 55 percent, down 6 points since the end of May and 16 points since the fall of Baghdad.  Moreover, Bush's approval rating on handling the Iraq situation is now at just 53 percent, down 16 points since the beginning of May. 


The Post poll has Bush's approval rating somewhat higher, at 59 percent, but also finds a sharp recent drop of 9 points in the past 18 days.  This pretty much exactly parallels the drop in his approval rating on the Iraq situation, now 58 percent and also down 9 points in 18 days. 


Critically, according to the Post poll, a majority of the public now believes there's been an "unacceptable" level of casualties in Iraq, which is up 8 points in less than three weeks.  And half the country now agrees that Bush intentionally exaggerated evidence about Iraq's WMDs. 


Is all this hurting Bush's chances for re-election?  You'd better believe it.  In the Newsweek poll, just 47 percent say they want to see Bush re-elected to another term as President, while 46 percent say they don't want to see him re-elected!  Moreover, prospective Bush matchups with specific Democratic candidates yield Bush margins that are much smaller than anything we've seen so far.  In a matchup with John Kerry, the mighty incumbent has just an 8 point margin (50 percent for Bush to 42 percent for Kerry). 

Now If We Only Had a Candidate......


The problem, of course, is finding the candidate to take advantage of these emerging Bush vulnerabilities.  Many Dems now like Dean, though DR, John Judis and much of the Democratic establishment remain unconvinced he can beat Bush in the general. 


TAPPED is still convinced Dean can (maybe) do it and offers a spirited critique of Judis' position in a July 11 post.  DR's sources tell him that Jonathan Cohn, who always has insightful things to say, is working on an article for The New Republic explaining how Dean could win the general election.  I'll look forward to that.


And in the meantime, for something completely different, check out Frank Foer's provocative piece in The Washington Post  today explaining how only Wesley Clark can do the job.   DR's reaction is an unequivocal maybe.  But a Kerry-Clark ticket?  I can feel my ears wiggling....

July 11, 2003

Is Kerry Finding His Voice?


Maybe.  Check out this very interesting article on Kerry, based on an interview he did yesterday with editors and reporters at The Washington Post.  Kerry criticizes Bush pretty forthrightly for the way he has handled the Iraq occupation and his failure to secure allied cooperation in that occupation.  He also has some interesting things to say about domestic issues, including a call for job creation through infrastructure investment and an endorsement of the expensing of stock options (in contrast to Lieberman and Gephardt).

Is Bush Losing His?


As E.J. Dionne points out in his column today, Bush is now "on the defensive".  Data from a just-released CBS News poll make clear why.  According to the poll, just 45 percent now think the US is in control of the situation in Iraq and 41 percent think the US is not; in April, 71 percent felt the US was in control only 20 thought the US was not.


Other findings underscore the increasing sourness of the public mood about Iraq.  More people now believe the Iraqi people are resentful at the US presence in Iraq (37 percent) than believe the Iraqi people are grateful to the US for removing Saddam (34 percent).  (Twenty percent say both are true).  And people are becoming more pessimistic that US troops will be able to leave anytime soon--just 13 percent now believe troops will leave in less than a year, down from 40 percent in April.


And, critically, sentiment is growing that, in one way or another, the benefits of the Iraq war have not been worth the costs.  Only 54 percent now believe removing Saddam was worth the costs, down from 65 percent in May.  And, looking at the end results of the war, not just Saddam's removal, Americans are now split down the middle (45 percent to 45 percent) about whether these results were worth the costs.


Intriguingly, while 56 percent of men believe the results were worth the costs, just 35 percent of women feel that way.  Wow.  That's quite a gender gap.  So much for security moms backing Bush's policies.


The poll also finds evidence that media coverage of administration deceptions and exaggerations on Iraq's WMDs is starting to have a substantial effect on the public.  For the first time, a majority of Americans (56 percent) now believe the administration overestimated Iraqi WMDs.  In contrast, just 30 percent believe the administration either correctly estimated or underestimated the WMDs.


Consistent with this, 56 percent now believe the administration was either hiding important elements of what it knew about Iraqi WMDs before the war (45 percent) or was mostly lying about them (11 percent).  Only 36 percent believe the administration was telling most or all of what they knew. 


As for whether we'll ever find the elusive WMDs, just 55 percent now believe we will, down 12 points from 67 percent a month ago.  And, very significantly, the public is now split down the middle (46 percent to 46 percent) about whether the war will have been worth the costs if no WMDs are ever found.


