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Out-Tancredoing Tancredo at GOP's Anti-Immigrant Debate

Tom Tancredo, the immigration-crazed congressman from Colorado, is never going to be the Republican nominee for president. But Wednesday's night's CNN/YouTube debate confirmed that he has prevailed in the contest of ideas -- if raw xenophobia can be called an idea.

For much of the first stretch of what should have been a critical debate for candidates who are racing toward Iowa caucuses that are now just six weeks away, the Republicans who would be president stumbled over one another to out-Tancredo Tancredo. And, while they did not quite rival the congressman's rabid rhetoric, the other contenders made it clear that they can be just as crudely aggressive as the Coloradan when it comes to rejecting the Biblical injunction to welcome the stranger.

After former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney tore into Rudy Giuliani for being insufficiently hateful toward immigrants during his time as mayor of New York, Giuliani ripped Romney for employing undocumented workers in his home.

The two leading Republican contenders, who were standing next to one another on the stage in St. Petersburg, Florida, raised their voices to levels rarely heard in presidential debates as Giuliani accused Romney of operating a "sanctuary mansion."

Noting that during Romney's tenure as governor six Massachusetts cities had committed to treat immigrants with respect and sensitivity -- identifying themselves as "sanctuary cities" -- Giuliani growled, "In his case, there were six sanctuary cities. He did nothing about them. There was a sanctuary mansion -- at his own home, illegal immigrants were being employed."

Romney angrily denied the allegation before attacking the candidate who actually poses a bigger threat -- at least in Iowa -- to his tenuous front-runner status, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, for being soft on children.

Huckabee, who is now essentially tied with Romney among likely Iowa caucus goers, allowed as how it was reasonable to provide education to the children of undocumented immigrants -- on the theory that children ought not suffer because of the status of their parents.

That might be a position that George W. Bush would respect, but Romney was having none of it. Insisting that giving the children of immigrants equal access to education amounted to "preferential treatment," Romney sneered at Huckabee, "Mike, that's not your money, that's the taxpayers' money. Illegals are not going to get better breaks than our own citizens."

Of course, equal access to education is not a "better break" for anyone. But logic is not required at a Republican debate where immigrant-bashing is on the agenda.

Indeed, it fell to the Tancredo to offer the most reasonable assessment of the evening.

The most explicitly anti-immigrant candidate for the presidency since the demise of the Know-Nothing Party observed that the other -- supposedly more credible -- Republican contenders were attempting to "out-Tancredo" him.

On this point, there could be no debate.

Mike Huckabee's Religious-Test Campaign

This is supposed to be Mike Huckabee's make-or-break night.

The former Arkansas governor has emerged as the potential "Jimmy Carter" of the 2008 presidential race – a virtual unknown from the south who, with little money and few national endorsements, uses a breakthrough win in the Iowa caucuses to go national. Huckabee is now statistically tied with the GOP frontrunner in Iowa, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

A strong performance in tonight's CNN/YouTube Republican debate could give Huckabee, who must rely on free media to offset Romney's self-financed "money-is-no-object" campaign, the boost he needs to take the lead.

But with competitiveness should come scrutiny. And that is why tonight's debate must address the fundamental – or, perhaps, we should say fundamentalist -- question that has been raised by the rise of Huckabee.

Is the Arkansan's campaign intentionally stoking anti-Mormon bias in order to draw evangelical conservatives in Iowa and elsewhere away from Romney's bandwagon?

No serious observer of what's playing out in Iowa will disagree with the New York Times assessment that: "The religious divide over Mitt Romney's Mormon faith that his supporters had long feared would occur is emerging in Iowa as he is being challenged in state polls by Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor who has played up his faith in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Mr. Huckabee's rise in Iowa -- some recent polls now put him in a dead heat with Mr. Romney, who had led surveys for months -- has been fueled by evangelical Christians, who believe Mormonism runs counter to Christian orthodoxy."

