Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Kerry Team Seeks to Join Recount Fight

From the Washington Post's Wednesday edition:

Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential campaign asked an Ohio judge yesterday to allow it to join a legal fight there over whether election officials in one county may sit out the state's impending recount.

A pair of third-party presidential candidates, who said that reports of problems at the polls on Election Day are not being addressed, are forcing the Buckeye State to recount its entire presidential vote.

But David A. Yost, a lawyer for Delaware County, just outside Columbus, won a temporary restraining order last week blocking any recount there. He told the Columbus Dispatch that a second count would be a poor use of county resources. President Bush won the mostly Republican area handily, unofficial results show.

Lawyers for the Kerry campaign asked to join Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb, Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik and the National Voting Rights Institute in the fight to force the county to participate in the recount. "If there's going to be a recount in Ohio, we don't want it to exclude Delaware County or any other county that might decide to follow Delaware County's lead," Kerry lawyer Dan Hoffheimer said. "It should be a full, fair and accurate recount."


***

Although I've stayed on top of the ongoing Ohio recount efforts, I'm squarely in the camp that Kerry lost the election. But one important question that may be answered by a recount is whether the electronic voting machines worked.

If you start from that point -- that the recount is purely for the sake of making sure democracy works, and not to overturn the election -- then the question is, why won't Delaware County do the right thing and follow the law?

For that matter, why is Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell dragging his feet on the recount?

Consider this story, from today's Seattle Times, which shows how far some Democrats will go to fight the Ohio GOP:

Cliff Arnebeck, an attorney for Boston-based political advocacy group Alliance for Democracy, plans to file a "contest of election" tomorrow. The request requires a single Supreme Court justice to either let the election stand, declare another winner or throw the whole thing out. The loser can appeal to the full seven-member court, dominated 5-2 by Republicans.

Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican who along with other statewide GOP leaders was a co-chairman of Bush's re-election campaign in Ohio, has until Dec. 6 to certify the vote.

***

Should Blackwell take until Dec. 6, the recount would not begin until Dec. 11. Under that scenario, there wouldn't possibly be enough time to complete the recount before Dec. 13, the date that Electoral College electors must meet to cast their votes.

Strategically speaking, it would appear that Blackwell is waiting until the last possible moment to either a) force the various parties to call off their demands for a recount, which seems unlikely or b) make sure that the recount is an afterthought, as the Bush victory team marches toward inauguration day.

But again, if this is academic -- if there is truly no chance that the election will be overturned -- why the delays and legal moves to block or slowdown the recount? All that does is give life to the stereotype that Republicans are more interested in winning than living up to the ideals of a functioning democracy.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Are Fox News Viewers Dumb? No ... Just Woefully Misinformed

There's an adage that you shouldn't kill the messenger. But in the case of Fox News Channel, an exception could be made.

Conservatives are quick to toss out the charge of "liberal media bias," and suggest that CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN are all in cahoots to deny conservatives their vision of the truth. But while there are liberal reporters and liberal stories at each of those networks, there is still at the core a basic search for truth, a presentation of facts, and an effort at balance.

The New York Times and Washington Post editorial pages provide a balance of left and right, and media critics can find a mix of left-leaning and right-leaning reporters at each publication -- not by their voting records, but by what they put into print. Newsweek features George Will in their pundit rotation and Time features Charles Krauthammer.

Balance is not found at Fox News Channel. Lines are blurred between opinion and objective news coverage on shows such as O'Reilly Factor. Guests for featured interviews, on shows such as the marquee weekly news program hosted by anchor Brit Hume, are five times more likely to be identified as conservative or Republican than liberal or Democrat, according to a recent survey by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Conservative brought in to "analyze" the news are a who's who of well-known pundits. The "liberals" are a mix of Fox Democrats -- those who essentially agree with the conservative "opponent" -- or mush-mouthed no-names, easily defeatable by their well-rehearsed on-message adversaries. And if a liberal gets out of line, as Fox News viewers know, Sean Hannity is more than happy to talk louder so as to drown out the liberal, and Bill O'Reilly is happy to cut off the guest's microphone.

***

Let me be perfectly clear. This has nothing to do with conservative policy or punditry, or denying those voices from being heard. Balance of left and right is not only appropriate, but healthy for the populace. The search for truth is not a liberal or conservative ideal.

Nor should this be read as a whiny excuse for why Kerry lost the election, or why the Republicans gained in the House and Senate.

Nor should it be read as an effort to insult the intelligence of Fox News viewership.

Instead, I throw out this question: Why are those who get their news from Fox woefully misinformed, compared to, say, those who get their news from PBS or NPR?

Consider these results from a survey conducted by Program for International Policy Attitudes*, a program in part sponsored by the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland:

Question: Is it your impression that the U.S. has or has not found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with the al Qaeda terrorist organization?

67% of Fox News viewers said the U.S. has found clear evidence.
16% of PBS viewers or NPR listeners said the U.S. has found clear evidence.

Question: Since the war with Iraq ended, is it your impression that the U.S. has or has not found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction?

33% of Fox News viewers said the U.S. has found WMD.
11% of PBS viewers or NPR listeners said the U.S. had found WMD.

Question: Thinking about how all the people in the world feel about the U.S. having gone to war with Iraq, do you think the majority of people favor the U.S. having gone to war?

35% of Fox News viewers said yes.
5% of PBS viewers or NPR listeners said yes.

These results are not suggesting that Republicans are stupid. The PIPA survey found that 43% of Republicans had at least one misperception. But 54% of Republicans who said Fox News was their main source of news had at least one misperception. Just 32% of Republicans who said PBS or NPR was their main source of news had at least one misperception.

Another related point: 45% of those who claimed support for President Bush had at least one misperception, compared with just 17% of those who claimed support for Democrats.

***

Now, given the survey results, one can draw two potential conclusions. Either Fox News viewers are dumber than PBS/NPR viewers/listeners, or Fox News frequently misinforms their viewers.

I choose the latter explanation.

Blame the lack of balance. It's not just the lack of strong liberal voices on the network. It's the snide comments at Democrats' expense. For example, listen to Fox News long enough during the election campaign, and you were sure to hear about Kerry being a "flip-flopper." But you never heard President Bush called that, even in regard to issues such as the creation of the 9/11 Commission or Department of Homeland Security, two issues in which Bush clearly flip-flopped. You also heard during the campaign about how "French" Kerry looked. In one case, a Fox News anchor said to a guest, "Hello, or as John Kerry would say, bon jour."

Make snide remarks at Kerry's expense for months on end, and your viewership will accept that altered reality as fact.

On the flip side, criticism of Bush is hard to find on Fox News. Even when a Democrat or liberal is able to score a point at the expense of Hannity, O'Reilly or Hume, that comment can be taken out of context in the days and weeks that follow. Hannity prefers to distort his adversaries' views on his nationally syndicated radio show. O'Reilly and Hume refer to their liberal opponents in subsequent shows, with the goal of painting comments as un-American, against the troops, etc. And of course, at any time, a given liberal or Democrat can be trashed by the greater Republican Noise Machine, as Rush Limbaugh and like-minded local talk show wannabes nationwide echo the trashings by the Fox News commentators.

