Senator Hillary Clinton's army of political aides, strategists and tacticians has spent an inordinate amount of time in recent months worrying about the Democratic primary challenge that their boss faces from anti-war candidate Jonathan Tasini. The Clintonites maneuvered mightily to keep Tasini out of the spotlight at the state Democratic convention in May. They did the same when the small but influential Working Families Party pondered its endorsement. They discouraged Democrats from supporting the petition drive that eventually got Tasini's name on Tuesday's Democratic primary ballot. And they made it clear that Clinton would not join any debate that included Tasini.
None of this is particularly inappropriate. Incumbents aren't usually inclined to aide their challengers. But the extra effort by the Clinton camp with regard to Tasini, a relatively unknown labor activist who got into the race without much money or many prominent backers, illustrates the extent to which the senator and her high-powered staff fear the main thing that Tasini has going for him: clear opposition to an unpopular war that Clinton has consistently backed.
On the eve of the primary, Clinton's team was still spinning against Tasini, spreading the word among Democrats and pundits that they did not expect--and certainly did not want--to see the challenger win more than a single-digit percentage of the vote.
In setting such a low bar for Tasini, however, the usually-savvy Clinton camp could be misjudging the depth of anti-war sentiment among the Democratic electorate, and the extent to which Tasini may have tapped into it.
It should probably come as no surprise that Progressive Democrats of America, the energetic national grassroots group that has had the guts to push the Democratic Party to back a timeline for Iraq withdrawal and to support moves to impeach President Bush, is backing Tasini's run.
PDA is all about pushing the envelope in a party not known for taking risks and thinking big. And PDA activists in New York--who have formed a half dozen chapters around the state -- well understand that the best way to get a message to Clinton before she starts campaigning for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination is in the 2006 Democratic Senate primary. The same goes for the three New York State chapters of Democracy for America -- the group founded to maintain the spirit of Howard Dean's 2004 presidential run--that have endorsed Tasini.
Perhaps even more significant is the support that Tasini has earned from the "reform clubs" of New York City.
Among the groups backing Tasini in his campaign to hold Clinton to account in the September primary are the Village Independent Democrats, a reform political club with roots going backto the days when Eleanor Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson were its allies andmentors in struggles to break the grip of Tammany Hall on New York Cityelections. Also backing Tasini are New York City Democratic clubs such asthe Downtown Independent Democrats, Brooklyn Democrats for Change, CentralBrooklyn Independent Democrats and the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, agroup named for a legendary gay rights activist that was formed to backDemocrats who are strong defenders of LGBT rights.
The Democratic Progressive Action Caucus of New York backs Tasini'senergetic-if-underfunded challenge to Clinton, as does the New YorkDemocratic Socialists of America chapter
Individual endorsements for Tasini, the former head of the National Writers Union, have come from prominent New Yorkprogressives such as author and social welfare specialist Frances Fox Pivenand actress Susan Sarandon, as well as national figures such as authorBarbara Ehrenreich and peace activist Cindy Sheehan.
Of course, endorsements don't elect candidates. But the support Tasini has garnered did build the base of volunteers needed to gather the more than 15,000 signatures needed to place his name on the primary ballot. And it has helped him maintain an energetic campaign against one of the most recognizable politicians on the planet.
That attention has reminded New York State Democrats that, on the fundamental issue of the 2006 electoral season--the question of whether to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq--Tasini is more in tune with them, and the American majority, than Clinton. The same goes for a host of other issues--from federal trade policy to gay rights--on which Clinton has disappointed liberals. As the primary approached, the Gay City News, a widely circulated weekly publication in New York City that is well regarded for its political commentary, editorialized that: "Clinton has ducked fair dialogue on where she stands on the most pressing foreign policy question facing the nation. Just because she can get away with it does not make it the right thing to do. Clinton has also bobbed and weaved this year on gay rights. Activists have pressed her on her opposition to gay marriage--and come away disappointed that she did not even speak out on the dignity of gay families on the Senate floor when Congress debated the ugly Marriage Protection Amendment." The editorial concluded: "Hillary Rodham Clinton needs a wake-up call. Help Jonathan Tasini place that call."
Clearly conscious of the need to more closely identify herself with the anti-war sentiment that prevails at the party's grassroots, Clinton has in recent months made moves to alter her image as a Bush administration fellow traveler--primarily by lambasting Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, but also by backing Connecticut Democrat Ned Lamont in his fall race against pro-war Senator Joe Lieberman. The fact remains, however, that Clinton continues to side with the White House in debates about withdrawal. As recently as June, the incumbent opposed a Senate proposal by Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold and Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry to set a timeline for bringing the troops home, although Clinton did back a milder call for the administration to discuss exit strategies with the Congress.
