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Help Stop Racial Profiling

On February 27, 2001, President Bush expressed his firm opposition to racial profiling--the targeting of individuals by law enforcement officers on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion. "Racial profiling is wrong," he said, promising to "end it in America."

Now, more than three-and-a-half years later, Bush has failed to support a single legislative effort to ban this discriminatory practice. And not surprisingly, his Republican partners in the House and Senate have followed suit, refusing to take action against racial profiling.

In a recent study, Amnesty International found that roughly 32 million people reported that they have been victimized by racial profiling in the United States. The practice has afflicted people of all professions from all walks of life.

A new bill, recently introduced in Congress, "The End Racial Profiling Act of 2004," which currently has 16 co-sponsors in the Senate and 124 in the House, would serve as a big step in the right direction by outlawing racial profiling at all levels of law enforcement, tightening exemption loopholes, and requiring agencies to collect comprehensive data.

Click here to send a letter to your elected reps asking them to support the Act, click here to find contact info for your local media to ask the press to report on this important new bill, and click here for a list of AI's suggestions on how you can help end racial profilling in America.

Scientists and Engineers for Change

They may not be as hot as Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, the Dixie Chicks and other musicians participating in the "Vote for Change" concert tour launching next month in swing states, but the newly-formed group, Scientists and Engineers for Change, plans to harness its formidable brainpower to make the case that Bush has manipulated and politicized science in dangerous and unprecedented ways.

Like their musical counterparts, these scientists--ten of them are Nobel Prize winners--will crisscross the battleground states to argue against a Bush election. They won't be singing or playing guitar but they will be educating voters about the threat a second Bush term poses for honest scientific inquiry in the 21st century. The group, which has no ties to the Kerry campaign, includes a registered Republican and several scientists who are not members of the Democratic Party.

As Nobel prize winner Dr. Douglas Osheroff put it, "I have never played a significant role in politics, but we must begin to address climate change now. To do so, we must have an Administration that listens to the scientific community, not one that manipulates and minimizes scientific output." In case, you needed to be reminded of the key elements of Bush's war on science, please click here to check out my weblog of last July 20.

Up the River?

It was not supposed to be this way--at least, that's what Democrats thought. John Kerry was not supposed to be heading into the final stretch of the election defending himself from the charge always thrown at Democrats by Republicans: you're a wimp and not serious about national security.

George McGovern, a WWII pilot, was derided as a defeatist peacenik by the Nixon goons. Walter Mondale was portrayed as not sufficiently concerned about the Soviet threat by the Reagan Team. Michael Dukakis was mocked by the first Bush squad--especially after Dukakis took a tank ride wearing a helmet that made him look like Mickey Mouse. Bill Clinton was blasted for having been a draft-dodger and an antiwar Soviet symp.

Kerry, the Democrats said, would be invulnerable to this same-old attack. He was a Vietnam war hero who had earned medals for his combat actions. And on top of that, he had come home and courageously opposed a war now widely regarded as a colossal mistake. Yet the Bush campaign and its allies still have managed to define Kerry (for many voters) as a weakling, as a flip-flopper, as a spineless, finger-in-the-wind pol who has voted against military spending and who lacks the fortitude and decisiveness to be commander-in-chief and protect America from its enemies.

The election is far from over, but polls show many more voters believe Bush is strong than those who say the same about Kerry. In these polls, Kerry has a big edge when voters are asked whether the candidates are intelligent, but according to the same surveys, voters think that Bush is better able to manage both the war in Iraq and the so-called war on terrorism. Bush, who used family connections to avoid the draft and then failed to live up to all his National Guard obligations, has positioned himself as the candidate of strength. And Kerry, like many past Democratic candidates, has been placed on the defensive. The Swift Vets hurled unsubstantiated charges at him regarding his Vietnam service and succeeded in raising questions. The Bush campaign and its surrogates have ridiculed Kerry and succeeded in raising questions about his leadership ability.

This was not what Democrats anticipated. A powerful reminder of that is George Butler's new film, Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry, which is based on Douglas Brinkley's book, Tour of Duty, and chronicles Kerry's Vietnam experience. Butler, who has known Kerry for 40 years, helped make Arnold Schwarzenegger's reputation with the 1977 documentary, Pumping Iron. He won't have any such luck with his latest film. It is being released in a highly politicized environment after much debate about Kerry's Vietnam record has already occurred and after Kerry has taken much incoming.

