The Nation

House Denounces Bush's Surge Strategy

By a comfortable margin of 246 to 182, the US House on Friday adopted a resolution denouncing President Bush's "surge" of more American troops to the Iraq quagmire.

All but two Democrats--southern conservatives Jim Marshall of Georgia and Gene Taylor of Mississippi--voted in favor of the non-binding resolution, as did 17 Republicans.

That allowed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to describe the vote as a historic "bipartisan" break with the president.

In the cases of both the Democratic and Republican caucuses, it was the largest dissent since before the start of the war from the Bush administration's agenda.

The sentiments of those dissenters, now a House majority, were well summed up by California Democrat Henry Waxman, who after intense lobbying by the administration voted in 2002 to authorize the president to use force against Iraq.

During this week's debate, Waxman said, "We cannot achieve the illusions of the Bush administration." Indeed, warned Waxman, continued adherence to the White House line "threatens (the engulf of the entire Middle East) by the forces we have unleashed."

New York Congressman Maurice Hinchey, who has opposed the administration's approach from the start, put the non-binding but potentially significant vote in perspective.

"For the first time since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the House finally had an open and honest debate about Iraq," observed Hinchey. "Democrats and Republicans had an equal opportunity to debate the ongoing occupation of Iraq and offer their perspective on President Bush's proposal to send more than 20,000 additional troops to that country. This is how democracy is supposed to work."

"By passing this resolution, those of us in Congress made it clear that we continue to support our troops and will do everything to protect them, but we believe President Bush's proposal for an escalation of forces is a bad idea and wrong for our country," Hinchey continued. "By voting against sending additional troops to Iraq, we spoke up for the majority of Americans who recognize that it's time to begin the strategic redeployment of our troops so we can get them out of Iraq, bring many of them home, and confront the real threats facing our nation such as al Qaeda, which is once again being given a safe haven by a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

"The resolution we passed in the House today is the first step in what will be a continued attempt to bring an end to the occupation of Iraq. In the weeks and months ahead, I will help lead an effort in Congress to force the president to wind down the occupation and get our troops out of Iraq by the end of the year. The security of the United States depends on having our troops ready to confront the real threats facing our nation. Iraq was a mistake from the start. It's time for that mistake to end.


John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Free Speech in New York City? Fuhgeddaboutit!

In summer 2004, citizens who peacefully protested during the Republican National Convention in New York City were subject to mass arrest, lengthy detention under horrible conditions and a wide range of other civil liberties violations. Civil liberties exist, much of the time, to protect minority rights, and that's important. But most of these protesters, in opposing the war and other Bush policies, were expressing the views of New York City's majority. If such mainstream dissent is punished severely, many wondered, what lies in store for those expressing unpopular opinions?

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) brought a number of lawsuits challenging the city's conduct during the 2004 convention. One of the best things about lawsuits -- from a public interest viewpoint -- is the fascinating documents obtained during discovery (the period before the trial in which the parties can compel each other to give up relevant information). In this case, the NYCLU had sworn testimony from high-level New York Police Department (NYPD) officials, thousands of pages of city memos, minutes and other documents, and many hours of videotape. When the City tried to prevent the NYCLU from making this information public, the organization yet again took the City to Court. A couple weeks ago, a judge ruled in the NYCLU's favor. The city is still trying to stop the civil liberties group from releasing the documents, but it's lost the legal battle. Beginning around noon next Wednesday, the documents will be open to the public, at www.nyclu.org. The videos will be available soon as well.

I'll be writing about these documents in more detail soon in the magazine (and next week, please check them out for yourselves). But briefly, here are some details that stand out:

NYPD officers had to seek medical attention after exposure to asbestos, carbon monoxide, and other toxic substances (including, ominously, an unknown "black liquid") at Pier 57, which was used as a mass arrest holding facility during the convention. Many demonstrators detained at Pier 57 have made similar complaints; it's significant that the police and the demonstrators experienced similar problems with this toxic facility.

A "no summons" memo shows that the long detentions of protesters during the RNC was a deliberate, premeditated policy decision, not inefficiency on the part of the NYPD. The police could have simply issued a summons to each protester, but instead, they (illegally) decided in advance to fingerprint everyone who was arrested.

