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John Nichols

John Nichols

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The Missing Mandate

A day after the 2004 presidential voting was done, when it was finally possible to declare victory, Vice President Dick Cheney introduced a reelected President George W. Bush to the United States. But Cheney did not merely claim the win. He announced that, "President Bush ran forthrightly on a clear agenda for this nation's future, and the nation responded by giving him a mandate."


Even by the accepted standards of vice presidential hyperbole – which have been dramatically expanded during the Cheney interregnum – that's a stretch. But it is a stretch that right-wing talk radio and cable television have been quick to make, with The Weekly Standard's invariably over-the-top Bill Kristol declaring Bush's win to be "an even larger and clearer mandate than those won in the landslide reelection campaigns of Nixon in 1972, Reagan in 1984, and Clinton in 1996."

Kristol was, of course, wrong. There was no sense in which Bush's mandate was even comparable with those of Nixon, Reagan or Clinton. But if Kristol's assessement was ridiculously wrong, so too were the reviews of the result presented by much of the so-called "mainstream" media. Doyle McManus and Janet Hook of The Los Angeles Times have declared that "Bush can claim a solid mandate." In The New York Times, David Sanger went event further, claiming that, "Mr. Bush no longer has to pretend that he possesses a clear electoral mandate. Because for the first time in his presidency, he can argue that he has the real thing."

Truth-challenged statements are to be expected from Cheney, who continues to peddle the now entirely-discredited theory that Iraq posed a threat that necessitated the invasion and occupation of that country, and who still stands by the fiddled figures that were used to justify the administration's fiscally fraudulent overhaul of Medicare. But no one else, not even a Bill Kristol or a David Sanger, has any excuse for calling what Bush won on Tuesday a mandate.

In the language of American politics, the term "mandate" refers to a sweeping electoral win that confers upon the victor the authority not merely to govern but to radically alter the course of the country. Few presidents get them. And George W. Bush is not one of those presidents.

Let's get clear regarding what Bush got out of Tuesday's election:

* He won a popular vote majority that currently stands at about 3.5 million. If that number holds, he'll end up with a roughly 51-48 margin over Democrat John Kerry.

* He won an electoral vote majority of 286-252 (assuming that reviews of ballots in Ohio, Iowa and New Mexico leave those states in his column).

* He will govern with both a House and Senate controlled by his party. But in both chambers moderate elements of the Republican party could combine with Democrats to slow his agenda.

By comparison with most presidents elected in the past century, that is anything but a mandate.

Consider this: In the presidential elections from 1904 up until this year, the victors in 21 of 25 contests won by wider percentage of the popular vote than that achieved by Bush on Tuesday. During that same 100 year period, the victors in 23 of 25 presidential elections won by wider margins in the Electoral College than did Bush – the only narrower wins were those of Bush in the disputed election of 2000 and Woodrow Wilson in 1916.

Bill Clinton, George Herbert Walker Bush, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Franklin Roosevelt (in all four of his campaigns), Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge, Warren Harding, Woodrow Wilson (in 1912), William Howard Taft and Teddy Roosevelt all won elections by significantly wider popular vote AND electoral vote margins than did Bush in 2004.

So which president's "mandate" is most comparable to that earned this year by Bush? Jimmy Carter's in 1976. Carter won the Electoral College by a slightly larger margin than Bush will this year, 297-240, while his popular vote margin was an almost identical 51-48. Carter had far more friendly majorities in the House and Senate. But, far from accepting that he had any kind of mandate, Republicans moved immediately – and with notable success – to build bipartisan coalitions in opposition to Carter initiatives such as the Panama Canal Treaty. Outside of Congress, Ronald Reagan dismissed the notion that Carter had any kind of mandate, and traveled the country organizing opposition to the new president's policies.

History came to see Carter as an embattled president, rather than a man with a mandate. Today, the University of Virginia's Miller Center on Public Affairs, one of the most respected centers of scholarship on the American presidency, says this in its review of the 1976 results: "Carter squeaked out a narrow victory."

That, rather than the inflated claims of Dick Cheney and William Kristol, is an accurate description of George W. Bush's victory this year. There is no mandate to be found. The president squeaked out a narrow victory – nothing more. And his critics would be wise to grant him precisely the same amount of slack that Ronald Reagan and the Republicans granted Jimmy Carter.


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.


Rove's Race

George W. Bush may have secured the presidency this week. But the real winner was Karl Rove.

The White House political czar has solidified his position as the nation's campaigner-in-chief. Republicans love him, Democrats fear him, and everyone now agrees that Rove is the political genius of the age.

So, let's listen to Rove.

In the epilogue of Bob Woodward's book, Plan of Attack, the author writes about how Rove saw the presidential race in early February, 2004.

Noting that Rove believed the war in Iraq was turning into "a potential negative" for the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign, Woodward wrote, "Previously, Rove had claimed he was salivating at the prospect that the Democrats would nominate former Vermont Governor Howard Dean in the 2004 presidential race. But Dean had imploded and Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat, had won 12 of the first 14 Democratic primary contests and it looked like he was headed for the nomination."

What did Rove have to say about this development? "'The good news for us is that Dean is not the nominee,' Rove now argued to an associate in his second floor West Wing office. Dean's unconditional opposition to the Iraq War could have been potent in a face-off with Bush. 'One of Dean's strengths though was he could say, I'm not part of that crowd down there.' But Kerry was very much a part of the Washington crowd and he had voted in favor of the resolution for war. Rove got out his two-inch-think loose-leaf binder titled 'Bring It On.' It consisted of research into Kerry's 19-year record in the Senate. Most relevant were pages 9-20 of the section on Iraq."

Woodward explained that, "Rove believed they had Kerry pretty cold on voting to give the president a green light for war and then backing off when he didn't like the aftermath or saw a political opportunity. Whatever the case, Rove sounded as if he believed they could inoculate the president on the Iraq War in a campaign with Kerry."

"Rove," Woodward observed, "was gleeful."

Ten months later, as the returns rolled in on Tuesday night, Rove's glee seemed well placed.

After every imaginable revelation about the missteps, misdeeds and lies that the Bush administration used to steer the country into the Iraq misadventure, and after all the news about the quagmire it had become, America effectively said to George W. Bush: We trust you to manage the mess more than we trust John Kerry.

This is the most painful reality of the fall campaign of 2004: For all the talk about Iraq, the debate about the U.S. occupation of that country never really took hold.

Kerry tried to offer himself up as a clear alternative to Bush, and from a stylistic standpoint he succeeded. But when the debate got down to the practical question of when American troops would be out of harm's way -- and when the Iraqis will really be running things in their own country -- about all Kerry had to offer was a vague sooner-rather-than-later promise that sounded a bit too much like the "secret plan" to get U.S. troops out of Vietnam that Richard Nixon peddled in 1968.

It is a stretch to suggest that Howard Dean would necessarily have been a better foe for Bush than Kerry. Dean had enough baggage to fill several of those loose-leaf folders on Rove's desk.

But, at a fundamental level, Rove was right. A Democratic challenger who could have distanced him-or herself from the use-of-force resolution and Bush's plan of attack would have been, as Woodward suggests, "potent in a face-off with Bush."

To be sure, Bush lost the actual debates. But the results of the election suggest that he did not loose the broader debate about the war. Hindsight is always 20-20, but it is worth noting that a lot of progressives rejected Kerry's candidacy during the primary season because they feared that -- in light of his vote on the use-of-force resolution -- he could not hold Bush fully accountable for the rush to war that has now cost so many American and Iraqi lives. They, like Karl Rove, were proven right on Tuesday.

'We Can Wait One More Night'

Nothing frustrated Democratic loyalists more in 2000 than the sense that their presidential nominee, former Vice President Al Gore, failed to aggressively, and effectively, challenge Republican moves to steal that year's election--and the presidency--in the disputed state of Florida.

This year, Democrats again find themselves stuck in a close election where the final results of one state's voting could decide the presidency for or against their candidate.