The film, put together before the Swift Vets created a phony brouhaha, does not respond directly to the evidence-free allegations tossed at Kerry by this GOP-financed band of anti-Kerry vets. And the documentary does lean toward hagiography. But it does convincingly portray Kerry as a decisive, daring, thoughtful, and soulful man. It covers his time as a medal-winning war hero. ("Every day John Kerry made decisions that saved the lives of the crew of that boat," one of his Swift boat crewmates say. "I would not have had all these extra days. I would be on a wall somewhere.") It shows that he has contemplated deeply the horror of war and the responsibilities of leadership. In one scene, he poignantly wonders about an unidentified Vietnamese man who lies dead--with no honor, no glory--as Kerry and his comrades inspect a set of buildings where a battle had occurred.

But Butler, unlike the planners of the Democratic convention, has devoted more time to Kerry's antiwar activism than his combat derring-do. He follows him through the Winter Soldiers conference (where former GIs told of atrocities they had conducted or witnessed), through his involvement with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, through the group's protest in Washington (when veterans threw their medals, ribbons and citations on to the steps of the US Capitol), through his now-famous testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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When you're done reading this article,visit David Corn's WEBLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent entries on Kerry's plan for the debates, Bush's embrace of High School Politics 101, the supposedly aborted Bush plan to secretly muck about in the coming Iraqi elections, Bush's (false!) claim that the Taliban no longer exists, and a field report on an less-than-encouraging Democratic response to a GOP effort to suppress the vote.

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Repeatedly Butler showcases Kerry as intelligent, articulate, deliberative, and pensive. When he participates in the medal-returning ceremony, Kerry does not launch into an angry speech, as did many of his comrades. Instead, he quietly says, according to witnesses, "I don't do this to oppose anyone. I am only doing this to help my country wake up." He then sits on the Mall, apart from the protesting vets, alone with his wife. (Butler does not address the pre-Swift Vet criticism that Kerry had given inaccurate accounts of this episode.) Butler presents Kerry addressing a large crowd of antiwar demonstrators. His words eerily carry a current ring to them:

"This is not the struggle of one day or one month or one year or of one war. It's a struggle and an effort and a sacrifice and a contribution which we make for the rest of our lives. Though men of small mind and less character may project themselves on to their fellow citizens and suggest that an America that admits its mistakes will turn into a craven, hollow place, we will continue this struggle because this country is bigger than they are and it is bigger than any of us here."

And toward the end of the film, Butler introduces a soundbite from a Kerry interview in which Kerry observes that Vietnam was "a moment this country confronted and didn't confront a lot of things. We haven't finished that confrontation. We haven't learned those lessons yet." In Butler's account, Kerry is not only intelligent but prescient.

Butler's Kerry could be the conscience of America. He did his duty. Then he returned home to do a different and perhaps more important sort of duty, noting always that dissent and questioning were integral to that never-ending mission of insuring that America lives up to its promise. Imagine a documentary that tracked George W. Bush in 1972, when he went months without showing up for his National Guard training.

The film shows Kerry as a man of substance. But Kerry--facing constant attack from the Bush crew--has not yet persuaded enough of the electorate that this is an accurate depiction. Maybe being in the Senate for so long is not good for one's soul. Perhaps Kerry tripped himself up by pondering too much the intricacies and the politics of the war in Iraq. Still, it has been a while since a presidential nominee had such a great back story. Kerry needs to show voters a current version of the man that appears in Going Upriver. With so much enemy fire coming from a foe that does not hesitate to lob mischaracterizations and false accusations at him, Kerry may find it hard, perhaps even impossible, to connect the Kerry of today to the Kerry of Butler's film. But unless he can convey the qualities Butler captured--dedication to principle, leadership, the ability to inspire--Kerry will find himself (along with his party and the millions who support him) up the river and without a paddle.

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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."

For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there.

CBS: No News, Just Stenography

The decision of CBS News to delay the broadcast of an investigation into how the Bush administration manipulated intelligence and played upon fears in order to make the case for war with Iraq is the most unsettling development yet in a political year that has beem defined by unsettling moments.

