Once again, I've been sideswiped by a New York Times writer.
After my book, The Lies Of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception was published last year, two Timesfolk--James Traub and Matt Bai--wrote articles tut-tutting about writers such as myself, Al Franken and Joe Conason who dared to tag Bush a liar. In these articles, they pointed to my book as evidence of the further decline in political discourse. But they devoted little attention to evaluating the case I make against Bush. Now, just as the expanded paperback edition has been released, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof yesterday took a similar swing at me and others who have questioned Bush's integrity.
His column begins:
So is President Bush a liar?
Plenty of Americans think so. Bookshops are filled with titles about Mr. Bush like "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them," "Big Lies," "Thieves in High Places" and "The Lies of George W. Bush."
A consensus is emerging on the left that Mr. Bush is fundamentally dishonest, perhaps even evil--a nut, yes, but mostly a liar and a schemer. That view is at the heart of Michael Moore's scathing new documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11."
What irks Kristof is that such criticism reminds him of the GOP attacks on the Clintons in the 1990s, when the First Couple were even accused of killing their friend Vince Foster. I think most people, if they had to choose, would rather be accused of lying than murder. But that's a slight criticism of the analogy. More unfairly, Kristof blends the lying charge with various conspiracy theories pushed by some Bush critics (Bush invaded Afghanistan to help cronies construct an oil pipeline there; Bush has already captured Osama bin Laden but won't reveal this until closer to the election). But not all of the Bush critics who have attacked Bush for being dishonest are peddlers of these way-out notions. For example, I have developed a modest reputation (or notoriety) for being critical of 9/11-related conspiracy theories. Tying the Bush-is-a-liar charge to farfetched speculation serves to discredit the former without seriously examining the argument.
"I'm against the 'liar' label for two reasons," Kristof writes. "First it further polarizes the political cesspool, and this polarization is making America increasingly difficult to govern. Second, insults and rage impede understanding."
These are tactical points--which Kristof is certainly free to make. But they are unrelated to the basic issue: is the charge true? More on that below. But even if we accept Kristof's desire for a high-minded political discourse, consider this: if the president of the United States is not telling the truth about critical matters (war, taxes, global warming, stem cell research), isn't he the one poisoning the cesspool and inhibiting effective governance? And if he is being dishonest on these fronts, wouldn't illumination of that enhance rather than detract from the debate? The president of the United States has a bully pulpit; he has the largest megaphone in the room. If he is falsely describing the terms of the discussion, he is rigging the national debate. And if that is his M.O., why should it not be criticized?
After Kristof's column appeared, I called and asked him if he had read my book. He replied, "I can't say I read every word. I did go through it."
Let's put aside Iraq for a moment, I said. In 2001, Bush argued that the science about gloabl warming was too iffy--"incomplete," he put it-- and, thus, he was justified in pulling the United States out of the Kyoto treaty. His press secretary, Ari Fleischer, maintained the science was "inconclusive" on whether the atmosphere was warming due to human-induced causes. But at the time there was an overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity was causing global warming (only a small number of contrarian scientists claimed otherwise). So why was it not lying when Bush said the science was tenative?
Kristof said that this was "a good example" and that he considered Bush's remarks on global warming "a classic truth-stretcher." But with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the international body of thousands of scientists assembled by the UN and the World Meteorological Organization) and the National Academy of Science saying the science was conclusive, how could the Bush White House maintain it was not? Bush could have challenged the findings of the IPCC and NAS, but then he would have had to explain why he (and Fleischer) knew better than the climatologists. "A lie is an intentional deception," Kristof said. "Bush, like a lot of people, has the ability to say a lot of things [that are not true] and live in their own world."
Maybe, I suggested, I should have titled my book, The Delusions of George W. Bush. That would have been better, Kristof responded. Yet somehow I do not believe that had I argued Bush was purposefully detached from reality--in other words, a psycho--that this would have met with the approval of Kristof and others yearning for a civil debate (on their terms).
But let's cut to the chase: the war in Iraq. "Bush should be whacked for WMDs," Kristof told me. But, he added, this had been an instance of improper "emphasizing," not "lying." In his column, Kristof notes that Bob Woodward's book, Plan of Attack "underscores that Mr. Bush actually believed that Saddam did have WMD." Kristof refers to a scene in the book when Bush, during a December 21, 2002 meeting, said to CIA director George Tenet, "I've been told all this intelligence about having WMD, and this is the best we've got?" (That was when Tenet, according to Woodward, told Bush, "It's a slam dunk case.") And Kristof points to instances in the book when Bush told Tenet, "Make sure no one stretches to make our case."
