At the end of December, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman ticked off a few pet peeves and proposals regarding the media's campaign coverage.
*Don't talk about clothes
*Beware of personal anecdotes
*Don't fall for political histrionics
*Actually look at the candidates' policy proposals.
As we leave New Hampshire, campaign coverage seems to be sixty percent horse race, thirty percent analysis of style and rhetoric, and ten percent coverage of issues. Sure, the volatile fluidity of the Democratic primary lends itself to Racing News-style coverage, but what about some rigorous reporting on pesky issues and policy proposals?
For savvy political consumers who want a quick survey of where the candidates stand on the central issues affecting America's middle class--the cost of housing education, childcare, and healthcare; unemployment; the minimum wage; the right to organize; credit card debt; bankruptcy--check out the Drum Major Institute's (DMI) valuable survey, "The Myth of the Middle? Campaign 2004 on America's Middle Class."
Over the last few months the New York-based non-partisan, non-profit organization sent questionnaires to all the campaigns, in an effort, as Institute President (and former Bronx borough president) Freddie Ferrer says, "to get rid of rhetoric and begin a true discussion on the concerns relating to America's struggling middle class."
In surveying the candidates, DMI "intends to help Americans form an opinion about where the Presidential contenders stand on protecting the middle class and restoring the mobility of poor and working families who want to earn their way into the middle class."
Some of the report's key findings:
*Most candidates agree that the main challenges facing the middle class are falling incomes and job security, affordable health care, and the rising cost of higher education.
*The candidates disagree on their approaches to expanding access to health care, on support of a National Usury Law to limit credit card companies' interest charges, on an increase in the minimum wage with annual adjustments for inflation, and on their plans to restructure the tax code to best meet the needs of middle class families.
*General Clark refused to commit support for increasing federal regulation of the credit card industry, Howard Dean wouldn't commit to increasing the ceiling for eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Joe Lieberman didn't take a stand on increasing the minimum wage.
*All of the candidates supported the expansion of eligibility for unemployment insurance, making college tuition tax-deductible, and the Employee Free Choice Act, which allows a union to be certified if a majority of employees have signed authorization cards.
*When asked what each candidate had already done to improve the lives of the middle class, responses ranged from Clark's efforts to improve the quality of military housing for soldiers under his command, to Dr. Dean's creation of 56,000 new jobs as Governor of Vermont, to Senator Kerry's defense of Medicare and Social Security during the Newt Gingrich years.
In contrast, Bush's GOP has steadfastly refused to raise the minimum wage (stuck at $5.15 since 1997), has forestalled all proposals to address the dramatically increasing healthcare costs borne by the middle class, and has effectively eliminated overtime pay for some eight million American workers.
As Rep. Bernie Sanders wrote recently in a powerful piece for The Progressive titled " We Are the Majority," currently, "40 percent of American workers are working fifty hours a week or more...The scandal of our time is that with all the explosion of technology and productivity the average American is not working fewer hours and making more money. We are not down to a thirty-hour week. The middle class is not expanding, and poverty has not been eliminated. On the contrary, it has increased."
Fortunately, groups like DMI are around to inform Americans of policies which counter the GOP's ruthless war against the middle class. Click here to help spread word of DMI's valuable new report.
1. Performance doesn't matter. Of all the candidates, Senator John Edwards delivered the best stump speech, in which he decried the existence of "two Americas," one for the rich and one for the rest. It was the best formulation of the anti-special interests message adopted by each of the leading candidates, and he delivered it with the skill and grace of a trial attorney out of a Grisham novel. It did little for his campaign in New Hampshire. Former Governor Howard Dean bolstered his message, and in campaign appearances displayed a wealth of knowledge on assorted family matters. That did not help him narrow the gap between himself and Senator John Kerry (which end up at 13 points in New Hampshire). In fact, Kerry was the poorest campaigner of the three. At rallies, he was less inspiring than the competition. He did improve as Election Day neared. But the voters did not respond as reviewers.
2. Screaming is bad. What ifs don't count in politics--or anywhere else. But it seems a reasonable assumption that Dean might have won New Hampshire or come in a much closer second had he not emitted a pirate yell during his Iowa concession speech. Desperate for good news, Dean aides on Election Night were noting that Dean's 26 points in New Hampshire marked a 8 point rise from the low he had hit in the polls after Iowa. In other words, Dean had been moving in the right direction. Certainly, not far enough to write home about. But had he not become a household joke across the country, might he have gained more? Perhaps. But, then again, maybe he only returned to his natural limit. Which raises the question: if he cannot pull more than a quarter of Democratic voters in the state next to his own, how can he do better elsewhere?
3. Not hot enough is better than too hot. Here's a simple summation of the contest: Dean connects too much; Kerry connects too little; and Edwards connects just the right amount--but he looks like he is sixteen-years-old. Intensity can be frightening, and Dean remains Mr. Intensity--or is it Dr. Intensity?--even after his post-Iowa calm-down. Voters seem more willing to overlook Kerry's inability to inspire more than they are willing to put aside questions about Dean's manner. As Iowa showed, only some voters want to be fired up. Many want to be reassured. Dean has been better at inspiring passion than confidence. In New Hampshire, he changed his tone and recrafted his message to address this concern, and he focused much more on his record as a governor who got things done (like health care). But the shriek may still be echoing.
4. Unions can help only so much. In New Hampshire, Dean had the Service Employees International Union, the largest union in the state, on his side, and it did not make a large difference. Andrew Stern, the union's president, told me that the state chapter made sure that 90 percent of its members who had been identified as Dean supporters reached the polls. But since there was a high turnout, their significance was diluted. This is a lesson Democrats need to keep in mind: if turnout is going to be high in November, the union effort will have less impact. Ask Dick Gephardt.
5. Early results are just that. I'm not saying Dean isn't toast. But voters sometimes have buyer's remorse--or voters in later states sometimes aren't keen to second the judgments of voters in early states. In 1992, after Clinton was leading in the race, former California Jerry Brown posted wins in several states. It seemed a Clinton backlash--temporary as it was--had set in. Dean's campaign manager Joe Trippi is thinking a lot about the 1992 race. As he notes, "John Kerry isn't any Bill Clinton, and Howard Dean isn't any Jerry Brown." Well, a guy can hope. But he has a point. The Democratic Party rigged the 2004 schedule to frontload the primaries. But it is possible a Kerry backlash could materialize--that is, if he manages to hold on to his lead as the race enters a more frantic phase with simultaneous primaries across the country. But, please, no talk of Hillary Clinton.
