Keith Olbermann is without a doubt the best news anchor on television today. Two weeks ago, echoing the spirit of the legendary Edward R. Murrow, Olbermann took Donald Rumsfeld to task for comparing critics of the Iraq war to Nazi appeasers. Tonight, broadcasting live from above a desolate and still demolished Ground Zero, Olbermann delivered a stirring eight minute commentary indicting the Bush Administration's shameful and tragic response to 9/11. The entire speech is worth watching and reading, so I'm posting the full text below.
Half a lifetime ago, I worked in this now-empty space. And for 40 days after the attacks, I worked here again, trying to make sense of what happened, and was yet to happen, as a reporter.
All the time, I knew that the very air I breathed contained the remains of thousands of people, including four of my friends, two in the planes and -- as I discovered from those "missing posters" seared still into my soul -- two more in the Towers.
And I knew too, that this was the pyre for hundreds of New York policemen and firemen, of whom my family can claim half a dozen or more, as our ancestors.
I belabor this to emphasize that, for me this was, and is, and always shall be, personal.
And anyone who claims that I and others like me are "soft,"or have "forgotten" the lessons of what happened here is at best a grasping, opportunistic, dilettante and at worst, an idiot whether he is a commentator, or a Vice President, or a President.
However, of all the things those of us who were here five years ago could have forecast -- of all the nightmares that unfolded before our eyes, and the others that unfolded only in our minds -- none of us could have predicted this.
Five years later this space is still empty.
Five years later there is no memorial to the dead.
Five years later there is no building rising to show with proud defiance that we would not have our America wrung from us, by cowards and criminals.
Five years later this country's wound is still open.
Five years later this country's mass grave is still unmarked.
Five years later this is still just a background for a photo-op.
It is beyond shameful.
At the dedication of the Gettysburg Memorial -- barely four months after the last soldier staggered from another Pennsylvania field -- Mr. Lincoln said, "we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."
Lincoln used those words to immortalize their sacrifice.
Today our leaders could use those same words to rationalize their reprehensible inaction. "We cannot dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground." So we won't.
Instead they bicker and buck pass. They thwart private efforts, and jostle to claim credit for initiatives that go nowhere. They spend the money on irrelevant wars, and elaborate self-congratulations, and buying off columnists to write how good a job they're doing instead of doing any job at all.
Five years later, Mr. Bush, we are still fighting the terrorists on these streets. And look carefully, sir, on these 16 empty acres. The terrorists are clearly, still winning.
And, in a crime against every victim here and every patriotic sentiment you mouthed but did not enact, you have done nothing about it.
And there is something worse still than this vast gaping hole in this city, and in the fabric of our nation. There is its symbolism of the promise unfulfilled, the urgent oath, reduced to lazy execution.
The only positive on 9/11 and the days and weeks that so slowly and painfully followed it was the unanimous humanity, here, and throughout the country. The government, the President in particular, was given every possible measure of support.
Those who did not belong to his party -- tabled that.
Those who doubted the mechanics of his election -- ignored that.
Those who wondered of his qualifications -- forgot that.
History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government by its critics. It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation's wounds, but to take political advantage.
Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.
The President -- and those around him -- did that.
They promised bi-partisanship, and then showed that to them, "bi-partisanship" meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow, or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused, as appeasers, as those who, in the Vice President's words yesterday, "validate the strategy of the terrorists."
They promised protection, and then showed that to them "protection" meant going to war against a despot whose hand they had once shaken, a despot who we now learn from our own Senate Intelligence Committee, hated al-Qaida as much as we did.
The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war, on the false premise that it had 'something to do' with 9/11 is "lying by implication."
The impolite phrase is "impeachable offense."
Not once in now five years has this President ever offered to assume responsibility for the failures that led to this empty space, and to this, the current, curdled, version of our beloved country.
Still, there is a last snapping flame from a final candle of respect and fairness: even his most virulent critics have never suggested he alone bears the full brunt of the blame for 9/11.