The difference is that, this time, the disputed state is Ohio, where Republican George W. Bush, the man who elbowed Gore aside in 2000, was maintaining a roughly 120,000 vote lead in the Buckeye state over Democrat John Kerry, out of more than 2.6 million votes cast. Some television networks declared Bush the winner of Ohio last night, others did not.

That left the fight for the presidency unsettled. And Kerry aides argued early Wednesday morning that Bush's Ohio margin could yet be reversed when there is a tallying of an estimated 250,000 provisional ballots--which were cast by citizens of that state who were denied the right to vote because their names did not appear on registration rolls.

With the Electoral College closely divided, a reversal in Ohio could provide Kerry with enough electoral votes to pass the 270 mark required for him to defeat Bush.

With the presidency again hanging in the balance in a battleground state--however tenuously--the Kerry team did not want to be seen as having displayed a willingness to surrender prematurely.

So at 2:30 this morning, Kerry's running mate, North Carolina Senator John Edwards, appeared in Boston's Copley Square to inform thousands of Kerry backers that, this time, the Democratic ticket would concede nothing.

"It's been a long time--but we've waited four years for this victory,'' Edwards explained to the crowd. "We can wait one more night."

Then, referencing the concerns of Democrats who thought Gore backed out too soon in 2000, Edwards said: "John Kerry and I made a promise to the American people that in this election, every vote would count and every vote would be counted. Tonight, we are keeping our word."

When all is said and done, it will be difficult, perhaps impossible, to reverse Bush's lead in Ohio and nationally. The president's election night position is significantly stronger than in 2000, as he has secured the popular-vote win he lacked that year.

But Kerry took as his campaign's theme song Bruce Springsteen's "No Surrender." Democrats with bitter memories of the Florida debacle embraced that theme. It was part of what made them warm this year to Kerry, who often delivered "count-every-vote" comments at his rallies.

Now, at the close of a very long campaign, with the pressure on for Kerry to fold his candidacy and let Bush claim a second term, that is the message his supporters want to hear from Kerry's campaign. And, so far at least, he is giving it to them.

Bush's Lone Star Scheming

The final event on George W. Bush's schedule on the final day of the 2004 presidential election campaign was not a late-night gathering in a "battleground" state such as Florida or Ohio. Rather, it was a Monday evening "victory rally" on the campus of Southern Methodist University in his home state of Texas.

Texas? After months of focusing on the dozen or more targeted states that supposedly will decide this election, why did the Bush camp decide to finish things off in the one state that ought to be securely in the president's column?

Because, despite everything that has been said over the past few months, this campaign is not just about battleground states. There is also a national fight to win the popular vote, and Bush's election-eve trip to Texas was an acknowledgment of that fact.

To be sure, the fight for the popular vote was overshadowed during this year's long campaign by the fight to reach the "magic" number of 270 electoral votes. That Electoral College fight plays out in the battleground states. And as the 2004 campaign raced to a close, it was far from settled. At least 20 states--from Hawaii to Maine--saw pre-election poll numbers that suggested either Bush or Democrat John Kerry could win their precious electoral votes. Never before in the modern history of American electoral politics have so many states been so undecided on the eve of an election.

The candidates could not possibly visit all of those states before the voting started, however, so they effectively ceded states to one another in the final days. Both campaigns narrowed the focus of their last-minute campaigning to a handful of states where polls suggest the two campaigns are effectively tied. Bush campaigned in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa and New Mexico, while Kerry awoke Monday in Florida and then flew north for a stop in Wisconsin, several stops in Ohio--including a huge rally in Cleveland where Bruce Springsteen sang and urged the crowd to "Vote for Change"--and a return to Wisconsin for a 1:00am Tuesday rally in the city of LaCrosse. Kerry spent the night in LaCrosse, where local television news programs reach audiences in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, before beginning a Tuesday morning journey home--via Ohio, again--to Boston.

Kerry can be reasonably assured of winning roughly 200 electoral votes from states where he led going into today's election, while Bush is assured of at least that many electoral votes. This means that whichever campaign secures a clear majority of the roughly 135 electoral votes that are up for grabs in the so-called "super-battleground" states that have been the targets of so much late-in-the-day politicking will be well positioned to claim an Electoral College majority and the presidency.

On election eve, late polls from the "super-battleground states" suggested that Kerry might be the one staking that claim.

But the key word there is "claim."

With so many undecided states at the close of campaigning, the Bush team was determined to cover all of its bases. And one of those bases involves securing the popular-vote win that could convey legitimacy in the chaotic aftermath of a close and contentious election.

The Bush camp got a huge break in 2000, when Al Gore and his backers failed to play up a clear popular-vote win by the Democrat in order to gain an advantage in the public relations fight that was every bit as significant as the confusing and inconsistent recounting of Florida ballots. When Democrats failed to press the case that Gore was the popular choice of the American people, they made it easier for Florida Republicans and a politicized US Supreme to hand the presidency to Bush.

As the campaign wound down, Bush campaign czar Karl Rove and his aides were fully conscious of the prospects for similar scenarios to play out this year.

For instance, let's say that no clear winner emerges tonight, or that the states split in a manner that produces either an Electoral College tie or a very narrow lead for Kerry. There are no guarantees of such a result, but there is a prospect. And the Bush camp does not fret about prospects that might prevent the president from securing a second term. It plans.

Essential to such planning is the assembly of all the tools that could be required to win a post-election PR battle--including that popular-vote win.

Hence the trip to Texas, where polls showed Bush leading Kerry by a comfortable but not overwhelming margin. The Bush stop in Texas on election eve was designed to ramp up excitement about the president's campaign in hopes of spurring a "home state pride" increase in turnout that could pad Bush's popular-vote total not just in Texas but nationwide.

Make no mistake, the first goal of the Bush campaign is an Electoral College win.

But, failing that, they want a popular-vote win that they can use as part of a push to raise questions about the legitimacy of a Kerry victory in the Electoral College and, if that victory cannot be upset, about a Kerry presidency.

Is it really possible that Kerry could win the Electoral College even as Bush wins the popular vote?

Of course.

Kerry leads in the District of Columbia and 14 states, including some that are rich in electoral votes, such as California (55), New York (31) and Illinois (21). Bush leads in 25 states that, for the most part, have small numbers of electoral votes, such as Wyoming (3), North Dakota (3), South Dakota (3), Idaho (4) and Mississippi (6). By far, Bush's best state when it comes to electoral votes is Texas (34).

If polls are to be believed, however, Bush should win his "safe" states by significantly greater margins than Kerry piles up in his "safe" states. For instance, polls show Bush leading by 45 points in Utah, 36 points in Wyoming, 30 points in Oklahoma, 29 points in Nebraska, 26 points in Louisiana, 23 points in Kansas, 21 points in Montana and 21 points in Kentucky.

By contrast, the only place where Kerry leads by more than 20 points is the District of Columbia. Kerry's lead in New York state is a solid 18 points, but the latest poll from California has him ahead by just 7 points.

Of course, New York and California produce a lot more raw votes than Wyoming and North Dakota. So, to secure a popular vote win, Bush needs a big "bump" from Texas. Yet, on the ground in Texas last week, some polls have suggested that Bush is likely to win the state by a relatively narrow 55-45 margin. That would translate to a margin as small as 600,000 votes, as compared with the 1.4 million vote margin Bush secured in Texas in 2000.

That 800,000-vote slippage could spell the difference between a popular-vote win and a popular-vote defeat for Bush. And the Bush team does not want to cede the popular vote.

So, when Bush went to Texas Monday night--to deliver a pointed anti-Kerry speech in which the president pumped up the crowd with "He's from Massachusetts, I'm from Texas" rhetoric--he did not do so simply because he wanted to sleep in his own bed on the ranch at Crawford. Bush and Karl Rove were, even at the last minute of the campaign they have so skillfully manipulated, cooking up one last scheme for maintaining their grip on the White House.