Huckabee backers in Iowa have been quoted as referring to Romney, a member of one of Mormonism's most prominent families, as a politician "who's going to be acting on an anti-Christian faith as the basis of their decision-making." The former Arkansas governor's Iowa campaign co-chair, veteran Republican activist Daniel Carroll, has been quoted as saying that Christians prefer Huckabee over Romney because Huckabee "prays to the God of the Bible.'

Mormon's do pray to the God of the Bible, by they add another book to the Old and New Testaments: The Book of Mormon. Evangelicals reject the Book of Mormon as false prophesy. And they mince few words with regard to Mormons. "Evangelicals who conclude Mormonism a cult do conclude that Mormons' prayers to God do not ‘get through' because they are not actually petitioning the God of the Bible but a deity of a cultic base," writes Maine pastor Joseph Grant Swank Jr., who writes frequently about what evangelicals refer to as "truth-in-conviction" matters.

In a pluralistic society, evangelicals have a right to their views, as do Mormons.

So what is the question for Huckabee? A simple one: Does he, as someone who seeks to be the president of the United States, respect and endorse Article VI, Section 3, of the Constitution, which states that: "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States"?

If Huckabee were to be nominated for the presidency, he would on January 20, 2009, place his hand on a Bible and swear a solemn oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

That oath, necessarily, requires a rejection of precisely the sort of religious test that Huckabee backers are applying to Mitt Romney.

If Huckabee avows that he is indeed committed to the Constitution, and if he declares that he opposes the application of any religious test, then he must face a second question: Will the candidate Mike Huckabee and the Huckabee campaign make it absolutely clear that they want neither the support nor the votes of those who would oppose Mitt Romney's candidacy on the basis of religion?

Reporting Beyond the Green Zone

Acts matter. Here's how Dahr Jamail, a young mountain guide and volunteer rescue ranger in Alaska (who did freelance writing in the "off-season") describes his rash decision, back in 2003, to cover George W. Bush's Iraq War in person: "I decided that the one thing I could do was go to Baghdad to report on the occupation myself. I saved some money, bought a laptop, a camera, and a plane ticket, and, armed with information gleaned via some connections made over the Internet, headed for the Middle East." That was it. The next thing he knew he was driving through the Iraqi desert from Amman, Jordan, toward Baghdad and directly into the unknown. He had few contacts; no media organization to back him; no hotel/office with private guards to return to at night; no embedded place among American forces for protection; not even, on arrival in Baghdad, any place to write for.

Call that a shot in the dark. The result? A singularly remarkable running account of what Iraq actually felt like, of what life for Iraqi civilians actually was like after the shock-and-awe onslaught of March 2003 devolved into the endless occupation/catastrophe we all know so well. Jamail, who has written regularly for Tomdispatch these last years, has now published a book on his time on (and always very close to) the ground in Iraq, Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq. Unnerving as it is to come, once again, upon the real face of the American occupation, largely seen through Iraqi eyes, Jamail's new book is also a gripping adventure to read, the odyssey of a neophyte becoming a journalist under the pressure of events.

In reviewing the book for Mother Jones magazine, Nick Turse recently wrote:

"I suspect Jamail's account will prove an enduring document of what really happened during the chaotic years of occupation, and how it transformed ordinary Iraqis. To paraphrase one of the Vietnam War's finest correspondents, Gloria Emerson, writing about Jonathan Schell's exceptional accounts of that conflict: If, years from now, Americans are willing to read any books about the war, this one should be among them. It tells everything."

You get a sense of Jamail's forceful, reportorial style from a passage in a recent piece of his, "Iraq Has Only Militants, No Civilians," on how the Pentagon has worked to control the media landscape as well as the Iraqi battlespace:

"Whether it was 'incidents' involving helicopter strikes in which those on the ground who died were assumed to be enemy and evil, or the wholesale destruction of the city of Fallujah in 2004, or the massacre at Haditha, or a slaughtered wedding party in the western desert of Iraq that was also caught on video tape (Marine Major General James Mattis: 'How many people go to the middle of the desert.... to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization? These were more than two dozen military-age males. Let's not be naive.'), or killings at U.S. checkpoints; or even the initial invasion of Iraq itself, we find the same propaganda techniques deployed: Demonize an 'enemy'; report only 'fighters' being killed; stick to the story despite evidence to the contrary; if under pressure, launch an investigation; if still under pressure, bring only low-level troops up on charges; convict a few of them; sentence them lightly; repeat drill."

