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DEBATE: Kerry Keeps Hopes Alive

"You've just witnessed the beginning of the end of the Bush administration!"

So shouted a Kerry aide as I stumbled out of the spin alley set up in the University of Miami's Wellness Center after the end of the first face-off between George W. Bush and John Kerry. Such exuberance was perhaps overstated but understandable. Kerry had more at stake this evening. A poor showing would have placed him in a position from which a come-from-behind victory would have been a hard-to-conceive possibility. But with a viable performance--in which he demonstrated he knows the facts and he knows his own mind--he narrowed that all-important commander-in-chief gap. Still, Bush was no slouch, even though he slumped at the podium. He did at times wince and come across as irritated and annoyed: This guy's questioning my judgment?. (The Kerry campaign, as I type, is putting together a video for release Friday morning that will chronicle Bush's unappealing expressions and body language.) But Bush, as he has done well on the campaign trail, defended the war in Iraq with strong, declarative statements meant to convey strength, conviction and idealism.

The snap polls taken by networks immediately after the debate found a decisive edge for Kerry. Yet it's doubtful the overall dynamics of the race were altered much. These 90 minutes, in a way, reinforced the fundamentals. Bush is the fellow with the uplifting themes: we're fighting for freedom, democracy, and our own survival in Iraq against killers who want to shake our will; it's tough work; the costs are indeed high; and I will be the strong and resolute leader who leads us to triumph. Kerry is the one with the sobering words: Iraq is a mess; we're not any safer; we must change course; and I have a better plan. It's inspiration (arguably misguided) versus critique (arguably not so inspiring). These are two rather distinct approaches, and they represent more of a psychological than an ideological split. Partisans on each side have already lined up with a candidate, and such voters are not likely to shift their loyalties on the basis of a debate performance (or anything else). The question is whether those legendary undecided voters will be responsive to the stirring tones that Bush aims for or will they be convinced by the pointed, rational arguments that Kerry seeks to present. Polls show that most Americans believe the war in Iraq was a mistake. But does that mean voters will automatically gravitate to the finger-waggerer who says he has a plan instead of the swaggerer responsible for the screw-up? Voters who now consider the war a blunder could still favor the candidate with the more upbeat or rousing message. In his closing remarks, Bush declared, "We've been challenged, and we've risen to those challenges. We've climbed the mighty mountain. I see the valley below, and its a valley of peace." Kerry said, "I believe America's best days are ahead of us because I believe that the future belongs to freedom, not to fear."

What Kerry achieved in this debate, which focused on foreign policy and national security, was to show tens of millions of television viewers that he could be forceful and that Bush is not the only person in the race with a set of convictions. Kerry vigorously argued that Bush has not made the nation safer and that there are critical differences between his approach and Bush's approach to dealing with the threats faced by the United States. He repeatedly maintained he could work better with other nations and persuade them to become more involved in dealing with the fiasco in Iraq. He declared more than once that he had plans for Iraq, for the so-called war on terrorism, and for homeland security. He denied his intent is to turn tail in Iraq. "I believe America is safest and strongest when we are leading the world and we are leading strong alliances," he said. "I'll never give a veto to any country over our security. But I also know how to lead those alliances. This president has left them in tatters across the globe." And Kerry accused Bush of making "a colossal error of judgment" by invading Iraq and diverting attention from "the real war on terror in Afghanistan against Osama bin Laden." Iraq, he said, "was not even close to the center of the war on terror before the president invaded it...And he rushed to war in Iraq without a plan to win the peace. Now that is not a judgment that a president of the United States should make."