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.


Even Republicans Fear Bush

The most divisive election campaign in recent American history has not merely split the nation along party lines, it has split the Grand Old Party itself. Unfortunately, most Americans are wholly unaware of the loud dissents against Bush that have begun to be heard in Republican circles.

If the United States had major media that covered politics, as opposed to the political spin generated by the Bush White House and the official campaigns of both the Republican president and his Democratic challenger, one of the most fascinating, and significant, stories of the 2004 election season would be the abandonment of the Bush reelection effort by senior Republicans. But this is a story that, for the most part, has gone untold. Scant attention was paid to the revelation that one Republican member of the US Senate, Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee, will refrain from voting for his party's president -- despite the fact that Chafee offered a far more thoughtful critique of George W. Bush's presidency than "Zig-Zag" Zell Miller, the frothing, Democrat-hating Democrat did when he condemned his party's nominee. Beyond the minimal attention to Chafee, most media has neglected the powerful, and often poignant, condemnations of Bush by prominent Republicans.

Former Republican members of the US Senate and House, governors, ambassadors, aides to GOP Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush have explicitly endorsed the campaign of Democrat John Kerry. For many of these lifelong Republicans, their vote for Kerry will be a first Democratic vote. But, in most cases, it will not be a hesitant one.

Angered by the Bush administration's mismanagement of the war in Iraq, record deficits, assaults on the environment and secrecy, the renegade partisans tend to echo the words of former Minnesota Governor Elmer Andersen, who says that, "Although I am a longtime Republican, it is time to make a statement, and it is this: Vote for Kerry-Edwards, I implore you, on November 2."

Many of the Republicans who are abandoning Bush express sorrow at what the Bush-Cheney administration and its allies in Congress have done to their party: "The fact is that today's 'Republican' Party is one that I am totally unfamiliar with," writes John Eisenhower. But the deeper motivation is summed up by former US Senator Marlow Cook, a Kentucky Republican, who explained in a recent article for the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper that, "For me, as a Republican, I feel that when my party gives me a dangerous leader who flouts the truth, takes the country into an undeclared war and then adds a war on terrorism to it without debate by the Congress, we have a duty to rid ourselves of those who are taking our country on a perilous ride in the wrong direction. If we are indeed the party of Lincoln (I paraphrase his words), a president who deems to have the right to declare war at will without the consent of the Congress is a president who far exceeds his power under our Constitution. I will take John Kerry for four years to put our country on the right path."

In the end, of course, the vast majority of Republicans will cast their ballots for George W. Bush on Tuesday, just as the vast majority of Democrats will vote for John Kerry. But the Republicans who plan to cross the partisan divide and vote for Kerry have articulated a unique and politically potent indictment of the Bush Administration.

Here are a dozen examples of what Republicans are saying about George W. Bush--and John Kerry--as the November 2 election approaches:

"As son of a Republican president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, it is automatically expected by many that I am a Republican. For 50 years, through the election of 2000, I was. With the current administration's decision to invade Iraq unilaterally, however, I changed my voter registration to independent, and barring some utterly unforeseen development, I intend to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry."

-- Ambassador John Eisenhower, endorsing Kerry in an opinion piece published in The Manchester Union Leader, September 28, 2004.

"The two 'Say No to Bush' signs in my yard say it all. The present Republican president has led us into an unjustified war -- based on misguided and blatantly false misrepresentations of the threat of weapons of mass destruction. The terror seat was Afghanistan. Iraq had no connection to these acts of terror and was not a serious threat to the United States, as this president claimed, and there was no relation, it's now obvious, to any serious weaponry. Although Saddam Hussein is a frightful tyrant, he posed no threat to the United States when we entered the war. George W. Bush's arrogant actions to jump into Iraq when he had no plan how to get out have alienated the United States from our most trusted allies and weakened us immeasurably around the world... This imperialistic, stubborn adherence to wrongful policies and known untruths by the Cheney-Bush administration -- and that's the accurate order -- has simply become more than I can stand."

-- Former Minnesota Governor Elmer Andersen, a Republican, endorsing Kerry in an opinion piece published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, October 13, 2004. Andersen argued in the piece that, "I am more fearful for the state of this nation than I have ever been -- because this country is in the hands of an evil man: Dick Cheney. It is eminently clear that it is he who is running the country, not George W. Bush."

"I am not enamored with John Kerry, but I am frightened to death of George Bush. I fear a secret government. I abhor a government that refuses to supply the Congress with requested information. I am against a government that refuses to tell the country with whom the leaders of our country sat down and determined our energy policy, and to prove how much they want to keep the secret, they took it all the way to the Supreme Court."

-- Former US Senator Marlow Cook, Republican from Kentucky, endorsing Kerry in an opinion piece that appeared in The Louisville Courier-Journal, October 20, 2004.

"My Republican Party is the party of Theodore Roosevelt, who fought to preserve our natural resources and environment. This president has pursued policies that will cause irreparable damage to our environmental laws that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the public lands we share with future generations."

-- Former Michigan Governor William Milliken, from a statement published in the Traverse City Record Eagle, October 17, 2004.

"As an environmentalist who served as chairman of the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, I know that this administration has turned environmental policy over to lobbyists for the oil, gas and mining interests. On the other hand, I know first-hand of your commitment to a more balanced approach to environmental policy -- one where we can have both jobs and profit for industry as well as clean air and water. There is no stronger evidence of this than your outstanding leadership and support in the restoration of the Florida Everglades. John, for each of these reasons I believe President Bush has failed our country and my party. Accordingly, I want you to know that when I go into the booth next Tuesday I am going to cast my vote for you."

-- Former US Senator Bob Smith, Republican from New Hampshire, from an endorsement letter sent to John Kerry, October 28, 2004.

"Nixon was a prince compared to these guys."

-- Former US Representative Pete McCloskey, R-California, from an article in the Palo Alto Weekly, September 8, 2004. McCloskey, who is active with Republicans for Kerry, says of members of the Bush administration, "These people believe God has told them what to do. They've high jacked the Republican Party we once knew."

"The war is just a misbegotten thing that's spiraling down. It's a matter of conscience for me. After 9/11, the whole world was behind us. That's all gone now. That's been squandered. Now we've made the entire Muslim world hate us. And for what? For what?"

-- Former State Senator Al Meiklejohn, Republican from Colorado and World War II combat veteran, explaining his decision to support John Kerry in an interview with The Denver Post, September 19, 2004.

"We need a leader who is really dedicated to creating millions of high-paying jobs all across the country."

-- Former Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca, who campaigned for George W. Bush in 2000 and appeared in television advertisements for the Republican Party of Michigan that year. Iacocca, who complains that under Bush deficit spending is "getting out of hand," endorsing Kerry on June 24, 2004.

"In a dangerous epoch -- made more so by a president who sees the world in stark black and white because simplicity polls better and fits into sound bites -- John Kerry may seem out of place. He is, in fact, in exactly the right place at the right time to lead our country."

-- Tim Ashby, who served during the Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush administrations as director of the Office of Mexico and the Caribbean for the US Commerce Department and acting deputy assistant Secretary of Commerce for the Western Hemisphere, endorsing Kerry in a Seattle Times, October 14, 2004.

"I have always been, and I still am, a registered Republican, but I shall enthusiastically vote for John Kerry for president on November 2... If the Bush administration stays in power four more years, it will pack the Supreme Court with neocons who reject the idea that the Constitution is a living document designed to protect the freedom of the citizens."

-- Anne Morton Kimberly, widow of former Republican National Committee chair Rogers C.B. Morton, Secretary of the Interior during the Nixon administration and Secretary of Commerce during the Ford administration, endorsing Kerry in a an opinion piece that appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal, October 14, 2004.

"Mainstream Republicans believe in fiscal responsibility, internationalism, environmental protection, the rights of women, and putting middle-class families ahead of big business lobbyists. Moderate Republicans should not be asked to swallow the right-wing policies of George W. Bush."

