Tim Russert, the Grand Inquisitor of Sunday morning, is scheduled to have George W. Bush in the witness chair for a full hour on the next Meet the Press. He's a lucky man--Russert, that is. This will be high drama, as the nation's politerati--and millions of others--watch to see if Russert gives Bush the hot-seat treatment.
There is, of course, much to ask Bush about. Did he decided to use military force against Iraq before 9/11? Where are the WMDs he insisted were there? Why is he using phony budget numbers? Did he engage in less-than-proper business dealings before he entered politics? Why he has misled the public while promoting his policies on stem cells research, global warming, and missile defense? Why has he opposed certain homeland security measures and not adequately funded others? It's a long list, and I'm sure Russert is busy preparing his own queries. But in an unsolicited act of kindness, I have crafted eight questions for Russert--several on matters in the news, a few on issues that have received less attention. And, Tim, since you always like to display your source material when you ask the tough questions, feel free to call me, and I'll send you the citations or the clips. Unlike many of Bush's WMD assertions, these questions are based on real evidence.
* In October 2002, during a speech in Cincinnati, you said that Saddam Hussein had a "massive stockpile" of biological weapons. But the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq did not report there was any "massive stockpile" of bioweapons in Iraq. And this past Thursday, CIA director, George Tenet said, "We said we had no specific information on the types or quantities of [biological] weapons, agent, or stockpiles at Baghdad's disposal." So if the CIA did not say there was a "massive stockpile" of biological weapons in Iraq, what was your basis for asserting a stockpile existed? Did you know something the CIA did not? Did you overstate the intelligence?
* In December 2002, you said, "We do not know whether or not [Hussein] has a nuclear weapon"--a remark suggesting that Hussein might have one. But the National Intelligence Estimate said that he did not have a nuclear weapon and that it would take Iraq five to seven years to produce a nuclear weapon--and then only if its nuclear weapons program was "left unchecked." This past week, Tenet said, "We said Saddam Hussein did not have a nuclear weapon." Was it not misleading to tell the public that "we don't know" whether Iraq had a nuclear weapon, when, in fact, we did know?
* Before the war, you said Hussein was "dealing" with al Qaeda. On May 1, you called Hussein an "ally" of Al Qaeda. At a press conference in July 2003, you were asked to provide evidence to back up your claims that Hussein had been working with al Qaeda. You replied,
"Yes, I think, first of all, remember I just said we've been there for 90 days since the cessation of major military operations. Now, I know in our world where news comes and goes and there's this kind of instant--instant news and you must have done this, you must do that yesterday, that there's a level of frustration by some in the media. I'm not suggesting you're frustrated. You don't look frustrated to me at all. But it's going to take time for us to gather the evidence and analyze the mounds of evidence, literally, the miles of documents that we have uncovered. "
That is, you said that investigators were still looking for evidence. But the question was, what evidence did you have at the time that you made those prewar claims that al Qaeda and Hussein were in cahoots? You did not answer that question then. Can you tell us what evidence you had for saying that Hussein was an "ally" of al Qaeda?
* In July 2001, US intelligence produced a warning that read, "Based on a review of all-source reporting over the last five months, we believe that UBL [Usama bin Laden] will launch a significant terrorist attack against U.S. and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against U.S. facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning."
This was less than two months before the horrific 9/11 attacks. According to the final report of the joint inquiry on 9/11 conducted by the House and Senate intelligence committees, this warning was prepared for "senior government officials." The committees did not publicly say who received the report, and they said this was because the CIA would not permit them to tell the public which "senior government officials" were warned. The committees were angry about being gagged this way. But committee sources did tell reporters that this report was sent to the White House.
Why wouldn't your administration tell the public who saw this warning? Did you or any of your national security team see this report? If so, what did you or they do in response? If this report did not make it to you or your senior aides, wouldn't you consider that a terrible mistake and want to find out who was responsible for that?
* In your Air National Guard records, your annual performance review, dated May 2, 1973, says that you did not report for duty to your home base for an entire year. When this was disclosed during the 2000 campaign, your campaign said that you had spent part of that time doing service at an Air National Guard base in Alabama. But the commander of that base said--and recently confirmed--that you never showed up there. In 2000, your campaign promised to produce the names of people whom you served with in Alabama and who could vouch for your presence at the base there. It never did so. Why not? Can you now give us names of men or women with whom you served in Alabama?
* During the year in question, you lost your flight status and were grounded for failing to submit to an annual physical examination. In 2000, your campaign aides said that was because you were in Alabama at the time and your personal doctor was in Houston. But the Boston Globe noted, "Flight physicals can be administered only by certified Air Force flight surgeons." Not personal physicians. And there were military physicians stationed in Alabama, where you were living for part of that year. Why did you not take a flight physical? Why did your campaign put out an explanation that was wrong?
* By your own account, you returned to Houston after the November election of 1972. Yet the records show you did not report in to your Air National Guard base there for six months--not until after that performance review noted you had been missing for a year. Why not? What were you doing during that time?
