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November 30, 2005

Bush's "Victory Strategy"

As your probably know, George W. Bush did another "big speech" on Iraq at the Naval Academy today, accompanied by the release of a big, fat document outlining a "victory strategy." Going into the speech, there were two distinct schools of thought in the Washington buzz about what Bush would likely do: (1) just another repackaging of the "trust us, we're winning" message, along with attacks on Bush's critics, and an effort to ascribe "cut and run" as the official Democratic stance; or (2) a full-fledged flip-flop, along the lines of the famous 2002 Homeland Security maneuver, towards the prevailing Democratic (and increasingly, Senate Republican) "benchmarked withdrawal" position, along with attacks on Bush's critics, and an effort to ascribe "cut and run" as the official Democratic stance. Having quickly read the speech, and the "strategy document," my gut reaction is that Bush wound up coming in between these two poles, with the speech tending towards (1) and the actual policy details towards (2). What's increasingly clear is that the administration is going to begin withdrawing troops, probably beginning with a "downsurge" of the "upsurged" pre-Iraqi-election deployment, by the beginning of the year. Larger withdrawals will happen at some propitious moment next year, unless all hell breaks loose, more because of internal military manpower limitations than because of any real strategy. The Pentagon has already begun shifting towards a less visible role for U.S. troops in going after the insurgents, as administration critics have been demanding for some time now. And at every step of the way, the Bushies will relentlessly claim this is how it was all planned to work out from the beginning, and that Bush's Democratic critics are the primary obstacle to the task of achieving benchmarks for success and troop withdrawals. This whole emerging scenario creates a complicated set of challenges for Democrats. Some responses are pretty easy: Bush's speech didn't really reflect the change of course indicated in the "strategy document," and to the extent that the American and Iraqi people aren't likely to download the 35-page tome, he didn't send the requisite signals of an adjustment to reality. And how can anybody trust him to get this right when he can't admit specific mistakes, and won't fire the people--most especially Rumsfeld--responsible for making the post-invasion situation so horrible? But beyond that, there is arguably an administration shift in strategy underway, albeit awkward, defensive, and mendacious, and Democrats have to decide pretty quickly if they want to deny the change, take credit for it, or shift their own position to demand a quicker withdrawal to maintain "partisan differentiation."Regular readers of this blog probably know I don't like the last response; you should never, on both moral and political grounds, let the opposition dictate your own position, and in any event, anyone at this stage of American political history who doesn't think Ds and Rs have different policy agendas is clearly not a likely voter. Questioning, if not denying, the change is clearly appropriate. Demanding further documentation of the apparent shift in administration strategy towards Iraq, given all the past lies and mistakes, is undoubtedly the right thing to do. And demanding the head of Don Rumsfeld might not be a bad idea either. But we do need to be open to the option of loudly claiming that Democrats, not to mention the American people, have forced the administration to adjust their strategy, and must continue to keep the pressure on until the facts on the ground in Iraq really change. Bush and the GOP won't acknowledge it; the MSM may not even "get it"; so it's up to us to make some noise and keep up the heat, but without some short-sighted panicky rush to find a position diametrically opposed to Bush's, whether or not it's the right thing to do from a national interest or even political point of view. We don't have a lot of time to figure this out, so let's get on with it.
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November 29, 2005

Darfur: Too Little, Too Late?

The quasi-genocidal crisis in Darfur is finally getting a bit of renewed attention from the rest of the world, but it's not clear it's happening fast enough to make a difference.In case you've forgotten Darfur because it hasn't been in the headlines much, more than 300,000 people have probably died there since the government of Sudan unleashed a vicious counter-insurgency campaign in 2003 designed to squash an insurgency loosely linked to the Southern Sudan forces Khartoum was trying to outmaneuver in negotiations to end the long-running North-South civil war. Just as importantly, more than two million Darfurians have been displaced by the fighting, and are hemmed into refugee camps with no means of subsistence other than food shipments from international organizations.And while the direct violence against Darfurians by the Khartoum-paid-and-trained Janjaweed militias has abated somewhat, the strategy of keeping them penned up under atrocious conditions is doing the Grim Reaper's work as efficiently as the previous kill-and-rape raids on hundreds of villages.That's why, as Eric Reeves explained on The New Republic's site yesterday, the most immediate threat to Darfur stems from Janjaweed attacks on the international humanitarian aid organizations that are literally serving as Darfur's lifeline. Some are already withdrawing personnel from Darfur, and others may soon follow, given the general recognition that African Union peacekeeping forces are incapable of providing security in the region, and no one else is on the scene.But as always in Darfur, there's a lot of political fog distorting a clear picture of the situation.There are ongoing if sluggish negotiations underway between Khartoum and the two insurgent groups it is supposedly fighting in Darfur: the Fur-tribal-based Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA), and the Islamist Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Unfortunately, as the Kofi Annan statement I just linked to shows, these negotiations are helping feed the idea that this is a civil war or "ethnic conflict" where both sides are equally to blame for the death and destruction, and where the rest of the world can legitimately step aside as the parties to the dispute wrangle through a settlement.The only bright note recently was the voice-vote passage by the U.S. Senate of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, which would recommit our government to an end to the disaster in Darfur; pledge immediate military support to an expansion of the AU deployment; and place sanctions on the government of Sudan, including seizure of oil shipments and withdrawal of travel rights for Khartoum officials, until such time as it releashes the Janjaweed and starts cooperating with humanitarian agencies.The bill still needs to get scheduled in the House, which in an obscure committee action stripped out previously approved funds to support an expanded AU peacekeeping mission. And that's a good example of what's wrong in this whole debate. Nobody will come out and say they don't want to take action in Darfur, but the Bush administration officials who are so appreciative of Khartoum's assistance in the War on Terror are obviously helping slow down any binding congressional action that would complicate things for them. Today New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof helped shine a spotlight on this subterranean but effective strategy.The whole situation reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago with a veteran Georgia State Patrol trooper who used to work traffic accidents in a rural community. The ambulance service there was provided by a local undertaker, who got paid a small fee for hauling accident victims to the hospital, but who got the burying rights if the victims died. So, said my informant, the ambulance driver would pick up the grievously injured passengers and then head off towards the hospital, lights flashing and sirens screaming, at about 15 miles per hour.That's what the U.S. and international mission to "save" Darfur looks like to me right now.
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November 28, 2005

Football Love & Hate In Capsule

I didn't plan on blogging about football after the Thanksgiving holiday, despite my joy at Georgia's victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday. But tonight I ran across a Lang Whitaker post on the Sports Illustrated site that perfectly reflects the intimate love-hate relationship that enlivens "rivalry" games like Tech/Georgia, while celebrating the whole spectacle of deep-fried football. Check it out.
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The Parties and The Issues

Over at Ruy Teixeira's Donkey Rising site, he's posted a summary of the current standing of the two parties on major issues. It's mostly good news--in some cases spectacular news--for us Donkeys, but with a few exceptions that deserve attention, especially in terms of our credibility in fighting terror and the clarity of our overall message.On this last point, Ruy concludes:

In short, voters are still much surer of what they don’t like (Republican policies and Bush’s job as president) than of what they might like (Democratic policies and leadership). It’s up to Democrats to clarify that situation, starting with, finally, convincing the American public they know what they stand for.
That's true, but we all have to remember one very important thing about "message clarity": the only thing worse than leaving voters unsure about "what you stand for" is to resolve their doubts by "standing" for positions and/or values they don't like. I'm not saying Democrats are in imminent danger of doing that, but given the influence of Lackoffian "framing" in high party councils, it's worth reminding ourselves that "clarity" is not in itself a definitive answer to lingering public doubts about our party. Like everyone reading this blog, I have my own ideas about "what we believe in" and "what we stand for," and we should not be shy about debating differences and then uniting behind the best and most accurate reflections of our values. That's why we have intra-party discussions, and ultimately, why we have party primaries. You could make a good case that the current GOP meltdown is partly the result of an "our team" mentality that until recently has thwarted any real intra-party Republican debate, or any honest Republican discussion with the rest of the country. I'm perfectly happy to sacrifice a few points in polls on "message clarity" in order to keep my party from following this authoritarian pattern.
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November 27, 2005

