The Senate intelligence committee's report on prewar intelligence demonstrates that George W. Bush launched a war predicated on false assertions about weapons of mass destruction and misled the country when he claimed Saddam Hussein was in cahoots in al Qaeda. But what has caused outrage within conservative quarters? Passages in the report that they claim undermine the credibility of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
Wilson, if you need to be reminded, embarrassed the Bush administration a year ago when he revealed that he had traveled to Niger in February 2002 to check out the allegation that Hussein had been shopping for uranium there. In his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush had referred to Iraq's supposed attempt to obtain uranium in Africa to suggest Hussein was close to possessing a nuclear weapon. When Bush's use of this allegation become a matter of controversy last summer, Wilson went public with a New York Times op-ed piece in which he noted his private mission to Niger--which he had taken on behalf of the CIA--had led him to conclude the allegation was highly unlikely. After Wilson's article appeared, the White House conceded that Bush should not have included this charge in his speech.
A week later, Wilson received the payback. Conservative columnist Robert Novak, quoting two unnamed administration sources, reported that Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson (nee Plame), was a CIA operative working in the counterproliferation field. Novak revealed her identity to suggest that Wilson had been sent to Niger due to nepotism not his experience. The point of Novak's column was to call Wilson's trip and his findings into question.
The real story was that Novak's sources--presumably White House officials--might have violated the law prohibiting government officials from identifying a covert officer of the United States government. Outing Valerie Wilson was a possible felony and--to boot--compromised national security. Two months later, the news broke that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate the Wilson leak. And a US attorney named Patrick Fitzgerald has been on the case since the start of this year, leading an investigation that has included questioning Bush.
But now Wilson's detractor on the right claim the critical issue is Wilson's credibility on two points: whether his wife was involved in the decision to send him to Niger and whether he accurately portrayed his findings regarding his Niger trip. And they have made use of the Senate intelligence report--particularly additional comments filed by committee chairman Pat Roberts and two other Republican members of the committee, Kit Bond and Orrin Hatch--to pound Wilson. But not only does the get-Wilson crusade ignore the main question--did White House officials break the law and damage national security to take a swing at a critic?--it overstates and manipulates the material in the Senate report.
The first shot at Wilson actually came from The Washington Post. The day after the Senate report was released, Post reporter Susan Schmidt did an entire piece on the portion of the report related to the Niger episode. (By the way, the Post devoted more space to the Wilson affair than to the report's conclusion that there was no intelligence to back up Bush's assertion that Iraq and al Qaeda had maintained a working relationship.) In this story, Schmidt claimed that Wilson was "specifically recommended for the [Niger] mission by his wife, a CIA employee, contrary to what he has said publicly." She also reported that the intelligence committee "found that Wilson's report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts." Schmidt added, "The report may bolster the rationale that administration officials provided the information not to intentionally expose an undercover CIA employee, but to call into question Wilson's bona fides as an investigator into trafficking of weapons of mass destruction."
Within days, Tim Graham, an analyst at the conservative Media Research Center, wrote a piece for The National Review pointing to the Schmidt article and decrying the "truth-telling problems" of Wilson, whose recent best-selling book is titled The Politics of Truth. Then Novak, returning to the scene of the (possible) crime, cited the committee report and the Republicans' additional comments to prove that he had been right to report in his original column that Wilson's wife had been behind the move to send Wilson to Niger. And Novak approvingly quoted Senator Roberts blast at Wilson: "Rather than speaking publicly about his actual experiences during his inquiry of the Niger issue, the former ambassador seems to have included information he learned from press accounts and from his beliefs about how the Intelligence Community would have or should have handled the information he provided....Time and again, Joe Wilson told anyone who would listen that the president had lied to the American people, that the vice president had lied, and that he had 'debunked' the claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa. . . . [N]ot only did he NOT 'debunk' the claim, he actually gave some intelligence analysts even more reason to believe that it may be true." (In this column, Novak did not explore the ethics or legality of White House officials identifying CIA officers.) And then, of course, The Wall Street Journal's editorial page piled on. So did the Republican National COmmittee.
Wilson has written a response to Roberts that addresses many of the criticisms being hurled at him. (See it here. And read Roberts comments here and decide who makes the better case.) But let's sort out some of the various claims. First, what the report says about Valerie Wilson's role in this business. In his book, Wilson writes,
"Apart from being the conduit for a message from a colleague in her office asking if I would be willing to have a conversation about Niger's uranium industry [with CIA counterproliferation experts], Valerie had had nothing to do with the matter. Though she worked on weapons of mass destruction issues, she was not at the meeting I attended where the subject of Niger's uranium was discussed, when the possibility of my actually traveling to the country was broached. She definitely had not proposed that I make the trip."
So what if she had? A week in Niamey for no pay was hardly a junket. What would have been wrong with a CIA officer telling another CIA officer, hey my husband, a former ambassador, is an Africa expert with experience in Niger, perhaps you should send him to Niger to see what he can learn? But because Wilson is on record saying it did not happen this way, the question is whether he has been truthful.
The intelligence committee report says, "Some [CIA Counterproliferation Division] officials could not recall how the office decided to contact the former ambassador, however, interviews and documents provided to the Committee indicate that his wife, a CPD employee, suggested his name for the trip. The CPD reports officer told Committee staff that the former ambassador's wife 'offered up his name' and a memorandum to the Deputy Chief of the CPD on February 12, 2002, from [Valerie Wilson] says, 'my husband has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity.'...The former ambassador's wife told Committee staff that when CPD decided it would like to send the former ambassador to Niger, she approached her husband on behalf of the CIA."
The report also notes, "On February 19, 2002, CPD hosted a meeting with the former ambassador, intelligence analysts from both the CIA and INR [the State Department's intelligence unit], and several individuals from the [Directorate of Operations'] Africa and CPD divisions. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the merits of [Wilson] traveling to Niger. An INR analyst's notes indicate that the meeting was 'apparently convened by [Wilson's] wife who had the idea to dispatch [him] to use his contacts to sort out the Iraq-Niger uranium issue. The former ambassador's wife told Committee staff that she only attended the meeting to introduce her husband and left after about three minutes."
