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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Bad News for Bush: He's Headed for Nebraska

Two years ago, George Bush beat John Kerry in Nebraska by a 66-33 margin. The Republican president carried all but one of the state's counties, as Republican candidates swept to easy victories in the state's three congressional districts.

So why has George Bush rushed to Nebraska to campaign on the eve of this year's mid-term congressional elections? Because, amazingly, in one of the reddest of the red states, a Democrat could pick up a GOP House seat. If Nebraska falls it will almost certainly be in the face of a Democratic wave that will sweep in a Congress capable of holding to account a president who has not previously experienced the joys of being checked and balanced.

That Democrats are likely to take control of the House Tuesday is no longer news. That they might take it with a substantial enough majority to get serious about presidential accountability is what the Bush White House now fears.

The fight in Nebraska offers evidence of just how real the threat has become.

The Republicans are in trouble in the rural 3rd district of the state, which gave Bush 75 percent of the vote in 2004, At the same time reelected Republican Congressman Tom Osborne with 87 percent of the vote.

As the 2006 election approaches, however, a Democrat is actually leading in some polls of the race to replace the retiring Osborne.

No Democrat has won this Nebraska seat since 1958, in the final mid-term election of Dwight Eisenhower's presidency. So how could this seat, representing a sprawling region of farms and smalltowns be so in play that the president must be called on to save the day for the Republicans?

It has something to do with issues: Even Nebraska Republicans are wary about the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war. Nebraska U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel has frequently compared the conflict to the Vietnam imbroglio, and the popular Republican's not alone in his concerns. Also, Republican ethics problems in general, and the controversy over Florida Congressman Mark Foley's emails to congressional pages in particular, have played especially badly for the GOP in a state that prides itself on following the rules.

But the GOP's problem in Nebraska has a lot to do with the candidate who is challenging their party's long-time dominance of the 3rd district. Democrat Scott Kleeb has run a remarkable grassroots campaign that has focused both on the ethics crisis created by Republican dominance of Washington and on the failure of DC politicians to protect farmers and rural economies. After years of failing to reach out to rural voters, national Democrats have recognized the strength of Kleeb's appeal, providing the Yale-educated rancher with last-minute infusions of campaign cash for the first-time candidate's final push in the race with Republican state Sen. Adrian Smith.

The combination's Kleeb's aggressive campaigning on rural issues and Republican disenchantment with Smith, who narrowly won a divisive primary, appears to be tipping the race toward the Democrat. An October 30 survey by the Democratic polling group Penn, Schoen, and Berland Associates had Kleeb leading Smith by a 46 percent to 40 percent margin among likely voters.

And Kleeb has begun picking up newspaper endorsements from key papers in the state, including the Omaha World Herald.

So President Bush has been pulled out of other states where the GOP is in trouble to campaign in, of all places, Nebraska. The president will be the state Sunday, begging wandering Republican voters in the 3rd district to return to the party fold.

Bush may succeed in saving a Nebraska seat for the GOP -- althopugh that is far from a certainty. But if the president and his Grand Old Party are fighting for Nebraska on the weekend before critical mid-term elections, the Republicans are in very serious trouble. Indeed, the president's decision to schedule a trip to the state confirms just how tough this election year has become for a man and a party that used to be able to take states this red for granted.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Rove Rides the Swift Boat Once More

John Kerry's not even on the ballot. So how come everyone is talking about the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee's failed attempt to make a joke at the expense of George W. Bush's education -- or lack thereof?

Because media coverage of this campaign, at least in its final days, is going according to Karl Rove's script -- thanks in no small measure to the inability of most political reporters to chart their own course on the eve of an election.

Rove needs the focus to be on Kerry.

The White House political czar is fully conscious that the Republican base -- social conservatives, people who don't want to pay their taxes and angry white men with an exceptionally narrow view of what it means to be a patriot -- has been trained to despise and fear the Massachusetts senator in a way that there just is not enough time to gin up hatred for Nancy Pelosi or any other Democratic "infidel" of the moment.

With Rove shifting the entire Republican pre-election push toward a base-energizing initiative that relies almost entirely on stoking disdain for Democrats, he's got to get people focused on Kerry.

Rove has seen the polls. He knows that the base is shaky. Republican House candidates are stuck in close races not just in the classic swing districts of suburban Philadelphia and south Florida -- where folks who actually voted for Al Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004 are represented by vulnerable Republicans -- but also in contests in Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Nevada and other states that voted overwhelmingly for Bush in both of his presidential runs.

To avoid the election of a House -- and perhaps a Senate -- that might have substantial enough majorities to hold the Bush administration to account for its actions, Rove has shifted the Republican focus toward a number of competitive Senate and House contests in the interior west, where large numbers of Republican base voters have grown disenchanted enough with the party to consider Democrats.

Republican money is being pulled out of high-profile Senate races in Ohio and Pennsylvania -- where it costs a fortune to maintain a media campaign in multiple markets -- to the smaller states of the west where it is possible to get more bang for the buck. And the biggest bang comes from scaring base voters back into the Republican camp.

Hence the Kerry message.

That's why, well after the story had run its course, Bush and Dick Cheney were still talking about it on the campaign trail.The president and vice president are incorporating lengthy riffs on Kerry's comments in their stump speeches. And they are being steered into states that don't usually experience White House visits on the eve of an election.

The Republicans focusing particularly hard on Montana, where populist Democrat Jon Tester has led scandal-plagued Republican Senator Conrad Burns for most of the fall. Tester's been helped by the broader Democratic trend in the west, and particularly in Montana, as well as the incumbent's verbal stumbles and extensive links to convicted influence-peddler Jack Abramoff.