West Wing

It's always nice when the New York Times looks beyond its prime readership and takes notice of the rest of the country. And that's why I applaud Timothy Egan's Week in Review piece today on successful Democratic governors west of the Mississippi. Those of you who read Democratic blogs probably know all about Montana's Brian Schweitzer, and Egan gives him his due. But he also focuses on Wyoming's Dave Freudenthal, Kansas's Kathleen Sebelius, Arizona's Janet Napolitano, and New Mexico's Bill Richardson, and more generally makes the point that 12 of the 22 current Democratic governors have been elected in states carried by George W. Bush in 2004. The success of Democratic governors in "red states" is one of the most under-reported political stories of our decade. And the ranks of those red-state Donkeys may well increase significantly next year. So read Egan, but also get ready to make a New Year's Resolution to pay more attention to gubernatorial politics in 2006, and join the debate as to why Democrats are able to win in states where our presidential candidates are losing. This is one subject on which the DLC--which is close to many of these red-state governors--and anti-Washington-Establishment Democrats, should be able to see things the same way.
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November 26, 2005

Live From the Malls

Recovering somewhat from Thanksgiving lethargy, I dragged myself in front of the tube yesterday to get some non-food news. I did see a report on Michael Brown's new consulting career, that supplied the material for my last post. But for most of the day, I was treated to Black Friday "coverage"--breathless on-location reports of mall parking lot conditions and mini-riots among avid consumers, mostly from CNN's digs in my home town of Atlanta.I understand that the Christmas Rush is incredibly important to retailers, and I also understand this is a capitalist economy in which being "in the black" is generally important to all of us. But still, Lord have mercy: do Americans have to be spun by the news media to make the Spirit of Christmas one of acquisitive frenzy? I mean, really, absent high-profile encouragement to get out there and fight for the latest baubles, is there any serious risk that our countrymen will turn Christmas back into a religious holiday?Digby has a good rant on the subject you can read, but more generally, it seems to me that it would be healthy to limit Black Friday coverage to the business report.
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November 25, 2005

Brownie Goes Consulting

So here I am, the day after Thanksgiving, exhausted and visibly gaining weight, the soul of sluggishness, unable to respond to the large number of people in my house with much of anything other than a noncommittal grunt. And I haven't blogged since Tuesday.But ah, as I slumped in the living room wondering if I had the energy to watch a football game, easy inspiration arose on CNN: Michael Brown's announcement of his new "disaster preparendness" consulting firm. The idea, it appears, is that having made every mistake in the book in dealing with Hurricane Katrina, Brownie is just the guy to tell companies what kind of mistakes they should look out for in dealing with natural disasters.After pocketing a "Political Turkey of the Year" designation by CNN's Bill Schneider, ol' Brownie seems determined to win some sort of Profiles in Chutzpah award. This goes well beyond such obvious analogies as Elizabeth Taylor becoming a marriage counselor, Terrell Owens holding seminars on "teamwork," or Ozzie Osbourne starting a new "straight edge" anti-drug band. After all, Brownie's accomplishment was to turn disaster response and relief into almost as big a disaster as the disaster he was "responding" to. And he did that with resources his potential clients are not likely to have, such as a multi-billion dollar budget, an entire federal agency, and the ear of the President of the United States.So what is Brown going to tell the corporate CEOs who are allegedly expressing interest in his services? Perhaps: "If you have no clue what you're doing, be sure to hire some people who do." Maybe: "Don't let George Bush give you a nickname on national television." Or finally: "Pick one person to shift blame to, and stick to your story."The only thing I can think of that rivals Brownie's self-salvage project is one once undertaken by William Calley, the guy who admitted ordering the cold-blooded murder of dozens of women and children at a hamlet named My Lai in Vietnam. In 1978, some television network aired a ten-year retrospective on the various convulsions that struck America in 1968, and the sections on Vietnam were narrated by Calley, who posed as some sort of anti-war martyr.At least he waited ten years.
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November 22, 2005

Big News On Iraq, Or Not?

The headline, when I saw it early this afternoon, nearly knocked me out of my chair: "Iraqi leaders call on U.S. to set withdrawal schedule." And the text of the story, reporting that an Iraqi government (and Arab League) sponsored "unity conference" of Sunnis and Shi'a in Cairo had called for a "timetable" for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops--accompanied by a sunny statement from the Iraqi Interior Minister saying it could happen by the end of next year--was even more startling. After spending months arguing with my fellow Democrats over the arcana of a "benchmarked withdrawal" as opposed to a "timetable withdrawal," my initial reaction was: Hell, that settles it for me.And I'm not the only one who reacted this way. Kos said: "Every person that opposes a US withdrawal timetable is now operating in direct opposition to the wishes of the Iraqi government."But when you drill a bit deeper into the news from Cairo, you discover that the "unity statement" did not specify any dates for the immediate, intermediate, or ultimate withdrawal of U.S. troops. In other words, it called for a "timetable" without "times." In that respect, it tracked the Democratic Iraq resolution that was defeated in the U.S. Senate last week, which used the symbolic "T-word" without specifying any dates, though it did call on the administration to announce "estimated dates" for withdrawals based on the anticipated achievement of "benchmarks." (The successful Republican-sponsored resolution was nuanced to the point of sophistry: it urged the administration to announce a "schedule" for withdrawals, based on "benchmarks," but avoided the "T-word," which the administration tried to spin as a gigantic victory).I have no clue whether these words have the same meaning in Arabic as in English, but I do know that train timetables are a pretty universal phenomenon. Whether you are in Washington or in Baghdad, when you consult a "timetable," you don't want to discover that your train will leave the station at some point after it has arrived, when the equipment and the crew are ready and the passengers are loaded.One thing, and perhaps only one thing, is clear: up until now, the Bush administration has refused to acknowledge, much less embrace, any specific scheme of "benchmarks" for withdrawal of U.S. troops, beyond its general bromides that we'll leave when "the job is done" and when "Iraqis are able to provide their own security." And despite widespread hints that the Pentagon is already planning significant troop withdrawals next year, the Bushies have not only refused to talk about any "schedule" for withdrawal; they have in fact demonized anyone who tried to force them to do so.Presumably, that line of argument ended today. After all, 85 U.S. Senators (if you count those who voted for either Senate resolution last week) called for a benchmarked withdrawal and for the idea, if not the specifics, of a timetable or a schedule or whatever you wish to call it. Now the Iraqi government and a wide-ranging coalition of Iraqi political factions have done the same.Moreover, and this is probably the implicit compromise achieved in Cairo, everybody understands that the first big "benchmark" is the December elections in Iraq. If they are successful in creating a popularly-backed permanent government, with significant support from Arab Sunnis, then it will become a lot easier to talk about real "timetables" for the withdrawal of U.S.troops.In terms of domestic U.S. politics, the only problem then will be to deal with the likely administration flip-flop, whereby Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld suddenly embrace and even take credit for this development, while still attacking those who were "prematurely" calling for withdrawals, benchmarked or timed. But hey, that's a small price to pay for the possibility that we can get out of Iraq soon, without encouraging a civil war or a permanent terrorist outpost. It's not as though Bush's record is clean on Iraq even if he does draw down troops quickly, and his and his party's record on absolutely everything else richly deserves more attention.
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November 21, 2005