This is not what ex-CIA chief George Tenet would call a slam-dunk case against Wilson. Sure, some of the evidence seems to contradict his account. But Valerie Wilson could have "offered up" his name as a handy person to contact about allegations concerning Niger's uranium trade without suggesting he get on a plane to Niger. And it is certainly imaginable that an INR analyst sitting in a meeting in which there is talk of dispatching a CIA officer's husband to Africa could have received the impression that his wife had initiated the mission. But if that was the case, why did Valerie Wilson attend for only a few minutes? If Valerie Wilson's account of this meeting is not accurate, where are the contradicting accounts from the other participants? Why does the report not quote them on this topic? Since only a week elapsed between the time Valerie Wilson "offered up" her husband and a meeting was held to consider sending him to Niger, it is possible that someone participating in the matter might have thought that Valerie Wilson's original advice--talk to my husband--was related to question of sending an unofficial envoy to Niger to seek out additional information.
When Wilson returned from Niger two CIA officers debriefed him. "The debriefing," the Senate report says, "took place in the former ambassador's home and although his wife was there, according to the reports officer, she acted as a hostess and did not participate in the debrief." If Valerie Wilson had played a key role in sending Joseph Wilson to Niger, would she have skipped out on this debriefing? Perhaps. But this scene reinforces Wilson's claim that she was not deeply involved in his Niger trip.
It may be that in some of his public remarks, Wilson underplayed his wife's involvement in his trip. After all, according to the Senate intelligence committee's report, she did write at least one memo on the subject. But it is not clear from the report that she specifically advocated he be sent to Niger. Again, it makes little difference--or it should make little difference--whether Valerie Wilson said to her CIA colleagues "contact my husband" or said to them "you should put him on a plane to Niamey immediately." The report notes that the CIA people in charge of investigating the Niger allegation deliberated over what to do and then reached the decision to ask Wilson to perform a pro bono act of public service. And he said yes. He had the experience for the job. His trip was not a boondoggle arranged by his wife for his or their benefit.
Now on to the claim that Wilson's report to the CIA actually provided more reason to believe Iraq had been seeking yellowcake uranium. In his debriefing Wilson reported that former Nigerian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki had told him that in 1999 he had been asked to meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between Niger and Iraq. Mayaki said he assumed the delegation wanted to discuss uranium sales. But he said that although he had met with the delegation he had not been interested in pursuing any commercial dealings with Iraq. The intelligence report based on Wilson's debriefing also noted that the former minister of mines explained to Wilson that given the tight controls maintained by the French consortium in charge of uranium mining in Niger, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to arrange a shipment of uranium to a pariah state.
What did this report mean to the intelligence community? A CIA reports officer told the Senate intelligence committee that he took it as indirect confirmation of the allegation since Nigerian officials had admitted that an Iraqi delegation had traveled there in 1999 and since the former prime minister had said he believed Iraq was interested in purchasing uranium. But an INR analyst said that he considered the report to be corroboration of INR's position, which was that the allegation was "highly suspect" because Niger would be unlikely to engage in such a transaction and unable to transfer uranium to Iraq due to the strict controls maintained by the French consortium. But the INR analyst added, the "report could be read in different ways."
Wilson's work was thrown into the stew. The CIA continued to disseminate a report noting that a foreign intelligence service had told US intelligence that Niger had agreed to supply Iraq with hundreds of tons of uranium. And in the National Intelligence Estimate produced in October 2002, the intelligence community reported that Iraq had been trying to strike a uranium deal with Niger in 2001. But the NIE noted that INR strongly disagreed with this assessment. And when the National Security Council drafted a speech for Bush in October 2002 the CIA recommended the address not include the Niger allegation because it was "debatable" whether the yellowcake could be obtained from Niger. In a follow-up fax to the NSC, the CIA said "the evidence is weak" and "the procurement is not particularly significant to Iraq's nuclear ambitions because the Iraqis already have a large stock of uranium oxide in their inventory." Still, in late January 2003--after the INR's Iraq analyst had concluded that papers recently obtained by US intelligence related to the supposed Iraqi-Niger uranium deal were "clearly a forgery"--Bush went ahead and accused Iraq of seeking uranium in Africa.
But on April 5, 2003, the National Intelligence Council issued a memo that noted, "we judge it highly unlikely that Niamey has sold uranium yellowcake to Baghdad in recent years." It added that the government of Niger was unlikely to proceed with such a deal. And on June 17, 2003, the CIA produced a memo that said, "since learning that the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring, we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from aboard."
So Wilson's assessment ended up being accepted by the CIA. His reporting may not have been conclusive. But as we have been told repeatedly this past week, such is often the case in intelligence collection. After coming back from Niger, Wilson's view--which he did not express publicly for nearly a year and a half--was different from that held by CIA analysts. Yet his conclusion--that the Niger allegation was probably bunk--was in line with the thinking of the State Department's lead analyst on this matter. And Wilson's reasoning came to prevail and to be shared by the intelligence community. For some reason, Novak does not mention this in his recent column.
Finally, let's address Schmidt's claim that the Senate intelligence committee's report "may bolster" the defense of the leakers--whoever they are. Whether their motivation was to punish Wilson for speaking out or to try to undermine his credibility by suggesting his only bona fides for the Niger trip was his marriage license, blowing Valerie Wilson's cover still was a possible crime and an odious act. The law does not allow a government official to reveal a CIA officer--and jeopardizing the officer, her contacts, and her operations--to score political points.
What Wilson told his CIA contacts, what he told reporters, what he said in public--accurate or not--did not justify disclosing Valerie Wilson's identity. Nor did it justify the subsequent White House effort to encourage other reporters to pursue the Valerie Wilson story. The leak was thuggish and possibly felonious. And the Wilsons and others are waiting to see what comes from Fitzgerald's investigation. (NBC News reported recently that the probe had expanded to examine possible acts of perjury and lying to investigators.) There is no telling if the investigation will end with indictments or whitewashing. It has been a mostly leak-free probe, and even senior people at the Justice Department say they have no idea where Fitzgerald is heading--if anywhere.
Whatever Fitzgerald's criminal investigation produces, the Wilsons were wronged. And Bush and his White House crew did nothing to seek out or punish the Novak-enabled leakers who placed politics ahead of national security and decency. Instead, White House officials peddled the leak further to discredit Wilson, and GOPers have been seeking to blast him ever since. Roberts and other Republicans are using the intelligence committee's report to whack Wilson, a prominent opponent of the Iraq war and a foreign policy adviser to Senator John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. If only Roberts' committee had applied as much time and energy into investigating the Wilson leak (and how the White House reacted to the leak) as it did to the actions of Valerie Wilson. But the leak is a subject that, for some odd reason, has escaped the attention of Roberts' investigators. And Roberts and his ideological comrades are exploiting the release of the committee's report to blame the victims of the leak. They are far more angered by alleged (or trumped-up) inconsistencies in Wilson's account than by Bush's misrepresentation of the prewar intelligence. Talk about overstating a problem.