CBS News officials, rocked by the controversy surrounding the journalistic missteps of veteran anchor Dan Rather and "60 Minutes" staffers in putting together what should have been an easy report on President Bush's troubled tenure in the Texas National Guard, have announced that they will wait until after the November 2 election to broadcast a much-anticipated investigation of the steps the administration took to warp the debate about whether to go to war.

The fear, at least as it is officially expressed by CBS, is that revealing the extent of the administration's misdeeds might influence the outcome of the election by letting the American people in on what has really been going on in Washington. Thus, a CBS statement announced, "We now believe it would be inappropriate to air the report so close to the presidential election."

Critics of CBS will, of course, speculate that the decision had less to do with a desire to be fair and balanced than with a fear on the part of corporate honchos that the airing of the expose would lead to new charges that the network is displaying an anti-Bush bias. After the fiasco involving doctored documents regarding Bush's time in the Guard, CBS insiders admit that they are afraid to broadcast reports about the doctored documents the Bush administration used to make its "case" for war.

Critics also note that Sumner Redstone, CEO of CBS's parent company Viacom, has now repeatedly suggested in public statements and interviews that "from a Viacom standpoint, we believe the election of a Republican administration is better for our company."

But let's put these legitimate concerns aside and accept CBS at its word.

Let's accept that the network does not want to air the report before the election because of genuine concerns on the part of CBS News professionals and CBS corporate officials about the impact of sharing the truth with the American people might have on voting patterns.

But let's also be clear about what has happened here: CBS News has ceased to be a news organization.

A network that worries about whether its reports will offend the people who are in power is no longer practicing journalism. And a network that is so worried about being accused of bias that it will not reveal the truth to its viewers is no longer in the business of distributing news.

Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the other founders of this country created the framework for a free press, and fought mightily to defend the rights of dissident editors in the first years of the republic, because they feared the abuses of power that would result if presidents went unchallenged. They knew that democracy would only function if independent watchdogs were forever barking at the powerful from the columns of the partisan newspapers of their day. Jefferson may have put it best when he wrote in 1816 that, "The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves, nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe."

By extension, when powerful media outlets censor themselves, the safety to which Jefferson referred is threatened.

The notion that a journalist would sit on a story because he or she fears being accused of bias, or because an expose might have an impact on a presidential election, would have shocked and offended Jefferson, Madison, Tom Paine and the others who fought at the start of this American experiment to forge the way for a free press.

If ever there was a time when a bold and unyielding free press was needed, Jefferson argued, it was in the weeks before a national election. At the point when the American people are preparing to determine who will lead their country, they need more than just stenography. They need news outlets that seek, without fear or favor, to speak truth to power.

Without a free flow of information, especially controversial and shocking information about the most pressing issues of the day, citizens cannot make informed choices. And when citizens cannot make informed choices, democracy ceases to function.

With their decision to sit on a story of how the Bush administration manipulated this country into war, CBS News officials have chosen to block the free flow of information. As such, they have broken faith with the promise of a free press. They are now merely stenographers to power, and impediments to democracy.

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John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and at www.amazon.com

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Voter Registration Day

Groups from all over the country have come together to create the first-ever National Voter Registration Day today to build media interest and to bring out new volunteers for voter registration efforts before most states close their voting rolls on October 4.

You can find organized voter registration activities in most every region, city and town in the US. Click here for a nationwide calendar of events to find out what's happening in your area, and click here for a list of national voting rights projects looking for volunteers.

And make sure that you're registered to vote? MoveOn recently checked public voter files, and, shockingly, found that close to 30 percent of its members were not currently registered. Make sure you're not turned away from the polls on November 2 by clicking here. The process takes about three minutes with The Nation Online's new voting page.

United Progressives for Victory

Yesterday, more than fifty national antiwar leaders released a letter to potential Nader voters. Many of the signers are longtime activists who have been central in organizing efforts against the war in Iraq, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the Bush Administration's policy of pre-emptive war.

"We stand with Nader in demanding that the cause of security and peace be at the top of the national agenda," the letter stated, "But we will not vote for him this election...the only practical way to safeguard the nation and the world is to vote for John Kerry for President of the United States."