But Rove and the other Republican strategists have decided to make a stand in the Big Sky state. Bush and Cheney are being dispatched to the state, as well as to other western states where the GOP is betting that a final push against Kerry and "elite" Democrats will save enough seats to hold the Senate and perhaps the House. Cheney was in Montana Wednesday, talking at great length about Kerry -- ``Of course, now Senator Kerry says he was just making a joke, and he botched it up,'' the vice president announced in Kalispell. ``I guess we didn't get the nuance. He was for the joke before he was against it."

Bush will pick up the line of attack today, when he too visits the state.

Why Montana?

The fight for control of the Senate really is close. Count on Democrats to hold every seat that is now in their column and to pick up Republican seats in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. There are decent chances for Democrats to pick up another Republican seat or two in the highly-competitive and much-talked-about races of Virginia, Missouri and Tennessee -- although it now appears that Democrats are wavering on whether to remain in the Tennessee fight after their candidate, Harold Ford, slipped in several polls.What this all adds up to is the prospect that Democrats could expand their Senate caucus to 49 seats on Tuesday. But to get to 50, where they can demand the equal position on committees that is key to organizing hearings and investigations, or even to 51, where they can control the chamber, they need Montana.

Montana Democrats have figured out how to win as western populists and outsiders, such as Governor Brian Schweitzer. They don't run to the right -- Tester's for bringing the troops home from Iraq and against the Patriot Act -- but they do run against Washington insiders. And they don't want to be linked to Kerry and other Democrats who are portrayed as east-coast elitists. The same goes for surging Democratic House candidates in Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska and other states -- whose victories would give Nancy Pelosi not just a bare majority but room to move as the Speaker of a Democratic House.

Tester, one of the most well-grounded and genuinely impressive of the new crop of outside-the-beltway Democrats, is in Rove sites. He's fighting back with everything he's got. And he's still a good bet to win. But, bet on this, Rove, Bush, Cheney and the entire Republican spin machine will be doing everything in their considerable power to hang John Kerry around Jon Tester's neck. It's not fair to Kerry, whose comments are being taken out of context. It's not fair to the political process, which ought not be focused on such silliness at so critical a point.

But no should expect Karl Rove to play fair. And, unfortunately, no one should expect most political reporters to recognize that, by again helping to swiftboat John Kerry, they are working from Rove's political playbook.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Ned Lamont Refocuses on the War

Ned Lamont has had a rough fall.

After beating incumbent Senator Joe Lieberman in the August 8 Connecticut Democratic primary, Lamont's campaign lost both its focus and its momentum.

With the tacit support of the Bush White House and the Republican National Committee, as well as a "who's who" of special-interest groups and their Washington lobbyists, Lieberman pieced together a sophisticated reelection campaign on his own "Connecticut for Lieberman" independent line. With relative ease, the senior senator and consummate Washington insider successfully repositioned himself as a reformer who wanted to put an end to partisanship.

The Lamont camp should have been able to expose the absurdity of Lieberman's claims and put the incumbent on the defensive in the fall campaign – just as the challenger and his supporters did so ably in the primary race. Instead, the challenger's campaign fumbled. Lamont's campaign manager, Tom Swan, admitted in mid-October that, "We had a slow start after the primary. It was a short-term mistake…"

Precious time was lost in late August and early September, as the Lamont camp tried to frame new themes for the fall campaign. Instead of driving home the message that Connecticut can and must send a message to George W. Bush and those members of Congress – like Lieberman – who have steered the country into a disastrous war, the Lamont campaign seemed to edge away from the smart and effective anti-war message the took its candidate from obscurity to the Democratic nomination.

Perhaps most unfortunately, the Lamont campaign started to sound petty. The daily attacks on Lieberman wore thin. There was too much picayune pondering of whether the incumbent had broken a term-limits promise, and too little emphasis on "Bring the Troops Home" fundamentals.

The Connecticut Senate race was becoming less and less a referendum on the war and more and more a referendum on Lieberman – a candidate who, despite his flaws, had a long history with Connecticut voters. As the crucial month of October slipped away, the Hartford Courant reported that Lieberman and his aides were "confident they [had] made the race about more than an unpopular war."

Polls have reflected that assessment. Lieberman has opened up a wide lead – 52 percent for the incumbent, 37 percent for Lamont, 6 percent for orphaned Republican Alan Schlesinger, in a Quinnipiac University survey conducted two weeks ago. Yet, the same poll found that 67 percent of Connecticut voters disapprove of George Bush's handling of the war – and, by extension, the senator's pro-war position.

Aware that they are in very real danger of losing a race they should be winning, Lamont and his advisors are focusing anew on the anti-war message that proved so powerful in the primary. "There are other issues, but everything else pales in comparison to the war," Tom D'Amore, a Lamont adviser, explained on Sunday. "It is the issue of our time."

To deliver the message that Lieberman is on the wrong side of the issue, the Lamont campaign is banking on retired General Wesley Clark, who served as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander before leaving the military and emerging as one of the most outspoken critics of the Bush administration's military misadventures.

In a new television ad for the Lamont campaign, Clark declares, "I'm retired General Wes Clark. Joe Lieberman introduced the resolution authorizing the War in Iraq. That was a mistake. Joe Lieberman voted for that resolution without asking the tough questions. That was also a mistake. And now, three and a half years into a failing mission in Iraq, Joe Lieberman can't seem to say we should change the course. And that's a REAL mistake."

Clark concludes: "Re-elect Joe Lieberman? Well, there's a word for it. ‘Mistake.'"

The ad delivers the right message, and it is being echoed with appropriate urgency by Lamont. Recalling how he began thinking about challenging Lieberman in November 2005, after the senator penned a Wall Street Journal opinion piece about his support for Bush's war, the Democratic nominee is telling Connecticut voters that "Joe Lieberman and George Bush are as wrong on [the war] today as they were a year ago, when I got into this race."

The question now is whether the right message is coming in time to renew Ned Lamont's prospects in an election that is barely a week away.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Limbaugh's Savage Crusade

Rush Limbaugh is not just making an issue of Michael J. Fox's campaign ads for Democratic candidates who support stem-cell research. The conservative talk-radio personality is making it the issue of a fall campaign that gets stranger by the day.