To the extent that Clinton has edged off her militantly pro-war position, Tasini deserves a good deal of credit. Even if she does not fear a primary defeat, all indications are that Clinton fears the prospect that Tasini will garner a credible vote.
You will not find any pundits seriously suggesting that Tasini's fervent anti-war stance--as well as his more-liberal-than-Clinton positions on a host of other issues--will be enough to win him the nomination Tuesday. But there should be a reasonable measure of enthusiasm among savvy primary voters for the challenger's "Vote for What You Believe In" message. Pollster John Zogby, who got his start in New York State, told reporters several months ago that he thought a properly-framed and financed anti-warcandidacy could take more than a third of the primary vote against Clinton."There is real palpable anger against Hillary for her stance on the war andfor the fact that she is not backing down," Zogby said. "It'sconceivable that an anti-war candidate could still get to the mid- tohigh-30s against her."
Tasini has framed his campaign properly. He has not had the necessary financing. But his energetic and creative campaign, as well as support from Progressive Democrats of America and reform clubs in New York, none of which make endorsement decisions casually, ought to count for something more than a single-digit finish. And if it does, then by the standard the Clinton campaign has set, Jonathan Tasini will have done a commendable job of delivering the anti-war message of his brave and necessary campaign.
David Stockman, the controversial wunderkind of the Reagan revolution25 years ago, is back in hot water again. As the WashingtonPost reported Friday, SEC lawyers notified Reagan's former budgetdirector that he could face civil charges for misleading investors inthe near-bankrupt auto-parts company that his investment fund owns. That sounds vaguely like the distant past when Stockman was accused ofmisleading Congress on a grand scale, assuring everyone of thesoundness of Reaganomics when privately he knew otherwise.
People asked me how I feel about Stockman's new troubles because wewere friends in those olden days and I collaborated with him in atruth-telling exercize that deeply shocked official Washington at thetime. The Reagan cabinet officer (practically a kid in those days)shared his true opinions privately with me--an assistant managingeditor at the much-loathed Washington Post--and I disclosed thebracing realities in the Atlantic Monthly. Among hardcore Republicans, I was seen as Stockman's "evil twin." In media circles, we were bothregarded as evil for engaging in this illicit relationship.
I don't know the facts of Stockman's present travail, but I have ahunch he is guilty mainly of excessive optimism, not fraud. Whenasked, I express sincere sympathy for his plight. Indeed, his dilemmareminds me of playwright Clare Booth Luce's wicked aphorism: "No gooddeed goes unpunished."
Stockman in Washington days was a true believer, brainy and tenacious,in the mysterious arts of federal budget making, and he did indeedassert his faith in public long after the adverse realities werepersuading him that Reagan's agenda of tax cutting and doubling defensespending wasn't going to balance the federal budget. His greatest sin,however, was telling the truth, albeit belatedly. That is onetransgression Washington does not forgive.
In the present situation, Stockman launched his Heartland investmentfund with the most honorable of intentions. After years getting richas a Wall Street investment banker, Stockman launched the new fund torevive and modernize embattled manufacturing companies in the Midwestand his home state of Michigan.
Moreover, Stockman argued that restoration would be helped, not hurt,by adopting worker-friendly strategies as opposed to the barbaricanti-union approach of most Wall Street takeovers. This representsinvesting for the long run. Leading unions recognized he was trying todevelop a progressive departure from slash-and-burn capitalism and theysupported him with pension-fund capital. The approach succeded withsome mid-sized companies in several sectors.
In the auto sector, it failed abruptly, but not because of hisunorthodox strategy. When the bottom fell out of General Motors andFord, Stockman's company--Collins & Aikman--was stranded just likeother major auto-parts suppliers. Whether he misjudged the situationor misrepresented it to investors, I do not know. I do feel sure hewas a victim too, perhaps of own Midwestern optimism andself-confidence. Let's not hang the man for trying to do the rightthing.
Has the Republican Party suddenly caught a case of jungle fever? Thisyear Republicans will most likely run three African-Americans instatewide elections: Kenneth Blackwell (for governor in Ohio), formerNFL star Lynn Swann (for governor in Pennsylvania) and MarylandLieutenant Governor Michael Steele, who is seen as the frontrunner forthe Republican Senate nomination there.