But then Kristof writes, "In fact, of course, Mr. Bush did stretch the truth. The run-up to Iraq was all about exaggerations, but not flat-out lies. Indeed, there's some evidence that Mr. Bush carefully avoids the most blatant lies."
Kristof is being too charitable. Before the December 21 meeting, Bush was hardly careful. He said that Iraq had a "massive stockpile" of biological weapons. He declared that Iraq had a "growing fleet" of unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to attack the United States with biological and chemical weapons. But the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq of October 2002 concluded that Iraq had a biological weapons program, not a "massive stockpile," and that Iraq was developing UAVs not maintaining "a growing fleet." As it turned out, the NIE had dramatically overstated the biological weapons and UAV programs--as well as Iraq's chemical weapons program--but Bush subsequently overstated the overstatements. He also declared that Saddam Hussein was "a threat because he is dealing with al Qaeda." Note the verb tense. The Bush administration, which has recently cited limited contacts between al Qaeda and Hussein's regime in the early and mid-1990s, has yet to produce evidence showing that Hussein was in league with al Qaeda in the years immediately before or after September 11. (The 9/11 commission staff has reported that they found no evidence of a "collaborative relationship" between Hussein and al Qaeda.)
Were all these assertions merely stretches of the truth? If you stretch the truth far enough, it breaks. Perhaps Bush did believe what he was saying. (His aides acknowledged he never bothered to read the 90-page National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.) Still, he was acting in reckless disregard of the truth, and that is the functional equivalent of lying.
My book does not limit the indictment of Bush to only his prewar assertions about Iraq. Bush said he would not deploy an antiballistic missile system unless it worked. But that is precisely what he is doing--according to the Pentagon's own testing office. In promoting his supersized tax cuts during the 2000 campaign, he claimed, "The vast majority of my tax cuts go to the bottom end of the spectrum." By any analysis of the numbers, that was a false statement. When he announced in 2001 his decision to ban federal funding for research using new lines of stem cells, he said that 60 stem cell lines were already available and that these lines could support an effective research program. But biotech experts immediately declared there were closer to ten existing lines, which was not nearly enough to support major research. Yet the Bush administration kept insisting 60 or more lines were available. Three years later, Bush and his aides (and even his wife) continue to maintain there are enough stem cell lines for federally-funded researchers. The wide-ranging consensus among experts in the field is that Bush is not telling the truth.
Can all of these statements--and many others--be dismissed only as hyperbole? Repeatedly, Bush has issued untrue assertions to persuade Americans to think something that is not true. That is deception.
How literal must we be? For the fastidious among us, let's turn to the dictionary. I am using The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Here is its definition of lie:
1. A false statement deliberately presented as being true; a falsehood. 2. Something meant to deceive or give a wrong impression.
How do Bush's statements about the supposed WMDs in Iraq, stem cells, global warming, and tax cuts not qualify as lies under these terms? Kristof, raising the issue of Bush's state of mind (does he or does he not know he's speaking untruths), seems to suggest that one can tell lies without being a liar. But this is how the people at American Heritage define the verb:
1. To present false information with the intention of deceiving. 2. To convey a false image or impression.
Maybe one can lie unintentionally--that is, by repeating bad information. But shouldn't the president of the United States have an obligation to ascertain that the information he is sharing with the public (and the world) is reliable? Moreover, if he does slip and says something untrue by accident, he is responsible for acknowledging that after the fact. But Bush--as in the case of the stem cell lines--sticks to his untruths long after they have been disproved.
"Mr. Bush's central problem," Kristof writes, "is not that he was lying about Iraq, but that he was overzealous and self-deluded. He surrounded himself with like-minded ideologues, and they all told one another that Saddam was a mortal threat to us. They deceived themselves along with the public--a more common problem in government than flat-out lying."
Yes, but. It remains unclear whether Bush's lieutenants truly believed Hussein was the immediate threat they claimed he was due to his supposed possession of WMDs. As Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said, Hussein's WMDs was the argument for war upon which different people within the administration could agree. This suggests some were moved by other reasons. And even if Bush and the rest did deceive themselves, they still bear responsibility for having deceived the public--and for having done very little to assess prudently the available evidence.
In the penultimate paragraph of his column, Kristof laments liberals adopting a simplistic form of Bush criticism:
It wasn't surprising when the right foamed at the mouth during the Clinton years, for conservatives have always been quick to detect evil empires. But liberals live subtlety and describe the world in a palette of grays--yet many have now dropped all nuance about this president.