No other news network, or evening news broadcast, is run like Fox News. At Fox News, news chief John Moody issues a daily memorandum advising reporters as to what the key talking point of the day is.

In the documentry Outfoxed, former Fox News reporter Jon Du Pre discussed how the opinions of higher-ups directed "news" coverage. He highlighted a time when he was assigned, in February 2001, to cover Ronald Reagan's 90th birthday celebration. Du Pre was told to provide live updates throughout the day from the Reagan library. The problem: there was no significant celebration, nor any great outpouring of support from friends or tourists. Yet Du Pre was told to highlight such events as when a group of school children were prompted to sing "Happy Birthday." It was, in effect, a day-long farce.

Outfoxed also showed how Fox News regularly interrupts programming to broadcast President Bush's campaign rallies, or to show the president doing mundane things while traveling. By showcasing presidential addresses, Fox News, in effect, is allowing itself to be an unfiltered megaphone for GOP spin. No such coverage was provided for Kerry during the presidential campaign, or for other prominent Democrats outside the campaign season.

***

How factually challenged is Fox News? So much so that Media Matters for America (http://www.mediamatters.org) is never lacking for material. That site and others are able to provide near-daily accounts of incorrect facts, GOP spin presented as fact, or snide remarks from anchors or pundit guests.

Fox News has re-shaped the media landscape. Its viewership is on the rise, and its prominence has led other networks, most notably MSNBC, to drift rightward in an effort to gain ratings.

If Fox News were truly "fair and balanced" -- and there are lawsuits under way questioning Fox' use of that phrase with regard to truth in advertising -- it would use the same facts as every other news outlet. It would offer conservative and liberal viewpoints equally. It would be held accountable for its failures, lest it fear the label of "conservative media bias."

That's not happening, of course. As a result, Fox News' viewers are worse off, and democracy suffers.

* The survey of 3,334 adults was conducted from June to September, 2003. Of those surveyed, 18% said that Fox News was their primary source of news, while 3% said NPR or PBS was their primary source.


Wednesday, November 24, 2004

This Holiday Season, Adopt a Soldier

Whether you agree with our policy in Iraq or not, the truth is that our soldiers are there, bearing 90% of the coalition's burden.

Think President Bush was wrong to say "Mission Accomplished" more than 18 months ago? I do, too. But that doesn't change the fact that our troops are likely to be there for the remainder of Bush's presidency, and perhaps beyond.

That said, I wanted to pass along some information about a program created by some students at Manhattanville (N.Y.) College, called "My Soldier." You can go to http://www.mville.edu for more information, or to take advantage of this vehicle to support our troops.

According to Manhattanville site: "My Soldier is a program that puts politics aside and lets U.S. soldiers know that someone back home cares. When a person enrolls in the My Soldier program, they agree to adopt a soldier. They receive a “starter kit” containing guidelines for letter writing and care package preparation, a red My Soldier bracelet, and a specially designed My Soldier baseball hat to include with the first letter they send to their deployed United States Armed Serviceperson. "

Those who enroll in the program send a letter or care package to a platoon contact, who then distributes it to a soldier. Manhattanville says 100% of soldiers "appreciate the letters," and about 80% have responded.

The program is free and open to the public (groups or organizations of 25 or more people are asked to contribute $10 per kit to help us defray the costs of the program). Since receiving attention in The New York Times and elsewhere, more than 17,000 people have enrolled.

The program was created by Juan Salas, an active U.S. Army Sergeant who also is a Manhattanville student, and launched with the help of Manhattanville College president Richard A. Berman. Salas, a naturalized US citizen originally from Venezuela, served for almost two years in Iraq, where he saw active combat duty and was commended for his part in saving the life of a child.

In addition to the Manhattanville website, people seeking more information can call (914) 323-5172. Corporations who wish to contribute funds or goods may call John Galgano at (914) 323-5117.

Monday, November 22, 2004

NY Times, in Reviewing the Politics of Television Viewing, Chooses the Simple LIfe

The New York Times is an easy target for criticism. Conservatives have long viewed it as a main proponent of "liberal media bias," and call it elitist. Liberals say Times reporters too readily accept GOP spin, leading to such things as an inability to critically evaluate Bush administration's run-up to war in Iraq. Media critics say the newspaper has spiraled downward for years, or at least since it went color.

So what will Times readers make of this front-page story: "Many Who Voted for 'Values' Still Like Their Television Sin"?

The article looks at the choices of viewers in a handful of "blue state" and "red state" markets -- Atlanta, Cleveland, New York, Orlando, Salt Lake City and Tulsa -- with regard to their viewership of shows ranked in the top 10 nationally. That would include shows the Times assumes wouldn't do well in red states, such as Desperate Housewives.

"So if it is true that the public's electoral choices are a cry for more morally driven programming, the network executives ask, why are so many people, even in the markets surrounding the Bush-bastions Atlanta and Salt Lake City, watching a sex-drenched television drama."

How simplistic is the Times?

To me, it seems obvious that the underlying theme of the story is that red-state television viewers/voters are a bunch of hypocrites. But Times reporter Bill Carter uses simplistic logic to reach that conclusion, although I'm sure the Rush Limbaughs of the world will jump all over it as an example of elitism.

Let's look at Carter's flawed logic:

-- Even the most popular shows, such as Desperate Housewives, garner no more than 20 million viewers. That's barely one in 14 Americans overall, and just one in 11 Americans over the age of 18.

So it's simplistic to assume that no one would watch Desperate Housewives in the most red of states? Perhaps, given the recent brouhaha over the airing of Saving Private Ryan and the election-year politics of Sinclair Broadcasting, Carter was surprised that the local ABC affiliates in Utah would even air the show.

Of course, even when only 9% of Utah likes a little sin on their television, that's enough to raise eyebrows among conservatives. Gary Schneeberger, senior manager of issues for Focus on the Family, an evangelical Protestant group quoted by the Times (and the lone "moral values" advocate in the story), said: "History has shown that even peopple who could be described as values voters are prone to sinful behavior and watching representations of sinful behavior. ... It's not shocking, but it is tragic."

-- Carter assumes that red states are 100% red. Salt Lake City -- about as red as you can get -- was just 73% pro-Bush in 2004. Most "red states" are actually 55-60% red, which by default means they are 40-45% blue. Do the math, and you'd find that there are enough blue voters in most markets to account for the popularity of Desperate Housewives or any other show.

But Carter pushes this theory on multiple network executives, who are all too eager to chime in. "We say one thing and do another," he quotes Kevin Reilly, the president of NBC Entertainment.

***

Desperate Housewives, of course, made the news last Monday, via a sexed-up opening for ABC's Monday Night Football featuring on of its stars dropping a towel and jumping, apparently naked, into the arms of Philadelphia Eagles player Terrell Owens. That spawned calls from the heartland -- not just from those speaking on behalf of children, but also from those that found it racially offensive -- and apologies from ABC and the NFL.