6. In politics, it is easy to get away with plagiarism. Unless you're Senator Joe Biden. His campaign was derailed in 1988 when it was discovered he had lifted a speech line from a British politician. But this year, the candidates readily stole rhetoric from another--with Dean being the victim of most of the theft. His rap against the special interests was lifted by Kerry, Edwards, and retired General Wesley Clark. (Senator Joseph Lieberman, though, wouldn't touch it, and Representative Dennis Kucinich had his own version.) In New Hampshire, it was hard to keep track of who said what about HMOs, insurance companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, energy firms because they all were saying the same thing. And they all assailed Washington lobbyists and proposed similar-sounding measures for reducing the influence of lobbyists. Dean tried on occasion to note that he had been the first in this campaign to crusade against special interests and that the others had jumped aboard the train once they saw the results he had achieved. But Dean did not beat that drum too loudly. This sort of argument is hard to make without sounding bitter and petty.
7. The war in Iraq still does not matter. That was clear in Iowa, where the candidates who had voted for granting Bush the authority to invade Iraq won 81 percent among an electorate that was decidedly opposed to the war. In New Hampshire, Dean slightly de-emphasized his antiwar position. He cited it as evidence of his ability to stand up for principle, even if it is unpopular. He did note that Kerry's vote suggested the senator had poor judgment. But Dean did not make a big issue of that. After all, after Iowa, all the candidates were reluctant to go negative. In his appearances, Kerry often noted that Bill Clinton recently observed that in American politics "strong and wrong" beats "weak and right." Kerry insisted that he would be "strong and right." But given that Democratic voters were generally opposed to the war, it does seem that Clinton was correct: Democrats will vote for Kerry even if they think he was wrong on Iraq because they believe he is the strongest candidate.
8. There's a Northern yearning for a Southerner. The combined votes for Edwards and Clark nearly equaled Dean's total. A key argument made by the supporters for Edwards and Clark was that the Democrats cannot take the White House without a Southerner. Most New Hampshire voters did not agree. But had Clark and Edwards not split the we-need-a-Bubba-friendly-candidate vote, a single tailored-for-the-South candidate might have fared better.
9. Don't enter a presidential race late. Clark is not ready for prime-time. He had New Hampshire mostly to himself for an entire week, as the other candidates battled in Iowa. But he failed to capitalize on that opportunity. His conduct on the campaign trail was less than impressive. He bobbled questions. He spent more time describing why he was a Democrat--after having been attacked for voting for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan--than he did talking about his ideas about domestic issues. Clark was up against candidates who have been running for years. It showed. One reason to get in early is to make your mistakes early and to do so at a time when candidates receive less attention.
10. Voters don't want boldness. The boldest act Kerry engaged in was playing in a charity hockey game with retired Boston Bruins stars. There was a high flop potential. Imagine the news photos had he fallen on the ice. It might not have been as bad as Michael Dukakis in that tank. But it would have been the wrong image. Campaigning in New Hampshire, Kerry generally played it safe, sticking to a script without surprises. It was indeed full of policy ideas and sharp criticisms of the president. But he showed no dash, no daring. He plowed ahead. He won--with perspiration, not inspiration. The question: will Democratic voters be content with a passion-free relationship with a candidate they perceive to be strong and steady. Or might they come to ask, is this all there is?
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
John Edwards is not running for the Democratic nomination as an anti-war candidate. Even in a campaign that has been defined by nothing so much as a constant process of redefinition on the parts of the major candidates, that would be too much of a stretch. After all, Edwards voted with more enthusiasm than most Democrats for the October, 2002, resolution that authorized George W. Bush to use force against Iraq. And long after another senator who voted for the war resolution, John Kerry, began to grumble about Bush's deceptions and missteps, Edwards continued to defend his vote and the war.
But, while Edwards is not running as an anti-war candidate, he has begun to run as an angry-about-the-war candidate. And in the competition for the votes of Democratic caucus and primary voters, that anger is serving him well. The North Carolina senator ran a suprisingly strong second in last Monday night's caucuses Iowa -- a state where exit polls showed 75 percent of Democratic caucusgoers were opposed to the war in Iraq. And polls suggest that he could ride a last-minute surge into a solid third-place finish in Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, a New England state where anti-war sentiments seem to be only slightly less pronounced than in the Midwest.
How is it that Edwards is doing so well with voters who think of themselves as anti-war? How was the senator able to elbow aside former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who spoke out against the 2002 resolution before the vote was taken, in anti-war Iowa? How is it that he now seems to be elbowing aside retired General Wesley Clark, another critic of the rush-to-war resolution, in New Hampshire? And why did the most genuinely anti-war candidate in the race, Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich, urge his backers in Iowa to caucus with Edwards?
One line of analysis holds that the war isn't really that big an issue. Under this theory, Democratic caucus and primary voters are not all that interested in a war that has now cost more than 500 American lives, untold Iraqi lives, and tens of billions of U.S. tax dollars. But anyone who has followed the campaign knows that is not the case, as voters regularly question candidates about the war.
Another line of analysis holds that Democrats are so obsessed with beating Bush in 2004 that they are willing to overlook any flaw, even a disagreable stance on so pivotal a concern as the war, in their search for the most electable candidate. That may explain the rise of Kerry, a four-term senator who also happens to be a decorated Vietnam War veteran. But it doesn't account for the rise of Edwards, a one-term senator who also happens to be a millionaire trial lawyer.
There is no question that Edwards works hard to presents himself as an "electable" contender. But that does not mean that he is eschewing appeals to anti-war Democrats. Indeed, while Edwards may not be an anti-war candidate, he has made complaints about the war central themes of his surging candidacy.
When Edwards and his aides gave their campaign a makeover toward the end of 2003, they radically retooled the candidate's message. At the heart of the new Edwards stump speech was an economic populist appeal designed to highlight the divide between "two Americas" -- one where the rich get all the breaks, another where working families can't get a break. New York Times columnist William Safire is right when he says that Edwards "has honed his 'two Americas' theme into the smoothest call for enforced leveling since Huey Long's 'every man a king.'" But but don't assume that Edwards is only talking about domestic economics. That smooth speech also features an anti-war profiteering rap passionate enough to warm the hearts -- and perhaps win the votes -- of even some committed anti-warriors.
