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Cracker Squire


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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Gov. Warner Rejects Iraq Withdrawal Date

The Washington Post reports:

The United States needs to set milestones for progress, not a firm withdrawal date, before it can leave Iraq, Virginia governor and prospective Democratic presidential candidate Mark Warner said on Monday.

"This Democrat doesn't think we need to re-fight how we got into (the Iraq war). I think we need to focus more on how to finish it," Warner said.

"To set an arbitrary deadline or specific date is not appropriate," he said. "... It is incumbent on the president to set milestones for what he believes will be the conclusion."

Sunday, November 27, 2005

A short history lesson by Tom Crawford.

The following is taken from an article by Tom Crawford in Georgia Trend:

There's been a major political realignment in Georgia over the past 15 years as we finally became a two-party state.

For more than a century, the state was ruled by a Democratic Party made up of two mini-parties: white conservatives from the rural counties and an urban group of African-Americans and white liberals. There were tensions between the two factions but in the absence of a credible Republican alternative, they could generally keep the coalition together. Georgia voters largely preferred Republican candidates in federal elections but were content to keep electing Democrats at the local level.

That dynamic changed as the GOP slowly gathered strength in the 1990s, and you could see more of the rural conservatives changing their preference from Democrat to Republican at all levels. This realignment accelerated in 2002 when Sonny Perdue upset Roy Barnes in the governor's race, and the process was largely completed when federal judges tossed out the Democrat-designed legislative election districts in 2004.

Thus we have seen a huge Republican wave flooding out Democrats in rural areas and building on its existing strength in suburban and exurban counties around Atlanta. The GOP now controls the governor's office and the legislature and one day will likely have most of the judgeships as well.

How long this new alignment will hold is the compelling question in state politics. In recent election cycles, Republicans have achieved dominance because they have done a much better job of organizing, raising money and recruiting good candidates. The Democratic Party, by contrast, appears all but brain dead in the face of the GOP onslaught. Small wonder that some Republicans confidently predict they will be in charge for a long, long time.

Border Security an Issue for GOP - Illegal immigration may be as prominent a social issue in the 2006 elections as same-sex marriage was in 2004.

From The Los Angeles Times:

Illegal immigration has emerged as a major issue in political campaigns around the country, adding an element of emotional intensity that Republicans hope will excite their conservative supporters — but that also threatens to split the party.

In [several] states, the battle over illegal immigration is expected to be joined in ballot initiatives and various House, Senate and gubernatorial campaigns — a clear signal that it may be as prominent a social issue in the 2006 elections as same-sex marriage was in 2004.

"Midterm elections are testing grounds for presidential election issues," said Jennifer Duffy, an analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. "I really believe that immigration is that issue for 2006. Whether immigration dominates a race or shapes it, I expect every competitive race to engage on it on some level."

[T]he risk for Republicans is that as Bush continues to pursue his long-cherished goal of attracting more Latinos to the GOP, a focus on illegal immigration could inspire a political backlash like the one that hit California Republicans in the mid-1990s. Prop. 187, the antiillegal immigration measure championed in 1994 by then-Gov. Pete Wilson and other state Republican leaders, galvanized much of the Latino community against the GOP.

An October survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 51% of those polled said they believed that reducing illegal immigration should be a top priority — up from 42% in September 1997.

House GOP leaders are planning a December vote on legislation aimed at toughening border security. They are responding, in part, to growing frustration among the Republican rank and file with inaction by Bush and Congress.

A day for thanks, and for wishes

Joan Vennochi of The Boston Globe wrote this on Thanksgiving Day:

HOLIDAY COLUMNS scare me. Under pressure to produce words that might pull people from their Thanksgiving turkey, the brain freezes.

I mentioned this to one regular e-mail correspondent, Herbert Yood of Orleans. Within minutes he fired back this reply:

''Were it I, I'd give a shot at what we ought to be thankful for. There are plenty of things we bemoan -- the war in Iraq, the fact that people we don't know are very happy to kill us, an absurd health care system, a corrupted political system and so on, but we rarely express thanks for what we do have:

''A civilization that does provide education and opportunity to many.

''The fact that we are Americans instead of people in far less pleasant lands.

''Free public libraries.

''People who worry about the air we breathe and the water we drink (true, we also have people who foul both the air we breathe and the water we drink, but at least it's not all one way).

''Some of us are lucky enough to be able to love and be loved.

''That however dysfunctional our healthcare system is, that there are people within it who do their best to provide healing and comfort to the afflicted.

''That ultimately we live in a country where many people have good hearts.

''And, despite all the sins of the press/ media, we do live in a society where we are free to express our thoughts. Even at my sourest, I have always known that if I had been born and raised in many other countries, I would long ago have been put up against a wall and shot. And you -- my goodness. Your life expectancy in a place like Zimbabwe or the Sudan could probably be measured in seconds, were you in those places."

Thank you, Herb.

His last point is especially noteworthy for journalists, but there is something in what he wrote for everyone. Essentially, he reminds us of the enormous freedom we have in this country to disagree, point out flaws, and blame each other for what goes wrong. And it all happens within the context of civilized, if not always civil, debate.

In the press, we take shots -- in print, on the air, and via the Internet -- every day. In return, we expect nothing more than nasty e-mail shot back at us. And we complain about that, too, even while colleagues risk their lives as they report from the epicenter of vicious struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This country is at war with itself over war. Still, as ugly as American politics can be, the damage is confined to victory or defeat on election day.

In America, headlines may blow up someone's political career and polls may undercut their political influence. The idea that an endless supply of people will blow themselves up in an effort to turn the political tide in Iraq still has the capacity to shock; it is so alien to the way power ebbs and flows in this nation.

We drag our politicians through the mud, not from their beds, to be shot and tossed dead on the street. We can be grateful for that, as well as for everything else my e-mail correspondent mentions.

