As President George W. Bush prepares to launch his first broadcast ads of the political season next week, it is clear that his well-groomed and well-rewarded donor network is doing their job. Relying on a pyramid scheme of Pioneers (those who raise $100,000 for the campaign) and Rangers (those who raise $200,000), Bush has amassed an astounding $143 million in less than a year, finance reports out last week revealed.
But showing appreciation for all the favors and rewards from the Bush Administration by raising a mere 200 grand is chickenfeed for some of these wealthy captains of industry. Rumors in January first reported by the Washington Post hinted at another category of donors--those who are able to haul in $500,000. And as I wrote on January 25 , ("Oligarchs for Bush"), Public Campaign Action Fund started a contest (http://www.pcactionfund.org/contest) to name this new category of bundlers for Bush. As a judge for the contest, I helped narrow the 1,191 entries down to five finalists (Cash Cowboys, Robber Barons, Weapons of Mass Corruption, Profiteers and The Funding Fathers) and now it's up to the public to pick their favorite.
The voting is open now, and will remain open until February 29, though if there is a lot of interest, the voting may remain open a little longer.
It's only fitting that as we are inundated with Bush's TV ads, we are also reminded who paid for them.
The best-case scenario for Ralph Nader's fourth presidential campaign -- a 1992 write-in effort in the New Hampshire primary, Green Party runs in 1996 and 2000, and the independent candidacy he announced on Sunday -- is to pull a Norman Thomas. In the Great Depression election of 1932, Democrats worried that Thomas, the perennial Socialist Party candidate, would draw off votes in key states and help reelect Republican President Herbert Hoover. When the ballots were counted, however, Democrat Franklin Roosevelt defeated Hoover in all but six states and was swept into the White House. At the same time, Thomas won close to 900,000 votes nationwide, and in many state his backers provided a cushion of votes for Democrats who swept local, state and congressional races. Thomas was invited to the White House, treated with respect on Capitol Hill and credited with providing the inspiration for important elements of Roosevelt's New Deal.
The worst-case scenario for Nader's 2004 campaign is the James Birney circumstance. Birney, a prominent attorney who served as secretary of the American Anti-Slavery Society, sought the presidency in 1840 and again in 1844 as the candidate of the abolitionist Liberty Party. Birney's second run for the presidency secured only 62,103 votes, out of 2.7 million cast nationwide. But Birney took away enough votes in key states such as New York from Whig Henry Clay, a more cautious critic of the expansion of slavery, to tip the election to Democrat James K. Polk, who campaigned on a promise to annex Texas as a slave state. Polk quickly did just that, and then ordered the invasion of Mexico. Until his death in 1857, Birney, the passionate abolitionist, was blamed for giving pro-slavery forces an upper hand at a critical stage in American politics.
Somewhere between those best- and worst-case scenarios lies the likely result for Nader this year. It is far less dramatic. Indeed, the most likely scenario for Nader in 2004 is that he will not matter much.
Running as an independent, Nader will not be able to capture the ballots lines nor the considerable enthusiasm of the Green Party's volunteer infrastructure, which played a critical role in securing him ballot status in 43 states and the District of Columbia in 2000. And running in a year when beating George W. Bush has emerged as the central issue for millions of progressives, Nader will also have to make this race without the assistance of long-time friends and backers such as Ronnie Dugger, Michael Moore and Jim Hightower. As a result, the best bet is that Nader's name will be on fewer state ballots than in 2000; he might not even secure the roughly two dozen ballot lines he had in 1996. If this turns out to be the case, Nader will have a much harder time arguing for his inclusion in the debates. And, come November, he will be much more likely to end up as an asterisk.
Of course, Nader sees things differently. Running as an independent reformer, he says, he will have greater appeal to the disenchanted of all parties. Currently, he's suggesting that disappointed supporters of Howard Dean, turned off by the somnambulant, centrist candidacy of John Kerry, might exit the Democratic column and search Nader's name out on the margins of state ballot that are reserved for independent candidates.