* When you ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1978 in Texas, you gave an interview to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal newspaper. You were asked about your position on abortion, and this is how that newspaper reported your answer: "Bush said he opposes the pro-life amendment [which would outlaw abortion] and favors leaving up to a woman and her doctor the abortion question." Sixteen years later, when you ran for governor in Texas in 1994, you campaigned as an antiabortion conservative. Few people seem to realize your position on abortion changed 180 degrees. Please tell us, when did you change your view on abortion and why?
DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com
Is he incompetent, clueless, lying? Why has President Bush--once again--asserted that he went to war because Iraq refused to allow weapons inspectors into the country? Last Wednesday, Bush went on about how "it was [Saddam's] choice to make, and he did not let us in."
Bush made the same false statement, last July, with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at his side. "We gave [Saddam} a chance to allow the inspectors in," Bush declared, "and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power."
These statements defy rational explanation. As Democrats.com observed last summer--after launching a website petition to declare Bush insane under the 25th amendment--"everyone in the world knows that Hussein allowed a fully-equipped team of UN inspectors to comb every inch of his country...The only conclusion we can draw is that Bush has lost touch with reality. In other words, he has gone mad."
Or is it that he prefers his news heavily filtered, aka censored? As Bush told Brit Hume on Fox News last September, "The best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world."
Objective sources? Like Dick Cheney, who just last week insisted that those mobile trailers were "conclusive evidence" that Hussein "did in fact have programs for weapons of mass destruction"? The former UN weapons inspector David Kay had earlier told the New York Times that the trailers may have been useful for blowing up balloons. So, maybe Bush really is what his former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill likened him to--"a blind man in a roomful of deaf people."
Then there's question of whether he's lying. My personal view is that Bush doesn't have the fullblown Nixonian character to blatantly lie on issues of war; Cheney does. But, whatever the case, as the esteemed former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee once explained, "Even the very best newspapers have never learned how to handle public figures who lie with a straight face."
The nation's media needs to find an effective way of reporting untruthful statements emanating from the White House. As Paul Waldman wrote last year in the Washington Post, "when politicians or government officials lie, reporters have an obligation not only to include the truth somewhere in the story or let opponents make a counter-charge, but to say forthrightly that the official has lied. When a politician gets away with a lie, he or she becomes more likely to lie again. If the lie is exposed by vigilant reporters, the official will think twice before repeating it."
With this President, it may be three strikes before the truth comes out. But, as Eric Alterman wrote months before the war in his Nation column, "Reporters and editors who "protect' their readers and viewers from the truth about Bush's lies are doing the nation--and ultimately George W. Bush--no favors."
Nothing changes. The results of Mini-Tuesday have not altered the shape of the race. John Kerry won in Missouri, Delaware, Arizona, New Mexico, and North Dakota. John Edwards placed first in his birth state of South Carolina. Wesley Clark nabbed first by several hundred votes in Oklahoma. Howard Dean did not do better than third in any race; he finished fifth (behind Al Sharpton) in South Carolina. Dennis Kucinich, once more, was stuck in asterik-land, but managed to climb to 5 points in New Mexico. So Kerry remains the guy to topple. Edwards and Clark can claim they are winners, too, and proudly proceed. Dean lowered expectations--and met them. Before voters hit the polls in the February 3 states, he said he was not spending any money on television ads in these contests and was instead looking toward upcoming matches in Michigan, Washington and Wisconsin. He still is. But every step Kerry takes that is not a stumble is good news for his campaign. He maintained the overall trendlines and was the only candidate to collect delegates in every state. With three other contenders still in the hunt, the non-Kerry vote remains split--which will help Kerry's efforts to stay ahead in the delegate count. Oh, yes, Joe Lieberman pulled out of the race before all the votes were counted. But that doesn't matter.
Does Kerry have legs? You talk to longtime Kerry aides and friends and they all say the same: Kerry is a great closer, he comes from behind, he shows his campaign skills when the race is tight, he's a fighter when he has to be. Okay, that might explain his surge of recent weeks which led to five-out-of-seven wins on Mini-Tuesday. But what does that mean about his future prospects? He's no longer a comeback kid. He's the pinata at the front of the parade. Can he sustain a leader-of-the-pack campaign? And not just in the next few weeks, but over the course of the next nine months? Before Kerry can resort to his I'm-a-whiz-of-a-closer routine next November, he is going to have to pitch a lot of innings as a starter and as mid-game reliever.
Can Kerry get better--and look better? During a victory speech in Washington state, Kerry was articulate, firm, and strong. He assailed HMOs, drug companies, and polluters, blasted Bush for weakening America at home and abroad, and energetically portrayed himself as a fighter. He delivered his stock lines with more conviction and more punch than he had previously. But--let's be superficial--he didn't look great. "He looks like Dracula," my wife said. I was thinking Herman Munster. Maybe he was tired. But Kerry has trouble smiling. At ease, he has a dour expression. He does not come across as a happy warrior. He has a Bob Dole problem ( the pre-Leno, pre-Viagra Dole), though hardly as much as Dole himself had when he was the GOP nominee in 1996. Moreover, he does look as if he thinks too much. Is America ready for that? By continuing to improve his performance as candidate, can Kerry somehow invigorate his natural demeanor?
