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Oprah Winfrey versus John Mellencamp

DES MOINES -- The announcement of John Mellencamp's Wednesday night show to cap the Iowa caucus campaign of John Edwards did not provoke the media frenzy that accompanied Oprah Winfrey's Des Moines tarmac tap on behalf of rival Democrat Barack Obama.

For this, Edwards should be thankful.

Obama stalled in the Iowa polls after Winfrey visited the state on his behalf early in December. With hours to go before the caucusing begins, he's essentially where he was a month ago -- ahead in many polls, but mainly on the strength of young and independent voters who may or may not show for caucuses that traditionally have been dominated by older and more partisan Democrats.

In contrast, national front-runner Hillary Clinton, who fumbled repeatedly in November and early December, and Edwards, who had been written out of the race by some pundits, appear to have regained their positions going into tonight's voting.

Obama misread Iowa. He bet on style over substance in a state where activist Democrats take seriously the definitional role their play in the nominating process. The senator from Illinois, who had so much momentum at the beginning of December, calculated that the Hawkeye state might be locked up by a recommendation from a multi-media persona whose entry into presidential politics came off a little like the launch of a new "project."

None of this means that Obama should be counted out in Iowa. He has spent far more money than the other candidates on slick TV ads, he has hired some of the best caucus strategists and his campaign is tossing every charge and claim it can muster into a drive to blunt the momentum that has belonged to Edwards since he dominated the last pre-caucus debate between the Democratic contenders.

Obama is still the safe bet to win tonight.

But, despite his many advantages, the Illinoisan could well finish behind Edwards.

That's because the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president has waged a dramatically different campaign than Obama's feel-good effort. Where Obama has run the softest sort of campaign, Edwards is mounting a edgy, muscular effort that owes more to the memory of Paul Wellstone or the sensibilities of Ralph Nader than to the smooth triangulations of Bill Clinton or the not-so-smooth compromises of John Kerry.

Edwards has fought his way back into contention with aggressively populist positions, anti-corporate rhetoric and a campaign that eschews glitz for grit -- as evidenced by a grueling 36-hour marathon campaign swing that includes the Mellencamp visit. Necessarily, the former senator from North Carolina opts for a different sort of celebrity than the other contenders.

So it is that Mellencamp comes to Iowa to close the Edwards celevrate the Edwards campaign with a "This Is Our Country" rally at the not-exactly-Hollywood Val Air Ballroom in West Des Moines. (In case anyone missed the point here, tickets were distributed not through some slick internet delivery system but from the United Steelworkers Local 310 hall.)

Where Winfrey brought a big name but little in the way of a track record on issues that are fundamental to the rural and small-town Iowans who historically have played a disproportional role in tonight's caucuses, Mellencamp is more than just another celebrity taking a lap around the policy arena.

For a quarter century, the singer has been in the thick of the fight on behalf of the rural families he immortalized in the video for "Rain on the Scarecrow," his epic song about the farm crisis that buffeted Iowa and neighboring states in the 1980s and never really ended.

Mellencamp has not merely sung about withering small towns and farm foreclosures. As a organizer of Farm Aid, he has brought some of the biggest stars in the world to benefit concerts in Iowa and surrounding states, and he has helped to distribute the money raised at those events to organizations across Iowa.

Farm Aid is nonpartisan. It's not endorsing in this race. But Mellencamp is. The singer, who this year will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but whose music remains vital enough to have earned a 2008 Grammy nomination for Best Rock Vocal Performance, was lobbied for support by other campaigns, especially Clinton's. But he has a long relationship with Edwards. He has an even longer relationship with the issues that Edwards is talking about. Indeed, his credibility is grounded in the recognition that Mellencamp has repeatedly taken career-risking anti-war, anti-racist and anti-poverty stances that other celebrities of his stature tend to avoid.