More Slicing and Dicing of Virginia

For those of you who, like me, just can't get enough of the November 8 gubernatorial election in Virginia, there's a significant quantity of sliced and diced analysis piling up, much of it focused on Tim Kaine's impressive performance in Virginia suburbs and exurbs.The Big Study everyone's citing comes from Robert Lang and Dawn Dhavale of Virginia Tech, which (1) divides Virginia into four regions, and shows Tim Kaine improving on John Kerry's 2004 performance across the board; and (2) provides a detailed analysis of the Northern Virginia suburbs, segmenting them into Urban Suburbs (Arlington and Alexandria), Mature Suburbs (gigantic Fairfax), Emerging Suburbs (Loudon and Prince William) and true exurbs (Fauquier and Stafford).Kaine carried three of four of this study's major regions (Northern Virginia, the Capitol Region and Tidewater) and lost the fourth, sprawling Shenandoah (which includes The Valley, Southwest, Southside, and the central Virginia Piedmont). Within NoVa, he won all but the "true exurb" counties and cities. While the big news was Kaine's overwhelming victory in NoVa and the Richmond area, the study suggests he ran ahead of Kerry uniformly across the state.The major shortcoming of the Tech study is that it mainly compares Kaine's performance to Kerry's, but not to Mark Warner's in 2001. That comparison would have shown Kaine running far behind Warner in Shenandoah, and a bit ahead in Tidewater, but doing impressively better in the other two urban-suburban regions, and especially in the areas outside the urban cores of Richmond and Arlington-Alexandria.I understand why the Hokie researchers did what they did: Everybody's interested in Kaine's win as a possible leading indicator of Democratic gains between 2004 and 2008.But personally, being focused a bit more on Virginia as a leading indicator for 2006, I'm interested in the 2001-2005 trend, and in the ability of Democrats to put together new and different majority coalitions in difficult terrain, just as Mark Warner did in 2001 and Tim Kaine did this year.There's a Washington Post analysis of the "emerging suburbs" category of voters that includes data from a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner study of Loudon County, interpolated somewhat dubiously with national data on the unhappiness of moderate Republicans.The GQR study showed that Loudoun voters cared a lot more about transportation and education issues than about the death-penalty and immigration topics Jerry Kilgore emphasized down the home stretch. And they preferred Kaine by 23 percentage points on education and by 16 points on transportation.The Post's national data on moderate Republicans, while of questionable relevance to the Virginia race, are still striking: between August and November, moderate GOPer approval ratings for Bush's job performance dropped from 85% to 59%, with the percentage registering strong support being halved, from 60% to 30%. That's a big and important trend.Ruy Teixeira offers a good general summary of the evidence supplied by Virginia. But it's important to keep straight the in-state and national trends we are talking about.For a bunch of reasons, Tim Kaine could not replicate Mark Warner's stunning 2001 coalition of rural, urban and suburban voters. He had to do better in the suburbs, and he did, lifted in part by Warner's popularity; in part by a national suburban trend against the Bush administration and the GOP generally; and in part by his own suburban-friendly message of smart growth management and educational improvements. Democratic "red state" candidates in 2006 need to look at all aspects of the Kaine victory, and look back, where they can, to Warner's strategy as well. They may benefit from a national tide against Republicans, and may batten on expanded "blue" areas of the suburbs. But they need to exploit rural and small-town opportunities as well, just as Mark Warner did four years ago.The national GOP meltdown means Democrats can become competitive, or at least more competitive, everywhere, and it's everywhere that they should look for new votes.
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November 18, 2005

The House's Phony Debate On Iraq

By the time most of you read this, the papers will be full of accounts of the weird vote House Republicans forced tonight on a truncuated version of Rep. John Murtha's call yesterday for a quick U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.The snap-vote decision, reportedly suggested to the House GOP Caucus this morning by conservative attack-dog Hunter Duncan, is one of those too-clever-by-half things that sound good at first suggestion, but which grownups usually eschew in the end.Guess there aren't that many grownups in the House Republican Caucus.The debate on Hunter's version of Murtha's resolution was one of the more dreadful displays I've seen in many years of House-watching. Everybody knew that House Democrats had decided to urge its members to vote against the resolution, making the whole exercise a waste of time (the final vote was 3-402). Listening to House Republicans scream about staying the course, fighting the terrorists on their turf, bringing democracy to the Middle East, etc., etc., you'd never know their Senate counterparts had voted overwhelmingly to repudiate the administration's strategy in Iraq earlier this week. For his part, Murtha (appropriately, the only speaker on the Democratic side), put in the impossible position of leading the opposition to what Republicans were describing as his resolution, pretty much limited himself to reading letters from troops and their families supporting his earlier statement. There was no real debate.It's not surprising, given Murtha's credentials, that Republicans gave most of their time to Vietnam vets, but what was surprising was how often they expressed the opinion that America "cut and run" in Vietnam, and how angry they still seem to be that we didn't stay there until, well, eternity.If I were a Republican, I wouldn't be encouraging Vietnam analogies, but what the hell, the whole scene was so surreal that you half expected the ghost of Richard Nixon to arise from the House well and demand vindication.We'll see how the whole ploy spins out over the weekend, but here's a quick reaction from one conservative, National Review's K-Lo over at The Corner:

I have a very bad feeling about this GOP vote-force tonight. Listening to the emotional debate on the floor now...well, there was just some screaming, to give you an idea. Prediction: Dems vote no on a Republican resolution for immediate withdrawal. Dems easily frame the whole exercise as Republicans caricaturing sensible concerns about Iraq--and more specifically a mocking of Vietnam vet Marine Jack Murtha.
Ms. Lopez was right about the vote. And I think she's right about how the whole thing goes down. It was a bad idea that House Republicans, typically, could not resist.
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For Shame

You may have already read about the remarks made yesterday by Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY) in response to Rep. John Murtha's call for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. If not, here they are:

Ayman Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's deputy, as well as Abu Musab Zarqawi, have made it quite clear in their internal propaganda that they cannot win unless they can drive the Americans out. And they know that they can't do that there, so they've brought the battlefield to the halls of Congress.And, frankly, the liberal leadership have put politics ahead of sound, fiscal and national security policy. And what they have done is cooperated with our enemies and are emboldening our enemies.
In case anyone needs a translation here, Davis basically charged Murtha (and unnamed "liberal leaders," since the label hardly applies to the quite conservative Pennyslvanian) with being an agent of Zarquawi and of al Qaeda, and of cooperating with our country's enemies.I haven't seen video of the House GOP press conference, convened by Rep. Duncan Hunter of CA, in which Davis made these remarks, so I don't know if any of his colleagues had the decency to wince or blush when he called another colleague a terrorist collaborator and a traitor.But the rest of this crowd (including Kay Granger, Mike Conaway, Louie Gohmert and John Carter of TX, Joe Wilson of SC, Bob Beauprez and Tom Tancredo of CO, David Dreir of CA, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of FL, and Jean Schmidt of OH) was pretty awful as well, making constant assertions that everything would be peachy-keen in Iraq if everybody just shut up and trusted the administration, and in particular repeating incessantly the fatuous assertion that if we weren't in Iraq, the terrorists would be blowing up the United States. (Perhaps they'd start with blowing up San Francisco, as Bill O'Reilly invited them to do on national television last week).These smears of Murtha--a heavily decorated Marine Corps veteran of both Korea and Vietnam, who supported both Iraq wars, and has always been a staunch supporter of a robust national security posture and especially the needs of our troops--are impossible to properly characterize in a family-friendly blog. Their perpetrators are teetering on the line that divides people who deserve angry contempt, and people who are beneath contempt.And I say this as someone who doesn't agree with Murtha's position on Iraq, but who understands this is a guy that has no possible reason for taking it other than that he believes it's right--for the country, for the troops, and for our national security.When the President of the United States started this crap a few days ago by accusing critics of his Iraq policies of aiding and abetting the terrorist enemy, Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska issued this tart response: "The Bush administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and should not be demonized for disagreeing with them. Suggesting that to challenge or criticize policy is undermining and hurting our troops is not democracy nor what this country has stood for, for over 200 years."This isn't a terribly complicated proposition. Disagree with or even deplore Murtha's or anybody else's position on Iraq all you want. Make your case about why you think the consequences would be dreadful.But at a time when a majority of Americans have lost confidence in the administration's Iraq policies--and when a majority of Republican Senators cast a vote this week questioning them as well--to impugn the patriotism of Bush's critics is an act that manages to give demagoguery a bad name.
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November 17, 2005