But if the man is not telling the truth, if he is deceiving the public about life-and-death matters, why not say so? Why not express anger?
Kristof concludes by--insults of insults!--equating Bush's critics with the devil himself, Bush:
Mr. Bush got us into a mess by overdosing on moral clarity and self-righteousness, and embracing conspiracy theories of like-minded zealots. How sad that many liberals now seem intent on making the same mistake.
Truth, then, is no defense for the liberals, who should stick to subtle, nuanced, restrained pokes at Bush, even if he did, as Kristof admits, deceive the public. Kristof is, at least, taking his own advice. Talk about subtle distinctions: claiming Bush lied the nation into war is wrong and inappropriate; saying Bush deceived the nation into war is fine and fair.
My hunch is Kristof is talking less about principle and more about politics. During our chat--and it was pleasant--he argued that using the word "'lying' is inflammatory and reduces persuasive power. Middle of the road people are turned off by it. It really is important to avoid getting swept up in anger. That reduces analytic power." He added, "Not that we should not criticize any of these things." But he advocated focusing on specifics and eschewing overarching name-calling. For example, he is all for blasting Bush for falsely claiming his tax cuts would benefit the poor more than the rich. But he advises anti-Bush forces not to cite such a statement as a lie. This is "a more effective way," he asserted, "to convince swing voters."
"It is a question of tone," he said. "It is fair to pick on each of these things. And it is reasonable to point out there is a pattern. But when the focus becomes the connection [of untrue statements], that [accusatory] tone, it becomes more insulting than each of the individual points." His bottom line, I suppose is, bash the lies, not the liar.
Whether this would be a more productive political strategy, I do not know. I did not write the book to win over the 37 swing voters in Ohio that will decide the election. My aim was to produce a straightforward examination of a pattern of deception that Kristof and many other recognize. Why not call a lie a lie? Politeness has its place in public discourse. But so does straight talk. And if the standard of political speech is whether it wins over the undecided, Kristof should look at a Washington Post-ABC News poll that came out a few weeks ago. Asked who could be labeled "honest and trustworthy," 52 percent of the respondents chose John Kerry; only 39 percent picked Bush. A January poll found that 57 percent thought Bush was "honest and ethical." Ever since then, on questions regarding his honesty, Bush had generally been in the mid-50s. If that Post-ABC News poll is accurate, the public impression of Bush has shifted dramatically. I am not saying that The Lies of George W. Bush is responsible for this. (Who knows?) But Bush's ability to honestly address the critical issues facing the nation has become an issue ins this campaign.
The important question is not whether Bush's false and exaggerated assertions are "lies" or "deceptions," as if the outcome of this word game is important. What matters most is that Bush has misled the public. If Kristof wants to pussyfoot around the topic of "lies" in order to convince people of the dangers of four more years of Bush, more power to him. Others of us are willing to engage in plain speaking. In this regard, perhaps we have been inspired by the president.
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."
It can be difficult, in these times, to maintain a sense of hope--as war, corruption, lies and injustices large and small loom all around, and outrage threatens to overwhelm us. You must feel, as I do--some mornings it's hard to get out of bed and read the papers or watch TV. But in these past weeks, as millions of us slug away, agitate, organize and mobilize, there have been some hard-fought victories to celebrate.
1/ The historic decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia overturning last year's dangerous FCC decision promoting even more extreme media consolidation was a victory for our democracy, culture and communities. The decision was a stinging rebuke to the FCC's stunning disregard for public participation in the rule-making process and for the importance of true media diversity. It gives all of us another chance to work for real media reform.
2/ The decision by a federal court to allow a class-action suit, on behalf of 1.6 million women employees of Wal-Mart, is a victory for labor and human rights. It is by far the largest workplace-bias lawsuit in US history and deals another well-deserved blow to Wal-Mart's efforts to portray itself as a good employer.
3/ The Supreme Court's decisions regarding enemy combatants was a resounding rejection of the Administration's claim that it is above the law in the "war" on terror. The decisions were all the more important given the history of judicial deference to the executive in times of war, and the fact that this same Court installed Bush in the White House --and is overwhelmingly conservative and Republican. As our legal correspondent David Cole observed, the Supremes have "now formally reminded the Administration, it's President Bush not King George."
4/ It is now virtually certain that Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for an open US Senate seat in Illinois, will be the third African-American to serve in the Senate since Reconstruction.