In a country where there is currently only one African-American Senator (Illinois' Barack Obama) and onlyone African-American has ever been elected governor of a state (Virginia's Doug Wilder) thisseems like a risk for the GOP and its standard-bearers.
Perhaps President Bush was being sincere in one of his more candid speeches to the NAACP this summer, when he spoke about hisparty's need to embrace black voters and black issues. But some punditshave suggested that the recruiting of these candidates is a desperateattempt to siphon off black votes from Democratic candidates in swing states.
While race is supposed to be an integral part of these candidates'appeal, their campaign policies are antagonistic to significant portionsof the black community who tend to be fiscally and socially liberal. Swann, a total novicewhen it comes to politics, has made tort reform, the reduction of foodstamps and welfare reform cornerstones of his campaign. Steele,who won a major speaking spot at the last Republican convention,recently refused to rebuke Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich's appearanceat an all-white golf club. "I don't know much about the club, themembership," said Steele, "nor do I care, quite frankly, because I don'tplay golf."
The most notorious of the three is Blackwell, who allegedly carries a Bible withhim to all his campaign stops. Blackwell opposes abortion even when themother's life is in jeopardy and supports a Constitutional amendment tolimit government. However, the most egregious of his offenses was hisrole in disenfranchising thousands of voters, many ofthem black, during the 2004 election as Chief Elections Official inOhio, while simultaneously serving as co-chair of the Committee tore-elect George W. Bush.
African-American progressives have reason to celebrate the rise of minorities inmodern politics, but they should be skeptical about supporting thesethree stooges.
It's time to stop calling the post 9/11 struggle against terrorism a "war." The struggle against stateless terrorists is not the same thing. And framing it as a war was a conscious decision made by Bush and Karl Rove and others in the first days after 9/11.
Rove understood that if the indefinite struggle against terror was generally framed as a "war," it would become the master narrative of American politics giving the GOP the chance to achieve "a structural advantage, perhaps in perpetuity" over Democrats. That advantage may be coming to an end.
Nevertheless, the "war" metaphor--as retired American Ambassador Ronald Spiers wrote in a provocative piece in March 2004 in Vermont's Rutland Herald, "is neither accurate nor innocuous, implying as it does that there is an end point of either victory or defeat.... A 'war on terrorism' is a war without an end in sight, without an exit strategy, with enemies specified not by their aims but by their tactics.... The President has found this 'war' useful as an all-purpose justification for almost anything he wants or doesn't want to do; fuzziness serves the administration politically. It brings to mind Big Brother's vague and never-ending war in Orwell's 1984. A war on terrorism is a permanent engagement against an always-available tool."
It's easy to see how this Administration has used the "war" as justification for almost anything--abusing international human rights standards, unlawfully detaining thousands of women and men, condoning torture.
Labor rights have also been rolled back on behalf of the "war." Remember that Orwellian statement by the Undersecretary of the Treasury for Security in announcing that the Administration had denied 60,000 airport security screeners their collective bargaining rights. "Mandatory collective bargaining," retired Admiral James Loy said, "is not compatible with the flexibility required to wage the war on terrorism."
As I watched the celebration of Washington's WWII memorial just two years after 9/11, I was reminded of how, during the despair of World War II, a greater threat to the existence of our country than what we face today, President Roosevelt gave America a vision of hope--not fear. Just a decade earlier, during the Great Depression, another grave threat to the country's spirit and unity, Roosevelt told a fearful nation that we had nothing to fear but fear itself. Today, we have a President and his team working overtime to convince the American people--through a barrage of historically inaccurate analogies--that there is nothing to fear but the end of fear itself.
Yes, we all live in the shadow of September 11--a crime of monumental magnitude. But terrorism is not an enemy that threatens the existence of our nation; our response should not undermine the very values that define America for ourselves and the rest of the world.
This Administration has shamelessly exploited America's fear of terrorism for political purposes. But a hyper-militarized war without end will do more to weaken our democracy, and foster a new national security state, than seriously address the threats ahead. After all, what we are engaged in is not primarily a military operation. It's an intelligence-gathering operation, a law-enforcement, public-diplomacy effort.
Yet few political leaders have the courage to say that what we face is not a "war" on terrorism, or that this President, as Ambassador Spiers said, "has found this 'war' an all-purpose justification for almost anything he wants or doesn't want to do." But by failing to challenge the "war" framing, we allow it to seep into the national psyche and let Rove & Co. get away with couching virtually all foreign policy discourse in terms of terrorism. The media also plays a role: "War" is the term used routinely not only by Fox "news" anchors and pundits but also in our top print outlets. It's then amplified in sensationalized TV wall-to-wall graphics.