Finally, more people (52 percent) now believe Iraq was a threat that could have been contained (43 percent) or was not a threat (9 percent) than believe it was a threat requiring immediate military action (43 percent). 


How the worm turns.  No wonder Bush's approval rating on Iraq is down to 58 percent, a fall of 14 points from two months ago.  And his overall approval rating in this poll is down to 60 percent, a fall of 6 points in just one month.


These ratings are still higher, however, than his rating on foreign policy issues (now only 50 percent) and his rating on handling the economy (a truly abysmal 41 percent, with 46 percent disapproving). 


And what's America's most important problem?  The economy and jobs, by a wide margin.  And how is the economy compared to two years ago (when, it might be noted, we passed the first of Bush's allegedly stimulative tax cut packages)?  By more than 4:1 (55 percent to 13 percent), the public says the nation's economy is worse, rather than better.  (Another 30 percent say it is the same).


On the defensive?  I'd say so.

Dean May Have Found His Voice, But Does It Matter?


Howard Dean's been getting a lot of good press lately, based partly on the fact that he has already found his voice and seems to be the only candidate in the Democratic field that's truly exciting anyone.  And, he has seized the coveted top spot in the Daily Kos' cattle call rankings of the Democratic candidates. 


But could he really beat Bush, even if he did succeed in getting the Democratic nomination?  The short answer is: probably not.  While he'd do well in some states and with some groups, particularly professionals, students and the anti-war left, he'd have a lot of trouble with culturally conservative and white working voters in precisely the states Democrats need to win to beat Bush.


So, realistically, he and the Democrats would get toasted pretty badly.  My good friend and partner-in-crime, John Judis, explains it all in a crisp, well-focused article in Salon.com.

July 10, 2003

Independents' Day


Charlie Cook warns Democrats in his latest column that angry denunciations of Bush may make them and their fellow Democrats feel good.  And such denunciations are certainly helping fuel the surging candidacy of Howard Dean for the Democratic nomination.


But, if Democrats want to win in 2004, Cook argues, they need to reach independent voters, not just their fellow Democrats, and convince these voters to turn away from Bush and the GOP.  How to do that?  Cook cites June data from this Ipsos/Cook Political Report surveys that show that only 44 percent of independents approve of Bush's handling of the economy (just 12 percent strongly approve), while 49 percent disapprove (29 percent strongly).  Similarly, an unimpressive 48 percent of independents approve of Bush's performance on domestic issues (only 8 percent strongly) and 45 percent disapprove (30 percent strongly).


That suggests the Democrats' potential sweet spot among independent voters.  But Cook is puzzled by the Democrats' tepid efforts so far on the economic front, especially the fact that their economic stimulus proposals have tended to focus on tax cuts rather than public works spending.


Cook's views on this puzzle are worth quoting at length:


Congressional Democratic leaders are vulnerable to questions as to whether they threw in the towel too quickly on tax cuts. There is a considerable body of evidence that voters see a more direct connection between government spending on streets, highways, bridges and school construction and the creation of jobs than the connection between tax cuts and job creation and economic stimulus.


The Democrats' argument could have gone something like this: "President Bush wants to blow the deficit sky high by giving tax cuts to his rich and powerful friends. If we are going to drive up the deficit, at least do it by repairing our streets, roads, schools and other public spending that we would eventually need to do anyway and would create more jobs."


It's a virtual certainty that this argument would resonate better than the tax cuts did -- which received tepid support at best.


Amen, brother Cook.


Read Jeff Madrick's column today in The New York Times for followup.  He provides a good summary of recent economic data and surveys policy options for generating healthy job growth.  His conclusion is that the most effective means of generating such growth is not individual tax cuts, but government spending in selected areas, including an adequate transfer of money to the states (perhaps as much as $100 billion) and investment in education, health care and transportation infrastructure.


Madrick's idea is not novel.  It is merely sensible and well-supported by research.  So where are the Democrats?  Independent voters might actually want to hear what they have to say about this one.

DLC Vs. Populists, Round 1,287


Bob Borosage posted this blistering attack on the DLC in TomPaine.com on Tuesday.  Everything he said was completely predictable.  Just like everything Al From and Bruce Reed wrote in the recent issue of Blueprint (and reprised in a Wall Street Journal op-ed) was completely predictable.  And now today we have a "let's you and him fight" article in The Washington Post with the headline "Among Democrats, The Energy Seems To Be on the Left".  The article rounds up the usual suspects (Borosage, Reed, Will Marshall) and quotes them saying the usual things about each other.