Individuals signing the letter--which was organized by United Progressives for Victory--include former Congressman Tom Andrews, Executive Director of Win Without War; Dr. Robert K. Musil, Executive Director and CEO of Physicians for Social Responsibility; Amy Isaacs, National Director, Americans for Democratic Action (ADA); Daniel Ellsberg; David Cortright of the Fourth Freedom Forum; and John Isaacs, President of the Council for a Livable World.

UP for Victory includes progressives who have worked with Nader in the past and leaders with years of experience with progressive causes including peace and foreign policy, the environment, consumer rights, women's issues, civil rights, healthcare and workers' rights, and social and economic justice. In other words they have street cred. The full text of the letter and a list of the signers are below:

An Open Letter to Those Considering Voting for Ralph Nader

The November 2 election must end the reign of President George W. Bush whose policies have dismantled what we--and Ralph Nader-- have worked for years to achieve. At stake is the survival of progressive values that we and Ralph Nader hold so dear and the hope for a safer, stronger and better world.

Four more years of President Bush would result in the further undermining of international security: a new generation of nuclear weapons, a resumption of nuclear bomb testing, expansion of National Missile Defense, advancement of the doctrine of pre-emptive war, and the unilateral use of military force independent of the United Nations.

Bush supporters understand power and want to keep it. They have collected ballot signatures for Nader; they have sent him tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. They are using Ralph Nader to divide the progressive vote.

We cannot let them win.

We share Ralph Nader's concern for the condition of America's workers, consumers and citizens. We stand with Nader in demanding that the cause of security and peace be at the top of the national agenda.

But we will not vote for him this election. We will not give George W. Bush four more years to destroy the causes for which we have worked.

Your vote is your voice in this election. Make both of them heard loud and clear. Tell your friends and associates that the only practical way to safeguard the nation and the world is to vote for John Kerry for President of the United States.

Sincerely,

1. Edie Allen, President, Colombe Foundation Mass;*2. Dorothy Anderson, MD, Physicians for Social Responsibility;*3. Tom Andrews, ex- member of Congress (D-ME), Executive Director, Win Without War;*4. Ed Arnold, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility/Atlanta;5. Diane Aronson, former executive director, Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament;*6. Former Congressman Les AuCoin, Oregon;7. Catherine Barrett, State Representative, Ohio;8. Robert L. Borosage, Campaign for America's Future;*9. Anne H. Cahn, American University;10. Mary R Cathcart, State Senator, Maine;11. Rev. Dagmar Braun Celeste;12. Susan Clark actor/activist;13. David Cohen, Co-Chair, Advocacy Institute;*14. David Cortright, President, Fourth Freedom Forum;*15. Susan Cundiff, Chapter President, Lane County WAND;16. Mary Byrd Davis, Director, Yggdrasil Institute, a project of Earth Island Institute;*17. Elizabeth Dunn, Souhegan Wood Products, Inc.;*18. Daniel Ellsberg, Author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers;19. Meg Gage, Proteus Fund;*20. Peter W. Galbraith, Former US Ambassador, Senior Diplomatic Fellow, Center For Arms Control and Non-Proliferation;21. Sanford Gottlieb, 20/20 Vision;*22. Raymond F. Graap, M.D.;23. Roy D. Hankins MD, Physicians for Social Responsibility;*24. Bettieanne Hart, Georgia;25. Dudley Herschbach, Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology, Harvard University;*26. Barbara Hildt, President, Youth Empowerment Services Inc., Massachusetts;27. Amy Isaacs, national director, Americans for Democratic Action;28. John Isaacs, President, Council for a Livable World;*29. Karen Jacob, Chapter President of WAND of Northern Indiana and President of the Board of Promoting Enduring Peace;*30. Peggy Maze Johnson, Citizen Alert of Nevada;*31. Carla Brooks Johnston, President, New Centuries Policies;32. Fern Katz, Treasurer, Michigan WAND;*33. Alan Kay, entrepreneur and social innovator;34. Jean Kilbourne;35. Bob Kinsey, Green Party for Congress, CO-4;*36. Barbara Laing, executive director, Colorado Physicians for Social Responsibility;*37. Catherine Lincoln, California;38. Priscilla McMillan, Harvard University;*39. Robert K. Musil, Ph.D, M.P.H., Executive Director and CEO, Physicians for Social Responsibility;*40. John O. Pastore. M.D.,President-elect, Physicians for Social Responsibility;*41. Christopher Paine, Senior Analyst, Natural Resources Defense Council;*42. Mike Pertschuk, Co-Chair, Advocacy Institute;*43. Gene Pokorny, Council for a Livable World;44. Margo Okazawa Rey, Mills College, Women's Leadership Institute;45. Dorothy Rupert, former State Senator, Colorado;46. Claudine Schneider, former Member of Congress;47. Susan Shaer, executive director, Women's Action for New Directions;*48. Sayre Sheldon, President Emerita Women's Action for New Directions;49. John Shepherd, MD, President of Colorado Physicians for Social Responsibility;50. Norman Solomon, Author and syndicated columnist;51. Ivo Spalatin, Treasurer, Council for a Livable World;52. Jeremy J. Stone, President, Catalytic Diplomacy;53. Benn Tannenbaum, Ph.D., Federation of American Scientists;54. Carlotta Tyler, Massachusetts;55. Suleyken Walker, Boston;56. Peter Wilk, M.D.;57. Edith B. Wilkie, President, Peace Through Law Education Fund;*58. Esther B. Wolf, Magnolia Neighborhood Peace Project;*59. Herbert York, Member, Pugwash Movement