Police department data shows that the RNC protesters were arraigned slowly, compared to people arrested for other offenses during that week. It's pretty appalling that people arrested for serious crimes received better treatment that those who were simply exercising their right to express dissent.

Finally, the documents present a big fat pile of evidence that the police department was preparing for mass arrests. With zero evidence that the protests were going to be violent, the NYPD was planning, not simply to keep order, but to incarcerate thousands of demonstrators. Obviously, it's annoying when protesters over-dramatize their victimization by police, deliberately provoke cops, or claim that we live in a "police state." (We don't.) But the city handled this situation disgracefully, and should be held accountable.

A Rebuke from Congress

In a matter of hours, the House of Representatives will vote to oppose President Bush's plan to send 21,500 additional troops to Iraq. Though the resolution does not carry the weight of law, the debate is still significant: This marks the first time that the US Congress has voted decisively against the Bush Administration's Iraq policy.

For once, Republicans find themselves in an uncomfortable place, on the defensive. Though a small band of GOP dissidents chose to vote with the Democrats, most Republicans stuck with the President. This week has not been the party's finest PR moment. You had members like Virgil Goode, now infamous for insulting Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison, likening critics of the war to "jihadists who want the Crescent and Star to wave over the Capitol," and replace the words "In God We Trust" on American money to "'In Muhammad We Trust."

Surely this is not the image the Republican Party, no matter how unpopular, wants to project. Democrats for their part, found some confidence in fighting off the GOP's argument that such a resolution would undermine the troops in the food. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio was particularly eloquent on this point. But both sides, as Chris Hayes wrote, needlessly fetishized the American solider, using the image as an excuse to hide behind our nation's lack of shared sacrifice.

Democrats are working on a tough plan to condition how the money for the escalation can be spent. But many of them--and virtually all Republicans--remain unwilling to state an uncomfortable truth obvious to the majority of Americans: The war is lost and America should leave.

A Last Battler Against Joe McCarthy and His "Ism"

The arc of history is long, and those who bend it over particularly wide stretches to time sometimes outlive memories of the most dramatic turns.

Such is the case with Thomas Fairchild, the last man to mount a serious electoral challenge to Joe McCarthy and the "ism" he spawned, who has died this week at age 94.

Fairchild's rendevous with destiny played out a very long time ago? In deed, on the day of the vote in which Fairchild sought to prevent the reelection of the red-baiting Republican senator from Wisconsin in 1952, afternoon newspapers carried accounts of aged Civil War veterans casting ballots.

We have come so far from the distant days of McCarthy's "redscare" that it is easy to forget the courage that it took to challenge the senator at the height of his political power -- and his dominance of the national discourse.

No less a figure than Dwight Eisenhower, the man who would be electedpresident in the same 1952 election that saw the Fairchild-McCarthy contest play out, avoided taking McCarthy to task, for fearon the general's part that he too might face the wrath of the senator whose wild charges of communist conspiracies had targeted and terrorized the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Congress and the media.

Fairchild did not have to enter the firestorm.

As the election approached, he was the most successful Democratic political figure in the still very Republican state of Wisconsin. Fairchild was, in fact, the only member of his party to win statewide office since the Franklin Roosevelt landslide of 1932.

Having served a term as a civil-liberties defending and corporation-challenging attorney general in the late 194Os, he was by 1952 comfortably in position as the appointed U.S. Attorney for the western district of Wisconsin. Handsome and articulate, a member of one of Wisconsin's oldest families, the son of a state Supreme Court justice, he was a political "golden boy" who was tagged by just about everyone for a bright future in elective office or the judiciary.

Then, University of Wisconsin-Madison students, fearful that McCarthywould be reelected over weak opposition, formed a "Fairchild vs. McCarthy" club and delivered a petition to the U.S. Attorney that read: "We, the undersigned students of the Univerity of Wisconsin -- Republicans, Democrats and Independents -- oppose the re-election of Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy and urge you, Thomas E. Fairchild, to announce your candidacy for United States senator."