What matters, of course, is the fact of that credibility -- and the fact that it is so closely tied to the farm and rural issues that have meaning even in the more urbanized regions of Iowa. That is why, if there is an endorsement that is going to have meaning with the people who drive down country roads to attend caucuses Thursday night, it could well be that of the guy who proudly sings that, "I was born in a small town..."

Obama: More Money, More Problems

Barack Obama's presidential campaign is circulating an unusual memo complaining that "unprecedented" spending by Democratic groups could "impact the outcome" in next week's Iowa Caucuses. Campaign Manager David Plouffe does not allege any illegal activity by other candidates, but he claims that some of the advertising by unions and liberal organizations is "underhanded," "negative," and "misleading." The Edwards Campaign fired back this weekend, arguing that Obama's "desperate, false attacks" showed that Edwards was surging in Iowa - and touting his record of declining any contributions from Washington lobbyists or PACs.

If Obama's aides were confident about Iowa, it's hard to imagine their ideal closing argument would be railing against the legal spending of groups that other candidates do not control. Yet as The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza reports, Obama has spent "much of the last week" on this point -- a "major gamble," since campaign spending is "a topic that usually glazes over the eyes of the average voter." But if the hyper-informed activists who caucus do dig into the topic, they might not like what they find.

Obama is basically complaining about the political activities of union-affiliated groups, which are strongly supported by many Democratic voters. All the candidates seek union endorsements in the primaries -- and rely on their spending and mobilization efforts in the general election. (Unions spent over $60 million on the midterms.) So it's hard to take Obama's complaint seriously, as Paul Krugman noted, when the road to the White House includes plenty more spending by outside groups. And even putting aside the general election, outside groups are currently backing Obama, including a California organization registered as a "527" and a PAC. So Obama's concerns sound more like sour grapes -- AFSCME and SEIU would probably face little criticism if they were spending money on him. (They are helping Clinton and Edwards, respectively.)

Now maybe Obama is simply using the homestretch to blunt one of Edwards' strengths, as an anti-Washington crusader. Yet that risks drawing attention to Obama's own fundraising records. The Illinois senator no longer takes contributions from Washington lobbyists, but he pocketed over $125,000 from lobbyists in his last two campaigns, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and $1.3 million from PACs. Edwards shuns those contributions, and on Saturday he uppped the ante on Obama's challenges by pledging to ban lobbyists from working in his administration. For his part, Obama has introduced solid lobbying and campaign finance reforms, and he was an early backer of Senator Russ Feingold's Presidential Funding Act of 2007 -- the gold standard for reviving public financing for presidential elections.

In the end, both Edwards and Obama have solid (and similar) campaign finance proposals, while Edwards has a longer record of restricting donations to his own campaigns. Primaries often make minor differences seem large, and plenty of candidates have excelled by attacking their opponents' strengths. Obama is straining to attack precisely where Edwards holds an edge -- a slight one on policy, but larger when it comes to his general reputation for fighting corporate power. It's an important issue -- 84% of Americans say "big companies" have too much power over government policy -- and this week John Edwards may be very happy that Obama brought it up.

2007-12-30-ObamaBurlington

Barack Obama speaks to a packed crowd in Burlington, Iowa on Saturday.

Photo Credit: Barack Obama Flickr.

Bill Kristol Gets New York Times Op-Ed Slot

Just shoot me. First, it was Sam Tanenhaus, conservative editor of the New York Times Book Review being put in charge of the News of the Week in Review section. That means one conservative will determine how politics,culture and ideas are covered in TWO of the most important sections of the supposedly liberal newspaper of record. Now, says the Huffington Post, the Times is set to announce that Bill Kristol will be writing a weekly op-ed column. That's Bill Kristol ,Fox commentator , editor of the the Murdochian agitprop factory Weekly Standard, George W. Bush's propagandist in chief, co-founder of the Project for a New American Century, relentless promoter of the war in Iraq , ideological bully and thug. This is the man who blamed american liberals for the Khmer Rouge and the Ayatollah Khomeini (!), who will say just about anything, however bizarre or illogical or wild or (I'm guessing) cynical, to push the only ideas in his head: everything bad is the fault of Democrats and never mind the question, war is the answer.