Yet some of us still do selfishly wish for more, personally and collectively as a country. For example, instead of simply bemoaning war, I wish there were a way to figure a way out of it as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans. I wish the country could look ahead, not back, and in doing so, politicians would focus on solving problems, not on waging their next presidential campaign. I wish there were a way to appreciate everything we have and then agree on how to make it better. I wish that the political right and left in this country would appreciate the preciousness of cacophony and stop trying to impose their specific set of values on everyone else.

Wishing for more and thinking it possible, if not probable -- come to think of it, those are also reasons to give thanks in America.

Poll-watching pols now say no on Iraq

Joan Vennochi of The Boston Globe writes:

AS GO the polls, so go the pols.

According to the most recent CNN/Gallup/ USA Today survey, 63 percent of Americans disapprove of the situation in Iraq. In essence, the question Cindy Sheehan tried to ask President Bush in Crawford, Texas, last August -- why did my son die in Iraq? -- is resonating across the country.

And so, the time has come for America's politicians to line up bravely behind the public.

John Edwards, the former US senator from North Carolina who hopes to run again for president, began a recent Washington Post opinion piece about his vote to authorize war with these words: ''I was wrong." Also last week, the Republican-controlled Senate voted to press the White House to provide more public information about the course of the war in Iraq.

Senator John Kerry spent much of the 2004 presidential campaign trying to rationalize his vote to authorize war with Iraq. Finally, last month Kerry called for troop withdrawal, echoing a demand made last January by Senator Edward M. Kennedy to harsh criticism.

Kennedy voted against the Iraq war resolution, called Iraq ''George Bush's Vietnam," and pressed the White House long before the polls turned sharply downward on the president.

The three Massachusetts congressmen who also voted ''yes" on the Iraq war resolution -- Edward Markey, Martin Meehan, and Stephen Lynch -- also said recently that if they knew then what they know now, they would not have done so. (Earlier this year, Meehan called for a troop withdrawal schedule.)

In his recent speech at Georgetown University, Kerry said, ''The country and the Congress were misled into war. I regret that we were not given the truth." In his Washington Post opinion piece, Edwards also submitted the new mantra of the change-of-heart crowd: ''The information the American people were hearing from the president -- and that I was being given by our intelligence community -- wasn't the whole story."

Interestingly, this argument could run into flak from those who opposed the Iraq invasion from the start.

For example, Michael Capuano of Somerville -- one of seven Bay State congressmen who voted against the Iraq war resolution -- said some colleagues who voted ''yes" now contend they were lied to or misled. But Capuano sees the situation differently. Sure, the Bush administration marshaled intelligence to make the case that Saddam Hussein had WMDs; but even so, he argues, the White House never presented a strong case, publicly or in private briefings with Congress. ''They never came close. There was never any real hard proof," said Capuano.

Recalling a White House briefing by Condoleezza Rice, then Bush's national security adviser, Capuano said: ''They never had an ounce of evidence in my mind. The best they could give me was a picture of a tractor trailer, photos from a gazillion miles up, that they said was a lab."

Appreciating that he was ''low down on the totem poll," Capuano said that in the run-up to the vote, he asked ''every senior Democrat I could find, 'have you guys seen something we haven't seen?' Everyone said no."

So, were some ''yes" votes influenced by polls? ''At the time, sure, some were," said Capuano, speaking generally, not specifically, about any individual vote.

Of course, all ''yes" votes were not cast in bad faith. The Iraq war resolution vote was taken in October 2002, a year after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Emotions and patriotism ran high, as did support for Bush in the aftermath of his decision to invade Afghanistan. In that context, Bush got the benefit of the doubt and the votes in Congress.

And today a politician's decision to voice regret for that vote represents more than capitulation to public opinion polls. It is an important and necessary recognition of reality in Iraq, even if it falls short of the Tip O'Neill standard.

In 1967, the Democratic congressman from the Eighth District broke with Lyndon Johnson over the Vietnam War. According to John A. Farrell's biography, ''Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century," the Cambridge Democrat told the Democratic president in the Oval Office: ''I don't want to leave you, but I think you're wrong." With those words, O'Neill was ahead of the curve, the polls, and his blue-collar constituents.

In 2005, belated spine is better than no spine. But it should never be confused with real political courage, the kind that stands up to presidents when it is unpopular to do so.

Shipp: Burmeister may earn place in 'Who's Who'

This week Bill Shipp writes:

When the "Who's Who" of the civil rights movement finally is compiled, readers might find a surprising name included.

Rep. Sue Burmeister, R-Augusta, will surely be recognized in the volume that will include Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis and others. Burmeister will be cited for her amazing effort to ensure extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Frankly, until now we had dismissed Burmeister as just another wing-nut, best remembered for her fanatical support of indicted school superintendent Linda Schrenko. We were wrong.

Burmeister apparently kept her true mission hidden, just like a latter-day Valerie Plame, without the Scooter Libby component.

Now Burmeister has cast aside her disguise as merely another airhead in the Gold Dome. Last week she burst upon the national stage and newspaper front pages with her observation that down around Augusta, blacks only vote when paid, and if fewer vote, there is less fraud.

At first, we were astounded. "Surely, no reasonable person holding public office today in the South would make such a statement," we said.

We were wrong again.

As expected, Burmeister claimed those lying Atlanta newspapers "misrepresented" what she said.

We checked and double-checked. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution picked up the story from the Washington Post, which reproduced an official U.S. Department of Justice memo. We went directly to the memo, which stated:

"Rep. Burmeister said if there are fewer black voters because of this (Voter ID) bill, it will only be because there is less opportunity for fraud. She said that when black voters in her black precincts are not paid to vote, they do not go to the polls."

The Justice Department paper suggests that she must have said it all right - or else the department just plain lied. Surely, a good Bushite like Sue doesn't believe that.