-- Clay Myers, who was Oregon's Republican Secretary of State for 10 years and the state's Treasure, endorsing Kerry at a press conference for Oregon Republicans for Kerry, September 1, 2004.

"The current administration has run the largest deficits in U.S. history, incurring massive debts that our children and grandchildren will have to pay. Two and a half million people have lost their jobs; trillions have been wiped out of savings and retirement accounts. The income of Americans has declined two years in a row, the first time since the IRS began keeping records. George W. Bush will be the first president since Hoover to have a net job loss under his watch... President Bush wanted to be judged as the CEO president, it is time to say, 'you have failed, and you're fired."

-- William Rutherford, former State Treasurer of Oregon, endorsing Kerry as a press conference for Oregon Republicans for Kerry, September 1, 2004.

"I served 20 years in the Ohio General Assembly as Republican. People have asked me why I oppose George W. Bush for president. My first response is, 'He is incompetent.' His behavior, his bad judgment, his record, all demonstrate a failure as president. He certainly misled the country into a no-win war in Iraq. Following his preemptive invasion, he totally misjudged the consequences of his action. He made a bad situation worse, fomenting widespread terrorism, all done with a frightful loss of lives and money."

-- Former Ohio State Representative John Galbraith, a Republican legislator for 20 years, endorsing Kerry in a letter to The Toledo Blade, September 28, 2004.

"Before the current campaign, it might have been argued that at least in affirming the importance of faith and respecting those who profess it the administration had embraced traditional conservative views. But in the wake of the Swift Boat ads attacking John Kerry, even this argument can no longer be maintained. As an elder of the Presbyterian Church, I found that those ads were not at all in the Christian tradition. John McCain rightly condemned them as dishonest and dishonorable. The president should have, too. That he did not undermines his credibility on questions of faith.

Some say it's just politics. But that's the whole point. More is expected of people of faith than "just politics."

The fact is that the Bush administration might better be called radical or romantic or adventurist than conservative. And that's why real conservatives are leaning toward Kerry."

-- Clyde Prestowitz, counselor to the secretary of commerce in the Reagan administration and an elder of the Presbyterian Church, from "The Conservative Case for Kerry," published in the Providence Journal and other newspapers, October 15, 2004.


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.


Springsteen's Political Poetry

The art of political speechmaking is now so lost to the dark machinations of the spin doctors, pollsters and pundits that most Americans have never heard a live campaign speech of any particular consequence. Perhaps that is why the crowd of 80,000 people who rallied for John Kerry on Thursday in Madison, Wisconsin, fell so completely silent a few minutes into what turned out to be the most poignant and powerful election address of 2004.

The speaker was not a candidate. Rather, the words that cut through the rhetorical fog were those of a guitar player from New Jersey.

"As a songwriter, I've written about America for 30 years," explained Bruce Springsteen, after he finished playing the appropriately chosen song, "Promised Land."

"I've tried to write about who we are, what we stand for, what we fight for," he continued. "I believe that these essential ideals of American identity are what's at stake on November 2."

Springsteen's voice did not rise with the false drama of electioneering.

His words mingled so smoothly with the soft strumming of his guitar that it was easy to imagine that the singer might let those few spoken words be his message.

But there was a lot more to it.

With a nod to Tom Paine and a kiss for Walt Whitman, Springsteen reviewed the crisis and then called voters to be guided not by their fears but by the better angels of our nature. Lincoln spoke this way, Bobby Kennedy did, and so did Paul Wellstone. But, as this campaign closes, that rare mixture of politics and poetry is coming not from politicians but from a man who until Thursday had never appeared on the stage of a presidential campaign rally.

The response in Madison, and a few hours later in Columbus, Ohio, where the Kerry-Springsteen tour stopped next, was more than merely campaign-stop enthusiastic.

When the shouting stopped, the tens upon tens of thousands of people who filled the streets in front of him began to listen. Really listen.

Springsteen detailed the subjects that mattered to him: "the human principles of economic justice, healing the sick, health care, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, a living wage so folks don't have to go out and break their backs and still not be able to make ends meet" and "the protection of the environment, a sane and responsible foreign policy, civil rights and the protection and safeguarding of our precious democracy here at home."

Now, the crowd that stretched for block after block up a hill to the state Capitol began to settle. Something was being said here, and these people -- who just moments before had been rocking along with Springsteen -- were suddenly listening as the singer ran through his litany of progressive passions.

"I believe that John Kerry honors these ideals. He has lived their history over the past 50 years and formed an adult view of America and its people," Springsteen told the voters of Wisconsin, a battleground state that could well tip the electoral-college balance of this year's presidential contest. "He's had the life experience; I think he understands that we as humans are not infallible and that, as Senator (John) Edwards said during the Democratic National Convention, that struggle and heartbreak will always be with us. That's why 'united we stand,' 'one nation, indivisible,' aren't just slogans. They need to remain guiding principles of our public lives."

With autumn leaves drifting slowly from the trees that lined the street, Springsteen described the Democratic nominee for president in terms that made Kerry's resume read a good deal more lyrically than it has during this ugly campaign of Swift Boat vet charges and FOX-TV sneer fests. "He's shown us, starting as a young man, that by facing America's hard truths, both the good and the bad, that's where we find a deeper patriotism. That's where we find a complete view of who we are. That's where we find a more authentic experience as citizens, and that's where we find the power that is embedded only in truth to make our world a better and safer place."

Springsteen paused and then invoked the name of Wellstone, the late Minnesota senator who is an iconic figure among progressives in the neighboring state of Wisconsin.

"Paul Wellstone," the singer repeated, as the tension broke and the crowd began cheering. "He said the future is for the passionate and those who are willing to fight and work hard for it. Well, the future is now. And it's time to let your passions loose." Now, the applause was swelling. "Let's roll up our sleeves," Springsteen shouted above the roar of approval. "That's why I'm here today -- to stand alongside Senator Kerry and to tell you that the country we carry in our hearts is waiting, and together we can move America towards her deepest ideals."

Springsteen pulled his black guitar up and, referencing the musical instruments preferred by former President Bill Clinton and Kerry, said, "Besides, we had a sax player in the house. We need a guitar player in the White House." As the crowd roared its approval once more, the singer quietly continued, "Alright, this for John. This is for you, John." Then he launched into "No Surrender," a song that has been adopted as the Kerry campaign's anthem. Stripped down and slowed down, the song's words resonated even more clearly with crowd, especially the line, "I want to sleep beneath peaceful skies."

When Springsteen finished, he introduced Kerry, who bounded to the stage and announced, "I may be running for president of the United States, but we all know who the boss is."

Energized by the crowd and the company on stage, Kerry delivered a muscular, well-received address. And, surely, the throngs belonged as much or more to him as they did to Springsteen. Yet, when the day was done, it was the singer, not the candidate, who had delivered the most meaningful political address.

There are often debates about the extent to which serious attention should be granted to the political musings of singers, actors and other celebrities. The quality and character of Springsteen's addresses in Madison and Columbus on Thursday, and the responses to them, suggests that this issue may finally be settled. In a year when so many meaningless words have been spilled along the campaign trail, Bruce Springsteen is saying something that matters.

Political Laughs? Try Fox

Sorry, Jon Stewart, but Sean Hannity is the king of television comedy.

Yes, of course, "The Daily Show" is hilarious.

But the Emmy Award-winning Comedy Central program featuring Stewart's cutting comments on the foibles of campaigners for president and spot-on parodies of network election coverage by his crew of fake news reporters is just too intellectually advanced. If you want to see fall-down funny political humor on cable television, click over to the Fox News Channel and watch Hannity "interview" members of the Republican ticket.

No, Hannity does not fashion himself a comic. He doesn't even know he's funny.

It is that unintended quality that makes Hannity's "interviews" so remarkably ridiculous that it is impossible not to laugh. When the men who run the country come on his show -- as they have been for "energize-the-base" appearances in recent days -- Hannity greets them with a demeanor reminiscent of the "Wayne's World" guys falling to their knees before Alice Cooper and crying, "We are not worthy!"