But let's put this into context: the callers represent a sliver of the television audience, and a fraction of the general population. How many people actually watched the NFL promo? Roughly one in 25 Americans, regardless of age.

***

Ultimately, the networks may try to find a hit with red-state programming, but unless such shows produce a ratings hit, don't expect more than a passing gesture. Why? Because the networks are in the business of making money. And if a show is popular -- whether it displays "moral values" or is representative of the nation's viewers -- the networks will not only keep it on the air, but they'll produce spin-offs and copycats, until demand drops off.

Religious-themed shows have had mixed success in the ratings. Touched by an Angel was a hit. Joan of Arcadia is not. The Pax Network, which Carter doesn't mention, barely registers a pulse in the ratings.

The networks have tried black-themed, Jewish-themed, multi-ethnic themed and more recently gay-themed shows (although less often than some viewers would like), but those shows have had mixed results in the ratings wars. For every Will & Grace that succeeds even as it showcases a minority community, there are a dozen ratings failures, such as City of Angels.

Such shows have to reach a broad audience. If they only appeal to a single ethnicity or religion, they will likely fail. As Carter points out; "(T)he highest-rated shows among blacks, like One on One and Girlfriends, could not crack the top 100 of network shows." It's the reason the only Jewish program available in the heavily Jewish New York metropolitan area is The Leon Charney Show, a local public television show that is harder to find than Indian videos or Chinese soap operas. If the nation was ready to make Leon Charney a star, the networks would give him a prime-time slot.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Democrats Need to Champion Their "Moral Values" and Reach out to Religious Left, Middle

One lesson we all learned on Nov. 2 was that the Religious Right reached out and compelled more voters than the Religious Left.

That has led to two sets of actions. The Religious Right wants to use its "political capital" to help shape President Bush's second-term agenda. And the Religious Left wants to introduce their "moral values" on the national conscience.

If the Democratic Party wants to have better results in 2006 and 2008, they should pay attention to the needs of the Religious Left and the so-called "Religious Middle." To cede these voters to the GOP is suicidal, but that's what the Democrats apparently did in 2004, by failing to reach out and energize these voters, and by failing to present their "moral values" in a clear and concise way. Essentially, they allowed the GOP to dictate the nation's moral agenda, even though a poll taken this month suggests that the "moral values" of the Religious Right are not those of the broader populace of religious Americans.

***

The agenda of the Religious Right -- often defined as a mix of evangelical Protestants and conservative Roman Catholics -- is well known.

The rallying cry in this election cycle was opposition to same-sex marriage, as evidenced by 11 state resolutions that passed banning such marriage. Were the 11 resolutions necessary? No, because same-sex marriage was not legal in any of those states. Was it a political tool to increase voter turnout among the Religious Right? Almost certainly.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told the Washington Post that same-sex marriage was "the hood ornament on the family values wagon that carried the president to a second term." But social conservatives also told the Post that concern about the Supreme Court, abortion, school prayer and pornography were other motivating factors.

The Religious Right was also more than happy to blur the lines between church and state. Roman Catholic leaders refused to give Sen. John Kerry communion because of his abortion rights stance -- a political act unheard of in recent years. Other religious leaders pushed their congregations to register to vote, and to vote Republican. For example, Rev. Bruce Moore of Clearcreek Christian Assembly in Ohio gave two sermons on the responsiblity to vote and the political issues at hand, then passed out voter registration cards and sent his congregation out to spread the word. You can imagine which party his congregants were told to support.

Controversial Rev. James Dobson created a separate nonprofit, Focus on the Family Action, which organized six stadium-size rallies to urge Christians in battleground states to "vote their values."

***

I'll be frank. I didn't realize there was a Religious Left (let alone a "Religious Middle") this year. I don't remember hearing any Religious Left leaders defend the Kerry-Edwards ticket. I don't remember seeing any religious leaders -- other than Al Sharpton -- at the Democratic convention.

While I am well aware of James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Bob Jones, I couldn't name for you a Religious Left leader, without Googling first.

I don't know if that's my fault, the media's fault, or the Religious Left's fault.

According to Tom Perriello, an organizer at Res Publica, liberal religious groups registered 500,000 new voters, made 400,000 get-out-the-vote phone calls, and raised $1.75 million for newspaper and radio ads during the campaign. But he said a Zogby poll of nearly 11,000 voters, conducted after the election and released last week, found that 71 percent of voters had heard from the religious right while 38 percent said they had heard from the religious left.

As a result, the Religious Left appears eager to do better in time for the 2006 political season. They feel the "moral values" question has been hijacked by the Relgiious Right, and as a result, the majority of Americans are following the agenda of the few.

The Zogby poll seems to agree with the Relgious Left: 33 percent of voters said the nation's most urgent moral problem was "greed and materialism" and 31 percent said it was "poverty and economic justice." Sixteen percent cited abortion, and 12 percent named same-sex marriage.

The poll also found that 42 percent of voters cited the war in Iraq as the "moral issue" that most influenced their choice of candidates, while 13 percent cited abortion and 9 percent same-sex marriage. Asked to name the greatest threat to marriage, 31 percent said "infidelity," 25 percent cited "rising financial burdens" and 22 percent named same-sex marriage.

Perriello said the poll shows that "while there may be a solid 20 percent who are very focused on abortion and gay marriage, for most Americans of faith, there are other moral issues of greater urgency, and that's where the religious middle is." The middle includes "progressive evangelicals," "resurgent mainline Protestants" and "socially conservative African Americans," he said.

If the Democratic Party were to "welcome pro-life Democrats, Catholics and evangelicals and have a serious conversation with them" about ways to reduce teenage pregnancy, facilitate adoptions and improve conditions for low-income women, it would "work wonders" among centrist evangelicals and Catholics, Jim Wallis, editor of the liberal evangelical journal Sojourners, told the Post.

Wallis continued: "One of the things a few of us are talking about is a reassessment of how the Democrats deal with an issue like abortion -- could there be a more moderate ground, where even if they retained their pro-choice stance, they talked about uniting pro-choice people together to actually do something about the abortion rate?"

"The values that were promoted most within the conservative religious community were almost always tied to a fear factor, and that was not necessarily the case in the Democratic strategy, and I would say should not be the case," the Rev. Welton Gaddy, head of the Interfaith Alliance, told the Post.

***

Bob Somersby of dailyhowler.com looked at Bill Clinton's autobiography, My Life, last week (he focused on the poor, and he believes uninformed, review that appeared in June in the New York Times).

Much of what Somersby reviews is how Clinton discusses religion (and how the Times reviewer found such discussions "eye-crossingly dull")

Somersby highlights Clinton's annual visits to a summer camp meeting of the Pentecostals in Redfield, Ark., from 1977 to 1992.

CLINTON (page 251): Far more important than what I saw the Pentecostals do were the friendships I made among them. I liked and admired them because they lived their faith. They are strictly anti-abortion, but unlike some others, they will make sure that any unwanted baby, regardless of race or disability, has a loving home. They disagreed with me on abortion and gay rights, but they still followed Christ’s admonition to love their neighbors.

