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John Nichols

John Nichols

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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.


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.


Frist's Fury Over Filibusters

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the health insurance industry heir who went into politics for the purpose of protecting his family's financial interests against even the most tepid federal regulation, is not exactly an expert on the workings of Congress.

But that has not stopped the Tennessee Republican from launching an attack on one of the Senate's most time-honored traditions.

Speaking to the Federalist Society, the conservative legal affairs group that has become the nation's premier proponent of judicial activism, Frist lashed out against Democrats who threaten to use filibusters to block corrupt, incompetent or ideologically extreme nominees for federal judgeships.

"One way or another, the filibuster of judicial nominations must end," griped Frist, whose new cause offers another reminder that little changed when he replaced former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, the segregationist-praising Republican from Mississippi.

"This filibuster is nothing less than a formula for tyranny by the minority," argued Frist, who claimed that if Democrats succeed in using procedural tactics to block some of President Bush's nominees, "they will have effectively seized from the president the power to appoint judges."

Frist's rhetoric is dramatically overblown. Senate Democrats have cleared the way for the approval of the overwhelming majority of Bush's judicial picks; they have used the threat of a filibuster to block only the nominations of 10 particularly unfit nominees for federal appeals court positions.

There is no "tyranny of the minority." In fact, if Senate Democrats were to make real on the threat of a filibuster -- which halts Senate action as one senator or a group of senators engage in an extended discussion of a nomination or issue being considered by the chamber -- it would only be because there is no other way to get Senate Republicans and the White House to consult with the opposition party in the manner that the nation's founders intended.

Frist delivered his bombastic remarks to the Federalist Society in an effort to try to scare Senate Democrats before the new session of Congress begins. If the Democrats launch a filibuster, or even threaten to employ the tactic in order to slow down the process of making judicial nominations, Frist signaled that GOP leaders in the Senate might implement what is refered to as "the nuclear option."

When he employed the phrase "one way or another, the filibuster of judicial nominations must end," the majority leader indicated a willingness to sanction an effort by some Republicans to circumvent Senate rules and declare filibusters against executive nominations to be unconstitutional. This dubious strategy is troubling even to many Republicans, who worry that rewriting Senate procedures in order to advance the Bush administration's court-packing agenda could come back to haunt the GOP when a future Senate is controlled by the Democrats.

For all of Frist's bluster, Senate Republicans wont have the guts to bar filibusters if Americans express support for the use of the tactic as it was intended -- to prevent the Senate majority from doing something that would harm the country.

Frist's attempt to portray the tactic of filibustering -- or threatening to filibuster -- as a new and dangerous phenomenon is a lie. This tool has been employed repeatedly over the past two centuries -- most famously in recent years when former President Lyndon Johnson's nomination of Abe Fortas to serve as the chief justice of the US Supreme Court was blocked in 1968.

The filibuster was a particularly popular tool of progressive senators at the dawn of the last century. Former US Senators Robert M. La Follette, R-Wisconsin, George Norris, R-Nebraska, and their allies used it in the 1910s and 1920s to battle against the takeover of the Senate by crony capitalists, military adventurers and war profiteers.

The Senate progressives who would go on to be remembered as some of that chamber's greatest members were passionate defenders of the filibuster. Burton K. Wheeler, the Democratic senator from Montana who was La Follette's running mate on a progressive independent ticket in the 1924 presidential campaign, wrote about the subject in his classic autobiography Yankee from the West. Wheeler recalled that La Follette's most passionate advice to him as a young senator was to always support the right of fellow senators to filibuster.

"Never vote for cloture," said La Follette, referring to the procedure used to counter filibusters by getting 60 senators to vote to force an end to debate. Even on an issue where a progressive senator disagreed with colleagues who were filibustering, La Follette argued that it was always wrong to stifle debate on important issues and nominations.

La Follette was right. The filibuster is one of the few tools that a minority party can use to counter the worst excesses of an out-of-control majority party. The practice should be defended -- and, yes, it should be used even in the face of Bill Frist's threats.

Danger for Dems: A Moral Misstep

Democrats who place too much credence in those exit polls that suggest that American politics is being reshaped by voters who are charged up about "Moral Values"--as defined by social conservative opposition to same-sex marriages, the right to choose and out-of-control Super Bowl halftime shows--run the risk of making a mistake that could put them not on the wrong side of one election but, rather, on the wrong side of history.

After every election, the insta-pundits seek to explain the results with a one-size-fits-all analysis that often becomes the accepted wisdom of the political seasons that follow. The flavor of this fall moment is the suggestion that voters are dramatically more interested in "Moral Values" than in the past. This theory is based on the fact that, when exit pollsters asked voters which of seven issues was most important to them, 22 percent chose "Moral Values." And 79 percent of voters who picked "Moral Values" backed President Bush. Hence the theory that a silent tide of "Moral-Values" voters--as opposed to shameless exploitation of the war on terror by the Bush team, vapid media coverage of the campaign and major missteps by the Democrats--tipped the election to the president.