There will be those who suggest that it is unfair to pick on Hannity because, as a Fox host, he is not supposed to be concerned about his credibility as a television interviewer. But Hannity's "interviews" are not Fox bad, they are William Shatner singing "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" bad.

Hannity's suck-up session with Vice President Dick Cheney last Thursday was so syrupy that it made those Julia Roberts celebrity interviews on "Entertainment Tonight" look like Prime Minister's Question Time in the English House of Commons.

Hannity, the wide-eyed conservative who is paired up with in-his-place "liberal" Alan Colmes on Fox's creepily amusing "Hannity & Colmes" show, did not so much fawn over the vice president as desperately beg the big guy for approval. Hannity wasn't merely tossing softball questions; he was playing up to Cheney like a half-wit intern trying to get on the good side of an annoyed boss.

"Well, here you are in the all-important swing state of Ohio," Hannity began.

"Right," Cheney replied.

"The president yesterday mentioned the shameless scare tactics that are being used by the Democrats and more particularly John Kerry, who is now on the stump regularly saying that there's a big January surprise," Hannity said, referring to talk of privatization of Social Security.

"Right," Cheney replied.

Seated on a hokey set where he was surrounded by bales of hay, the vice president did his best to answer Hannity's questions seriously. But it was simply impossible. As the questions got sillier and sillier, the vice president grumbled out the sort of several-word responses that are usually reserved for the final uncomfortable minutes of sit-down sessions with the editorial board of the Mason City Globe Gazette.

Holding up a booklet, Hannity breathlessly announced, "I brought another prop with me."

"You brought a lot," Cheney observed, with all the enthusiasm of an airline passenger being chatted up by a hyperactive seatmate.

What makes Hannity's performances all the more hilarious is the fact that the Fox host does not appear to have the faintest inkling of how of how much his "interviews" look like a local television station's "remote" broadcast from the grand opening of a new car wash.

When the session was finished, an excited Hannity greeted the Democratic guest on his "fair-and-balanced" program, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. After Hannity referred to what had just finished as "the interview I had with the vice president," Landrieu corrected him. "I wouldn't call what just happened with the vice president an interview. I think it was an infomercial for the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign."

Hannity blew up, screaming, "Senator, senator, I think you're a lousy senator, okay?" Then he whined, "If you don't like it, I don't really care."

But, of course, he did care.

After the Fox host repeatedly interrupted Landrieu, the senator said, "Sean, let me finish please. You did not interrupt the vice president."

"Well, you're not the vice president," Hannity growled, "and I doubt you ever will be."

The man is serious.

That's the genius of his humor.

Other shows hire writers to come up with funny lines. Hannity is funny without even trying.


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.


The Race Right Now

With 12 days left before the election, millions of Americans have already cast their ballots -- records are being set for early voting and absentee ballots in all of the battleground states and in many non-battleground states. Yet, it is no easier to identify a frontrunner now than it was last spring. Rarely in history has an American presidential contest remained this close for this long, and it is beginning to appear that, like 2000, 2004 may be a year when neither candidate opens up a clear lead at the close of the contest.

That's got George W. Bush's reelection campaign team running scared, as races that stay close to the end tend to break for the challenger. But John Kerry's camp has had a hard time identifying themes in the post-debate period. For instance, it took the Democrat the better part of a week to figure out that the shortage of flu vaccine is precisely the sort of real-life crisis that illustrates the problems that result when the federal government adopts a hands-off approach to health care concerns.

The big movement seems to be occurring not in the presidential race but in contests for the Senate, where Republican overconfidence has created unexpected openings for the Democrats.

Here's where the race stands right now:

READING THE POLLS: The polls are all over the place, reflecting the challenges that arise when the practitioners of an inexact science attempt to predict a contest that is too close to call. In recent days, polls have anticipated everything from a Bush landslide to a narrow Kerry win. The latest surveys from the Gallup organization put President Bush well ahead of Democrat John Kerry. But four years ago at this time, Gallup was also predicting a landslide win for the Republican who ended up losing by almost 600,000 votes nationally to Democrat Al Gore.

On the other end of the spectrum are John Zogby's tracking polls, which have Kerry moving up in recent days to a point where he is now consistently tied with Bush. Zogby's group goes out of its way to contact potential voters who are not always reached by other polling groups -- Americans under 30, the urban and rural poor, new citizens -- and the hope of Democrats is that his numbers offer a better sense of what the November 2 results will look like if turnout surges.

One of the most traditionally reliable surveys, the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, has Bush and Kerry tied at 48 percent each. That's probably about right, as far as the national polling goes. But, remember, national polls are the cotton candy of presidential politics. You need a balanced diet of battleground state information to get a clear picture of what is going on.

BATTLEGROUND STATES: The big news of the week appears to be that Kerry appears to be opening up a small lead in Ohio. Three recent polls have him ahead by margins of 49-47 (WCPO-TV/Survey USA), 48-46 (University of Cincinnati) and 50-47 (ABC News). Only a FOX News survey still has Bush narrowly ahead. If Ohio breaks for Kerry, and every other states votes as it did in 2000, as is possible, the Democrat wins the presidency.

Kerry also appears to be in position to pick up another state that went for Bush in 2000: New Hampshire. The latest Suffolk University poll has the Democrat ahead there by 46-41, although some other polls have it closer.

Kerry's prospects for pick-ups in other states that once seemed competitive have dimmed. He's down 51-45 in Missouri (KSDK/SurveyUSA) and 52-45 in Nevada (KVBC-TV/SurveyUSA). Colorado could still be a prospect, depending on what poll you look at, although most surveys give Bush a reasonably comfortable lead. Intriguingly, Virginia and North Carolina remain relatively close in most surveys; a new WSLS-TV/SurveyUSA poll for Virginia has Bush ahead by only a 50-46 margin. A WBTV/SurveyUSA North Carolina poll has Bush with 50 to Kerry's 47.

Are there states that went for Gore in 2000 and could go for Bush this year? Possibly. There's still a lot of talk about New Jersey being in play, and Bush visited the state early in the week in hopes of causing a turn. But the latest polls still have Kerry ahead by margins varying from 1 to 10 points. Another Gore 2000 state, Oregon, remains competitive this year, with most surveys showing Kerry and Bush inside the margin of error. The same goes for Maine. In both Oregon and Maine, third-party candidates are drawing what could turn out to be significant support. Bush also has a shot in the Gore 2000 state of Iowa, which remains exceptionally close.

What of Florida? It's still a mess. The polls say the state is a toss up -- the latest Washington Post poll has the candidates tied 48-48. Turnout for early voting seems to be running strong in traditionally Democratic areas, such as the Tampa area and Palm Beach and Broward counties. But there are already complaints about the difficulty of voting in Jacksonville and other communities. Bottom line: Florida remains in flux and both candidates had better stock up on suntan lotion. They will be heading to the Sunshine State regularly between now and November 2.

Where else will they be? Watch the allocation of candidate time in the coming week. Both campaigns will have to start to get very serious about where they send their presidential and vice presidential nominees as states begin to lock in. With the race this close, neither candidate can afford to spend time in states that should have been secured log ago -- if a poll shift forces Kerry has to go to New Jersey, he's in trouble; if Bush has to go to North Carolina, Virginia or Colorado, it's likely that he is finished. The sure bets are these: Kerry, who has opened a lead in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and who must win Iowa, will make repeated runs to the Upper Midwest in hopes of tying the region up; and, of course, he will camp out in Ohio and Florida. Bush will spend even more time in Ohio, which he must pull back into play. Bush knows that, if he can win can win both Ohio and Florida, a second term is almost certainly his. If he loses one of them, he's headed back to Crawford.