Half the time, in fact, this President has been so gently treated, that he has seemed not even to be the man most responsible for anything in his own administration.
Yet what is happening this very night?
A mini-series, created, influenced -- possibly financed by -- the most radical and cold of domestic political Machiavellis, continues to be televised into our homes.
The documented truths of the last fifteen years are replaced by bald-faced lies; the talking points of the current regime parroted; the whole sorry story blurred, by spin, to make the party out of office seem vacillating and impotent, and the party in office, seem like the only option.
How dare you, Mr. President, after taking cynical advantage of the unanimity and love, and transmuting it into fraudulent war and needless death, after monstrously transforming it into fear and suspicion and turning that fear into the campaign slogan of three elections? How dare you -- or those around you -- ever "spin" 9/11?
Just as the terrorists have succeeded -- are still succeeding -- as long as there is no memorial and no construction here at Ground Zero.
So, too, have they succeeded, and are still succeeding as long as this government uses 9/11 as a wedge to pit Americans against Americans.
This is an odd point to cite a television program, especially one from March of 1960. But as Disney's continuing sell-out of the truth (and this country) suggests, even television programs can be powerful things.
And long ago, a series called "The Twilight Zone" broadcast a riveting episode entitled "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street."
In brief: a meteor sparks rumors of an invasion by extra-terrestrials disguised as humans. The electricity goes out. A neighbor pleads for calm. Suddenly his car -- and only his car -- starts. Someone suggests he must be the alien. Then another man's lights go on. As charges and suspicion and panic overtake the street, guns are inevitably produced. An "alien" is shot -- but he turns out to be just another neighbor, returning from going for help. The camera pulls back to a near-by hill, where two extra-terrestrials are seen manipulating a small device that can jam electricity. The veteran tells his novice that there's no need to actually attack, that you just turn off a few of the human machines and then, "they pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, and it's themselves."
And then, in perhaps his finest piece of writing, Rod Serling sums it up with words of remarkable prescience, given where we find ourselves tonight: "The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men.
"For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own -- for the children, and the children yet unborn."
When those who dissent are told time and time again -- as we will be, if not tonight by the President, then tomorrow by his portable public chorus -- that he is preserving our freedom, but that if we use any of it, we are somehow un-American...When we are scolded, that if we merely question, we have "forgotten the lessons of 9/11"... look into this empty space behind me and the bi-partisanship upon which this administration also did not build, and tell me:
Who has left this hole in the ground?
We have not forgotten, Mr. President.
May this country forgive you.
Now that ABC/Disney has broadcast a docudrama rife with lies about what a different administration did before 9-11, let's demand that ABC use the public airwaves to tell the facts about lies this administration told the people after 9-11.
I think the just-released Senate Intelligence report -- chronicling an indisputable pattern of deception -- would make great tv. If you agree, let Robert Iger, CEO of ABC'S corporate parent, the Walt Disney Company, know.
Tomorrow, the House of Representatives will consider a resolution commemorating September 11 as a day of remembrance and national tragedy. Solemn language uniting every member of Congress around a shared sense of purpose and mourning would seem appropriate for the occasion. But just as President Bush and Congressional Republicans exploited 9/11 in the run-up to the 2002 elections, GOP leaders are once again inserting divisive and misleading partisan language into what should be an apolitical moment enshrining courage and loss.
A draft text of the resolution, supported by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, reads in part:
Whereas Congress passed, and the President signed, numerous laws to assist victims, combat the forces of terrorism, protect the Homeland and support the members of the Armed Forces who defend American interests at home and abroad: including, the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 and its 2006 reauthorization; the Homeland Security Act of 2002; the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002; the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002; the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004; the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005; the SAFE Port Act of 2006; and the 21st Century Emergency Communications Act of 2006.
The validity, constitutionality and effectiveness of some of the above pieces of legislation have been questioned by legal and intelligence experts, prominent Democrats and even a number of Republicans. The Patriot Act immediately jumps out. But so do others. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which reorganized American intelligence as recommended by the 9/11 commission, was initially opposed by Bush. The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, otherwise known as the "Sensenbrenner Bill," severely restricts immigration rights and has been a source of controversy for months. The SAFE Port Act of 2006 passed only after House Republicans repeatedly blocked more money for port security and the Dubai ports deal died.
