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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Bush Fails a Global Test

George Bush ended 2004 on a sour note.

But at least he maintained his record as the most disingenuous president since Richard Nixon.

When other world leaders rushed to respond to the crisis caused by last Sunday's tsunamis in southern Asia, George Bush decamped to his ranch in Texas for another vacation. For three days after the disaster, the only formal response from the White House was issued by a deputy press secretary. Finally, after a United Nations official made comments that seemed to highlight the disengaged nature of the official U.S. reaction to one of the worst catastrophes in human history, the president appeared at a hastily-scheduled press conference to grumble about how critics of his embarrassing performance were "misguided and ill-informed."

Bush bragged about the U.S. commitment of $35 million to help respond to a tragedy that has cost more than 100,000 lives and displaced millions of people in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Somalia and other countries.

What the president did not say is that this initial commitment was less than the planned expenditure for his Jan. 20 inauguration: $40 million.

It was, as well, less than the initial commitment by smaller and less wealthy nations such as Spain, which moved immediately to guarantee a $68 million line of credit for relief and rebuilding efforts.

The president's missteps were noted by the rest of the world, and by diplomatic observers at home. Leslie Gelb, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, said Bush had missed an opportunity to display humanitarian, moral and diplomatic leadership in the world. Reflecting on the administration's response, Derek Mitchell, an expert on Asian affairs at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, "I think politically they've done poorly."

An embarrased Bush administration scrambled to up the ante with a new commitment of $350 million, and the president dispatched Secretary of State Colin Powell and First Brother Jeb Bush to Asia. President Bush even ordered that flags be lowed in recognition of the tragedy.

But none of the face-saving measures erased the initial impression that this president is anything but a compassionate conservative.

At a time when the U.S. image abroad has been battered by the president's unilateral decision to order the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Bush administration should have been sensitive to the need to respond quickly and effectively to a disaster of this magnitude. But that did not happen. Bush failed to engage at the critical point and then peddled the lie that the U.S. is in the forefront of providing humanitarian aid.

Thirty other developed nations commit greater proportions of their gross domestic products to humanitarian projects than does the U.S. In fact, the entire U.S. commitment for humanitarian aid in 2004 -- $2.4 billion -- was about the same amount as the U.S. spends every ten days to maintain the occupation of Iraq.The contrast between the Bush administration's spare-no-expense approach to Iraq and its initial penny-pinching response to the crisis in southern Asia was devastating for America's image abroad. And, even as Bush tried to make amends, his administration's priorities remained out of whack -- the $350 million commitment that the administration now offers in response to the earthquake and tsunami damage equals less than two days of Iraq spending.

But it is not too late to respond in a more appropriate manner.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, a longtime advocate for a more responsible U.S. policy regarding humanitarian aid, has suggested that the U.S. should rescind a portion of the reconstruction aid that has been budgeted for use in Iraq. Of an estimated $18.4 billion allocated for that purpose through December, only about $2 billion has been spent.

Leahy has already attracted some interest in his proposal from Congressional Republicans. Hopefully, this will influence the administration to dramatically increase its commitment to emergency relief and redevelopment aid.

What is the appropriate commitment? Over the critical period of the next several months, the U.S. should provide at least as much money to rebuild southern Asia as it does to maintain the occupation of Iraq – a figure Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld last year put at roughly $3.9 billion a month but that is, in reality, much higher. Committing as much to aiding southern Asia as is now being spent to occupy Iraq would signal that the U.S. wants to rejoin the world community.

Committing dramatically less – as appears to be the president's intent -- will confirm the impression that the U.S. is more interested in spending money on a military misadventure than on a necessary reconstruction.

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John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.

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Rule One: Count Every Vote

Politics is a game played by rules. And the most important rule regarding close elections is that you don't win by being conciliatory during the recount process. Indeed, the only way a candidate who trails on election night ends up taking the oath of office is by refusing to concede and then confidently demanding that every vote be counted -- even when the opposition, the media and the courts turn against you.

That is a rule that Al Gore failed to follow to its logical conclusion in 2000, and that John Kerry did not even attempt to apply this year. Both men were so determined to maintain their long-term political viability that they refused to fight like hell to assure that the votes of their supporters were counted. That refusal let their backers down. It also guaranteed that, despite convincing evidence that the Democrat won in 2000, and serious questions about the voting and recount processes in the critical state of Ohio in 2004, George W. Bush would waltz into the White House.

Maybe someday, if the Democrats really want to win the presidency, they will nominate someone like Christine Gregoire. Gregoire is the Washington state attorney general who this year was nominated by Democrats to run for governor of that state. She is hardly a perfect politician -- like too many Democrats, she is more of a manager than a visionary; and she is as ideologically drab as Gore or Kerry.