But there's a lot of wishful thinking in that calculus. Dean was never really the pox-on-all-their-houses reformer that he tried to make himself in a last-ditch attempt to distinguish his waning candidacy from those of John Kerry and John Edwards. He came to prominence in 2003 as the "Beat Bush" candidate who referenced the disputed Bush-v-Gore result of 2000 in his stump speeches, condemned the president for lying about weapons of mass destruction, accused Dick Cheney's Halliburton of war profiteering and delivered blistering attacks on John Ashcroft and the Patriot Act.
If Kerry is the nominee, the Massachusetts senator and his backers admit that they are going to have to work to attract and inspire true-believing "Deaniacs." But, for the most part, the risk is that Deaniacs will disengage, not that they will align with Nader.
The 2004 contest is shaping up as a classic test of a contentious incumbent. Voters will likely approach the ballot box in November with far more clarity than was evidenced in 2000, recognizing that this year's election gives them a chance to embrace or reject another four years of George Bush, Dick Cheney and their administration.
For Nader to intrude into that choice in a meaningful way, it is necessary to imagine that substantial numbers of voters will go to the polls absolutely determined to remove the president from office -- grumbling all the way about the occupation of Iraq, war profiteering, assaults on civil liberties and tax breaks for the rich -- and then vote for Nader rather than a Democrat who could actually beat Bush. That's not a very likely prospect; and if it ever became one, Democrats would be particularly well positioned to counter it. Even as Nader objects, Democrats can and wlll argue that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush, and they will have many more buyers for that line than in 2000.
This said, Democrats such as party chair Terry McAuliffe -- who says, "We can't afford to have Ralph Nader in this race" -- would be wise to calm down a bit with regards to Nader. It is true that, if a portion of Nader voters in New Hampshire and Florida had voted for Gore, the Democrat would have won those states -- no matter what schemes were hatched by Florida Governor Jeb Bush and his minions. But it is also true that, if a portion of Pat Buchanan's Reform Party voters in Wisconsin, Oregon, Iowa and New Mexico had cast their ballots for Bush, the Republican would have beaten Gore in those states. And savvy Democrats, such as former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, have always recognized that Nader voters helped US Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, and US Representative Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, win tight races in 2000. Cantwell's victory put Democrats in position to seize control of the Senate in 2001, after Vermont's Jim Jeffords left the GOP fold.
So, rather than waste too much time on the 2000 blame game, those who seek to beat Bush in 2004 ought to focus on some bottom-line fundamentals regarding Nader's latest candidacy:
IT HAS GOTTEN HARDER FOR NADER TO ARGUE THAT THERE ARE NO DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TWO MAJOR PARTIES: On the night before Nader announced his candidacy, Al Gore appeared at an Idaho Democratic Party event where he presented a detailed denunciation of Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq, the Patriot Act and the Bush administration's energy, environmental and economic policies. Gore remains an imperfect player. But his words and deeds over the past several years have done a great deal to undermine Nader's basic premise that it did really matter who won the 2000 election -- and, by extension, who will win the 2004 election.
NADER WILL BE MARGINALIZED NOT BY CRITICISM OF HIS STRATEGIES BUT BY THE THEFT OF HIS ISSUES: In the fall of 2000, Gore backers spent millions of dollars and immense amounts of time and energy seeking to demonize Nader. They came off as desperate and anti-democratic, and in some instances actually reinforced support for Nader. Worst of all, their sense of urgency was undermined by their own candidate. Apart from a handful of populist moments, Gore ran a tepid campaign in which he failed to adequately distinguish himself from the then "compassionate conservative" George W. Bush on core issues -- remember the second debate, when the Democratic and Republican candidates agreed to agree on question after question. Those agreements reinforced Nader's message. More importantly, Gore's failure to pick up Nader's themes limited the Democrat's ability to compete in several key states. Had Gore addressed concerns about free trade, the decline in manufacturing, and farm policies that favored corporate agribusiness, he might well have won Ohio, Missouri and West Virginia -- state's that voted for Bill Clinton but went narrowly for Bush. Gore's biggest mistake in 2000 was his failure to understand Nader's appeal. Both Kerry, the Democratic frontrunner at this point, and John Edwards, his most prominent challenger for the nomination, are stumbling over one another to present themselves as economic populists. That's a signal that they will do a better job than Gore did of competing for the support not just of potential Nader backers but of the far broader pool of voters (and potential voters) who need to hear a populist message on issues such as trade.
