AlterNet.org: Michael Tomasky http://www.alternet.org/authors/michael-tomasky-0 en Was Fiscal Cliff Deal a Stinker, or Did Obama Win One? http://www.alternet.org/election-2012/was-fiscal-cliff-deal-stinker-or-did-obama-win-one <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Mike Tomasky of the Daily Beast and AlterNet&#039;s Joshua Holland have very different views on the question. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_103774169.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>According to <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2013/01/poll-voters-cleft-on-fiscal-cliff-deal-85788.html">Gallup</a>, two-thirds of Democrats say they're "satisfied" with the deal Congress struck on January 2 to avert the "crisis" that it had itself created. Only 23 percent say they don't like it. Two-thirds of Republicans say they don't approve -- and Rush Limbaugh <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2012/12/rush-limbaugh-gop-surrenders-84645.html">is typically furious</a> -- but anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist says he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/04/grover-norquist-fiscal-cliff_n_2409875.html">is "happy" with the agreement</a>. </p><p>Did Obama get the better of Republicans, or did he get rolled? It's been a hot debate among progressives since details of the deal were announced. This week, on the AlterNet Radio Hour, Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast joined Joshua Holland for a friendly debate. Below is a lightly edited transcript of the exchange (you can listen to a podcast of the whole show <a href="http://www.alternet.org/alternet-radio-gop-smearing-republican-chuck-hagel-point-counterpoint-fiscal-deal-katha-pollitt-how">here</a>).</p><p>Joshua Holland: Mike, did you find it kind of surreal to see Congress patting themselves on the back for dealing with a phony crisis they conjured out of thin air?</p><p>Michael Tomasky: I’m not so wild about the idea of Congress patting themselves on the back. But I actually think Obama deserves a little pat on the back.</p><p>JH: We’re going to have a disagreement here. </p><p>Now, I’ve had a number of criticisms of this administration but I think Barack Obama has done a pretty good job on balance, given the multiple crises he inherited and the craziness of opposition. That view has caused people to call me an Obamabot. I mention that as context, so you understand where I’m coming from.</p><p>You wrote a piece in the Beast this week that I would have agreed with right up until [last] Tuesday, but now I disagree. It’s titled, “<a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/01/03/dear-liberals-stop-complaining.html">Dear Liberals: Stop Complaining</a>.”</p><p>In it, you write, "There’s a style of criticism that really bugs me. It’s that which reproves [Obama] for failing to be Captain Liberal while refusing to recognize that the guy has to be Mr. President." Can you unpack that a bit for us?</p><p>MT: Yes. Look, in my heart of hearts, I would like him to be able to assert his will over Congress. Raise the tax rate on dollars earned -- I say dollars earned, not on people, because that’s really what’s correct – on dollars earned to above $250,000. I don’t want to see that go up to 39.6 percent, I want to see that go up to 42 or 45 percent. I’d like to see more generous unemployment benefits then we have.</p><p>I’d like to see higher capital gains tax rates ... a whole lot of things. As a liberal, I believe that Barack Obama … I wish Barack Obama would push for those things. I think they’re good things for the country.</p><p>But I recognize, I’m sorry to say, that he’s president of a big country, only about a quarter of which at best, is liberal. He’s got to deal with people whom we don’t like but who are there – who were legitimately elected. We can’t deny it. They’re legitimately elected, they legitimately represent 47% of the United States and he has to be in a negotiation with them. There’s just no getting around these facts.</p><p>Given all those circumstances, he did pretty darn well in this negotiation.</p><p>JH: I am also sick of liberal hand-wringing about how Obama hasn’t used his magic Negro powers to make really crazy right-wingers in Congress more reasonable! I totally agree with that.</p><p>This deal however, is just a stinker and I think liberals have every reason to complain. I want our listeners to understand why I think that way in context. Bear with me for one minute here.</p><p>In 2008, Obama ran on letting the Bush tax cuts for higher earners expire while protecting the middle class and he won in a landslide over John McCain. Those rates for the top earners remained for the entirety of his first term, including the two years Democrats held both chambers of Congress. We get to 2012. He runs on the same things again – let the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent expire, prevent a tax hike from hitting the other 98 percent. Great, he beats Mitt Romney handily.</p><p>Two months later we hit this contrived fiscal slope. Here in your piece, Mike, you acknowledge the criticism that going over the slope would have given Obama more leverage. You acknowledge that.</p><p>And we did -- we did go over the slope, technically. No Republicans had to actually vote for a tax increase. Grover Norquist's pledge remains unbroken.</p><p>And the tax policy center has crunched the numbers on what are now the Obama tax cuts. This is really important for people to understand: they made the Bush tax cuts permanent for two-thirds of the taxpayers in the top 2 percent. Two-thirds of those who were going to see a raise, they’ve got those Bush tax cuts -- the temporary tax cuts -- permanently. Or that’s the new baseline--when I say “permanently,” they can obviously change.