Deception and Self-Deception

Dick Cheney's bizarre speech last night accusing Democrats of violating the sacred canons of Washingtonian candor and honesty is drawing the catcalls it deserves, but it does help raise an issue that's been percolating just between the surface about the nature of this administration's obstinant mendacity. Have these guys been consciously lying through their teeth all this time about Iraq, about the economy, about the budget, about, well, all those things they are getting so egregiously wrong? Or is there an element of self-deception going on? Now, for many Democrats, this very question is provocative: of course they are consciously lying, every day, on every subject, and to suggest otherwise is to go soft and concede some decency to people who will just see this as a sign of Democratic weakness. But as Mark Schmitt usefully points out over at TPMCafe, self-deception in high office is arguably more dangerous and damning than conscious deception. His post lays out the idea that the White House under Bush has been dominated by an "ideology of information" that sorts evidence into "useful" and "not useful" categories based on a pre-conceived agenda, essentially filtering out any empircal data interfering with the administration's agenda in a way that creates a hermetically sealed echo chamber of self-validation. Even as the bloodhounds continue to search out and find multiple examples of conscious White House mendacity, the one truly incontrovertible thing about this administration is its incredible intolerance for anything like internal debate and self-criticism. Sure, there are differences of opinion, but only at the margins, and only on occasions where The Line is not dictated by ideology or the dark political calculations of Karl Rove. In the Bush White House, the only deadly sin has been anything like a continuing internal, much less external, dissent (see O'Neill, Paul and DiIulio, John for Object Examples of what happens to people who violate this rule). This is an inherently disastrous approach in any executive operation, much less one commanding a multi-trillion dollar budget, the world's most powerful military, and to be blunt about it, the power to ruin and end lives, and shape a society for decades to come. There are very few costless mistakes in the White House. In my first government job, working for a Georgia Governor (recently deceased) named George Busbee, anyone briefing the Governor knew he would have to run the gauntlet of an incredibly smart young lawyer named Cecil Phillips, whose job was to sit in on any policy discussion and raise tough questions about anything proposed. This Policy Ombudsman approach always struck me as one of the smartest and simplest quality control arrangements I've ever seen. Nobody went into that Governor's office without marshalling facts and thinking about contrary opinions. And a lot of bad policy decisions were probably avoided as a result of that process. In the White House of George W. Bush's predecessor, you didn't need an Official Devil's Advocate, because free-flowing debate went on every day on every subject, and nobody shut up until The Big He made a final decision. And even then, dissenters did not get sent to Siberia. Moreover, Bill Clinton's intellectual voracity--so different from Bush's remarkably unreflexive nature--drove him to seek out advice from people who were not on his payroll, over and over again.Many of the failures of the Bush administration are easily and directly attributable to this huge blind spot: a White House hostile to debate, dissent and contrary evidence on issues large and small, and where all the incentives pointed to lockstep conformity and demonization of any divergent point of view. And this attitude of "don't-confuse-me-with-facts" has been echoed among the Republican regime on Capitol Hill, especially in Tom DeLay's House.Given the overwhelming evidence that Republican self-deception is feeding its attempted deceptions of the American people, why do some Democrats insist on proving that these people are consciously lying to us? After all, it's easier to prove criminal negligence than criminal intent, and even though the latter carries heavier penalities in courts of law, the former is if anything more damaging in the court of public opinion.It's entirely possible that some key White House players are in fact cynical liars, and Dick Cheney and Karl Rove are obvious suspects in this case. But in general, a president and an administration so isolated from reality that they don't even know when they are lying to themselves or to us, is a bigger danger and a bigger target for Democrats.
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November 16, 2005

Parsing Small Words On Iraq: Who Benefits?

As you probably know, the U.S. Senate reared up on its hind legs yesterday and passed a resolution demanding that the Bush administration cut out the happy talk, explain its exit strategy for Iraq, link troop withdrawals to specific benchmarks of progress towards Iraqi self-sufficiency, report regularly to Congress, and generally, stop B.S.-ing the American and the Iraqi people.The vote on that resolution was 79-19, with 41 Republican Senators going over the side.Even more remarkably, this resolution, drafted by Republican Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner, was largely a carbon-copy of Sen. Carl Levin's Democratic resolution, which went down 58-40 earlier in the day. The supposed Big Difference was Levin's language urging the administration to come up with "estimated dates" for withdrawal of U.S. troops, contingent on everything going on as planned, etc., etc. Check out this colloquoy on the Senate floor between Levin and Warner, and tell me if you think it's a Big Difference at all. Warner basically agrees Levin's language doesn't require any sort of fixed "timetable" or "deadline" for withdrawal of U.S. troops, but worries it might be misunderstood as such. We're into angels-dancing-on-a-pin country here.But upon this parsing of really small words, the Bushies have staked their entire, and even for them, unusually mendacious, spin operation. The Senate rejected a "timetable," they crow. The resolution endorsed our policies! If you read the Warner resolution, and understand what it means, that's a completely crazy reading of what happened, which is that a large majority of Republican Senators suddenly but clearly repudiated the administration line on Iraq, for the very first time. The fact that the Senate also recently passed, for the second time, and this time on a voice vote, the McCain Amendment rejecting the Cheney Torture doctrine, which the White House has indicated is so important that it might generate Bush's first-ever legislative veto, is another major straw in the wind.The Bushies aren't the only people exaggerating the difference between the Levin and Warner resolutions on Iraq: some Democratic voices, whom I will not name out of collegiality, are fretting that the Republican defection to a "benchmarked withdrawal" position means our guys must get more rigid and fervent about a timetable and deadline for withdrawal to maintain the requisite partisan differentiation.Ironically, these are among the same folks who have been arguing for a while that the secret of the GOP Machine is its ability to maintain Republican unity while battening on Democratic disunity. On Iraq, we are currently witnessing massive Republican disunity and relatively clear Democratic unity. What, if anything, is wrong with this picture politically?More broadly, let's look at what's happening to Bush and to the Republican coalition. After the conservative uprising against Harriet Miers, the White House decided that it had to have "base" support in these troubled times. Hence, Bush substituted Alito for Miers; began supporting right-wing budget proposals in Congress; and most recently, went Nixonian on Iraq, attacking its critics as allies of al Qaeda.The jury's still out on Alito, but the conservative budget offensive has been derailed by Republicans, and now the "stay the course" offensive on Iraq has been derailed by Republicans as well. Meanwhile, the ethics problems of the GOP and its friends are just beginning. The whole Rove/Neocon/Norquist/Theocrat/Plutocrat alliance that elected George W. Bush is in shambles. Republican office-holders are running for the hills, and for heretofore unimaginable cooperation with the hated partisan enemy.This is a very good thing for Democrats. And while partisan differentiation is always important, we shouldn't be worried about that to the exclusion of taking every opportunity to let Republicans fall out like thieves, and re-establish ourselves clearly as the party that can best govern the country. I mean, really, if the 2006 elections turn into a referendum on which candidates can most thorougly separate themselves from George W. Bush's policies, does anyone really doubt the Donkey will prevail? I sure don't. Let the Republicans fight, and let's don't go out of our way to take positions that make it easier for them to pretend they are united.
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November 15, 2005