On Iran:The right response is renewed strength--in supporting the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, in standing with Israel, and in pursuing regime change in Syria and Iran. For that matter, we might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions--and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement.

On morning-after contraception: "I don't know, I came into Fox this morning and one of our younger colleagues who works here, a guy just out of college a couple of years, said all his friends in who are still college are very happy about this -- all his guy friends, his male friends who are still in college are happy about this. They have a wild night. Precautions aren't taken. The burden is now totally off them. They tell their girlfriend to go out and get this drug and no problems at all. And I don't think that's a very good thing for the the country."

On Sunni-Shiite hostility in Iraq and desire of shiites to set up a religious state:"pop sociology"

On Terri Schiavo: "After all, we are a 'maturing society,' as the Supreme Court has told us. Perhaps it is time, in mature reaction to this latest installment of what Hugh Hewitt has called a 'robed charade,' to rise up against our robed masters, and choose to govern ourselves. Call it Terri's revolution."

On John Kerry and the Osama videotape: "But the fact remains that Osama bin Laden is notneutral in our election. He is trying to intimidateAmericans into voting against George W. Bush."

What ever happened to meritocracy? For Kristol to get a Times column--after being fired from Time magazine no less -- is as meritocratic as, um, George W. Bush becoming the leader of the free world. A pundit, even a highly ideological one like Kristol, has to be (or seem) right at least some of the time. But what's striking about Kristol is that he's has been wrong about everything! or did I miss the sound of democratic dominoes falling neatly into place all over the Middle East? And it's not as if he's a great prose stylist, either. At least David Brooks can occasionally turn a phrase. Kristol just churns out whatever the argument of the moment happens to be, adds jeers, and knocks off for lunch.

What this hire demonstrates is how successfully the right has intimidated the mainstream media. Their constant demonizing of the New York Times as the tool of the liberal elite worked. (Maybe it also demonstrates that the people in charge of the decision aren't so liberal.) I'm sure we'll hear a lot about the need for balance at the paper -- funny how the Wall Street Journal doesn't feel the need to have even one resident liberal, but fine, let's have balance. Let's have a true leftist on the oped page--someone as far to the left as Kristol is to the right. Noam Chomsky, anyone? (and why does he seem just totally out of bounds but Kristol does not?) Barbara Ehrenreich? Naomi Klein? Susan Faludi? Gary Younge? me?

Why do I think those phone calls will not be coming any time soon?

Bush, Musharraf and the Slaying of Benazir Bhutto

Minutes before she was assassinated in Pakistan, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto told a rally in Rawalpindi that, "I put my life in danger and came here because I feel this country is in danger. People are worried. We will bring the country out of this crisis."

No serious observer of the circumstance into which Bhutto had thrust herself as a flawed but determined proponent of democracy doubted the truth of those words.

The daughter of an executed former prime minister who had herself been the first woman to lead a Muslim state, Bhutto lived with danger even when she was in exile from Pakistan. She symbolized secular, modern, western-oriented and democratic instincts that were at odds with the values both of Islamic fundamentalists and military dictators in the Muslim world. Al-Qaida had attempted, at least twice, to kill her.

When she returned to Pakistan on October 18, Bhutto accepted the danger, saying that, "If you fight for a cause you believe in, you have to be ready to pay the price." Bhutto believed it was the only way to address the crisis that is Pakistan under the crudely cynical rule of the dictator Pervez Musharraf.

The severity of the threat became immediately clear.

Bhutto was the subject of an assassination attempt that killed 140 people on the day of her arrival. That attempt that was never adequately investigated by security forces controlled by Musharraf.

She had been placed under house arrest by Musharraf's government, which declared a sweeping state of emergency that was lifted in time for the election campaign in which Bhutto was engaged at the time of her killing.

Could anything have been done to prevent the assassination? Of course. Bhutto and her aides had repeatedly appealed for greater physical protection during the election campaign. Those appeals were directed to both Musharraf and his primary benefactor, American President George Bush. But there was never an adequate response.