"Moral values... propelled Bush," announced MSNBC. "Contest turned on voters' values, exit polls show," announced the Indianapolis Star. "Values voters seek their reward in policy," read a Knight-Ridder News Service headline. "'God gap' may force Dems to search souls," declared the Arizona Republic.

This would all be quite compelling if there had been a genuine surge in "MoralValues" voting. In fact, socially-conservative voters have been citing some variation on "Moral Values" as their defining issue for years. For instance, in 1996 when then-President Bill Clinton was reelected by popular vote and Electoral College margins far wider than those accorded President Bush this year, 17 percent of voters selected "Family Values" as their top issue.

In 2000, exit polls did not offer a "Family Values" or "Moral Values" option on the issues list. But a 2000 survey for Emily's List found that 26 percent of women who backed Republicans that year ranked "Moral Values" as their top issue, while 20 percent of men did--roughly the same rate as this year.

While the political and media chattering classes are quite absorbed with the fact that those who selected "Moral Values" as a top issue this year voted by a roughly 4-1 margin for Bush, they seemed to miss the fact that respondents who selected "Economy/Jobs" as their most important issue voted 80-18 against Bush.

Twenty-two percent of the voters included in the exit-poll sample selected "Moral Values" as their top issue while 20 percent selected "Economy/Jobs." In a poll such as this one, with a one-percent margin of error up or down, there is no meaningful difference between the portion of the American public that selected "Moral Values" and the portion that selected "Economy/Jobs." So why haven't there been at least a few headlines suggesting that: "Economy/Jobs... propelled Kerry to near Electoral College tie with incumbent president" or "'Jobs gap' may force Republicans to search souls."

And what about a new issue on the list: Iraq? Fifteen percent of those surveyed chose Iraq as their top issue--far more than selected "Education," "Health Care" or the once-significant "Taxes." Among the roughly one in seven voters who picked "Iraq" as their top issue, the split was 73-26 for Kerry. Doesn't it seem logical, since Iraq has been such a high-profile issue, that a few pundits might have noted that, among Americans who are most charged up about the war, Kerry was a 3-1 favorite.

The point here is not to suggest that Democrats, Republicans or any other political players should neglect the fact that roughly one in five voters cite "Moral Values" as their top election issue. Rather, the point that needs making is that this is nothing new. And if Democrats seek to downplay their support for gay rights and other socially progressive stances, they won't just be wasting their time. They will be alienating a substantial portion of their base-- something the Republicans would never do--and they will be putting themselves on the wrong side of historical trends that will ultimately make support for gay rights the winning stance.

It is important to go beyond the post-election spin to examine just exactly who these "Moral Values" voters are. Of the four regions of the country, "Moral Values" ranked highest on the issue list in the south, where voters who cited it as their top concern broke 89-10 for Bush. Yet, aside from Florida--the one state in the region where "Moral Values" ranked second on the issue list--there were no major battleground states in the south.

If respondents from southern states where Democrats are unlikely to seriously compete in the near future are removed from the pool of those surveyed, "Moral Values" becomes a far less significant factor in deciding the direction of the election.

In the East, for instance, "Moral Values" ranked fourth on the list of top issues--behind "Iraq," "Economy/Jobs" and "Terrorism." In the West, "moral values" was in a statistical tie with "Iraq" as the top issue. In the critical Midwestern battleground state of Ohio, "Economy/Jobs" ranked above "Moral Values." The same was true in Michigan, and Pennsylvania--where "Moral Values" ranked fourth behind "Economy/Jobs," "Iraq" and "Terrorism."

Let's be clear, if the Democratic Party wants to get on the good side of the crowd that always ranks "Moral Values" or some variation on that term as its top issue, that will require adjusting Democratic positions to be more in tune with those of the old Confederacy. (It is notable that every state that fought to defend the institution of slavery in the Civil War voted for Bush, while the vast majority of states that sided in that distant struggle with the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, voted for Kerry.)

And what are the moral values of the old Confederacy? Well, there is no question that gays rights stances are a tough sell in places like Mississippi and Alabama. But last week in Alabama, voters appear to have narrowly turned down a proposal to remove "Jim Crow" segregationist language from their state Constitution. So it's not just gay rights that America's hotbed of "Moral Values" voting rejects.

Before Democrats allow a cursory reading of the exit polls to send them on a long march away from socially progressive stances, they might want to ask themselves: Exactly how far backward do they want to go? Just back to the point where they abandon a commitment to equal justice for gays and lesbians? Or do they really want to be in line with voters who support keeping "separate-but-equal" language in the law books?

Democrats can spend the next four years trying to make themselves acceptable to the social-conservative voters who, election after election, cite "Moral Values" as their top issue. But it won't win them Alabama. And it almost certainly will turn off voters in other regions of the country---particularly under-30 voters who consistently support gay rights in exit polls and other surveys, and who are likely to carry that stance with them as they become more significant players in the political process.

The bottom line is this: Democrats can either waste four years developing a doomed outreach to voters for whom "Moral Values" means denying rights to others, or they can work on getting more in tune with the vast majority of voters who rank other issues as their top priorities.

If Democrats fight for Alabama, they will lose. If they fight for America, they at least have a chance of winning.

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.

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