As Shirin Ebadi, a champion of women and children's rights, the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize and someone who has stood up to the fundamentalists in her native land of Iran, said a few years ago: "Governments don't just repress people with false interpretations of religion; sometimes they do it with false cant about national security."
How humdrum can you get? My hometown paper, the New York Times, today reported that the Senate had approved "$63 billion More for War in Iraq" in a 7-paragraph Associated Press piece at the bottom of page 20. As the fourth paragraph of the piece began, you could find out the evidently even less interesting news that "with the latest infusion of money, Congress will have approved about $500 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other antiterrorism efforts in the five years since the September 11 attacks, according to the Congressional Research Service."
For the 13-paragraph story that sits above and dominates it, "Wedding Off, Jilted Bride Turns Party Into a Benefit," the Times actually sent out a reporter, Stephanie Strom. It's an impressive numbers piece too. "One hundred and eighty guests had tickets from all over the country and the Virgin Islands to come and make a weekend of my wedding," said the jilted bride, Kyle Paxman before she found out her prospective groom was "cheating on her." Stuck with the reception costs anyway, she invited 125 women guests, all expected to write checks to charity, and so began "empowering herself" and launching "the healing process."
Perhaps Ms. Paxman could give the Bush administration a few tips on how to extricate yourself from a sticky situation.
On Thursday, Richard Armitage went on CBS News and confessed: he was the original source for the Robert Novak column that outed Valerie Wilson as a CIA officer. He apologized to Valerie and Joseph Wilson. In an interview with The New York Times, Armitage said, "It was a terrible error on my part. There wasn't a day when I didn't feel like I had let down the president, the secretary of state, my colleagues, my family and the Wilsons. I value my ability to keep state secrets. This was bad, and I really felt badly about this."
Armitage is coming forward now because the book I co-wrote with Michael Isikoff of Newsweek, HUBRIS: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, disclosed Armitage's role and quoted named sources at the State Department confirming Armitage's role as the leaker. Armitage says that he kept his silence all these years because special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had asked him not to say anything. But after our book triggered a splash of news reports, Armitage asked Fitzgerald if he could go public, and he obtained Fitzgerald's consent.
Which brings me to a rather simple question: When will Karl Rove do the same?
He is no longer under investigation. But he did play a critical role in the leak case by confirming Armitage's information for Novak and then (before the Novak column appeared) leaking the same classified information to Matt Cooper of Time, as part of a campaign to discredit Joseph Wilson. (Hubris--which chronicles the behind-the-scenes battles in the CIA, the White House and Congress in the run-up to the war--has new details on Rove and Scooter Libby's efforts to undermine Wilson.) So will Rove now explain precisely what he did and why he did it, as Armitage has? Is he willing to admit he mishandled state secrets? Is he also sorry? Will he apologize to anyone?
Once upon a time, President Bush said he wanted the truth about the leak to come out. Libby, who is facing indictment for having allegedly lied to FBI agents and a grand jury about his involvement in the leak episode, may feel he is in no position to emulate Armitage. But Rove is not so encumbered.
What reason might Rove have for not following Armitage's lead?
Back when watching Bill O'Reilly was still fun -- before he became a creepy, obsessive nativist -- I enjoyed a feature called "The Most Ridiculous Item of the Day." (He's become such a sour, humorless ideologue that this segment now falls flat.) Allow me to steal the concept for a moment. Today's most ridiculous item, hands-down, is the report that readers are suing James Frey -- the author of the (partly) invented rehab memoir A Million Little Pieces -- and his publisher, Random House, for "defrauding" them. Even sillier, Random House has reached a settlement with these whiny opportunists, and any reader who can show proof of purchase will receive a refund for the full retail price of the book ($23.95 for the hardcover, $14.95 for the paperback). The plaintiffs' lawyers who scored this one must be laughing their heads off and planning their next Ibiza vacation.
Talk about "frivolous lawsuits." Stunts like this give a bad name to class action suits that seek to redress genuine wrongs, like race or sex discrimination in the workplace, or pollution. The action against Random House also reflects an absurdly consumerist attitude toward reading: when the book -- or author -- isn't what you expected, demand your money back! Bob Woodward presents himself as a crusading muckraker -- can I get a refund for the book in which he acts as a mouthpiece for the Bush Administration? And how about all those novels and memoirs that are billed by publishers as "poignant" and "evocative" when they're actually tedious tripe? Can we send in our receipts for those, too?