Africa: Politics and Despair

This weekend I finally finished reading two important recent books on Africa: Martin Meredith's massive The Fate of Africa: From The Hopes of Freedom To The Heart of Despair, and Gerard Prunier's relatively short but intense Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide. Both books are already helping fuel a growing debate in the U.S. and in Europe about what if anything "the international community" can do to solve Africa's general problems, and the immediate and deadly crisis in Darfur.Meredith's book, which attempts a panoramic history of post-colonial Africa, is fascinating, instructive, and impressively well-written, but as the subtitle suggests, his tale is one of unremitting woe and disillusionment. As you read through his roughly chronological account which shifts from region to region, the bright spots of independent Africa steadily blink out, and country after country devolves into corruption, tyranny, bankruptcy, and savage armed conflict (Botswana is the only country earning unqualified praise from Meredith, with South Africa being judged a qualified success).Indeed, I fear that Meredith's book may have an impact on general readers similiar to that of Robert Kaplan's 1993 book Balkan Ghosts, a cautionary tale about the depth of ethnic confilicts in the post-communist Balkans that reportedly influenced Bill Clinton to avoid U.S. intervention in the Bosnian civil war. Why bother trying to do anything about impossible people in impossible places?But Meredith has a very distinct point of view about what's gone wrong in Africa, and what that means for non-Africans who want to do something constructive about it. As he relentlessly tells us, Africa's failure is above all a failure in political leadership, and until its elites figure that out and do something fundamental about it, nothing else matters. As Andrew Rice usefully explained in The Nation a few weeks ago, this position places Meredith near one extreme, with Jeffrey Sachs on the other, in the ongoing chicken-and-egg debate on whether Africa's poverty causes misgovernment, or its misgovernment causes poverty. (You should also read Sam Rosenfeld's October interview with Meredith on the American Prospect site, wherein Meredith makes it clear he is indeed skeptical of the current Blair-and-Sachs-led effort to dramatically boost no-strings aid to Africa). Like Meredith, the French ethnographer Gerard Prunier focuses on political factors in his complex and ultimately angry book about Darfur. And even more than Meredith, he is disdainful of those who think humanitaritan assistance will solve the conflict that has probably killed over 300,000 people and displaced--while destroying the livelihoods of--more than two million people. But Prunier certainly doesn't counsel international inaction until such time as the Sudanese get their act together. Au contraire: the major thrust of his book is to explain how Darfur was dragged into the current nightmare by the conflicts and intrigues of its neighbors, and then to indict the many excuses "the international community" has given itself from taking the diplomatic and military steps that could have stopped the killing, and still could.I'm writing a full review of Prunier's book for Blueprint Magazine, but I encourage anyone interesed in Africa to read it, and to read Meredith as well.
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November 14, 2005

Saturday Night In the 'Burg

I promise my next post will be a serious one (actually, a very serious one on two books about Africa I recently finished), but what's the point of having a blog if you can't occasionally share personal experiences with ten thousand or so total strangers? Saturday night I had a perfectly abysmal sporting experience. I was down at the home place in central Virginia, and since the ground hogs had apparently chewed up the wires from the satellite dish, I had to soujourn to the nearest city, Lynchburg, to watch my Georgia Bulldogs try to wrap up the SEC East against Auburn. Having googled up a "sports bar" in the 'Burg, I sallied forth, pursued by my wife's demands that I swear I would not touch Demon Alcohol before returning to the countryside. Forty-five minutes later, I settled in at the "sports bar," where two screens directly in front of me were supposed to be showing my game, and then, of course, both sets were changed to the NASCAR Classic Channel or something, with the bartenders shrugging and alluding to shadowy robo-managers who programmed the sets two months ago. Finally, after exercising several complex moves I learned while riding Metro, I got to a seat where I could watch the Dawgs and the War Eagles from a 60 degree angle, and settled down with a non-alcoholic beer (dreadful stuff; it helps explain W.'s cranky disposition).About half-way through a tense second quarter, I suddenly saw bright flashing lights and heard a hideous wall of noise. Was I having a stroke? An allergic reaction to O'Doul's? Had I died and gone to hell? No, I soon discovered, it was Karaoke Night in the "sports bar," and for the next two hours I tried to watch a football game while being practically blown off the bar stool by bad music from every available genre, badly performed. And my fellow "sports bar" patrons, who were multiplying by the minute, were enraptured with the noise, greeting the first notes of Play That Funky Music, White Boy and Baby Got Back and even Rocky Top with bellows of sheer delight. And these were largely kids: is this what they are listening to on their I-Pods? In any event, I stuck it out to the bitter end, when Auburn beat Georgia on a last-minute field goal after an improbable long pass on a fourth-and-ten, just as the "sports bar" exploded with hormonal delerium to Fight For Your Right To Party. I paid off my tab for an evening of buzzless beer, and wandered off into the packed parking lot--somehow missing the army of Designated Drivers preparing to shepherd the drunken crowd inside safely home--and made a firm resolution never again to mix football with Karaoke. The funny thing is, I sort of like Lynchburg, despite its association with Jerry Falwell's Church of the Angry God. The other city reasonably close to my Amherst digs is Charlottesville, whose snooty pretensions must torment Thomas Jefferson's soul each and every day. Lynchburg is a cheerfully unpretentious old river town with impressive architecture and genuine southern food. But you just don't want to go to its "sports bars." Not unless you want to watch a game while protecting your non-alcoholic beer from a twenty-two-year-old Baptist strutting her stuff to Baby Got Back.
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November 11, 2005

In Praise of Service

Veterans' Day, unlike Memorial Day, is not essentially a celebration of those who have died or been injured in war, or even of war itself: it's a commemoration of everyone who has "worn the uniform" and served his or her country. And in effect, it's a memorial service for those days when most male Americans, at least, did indeed "wear the uniform," even if they never fired a shot in anger or risked their lives.Like most baby boomers who went to college, I never wore the uniform, though I did come very close. At the end of law school, I decided to go into the Air Force JAG Corps. I survived the document review, the background check, the physical. I even got through the final interview, when I was asked: "How do you feel about nuclear war?" My impulsive response was: "Do you mean as a victim, or as a perpetrator?" Fortunately, the officer interviewing me had a sense of humor, and I was offered a commission as a USAF captain.As it happened, I deferred my commission for a year, because my girlfriend at the time, who was a year behind me in law school, wanted to go into the JAG Corps with me. In the interim, I stumbled into my first political job, and never looked back.But I regret never having "worn the uniform," and I regret the fact that it's become a rarer experience for the generations that followed the baby boomers.I've spent a considerable part of my professional life promoting the idea of universal access to national service: in the military, and in civilian occupations. I don't support a return to the draft, but do believe that every American, male or female, should be encouraged to give a year or two to their community and their country, in exchange for the blessings we enjoy as Americans.My father, most of my uncles, and just about every man I know above the age of 60 did wear the uniform, often in supporting roles in wartime: as motor pool mechanics, as military police, as clerk-typists, as administrative staff. Virtually all of them say they benefitted from the experience of being intermingled with people from every part of the country, from every race and ethnic group, all their prejudices being burned off in the crucible of a common cause, and a common exposure to the ultimate sacrifice, even if they never went into combat.We should all honor that service, and better yet, spend days like Veterans' Day pondering the value of univeral service and universal sacrifice, and considering ways to make national service once again a general experience for future generations.
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November 10, 2005