But Gregoire had one thing going for her, and that was her determination to win.

When the initial count showed her trailing Republican Dino Rossi by more than 200 votes, she refused to accept the result. Certain that there were Democratic votes that had yet to be tallied, she demanded a recount. The second review showed her trailing Rossi by 42 votes and -- as in the 2000 fight over recounting presidential ballots in Florida -- the Republicans accused Gregoire of traumatizing the state by continuing to demand that every vote be counted. "It's time to move forward," chirped Rossi, who ridiculed Democratic demands for a fuller, sounder recount. Rossi claimed that Gregoire wanted to count and recount the ballots until she was declared the winner.

In a sense, Rossi was right.

Gregoire did want to keep counting until she won. But, of course, that is the point of the recount process: If you think that the votes are there to assure your victory, you keep demanding that they be counted and tabulated. This is the fundamental rule that neither Gore nor Kerry ever quite got.

As Christmas approached, the pressure on Gregoire to back off was intense. But the Democratic gubernatorial candidate and her supporters continued to press for a full review of the ballots -- paying more than $700,000 for another count and going to court to defend the principle that every voted counts and every vote must be counted.

Two days before Christmas, with a go-ahead from the state Supreme Court, Gregoire got a full count. That reversed previous results and gave her a 130-vote lead over Rossi.

The fight may not be over yet. Rossi is crying foul. But the likelihood is that, in Washington state, the Democrat, not the Republican, will be taking the oath of office in January. There are two reasons why this is the case. First, Christine Gregoire got more votes. Second, she demanded that they be counted.

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John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.

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Newfield's Passionate Journalism

In RFK: A Memoir, the finest of the shelf full of books he produced during a career that was as prolific as it was meaningful, Jack Newfield succeeded in explaining the late Robert F. Kennedy better than any of the late New York senator's many biographers. "Part of him was soldier, priest, radical, and football coach. But he was none of these," wrote Newfield, who had chronicled his subject's transition from President John Fitzgerald Kennedy's "first-brother" to presidential candidate in his own right. "He was a politician. His enemies said he was consumed with selfish ambition, a ruthless opportunist exploiting his brother's legend. But he was too passionate and too vulnerable ever to be the cool and confident operator his brother was."

With Newfield's death Monday night at age 66, there will be a search for the words to describe the late journalist. In the end, if that search is successful, it will find its way back to the words that Newfield employed to describe Kennedy.

Newfield, who most of us came to know as the star reporter for New York's Village Voice newspaper from the 1960s to the 1980s, and who most recently was a regular contributor to The Nation, had many passions – from boxing to baseball to civil rights and civil liberties. But the thing I loved best about Jack Newfield was that he loved politics. When he described Kennedy as a politician, he was not dismissing the man whose majestic 1968 presidential campaign he chronicled in an up-close-and-personal fashion that put the reporter just a short distance away from the scene where that campaign – and so many of the hopes of Newfield's decade, the 1960s – were dashed. Rather, Newfield was honoring Kennedy, about whom the reporter would say, "Though it's really unknowable, I think that if Bobby had lived to be president we would have ended the Vietnam War much sooner, renewed the war on poverty; we would have had a totally different policy toward blacks than Richard Nixon had."

All of those things mattered to Newfield, whose progressive passions were never obscured by his reporter's pen and notepad. Like all great reporters, he knew that slogans like "fair-and-balanced" were merely camouflage for laziness and the lie of relativism. The point was to get at the truth. And Newfield knew that the most important arena in which to go seeking for truth, in all its ugliness and glory, was the political fray.

Newfield understood that politics ought to be a noble endeavor. Yet, he recognized that it seldom was. He had a facility for spotting both the failings of those who gave politics its bad name -- especially those of the political bosses of Brooklyn and Queens -- and the potential of those who sought to redeem the enterprises of electioneering and governing. And he saw redemption in participatory democracy; among the final articles by this veteran of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s was an optimistic report on the increasingly important role that African-American voters would play in the 2004 election.

One of Newfield's last endeavors was the editing of a pair of books of essays, American Rebels and American Monsters. Newfield was on the side of the rebels. He celebrated them when they were beating the monsters in the 1960s, and when they were frequently beaten by those same monsters in the decades that followed.

Jack Newfield saw a world of heroes and villains, and he recognized that when they battled in the political arena it was the job of the journalist to go beyond merely reporting. He understood that the search for truth led, ultimately, to the point where the journalist had to take a side. He took the side of civil rights marchers, of anti-poverty crusaders, of reformers and radicals who believed that the promise of social and economic equity would be made real if the better angels of the American experiment could only be awoken by an article or a book. And so he wrote, passionately, powerfully and with a faith in the potential of a word well chosen to change the world.