Burmeister's sentiments came to light when the feds reviewed Georgia's new voter ID act, which critics say is meant to suppress black voter turnout.

Burmeister, along with state Sen. Cecil Staton, who is Zell Miller's book publisher, jointly sponsored the voter ID bill that sailed to passage in the GOP-controlled House. Many incensed black lawmakers walked out during the debate.

However, the lady from Augusta finds herself swimming in a much bigger political pond than the Georgia House.

Until Burmeister's statement, some Southern congressmen had engaged in reasoned debate on whether the pre-clearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act should be extended.

The pre-clearance provision, enacted during the heyday of George Wallace and Ross Barnett, and Georgia's own Lester Maddox, required any legislation affecting the voting rights of minorities to be first screened and approved by the Justice Department before it could go into effect.

The Voting Rights Act, including the pre-clearance section, was passed as a national reaction to the beating of civil rights leader John Lewis and others on what now is called "Bloody Sunday," when blacks marched to enforce a 100-year-old promise of the right to vote. Helmeted Alabama state troopers, encouraged by rebel flag-waving "heritage" supporters, were so brutal in their reaction to the peaceable demonstration that the entire nation recoiled in shock and reacted by passing the Voting Rights Act with its pre-clearance requirement.

The Voting Rights Act is up for renewal, and some Southerners are trying to make the case - some say with effectiveness - that the South of 1965 is no more. We have learned our lesson, they said, and we can be trusted now. Then Burmeister spoke.

With her reinforcing the stereotype of bigoted Southerners despising blacks and willing to do anything to keep them from voting, Burmeister's callous statement is reminiscent of a bygone era - or is it a bygone era?

That is the question with which Congress will be confronted in its decision on whether to keep Georgia and the South under the yoke of pre-clearance and prior approval. The smart bet is that Burmeister tipped the scales in favor of extension.

She must have known what she was doing. Not even a member of the Georgia legislature could be so dumb as to think such talk would be shrugged off.

So, move over, Dr. King. Make way, John Lewis. Sue Burmeister might step into history as the Georgian who did most to extend the Voting Rights Act.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Iraq and the 'L' Word

Richard Cohen writes in The Washington Post:

Along with such creations as American POWs still being held in Vietnam and the Bill Clinton drug-smuggling operation at a remote Arkansas air strip, the unhinged right wing has now invented the myth that Democratic members of Congress have called President Bush "a liar" about Iraq. An extensive computer search by myself and a Post researcher can come up with no such accusation. That's prudent. After all, it's not clear if Bush lied about Iraq or was merely the "useful idiot" of those who did.

The term "useful idiot" is not a reflection of IQ. I resurrect it from the Cold War days when anticommunists used it to contemptuously describe certain communist sympathizers. I think sometimes the phrase probably went through the dark mind of Vice President Cheney and certain other Bush administration officials who must have known that their dear president was exaggerating the case for war. Cheney, for one, is too smart and too calculating not to have known that the envelope was being pushed past the point of verifiable truth.

In fact, the man who just recently took a McCarthyite swipe at Democratic war critics had no equal in exaggerating Saddam Hussein's (nonexistent) nuclear weapons program. In just one month -- August 2002 -- Cheney repeatedly warned of its imminent danger. The first time, he said that if Hussein was "left to his own devices, it's the judgment of many of us that in the not-too-distant future, he will acquire nuclear weapons." Later that month he described Hussein as a "sworn enemy of our country," adding that he constituted a "mortal threat" to the United States. "We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons," the vice president also said that month. "Among other sources, we've gotten this from firsthand testimony from defectors, including Saddam's own son-in-law."

But as a Post story by Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus from August 2003 makes clear, Cheney could not have known what he said he knew. In the first place, Hussein's son-in-law was dead, killed in 1996 when he made the dubious career move of returning to Iraq. What's more, when Hussein Kamel was still a defector and being debriefed in Jordan, he said he had no knowledge of a current nuclear weapons program. Iraq's uranium enrichment program -- a prerequisite for a weapons program -- had been dormant since the Gulf War in 1991.

This was typical Cheney -- and, to a lesser extent, Condi Rice and other members of the Bush administration. Their incessant references to "mushroom clouds" or "nuclear blackmail" might have at one time been understandable -- although still a huge, irresponsible reach. But well before the war began, it was becoming clear that Saddam Hussein had not a nuclear weapon to his name. The program that United Nations and other inspectors had stumbled on after the Gulf War -- the program that surprised U.S. officials and encouraged them to believe that Hussein could hide anything -- had by then been proved to no longer exist. U.N. inspectors simply could find no evidence of it -- and neither could anyone else. As the prime reason for war, a nuclear weapons program had no basis in fact.

What is both amazing and appalling about Bush is that he seems not to care. The way things look now, he will go down in history as an amiable dunce -- Clark Clifford's scathing and misapplied characterization of Ronald Reagan -- who took his country to war for reasons that did not exist. This is a blunder without peer in American history and possibly an assault on democracy: The people, through their representatives, are supposed to make an informed decision about war. It is incredible to me that Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about sex, but nobody -- that's nobody -- in the entire Bush administration has been fired, not to mention impeached, for this shedding of American blood. Cheney, a man of ugly intolerance for dissent, should have been the first to go. His has been a miserable, dishonest performance -- which he continues to this day.

The restraint of responsible war critics has been remarkable. Despite a recent headline on the Wall Street Journal's editorial page -- "What If People Start Believing That 'Bush Lied'?" -- the "L" word has been prudently withheld by elected Democrats. But you would think that Bush himself would wonder about how he's gotten to this place where he looks like such a fool: wrong on the biggest issue of his presidency. He went out there and told the American people things that were not true. Does that mean he lied? Maybe not. Maybe he was just repeating the lies of others.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Rep. Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania calls for withdrawal of troops from Iraq "at the earliest practicable date."