GENDER GAP: One thing that all of the national and battleground-state polls agree on is this: Men prefer Bush, women prefer Kerry. That should be good news for Kerry. In recent election cycles, women have voted in somewhat higher numbers than men. The Democrats are working hard to make sure that the pattern holds, as they need women to turn out in disproportionate numbers -- the latest New York Times national poll has male respondents backing Bush by a 53-40 margin, while women supported Kerry 49-41. Gloria Steinem and other prominent women are taking to the road to pump up enthusiasm for Kerry in battleground states; slogan: "It's Up to the Women!" Republicans are dispatching Laura Bush, who polls better than anyone on either party's ticket. Bush once promised her that he would never ask her to make a campaign speech. Strike that.

One woman who has made her choice is Winona LaDuke, a prominent campaigner for Native American and environmental causes. LaDuke issued a strong endorsement of Kerry this week. Four years ago, she was Ralph Nader's running mate on the Green ticket.

BIG GUN: Kerry will be joined Monday for a Philadelphia rally by former President Bill Clinton. While 2000 Democratic nominee Al Gore avoided being seen with then-President Clinton, Kerry will get at close to Clinton as he can. Clinton's approval ratings are solid in polls from most of this year's battleground states and his appeal remains particularly strong among the African-American voters whose turnout levels could determine the results in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and a number of other key states.

MEDIA BIAS: The media is giving George W. Bush a hard time. No, not the liberal media. Bush is taking it on the chin from conservative publications. Pat Buchanan's American Conservative magazine, which has been harshly critical of the Bush administration's military adventures abroad, will not be backing Bush. "Unfortunately," the latest issue explains, "this election does not offer traditional conservatives an easy or natural choice and has left our editors as split as our readership." The American Conservative is not alone. At least a dozen Republican-leaning newspapers that backed Bush in 2000 have refused to do so this year, including the Seattle Times; the Portland Oregonian; Boulder, Colorado's Daily Camera; Columbia Missouri's Daily Tribune; and Bradenton, Florida's Daily Herald. The conservative Tampa Tribune, one of the highest-circulation papers in Florida, abandoned the GOP nominee with an announcement that, "We are unable to endorse President Bush for reelection because of his mishandling of the war in Iraq, his record deficit spending, his assault on open government and his failed promise to be a 'united not a divider' within the United States and the world." So far, according to Editor & Publisher magazine, 45 daily newspapers with a circulation of 8.7 million are backing Kerry, while only 30 newspapers with a circulation of 3.3 million are backing Bush. The president says he does not read newspapers -- not even the conservative ones. Now we know why.

SENATE SHIFTS: Could Democrats retake control of the Senate on November 2? It's possible -- not because Democrats have done so much right but, rather, because Republicans have done so much wrong. The big mistake? In several states, Republicans nominated loose-cannon candidates who have blown up. For instance, Oklahoma Republican nominee Tom Coburn has been hit by scandal after scandal; most recently, he was caught on tape ranting about "issue" of "rampant lesbianism in some of the schools of southeast Oklahoma." In South Carolina, Republican nominee Jim DeMint stirred controversy by declaring his personal enthusiasm for banning not just gays and lesbians but unmarried moms from teaching. Now, in Oklahoma and South Carolina, both Republican-leaning states, polls show the Senate races are toss-ups.

But the most fascinating GOP crack-up has come in Kentucky, a state where the Senate race wasn't supposed to be competitive this year. Republican U.S. Senator Jim Bunning refused to show up for a scheduled debate last week; he demanded that he be allowed to present his remarks from the Republican National Committee's television studio in Washington. Bunning then used a Teleprompter to deliver his opening and closing statements. Bunning has also compared his Democratic challenger, Dr. Dan Mongiardo, with Saddam Hussein's sons. And when the senator visited Paducah, Kentucky, he demanded extra police protection because he feared being attacked there by al-Qaeda. The Louisville Courier-Journal, Kentucky's largest daily newspaper, asked in a recent editorial: "Is (Bunning), as he ages, just becoming a more concentrated version of himself: more arrogant, more prickly? Certainly that would be a normal occurrence. Or is his increasing belligerence an indication of something worse? Has Senator Bunning drifted into territory that indicates a serious health concern?" Both the Courier-Journal and the state's second largest newspaper, the Lexington Herald-Leader, have endorsed Mongiardo. "Fortunately," wrote the Herald-Leader. "Democrat Dan Mongiardo is as in tune with what Kentucky needs as Bunning is out of touch." Most polling shows the race getting closer. Mongiardo has momentum, although he still lacks the funds he needs. If national Democrats decide to shift attention to the contest, that could change. Best bet: Democratic Senate Campaign Committee chair Jon Corzine will make a move. This is too attractive a prospect to pass up.

Where does this leave the competition for control of the Senate, where the current split is 51 Republicans versus 48 Democrats and 1 Independent (Vermont's Jim Jeffords, who caucuses with the Democrats)?

With five Democratic senators stepping down in the south, and with Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle facing a tough reelection race in South Dakota, the party went into the 2004 competition at a distinct disadvantage. But Daschle is running even or better and Democrats now appear likely to hold several of the southern seats. At the same time, they will pick up a GOP seat in Illinois and could do the same in Colorado, Oklahoma and Alaska. If Kentucky comes into play, the prospect of a 50-50 split in the Senate, or even a 51-49 Democratic majority, will no longer seem so remote as it did just a few weeks ago.


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.


Orwellian Twist on the Campaign

"Political language...is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind." -- George Orwell

George Orwell shaped our imagination of a future in which a propagandistic media produced a steady stream of up-is-down, right-is-wrong, war-is-peace lies in order to impose the will of a governing elite upon the subject citizenry.

Orwell reckoned this ultimate diminution of democracy would come in the year 1984. Imperfect genius that he was, the author missed the mark by twenty years. But, after watching the controversy regarding the Sinclair Broadcast Group's scheme to air the truth-impaired mockumentary Stolen Honor in an attempt to stall the momentum John Kerry's campaign gained from the presidential debates, it becomes evident that the future Orwell imagined is unfolding.

Forget about the anti-Kerry fantasy film Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal. That comic attempt at a documentary is nothing more than a 42-minute "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth"-style television commercial produced by a former longtime employee of Tom Ridge, the secretary of George W. Bush's Department of Homeland Security--an agency that pays daily homage to Orwell with everything from its name to those color-coded terrorism warnings.

But don't forget about the Sinclair Broadcast Group. If you want to see the Orwellian media future that the Bush administration envisions, pay close attention to Sinclair. This cobbled-together collection of television "properties" is not a network but a media holding company that owns 62 of the most miserable excuses for broadcast outlets in the country. "Quality" has never been a watchword for Sinclair, a firm that pioneered the one-size-fits-all approach to mass media. When Sinclair buys a station in some long-suffering community, it fires the local staffers and begins feeding the locals a steady diet of disembodied and disengaged "content" spewed out of the company's media mill near Baltimore.

Sinclair has even experimented with the so-called "distance-casting" of weather reports. Sinclair's stormbots read local forecasts for communities around the country while standing in front of ever-changing weather maps at the firm's suburban Baltimore bunker.

But the main product of Sinclair's media mill is the slurry of right-wing dogma drooled from the lips of corporate vice president for corporate relations Mark Hyman. Ideologically in-synch with the bosses at Sinclair--who have given over $170,000 to Republican causes over the past decade, including $59,000 so far in this year's campaign--Hyman force-feeds editorials to all 62 company-owned stations in order to shore up the conservative cause to the 25 percent of all American households reached by Sinclair outlets.

Hyman makes Sean Hannity sound like a sensible moderate. The Sinclair mouthpiece specializes in scorched-earth attacks on anyone who sees through the distortions of the Bush administration. He refers to members of Congress who criticize the war in Iraq as "unpatriotic politicians who hate our military." Whenever mainstream media outlets practice anything akin to journalism, Hyman condemns the offending outlets as the "hate America crowd."