Jack Newfield defined journalism for this reporter, and for thousands of others. His passing robs the craft not just of an able practitioner, but of a man who taught the rest of us that the combination of pen and ink could produce the rarest of all commodities: truth, and sometimes justice.

Feingold for President?

The crowd at the Democratic Party's annual dinner in western Wisconsin's Vernon County was large, loud and longing for a little partisan passion.

Far from feeling beat down by the November presidential election result, the more than 100 rural Democrats who gathered in small city of Viroqua this week were ready to fight against the war in Iraq, against economic policies that favor big business over working people and family farmers and against the warping of the public discourse by a media that is more concerned about Scott Peterson's conviction than the future of Social Security.

Unfortunately, they couldn't find many reflections of their grassroots passion in the current leadership of the Democratic Party. The sense that the time had come for a fresh face was palpable.

When I met with the Vernon County activists – most of whom were Democrats but some of whom were interested Greens and independents – their response to my suggestion that the county needs a real opposition party was immediate and enthusiastic.

These rural Democrats even had a suggestion for the who should lead that opposition. And it wasn't Hillary Clinton or John Edwards. When I was describing what a serious opposition party would stand for at this moment in history--starting with an absolute rejection of the war in Iraq and empire building and going on to a passionate defense of civil liberties and a willingness to stand up to multinational corporations--a bearded fellow in the crowd shouted, "We've got someone who can do it--the only senator who voted against the Patriot Act: Russ Feingold."

The crowd cheered.

And they aren't alone. While it might be predictable that Wisconsin Democrats would be excited by the prospect of their just-reelected senator seeking the presidency, the buzz about a possible Feingold for President campaign in 2008 is growing nationally.

Hotline, the online bible of inside-the-beltway political junkies, just featured a commentary in which the editors suggested that Wisconsin's junior senator – who has been outspoken in his criticism not just of the Patriot Act but of the war in Iraq and the corporate free-trade agenda -- could be a serious contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. Noting that, against serious opposition, Feingold ran more than 140,000 votes ahead of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in Wisconsin, a source told Hotline, "He just accomplished an impressive victory in a heartland swing state in a year that wasn't so kind to (Democrats)." The source went on to suggest that Feingold "will be looked at as a new voice for the party as it moves forward."

Over at www.mydd.com, a popular Democratic website, political writer Chris Bowers observes, "Feingold is in an odd position. Even though he has won three terms in the US Senate, he actually is still known as a "reformer" and an "outsider," due in no small part to the constant repetition of the "McCain-Feingold" legislation in the national media. Because of this reputation, among all Democratic Senators, except perhaps (newly-elected Illinois Sen. Barack) Obama, I think he would be the best bet to capture the non-ideological reformers that I believe are a key to future Democratic success."

The interest in a Feingold candidacy has even sparked the development of a "Russ Feingold for President" Internet forum.

So will Feingold run? The man is not without ambition. He thought about seeking the presidency in 2004, but backed off before the contest really got started.

As the jockeying begins for 2008--and, make no mistake, the jockeying has begun--it is a safe bet that Feingold will again ponder a run. And with the unsolicited support that he's getting from his home state and elsewhere, he might well be inspired this time to do more than just explore a candidacy.

Guarantee the Right to Vote

As US Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, chaired Tuesday's hearing on irregularities in the presidential voting in Ohio on November 2, the Rev. Jesse Jackson warned that the session must be more than merely an opportunity to "vent."

"We cannot vent and then have Congress not act. If these reports are not investigated, we have all wasted our time," the two-time candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination declared. "This cannot simply be an academic venting session. Take this struggle to the streets and legitimize it there, as they did in Selma."

Jackson is right. There is no question that the voting and ballot counting processes in Ohio--and a number of other states--were deeply flawed. Those flaws are well outlined in the letter that Conyers and eleven other Democratic representatives sent earlier this month to Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. (Click here to read the letter and other recent communications from Conyers to state and federal officials regarding the electoral troubles in Ohio.)

The letter, as well as testimony at today's hearing in Washington, makes a convincing case for continuing the examination of the mess that Blackwell, a Bush partisan, and his team made of the voting in Ohio on November 2. Necessarily, that examination must include the full recount requested by Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb and others.

But it is important to recognize that the sort of election problems that were discussed at Tuesday's hearing are not isolated to Ohio--just as the problems that came to light during the Florida recount fight of 2000 were not isolated to the Sunshine State.

The United States lacks a coherent and consistent set of standards for registering to vote, voting, counting ballots or recounting them. Thus, every election cycle brings new instances of disenfranchisement and doubts about the validity of the process.