Ho-hum.  Wake me up when these guys say anything new.  In the meantime, you might want to check out TAPPED's excellent post on this article and the general DLC-populist dispute.  DR can only echo TAPPED's hope that:


...this is not simply a replay of the McGovernite years, that both progressives and centrists in the party have learned a couple of lessons, and that maybe they can all get along a little better than before.


As a certain Democrat has observed in slightly different contexts: keep hope alive!

July 8, 2003

Don't Get Mad, Get Even


If you haven't already, read Michael Tomasky's July 2 article on The American Prospect's website.  Tomasky does a nice job of outlining and defending the many good and noble reaons why liberals are angry at Bush...and then making the very necessary point that anger doesn't win any elections.  The point isn't to get mad, the point is to beat these guys.  They're masters of brutal tactics--in DR's view, Karl Rove's true genius--and anger, unfortunately, is not an effective counter to these tactics.


Consider some of their choicer recent tactics.  Mark Gersh's article in Blueprint explains how Republicans out-gerrymandered the Democrats in the redistricting from the 2000 Census.  And T.R. Reid describes how Republicans in Colorado have successfully re-redistricted that state's Congressional seats to give Republicans more of an edge, particularly in the newly-created 7th district that Bob Beauprez narrowly won in 2002.  Of course, this is what the Republicans in Texas also attempted and, though they were temporarily thwarted by Democratic lawmakers fleeing to Oklahoma, they haven't give up yet.  Indeed, there is every indication that the national Republican leadership is determined to try the re-redistricting trick anywhere they can get away with it. 


Another Republican tactic, described in an exhaustive article in The Washington Monthly by Nick Confessore, is their development of a political and patronage machine based directly on business lobbies in Washington, DC.  The GOP's basic message to these lobbies is: no Democrats allowed.  We're the only game in town and we want all the jobs, political support and money from you guys.  In return, we'll try to give your business clients everything they want.


No tactic too low.  No maneuver too venal.  This is the essence of the today's Republican tactics.  But you're not gonna beat these tactics by ranting and raving about how awful Bush is.  You're going to beat them by being equally tough and smart in how you play the game.  Sure, anger feels good.  But winning feels better.

July 7, 2003

Seniors to Bush: You Call This a Prescription Drug Benefit?


The GOP's plan is clear enough.  Give seniors a prescription drug benefit and they'll move toward the Republicans as the party that can get things done for seniors.


But what if they don't like it?  Then you get blame instead of credit and the whole political scheme just might fall apart.  Recent Gallup data suggests this a real possibility.


By 69 percent to 24 percent, seniors oppose an effort to shift most Medicare recipients into managed care plans.  And, by 63 percent to 20 percent, seniors believe the new Medicare bills being considered by Congress will not do enough to help pay the cost of prescription drugs.  It seems unlikely that more widespread understanding of the actual provisions in a final bill will modify that negative judgement--indeed, based on what's likely to be in that bill, that negative judgement could well be accentuated. 


That could set up a perverse situation where, the more attention seniors pay to the prescription drugs bill, the worse it will be for Bush and the Republicans (not exactly what Rove and Co. had in mind).  Maybe that's already happening.  Gallup data show Bush's approval rating dropping 12 points among seniors in the last half of June, precisely the period when coverage of the Medicare prescription drug bills was most intense. 

July 6, 2003

It's a Postindustrial Thing: You Wouldn't Understand


The recent Supreme Court decision striking down a Texas law prohibiting gay sex is starting to get the law where the public already is.  Over the last several decades there has been a striking shift toward tolerance of homosexuality, as part and parcel of an overall social transformation toward a diverse, tolerant postindustrial society.


That's America's future and it's a future leading elements of the GOP are completely out of touch with.  Those elements of the GOP may shake their heads at the Supreme Court decision, but they might as well shake their heads at the public as a whole.  Check out these shifts in public opinion.


According to a recently-released Gallup poll, six in ten (59 percent) think homosexual relations between consenting adults shold be be legal.  As recently as 1986, that figure was less than one in three (32 percent).  Similarly, today 54 percent believe homosexuality should be considered an acceptable alternative lifestyle, while in 1982, only 34 percent believed that.


A useful article by pollster Mark Mellman in The Hill rehearses other relevant data.  In 1977, 56 percent thought homosexuals should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities; now 88 percent believe that.  Also in 1977, just 27 percent thought homosexuals should be hired as schoolteachers and 44 percent believed they should be allowed to be doctors; today those figures are, respectively, 56 percent and 78 percent. 