While it may be hard to figure out why anyone with Limbaugh's political pull and national prominence would declare war on the guy who played Alex P. Keaton -- one of television's most outspoken, if eccentric, conservatives -- in the series "Family Ties," there is no denying the intensity of the assault.

For the better part of three hours each day this week, the radio ranter has been "Swift Boating the television and film star for daring to do what Limbaugh -- who freely admits that he is an entertainer -- does every day.

In Limbaugh's warped assessment of the political process, it's fine for him to try and influence the votes of Americans. But woe be it to anyone else who attempts to do so.

Since Fox began speaking up in favor of candidates who support science over superstition, the television and film star who suffers from Parkinson's disease has been accused by Limbaugh of "exaggerating the effects of the disease" in campaign commercials in which he points out that Democratic candidates for the Congress and governorships in the battleground states of Missouri, Maryland, Illinois, Wisconsin and now Iowa favor a serious approach to stem-cell research while their Republican opponents do not. Limbaugh was relentless in his assault on Fox. "He's moving all around and shaking and it's purely an act," the conservative commentator says. "This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting."After it was pointed out to Limbaugh everyone, literally everyone, who knows anything about Parkinson's disease, Limbaugh declared, "Now people are telling me they have seen Michael J. Fox in interviews and he does appear the same way in the interviews as he does in this commercial. All right then, I stand corrected. . . . So I will bigly, hugely admit that I was wrong, and I will apologize to Michael J. Fox, if I am wrong in characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act."

That should have been the end of it.

But Limbaugh wasn't backing off. His new theme became: "Michael J. Fox is allowing his illness to be exploited and in the process is shilling for a Democratic politician."

One problem with that line of attack is that Fox was the one who volunteered to cut the ads, with the express purpose of helping voters see beyond the spin and recognize the stark choices that they will be making on November 7. Another problem is that, two years ago, Fox cut an ad supporting a top Republican, Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, who supports embryonic stem-cell research. But the biggest problem is with Limbaugh's emphasis on the Fox's physical appearance, as opposed to what the actor is saying in the ads? Why blather on and on about whether Fox, an actor, might be acting?

Because it is easier to criticize the way that Michael J. Fox looks than it is to criticize the content of his message.

Fox's ads are fact-based. They reference the voting records, public statements and policy initiatives of the Democratic and Republican candidates he is talking about.

That being the case, beating up on the "Back to the Future" kid would not seem like a smart political strategy. And it certainly is not going to help Limbaugh soften his image as a partisan hitman who knows a little too much about what it means to be on or off particular medications.

So why are Limbaugh and other readers of Republican talking points continuing to accuse Fox of "acting" sick, and of lying his own disease and about the role that stem-cell research may play in the search for treatments and a cure? Why devote so much time and energy to attacking one ailing actor and one set of commercials?It has a lot to do with the powerful lobby that is opposing serious stem-cell research.

Unspoken in much of the debate over this issue is the real reason why candidates such as U.S. Senator Jim Talent, the embattled Republican incumbent who is the target of Fox's criticism in Missouri, and U.S. Representative Mark Green, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who is mentioned in Fox's ads in Wisconsin, so vehemently oppose embryonic stem-cell research.

It is not because they think the research is unnecessary -- no one who has heard from top scientists and groups advocating on behalf of the sick and suffering, as both Talent and Green have, would take such a stand. Rather, it is because Talent, Green and other politicians who are campaigning not just against their Democratic opponents but against scientific inquiry want to maintain the support of the groups that oppose serious stem-cell research: the powerful and influential anti-choice political action committees that in each election cycle spend millions of dollars in questionable cash to support candidates who are willing to echo their faith-based opposition to research that could identify treatments and perhaps even cures for for life-threatening illnesses such as Parkinson's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease, Type I or Juvenile Diabetes, Duchenne' Dystrophy, and spinal chord injuries.

Groups that oppose reproductive rights are central players in our politics because they have established networks that serve as some of the most effective hidden conduits for special-interest money that is used to pay for crude attack campaigns against mainstream candidates.

They also mobilize voters on behalf of contenders who cynically embrace the ugliest forms of anti-scientific dogma to make the rounds since the evolution deniers ginned up the Scopes trial.For this reason, the antiabortion machine gets what it wants when it wants it.

Politicians who align themselves with antichoice groups are willing to attack anyone who challenges them -- and for good reason. In states across the country, so-called "Right-to-Life" and "Pro-Life" groups spend freely on behalf of the candidates they back. And much of that spending goes essentially undetected, as the groups often do not give money directly to candidates but instead run "issue ads" and mount independent-expenditure campaigns.

Republican politicians like Talent and Green fully understand that, without the behind-the-scenes work of antiabortion groups -- most of which flies under the radar of the media and campaign-finance regulators -- they could not possibly win. And Limbaugh, whose stated goal is to maintain Republican hegemony, is perhaps even more aware of the fact than the candidates he is working so feverishly to elect.That's why the radio personality is on a personal crusade against Fox. That's also why Limbaugh has been willing to stick to his outlandish claims about the actor, even while acknowledging that he's gotten the facts wrong.

Like the Republican politicians who are scrambling to smear Fox, Limbaugh is doing the bidding of one of the most powerful behind-the-scenes political forces in America -- a force that is essential to Republican prospects. And he is not going to let a little thing like the truth make him back off.

Politics is a cynical game. But, sometimes, the cynicism becomes so extreme that the word "unconscionable" doesn't quite seem to capture the ugliness of it all.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Stem Cell Politics

The last day that I spent with Paul Wellstone began on a sunny morning in the living room of his St. Paul home. I'd arrived to join him as he campaigned for reelection in what was widely seen as the most hotly contested Senate race in the nation.