Virginia Suburbs Revisited

Several alert readers have emailed me to make sure I know that the day-labor site in Herndon, Virginia, that was the object of Jerry Kilgore's unsuccessful demagoguery in the late governor's race is not, as I keep writing, in Loudoun County, but is instead in Fairfax County. (It's actually near the Loudoun-Fairfax border, but facts are facts).Anyway, this correction enables me to point out that ol' Jerry's message resonated even less in the mega-suburb of Fairfax than it did in the smaller if faster-growing Loudoun. Kaine won Fairfax County by an astounding 60/38 margin, a plurality of more than 60,000 votes (or about 58% of his statewide margin), a big improvement over Mark Warner's 54/45 win in 2001 (which produced a 25,000 vote plurality, or about 26% of Warner's statewide margin).There's a broader lesson here, that transcends suburban distaste for Jerry's antics: Tim Kaine provided positive economic message to Northern Virginia, which harkened back to the days when Democrats made gains in high-growth areas by talking about balanced growth and "quality of life" issues. As the DLC noted today in a meditation on the Kaine suburban breakthrough, the middle-class and increasingly diverse residents of high-growth suburbs around the country are just as responsive to this message as they were in the 1990s. And "quality of life" is not just an issue for Starbucks patrons, by any means. Indeed, Democrats need to rediscover their voice on the real-life concerns of working stiffs who worry as much about traffic, sprawl, property taxes, and overcrowded schools as they do about offshoring or globalization. Check it out.
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November 9, 2005

That Other Losing George

My colleague The Moose greeted the Virginia gubernatorial results with the headline: "Warner Defeats Bush!" And indeed, Warner deserves a lot of credit for Kaine's win, not only because he campaigned effectively for his chosen successor, but because his record gave the Democrat a big leg up while reacquainting Virginians with the virtues of the Donkey.There's also no question George W. Bush was a big loser yesterday, after having intervened in the Virginia governor's race at the last moment. At the rate he's going, Republican candidates next year may echo the words of Bob Dole in 1974, who, when asked if he wanted an embattled Richard Nixon to campaign for him in Kansas, said: "I wouldn't mind if he flew over."But there's another Republican George whose repuation took a hit yesterday: Sen. Allen of Virginia.Back before it became fashionable to view the Kaine-Kilgore contest as a test of the relative appeal of Warner and Bush, it was often thought of as a shadow war between Warner and Allen, two Virginians eyeing a White House run in 2008. Allen certainly campaigned for Kilgore as much if not more than Warner campaigned for Kaine. Allen appeared in Kilgore's ads, vouching for the natty mountaineer's alleged sturdy folk virtues. The way things turned out, Allen's lucky Bush flew in to take the fall for Kilgore's debacle, but the race sure hasn't burnished his own presidential credentials.That's certainly bad timing for the junior senator. Up until now, he was the Washington Insider's hot pick for the guy who might become the consensus conservative choice to block the awful prospect of a McCain nomination in '08. Indeed, he didn't seem to have much competition for that role. The nascent Bill Frist bandwagon has blown all four tires. Brownback's views are too crazy. Santorum probably won't hang onto his Senate seat. None of the GOP governors seem to be standing out (Bill Owens of Colorado was once the Rising Star of the Right, but he's managed to alienate the Christian Right with his marital problems and then was recently excommunicated by the No Tax Church of Grover Norquist). Guiliani's less acceptable to conservatives than McCain. Haley Barbour? Give me a break.On paper, Allen looks pretty good. He's been a governor, then a senator. He's obnoxiously conservative on most issues, but has managed to avoid making too many enemies, and always did surprisingly well in Virginia among minority voters. He won rave reviews for his tenure as chairman of the Republican senatorial campaign committee.But he sure couldn't drag ol' Jerry across the finish line in his own state. And worse yet, Kilgore got trounced in George's old stomping grounds of Albemarle County (Charlottesville)--the very place where the son of the legendary Redskins coach once quarterbacked the Cavaliers.Now, as a relative newcomer to Virginia, I've never quite fathomed the Allen Mystique. He was a fairly successful one-term governor during an economic boom. Sure, he's got the pseudo-populist rap down--he wears cowboy boots and chews tobacco--but he'd also give George W. Bush a strong run in a smirking contest, and has not exactly stood out as a senator, a policy innovator, or even much of an ideologue. My most searing impression of Allen was in a campaign ad he ran against Chuck Robb in 2000, wherein he seized on some anodyne Robb quote from ages earlier about the essential meaningnlessness of the Social Security Trust Fund, and accused his opponent of disrespecting the Lock Box! I had to check the channel to make sure I wasn't watching Saturday Night Live.But all that aside, the bigger question about George is whether the country is ready for a presidential candidate whose entire world view and frame of reference is based on football metaphors.I mean, I like football as much as the next cracker, but Allen's in his own league on this subject, as illustrated by a savage Dana Milbank profile of the senator earlier this year:

Sen. George Allen (Va.) contemplates a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, his prospects could come down to this key question: How many football metaphors can one nation stand?Last month on the Senate floor, Allen, a former quarterback for the University of Virginia and son of the late Redskins coach of the same name, said critics of Condoleezza Rice, now secretary of state, "have used some bump-and-run defenses and tactics against her."Talking about the Iraq war, he criticized Democrats for "Monday-morning quarterbacking."When the GOP won a Senate seat in Louisiana in November, he said it "was like a double-reverse flea-flicker and a lateral."As head of Senate Republicans' campaign efforts in 2004, he called his candidates in the southern states the "NFC South."In Allen's world, primaries are "intrasquad scrimmages," his Senate staff is the "A-team," Senate recess is "halftime" and opponents are flagged for "pass interference."If the electorate awarded points for football imagery, Allen would get the Heisman Trophy. But will voters find all this football talk to be presidential? That's a wild card.
After yesterday's results, I guess you could ask if Republicans want to go with a coach who's just lost a crucial home game by letting his quarterback get intercepted on a bomb thrown into triple coverage, when he should have just controlled the ball and run out the clock.After all, at this point, Republicans don't want to follow up George W. with George L., for Loser.
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Kaine Romps