****************DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is NOW AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."
Seeking to bolster support for his USA Patriot Act against Congressional attempts to weaken it, Attorney General John Ashcroft recently called the Act "al-Qaeda's worst nightmare." and delivered a 29-page report to Congress citing ways in which the Act has, according to Ashcroft, been instrumental in helping to combat terrorism.
The Patriot Act, passed overwhelmingly by Congress in the weeks after the 2001 terrorist attacks, gave the government significant new powers to conduct searches and surveillance in terrorism investigations and allowed more information sharing among law enforcement agencies.
The release of Ashcroft's report is part of an effort by the Bush Administration to shore up support for the law in the wake of numerous reports and critics's suggestions that many of the Act's provisions are both ineffective and unconstitutional.
One of the most effective (and creative) critiques of the abuses of the Ashcroft Justice Department was recently released by the DC-based group Alliance for Justice, a national association of environmental, civil rights, mental health, women's, children's and consumer advocacy organizations. AFJ has created an online animated movie, Spy-der-man, which uses humor to convey the grave danger of Ashcroft's intrusions on free speech, privacy, due process and religious pluralism.
It's great that attention has been paid to progressives like Illinois' Barack Obama, South Dakota's Stephanie Herseth, and Pennsylvania's Allyson Schwartz and Lois Murphy and Oklahoma's Kalyn Free. All these newcomers to the national stage herald a fresh populism should a Democratic tide sweep over America in November.
And in my city of New York there's Frank Barbaro, who's running for a house seat from Southern Brooklyn and Staten Island, New York City's closest thing to a red state. Barbaro, 76, is an unheralded star, a genuine working-class folk hero who deserves far more attention from the media than his candidacy has received thus far.
The 13th district isn't exactly fertile territory for a 76-year-old Democratic candidate. In normal times, the 13th--composed largely of middle and working-class Italian-Americans--is a safe Republican seat having elected Republicans to the House at every opportunity since Reagan's 1980 presidential landslide. The demographics are gradually shifting though as African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans now constitute twenty-six percent of the electorate, with the area's Hispanic population growing considerably.
Barbaro, the son of Italian immigrants, lives in Bensonhurst smack in the middle of the 13th, where he opened a law practice. Despite the district's conservative leanings, the very progressive Barbaro has a serious shot thanks, in large part, to a stellar resume and a patriot's background. He joined the Navy after graduating from high school, and held jobs as an ironworker, cab driver and butcher. From 1952 to 1967, Barbaro worked as a longshoreman on the waterfront in Brooklyn, and his time on the piers profoundly shaped his philosophy. "My fifteen years on the waterfront were the foundry of my ideology," Barbaro said in an interview last week.
He started at a time when McCarthyism was in the ascendance, and anti-communists were purging the ranks of unions of suspected subversives. Brooklyn's docks were run by the mob, and the conditions were horrendous. Barbaro encountered "a total, utter disregard for workers," and decided to stand for social justice. Enduring threats against him and his friends, Barbaro expressed his outrage at his coworkers' exposure to dangerous asbestos levels in the ships and the constant hazardous waterfront tasks and mob intimidation of the AFL-CIO. One time, "4,000 pounds of concrete came pouring down on [Barbaro and his fellow workers]," and Barbaro spearheaded a spontaneous walkout, telling his bosses: "We're not gonna work like animals."
By the late sixties, Barbaro had become a firm believer in the power of organizing. He eventually entered politics and served in the New York Assembly, where he championed important pro-labor and tenants rights legislation. While an assemblyman, Barbaro led a rent strike in the city, and when he was later elevated to the state Supreme Court Justice, he wrote opinions that he proudly recalled safeguarded due process rights for the accused. But it was on the waterfront where he sunk his progressive roots, learning the "absolute necessity of building a people's movement--to be a countervailing force" to corporations.
Now Barbaro faces a four-term Republican incumbent, Vito Fossella, who Barbaro calls "a total political opportunist" who has ignored his constituents and instead done the bidding of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Fossella has indeed amassed a shameful record. He turned his back on Staten Island's veterans, supporting Bush's 2003 budget that cut veterans benefits by $14 billion. He voted against putting more cops on the beat, and supported Bush's massive tax giveaways to corporate America. "Vito is silent," thundered Barbaro at his announcement rally, when it comes to ensuring that New York firefighters and other first responders have "functioning radios" and the equipment "to fight bio-terrorism, [and] dirty bombs."
Barbaro believes that local interests--from Staten Island's Advance newspaper to the borough's business community and even some Republicans--are tired of Fossella's incompetence and inability to assist his district. "If you don't want to work, get out of the way," Barbaro has said. One of his slogans is: "Veto Vito!"
Above all, Barbaro takes the fight for social and economic justice as a lifelong task, and he's running at age 76 because he wants to give Staten Island and Brooklyn's residents their fair shake, and to send a wake-up call to the country.
"Large monies are essential to run campaigns" nowadays, "and the Democratic Party has moved to the right" in recent years, Barbaro argues. "If you stay in the middle you really don't stand for anything." If Barbaro defeats Fossella, he intends to fight "without fear" for unabashed progressive values and goals: healthcare for all; union power; tax justice so corporations pay their fair share; and a full, independent investigation into the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. "[I will fight to] redefine the "mission and philosophy of the Democratic Party," he promises. One of his first orders of business will be to gather grassroots progressives and union organizers to figure out better ways of spreading the populist agenda across America.
Barbaro is running not just on the Democratic ticket but also on the Working Families Party line, which sees in Barbaro an exemplary vessel for its core mission "to inject the concerns of working-class, middle-class, and poor people into the public debate." Dan Cantor at WFP explained Barbaro's appeal: "If Paul Wellstone was a 78 year old Italian from Brooklyn, his name would be Frank Barbaro."
A bold and passionate advocate, Barbaro says "my greatest accomplishment is my belief in America and belief in economic and social justice and my belief in staying the course. [I have] unwavering confidence in the American people that they will, in the end, do what is right for America."