Will John Edwards go negative? Edwards has thrived as Mr. Nice. He hasn't said a bad word about the other guys. Now he's trying to convince folks it's a two-man race--and he's the other man (not Dean, not Clark). In mano-a-mano contests, candidates usually feel compelled to compare themselves to the other contestant, and that means pointing out unflattering aspects of the opponent (or, as the pro-Bush forces did in 2000 concerning John McCain, making stuff up). On election night, Edwards, speaking about Kerry, said, "there are real differences in our own backgrounds and our own policies." That sounded as if he is trying to figure out how to exploit those differences. There is a stylistic difference between the campaign populism each has adopted. Kerry tells voters, I want to fight for you. Edwards says, I care about you and believe in you. Do voters want a soldier or a social worker?
Will Edwards get the Botox treatment? As soon as Kerry started winning, Republicans and rightwingers began pummeling him. Ed Gillespie, the head of the Republican Party (and former Enron lobbyist), blasted Kerry for being soft on defense and national security issues, selectively citing a handful of the thousands of votes Kerry has cast in his 19 years as a senator. Rightwing partisans started spreading the word that Kerry was a Botoxer and posting before-and-after photos that supposedly proves this. This move was laughable, but their aim was serious: raise questions about Kerry's authenticity. (Fox News' Brit Hume told viewers, though, that he has seen Kerry in the green room without makeup and that the frown lines are there.) This is just the start. Now, no one is going to take on Edwards on the Botox front. The guy uses reading glasses as a prop to appear more mature. But what attacks await him? Will the right bother? Can he be characterized as a greedy ambulance-chaser who is single-handedly responsible for runaway lawsuits? In recent days, The Washington Post and The New York Times have run stories on his years as a successful trial lawyer. Though the reporters found a handful of detractors, the pieces mostly depicted him as a Grishamesque hero and as an attorney who carefully chose his cases and treated his clients fairly. And since he's only been in the Senate five years, the GOP oppo team will have less of a record to mine.
Is Howard a Dean bipolar? No, I am not talking about his temperament or stability. The issue is his approach to campaigning. One moment he says his Democratic rivals are all "fine people" who would have his support should he not win the nomination; the next he is calling John Kerry a "Republican" who has taken oodles of money from special interests. (By special interests, Dean means lobbyists--while Dean's own campaign chief is a former telecom lobbyist.) Dean has warned Democrats not to nominate Kerry, quoting a Harry Truman line: if you run a Republican against a Republican, a Republican always wins. Dean is off-base; Kerry is no Republican. He has accepted corporate interest money; he has also advocated public financing. He has taken on the CIA and the corruptions of international banking, opposed Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy, and led the campaign against drilling in the Alaskan wilderness. Sure, he's pro-NAFTA and has flirted with the Democratic Leadership Council on a few issues. He is not a Wellstone Democrat. But he is not a faux Democrat. As Dean continues to lose ground, how far will he go in his efforts to delegitimize Kerry?
There aren't enough Deaniacs. It was no surprise Dean ran poorly in every state. Still, the Dean argument--pre-Iowa--was that he was bringing hundreds of thousands of new people into the Democratic Party and that his followers had (in a revolutionary manner) created their own local efforts for Dean free of central command in Vermont. His new people and this new form of Internet-driven organizing produced lots of money for Dean, but they have not yielded what Dean needs most now: votes. If he had indeed given birth to a fresh and different sort of electoral movement, then he could have been expected to do better in these states, even without television commercials. Is the lesson, it's damn hard to break the lock of conventional politics? Or, as I've asked before, is it, elections boil down to the man, not the movement? And how long will Dean hang in there? Previously he pointed to Super Tuesday on March 2--which includes primary contests in New York and California--as the do-or-die moment. But as he was interviewed by Larry King, Dean talked about the Florida primary, which is March 9. [UPDATE: On February 4, Dean sent out an email to his supporters saying that the decisive contest for his campaign will be the Wisconsin primary on February 17: "We will get a boost this weekend in Washington, Michigan and Maine, but our true test will be the Wisconsin primary. A win there will carry us to the big states of March 2-and narrow the field to two candidates. Anything less will put us out of this race."]
Money doesn't change everything. In recent decades, the candidate with the most money at the start of the primaries won the nomination. That pattern is not holding. Dean had $42 million as the voting started--far more than Kerry. Yet it hasn't been enough to buy Dean a single win yet. And he has spent about $40 million of that campaign treasure so far. After his third-place finish in Iowa, Dean received a boost in contributions. His campaign claimed $1.8 million poured in, mostly through the Internet. But was that the last fundraising hurrah for the Dean camp? The Edwards campaign has claimed that his win in South Carolina would bring an increase in contributions. Perhaps. But high-dollar funders might need to see more than a victory in his birth state before they consider Edwards a good investment. Only Kerry can assume he's in the money. Everybody--especially big-money campaign contributors looking for access--loves a winner.
Can Clark click? Wesley Clark had a good day in Oklahoma (after spending an entire week there) and he placed second in Arizona and New Mexico. But in South Carolina--a state with an abundance of veterans--he only grabbed 7 percent. Clark and his advocates have been claiming for months that he plays well in the South. Yes, another Southerner was on the ballot. But if Clark is such a natural fit for the South, why could he not hit double digits in South Carolina?