During the current campaign, Hyman has been a one-man propaganda machine, spinning out anti-Kerry commentaries and repeating even the most discredited lies about Kerry's Vietnam record on stations that broadcast in at least eleven of this year's seventeen battleground states.

Over the past month, Hyman has produced eleven broadcast editorials that explicitly attack Kerry, one that explicitly attacked Teresa Heinz Kerry, two that explicitly attacked Democratic candidates for Congress and two that generically attacked Democratic candidates for Congress. If Hyman's goal is to make Fox look "fair and balanced" by comparison with Sinclair, he's succeeding. And, in recent days, he has spun into overdrive.

When the controversy about Sinclair's decision to scrap regular programming in order to air Stolen Honor heated up, Hyman went into Orwellian overdrive. He accused the nation's broadcast and cable networks-- -including, presumably, Rupert Murdoch's Republicans Uber Alles Fox network--of collaborating to "suppress" anti-Kerry news. Because they have not aired Stolen Honor or given time to the embittered Kerry critics featured in the production, Hyman says: "They are acting like Holocaust deniers." When Democrats suggested that Sinclair's decision to air the anti-Kerry documentary so close to the election should be seen as an in-kind contribution to Bush, Hyman replied. "if you use that logic and reasoning, that means every car bomb in Iraq would be considered an in-kind contribution to John Kerry."

Orwell would have had to stretch even his creative powers to come up with a propagandist who compares the decisions of news departments not to cover discredited claims with the denial of Nazi genocide.

Hyman is, of course, wrong. And, despite the delusional content of his statements, it is difficult to imagine that Hyman does not know he is wrong. But, of course, the Orwellian propagandist does not blink in the face of reality. He just lies louder.

To quote Orwell, "This kind of thing is not a good symptom."

Hyman's willingness to ramp up the distortions is a deliberate tactic. He seeks to confuse the issue by suggesting that fantastical claims about decades-old events are somehow more newsworthy than the developments of the day.

Make no mistake: Airing a "documentary" produced by campaigners who seek to defeat a candidate is fundamentally different from reporting the news out of Iraq. But issues of truth and falsehood have never been a significant concern for the "Dear Mr. Fantasy" of the right. Hyman does not bother to abide even by the exceptionally low standards of accuracy that prevail among conservative commentators. Rather, he peddles partisan talking points that are written with an eye toward aiding Republicans and afflicting Democrats--and he guides a network that does the same, by refusing to air even non-controversial Democratic National Committee commercials, and be censoring an ABC-TV Nightline broadcast that named Americans killed in Iraq.

Not that long ago, Hyman in particular and Sinclair in general would have been fairly harmless. Corporations were only allowed to own only a handful television stations nationally. But rule changes pushed through by the Federal Communications Commission and the Congress--in the form of the Telecommunications Act of 1996--have eased the limitations dramatically.

Thus, we have one-size-fits-all companies such as Sinclair, which do the bidding of the Washington elites in order to assure that they will continue to benefit from rule changes that favor consolidation of media ownership and homogenization of television content.

That combination is where the Orwell equation is unlocked.

No, Sinclair does not dominate all US airwaves. But its model could well come to be dominant. Sinclair has been in the forefront of remaking television in an era of loosened ownership restrictions and slackening standards.

Without serious reforms--which would restore limits on the number of stations any one company can own could own, set standards for local content and, perhaps, even restore the Fairness Doctrine--the Sinclair model could well become the norm. No firm has lobbied harder than Sinclair for the further loosening of media ownership rules and regulations. Given a second term, Bush and his aides would undoubtedly be even more supportive of Sinclair's lobbying agenda and of the big media's campaign to reshape the communications landscape. Indeed, Bush's reelection would do much to assure that Orwell's worst fears of the 20th century will become the reality of the 21st.

"If Sinclair is allowed to go forward, it will set a precedent that endangers our very democracy," says US Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, one of the leading congressional advocates for media reform. "There can be little doubt that other broadcasters will follow suit and American television could become little more than the political mouthpiece for its corporate owners. If that happens, the sad truth is that American television could end up looking more like that of authoritarian countries like the former Soviet Union and China, which are widely despised for broadcasting the 'party line,' rather than (serving as) a forum for the free exchange of diverse political views that is so necessary to a vibrant democratic society."

There is an alternative to this dark scenario. Sinclair can and should be challenged--economically and politically. Various groups are organizing on both fronts. At the Stop Sinclair website, there are online petitions and details about how to contact Sinclair's local stations, advertisers and shareholders. David Brock's Media Matters has great background on the political agenda of the makers of Stolen Honor and Sinclair. And at SinclairWatch, there are details about when the licenses of Sinclair stations around the country are up for renewal and information on how to file complaints that can form the basis for challenges to those renewals.

Ultimately, however, the protests, boycotts and challenges to Sinclair's licenses are necessary steps in the short term. But the only way to insure against an Orwellian future is to assure that, if Bush is defeated, one of the first priorities of a Kerry administration is the restoration of the rules and regulations that limit the growth of media monopolies.

Step one is to change the make-up of the Federal Communications Commission that has not merely allowed but encouraged those abuses. Kerry could start by replacing FCC chair Michael Powell, the best friend big media has ever had in so critical a regulatory role, with Michael Coppss, the commissioner who -- along with his fellow Democrat, Jonathan Adelstein -- has consistently defended the public interest.

Copps understands the crisis. Referring to the Orwellian twist Sinclair is attempting to put on the 2004 presidential election, Copps said, "This is an abuse of the public trust. And it is proof positive of media consolidation run amok when one owner can use the public airwaves to blanket the country with its political ideology--whether liberal or conservative. Some will undoubtedly question if this is appropriate stewardship of the public airwaves. This is the same corporation that refused to air Nightline's reading of our war dead in Iraq. It is the same corporation that short-shrifts local communities and local jobs by distance-casting news and weather from hundreds of miles away. It is a sad fact that the explicit public interest protections we once had to ensure balance continue to be weakened by the Federal Communications Commission while it allows media conglomerates to get even bigger. Sinclair, and the FCC, are taking us down a dangerous road."

If George Orwell were around, he would tell us that it is the road to 1984. "The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world," he would warn, adding that, if we do not act, "Lies will pass into history."


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.


The Race Right Now

On the eve of the final presidential debate of the 2004 campaign, everything has changed -- again. And it could all change once more tonight. But here is where the race stands right now:

READING THE POLLS: The race for the presidency is as close as it has been at any time during this long campaign. Neither Bush nor Kerry has opened a consequential lead in recent days. No matter what survey you look at -- those with Bush in the lead or those with Kerry out front -- the two men are within the margin of error. That's a notable improvement for Kerry, who was clearly behind in a number of national surveys before the first presidential debate. Kerry's trajectory has been an upward one since that initial face-off with Bush. All the polling suggests that the Democrat benefitted not only from his own performance in the first debate but also from public reaction to the vice presidential debate and the second presidential debate.

Beneath the top line numbers that show Kerry and Bush essentially tied, there are powerful trends at work. They tend generally to favor the Democrat, although he still faces serious challenges heading toward November 2. Kerry's personal and issue-by-issue approval ratings have risen dramatically since the first debate. According to the CNN/USA TODAY/Gallup Poll released 10/12, Americans surveyed now say Kerry would do a better job than Bush on virtually every major domestic issue: protecting the environment (29 point advantage), improving access to health care (19 point advantage), preserving Medicare (15 point advantage), eliminating deficits (13 point advantage), preserving Social Security (9 point advantage), aiding education (7 point advantage), shoring up the economy (4 point advantage), maintaining a woman's right to choose (4 point advantage) and promoting stem cell research (20 point advantage). Only on the question of taxes did Bush have an advantage, with those surveyed favoring the president by a 51-44 margin.