CLINTON (page 252): Knowing the Pentecostals has enriched and changed my life. Whatever your religious views, or lack of them, seeing people live their faith in a spirit of love toward all people, not just your own, is beautiful to behold. If you ever get a chance to go to a Pentecostal service, don’t miss it.

The two passages are relevant in not only understanding how Clinton succeeded in two runs for the presidency, but to future Democratic candidates at the local, state and national election. Democrats cannot simply be the secular party, as Republicans wish to portray them. There are many people of faith -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim and a host of other religions -- who need to see the Democratic Party champion the broad spectrum of "moral values" in which they believe.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Republican Party Machine Teaches Specter to Step in Line

Arlen Specter can finally breathe a sigh of relief. He has won the support of his fellow Republicans to become the next Senate Judiciary Committee chairman.

Over the past two weeks, Specter has learned that the GOP leadership, let alone the James Dobsons of the world, are not including the moderate wing of the party in decision-making. And Specter also learned that independent thought is not necessary in the current GOP.

It wasn't enough that Specter's track record suggested he would support whatever conservative judicial nominees. He led the fight for Clarence Thomas. He was a supportive voice for Antonin Scalia. He has never voted against a Bush nominee.

Specter, the senior senator from Pennsylvania, had to draft a statement -- a loyalty oath, if you will -- saying he would hold prompt hearings for Bush nominees, and that he would try to curtail Democratic filibusters (and potentially support a rules change to ban such filibusters).

He also made it clear, in statement after statement, that although he is personally pro-choice, he would not block anti-abortion nominees to the Supreme Court.

Now, you might remember during the presidential campaign how George W. Bush talked about John Kerry having a "litmus test" for "liberal activist judges." That was code for saying Kerry would only support judges who were pro-choice. Kerry never said that himself, of course.

But now Bush, through his henchmen in the Senate, has established that he will enforce a "litmus test" by only nominating those who are anti-abortion.

All of this is crucial, of course, because the Supreme Court is likely to have at least one opening, and perhaps more, during the next four years. Bush has said he expects to see as many as four openings.

***

Specter spent two weeks trying to appease the GOP Party machine, to secure a chairmanship that normally would have gone to him without question because of his 24 years of seniority on the panel.

"The ordeal demonstrated the clout of conservative groups within the GOP," wrote the San Francisco Chronicle.

Last week, the constroversial Dobson, founder of the nonprofit Christian organization Focus on the Family, said that Sen. Arlen Specter "is a big-time problem" and that his quest to serve as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee "must be derailed."

He was responding to what was possibly the last independent thought on judicial nominees from Specter: "When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, who'd overturn Roe versus Wade, I think that is unlikely," Specter said Nov. 3. "And I have said that bluntly during the course of the campaign, that Roe versus Wade was inviolate."

That comment sparked an avalanche of criticism from Christian conservatives who supported Bush's campaign. But Specter said Sunday that his remark was misconstrued and argued the uproar was fueled by people opposed to his "independence."

Dobson told ABC's This Week that Specter had made "one of the most foolish and ill-considered comments that a politician has made in a long time. There are many, many members of that committee that are more qualified and less of a problem than Senator Specter."

Specter remained in trouble with conservatives, even after clarifying his statement on CBS' Face the Nation, saying his comments were simply an acknowledgment that 60 votes are needed to end debate in the Senate and confirm a nominee. "But with 55 Republicans, you aren't at the magic number of 60, so you have to anticipate problems with the Democrats, as we had a lot of them in the past Congress."

***

And what about those Democrats? During Bush's first term, Democrats blocked a whopping 10 of his nominees to U.S. Appeals Courts, the nation's second-highest courts, The Associated Press reported. The Senate confirmed 203 of Bush's court appointments, according to the AP.

But then again, the GOP isn't really interested in independent thought. 203 out of 213 shows dissen.

And with the "political capital" their president claims the party has, the conservative wing of the GOP is showing that it will crush all dissent, whether from Democrats or moderate Republicans.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

House Republicans Show Their Hypocrisy in Protecting DeLay

House Republicans demonstrated their blind loyalty to Majority Leader Tom DeLay today, changing a decade-old party rule that would have cost him his leadership post -- if he were indicted by a Texas grand jury that has charged three of his associates.

GOP lawmakers met in closed session before ending a requirement that leaders indicted on felony charges relinquish their positions. Republicans will now decide a House leader's fate in a case-by-case review.

Why change the rule now? In September, grand jurors indicted three DeLay associates and eight corporations in an investigation of alleged illegal corporate contributions to a political action committee associated with DeLay. Although there is no indication DeLay will be indicted, Republicans are clearly anxious about what they call a "witch hunt" by Democratic prosecutor, Ronnie Earle.

Why do Republicans want to protect DeLay? Look at what the man has done. Besides raising millions of campaign dollars for his fellow Republicans, DeLay engineered a redistricting plan in Texas that caused five Democratic losses through retirement or election defeats.

Why is it hypocritical? A little history.

In 1993, amid ethical and criminal charges pending against several senior House Democrats and Rep. Joe McDade (R-Pa.), the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, Republicans stripped leaders and ranking committee members — the GOP was then in the minority — of their posts. By that time, Speaker Jim Wright (D-Texas) and Majority Whip Tony Coelho (D-Calif.) previously had resigned under pressure of ethical charges. Majority Whip William Gray (D-Pa.) had been investigated by the Justice Department for improper use of his personal office.

In part because of their success holding their fellow members of Congress accountable, the Newt Gingrich-led GOP swept into power in 1994.

***

Rep John Dingell (D-MI) said today: "These folks talk about values and decency, but then think it’s okay to change the rules once it appears one of their own may have broken them. This amounts to a work release program for the ethically challenged. We should all remember that a decade ago, Mr. DeLay helped to create this rule. Republicans said at the time they were the party of reform and good government. Now they’ve become the party of moribund hubris."

Some GOP lawmakers also oppose the change.

"It sends all the wrong signals for us to change the current rules," said Rep. Zach Wamp of Tennessee. He said he requested a recorded, secret ballot but the suggestion was voted down. (Not a surprise, since DeLay helped block a bipartisan House effort to vote to demand a paper trail for electornic voting machines.)

A fellow Republican opponent, Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, estimated 30 to 50 members voted against it. More than 200 Republicans were eligible to vote.

Shays told reporters it violates the spirit of the Congressional Accountability Act -- a GOP-inspired law that forces Congress to follow federal laws that apply to the private sector.

Recalling that elimination of favoritism for lawmakers was an issue that helped Republicans capture control of the House a decade ago, Shays said, "There are too many new members who don't remember how we got here."


Monday, November 15, 2004

David Brooks Apologized for Repeating GOP Falsehoods About Kerry. Will Tim Russert Follow Suit?

At the end of his New York Times column Saturday, conservative columnist David Brooks wrote this:

Not that it will do him much good at this point, but I owe John Kerry an apology. I recently mischaracterized some comments he made to Larry King in December 2001. I said he had embraced the decision to use Afghans to hunt down Al Qaeda at Tora Bora. He did not. I regret the error.