*Affiliation for identification purposes only.

Debate Halliburton

George W. Bush is ready to debate John Kerry.

The chronically underestimated president, who invariably prevails in face-to-face showdowns with his general election opponents, has been cramming for weeks. According to Bush aides, the president listens to tapes of Kerry's past debate performances and speeches while he is traveling and during his daily workouts. He has imported a lanky, boring New Englander, New Hampshire U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, to play the role of Kerry during practice debates at the ranch in Crawford, Texas. And he is now memorizing poll-tested one liners crafted to devastate the Democratic challenger and capture the headlines on the day after Thursday's debate in Coral Gables, Florida.

For his part, Kerry is prepping at a resort in Wisconsin. After two weeks of honing an increasingly aggressive message regarding the crisis in Iraq and the mismanaged war on terrorism, he will go into the first of three critical debates feeling confident. But if all Kerry does is wrestle Bush for the tough-on-terror mantle, that confidence will prove misplaced.

In a foreign policy debate that plays out within the lines defined by White House political czar Karl Rove, the best Kerry can hope for is a draw. Predictable punches will not upset Bush's delivery of the simple basic themes -- "battling against evil," "taking the fight to the terrorists," "safer now than on Sept. 11" -- that have allowed him to maintain relatively broad support in the face of increasingly awful news from around the world.

To knock Bush off message, Kerry will need to come into the debates with a message for which Bush is unprepared. And Kerry will have to hammer away on that message until it supplants Bush's mantras in the mind of the voting public.

So what should Kerry talk about? One word: Halliburton.

Kerry should make the crony capitalism that has allowed Vice President Dick Cheney's corporation to become the dominant player in the management of the botched occupation and reconstruction of Iraq a part of every answer to every question. The Democrat should explain to Americans, again and again and again, that one of the primary explanations for the fact that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has turned out badly is the determination of this administration to assure that Halliburton be the primary profiteer in the region.

No corporation has gained more from the invasion of Iraq than Halliburton. Since the war began, it has moved from No.19 on the U.S. Army's list of top contractors to No. 1. Last year, the company pocketed $4.2 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars. And that's merely the take so far; the company's Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) subsidiary has collected what the Washington Post describes as "one of the contracting plums of the war: a classified no-bid deal worth up to $7 billion to do the restoration work."

Yet, by any measure, Halliburton and KBR have done a horrible job of managing the occupation and the reconstruction. The company has been investigated and fined for wrongdoing, and few days go by without new evidence surfacing to suggest that Halliburton either is massively corrupt or massively inept--or, and this is the most likely explanation, a messy combination of the two. Things are so bad that Halliburton officials are now talking about spinning off KBR in order to try to salvage what is left of the parent corporation's reputation.

Kerry has promised that, "As president, I will stop companies like Halliburton from profiting at the expense of our troops and taxpayers." Referencing that fact that Cheney continues to receive money from Halliburton--$178,437 in 2003 alone--Kerry adds, "I will stop companies from receiving no-bid contracts from the government when the president or vice president is still receiving compensation from that company."