NADER MAY NOT EVEN BE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT INDEPENDENT OR THIRD-PARTY CONTENDER IN 2004: Those in the Bush White House and its echo chambers on right-wing talk radio and the Fox television network, who have been delighting in the prospect of a Nader run, may not be laughing for long. Judge Roy Moore, the Alabama jurist whose fight to display the Ten Commandments on state property drew national attention last year, is being courted by the right-wing Constitution Party as a potential presidential candidate. (The Constitution Party was on the ballot in 41 states in 2000, and retains a solid network of activist supporters nationwide.) With growing numbers of core conservatives angered by Bush's policies on immigration, federal spending and individual liberties, a Moore candidacy could develop into a serious problem for the president. More than 20 percent of the voters in January's New Hampshire Republican primary cast ballots for someone other than Bush; more than 10 percent of Oklahoma Republican primary voters did the same. Come November, Moore could pose a greater threat to Republican prospects than Nader will to the Democrats.
NADER IS EXTREMELY UNLIKELY TO LEAVE THIS RACE ANYTIME SOON: From the moment Nader said he was exploring a 2004 bid, it was obvious he was going to run. In addition to rejecting appeals from former supporters to join a broad "Beat Bush" movement, Nader dismissed offers of platforms and vehicles that would have allowed him to be a major player in the 2004 race without being a candidate -- just as he rejected the Green Party line. He is determined to have his say and, as his "Meet the Press" announcement appearance illustrated, he will have plenty of opportunities to do so. He believes he has something to add to the debate, and he knows he has a right to try. Additionally, he has come to enjoy campaigning. Energy devoted to trying to get him out of the competition is wasted.
Franklin Roosevelt and his supporters came to a similar conclusion with regards to Norman Thomas in 1932. So they treated him with respect during the fall campaign, while grabbing the best elements of the Socialist platform away from Thomas. In the end, Roosevelt won, while Thomas could say he contributed significantly to the process. Nader, who has always held Thomas in high regard, will cling to the hope that the Roosevelt-Thomas scenario will repeat itself -- unlikely as that may be. He can anticipate no better result for himself this year. And the alternatives are far less appealing -- for Nader, and for America.
The loss of Senator Paul Wellstone still really hurts. Fortunately, the Wellstone Action Network is working in his name, bringing together thousands of people from across the United States in focused advocacy campaigns on progressive issues. Using the Wellstone Action website, email action alerts, grassroots organizing and partnerships with like-minded organizations, the advocacy network puts its weight and energy behind a series of issues based on need and opportunity.
The Network also operates Camp Wellstone, a two-an-a-half day program that trains participants in strategy and tactics useful for winning grassroots political and electoral campaigns. This national program teaches a distinctive approach that integrates electoral politics, issues advocacy community organizing and leadership development.
Click here for more info on how to join the Wellstone Action Network.
You never know who you'll meet in the "green room."
Recently,while waiting to be grilled by Chris Matthews on MSNBC I ran into the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who had just come from Harvard University where he delivered a speech marking the Rainbow Coalition's 20th anniversary. The Reverend was about to join Pat Buchanan and Jerry Brown on a "Hardball" segment that should have been billed "The Contenders." (Jackson ran for President in '84 and '88; Brown in '76 and '92 and Buchanan in '92, '96 and 2000.)
I'm posting a transcript of their conversation--with Matthews's inevitable Saturday Night Live-styleinterventions--because it was one of the better TV moments I've seen in these last months. And the transpartisan bonding, particularly between Brown and Buchanan, is worth noting.
When White House spokesman Scott McClellan was asked recently about The Price of Loyalty, the best-seller about former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill's disillusionment with the Bush Administration, he replied, "I don't do book reviews."
If he did, it would be a new full-time job, as a recent survey of anti-Bush books by Bob Minzesheimer in USA Today makes clear. The Price of Loyalty is just one in a wave of new titles, including Nation columnist Eric Alterman and Mark Green's The Book on Bush: How George W. (Mis)leads America, Nation Washington Editor David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush and The Bush-Haters' Handbook, published by Nation Books.
