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Ford: Bush Made "Big Mistake" With Iraq War

As the nation mourns the passing of former President Gerald Ford, President Bush has been appropriately respectful. Hopefully, however, the current occupant of the Oval Office's regard for its former occupant will extend to consideration by Bush of what Ford had to say in one of his last interviews.

Asked by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward about the Iraq imbroglio, Ford said in 2004, "(Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld and (Vice President Dick) Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction. And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."

Both Rumsfeld and Cheney served as White House chief of staff under Ford, but the former president put loyalty to his country ahead of any deference to former aides. He did, however, ask that Woodward not make the contents of the interview public until after Bush's presidency was done, or until after Ford's passing.

As of Tuesday, Woodward was free to reveal Ford's comments regarding Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the quagmire they have created.

Ford explained that he would not have chosen the course adopted by the current administration. "I don't think, if I had been president -- on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly -- I don't think I would have ordered the Iraqi war," said the former president.

Rather, said Ford, "I would have maximized our efforts through sanctions, through restrictions, whatever, to find another answer.".

In addition to identifying the specific error with regard to Iraq, Ford spoke more broadly of the Bush administration's flawed vision of the U.S. role in the world.

Ford, a lifelong Republican, expressed the traditional view of his party with regard to military adventures abroad, saying, "I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security."

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Candidate Edwards: Version 2.008

The John Edwards who today announces his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination is a very different contender from the fresh-faced young senator who in 2004 bid for the party nod--and eventually secured a place on the ticket as the vice presidential nominee.

By any measure, he has a lot more to offer progressives than he did in 2004. That potential to appeal to the party's left flank is essential for Edwards, who will need an ideological base as he struggles for attention in a race where New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama have been sucking most of the air out of the contest.

Edwards struggled to craft a message in 2004. After stumbling frequently and, many assumed, fatally in 2003, he finally developed the "two Americas" stump speech that identified him as a candidate who was serious about broadening the national debate to include a serious discussion of the dangerous gap between rich and poor in America.

Even as he improved as a speaker and debater, however, Edwards remained a vague and frequently ill-defined candidate. He condemned President Bush's management of the war in Iraq, and was particularly critical of the war profiteering that had been allowed--if not encouraged--by the White House. But Edwards took no clear stand on the war.

Edwards talked tough about the need to protect American farmers. But he developed a "farm plan" that seemed more sympathetic to agribusiness than to working farmers.

Edwards tried to portray himself as a champion of labor. But he never really developed a coherent, let alone effective, message on the central issue for unions and their members: trade policies that favor multinational corporations and Wall Street over working Americans and Main Street.

Despite his flaws, Edwards did well enough in 2004 to merit another look in 2008. And he has given progressives reason to be impressed. Many migrated to the Edwards camp late in the 2004 race in hopes of blocking the candidacy of an even more flawed contender, John Kerry.

For one thing, instead of announcing on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, Edwards is heading to New Orleans, where his "two Americas" theme is illustrated by the stark reality of the federal government's ongoing neglect of Hurricane Katrina victims. And he has answered his critics' old "Where's the beef?" question with comprehensive plans for guaranteed universal health care and providing equal access to education.

Edwards is also more focused and more right about the Iraq war. He has acknowledged that he was wrong to vote in 2002 to authorize Bush to attack Iraq. He wants to begin bringing the troops home quickly and he is steadfastly opposed to the construction of permanent bases.

On trade and agriculture issues, he has shown perhaps the greatest evidence of growth. In addition to taking tough stances against individual flawed trade pacts, he has hired as his campaign manager former Congressman David Bonior, D-Michigan, who for years was the leading House foe of the corporation-friendly trade policies favored by the last two administrations.

Most indications suggest that Edwards gets it. That does not mean he is the perfect contender, nor that he is the perfect progressive. But he has grown a great deal over the past several years, and that growth has been in a serious, smart and savvy direction that progressives would be wise to note at this relatively early stage in the 2008 contest.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Death of a Moderate

When I think about the passing of Gerald Ford several things come to mind: that unforgivable pardon of Nixon, his unfortunate participation on the Warren Commission, even Chevy Chase's mercilessly funny parodyof Ford on the early days of Saturday Night Live. But his deathrepresents something else to me, something fundamental about thecurrent political landscape.

Ford, despite a brief tenure in office, has had reaching influence. AsJonWeiner pointed out, the leadership of Justice John Paul Stevens and the ascension of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney all lead back to Ford. But also he was one of the last of a dying breed: the moderate Republican.

By today's standards Ford was a real moderate Republican --maybe evena liberal. In 1976 when Ford ran for re-election he was besieged onboth sides. The left wing never forgave him for pardoning Nixon whilethe right didn't like his extension of détente policies with regards to Communism. They also didn't like the presence of a moderate Republican on his ticket, in the form of Nelson Rockefeller.