In 1967, Tip O'Neill, no liberal on defense, stunned President Lyndon Johnson by telling him that the Vietnam War had become a lost cause.

In 1968 Walter Cronkite, "the most trusted man in America," after returning from a trip to Vietnam during the Tet offensive, called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops during a prime-time special on CBS.

After the piece aired, President Johnson said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America."

Howard Fineman in Newsweek, in an article partially entitled "Bush at the Tipping Point," describes Rep. Murtha as "the one-man tipping point."

Dr. Charles Bullock: Why Georgians Should Care Who Governs Virginia

InsiderAdvantage Georgia has the following comment from Dr. Charles Bullock, Professor of Political Science at Georgia:

Immediately after the Virginia election, a leading British newspaper ran an extensive article setting out why Warner might be the leader of the ABH (Anybody but Hillary) faction of the Democratic Party. If British journalists are picking up on the implications of the Virginia vote, it is a certainty that many Democratic operatives have had similar thoughts.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Democrats Losing Race For Funds Under Dean

The Washington Post reports:

The Democratic National Committee under Howard Dean is losing the fundraising race against Republicans by nearly 2 to 1, a slow start that is stirring concern among strategists who worry that a cash shortage could hinder the party's competitiveness in next year's midterm elections.

The former Vermont governor and presidential candidate took the chairmanship of the national party eight months ago, riding the enthusiasm of grass-roots activists who relished his firebrand rhetorical style. But he faced widespread misgivings from establishment Democrats, including elected officials and Washington operatives, who questioned whether Dean was the right fit in a job that traditionally has centered on fundraising and the courting of major donors.

Now, the latest financial numbers are prompting new doubts.

As critics see it, Dean has disappointed on two fronts. The DNC has not replicated the success of Dean's presidential campaign two years ago in tapping vast numbers of new and smaller contributors over the Internet. And skeptics say he has not yet established rapport with and won the confidence of high-dollar donors.

"We will have the resources to do what we need to do," said Karen Finney, a DNC spokeswoman. "We are committed to investing in state parties and rebuilding the grass roots from the bottom up."

Finney noted that the DNC has staff in 38 states and will have organizers in every state by the year's end. She also noted that it donated $5 million to the winning gubernatorial campaign of Virginia Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.

Dean took over as DNC chairman with a background different from that of most of his predecessors. He succeeded Terence R. McAuliffe, who began as a fundraiser in his early twenties and had known many major donors for two decades.

In his presidential campaign, Dean drew cheers from activists for his sharp criticisms of what he described as an accommodationist party establishment, too beholden to Washington interests.

Several Washington Democrats not favorably inclined toward Dean said the party was willing to gamble on his "potential for hoof in mouth disease" -- in the words of one lobbyist -- because of the unexpected fundraising prowess he showed in the 2004 race.

Dean, a virtual unknown nationally when the race began, shocked the political world with his ability to raise dollars over the Internet -- a fundraising medium that had not been fully tapped before his campaign. Dean raised about $20 million online in the primary season -- about 40 percent of the more than $50 million he raised for his entire campaign. Using techniques pioneered by Dean, Kerry raised more than $80 million online in last year's general election campaign.

As some see it, Dean's larger problem is with the care and feeding of wealthy contributors, people capable of giving the maximum $26,700 allowed annually under federal law. Bob Farmer, a past DNC finance chairman, said that "where the chairman can make an impact is with the big donors and the big fundraisers."

Dean does not enjoy long relationships with these people and remains uncomfortable asking for a significant contribution after just meeting a donor, said party operatives familiar with his style.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Let’s Try Baloney - The White House is way off track. Only something radical can rally Bush’s presidency.

Eleanor Clift of Newsweek writes:

Things aren’t getting better in Bush land. They had a horrific week with the election results. Virginia, a Red State, elected a new governor, Tim Kaine, a Democrat to the left of current Gov. Mark Warner, who’s now a hot presidential prospect as a Democrat who can bridge the divide between Red and Blue America.

Events were no better elsewhere. Bombings of hotels in Amman, Jordan, begged the question: Why can’t we capture Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born insurgent leader in Iraq suspected of carrying out the attacks—or Osama bin Laden for that matter? Al-Zarqawi moves beyond the borders of Iraq to become a regional threat while Vice President Dick Cheney, a veteran of multiple draft deferments, battles Sen. John McCain, a former POW, for pushing an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that puts the U.S. government on record opposing torture.

Something is deeply askew in the White House when the priorities are so off kilter. Unless events conspire to save President George W. Bush—Iraq turns around, the economy improves for average workers (not just oil execs), and the price of energy comes down—he is heading for a full meltdown, a scary prospect when you realize he’s president for three more years. What’s needed now is the political imagination to change direction, the way President Bill Clinton did after losing both the House and Senate in 1994.

Bush went on the offensive Friday, saying in a Veteran’s Day speech that critics of his Iraq policies are undercutting American soldiers on the front lines. He also attacked Democrats who claim that pre-war intelligence was manipulated by the White House. But evidence to the contrary will make this a hard sell.

The people who most want Bush to succeed are the alumni of his father’s administration, and they are in despair over the state of the White House. One former diplomat after three glasses of wine at an embassy dinner confessed that he has a recurring image of the White House as a crab with seven atrophied legs and one over-developed leg, which would be Karl Rove, pulling everything along. “If he goes, there’s nothing left.” Exhausted and demoralized Bush aides are turning on each other and leaking stories to the press, a breakdown in discipline that was common in the Clinton White House, but new to the Bush operation. Friends of the senior Bush are blaming Cheney for usurping too much power, but that’s why they wanted him there, as a minder for the man-child who should never have been made president.