It's great that there are all these anti-Bush books out there, but this political season we, progressives, also need to lay out what we stand for. That's the idea behind Taking Back America a forthcoming release from Nation Books I co-edited with frequent Nation contributor Robert Borosage--featuring pieces by Barbara Ehrenreich, Bill Moyers, William Greider, Robert Reich and Benjamin Barber. It's a book for anyone interested in new strategies, institutions and movements that will challenge the conservative ideas and agenda that have dominated our political life. Watch this space and your bookstore shelves for its arrival in mid April.
(You can also click here here to read my review of Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty, one of the leaders in the anti-Bush book pack, which was published in the New York Times on February 4.)
The race for the Democratic presidential nomination is not over. In fact, it's getting a lot more interesting. Here are some notes on where the contest now stands:
EDWARDS HAS A WAY WITH WORDS: Much is made of North Carolina Senator John Edwards' populist stump speech, with its emotional call for closing the gap between "the two Americas" -- one for the wealthy recipients of George W. Bush's tax cuts, the other for working families that struggle to meet health care, housing and education costs at a time when their jobs are threatened by free-trade policies. But Edwards is actually at his best when he tosses off one liners that seem to sum up the political moment. "Wisconsin does not want a coronation," Edwards declared February 11, as he began what then looked like an uphill campaign in the state that six days later handed him a strong second place finish and a chance to compete one-on-one in the March 2 "Super Tuesday" primaries with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. When Kerry seemed to be claiming the nomination in the final debate before the Wisconsin primary, Edwards got off the best line of the night with his jab, "Not so fast, John Kerry." And after Wisconsin voters moved him to within six points of Kerry -- for one of the closest primary finishes so far in the campaign -- a jubilant Edwards took the stage at Milwaukee's Serb Hall and declared, "Today, the voters in Wisconsin sent a clear message. The message was this: Objects in your mirror may be closer than they appear."
KERRY HAS NO WAY WITH WORDS: Shaken by the close race in Wisconsin, which required him to deliver his victory speech almost an hour after he had planned to do so, Kerry played rough. The Massachusetts senator waited until Edwards took the stage to celebrate his showing, and then strode to the microphone at his own party. Television networks make it a rule to go to the winner when he appears to give his victory speech, even if that means cutting off another candidate. Kerry aides knew that and took full advantage of the opportunity to block Edwards. But they were not well served by the decision. Kerry's speech was long, unfocused and deadly dull. It lacked even the enthusiasm that the senator showed after his important wins in Iowa and New Hampshire. One reporter who has covered Kerry for two decades said as the address dragged on, "This is the worst I've ever heard him." In fairness, that was an extreme statement. Kerry is a famously uninspiring orator, whose speaking style has improved only marginally during the course of the campaign. But his speech Tuesday night, at a time when he should have been rallying the troops with a passionate call to close the deal and make him the Democratic nominee, instead provided a good explanation for why many Democrats will take a second look at Edwards.
SECOND PLACE WON'T CUT IT ANYMORE: The Edwards campaign denies that they are cherry picking primary contests in which to compete with Kerry on March 2. But the truth is that Edwards has skipped a lot of contests so far. And it looks like he is preparing to skip a lot more between now and Super Tuesday. As of now, the North Carolina senator's campaign is clearly focused on Ohio, Georgia and upstate New York -- areas where the candidates anti--NAFTA message ought to play well. Unfortunately, a lot of other states are voting on Super Tuesday, including California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Vermont. Additionally, caucuses will be held in Hawaii and Idaho on February 24, as will a primary in Utah. It gets harder for Edwards to claim to be seriously competing for the nomination if he cedes Hawaii, Idaho and Utah to Kerry on the 24th and then skips delegate-rich states such as Maryland and Minnesota, and potentially California, on March 2. If he sticks to this strategy -- which is dictated, at least for now, by a lack of funds to run the sort of intensive television-advertising campaign that he did in South Carolina and Wisconsin -- he runs a huge risk. If he concentrates on Ohio, Georgia and New York, he will need to win them. It will no longer be possible to spin second-place finishes as "moral victories."