But when I walked in, Wellstone was not making calls for campaign contributions or rehearsing soundbites.

He was reading.

Wellstone was a passionate reader. He always had a new book under his arm. And he read widely -- far beyond the confines of the history, biography and public-policy shelves that political figures tend to frequent.

On that last day, he was reading Michael J. Fox's 2002 book, Lucky Man: A Memoir.

Wellstone couldn't stop talking about the actor's autobiography, especially the sections where Fox wrote about his struggle with Parkinson's disease. The senator from Minnesota, whose parents had suffered from that ailment and who had himself been recently diagnosed with a mild form of multiple sclerosis, related to what he was reading. He went on at some length about how important it was for prominent people to be open about their chronic conditions. He felt it helped promote understanding and empathy, which in Wellstone's view was often the first step toward political engagement. And, as the senate's most passionate advocate for medical research and a national health care system, he felt that engaging the great mass of Americans in a discussion about the importance of federal and state funding of groundbreaking -- and sometimes controversial -- studies was essential.

Wellstone believed, as many scientists do, that with proper support, embryonic stem cell research could identify treatments and perhaps even cures for life-threatening illnesses such as Parkinson's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease, Type I or Juvenile Diabetes, Duchenne' Dystrophy, and spinal chord injuries.

After President Bush's 2001 decision to sharply limit federal funding of medical research that uses embryonic stem cell lines, Wellstone said, "The sharp limitation of federal support may well close the door on some of the life-saving promise of embryonic stem cell research, which can be conducted consistent with basic ethical and legal principles that respect the value of human life. I do not believe that President Bush's decision will be the final word on this important federal policy. In light of this disappointing announcement, Congress, and the American people, will now surely be heard."

As he was on so many issues, Paul Wellstone turned out to be prescient.

On this, the fourth anniversary of his death in a Minnesota plane crash, stem-cell research is finally emerging as the sort of political issue that Wellstone thought it should be. And Michael J. Fox, whose book the senator was reading on that sunny morning that now seems so very long ago, is at the center of the debate. This week, Fox began appearing in televised campaign commercials for Democratic supporters of embryonic stem-cell research -- including Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Claire McCaskill, Maryland U.S. Senate candidate Ben Cardin, Illinois U.S. House candidate Tammy Duckworth and Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle -- who are locked in tight races with Republicans who want to limit support for scientific inquiry.

Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing commentators who once trashed Wellstone are now attacking Fox. Limbaugh has gone so far as to claim that the actor "is exaggerating the effects of the disease," while claiming that the commercials are "purely an act." Why the attacks? It comes back to that point Wellstone made: When a prominent figure who suffers from a life-threatening condition joins the debate over funding scientific research, it can shift the political pendulum. If Michael J. Fox succeeds in framing the stem-cell research fight as the life-and-death issue that it is, then, perhaps, "the American people will now surely be heard." And Paul Wellstone will again be proven right.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

The Most Vital Political Statement of 2006

We have entered the ugly season of the political cycle, the time when election day looms close enough that politicians, parties and pundits are willing to utter just about any claim, any innuendo, and libel in order to sway a vote.

Reasonable Americans are understandably inclined to shut off the noise and presume that nothing more of importance can or will be said in the final weeks before the vote.

It is in precisely in such white-hot moments, however, that the statements that matter most are often made. And such is the case with a short article titled "After Pat's Birthday," which appeared Friday morning at the essential online magazine site Truthdig. Since then, the words of Kevin Tillman, the brother of perhaps the most famous casualty of the Bush administration's military adventuring, have ricocheted around the internet faster than the speed of light – a proper rate, as what veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts has to say is far more illuminating than anything on offer from the current crop of candidates.

After September 11, 2001, Pat and Kevin Tillman signed up for the U.S. Army. It was an especially dramatic sacrifice for Pat, a player with the Arizona Cardinals football team who turned down a $3.6 million contract to play the next three years with the Cardinals in order to join the Army Rangers in Iraq and then Afghanistan.

Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004, and received war-hero honors at a memorial service where U.S. Senator John McCain spoke. Supporters of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, endeavors that by the time of Tillman's death were growing increasingly controversial, sought to spin the football star's sacrifice as evidence of the nobility of the Bush administration's military adventure. Sunshine patriot Sean Hannity swore his allegiance to Tillman on his television program, declaring: "I love him and admire him..." Ann Coulter oozed, "Tillman was an American original: virtuous, pure and masculine like only an American male can be."

The propaganda push eventually fell apart, however, when it was learned that the Pentagon had delayed revealing to Tillman's family the circumstances of his death -- he was shot three times in the head by so-called "friendly fire" and U.S. troops then burned his body armor and uniform in an apparent cover-up attempt -- until after the memorial service, with all its patriotic flourishes and media attention, was finished. Later still, it was revealed that Pat Tillman had during the course of his service become an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq and was in the months before his death urging fellow soldiers not to vote for President Bush's reelection.

Kevin Tillman survived his deployments, and was discharged from the Army in 2005. Now, on the eve of the first national election after that discharge, with "After Pat's Birthday," he has made it clear that he shares his brother's disenchantment with the armchair warriors of the Bush administration and its amen corner in the media.

In so doing, Kevin Tillman has made the most vital political statement of 2006:

It is Pat Tillman's birthday November 6, and elections are the day after. It gets me thinking about a conversation I had with Pat before we joined the military. He spoke about the risks with signing the papers. How once we committed, we were at the mercy of the American leadership and the American people. How we could be thrown in a direction not of our volition. How fighting as a soldier would leave us without a voice.... until we get out.

Much has happened since we handed over our voice:

Somehow we were sent to invade a nation because it was a direct threat to the American people, or to the world, or harbored terrorists, or was involved in the September 11 attacks, or received weapons-grade uranium from Niger, or had mobile weapons labs, or WMD, or had a need to be liberated, or we needed to establish a democracy, or stop an insurgency, or stop a civil war we created that can't be called a civil war even though it is. Something like that.