Such deceptive tactics have been utilized by the GOP before when it comes to national security. After Rep. John Murtha issued his redeployment plan in December 2005, Republicans passed a resolution "expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately." Murtha's plan called for no such thing. And when the House debated the war in Iraq back in June, the GOP made sure the resolution repeatedly linked Iraq to a broader war on terror and circulated concurrent talking points labeling Democrats as "weak," "dangerous" and ready to "concede defeat."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged Hastert to model this year's 9/11 resolution after an apolitical version that passed overwhelmingly last year. Thus far, he hasn't budged. There's an election coming up. And it's becoming increasingly clear that Republicans will do whatever it takes, including rewriting the history of 9/11, to try and avoid defeat.
The latest research from Mt. Sinai Hospital shows that 69 percent of workers at Ground Zero developed respiratory problems, and that 59 percent still show symptoms. At a House hearing last Friday, lawmakers blasted ex-EPA chief Christie Todd Whitman for issuing assurances about air quality in the days following the attacks.
Whitman tried to pass the blame to local authorities, infuriating "America's Mayor," Rudy Giuliani, who slammed the former New Jersey governor in an interview with CBS for making people believe the air at ground zero was safe. "The reports we had on air quality from the EPA was the air quality was healthy or at least it wasn't dangerous," Giuliani told CBS 2's Dave Carlin.
The truth is that thousands of workers will likely need lifelong care, and a number of babies are still being born early and underweight in lower Manhattan, meaning the need may span generations. For all this, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt has offered New York the princely sum of...$75 million. As Grist's invaluable newsletter points out, for those of you keeping track, that is less than half what the US is currently spending in one day in Iraq.
Consequently, Democrats on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce have reiterated their call for hearings into the health and safety of the thousands of workers who spent months at the World Trade Center site following the attacks. The lawmakers argue that hearings are more critical than ever in light of new research that shows that many Ground Zero workers have developed new or worsened respiratory ailments since 2001.
The lawmakers requested similar hearings three years ago after published reports indicated that the Environmental Protection Agency had given assurances to workers about air quality at Ground Zero that turned out to be inaccurate. They made a second request for hearings in July 2006 to examine whether OSHA suspended important safety regulations at the World Trade Center site in 2001 and in communities affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. In both cases, the requests for hearings were rejected by the Republican majority.
But it's a new political day and eight Democrats--George Miller, Major Owens, Donald Payne, Robert Andrews, Lynn Woolsey, Carolyn McCarthy, Dennis Kucinich, and Timothy Bishop--have jointly penned a letter to Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., the chairman of the committee, requesting the hearings. Click here to ask your elected reps to join this call.
On the fifth anniversary of 9/11, as we remember those who lost lives and loved ones, it's important to ask a basic question about the mission America launched following that horrific September day.
Are we winning or losing the war on terror?
Sadly, the evidence points not to victory, but to defeat.
A front page article in the Washington Post today reports that the US military has lost a crucial province in Western Iraq to insurgents, including those affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
Lest you forget, a Senate intelligence report recently reiterated what everyone but Dick Cheney should now know: Before the war in Iraq, Saddam Hussein had no relationship with Al Qaeda. In fact, they despised each other.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban is fast regrouping. And the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, called "terrorism central," by the US military, is a thriving Al-Qaeda sanctuary.
To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, we seem to be creating more terrorists than we're killing or capturing.
"If this is indeed a long war, as the Bush administration says, then the United States has almost certainly lost the first phase," writes esteemed Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid. "Guerrillas are learning faster than Western armies, and the West makes appalling strategic mistakes while the extremists make brilliant tactical moves."
The time has obviously come for the US to think very differently about how we use both the carrot and the stick.