Ring the town hall bell and sing a Te Deum: Tim Kaine soundly beat Jerry Kilgore in the Virginia governor's race yesterday, and in the process showed that sometimes nice guys finish first. Sorry I'm posting a bit late this morning, but I was up until the wee hours savoring the county-by-county and city-by-city returns. And the outlines of the Kaine victory are very clear. Kilgore ran well ahead of 2001 GOP candidate Mark Early in southwest Virginia, in much of southside Virginia, and in the southern parts of the Shenandoah Valley. Yet Kaine ran ahead of Mark Warner's winning 2001 performance just about everywhere else (the Richmond area, Hampton Roads, and Northern Virginia) and in the end, actually exceeded Warner's statewide margin, beating Kilgore by nearly six percent. Aside from burying Jerry, Kaine's big win buried a whole host of myths in ways that may reverberate nationally:1) The Myth of the GOP Turnout Machine: plenty of people, including a lot of Democrats, were nervous about Kaine's small lead in the polls going into this election, on the theory that GOP superiority in the "ground game," buttressed by its success in 2004, would lift Kilgore to victory. Didn't happen. Turnout in heavily Republican areas was no higher than in heavily Democratic areas. And if the GOPers did indeed do a better job than Democrats in cherry-picking individual voters around the state, then there are a lot less of them than we realized.2) The Myth of Bush's Power To Energize the Base: according to one popular theory, the Republican "conservative base," excited about Bush's flip-flop on the Supreme Court and his recent discovery of the idea of spending restraint, would snake-dance to the polls to congratulate him, especially after he zoomed into Richmond on the eve of the election to appear with ol' Jerry. Again, it didn't happen. If Bush's presence was going to matter anywhere, it would have been in the key Richmond suburb of Chesterfied County, but as it transpires, Kilgore ran three points behind Early's 2001 performance there. I somehow don't think vulnerable Republican candidates in 2006 are going to line up outside the White House gates to demand Bush's presence on the campaign trail. 3) The Myth of the Old Cultural Wedge Issues: 75% of Virginians favor capital punishment. Tim Kaine doesn't, and hasn't hidden it. It's clear Virginia GOPers thought they'd be half-way to victory if they simply intoned "Death Penalty;" southern politicians simply don't oppose it. Instead, the issue wound up hurting Kilgore more than Kaine. Now, that obviously doesn't mean Democratic politicians should hasten to embrace unpopular positions on cultural issues, or minimize their potential impact. But it does mean a candidate can get away with an unpopular position if he or she is clear about it; bases the position on faith or other respected values; and exhibits a willingness to defer to majoritarian opinions. Kaine did all those things very effectively.4) The Myth of the New Cultural Wedge Issues: perhaps the single most important national consequence of the Kaine victory is that it may forestall a heavy emphasis by Republican candidates in 2006 and 2008 on immigrant-bashing themes. GOPers are flirting with this issue all over the South, and indeed, in every state where there are enough immigrants to be visible, but not enough to defend themselves politically. Down the stretch run, Jerry Kilgore's campaign in Northern Virginia was all about immigration, focused relentlessly on the decision of a town in exurban Loudoun County to build a shelter for casual day laborers, most of them immigrants. But yesterday, Jerry got waxed all over Northern Virginia (where he was running even with Kaine in polls as recently as September). And most importantly, Kilgore lost Loudoun County by a 51-46 margin (Early beat Warner there 53-46) . Any Republican operative who believes this issue is an electoral silver bullet should take a long look at those results, and repent. 5) The Myth That Going Negative Always Works: this myth, beloved of campaign tacticians in both parties, took a big hit in Virginia yesterday. Recent polling (most notably in the Washington Post) showed that the tone of Kilgore's campaign was turning off voters, even Republicans, and generating sympathy for Kaine. Yet Jerry pretty much stayed on the low road to the bitter end, providing connoisseurs of this sort of thing with an assortment of last-minute dirty tricks (fake brochures, fake "pro-Kaine" phone calls, etc.). And it's this last factor that, for me at least, makes Kaine's victory so very sweet. You could make a pretty good case that Jerry Kilgore would have won yesterday if he hadn't gone negative on Kaine and introduced divisive cultural wedge issues. He had a geographical advantage, being from a region of the state that had been crucial to Mark Warner's victory in 2001. He had a united party behind him. He was ahead in most of the polls right down to the last few weeks. With a lighter touch, he could have drawn attention to Kaine's unpopular views on capital punishment and even exploited the immigration issue, while maintaining a positive campaign. But he and his handlers just couldn't resist the opportunity to go medieval. Kilgore's infamous death penalty ads achieved a sort of evil perfection in their shock value and production qualities. You can easily envision Jerry and a roomful of Young Republican rottweilers sitting around watching that first tape, and being overwhelmed by its "kill" potential.And that's why in the end it was an election where the winner earned his victory, and the loser richly earned his defeat. God's in His heaven, and all's right with the world.
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November 8, 2005

From Triumph To Triumph

As voters go to the polls in Virginia today, the major buzz among pundits involves George W. Bush's last-minute appearance for Jerry Kilgore in Richmond last night, which represents a bit of a gamble for both men.Steve Ginsberg and Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post win the prize for the most delicious and malicious framing of a candidate quote in the entire campaign, in this morning's WaPo account of the Richmond festivities:

The president "is very popular in Virginia. And he's coming off a successful South American trip," Kilgore said of Bush's overseas visit, which drew violent protests.
Funny as it is, this is a serious point. Can W., who's stumbled through the last several months like a sleepwalker, actually work some turnout magic for ol' Jerry? Is the late-breaking happiness among conservative activists in Washington over Bush's surrender to them on the SCOTUS nomination communicable to actual voters?Beats me, but Bush's decision to zoom into Richmond directly from the dispiriting chaos of his Latin American trip guarantees that the results, whatever they are, will be viewed as in part a reflection of this red state's attitude towards the man who's won its electoral votes twice.
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November 7, 2005

OJT

Check out this hilarious, Onion-esque lede from Saturday's Washington Post article about the official White House response to the Fitzgerald indictments and investigations:

President Bush has ordered White House staff to attend mandatory briefings next week on ethical behavior and the handling of classified material after the indictment last week of a senior administration official in the CIA leak probe.According to a memo sent to aides yesterday.... "[T]he White House counsel's office will conduct a series of presentations next week that will provide refresher courses on general ethics rules, including the rules governing the protection of classified materials."
That's just great. Nearly five years after Bush was elected president on a pledge of "restoring honor and dignity to the White House," the Bushies are going to get some On-the-Job Training on how to obey the law.But why stop there? Why not order up a "refresher course" on military strategy and post-war reconstruction for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his staff? Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales could use a briefing on the evolution of the Western tradition against torturing prisoners. Surely there is a middle-school math teacher in the D.C. area willing to volunteer a few hours to instruct the staff of the Office of Management and Budget in the mysteries of Basic Arithmetic. And everybody in the White House, especially the president, could benefit from a few hours listening to a clinical psychologist discuss the value of Getting Out of Denial and Recognizing Painful Truths.Bring on the flip-charts, the Power-Points, and if necessary, the hand puppets. It's time to school the White House.
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November 4, 2005

Jerry's Last Gasp: Immigrant-Bashing

If you've been following the Virginia's gubernatorial contest, which has entered its final stage, you have probably noticed that Republican candidate Jerry (Never Met Him) Kilgore has returned with a vengeance to a message warning Virginians that illegal immigrants are flooding the Commonwealth, spreading gang violence, promoting al Qaeda, and speaking foreign tongues and so forth.It's certainly predictable. Ol' Jerry's losing ground in virtually every poll. His try-em-and-fry-em Death Penalty ads have largely backfired. His party and his president are like millstones around his neck. And he appears to be losing support most lethally in Northern Virginia, where earlier polls had him running neck-and-neck with Democrat Tim Kaine.So not surprisingly, Jerry's handlers have decided to stake the ranch on the belief that concerns about illegal immigration in Northern Virginia can give their candidate the crucial boost he needs.I've written about this issue in the Viriginia campaign here and here, and won't repeat that analysis today, but if you want to understand why immigration is suddenly a hot topic in the South, and especially in suburbs and exurbs in the South, check out this new article by Clay Risen on The New Republic's site. As Clay explains, some of the highest percentage increases in immigrant populations are in southern states, including those far from any border. And it's no surprise that southern Republicans are leaping on this issue in state after state--a trend that will definitely accelerate tremendously if ol' Jerry wins and the post-election analysis shows anti-immigrant demagoguery was a factor.The main thing I'd add to Clay's analysis is how risky the deployment of this issue is for the GOP. Ol' Jerry's rhetoric (other than the absurd claims of al Qaeda connections) isn't that far from the kind of talk that backfired on Republicans in California during the 1990s, making their candidates anathema to Latino voters. And it certainly doesn't fit in well with Karl Rove's famous focus on these voters as a potential building-block for a Republican majority. But here's the deal: the southern states where immigrant-bashing is spreading like topsy are places where immigrant populations are large enough to be conspicious, but have not developed into a serious political force of their own.Thus, politicians like ol' Jerry believe they can use this toxic issue to wedge exurban and rural voters without paying any serious price elsewhere. And without question, Republican pols in the rest of the region will be watching the results very closely, with cookie-cutters in hand.So, my fellow Virginians, if the prospect of four years of lousy and hyper-partisan government isn't enough to motivate you to get off your butts and send ol' Jerry into retirement, consider your responsibility to the rest of the country for punishing demagogues and putting the fear of God into those who will otherwise use every nasty tactic that seems to work.
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November 3, 2005