"We need to end the sweetheart deals for Halliburton and stop the war profiteering in Iraq," Edwards began telling the crowds, making pointed references to Vice President Dick Cheney's former firm but also to a list of other defense contractors that have contributed heavily to George w. Bush's campaigns and that have profited heavily from his war.
While Edwards does not echo the pure anti-war rhetoric of a Dean, a Clark or, particularly, a Kucinich or an Al Sharpton, the North Carolinian does toss red meat to anti-war Democrats -- highlighting the corruptions of empire that infuriate grassroots Democrats. It is easy, and quite possibly appropriate, to be cynical about the way in which Edwards now highlights criticism of a war that he has supported more consistently even than Kerry. But voters seem to be willing to forgive Edwards, a fresh-faced and energetic contender who exudes aw-shucks optimism on the trail, more than they do the other candidates.
The anti-war profiteering rhetoric helps to explain why Edwards ran almost as well as Dean did among Iowa Democrats who said the war was their top issue. It also helps to explain why the campaign of Dennis Kucinich, the most passionately anti-war of the Democratic presidential candidates, felt comfortable urging supporters of the Ohio congressman to form caucus-night alliance that aided Edwards.
In New Hampshire, Edwards has upped the ante. After President Bush used his State of the Union address to list 17 of the 34 nations that have committed troops to help the U.S. maintain the occupation of Iraq, Edwards went on New Hampshire Public Radio and condemned the president for claiming that he has assembled a genuine coalition to maintain the occupation of Iraq. For the most part, Edwards charged, the other countries provide little more than window dressing, while the toll of U.S. casualities rises and the cost to U.S. taxpayers mounts. (Like Kerry, Edwards votes against the Bush administration's fall 2003 request for $87 billion to maintain the occupation, as did Kucinich. Of thr remaining contenders, only Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, the candidate of Democrats who don't really disagree all that much with Bush, voted for the spending bill.)
Over the weekend, as Tuesday's New Hampshire vote approached, Edwards was adding to his angry-about-the-war repertoire. Edwards leapt on statements made by David Kay, the man entrusted by the Bush administration to head the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When Kay resigned Friday, he told the Reuters news agency that he had concluded there were no stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons to be found in Iraq. Edwards immediately called for an independent commission to investigate whether the Bush administration misled the Congress when the president and White House aides were making the case for preemptive war against Iraq.
"It's a serious issue and it's why I'm calling for an independent commission to investigate the discrepancy between what's been found there and what we were told before," Edwards said of the ongoing debate over Bush's claim that the U.S. needed to attack Iraqi weapons -- or, at the least, weapons that country was very close to developing -- posed a genuine threat. Edwards still stops short of saying that Bush lied to the Congress and the American people; rather, he says, "That's exactly why we need an independent commission to get to the bottom of this."
Even as he was calling for the investigation, Edwards was ramping up that razor-sharp rhetoric about war profiteering. When Halliburton agreed on Friday to pay $6.3 million to the U.S. Army to cover for overbilling by a Kuwaiti subcontractor supplying U.S. troops in Iraq, Edwards said, "The American people know there is something wrong going on with war profiteering and Halliburton and the contracts in Iraq."
"This has got to come to an end," the senator told a crowd of 700 cheering supporters in Rochester, New Hampshire. Edwards promised them that, if elected president, he would examine all the contracts handed out by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his aides "with a magnifying glass" in a hunt to halt "the fleecing of the American people."
"We're in a war of ideas!" So declared Bill Barry, chairman of the Nashua, New Hampshire, Democrats, when he enthusiastically introduced Senator John Edwards at a campaign rally as the fellow who most deserved to win the primary in two days.
Barry was wrong.
There is no war of ideas occurring in the New Hampshire primary. There is barely a skirmish. The four top contenders--Senator John Kerry, former Governor Howard Dean, retired General Wesley Clark, and Edwards--each bemoan the influence of special interests in Washington (particularly its impact upon the Medicare prescription drug legislation), call for universal health care coverage, praise the potential of renewable and sustainable energy, promise to reverse George W. Bush's environmental policies, support abortion rights, and vow to de-unilateralize foreign policy. There are policy disagreements. Dean wants to repeal all of Bush's tax cuts; Kerry and Edwards want to dump only those that benefit wealthy taxpayers. Dean reminds his supporters that he opposed handing Bush the authority to invade Iraq while Kerry and Edwards voted to grant Bush that power. Yet on the question of what to do now in Iraq, the four candidates agree on the need to internationalize the occupation and try to coax other nations to contribute more troops and money. Representative Dennis Kucinich has tried to provoke a debate on two key matters by claiming he alone has a plan to replace U.S. troops in Iraq with United Nations forces within 90 days--though the U.N. has yet to indicate it is willing to do that--and by calling for universal, single-payer, not-for-profit health care. But given his in-the-basement standing in the polls, Kucinich has not created any back-and-forth on these topics.
This is a campaign of impressions and identities. The goal: find the right knight to vanquish the evil king. In on-the-stump performance, Dean and Edwards have been far better campaigners than Kerry and Clark. But that might not be enough for them to trip up Kerry the frontrunner.
Of the major contenders, Edwards has the best delivery and the best thematic approach. With passion and sincerity, he critiques the existence of "two Americas"--one for the well-to-do families that have access to quality health care, benefit from the existing tax code, and send their children to good schools; one for everyone else. Under the rubric of turning the "two Americas" into one, Edwards, the son of a mill worker, assails Washington lobbyists, empathizes with middle-class families squeezed by economic pressures, vows to restore America's image abroad, and advocates policies that can return hope to stressed-out, low- and middle-income families. And he has the healthiest glow of all the candidates--he practically shines--and the best gestures, which come from his days as a trial lawyer. This pitch neatly weaves in his own personal up-from-the-working-class history. He has only been doing his "two Americas" routine since early January, and it may well be responsible for his second-place finish in Iowa.
Edwards has put together an attractive package. Is it flying off the shelf? The election will tell. His events appear to have the most uncommitted voters in attendance. That may signal movement in his direction. Or it might merely mean that the undecideds already have enough information on Dean, Kerry, and Clark and are giving Edwards a last look before rendering a final judgment.