Dick Cheney commemorated the fifth anniversary of 9/11 by sticking to the MO that he and his running-mate used to lead the nation into the current mess in Iraq.
Appearing on Meet the Press on Sunday, Cheney encountered a decent grilling from host Tim Russert, who pressed him on how Cheney and George W. Bush had justified the war in Iraq. "Based on what you know now, that Saddam did not have the weapons of mass destruction that were described, would you still have gone into Iraq?" Russert asked. Yes, indeed, Cheney said, hewing to the company line. And he pointed to what appeared to be evidence that supported that no-regrets stance:
Look at the Duelfer Report and what it said. No stockpiles, but they also said he has the capability. He'd done it before. He had produced chemical weapons before and used them. He had produced biological weapons. He had a robust nuclear program in '91. All of this is true, said by Duelfer, facts.
Well, let's look at the report of Charles Duelfer who headed up the Iraq Survey Group, which was responsible for searching for WMDs after the invasion. (Duelfer took the job following David Kay's resignation in late 2003.) It just so happens that in our new book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Michael Isikoff and I quote from that report, and it noted that Saddam's WMD capability
was essentially destroyed in 1991.
That is the opposite of what Cheney told Russert the report said. Cheney went on to remark,
Think where we'd be if [Saddam] was still there...We also would have a situation where he would have resumed his WMD programs.
Yet Duelfer reported that at the time of the invasion, Saddam had no
plan for the revival of WMD.
Cheney even justified the invasion of Iraq by citing an allegation that was just debunked in a Senate intelligence committee report released on Friday. Claiming there was a significant relationship between Saddam's regime and al Qaeda, he cited the case of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (who was recently killed in Iraq). After the US attacked the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Cheney said, Zarqawi
fled and went to Baghdad and set up operations in Baghdad in the spring of '02 and was there from then, basically, until basically the time we launched into Iraq.
The implication here is that Baghdad sanctioned the terrorist activity of Zarqawi, a supposed al Qaeda associate. But the Senate intelligence committee report--released by a Republican-run panel--noted that prior to the invasion of Iraq Zarqawi and his network were not part of al Qaeda. (That merging came after the invasion.) More important, the report cites CIA reports (based on captured documents and interrogations) that say that Baghdad was not protecting or assisting Zarqawi when he was in Iraq. In fact, Iraqi intelligence in the spring of 2002 had formed a "special committee" to locate and capture him--but failed to find the terrorist. A 2005 CIA report concluded that prior to the Iraq war,
the [Saddam] regime did not have a relationship, harbor, or turn a blind eye toward Zarqawi and his associates.
So why is Cheney still holding up Zarqawi as evidence that Baghdad was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden? If he knows something the CIA does not, perhaps he should inform the agency.
During the Meet the Press interview, Cheney blamed the CIA for his and Bush's prewar assertions that Iraq posed a WMD threat. That's what the intelligence said, Cheney insisted. Our book shows that this explanation (or, defense) is a dodge. There were dissents within the intelligence community on key aspects of the WMD argument for war--especially the charge that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Cheney dwelled on that frightening possibility before the war, repeatedly declaring that the US government knew for sure that Iraq had revved up its nuclear program. Yet there was only one strong piece of evidence for this claim--that Iraq had purchased tens of thousands of aluminum tubes for use in a centrifuge that would produce enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb. And that piece of evidence was hotly contested within the intelligence community.
One CIA analyst (whom we name for the first time in Hubris) was fiercely pushing the tube case. Yet practically every other top nuclear expert in the US government (including the centrifuge specialists at the Department of Energy) disagreed. This dispute was even mentioned in The Washington Post in September 2002. But neither Cheney nor Bush (nor national security adviser Condoleezza Rce) took an interest in this important argument. Instead, they kept insisting the tube purchases were proof Saddam was building a bomb. They were wrong. And the nuclear scientists at the Department of Energy (again, as our book notes) were ordered not to say anything publicly about the tubes.