A Profile of Immigration

As the lead editorial in The Nation noted last week, the recent maelstrom surrounding Governor Eliot Spitzer's proposal to issue driver licenses to undocumented immigrants revealed the fear-mongering and racism that too often characterizes the so-called "immigration debate." It illustrated once again the desperate need to overcome the demagoguing and engage in an informed conversation – all the more challenging as people feel increasing economic anxiety and dislocation.

That's why a report released today by the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) – Working for a Better Life: A Profile of Immigrants in the New York Economy – is such a critical contribution at this moment. FPI does rigorous analysis to promote public policies that create a strong economy in which prosperity is broadly shared by all New Yorkers. This report reveals that immigrants – making up 21 percent of the state's residents – added $229 billion to the New York State economy in 2006, representing 22.4 percent of the state's Gross Domestic Product.

"These figures should wipe away any impression that immigrants are holding the New York economy back," said David Dyssegaard Kallick, senior fellow of the Fiscal Policy Institute and principal author of the report. "In fact, immigrants are a central component of New York's economic growth." And Kallick told me, "The debate around immigration has gotten so overheated that it's become difficult to distinguish myth and hyperbole from simple reality…."

According to the report, New York City immigrants make up 37 percent of the population and 46 percent of the labor force. They are more likely than U.S.-born residents to live in families in the middle-income brackets. Immigrants represent 25 percent of CEOs who live in New York City, half of accountants, one-third of office clerks, one-third of receptionists, and one-third of building cleaners. In sector after sector, immigrants are found in the top, middle, and bottom rungs of the economic ladder.

In the downstate suburbs, 18 percent of all residents are foreign-born, with immigrants making up 23 percent of the labor force. More immigrants work as registered nurses than in any other occupation. 41 percent of physicians and surgeons in the downstate suburbs are foreign-born, as are 28 percent of college and university professors, 22 percent of accountants and auditors, and 19 percent of financial managers.

In upstate New York, five percent of the population is foreign-born, but immigrants play a disproportionately important role in some key areas: immigrants make up 20 percent of all professors; 35 percent of physicians and surgeons; 20 percent of computer software engineers and 13 percent of computer scientists and systems analysts. An estimated 80 percent of the seasonal workers who pick the crops are immigrants.

"This report clearly proves that immigrants fuel growth and vitality in every economic sector and every geographic area in New York," said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of The New York Immigration Coalition.

"A wave of federal raids, ‘real ID' cards, or English only ordinances may be intended just to affect undocumented immigrants, but the reality is that they tear apart families and communities," Kallick told me. "If we create an anti-immigrant political climate, we run a very real risk of alienating exactly the people who are helping revitalize urban areas and contributing to economic growth…."

The report also finds that immigrants are subject to the same economic forces as everyone else in our increasingly polarized economy. "We can see that low-wage workers – both immigrants and U.S.-born – are not sharing in the economy's growth," said David R. Jones, president and CEO of the Community Service Society of NY. "The right answer is to enforce basic standards that are good for all low-wage workers, not to pit one group of workers against another."

Andrea Batista Schlesinger, executive director of the Drum Major Institute, recently wrote, "The ‘immigration debate' is a misnomer. The debate isn't just about illegal immigrants. It's not even just about immigrants. It's about the future of America and the role of all American workers in that future…. recognizing the economic contributions of immigrants while strengthening their hand in the workplace can define a progressive agenda that will unite both immigrants and native workers."