The students knew Fairchild as one of the few prominent figures with the courage to take on McCarthy. An able lawyer, who would go on toserve as chief judge of the U.S.Court Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Fairchild hit McCarthy where it hurt when, in 195O, he challenged the senator to relinquish his official immunity and publicly repeat libelous charges he had made against employees ofthe U.S. State Department. The challenge exposed McCarthy'srecklessness and hypocrisy, at least to those Americans who were paying attention. But they also led to attacks on Fairchild's patriotism by McCarthy's allies.

Well aware of McCarthy's viciousness, and of the ugliness of the political moment, Fairchild did not leap at the "opportunity" to oppose the senator in 1952. But he finally decided that he had to make the race. And he did so without apology or caution. Condemning McCarthy and McCarthyism for causing a "deadening of the human spirit through ruthless insistence on total conformity," the Democratic candidate declared that, "The outcome of the election will go far toward determining whether we give the green light to ahome-grown gestapo as the advance guard of a new totalitarianism, or whether we will stop this ugly threat to American freedom dead in its tracks."

Fairchild did not stop McCarthyism in its tracks. But heslowed the red-scare down by standing up to McCarthy when too few others would. On election day, McCarthy prevailed. Yet, he ran far behind other Republicans, and that vulberability was noticed by his fellow senators, by Eisenhower and by a growing number of journalists, who slowly began to find the courage to confront the senator and his "ism." Though McCarthy continued to hold his high-profile "red-hunting" hearings for several more years, the evidence of homestate opposition to the senator -- which would come into stark relief when a mass campaign by recall the senator from office -- made national news and was frequently cited by critics of the senator.

There is no question that Fairchild was right when he said that McCarthy and McCarthyism "brought shame on Wisconsin." But, if anyone restored the state's honor and offered a lesson in political courage that ought not be forgotten in this time of the Patriot Act and new assaults on civil liberties and dissent, it is Thomas Fairchild.


John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Who Hates Gay People?

"I hate gay people." "I'm homophobic." "I don't like to be around gay people."

I did a google search for these phrases, and lo and behold, it seems that the only people on earth who would say such things are a bunch of anonymous yahoos commenting on random web forums. Not even former NBA star Tim Hardaway has shown up yet. Now that Hardaway says he "shouldn't have said 'I hate gay people' or anything like that," perhaps the Google Gods will expunge his remarks from the algorithmic record.

"I hate gay people." George W. Bush didn't say it. None of the folks in Congress who oppose employment non-discrimination for gays have said it. Marilyn Musgrave (R - Colorado), the author of the Federal Marriage Amendment, didn't say it. Don Wildmon, who wants to purge the GOP of gay staffers, didn't say it. Jerry Falwell, who thinks gays and lesbians are responsible for 9/11 and that Tinky Winky is a purple purse-carrying faggot, didn't say it. William F. Buckley, who once suggested that gay men with AIDS be tattooed on their buttocks, didn't say it.

Heck, not even Grey's Anatomy star Isaiah Washington has said it. He's in therapy for using an "anti-gay slur," so perhaps he's learned not to say it. Ted Haggard hasn't said it, but now that he's "completely heterosexual," maybe he will say it.

Poor Tim Hardaway, the loneliest homophobe. Where's his parade? Where's the American Family Association, the Concerned Women of America, the faculty and students of Liberty University, Focus on the Family, Exodus International and the Catholic Church? Where's the Indiana state senate, which just this week passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage? Where's Florida GOP boss Jim Greer, who thinks that a gay marriage ban is such a "fundamental value" and principle of the Republican party that he's willing to make war with Gov. Charlie Crist over it? Where are the 60%+ of American voters who routinely show up at polls to approve anti-gay initiatives? Where are the Republicans, who have made anti-gay politics a raison d'etre?

Maybe these folks don't hate gay people the way that Hardaway does. Maybe they just want to cure them, to discriminate against them, or practice their religious freedom against them, or ban them from marriage, schools, churches and armies. Maybe, instead of hatred, they feel disgust, revulsion, contempt, pity, scorn, terrible anxiety, envy. Maybe they've even learned to tolerate gays, as long as they stick to making clothes and canapés on Bravo and keep their bars and sex away from public view.