Sharpton is no broker--and doesn't deserve to be. The nightmare of Democrats--Sharpton grabs over 20 percent of the vote in South Carolina--did not come true. He netted 10 percent--which he called "astounding." Ten percent is not a bad showing for a charlatan but nothing to write home about for a serious candidate. And if anyone wants to complain about labeling Sharpton a "charlatan," they should first read the recent Village Voice article by Wayne Barrett that details how Roger Stone, a Republican operative known for underhanded trickery, has been providing political, legal, strategic and financial assistance to a grateful Sharpton. It seems Sharpton--who has previously played footsie with GOPers (such as when he endorsed Senator Al D'Amato, an ethics-challenged conservative)--is not above being a stooge for Republicans, who no doubt appreciate his ability to vex and mau-mau the Democratic Party. But African-American Democrats are not falling for his I-have-a-scheme campaign. According to the exit polls, in Missouri, half of them voted for Kerry; only one-fifth backed Sharpton--who at the debate in New Hampshire could not tell the difference between the Federal Reserve and the International Monetary Fund. Still, Sharpton is talking about keeping his scam alive until the Democratic Party convention and demanding a primetime speaking gig there. (Republicans must be drooling at that prospect.) He does not warrant such an honor. If I thought it would make any difference, I'd call for him to exit the race. Since there are fewer of those dull debates, there's less need for the comic relief he provided.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com
On what was, undoubtedly, the most important day so far for his campaign for the presidency, John Edwards arranged to take time away from shaking hands with actual voters in the critical state of South Carolina to meet with a group of people who could not vote in that state, nor in any of the half dozen others that held primaries and caucuses on Tuesday.
Yet, the people with whom Edwards agreed to meet could hold the power to decide whether the North Carolina senator really will be able to mount a serious challenge to frontrunner John Kerry in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. They were the leaders of several of the industrial unions that backed the failed candidacy of Dick Gephardt. Though they could not deliver for the former House Minority Leader, who ran a weak fourth in the January 19 Iowa caucuses and then withdrew, the more than 20 unions that backed Gephardt are finding that the doors of the remaining Democratic contenders remain very much open to them.
For Edwards, who won South Carolina's primary and posted solid second-place finishes in several of the other states that voted Tuesday, support from just a few of those unions -- particularly the 1.4-million member International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the 700,000-member United Steelworkers of America union -- could provide him with the infrastructure he needs to compete in northern industrial states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Illinois. It is in these states that Edwards will in coming weeks be under pressure to nationalize what some analysts still dismiss as a southern regional campaign, and union backing could make all the difference.
"With the Teamsters and a few other unions pulling for him, Edwards might be able to secure some upsets and really emerge as the alternative to Kerry," said a veteran labor leader from the upper Midwest, who backs none of the candidates at this point. "But, without them, I don't see how Edwards can build the organization he needs to take this thing national."
The industrial unions like Edwards. To their view, he's got a significantly better record on the international trade issues that are so vital to union members who have seen hundreds of thousands of jobs eliminated, as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement and Permanent Most-Favored Nation Trading Status with China. Edwards has never been so passionate a critic of the corporate free-trade agenda as Gephardt, who helped organize Congressional opposition to NAFTA and the granting of "Fast Track" authority to negotiate a sweeping Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement, or Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. But, as far as labor is concerned, Edwards has a far better record than Kerry, whose support for free trade agreements has been almost as consistent as that of Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, the corporate-friendly Democrat whose miserable showings in Tuesday's primaries and caucuses ended his presidential run.
Already, the Steelworkers union district that includes Michigan and Wisconsin has endorsed Edwards.
But most unions are holding off for now. The union leaders who met with the North Carolina senator Tuesday are expected to meet Thursday with Kerry, who has won seven of the nine primaries and caucuses held so far.
With Kerry emerging as the man to beat, unions that had backed Gephardt are cautious about going against him. They might prefer Edwards, but they will need a solid rational for doing so. There is real fear on the part of many labor leaders about backing two losers in the same nomination fight.
Some unions have already jumped to Kerry. Even before his breakthrough wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, the Massachusetts senator always had the backing of the 260,000-member International Fire Fighters Association and the 50,000-member Utility Workers Union of the America. And as his campaign has picked up steam, he has received endorsements from the 700,000-member Communications Workers of America union, the 150,000-member Sheet Metal Workers International Association and the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 workers in 29 government agencies. He has also gained the backing of the 27,000-member United Farm Workers union, which maintains influence beyond its numbers in Latino communities. And he is expected to secure the support of the 1.2-million member American Federation of Teachers union before the end of the week.
Kerry has also earned backing from a number of powerful union groupings in Michigan, where caucuses will be held Saturday. The 157,000-member Michigan Education Association is for him, as are United Auto Workers union Region 1D, the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and the West Michigan Building Trades Association.
Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who hopes to renew his campaign with a strong showing in Michigan, says, "The Michigan Education Association has endorsed Senator Kerry, but I think I'll get the vast majority of teachers' votes."