Brooks was referring to an Oct. 30 column, in which he used the GOP spin point as the basis for an attack on Kerry as a flip-flopper on U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Brooks wrote then:

[P]olitics has shaped Kerry's approach to this whole issue. Back in December 2001, when bin Laden was apparently hiding in Tora Bora, Kerry supported the strategy of using Afghans to hunt him down. He told Larry King that our strategy “is having its impact, and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will. I think we have been doing this pretty effectively, and we should continue to do it that way.”

But then the political wind shifted, and Kerry recalculated.

Brooks never bothered to watch the CNN interview, for if he had, he would have realized that the interview was on Dec. 14, 2001. (Or maybe he did, but chose to ignore the facts and repeat partisan spin).

On Dec. 14, 2001, Kerry was supportive of the U.S.-led effort to capture Osama bin Laden, which from news reports that day, appeared to be making great progress. It wasn't until three days later that it became clear that in spite of "U.S.-led efforts," bin Laden had likely fleed the caves of Tora Bora. And it wasn't until well later that Kerry or anyone else realized it was Afghani troops, rather than Americans, who went into the caves of Tora Bora that week, and failed to hunt Bin Laden down.

Brooks, lazily repeating GOP spin, used bait-and-switch to make his point about Kerry the flip-flopper. But at least he apologized, albeit too late to make a difference in the presidential election.

***

A lot of "journalists" liked the story of Kerry the flip-flopper. The Tora Bora flip-flop made the rounds around Halloween, not just within the conservative press, but via mainstream journalists, like Meet the Press host Tim Russert.

As first addressed on dailyhowler.com on Nov. 3, it was on the Oct. 31 edition of Meet the Press that Russert, grilling former Senator Bob Kerrey, brought up the Tora Bora flip-flop:

RUSSERT: In December of '01, Senator, John Kerry was on CNN after Tora Bora. He was being asked about this [bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora]. He said, “I think our guys are doing a superb job. I think they've been smart. I think the administration leadership has done it well. We're on the right track.” Why the change? Politics?

Unsatisfied with Kerrey's defense of Kerry, Russert repeated the incorrect charge:

RUSSERT: But it was after Tora Bora and he seemed to be praising them back then and now he’s ...

Now I ask you: How did Russert know to make this charge -- two days before the presidential election -- referring to an interview three years earlier in which Kerry doesn't actually use the words "Tora Bora"? Yes, Kerry had mentioned the U.S. "outsourcing" of the Tora Bora mission on the campaign trail, but what are the odds that multiple seasoned journalists simultaneously misinterpreted the same CNN transcript?

In hindsight, I can only draw three possibilities for Russert:

1) He and Brooks, independent of one another, each misinterpreted a three-year-old CNN interview.
2) He read Brooks' column, and failed to fact check it.
3) He and Brooks each received the same GOP talking point, and neither fact-checked it.

The odds of #1 being true are infintessimal, so I'm banking on #2, or more likely, #3. And while one might expect a partisan like Brooks to massage the truth to benefit the Republican candidate for president, the same should not be said of a supposed non-partisan like Russert.

Any way you slice it, in this example Russert comes off as a lazy, bloated journalist, easily twisted and turned by GOP spin.

As Bob Somersby of dailyhowler.com likes to point out, Russert, in his testimonial Big Russ & Me, highlights how he is always prepared for work:

RUSSERT (page 147): [T]he key to success is preparation. In journalism, it’s absolutely critical. Like everyone else, I have days when things go well, and days when they don’t. But one mistake I have never made is to show up unprepared for an interview.

And yes, Russert was prepared on Oct. 31 -- to repeat GOP spin! How sad that Russert, with a huge contract, a long history of interview skills and fabulous research at his disposal, chose instead to not do his homework, and as a result, to not tell the truth about Kerry -- the Sunday before the presidential election.

David Brooks, for all his flaws, apologized on the record. Will Tim Russert do the same?


Sunday, November 14, 2004

Bush Administration Talks Tough on Policing Sanctions, But Actions Speak Louder Than Words

An Associated Press analysis has found that the Bush administration's average penalty against companies doing business with "terrorist-sponsoring" states fell sharply after the 9/11 attacks.

The computer-assisted analysis of federal records, released last week, found that the average penalty for a company doing business with Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan or Libya was more than $50,000 for the five years before the 2001 attacks. But it was just $18,700 since the attacks.

A Treasury Department spokeswoman said that despite the smaller average fines, the departments' Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) was doing its job, and remained "committed to ensuring that U.S. entities abide by U.S. sanction laws."

Some analysts questioned some trends within the federal records the AP analyzed. For example, 19 executives or directors of companies fined by OFAC for dealing with state sponsors of terrorism were top campaign fund-raisers for Bush.

That's only a small percentage of those fined overall, but raised eyebrows nonetheless, in part because Bush seemingly ignored past transgressions when he rewarding some of these fined executives with political appointments.

For example, Joseph J. Grano Jr. was hand-selected by Bush as chairman of the Homeland Security Advisory Council. Grano formerly headed the U.S. subsidiary of Swiss bank UBS, which has been fined for trading U.S. currency to Iran and transferring funds to Iraq during Saddam's rule. Those illegal moves were conducted under Grano's helm.

Of course, Bush has never publicly commented on Vice President Cheney's former company, Halliburton. Halliburton, which has yet to be fined, expanded its trade with Iran through an off-shore subsidiary during Cheney's term running the company, from 1995 to 2000. Halliburton's dealings with Iran are now being investigated by a federal grand jury.

While at Halliburton, Cheney was a vocal critic of the very embargoes OFAC fights, although he has changed that stance since becoming vice president. Bush renewed the ban against trade with Iran in 2001.

***

The AP used publicly available OFAC records to compile a database of penalties paid by companies for doing business with terrorists or their state sponsors. The database includes entries for more than 500 such cases since 1996.

Analysis of the database showed average penalties for violating the embargoes fell for every terrorism-sponsoring country after the attacks:

Cuba. Pre-9/11 average penalty: $98,000. Post-9/11 average: $23,500.
Iran. Pre-9/11 average penalty: $33,500. Post-9/11 average: $17,300.
Iraq: Pre-9/11 average penalty: $101,000. Post-9/11 average: $74,800.
Libya: Pre-9/11 average penalty: $41,000. Post-9/11 average: $12,800.

The AP reports that there was only one fine since 2001 involving a deal with North Korea. It was for prohibited transactions from the 1990s.

U.S. laws such as the Trading With the Enemy Act prohibit most trade with a handful of designated countries: Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Cuba. Libya was on the list until this year, after its government agreed to disclose and dismantle its clandestine nuclear and chemical weapons programs. The Bush administration also removed Iraq from the banned list this year after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Do the Democrats Need to Find God? Better, They Should Offer a Moral, Not Religious, Agenda

For alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga. A belief that we are connected as one people. ... It's a fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper -- that makes this country work. It's what alllows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. "E pluribus unum." Out of many, one.

-- Barack Obama


That's a Democrat talking. And what he's talking about is our moral compass as Americans.