That's a message Kerry should take into the debates. Bush wants to talk about "fighting against evil." Kerry should oblige him by forcing the president to address the evil of war profiteering -- and the crime of handing no-bid contracts to a company that is funneling money into the vice president's bank account.

*****************************************************************John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and at www.amazon.com*****************************************************************

Dissent Is Patriotic

If there was any lingering doubt that this President rules by sowing division and fear it has been put to rest in these last weeks. As Dana Milbank's chilling front-page story in last Friday's Washington Post details, Bush and leading Republicans dare to argue that a vote for John Kerry is a vote for Al Qaeda.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert says he believes Al Qaeda would prefer a Kerry presidency. GOP Senate candidate John Thune of South Dakota says that his opponent, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's mild criticism of the war "embolden the enemy" and bring "comfort to America's enemies." Darth Vader VP Cheney strongly suggested that America would be more likely to be attacked if Kerry were elected.

These are Republicans who breed a culture of fundamentalism and intolerance, who betray the guiding and founding values of America. If a truly great Republican--Theodore Roosevelt--were among us today, he would expose the despicable politics of these fifth-rate offspring of the Grand Old Party and tell them--as he told the nation in 1918:

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

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And Then There Are True Conservatives...

Speaking of sane Republicans, did you see that Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) has made it known that he may not vote for Bush? Last weekend, according to the Washington Post, Chafee told a science seminar in his home state that he would vote for a Republican but not George W., who he has differed with on many issues including tax cuts, the Iraq war and stem cell research.

And let's hope a small item in Saturday's New York Times signals a trend: One of West Virginia's five electors says he may withhold his electoral college vote for Bush even if the President wins in the increasingly important swing state. Elector Richie Robb, the mayor of South Charleston, is incensed about the war in Iraq and painful layoffs in his town.

And by the way, do Bush and Co. believe that conservatives like John McCain, Chuck Hagel and Richard Lugar--who have been all over the airwaves arguing that the US is in deep trouble in Iraq--are aiding and abetting the enemy? And what about the discontent with the commander-in chief from within the military itself? According to a Christian Science Monitor story, there is a "discernible countercurrent among US troops in Iraq--those who blame President Bush for entangling them in what they see as a misguided war." Will chickenhawk Cheney blast these soldiers in the field as unpatriotic.

McAuliffe, Please Shut Up

Please shut up, Terry McAuliffe--that is, about George W. Bush and his missing-time in the Texas Air National Guard.

I keep receiving press releases from flacks at the Democratic Party about Bush's Guard service (or lack thereof). For instance, moments before John Kerry delivered a major speech on September 20 that refocused his campaign with a blast against Bush's war in Iraq, the Democratic National Committee press office emailed me and other reporters an invitation to participate in a conference call with McAuliffe on Bush and the Guard. The call was scheduled to occur in the middle of Kerry's speech.

[Correction: After this column was first posted, the DNC contacted me to complain--about its overall thrust and about the depiction of this particular conference call. The DNC says that Kerry's speech was scheduled to start at 10:00 am and the conference call was scheduled for 11:15 am. As it turned out, Kerry began late and was speaking at 11:15. But the DNC did not begin the conference call until after Kerry finished. Still, the main point remains.]

Shouldn't the Democratic Party that day have been reinforcing Kerry's message that Bush has screwed the pooch in Iraq and that Kerry has a plan for dealing with the mess Bush created? (Click here to read about Kerry's proposals.) Instead, McAuliffe and his crew at DNC HQ thought it was best to take yet another swipe at Bush for cutting out on the Guard.

Despite the success of the Swift Vets' assault on Kerry--as fact-free as much of it was--McAuliffe and the party are wrong to obsess over what Bush or did not do three decades ago. I've written frequently about Bush and the Guard, and I encourage journalists and researchers to pursue the story. But Bush's military service should not be a frontline battle for the Democratic Party. By raising the issue incessantly, McAuliffe and the party will not persuade voters. Voters probably have already reached their conclusions about that 32-year-old episode and its significance. Absent new information--material not based on forgeries--McAuliffe should not be beating this horse further.