My point: There's something unseemly about all the attention showered upon Tim Hardaway and Isaiah Washington's little anti-gay outbursts. In the grand scheme of things, these guys are nobodies; their statements do nothing, unlike the kingpins and elected officials of the right-wing whose words have a tendency to become state policy. Hardaway and Washington do happen to be black and particularly blunt, and so they will be taken out to the woodshed by the PC police, by GLAAD or NBA commissioner David Stern or some ABC exec. They will enter rehab, "examine their feelings," and learn the weasel words of tolerance and diversity. A fine example will have been made, and then business will go on as usual.

What is that business? Hardaway said it. "It [homosexuality] shouldn't be in the world or in the United States." Maybe he should have said just that.

The Cult of the Soldier

Note to members of the United States House of Representatives on both sides of aisle: Soliders are people. Some volunteered out of patriotism, some out of economic desperation, some because they couldn't think of what else to do. Some of them are truly heroic, courageous, conscientious and brave. Some are racist and sadistic. Some are both at different times. Some began as kind-hearted and generous and have had their entire personalities change by the cruelties of war. Can we please, please, please stop pretending that we currently have 160,000 saints with guns patrolling the streets in Iraq? Can we please stop justifying the war in terms of it somehow being waged on the solider's behalf? Can we please acknowledge that our fetishization of our warriors is due to the fact that an ever-shrinking percentage of the population has been asked to sacrifice a single thing to wage this so-called epic struggle for freedom? Please?

Restoring the Constitution

The Military Commissions Act passed by Congress last year and brokered by John McCain gave the Bush Administration enormous power to designate who is and is not an enemy combatant, denied detainees the writ of habeas corpus and immunized US officials involved in torture.

It was one of the worst pieces of legislation civil liberties groups had seen in a long time. Senator Arlen Specter predicted the Supreme Court would find it unconstitutional.

Now a group of critics in the US Senate are introducing legislation to repeal the Military Commissions Act. The "Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007," introduced by Senators Chris Dodd, Russ Feingold, Patrick Leahy and Bob Menendez, "restores Habeas Corpus rights, bars evidence gained through torture or coercion and reinstates U.S. adherence to the Geneva Conventions in order to protect the nation's military personnel abroad," according to a joint press release.

"The Restoring the Constitution Act would go a long way toward restoring the moral authority and credibility of the United States as a leader in the promotion of respect for the rule of law around the world," says Human Rights Watch. "We urge the Senate to enact this important piece of legislation into law."

Libby Trial: Defense Rests on a Thin Case

Swing and a miss. Swing and a miss. Swing and a miss. As the I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby perjury trial headed toward a finale, Libby's attorneys on Wednesday made several last-minute stabs to bolster its defense--and federal district Judge Reggie Walton shot each down.

The defense wanted to bring Tim Russert, the Meet the Press star, back to the witness stand. Russert had appeared as a key witness for the prosecution. When Libby, then chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, was questioned in 2003 and 2004 by FBI agents and a grand jury investigating the leak that outed Valerie Wilson as a CIA officer, he claimed that at the time of the leak he possessed no official information about Valerie Wilson and her CIA employment and that he had only heard gossip from Russert about her. In his indictment of Libby, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald claimed this was a lie, and Russert testified that he had told Libby nothing about Valerie Wilson because he knew nothing about her.

So Libby's lawyers were hoping to get another chance to attack Russert's credibility. As a prosecution witness, Russert had testified for twelve minutes before Wells cross-examined him for five hours, nicking but not truly wounding the newsman. That was not good enough for the defense. Libby's lawyers argued to Judge Walton--outside the presence of the jury--that they should be allowed to call Russert back to the stand. The issue at hand was a statement Russert made during his testimony in which he said he didn't realize a grand jury witness is not allowed to have a lawyer present when testifying before a grand jury. Libby's legal team--combing print and video archives--had found NBC News clips from the days of Monica Lewinsky and Whitewater when Russert had informed viewers that a grand jury witness couldn't have a lawyer by his or her side.