To wage this tough fight for Congress, Barbaro needs progressives to rally to his cause. Click here if you want to support a lifelong fighter for liberal values and a man who never forgot his working-class roots and make a contribution today. With your assistance, Barbaro could launch a movement that will sweep George Bush and Vito Fossella ou
My recent weblog about progressive victories worth celebrating seemed to touch a chord. After asking Nation magazine and website readers to nominate their favorite piece of recent political good news, I was thrilled to receive scores of replies. Some of my favorites are published below.
We'd like to continue highlighting good news in this space. So please click here to send your nomination. I'll be publishing more reader responses in the weeks ahead.
Bruce Bennett,Sausalito, CA
As a former EPA librarian who was kicked out of my position because I had the temerity to criticize Bush on global warmimg I would like to mention two recent votes in Congress. One was to deny drilling and "exploration" of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska for at least a year. The Bushies want to exploit this wilderness and will continue to represent their oil business backers but the vote demonstrated that they will have an uphill time of it. The second was the vote to deny funds for the Forest Service to build logging roads in the Tongass National Forest of Alaska. I was once fortunate to live in Juneau and Sitka, AK and I can tell you from personal experience how glorious that region is. I was delighted to hear of the vote because the three "representatives" of Alaska in Congress are shills for the forest products industry. Despite their best efforts to clearcut these great forests the other members of Congress saw it otherwise.
Tom Lowe, El Sobrante CA
The Canadian Election is good news for the US. On Monday Canadian voters held back a neo-republican Conservative Party, which as recently as last weekend seemed able to gain control of Parliment; and, in the view of most post election comments, made a left leaning coatition the way to run the country. We Yanks should be so lucky in November!
Lyn Wall, Houston, Texas
I'd like to nominate Air America Radio as great political news. I stream it over the internet all day because I can't get it in Houston, and I'm not alone. It has helped me find other sources and like-minded people and confirmed my sense that something is terrribly wrong with mainstream media.
Richard J. Bourgeois, Ishpeming, MI
This is in response to your "Good Things in Bad Times" article. Today, in Marquette, Michigan, a small town of 25,000 in upper michigan, a small peace and justice group (fourteen adults and three children) marched for the first time (anywhere) in the July Fourth parade. The theme of the parade was "land of the free and home of the brave". Two peace group marchers carried the local homemade peace and justice banner showing pine trees, water and a peace dove, other marchers carried two US flags, and three blue and white peace flags, and all marchers wore colored lettered signs in front and back such as--"peace is patriotic , dissent is patriotic, bring the troops home, no blood for oil, war is not the answer, money for jobs and education not war." The march was over one half a mile and mostly applause and approval was heard. Although the peace marchers did not expect to win first place in the parade competition, they hoped that by marching and standing up for peace and free speech that they truly can promote "good things" (peace and justice) in bad times. Hopefully this is happening thoughout the USA.
Michael Westmoreland-White, Louisville, KY
Another sign of political good news. People of faith are refusing to let the Religious Right claim a monopoly on faith and spirituality, consigning the rest of us to the "secular left." Faithful America, for instance, is a new organization of left-of-center Christians (and smaller numbers of Jews and Muslims) which has only been around a month, but has already gathered 100,000 members and aired a commercial on Al-Jazeera TV apologizing for the Abu-Ghraib tortures. Click here for information on the group
Anonymous, Brick, NJ
The best news I heard this week was the head of the Southern Baptist church denouncing the Bush-Cheney campaign letter calling for his churches to send the campaign church member lists, share contact information for at least one other conservative church and to throw Bushie parties high and low, on campaign deadline, no less. And this relatively resounding denounciation came from the man who INVITED Bush to speak at the Southern Baptist national convention (which I thought was an abuse of principles of church/state separation). He was lured to the fire and he got burned. I could have told him, don't go dancing with the devil.
Margaret Montgomery, New York, NY
According to a front page New York Times article on July 5 by William L. Hamilton, 71 Bantu refugees from Somalia are living out "Hard-Won American Dreams" in Tucson, as "part of the most ambitious relocation of political refugees by the United States in recent history." Through the support of the International Rescue Committee in Tuscon and local business, educational, and social services, these determined Bantu families have overcome the traumas of their past: tribal warfare, low-caste status, denial of education, years in refugee camps, and sudden relocation to our Southwest. In light of the current desperate situation in the Sudan, it is heartening to remember that the West can and does take action every day to save lives, alleviate suffering, and help a 15-year-old Somalian toward his dreams of becoming a doctor.
Anselmo Liano, Miami Springs, Fl
Don't forget the unsuccessful attempt by Bush's Department of Labor to rewrite the overtime rules in such a manner that it would have denied overtime compensation to millions who need it the most: America's besieged middle class. Luckily Congress stopped this piece of legislation crafted by Bush's crony capitalist buddies.
Alice Bentley, San Francisco, CA
When Dick Cheney was at a Yankees baseball game, his picture was put up on the big screen while the song, "God Bless America" was being sung during the 7th inning stretch...he was soundly booedand his picture was removed right away. Also, my granddaughter recently attended a minor league baseball game in Altoona PA where his image was also booed.
Shari Schartman-Walczak, State College, PA
Thanks for your great article on the "good news." Here's one more item regarding stem cell research: The Chicago Sun-Times reported on July 5 that "Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican supporter of embryonic stem cell research, said Sunday there is wide support in the Senate to ease the Bush Administration's restrictive policy."
David Hazen, Eugene, OR
Sales of the automotive monstrosity, the Hummer H2, have fallen twenty-four per cent in the first four months of this year. I can think of no better index of an improving planet.
Recently in this space I asked Nation readers to join a grassroots campaign organized by supporters of Democratic Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich to let the Democratic Party Platform Committee know that millions of loyal Democrats are seeking a coherent and responsible exit strategy from Iraq. And today, at the end of the committee's meeting in Miami, the Democratic Party adopted an amendment to its national platform declaring its intention to reduce US military presence in Iraq and to push for a greater role for NATO and other nations. Click here to read more about this modest victory.
When Howard Dean's outsider campaign for Democratic presidential nomination began to take off year ago, Ralph Nader was at least somewhat enthusiastic about the enterprise, going so far as to suggest that the Vermont governor's challenge to the party establishment was in many senses an amplification of his own condemnations of Democratic drift away from core principles. For his part, candidate Dean was far more generous than most Democrats when it came to praising Nader's 40 year record of talking on established interests. The former Vermont governor actually moved from his old centrist positions toward what could be described as "Naderite" stances on issues such as free trade and regulating corporate power. And he reached out with some success to activists who had backed Nader's 2000 presidential campaign --especially on the nation's campuses.