Dean also has improved his offering to the voters. He has tried to counter the Scream Heard Around the World with one-liners ("I am so excited to be here, I could just scream"). And he highlights his command of policy. At a campaign event emphasizing women's issues, Dean spoke authoritatively on Title IX (he opposes efforts to cut this funding for athletic programs for schoolgirls), early child development (he described a program he initiated in Vermont to help at-risk children at birth), and stem cells research (he noted his support for full federal funding). He blasted the Bush administration's proposal to increase the work obligations for women on welfare ("We call it the Leave Every Child Unsupervised At Home Bill"), and he called for boosting the minimum wage, observing that such a move would disproportionately assist women. He noted that Barbara Ehrenreich's book, Nickel and Dimed, which chronicles the travails of low-income workers, ought to be "required reading" for every presidential candidate.
At this meeting, Dean came across as a smart, sure-footed, if a bit wonkish, liberal, but one who turned policy into programs in Vermont. And he continues to excite his core voters with his talk of reviving idealism and using people power to "take back the country" from special interests. He points to his early opposition to the Iraq war as proof he has the courage of his convictions, but he does not dwell on his war stance.
On Sunday, the Dean campaign maintained that its tracking polls showed him within a few points of Kerry, even though the Boston Globe had Kerry up by 23 points. At Dean rallies and events, his fans appear to be unbowed, undaunted, and still revved up--far more so than the voters who attend campaign events for other candidates. There are two basic questions about Dean's prospects. First, how big is his core? Is it 18 percent, 23 percent? More? Less? Second, if it is not big enough to propel him into first place or a close second, does Dean have any reach beyond these die-hard Deaniacs? He seems to be the candidate about whom Democratic voters have the strongest feelings--for or against. That may limit his ability to attract voters who are not already on his side.
Kerry may well be benefiting from an opposite dynamic. He does not excite as Dean does (or seduce as effectively as Edwards). But he presents a more conventional--and perhaps--more comfortable choice for New Hampshire Democrats. Unlike Dean, Kerry faces no questions about his ability to handle national security matters. Unlike Edwards, Kerry faces no questions about his overall experience in government. In fact, his years of experience are written into his sad-dog face. Maybe it is due to these reasons that Kerry has wider--though not deeper--support than Dean and Edwards.
It is not because of his performance on the campaign trail. When it comes to being a candidate, Kerry cannot do better than a B-plus. It's as if there is a Kerry wall. He says all the right things for a Democrat--but without any magic or music. He slams HMOs, insurance companies, Big Energy firms, pharmaceutical manufacturers. He can deliver dramatic lines, such as, "I know something about aircraft carriers for real." Still, he does not connect as much as a frontrunner should. Is it because his speechifying skills have never been honed? At a gathering of Democratic officials, activists, and fundraisers at Nashua on Saturday night, Kerry criticized Bush for doing little on jobs and health care, and he declared, "It's not only not mission accomplished; it's mission not even legitimately attempted." He certainly could have punched this point more effectively. And when Fox News' Chris Wallace, during a televised interview, asked Kerry, who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, about his position on gay marriage, Kerry repeatedly said, "I'm against marriage." Wallace had to remind Kerry to say gay marriage.
These examples don't adequately describe Kerry's limitations. He may well be a thoughtful, intelligent person--and a war hero/jock. At a charity hockey event in Manchester, Kerry played on a team against former Boston Bruins all-stars, and acquitted himself quite well. (Two goals, no hat trick.) And his campaign has been handing out thousands of copies of a 1998 issue of American Windsurfer magazine, which features Kerry on the cover and includes dramatic photos of him in a wet-suit and skipping over the waves. But he still needs a mojo transplant. At a rally with Senator Ted Kennedy at Nashua High School on Sunday, Kerry raised his voice and assailed the Medicare prescription drug bill as a $139 billion sop to the drug companies. He whacked Bush for weakening clean air and clean water legislation. He assailed Washington lobbyists. He said he would have renewable and alternative fuels provide 20 percent of the nation's energy by 2020. And he observed that Bush has overseen the "most arrogant, inept, reckless, and ideological foreign policy" in American history. But he did not ignite the crowd. The audience was supportive--but not as jazzed as it could have (or should have) been. Here was Kerry's chance to wow them completely. He just cannot do it. [UPDATE: On Monday evening, in his second-to-last campaign rally, Kerry, appearing in the gym on Pinkerton Academy in Derry, kicked out an A-minus performance. He was loose and energetic, he looked happy, he effectively engaged with questioners in the crowd.]
Nevertheless, Kerry is at the head of the pack. At the start of the 2004 campaign, political observers handicapped Kerry as the frontrunner because he was something of a default candidate: a war hero with positions in sync with most Democrats, a grownup, and a good fundraiser. That defaultness did not serve him well in the early stretch, when he lost the passion primary and the money primary to Dean. But it may be partly responsible for his resurgence in Iowa and New Hampshire. He is not a bold pick; he is a safe pick. Is it possible that voters craving an anti-Bush champion are responding to the idea of John Kerry more than the actual John Kerry? If so, how far can this relationship go?
Clark, like Kerry, has had a tough time making good on his potential. He essentially had New Hampshire to himself for a week--who counts Senator Joseph Lieberman?--and there are no signs he was able to exploit that opportunity. He entered the race late in September and--no surprise--he has been performing like a candidate who only has four months of experience. At that gathering of leading state Democrats, Clark delivered a speech that failed to rouse the audience. Too much of it was devoted to explaining why he now is a Democrat. His party credentials have been challenged by the other candidates. After all, he voted for Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. But it is too far into the game for Clark to be defending himself on this front. And he did so with little eloquence. Arguing that the Democratic Party, not the GOP, is the party of family values, Clark remarked, "family values are what it takes to have a family." He also got worked up and exclaimed, "We've got to take out that president." He can speak effectively on matters of national security, but he has not yet figured out a larger sales pitch.
Clark has had trouble dealing with the inevitable bumps, such as when ABC News' Peter Jennings asked him to disavow filmmaker Michael Moore, who while endorsing Clark called Bush a military deserter. (Jennings described this as a reckless charge, but Bush appears to have ducked out of his National Guard service for a year, and he has never adequately explained all the missing time.) In response to Jennings--and subsequent interviewers--Clark noted Moore had the right to have any opinion he wanted (apparently about anything). That sounded more like a dodge than a defense.