This is but one example of how the Bush White House rigged the case for war by selectively embracing (without reviewing) convenient pieces of iffy intelligence and then presenting them to the public as hard-and-fast proof. But Cheney is right--to a limited extent. The CIA did provide the White House with intelligence that was wrong (which the White House then used irresponsibly). The new Senate intelligence report, though, shows that this was not what happened regarding one crucial part of the Bush-Cheney argument for war: that al Qaeda and Iraq were in cahoots.
Before the war, Bush said that Saddam "was dealing" with al Qaeda. He even charged that Saddam had "financed" al Qaeda. The Senate intelligence report notes clearly that the prewar intelligence on this critical issue said no such thing.
The report quotes a CIA review of the prewar intelligence: "The data reveal few indications of an established relationship between al-Qa'ida and Saddam Hussein's regime." The lead Defense Intelligence Analyst on this issue told the Senate intelligence committee that "there was no partnership between the two organizations." And post-invasion debriefings of former Iraqi regime officials indicated that Saddam had no interest in working with al Qaeda and had refused to meet with an al Qaeda emissary in 1998.
The report also augments the section in our book on Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a captured al Qaeda commander who was taken by the CIA to Egypt where he was roughly--perhaps brutally--interrogated and claimed that Iraq had provided chemical weapons training to al Qaeda. Though there were questions about al-Libi's veracity from the start, Secretary of State Colin Powell used al-Libi's claims in his famous UN speech to argue that Saddam and Osama bin Laden were partners in evil--that there was a "sinister nexus" between the two. Al-Libi later recanted, and the CIA withdrew all the intelligence based on his claims. In other words, the Bush administration had hyped flimsy intelligence to depict Saddam and bin Laden as WMD-sharing allies.
The Senate intelligence report concluded that "Saddam Hussein was distrustful of al-Qa'ida and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his regime, refusing all requests from al-Qa'ida to provide material or operational support."
What did Cheney tell Russert? Saddam, he insisted, "had a relationship with al Qaeda." When Russert pointed out that the intelligence committee "said that there was no relationship," Cheney interrupted and commented, "I haven't had a chance to read it."
Perhaps he should before he talks about 9/11 and Iraq again.
INFO ON HUBRIS: Tom Brokaw says "Hubris is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For more information on Hubris, click here
Senator Hillary Clinton's army of political aides, strategists and tacticians has spent an inordinate amount of time in recent months worrying about the Democratic primary challenge that their boss faces from anti-war candidate Jonathan Tasini. The Clintonites maneuvered mightily to keep Tasini out of the spotlight at the state Democratic convention in May. They did the same when the small but influential Working Families Party pondered its endorsement. They discouraged Democrats from supporting the petition drive that eventually got Tasini's name on Tuesday's Democratic primary ballot. And they made it clear that Clinton would not join any debate that included Tasini.
None of this is particularly inappropriate. Incumbents aren't usually inclined to aide their challengers. But the extra effort by the Clinton camp with regard to Tasini, a relatively unknown labor activist who got into the race without much money or many prominent backers, illustrates the extent to which the senator and her high-powered staff fear the main thing that Tasini has going for him: clear opposition to an unpopular war that Clinton has consistently backed.
On the eve of the primary, Clinton's team was still spinning against Tasini, spreading the word among Democrats and pundits that they did not expect--and certainly did not want--to see the challenger win more than a single-digit percentage of the vote.
In setting such a low bar for Tasini, however, the usually-savvy Clinton camp could be misjudging the depth of anti-war sentiment among the Democratic electorate, and the extent to which Tasini may have tapped into it.
It should probably come as no surprise that Progressive Democrats of America, the energetic national grassroots group that has had the guts to push the Democratic Party to back a timeline for Iraq withdrawal and to support moves to impeach President Bush, is backing Tasini's run.
PDA is all about pushing the envelope in a party not known for taking risks and thinking big. And PDA activists in New York--who have formed a half dozen chapters around the state -- well understand that the best way to get a message to Clinton before she starts campaigning for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination is in the 2006 Democratic Senate primary. The same goes for the three New York State chapters of Democracy for America -- the group founded to maintain the spirit of Howard Dean's 2004 presidential run--that have endorsed Tasini.