Somehow our elected leaders were subverting international law and humanity by setting up secret prisons around the world, secretly kidnapping people, secretly holding them indefinitely, secretly not charging them with anything, secretly torturing them. Somehow that overt policy of torture became the fault of a few "bad apples" in the military.

Somehow back at home, support for the soldiers meant having a five-year-old kindergartener scribble a picture with crayons and send it overseas, or slapping stickers on cars, or lobbying Congress for an extra pad in a helmet. It's interesting that a soldier on his third or fourth tour should care about a drawing from a five-year-old; or a faded sticker on a car as his friends die around him; or an extra pad in a helmet, as if it will protect him when an IED throws his vehicle 50 feet into the air as his body comes apart and his skin melts to the seat.

Somehow the more soldiers who die, the more legitimate the illegal invasion becomes.

Somehow American leadership, whose only credit is lying to its people and illegally invading a nation, has been allowed to steal the courage, virtue and honor of its soldiers on the ground.

Somehow those afraid to fight an illegal invasion decades ago are allowed to send soldiers to die for an illegal invasion they started.

Somehow faking character, virtue and strength is tolerated.

Somehow profiting from tragedy and horror is tolerated.

Somehow the death of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people is tolerated.

Somehow subversion of the Bill of Rights and The Constitution is tolerated.

Somehow suspension of Habeas Corpus is supposed to keep this country safe.

Somehow torture is tolerated.

Somehow lying is tolerated.

Somehow reason is being discarded for faith, dogma, and nonsense.

Somehow American leadership managed to create a more dangerous world.

Somehow a narrative is more important than reality.

Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.

Somehow the most reasonable, trusted and respected country in the world has become one of the most irrational, belligerent, feared, and distrusted countries in the world.

Somehow being politically informed, diligent, and skeptical has been replaced by apathy through active ignorance.

Somehow the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country.

Somehow this is tolerated.

Somehow nobody is accountable for this.

In a democracy, the policy of the leaders is the policy of the people. So don't be shocked when our grandkids bury much of this generation as traitors to the nation, to the world and to humanity. Most likely, they will come to know that "somehow" was nurtured by fear, insecurity and indifference, leaving the country vulnerable to unchecked, unchallenged parasites.

Luckily this country is still a democracy. People still have a voice. People still can take action. It can start after Pat's birthday.

Kevin Tillman's election message -- and, thankfully, with its references to November 7, there can be no question that this is an election message -- is not particularly long. With a little trimming, it might make a compelling radio or television commercial. After all, this is the dose of truth that needs to be administered to voters who are still searching for perspective as they prepare to cast their ballots.

But Kevin Tillman's message ought not be circulated by a campaign committee or a political party. It should be shared, citizen to citizen, first on the internet, but then in phone calls to family members and old friends, in conversations over coffee and along the sideline at the soccer field, in leaflets slipped under the doors of neighbors and handed to one another after church.

This is the message that, unvarnished and unpackaged, can touch the hearts and the minds of voters who -- if they read seriously the words of the brother who made it back – will come to understand that they can and must redeem the American experiment on the day "After Pat's Birthday."

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Voting for Impeachment

From Vermont to Illinois to California, voters this fall will be deciding the fate not just of candidates for Congress but of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

Communities that are home to more than 1 million Americans will have an opportunity to cast ballots on the question of whether Congress should begin impeachment proceedings against the president and vice president.

Only the U.S. House of Representatives can impeach a member of the executive branch, and only the Senate can convict the targeted official and remove him from office. But the founders always intended for citizens to have a voice in the process. Thomas Jefferson, who argued that power must ultimately rest in the people, as they alone are the surest defenders of the republic and its democratic aspirations, observed, "It behooves our citizens to be on their guard, to be firm in their principles, and full of confidence in themselves. We are able to preserve our self-government if we will but think so."

Duly troubled by a president and vice president who have launched wars without congressional declarations, who have spied without warrants, who have disregarded and disdained the Constitution, citizens across the country have put themselves to the task of preserving self-government by raising the call for impeachment. Dozens of communities have considered resolutions calling on Congress to act, and this fall's referendums will raise the volume.

The precise wording of the questions varies from town to town. Prepared with the assistance of activists with the Constitution Summer project (www.constitutionsummer.org), the propositions in San Francisco and Berkeley read like actual articles of impeachment. In urging members of the House to begin impeachment proceedings against Bush and Cheney, for instance, San Francisco's Proposition J goes far beyond now standard complaints regarding abuses of power related to invasion and occupation of Iraq and argues for holding the administration to account for the mismanagement of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

The proposal is more to the point in tiny Pittsville, Wisconsin -- population 866 -- where voters will be asked to vote "yes" or "no" on a local resolution that declares: "The U.S. House of Representatives should start an impeachment investigation against President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney now."

If the voters say yes, says Bob Hoch, organizer of the Wood County Impeachment Coalition's petition drives, a call to act will be dispatched to the state's congressional delegation -- two of whom, Madison Democrat Tammy Baldwin and Milwaukee Democrat Gwen Moore, have already joined a House call for an impeachment inquiry.

There are those who will suggest that referendum votes in handful of communities as distinct as San Francisco and Pittsville can't possibly mean much to the national discourse. But, surely, the cynics are wrong.

The referendums in those communities, and Montpelier, Vermont, and Urbana, Ill., and other locales across the land are classic illustrations of the petitioning for the redress of grievances that the Constitution does not merely protect but in fact encourages. The impeachment-from-below movement is the modern-day expression of the oldest of American ideals: No man, be he pauper or president, shall stand above the law. And it is wholly appropriate that it is beginning at the municipal level.

Former Harper's magazine editor Lewis Lapham, was asked during a recent visit to San Francisco: "Do you think that's the way we should go about impeachment -- municipally?"