</p><p>Now, the cut-off for the estate tax moved permanently from $1 million to $5 million and it’s now indexed for inflation. For the very richest households their capital gains taxes got cut from 35 percent to 24 percent, and that’s now permanent.</p><p>Meawhile, they created another fiscal cliff in just two short months. Obama says he refuses to negotiate on the debt limit and that may be true, but that doesn’t mean anything. Because the deep automatic cuts known as the so-called sequester are coming. The budget resolution keeping the government afloat, it runs out at the end of March. So we’re going to have another one of these cliffs in a few months either way.</p><p>And this is the thing that really bugs me: along with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts at midnight on New Year’s Eve, the Obama payroll tax cut also expired, so most Americans who earn a living with their paychecks are going to see around a 40 percent increase in their payroll tax.</p><p>Now, we got unemployment benefits extended and a few sweeteners, the Earned Income Tax Credit -- these are all really good things -- but I don’t see how you can call this a good deal.</p><p>MT: Forty percent, as you know, is a slightly loaded way of putting it. I mean, it’s a third -- it’s 33 percent -- but it’s from 4.2 to 6.2 percent.</p><p>You are correct that that is a tax increase, but let’s take that as a case in point. There was no support for that among Democrats. This is an Obama initiative dating back to December 2010. A temporary reduction in the employer’s part of the payroll tax contribution. It was always designed to be temporary and Obama wanted to extend it in this negotiation, but there was no support even among Democrats for extending it.</p><p>Democrats are skittish about what effect extending this and prolonging it might have on the Social Security Trust Fund. Which I think is a reasonably fair concern on their part, even though this cut is supposed to be replaced from the general fund. Democrats I’ve talked to have said, "Well, you keep extending this and then pretty soon it’s going to become permanent and then you’re going to start playing around with the Social Security Trust Fund."</p><p>Which is also something that progressives don’t want to be done. Anyway, the long and short of it is that Democrats didn’t want this, so Obama had no leverage over these people to continue that. That’s just a good case in point. I think it’s representative of just how difficult this whole business is. It’s a negotiation with people who have horrible, horrible priorities for this country, but they’re there.</p><p>And you can’t pretend they're not there. There’s no “magic Negro” wand to wave, as you said. You have to take it as it comes. A lot of the prisms through which people view this deal have to do with their anxiety about the next negotiation. I think generally speaking -- I don’t want to oversimplify -- but I think generally speaking, people have no faith in Obama’s ability to carry out this next negotiation.</p><p>They think this deal stinks. People who think this deal is okay have a little more faith in Obama’s ability to carry out this next negotiation. I’m in that latter camp now and events might prove me wrong and if I’m wrong I’m wrong, I’ve been wrong before, but I think he can do it.</p><p>JH: First of all, you’re a bad pundit because you’re never supposed to admit that you’ve ever been wrong.</p><p>MT: That’s true.</p><p>JH: Let’s talk about this. I must say that I don't fall in either camp. I don’t think that this is a deal that we can evaluate on its own period until we see what happens in two months. Because again, it just kicked the can down the road. But I want to just give you a quote. This is something that Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said this week.</p><blockquote><p>“The moment that he [Obama] and virtually every elected Democrat in Washington signed off on the terms of the current arrangement, it was the last word on taxes. That debate is over. Now the conversation turns to cutting spending on the government programs that are the real source of the nation’s fiscal imbalance. And the upcoming debate on the debt limit is the perfect time to have that discussion.”</p></blockquote><p>Before we get into that, I want to point out to listeners that Mitch McConnell is full of it. We’ve collected the lowest share of our economic output in taxes over the last three years since 1960. I don’t want to advance that talking point without correcting it.</p><p>I want to get back to the fact that in your piece, you acknowledged that he would have had more leverage after the slope, after we had started down the slope.</p><p>What leverage does he have now for the next contrived showdown? There’s the defense cuts in the sequester, but other than that aren’t we just counting on the force of his personality?</p><p>MT: He has public opinion on his side. Public opinion doesn’t want steep cuts to domestic programs. It just doesn’t. Public opinion wants defense to take its share. In poll after poll after poll -- you know this as well as I do – public opinion doesn’t want to see steep cuts or arguably any cuts come out of Social Security or Medicare. Public opinion wants to see the wealthy pay their share.