John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.
Nichols writes about politics for The Nation magazine as its Washington correspondent. He is a contributing writer for The Progressive and In These Times and the associate editor of the Capital Times, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and dozens of other newspapers.
Nichols is a frequent guest on radio and television programs as a commentator on politics and media issues. He was featured in Robert Greenwald’s documentary, “Outfoxed,” and in the documentaries Joan Sekler’s “Unprecedented,” Matt Kohn’s “Call It Democracy” and Robert Pappas’s “Orwell Rolls in his Grave.” The keynote speaker at the 2004 Congress of the International Federation of Journalists in Athens, Nichols has been a featured presenter at conventions, conferences and public forums on media issues sponsored by the Federal Communications Commission, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Consumers International, the Future of Music Coalition, the AFL-CIO, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the Newspaper Guild [CWA] and dozens of other organizations.
Nichols is the author of The Genius of Impeachment (The New Press); a critically acclaimed analysis of the Florida recount fight of 2000, Jews for Buchanan (The New Press); and a best-selling biography of Vice President Dick Cheney, Dick: The Man Who is President (The New Press), which has recently been published in French and Arabic. He edited Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books), of which historian Howard Zinn said: “At exactly the time when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift–a collection of writings, speeches, poems, and songs from throughout American history–that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country.”
With Robert W. McChesney, Nichols has co-authored the books It’s the Media, Stupid! (Seven Stories), Our Media, Not Theirs (Seven Stories), Tragedy and Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy (The New Press), The Death and Life of American Journalism (Nation Books) and, most recently, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street (Nation Books). McChesney and Nichols are the co-founders of Free Press, the nation’s media-reform network, which organized the 2003 and 2005 National Conferences on Media Reform.
Of Nichols, author Gore Vidal says: “Of all the giant slayers now afoot in the great American desert, John Nichols’s sword is the sharpest.” (Photo by Robin Holland / Bill Moyers Journal)
Even though he is unlikely to succeed in preventing a Congressional grant of blank-check warmaking powers to the Bush administration, Senator Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, has done America the service of clarifying the issue at hand. Thanks to Byrd's fierce denunciations of an unnecessary resolution to promote an unnecessary war, members of Congress who side with the administration will not be able to plead ignorance to the charge that they abandoned their Constitutionally-mandated responsibilities in order to position themselves for the fall election.
Rarely in the history of the Senate has a member so bluntly identified the hypocrisy of the White House on a question of warmaking. But there was no partisan malice in Byrd's remarks. In a remarkable speech delivered as the Senate opened its debate on Bush's request for broad authority to use military force against Iraq, Byrd chastised his fellow Democrats for engaging in equally contemptible acts.
"The newly bellicose mood that permeates this White House is unfortunate, all the moreso because it is clearly motivated by campaign politics. Republicans are already running attack ads against Democrats on Iraq. Democrats favor fast approval of a resolution so they can change the subject to domestic economic problems," declared the senior Democratic senator. "Before risking the lives of American troops, all members of Congress -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- must overcome the siren song of political polls and focus strictly on the merits, not the politics, of this most serious issue."
When British Prime Minister Tony Blair presented his "dossier" on the threats that are supposedly posed to the world by Iraq, President Bush was delighted with what he heard from the man Europeans refer to as "Bush's poodle." "Prime Minister Blair, first of all, is a very strong leader, and I admire his willingness to tell the truth. Secondly he continues to make the case, like we make the case, that Saddam Hussein is a threat to peace," the president said last week, after Blair went before the British Parliament to make the case for attacking Iraq.
Much of the American media echoed the president's child-like glee at the release of the long-awaited dossier. "Britain's Case: Iraqi Program to Amass Arms is â€˜Up and Running," warned The New York Times. "UK Details Saddam's Thirst for Arms," boomed MSNBC. "Britain: Iraq ready to strike," announced the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "Blair spells out Iraq Threat," came the word from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
As far as the Bush administration and much of the American media was concerned, Blair's 55-page report completed the case for war with Iraq â€“ ideally in concert with the United Nations, but unilaterally if necessary.
The first 2002 election campaign in which George W. Bush's desire to attack Iraq became a major issue did not involve Republicans and Democrats. It was not even held in the United States. But it can still be said that Bush â€“ and his proposed war--came out on the losing end of the contest.
German voters on Sunday gave a narrow, yet clear, mandate to the red-green coalition of Chancellor Gerhard SchrÃ¶der. The dramatic come-from-behind win for SchrÃ¶der's Social Democratic Party (SPD) and its coalition partner, the Green Party, followed a campaign in which the chancellor promised to withhold German support for a US-led war against Iraq.