This is a battle between the Bushes of Kennebunkport and the Bushes of Crawford, and who prevails will determine which direction Bush 43 goes for the rest of his term. The Connecticut crowd is headed by Bush 41 with Brent Scowcroft, the former national security adviser, speaking for the father, James Baker the consigliore, and chief-of-staff Andy Card their mole. Scowcroft has terminally offended the White House with his anti-Iraq war views. “He might as well be dead,” says the former diplomat. “If you say anything publicly, you’re frozen out. You have to show comity toward them, or they won’t listen to you.”

Suiting up on the Crawford side is Rove, and of course Bush 43, who reinforce each other. If Bush sticks with Rove and goes to the right, there’s a ceiling on his popularity at best of 45 percent. If he moves to the center, like the Bush 41 crowd would like, the base collapses and he doesn’t necessarily pick up votes in the center. The administration is too far gone, the problems intractable.

When Clinton got into trouble, he reached outside his White House and secretly consulted with pollster Dick Morris, whose strategy of “triangulation” positioned Clinton between the Democrats and the Republican Congress, and revived his presidency. The elder Bush’s allies are pushing to bring in two or three people who can talk to Bush and help fashion fresh approaches to the nation’s problems in the State of the Union address early next year. Who might those people be? After a long silence, the diplomat suggested Jim Baker, who has come to the rescue before, but who is better suited to working behind the scenes. The Right distrusts him and would rebel if they saw Baker’s fingerprints.

The other name offered was Condoleeza Rice, who Bush calls “mother hen.” She spends time with him—biking, pumping iron and taking walks—or at least she did when she was national security adviser and didn’t travel so much. “He needs people who affirm him,” said the diplomat, recalling Harriet Miers’s note to then Gov. Bush that he was “deserving of the greatest respect.” In this diplomat’s assessment, having known the Bush family, respect is the key word. Bush for years was the ne’er do well son of a respected, duty-bound father, and he’s still playing catch-up in the family Oedipal drama.

Talking to Bush requires what diplomats call the “baloney sandwich approach.” It works like this: Your spouse has run up the credit cards. Confronting her will provoke a fight. So you flatter her, tell her what a great wife and mother she is; then present this teeny little problem the two of you can work together to solve because you love her so much. Bush’s world has collapsed in on him. It’s time to try something new, even if it’s baloney.

The Wedge Strategy - Democrats take a page from a GOP playbook, and test Republican loyalties.

From Newsweek by Howard Fineman:

For Democrats, the outside-the-Beltway strategic lessons from this week’s elections are clear: run as a moderate or run on competence (or both), and surf to victory on voters’ disdain for President Bush and his party’s corrosive ad tactics.

But there’s another Democratic strategy under development, this one inside the Beltway, and it bears watching: a divide-and-conquer approach that is making life miserable for Bush and the GOP.

Call it Wedge Strategy 2.0. I saw it in operation the other day when I happened to drop by Sen. Harry Reid’s press office in the Capitol just as his press secretary, Jim Manley, was spinning his bosses’ latest line of attack: that “all roads” of controversy lead to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.

“The focus is on Cheney,” Manley said happily, “and you can quote me on that!” Cheney and Halliburton, Cheney and torture policy, Cheney and the CIA leak, Cheney and pre-war intelligence, Cheney and global warming….

If you are a political junkie, you’ll remember Wedge Strategy 1.0. Invented by the Republicans in the 80s, the idea was to create division within the then-majority Democratic Party at the grassroots by highlighting “wedge issues” such as affirmative action, abortion, gay rights, free trade and immigration. The aim was to create friction between, say, black Democrats and white unionists over affirmative action. Party-building is about papering over conflicting views; the Republicans’ goal in those years was to expose them.

It was an outside, grassroots game.

The Democrats’ New Wedge Strategy is an inside one, aimed at Bush-led Republican Washington, where team loyalty is supposed to be the number one virtue, and where the president has ruled with an iron hand. The Democrats want to unhinge that discipline by exposing — or creating — friction between: Bush and Cheney, Bush and his political advisor, Karl Rove; the White House and the Republican-run Congress; and between competing Republican leadership tongs on Capitol Hill.

None of these figures or factions is popular in the country right now, and the Dems’ rather simple idea is to force them to defend each other in broad daylight. And the Dems know that Bush — a loyalist by nature, who believes in the Texas adage of “dancing with the one that brung ya” — is likely to take the bait.

Here’s the way it’s playing out:

Bush v. Cheney
Rather than go after the president, the Democrats are highlighting Cheney, and hope either that the president is forced to come to the defense of his own veep, or publicly distance himself from him — at which point they’ll shout what amounts to “Cheney’s guilty!”

Bush aides are obliging the Dems by leaking word — or spin — that the veep had lost clout long before his former top aide, I. Lewis “Scooter" Libby was indicted by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald.

Now Democrats are highlighting Cheney’s role as an advocate for exemptions to the new anti-torture policy, and focusing on the “what he knew and when he knew it” questions raised by the leak investigation of Libby.

Bush v. Rove
While most legal experts doubt that Rove will be indicted, Democrats will push for a public accounting from the “Boy Genius” about his role in the CIA matter.

More important, they will press the president to explain why he didn’t — or shouldn’t now — fire Rove for his involvement in the Valerie Plame matter.

Bush and Rove have been a political team for 32 years; no one expects them to go their separate ways. But Rove has his share of Republican enemies in town, and the Dems would love to give them an excuse to call for his departure, or at least demotion. The aim, if nothing else, is to unsettle the Boss.

White House v. Hill
The Bush presidency has ruled the GOP-run Congress as a fiefdom of its own. It worked in the first term, but has left behind deep resentment in the backbenches of the House, and the Senate as a whole, where Majority Leader Bill Frist (installed at the behest of Rove), is not widely liked.

Democrats want to stoke that resentment. One way: encourage a new discussion of budget cuts. The Dems aren’t really any more interested in cutting the deficit than the Republicans are, but they would like to see the GOP at war with itself over how to do it.