This tolerance also extends to political leaders.  According to the most recent data, 59 percent would be willing to support a gay Presidential nominee (up from 26 percent in 1978) and three-quarters would find a gay Cabinet member acceptable.


Of course, anti-gay prejudice remains, as does racism.  But, just as with racism, there has been tremendous progress in the direction of social tolerance and equal opportunity.  The hard right in the GOP (is there any other kind these days?) may wish it weren't so but it is--postindustrial values are becoming America's values and trying to stop that change is like trying to hold back, say, the advance of modern science.


I suppose it shouldn't be too surprising that they're trying to do that, too.  DR highly recommends this article by Nicholas Thompson in the latest issue of The Washington Monthly, where he documents the cavalier attitude of the Bush administration toward modern science and their basically contemptuous attitude toward actual scientists.  "Scientists--we don' need no stinking scientists" seems a fair summation of their position, as they merrily ignore the consensus of working scientists to pursue their agendas on everything from biotechnology to global warming to invading other countries to find nonexistent WMDs. 


Anti-science.  Anti-tolerance.  Have they no shame?


I think you know the answer to that one.

July 4, 2003

Geez, Now If We Only Had Some Issues


Yesterday, DR discussed how Bush's personal standing with the public, partly because of disenchantment with the Iraq adventure, is starting to show signs of serious erosion.  That disenchantment seems likely to grow--indeed, as this article in today's New York Times points out, disenchantment is even spreading to the families of the troops involved.


Yet Democrats--it seems fair to say--have yet to find their voice.  There's a sense that they just can't quite find the issue or issues to get some traction on that guy in the White House.


Can't find the issues!  Well, howsabout this one: 6.4 percent unemployment, the highest in 9 years, as detailed in another article in today's Times.  Or this one: the first President since Herbert Hoover to preside over a decline in the number of jobs during his administration.  (For more useful information on the administration's job growth record, be sure to check out this report by the Economic Policy Institute.)  So far, the Democratic approach has been to criticize Bush's tax cuts as irresponsible and clearly not helping the economy.


True enough.  But what's their plan?  How are they going to get the economy moving--create jobs, promote robust economic growth and so on?  Especially in terms of the Democratic Presidential candidates, it seems to DR that this should be a centerpiece of their campaigns, not an afterthought.  ("Hey, check out this cool health care plan--oh, and by the way, I will get the economy moving again.  I promise.")


And, while they're looking for issues, don't overlook the environment.  As reported by Katherine Seelye in Wednesday's Times, it's finally starting to dawn on Democrats and environmentalists alike that the more they can get voters to focus on environmental issues, the better off they'll be.  (Doesn't sound like rocket science, but politicians can be amazingly obtuse, particularly when they listen too uncritically to their consultants.)  Indeed, a recent NPR poll showed voters who selected the environment as their most important issue favoring an unnamed Democrat over Bush in 2004 by 40 points!


The economy.  The environment.  And regular DR readers know how important the education issue is and how Democrats mysteriously continue to ignore it.  Call it E3: economy, environment, education.  Democrats, you've got issues.  Now go get 'em.

July 3, 2003

They're All With Me, Right?


Our fearless leader, George W. Bush, says: "Bring 'em on", secure in the knowledge that the great American public stands right behind him, ready to support the noble mission in Iraq, no matter what it takes. 


Or are they?  Someone should tell fearless leader, he of the schoolyard rhetoric, that the public is getting pretty restless as the chaotic situation in Iraq continues, casualties mount and questions about why we went to war--and whether we got the whole truth from the administration--intensify.  According to the latest Gallup poll, the number saying the Iraq situation was worth going to war about is down 20 points since April 9 (from 76 percent to 56 percent), while the number saying the Iraq situation was not worth going to war about is up more than 20 points (from 19 percent to 42 percent).  If present trends continue, we could see an even split on this question very soon.


The poll also finds that 37 percent now believe that the administration deliberately misled the American public about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.  And twice that number--75 percent--say that it would matter a great deal (53 percent) or a moderate amount (22 percent) if they were convinced the Bush administration had deliberately deceived them on this issue.


Data from a just-released poll by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes suggest that much of the public could be moved in that direction.  In that poll, 42 percent are already willing to say that, when the US government presented evidence to justify going to war with Iraq, it was being misleading.  On the specific issue of the WMDs, 62 percent say that the government either stretched the truth (52 percent) or presented evidence they knew was falso (10 percent).  And on the Saddam-Al Qaeda link, 56 percent believe the government either stretched the truth (46 percent) or presented evidence they knew was false (10 percent).