On election day, 18 million people said that they voted for President Bush because of "moral values." The religious right beat their chest loudly. People like James Dobson and Bob Jones told the president to use his "mandate" -- to ignore the "paganists," and what they saw as a liberal hatred of Christianity itself. They see the president's victory as a victory for Bush's religious beliefs and his faith-based initiatives.

And how wrong they are. For to simply equate "morality" with "religious" or "Christian" is insulting and naive. You can be a regular churchgoer (or synagogue-goer or mosque-goer) and nonetheless lack a moral compass. Dobson preaches hatred toward homosexuals, for example, and Jones enforces separation of the races at his unaccredited university. And you can be an atheist or agnostic -- or just one who doesn't attend religious services regularly, a so-called "secular" American -- and have a wonderful moral being.

There is no American "God." Most certainly, there is no Republican God, and it's insulting when Republican leaders -- Dobson, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and the rest -- try to pretend that God only shines down on those following some Republican version of "moral values."

***

And yet, the conservative punditry has tried to explain Bush's re-election -- by the slimmest electoral college margin for an incumbent since 1916 -- as some sort of national verdict of the Democratic Party's need to find God.

But again, this conclusion assumes that if one is religious, they have moral values, and vice versa. The president is a religious man, and no one is denying him his right to religious freedom. But have his policies indicated "moral values"? A strong argument could be made that they have not. And by offering the equation that religious fervor is the same as morality, the religious right has in effect turned a blind eye to the effects of Bush's policies.

***

Let me offer you two quotes from religious leaders:

Evangelical Pastor Jim Wallis -- editor of Sojourners -- writes that the religious right "fought to keep the focus on gay marriage and abortion. ... But many moderate and progressive Christians disagreed. We insisted that poverty is also a religious issue, pointing to thousands of verses in the Bible on the poor. The environment -- protection of God's creation -- is also one of our religious concerns."

"The agenda of the church must always respond faithfully to the Bible's timeless mandate to minister to the poor, the marginalized and the outcast; and to be seekers and makers of peace," said National Council of Churches General Secretary Robert Edgar.

The Jewish organization for women, Hadassah, has written eloquently on a wide range of issues that are part of our moral compass, including health care. "We live in a society that allows people to die because they cannot afford medical care. It’s a little known fact that over 18,000 adults die every year for lack of health insurance. ... The Congressional Budget Office calculated that the money saved by eliminating the administrative waste (and huge profits) of insurance companies would be $200 billion, enough to cover all the uninsured as well as prescription drugs, mental health and long-term care without increasing total health care expenditures."

Please note that during President Bush's first term, five million Americans lost their health insurance. According to the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, Bush's health care plan would barely reverse that trend, and still leave more than 38 million Americans uninsured. Does that define the president's moral values?

Is it moral to allow more children to become impoverished? That's what happened during the first Bush term. That led to the formation of a national network of churches and faith-based organizations, Call to Renewal (http://www.calltorenewal.com), to combat poverty in America. The group says it includes people across the political spectrum, but clearly, it is at odds with the president's policies on poverty.

Is it moral to allow policies that hurt our environment? Knight Ridder compiled 14 pollution-oriented indicators from government and university statistics. Nine of the 14 indicators showed a worsening trend, two showed improvements and three others were unchanged.

Statistics that have worsened:

-- Superfund cleanups of toxic waste fell by 52 percent.
-- Fish-consumption warnings for rivers doubled.
-- Fish-consumption advisories for lakes increased 39 percent.
-- The number of beach closings rose 26 percent.
-- Civil citations issued to polluters fell 57 percent.
-- Criminal pollution prosecutions dropped 17 percent.
-- Asthma attacks increased by 6 percent.
-- There were small increases in global temperatures and unhealthy air days.

In land-use policy under Bush, another 12 indicators reveal record-low additions to national parks, wilderness, wildlife refuges and the endangered species list. The Bush administration also approved 74 percent more permits to drill for oil and gas on public lands in its first three years than were granted in the previous three years.

Bush also has ordered dozens of sweeping changes to existing environmental policies, usually to benefit business interests. He reversed the government's course on global warming, power plant emissions, roadless areas of national forests, environmental law enforcement and agricultural run-off.

Is it moral to deny the poor safe and decent housing? On April 22, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a far-reaching change in its policy for funding “Section 8” housing vouchers. The new HUD policy has resulted in many state and local housing agencies failing to receive sufficient funding to continue supporting all vouchers now in use. Some 2 million poor families are affected.

For example, some agencies are raising rent burdens on low-income families that receive vouchers by reducing the maximum amount of rent a voucher can cover. Other agencies are reducing the number of families assisted, by rescinding vouchers provided to families that are searching for housing but have not yet found a unit to rent with their voucher.

***

The Democratic Party has a moral responsibility to make their stance on these issues -- poverty, health care, the environment, safe housing for the poor -- clear to all Americans. They need to present those views to help establish that they are the party of "moral values." To concede this to the Republicans is not only politically incorrect -- it's political suicide.

There are countless millions of Americans who are religious. No one wants to demean these people, or to make them feel marginalized. No one wants to deny people religious freedom or fervor. But the Democrats must make it clear that faith alone does not solve our nation's problems. To have "moral values" -- whether you are Democrat, Republican or Independent --means to be a generous and responsible society that helps the weak among us. President Bush's policies have done the opposite.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

John Ashcroft. Miserable Failure

By any objective measure, outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft was a horrible, miserable failure. Worst ever? Perhaps.

His resume says he brought charges on 368 terrorist suspects, and lazy journalists, spoonfed a Justice Department press release, are noting that the department has had 194 convictions.

What most journalists won't point out, though, is that none of those 194 convictions have anything to do with terrorism. Those convictions came for a motley of charges, related to gambling, Internet pornography and other issues that are certainly worth prosecution, but which have nothing to do with terrorism.

Ashcroft didn't make terrorism a priority before 9/11, and clearly, he wasn't very successful in prosecuting terrorist threats thereafter.

John Ashcroft was king of the well-timed press conference. He paraded out names of terror suspects who had been in custody for months -- the nut who said he wanted to blow up an Ohio mall comes to mind. And he was good at scaring the American people. Who can forget the embarrassing claim in June that “credible intelligence from multiple sources indicates that Al Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States” between then and the November election? The "credible intelligence," it was later learned, came from Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, who among other things, took credit for the blackout in the Northeast last year.

No terror convictions, even with the over-the-top power of the USA Patriot Act at his disposal. Think about how hard that is. Ashcroft rounded up some 5,000 people, via racial profiling or Arabs and other minorities with hard-to-pronounce last names and a common Muslim religion. But no convictions.

And when he wasn't failing in the legal war on terror, he was making excuses. Ashcroft poo-pooed international legal precedent, like the Geneva Convention, saying it didn't apply to Al Qaeda or the Taliban. Ashcroft looked the other way during Abu Ghraib, suggesting the Geneva Convention did not apply to our detention or maltreatment of detainees.

***

Liberals were gleeful yesterday upon learning Ashcroft was stepping down. The audience at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart cheered wildly.