</p><p>I know what McConnell said. I know what the Republican position is going to be. But Obama has public opinion on his side, and public opinion ought to still count for something. I also suspect he will have -- when it comes to the question of holding the debt limit hostage to cuts -- I think this time, if he plays it right, he’ll have elite opinion on his side. Business leaders, corporate people, Wall Street people. I think if he rallies them to his side, I think that he’ll get them to say now that the Republicans can’t play this kind of game a second time.</p><p>In 2011, when, let’s face it, most of those people that I just mentioned would rather have a Republican president. In 2011, they were placing their bets on the hope that there might be a Republican president. They didn't want to be seen as biased against the Republicans in Congress.</p><p>Now, Barack Obama has won again. We’re three, four years away from another presidential election. I think Obama can persuade a lot of those people to pressure Republicans to act like rational human beings. Which is quite a sentence I just spoke, but I think he can persuade them to be more on his side. Public opinion and elite opinion will both be in Obama’s corner.</p><p>JH: I want to respond with just two quick points. Which is that public opinion was entirely in his corner on this last fight. The polls were extremely clear that everybody wanted to see the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent expire, and the middle class kept from facing tax increases. That did not happen.</p><p>Secondly, I completely agree with you about elite opinions. Especially Wall Street opinion about the debt limit. I don’t understand how – and this seems to be implied in your argument -- how we can have a separate fight over the debt limit and the continuing resolution – with a threat of a government shutdown – and the sequester. These are all happening at about the same time, so again, he can say, "I am not negotiating on the debt limit," and he can be right, technically. But he still’s going to have to face hostages. And are you going to get that elite opinion saying, "no, you can’t negotiate on a budget deal"?</p><p>MT: I’ll concede your point there. You won’t get that, but I do think you’ll still have public opinion on his side. Now, you’re also right that public opinion was with him here.</p><p>Look, these Republicans in Congress, you can’t really... they don’t respond to the same political incentive structure that we’re used to people responding to. We know that very well.</p><p>All you had to do was watch how Mitt Romney sucked up to the right-wing in his primary campaign to see that. They’re not afraid of general elections against Democrats, they’re afraid of primaries against people to their right. That’s what dictates their behavior. I think having said that, he did … I wouldn’t say broke their back, but he weakened their spine a bit this time. He won this round. He did win this round. If he plays it right, he can win another round.</p><p>Now there are going to be cuts, there are going to be budget cuts to domestic programs that we’re not going to like. If there are also cuts to Pentagon programs, and if there’s also a little bit more revenue, and if Social Security and Medicare are basically untouched -- I mean if the only real savings that come from those are rational Medicare savings and reimbursement rates to specialists and things like that, things that we all agree can basically be sources of savings. If a deal can meet those criteria, and I don’t think it’s unrealistic to meet those four criteria, then he wins again.</p><p>JH: Before I let you go, one final point that I kept thinking about and coming back to when I was reading your essay. You framed the piece as the left wishing that Obama would be a fierce liberal lion and the responsibility to the duties of office. You write that there’s “a responsibility that comes along with being the president. It may be unfair, but the leaders of the House and Senate can play all the silly games they want to. Half the country or more doesn’t even know who they are. But the president—he’s supposed to do stuff.”</p><p>Now I just want to read another quote. This is Brad Plumer writing in the Washington Post: </p><blockquote><p>“The U.S. will have about $348 billion in austerity measures this year — roughly $200 billion from spending cuts, $125 billion from the end of the payroll tax cut, and $24 billion in taxes from Obamacare. That amounts to austerity totaling 2.1 percent of GDP, a bigger austerity package than Britain, Germany, or Spain has enacted.”</p></blockquote><p>All of those countries have slipped – well, not Germany, but Britain and Spain have both slipped back into recession in recent years.</p><p>This idea that it’s … what is the responsibility of the president? The economic forecasters have cut GDP growth forecasts in half because of this deal and now we’re going to, as you say, we’re going to get more cuts -- we don’t know how deep they'll be -- in two months. This is horrible economic policy and frankly, I, as a liberal, I would love the president -- who I don’t expect to use his bully pulpit to call for free abortions -- I would like him to point out that this is really crappy economic policy instead of crowing over it.</p><p>MT: That’s a pretty good question and a pretty good argument, I have to confess. The question really is how much can a president change the terms of a debate in Washington? One that’s defined by certain perimeters and has been defined by certain perimeters for a long time. That’s something that I think, yeah, you’re right, Obama could probably do a little better job of that. He does tend to operate within the perimeters that the establishment sets.