THE SHARPTON FACTOR: The Edwards strategy for focusing on upstate New York is rooted in the theory that Al Sharpton will win a lot of votes in New York City. Sharpton has not mounted a particularly serious national campaign, but he has still secured some respectable finishes in urban areas where he has concentrated his time and energy. He ran a strong second behind Howard Dean in the District of Columbia's non-binding primary, and finished second behind Kerry in Detroit and Wilmington, Delaware -- winning Democratic National Convention delegates in both cities. Sharpton is exceptionally well known in New York City, where he has run for the U.S. Senate and mayor, securing solid vote totals in each contest. The evidence from around the country is that Kerry runs strong among African-American voters in northern urban areas. But if Sharpton holds Kerry's total down in New York City, Edwards aides think there is an outside chance that their man could finish first on the basis of a credible third-place finish in the city and a strong upstate vote. But Sharpton's role in the race has grown increasingly controversial. The Village Voice, which does not circulate much in Detroit or Wilmington, but is a serious factor in New York, has exposed the fact that Sharpton has been taking campaign cues from a nefarious Republican operative. In a piece titled, "Sleeping with the GOP," the Voice's Wayne Barrett writes, "Roger Stone, the longtime Republican dirty-tricks operative who led the mob that shut down the Miami-Dade County recount and helped make George W. Bush president in 2000, is financing, staffing, and orchestrating the presidential campaign of Reverend Al Sharpton." This story deserves the attention the Voice has given it, particularly because Sharpton has played on anger over the Florida recount fight to pump up his prospects. If Sharpton becomes a player in a competitive New York primary, as is possible, he should be pressed to address the issue of his ties to Stone -- at least as aggressively as Sharpton pressed Howard Dean on the former Vermont governor's minority hiring record in a critical exchange prior to the Iowa caucuses.
THE DEAN FACTOR: Howard Dean had a lot of supporters in the March 2 primary and caucus states. To a greater extent than the other candidades, Dean developed a 50-state strategy that saw him courting key officials and pouring money into grassroots organization is states that he and his aides fully expected his campaign would reach. As a result, even as his campaign stumbled badly after Iowa, he was able to keep winning delegates -- 24 in Michigan, 29 in Washington, 11 in Maine, 13 in Wisconsin on Tuesday. Dean ended his campaign on Wednesday, but that does not mean that he will cease to be a factor. If Dean does nothing, his supporters could actually keep campaigning and win some delegates -- just as backers of Paul Tsongas kept adding to his delegate totals after he quit campaigning in 1992. Some Dean backers have indicated a desire to carry on, and they could be a factor in New York, where the campaign filed full slates of delegate contenders in every congressional district. There is a great deal of speculation about the prospect that Dean might back Edwards. The former governor made it clear before the Wisconsin primary that he preferred Edwards to Kerry, telling CBS News, "I think that Sen. Kerry has an enormous advantage. My fear is that he won't be the strongest Democratic candidate. I've actually said on the record that I think Sen. Edwards would be a stronger candidate against George Bush than Sen. Kerry because when Sen. Kerry's record is examined by the public at a more leisurely time when we're not having primaries every week, he's going to turn out be just like George Bush." Edwards says that he has had friendly conversations with Dean in recent days, but there is no guarantee that Dean will choose to endorse. Former Dean aides explain that, if he goes with Edwards and then the North Carolinian quits on March 2, Dean could further marginalize himself. And, since Dean is serious about turning what was his campaign into some kind of force within the Democratic party, he will want clear evidence that Edwards is a long-term contender before he puts his name on the line. Note also that many people who are -- or have been -- close to Dean also have ties to U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, who will continue to pull with all of his considerable might for a Kerry endorsement.
THE LABOR FACTOR: The AFL-CIO has endorsed Kerry. Labor has taken some hits on the campaign trail this year, but the race is now moving to states, such as Ohio and New York, where the union movement retains a great deal of strength. But labor is not completely united behind Kerry. There's a good deal of grumbling about the fact that Edwards is running hard on a labor issue -- opposition to free-trade pacts -- that has never been one of Kerry's strong points. (And there are still some union activists who note that Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich, who remains in the contest, is a far more passionate advocate for fair trade than either Edwards or Kerry.) In New York State, Edwards will continue to have the support of UNITE, the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees. UNITE has 90,000 members in New York state, and the union's political director, Chris Chafe, says, "We're absolutely, 1,000 percent behind John Edwards. It is unlikely that he will do an event before March 2 where UNITE is not there to back him. We will be organizing upstate, downstate, wherever he needs us." Kerry's AFL-CIO endorsement will help him, but Edwards will be able to point to UNITE's backing and claim a good measure of labor legitimacy, especially in New York, where the union has a long history of political activism.