Dean had better hope he's right. He needs strong showings in Michigan and Washington state, which also holds caucuses on Saturday, as well as Wisconsin, which will hold what is shaping up as a critical primary on February 17. Dean's still has the backing of two of the largest unions in the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. But the former frontrunner is under pressure to deliver some wins soon. Both unions have spent in the range of $1 million to aid Dean who, so far, has been beaten in nine primaries and caucuses.
Dean will be called to explain his strategy for renewing his campaign in meetings later this week with leaders of AFSCME and SEIU, as well as another union that endorsed him when his campaign was on the rise, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. "Obviously, people are nervous. Obviously, they'd rather be in a different situation strategically," says Bob Muehlenkamp, the former Teamsters union organizing director who has been helping Dean line up labor support. "Obviously, people have doubts and hesitations when you're not winning elections and getting votes."
SEIU President Andy Stern says his union is committed to back Dean through Wisconsin's February 17 primary. "As Dr. Dean has said, he wants to win, he's not there to be a protest candidate," says Stern. "At some point he's going to have to decide if he's getting enough delegates and does he have the strategy to win."
The investigation will be "thorough and swift," Powell said yesterday. "Our nation's children, parents and citizens deserve better." That would be Michael--not Colin--Powell and this is not about that investigation into those pesky missing WMDs; it's that high-level probe into who knew what and when about how Janet Jackson's breast--adorned with a silver "nipple guard"--was exposed by pop idol Justin Timberlake before millions of upstanding Americans during the Super Bowl half-time show.
Surfing Tuesday's morning shows, I blearily counted more time devoted to heated discussion about what Timberlake called a "wardrobe malfunction" than to debate about the Administration's hyping and cherry-picking (excuse the word) of intelligence in order to mislead a nation into war.
But, I'm not shocked that our TV culture cares more for weapons of mass distraction. Nor am I shocked at Michael Powell's "shock." As executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy Jeff Chester points out, Powell is trying to distract the public and press from the impact of his decision last June changing the media rules and making CBS, among others, far more powerful. Powell's rule changes have done more than anything to support the "rude-lewd" business model of the big networks, a fact he's hoping his investigation will obscure.
And, let's not forget, as Chester reminds us, that CBS is now lobbying the Bush White House and the GOP leadership for more favors after the Administraton leaned on Congress to cut a special deal two weeks ago on TV ownership, allowing Viacom and Fox to keep extra stations over the previously-legal limit.
How about an FCC investigation into that kind of indecency?
Moments after the polls closed in New Hampshire on January 27, Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie declared that President Bush had won 94 percent of the Republican primary vote. It was a dramatic claim. Unfortunately for Gillespie, it was dramatically inaccurate.
When the Associated Press posted the unofficial returns from the GOP primary, it reported that Bush had won a little less than 86 percent of the vote. The fact that almost one out of every seven New Hampshire voters who took Republican ballots had apparently cast them for someone other than the party's incumbent president drew little note in major media accounts, but it was intriguing enough to merit mention in this column ("Bush Slips -- Among Republicans," Online Beat, 1-20-2004).
As it turns out, however, the unofficial tally by Associated Press significantly underestimated the collapse in the president's fortunes. According to updated figures from the New Hampshire Secretary of State's office, which only today posted a final figure on the total number of ballots cast, only 78 percent of New Hampshire voters who took Republican ballots marked them for Bush. (In one New Hampshire town, Milton, Bush received only 48 percent of the vote, while in a number of others he was held below 60 percent of the vote.)
The figures on the New Hampshire Secretary of State's office website (http://www.state.nh.us/sos/electionsnew.htm) show than 69,379 New Hampshire voters cast regular and absentee ballots in the Republican primary. Just 53,962 voted for Bush (78 percent). More than one in five Republican primary voters, 22--percent--chose not to vote for Bush.
Where did the renegade Republican votes go? While roughly ten percent of Republican primary voters statewide backed little-known Republicans whose names appeared on the ballot or simply did not vote, a remarkable 8,288 (12 percent) wrote in the names of leading Democratic presidential contenders.
The Democrat who won the most Republican primary votes was Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who got 3,009 write-in votes, for 4.3 percent of the Republican primary total. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean received 1,888 write-in votes for 2.7 percent. Retired General Wesley Clark got 1,467 Republican write-ins for 2.1 percent.
By contrast, Bush received only 257 write-in votes in the Democratic primary, where a total of 220,053 ballots were cast.
How does the level of support for Bush in this year's Republican primary compare with past primaries in which a supposedly popular president faced no serious opposition? Not well. In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower won 98.9 percent of the Republican primary vote, according to the New Hampshire Political Library. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson won 95.3 percent of the Democratic primary vote. And in 1984 and 1996, Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic President Bill Clinton both secured around 85 percent of the vote in their respective party primaries.
Considering President Bush's less-than-stellar showing in New Hampshire, it should come as little surprise that Republicans in some states have decided to cancel their primaries. In South Carolina, for instance, the state Republican Party's executive committee decided not to hold their state's tradition first-in-the-south primary. They simply endorsed Bush for reelection and agreed to select delegates at district and state Republican Party conventions where, presumably, the president will not have to run the risk of embarrassment at the hands of independent thinking voters.