Bush hit the familiar points: his administration has captured or killed much of al Qaeda's leadership (if not the top guy) and has taken out repressive regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. He repeated what has become his customary defense of the invasion of Iraq--with or without WMD stockpiles, Saddam Hussein was a threat--and he threw in the usual misrepresentations. (For instance, he said that Hussein had been "systematically deceiving" the UN weapons inspectors, but the inspections process had been proceeding, more or less, effectively prior to the invasion.) Oddly, Bush cited few indications of progress in Iraq, but he did claim that 100,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers have been trained. (After the debate, Kerry aide Rand Beers exclaimed, "By any generous estimate, it's closer to 22,000.") But Bush did speak in passionate and emotional tones about the casualties and difficulties in Iraq, and he insisted he had his own plan for success there.

Bush repeatedly cited his own steadfastness and attacked Kerry for having sent "mixed messages" by voting to authorize Bush to use force in Iraq and then claiming Iraq was "the wrong war at the wrong time at the wrong place." Again and again, Bush pounded Kerry on this point. A person who sends such "mixed messages" cannot be expected to be a decisive leader in the war on terrorism. And Bush attempted on several occasions to deride Kerry's arguments: "He says the cornerstone of his plan to succeed in Iraq is to call upon nations to serve. So what's the message going to be: 'Please join us in Iraq. We're a grand diversion. Join us for a war that is the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time?'" When Kerry said that if an American president wants to launch a preemptive strike, "you have to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people fully understand why you're doing what you're doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons," Bush saw an opening. "I'm not exactly sure," he said, "what you mean, 'passes the global test,' you take preemptive action, you pass a global test. My attitude is you take preemptive action in order to make this country secure." Expect to see a Bush ad soon in which Kerry is mocked for believing the United States must "pass a test" before taking action to defend itself.

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When you're done reading this article,visit David Corn's WEBLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent entries on the Bush administration decision to smother bad news from Iraq, Bush's embrace of High School Politics 101, and the supposedly aborted Bush plan to secretly muck about in the coming Iraqi elections,

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There were no breakout moments for either candidate. Kerry did not dramatically distinguish his plan for Iraq from Bush's plan for Iraq. But Kerry managed to level a series of substantial policy-based charges at Bush. He noted that Bush has not addressed obvious homeland security issues, such as security at chemical plants, the high number of shipping containers that enter the United States uninspected, and the lack of extensive screening of cargo carried by airliners. Kerry suggested Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy would have been better spent on plugging these holes in homeland security. Bush did not address these points. Instead, he claimed his administration had boosted spending on homeland security to $30 billion a year. Kerry criticized Bush for not moving fast enough to secure loose-nukes in the Soviet Union. Bush bashed him for supporting the International Criminal Court. The two squabbled over whether the United States should negotiate directly with North Korea (Kerry said yes, Bush said no.) And Bush did look silly noting his "good relations" with "Vladimir"--as in Putin--in response to a question about Putin's recent moves to limit democracy in Russia.

But Bush's main argument was simple: "If we remain strong and resolute, we will defeat this enemy." And, of course, Kerry is neither strong nor resolute. "The only consistent [thing] about my opponent's position," Bush commented, "is that he's been inconsistent. He changes his positions. And you cannot change positions in this war on terror if you expect to win." Kerry's main argument was simple as well: Strength is necessary, "but we also have to be smart." And he suggested Bush hasn't been all that intelligent. "When I talked about [the vote on] the $87 billion [appropriations bill that funded the war]," Kerry said, "I made a mistake in how I talked about the war. But the president made a mistake in invading Iraq. Which is worse?"

After the debating was over, the spinning began. Karl Rove and other Bush aides immediately claimed that Kerry had once again been nothing but inconsistent. "John Kerry did not resolve these contradictions," Rove asserted. "He made them worse." He and GOP chairman Edward Gillespie pointed to Kerry's answer to moderator Jim Lehrer's question, "After you came back from Vietnam...you said, 'How do you ask a man to be last man to die for a mistake?' Are Americans now dying in Iraq for a mistake?" Kerry had said, "No, and they don't have to, providing we have the leadership that I am offering. I believe we have to win this." See? the Bush aides exclaimed; Kerry calls the war a "mistake" yet he refuses to say American GIs have died for a "mistake." Were they getting desperate for material?