Ronald Reagan launched one of the most successful insurgent politicalcampaigns in modern history and nearly stole the Republican nominationfrom the sitting president. Reagan ran hard to the right and forcedFord in that direction in order to save his political life. When Fordfinally emerged the winner of the '76 Republican nomination he knew he had to extend an olive branch to the hardcore conservatives of his party to retain their support in November. His compromise was handing the vice-presidential nomination to the 1976 equivalent of right-wing Republican, Bob Dole.

Not only did this move backfire on former President Ford, by making him seem indecisive, but it also signaled the slow death of the liberal wing of the Republican party. Ford's nomination of Dole was meant to be a concession but it really ended up ceding the party's future. Ford lost a close election by 1970's standards to Democrat Jimmy Carter, but the groundwork for a conservative revolution was definitely solidifying. In 1980, Reagan returned, steamrolled over the competition, and. won the GOP nomination. The GOP never looked back. In retrospect, Ford looks like a model of bipartisanship and decency, but then again all of our leaders grow in stature in the shadow of George W. Bush.

Gerald Ford's Legacy: Cheney and Rumsfeld

Gerald Ford is gone, but he lives on in two of his key appointees: Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Their impact on America today is greater than Ford's, who died Tuesday at 93.

Ford appointed Rumsfeld his chief of staff when he took office after Nixon's resignation in 1974. The next year, when he made the 42-year-old Rumsfeld the youngest secretary of defense in the nation's history, he named 34-year-old Dick Cheney his chief of staff, also the youngest ever.

Those two Ford appointees worked together ever since. The Bush White House assertion of unchecked presidential power stems from the lessons they drew from their experience of working for the weakest president in recent American history. "For Dick and Don," Harold Meyerson wrote in The American Prospect last July, "the frustrations of the Ford years have been compensated for by the abuses of the Bush years."

Ford also named a new head of the CIA – a former Texas congressman named George H. W. Bush. Thus you could also credit also Ford with launching the Bush dynasty.

It was during Ford's presidency that the last Americans left Vietnam – that photo of them struggling to get into that chopper on the roof of the Saigon embassy remains our most powerful image of American defeat, and it shadows our current debate about how to get out of Iraq.

Ford did leave one positive legacy, as Meyerson reminds us: his supreme court appointee, John Paul Stevens. Few remember it today, but when the Court majority appointed Bush president in December, 2000, Stevens wrote a blistering dissent, damning the other Republican appointees for their blatant partisanship. And this year Stevens wrote the majority opinion in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld declaring that the military tribunals at Guantanamo violated the Geneva Convention.

But we wouldn't need Stevens if we didn't have Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush--that's the legacy of Gerald Ford.

The Accidental President

On August 9, 1974, amid the turbulence of the Watergate moment, Gerald R. Ford found himself in the extraordinary circumstance of assuming the presidency of the United States without first having faced the American electorate as a candidate for president or vice president.

Ford handled the unsettling transition as gently as he could.

"I assume the Presidency under extraordinary circumstances never before experienced by Americans," the new President told the American people in a televised address on the hot August day when he took over the office that had been abandoned by the disgraced Richard Nixon. "I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your President by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your President with your prayers."

Ford, who died Tuesday at age 93, tried to put the best spin on his assumption of the presidency. "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over," he declared. "Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule."

As genuine and decent a fellow as may have been--and, having enjoyed the opportunity to interview Ford several times, I do believe he was that--the new President got that last line wrong.

The people did not rule.

The presidency fell to a man who had never been elected by the voters of more than the single US House district in Michigan that Ford had represented for several decades. That's not the way a democracy is supposed to work.

Ford had been a popular and well-positioned member of the Republican minority in the House when in the fall of 1973, following the abrupt resignation of corrupt former Vice President Spiro Agnew, the congressman was plucked from relative obscurity by Nixon to fill the No. 2 position in the land. According to the then relatively new 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which set up procedures for filling a vacant vice presidential office, Ford had to be confirmed by the House and Senate.

Yet, only three senators -- Maine's William Hathaway, Wisconsin's Gaylord Nelson and Missouri's Thomas Eagleton--voted against Ford's confirmation to serve as vice president, as did a handful of House members. The concerns expressed by the dissenters varied. But underpinning them was a recognition that a man who had not faced the national electorate could assume the presidency.

Less than one year later, after Nixon was forced to resign, Ford did, indeed, become the nation's chief executive.

As President, Ford served more ably and honestly than many of his successors. But he was, and will always be, remembered as an accidental President. Perhaps that is not fair to him, but nor is it fair to the American people to have a President assume office in such a dysfunctional manner.