Republican v. Republican on the Hill
This is the easiest one for the Democrats: just raise the profile of Sen. John McCain by doing more deals with him. And they solemnly back his effort to ensure that foreign detainees are interrogated humanely. The senator’s chief foe: Cheney. For Democrats, there’s no Wedge Strategy wrestling match they’d rather see — unless they can find a way to lure Bush into the ring, too.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Republican Edge on Key Issues Is Slipping Amid Party's Setbacks

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Republicans, wincing from losses in two governors' races this week and President Bush's current political weakness, face a broader problem as well: Some of the party's most potent traditional advantages appear to be eroding.

Amid their failure Tuesday to take back governor's seats in either Virginia or New Jersey, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll shows that Republicans have lost the upper hand on a series of issues they've counted on to preserve their congressional majorities in 2006.

Among other findings, the poll indicates that voters no longer prefer Republicans to Democrats on handling taxes, cutting government spending, dealing with immigration and directing foreign policy.

Meanwhile, Democrats have restored their earlier edges on subjects such as education and Social Security, on which Mr. Bush has sought to make inroads among targeted constituencies.

Broadly, the telephone survey of 1,003 adults, which was conducted from Nov. 4 to Nov. 7, finds that Americans want Democrats to take control of Congress in next year's election, by a margin of 48% to 37%. The 11-point gap is the widest enjoyed by either party on that question since the poll began asking it in 1994.

For the first time since the Republican congressional landslide that year, a majority of respondents say it's time to replace their member of Congress. The poll has a margin for error of 3.1 percentage points.

The findings hardly guarantee that Democrats will be able to ride popular disaffection back to power on Capitol Hill, however. While they are benefiting from discontent against Republicans, they still lack either a singular national voice or a clearly defined agenda for voters to seize on. Only half of respondents credit Democrats with having a vision for the future, while 60% say Republicans have one.

To address that problem, Democrats privately are planning an equivalent of the Republicans' onetime "Contract With America," which in 1994 gave the party an affirmative national agenda to complement popular discontent with President Clinton. The Democrats plan to center their version on issues such as education, fiscal discipline and energy independence.

Even in their improved position, Democrats will have limited numbers of targets. Because congressional boundary lines place most lawmakers in districts clearly favoring one party or the other, fewer than 10% of House seats held by Republicans currently are considered at risk. Most Senate Republican incumbents facing re-election next year remain favored to win.

Just 33% now give Mr. Bush high marks for being "honest and straightforward," down from 50% in January. Fully 57% say he "deliberately misled" the nation about the case for war in Iraq.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Lessons for Virginia and beyond.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports:

Jerry W. Kilgore got his referendum.

The Republican's crushing defeat by Democrat Timothy M. Kaine in the governor's race signals that, despite the rapid ascendancy of the GOP, Virginia's political orientation is more practical than partisan.

Beyond the state's borders, Kaine's victory will be seen as a setback for an embattled President Bush, who nationalized the hard-fought contest with his last-minute fly-in for Kilgore's anemic candidacy, a centerpiece of which was a promise to let voters decide on tax increases.

The fortunes of two presidential prospects also are affected by the result: Departing Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner's are up; Republican U.S. Sen. George Allen's are down.

National Democrats, looking for a winning strategy in the 2006 congressional elections and the race for the White House two years later, will note that Kaine not only held the centrist coalition that lifted Warner to office in 2001 but also effectively played the values card that Republicans believed was theirs.

"We're trying to show here that God isn't a Republican," said David Eichenbaum, who, with Karl Struble, produced much of Kaine's radio and television advertising, including commercials in which the candidate invoked his Catholic faith. "This may be one of the biggest lessons that Democrats have to take out of this."

As a Catholic, Kaine said he opposes abortion and the death penalty. As a prospective governor, he vowed to uphold the laws allowing both.

Though Kilgore claimed Kaine got religion only because it was an election year, voters -- as public-opinion polls showed -- were comfortable that Kaine would not put church ahead of state.

This allowed Kaine to survive the most hazardous stretch of the eight-month, $40 million campaign: a punishing barrage of Kilgore ads by Scott Howell -- an archrival of Eichenbaum and Struble -- in which relatives of murder victims branded the Democrat unreliable on the death penalty.

One spot suggested that Kaine would not execute even Adolf Hitler.

Republicans, certain that Kaine's stance on capital punishment would prove politically fatal in a state where 75 percent of voters favor it, were instead stunned by a backlash. In one survey, one in four voters said they were more inclined to oppose Kilgore because of the disputed ads.

Howell, who fashioned controversial ads for Bush and winning U.S. Senate candidates, appeared to acknowledge the perils of his handiwork for Kilgore. "We're not in the best environment to be running a campaign," Howell told the left-of-center political journal, The Nation.

In addition, Kilgore's ads became a substitute for a candidate who seemed skills-challenged and, at times, nearly invisible.

Virginia was an inhospitable setting for Kilgore and his Republicans, who drew solace from Bill Bolling's win for lieutenant governor and were hoping Robert F. McDonnell would survive for attorney general.

The president's standing declined in a state he easily carried in 2000 and 2004, a consequence of uncertainty over the war in Iraq, fuel prices, natural disasters and a growing federal deficit.

In contrast, Warner's popularity loomed over the campaign. His approval rating topped 70 percent, spanning the partisan divide and rising even after winning a promise-breaking $1.4 billion tax increase for education, human services and law enforcement.

"This became as much a referendum on Mark Warner in some ways as it was about Tim Kaine," said Steve Jarding, the strategist credited with helping Warner win back Republican-leaning rural voters four years ago.

"This propels him, and a lot of national pundits that follow American politics are going to say Mark Warner won big tonight. It sets him up to move nationally and to make the case [that] you can win in red states, and if you govern well in a red state, a Democrat can follow you in office."