Why did a contradiction between Russert's recent testimony and a nine-year-old television clip matter? Ted Wells, Libby's lead lawyer, argued that because Russert had been allowed to give a deposition to Fitzgerald in a lawyer's office with his own attorney present--rather than appear as grand jury witness with no lawyer to help him--Russert had received a favor from Fitzgerald and might have consequently crafted his testimony to benefit the prosecution. Wells asked to be allowed to call Russert back and play those Clinton-era tapes for the jury.

Walton said no. "It's a totally collateral matter," he declared.

Wells and his crew desired something else from the judge: permission to enter into the record a statement covering the details of the national security matters that Libby was working on at the time of the leak, his two FBI interviews, and his two grand jury appearances. This statement--based on classified information--was drafted before the trial, and the judge and relevant government agencies vetted the document and agreed it could be presented in court so Libby's defense would not reveal classified material. But Fitzgerald argued that the document had been drafted only for use if Libby testified--to allow him to show the jury what was on his mind at these times without disclosing secret information. If he won't testify, the prosecutor maintained, the statement shouldn't be presented to the jury. John Cline, a Libby attorney, argued vigorously. Walton was not persuaded, noting that the statement "was supposed to be a substitution" for Libby's testimony. Without Libby testifying, Walton said, putting the statement into evidence would not be fair.

Next, the Libby lawyers made a bid to introduce as evidence details from intelligence briefings that Libby received about terrorist threats. The point: Libby was so consumed by hair-raising news of threats he could not be expected to care about or remember the minor Valerie Wilson matter. Fitzgerald objected. He argued that the defense was trying to suggest Libby's (overwhelmed) state of mind to the jury without placing their client on the stand and subjecting him to cross-examination. He also maintained that if the details from these briefings were introduced without context--that is, without explaining that Libby received such information on a daily basis--the jurors would not be able to evaluate whether the material was out of the ordinary and truly mind-bending.

Again, Walton sided with Fitzgerald and ruled against Libby. If he doesn't testify, the judge explained, he can't use this information. Instead, Walton allowed Cline to read a stipulation to the jury that repeated information already introduced. This stipulation noted that at a June 14, 2003 intelligence briefing--during which Libby mentioned Joseph and Valerie Wilson to his CIA briefer--he was presented information about a bomb being defused in Yemen, the arrest of a terrorist suspect elsewhere, a possible al Qaeda attack in the United States, Iraq's porous borders, demonstrations in Iran, developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a possible airport hijacking in England by a group linked to al Qaeda, a variety of potential terrorist attacks around the word, the 1920 Mesopotamia insurrection and its relevancy to the Iraqi insurgency, and other matters. Libby, according to the stipulation, requested additional information on two of the two dozen topics in the briefing.

Shortly after the stipulation was read, Wells told the judge, "The defense on behalf of Lewis Libby rests."

Team Libby concluded its case without offering any witness who was a direct party to the events at issue. It finished its presentation without producing any testimony or evidence to back up its assertion that Libby was the victim of a CIA plot, a State Department plot, a White House plot, an NBC News plot or some combination of these get-Libby conspiracies. It supplied little evidence that Libby was particularly forgetful. It offered no testimony to back up the notion that Libby had no motive to lie to the FBI and the grand jury. During opening arguments, Wells claimed he would show that Libby had no reason to fear for his job when he was questioned by the FBI and the grand jury. Wells said he could show that Cheney would have stuck by Libby no matter what and, thus, Libby had no incentive to cover up his involvement in the leak episode. Yet Wells put no one on the stand--say, Cheney--to support this claim. And he presented only one witness--New York Times managing editor Jill Abramson--to impeach the credibility of a prosecution witness: Judith Miller, a former Times reporter. Abramson was on and off the stand within minutes. Most of Libby's witnesses testified about events that were not part of the case.

And Libby said nothing. It was as if Wells didn't dare put his client on the stand to repeat the gymnastics he performed during his grand jury appearance when he essentially said, I forgot to remember what I had known but forgotten about Valerie Wilson. And Wells would not give Fitzgerald a crack at Cheney.