There will be a bit of discussion about how best to honor Ford. But, in truth, the best way to honor this former President is to close the Constitutional loophole that allowed him to become President. The presidency is already too regal to permit chief executives to annoint their successors--and, perhaps, to extract the promise of a full presidential pardon or some other favor, as critics suggested Nixon did with Ford.

It would be better to return to the old, pre-25th Amendment, practice of allowing an abandoned vice presidential office to remain vacant and allowing the Speaker of the House to assume the presidency in an emergency situation. It would be better still to set up a healthier procedure--perhaps even a special national election, along the lines regularly employed in other countries--to choose a new vice president.

Whatever the solution, the fact remains that something should be done.

There is a great deal of talk these days about how best to cure what ails American democracy. There are plenty of issues to address. But if Americans ever get serious about restoring the battered infrastructure of democracy, they will want to close the loopholes that allow someone who has never faced the great mass of American voters--and, theoretically, who has not faced any voters--to become President.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

James Brown, 1933-2006

"Internationally known as the hardest working man in show business . . . . Mr. Dynamite, the amazing Mr. Please Please himself . . . the star of the show, Jaaaames BROWN!"

That was the unforgettable opening of "The James Brown Show Live at the Apollo," an LP released in 1963, which spent 66 weeks on the Billboard album charts – something no R&B album had ever done. The hardest working man in show business died Christmas day at a hospital in Atlanta. He was 73.

I saw his live show in 1967 at the Boston Garden, the cavernous basketball and hockey arena. Tens of thousands of us knew exactly what would happen onstage: First he would dance like no man had ever danced before, hips shimmying, doing the splits, snapping his head in time to the beat, and never stopping.

Then would come his finale, "Please, Please, Please." In the middle of the song he would collapse. We would all leap to our feet crying "no, no!" Two assistants would emerge from the wings, cover him with a purple cape, and slowly help him to his feet to lead him offstage. Just before disappearing, he would throw off the cape and explode with even wilder dancing and screaming. It was the most ecstatic stage show anyone had ever seen (you can still see part of it on VHS as "The T.A.M.I. Show," taped at Santa Monica Civic in 1965).

His 1965 record "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" brought a revolutionary transformation to popular music. Rolling Stone called the song "epochal." Brown eliminated the chord changes that had provided the structure for song melodies for centuries, and in its place put rhythm--an irresistible beat, played by all the instruments--a stuttering, choked guitar, choppy base lines, riffing horns, and on top his awesome voice, raw, harsh and insistent, itself the greatest rhythm instrument in his band.

A decade of Brown-inspired funk followed, and after that rappers spent three decades sampling his tracks to provide the basis for their own.

"Poppa's Got a Brand New Bag" somehow announced the new era when an assertive black power replaced the dream of civil rights. He seemed to personify black power, especially with his 1968 song "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud."

But his relationship to politics was complicated and troubling to many of his fans. In the late sixties he became an advocate of black capitalism and offered himself as its exemplar, with a fleet of cars, a private jet, and a well-publicized mansion. When inner cities exploded in rage in 1967, he urged young blacks to cool it. Politically he aligned himself with Hubert Humphrey, LBJ's vice president and a defender of the war in Vietnam. In 1972 he endorsed Nixon for president.

Born in 1933 in South Carolina, James Brown grew up at the bottom in the segregated South, shining shoes and dancing for pennies on street corners. He served time in prison, first as a youth and later as an adult in the late 1980s. His death reportedly came as a surprise--he had planned to do a New Year's Eve show in New York City.

Surge, Reset, Escalate

Say it: escalation. More and more that's what the geniuses in Washington have come up with as a way of ending the war in Iraq. Instead of calling it an escalation of the war, they are using the military term of art, "surge." Ok, fine. Surge, escalation, "reset", call it what you will. The fact is that the American people voted in November to end the war in Iraq, and the White House has demonstrated that, kabuki-style consultations to the contrary, it just doesn't care.

Let's take as a given that adding more troops is a horrible idea, both strategically and morally bankrupt. How do the Democrats stop it from happening? Under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, passed by Congress in late 2002, the President has fairly wide latitude to prosecute the war. The new Democratic-controlled Congress has two main sticks to wield: oversight hearings and the power of the purse. There's a lot of skittishness on the part of Democrats to use their power of the purse, because Republicans could then spin it as the Democrats "cutting funding for the troops." Spencer Ackerman laid out just such a scenario recently, and I understand where he's coming from. The right was able to construct a myth in the years after the end of the Vietnam war that Democrats ended the war by refusing to fund it after 1974. While this wasn't really true, the funding was cut-off only after Nixon had signed the peace treaty, it created an enduring right-wing bugaboo, one that Republicans now threaten to wield as a cudgel if Democrats attempt to use their power of the purse to end the occupation.