</p><p>Maybe that’s not entirely fair. I think he broke those perimeters on gay marriage; he broke those perimeters a bit. Not to the extent that everybody would like, but he broke those perimeters a bit on healthcare. On economic questions, though, he certainly is a cautious type. There’s no doubt about it. I can understand him looking at the situation and thinking, as I wrote, "I am the president. If we don't hit this deadline, people are going to hold me accountable for it and we have to hit it."</p><p>There are very, very few people, Joshua, who even understand what you just said. I don’t think more than 5 percent of Americans would understand the question you just asked me. That makes it kind of hard. Kind of hard for a president to explain all that stuff to people.</p><p>JH: I want an explainer-in-chief. Michael Tomasky, we're out of time. But this is one of those disagreements where I hope you’re right and I hope I’m wrong.</p><p>MT: I always hope I’m right.</p><p>JH: Well, I believe we agree on something!</p> Mon, 07 Jan 2013 13:06:00 -0800 Joshua Holland, Michael Tomasky, AlterNet 772676 at http://www.alternet.org Election 2016 Economy Election 2016 fiscal slope republicans obama mcconnell tomasky Free Market? How Detroit Designed Its Own Catastrophe http://www.alternet.org/story/134331/free_market_how_detroit_designed_its_own_catastrophe <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Why don&#039;t automakers produce hybrid vehicles that aren&#039;t SUVs?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Jon Cohn has a very <a href="http://blogs.tnr.com/tnr/blogs/the_plank/archive/2009/03/30/obama-takes-the-wheel.aspx">intelligent take</a> on Obama's auto industry announcement today. It's all worth reading. Emotionally, I was struck most strongly by this paragraph:</p><blockquote><p>Obama is committed to pushing the auto industry to become greener even as it becomes leaner. And that is absolutely the right goal. But right now the big obstacle to selling more fuel efficient cars is on the demand side. Consumers just don't want them badly enough, at least not with gas prices as low as they are. Can Obama fix that problem, too, by enacting some sort of pollution tax (whether in the form of a direct carbon levy or a cap-and-trade system)?</p></blockquote><p>Well. This is why Detroit is so effed up. Let me tell a quick story.</p><p>I've finally decided that for my next car, I ought to buy a hybrid, and I ought to buy American if I can. I want a midsize sedan. You know, a normal car, like normal people drive. I'd love to buy a Ford or Chrysler or Buick or Pontiac or maybe even a Saturn (not a Chevrolet; I have my limits) hybrid midsize sedan.</p><p>You'd think they'd be rushing such models out, wouldn't you? But in fact, astonishingly, they hardly exist.</p><p>Ford is coming out right now with a Fusion hybrid (the Mercury-badged version is called the Milan). Saturn has something called the Aura, whose availability is extremely limited. Chrysler, Buick, and Pontiac have nothing as far as I can see.</p><p>And yet, most of these manufacturers are making ... SUV hybrids! I went to the Cadillac website, on the assumption that if Cadillac had any brains, they'd be making a hybrid sedan that someone like me (far from right but doing okay) could maybe afford. The only hybrid Cadillac is pushing is -- get this -- the Escalade hybrid.</p><p>An Escalade hybrid? That's like taking one strip of bacon off of your Wendy's triple bacon-cheeseburger and calling it a diet.</p><p>Cohn makes a fair point that Detroit would make here. Hybrid SUVs are selling. There's no great demand yet for midsize hybrid sedans. Well, fine, make some hybrid SUVs, but: create the market for sedans, you idiots. Markets are created all the time in capitalist society.</p><p>Once upon a time no one knew they needed a car with radio. Now no one would buy a car without at least a single CD player and more likely a six-CD changer and all kinds of MP3 and satellite technology. A decade ago, no one had any problem listening to songs in the running order artists intended them to be heard. But a new invention changed all that. And so on and so on.</p><p>They're so unimaginative in Detroit. You create a market with a sizzling ad campaign, one that sells an idea of the future as bound up in the new line of vehicles, and in hard incentives or disincentives. A pollution tax is one idea in the latter category. In the former, read <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29015465/">this</a>, about what Germany is doing:</p><blockquote><p>The German government is paying people who junk old cars a bonus of $3,250 toward a new, environmentally cleaner vehicle, as part of a $67 billion government stimulus plan ...</p><p>... Additionally, Volkswagen AG on Monday unveiled an "Environment Premium Plus" program to provide additional incentives such as price reductions and cheaper financing to customers taking advantage of the government bonus. With the added VW incentives, Kamand said he would be able to knock $6,000 off the $26,800 sticker price.</p><p>Owners of cars that are at least nine years old and registered in Germany for at least a year can take advantage through the end of the year.</p><p>The goal is to help Europe's largest economy -- struggling with a recession and a rising unemployment rate of 8.3 percent -- by promoting big-ticket consumer purchases and newer, lower-emissions vehicles.</p></blockquote><p>God forbid Detroit come up with something like this. They're dopes. It infuriates me that thousands of union workers who are just doing what they're told are going to have to suffer for their dumb bosses' lack of imagination. But if they can't think beyond "Gee, our customers like SUVs, so let's just make hybrid SUVs" then they deserve what they get, sad to say.