"I don't see why not," Lapham, one of the Republic's most thoughtful and consistent defenders, replied. "I don't see any other way to go about it. I think that the impetus for any revival for democratic government is going to come not from a national level but from a municipal and state level."

There is something satisfying about the fact that the communities that are voting on impeachment -- which range from urban centers to college towns to rural towns -- cannot be stereotyped. That is as it should be, says Buzz Davis, the Veterans for Peace activist who has been leading the impeachment campaign that has qualified two referendums for the November ballots in Wisconsin cities and hopes to qualify many more for next spring's local election ballots. "Impeachment is not a partisan issue but a question of whether our nation will live under the rule of law as our Founding Fathers believed," argues Davis.

James Madison said that "it may, perhaps, on some occasion, be found necessary to impeach the president himself."

It would come as no surprise to Madison or Jefferson that citizens are the first to recognize the occasion and to call upon Congress to act. Nor would this trouble the founders; indeed, they would say that the impeachment-from-below movement is the truest expression of the patriotism that alone will preserve the republic.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

2008: Warner Is Out; Edwards Gets a Boost

The early line on former Virginia Governor Mark Warner's surprise decision to scrap an expected bid for the 2OO8 Democratic presidential nomination is that this is good news for New York Senator Hillary Clinton, the presumed frontrunner who shares many of Warner's centrist stances, and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, the other Democratic Leadership Council acolyte who is preparing a campaign.

"It's good for Hillary," bubbled Steve Elmendorf, a key aide to John Kerry's Democratic presidential campaign of 2004.

"The biggest winner might be Evan Bayh," countered Jennifer Duffy, who watches the race for the Washington-based Cook Political Report.

Don't buy either line.

Aside from the fact that Warner was the rare Democrat who in a post-9/11 election had taken a major position away from the Republicans in a southern state, and then governing successfully enough to leave office with high approval ratings, most potential primary voters knew nothing about him. His stands on the issues -- to the extent that he had articulated them -- were never what made Democrats around the country interested in Warner's serious-minded and well-financed bid for the nomination. Rather, it was the popular notion that Democrats are best positioned to win in the presidency if they nominate candidates with track records of winning in states that are below the Mason-Dixon line -- following in the footsteps of former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton in 1992.

The theory's a bad one. Democrats should be looking for presidential prospects the Midwest and West -- regions where the party's support is expanding and has the potential to tip previously Republican states -- rather than the conservative climes of Dixie. But if there is one certainty about the Democratic Party, it is that the partisans are slow to let go even of the most worn-out strategies.

So the search for a southerner will continue.

For that reason, the beneficiary of the Warner exit will be former North Carolina Senator John Edwards.

That's actually good news for progressives, since Edwards stands well to the left of both Warner and Clinton on most issues. The 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president has renounced his vote to authorize President Bush to take the country to war in Iraq, encouraged efforts to hold the administration to account for warrantless wiretapping and other assaults on basic liberties, strongly opposed conservative nominees for the Supreme Court and made fighting poverty his trademark issue.

If Clinton runs, she will be the frontrunner. The primary question will become: Who's the anti-Hillary? The calculus will be both ideological and regional. Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, with his consistent record as an opponent of the Patriot Act and the war, will have the upper hand on the ideological score -- although there is a good chance that Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, the party's hapless 2004 nominee, will try to make a play from the left. Regional arguments may be made by westerners such as New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and, perhaps, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer.

But Edwards, positioning himself as a progressive with a southern background and potentially a southern appeal, is set to compete on both the ideological and regional fronts. And his task will be a good measure easier now that Warner's exit has cleared the southern flank.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Bush, Kerry -- Yes, Kerry -- and Korea

Flashback to September of 2004: In the midst of the presidential race between George Bush and John Kerry, North Korea threatened to initiate nuclear weapons tests. There was no certainty that North Korea's weapons programs were advanced enough to perform signficant testing. But, as concerned international arms control officials attempted to pin down details of what was happening at a potential test site in the country, Kerry put the latest development in perspective by suggesting that the mere fact of North Korea's threaten was evidence of failed diplomacy.

The Democrat condemned the Bush administration for rejecting direct diplomacy in favor of the cowboy president's bluster and blunder. Noting that the White House had failed to effectively engage North Korea's concerned neighbors and other nuclear powers in the process, Kerry said: "The Chinese are frustrated, the South Koreans, the Japanese are frustrated" by what he described as the president's neglectful and "ideologically driven" approach.

"I think that this is one of the most serious failures and challenges to the security of the United States, and it really underscores the way in which George Bush talks the game but doesn't deliver," explained the senator from Massachusetts, who spoke as one of the most experienced observers of arms control issues in Congress.

Describing what was happening two years ago in North Korea as "a nuclear nightmare," Kerry suggested that Bush's obsession with Iraq -- a country that did not have weapons of mass destruction -- had distracted the president and his administration from doing what was necessary to avert the greater threat posed by North Korea.

"They have taken their eye off the real ball... ," Kerry said of the Bush administration. "They took it off in North Korea and shifted it to Iraq." And, Kerry suggested that, if Bush was reelected, the attention of the United States would continued to be misdirected -- with an emphasis on military adventures in the Persian Gulf rather than diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula.

Kerry's comments barely earned a day of attention from the drive-by media, and they were ridiculed and attacked by conservative commentators and political operatives. White House spokesman Scott McClellan accused the Democratic presidential candidate of promoting policies that would allow North Korea "to dupe the United States," while claiming that Bush was "pursuing a plan that will lead to the dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons program..."

When voters went to the polls in November of 2004, surveys showed that Americans still thought the Republican president -- with his record of avoiding military service and blank-stare approach to foreign affairs -- was more committed to protecting national security than the decorated Democratic veteran who had spent two decades developing his expertise on arms control and international relations.