There was even talk among Dean backers that, if their candidate secured the Democratic nomination, Nader might decide against making a third bid for the presidency in 2004.
But that was then, and this is the now where Dean is an enthusiastic campaigner for soon-to-be-nominated Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, while Nader is mounting an independent challenge to both Kerry and Republican President George W. Bush. And, as Friday's debate between Dean and Nader on National Public Radio's "Justice Talking" program illustrated, the two mavericks are no longer winking at one another.
"You were an insurgent who has now adopted the role of being a detergent for the dirty linen of the Democratic Party," Nader told Dean, who appeared on the program to argue that the consumer activist should drop his independent candidacy and back the Democratic ticket.
Dean shot back, "What I see in this (Nader) candidacy is the perfect becoming the enemy of the good."
And so it went.
"We're taking apart the Bush Administration in ways that the Democratic party is afraid to," Nader said, emphasizing his campaign's antiwar stance and his take-no-prisoners assault on the influence of corporate contributors and lobbyists.
"This is not going to help the progressive movement in America," moaned Dean, who tried his best to suggest that Kerry is a legitimate standard bearer for that movement and added, "I wish you were on our team, Ralph, because we need you."
Anyone who imagined that Dean and Nader might have found some common ground with regards to the fall race came away from the debate sorely disappointed. But the truth is that no one who has spent much time watching Nader's campaign this year expected him to back off at the behest of Dean. While Nader has admitted to having been impressed with many aspects of Dean's insurgent campaign, these guys were never ideological soul mates. Nader was, and is, far closer to Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich, who continues to challenge Kerry for the nomination--albeit without much notice from the party or the media.
The Nader-Dean debate was less a serious dialogue about the possibility of forging a united front against Bush's reelection than a reminder that, while Nader and many Democrats share policy stances on issues ranging from opposition to the war to support for fair trade, single-payer health care and public financing of campaigns, they have not reached any kind of consensus with regard to the necessity of cooperation in the immediate political moment.
It wasn't for lack of trying by Dean, who agreed to debate Nader as part of a stepped up effort by Kerry backers to reach out to left-leaning voters who could stray from the Democratic fold. While Dean stopped short of accusing Nader of costing Democrat Al Gore the presidency in 2000, the former candidate did suggest that Nader could cost Kerry the presidency this year.
Describing the threat of a second Bush term as "an extraordinary emergency," the man whose own candidacy shook up the Democratic establishment almost as much as has Nader's, declared, "When the house is on fire, it's not the time to fix the furniture." Sure, Dean admitted, he might have differences with Kerry on some issues. But he argued the "progressives must unite behind Kerry" line with passion.
Nader was unconvinced. At several points, the independent candidate read down a list of sharp shots at Kerry--"corporate clone," "lesser of two evils." And then he reminded the Vermonter that those were Dean's own words from the primary season.
Nader allowed as how he preferred "Howard Dean the First," who took on the party establishment last year, as opposed to "Howard Dean the Second," who he accused of carrying the establishment's water this year.
Predictably, the conversation grew heated.
Dean accused Nader of peddling "disingenuous nonsense," and then noted that a group Nader founded, Public Citizen, had hailed Kerry's stances on many of the issues that are of concern to progressives. After a few more jabs at Nader, Dean announced that, "My purpose here is not to smear Ralph Nader."
At that point, a bemused Nader interjected, "Oh, no, not at all."
By now, the crowd was laughing.
But Dean remained serious, and on message. "I ask you not to turn your back on your legacy," he pleaded with Nader. A few minutes later, Dean banged on the independent candidate for what he suggested was just such an abandonment, citing reports that the Nader campaign had accepted the aid of religious right groups, such as the Oregon Family Council, in its quest to achieve ballot status.
"The way to change the country is not to get in bed with right-wing, anti-gay groups to get on the ballot," said Dean.
Nader griped about efforts by Democrats to keep him off ballots. Dean told Nader to renounce the Oregon Family Council and other right-wing groups that have allegedly aided his candidacy.
"Just renounce them!" demanded the Vermonter.
"Alright, I renounce them," Nader replied. But then he demanded that Dean renounce corporate wrongdoers that have donated to the Democrats, which the governor did. Then Dean started talking about someone else Nader should renounce. And, when all was said and done, neither Nader, nor Dean, had convinced the other man of much.
The most interesting question remained unasked and unanswered: Would Nader have backed off if Dean had emerged as the Democratic nominee?
But we do know the one suggestion that Dean would make to Nader. When "Justice Talking" host Margot Adler sought to ease the tension by soliciting advice from a former contender to a current candidate, Dean said that Nader should: "Lighten up."
Nader smiled and allowed as how, "That's better than what I thought he was going to say."
The United States went to war on the basis of false claims. More than 800 Americans and countless Iraqis have lost their lives because of these false claims. The American taxpayer has to pay up to $200 billion--and maybe more--because of these false claims. The United States' standing in the world has fallen precipitously because of these false claims. Two days before the war, when George W. Bush justified the coming invasion of Iraq by saying "intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal" weapons of mass destruction, he was dead wrong. And when he later claimed his decision to attack Iraq had been predicated upon "good, solid intelligence," he was dead wrong.
The debate is over--or it should be. According to the report released today by the Senate intelligence committee, the intelligence community--led by the CIA--"overstated" and "mischaracterized" the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. In the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, produced hastily and haphazardly in October 2002, the intelligence community concluded that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed chemical and biological weapons, was "reconstituting" its nuclear weapons program, was supporting an "active" and "advanced" biological weapons program, and was developing an unmanned aerial vehicle "probably intended to deliver" biological weapons. All of these critical findings, the committee report says, "either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting."
As Senator Jay Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, put it at a press conference, this is one of the "most devastating...intelligence failures in the history of the nation." The 500 page report repeatedly details instances when the intelligence community botched its job by ignoring contrary evidence, embracing questionable sources, and rushing to judgments that just so happened to fit the preconceived notions of the Bush Administration. If CIA director George Tenet had not said good-bye to the CIA the day before the report came out, he would deserve immediate dismissal. But the report--justifiably harsh in its evaluation of the CIA--is part of an effort to protect Bush and his lieutenants. The political mission: make the CIA the fall guy.