What's driving the contest in New Hampshire is not issues. That is no shocker. The policy differences are not pronounced, and elections are usually more about the seekers than their ideas. One idea is paramount now: find the guy who can dethrone Bush. Kerry may end up the choice in New Hampshire because his perceived liabilities are less tangible--or less worrisome--than those of Dean and Edwards. Politics, after all, is a relativist endeavor. And fortunately for Kerry, in this race the campaign performances of the candidates might be a small factor. On Tuesday, the contest will likely turn not on what voters feel about the candidates but on what they think they should feel about them.
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
Do you have 250 family members, friends, associates, and colleagues who can afford to give $2,000 to President Bush?
On January 22, the Washington Post reported that there's now "whispered talk on Wall Street of a new category of super-fundraiser, those able to bundle $500,000 or more" for President George W. Bush's re-election campaign.
These super-fundraiser would supercede the Rangers (who raise a paltry $200,000 for the President) as the measurement of ultimate loyalty to the Bush White House. The campaign denies it will name the new category but it was just too tempting for reformers to leave alone.
So, the Public Campaign Action Fund, a nonpartisan campaign finance reform organization, has launched a contest to help name the category for Bush-Cheney Inc. (And I've agreed to help select the five finalists from which the public will choose the winner.)
Click here to submit your suggestion. Each finalist receives a Fat Cat T-Shirt, a poster and the satisfaction of helping raise public awareness of the brazen corruption of this Administration. Bring those names on.
There is the Angry Populist, the Calm Populist, the Polite Populist, the Executive Populist, and the Radical Populist. That's who racing across New Hampshire chasing Democratic and independent voters in the days before the first presidential primary of 2004. Oh, there's also Joe Lieberman.
Senator John Kerry, the leader in the polls, is the angry one. He doesn't hoot or holler. But he declares, "It is time for us to get angry...and restore real democracy to the United States." By that he means he wants to rid Washington of the money-grubbing special interests out. And when he has not been pushing that mission, he has been talking about his Vietnam days. On Friday, he appeared with Vietnam veterans at a rally in Manchester and told war stories. One of his television ads showed a war buddy of his talking about Kerry: "There's a sense after Vietnam that every day is extra....That you have to do what's right." And the spot included video of Kerry as a soldier in Nam. Kerry is, by nature, cautiously passionate. A little anger is not a bad idea for him; it allows him to emote, which has not been his strong suit as a candidate. Heading into the final weekend, his strategy remained obvious one: talk about your record, bash George W. Bush for catering to corporate interests, and, most importantly, keep plodding ahead and don't screw up.
Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean is now the calm one. He is more interesting to watch than Kerry, for he has the more difficult challenge. He has had to rejigger his approach. That has entailed burnishing his image as a responsible and straight-talking governor of many accomplishments while also maintaining his insurgent take-back-America message. At a rally on Friday night, he pulled it off. Speaking at Keene Middle School to an overflowing crowd of about 1500 Dean enthusiasts--a group of all ages--he nailed his case. With a calm, steady and firm delivery, Dean noted the qualities that would make him a good president: he is willing to stand up for what he believes, whether it is popular or not (the proof: his early opposition to the Iraq war and the No Child Left Behind act, his support of civil unions for gays and lesbians); he has experience and can deliver on health care (the proof: his success in Vermont); and, unlike other politicians, he tells the truth.
To prove that last point, Dean noted that his Democratic opponents say that America can have a middle-class tax cut and expanded education funding, kindergarten through college and expanded health care coverage. No way, Dean said, adding, "You know why 50 percent of Americans don't vote? It's because politicians talk like that before every election." But, he added, when these pols enter office they cannot deliver on such promise. "You can't win an election on promises," Dean asserted. He, on the other hand, is willing to acknowledge the hard truth: "You can't have everything." Someone has to tell the people that. And Dean maintained he is the only candidate prepared to do so--to balance the budget and be realistic in terms of new social programs. He said his budget would have room for expanding health insurance, a program for early child development, and an alternative energy initiative.
In striking this stance, Dean was reminiscent of Paul Tsongas, the deceased Democratic senator from Massachusetts, who in 1992 ran for president hailing balanced budgets and accusing a little-known governor named Bill Clinton of pandering to voters by proposing various spending initiatives and a middle-class tax cut. Tsongas won the New Hampshire primary. He flopped after that.
But Dean had more to offer his Deaniacs than warmed-over, tell-the-ugly-truth centrism. He blasted George W. Bush for "shoveling money...into the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies," and he complained that "all the things that happen in Washington happen for the benefit of corporations and special interests." Dean added, "We want the country back." And he spoke of his campaign as a movement designed not merely to elect him but to empower his supporters. The spin is, he said, that "this is a campaign of anger. This is a campaign of hope....I don't want people to believe in me. I want you to believe in yourselves.....The biggest lie that people like me tell people like you is that if you vote for me, I'll solve your problems. The truth is, the power to change this country is in your hands....On Tuesday, you have the power to change the Democratic Power."
Dean exuded a quiet strength. He came across as determined and deliberate. His talk effectively blended the resume portion of his pitch and his idealistic call to arms. He got the mix right, as he positioned himself as a tough-love kind of maverick who could combine the message of Paul Tsongas and that of Paul Wellstone. And his supporters loved it. They cheered and applauded. They were pumped up. It was as if The Shriek had never left his throat. It was clear that Dean still had his ardent believers. But at this point Dean probably needs more than the revived enthusiasm of already-committed Deaniacs to win in New Hampshire or finish near the top. Can performances like this one undo the damage of Iowa? Has his appeal reached a natural limit? Dean and his followers--many of whom do appear to believe they are part of a movement--will know soon.
Senator John Edwards of North Carolina is the Polite Populist. On Friday, he visited the Page Belting company in Concord. It was there, almost a year earlier, "where people first saw the Edwards magic," one of his aides told me. She was referring to a session in which Edwards met with some of the firm's employees and the workers became teary while discussing the economic hardships they and their families faced.
Edwards was back now to have a similar discussion with two dozen Page workers. But this time they were surrounded by 150 members of the press. Edwards reeled off his "two Americas" speech, which he has refined to a smooth and seamless indictment of Bush's Washington. There is one America where people get all the health care they need; then there's the America with a health care system that doesn't work for many and is controlled by insurance companies and HMOs. There is one America where affluent communities have wonderful public schools; one America where the schools are troubled. "We shouldn't have two public school systems," Edwards remarked. There are "two governments" in the nation's capital: "one for the insiders...whatever is left is for you."
