With just a few days to go before the Democratic Party's Platform Committee convenes in Miami on July 9th and 10th, supporters of Democratic Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich are gearing up to give the committee a political earful.
Readers of The Nation should join them in signing a petition demanding that the Party's platform acknowledge that millions of loyal Democrats seek a coherent and responsible exit strategy from Iraq. (Click here to sign on.) Hundreds of Kucinich campaigners and political allies will also push hard to strengthen the platform language on healthcare and fair trade.
I think it's shameful that the current 16,000-word document fails to even acknowledge existing divisions among Democrats on future policy toward Iraq. How can Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who chairs the platform drafting committee, say that the party is not divided about whether to stay the course? Does she read the polls? The latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows that by a margin of 56 percent to 38 percent, people who call themselves Democrats say our troops should "leave Iraq as soon as possible, even if Iraq is not completely stable" rather than "stay in Iraq as long as it takes to make sure Iraq is a stable democracy." And what about the several state Democratic parties which have called on the national party to support the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq? In the Senate, Robert Byrd has been an eloquent advocate of an exit strategy, one that is "orderly and astute, else more of our men and women will follow the fate of Tennyson's doomed light brigade." Representative Jim McDermott and much of the Congressional Black Caucus have also called for a clear and coherent roadmap for US withdrawal.
And, in a strategically-savvy Open Letter to the Platform Committee, Tom Hayden--former member of the committee and a former California legislator, writes: "We progressives are not the happy campers that certain self-selected spokesmen describe in the New York Times. Our surface acceptance of the Party's current direction arises from deference to our respected nominee and our common loathing of the Bush Administration. We are loyal to our partisan objective of defeating Bush, but loyal as well to those principles which we believe are shared by a majority of Democrats and Americans." (Click here for the full text of the letter.)
Let's hope that the platform folks listen to Hayden's good advice. It points the way to way to winning the election. Wouldn't the Democratic Party be a stronger--even a more unified--party if it acknowledged its differences? Disagreement will not weaken the urgency millions feel about defeating George Bush in November. And, besides, pretending that differences don't exist won't make it so. Honest debate could be an electoral asset for the Democrats, particularly since it's something these incompetents in the White House seem incapable of allowing.There might even be a rallying cry in this--how about "Honesty in Differences, Unity in Beating Bush."
Right now, it's critical that Platform Committee Chairwoman Stephanie TubbsJones hear from as many good Democratic voices as possible. Click here for contact info and tell her ASAP that it's important that she and the Committee listen to the concerns and values of many Democratic voters.
Never let it be said that John Kerry rushes to judgement. Four months after just about every other Democrat had decided a Kerry-Edwards ticket was the best bet for the party, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has accepted the conventional wisdom and named North Carolina Senator John Edwards as his vice presidential running mate.
From that January night when Kerry and Edwards topped Howard Dean in the Iowa caucuses -- effectively ending the Vermont governor's chances of securing the Democratic nomination -- there was talk about how Kerry and Edwards would be the best combination for the party. Kerry was always seen as the ticket topper. While Edwards was a better campaigner, Kerry had the organization and the money that would allow him to prevail in the primaries. And so he did. But as soon as Edwards folded his campaign in early March, after Kerry swept the Super Tuesday primaries, the question became: When are these two guys going to get together.
Why, then, did it take four months to close the deal? Why didn't Kerry name his running mate in the spring, as some aides suggested he might, in order to mount a two-man challenge to the Bush-Cheney ticket during the critical months of late spring and early summer?
Kerry wasn't ready, or willing, to embrace Edwards any sooner than he did. It was no secret that Kerry thought of Edwards as something of a hot dog, a first-term senator who entered politics as a mid-life career change and still seemed to be a bit better at delivering a stump speech than at sorting through the details of public policy. Kerry, a four-term senator, was more comfortable with another Washington insider, former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. But Gephardt inspired less enthusiasm than Kerry. Eventually, even Gephardt acknowledged as much; in a conversation several days ago, the Missourian quietly released Kerry to select Edwards.
The consistently cautious Kerry was never going to make a dangerous or unexpected choice. But he might well have picked someone other than Edwards -- Gephardt, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack or Florida Senator Bob Graham -- if he had opened enough of a lead to look like a frontrunner. That never happened. With the election less than four months away, Kerry is, at best, running even with President Bush nationally and he is behind in a number of battleground states.
As the time to name a running mate approached, Kerry knew he needed to pump up the volume. And Edwards, who campaigned for the vice presidency more aggressively than anyone since Richard Nixon in 1952, made it clear to everyone that he was ready to give the Kerry campaign a charisma infusion.
It's a given that Edwards adds star quality to the ticket. On paper, he's a decade younger than Kerry; in person, he looks two decades younger. Edwards came out of the primary campaign with a reputation as the best candidate on the stump; in fact, several other candidates, including Dean and Al Sharpton, delivered better individual speeches, and Gephardt and Dennis Kucinich often scored more debating points. What distinguished Edwards was that his speeches were consistently solid and effective -- and, as he began to speak more and more about the issue of poverty, the most moving -- and his debate performances, while sometimes less than stellar, were never weak or embarrassing. What distinguished him even more was the skill with which he handled the press, and his genuineness as a one-on-one campaigner. Edwards wades into a crowd every bit as enthusiastically as Bill Clinton, and that's going to count for a lot in the handshake-to-handshake combat that will characterize the campaigning in the battleground states that are likely to decide the fall race.