But it's not like Ashcroft is being forced to resign, as if a paddy wagon was waiting outside his offices. It's not like a liberal -- or even a pro-choice, pro-gay rights Republican, like George Pataki -- has a prayer of replacing Ashcroft. The religious right would never accept it.

In all likelihood, Ashcroft will be succeeded by a deputy in the department or some other GOP loyalist who meets the appropriate litmus tests. They'll have big shoes to fill. It's going to be increasingly difficult to hold press conferences claiming victory in the legal war on terror, while all those prosecutions fail to stand up in court.

Monday, November 08, 2004

For All The Media Bluster, Don't Blame Nader

Don't blame Ralph Nader.

You could blame him in 2000, and at one point or another, many in the media predicted you'd blame him again in 2004. But when push came to shove, in spite of a steady media presence, Ralph Nader was a non-factor.

Nader received roughly 404,000 votes. Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik, who received no media attention, received 376,000. Statistically, each candidate would up with 0.4% of the vote.

This was not what most people expected. Although Nader was barely polling 1% throughout the campaign season -- and only on 35 or so states in which he had qualified -- the conventional pundit wisdom was that in some states, Nader might poll 2% or 3% -- enough to potentially throw a state or two toward Bush. Heck, I was worried Nader would be a factor somewhere.

You had to figure Kerry was worried -- he was told enough times to be -- what with the steady flow of pundits out there looking at ways for Kerry to reach out to Nader voters, to embrace his "liberal" background (as they defined it), even to cut a deal.

Strangely, no one ever gave Badnarik that standing. There was no call for Bush to reach out to Badnarik voters. Perhaps that's because Libertarian Harry Browne polled a similar 0.4% in the 2000 election -- too small to really make a difference.

But what might have happened if Chris Matthews, Wolf Blitzer, Tim Russert, et al, had devoted even a smidgen of time to the possibility of fiscal conservatives moving away from Bush and his $400 billion-plus deficits and toward a "true conservative," such as Badnarik? Would that have ramped up the Libertarian vote count by a few hundred thousand?

What if there were reports of a potential groundswell -- don't forget, folks like Pat Buchanan were on the air as late as October talking about the possibility of not voting for President Bush. You had conservative publications, like The American Conservative, not endorsing Bush.

Would Rush Limbaugh have noticed? Would Sean Hannity have cared?

What if Air America, and Bill Maher, and Tina Brown, and all the "liberal media" types conservatives so hate, had been out there talking about the potential splintering of fiscal conservatives from Bush to Badnarik?

Sound far-fetched?

But in hindsight, isn't that what happened -- at least for a while, at least as a steady trickle of stories -- with regard to Nader? And Badnarik was on 48 state ballots. Nader didn't even crack 40.

Of course, if Matthews, Blitzer, Russert, et al, had not scared mainstream Democrats and Nader 2000 voters, maybe Kerry would have done worse. That's another "what if," I suppose -- just like the "what ifs" I've offered on Badnarik.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Why Did Kerry Lose? Rural, Blue-Collar and Older Voters Voted for Cultural Issues

Democratic Pollster Stan Greenberg, speaking at the National Press Club Wednesday, spelled it out.

Just as core Democrats dated Dean but married Kerry during the primaries, the same could be said of rural, blue-collar and older voters during the general election. They looked at Kerry, and even leaned his way until the final days of the campaign, when they went with their gut -- and against their economic interest -- and voted Bush.

What did Greenberg find:

With 10 days to go before the election, rural, blue-collar and older voters were split between Bush and Kerry, but ultimately, these voters fell back on cultural issues in deciding to vote for Bush. These are voters who are generally conservative on cultural issues, but who were swinging away from the president because of his poor performance as president. After Kerry's solid performance in the debates, these people were leaning toward the challenger.

But ultimately, they swung back. Why?

First, events in the news and the Bush-Cheney campaign agenda kept the nation focused on Iraq and terrorism. And Kerry lacked a bold economic narrative, Greenberg said -- his collection of policy statements wasn't enough to keep these voters' interested.

What does that mean? Perhaps that when Kerry said he'd only roll back taxes on the rich, and Bush said that Kerry's numbers didn't add up, working-class and rural voters bought into the notion of Kerry being a "tax-and-spend liberal." The neocon agenda has so conditioned Americans to look down on liberalism -- to some, it's become akin to socialism or communism -- that these voters were more interested in the stereotype of Kerry than their own situations.

The conservative echo chamber talked about Kerry's $2 trillion of spending plans, neglecting to point out Bush's $3 trillion of spending -- not including some $2 trillion of estimated costs that might be incurred through privatization of Social Security. Bush touted negligible job gains -- job creation barely kept up with population growth in the 13 months prior to the election -- and Kerry failed to put those job gains into context for the average American.

Statistically, rural, blue-collar voters have not done that well during Bush's term, with wages not keeping up with inflation, and high job losses, especially in fields like manufacturing. But through the conservative haze -- all the bluster of Limbaugh and Hannity, all the misdirection from Bush and Cheney -- these voters nonetheless didn't see Kerry as an improvement.

Among the elderly, Greenberg noted the 2004 campaign was not focused on Social Security like it was in 2000. ("Remember the 'lock box'?" asked Greenberg.) Consequently, seniors, like many, essentially fell back on cultural issues, as well as national security, in making their final decision. This would help explain why states like Florida were solid Bush victories.

"Democrats need to think about how faith and values build a greater affinity with voters," said Greenberg. He also said that because the Catholic leadership refused to give Kerry communion for being on the wrong side of the church's abortion teachings, that helped fuel the belief that he wasn't "similarly religious" as Bush.

It's not clear whether the Democrats were blind-sided by the 11 state initiatives regarding gay marriage. In truth, only Ohio was truly in play among the states that passed initiatives.

But it would seem the combination of cultural issues, perhaps combined with a larger-than-expected turnout among rural, white, religious Christian voters in Ohio may have overcome the various Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts, which focused on younger and first-time voters, minorities, and independents and moderate Republicans turned off by Bush. The GOP went for a very specific group -- and we all heard about Republican get-out-the-vote efforts via churches -- while the Democrats cast a wide net. In the end, the Republican strategy won in the Buckeye State, and the presidency went again to Bush.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

It's (Probably) Over. The Fight Should Be to Win Back Congress in 2006

Provisional ballots still have to be counted in Ohio, but mathematics suggests that unless there are more than 500,000 of such ballots -- or unless a major block of votes already cast are overturned -- the race for the presidency is over. Bush will win with at least 274, and possibly 286 electoral votes, along with more than 50% of the popular vote -- the first president to achieve that milestone since his father, in 1988.

The Democrats can blame any number of things: a disinformation campaign by the Republicans, the Swift Boat Veterans hoax, Osama Bin Laden's most recent video, the failure of the 18-29 voting block to come out as promised, touch-screen, paperless ballot boxes, Bill Clinton's quadruple bypass.

But I think the issue is bigger than this. The Democrats went into this campaign assuming that they had the issues on their side. The president and his administration had failed to deliver on any number of issues: the war in Iraq was going poorly, Bush was the first president since Hoover to have a net loss of jobs, the environment had suffered, gas prices were ridiculous, the deficit was at record levels, Osama was still at large.