On the eve of the Conyers hearing, the new group Progressive Democrats of America released a well-reasoned list of electoral reforms which can and should become central to the activism of everyone who is dissatisfied with the process--and the result--of the November 2 election. PDA argues that America needs:

* A Constitutional amendment confirming the right to vote.

* A required paper record for all electronic and electronically tabulated voting systems.

* Same-day registration for all Americans.

* The creation of unified federal standards for national elections.

* Meaningful equal protection of voting rights by such means as equal voting systems, equal numbers of machines, and equal time to vote.

* An end to partisan oversight of the electoral process.

* Extended voting periods to allow all voters a meaningful opportunity to vote.

* Instant Run-off Voting and Proportional Representation.

* Publicly financed elections for federal offices.

That's a long list. And the best place to begin is with the basics: guaranteeing the right to vote.

During the Supreme Court deliberations in 2000 on the Bush v. Gore case that ultimately determined the occupant of the White House, Justice Antonin Scalia went out of his way to establish that the individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for the president of the United States. US Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Illinois, has set out to rectify that glaring omission by proposing an amendment to the Constitution that would cure a lot of what ails our political process.

Here's the text of the amendment

SECTION 1. All citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, shall have the right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides. The right to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, any State, or any other public or private person or entity, except that the United States or any State may establish regulations narrowly tailored to produce efficient and honest elections.

SECTION 2. Each State shall administer public elections in the State in accordance with election performance standards established by the Congress. The Congress shall reconsider such election performance standards at least once every four years to determine if higher standards should be established to reflect improvements in methods and practices regarding the administration of elections.

SECTION 3. Each State shall provide any eligible voter the opportunity to register and vote on the day of any public election.

SECTION 4. Each State and the District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall establish and abide by rules for appointing its respective number of Electors. Such rules shall provide for the appointment of Electors on the day designated by the Congress for holding an election for President and Vice President and shall ensure that each Elector votes for the candidate for President and Vice President who received a majority of the popular vote in the State or District.

The right-to-vote amendment is not all the reform that is needed. But if the goal of is to prevent future electoral fiascos--like Florida, Ohio or elsewhere--it is a vehicle for getting started. After all, who, aside from Antonin Scalia, would argue against the right to vote.

Secretary of Agribusiness

Democrats are talking a lot these days about how to reconnect with rural voters. It's an important conversation, as much about the decline in the party's fortunes can be traced to the fact that people who live on farms and in small towns, who not that many years ago were about evenly divided in their partisan loyalties, provided President Bush and the Republican Party with overwhelming support in 2004.

Unfortunately, most of the talk involves tortured discussions about how to tip-toe around issues such as gay rights and gun control.

Such discussions miss the point of the party's problem in small-town America completely. Gays and guns are only big issues in rural regions because Democrats have done a lousy job of distinguishing themselves on the big-ticket economic issues -- trade policy, protection of family farmers, rural development -- that define whether rural Americans can maintain their livelihoods and lifestyles.

Most national Democrats -- and let's start this list with the name "John Kerry" -- evidence little or no understanding of the fundamental economic concerns facing rural regions. That lack of awareness often leads them to miss opportunities to challenge the wrongheaded agenda of corporate agribusiness and the industry's allies in Washington.

One of the biggest mistakes that Democrats made in the first days of the Bush administration was to support the nomination of Ann Venemen to serve as Secretary of Agriculture. Venemen, with her close ties to agribusiness and the biotech industry, was precisely the wrong choice. An unyielding supporter of free-trade initiatives, and an unquestioning backer of even the most controversial schemes to genetically modify crops, Venemen was a dream-come-true pick for multinational food-processing corporations, chemical companies and big agribusiness interests. But for working farmers and the residents of rural regions and small towns, she was a nightmare selection.

Unfortunately, Senate Democrats quickly got on board to back the Venemen nomination, which sailed through the confirmation process with little challenge.

Now, after a four-year tenure that confirmed all the worst fears of her critics, Venemen is leaving the Department of Agriculture for what will undoubtedly be a very lucrative return to the agribusiness and biotech sinecures she occupied before her sojourn in Washington. And the president has again selected a nominee for Secretary of Agriculture who is unacceptable.

Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns, who the president has named to replace Venemen, has a troubling track record of taking the side of agribusiness over that of working farmers. To wit:

* Johanns has been a wild-eyed advocate for free-trade initiatives, particularly the granting of permanent most-favored nation trading status to China. In less than a decade, as the free-trade agenda has been implemented, America's traditional advantage in agricultural trade has dropped by 61.6 percent. "This is a man-made catastrophe, an economic disaster," Nebraska Farmers Union President John Hansen says of the current free-trade regimen. "Through conscious policy we are outsourcing food production."