Yet we see in the presidential campaign that Republicans continue to fight over who will be "toughest on illegals", and most of the Democratic candidates tiptoe around the issues to avoid saying anything that might be used against them by any interest group. Kallick noted, "The two leading candidates in the primaries are from New York. We hope this report will make them aware of what's at stake as they fumble around for a position on immigration…. The right answer on immigration would include not just policies to help immigrants succeed, but also efforts to enforce labor laws and improve standards for all workers…. What we would hope for in a candidate is a leader who could wrench the discussion away from inflammatory talk radio and steer the country toward a sensible set of policies. We haven't seen that from the front-runners yet. But there's still time."

Unpacking Polling

Polling is an integral part of the political landscape. It's also very confusing and many credible studies suggest that polling methods are employed to bring about certain results as much as to accurately gauge public opinion. There's no denying that the practice of polling deserves greater scrutiny. But the problem is the pervasiveness of polling and its evil spawn, push-polling.

It's just a matter of numbers. As Michael Dimock at the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press says, "There are a zillion political pollsters out there doing message testing and tracking within their own organizations, and nobody has collected it all in one place. We all have a sense that it's increased over the years, but there's no easy way to prove it. There's also no easy way to know what they're asking and on whose behalf."

That's why HuffPost's OffTheBus has started a national "Polling Project" which The Nation is proud to be co-sponsoring along with a non-partisan group including Pajamas Media, Talking Points Memo, Instapundit, Politico, The Center for Independent Media, Mother Jones, WNYC Radio and Personal Democracy Forum. HuffPost's OffTheBus provides breakthrough, ground-level coverage of campaign '08 by fusing the collaborative power of new media with the highest professional standards of traditional journalism. This new polling study, being run by Amanda Michel and longtime Nation writer Marc Cooper, is the first in a series of OffTheBus's ambitious reporting projects and aims to collect sufficient documentary evidence from a wide swath of America's polling districts to start to understand the impact of polling on American democracy.

The project is asking its readers to share their polling experiences. Exactly how have people been polled? Who called them? At what time? Did they agree to participate in the poll or refuse (one of the least transparent aspects of polling continues to be the refusal of most polling companies to release response rates, which have plummeted in recent years to around 30 percent)? What questions were asked? Did the questions seem fair or loaded? Did the conversation feel driven by age, gender, ethnicity or regional sterotype? Did the pollster seem to be guiding them toward a predetermined answer?

As Huffington says: "Our aim is simple: to get a better understanding of how polling is being used across the country. We want to get to the bottom of how pollsters conduct their surveys, how they gather and build their stats, how they target who they contact, and, ultimately, how they reach their conclusions – conclusions that often fuel the very races they are supposed to be analyzing."

So if you've ever been polled click here to share your experiences and help build a better popular understanding of the political impact of this frequently pernicious practice.

The Fight for Press Freedom in Putin's Russia

With Russia's parliamentary elections scheduled for December 2and the pro-Kremlin United Russia party expected to win an overwhelmingmajority in the voting, President Vladimir Putin has intensified attackson his opponents--most recently, accusing them of being in the pocketof Western governments. Most of the country's state-run media have fallenin line.

Attacks on opposition forces are not confined to verbaldemonization. On Wednesday, Farid Babayev--the head of the Yabloko partyticket in Dagestan was shot at the entrance of his apartment building.Babayev, a human rights activist and fierce critic of the United Russiaparty and local authorities, died on Saturday. That same day, GarryKasparov, one of the leaders of the opposition coalition Other Russia,was arrested in Moscow and sentenced to five days in jail for leading anunsanctioned street march on Russia's Central Election Commission. (Cityofficials had given the coalition permission to hold a rally but not amarch.)

The Kremlin's tightening grip on the media, especially national andlocal television, and authorities' harassment of opposition parties,led Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky to draw a parallel between Putin'sRussia and Soviet Russia. "Russia stands on the threshold of therestoration of Soviet-style single-party rule."

On the eve of elections, there has been an intensification of attacks onwhat remains of Russia's free press. On November 9, Russianauthorities shut down one of the country's few remaining independentnewspapers-- the Samara edition of Novaya Gazeta. The pretext providedby authorities was cynical and hypocritical: in a country which leadswhen it comes to intellectual piracy, the police confiscated the paper'slast remaining computer (the others were seized in a raid last spring)and indicted its editor for allegedly using a counterfeit version ofMicrosoft software.