But the Democrats failed to understand that for a significant percentage of the population -- perhaps 30-35% of voters nationwide, and significantly more than that in a block of states stretching from Georgia to Idaho -- didn't care about those issues.

Those people cared really about three issues: abortion, homosexuality and taxes. As author Thomas Frank eloquently wrote in "What's the Matter With Kansas?" the cultural issues were more important to these voters than any other issues.

The fact that Bush was able to tell voters that Kerry once voted against a bill prohibiting late-term (or partial-birth) abortions was enough to convince these voters to come out in droves against Kerry. The fact that Kerry and Bush essentially agreed on gay marriage -- both support civil unions -- didn't help Kerry, because the Republican Party platform was wholly against gay rights, and the Democratic Party was wholly in favor of them. Witness the 10 or 11 (I don't know yet about Oregon) state ballot issues that passed nationwide against gay marriage -- including in Ohio.

When Kerry said that he would only raise taxes on the wealthiest 2%, most Americans could accept the rationale. Most Americans either felt that Kerry was right because of fairness, or because they recognized that Bush's various tax cuts for the wealthy and privileged did not deliver the economic boom or job creation promised.

But those that place cultural issues ahead of all else see cutting taxes as some sort of moral obligation -- even if that decision has negative repercussions in their own lives. Witness, as CBS reported last night, that the county in eastern Ohio that had the largest job loss in that state in the last four years (I apologize for not knowing the name) voted for Bush.

***

The Democrats need an issue. They need to make that issue their holy crusade. I'm not even sure what the issue is, but it has to be the key to the 2006 election season, and possibly beyond. It likely has to be a cultural issue, perhaps one that affects women and children the most. But whatever the issue is, it has to be driven home in every state and congressional district. It has to become an issue that can chip away at the cultural block.

I thought that issue would be Iraq, or more clearly, dead soldiers. Anyone who watched Farenheit 911 was moved by the story of Lila Lipscomb and her anger at this president. Anyone who saw the advertisements dubbed "Brooke's Story" was moved by the loss of a brother, and enraged by the embarrassing jokes told by Bush at the televised dinner this spring.

The war in Iraq could very likely remain a key issue heading into the next election cycle, and perhaps hammering home that it's wrong to joke when our soldiers are dying will resonate with the cultural block.

I don't know the answer, but I know that if the Democrats want to have a role in governing this decade, they need to take back Congress. And the way to do that is to create a crusade that can motivate voters as powerfully as abortion, homosexuality and taxes. To expect the cultural block to change their way is naive -- they see what they are doing as their moral obligation, as good Christians -- and their numbers will only continue to grow with Bush in the White House.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Kids Are All Right?

Early radio reports worth noting:

CBS said that voter turnout was heavy, particularly among younger voters, in a host of New York-area polling sites, including Saddle Brook, N.J., and Bridgeport, Conn.

Air America fielded calls from voters in Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, suggesting heavier than normal turnout, and a prevalence of younger voters.

Rock the Vote!

Monday, November 01, 2004

Last-Second Trashing of Kerry

Someone explain the brains behind this:

A Washington Post sports page item, by Dan Steinberg and Desmond Bieler, reads: John Kerry: Suddenly making sure everyone knows he's always been a huge Red Sox fan. But he may have gone too far by saying that he didn't think homosexuality was a choice, and that anyone who disagreed should ask Derek Jeter.

Gay jokes? In the Washington Post? Referencing Kerry on the eve of the presidential election?

Before anyone says, "It's a joke," here's my response: It's stupid. It's wrong. It's beneath the Washington Post. Same for anyone who thinks sticking a joke in the sports section means it doesn't matter.

I'm sure Steinberg and Bieler thought this was the height of political humor. Make fun of Kerry as a faux Red Sox fan (even though he claims to have been one for decades) and at the same type, slap a gay joke in there. Ha ha.

People have been fired for such things. I can think of a lot of people, funny or otherwise, who would love to work for the Post's sports section.

***

Meanwhile, talkingpointsmemo.com has found a flyer -- see it yourself at http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/docs/florida.gasmask.flyer.pdf -- from the fervently pro-Bush Florida Leadership Council.

The flyer is clearly designed to scare South Florida voters. It's nice to know that when all else fails, conservatives resort to fiction.

I'm sure someone will say this is no better or worse than Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11. That would show a clear misunderstanding of Moore's work. You may not agree with Moore's opinions, but that's a far cry from this Florida crap.

The Last Word From Zogby

Zogby has Bush up 48-47 including leaners, and tied with Kerry at 46 without leaners. Both are within the margin of error.

But here's something interesting:

Pollster John Zogby: "Razor thin margin here, if there is one at all. The President still does not get above 48%. The real news here is that 18-29 year olds favor Kerry 64% to 35%, with 1% for Nader—and 0% undecided. When I see a low undecided number it means that group is going to vote. I am factoring this group to be 12% of the total vote -- but it could be higher. Each point it goes higher translates into two-thirds of a percent for Kerry -- if these numbers hold up."

***

That follows similar news yesterday, also from Zogby:

Polling firm Zogby International and partner Rock the Vote found Massachusetts Senator John Kerry leading President Bush 55% to 40% among 18-29 year-old likely voters in their first joint Rock the Vote Mobile political poll, conducted exclusively on mobile phones October 27 through 30, 2004. Independent Ralph Nader received 1.6%, while 4% remain undecided in the survey of 6,039 likely voters. The poll is centered on subscribers to the Rock the Vote Mobile (RTVMO) platform, a joint initiative of Rock the Vote and Motorola Inc. (for more information: http://www.rtvmo.com). The poll has margin of error of +/-1.2 percentage points.

The Rock the Vote Mobile political poll was conducted using a sample group from Rock the Vote Mobile’s 120,000-subscriber base. Participants in the Rock the Vote Mobile (RTVMO) platform, a civic engagement initiative launched last March by Rock the Vote and Motorola, Inc. (NYSE: MOT), responded to this poll between October 27 and October 30.

“The results of this text-message poll mirror what we’re seeing in our more conventional polls,” said John Zogby, CEO and president of Utica, N.Y.-based Zogby International. “Among 18-29 year-olds, Kerry leads the President by 14 points — 55% to 41% in our current daily tracking poll—virtually identical to these results. Our text-message poll seems to have been validated by this experiment. All in all, I think we’ve broken some new ground in polling.”

Early Exit Polling Favors Kerry

Exit polls of early voters in Florida and Iowa have provided favorable buzz for Kerry supporters.

In Florida, where 30% of likely voters say they have taken advantage of early voting, Kerry leads 51-43. Nader polls 0.6%.

In Iowa, where 27% of likely voters say they have already voted, Kerry leads 52-43. Nader is at 1.

The conservative spin is that the Democratic Party is trying to front-load the early returns, presumably via some conspiratorial get out the vote effort. While you contemplate that, try to think of the last time you heard Ken Mehlman or Dan Bartlett say something honest about the Democrats.

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