No, they were sticking with the gameplan. Before the invasion, Kerry said Saddam Hussein was a threat; he now says the war was wrong; he is a flip-flopper. And flip-floppers, everybody knows, can't defeat terrorists. But, I asked Rove, didn't Kerry explain tonight that while he had thought Hussein posed a threat, he believed further diplomacy and inspections should have been tried before heading off to war? "The fundamental point," Rove replied, "is that we are a safer country because Saddam Hussein was removed from power." That, as we say, was changing the subject. One outcome of this debate might be that the Bush team has a tougher time depicting Kerry as a wavering, finger-in-the-air pol, for Kerry did forcefully present his views on Iraq, terrorism and other national security matters. Yet that may not stop the Bushies from still claiming he is a defeatist weakling with no plan for victory who holds not a single clear and steady belief.

In spin alley, the Kerry spinners seemed happier than the Bush spinners. Rove was not amused when a New York Post reporter asked him more than once whether this had been Bush's worst debate performance ever. The Kerryistas faced no such questioning. Kerry aide Joel Johnson said that Kerry had done well by showing that "he could lead and fight the war on terror with as much energy and vigor as Bush. His strength and command of facts will give people confidence that he could be the fresh start to end the mess in Iraq. If you like the way the war is going, you should vote for Bush. Otherwise, he is the alternative." And Tad Devine, a chief Kerry strategist, declared the debate a "blowout," citing the snap polls. "Kerry," he said, "looked and sounded like the president this country is looking for."

Those initial polls about the debate were encouraging news for the Kerry camp, but in all the polls of recent weeks, Bush has cleaned Kerry's clock, when likely voters were asked which candidate is stronger and better able to handle the war in Iraq and the threat of terrorism. Will one debate change this? "The President," Devine said, "will always be seen as a strong leader. But if he is leading us in the wrong direction, that is not a great asset."

In the spin room, as reporters pressed representatives of each campaign for comments that were mostly predictable, the journalists also questioned one another about the debate. The overwhelming consensus was that Kerry had "won." But the word spread that I thought Bush had done better than Kerry. Joe Klein came up to me and said, "So I hear you think Bush won." No, I did not. But I did think that each candidate had done fine and that few new votes would be won by either side as a result of this debate. It's apples and oranges. Kerry and Bush think differently, talk differently, and appeal to different crowds. As I've noted in previous articles, Bush pushes buttons; Kerry attempts to score points. That's what each did at this debate. But most importantly for Kerry, the debate did look like a fight between equals--in that Kerry seemed as presidential as any challenger to an incumbent can seem. This does not mean Kerry is on the road to victory. But this debate probably keeps him in the hunt, and for Kerry and blue-staters everywhere, that certainly beats the alternative.

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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.

DEBATE: Whiner-in-Chief

It appears that George W. Bush is tired of being president.

His weariness and frustration with the job was evident throughout last night's first presidential debate of the 2004 campaign. Whenever the discussion turned to questions about his management of the occupation of Iraq, Bush said, "It's hard work." Why didn't he anticipate the disaster? "It's hard work." Considering the mounting death toll, was the Iraq invasion worth it? "It's hard work."

By the end of the night, the sullen president had repeated the "hard work" line at least nine times, using it as frequently as he did those stock talking points about "progress" in Iraq and Democrat John Kerry's "mixed messages." And, in contrast to his rote recitation of the talking points, Bush's grumbling about how difficult it is to do his job did not seem at all insincere. At least on this point, Bush was speaking the truth. For George W. Bush, serving as president at this time in history is very hard work.

What was striking last night was the marked distinction between the world-weary performance of the president and the engaged presence of John Kerry. The Democratic challenger did not suggest that the challenges of cleaning up the mess in Iraq would be easily met. But his answers to questions about the quagmire suggested that he did not find the notion of tackling those challenges nearly so daunting as does the current occupant of the Oval Office.