Last month, the Columbia Journalism Review ran a cover story about the death of dangerous art in the mainstream media. In the piece, a number of top illustrators complained about an undercurrent of fear, a new timidity, even censorship, when it came to publishing socially conscious art in mainstream newspapers and magazines.
Outside the mainstream, however, smart and rebellious art and design is flourishing. One brilliant example is Nozone's new book Empire (Princeton Architectural Press, April 2004).
A cross between a 'zine and a political pamphlet, Empire is an imaginative response to our imperial moment by a coalition of artists, designers, writers and photographers, including Michael Bierut, Seymour Chwast, Luba Lukova, Christoph Niemann, Paul Sahre, Ward Sutton, Robbie Conal, Edward Sorel, Robert Grossman, Peter Kuper and Scott Stowell/OPEN. (Full disclosure: Many of these artists have been featured in The Nation's pages, and I hope we'll run more of them in coming months.)
Published and edited by Nicholas Blechman, head of Knickerbocker Design, Empire is the ninth issue of Nozone--the alternative political graphic magazine, which has also published issues on "Destruction Dispatch," (inspired by Desert Storm), and "Extremism," in response to the rise of rightwing militias and other radical groups after the Oklahoma City bombing.)
Nozone's artistic crew follows in the grand and often subversive tradition of using illustrations, photographs, cartoons and design to skewer the mighty and expose the good, the bad and the ugly. As the great cartoonist Jules Feiffer explains, "For so many of us angry at so much of what goes on today with so little in print to represent our frustration, this is a book of graphic rage."
"I've always been attracted to protest art," Blechman says, " because of the urgency of the message and the implicit anger in rebel graphics. Furthermore, designers and artists are also citizens, and we have a responsibility to society to use our images in ways that benefit all of us. For some of us this means creating works of enduring beauty, for others it means fighting social injustices."
Empire was conceived soon after September 11, as the Bush Administration prepared to invade Afghanistan. Since then, the word "empire" has literally boomed. "Definitions of empire are everywhere," writes Blechman in the book's foreword. While acknowledging that the left, right and middle have their own definitions, "for us," he writes, " 'empire' doesn't refer to any one thing, but to a vast matrix of forces and counterforces. Billions drink its sodas, listen to its music, breathe its air, drive its cars, smoke its tobacco, practice its religions, watch its movies, ingest its pharmaceuticals, pay its debts, and benefit or suffer from its policies."
"We have no idea, for example," Blechman says, "that by wearing a certain sweatshirt we are contributing to labor abuse in North Korea (see graphic designer Knickerbocker's clever chart called 'Globalized'); that by using an ATM in Beirut, we are making a donation to the fortune of a banker in Boston (see Jesse Gordon's subversive photomontage, 'Altars to the Empire'); or that by starting our car we are tacitly endorsing a war in the oil fields of the Middle East (see CNN!). These connections exist, but, hidden, in the voluptuous vastness of the empire, they become invisible."
Definitions of empire--culled from an eclectic array of political thinkers, including Michael Parenti, Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, New Yorker writer William Finnegan, the late social critic Lewis Mumford and Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria--are provocatively intertwined with images and cartoons. Harper's Magazine editor Lewis Lapham's interview on the theme of "American Oligarchy" is illustrated by Christoph Niemann. Wicked pencil portraits of Condoleeza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld run with some of their choicest sayings set off in cartoon-style bubbles. There's even a film noir comic strip called "The Empire."
Comics, design and protest art, Blechman says, "can't change the world, or inform public policy, but they can plant a seed of questioning in people's mind and create an atmosphere in which change can happen. Moreover, I feel creating a space where alternative viewpoints can be expressed (or in this case drawn) has its own value, by injecting fresh blood into the body politic."
Long Live Political Art. And click here to check out Empire.
What planet does Rich Lowry live on? National Review's editor--someone I've sparred with on TV many times--recently weighed in on the causes of poverty. It "has nothing to do with corporations," he argued, "and little to do with other, more-relevant economic factors, such as wage rates."