These data suggest that the public is starting to lose faith that the Iraq war was worth it and that the Bush administration was straight with them about the need to go to war.  And, contrary to conventional wisdom, these data suggest that such loss of faith may  wind up having real political consequences.  


Perhaps it already is.  The President's personal high standing on a number of important indicators has sunk to unimpressive levels.  Just 50 percent claim he has a clear plan for solving the country's problems, compared to 47 percent who think he doesn't.   Only 54 percent say he is a person they admire (down 10 points since the beginning of May), while 45 percent say he is not a person they admire.  And 57 percent now say he cares about the needs of people like you (down 8 points since early April), compared to 42 percent who say he doesn't.


But perhaps the most interesting finding is this: At the end of January in 2002, 71 percent said they agreed with Bush on the issues that mattered most to them.  Today, that's down a whopping 18 points to just 53 percent who say they agree with Bush on the issues that matter most, compared to 46 percent who say they disagree. These figures are very similar to the ones Bush received on this indicator in August of 2001, right before September 11. 


Guess not everybody's with Mr. "Bring 'em on" after all.

July 2, 2003

Medicare Prescription Drugs: Democratic Debacle or Republican Albatross?


The CW is still that GOP-led passage of a Medicare prescription drugs bill--any Medicare prescription drug bill--gives the GOP an additional boost for 2004.  The more DR thinks about this, the less sure he is that it is true.  That's because of how bad the bill is likely to be and the probable reaction of those whom it is intended to benefit.


On how bad it is likely to be, check out Jacob Hacker's excellent analysis today in The New York Times.  He lays out, crisply and clearly, just how godawful both the Senate and, especially, the House bills are.  Talk about the devil is in the details.  And then take a gander at another Times article about how employers are going to run, not walk, to shift as many drug costs as they can onto Uncle Sam.  As Hacker points out, the average retiree is going to wind up not much better--maybe worse!--than where they started out.


This isn't exactly what your typical senior voter had in mind.  That's why savvy nonpartisan analyst Charlie Cook predicts that "If the prescription drug benefit is a factor in next year's election, it will be as an albatross around the necks of Republicans and the Bush administration."  He argues that what seniors want is a drug benefit like a Fortune 500 company might provide--modest premium, minimal co-pay, no gaps and unlimited coverage--and they want it provided through Medicare.  What they're likely going to get doesn't look anything like that and when they figure this out--and Cook thinks they will--it will be the Republicans who'll pay the price. 

Will Ho-Ho Have the Last Laugh?


When Howard Dean first started running for President, he was an object of considerable derision among political observers.  "Who does he think he's kidding?" was the general reaction.  Well, they're not laughing now and more and more of them are taking very seriously the idea that Howard Dean could actually get the Democratic nomination.  (For an idea of how this might happen, check out Daily Kos' very plausible scenario by which Dean could beat the rest of the field.)


There are a lot of reasons why people are taking Dean so seriously now, but one is his second quarter fundraising totals: $7.5 million from 59,000 donors, much of it over the internet, where he's clearly outdistanced the other candidates.  Garance Franke-Ruta argues, however, that his fundraising success is only partly about technology; it's mostly about the message that technology is helping get out.  More on Dean's message may be found here in another article by Franke-Ruta.   Also, check out David Kusnet's "Seriously Now: Howard Dean's transformation from protest candidate to populist" and Joe Klein's "Why Dean Isn't Going Away".


If the other Democratic candidates (John Kerry, are you out there?) hope to stop the Dean express, they better figure out a message that'll inspire voters in the way that Dean has.  To use a phrase that was popular in a slightly different context in 2002: you can't beat something with nothing.  Maybe it's time to stop campaigning so cautiously and realize that message counts....a lot.

Turn Away from the Dark Side, Al and Bruce!


In yesterday's post, DR argued that liberals and progressives don't give the DLC enough credit, that they are fellow Democrats and, as their latest magazine abundantly illustrates, they give the Bushies--the real enemy--a very hard time.  I've gotta say, though, that it would be easier to defend the DLC if Al From and Bruce Reed--CEO and President, respectively, of the organization--didn't insist on issuing periodic jermiads against The Liberal Enemy in their unending war to save the Democratic party from itself.  Their latest installment, "What We're Fighting For" can be found here.  Lead paragraph: "Democrats are fighting again over the direction of the party.  But contrary to conventional wisdom, that's a good thing".  Those who say this isn't a good thing and think this is "fighting yesterday's wars", according to From and Reed, are sadly mistaken.  So the fight must go on!