Perhaps even more significant is the support that Tasini has earned from the "reform clubs" of New York City.
Among the groups backing Tasini in his campaign to hold Clinton to account in the September primary are the Village Independent Democrats, a reform political club with roots going backto the days when Eleanor Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson were its allies andmentors in struggles to break the grip of Tammany Hall on New York Cityelections. Also backing Tasini are New York City Democratic clubs such asthe Downtown Independent Democrats, Brooklyn Democrats for Change, CentralBrooklyn Independent Democrats and the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, agroup named for a legendary gay rights activist that was formed to backDemocrats who are strong defenders of LGBT rights.
The Democratic Progressive Action Caucus of New York backs Tasini'senergetic-if-underfunded challenge to Clinton, as does the New YorkDemocratic Socialists of America chapter
Individual endorsements for Tasini, the former head of the National Writers Union, have come from prominent New Yorkprogressives such as author and social welfare specialist Frances Fox Pivenand actress Susan Sarandon, as well as national figures such as authorBarbara Ehrenreich and peace activist Cindy Sheehan.
Of course, endorsements don't elect candidates. But the support Tasini has garnered did build the base of volunteers needed to gather the more than 15,000 signatures needed to place his name on the primary ballot. And it has helped him maintain an energetic campaign against one of the most recognizable politicians on the planet.
That attention has reminded New York State Democrats that, on the fundamental issue of the 2006 electoral season--the question of whether to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq--Tasini is more in tune with them, and the American majority, than Clinton. The same goes for a host of other issues--from federal trade policy to gay rights--on which Clinton has disappointed liberals. As the primary approached, the Gay City News, a widely circulated weekly publication in New York City that is well regarded for its political commentary, editorialized that: "Clinton has ducked fair dialogue on where she stands on the most pressing foreign policy question facing the nation. Just because she can get away with it does not make it the right thing to do. Clinton has also bobbed and weaved this year on gay rights. Activists have pressed her on her opposition to gay marriage--and come away disappointed that she did not even speak out on the dignity of gay families on the Senate floor when Congress debated the ugly Marriage Protection Amendment." The editorial concluded: "Hillary Rodham Clinton needs a wake-up call. Help Jonathan Tasini place that call."
Clearly conscious of the need to more closely identify herself with the anti-war sentiment that prevails at the party's grassroots, Clinton has in recent months made moves to alter her image as a Bush administration fellow traveler--primarily by lambasting Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, but also by backing Connecticut Democrat Ned Lamont in his fall race against pro-war Senator Joe Lieberman. The fact remains, however, that Clinton continues to side with the White House in debates about withdrawal. As recently as June, the incumbent opposed a Senate proposal by Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold and Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry to set a timeline for bringing the troops home, although Clinton did back a milder call for the administration to discuss exit strategies with the Congress.
To the extent that Clinton has edged off her militantly pro-war position, Tasini deserves a good deal of credit. Even if she does not fear a primary defeat, all indications are that Clinton fears the prospect that Tasini will garner a credible vote.
You will not find any pundits seriously suggesting that Tasini's fervent anti-war stance--as well as his more-liberal-than-Clinton positions on a host of other issues--will be enough to win him the nomination Tuesday. But there should be a reasonable measure of enthusiasm among savvy primary voters for the challenger's "Vote for What You Believe In" message. Pollster John Zogby, who got his start in New York State, told reporters several months ago that he thought a properly-framed and financed anti-warcandidacy could take more than a third of the primary vote against Clinton."There is real palpable anger against Hillary for her stance on the war andfor the fact that she is not backing down," Zogby said. "It'sconceivable that an anti-war candidate could still get to the mid- tohigh-30s against her."
Tasini has framed his campaign properly. He has not had the necessary financing. But his energetic and creative campaign, as well as support from Progressive Democrats of America and reform clubs in New York, none of which make endorsement decisions casually, ought to count for something more than a single-digit finish. And if it does, then by the standard the Clinton campaign has set, Jonathan Tasini will have done a commendable job of delivering the anti-war message of his brave and necessary campaign.