News Roundup

This is one of those days when I opened up the Washington Post and found a large, greasy combo platter of interesting political stories, so I thought I'd do some micro-blogging on a few of them, using the Post headlines and subheadlines.1. Food Stamp Cuts Are Proposed: House Plan Would Affect 300,000.My colleague The Moose is right; this proposed House GOP budget "savings" package should be viewed as the formal tombstone for "compassionate conservatism." Needing $50 billion in budget cuts, the House Budget Committee went after food stamps for legal immigrants; child support enforcement resources; foster parenting; and school lunch eligibility. They didn't feel the need to take a second look at five-year costs of $106 billion in new tax cuts; $60 billion in corporate subsidies; $42 billion in congressional-district-specific pork and transportation earmarks; or $23 billion in oil and gas subsidies. It will be interesting to see how many Republican "moderates" refuse to go along with this outrage.2. Rove's Future Is Debated: White House May Seek Fresh Start In Wake of Leak. This is one of those classic Washington stories where somebody's lying: The Post's "sources" say:

Bush's top advisers are considering whether it is tenable for Rove to remain on the staff, given that Fizgerald has already documented that Rove and Whie House official spokesmen once emphatically denied--that he played a central role in dicussions with journalists about Plame's role at the CIA and her marriage to former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, a critic of the Iraq war."Karl does not have any real enemies in the White House, but there are a lot of people in the White House wondering how they can put this behind them if the cloud remains over Karl," said a GOP strategist who has discussed the issue with top White House officials.
A bit further down in the story, there's this graph:
White House communications director Nicole Wallace said there have not been any White House meetings t4o discuss Rove's fate, and that the senior adviser is actively engaged and "doing an outstanding job." She said "there is no debate" over Rove's future.
Hmmm. It appears that either the White House is aflame with a debate about Rove, or there's no debate at all. Like I said: somebody's lying, and if I were Rove, I wouldn't be particularly comforted by official assurances that he's doin' a heckuva job.3. Norton Ex-Aides Clash on Lobbyist's Influence: Lawyer Says He Accused Griles of Aiding Abramoff. Ah, yes, another chapter in the Casino Jack Ambramoff scandal, this time in hearings before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. And it's another somebody-must-be-lying story, with the Interior Department's former legal counselor claiming the agency's former deputy secretary was very involved in advancing the interests of Casino Jack's tribal clients, and the former deputy secretary saying he did no such thing.4. Consultants To Virginia Candidates Linked To Indicted Lobbyist. In still more fallout from Casino Jack's troubles, check out this lede from the Metro section: "Two key campaign consultants for Virginia attorney general candidate Robert F. McDonnell established a nonprofit group five years ago that its director now says was used almost exclusively to secretly fund political efforts -- including one organized by indicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff."McDonnell, long a darling of the theocratic Right, has been getting some negative attention for the shadowy sources of his suddenly massive media expenditures in the down-ballot race. It's beginning to look like he just doesn't keep very good company.Speaking of Virginia politics:5. Wilder backs Kaine, plays down differences over 2004 tax package. This headline is actually from the Richmond Time-Dispatch, but it's potentially a big deal. Former governor and current Richmond mayor Doug Wilder, the first African-American to be elected governor of any state, is one of the country's craftiest politicians, and deliberately held back his endorsement to the moment of maximum impact. His endorsement of Mark Warner four years ago was definitely a factor in Warner's narrow win, and his refusal to endorse Don Beyer eight years ago helped bury Beyer.The Wilder endorsement also draws attention to one of the X-factors in the Virginia gubernatorial election next Tuesday. African-American Virginians, who have often given GOP candidates a higher percentage of their vote than in other southern states, might go massively for Kaine to send a message to Jerry (Absolutely No Relation) Kilgore's buddies across the Potomac in recognition of their fine conduct during the Katrina relief and recovery operation.All in all, it's been a good day for political junkies and a bad day for the GOP.
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November 2, 2005

Colorado Reclaims Its Independence

In a special election yesterday, Colorado voters approved an initiative relaxing the requirements of TABOR (short for "Tax Payers' Bill of Rights"), a robo-system of fiscal restraints imposed by an earlier ballot initiative.Over at TPMCafe, I've already posted an analysis of the greater meaning of this partial rollback of TABOR, which represents an important rollback of the national conservative effort to force states into a fiscal straightjacket protecting high-income and corporate tax breaks at the expense of public investments.But I'd like to add a personal note.]A few years ago I went to Denver to speak at a Democratic legislative retreat, and thanks to TABOR, it was like travelling to a foreign country.Everyone there carried around little books detailing TABOR provisions. Every policy discussion began and ended with extensive comments about "TABOR compliance." TABOR had clearly accomplished the main goal of its Washington advocates: radically constraining state legislative powers and priorities, not just in terms of overall spending and revenue figures, but in terms of the basic ability to conduct long-term planning and make long-term investments.In a very real sense, TABOR made the very bright state of Colorado "stupid country," and its advocates hoped to spread the gospel of fiscal idiocy elsewhere.So yesterday's vote, whatever else it meant, represented one proud state's declaration of independence from a scheme that made legislative policymaking impossible, and made the normal process of budgeting irrelevant. And TABOR's defeated proponents got one more important warning that limiting government without making open and rational choices about what government should do is ultimately a self-destructive and ant-democratic exercise.Hats off to Colorado voters, and for those who worked for the passage of this new initiative. Reforming government is one thing; getting smarter and more effective government for the lowest possible tax levels is always a good idea.But arbitrarily and mindlessly promoting arbitrary and automatic spending cuts, with no real attention to setting priorities for what taxpayers should support, is what TABOR was about. And changing that situation is critical all across the country for Democrats, and democracy.
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November 1, 2005

Eyes On the Big Prize

There's a big push all over the left-of-center blogosphere and elsewhere (from so many sources that I won't bother to link to any of them) to capitalize on last week's indictments and the underlying issues to focus like a laser beam on the administration's manipulation of the evidence supporting their case for the invasion of Iraq.I understand and agree with the argument that the White House behavior exposed in connection with the Libby indictments helps show the extent to which the administration was willing to say anything and do anything to stampede the country and the Congress to war in 2003.But I don't understand, and don't agree with, a strategy that limits the indictment of the administration's dishonest and manipulative habits to Iraq policy.The Fitzgerald indictments, and all the evidence that's come out before and after the special prosecutor's actions, reinforce a vast pattern of administration misbehavior on a vast array of issues, including, but not limited to, the effort to rally the country to launch the Iraq adventure.Democrats have two simple options here:We can insist on obsessively limiting our critique to Iraq.Or we can argue that the behavior of Libby, Rove, Cheney, and Bush himself in this case illustrates the mendacity, incompetence, arrogance, and intimidation strategies of this administration on Iraq, on the War on Terrorism, on the federal budget, on taxes, on Katrina recovery, on health care policy, on the economy, on government ethics, on corporate responsibility, on science policy, on No Child Left Behind, on voting rights, on civil rights--well, on so many issues I can barely list them.Unless you believe that the original decision to invade Iraq is the alpha and omega of American politics--recognizing, of course, that this was a decision on which Republicans were united and Democrats were divided--I really can't imagine why Democrats would want to pursue the single-issue implications of one more example of the administration's betrayal of public trust, instead of connecting the dots to every other betrayal.I've generally assumed that the one thing that unites all Democrats today is the overriding desire to drive the corrupt and incompetent and ideologically bent GOP from power. That's why I implore Democrats to keep their eyes on the big prize, and not get dragged off into the self-defeating blind alley of making future elections nothing more than a retroactive referendum on why the country, and many Democrats, supported the decision to invade Iraq.We have a more compelling case to take to the country, which includes, but is hardly limited to, the administration's failures in Iraq, and we need to make it.
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