Edwards did not raise his voice. He did not show anger. This son of a mill worker who became a millionaire superlawyer displayed earnest indignation, quiet outrage. He adopted a "get this" tone. He told the employees, "What goes on in Congress is that you have the lobbyists for the big drug companies and they're all over the place and they come up to members of Congress and say, 'Can you help us on the [Medicare prescription drug] bill?'...And then [the members] says, 'Are we going to see you at the fundraiser tonight."
The Page Belting workers did not respond with "amens." Instead, they knowingly nodded their heads--especially when Edwards referred to predatory credit card companies that sock it to consumers who don't read the fine print. He came armed with supposed solutions, such as banning campaign contributions from corporate lobbyists. "The Washington lobbyists are taking your democracy away from you," he commented, "and we ought to stop it."
Edwards never got mean or dark. He loaded his pitch with feel-good, can-do optimism, insisting his message is "based on politics of hope, based on the politics of what is possible." He noted, "You deserve a president who can make you feel good about the future, good about yourselves again." Then Edwards left in his campaign bus, dubbed the "Real Solutions Express"--which is not to be confused with Kerry's bus, "The Real Deal Express." Will Edwards' kinder, gentler populism play? He does have one heckuva pleasant and persuasive manner. New Hampshire voters--and Democrats elsewhere--looking for populism with a smile and a down-home drawl will be tempted.
At a health care policy forum at the Palace Theater in Manchester, retired General Wesley Clark shared his views on health care with several hundred medical professionals. It was odd that he had to read his remarks. At this point in the contest--four days before the New Hampshire primary--a Democratic candidate should be able to talk about health care in his sleep. Clark began weakly, referring to his own brushes with the medical system: tonsillitis at the age of 3, appendicitis at 14, several gun shot wounds when he was in Vietnam. ("I think they hit me one more time, while I was crawling away.") He noted that he had delivered health care to soldiers and their families, tossed off automatic rhetoric about health care as a "family value," and decried greedy drug companies. It was standard fare, and the audience seemed less than engaged. A senior campaign aide for Senator Lieberman, was standing next to me and chortling about Clark's underwhelming performance.
Then--like a good general--Clark briskly ran through a four-step program. Number one: if elected president, he would issue an executive order that would allow the reimportation of cheaper drugs from Canada and elsewhere. "Interesting," murmured the Lieberman aide. Number two: direct the secretary of Health and Human Services to audit all drug companies to see if these companies had used government funding to develop drugs and not shared subsequent profits. "Wow," the Lieberman aide said softly. Numbers three and four were less surprising: introduce legislation that would permit the U.S. government to bargain with pharmaceutical companies over the costs of drugs, and end barriers that keep generic drugs off the market.
Clark also outlined his plan for expanding health insurance. Yeah, yeah--all candidates have a plan. More significantly, he claimed to be a non-politician who was not merely willing to swing away at the drug companies on Day One but who also had specific ideas on how to do so. Here was a practical populist.
Representative Dennis Kucinich was the non-practical populist. He hit the stage after Clark. He slammed the other candidates for talking about health insurance, not health care. Speaking without notes, he made a passionate and effective case for a single-payer health care system that would provide extensive services for everyone and rid medicine of insurance companies and HMOs. "My question to you in New Hampshire is," he said, "'how much change do you really want?' Do you really want to be free of...insurance companies...and pharmaceutical companies?" He was met with shouts of approval from the health care professionals in the theater. Perhaps that was because he had delivered an assertive and sincere presentation without becoming shrill. It was Kucinich at his best. He was a facts-based visionary. But it may well be that New Hampshire does not want as much change as he is offering. His go-the-distance brand of populism has yet to win him more than a percentage point or two of support.
As for Lieberman, he delivered an impressive briefing at the health care forum. It was chockfull of detailed and sensible-sounding policy proposals: a Medikids insurance program for children, health care centers in elementary schools, a Medichoice program to provide affordable health insurance coverage to adults, an executive order to reverse Bush's decision severely limiting federal funding of stem cells research. But there was not one mention of drug companies, HMOs, or insurance firms. (Remember Lieberman is from Connecticut.) It was all policy, no populism. He is the odd-man out in the race.
Lieberman aside--and he may soon well be--populism is the rage in New Hampshire. Dean is probably correct when he boasts he was the first candidate in this year's race to crusade against special interests. Now an assault on the rigged ways of Washington is part of almost everyone's routine. It has become de rigeur. Even if the populism adopted by the leading candidates is limited, Dean can take credit for having changed the party, or at least its 2004 debate. The question is, will New Hampshire voters credit him for having done so?
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.
The New Hampshire Democratic presidential debate was supposed to be the Super Bowl of the primary season face-offs.
It was--only in that it was long and dull and marked by uninspiring performances, which sadly is often what happens in the NFL championship match. Unfortunately, this event lacked interesting commercials.
As the two hours dragged by, many of the 400 journalists in the media watching room--a gymnasium on the campus of St. Anselm College--rolled their eyes and checked their watches. It was five days before the first primary of 2004, and expectations had been high. The surprising results in Iowa had injected additional drama into the New Hampshire contest. Could Dean, the heretofore Internet-fueled powerhouse of the race, recover from his third-place finish and the shriek heard around the world? Could John Kerry, the come-from-behind victor of Iowa, exploit his Midwest win and outperform the rest of the pack in his native New England? How would Wesley Clark, the born-recently Democrat who had skipped Iowa, fare against the battle-scarred veterans of the caucuses? Could John Edwards, the sunnier candidate, outshine his rivals?
Political journalists--myself included--thought this debate could be the decisive moment in a decisive contest.
We were wrong.
Several hours before the debate, I ran into a Clark adviser at a Manchester restaurant. What's the General's goal for tonight? I asked. "To do okay," the Clark lieutenant deadpanned. "Seriously," I replied. He countered, "I am being serious."