5/ Bush's credibility crisis is growing. The latest New York Times/CBS poll says that Bush's job approval rating has fallen to the lowest level of his presidency, while the most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that by a margin of 52 percent to 39 percent, Kerry is seen as more honest and trustworthy. And just last week a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans for the first time believe that invading Iraq was a mistake. And every poll shows the right track-wrong track indicator--the so-called Dow Jones of politics--moving against George W. Around 20 percent more Americans think the country is on the wrong track than those who think it's on the right one.
6/ According to the Wall Street Journal, "...the American left is seeing signs of political revival." Among other signs, the Journal reported that The Nation's circulation has grown to 160,000, exceeding the subscriber base of longstanding conservative stalwart National Review.
7/ At its late June convention, the http://www.thenation.com/thebeat/index.mhtml?bid=1&pid=1515 "> Green Party refused to back Ralph Nader in his run for the White House--a move that reduces his chance of being a factor in this November's election.
8/ This past weekend, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 was the top grossing film in America. It's also already become, in less than one week, the most popular documentary film of all-time.
9/ Presbyterians select pro-gay leader: A peace activist who supports the inclusion of gays in the ministry was recently elected to lead the Presbyterian Church USA for the next two years. Rick Ufford-Chase, 40, has spent 18 years working on the Mexico border as a Presbyterian mission worker. He and his wife are also active with Christian Peacemaker Teams, which sends groups to areas like Iraq and the West Bank.
10/ Conservatives are repudiating Bush. Take the lead item from syndicated gossip columnist Liz Smith on June 29: "The very conservative columnist Charley Reese of the Orlando Sentinel is advising his readers to 'Vote for a Man, Not a Puppet.' Charley says if we vote for President Bush's re-election, we'll really be voting for 'the architects of war--Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and the rest of that cabal of neoconservative ideologues and their corporate backers.' (Why did he leave John Ashcroft off this list?) Reese now sees George Bush, the man he joyfully voted for in 2000, as an 'empty suit who is manipulated by the people in his administration.' Reese adds this damning phrase: 'Bush has the most dangerously simplistic view of the world of any president in my memory.'"
Bonus item: Al Gore has become a fiery populist oppositionist.
NOTE: We'd like to continue highlighting good news in this space. So please click here to nominate your favorite piece of political good news. We'll be publishing reader responses in the weeks ahead.
Bill O'Reilly spinning the news? Shocked? Probably not. But if you needed more evidence of how O'Reilly misleads his viewers on a network that (laughingly) bills itself as "fair and balanced," click here to see what happened to David Cole, a prominent Georgetown University Law professor and The Nation's legal correspondent, when he appeared on The O'Reilly Factor last week. (O'Reilly, by the way, told Cole that he would "never ever" be on his show again. "I wasn't sure to take that as a threat or a promise," Cole says.) Seems like the master of spin just can't stand being exposed for what he is.
This July Fourth, the pioneering Adbusters magazine is launching a blast of symbolic disobedience by highlighting the dramatic degree to which American democracy has been undermined and taken over by and for the interests of US corporations. Click here for five ways you can get involved.
The Bush Administration, in a stealthy move designed to minimize anticipated insurgent attacks, yesterday handed "sovereignty" to Iraq's interim government two days before it had been scheduled to do so on June 30th.
The premature hand-off--or what might be called a sovereignty scam--means that the Bush Team's PR offensive is certain to kick into high gear in the coming weeks. (When Bush learned that Paul Bremer had formally relinquished his authority to the Iraqi government, he added an Orwellian touch to a hand-written note that his national security advisor Condi Rice had just sent him. His note said: "Let Freedom Reign!")
Now more than at any time since Bush invaded Iraq, journalists need to give Americans a clear assessment of the mounting costs of this war. This is a great opportunity for the media to redeem itself for malpractice in the run-up to war when, as Washington Post ombudsperson Michael Getler wrote this month in a tough rebuke to his own paper---and the larger media world, "...the press, as a whole, did not do a very good job in challenging administration claims...Too many public events in which alternative views were expressed...were either missed, underreported or poorly displayed."
The costs are now detailed in a devastating report just released by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF). It is an extraordinary compilation of the mounting human, economic, environmental, security and other costs of this war of choice.
In human terms, seven hundred US servicemen and women have died since Bush declared "the end of major combat" in his infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech in May 2003, while more than 5,000 soldiers have been wounded since the war began. Many of them, as Michael Moore documents in his provocative new film Fahrenheit 911, have lost arms and legs.The cost to the Iraqi people has also been tragic. Up to 11,317 Iraqi civilians have died in the conflict so far--many of them children whose only crime was to be caught living in the middle of a war zone.