Bush and his aides may have recognized that Bhutto was an essential ally for the United States, particularly as an enthusiastic supporter of global efforts to confront Islamic militancy. But they never sent a clear signal to Musharraf or those around him regarding the need to investigate the October assassination attempt, to confront threats to Bhutto and other opposition leaders or to provide basic security.

Just as the dictator was allowed to neglect the task of tracking down Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida operatives within his country, just as he was given a pass when Pakistani officials shared nuclear secrets and technologies with rogue states, just as he was allowed to thwart democratic initiatives in his country and the region, Musharraf never faced a serious demand from the Bush administration to protect Bhutto.

And in the absence of that demand from the government that props him up as what George Bush once referred to as "our guy," Musharraf – who has survived so many assassination attempts himself – failed to take the steps necessary to save Bhutto or to foster democratic processes.

The Bush administration failed Benazir Bhutto and now she is dead.

With her died the prospects of stability and democracy that she embodied and that the president, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and those around them claim as the goals of their so-called "war on terror."

This is a time for mourning. But it is, as well, a time for somber reflection on the utterly failed and fully dysfunctional foreign policies of the Bush-Cheney administration.

The world is a more dangerous place today.

The failure of George Bush and those around him to premise their relationship with Pervez Musharraf on the absolute demand that Benazir Bhutto be kept safe and alive made it so.

Now, the question is whether members of Congress -- Republicans and Democrats -- will step forward to say that the relationship that George Bush has established and maintained with Pervez Musharraf is no longer morally or practically tenable.

Taking Care of Caretaking

This morning, TakeCareNet released the results of its survey of presidential candidates' positions on 26 public policies related to work, family, and caregiving. Co-sponsored by eight other organizations, including the Labor Project for Working Families, Momsrising.org, and the National Council of Women's Organizations, the survey addresses the "silent crisis of care": the absence of social support for working families (I know, I know, I hate that moralistic multi-focus-grouped phrase) that has made us a nation of stressed-out parents, daycare workers on poverty wages, and children who aren't getting the high-quality attention and stimulation they need. Number of Democratic candidates who responded: five (Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, Obama and Richardson). Number of Republican candidates who responded: zero. This is one area in which the parties definitely diverge.

While some of the Dems preferred their own policy proposals to those on the survey, all five support increased funding for childcare, both for mothers on TANF and families in general; public funding for universal, voluntary pre-school programs; expanding the Family Medical and Leave Act to cover workplaces with as few as 25 employees; allowing leave for appointments related to domestic violence; a minimum number of paid days off to care for sick family members; indexing the minimum wage to productivity and inflation; and more. I was particularly glad to see on the menu a scholarships for education and training, as well as higher pay, for child care providers. The magic of the marketplace is never going to bring us quality childcare, because most parents cannot begin to afford what that would cost.

Will the Dems actually campaign on care? Or will the policies laid out by the TakeCareNet survey join the long laundry list of wonkish positions you have to search their websites to find? Dems say they want the votes of women, and especially, as Katrina pointed out on her blog, want to mobilize single women, many of whom combine low-wage work with raising kids and/or caring for elderly parents. Yet, except on abortion rights, about which they speak as little as possible, Dems have not really made a pitch to women that goes beyond fluff and pr -- they're too afraid of scaring off the elusive white male voter: ew, the Mommy party! cooties! Yet care is an issue that affects men too. Even the Nascariest Nascar dad can see the advantage of nursery school.

People who mock the Dems for ceding big themes to the Republicans have a point, but last time I looked Family Values was one such theme. This year, Dems could show that it doesn't have to be code for abstinence, homophobia and Jesus. It can mean giving families the social support they need to raise the next generation and tend to the sick while earning enough to keep the ship afloat. By making it easier to combine work and parenting, these policy proposals, and others like them, can lower the stakes in the mommy wars and encourage fathers to take more responsibility.