Two years later, the headlines read:

"North Korea stokes worldwide fears with nuclear explosion"

"Nuclear test sends shudders through region"

"The world ponders a nuclear North Korea"

And, of course:

Bush rejects direct talks with North Korea

The first truth of the current situation is that the U.S. does not know how advanced North Korea's nuclear program may be.

The second truth is that, so long as George Bush continues to reject diplomacy, the U.S. and the rest of the world is unlikely to learn the exact state of North Korea's nuclear ambitions -- let alone to reverse them.

The third and arguably most consequential truth is that, if the U.S. had elected a different president in 2OO4, the prospects for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and throughout the region would be far greater than they are today.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

The Problem With the Mark Foley Problem

Unfortunately, it appears those of us who have argued that the current ruckus on Capitol Hill is not a Mark Foley Scandal but a Republican Congressional Leadership Scandal may be losing the debate.

A week after Foley's political career imploded -- after details of his emails and instant messages to teenage congressional pages began to surface -- the fascination with the former congressman seems actually to be on the rise. Yesterday's New York Times features a lengthy profile of Foley beginning on its front page today, while talk radio and the blogosphere are abuzz with discussion of every new salacious detail about a politician who until last Thursday was barely known outside the precincts of central Florida and a few blocks of Washington, DC. My most amusing progressive radio show on the dial, Stephanie Miller's morning program, features daily reports on "La Cage Aux Foley."

Everywhere Americans look or listen, the shorthand for the whole affair is "The Foley Scandal."

The focus on Foley is problematic for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, it turns what ought to be a discussion about the win-at-any-cost approach of the Republicans who run Congress into a wildly speculative discourse on one troubled man and what his experience says about everything from pedophilia to workplace ethics to privacy and gays in politics. Everyone is getting into the act, from moralizing conservatives -- like Family Reserach Council Tony Perkins claiming that "tolerance and diversity" are to blame for the whole mess -- to Desperate Democrats describing Foley as a "pedophile predator." The tone of the discussion is especially disturbing at a time when right-wing forces have placed anti-gay initiatives on the November 7 ballots in eight states. Prospects for beating those measures in states such as Wisconsin, Colorado and Arizona are not helped by discussions that, whether intentionally or unintentionally, reinforce inaccurate yet persistent stereotypes.

While I have shied away from writing at much length about Foley's personal story -- preferring to focus on the far more serious and significant issues that have been raised about how the Republican leadership places politics above all other concerns -- it seems that some consideration of the congressman's circumstance is in order. I was convinced of this when my wise colleague Katha Pollitt emailed the other day with some smart questions about a line in one of my articles on the scandal. In a piece discussing the pressures on Foley as a closeted Republican, I wrote, "Unlike the vast majority of homosexuals -- who, as a group, are less likely to be attracted to children than heterosexuals -- the congressman began to engage in activities that were inappropriate and potentially illegal. Details that have surfaced in recent day suggest that Foley had made a mess of his life – a mess that exploded on him and his party when it was revealed that the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus for Missing & Exploited Children had sent 'Do I make you a little horny?' e-mails to teenage boys." Katha wanted to know whether I meant to suggest that closeted gay men were more likely to be attracted to teenagers -- a notion about which she was distinctly, and correctly, dubious.

I appreciated the question, and others from friends and colleagues regarding Foley's personal story and whatever conclusions can be drawn from it, because they provide an opening to explore the backstory of a controversy that could yet depose the Speaker of the House.

As regards Katha's specific question, I don't buy the argument that being closeted caused Foley to be attracted to particular groups of men or boys. Sure, the need to cloak a huge part of his identity created pressures on the congressman. But, right or wrong, I'm of the view that our behavioral penchants and tendencies are set early in life. I share the position of Matt Foreman, the executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, who says: "Given similar past sordid situations in the page program perpetrated by male members of Congress against female pages, it's absurd to blame the Foley spectacle on his being gay, closeted or otherwise." In other words, what Foley did is what Foley did. It makes little sense to try and find in his specific actions indicators of broad patterns or universal tendencies among gays or straights, people who are in the closet or people who are out.

So, then, the question becomes: What was up with Foley?

With all the new twists and turns in his story -- including this week's declarations by the former congressman's lawyer that he's an alcoholic and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse -- that's a tough question to answer with precision.

But, as someone who has covered Foley for many years and had an opportunity to spend a good deal of time with the man, let me offer some thoughts:

I first got to know Foley a number of years ago when he was one of the few Republicans who was speaking up on the issue of media consolidation. Always interested in media issues -- especially as they related to the film and music industries -- the congressman had a good eye for the changing character of our communications after the passage of the noxious Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Foley's insights about the collapse of the political discourse on local radio stations that were bought up by national chains, as well as a his concerns about the homogenization of music playlists, made him stand out not just from his fellow partisans but from most members of Congress. I appreciated Foley's intelligence, and his enthusiasm. He was a less regimented Republican than most, which made him more interesting than the average member of the party's House caucus. I wrote about Foley frequently and we appeared at some of the same forums on media issues.

I knew Foley was gay, and was aware that he was in a long-term relationship with a Florida physician. As someone who saw him in a number of settings, I never had a sense of him as being "on the prowl." He was gregarious, even boisterous. I thought that Foley seemed oddly immature for a veteran legislator; someone who always seemed to be trying a little too hard. But in hindsight I suspect that he was trying a bit too hard to fit in with folks who he did not want to stereotype him as just another conservative Republican. Some people speculated that he was experiencing a bit of a mid-life crisis as he passed the age of 50 and looked at the prospect that he had hit a political ceiling in a Republican Party. GOP leaders had made it clear that they would not support him for higher office, but that very much wanted him to hold onto a "safe" seat in a electorally volatile state.