In financial terms, the costs to the American taxpayer are massive. The US has already spent $126 billion on the war, costing every American family approximately $3,400 each. As the Campaign for America's Future recently pointed out, this Administration has socked it to hard-working families on two fronts: Bush passed his massive tax cuts that gave a huge tax break to the wealthiest individuals and corporations, and then when he went to war, he asked the same working-and middle-class families who bore the brunt of the tax cuts to pay for the conflict. Meanwhile, companies like Halliburton are making a mint in Iraq after receiving no-bid contracts from the federal government.
A new report by Christian Aid--a non-profit group that seeks solutions to poverty--makes clear who has been the real beneficiaries of the invasion and occupation. It shows that "a majority of Iraq's reconstruction projects have been awarded to US companies, which charge up to ten times more than Iraqi firms." (Also check out Naomi Klein's recent Nation column detailing how during the run-up to this "handover" the US occupation powers have been "unabashed in their efforts to steal money that is supposed to aid a war-ravaged people.")
By the end of 2004, according to the IPS/FPIP report, Bush will have spent approximately $151 billion to wage his crusade in Iraq. That money could have paid for 23 million housing vouchers for poor and working-class Americans, and given America's elementary school children three million new teachers. It could have provided healthcare for 27 million uninsured Americans and allowed 20 million more children to enter the Head Start program.
Floridians alone will have to shell out almost $8 billion to pay for W's war in Iraq. Meanwhile, the Bush Team is providing Florida only half that amount for initiatives in such vital areas as education, environmental protection and community block grants in a state where nineteen percent of the children currently live below the poverty line.
If there is any good news, it is that Americans are at long last recognizing that this President is untrustworthy and dishonest. Today, the latest New York Times/CBS poll was released showing that Bush's job approval rating has fallen to the lowest level of his presidency, while the most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that by a margin of 52 percent to 39 percent, Kerry is seen as more honest and trustworthy. And just last week a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans for the first time believe that invading Iraq was a mistake.
More and more Americans are understanding that the country is paying a very high price for this war and occupation and that this "war" president hoodwinked both Congress and the people.
Sanity prevailed at the Green Party Convention this weekend as its members rejected the entreaties of Ralph Nader's running mate Peter Camejo to vote for "no nominee." The Greens rank-and-file instead nominated Texas attorney David Cobb as its candidate for president Saturday, rebuffing Nader's efforts to secure the party's formal endorsement and likely access to the ballot in key states like Wisconsin and California.
Though no fan of John Kerry, Cobb's strategy for "smart growth" for the Green Party calls for him to aggressively campaign for votes only in safe states while advising party members to essentially vote for Kerry in the ten or so states he considers the battlegrounds which will decide this November's presidential election. This Green candidate understands that Kerry is an imperfect candidate; but he is sane enough to make the clear distinction between imperfection and a candidate like George Bush who, as he says, "is a genuine threat to the planet."
Cobb's strategy jibes with a new grassroots campaign that launched just days before the Green Convention in Milwaukee. "Greens for Kerry" urges former Nader voters and Greens in swing states to unite to defeat Bush by voting for the Democrat's candidate.
"While we acknowledge some policy disagreements with Kerry," the founding statement of Greens for Kerry reads, "we believe that the threat posed by another four years of George Bush endangers our country, the world and many of the gains that progressive and grassroots movements have achieved over the past century, including women's rights, environmental protection, social justice, minority rights, and many more. What's worse, if a Nader or Green Party run helps Bush win a second term, the Green Party itself will suffer, which we certainly don't want to happen."
The campaign, launched by registered Green Party member and former Nader campaign volunteer Sarah Newman, has set a goal of gathering a minimum of 10,000 signatures on its website pledging support for Kerry in battleground states. (Click here for info.)
On related fronts, recent attempts to stop Nader included the Arizona Democratic Party's effort to block him from getting on the state ballot, and the Congressional Black Caucus uniformly and heatedly asking him to withdraw from the race rather than take votes away from Kerry. (Nader testily rejected their request.)
Perhaps the most extreme suggestion could be found in last week's "Boondocks"-- Aaron McGruder's brilliant comic strip. "We Must Stop Ralph Nader," Mr. Dubois tells Huey. "We must do everything in our power to band together as freedom-loving liberals and stop this man." But kidnapping? Check out last week's strip for the details.