Moroever, care issues cross class, race and gender lines: even among the relatively well-off, few people can really afford to buy their way out of the time crunch that is family life today. I'd like to see the Dem candidate, whoever that turns out to be, ask his Republican opponent what's not to like about indexing the minimum wage to inflation, or giving workers a few paid days off each year to care for a sick child.

If their failure to even fill out the TakeCareNet survey is any indication, that Republicans won't have much of an answer.

What Hillary Hasn't Done in Foreign Policy

During the eight years Hillary was First Lady, she didn't deal with terrorism, Osama bin Laden, or Al Qaeda.

She wasn't a decision-maker on any of the other big foreign policy issues of her husband's presidency: whether to send troops to Bosnia or Kosovo, whether to bomb terrorist bases in Afghanistan or suspected terrorist sites in the Sudan.

She didn't deal with the problems in the CIA and other intelligence agencies. She didn't work on nuclear proliferation. She did not deal with genocide in Rwanda.

When Bill Clinton brought Israelis and Palestinians to negotiations at Camp David in 2000, Hillary wasn't there.

These are the conclusions reached by New York Times reporter Patrik Healy, who reported on Dec. 26 on his conversations with 35 Clinton administration officials and his interview with Hillary herself.

"Mrs. Clinton did not hold a security clearance," Healy wrote. "She did not attend National Security Council meetings. She was not given a copy of the president's daily intelligence briefing. She did not assert herself on the crises in Somalia, Haiti and Rwanda."

Most important: Hillary did not do "the hard part of foreign policy" - "making tough decisions, responding to crises." That's what Susan Rice told the New York Times - she was a National Security Council senior aide and a State Department official during the Clinton administration. She's now supporting Obama.

Readers may recall that Hillary has claimed to be the most experienced Democratic candidate not just on domestic issues, but also on international, because of her eight years in the White House. She often says she visited 79 countries as first lady. She often talks about meeting with the president of Uzbekistan and the prime minister of Czechoslovakia.

But when the New York Times reporter asked her to name three major foreign policy decisions in which she played a decisive role as first lady, she "responded in generalities" rather than specifics.

When the Times asked her to cite a significant foreign policy lesson she learned from the 1990s, she replied "There are a lot of them," and went on to talk about "the whole unfortunate experience we've had with the Bush administration."

What did she do on those trips to 79 countries? These were mostly "good-will endeavors" where she supported nonprofit work. She acted as "a spokeswoman for American interests." She often spoke out for women's rights -- especially at the 1995 UN conference on women in Beijing. She brought Catholic and Protestant women together at a meeting in Northern Ireland. And, Healy reported, she often advocated "the expanded use of microcredits, tiny loans to help individuals in poor countries start small businesses."

Looking Forward, Looking Back

At the end of each year, I write to our 30,000 Nation Associates--readers who make contributions to the magazine that provide nearly 20 percent of all the magazine's revenue--reporting on the past year and what the magazine has accomplished as well as looking forward to the coming year.  I wanted to share my letter to Associates this year. And if you are so moved to contribute please click here.

Dear Nation Associate: 

I don't know about you, but I find these are times that try progressives' souls. On issue after issue--ending the war, the imperial presidency, health care, jobs, environment, unions--the public is overwhelmingly progressive and wants action. Yet, we remain bogged down in occupied Iraq; economic pain and dislocation are affecting millions; torture is condoned by the Bush Administration and its enablers; we export democracy abroad instead of rebuilding it at home; and too many Democrats (though not all) have forgotten their role in fighting for the voiceless, and for peace and justice.

At The Nation--where hope dies last--we believe it is in such times that our work, joined by allies like you, is more vital than ever.  And in 2007, thanks to your continuing support, The Nation had an important impact on our political debate and policies.