A book is usually a layered, ambivalent and highly subjective experience; it's not like an iPod or a car, which either works or doesn't. Some disappointment -- even rage -- is inevitable in a well-read life. Serious, mature readers embrace and engage such reactions; they don't seek to punish anyone for them. Book buyers of America, get a grip.
Recently, researching a Nation piece (9/11 in a Movie-Made World) on the response to the attacks of 2001, I read the New York Times (as well as other newspapers) for September 12-19, five years ago. What struck me was how much of the grim world now so familiar to us managed to make it on stage and take an initial bow in those first days.
You wouldn't have recognized some of the players, however, without a scorecard that hadn't yet been issued. Here's just one striking example. On September 15, 2001, James Risen wrote a front-page Times piece, headlined, "Lawmakers See Need to Loosen Rules on C.I.A." It was all about letting the dogs of covert warfare loose on our world. He reported on the almost instant urge, not only in the Bush administration but in Congress, to nullify the Watergate-era ban on assassinating foreign leaders as well as the sudden importance of hiring "unsavory foreign agents," or as Democratic Senator Bob Graham put it (through his press spokesman), "[W]e are not going to find the kinds of spies we need in monasteries." This would, of course, turn out to be part of the Cheney program to defenestrate Vietnam/Watergate-era "reforms" that even modestly empowered Congress and create an unfettered commander-in-chief presidency.
Only when you leave the front page and make your way deep into Risen's piece, do things get truly eerie, though. In May 2004, the public learned that, one lazy August day in 2001 in Crawford, Texas, the CIA had given George Bush a one-page presidential daily briefing or PDB that was entitled "Bin Laden determined to strike in US." (The White House finally declassified the document under pressure from the 9/11 Commission.)
In the Risen article, however, was this tiny passage:
"Intelligence officials defended the performance of the C.I.A. They emphasized that while the agency had failed to provide a precise warning of the attack, it had issued repeated warnings -- one as recently as August -- that the terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden and his network were seeking to attack the domestic United States.'"
In other words, only a few days after the 9/11 attacks, someone -- assumedly in the CIA and knowledgeable -- had already leaked the dirty truth. Talk about a hidden history of our world in (almost) plain sight!
UN Ambassador John Bolton, by virtue of his recess appointment last August, is once again up for a confirmation vote in the Senate.
Bolton's nomination last year, you may recall, sparked fireworks when GOP Senator George Voinovich declined to support him and Senate Democrats blocked his nomination, prompting Bush to appoint him while Congress was in recess.
Bolton's renomination has failed to trigger as much attention, even though his record at the UN has been as abysmal as predicted by his critics. But today Senator Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar delayed a scheduled vote on Bolton to undertake "consultations with a few other senators."
The vote is off indefinitely, as of now.
My friend Mark Goldberg at TAPPED reports that Lincoln Chafee, who faces a tough primary in a few days, is likely the lone GOP hold out against Bolton. And for now committee Democrats have stood firm, even though hawkish American Jewish groups have tried to convince prominent Democrats, like Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, that a vote against Bolton is a vote against Israel.
"I think the nomination is in deep trouble again, as it should be," says Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd.
Let's hope it stays that way.
It's disturbing how easily some in the mainstream media still fall for White House spin.
According to the media narrative following President Bush's speech, the 2006 midterms will now be decided by how to try suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, not the war in Iraq.
"With less than nine weeks until congressional elections, the president turned the topic from the war in Iraq and complaints about stagnant wages and rising health care costs to the only major area in which Americans continue to give him and the GOP high marks," wrote Susan Page of USA Today in a flattering news analysis.
"The President's detainee gambit...is given universal praise by the Gang of 500 for ensuring the fall debate will be more about who can keep America safer from terrorists, and, thus, for putting the Democrats on the defensive," opined ABC's The Note, under the headline "'W' is for 'Winner.'"
No, Bush tried to change the subject.
Fifty-five percent of respondents in a recent CNN poll said the war in Iraq has made the US less safe and more vulnerable to another terrorist attack. Fifty-three percent believe Iraq is separate from the war on terror. "One of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror," Bush told Katie Couric yesterday.
So naturally Bush will talk about terror. But when he does, you'd expect the media--as a reflection of the American people--to remind him of the 135,000 troops that are still in Iraq instead of echoing RNC talking points.