It was as if all the candidates were aiming for the same bar: okayness. In part, that was due to the debate's structure: four journalists asking questions of the candidates that permitted no give and take between the contenders. It was also due to what has become known as the Lesson of Iowa: going negative hurts. Few elbows were thrown. No spitballs were hurled. Candidates stuck to their stump speeches. Edwards noted that people are "hungry for change in America. They're hungry for change in Washington, D.C. And the truth is, the truth is, that I'm somebody who's been in Washington long enough to see what's wrong with it and how it needs to be changed." Kerry maintained he wanted to take on "special interests" and that he had national security credentials that would allow him to go toe-to-toe with Bush. Joseph Lieberman stressed his "values" and his enthusiastic support for the war in Iraq. Clark pushed his experience as an executive and professed his fealty to Democratic Party principles. Dennis Kucinich blasted the Nafta trade accord and insisted he was the most antiwar candidate, claiming his plan to end the U.S. occupation in Iraq could bring American troops home within 90 days and noting that Dean would let U.S. forces remain there perhaps for years.
Dean had the most to prove--or disprove. He tried to reposition himself as an ex-governor who has demonstrated the ability to get things done (such as expanding health care coverage to most Vermont residents and balancing the state's budget) and who has the courage to tell inconvenient truths and stand up for principles even if they are unpopular (such as opposing the war and backing civil unions for gays and lesbians). He stayed in control. There was little fiery talk of taking back America with an insurgent campaign.
Policy differences among the candidates were not pronounced. There was disagreement on tax cuts. (Kerry was for middle-class tax cuts included in the Bush tax cuts package; Dean argued these tax cuts were bogus.) A few uncomfortable moments occurred. ABC News anchor Peter Jennings asked Al Sharpton about the Federal Reserve Board and his views on monetary policy. Sharpton replied with a rambling answer about the International Monetary Fund. (Even Sharpton was not his usual zinger-filled self. He only got off one good line the whole debate: "I wanted to say to Governor Dean, don't be hard on yourself about hooting and hollering. If I had spent the money you did and got 18 percent, I'd still be in Iowa hooting and hollering." But by Sharptonian standards, this was not Grade A material.) Edwards, the onetime superlawyer, botched a question about the Defense of Marriage Act, mischaracterizing it completely while stumbling through his reply.
But mostly the candidates met the Clark standard and did okay. No one came across as commanding or daring. No one produced a memorable moment. Kerry, who leads in the polls, did little to enhance or endanger his frontrunner status. It is doubtful that New Hampshire voters, who have been bombarded with campaign ads and saturated media coverage, learned a lot more about the seven alternatives. The most dramatic moment of the evening came before the debate when Kerry arrived and joined a parade organized by the firefighters union, which is supporting him. With a bagpipes and drums corps leading the way, Kerry, mobbed by fans, marched with several hundred pumped-up men down a hill, and they ran smack into a horde of students for Dean, who tried to stand their ground and slow the Kerry procession. Bodies collided, signs went flying. (Have you ever been crushed between a beefy cameraman and a beefy firefighter wearing a kilt and carrying a bass drum? I have.) This was the only excitement of the night. The firefighters and Kerry did make it past the Deaniacs. And, yes, I spotted a fair number of piercings.
The post-debate activity was hardly this thrilling. As is customary, reporters gathered in a designated "Spin Room" to hear what candidates and their surrogates had to say about the debate. Often these instant postmortems are lively, as campaigns push self-serving lines in a frantic effort to characterize the debate before reporters file their reports. Tonight was different. There was no need for spin. Nothing had happened during the debate that needed explaining, defending, or amplification. No campaign bothered attempting to argue that its man had won--or had even outscored anyone else.
One reporter asked Edwards to identify the "critical point" in the debate. He accurately replied, "I'm not sure there was a critical point." Edwards did gripe that the format of the debate had prevented him from talking about "a lot of issues that affect people's lives so voters could see what I would do." I asked him to tell us what issues he had in mind. He replied, "What the country is hungry for is an optimistic, positive vision of hope." And he went on to repeat his standard line that there are "two different Americas," one where people have health care and win big under the tax system, one where people do not.
But, I pressed him, what specific issues should have been addressed. He responded by noting that he had proposed banning campaign contributions from lobbyists, implementing more extensive disclosure of lobbying activity, and ending the revolving door between government and lobbying firms. I gently reminded him that he had mentioned all of this during the debate. But he noted he had not had the chance to discuss his plan to improve public schools with bonus pay for teachers in tough school districts. And he repeated a concern he had raised during the debate: none of the candidates is talking about the 35 million Americans who live in poverty. More time in the debate, he noted, was devoted to discussing gay marriage than this troubling situation. "The debate may have been helpful for people to get a general impression of us," he remarked. "But the substantive differences in our views was hard to tell." Still, he added, "I was the candidate who presented an uplifting message of hope."
If there was any interesting spin, it came from Joe Trippi, Dean's campaign manager. He came to the "Spin Room" with a mantra: the Governor showed that what is different about him is that he got results in Vermont and stood up when it was tough to do so. Trippi repeated that message to reporters over and over.
"Dean didn't say a lot about his campaign as an insurgent movement," I said to Trippi. He replied, "A lot of the focus is on him right now. And there are a lot of candidates who are talking about special interests and change." Trippi noted that the reason Dean entered the race originally was that he "cares so much about health care." Clearly, the Dean strategy of the moment is to present Dean not so much as the maverick assailing Washington--even if Dean still does say, "we want our country back"--but as a gutsy executive who has a record of accomplishment. "We have to establish what the campaign is really about," Trippi said. "It's about a guy who used to come to New Hampshire when no one knew his name, with brochures in his back pockets and talked about his real record on health care and balancing budgets and standing up when it's not always popular to do so." Trippi added, "I don't think New Hampshire is going to let 15 seconds of videotape change that." Perhaps. But for the Dean campaign now is the time to forget about the Dean movement and concentrate on Dean the man.
Can the Dean campaign pull off this transition? Why bother predicting when the answer will come soon enough? One less-than-encouraging sign for the Dean gang: Trippi was the last campaign personality to exit the "Spin Room." By the time he left, most reporters had departed, many grumbling about the low-energy/low-impact debate. The room was close to empty. Trippi had stayed longer than aides from any of the other campaigns.
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 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.
The annual Super Bowl game draws a huge audience of television viewers – 130 million Americans are expected to view the game February 1 -- and advertisers of all types want to reach that audience. So CBS, which will air the most-watched football game of the year, has jacked up ad rates accordingly and begun selling chunks of air time to peddlers of beer, soda pop, cars, trucks and political agendas.