If you were one of the many supporters and friends who joined in on our conference call in December, you heard Nation correspondent and bestselling writer Jeremy Scahill talk about his ground-breaking reporting on the mercenary forces of Blackwater USA (and privatization's radical assault on our democracy).  Jeremy's reporting first appeared in a series of investigative articles in The Nation two years before the mainstream paid any attention to the issue, showing once again the essential role and expanding reach of The Nation and the importance of a strong and independent media.

When the story broke in September 2007, with Blackwater's killing of twenty Iraqi civilians, major US and international news outlets had only one place to turn for information and insight: Jeremy Scahill and The Nation. In the course of one week, Jeremy appeared on the CBS Evening News, ABC World News, CNN, NPR's Talk of the Nation, the Lehrer NewsHour, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, the BBC and dozens of other outlets. Jeremy also testified before several Congressional committees, including Henry Waxman's Government Oversight Committee and was invited to brief key legislators and their staff. His reporting in The Nation shaped  ground-breaking legislation, introduced this November by Representative Jan Schakowsky, which abolishes the use of private security contractors in Iraq.

On the conference call, Jeremy provided expert insight on the metastasizing scandal and what military privatization means for our democracy. Many participants--phoning in from places ranging from the West Coast and the Deep South to London and Canada--asked what they could do to help spread the word. Some inspiring suggestions were given, many thought-provoking questions raised. This was our second conference call with Nation supporters--and we've already begun planning for future calls so that you too can have a chance to engage with some of our extraordinary writers and personalities. I look forward to having more of you join us on these calls. I always feel a deep and meaningful sense of community amongst all the listeners and participants. And it is precisely these conversations that independent media are meant to inspire--especially now, when mainstream corporate influence is threatening to silence the public's diverse and dissenting voice.  Your passion and ideas are doubly appreciated and we welcome your suggestions for topics of discussion on future calls.

Looking ahead, it is even more vital that we keep The Nation's independent voice alive and well. That is why we've waged a tenacious, grassroots and transpartisan fight to roll back the grossly unfair postage rate hike which has saddled The Nation with a half a million dollar annual increase in postal costs. Our President Teresa Stack has done an extraordinary job in organizing a coalition of small independent publications, from left to right, in order to fight back. Her organizing work, and the groundswell of support from 100,000 citizens, helped us get a hearing in Congress. At the end of October, our Publisher Emeritus Victor Navasky testified before a Congressional subcommittee. His testimony was inspiring: "The impact of the new postal rate increase on the flow of ideas and opinions in America is likely to be significant. Precisely those magazines that devote the most space to public affairs -- to covering in-depth events like the hearings today -- are being put in serious jeopardy." The hearing put the political momentum clearly on our side, and we are working hard with our new friends in Congress to craft a legislative solution that would roll back this radical upending of postal policy -- all to help ensure a vibrant and diverse press for years to come.

Looking ahead to 2008, we need to continue to support "unembedded" reporters (those who aren't beholden to any corporate media power) like Jeremy Scahill, Naomi Klein, Chris Hedges, John Nichols and Gary Younge, so that their debate and idea-shaping work reaches ever wider audiences. One of the newest "unembedded" writers joining us is Christopher Hayes, who became The Nation's  Washington Editor in November. (After 20 years, we wish our longtime DC Editor David Corn all the best as he sets off on new journalistic adventures.) Hayes has been reporting and writing on politics, economics, and labor for a wide variety of independent publications. I am excited about the fresh and distinctive perspective, intellectual curiosity, range and dynamism that he will bring to the Nation's coverage of the capital at this critical time in our nation's history. 

With the support made possible by Nation Associates, we've also undertaken some new initiatives--designed to deliver our message to a larger audience and strengthen and deepen our roots in the progressive community.

•We unveiled an exciting redesign aimed at making the magazine more spirited, accessible and readable to both new and longtime readers. Our bolder logo harkens back to mid-twentieth century incarnations of The Nation.

•We're redesigning The Nation website--which now averages over 800,000 unique visitors per month--and adding new blogs, video features and more interactivity so as to connect more effectively with the Nation community.  One feature I hope Associates will contribute to is "Around the Nation," our national online calendar which aspires to be the progressive calendar for events nationwide. Since the calendar is user-generated, we need your input!