The night should have belonged to Bush. National security is supposed to be the president's strong suit. Yet, Bush only arrived with 30 minutes of material for a 90 minute debate. And he had a very hard time stretching.

For the most part, it was Kerry who did the heavy lifting when it came to defining the issues. And, in so doing, he controlled the course of the debate.

Kerry was especially effective in arguing that the invasion and occupation of Iraq had diverted troops and resources from the fundamental fights of the war on terror. But the Democrat also made the failure of the president to build a genuine global coalition in support of the war more of an issue. And he was devastating when he suggested, after detailing the flaws in the administration's strategy, that the president's promise for the next four years was: "more of the same."

Kerry was weaker when it came to explaining what his "less of the same" would actually look like. But he trumped Bush on what should have been one of the president's strong points: homeland security. Kerry did this by laying something of a trap for Bush. The Democrat suggested that tax cuts for the wealthy should be rolled back to pay for homeland security initiatives such as securing bridges and tunnels, checking containers coming through US ports and assuring that all cargo on airplanes is inspected before it is loaded onto planes. "We didn't need the tax cut," Kerry said. "America needed to be safe." Bush's response was to grumble about how Kerry was going to pay for "all these promises."

From an issue standpoint, it was the most telling moment of the debate. Kerry was promising to keep America safe. Bush was promising to keep cutting taxes for the rich.

Bush should have seen that one coming. But to do that he would have had to be paying attention. As he slumped against the podium through much of the debate, however, the president seemed every bit as anxious as his father--when the elder Bush got caught checking his watch during a 1992 debate--to be done with this painful 90-minute political exercise. And he gave the impression of not being all that much more excited about the four-year political exercise to which reelection would doom him.

When Bush complained that the job of being president is "hard work," he was entirely believable. Yet, when Kerry bragged about how he'd "get the job done," he was equally believable--and a good deal more appealing.

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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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Fake Republicanism

If there was any lingering doubt that President Bush is a recklessextremist rather than a true conservative, an extraordinary letter by theson of President Dwight D. Eisenhower should dispel it. John Eisenhower,who served as American Ambassador to Belgium between 1969 and 1971,joins President Ronald Reagan's son in condemning the BushAdministration for its abdication of conservative principles. Click here to read Eisenhower's letter published this past Tuesday in New Hampshire's Manchester Union Leader.

Concerts for Change

"I've got 25 years of credibility built up, and this isn't something I've moved into lightly," Bruce Springsteen says on the eve of his first Vote for Change concert in Philadelphia this Friday. "But this is the one where you spend some of that credibility. It's an emergency intervention."

Or as one of America's great musicians explained in a recent New York Times Op-Ed, "Personally, for the last twenty five years I have always stayed one step away from partisan politics...This year, however, for many of us the stakes have risen too high to sit this election out."

So, putting his music where his mouth is, Springsteen--along with Dave Matthews, the Dixie Chicks, Babyface, R.E.M, John Fogerty and more than a dozen other musicians--will be fanning out to play concerts in the battleground states. Kicking off on October 1 and running through 8, the concerts will raise money for America Coming Together to conduct voter education and go door-to-door to assist people in getting to the polls on November 2.

Rock historian Dave Marsh says in a recent USA Today article that the scale of Vote for Change has been rivaled only by Amnesty's 1988 International Human Rights Now! Tour. Another pop music critic compared the marshaling of musical talent behind the upcoming concerts to "a fervor that hasn't been witnessed since musicians in the late '60s united to protest Richard M. Nixon and America's involvement in the Vietnam War."

In a recent interview in Rolling Stone magazine, Springsteen spoke with RS editor Jann Wenner about his conscience, the upcoming election, and the relationship of an artist to his audience and politics. Click here to check out (and pass around) the interview. It is well worth reading--and keeping by your side--in these next weeks. And it's not too late to buy tix to one of the concerts by clicking here.

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.