Allen, Kilgore's mentor, may be forced to reappraise his philosophical bearings and campaign tactics as he, too, shifts to the national stage, perhaps tacking from the right to the middle and toning down his hit-'em-hard, hit-'em-low, hit-'em-again style.

The wild card in the Virginia race proved he wasn't, but he did provide evidence that divisions within the Republican Party are enduring.

State Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-Winchester, ran for governor as an independent to protest his party's lurch to the right. He was a blip in the polls and a footnote on Election Day -- but a feisty symbol of the GOP's fading moderate bloc.

Shipp: Gender of candidate could trump issues in governor's race

This week Bill Shipp writes:

[T]he biggest issue in 2006 could be an almost silent topic relating to whether men are ready to support a woman for governor - or, more important, whether women will support a woman for governor. If that is true, the substantive campaign material won't matter much. It will simply become filler for TV commercials and luncheon fundraisers.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

One bright spot for the Republicans is the low regard in which many Americans hold the Democrats.

The Washington Post reports:

One year before the 2006 midterm elections, Republicans are facing the most adverse political conditions of the 11 years since they vaulted to power in Congress in 1994. Powerful currents of voter unrest -- including unhappiness over the war in Iraq and dissatisfaction with the leadership of President Bush -- have undermined confidence in government and are stirring fears among GOP candidates of a backlash.

Interviews with voters, politicians and strategists in four battleground states, supplemented by a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, found significant discontent with the performance of both political parties. Frustration has not reached the level that existed before the 1994 earthquake, but many strategists say that if the public mood further darkens, Republican majorities in the House and Senate could be at risk.

One bright spot for the Republicans is the low regard in which many Americans hold the Democrats. The public sees the Democrats as disorganized, lacking in clear ideas or a positive alternative to the GOP agenda, and bereft of appealing leaders.

If next year's elections prove to be a referendum on the party in power, as is often the case in midterm contests, the image of the Democrats may be less important than the broader unrest in the country over Iraq, immigration, energy and health care prices and the president's popularity.

Republicans may find solace in the fact that 60 percent of those surveyed approved of the job their own House member is doing -- but that, too, was the case one year before the 1994 election. Then the percentage declined throughout 1994; if the same happens next year, Republicans will be in serious trouble.

The president's Supreme Court nominations, for all the intensity they generate in Washington, do not appear to be significant issues with most voters. Nor did the controversy over the CIA leak case, including the recent indictment of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, register significantly in voter interviews.

Ask people to name attractive Democratic leaders and they hesitate, pause or come up empty. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York enjoys clear support, but even several who said positive things about her questioned whether she could win the presidency, given the controversy that attaches to her history and name.

My Yankee friend writes: Knocking on Cheney's door.

Joan Vennochi of The Boston Globe writes:

KNOCK, KNOCK, who's there?

Dick Cheney.

If you are President George W. Bush, you do not want to open that door. On the other side stands the vice president, who outed CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson to his chief of staff, I. Lewis ''Scooter" Libby.

On Friday, Libby was indicted on criminal charges, including obstruction of justice, making a false statement, and perjury in the CIA leak investigation. Basically, Libby is accused of lying about how and when he learned that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA agent. According to the indictment, one of his sources was Cheney. The indictment specifically states that Libby ''was advised by the vice president of the United States that Wilson's wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency" and that ''the vice president had learned this information from the CIA."

Bush senior adviser Karl Rove was not indicted, but remains under investigation.

Given the build-up over the last week, Scooter without Rove at first feels like Bonnie without Clyde. Rove's escape for the moment means the CIA leak investigation does not -- yet -- directly involve Bush.

But it's getting closer. Here's the timeline closing in on the president:

In February 2002, Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador, went to Africa to investigate allegations that Niger sold yellowcake uranium to Iraq for use in nuclear weapons.

On Jan. 28, 2003, in his State of the Union Address, Bush said: ''The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

In a July 6 New York Times op-ed piece, Wilson wrote that he could not verify that Niger sold uranium yellowcake to Iraq.
According to the indictment, Cheney passed Valerie Plame Wilson's name to Libby ''on or about June 12, 2003."

On July 14, 2003, Wilson's wife was first identified in the press as a CIA operative on weapons of mass destruction. The sources were ''two senior administration officials."

During a Friday press conference, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald did his best to cut through the complexity:

Valerie Wilson's cover ''was blown," said Fitzgerald, and Libby blew it and lied about it.

''This is a very serious matter," said Fitzgerald. ''Compromising national security is very serious."

No one was charged with the specific crime of leaking the identity of a covert CIA agent, because Fitzgerald apparently determined that he could not prove at this time whether it was done through ''inadvertence, recklessness, or maliciousness." That determination may change.

Think of the indictment as a skeleton. Put flesh on it, and here is what you get:

The Bush administration took this country to war on the premise that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. When Joseph Wilson undercut the premise, the Bush administration went to war to discredit him. Part of the effort involved getting the word out that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and she was the only reason Wilson was chosen to check out the Iraq/yellowcake connection. In other words, Wilson did not have the stature or expertise to investigate WMD, and his conclusions were therefore irrelevant.

Right now, the price of gas and the rising toll of US military deaths in Iraq may seem more troublesome to the average citizen. But oil and Iraq are really what Plamegate is all about, as well as the lack of honesty at the highest level of government, and the willingness to do what it takes to silence a critic.

With Cheney in it, Plamegate gets a plotline that is easier to understand.

It's no wonder Cheney issued this statement regarding Libby, who resigned on Friday: ''Scooter Libby is one of the most capable and talented individuals I have ever known. He has given many years of life to public service and has served our nation tirelessly and with great distinction."

The vice president needs Libby now much more than Libby needs him.