So how about this: Early next year, the president is going have to submit an emergency appropriations bill to continue to fund the war. The Democrats should respond in two ways. First, if by the time the appropriations bill is submitted, the president is still discussing escalating the war, Democrats should come up with a counter offer: they will only approve enough funding for the current troops and not one more. Second, the funding should only be approved for the first 90 days, after which time the administration will have to report comprehensively to Congress on what progress has been made in bringing the war to a conclusion.

It's certainly not an ideal strategy, insofar as it essentially maintains the status quo, but in the in the near term, the first priority for the Democrats has to be to use their newfound ability to stop this war from escalating.

Cross-posted at the Notion

Two Cheers for Paul Krugman

Rubinomics may still reign over the Democratic party, but thehair-shirt economic orthodoxy has taken an influential hit. New YorkTimes columnist Paul Krugman today renounced his faith. Next toCitigroup executive Robert Rubin, Krugman may be the Democrats'favorite economist. He flogs George W. Bush relentlessly and never,never criticizes the Dems (maybe still dreaming of a Cabinet postsomeday).

Krugman's columns have been deficit-obsessive--can't leave the subjectalone. Until now, that is.

Krugman reversed his field on fiscal rectitude by arguing today thatDemocrats must now concentrate on new spending, not budget-cutting.Deficits still matter, he explained, but Americans are hurting and thepolitical situation dictates that the Democratic Congress undertakeprojects and programs that will make a real difference in people'slives.

Two cheers for Krugman. This put him in the labor-liberal camp (myselfincluded) that has been making the same point for several years. IfDemocrats stick with the Hooverite logic of Rubin--whackingentitlements and shrinking budget deficits-- they will forfeit theopportunity to rebuild their party by restoring the country.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds (saith Emerson)but Krugman's mind is as big as his ego. He will get a third cheer fromme when he comes clean on free-trade globalization. The system Krugmanhas long defended and promoted is a disaster for most workingAmericans. He's too smart not to know it. 

A Democrat Who Thinks Like A Democrat

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rahm Emanuel, the corporate-friendly centrist who actively worked against a number of anti-war progressives in 2006 Democratic primaries for US House seats and then refused to support at least some of those candidates in November, is handing his DCCC leadership position off to Chris Van Hollen, a congressman who has a dramatically better track record on foreign and domestic policy issues.

Emanuel, the former Clinton administration "fixer" who organized support for the North American Free Trade Agreement and other Wall Street-favored policies and who then went to Congress as a pro-corporate, pro-war Democrat, has tried to spin his management of the DCCC during the 2006 election cycle as a success. In fact, many of the Democrats who prevailed on November 7 did so despite the Illinois congressman's efforts, not because of them.

In primaries from California to New Hampshire, Democratic voters rejected Emanuel's hand-picked candidates and nominated progressives who went on to win in November. Indeed, while candidates such as Illinois centrist Tammy Duckworth, who had Emanuel's full support, were going down to defeat, the list of breakthrough winners included contenders such as New Hampshire anti-war candidate Carol Shea-Porter, who never got any support from Emanuel or his DCCC team.

While Emanuel was an effective fundraiser and a reasonably good strategist in some close races, no one should doubt that he worked the 2006 cycle wearing ideological blinders. And that caused him to make choices with regard to key races that erred on the side of candidates who shared his White House-friendly views against candidates who adopted more progressive positions--and who had more grassroots support.

Could Democrats have won additional seats in 2006 with a different DCCC chair--one who not only knew how to raise money and had a good strategic sense, but who was willing to support candidates who tapped into the anti-war and anti-free trade sentiments that ran so strong this year?

Of course.

For that reason, it will not just be progressives who welcome Emanuel's exit.

At the same time, there is every reason to be enthusiastic about the choice to replace him: Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen.

The new head of the DCCC has a far steadier record of opposing the Bush administration on the war in Iraq, on the Patriot Act and other civil liberties concerns and on economic policy. Van Hollen also knows a thing or two about running in a primary against high-profile candidates with lots of national support and money. Before ousting a Republican incumbent in the difficult 2002 election cycle, he won a Democratic primary against Mark Kennedy Shriver, a member of the Kennedy clan who, seemingly, had most of the advantages in the race.

Van Hollen is not a perfect player. But he is far more in touch with the values of Democratic voters than Emanuel ever was. And he is far more likely than Emanuel to support candidates based on their ability to win -- rather than their willingness to muzzle their message so as not to offend Wall Street and the foreign-policy hawks in Washington.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com