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> Tue, 31 Mar 2009 07:00:01 -0700 Michael Tomasky, Comment Is Free 654642 at http://www.alternet.org Economy Economy economy obama cars hybrid detroit automakers Kill Bill http://www.alternet.org/story/75056/kill_bill <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Barack Obama&#039;s rout of the Clintons in South Carolina shows the former president was bad news for Hillary.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->They're not an official category of voters whose tally is measured in exit polls, like whites or blacks, women or men, old or young. And since they're not an official category, we may never really have the evidence.<br /><br />But I have a feeling I know which group really handed Hillary Clinton - or maybe they were thinking even more of that <i>other</i> Clinton - her <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/uselections08/barackobama/story/0,,2247783,00.html">decisive loss to Barack Obama in South Carolina</a> on Saturday night. Call them "high-information Democrats."<br /><br />These are the people who follow all the ins and outs of the contest. They read The New York Times. They watch cable television, probably Keith Olbermann first and foremost. They read blogs. They know every twist and turn, every thrust and parry. And yes, they exist even in South Carolina.<br /><br />As I said, they are not a measured category. But Obama was ahead by eight to 15 percentage points in most public opinion polls up to Friday. He won by more than that, 28 percentage points. Who accounted for this disparity? We'll need to see raw turnout numbers by region to have a better idea - according to one network exit poll Obama won a majority of college-educated voters, both white and black. I suspect that it's a plausible conclusion that high-information voters swung in Obama's direction in the contest's closing days and hours.<br /><br />If I'm right, those voters were pretty clearly saying that <a href="http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2008/01/26/612582.aspx">they didn't like the kind of campaign</a> the Clintons were running against a fellow Democrat. It's a rebuke for both Clintons that will force them to rethink their scorched-earth strategy toward Obama and that presents them with a conundrum.<br /><br />Hillary Clinton lost Iowa resoundingly. After that defeat, her team obviously decided that it was time to stop limiting itself to the polite pointing out of differences and go all-out against Obama, with the former president taking the lead in making the attacks. Whatever one may think about the propriety of a former president injecting himself so sharply in an intra-party fight, the strategy paid dividends in New Hampshire and Nevada.<br /><br />But now, the strategy has backfired in a big way. The Clinton camp was saying as recently as Thursday that, while Bill might be a bane as far as the elites were concerned, he was boon as far as rank-and-file voters were concerned. But is that so clear now? I don't think so.<br /><br />So here's the spot the Clintons are in. They can't run a comparatively "nice" campaign, of the kind they were running in Iowa, because that risks a repeat of the Iowa defeat in some of the February 5 states. However, they also can't go too negative, because that may move high-information voters - and there are more of them, percentage-wise, in the crucial February 5 state of California - toward Obama.<br /><br />So they have to walk the razor's edge of finding exactly that point on the spectrum that isn't Iowa -- nice but isn't South Carolina -- nasty.<br /><br />That means, first and foremost, figuring out how they can rein in Bill Clinton, which is no easy task. But it also implies a broader rethinking of a strategy that has aggressively sought to convince Democratic voters that Obama just isn't qualified to be president. That latter strategy failed. Numbers don't lie: voters in two states out of four have concluded that he's just as qualified as Clinton is.<br /><br />Race? Of course it was a factor. Obama obviously benefited from the fact that the South Carolina vote is half African American. But I've always felt that what the media called a racial fight was also about other things — "race" is one of those red-flag words that the media love to latch on to and can't let go. But by mid-week, the race debate had really turned into a referendum on the Clintons' comportment. A large number of voters said: cool it.<br /><br />It's worth remembering that Hillary Clinton still has the advantage on February 5. She most likely has a win wrapped up in her adopted home state of New York. She probably has the neighboring, also-delegate-rich state of New Jersey. She's well ahead in the mother-lode state, California. She's ahead in Missouri. She's even ahead in states that Obama "ought" to win February 5, such as Alabama and Tennessee.<br /><br />Obama has lots of work in front of him. He needs, I think, a little magic in California (will Senator Barbara Boxer endorse him? Just idle speculation, but keep an eye on it). He will have to win most of the February 5 southern states, or the pundits will regard South Carolina as a fluke.<br /><br />But make no mistake. The message out of South Carolina is that the Clintons overplayed their hand. Can they do humble? That's just one among many fascinating questions that will settle a contest that is far more invigorating and challenging than Democrats had any reason to anticipate.