David Stockman, the controversial wunderkind of the Reagan revolution25 years ago, is back in hot water again. As the WashingtonPost reported Friday, SEC lawyers notified Reagan's former budgetdirector that he could face civil charges for misleading investors inthe near-bankrupt auto-parts company that his investment fund owns. That sounds vaguely like the distant past when Stockman was accused ofmisleading Congress on a grand scale, assuring everyone of thesoundness of Reaganomics when privately he knew otherwise.
People asked me how I feel about Stockman's new troubles because wewere friends in those olden days and I collaborated with him in atruth-telling exercize that deeply shocked official Washington at thetime. The Reagan cabinet officer (practically a kid in those days)shared his true opinions privately with me--an assistant managingeditor at the much-loathed Washington Post--and I disclosed thebracing realities in the Atlantic Monthly. Among hardcore Republicans, I was seen as Stockman's "evil twin." In media circles, we were bothregarded as evil for engaging in this illicit relationship.
I don't know the facts of Stockman's present travail, but I have ahunch he is guilty mainly of excessive optimism, not fraud. Whenasked, I express sincere sympathy for his plight. Indeed, his dilemmareminds me of playwright Clare Booth Luce's wicked aphorism: "No gooddeed goes unpunished."
Stockman in Washington days was a true believer, brainy and tenacious,in the mysterious arts of federal budget making, and he did indeedassert his faith in public long after the adverse realities werepersuading him that Reagan's agenda of tax cutting and doubling defensespending wasn't going to balance the federal budget. His greatest sin,however, was telling the truth, albeit belatedly. That is onetransgression Washington does not forgive.
In the present situation, Stockman launched his Heartland investmentfund with the most honorable of intentions. After years getting richas a Wall Street investment banker, Stockman launched the new fund torevive and modernize embattled manufacturing companies in the Midwestand his home state of Michigan.
Moreover, Stockman argued that restoration would be helped, not hurt,by adopting worker-friendly strategies as opposed to the barbaricanti-union approach of most Wall Street takeovers. This representsinvesting for the long run. Leading unions recognized he was trying todevelop a progressive departure from slash-and-burn capitalism and theysupported him with pension-fund capital. The approach succeded withsome mid-sized companies in several sectors.
In the auto sector, it failed abruptly, but not because of hisunorthodox strategy. When the bottom fell out of General Motors andFord, Stockman's company--Collins & Aikman--was stranded just likeother major auto-parts suppliers. Whether he misjudged the situationor misrepresented it to investors, I do not know. I do feel sure hewas a victim too, perhaps of own Midwestern optimism andself-confidence. Let's not hang the man for trying to do the rightthing.
Has the Republican Party suddenly caught a case of jungle fever? Thisyear Republicans will most likely run three African-Americans instatewide elections: Kenneth Blackwell (for governor in Ohio), formerNFL star Lynn Swann (for governor in Pennsylvania) and MarylandLieutenant Governor Michael Steele, who is seen as the frontrunner forthe Republican Senate nomination there.
In a country where there is currently only one African-American Senator (Illinois' Barack Obama) and onlyone African-American has ever been elected governor of a state (Virginia's Doug Wilder) thisseems like a risk for the GOP and its standard-bearers.
Perhaps President Bush was being sincere in one of his more candid speeches to the NAACP this summer, when he spoke about hisparty's need to embrace black voters and black issues. But some punditshave suggested that the recruiting of these candidates is a desperateattempt to siphon off black votes from Democratic candidates in swing states.
While race is supposed to be an integral part of these candidates'appeal, their campaign policies are antagonistic to significant portionsof the black community who tend to be fiscally and socially liberal. Swann, a total novicewhen it comes to politics, has made tort reform, the reduction of foodstamps and welfare reform cornerstones of his campaign. Steele,who won a major speaking spot at the last Republican convention,recently refused to rebuke Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich's appearanceat an all-white golf club. "I don't know much about the club, themembership," said Steele, "nor do I care, quite frankly, because I don'tplay golf."