(Online Beat thanks to a sharp reader, Joe Loy, who alerted us to the shifting New Hampshire Republican primary figures. Thanks also to Paula Penney, an administrative assistant in the New Hampshire Secretary of State's office, who explained that it takes time to get a final count because a lot of New Hampshire votes are still cast on traditional paper ballots. Penney says the results that are now posted should be the last official word on what New Hampshire voters think of Bush--until November.)
What if we lived in a parallel universe where Howard Dean was actually treated fairly by the media?
I don't mean some Deaniac bizarro world where the former Vermont governor's "I Have a Scream" speech in Iowa would be treated as world-class oratory, or where it would go unmentioned that his campaign is essentially broke. I mean a place where Dean would be treated like the other candidates--criticized for his mistakes, complimented for his accomplishments and, above all, treated seriously when he discusses issues.
How would a Dean candidacy be fairing today if the press gushed over him as it does John Edwards, or forgave him his trespasses as quickly as it does John Kerry, or overlooked the disorder in his organization as casually as it does the daily disaster that is Joe Lieberman's so-called campaign?
The answer, of course, is "better."
Dean has made mistakes, to be sure. But those mistakes have been amplified by a 24-hour-a-day news cycle, by late-night comics, by an Anybody-But-Dean army of cable television and talk-radio talking heads, and by Washington-centric newspaper columnists who never understood or particularly approved of Dean's decision to show up uninvited at the top of Democratic polls in late 2003.It wasn't just cable commentators and comics that gave Dean a hard time, however. According to the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs, Dean was the favorite target of the evening news programs on the nation's broadcast networks. The center's study of 187 CBS, NBC and ABC evening news reports found that only 49 percent of all on-air evaluations of Dean in 2003 were positive. The other Democratic contenders collectively received 78 percent favorable coverage during the same period.
The battering Dean took from the media actually strengthened him at first. Grassroots Democrats, like most Americans, are angry with media that did not have the courage--or the basic journalistic skills--to expose George Bush's lies about weapons of mass destruction and tax cuts for the rich before Americans started losing their lives in Iraq and their jobs in the heartland. For a time, the jabs he took from the media bounced off Dean as easily as did the attacks from the corporate-funded Democratic Leadership Council and other fronts for the Republican-lite wing of the party.
But, eventually, the hits began to take their toll. Despite the fact that Dean is actually better on his feet now than at any time since he announced his candidacy, he is greeted with skepticism even by Democrats who admit that they like his message. Traveling with Dean in South Carolina this week, I saw him earn thunderous applause from voters who said they appreciated his antiwar, anti-establishment message. When I asked if they would support him, however, these same Democrats quietly admitted they would probably vote for Kerry or Edwards--candidates who just weeks ago were dismissed as losers but are now regularly referred to as "electable" by the media pack.
It is true that every disintegrating presidential candidacy since that of John Adams in 1800 has blamed the media for its decline. But, in this case, Dean's complaints appear to be more credible than those of most damaged contenders.
How do we know?
Consider one place on the campaign trail where Dean did receive good press--or, at least, fair press--right up to the time when ballots began to be cast. That place is southwest New Hampshire, a region that still gets a lot of its news from a feisty independent daily newspaper called the Keene Sentinel. I know the Sentinel reasonably well because I wrote some for it during the 1984 New Hampshire primary season, and I have always kept up with its coverage of candidates and campaigns.
Since 1799, the Sentinel has been synonymous with news in what is known as the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire. The newspaper has a long history of taking politics seriously, and it still does. All the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination campaigned aggressively in southwest New Hampshire--which borders Dean's Vermont and Kerry's Massachusetts--and all of them earned front-page coverage of their statements and stands in the Sentinel.
So the Monadnock Region was treated to some of the most thorough coverage of the campaign in the country. And that coverage was not filtered through a "news center" in Washington or New York or Atlanta.
Thus, when it came time for the Sentinel to make an endorsement, the editors looked over their own coverage and came to a conclusion: Dean was not the screaming hothead portrayed on cable TV. Rather, they saw a sensible and appealing candidate, and they backed him, writing that, "Dean offers voters a wide range of well-thought-out policy initiatives, foreign and domestic, based on a dramatic--and one might say conservative--theme: I want my country back. That cry, coupled with Dean's direct, energetic style, appeals to a lot of Democrats and independents, and has attracted a large number of people to his campaign who had previously been alienated from politics of any kind. Dean is particularly effective in his open refusal to entice voters with wild promises of expensive new government programs...
"We come to this decision not without some difficulty, given the appeal of the (retired General) Clark and (US Senator John) Edwards candidacies. But we believe on balance that Dean is best-equipped to restore respect for this country abroad while protecting the interests of Americans at home. And we believe Dean, unlike the current occupant of the White House, understands that the two efforts must be linked. All nations reserve the right to act boldly in their own interests, but no nation--even our own exceptional nation--can thrive as a go-it-alone force on virtually every matter of international substance: energy, the environment, trade, war and peace. Dean has reasonable and we believe workable ideas for addressing Americans' needs regarding health care, the federal deficit, homeland security, jobs, civil rights and the economy. And he would reverse the current administration's shameless weakening of environmental laws.