Foley had always been a good politician, but in the first years of the Bush presidency he began losing his touch. It was no secret that Foley was struggling with questions of how "out" he could be. The struggle heated up in 2003 when, as he was preparing to seek Florida's open U.S. Senate seat, Foley became the subject first of "he's gay" whispering campaign and then of articles in gay and lesbian publications and finally daily newspapers that discussed his sexuality in varying degrees of detail. Foley did not handle the controversy well, and ultimately ended up folding that campaign. Two years later, in 2005, he again toyed with making a Senate bid. But, by that point, party leaders were clearly and unequivocally discouraging him from seeking any office but the one he held.

Foley's political tightrope walk became an increasingly difficult one as the Bush administration and Florida Republicans ramped up their use of anti-gay messages to energize the party's social conservative base. My sense of Foley in recent years was that the congressman was growing increasingly isolated within his own party, and increasingly lonely in Washington. He wanted out. And he had job offers, good ones, coming from the entertainment industry, which is always on the hunt for Republicans who can lobby on its behalf. Foley was unenthusiastic about seeking reelection in 2006.

More than a year ago, he had begun hinting about exiting politics for a lobbying gig, or perhaps what he considered a dream job in the movie industry. Undoubtedly, complaints about his emails to pages were a factor, although at the time no one outside Foley's inner circle and the offices of House Speaker Dennis Hastert and a few other key players in the GOP caucus knew of them

This spring, as the deadline for declaring his candidacy for another term approached, Foley was pressured by Republican Congressional Campaign Committee chair Tom Reynolds, R-New York, to make one more run "for the good of the party." Reynolds wanted to keep open seats at a minimum in what was shaping up as a difficult political year, Though we now know that that the RCCC chair was aware of Foley's troubling emails, holding the House was Job One. Foley finally agreed to seek another term, and the rest is history.

But it is a more complex history than the shorthand version that reporters who are covering this fast-breaking scandal -- including this writer -- have tended to descibe.

There is more to Foley's story than the "sleazy hypocrite" label that has been attached to him by Democratic critics in particular. Yes, the congressman was a co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, and, yes, his office was the source of a steady stream of blunt pronouncements about the need to crack down on those who prey on children. If one accepts that 16- and 17-year-old young men who are past the legal age of majority and who are living away from home are children, or if one is simply unsettled by abuses of the power relationship between a senior member of Congress and teenage pages who dream of political careers, then it is evident that the "hypocrite" tag may be the kindest that can be attached to Foley.

But the congressman was not so hypocritical when it came to social issues. He was one of the most prominent members of former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman's "It's My Party Too" group, which has worked to pull the GOP away from the grip of the religious right -- although you would not know about the association from the group's website, from which all Foley references have been removed. Foley has been reelected in recent years with support not just from moderate GOP groups such as the Log Cabin Republicans and the Republican Majority for Choice but with generous campaign contributions from groups that generally back Democrats, such as the Human Rights Camaign and the Service Employees International Union.

The Log Cabin Republicans, the party's chief advocacy group for gay and lesbian rights, strongly endorsed Foley this year, noting that: "He has consistently voted against the anti-family marriage amendment, and has supported the hate crimes bill, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), and the Early Treatment for HIV Act."

It is true that Foley was an imperfect player on issues of concern to gays and lesbians. Early in his career, he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, and unlike another supporter of that foul measure, former Senator Paul Wellstone, he never renounced the vote. Foley also faced legitimate criticism for failing to be a leader in challenging the military's failed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. But his record was still better than those of all but a few Congressional Republicans -- and, it should be noted, many Congressional Democrats.

So, while Foley may have refused to publicly acknowledge that he was a gay man until this week, he chose frequently to vote as a supporter of gay rights. That distinguished him from other Republicans who have become the focus of scandals, such as former Congressman Ed Schrock. Before the 2004 election, Schrock, a Virginia Republican who regularly voted against gay rights and enjoyed Christian conservative support, was ruined politically when recordings began to circulate of the congressman using a telephone service on which men placed ads to arrange liaisons with other men. Like Foley, Schrock quickly quit his seat.

There are those who will suggest that the fact that both Schrock and Foley were closeted Republicans is an important factor in this discussion, and that being closeted really was Foley's primary problem. One of the Florida congressman's most consistent critics, online journalist Mike Rogers, told the Miami Herald, ''I do believe that he had unhealthy sexual advances to these guys because he was living his life as a closeted gay man. Healthy gay men who are mature and dealing with their sexuality in a mature way don't hit on kids who are 16 years old. What's his signature issue [child protection]? You don't know whether to laugh or cry.'' Rogers has been covering these stories for a long time, and he certainly has a right to assess them as he thinks appropriate. But, again, I'm not of the view that being a closeted Republican is the issue. There is no question that Foley struggled with the challenge of how to be a prominent Republican and a gay man without acting as a total hypocrite. No doubt, in recent years in particular, he struggled with a sense of isolation within a party that was, unquestionably, more understanding and respectful of gays and lesbians in its congressional caucus during the days when an ascendant Newt Gingrich was running the show. But other closeted congressional Republicans -- and Democrats -- have managed their lives without scandal.

My sense of Mark Foley in recent years was that he was becoming an increasingly sad and lonely man. How that sadness and loneliness related to his inappropriate and potentially illegal actions is something that, no doubt, Foley and others will explore in the future. But, I remain in agreement with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Matt Foreman, when he says of Foley's circumstance: "It's a tragedy for him and his family. I don't want to get into the pain of the closet. It's irrelevant if he's gay or not."

Above all, however, I agree with something else that Foreman says: "What's clear is that the House leadership elevated holding onto a seat above the interests of young people in the page system. And they want to talk about ‘moral values'? Please."

Pity Mark Foley or hate him, try to understand this congressman or try to demonize him, but understand that the fundamental truth of the current moment is that Republican leaders in the House knew that one of their own had a problem and chose to disregard that knowledge in order to protect a "safe" seat and their shaky grip on power.

That, to my view, is the greater scandal.

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