<br /><br /><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> Sun, 27 Jan 2008 21:00:01 -0800 Michael Tomasky, Comment Is Free 644043 at http://www.alternet.org Election 2008 Election 2008 election08 barack obama hillary clinton bill clinton south carolina The Dangerous Rudy Giuliani: George Bush with Brains http://www.alternet.org/story/66986/the_dangerous_rudy_giuliani%3A_george_bush_with_brains <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">New York&#039;s former mayor is living up to his reputation as someone who will do and say anything for power.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->People of Britain: congratulations are in order. You have now joined ferret owners, sidewalk artists, hot dog vendors, publicly funded attorneys for poor people, low-income community college students, museum curators, a couple of innocent black men shot dead by the police, the sections of the New York City charter governing rules of succession to the mayoralty and, of course, Hillary Clinton, as objects of Rudy Giuliani's demagoguery and wrath.<br /><br />You may by now have heard the story. In a radio ad that his campaign prepared for New Hampshire voters, Giuliani tells listeners that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000 and goes on to say: "My chance of surviving cancer - and thank God I was cured of it - in the United States: 82%. My chances of surviving prostate cancer in England: only 44% under socialized medicine."<br /><br />The numbers are false. The actual five-year survival rate in Britain is 74%, which is still lower than America's, but obviously high enough for the figure not to have constituted fodder for a campaign commercial. (Even the remaining, much smaller difference, is largely explained by more widespread screening in the US, which catches many more incidents of prostate cancer that are non-lethal.)<br /><br />It turned out that Giuliani's numbers were from a seven-year-old article in a conservative policy journal. The article was written by his own healthcare policy adviser, who admitted that his comparison was a "crude" interpretation of a study by a respected health policy group. The group, in turn, said the article's author had grossly misused its numbers.<br /><br />That's about as red-handed as anyone in politics gets caught these days. But when asked if the campaign would continue to use the figure, a Giuliani spokeswoman said, "Yes, we will."<br /><br />I know the form all too well. I covered Giuliani for a dozen years in New York (note to angry American rightwingers preparing to email me a warning to keep my foreign nose out of their business: I'm as American as a Ford F-150).<br /><br />The man lies with staggering impunity. But here's the thing: he does it with such conviction and such seeming authority that people who are not inclined to study the matter will believe him -- will in fact be utterly convinced that Giuliani is speaking the gospel truth, and they will prove almost impossible to shake from this conviction.<br /><br />Giuliani's hypocrisy with regard to this ad doesn't end with the fake statistics. As Joe Conason noted on <a href="http://www.Salon.com">www.Salon.com</a>, Giuliani was at the time of his treatment the mayor of New York and enrolled in a nonprofit health maintenance organisation for government employees - that is, mini-socialized medicine. And as Ezra Klein noted on Comment is free, the treatment that saved Giuliani was developed in Denmark - which, as Klein drolly notes, "is both in Europe and has a universal healthcare system".<br /><br />But none of this will stop Giuliani. He will say and do anything he feels he needs to say and do to get power.<br /><br />Newspapers write that he was "liberal" on social issues in his mayoral days, as if his positions on abortion and immigration were matters of conviction. Nonsense. He took the positions he needed to take to be elected in an overwhelmingly Democratic city. (Although to grant him a speck of humanity, I'd guess that his pro-gay rights views were more or less genuine: anyone living in the city gets to know many gay people.)<br /><br />And now he is saying and doing whatever he needs to say and do to get millions of rightwing Americans to support him. He recently told a meeting of social conservatives that his reliance on God "is at the core of who I am." As mayor he was known to attend mass almost never, he obviously cheated serially on the wife (wife No 2) he married in the Catholic church, and the only occasions on which I can remember him invoking God when he was mayor were the two times he was forced to say "so help me God" in taking the oath of office.<br /><br />But forward he will charge, telling more lies with even more impunity. And immunity, because in a culture where a sense of history is largely limited to remembering certain stirring television images, he will for the most part get away with it, confident in the knowledge that the main thing most Americans will ever recall about him is the film clip of him running from the rubble of the World Trade Centre on September 11. A far smaller percentage will know that the reason he had run was because he had catastrophically decided to place his emergency command center in the tower complex - the only building in New York that had previously been the target of a major terrorist attack.<br /><br />And by the way: shame on Gordon Brown for inviting him to No 10 in September. Yes, there's a long tradition of presidents and prime ministers welcoming party standard-bearers from across the pond. But Giuliani isn't yet that. Brown had no business giving him the kind of special benefit that an audience with a prime minister bestows.