* Johanns was an aggressive supporter of the 2002 farm bill, which continued the misguided practice of directing substantial portions of U.S. farm-support spending into the treasuries of the largest agribusiness conglomerates and factory-farm operations. "This farm bill continues to tap taxpayers' hard earned money to keep the farm economy limping along while the giant food processors and exporters reap cheap commodities to expand their control of the world's food supply," says George Naylor, president of the National Family Farm Coalition.

* As governor, Johanns initiated what Nebraska farm advocates saw as an attempt to gut I-300, the state's 23-year-old ban on corporations owning farmland or engaging in agricultural activity in the state. Johanns's push for a review of I-300 drew harsh criticism from family-farm advocates last year. "There seems to be no useful purpose in modifying Initiative 300 unless the purpose is to subject Initiative 300 to legal attack," argued Robert Broom, an attorney who successfully defended I-300 from constitutional challenge in federal trials. Under heavy pressure from rural voters, Nebraska legislators declined to give Johanns the authority to establish a task force that many expected to attack I-300.

Could Democrats block Bush's nomination of Johanns to serve as Secretary of Agriculture? It's not likely in a Senate where Republicans will hold a solid 55-45 majority. But opening a debate over the Johanns nomination would begin to establish that there are differences between the two parties when it comes to protecting the interests of rural America.

Making clear those distinctions will be critical if Democrats want to alter the color scheme on those blue state/red state maps of the United States. Right now, the maps are mostly Republican red. They will only show more Democratic blue if Democrats recognize that one of their most famous partisans, William Jennings Bryan, was right when he urged the party to take up the cause of rural America.

"Ah, my friends," Bryan told the Democratic National Convention of 1896, " we say not one word against those who live upon the Atlantic coast, but the hardy pioneers who have braved all the dangers of the wilderness, who have made the desert to blossom as the rose -- the pioneers away out there [pointing to the West], who rear their children near to Nature's heart, where they can mingle their voices with the voices of the birds -- out there where they have erected schoolhouses for the education of their young, churches where they praise their Creator, and cemeteries where rest the ashes of their dead -- these people, we say, are as deserving of the consideration of our party as any people in this country. It is for these that we speak."

If Democrats want to improve their fortunes in the elections of 2006 and 2008, they should learn to speak once more for the interests of rural Americans. And the best place to start doing so is by challenging the pro-free trade, pro-corporate agribusiness policies of Mike Johanns -- and by speaking, bluntly, about the threat those policies pose to working farmers and rural America.

Love One Another? Not on NBC, CBS

The Rev. John Thomas, who serves as general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, is having a hard time figuring out why the same broadcasters that profited so handsomely from airing the vicious and divisive attack advertisements during the recent presidential election are now refusing to air an advertisement from his denomination that celebrates respect for one another and inclusiveness.

"It's ironic that after a political season awash in commercials based on fear and deception by both parties seen on all the major networks , an ad with a message of welcome and inclusion would be deemed too controversial," said Thomas. "What's going on here?"

The ad in question is part of an ambitious new national campaign by the UCC to appeal to Americans who feel alienated from religion and churches, and to equip the denomination's 6,000 congregations across the U.S. to welcome newcomers. In an effort to break through the commercial clutter that clogs the arteries of broadcast and cable television, the UCC ad features an arresting image: a pair of muscle-bound bouncers standing in front of a church and telling some people they can attend while turning others away.

After people of color, a disabled man and a pair of men who might be gay are turned away, the image dissolves to a text statement that: "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we."

Then, as images of diverse couples and families appear on screen, an announcer explains that, "No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here."

It is a graceful commercial, which delivers an important message gently yet effectively -- something that cannot be said of most television advertising these days. But viewers of the CBS and NBC television networks won't see it because, in this age of heightened focus on so-called "moral values," quoting Jesus on the issue of inclusion is deemed to be "too controversial."

What was controversial? Apparently, the networks don't like the ad's implication that the Nazarene's welcome to all people might actually include ALL people.

Noting that the image of one woman putting her arm around another was included in the ad, CBS announced, "Because the commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations, and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the (CBS and UPN) networks."

NBC was similarly concerned that the spot was "controversial." UCC leaders, pastors and congregation members are upset, and rightly so.

"It' seems incredible to me that CBS admits it is refusing to air the commercial because of something the Executive Branch, the Bush administration, is doing," says Dave Moyer, conference minister for the Wisconsin Conference of the UCC. "Since when is it unacceptable to offer a different perspective?"

Moyer says that people of all religious faiths and all ideological perspectives should be concerned that the major networks -- which dominate so much of the discourse in America -- are seeking to narrow the dialogue.