"No one will accuse Howard Dean of being soft on anything--that's hardly his style. But in the long run, tough policies are most effective when they are also smart policies. We observed Dean through a long career as governor of Vermont accomplishing a great deal by combining diligence with intelligence. Along the way, he usually won the respect not only of his allies, but of many of his adversaries as well. If he can bring that vitality and that sensitivity to the national stage, he and we might well get our country back."
The Sentinel wasn't the only thing Dean had going for him in southwest New Hampshire. But the steady and responsible coverage the region's dominant newspaper accorded him, along with its endorsement, appear to have had at least some impact.
Last Tuesday, Kerry won New Hampshire by a margin of 39 percent to 26 percent for Dean. Dean, who had been leading in just about every New Hampshire region, according to polls taken late in 2003, saw his support slip dramatically in most places. But the former Vermont governor carried southwest New Hampshire, winning 6,639 votes to 6,070 for Kerry. Of 31 towns in the Monadnock Region, John Kerry won just 11, while Howard Dean took 20.
President Bush recently invited Latino immigration activists and the press to the White House to hear him unveil an important policy initiative. The President said that US immigration policy "is not working" and proposed an ambitious new approach he said would better "reflect the American Dream."
But, following the President's speech, John Alger, an agricultural employer in Homestead, Florida, told USA Today that he welcomed the initiative, saying, "To have a sustainable, low-cost labor force is crucial to us."
So, what's this new proposal about? Shoring up the American Dream? Or ensuring a low-wage labor pool for commercial interests?
For a terrific explanation, check out a recent statement issued by the Coalition for Immokalee Workers (CIW), which calls the guestworker proposal "damaging to the very people it purports to help," and argues that the initiative is designed to "give US industry legal, taxpayer-assisted access to millions of desperately poor workers outside US borders." Click here to read and circulate this valuable report.
The CIW is a community-based worker organization composed largely of Latino, Haitian, and Mayan Indian immigrants laboring in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida. Established in 1977 to advocate for tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida's largest farming community, the CIW's main activity currently is coordinating activities to improve working conditions and to raise these workers' pay.
But, despite signature drives, work stoppages, a 230-mile march across South Florida, and a 30-day hunger strike by six coalition members, the growers still refuse to meet with worker representatives. (Why should they when they've been able to keep wages stagnant since the 1970s?)
In late 2001, the CIW launched a national boycott against Taco Bell, one of the largest buyers of tomatoes in the region and, together with Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, Long John Silver's, and A&W Restaurants, part of a corporate group forming the "world's largest restaurant system."
Farm-workers who pick for Florida growers like Six L's Packing Company, Taco Bell's chief supplier, earn roughly forty cents for every thirty-two pound bucket of tomatoes--the same piece rate paid in 1978. At this rate, workers must pick and haul two TONS of tomatoes, a tough task, to make fifty dollars a day.
Workers are denied the right to organize and the right to overtime pay. They receive no health insurance, no sick leave, no paid holidays, no vacation, and no pension. Given the sheer volume of Immokalee tomatoes it buys, not to mention its size and economic strength, Taco Bell has the power to help bring about more modern, more equitable labor relations in Immokalee's tomato fields.
To date, the company has refused to take any responsibility whatsoever for the sweatshop conditions in the fields where its tomatoes are picked. Taco Bell executives have even refused to speak to delegations of workers who have requested meetings.
But, according to critics, Taco Bell could nearly double the picking piece rate paid to farm-workers by agreeing to pay just one penny more per pound for the tomatoes it buys from Florida growers. As CIW says: "We believe that Taco Bell, as part of the 'world's largest restaurant system' can easily afford to pay one penny more. But even if they passed the cost on to YOU, the consumer, it would still be less than 1/4 of 1 cent more for your chalupa." Not a bad deal.
Until Taco Bell and its local growers are forced to concede, the CIW's excellent website makes it easy for you to help. First, get informed. CIW offers a concise explanation of the boycott, and the CIW Listserve keeps you in touch with the campaign as it evolves.
Then, if you're interested in bringing the Taco Bell boycott to your community, contact the Student/Farm-Worker Alliance or the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for more information and materials that you can use for organizing in your area, including media packets, postcards, flyers, bumper-stickers and other resources.
If you're fed up with First Ladies being pigeonholed into thetraditional Laura or careerist Hillary box (or, as Timothy Noah in Slate put it, the "victim" or "bitch" box), check out Katha Pollitt's sassy, smart and scathing look at media coverage of Judy Dean Steinberg.
After that--if you're not fed up with all the attention paid to the candidates' wives--check out the Washington Post's Outlook section this Sunday. I'm contributing to a forum (along with Wendy Wasserstein, Danielle Crittenden, Kati Marton and the First Gentleman of Michigan, Dan Mulhern) exploring America's attitudes toward First Ladies. Are we ready for one who would shun the traditional aspects of the role? I think so.
And on Sunday morning, I'm going to mix it up with Howard Kurtz, David Frum and Newsweek's Evan Thomas on CNN's Reliable Sources.
Topics: Kerry coverage; Dean's relations with the media (by the way, he's on for the full hour on Meet the Press this Sunday); and a question I debated last year, around this time, on Kurtz's show: Could the media have done a better job reporting how the Bush Administration misled us into war? You bet.