<br /><br />Brown and all of Britain will be better off the sooner they figure this out: Giuliani is a dangerous man. George Bush with brains. Dick Cheney with better aim. Consider yourself warned.<br /><br /><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Michael Tomasky is the editor of Guardian America. </div></div></div> Mon, 05 Nov 2007 21:00:01 -0800 Michael Tomasky, Comment Is Free 642388 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics election08 giuliani Rove's Most Telling Words http://www.alternet.org/story/23636/rove%27s_most_telling_words <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">&#039;He&#039;s a Democrat&#039; -- with those three words now revealed, Karl Rove&#039;s partisanship is a matter of fact. Other Republicans should be ashamed of him -- and themselves.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten of the <i>Los Angeles Times</i> reported on July 18 that top White House aides were in a state of mania around this time two years ago, "intensely focused on discrediting" Joseph Wilson after he wrote his now-famous <i>New York Times</i> op-ed piece.<br /><br />Hamburger's and Wallsten's sources tell them that Karl Rove's animus toward Wilson was so intense that curiosity arose within the White House about it. When asked about this, Rove reportedly said, "He's a Democrat."<br /><br />I do not understand why some things get this town upset while others don't, but those three words should make any honorable patriot of either party both furious and ashamed. Wilson spent two decades in his country's service -- in diplomatic postings in Africa, chiefly, but also at the National Security Council, and in Baghdad leading up to and during the Gulf War of 1991. Former Secretary of State James Baker once thanked him for his "outstanding service to the nation," and the current president's father was equally effusive in a late-1990 telegram to Wilson in Baghdad.<br /><br />But to Rove, that service and those testimonials meant nothing. Rove had someone run Wilson's Federal Election Commission sheet and noticed, according to the <i>Los Angeles Times</i> story cited above, that Wilson's campaign donations "leaned toward Democrats." That was true. And that was enough: Nail him. Even though -- get this -- Wilson had donated $1,000 to the Bush campaign in 1999!<br /><br />And all this, of course, is putting aside Valerie Plame's service to the nation -- another two decades of work, dangerous work, on behalf of administrations Republican and Democratic. And finally, don't forget, there's the question -- little discussed so far, but one on which I trust prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is gathering information -- of whether any of our human assets overseas whom Plame had cultivated in her years of work were harmed after Robert Novak's column was published.<br /><br />For years now the right has practiced a partisanship more intense than that practiced by either party in the last 100 years. There's no need to describe it in detail here; everyone reading this knows its basic contours. But this scandal raises the question anew: Exactly what does someone in the Bush administration need to do before some Republican stands up and says enough?<br /><br />Because so far, I can't think of a single Republican official or conservative commentator who has even acknowledged that Rove's conversation with Matt Cooper may have been the least bit problematic. No GOP elected official has breathed a word of doubt. Over at <i>The Corner</i>, they're turning somersaults trying to prove that Cooper's language may have meant this and not that, or running interviews with Robert Luskin that actually introduce no information that bears on the facts of the case, which other Cornerites then bray "proves" Rove's innocence.<br /><br />At <i>The Weekly Standard</i> -- which in 2001 boasted of the "Responsibility President" -- it's the same duck-and-cover routine, led by a lengthy Scrapbook item trying to debunk Wilson's credibility. They never acknowledge the remotest possibility that Rove might have done something untoward.<br /><br />And, of course, they never will, which is the Watergate-paradigm idea. The conventional wisdom is that Richard Nixon might never have fallen if his own party hadn't given up on him, if Barry Goldwater and some other GOP leaders hadn't gone to him and advised him to throw in the towel. So if they just hold the line now, and make it seem like Wilson is a liar and the evil liberals will stoop to anything to nail poor Rove, their man will survive.<br /><br />Maybe he will. Fitzgerald may have something to say about that, and I think we can see that he doesn't care what anybody thinks. In the absence of political integrity such as that displayed by Goldwater in 1974, there is such a thing as evidence, and evidence, even in this irrational town, is sometimes enough.<br /><br />But in the meantime, it's a pathetic thing to watch supposedly respectable conservative intellectuals act like they're running for the editorship of Pravda in 1921. And when an agent who's presumably risked her life for this country has been exposed. I thought that was the kind of thing these people cared about. But not, I guess, when her husband is "a Democrat." <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Michael Tomasky is the American Prospect’s executive editor. </div></div></div> Wed, 20 Jul 2005 21:00:01 -0700 Michael Tomasky, The American Prospect 629483 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics Reliving History http://www.alternet.org/story/22164/reliving_history <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The right is trying to rewrite history -- Watergate and the Clinton era -- to control the future. Unsurprisingly, the press gets the assist.