Last week, Dmitrii Muratov--the editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta'snational edition--was in New York to receive the Committee to ProtectJournalist's International Press Freedom Award. I had the honor andpersonal pleasure of presenting CPJ's award to him. My husband StephenCohen and I first met Dmitrii--a tenacious and brave editor--in 1993.He and a few other colleagues had gathered in the basement cafeteria ofMoscow News--then a bold paper of the glasnost era--to plan the launchof Novaya Gazeta. Survival of a different kind was on their minds atthat time; they were beginning the paper with two computers, oneprinter, two rooms and no money for salaries!

An initial boost of financial support came from former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev,who contributed part of his 1990 Nobel Peace Prize Award to pay for morecomputers and salaries. By 1996, Novaya's circulation had risen to70,000 from its initial run of 10,000; today it's national circulationis close to 600,000 and 100,000 visit its website every week.

I knew in 1993 that Dmitrii was a bold and creative editor. What Idid not foresee was that he would become one of the last defenders ofpress freedom in Russia. The newspaper, which continues to publishagainst great odds, has paid a heavy price for its crusadinginvestigations into high-level corruption, human rights violations,brutality in Chechnya and abuses of power. Three of its most courageousreporters --Igor Domnikov, Yuri Shchekochikhin and AnnaPolitkovskaya--have been murdered for their unflinching investigations

One by one, newspapers and television networks have yielded toKremlin pressure and surrendered their independence. Nonetheless, asRussia has descended from the media freedoms of Gorbachev's "glasnost"to today's conformity and compliance, Dmitrii Muratov and NovayaGazeta's reporters and editors have continued --despite the financial,political, physical threats and pressures---to remain independent andpublish.

In his remarks at the Committee to Protect Journalist's dinner in NYlast week (the English translation of his speech and a You Tube video of the event are posted below), Muratov spokepowerfully, and personally, of his fight for press freedom--and forjustice on behalf of his slain colleagues.

Let all who care about a free press and a democratic society workto ensure that Novaya Gazeta survive and thrive as an independent,oppositionist force--and that the journalists' killers be brought tojustice.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Esteemed Colleagues:

Igor Domnikov was murdered for investigating corruption. YuriShchekochikhin, my best friend, deputy, and a nationally famousjournalist was murdered. Anna Politkovskaya was murdered. Three of themost important people in my life. And it's me who gets to stand here ina tuxedo and receive an award. It's not normal. I feel no joy. I neverwill.

If she were alive, Politkovskaya would have had some of her favorite redwine with me. With Domnikov and Shchekochikhin--I would have had lots ofvodka. And we would've been happy. But now we cannot be. And I won'tever be.

So why do this? Why continue to publish a paper that endangers people'slives?

Because our million readers share the values of democracy. Realdemocracy--not its imitation. This is not fashionable in Russia today.This could damage one's career and reputation. Because today there isonly one official god - the State and its interests. As opposed tosociety and individual rights.

The state, alas, became a corporate business--the business of specialsecurity forces.

And that business--like special security forces--needs silence, notpress freedom.

On November 9, one of our regional editions was shut down - NovayaGazeta in Samara. The pretext: police found unlicensed Microsoftsoftware in its computers during a search.

The paper is no longer. All of its documents and equipment were seizedahead of parliamentary elections, now just two weeks away.

Our paper is denied advertising for political reasons. Americancompanies and institutions are allowed to advertise in other Russianpapers, not us. I call on advertisers to work directly with NovayaGazeta.

Support us and our smart, highly intelligent, thinking readership. Mypaper needs your support.

On the anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya's death we turned on her cellphone. There were thousands of calls on the phone.The readers appealedto us to continue her work; to not be silent.

We will not be silent.

But we can allow ourselves a moment of silence for our murderedjournalists. I am asking you to honor them right now.

[A moment of silence]

A granddaughter was born to Anna Politkovskaya this year. Her name isAnna Victoria. Life goes on.