The matter is a sideshow. Whatever Bush did way back then, his record in the White House is more critical--particularly what he has done since September 11, 2001. Kerry is right to confront Bush directly on the war in Iraq and the misnamed war on terrorism. He has little choice. Bush has deftly and effectively defined the election not only as a referendum on the war in Iraq but a contest to determine which candidate is more decisive and better able to lead a strong and assertive attack on America's enemy. And as president and as head of a party machine that is maniacally disciplined when it comes to message development and promotion, Bush has the power to set the terms of the debate. (Kerry cannot snap his fingers and declare that this election is really about health care and outsourcing.) So the final stretch of this election will focus on who can best be the protector-in-chief. What Kerry did in Vietnam, what Bush did not in Vietnam (and Alabama) is largely irrelevant in this discussion.

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When you're done reading this article,visit David Corn's WEBLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent entries on Chris Matthews going soft on the Swift Vets, the lack of evidence for the charge Kerry is a flip-flopper, Bush's latest flubs and fibs, and my recent adventure at Notre Dame.

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Yet as Kerry tries to gain ground in this debate--today he gave a strong speech outlining his specific ideas for countering the terrorist threat posed by Islamic extremists--McAuliffe and his DNC colleagues keep yapping about Bush's Guard record. On Wednesday, they put out a press release asking why Bush aides have offered conflicting explanations for Bush's failure to take a flight physical in 1972. And after the New York Post reported that the "hot rumor in New York political circles has Roger Stone, the longtime GOP activist, as the source for Dan Rather's dubious Texas Air National Guard 'memos,'" McAuliffe issued a statement, in which he asked, "Will [GOP chairman] Ed Gillespie or the White House admit today what they know about Mr. Stone's relationship with these forged documents? Will they unequivocally rule out Mr. Stone's involvement? Or for that matter, others with a known history of dirty tricks, such as Karl Rove or Ralph Reed?" C'mon, who believes gossip reported in the Post?

When CBS News announced it no longer considered the documents authenticated, McAuliffe put out an official statement urging the public and the press to "focus on the facts," not the forgeries. "The American people," he said, "already know that strings were pulled to get President Bush into the Guard; and while in the Guard he missed months of service and was grounded. We know that George Bush was a fortunate son, a child of privilege, who refuses to admit that he used his connections to avoid fulfilling his requirements. But what we still don't know is why Bush didn't fulfill his duty to his country or why he has continued to lie to the American people about it."

There is nothing wrong or inaccurate in what McAuliffe has been saying about Bush and the Guard. But his job should be amplifying Kerry's message. The GOP does that for Bush perfectly. Each day I receive numerous emails from the Republican Party that are on-message in a zombie-like fashion. Then I turn on the cable news shows and see White House officials, Bush campaign aides, and other Republicans mouthing the line du jour--all in complete lockstep. They generally have stayed away from explicitly seconding the Swift Vets' attacks, unless asked.

Kerry has decided that his best chance is to go after Bush directly on the war--this war, not that war. In his speech today, Kerry did not even bother to refer to his own Vietnam service. Instead, he highlighted his policy ideas, as well as his experience in the Senate concerning terrorism and other related national security matters. (Mark Mehlman of the Bush campaign offered the predictable response to Kerry's address. He called it one more flip-flop from a fellow who said the United States "would be safer if Saddam Hussein was still in power.") So McAuliffe ought to get on board and let other partisans bash Bush for being MIA as a Guardsman. (What's a 527 for?) Kerry has adopted a tough course, though it may be the only path available. He must convince voters that Bush, a wartime president, ought to be fired because he botched the fight against al Qaeda by recklessly launching an elective war for which he did not plan adequately. And Kerry must also persuade voters that, despite the accusations of flip-flopping, he will be a stronger leader than the swaggering, you-know-where-I-stand Bush.

There's not much time for Kerry to do all this. And the debates--which start on September 30--will be his best opportunity to put his case before a large group of potential voters. (National security will be the focus of the first debate.) Kerry could use all the back-up he can get. McAuliffe and the party should be boosting Kerry's message--by criticizing Bush for the war, not events from the early 1970s. The Guard issue certainly plays well among Bush-bashers and, no doubt, it is tempting for McAuliffe and his fellow Bush-whackers at the DNC to engage in such easy attacks. But they ought to resist. They need to concentrate their fire on the main target: what Bush has done in Iraq. Both Kerry and Bush agree that is what this election is about. McAuliffe should salute and follow Kerry's charge up a hill that will be rather tough to take.