"Under my leadership, Germany will not participate in military action," declared SchrÃ¶der, in a blunt statement that distinguished the chancellor from Edmund Stoiber, the standard bearer of the conservative Christian Democratic Union-Christian Social Union (CDU-CSU) alliance that sought to oust the four-year-old SPD-Green government.
US Rep. Nick Rahall's policy pronouncements tend toward announcements about extending water and sewer service in southern West Virginia, or the erection of safety barriers on dangerous stretches of Interstate 64. So much of official Washington was caught by surprise when the West Virginia Democrat appeared before the Iraqi Assembly Sunday "as a member of Congress concerned with peace" and declared, "Basically, I want America and Iraq to give peace a chance."
"Instead of assuming that war must come, let us find ways to discover how to prove that war is unnecessary," Rahall told the Iraqis. "It is time and, in my opinion, far past time that American andIraqi officials talk to each other without threats."
Rahall's trip to Baghdad, which followed President Bush's saber-rattling address to the United Nations General Assembly, drew international attention to a congressman who has spent most of his quarter century on Capitol Hill securing funding for road projects and mine safety initiatives. Unlike Bush, however, Rahall is no newcomer to Middle East affairs.
The biggest story of the biggest primary election night of 2002 echoed the biggest story of the 2000 election: Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris and the gang that couldn't design a ballot straight blew it again. Just as the fierce indifference--and in some cases outright hostility--of Florida officials to the practical demands of democracy warped the Sunshine State's 2000 presidential vote, so the "fixes" initiated by Bush, Harris and their legislative allies have resulted in another election without a result. As The Nation went to press, the contest between former Attorney General Janet Reno and wealthy lawyer Bill McBride for the Democratic nomination against Jeb Bush was too close to call and both campaigns were readying legal teams.
When Floridians went to the polls September 10 to nominate a Democratic challenger to Jeb Bush, they were supposed to encounter voter-friendly ballots, machinery and procedures. Never again would Florida voters be victimized as they were in 2000 by election systems that even the US Supreme Court, which awarded the presidency to George W. Bush, acknowledges violated the Constitution's equal protection clause. That was the promise of Jeb Bush in May 2001, when he signed reform legislation and declared, "[We] have resolved the problem. Other states ought to look at this as a model...."
Bush boasted too soon. Instead of a fix, he and Harris--who quit her job to run for Congress--cut corners, failed to recognize potential technical problems and provided inadequate resources and information to local election officials. The byproduct was such chaos in at least fourteen counties on Primary Day 2002 that it sometimes made the 2000 presidential vote look like a smooth operation. Poll workers failed to show up in Broward County and didn't know how to turn on vote-counting machines in Duval County. An optical scan machine in Union County registered votes only for Republican candidates. When new, ATM-style voting machines couldn't be activated in Palm Beach County--home of the butterfly ballot--frustrated voters walked away. A polling place in Miami opened five hours late, after more than 500 voters were turned away. Across the state, voting machinery in dozens--perhaps hundreds--of precincts failed to operate properly. Problems were so widespread that Bush finally ordered voting sites to remain open for an additional two hours, but some precincts failed to get the message and shut their doors.
As in 2000, problems were reported most frequently in heavily Democratic districts and communities with large minority populations, like Miami's Liberty City district. And, just as flawed voting systems and procedures made it virtually impossible to get a precise read on the results of the 2000 presidential contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore in Florida, so chaos in the 2002 primary voting muddled the result of the Reno-McBride contest. Reno had to wait for more than an hour for the computerized voting machine at her Miami-area precinct to function. "What is it with Democrats having a hard time voting?" Jeb Bush mused, displaying the same quickness to blame the victims of the state's incompetence as did Republicans in 2000.
The better question is: What is it with Jeb Bush and the Republicans who control the Florida legislature that they have such a hard time reforming a flawed election system that Cuban officials have offered to send democracy educators to the state? Florida isn't about to accept that offer anytime soon, so it falls to Congress to intervene. Bush, Harris and many Congressional Republicans have argued that states are best prepared to set election standards. But Florida's primary chaos makes it clear that it's time for Congress to pass uniform national standards--as proposed by Congressman John Conyers, among others--to guarantee that all states treat voters equally and that resources are allocated fairly to low-income and minority precincts.
Congressional Democrats, who have been negotiating compromises on election reform legislation in a House-Senate conference committee, should recognize that soft standards will be abused by the likes of Jeb Bush. And Florida Democrats, who have struggled to mount a coherent gubernatorial challenge to Bush, ought finally to recognize that repairing the state's damaged democracy can be a winning issue for their candidate--if they ever figure out his or her identity.