The Rev. Curt Anderson, the pastor of the First United Church of Christ in Madison, Wisconsin, says that people of good will should also be concerned about the message being sent to gays and lesbians in the aftermath of an election season that saw them targeted by the political right.

"I'm thinking of the LGBT folks in my church who felt so under attack after the election. They are getting hit again," explained the pastor. "This is another way where the culture, the media, makes them invisible. It is incredible that it is controversial for one woman to put her arm around another."

It is also bizarrely hypocritical. After all, the same NBC network that found the UCC ad "too controversial" airs programs such as "Will & Grace" that feature gay and lesbian characters. "We find it disturbing that the networks in question seem to have no problem exploiting gay persons through mindless comedies and titillating dramas, but when it comes to a church's loving welcome to committed gay couples, that's where they draw the line," explained the Rev. Bob Chase, director of the national UCC's communication ministry.

Chase has a point. CBS and NBC, networks that reap enormous profits from the public airwaves, are not serving the public interest. Rather, they are assaulting it by narrowing the dialogue and rejecting a message of inclusion that is sorely needed at this point in the American experiment.

A Touchstone for Self-Reflection

Aside from the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving is the most distinctly American of our national holidays.

As such, if we see it as more than just the day before the Christmas shopping season begins, Thanksgiving offers an opportunity to reflect on the direction of the nation.

The Pilgrims who came ashore at Plymouth Rock were not the first Americans. But their story, and their relatively peaceful interactions with the Indians who welcomed them to the region, form an essential part of the national narrative for many Americans.

It is as a touchstone for self-reflection and self-assessment that this day is most meaningful. Indeed, if we are to have any chance of making America the country it should be, it seems most likely that the process would begin on a day so rich in historical references as Thanksgiving.

This is not a contemporary observation spun out in the aftermath of a particularly disappointing national election. Rather, it is a variation on the theme taken up by Daniel Webster when he delivered one of the most remarkable speeches in the history of American oratory.

Late in the fall of 1820, two hundred years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Webster, then a young political figure who was still rising to prominence, was invited to deliver an oration on the site of their arrival. He used the opportunity not merely to reflect but to engage in the painful process of contrasting historic ideals with contemporary compromises. In addition to physical memorials to the Pilgrims' progress, Webster said, "we would leave here, also, for the generations which are rising up rapidly to fill our places, some proof that we have endeavored to transmit the great inheritance unimpaired; that in our estimate of public principles and private virtue, in our veneration of religion and piety, in our devotion to civil and religions liberty, in our regard for whatever advances human knowledge or improves human happiness, we are not altogether unworthy of our origin."

Noting the communal nature of the Pilgrim experiment, which broke from the feudal structures of the European lands they had fled, Webster warned that America was becoming less equal. And, he added, "The freest government, if it could exist, would not be long acceptable if the tendency of the laws were to create a rapid accumulation of property in few hands, and to render the great mass of the population dependent and penniless."

But Webster did not limit himself to vague economic theory. He spoke specifically of America's original sin: the practice of slavery.

"I deem it my duty on this occasion to suggest, that the land is not yet wholly free from the contamination of a traffic, at which every feeling of humanity must for ever revolt -- I mean the African slave-trade. Neither public sentiment, nor the law, has hitherto been able entirely to put an end to his odious and abominable trade," said Webster, who spoke at a time when most politicians refused to address the question of human bondage.

"At the moment when God in his mercy has blessed the Christian world with a universal peace, there is reason to fear, that, to the disgrace of the Christian name and character, new efforts are making for the extension of this trade by subjects and citizens of Christian states, in whose hearts there dwell no sentiments of humanity or of justice, and over whom neither the fear of God nor the fear of man exercises a control. In the sight of our law, the African slave-trader is a pirate and a felon; and in the sight of Heaven, an offender beyond the ordinary depth of human guilt."

Those were radical words for the times. And to utter them in the midst of a discussion of America's founding and heritage was considered inappropriate by the guardians of political propriety. But Daniel Webster used that day well, just as we should use this day -- to call this country to the higher ground.

Stenographers to Power

The best question asked in the aftermath of the 2004 US election came from a British newspaper, The Daily Mirror, which inquired over a picture of George W. Bush, "How can 59,054,087 be so dumb?

Now, another British newspaper has answered the question. A new marketing campaign for The Weekly Guardian, one of the most respected publications in the world, features images of a dancing Bush and notes that, "Many US citizens think the world backed the war in Iraq. Maybe it's the papers they're reading."

The weekly compendium of articles and analyses of global affairs from Britain's liberal Guardian newspaper has long been regarded as an antidote to government controlled, spun and inept local media. Nelson Mandela, when he was held in South Africa's Pollsmor Prison, referred to the Weekly Guardian as a "window on the wider world."