The report does not examine how Bush and his senior aides handled and represented the flawed intelligence. Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the committee, has delayed that portion of the investigation and other aspects of the inquiry (including the role played by Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress and the controversial actions of the office of Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy). The results of the committee's work on these fronts are not expected to appear until next year--that is, after the election.
But the case is already undeniable. Bush and his lot overstated the overstatements of the intelligence community. The National Intelligence Estimate said Iraq had an extensive biological weapons program. Bush said Hussein was sitting on a "massive stockpile" of biological weapons. The NIE concluded (also falsely) that Iraq was developing unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to hit the United States with biological weapons. Bush warned that Iraq already had a "growing fleet" of UAVs ready to hit the United States. The NIE noted that Iraq was "reconstituting" its nuclear weapons program but had no nuclear weapons yet. Bush said, "We don't know whether or not [Hussein] has a nuclear weapon"--a comment suggesting he might possess one.
The Senate intelligence report indirectly indicts Bush. It notes that there was one area where the intelligence community was correct: the supposed relationship between Hussein and Al Qaeda. "The Central Intelligence Agency," the report says, "reasonably assessed that there were likely several instances of contacts between Iraq and al-Qaida throughout the 1990s, but that these contacts did not add up to an established formal relationship." This means that when Bush said before the war that Saddam Hussein was "a threat because he's dealing with Al Qaeda," he was not basing this significant assertion on the findings of the US intelligence community. And he ignored the intelligence when he called Saddam Hussein "an ally" of Al Qaeda during his May 1, 2003, speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.
The Senate intelligence committee also reports that the CIA's "assessment that Saddam Hussein was most likely to use his own intelligence service operatives to conduct attacks was reasonable, and turned out to be accurate." Yet before the war the Bush White House declared there was a "high risk" that Hussein would hand over his WMDs to terrorists--presumably Al Qaeda--who would use them against the United States. What was the basis for this claim? Not the available intelligence. And the report notes that the CIA's "assessments on Iraq's links to terrorism were widely disseminated" to policymakers. Perhaps Bush neglected to read them--as he neglected to read the National Intelligence Estimate. (Don't believe that? Click here.)
Even without the Senate intelligence committee doing a single stitch of work regarding Bush's use of the intelligence, this report demonstrates that Bush hyped the threat to get his war. And weeks ago, when the independent, bipartisan 9/11 commission declared it had not found evidence of "collaborative relationship" between Hussein and Al Qaeda, Bush and Cheney insisted that there had been a "relationship." The Senate intelligence committee report is yet another reason to dismiss anything Bush and Cheney have to say on this subject.
At the press conference for the report's release, I asked Roberts the following question: Since 800 Americans lost the lives because of a phony threat assessment--and thousands of GIs lost limbs and the American taxpayers are out up to $200 billion--don't the relatives of the dead and injured and the rest of us have a right to know, before the election, whether the Bush Administration mishandled or misrepresented the intelligence?
The committee, he replied, "couldn't get it done" by now. This was, Roberts claimed, "a top priority," but he added that there were only twenty "legislative days" left in the Senate session, implying that was not enough time. "It is a priority," he repeated. But when another reporter asked, "In time for the election?" Roberts did not respond. Rockefeller then remarked that committee staff was not limited by the amount of days the Senate would be in session and could work on this matter through August and September. "The thought that we cannot get this done by the end of the year escapes me," he said. And a senior committee aide told me that this sort of project could be completed within months. "It is not hard work," he commented.
In hailing the committee's effort to produce a public version of its classified report--the CIA tried and failed to censor half of the report--Roberts said, "We believe the American people have a right to know." But he is not concerned about the people's timely right to know about Bush's use--or abuse--of the intelligence.
In an addendum to the report, Rockefeller and two other Democratic members of the committee--Carl Levin and Richard Durbin--criticize Roberts' decision to put off this part of the investigation. They note:
In the months before the production of the Intelligence Community's October 2002 Estimate, Administration officials undertook a relentless public campaign which repeatedly characterized the Iraq weapons of mass destruction program in more ominous and threatening terms than the Intelligence Community analysis substantiated. Similarly, public statements of senior officials on Iraqi links to terrorism generally, and Al Qaeda specifically, were often based on a selective release of intelligence information that implied a cooperative, operational relationship that the Intelligence Community did not believe existed."
In addition to casting all the blame at the CIA, the Senate intelligence committee also helps the Administration by declaring that the intelligence community's mistakes were not made in response to pressure from the hawks of the Bush White House. "The Committee found no evidence," the report says, "that the [intelligence community's] mischaracterization of exaggeration of the intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities was the result of political pressure."
But Rockefeller, Levin and Durbin argue that Bush officials made "high-profile statements" about the threat from Iraq "in advance of any meaningful intelligence analysis and created pressure on the Intelligence Community to conform to the certainty contained in the pronouncements." More specifically, they point to a statement made by Richard Kerr, a former deputy CIA director who conducted an internal review of US intelligence on Iraq. He said, "There was a lot of pressure [on the analysts], no question. The White House, State, Defense, were raising questions, heavily on WMD and the issue of terrorism. Why did you select this information rather than that? Why have you downplayed this particular thing?.... Sure, I heard that some of the analysts felt pressure." The CIA ombudsman, according to this addendum, told the committee "that he felt the 'hammering' by the Bush Administration on Iraq intelligence was harder that he had previously witnessed in his thirty-two-year career with the agency. Several analysts he spoke with [who were involved in preparing a report on Iraq and Al Qaeda] mentioned pressure and gave the sense that they felt the constant questions and pressure to reexamine issues were unreasonable." Tenet, too, told the committee that some agency officials raised with him the issue of pressure.
There is a split within the committee--and it just so happens to occur along party lines--between those who say there was no undue pressure (just perhaps intense demands for the best information) and those who say repeated requests to look at a topic (say, possible links between Al Qaeda and Hussein) were a form of pressure. As of yet there has been no smoking memo or whistleblowing analyst willing to come forward. The full report blames "group think" and "a combination of systemic weaknesses, primarily in analytic trade craft, compounded by a lack of information sharing, poor management, and inadequate intelligence collection" for this gargantuan intelligence screw-up.