But the network is not taking ads from all comers. Some political views have been judged unacceptable by CBS censors. While advertising industry sources say CBS will air a pair of advocacy commercials prepared to advance the agenda of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the network has refused to accept an advertisement prepared by critics of the man who currently occupies the White House.
The MoveOn.org Voter Fund recently conducted a "Bush in 30 Seconds" TV ad contest, in which it promised that the winning entry would be shown during the Super Bowl broadcast. MoveOn, the innovative internet-based activist community, was willing to pay the $2 million it would cost to air the ad. And no one suggests that the ad is inaccurate or inappropriate; indeed, Fox TV commentator Bill'Reilly, no fan of MoveOn, says: "It's not offensive, (it) makes a legitimate point politically."
Yet, CBS is refusing to run the MoveOn ad, claiming in the words of CBS spokesperson Dana McClintock, "We have a policy against accepting advocacy advertising." The reason? CBS told MoveOn that it does not want to trouble viewers with commercials that address "controversial issues of public importance."
The MoveOn commercial does indeed address an issue of public importance: the rapid growth of the federal deficit. But as advocacy ads go, this ad is not particularly controversial. The ad simply warns that the Bush Administration's reckless policy of cutting taxes for wealthy Americans while hiking spending is creating a huge federal budget deficit that will have to be paid off by future generations. That statement merely echoes concerns expressed by both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. Just this week, more than three dozen Republican members of the House launched a campaign to get the White House to slow the rate of deficit spending.
In fairness to CBS, the MoveOn advertisement might be considered controversial by White House political czar Karl Rove and others who are offended by any criticism of the president or his policies. But if controversy is really a concern, then why would CBS consider airing advocacy commercials from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy?
At a time when millions of Americans, including federal judges, mayors, governors and members of Congress are questioning the wisdom of continuing the failed war on drugs, the Office of National Drug Control Policy advocacy ads frequently inspire controversy. Indeed, past Super Bowl commercials from the agency, which equated casual drug use with support for international terrorism, have stirred significant debate – and, yes, controversy.
So what's the real reason for the CBS decision to censor an advertisement – from MoveOn -- that raises legitimate questions about the president's approach to a pressing national concern?
"It seems to us that CBS simply defers to those it fears or from whom it wants favors – in this case, the Bush White House," argues Eli Pariser, campaign director for MoveOn.org. "This is the same CBS that recently backed down when the Republican National Committee made a stink about its mini-series on former President Reagan and his family."
Pariser notes, correctly, that Viacom -- the parent company of CBS that also owns the UPN network, MTV, Showtime, Nickelodeon, BET, Paramount Pictures, Blockbuster Video, over 175 radio stations and more than 35 local television stations -- has been in the forefront of lobbying for the lifting of Federal Communications Commission limits on media consolidation and conglomeration.
On June 2 of last year, the FCC voted 3-2 to allow networks such as CBS to dramatically expand their control over local television markets.
Even when Congress roll back the FCC rule changes, the Bush White House took the side of CBS – pressuring Republican leaders in the House and Senate to prevent votes on initiatives to retain existing ownership limits. Now, in an election year, CBS is taking the side of the Bush White House and censoring an advertisement that seeks to open a debate about the president's fiscal policies – while at the same time preparing to air a commercial that advances other policies promoted by the same president.
When it comes to censoring Super Bowl commercials, CBS is way out of bounds.
To view the MoveOn Voter Fund commercial, go to: http://www.bushin30seconds.org/
To learn more about the controversy and the fight over the FCC rule changes, go to: http://mediareform.net/media/
To learn more about lobbying of the FCC and Congress by CBS and other major communications corporations, go to http://www.publicintegrity.org/dtaweb/index.asp?L1=20&L2=21&L3=0&L4=0&L5...
On the 31th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the number of US abortion providers has fallen to its lowest level in three decades, a trend many physicians ascribe to a hostile political climate, the surge of hospital mergers and a lack of enthusiasm for teaching the procedure at most medical schools. And things will likely get worse with most centers of political power in the US currently occupied by anti-choice hardliners.
Fortunately, there are numerous organizations taking effective action to help preserve and expand women's right to reproductive choice. Joining one of them today would be a good way to mark the anniversary's importance. Click here for a listing of links to groups as well as relevant Nation articles, essays and columns, including Jennifer Baumgardner's recent editorial, "We're Not Sorry, Charlie." Laura Flanders's Your Call radio program will also feature a Roe anniversary show today. Click here to listen online.
1/Bush may want to strengthen marriage in this country but he strained mine last night. Just as he launched into sermon about how "a strong America must also value the institution of marriage," my husband was furious with me for making him miss the end of the Tennessee/Kentucky college basketball game. (Yes, we are a two TV family, but the other one was broken.) And, as for trying "to send the right messages to our children," I did make my daughter watch the speech. Her response was to ask why Bush doesn't propose a constitutional amendment making it illegal for pop stars like Britney to marry if he cares so much about preserving the sanctity of the institution of marriage.
2/The New York Times observed today that the President concluded his address by echoing the words Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote on the day he died in April 1945: "My fellow citizens, we now move forward with confidence and faith." Faith and confidence in this speech? Pleeez. In a time of revolutionary despair, during the Great Depression and World War II, President Roosevelt gave America a vision of hope, confidence and courage and told us that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Instead, Bush just reminded us last night that this Administration has nothing to fear but the end of fear itself.
3/Watching Teddy Kennedy's expressions during the speech almost made up for the fact that there were 71 rounds of applause. (71 rounds? They didn't even get that in Soviet Central Committee meetings.) The first shot showed Kennedy's despair; the second showed his disbelief when Bush brandished the new threat--"weapons of mass destruction-related program activities," by the end Kennedy was downright grimacing. And, in a post-speech interview, the senior Senator from Mass. was literally hopping mad as he lashed out at Bush's mendacity--"see what he does, not what he says," he warned.
4/Hopeful sign of life in the Congressional chamber: the small round of applause which greeted Bush's warning that "key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire next year."
5/And what was all that stuff about steroids? Was it Bush's way of taking a shot at Arnold in case California's new governor succeeds in getting an amendment passed allowing US citizens born outside of the US to run for President? As Bush warned, steroid use "...sends the wrong message--that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character."
NOTE: Click here for Robert Borosage's "Kitchen Table State of the Union," which offers a true look at America at the dawn of 2004.