So what else does Edwards bring to the ticket:
* Consistency With Kerry: For better or worse, Kerry and Edwards are cut from the same ideological cloth, as their Senate records illustrate. Both men voted in 2002 to authorize Bush to invade Iraq, and then both men voted in 2003 against authorizing the expenditure of another $87 billion to pay for the occupation of that country. Both backed the Patriot Act. Edwards has a better record than Kerry on corporate issues, especially trade policy, but it is not dramatically better -- because of a 2001 vote to give Bush "trade promotion authority" to negotiate new international trade agreements and some other missteps, unions were almost as uncomfortable with Edwards as they were with Kerry early in the campaign. The liberal Americans for Democratic Action generally ranks the two men about the same on the issues -- in the critical year of 2001, the first of Bush's presidency, Kerry and Edwards both had 90 percent ADA ratings. In 2002, as Kerry and Edwards were preparing to seek the presidency, the American Civil Liberties Union gave each man a 60 percent rating, the deficit hawks at the Concord Coalition gave both a 65 percent rating, the big-business advocates at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave both a 55 rating, and the conservative National Taxpayers Union gave both an 18 rating. Edwards scores a little better with labor unions, mainly because he is a little better on the trade issues. Kerry scores a little better with environmental groups. But both men voted against impeaching Bill Clinton, against confirming John Ashcroft as attorney general, against the Bush administration's tax cuts, against allowing development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, against limits on abortion rights, and in favor of campaign finance reform, expansion of the Patients' Bill of Rights and for most gay rights measures -- for instance, though neither man advocates allowing same-sex marriages, they both oppose the proposed Constitutional amendment to ban such unions.
* Small town Appeal: Democratic fortunes collapsed in rural and Small town America in 2000, tipping the balance to Bush in a number of key states. The Kerry campaign has to dramatically increase its appeal in regions where voters tend to be more culturally conservative but could be brought around if Democrats deliver a strong economic message with regards to protecting family farms and promoting rural development. Edwards, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination as something of a rural candidate, has perfected a reasonably populist appeal on these issues. In Iowa and other states, he frequently took the stage as John Mellencamp's song "Small Town" blared through the speaker system, and he's gotten good at talking about things like counter-cyclical payments for economically-distressed farmers. Much is made of Edwards' appeal in the south, but some of his best caucus and primary finishes were in the farm states of the upper Midwest that remain among the most competitive in this fall's contest; he came in a solid second in Iowa in January and he almost beat Kerry in Wisconsin's February primary.
* Southern Possibilities: Polls suggest that, while its an uphill struggle, Kerry could win as many as four southern states: Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas and North Carolina. Edwards, who makes a big deal about his southern accent, ought to be able to help in all of those states. Even if the Kerry-Edwards ticket does not prevail, the presence of Edwards on the national ticket should benefit Democrats in critical Senate races in North Carolina (the state he represents in the Senate), South Carolina (the state where he was born), Florida and Louisiana.
* Some Liberal/Left Appeal: Edwards is no lefty. His votes on the war and the Patriot Act meant disqualified him as a first-choice presidential contender in the eyes of Democrats who wanted to nominate someone who would battle Bush on those issues. But progressive activists have, from the start of the 2004 campaign cycle, tended to find Edwards more appealing than Kerry. In Iowa, Edwards and Dennis Kucinich worked out an agreement to support one another in caucuses where neither candidate was viable on his own -- a deal that helped Edwards far more than it did Kucinich. Edwards drew strong support late in the primary season from UNITE, the textile workers union that has played a leadership role in anti-sweatshop campaigning and has good ties to student activists on that and other labor issues. More recently, Ralph Nader made it known that he thought Edwards was the best prospect among the contenders Kerry was considering for the vice presidential slot. Will the Edwards pick get Nader out of the race? Not likely. The independent presidential candidate is furious with Democrats for supporting efforts to knock him off state ballots. But if there is any chance that Nader could be convinced to adopt a "safe-states" strategy that keeps him out of the battleground states, it improves with Edwards on the ticket.
* A Real Challenger for Dick Cheney: In 2000, Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman spent most of his time agreeing with Republican Cheney in their one debate. Lieberman's failure to distinguish himself from Cheney hurt the ticket. That won't happen with Edwards. Republican aides were already peddling the line that Cheney's experience and gravitas will trump Edwards' youth and enthusiasm. Don't bet on it. Edwards shines in debates with Republicans -- he beat a GOP incumbent to win his Senate seat in 1998 -- and may be more prepared to take on Cheney than Republican expect. The North Carolina senator has been going after the vice president for months -- he made a hit on Halliburton and war profiteering central to his stump speech during the primary season -- and, as Kerry says, "I can't tell you... how eager I am for the day this fall when he stands up for our vision and goes toe-to-toe with Dick Cheney."