The intelligence committee report does dig into other troubling areas. It notes that a public white paper on Iraq produced by the intelligence community did not include the caveats contained in the NIE and "misrepresented" intelligence findings "to the public which did not have access to the classified National Intelligence Estimate containing the more carefully worded assessments." But the committee never discovered who was responsible for this. The committee also examined a Pentagon effort mounted by Feith to examine intelligence on Al Qaeda and Hussein in order to make a case that a working relationship existed between the two.
The committee report downplays the importance of this episode. But pointing to an August 20, 2002, meeting in which Feith's underlings gathered with intelligence community analysts, Rockefeller, Levin and Durbin say, this "meeting is clear evidence of the Administration politicizing an analytical process that should be protected from the meddlesome reach of policy officials. The Pentagon's policy office had delayed the publication of an important Intelligence Community assessment on Iraq and terrorism [which did not find evidence of a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda] and insinuated themselves into a coordination meeting in the hopes of molding the judgments to establish a link between Iraq and the attacks carried out by al-Qaeda terrorists on September 11th. The Pentagon officials [according to a memo they drafted] 'raised numerous objections to the paper' as if they believe it was the policy office's role to object to an Intelligence Community assessment prior to its publication.... The problem is that the Intelligence Community did not find the report alleging a meeting between al Qaeda hijacker [Mohamed] Atta and an Iraq intelligence official in the Czech Republic to be credible, a meeting Vice President Cheney had already said publicly was 'pretty well confirmed.'"
Rockefeller, Levin and Durbin report that the intelligence community analysts did not yield to the pressure from the Pentagon. Consequently, Feith's staffers mounted an end run. Two days before the CIA disseminated its assessment of Al Qaeda and Iraq, Feith's guys presented an alternative analysis to the White House--specifically to Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, and I. Lewis Libby, Cheney's chief of staff. Tenet told the committee that he was unaware that this alternative briefing had taken place. All this does suggest that the Bush White House countenanced an effort to skirt and manipulate the intelligence process.
For months, Bush and his crew repeatedly said Iraq was a "grave and gathering threat." That was the primary rationale for war. The Senate intelligence report is further proof that the war was launched on lies. There was no good intelligence that Iraq had WMDs. There was no good intelligence that Hussein was in cahoots with Al Qaeda. Will Bush admit that this war was based on false information? The report does give his defenders an escape route: they can point an accusing finger at the hapless hacks of the CIA. But Bush made hyperbolic assertions about the Iraq threat that were not only unsupported but contradicted by the existing intelligence. Along with Tenet and the culprits at the CIA, Bush and his posse deserve to take the rap for one of the most immense and consequential strategic failures in US history. But unlike the CIA crowd--which messed up by producing misinformation--Bush peddled both misinformation and disinformation to grease the way to war.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is NOW AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."
Have you heard about the recent arson at the WomanCare clinic in Lake Fort Worth, FL? A vicious fire attack destroyed the facility on July 2nd. This is the kind of home-grown American terrorism that doesn't get a whole lot of attention. The Concord Feminist Health Center in New Hampshire--which suffered an arson attack itself in 2000--is organizing a campaign asking people to send donations to help the clinic get back on its feet. It's critical to let those on the frontlines of care know that they have support and that the pro-choice movement won't let the anti-choicers win a war of attrition through violence.
To contribute, please make out a check of whatever amount is affordable to "WCWP Women's Relief Fund" and mail it to: WomanCare of West Palm, 1622 North Federal Highway, West Palm Beach FL 33460. And click here and here to keep up with the latest developments in the fight for reproductive freedom in the US.
My Response to the Platform CommitteeBy Tom Hayden
Dear Madame Chair and Members,
I write as a supporter of Senator John Kerry, a former member of the Democratic Platform Committee, a former California legislator, the author of books on inner cities and global poverty, and as a longtime activist in peace and social justice movements.
Please do not take us for granted. We progressives are not the happy campers that certain self-selected spokesmen describe in the New York Times. Our surface acceptance of the Party's current direction arises from deference to our respected nominee and our common loathing of the Bush Administration. We are loyal to our partisan objective of defeating Bush, but loyal as well to those principles which we believe are shared by a majority of Democrats and Americans.
Political progressives HARDLY command a unified, organized bloc of voters or supporters. We live in a new political age in which there are vast millions of floating, unaffiliated independent and progressive voters. They may vote for the Democrats, for the Greens, or not at all. Their level of volunteering to make phone calls, register voters, stand frozen with billboards on freeway overpasses, etcetera, depends on whether they feel the Party is addressing what they truly care about.
The candidate and the Party establishment already are risking voter disillusionment with transparent vagaries on Iraq. I for one am glad to see the retreat from previous Democratic talk of sending more troops to stabilize that haunted country. I would prefer, of course, to see the party stand for a retreat from occupation itself. I would wish the platform to declare:
It was a mistake for President Bush to invade Iraq. One thousand Americans and countless Iraqis may have died for his mistake by this November. Americans are spending hundreds of billions to reconstruct what American bombs have destroyed when we could be hiring youth the same age as our soldiers to rebuild our neglected cities. We are imposing pro-corporate tax and privatization policies on Iraq which have never been embraced here.
The concern of all Americans should be whether the Bush Administration and its hand-picked government truly intend to allow democratic elections this next January, or defer democratic sovereignty for Iraqis until the US-led coalition prevails militarily over the insurgency. If security must be imposed by force before the balloting begins, there may be no light at the end of the tunnel. We do not require Iraqis to stop shopping or watching television before they vote, nor should we expect all them to become non-violent as a condition of going to the polls.
We cannot easily rebuild what the Bush Administration has broken. But we believe that the American occupation and the absence of democracy are the causes of the insurgency, and that delaying or suspending the democratic process will only deepen the pattern of violence. We support a broader international coalition and funding to repair and stabilize what we can in Iraq, but we are not ideological Crusaders bent on building a military outpost to protect a free-trade zone in Baghdad. Our core mission must be to complete the current partial transition to sovereignty with democratic elections followed by an American military withdrawal.
Since an anti-war approach is ruled out by the party's pollsters, strategists, and ideologues, there is likely to be a drift towards either disillusionment or protest campaigns among large numbers of voters now on the edge. It becomes crucial, therefore, to appeal to those voters with something in which they can have a stake beyond the demise of George Bush. The excellent language on alternatives to Middle Eastern oil is an example.