•As an investment in building the next generation of dissenting, troublemaking, smart reporters, writers and readers, we're continuing our successful Student Journalism Conferences. This past June, 150 student journalists from across the country came together in Washington DC for a day of exciting panels, discussions with editors, reporters, and cultural critics from The Nation and other independent publications. Our inaugural West Coast Student Conference is scheduled for January 26th and we've already gathered an exciting  team of diverse, provocative writers, bloggers, editors and investigative reporters to engage and educate the muckrakers of our future. 

•We set off to Alaska in July, for the tenth annual Nation Cruise. With 400 Nation cruisers on board, from all parts of the country (and a few from points around the world!), the panels and ad hoc sessions were rollicking, enlightening and engaging. But, for me, the highlight of the cruise was a memorable antiwar rally in Juneau, Alaska, organized by the local chapter of Veterans Against the War, to welcome The Nation to Alaska. The rally was held at Marine Park -- a spectacular setting in which rainforest-covered mountains sloped down to meet the ocean. Hundreds of The Nation's Alaskan supporters gathered in the mist and rain to greet and listen to speakers and passengers, including Salt Lake City's Mayor Rocky Anderson, and consumer crusader and former Presidential candidate Ralph Nader. At the end of the rally, Vets Against the War's Phil Smith, in the spirit of generosity that defined our day in Juneau, gave me a contribution towards our postal-rate campaign. I will never forget that inspirational day in Juneau in which leaders and citizens from across the nation joined together to register their protest against the Bush Administration and its disastrous war, and found kinship through shared ideals and values that stretched all the way from New York City to Juneau, Alaska.

I believe that bold ideas in these next months and years will not come from the status quo press or inside-the-beltway politicians! That's why we count on you--members of a growing Nation community committed to challenging our downsized politics of excluded alternatives. Like millions in this country, you understand that we can't leave our future to wobbly politicians in Washington. You know that our country's finest moments have come when political parties and leaders are pushed into action from outside by independent magazines and reporters. And it is the investments you've made--and we hope you'll continue to make--in independent and honest journalism that have acted to keep our democracy resilient.

You have helped us grow in the past, and we are grateful. But it is support from partners like you which will be crucial in these next few years. We will never stop raising the tough and independent questions required of a free press in a democracy. Exposing and proposing. And now at this moment of unprecedented urgency as we fight the postal rate increase, we hope you might make an extra effort this year to help out with a year end donation to The Nation.

Your support has enabled us not only to survive for three centuries, but grow as a magazine that has made a unique and increasingly forceful contribution to our political, intellectual and cultural life. At whatever level your circumstances permit, you can help us make a difference. 

Yours sincerely and with thanks, 

Katrina vanden HeuvelPublisher and Editor

Behind the Edwards Surge: Right Message at the Right Time

Much was made of Illinois Senator Barack Obama's superb speech to a huge crowd of Iowa Democrats at the mid-November Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Des Moines. Without a doubt, it helped to propel Obama ahead of New York Senator Hillary Clinton in polls conducted in the weeks after the event.

But Obama's speech in November may not turn out to be the definitional statement of the fight for Iowa.

What could turn out to be the most critical comment of the campaign came from John Edwards in the last debate between the Democratic contenders -- and the former senator from North Carolina may well claim the caucus-night victory that is the reward for delivering the right message at the right time.

It wasn't a great rhetorical flourish. It wasn't even a new statement. Rather, it was a particularly pointed and effective restatement of the core anti-corporate message of his campaign.

But it came precisely when Iowa Democrats were getting serious about the caucuses. And it gave Edwards the boost he needed to get back in the competition -- and, he is, very much in the competition now.

No serious observer of the December 13 debate in Des Moines doubted that the standout performance, and the standout message, was that of Edwards.