MILWAUKEE--After twice seeking the presidency as the nominee of the Green Party, and playing a critical role in building it into a force capable of delivering almost two-dozen state ballot lines and a nationwide infrastructure of volunteers, Ralph Nader turned his back on the party and announced earlier this year that he would mount an independent campaign for the nation's top job. As that campaign struggled to gain ballot lines and volunteer support, however, it began to look as if Nader could use the help of the Greens. Thus, with party delegates gathering here for Saturday's national convention vote on who to back for the presidency, Nader and his backers made what at times looked like a frantic attempt to secure the endorsement of the Greens.
On the eve of the convention, Nader selected a prominent Green, two-time California gubernatorial candidate Peter Camejo, as his vice-presidential running mate. Though he did not make a formal bid for the party's nomination, he signaled that he wanted its endorsement. He expressed sympathy with the party platform. His backers flooded the convention hotel and hall with green-and-yellow "Nader/Camejo 2004" posters and, on the night before the presidential vote, Nader spoke by phone to a rally where the crowd chanted "Run Ralph Run."
It was too little, too late.
The convention rejected proposals that it endorse Nader and instead nominated David Cobb, a lawyer and anticorporate activist who had mounted a full-fledged campaign for the party's nod. The contest was reasonably close. Cobb won 408 votes in the second round of balloting--twenty-three more than half those cast--to secure the nomination. In that round, 308 votes were cast for no nomination. If the "no nomination" option had prevailed, it was expected that the convention would then vote to endorse Nader's independent candidacy.
Cobb, who played an active role in Nader's 2000 campaign, was generous in victory. "Ralph Nader has had more influence on my life than anyone who is not a direct relative. I am a lawyer because of Ralph Nader. Without Ralph Nader, this nomination wouldn't have happened," Cobb told delegates gathered at the Midwest Express Center in downtown Milwaukee. "Ralph, if you are watching, thank you for what you have done, and thank you for what you will continue to do."
Warm words for Nader were common at a convention where some delegates held signs that read, "Where is Ralph?" Few doubted that Nader could have secured the nomination if he had not shunned the party during the first months of his candidacy. "If Ralph had made a serious effort to win the nomination, he would have won it," said Medea Benjamin, a nationally recognized peace and economic justice activist who campaigned with Nader in 2000, when she was the Green Party nominee for a California US Senate seat. "But he didn't even show up. I think a lot of Greens felt that he was taking them for granted."
Benjamin backed Cobb, who unlike Nader is a member of the Green Party. Cobb said his primary goal was to built the Green Party for the long term. At the same time, he promised to avoid running a campaign where he could be accused of "spoiling" the contest between President George W. Bush and challenger John Kerry by drawing votes from Democrat is key states and throwing the election to the Republican--as critics claim Nader did in 2000.
While Cobb criticized Kerry's "corporate agenda," he promised to "honestly tell the American people that George W. Bush is even more dangerous than John Kerry."
Practically, Cobb plans to campaign for Green candidates in all fifty states, but only to aggressively seek votes for himself in the roughly forty states where the Bush-Kerry contest is not expected to be close.
That commitment distinguished Cobb from Nader. But, in the end, it was Nader's neglect--until the last minute--of the party that had twice run him for the presidency that Benjamin and others said did him the most damage.
"If he would have come here, he would have been a shoo-in," Rick Otten, an Ohio delegate, said of Nader.
There was also a sense among many of the delegates that, while Nader was a bigger name, Cobb would be more serious about the work of party building. "This feels right," Minnesota Green Party activist Annie Young, who backed Cobb, told a reporter. "This is about building the party. We've broken our leash with Ralph Nader. Now we're ready to go out on our own and see what we can do."
Nader, who continues to show well in many polls, is much better known than Cobb--and that is likely to remain the case through the November election. But Cobb could end up on more state ballots than the veteran consumer activist. The Greens already have ballot lines in twenty-two states and the District of Columbia. Party volunteers will work to get Cobb on more ballots. But some of the most serious hurdles have already been cleared. For instance, the Green nomination automatically secures Cobb a place on the ballot in California, the nation's most populous state.
On the other hand, Nader's campaign will have to scramble to gather the more than 150,000 signatures that are required to get the name of an independent on this year's California ballot.
Is it any surprise that the publication of Clinton's memoir My Life has revived the vitriolic bleating from those on the right who just can't seem to stop salivating over blue dresses and beret-wearing interns ?
But if these self-appointed morality police were truly committed to upholding ethics and promoting values in government, they would begin challenging the House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who is hands down one of the most corrupt politicians in the United States.