UPDATE: As noted above, after this article was first posted, several people at the DNC complained. They raised some legitimate points, so I thought I'd share them.

1. They note that the Democratic Party, as depicted in this column, might be seen by some readers as a rogue operation. In fact, the DNCers explain, the party's actions and strategies are designed in consultation with the Kerry campaign. That is, if Terry McAuliffe is pushing the Bush-and-the-Guard angle, that means the Kerry campaign is okay with it.

2. The DNC's continuing criticism of Bush's military record, the DNC folks maintain, is a crucial part of the anti-Bush effort. With Kerry under (illegitimate) fire from the Swift Vets regarding his Vietnam past, the DNC has to fight back in similar fashion. And in response my suggestion that such work could be handled by 527 groups independent of the party, the DNCers say that actually there are not pro-Democratic outfits with the profile of the Swift Vets that could undertake this mission effectively. They also point out that the Bush-and-the-Guard wave was cresting this past week and that the party had little choice but to ride it as far as it could. (Dan Rather's screw-up probably has prevented the Dems from pushing this line of attack any further.)

3. The assault on Bush's past as an MIA Guardsman, they say, is part of the overall strategy devised by the Kerry campaign and the DNC to challenge Bush's credibility and integrity. The Guard story, as the DNC officials see it, is not merely about Bush's choices and actions 32 years ago; it is about the disingenuous and misleading responses he and his aides have relied upon as they have recently faced questions and criticism.

4. This tactic is working--or so the DNC gang says. My hunch is that bashing Bush on the Guard front is no longer politically effective. But one DNC official sent me the results of a recent Fox News poll showing that Bush's mega-lead among veterans has fallen precipitously. The DNCers believe this is proof its Guard-related attack on Bush has drawn blood. Here is how that poll was reported on Fox:

Fox News/Opnion Dynamics poll which show that George Bush's lead among veterans is actually kind of slipped dramatically from the beginning of September. One point there he had a 23-point lead. Now he's got a 10-point lead. So it appears despite all this memogate flap about a forged letter that the attack on Bush's National Guard record is having an effect.

Among likely voters who are veterans, Bush was leading Kerry 48 to 39 percent. That's not such a hefty margin for a swaggering and decisive wartime president running against a wimpy, French-speaking, finger-in-the-wind, flip-flopping uncertain pol with no plan for defending this county and who is al Qaeda's favorite candidate.

One DNC official sent me an Air Force Times article on Bush and the Guard to show that DNC efforts to keep the story in play are worthwhile. Here are some key paragraphs from that piece:

From most accounts, Bush appears to have received preferential treatment to get into the Air National Guard and avoid the draft after he graduated from Yale University in 1968. He was initially regarded as a good pilot, but his performance faded over his final two years in the Guard and he was suspended from flight status. He did not fly for the remaining 18 months he served in the Guard, though he was obligated to do so.

And for significant chunks of time, Bush did not report for duty at all. His superiors took no action, and he was honorably discharged in 1973, six months before he should have been.

In a 2002 interview with USA Today, Dean Roome, a former fighter pilot who lived with Bush in the early 1970s, said Bush was a model officer during the first part of his career. But overall, he said, Bush's Air Guard career was erratic the first three years solid, the last two troubled.

"You wonder if you know who George Bush is," Roome said. "I think he digressed after a while. In the first half, he was gung-ho. Where George failed was to fulfill his obligation as a pilot. It was an irrational time in his life."

The article was headlined "Bush's Air Guard Stint Started Well, Then Faded Into Mystery," and it cannot hurt Kerry any time a military publication presents a serious analysis of Bush's stint in the Guard that questions Bush's account.

Does all of this mean that my criticism of the DNC's obsession with Bush's Vietnam record is misplaced? I still think that Kerry's primary mission--countering Bush's claim that he is strong, decisive and keeping America safe today--is such a tough task that the DNC should aim all the firepower it has at this target. The Guard story may have been in the news earlier this week, but Kerry was trying to break through with his speech on Iraq. The armchair political strategist in me says that the DNC should have been loudly singing back-up on that tune. But I'm no professional political consultant (I only play one on television), and I don't get paid for the advice I freely dispense, so according to market principles it ain't worth much. I do hope that the DNCers are right, and I am wrong. But we'll have to wait for the exit polls to sort that out.

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