Here's the video:

Australia Exits the Coalition of the Willing

President Bush recently traveled to Australia to thank conservative Prime Minister John Howard for making that country a member of the "coalition of the willing" U.S. allies in the occupation of Iraq.

Bush's trip was supposed to shore Howard up as national elections approached. Instead, the president planted what turned out to be a political kiss of death on his most willing accomplice.

When the votes from Down Under were counted Saturday, it was instantly clear that the vast majority of Australians are no longer willing to participate in the American president's misadventure in the Middle East.

Bush's "Australian poodle" is no longer in charge.

In fact, Howard has been so thoroughly rejected that he's likely to be out of Australian politics altogether.

After a landslide shift to the left by the Australian electorate, Howard -- who was every bit as nasty and gaffe-prone as his pal Dick Cheney -- will be replaced by a left-leaning intellectual who was elected on a platform that promised to withdraw his country's troops from Iraq and to develop a new foreign policy that will be more independent of the United States.

As in Spain, Italy and a number of other former "coalition of the willing" countries, the Australian electorate has effectively voted the troops home. Australia has only about 500 troops in Iraq, but that contingent is one of the larger of the non-U.S. "coalition" forces left in the country.

Australia's abandonment of the Iraq project is not the only change that is coming to the country that had, under Howard's leadership, been the steadiest U.S. ally of the Bush era.

The new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, will adopt a radically different approach than his predecessor did when it comes to global warming. Where Howard was one of Bush's few allies in international debates about climate change, Rudd promises to sign the Kyoto Protocol and to make Australia a greener and more pleasant land. (He'll be assisted by his Labour Party's pointman on environmental issues: Peter Garrett, the long-time lead singer of the rock band Midnight Oil, a veteran anti-nuclear weapons campaigner who left the stage to become a member of parliament.)

So committed is Rudd to shifting his country's approach to climate change that the new prime minister is expected to lead Australia's delegation to the upcoming United Nations climate change conference in Bali.

Rudd is no radical. He's the mildest of socialists in what is today only a mildly socialist Labour Party. But compared with Howard, who followed the Bush line so slavishly, Rudd promises a welcome change of course for a nation that remains a significant player in the politics of the planet.

And Rudd has a mandate. After 11 years out of power, Labour went into Saturday's election with a 16-seat deficit in the parliament. It now has a majority of at least 22 seats over Howard's right-wing Liberal party. Among the many prominent Liberals who appear to be headed for defeat is the prime minister, who acknowledged late Saturday that he is likely to become the first head of government to lose his own seat since 1929.

To understand the scale of the rejection of Howard -- who has for 33 years represented the historically conservative seat for Bennelong in suburban Sydney -- imagine Bush losing in the Houston suburbs. Of course, recent surveys have consistently shown that a majority of Texans disapprove of the American president -- indeed, a July Survey USA poll found that 57 percent of the voters in Bush's home state object to his approach. So, perhaps, the only difference between Australia and America is that there was an election in Australia Saturday. Had there been one in the U.S., it wouldn't just be the poodle who was tossed out -- the master would have gone, too.

States of Play: 41 Days to Iowa, 46 to New Hampshire

The date for the New Hampshire primary has finally been locked in: January 8.

That's five days after the Iowa caucuses.

So, in less than 50 days, the two contests that are most likely to define the 2008 presidential competition will be done.

And no one really knows where we are headed.

The Democratic race in Iowa is essentially a three-way tie, with Illinois Senator Barack Obama, New York Senator Hillary Clinton and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards competing within margins of error for the lead.

The Republican race in Iowa is even closer, with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee essentially tied.

In New Hampshire, Clinton and Romney have clearer leads. But Clinton's slipping and Romney is stalled.

In both the first-primary and first-caucus states, former front-runners are falling behind supposed also-rans. Huckabee has moved into the top tier in Iowa, if not yet in New Hampshire. And Texas Congressman Ron Paul, the only serious anti-war contender on the Republican side, is now tied with Arizona Senator John McCain in Iowa. Paul is ahead of Huckabee and the soon-to-be-forgotten Fred Thompson in New Hampshire.