"The Hammer"--DeLay got that nickname because he runs the US House of Representatives with an iron fist--has allegedly bribed his GOP colleagues to win their votes for legislation that he desperately wanted to pass in the House. He's engaged in quid pro quos with corporations seeking legislative favors, and violated campaign finance laws in Texas during the 2002 state house election contests. Now, after a seven-year truce in the US House that discouraged members from filing ethics charges against one another, Rep. Chris Bell has gone to the ethics committee and filed a 187-page bombshell charging that DeLay engaged in extortion, money-laundering and other abuses of power.
Just this week, the ethics committee said that Bell had met the criteria for filing a complaint, and it will now spend at least the next forty-five days reviewing the charges that DeLay violated the house's ethics rules. Bell called the committee's decision "an important first step in the long journey to restore integrity and ethics to the people's House and to hold the House majority leader accountable for his actions." He received a riproaring (standing) ovation from the Democratic Caucus this week, winning a tacit endorsement from colleagues in his ongoing battle to hold DeLay accountable.
Bell, who lost his seat in Texas after DeLay rammed through his undemocratic statewide redistricting plan designed to help Republicans hold on to power there, has taken a bold stand. But kudos must also be given to the courageous folks at the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) in Washington who have been filing complaints against DeLay and shining a spotlight on his transgressions for many months now. CREW bills itself as a non-partisan watchdog group established to use litigation to help ordinary people against unscrupulous government officials. "Of course, we should have high standards for government leaders," CREW's mission statement notes, "but the greatest danger to democracy is posed not by the personal peccadilloes of government leaders, but rather, public policy unduly influenced by special interests." Although it has adopted the model of legal advocacy developed by right-wing organizations like Judicial Watch and the Rutherford Institute, CREW has no political ideology, and in recent years it has stood alongside a bevy of brave souls, from columnist Paul Krugman to Democratic officials in the Texas legislature, who have opposed DeLay's brass-knuckles tactics and criticized the Majority Leader's illegal and undemocratic activities.
Thanks to Bell's complaint and CREW's persistence, Americans now have in their hands a vivid picture of corruption and ethical rule-breaking that belies the notion that this Administration and its Republican Congressional allies do anything more than simply pay lip service to upholding ethics and morality in the seats of federal power. For starters, the Democratic District Attorney in Travis County, Texas has convened a grand jury to investigate charges that "the Hammer" used his political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, to raise millions in corporate campaign contributions and then spent some of this money on polling, fundraising and get-out-the-vote activities in violation of Texas law, which says that corporate contributions can be used only for general administrative purposes.
DeLay is also charged in Bell's complaint with extracting campaign contributions from an electric utility in Kansas called Westar Energy. DeLay, it's alleged, agreed to insert provisions into an energy bill that would save Westar billions of dollars. One e-mail that has subsequently come to light reveals that Westar's executives thought that they were buying a "seat at the table" when they donated money to groups with links to the Majority Leader.
Then there's DeLay's role in corralling votes on behalf of the GOP's sham Medicare prescription drug legislation, a legislative low point that occurred in the long night of Republican arm-twisting last November. According to the Associated Press, Rep. Nick Smith, a Republican from Michigan, said that unnamed House Republican leaders threatened to work against Smith's son (who was running for Nick's seat) unless Smith voted for the legislation. Robert Novak reported in his column that Smith was also told that "business interests would give his son $100,000 in return for his father's vote." While Smith later recanted these allegations, his charges have the ring of truth, and they are in keeping with DeLay's thuggish tactics of forcing even his own Republican colleagues to submit to the Republican leadership's will on closely fought legislative matters.
DeLay's brazen attacks on democratic governance--a tangled web of truly scandalous behavior--are so outrageous that even conservative Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel has assailed the Republican leadership for fomenting an "anything goes" atmosphere: "I think we're on the edge of something dangerous if we don't turn it around.... It's like the Middle East. You just keep ratcheting up the intensity of the conflict." Real conservatives like Hagel believe that they should take responsibility for their actions. These conservatives actually value the rule of law, and they understand that the ends don't always justify the means in the pursuit of a radical right-wing ideology that serves corporate special interests above all.
Tom DeLay has never understood these things. He is committed to his take-no-prisoners agenda, and he sees ethics, morality and rules as nuisances that must be flouted, disdained and ignored. DeLay has racked up a record that demands investigation and action in the ethics committee and the courts of law. His scurrilous misdeeds demonstrate the yawning gap between a former President's private indiscretions and DeLay's dangerous violations of the public trust.