Above all, however, Edwards brings to the Kerry campaign something that has been missing up to this point: a recognizable and appealing domestic-policy message. Kerry secured the nomination by playing on his record as a veteran and his foreign policy and national security experience. Democratic caucus and primary voters bet, perhaps wisely, that those strengths would be needed in a race with Bush. But Kerry never developed a functional, let alone inspiring message for the home front. With his talk about the need to close the economic gap between what he referred to as the "two Americas," and with his emphasis on developing programs to aid the working poor, Edwards renewed old Democratic Party themes that will play very well -- especially with wavering Democrats and independents -- in a year when pessimism about the economy could yet decide the direction of the presidential race.
Add it all up and Edwards looks like a sound pick for Kerry. The best pick? Not necessarily. Other contenders might have brought more to the ticket. But, of the prospects the ever-cautious Kerry was willing to consider, Edwards always looked to be the candidate with the most to offer. Now, only the most fundamental question remains: Will Kerry, who was never as comfortable with Edwards as he was with other potential running mates, be flexible enough to really incorporate Edwards, and the North Carolinian's "two Americas" message, into the fabric of the campaign? If he does, he might yet prove one of the oldest American political cliches true: The vice presidential selection could be the most important choice of Kerry's campaign.
Thanks to the Bush Administration, tens of thousands of women serving abroad in the US military are being denied their freedoms, even as they are asked to fight to defend ours.
As NARAL points out on its very useful website, American servicewomen and female military dependents are currently banned from accessing abortion services--even when using their own money--at US military medical facilities overseas. They don't even have the same right Medicaid recipients do to public support in cases of rape or incest.
Senators Barbara Boxer and Olympia Snowe have proposed a provision in the Defense Authorization Act that seeks to rectify at least part of these deplorable, and probably unconstitutional, conditions by allowing servicewomen who are victims of rape to receive abortion care. Given recent reports that sexual-assault cases are on the rise in the military, this is a particularly important time to demand that all women in the military be granted the same reproductive rights as their civilian counterparts.
The Patriot Act, sweeping as it is, does not ban every expression of radicalism. On at least one day each year, Americans still celebrate revolution.
Indeed, so long as no one tells John Ashcroft or Dick Cheney that the Fourth of July honors revolutionaries who threw off the chains of colonialism, empire, monarchy and the state-sponsored religion that were - and remain - the primary threats to freedom and human advancement, the holiday is probably safe from interference from our contemporary King George and his churlish courtiers.
But how should Americans who take seriously the promise of a revolution - "that all men (and women) are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with inalienable rights" and "that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among these men (and women), deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" - go about celebrating this Fourth of July?
Here, in a reprise of this writer's annual reflections on the Fourth, are some thoughts on how patriots might celebrate what Tom Paine referred to as "the birthday of the new world."
Should we raise the red-white-and-blue banner of the Republic? Well, of course. Though it has been dragged through the mud by so-called "patriots" who continue to engage in the sort of military adventurism that both Washington and Jefferson warned against in their farewell addresses to the nation, this remains the flag of the Wisconsinites who marched south to banish the crime of slavery from this country's soil. No flag has yet been associated with a nobler military endeavor than the Stars and Stripes when it flew above those who battled the Southern scoundrels who marched beneath the banner of human bondage.
Should we celebrate the founders themselves? Yes, within reason. It is true that many of the men who made this nation were flawed. The best of them admitted as much at the time. The worst were revealed in time. But no one who cherishes liberty should hesitate to raise a cheer for old Tom Paine, who wrote of Americans in 1776: "We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation similar to the present hath not happened since the days of Noah until now. The birthday of the new world is at hand, and a race of men, perhaps as numerous as all Europe contains, are to receive their portion of freedom from the events of a few months."
As America celebrates the 228th birthday of the new world, however, it is important to recall that Paine also reflected upon the prospect: "If you subvert the basis of the revolution, if you dispense with principles and substitute expedients, you will extinguish that enthusiasm and energy which have hitherto been the life and soul of the revolution; and you will substitute in its place nothing but a cold indifference and self-interest, which will again degenerate into intrigue, cunning and effeminacy."
Paine's warning anticipated this degenerate moment, in which Americans are awakening to the prospect that the president and his advisers intrigued the country into a foreign misadventure that stinks rather too much of the imperialism Americans once associated with the British crown their forebears revolted against.
Should we despair at the realization of Paine's worst fear for the land? Perhaps a bit. But Paine would surely warn against surrendering to that despair. These may, in fact, be the times that try men's souls. But as Tom Paine suggested in 1776, such times are where the false patriots are separated from the true: "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."
George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, as definitional a pair of summer soldiers as ever will be found, can lead their sunshine patriots in celebrations of imperialistic conquest and their allegiance with Tony Blair and what remains of the tattered British realm. The sons and daughters of Tom Paine will stand this Fourth of July and honor the revolutionary spirit that revolted against the corruptions of empire.
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.