Where Bush maintains an advantage is on a pair of critical foreign policy issues: handling the mess in Iraq and pursuing the war on terrorism. On Iraq, Bush has a 51-44 advantage. On the war on terror, the Republican outpaces the Democrat by a whopping 56-39. While it is clear that Bush benefits most from the meticulously-nurtured impression that he would be a stronger defender of the US than Kerry, even this advantage is vulnerable. Forty-six percent of Americans now say it was a mistake to send US troops to Iraq. And the percentage of Americans who believe it was worth going to war in Iraq has fallen to its lowest level since the invasion of that country in March 2003. Only 44 percent of Americans now believe the war was worth doing. That's down from 59 percent at the start of the year, and from 49 percent just one month ago.

Notably, Bush's overall job approval rating is at the lowest level so far this year. Where 60 percent of Americans approved of the way he was handling his job in January, and 52 percent gave the president their O.K. as recently as September 5, only 47 percent now approve.

Going into Wednesday night's final presidential debate, Kerry has an format advantage. The focus is supposed to be on domestic issues, his greatest area of strength. But watch for Bush to try and stall the Democrat's momentum by turning the discussion toward national security issues. For Kerry, the challenge is to use his last unfiltered appearance before the American people to focus on his areas of strength while addressing his vulnerabilities on those terrorism-security-safety issues. The Democrat needs to make linkages that are difficult, but certainly not impossible. It is a good bet that Kerry will focus on flaws in Bush's approach to homeland security with an emphasis on how a proper level of investment in programs and infrastructure will make the United States safer and might reasonably be expected to expand access to health care and create some new jobs. It is an even better bet that Bush will avoid that kind of nuance. The phrase "tax-and-spend liberal" -- or some variation on that line -- will be Bush's preferred response to Kerry's thrusts -- setting the theme for the post-debate period of the campaign.

BATTLEGROUND STATES: Before the first debate, Kerry was in serious trouble in a number of the competitive "battleground" states where the election is likely to be decided. For the most part, the improvement in the Democratic candidate's fortunes has been reflected at the state level. In New Hampshire, which went for Bush in 2000, Kerry now leads by a 49-42 margin, according to a new Manchester Union-Leader/Franklin Pierce College Poll. In New Jersey, which went solidly for Gore in 2000 but seemed close for a time this year, two new polls have Kerry with a decent if not comfortable lead -- 47-40 for the Democrat in the Newark Star-Ledger/Rutgers University survey; 49-41 for the Democrat in a recent Fairleigh Dickinson University survey. In Wisconsin, a state Gore narrowly won in 2000, Kerry had trailed by as much as 10 points in some September polls; he is now back within the margin of error -- a new CNN/USA TODAY/Gallup poll has it: Bush 49, Kerry 46. In Missouri, where Kerry had fallen well behind, he is now just two points away from Bush, according to a new KSDK-TV/Survey USA poll. On the other hand, North Carolina, which had seemed to be in play, now appears to be solidly in Bush's column. Florida also seems to be moving slowly into Bush's column. That drift is offset by Ohio, a Bush state in 2000 where polls show Kerry well ahead of where Gore was four years ago. Registration patterns in Ohio favor the Democrats but GOP numbers are also up, meaning that this state will be ground zero for Get-Out-the-Vote efforts by both parties.

Most interesting new development: Colorado, which went big for Bush in 2000, appears to have become a battleground state. The CNN/USA TODAY/Gallup Poll has Kerry and Bush tied at 49 each. Other recent polls put Bush ahead, but with Kerry competitive. Watch for both campaigns to shift resources and campaign schedules Colorado's way.

NEWSPAPER ENDORSEMENTS: The Portland Oregonian newspaper, which in 2000 gave a strong endorsement to George W. Bush, on Sunday endorsed John Kerry. "When George W. Bush took office in a deeply divided nation, he promised to reach out to unite the country. If anything, he has helped make the rifts deeper. That may be his real failure as president," the editors of the Oregonian explained. "John Kerry can do better." The Oregonian followed the lead of another large west-coast paper, the Seattle Times, which backed Bush in 2000 but this year came out strong for Kerry, declaring, "The election of Kerry would sweep away neoconservative war intellectuals who drive policy at the White House and Pentagon." So far, according to Editor & Publisher, Kerry has been endorsed by newspapers with a combined circulation of 2,534,377 to newspapers with a combined circulation of 637,187 for Bush. No major newspaper that backed Gore in 2000 has endorsed Bush this year.

SENATE RACES: The race for control of the Senate, while largely neglected by national media, remains competitive.

Democrats could to pick up as many as four US Senate seats that are currently held by Republicans: Polls have Democratic candidates ahead in Illinois, Alaska, Oklahoma and Alaska. Illinois appears to be a certain pick-up state, with Democrat Barack Obama leading Republican Alan Keyes by 30 to 40 points in the polls. The rest of the states are much closer but clearly competitive. Perhaps the most amazing upturn in Democratic fortunes has been in Oklahoma, where the party's nominee, US Rep. Brad Carson, has received a big hand from his Republican foe, former US Rep. Tom Coburn. The Republican seems to go from crisis to crisis. Coburn has been caught up in scandals regarding sterilizations he performed as a physician and his frequently bizarre statements. Most recently he announced that "lesbianism is so rampant in some of the schools in southeast Oklahoma that they'll only let one girl go to the bathroom." Newspaper interviews with school superintendents found not a one who could confirm Colburn's report.

Democrats light up when they start talking about Oklahoma. But they get nervous when the talk turns to Senate contests in the south. Democrats are likely to lose at least two of the five southern seats that are being vacated by members of their party. In Georgia, where Democrat-in-name-only Zell Miller is exiting, party nominee Denise Majette trails far behind Republican Johnny Isakson in all polls. In South Carolina, where Democrat Fritz Hollings is stepping down, the party's nominee to replace him, Inez Tenenbaum, has run a tepid campaign that has left her well behind Republican Jim DeMint. But in three other seats where Democratic seats are open -- Louisiana, Florida and North Carolina -- Democratic nominees are running even or ahead.

If Democrats win the four currently Republican-held seats where they are running well, and if they hold at least three of the five southern seats, the next Senate could end up split between a 51-member Democratic caucus (50 party members and one independent, Vermont's Jim Jeffords, who caucuses with them, and a 49-member Republican caucus.)

Of course, that is the best scenario for Democrats. For a variety of reasons-- including a late rise in the fortunes of Florida Republican Senate candidate Mel Martinez and the continued vulnerability of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who is running no better than even in most South Dakota polls – the better bet is for a 50-50 split. Of course, if Kerry wins the presidency, John Edwards will be breaking the ties.

Even that scenario could fall apart of Bush turns out to have coattails in western and southern states where he will win by wide margins. But few observers expected the Senate to be in play at this point, and it is. And there may even be a sleeper race where another Democrat could come into contention.

In Kentucky, Dr. Dan Mongiardo, a state senator who is the Democratic nominee, has according to several polls narrowed the gap in the race with Republican US Sen. Jim Bunning. The contest wasn't supposed to be close. But Bunning has engaged in such bizarre behavior that he has sparked discussion about whether he might be suffering from dementia. Bunning has compared Mongiardo, a respected physician, to the sons of Saddam Hussein. During a visit to Paducah, Bunning requested additional police protection because he said he feared he might be attacked by al-Qaeda while visiting a Quilters' Museum. Then, this week, Bunning refused to appear in person for a long-scheduled debate, instead demanding that he be allowed to take part via satellite from Washington. Bunning aides were so concerned about the impression their boss might make in the debate that they demanded that Mongiardo's campaign agree not to use images of the Republican senator from it. At the same time, Bunning has been airing commercials that falsely suggest that a luxurious home and private jet featured in the ad belong to Mongiardo. The Louisville Courier-Journal editorial page refers to the Bunning ad as "despicable," while the Lexington Herald-Leader described the Bunning ad as so "offensive and unfair" that a voter watching them "might well conclude that politics is an amoral wasteland into which only a masochist would venture."

The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee has ramped up support for Mongiardo. Smart move; they need to open at least one new front between now and November 2.


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 at www.amazon.com


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