But a more immediate approach should be to strengthen the platform language on fair trade. The current language is perhaps minimally acceptable, but feels like an extracted tooth. The platform can extol so-called "free trade" to our contributors' delight, but the fact is that our free trade agreements have to be followed up immediately with fairness provisions that are enforceable. The present language may placate interested insiders but should be tested as well as rhetoric on the stump in places like Ohio, where I predict they will turn audiences looking for red meat into glazed zombies. There is no language blaming Bush, nor the corporate interests who are circumventing labor standards and environmental protection. Perhaps calling them "Benedict Arnolds" was over the top (who said that?), but even word "sweatshop" is missing from the platform. Don't we want to accuse Republicans of being soft on sweatshops? Or would the word shock and offend those Democrats and economists who still claim that workplaces violating labor standards and paying a dollar a day are a "step up the ladder" for billions of the poor.
It is a tragedy that a party whose modern tradition was founded in the Thirties on the banning of sweatshop conditions among American workers cannot today say the word when those same miserable conditions have reappeared in our new Gilded Age.
So my second platform recommendation is this: dare to include language denouncing sweatshops and the trade rules that enshrine them.
Finally, a plea for a more balanced position on domestic "law and order". As a result of the war on gangs and drugs, America now has 25 percent of the world's total population of inmates, over two million on any given day. We spend more on prisons than colleges, more on punitive criminal justice systems than on prevention and rehabilitation programs. Just as the platform's foreign policy plank says war is an option of last resort, so too should police and prisons - hopefully not like Abu Ghraib - be a last resort in juvenile justice programming. Instead the platform links terrorism and domestic gangs in the same sentence, promises to "crack down on gang violence" as if we haven't for twenty years, and offers neither a word or a dollar on behalf of prevention or intervention. The section is embarrassing, since most Americans are far beyond the Democratic Party in supporting prevention initiatives.
So my third platform recommendation is to reconsider the deadly language about cracking down on those inner city youth. Say something like this: the Democratic Party believes in a balanced approach to combating violence and hopelessness among so many of our nation's young people. It is not enough to dispatch more police - we must flood the inner cities with job possibilities better than dealing drugs. It is not enough for such a rich country to lock up more of its citizens than virtually any other. We must and will deter violence crime. But we must be equally tough on creating jobs and hope wherever a lethal despair has taken hold.
Thank you for your consideration. See you in Boston!
At the risk of bringing too much clarity to the overheated discussion about whether Arizona Senator John McCain really was John Kerry's "first choice" for the number two spot on the Democratic ticket, it is appropriate to recall a June 11 statement issued by the Arizona senator's office.
"Senator McCain categorically states that he has not been offered the vice presidency by any one," said Mark Salter, the senator's chief of staff.
Salter issued that firm denial after the Associated Press was checking out the last of the rumors that Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, had offered McCain, a Republican senator whose disdain for President Bush has been well documented, a place on the ticket that will seek to remove Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney from the White House.
According to AP, a pair of Democratic officials were peddling the story that "McCain has personally rejected John Kerry's overtures to join the Democratic presidential ticket and forge a bipartisan alliance against President Bush." That sounded pretty serious. But then, in recognition of the firm denial from McCain's office, the AP report backtracked. "Both officials said Kerry stopped short of offering McCain the job, sparing himself an outright rejection that would make his eventual running mate look like a second choice," AP acknowledged.
In the real world, that should have settled the matter. But, of course, politics is not the real world.
So, now, despite the fact that McCain "categorically states that he has not been offered the vice presidency by any one," the Republican National Committee is mounting an aggressive campaign to portray Kerry's choice, North Carolina Senator John Edwards, as the presidential candidate's "second choice." There's no subtlety here: A new Bush-Cheney television ad featuring a clip of McCain introducing Bush is titled ""First Choice." And every Republican spokesman who got his talking-points script was, by mid-day Tuesday, using the "second-choice" jab in their remarks regarding Edwards.
The ads and the jabs are disingenuous at their core. McCain is a loyal Republican, who is seeking reelection to the Senate this fall on the party line, so, yes, he has officially endorsed Bush. But it is no secret in Washington that McCain maintains a healthy personal disregard for Bush, whose campaign and its supporters launched visceral attacks on the Arizona senator during their fight for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination. McCain has said that Bush "should be ashamed" of the character of his primary campaign. (When Bush asked whether McCain would join his ticket in 2000, the senator refused -- which would seem to suggest that Dick Cheney was Bush's "second choice.)
This year, McCain has been quick to counter the Bush campaign's attacks on Kerry, a fellow Vietnam veteran, sometime legislative ally and longtime friend. Asked in March, during a CBS interview, whether he agreed with assertions by the Bush campaign that Kerry would endanger national security, McCain replied, "I don't think that. I think that John Kerry is a good and decent man. I think he has served his country. I think he has different points of view on different issues and he will have to explain his voting record. But this kind of (attack) rhetoric, I think, is not helpful in educating and helping the American people make a choice."
Comments like that fed talk about the possibility that Kerry and McCain would link up to form a bipartisan "unity ticket" to depose Bush and Cheney. But it was always just that: talk. Undoubtedly, Kerry and McCain enjoyed the flirtation. And, yes, the dance extended for some time. But it never evolved into the sort of serious consideration that Kerry gave Edwards, former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and various other Democrats.
It wasn't simply reticence on McCain's part that prevented this flirtation from developing into something more serious. Kerry had a problem with it, as well. McCain is an opponent of abortion rights and many gay rights measures, a backer of Republican tax-cutting schemes and one of the most vehement hawks in the Congress -- even before Bush was promoting war with Iraq, McCain joined with the atrocious Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut, to advocate for military action. In other words, McCain may be a maverick, but he is hardly a certifiable moderate.
Choosing McCain would have opened rifts within the Democratic party, causing anti-war Democrats who already distrust Kerry to wonder whether a protest vote for Ralph Nader might make sense, and raising real concern among abortion rights activists who would have worried about positioning a consistent foe of a woman's right to choose to break tie votes in a closely-divided Senate.
The bottom line: Kerry knew he could not select McCain. It was a fun flirtation -- and, as with any flirtation, both men undoubtedly entertained fantasies about taking things further. But there is no evidence to suggest that the discussion ever reached the level of seriousness that the Republican spin now suggests.
There is, however, one Kerry-McCain mystery that remains unresolved: Does anyone believe that John McCain will actually vote for George w. Bush?