But is it really appropriate to compare the United States in 2004 with a warped media market like South Africa during apartheid days?

Actually, the comparison may be a bit unfair to South African media in the apartheid era--when many courageous journalists struggled to speak truth to power.

No serious observer of the current circumstance in the United States would suggest that our major media serves the cause of democracy. Years of consolidation and bottom-line pressures have forced even once responsible media to allow entertainment and commercial values to supersede civic and democratic values when making news decisions. And the determination to color within the lines of official spin is such that even the supposed pinnacles of the profession--the New York Times, the Washington Post and CBS News' 60 Minutes--have been forced to acknowledge that they got the story of the rush to war with Iraq wrong.

There can be apologies. But there cannot be excuses because, of course, media in the rest of the world got that story right.

And there are consequences when major media blows big stories. As the Weekly Guardian's new marketing campaign suggests, a lot of Americans voted for George W. Bush on November 2 on the basis of wrong assumptions.

According to a survey conducted during the fall campaign season by the Program on International Policy Attitudes--a joint initiative of the Center on Policy Attitudes and the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland School of Public Affairs--a lot of what Americans know is wrong.

Despite the fact that surveys by the Gallup organization and other polling firms have repeatedly confirmed that the vast majority of citizens of other countries opposed the war in Iraq, the PIPA survey found that only 31 percent of Bush supporters recognized that the majority of people in the world opposed the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq.

Amazingly, according to the PIPA poll, 57 percent of Bush supporters assumed that the majority of people in the world would favor Bush's reelection, while only 33 percent assumed that global views regarding Bush were evenly divided. Only 9 percent of Bush backers correctly assumed that Kerry was the world's choice.

That wasn't the end of the misperception.

"Even after the final report of Charles Duelfer to Congress saying that Iraq did not have a significant WMD program, 72 percent of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had actual WMD (47 percent) or a major program for developing them (25 percent)," explained the summary of PIPA's polling. "Fifty-six percent assume that most experts believe Iraq had actual WMD and 57 percent also assume, incorrectly, that Duelfer concluded Iraq had at least a major WMD program."

"Similarly," the pollsters found, "75 percent of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, and 63 percent believe that clear evidence of this support has been found. Sixty percent of Bush supporters assume that this is also the conclusion of most experts, and 55 percent assume, incorrectly, that this was the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission."

PIPA analysts suggest that the "tendency of Bush supporters to ignore dissonant information" offers some explanation for these numbers. And there is something to that. After all, Kerry backers displayed a far sounder sense of reality in PIPA surveys.

But unless we want to assume that close to 60 million Americans look at the world only through Bush-colored glasses, there has to be some acceptance of the fact that good citizens who consume American media come away with dramatic misconceptions about the most vital issues of the day.

Sure, Fox warps facts intentionally. But what about CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, USA Today, the New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as most local media across the country? They may strive to be more accurate than Fox or talk-radio personalities such as Rush Limbaugh. But they still fed the American people an inaccurate picture when they allowed the Bush team to peddle lies about Iraq and other issues without aggressively and consistently challenging those misstatements of fact.

America has many great journalists. And there are still good newspapers, magazines and broadcast programs. But, taken as a whole, US media--with its obsessive focus on John Kerry's Vietnam record, its neglect of fundamental economic and environmental issues and its stenographic repetition of even the most absurd claims by the president and vice president--warped the debate in 2004.

Some of those 59,054,087 Bush voters may have been dumb.

But a far better explanation for the election result is summed up by the Weekly Guardian's observation that, "Maybe it's the papers they're reading."

A Politician, Not a Diplomat

Two weeks before the 2004 presidential election, the Bush administration's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, made a solemn pronouncement about her desire to remain outside the political fight between Democrat John Kerry and the man who this week appointed her to serve as Secretary of State. "I think it's important that we not campaign," Rice said of national security aides. She emphasized that this was a particular concern because "we are in a time of war."

Rice made her comments during an interview with the political editor of KDKA, a Pittsburgh-based television powerhouse with a reach capable of taking her words into the homes of millions of voters in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

Then, in a display of her nonpolitical approach, Rice proceeded to rip into Kerry's charge that the administration had botched the search for Osama bin Laden. Kerry's assertion "is just not true," raged Rice, before again refuting the notion that she was campaigning for Bush.

The next day, she flew to Cleveland, Ohio, the largest city in the most hotly contested of all the battleground states and trashed Kerry once more.

Two days later, she was in south Florida, one of the most hotly contested regions of another battleground state where again she dumped on Kerry's strategies for defending the United States before declaring, "The global war on terror calls us, as President Bush immediately understood, to marshall all the elements of our national power to beat terror and the ideology of hatred that protects (terrorists) and recruits others to their ranks."