The most notorious of the three is Blackwell, who allegedly carries a Bible withhim to all his campaign stops. Blackwell opposes abortion even when themother's life is in jeopardy and supports a Constitutional amendment tolimit government. However, the most egregious of his offenses was hisrole in disenfranchising thousands of voters, many ofthem black, during the 2004 election as Chief Elections Official inOhio, while simultaneously serving as co-chair of the Committee tore-elect George W. Bush.
African-American progressives have reason to celebrate the rise of minorities inmodern politics, but they should be skeptical about supporting thesethree stooges.
It's time to stop calling the post 9/11 struggle against terrorism a "war." The struggle against stateless terrorists is not the same thing. And framing it as a war was a conscious decision made by Bush and Karl Rove and others in the first days after 9/11.
Rove understood that if the indefinite struggle against terror was generally framed as a "war," it would become the master narrative of American politics giving the GOP the chance to achieve "a structural advantage, perhaps in perpetuity" over Democrats. That advantage may be coming to an end.
Nevertheless, the "war" metaphor--as retired American Ambassador Ronald Spiers wrote in a provocative piece in March 2004 in Vermont's Rutland Herald, "is neither accurate nor innocuous, implying as it does that there is an end point of either victory or defeat.... A 'war on terrorism' is a war without an end in sight, without an exit strategy, with enemies specified not by their aims but by their tactics.... The President has found this 'war' useful as an all-purpose justification for almost anything he wants or doesn't want to do; fuzziness serves the administration politically. It brings to mind Big Brother's vague and never-ending war in Orwell's 1984. A war on terrorism is a permanent engagement against an always-available tool."
It's easy to see how this Administration has used the "war" as justification for almost anything--abusing international human rights standards, unlawfully detaining thousands of women and men, condoning torture.
Labor rights have also been rolled back on behalf of the "war." Remember that Orwellian statement by the Undersecretary of the Treasury for Security in announcing that the Administration had denied 60,000 airport security screeners their collective bargaining rights. "Mandatory collective bargaining," retired Admiral James Loy said, "is not compatible with the flexibility required to wage the war on terrorism."
As I watched the celebration of Washington's WWII memorial just two years after 9/11, I was reminded of how, during the despair of World War II, a greater threat to the existence of our country than what we face today, President Roosevelt gave America a vision of hope--not fear. Just a decade earlier, during the Great Depression, another grave threat to the country's spirit and unity, Roosevelt told a fearful nation that we had nothing to fear but fear itself. Today, we have a President and his team working overtime to convince the American people--through a barrage of historically inaccurate analogies--that there is nothing to fear but the end of fear itself.
Yes, we all live in the shadow of September 11--a crime of monumental magnitude. But terrorism is not an enemy that threatens the existence of our nation; our response should not undermine the very values that define America for ourselves and the rest of the world.
This Administration has shamelessly exploited America's fear of terrorism for political purposes. But a hyper-militarized war without end will do more to weaken our democracy, and foster a new national security state, than seriously address the threats ahead. After all, what we are engaged in is not primarily a military operation. It's an intelligence-gathering operation, a law-enforcement, public-diplomacy effort.
Yet few political leaders have the courage to say that what we face is not a "war" on terrorism, or that this President, as Ambassador Spiers said, "has found this 'war' an all-purpose justification for almost anything he wants or doesn't want to do." But by failing to challenge the "war" framing, we allow it to seep into the national psyche and let Rove & Co. get away with couching virtually all foreign policy discourse in terms of terrorism. The media also plays a role: "War" is the term used routinely not only by Fox "news" anchors and pundits but also in our top print outlets. It's then amplified in sensationalized TV wall-to-wall graphics.
As Shirin Ebadi, a champion of women and children's rights, the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize and someone who has stood up to the fundamentalists in her native land of Iran, said a few years ago: "Governments don't just repress people with false interpretations of religion; sometimes they do it with false cant about national security."