War yesterday.  War today.  War Tomorrow.  War forever.  Don't these guys ever get tired of it?  They're fond of pointing out that Americans are roughly 20 percent liberal, 30 percent conservative and 50 percent moderate.  So (can't those liberal dopes do the math?), we can't just rely on the liberal base.  But, Al and Bruce, if you're fighting the Bushies, and half the Democratic party as well, doesn't that put you (and the rest of us Democrats as well) at a disadvantage?  Can't you do the math?  25-75 is a loser every time.


DR will have more to say about this piece in a future post.  But for now he says: let's give this endless war thing a rest.  Turn away from the dark side, Al and Bruce, and walk in the light.  Try it; you might even like it.

July 1, 2003

I Have a Dream (of Democratic Unity)


"While Democrats feud, Grover gloats", comments Joe Conason in his June 30 column.  "Grover", of course, is Grover Norquist, head of the Americans for Tax Reform, whose sophisticated philosophy of "cut taxes, shrink government and then drown it in the bathtub" is explained in detail in an excellent profile by Ed Kilgore in the new edition of the DLC's magazine, Blueprint.  And Grover's doing more than gloating about the present, he's staking a claim on the future.  As he charmingly informed The New York Times: "The Republicans are looking at decades of dominance in the House and the Senate, and having the presidency with some regularity.  So if this year the tax cut isn't the one we wanted--no biggie.  There's a sense we can afford to wait."


As Conason points out, the blistering profile by Kilgore is one of the featured articles in the DLC's magazine.  And the rest of the magazine is chock-full of equally scathing articles about the Bush administration and its policies (the tag-line for the whole issue is "Stop, Thief!).  In fact, since Bush entered office, the DLC has, through its various outlets, produced over 260 hit-pieces on various aspects of Bush skulduggery.  Maybe it's time progressives and liberals gave these guys a break, instead of referring to them as "Republican lite" or "Democrats in name only".


Now liberals may have some disagreements with the DLC.  That's fine (DR has a few himself).  But let's never forget that they're still Democrats and members of the same team.  Remember: the opposing team has that guy in the White House and people like Grover (see above).  It shouldn't be too hard to tell the difference.

Let's Take Advantage of the Fact They May Be Cracking Up!


Another great reason for Democratic unity is to take advantage of emerging Republican weaknesses.  And one of those weaknesses may be: they're cracking up!  Start with the fact that a fringe element like Norquist has now attained such power.   Let's face it, Grover is a few fries short of a Happy Meal, but is now a huge influence on Republican economic and fiscal policy.  But Norquist doesn't want better economic and fiscal policy; he wants to eliminate economic and fiscal policy. 


The Republican party has always had "thinkers" like Norquist to deal with, but in the old days, they were muzzled most of the time and only allowed out to howl at the moon on special occasions.  But now the lunatics are running the asylum.  And writing books like Ann Coulter's Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism.  As hilariously detailed in today's Richard Cohen column in The Washington Post, Coulter has managed to convince herself that anyone to the left of the President (note to Coulter: more than half the country voted against him), and certainly anyone who criticizes the President, is (let's call a spade a spade!) a traitor. 


Yep, there's no doubt about it, those conservatives are getting kind of wacky.  And, of course, it's not just Norquist and Coulter, it's the whole radical right groupthink that now appears to have taken over the Republican party.  Which makes liberals look pretty good by comparison.  As Eric Alterman notes in is latest column in The Nation, "Today, 'liberal' is just another word for 'not nuts'.  Don't go around invading countries that do not pose a threat and lie to the world to justify it; don't destroy the nation's fiscal health in order to give trillion-dollar gifts to the wealthy; don't gratuitously insult countries whose help we need to maintain peace and security; don't shred the Constitution at every opportunity, etc. etc."


Of course, the amazing thing about this is that the conservatives themselves are quite unaware of any of this.  They think there's nothing wrong--like Grover, they see a Republican future that stretches on forever.  It's the Democrats who are going over the cliff, as normally-astute conservative commentator David Brooks recently argued in The Weekly Standard, because--well, because, some of them actually criticize President Bush and denounce his policies. 


David, that's not being nuts, that's being the opposition party.  If you want nuts, I can think of another place to check.  Hint: it's a group whose name begins with "R".


Democrats: We're the not nuts party!