During the months of September and October of 2001, Rice made no public appearances outside Washington, during September and October of 2002, she made one New York appearance, during September and October of 2003, she appeared in New York and Chicago. But as the November 2 election approached, Rice suddenly discovered the joys of Pittsburgh and Detroit. With the man who she once mistakenly referred to as "my husband" locked in a tough reelection campaign, Rice appeared during the fall of 2004 at least one time each in the battleground states of Oregon, Washington, North Carolina, Michigan and Florida, and at least twice in the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Rice's travels were, for the most part, paid for by the taxpayers. And her aides insisted throughout the campaign season that, in the words of James Wilkinson, a deputy national security advisor, "Dr. Rice has continued the nonpolitical tradition of her post."

That pronouncement was so laughable, however, that the Washington Post, which did the ablest job of tracking Rice's travels in the months prior to the election, observed, "The frequency and location of her speeches differ sharply from those before this election year -- and appear to break with the long-standing precedent that the national security adviser try to avoid overt involvement in the presidential campaign. Her predecessors generally restricted themselves to an occasional speech, often in Washington, but (by late October) Rice will have made nine outside Washington since Labor Day."

The woman who claimed she could not appear before the bipartisan committee investigating the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington because it would break precedents set by past national security advisers had no qualms about breaking past precedents when it came to using her position to advance her favorite politician's interests. "I'm afraid this represents, at least in my book, excessive politicization of an office which is unusually sensitive," Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Carter administration's national security, said of Rice's pre-election travels. Brzezinski confirmed the Post's observation that past national security advisers had "viewed the job as not a highly political one."

Obviously, Rice had a different view. Her political campaigning was so blatant and so extensive that the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, U.S. Representative John Conyers, D-Michigan, sought a special counsel investigation of whether Rice had violated the Hatch Act's provisions against campaigning by federal employees who are on the job. "(Any) political activity on the part of the national security adviser would undermine the trust bestowed on such a non-partisan post," argued Conyers in a letter requesting the inquiry.

Of course, there was never any question that Rice was engaging in political activity. The only question was: For who? To be sure, her busy schedule in the battleground states -- which supplemented speeches with high-profile interviews with local television stations and newspapers -- helped Bush. But it also helped Rice.

After Rice appeared in that city in September, the Seattle Times newspaper pointed out that, "Rice sounded at times like a candidate." In a sense, she was. Prior to the election, Washington was abuzz with speculation about the all-but-certain departure of Secretary of State Colin Powell, the closest thing the administration had to an independent man of government -- as opposed to the programmed politicos who peopled most major posts in the Bush White House. Rice, who began campaigning for the Secretary of State post before the 2000 election, did not want there to be any doubt on the part of Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney, the man who runs foreign policy for the administration, that she would be a more loyal and dramatically more politicized player than Powell.

And so she shall be.

Rice, whose many excuses for refusing to appear before the 9/11 Commission included a claim that she was too wrapped up in the serious work of analyzing potential threats to the nation, has always been able to find time for political work on behalf of the Bush-Cheney team -- and on behalf of her own ambition. In March, at the same time that she was stonewalling the 9/11 Commission, Rice found time to deliver an extended briefing to top executives from television networks, magazines, newspapers and other media properties owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. conglomerate. Even as Spain's new prime minister was talking about withdrawing his country's troops from Iraq, and Poland's president was suggesting that he might do the same, Rice blocked out time to speak via satellite to the Murdoch lieutenants gathered at the posh Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Cancun, Mexico.

Certainly, her appearance helped to cement the relationship between the Bush administration and Murdoch's media empire, which includes the Fox broadcast and cable networks, the relentlessly pro-Bush New York Post and the neoconservative Weekly Standard magazine. But it also helped to position Rice as a Bush administration player who, unlike Colin Powell, recognized the need to care for friendly media.

Where Bush, Cheney and the neoconservative readers and advisers who have populated key positions inside the administration and at its edges never trusted Powell, they know they can count on Rice. Just as she politicized the national security adviser to an extent never before seen, she will politicize the State Department. Any pretense of independence or pragmatism will be discarded as quickly as was the tradition of keeping the national security adviser out of politics.

With Powell, its feeble defender, on the way out of the State Department, the last small voices of dissent within the foreign policy bureaucracy will begin to fall silent. If Rice is confirmed, as seems certain considering the partisan divide in the Senate, the Department of State where Thomas Jefferson, William Jennings Bryan and George Marshall once presided, will be little more than an arm of the White House political operation. And the Secretary of State, who has already proven herself to be more interested in campaigning than in defending the best interests of the nation or its security, will not be a diplomat. She will be a politician, nothing more and, certainly, nothing less.

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John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.

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