One of the big sports stories of the year was the Detroit Pistons' amazing upset of the formidable LA Lakers in the NBA championship series. Paul Richards, veteran Democratic Party activist and onetime member of the Montana House of Representatives, thinks the Pistons' win has lessons for his party in this November's battle.
What I Learned From the NBA Finals
(Detroit Pistons 4-1 over the Los Angeles Lakers)
* That ordinary guys who get in shape, hustle and persevere can win
* That blue collar workers playing pristine ball can upset spoiled rich prima donnas
* That reality can outshine glitter, despite all the PR to the contrary
* That dynasties can fail and storied empires fall
* That radical restructuring can occur at a moment's notice
* That hard work, courage and initiative can create windows of opportunity
* That if we play cohesively as a team and contest every single possession, we can dominate
* That, given the above, domestic regime change is inevitable
Former President Bill Clinton can add another line to his résumé: bestselling author.
Clinton's autobiography, My Life, looks like it could achieve sales of 2 million. It had topped the amazon.com sales list even before its release. And by the time it was officially available, at midnight on Tuesday, crowds were lined up outside the bookstores that were smart enough to stay open. Some even had to put on extra help to handle the demand, providing evidence that, even as an ex-President, Clinton is still better at creating jobs than George W. Bush.
But what is the significance of this latest bout of Clintonmania?
Clintonites will, of course, embrace it with delight. This is the moment they have been waiting for--the return of the king, the renewal of the dream, the restoration of the legacy. They will hope that, as Clinton gets more and more exposure in the days and weeks ahead, voters will recall the period of relative peace and prosperity over which he presided. (The Clinton defenders should also hope that no one brings up the damage that Clinton's misguided trade policies did to American manufacturing.)
Clinton haters will groan from their sinecures as Fox News personalities and commentators. This is their worst nightmare--the overshadowing of Bush II by a dynamic Democrat, the contrasting of the competence that was with the bumbling that is, the reminding of the citizenry that Presidents actually can be articulate. They will hope that, as the media focuses excessive attention of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Americans will somehow be duped into believing that Clinton's lies about infidelity were somehow more troubling than Bush's lies about weapons of mass destruction and other so-called "justifications" for war with Iraq. (It is a vain hope. Americans are smart enough to figure out that, as the bumper sticker reads, "When Bush Lied, People Died.")
For most Americans, who fall somewhere between the Clinton lovers and haters, this Clinton moment will, like the period immediately following Ronald Reagan's death, be a time for casual nostalgia. They will remember why they twice chose Clinton to be their President, and why they probably would have re-elected him if they'd gotten the chance in 2000. That does not mean, however, that they will run out and buy the book--let alone read it.
While some commentators, spying the long lines at bookstores and imbibing liberally of the hype, have taken to referring to My Life as "the adult Harry Potter book of the summer," Clinton's sales will never rival those of the boy wizard.
The vast majority of Americans will learn about the contents of My Life not by reading a copy but by consuming some of the constant coverage provided by the media. Those who purchase the tome are likely to sample from the text rather than read all 957 pages. Some of the few who make it to the end will react as did New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani, who concluded that Clinton's book was "sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull--the sound of one man prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant recording angel of history." Others will swear, as Clinton's defenders so frequently do, that they saw a glimpse of Camelot somewhere amid those many pages.
The fair analysis of Clinton's book lies somewhere in the middle. Presidential autobiographies generally fail to illuminate, and it appears that Clinton has maintained the tradition. There are few revelations in My Life. But, even if this book is not a page-turner, it does offer more useful insights into the first baby-boomer President's life and political legacy than even more self-serving memoirs did for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
Clinton's recollections regarding the Middle East peace process are poignant; his comments on combating terrorism are more informative and instructive than the grumblings of President Bush or Vice President Cheney. And his complaints about the abuses of process and politics committed by not-so-special prosecutor Ken Starr and his minions merit repetition.
Ultimately, however, this latest Clinton moment will be just that: a moment. It is a summer break, nothing more. In a few weeks, the discussion of Clinton will fade. And Americans will focus again on the contest between Bush and Democrat John Kerry for the presidency. The suggestion that all this attention to Clinton will undermine Kerry is comic. Clinton is a more impressive figure than Bush, that's true. But so is Kerry. And a few weeks of focus on Clinton will, when all is said and done, serve as a welcome reminder that in the none too distant past the United States had a President who was competent, articulate and at least reasonably concerned about promoting international cooperation. It is difficult to imagine how that recollection will benefit George W. Bush's re-election prospects.