In fact, Lowry lives in New York City, where hundreds of thousands of hardworking people--dish-washers, clerks, factory workers, security guards, salespeople--live in poverty. As Andrew Friedman of the Drum Major Institute recently noted in New York's Daily News, "New York is full of people who face the daily indignity of struggling to survive."
More than thirty million Americans currently earn less than $8.70 an hour, the official US poverty level for a family of four. (And most experts estimate that it takes at least double this level for a family to provide for its basic needs.) But for Lowry, "Poverty in America is primarily a cultural phenomenon, driven by a shattered work ethic and sexual irresponsibility."
Forget the low wage, no-benefit jobs which translate into billions of dollars in profits for the corporations Lowry holds blameless. Forget that the purchasing power of the federal minimum wage has fallen by 40 percent since 1968. For Lowry, poverty is a "cultural phenomenon."
Fortunately, not everyone reads National Review and legislation pending in the New York State Assembly would raise New York's minimum wage by almost $2 an hour. Such a change would help more than 500,000 New Yorkers. Lowry should stop whining about sexual irresponsibility, get a conscience and support efforts to improve the lives of his fellow New Yorkers--several of whom keep his office digs clean and secure.
Are Bush's plunging poll numbers rattling them over at MSNBC's Scarborough Country?
The other day, CBS News had Kerry topping Bush by five percent. The ABC/Washington Post poll has Kerry leading by nearly ten points. And a recent Time/CNN poll shows the public is now seriously split regarding Bush's credibility in key areas: the state of the economy, the federal budget deficit, Iraq's WMD prior to the war; and the cost of rebuilding Iraq. Americans are also convinced that Bush is more "tied to special interests" than Kerry and a recent focus group revealed that Bush's message fell flat on both college educated and non-college educated voters. As one non-college educated man from Phoenix put it, "what world is he in--Bush World?"
Over in Bush World, or Scarborough Country, the consequences of the President's cuts in education may be taking their toll faster than expected. As I sat on the set, waiting to be grilled by Scarborough and denounced by some vile man heading Vietnam Veterans Against Kerry, I couldn't help but be mesmerized by what appeared to be a caption malfunction. "Bush Under Seige" was slapped up on the screen for several minutes. Hey guys, great to see that Bush is under fire---but last I checked it was spelled "siege."
Okay, we were wrong--the we being those who called on Bush to honor his promise to release his entire Air National Guard records in the hope it would clarify the mysteries surrounding the last eighteen months of his service. After trying to back away from that promise, the Bush White House finally did relent. Last Friday, it handed out packets of hundreds of pages of Bush's Air National Guard file. Yet these records contained not a single sheet that that can be used to resolve the controversy. In fact, the file only reinforces the existing questions.
To recap, here are the three key issues.
* In May 1972, Bush moved from Texas to Alabama to work on the Senate campaign of a family friend. He still had two years left on his Guard obligation. He requested permission to continue his Guard training in Alabama. But did he show up?
* Sometime after the November 1972 election, he returned to Houston. But his immediate supervisors at Ellington Air Base in Houston--his home base--noted in a May 2, 1973, annual performance review that Bush "has not been observed at this unit" for the past year. After that report, he put in several intensive stints of duty. But had Bush ignored his Guard responsibilities for months once he was back in Houston?
* In September 1972, he was grounded for failing to take a flight physical. Why did he not go through this simple step to preserve his flying status?
The new records provide answers to none of this. Although they detail much of his first years in the Air National Guard--his assignments, his training, his drills--they contain no specific references to duty he might have done in Alabama or Houston in the May 1972 to May 1973 period. Let's look at the three pieces:
AlabamaOn May 24, 1972, Bush filed out a form requesting a transfer to the 9921st Air Reserve Squadron in Montgomery, Alabama. But according to this application, he was already in Alabama at work on that Senate campaign. On May 26, the commander of the 9921st wrote Bush to tell him that his application had been accepted. This suggests that Bush moved to Alabama before he had arranged for any Guard reassignment. Was that SOP?