Facing jail and disgrace, what will Libby give up about Cheney's passing on of Valerie Plame Wilson's identity as a CIA official? Will the information make it easier for Fitzgerald to determine whether the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson was done through ''inadvertence, recklessness or maliciousness." And what will Libby say about Rove?

Knock, knock. Who's there?

This door may yet open right into the Oval Office.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Pick Your Battles - Dems shouldn’t waste their time filibustering Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. There are bigger fights coming down the pike.

Eleanor Clift write in Newsweek:

Democrats shouldn’t filibuster Samuel Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court unless he really bungles the hearings. The votes aren’t there, and moderates don’t have the stomach for an all-out war over spousal notification. By a margin of nearly 3-to-1 according to a Pew Research Center poll, the public sides with the position Alito took in 1991 when he upheld as constitutional a provision in a Pennsylvania law that required women to notify their husbands before obtaining an abortion.

Alito is not a wild-eyed originalist who channels the Founding Fathers, but he is very conservative and will vote with Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. This court has had a high percentage of 5-to-4 rulings, with the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor typically the fifth and deciding vote on reproductive rights, affirmative action and other hot-button social issues. The loss of O’Connor coupled with the ascension of Alito will plunge the court deeper into the embrace of the religious right.

Democrats should mount a tough fight and expose Alito and his conservative cheerleaders so the voters know what they’re getting. Highlight the ruling where Alito said Congress has no power to regulate machine guns under the commerce clause of the Constitution. Play the abortion card--but stop short of a filibuster. With President George W. Bush’s approval rating at 35 percent in the latest CBS poll, Democrats have finally sprung to life. That’s a good thing, but a bruising battle over cultural issues is better for Bush than for the Democrats.

Bush Orders Staff to Attend Ethics Briefings -White House Counsel to Give 'Refresher' Course

The Washington Post reports:

President Bush has ordered White House staff to attend mandatory briefings beginning next week on ethical behavior and the handling of classified material after the indictment last week of a senior administration official in the CIA leak probe.

According to a memo sent to aides yesterday, Bush expects all White House staff to adhere to the "spirit as well as the letter" of all ethics laws and rules. As a result, "the White House counsel's office will conduct a series of presentations next week that will provide refresher lectures on general ethics rules, including the rules of governing the protection of classified information," according to the memo . . . .

The mandatory ethics primer is the first step Bush plans to take in coming weeks in response to the CIA leak probe that led to the indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, and which still threatens Karl Rove, the deputy White House chief of staff.

Rove is among those aides who must attend.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

What the 'Shield' Covered Up.

E.J. Dionne Jr. in The Washington Post writes:

Has anyone noticed that the coverup worked?

In his impressive presentation of the indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby last week, Patrick Fitzgerald expressed the wish that witnesses had testified when subpoenas were issued in August 2004, and "we would have been here in October 2004 instead of October 2005."

Note the significance of the two dates: October 2004, before President Bush was reelected, and October 2005, after the president was reelected. Those dates make clear why Libby threw sand in the eyes of prosecutors, in the special counsel's apt metaphor, and helped drag out the investigation.

As long as Bush still faced the voters, the White House wanted Americans to think that officials such as Libby, Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney had nothing to do with the leak campaign to discredit its arch-critic on Iraq, former ambassador Joseph Wilson.

And Libby, the good soldier, pursued a brilliant strategy to slow the inquiry down. As long as he was claiming that journalists were responsible for spreading around the name and past CIA employment of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, Libby knew that at least some news organizations would resist having reporters testify. The journalistic "shield" was converted into a shield for the Bush administration's coverup.

Bush and his disciples would like everyone to assume that Libby was some kind of lone operator who, for this one time in his life, abandoned his usual caution. They pray that Libby will be the only official facing legal charges and that political interest in the case will dissipate.

You can tell the president worries that this won't work, because yesterday he did what he usually does when he's in trouble: He sought to divide the country and set up a bruising ideological fight. He did so by nominating a staunchly conservative judge to the Supreme Court.

Judge Samuel Alito is a red flag for liberals and red meat for Bush's socially conservative base. Alito has a long paper trail as a 15-year veteran of a court of appeals and a strong right-wing reputation. This guarantees a huge battle that will serve the president even if Alito's nomination fails: Anything that "unites the base" and distracts attention from the Fitzgerald investigation is good news for Bush.

That is why Senate Democrats -- and one hopes they might be joined by some brave Republicans -- should insist that before Alito's nomination is voted on, Bush and Cheney have some work to do.

The Fitzgerald indictment makes perfectly clear that the White House misled the public as to its involvement in sliming Wilson and talking about Plame.

Bush needs to tell the public -- yes, the old phrase still applies -- what he knew about the operation to discredit Wilson and when he knew it. And he shouldn't hide behind those "legalisms" that Republicans were so eager to condemn in the Clinton years.

The obligation to come clean applies, big-time, to Cheney, who appears at several critical points in the saga detailed in the Fitzgerald indictment. What exactly transpired in the meetings between Libby and Cheney on the Wilson case? It is inconceivable that an aide as careful and loyal as Libby was a rogue official. Did Cheney set these events in motion? This is a question about good government at least as much as it is a legal matter.

Fitzgerald has made clear that he wants to keep this case going if doing so will bring us closer to the truth. Lawyers not involved in the case suggest that the indictment was written in a way that could encourage Libby, facing up to 30 years in prison, to cooperate in that effort.

But there is a catch. If Libby, through nods and winks, knows that at the end of Bush's term, the president will issue an unconditional pardon, he will have no interest in helping Fitzgerald, and every interest in shutting up. If Bush truly wants the public to know all the facts in the leak case, as he has claimed in the past, he will announce now that he will not pardon Libby. That would let Fitzgerald finish his work unimpeded, and we would all have a chance, at last, to learn how and why this sad affair came to pass.