The more dramatic story of a front-runner's slide may actually be on the Democratic side. In Iowa, it appears that Edwards has settled into third place. He still in that margin of error, but on the low end. And New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is now in double digits in Iowa, and rising as Edwards falls.

It's even worse for Edwards in New Hampshire. Richardson trails the North Carolinian by just one point in the latest polling, and the trajectory for Edwards is down while the trajectory for Richardson is up.

Just as Huckabee has moved into first-tier competition, at least in Iowa, so Richardson could be moving toward the first tier in New Hampshire. Huckabee's rise has already done damage to the credibility of the McCain and Thompson campaigns, and could yet dent Romney's run.

If Richardson moves ahead of Edwards in New Hampshire, it will be a serious blow to the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president.

When Thanksgiving Proclamations Mattered

Presidential proclamations are of dubious distinction in these days of permanent campaigning by the president and his hyper-politicized staff. What were once the solemn pronouncements of the executive have become little more than super-charged press releases.

George Bush issued more than 100 proclamations in the first ten months of the year, including one honoring National Safe Boating Week and another for Dutch-American Friendship Day. There was one recognizing National Homeownership Month, which conveniently preceded the mortgage crisis that has raised the prospect of as many as two million America families losing their domiciles. There was, as well, a National Consumer Protection Week proclamation, which probably should have outlined steps Americans should take to protect themselves from the dangerous food products and toys that are the byproducts of the administration's exceptionally ambitious trade agenda and exceptionally lax regulatory policies. There was a Constitution Day proclamation, which did not that we know of include a "signing statement" outlining the sections of the document the president would refuse to uphold during the remainder of the year. And perhaps most amusingly coming from the titular leader of an administration that is angling to expand its perpetual "war on terror" to include an imbroglio in Iran was Bush's "Prayer for Peace" proclamation of May 15.

Today, of course, the White House adds to the year's already long list of presidential pronouncements a Thanksgiving proclamation.

Bush has so devalued the official announcements of the White House that it becomes easy to imagine that they were never of consequence.

History reminds, however, that the cure circumstance is, like so much about the Bush presidency, a relatively new and certainly unwelcome variation on the American theme.

In the not-too-distant past, presidential proclamations were rarer and more meaningful statements, prepared by executives who intended them to be read and considered by Americans.

It was not at all uncommon for the nation's greatest leaders to issue only one proclamation annually.

That was the case in 1789, George Washington's first year in the White House, when he circulated only his Thanksgiving proclamation.

Similarly, in the last full year of World War II, Franklin Roosevelt issued just a Thanksgiving proclamation.

Roosevelt used his annual Thanksgiving proclamations as teaching documents. In his last statement to the nation, he encouraged Americans to think in broader terms, to recognize the need to put aside racial and religious prejudices in order to unite the nation in difficult times.

"Let every man of every creed go to his own version of the Scriptures for a renewed and strengthening contact with those eternal truths and majestic principles which have inspired such measure of true greatness as this nation has achieved," wrote Roosevelt in that 1944 proclamation.

A year later, in a proclamation that celebrated the end of the war while mourning the death of Roosevelt, President Harry Truman used the Thanksgiving proclamation of 1945 to declare, "Liberty knows no race, creed, or class in our country or in the world."

This was a radical sentiment at a time when many of the United States remained segregated along the racial lines dictated by the southern segregationists. And it anticipated Truman's embrace of civil rights in the years that followed, an embrace that would extend and expand upon the noblest impulses of the New Deal era.

That was not the only radical message in Truman's proclamation, which spoke as well of a desire to use the United Nations to "make permanent" the peace that had finally arrived and to "cherish freedom above riches."

Nostalgia is a mixed blessing. The past that saw the rise of the civil rights movement also saw the necessity of such a movement. But on this Thanksgiving we can, perhaps, be permitted a measure of nostalgia for the days when presidential proclamations had meaning and when they were issued by executives who had the authority -- and the desire -- to guide the American people toward the better angels of our nature.