Nothing in defense presentation buttressed the dramatic statements Wells made at the start of the case. Libby's lawyers mounted a bombastic but skimpy defense: a lot of hat, not much cattle. This is not unusual in a criminal case. The defense has no obligation to present a case. The burden is upon the government. A defense lawyer can simply claim the prosecution fell short and leave it at that. Which is practically what Wells and his team are doing. As Wells said after resting his case, "There is no box on the verdict sheet [used by jurors] that says...did you tell the full story? It says guilty or not guilty." When the trial began, Wells claimed he and Libby had a story to tell. It turns out they don't.

Closing arguments are scheduled for next Tuesday.


DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes 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 highlights from Hubris, click here.

"For Paul's Seat"

After recalling his campaign swings through his home state of Minnesota on behalf of the late Paul Wellstone, comedian, author and activist Al Franken closed his last Air America radio show with an announcement that he will be running in 2OO8 "for Paul's seat."

Franken's challenge to Republican incumbent Norm Coleman, who took Wellstone's place in the Senate after the popular incumbent was killed in a fall 2OO2 plane crash, was expected. What was intriguing was Franken's signal with the broadcast announcement that his will be a certain kind of candidacy, run very much in the Wellstone tradition.

Humility was the order of the day.

Instead of grand pronouncements, Franken said he would spend the coming months "listening to Minnesota," with a schedule that in coming days will take him to Nashwauk, Duluth, Rochester, Mankato and Moorhead -- not the usual mid-winter stomping grounds of celebrity contenders.

He'll begin tomorrow morning at a Minneapolis health care clinic where doctors and nurses volunteer to care for the uninsured.

The visit to the clinic will highlight a signature issue of Franken's campaign -- getting the federal government focused on the task of assuring that all Americans have access to affordable quality health care. '

Rejecting the conservative premise that government can do little or no good, Franken began his campaign by offering a contemporary take on the New Deal liberalism of Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party stalwarts such as Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and Wellstone.

"Your government should have your back," the man who has spent the last three years serving as the voice of liberal talk radio said in a video produced for his campaign. "That should be our mission in Washington, the one FDR (President Franklin D. Rooosevelt) gave us during another challenging time: freedom from fear."

Just as Wellstone did when he launched his challenge to another Minnesota Republican senator in 199O, as an academic and activist who had never held elected office, Franken knows he must convince Minnesotans -- first within the DFL, where he will face a challenge from wealthy lawyer Mike Ciresi and perhaps others, and if he is nominated then in a fall contest with Coleman that will be one of the most intense in the country -- that he in a credible contender.Franken began by stating the obvious: that he is not a "typical politician."

In Minnesota, a state where the voters elected a professional wrestler governor in 1998, and a college professor senator in 199O, that's an advantage. But it did not prevent predictably political attacks.

Telegraphing Republican fears that Franken's celebrity, fund-raising skills and familiarity with issues that have been regular topics on his talk show make the affable comedian a daunting challenger to Coleman -- a political creation of White House political czar Karl Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney who is broadly perceived to be one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in the country -- Minnesota Republican Party chairman Ron Carey was spinning hard and fast on Wednesday afternoon. "Given his blind partisanship and extreme anger, Al Franken is the last person Minnesotans need in the United States Senate," growled Carey. "While Sen. Norm Coleman continues to work with all sides for the betterment of our stateand nation, Franken offers Minnesotans nothing but polarization and vitriolic personal attacks."

The joke was on Carey, however, as he sounded far more vitriolic than Franken.

While the Republican was spewing vitriol, the Democrat was self-deprecating, beginning his campaign with an admission that he needed to convince Minnesotans to elect as their senator a "Saturday Night Live" alumnus who once penned a book titled: Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations.

"Minnesotans have a right to be skeptical about whether I'm ready forthis challenge and to wonder how seriously I would take theresponsibility that I'm asking you to give me," Franken said in a video message featured on his www.alfranken.com campaign website.

"I want you to know: nothing means more to me than making governmentwork better for the working families of this state," Franken said. "And over the next 20 months I look forward to proving to you that I take these issues seriously."

If his Minnesota-nice, Wellstone-referencing entry into the race is any indication, Franken will not have much problem proving he is serious -- and, in turn, being taken seriously by the voters of a state that has proven its willingness over the years to take chances on candidates who are not "typical politicians."


John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"