In any event, two months later, on July 21, 1972, the Air Reserve Personnel Center in Denver nixed the reassignment, noting that Bush, "an obligated Reservist" could only be "assigned to a specific Ready Reserve Position." Bush, the ARPC said, "is ineligible for assignment to an Air Reserve Squadron."
There are no records indicating Bush did a stitch of work for the 9921st. Even the pay sheet summaries and attendance point records that the White House released earlier do not contain a single entry for the entire May to mid-October 1972 period.
After Bush's reassignment was turned down, he waited six weeks to request another assignment. On September 5, he requested permission to "perform equivalent duty" at the 187th Tac Recon Group in Montgomery "for the months of September, October, and November." He quickly received approval to do so. He was told that the "Unit Training Assembly schedule" for the 187th called for drills on October 7-8 and November 4-5 and that he should report to Lt. Col. William Turnipseed, the base commander. During the 2000 campaign, Turnipseed said that Bush had never reported in. He repeated that assertion recently, but then noted he was not completely certain. The Bush records do not list any service on the days of these training assembly drills. The pay sheet summaries note that Bush was paid for two days of service on October 28 and 29. But they do not specify what service was performed or where. After doing no work for the Guard from April through early September, did Bush wait another six weeks before reporting for duty?
An unnamed Republican close to Bush did point reporters to a former Alabama Air National Guard officer who had served at the Dannelly Air Base (the home of the 187th) who claimed he had seen Bush report for duty eight to ten times between May and October 1972. But Bush's file shows that Bush did not even apply for reassignment to the 187th until September. And those pay sheet summaries only suggest Bush put in two days of service late in October. His file records contradict this person's account.
HoustonFor the stretch from early January 1973 to early May 1973, the pay sheet summaries indicate eight days of possible service: January 4-6 and 8-10 and April 7-8. The summaries also note days of possible service on May 1-3. Presumably, the April and May service occurred at Ellington. But there is nothing-- nothing--in the files that correspond to these days. Moreover, if Bush did put in time in April and early May 1973, why did his immediate superiors--who were buddies of his--sign a form on May 2 saying that Bush had not been seen at Ellington for a year? (Both men are deceased.) Could this mean that the pay sheet summaries are not accurate? These records--and a one-page document indicating he received a dental examination at an Alabama air base in early January 1973--are the key pieces of evidence for the Bush White House's argument that Bush served during the missing year.
Most of the AWOL controversy has focused on Bush's months in Alabama. But the question of whether he shirked his Guard responsibilities upon his return to Texas is as significant. Perhaps it is possible that his Guard file did not reflect his service in Alabama because he was doing temporary duty away from his home base. But why would his main file--which is loaded with information pertaining to his duty at Ellington before May 1972--have nothing in it about his activity at Ellington in the first four months of 1973? This gap is as suspicious as the Alabama hole.
The flight physicalBush's file also provides no explanation for the flight physical that did not happen. The White House did allow reporters to look at medical records that were in Bush's Guard files. But the journalists were not permitted to leave with copies. Apparently these records contained nothing unusual. In 2000, the Bush campaign said that Bush did not take a flight physical because he was living in Alabama and his personal physician was in Houston. But personal physicians did not administer flight exams; military surgeons did. More recently, the White House has said that because Bush was no longer flying fighter interceptor jets he had no reason to undergo a physical. Some military experts have found that explanation unpersuasive; others have called it reasonable. But why the shift in stories?
So the fog of Bush's Guard service remains. The file is no help. Bill Burkett, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Texas National Guard did tell various newspapers recently that in 1997 he was in a National Guard office and overheard Joseph Allbaugh, then chief of staff for Governor George W. Bush, inform another officer that he needed to make sure there was nothing embarrassing in Bush's Guard file. Burkett recalled he later spotted items from Bush's file in the trash. Allbaugh and the White House denied these allegations. Is it possible that Allbaugh--or anyone else--could have rigged files in both the Texas office and the main repository in Denver? Suspicious minds can look at the released file and wonder why an absence in good record keeping happens to match the time period in question.
Still, the story of Bush's missing year is unresolved. It may never be settled. Unless more records somehow materialize, or convincing witnesses come forward. And if the Bush White House has played this episode to a who-will-ever-know tie, perhaps that is, in the end, a win for the former Air National Guard first lieutenant with a file full of riddles.
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