FOR UPDATED FIGURES FROM NEW HAMPSHIRE'S REPUBLICAN PRIMARY, SEE "BUSH SLIPS-EVEN FURTHER" at: http://www.thenation.com/thebeat
The record-high turnout in the New Hampshire Democratic primary -- 219,787 Granite State voters took Democratic ballots Tuesday, shattering the previous record of 170,000 in 1992 -- is being read as a signal that voters in one New England state, and most likely elsewhere, are enthusiastic about the prospect of picking a challenger for George W. Bush. And the turnout in the Democratic primary is not even the best indicator of the anti-Bush fervor in New Hampshire, a state that in 2000 gave four critical electoral votes to the man who secured the presidency by a razor-thin Electoral College margin of 271-267.
Many New Hampshire primary participants decided to skip the formalities and simply vote against the president in Tuesday's Republican primary. Thousands of these Bush-bashing Republicans went so far as to write in the names of Democratic presidential contenders.
Under New Hampshire law, only Democrats and independents were permitted to participate in Tuesday's Democratic presidential primary. That meant that Republicans who wanted to register their opposition to Bush had to do so in their own party's primary. A remarkable number of them did just that.
One in seven Republican primary voters cast ballots for candidates other than Bush, holding the president to just 85 percent of the 62,927 ballots cast. In some parts of the state, such as southwest New Hampshire's Monadnock Region, a historic bastion of moderate Republicanism, Bush did even worse. In Swanzey, for instance, 37 percent of GOP primary voters rejected Bush. In nearby Surry, almost 29 percent of the people who took Republican ballots voted against the Republican president, while a number of other towns across the region saw anti-Bush votes of more than 20 percent in the GOP primary.
Few of the anti-Bush votes went to the 13 unknown Republicans whose names appeared on GOP ballots along with the president's. Instead, top Democratic contenders reaped write-in votes.
US Senator John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, who won the Democratic primary, came in second to Bush in the Republican contest, winning 3,009 votes. Kerry's name was written in on almost 5 percent of all GOP ballots. Who were these Republican renegades for Kerry? People like 61-year-old retired teacher David Anderson. A Vietnam veteran, Anderson told New Hampshire's Concord Monitor that he wrote in Kerry's name because the senator, also a veteran, understands the folly of carrying on a failed war. "I feel a commander, the president of the United States, ought to be a veteran," explained Anderson, who says his top priority is getting US troops out of Iraq.
Kerry wasn't the only Democrat who appealed to Republicans. In third place on the Republican side of the ledger was former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who won 1,888 votes, more than 3 percent of the GOP total. Retired General Wesley Clark secured 1,467 Republican votes, while almost 2,000 additional Republican primary votes were cast for North Carolina Senator John Edwards, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
In all, 8,279 primary voters wrote in the names of Democratic challengers to Bush on their Republican ballots.
That's a significant number. In the 2000 general election, Bush beat Democrat Al Gore in New Hampshire by just 7,212 votes. Had Gore won New Hampshire, he would have become president, regardless of how the disputed Florida recount was resolved.
The prospect that Republicans and Republican-leaning independent voters in New Hampshire, and nationally, might be developing doubts about whether Bush should be reelected is the ultimate nightmare for the Bush political team. White House political czar Karl Rove begins his calculations with an assumption that Republicans will be united in their support of the president's reelection. But the president's deficit-heavy fiscal policies, his support for free-trade initiatives that have undermined the country's manufacturing sector, and growing doubts about this Administration's military adventurism abroad appear to have irked not just Democrats and independents, but also a growing number of Republicans.
The Bush White House is taking this slippage seriously. US Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, who beat Bush in the 2000 New Hampshire Republican primary, was dispatched to the Granite State before Tuesday's primary, in order to pump up the president's prospects, as were Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and New York Governor George Pataki. And Bush, himself, jetted into the state on Thursday, effectively acknowledging that state Republican Party chair Jane Millerick was right when she said, "What we have recognized is that New Hampshire is a swing state."
But can the president pull independent-minded Republicans, and Republican-minded independents, back to him? That task could prove to be tougher than the job of finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
No one doubts that Democrats in New Hampshire, and elsewhere, are angry with the president. Indeed, if there was one message that has come through loud and clear during the first stages of the race for the Democratic nomination, it was that Democrats in the first-in-the-nation primary state -- like their peers in the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa -- have proven to be less interested in ideological distinctions between Democratic contenders than they are in picking a candidate who will beat Bush.
Exit polls conducted on Tuesday in New Hampshire did not merely sample the opinions of Democrats. They also questioned independent voters, who make up almost 40 percent of the New Hampshire electorate. A Democratic primary exit poll conducted for Associated Press and various television networks found that nine in ten independents were worried about the direction of the US economy. Eight in ten told the pollsters that some or all of the tax cuts pushed by the Bush administration should be canceled. Forty percent of the independents questioned in the poll said they were angry with Bush, while another 40 percent said they were simply dissatisfied with the president.
Bush aides are quick to dismiss the polling numbers.
But how will they dismiss the results of the New Hampshire Republican primary, where every seventh voter cast a ballot for anyone-but-Bush?