Indeed, undecided voters assembled in focus groups that watched the debate for the major television networks rated Edwards off the charts. That's going to help the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president as the Iowa caucuses approach. Despite the intense focus on the campaigns of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, most polls suggest that Edwards is very much in the running in Iowa. And rightly so.

To a far greater extent than Obama or Clinton, Edwards has struck at the heart of issues that should matter most in the race to replace not just George W. Bush, but the Bush agenda of corporate giveaways, job-crushing free trade deals, war profiteering in Iraq, and subprime mortgage profiteering in Indiana, Idaho, Illinois and, yes, Iowa.

Edwards summed up his increasingly aggressive and powerful anti-corporate themes with a declaration: "What makes America America is at stake: jobs, the middle class, health care, preserving the environment in the world for future generations.

"But all those things are at risk. And why are they at risk? Because of corporate power and corporate greed in Washington, D.C. And we have to take them on. You can't make a deal with them. You can't hope that they're going to go away. You have to actually be willing to fight. And I want every caucus-goer to know I've been fighting these people and winning my entire life. And if we do this together, rise up together, we can actually make absolutely certain, starting here in Iowa, that we make this country better than we left it."

But the former senator's most effective statement at the Des Moines Register debate on Thursday was one that reflected his deep level of engagement with working people in the upper Midwest, an engagement born of long months spent in Iowa and neighboring states -- at a time when Clinton and Obama were spending considerably more time fighting over who had better relations with the media moguls on Hollywood's A-list and in the suites of Manhattan's mortgage manipulators.

Edwards got to know workers in Iowa. He stood with them in their struggles.

Turning a broad question about human rights toward the specific issue of trade policy, the former senator said that human rights, human needs and human values "should be central to our trade policy."

"But," he added, "if you look at what's happened with American trade policy, look at what America got: Big corporations made a lot of money, are continuing to make a lot of money in China. But what did America get in return? We got millions of dangerous Chinese toys. We lost millions of jobs.

"And right here in Iowa, the Maytag plant in Newton closed. A guy named Doug Bishop, who I got to know very well, had worked in that plant, and his family had worked in that plant literally for generations. And his job is now gone. The same thing, by the way, happened in the plant that my father worked in when I was growing up. It is so important that we stop allowing these corporate powers and corporate profits to run America's policy, whether it's trade policy, how we engage with China. This is not good for America. It's not good for American jobs. And it's not good for working people in this country."

That's an issue Edwards has taken far, far more seriously than his opponents in what is now a three-way race in Iowa. And that seriousness has benefitted the former senator.

Remembering the workers who have been battered by the failed trade policies of the Clinton and Bush administrations matters. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, both supporters of recent trade agreements, have never connected on the same level. Edwards, who once had a shaky record on these issues but has come to be a passionate proponent of fair trade, comes across as the candidate who gets it. That's why he won the debate in Des Moines. That's why every serious survey that has been conducted in recent days shows him within striking distance of the Iowa win that once was assumed to be Clinton's for the taking and that was then supposed to be Obama's.

No one who is watching the rapid evolution of this race is any longer counting Edwards out in Iowa -- or in the rest of a yet-to-be-defined race for the Democratic nomination.

"Support The Troops" - Literally

There was plenty of talk about "supporting the troops" this year. Major newspapers referenced the vague phrase over 2,000 times in 2007 -- compared to about 3,100 references to General David Petraeus. Yet the holidays are a good time to literally support the troops. You can help our men and women in uniform by donating to USO, the non-profit organization that serves soldiers and their families.

USO runs basic programs, like Internet and phone service to connect families and video recording enabling soldiers to read to their children while stationed abroad. The USO also sponsors entertainment tours to boost troop morale -- recent events have featured actor Chuck Norris, comedian Lewis Black and the rapper Paul Wall, who visited Iraq this August. In addition to donating to USO, Americans can also send letters to soldiers through the Defense Department's message center.

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Chuck Norris visits soldiers in the 45th Air Ambulance Medical Company on a USO Tour in Iraq. (Photo Credit: USO, October 2006.)