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><i>This article is reprinted from <a href="http://www.prospect.org/">The American Prospect</a>.</i><br /><br />Though the event took place more than a week ago, it's worth taking a moment to remark upon the May 27 acquittal of David Rosen, the fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton's 2000 Senate campaign who'd been charged in a New Orleans federal court with hiding about $800,000 worth of costs for a gala Los Angeles event thrown for the then-first lady during her campaign.<br /><br />Why is it worth remarking upon? For two reasons. First, in the weeks leading up to the jury's decision, one could hear the galloping accelerando of wing-nut anticipation; FOX, for example, did more than a dozen segments devoted mostly or partly to Rosen's fate in the three months leading up to the acquittal.<br /><br />Walking point on this matter, of course, was Dick Morris. He wrote in his <i>New York Post</i> column nine days before the acquittal that the case against Rosen was "getting stronger, increasing the odds the aide will start cooperating with the government"; about a week earlier, he had appeared on a <i>Hannity &amp; Colmes</i> segment -- titled "Are Hillary's Presidential Chances Over?" -- outright accusing Clinton of having known about the underreporting of the event's costs. I'd love to see the memos that were going around FOX during the trial planning the on-air party in the event of conviction.<br /><br />But ho! The party was canceled, and, thus, the second reason for pointing out Rosen's acquittal: It's not exactly as if everyone has. FOX, after all the buildup, has mentioned Rosen's acquittal just twice, and both times as quickly and grudgingly as if being forced to report that global warming really did exist. MSNBC, which discussed Rosen five times in the months leading up to the acquittal, has not mentioned him since. (Most of those five were on Chris Matthews' <i>Hardball</i>; gosh, do you think Matthews would have been silent on the matter if the jury had found the other way?) In addition, the viewers of NBC News and the listeners of National Public Radio, if each group relied only on that source for its view of world, would not know of Rosen's acquittal, according to databases. And Matt Drudge, according to his archives, did not mention the acquittal.<br /><br />Now watch over the course of the next week or two, as Ed Klein, known most recently for sniffing around the tombstone of Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, unveils his new Hillary "book." You'll be reading a lot about Klein's "Pulitzer Prize," which refers to the bauble won by <i>The New York Times Magazine</i> for an article on toxic-shock syndrome that appeared while Klein was indeed its editor. I'd imagine you'll be hearing far less about the plagiarism episode that took place under his tenure, when a young reporter named Christopher Jones fabricated scenes from purported travels with Khmer Rouge guerillas, stealing them from Andre Malraux, of all people (Alexander Cockburn -- at the time, he was a widely read press critic for <i>The Village Voice</i>, probably the most popular columnist in New York -- recognized the lifted passage).<br /><br />Wanna bet that the cable shows will be a little more enthusiastic about Klein's news than they were about Rosen's?<br /><br />But enough on that. My subject is not Hillary. My subject is history. The Klein book, like Morris' recent <i>Rewriting History</i>, is produced in the first instance to damage Hillary Clinton in the short term. (Well, actually, point No. 1 is to make money; hurting Clinton is a close second.) But there is another reason these anti-Clinton tomes still appear with regularity, and liberals who criticize the Clintons from the left need to recognize it: The right knows that if its historical interpretation of Clintonism can prevail, liberalism as a project can be killed for decades. That is, if they can convince America over the next few crucial years (crucial because historical interpretations of Clintonism are just really beginning) that the Clinton era was not one of prosperity, peace, and a demonstration that government can deliver common goods but was, instead, one of corruption, turpitude, and a fat and happy people discarding moral values for the sake of higher mutual-fund values, they will have won an extremely important argument with serious long-term ramifications.<br /><br />The past week should remind us just how seriously those on the right take their historical interpretation -- and the outlandish things they'll say to get their point across. <i>The Wall Street Journal</i>'s editorial on the legacy of Mark Felt was a jaw-dropper. What sort of audacity did it take for the <i>Journal</i>, of all organs, to write, "In their zeal to be the next Woodstein, many in the press have developed a 'gotcha' model of reporting that always assumes the worst about public officials"?<br /><br />The <i>Journal</i>?!? I guess it's not counting Vince Foster as a public official. What shameless, debauched people.<br /><br />Also came Peggy Noonan on the same subject, directing our attention toward the same Cambodia that once figured into Ed Klein's ignominy: "What Mr. Felt helped produce was a weakened president who was a serious president at a serious time. ... Is it terrible when an American president lies and surrounds himself by dirty tricksters? Yes, it is. How about the butchering of children in the South China Sea. Is that worse? Yes. Infinitely, unforgettably and forever."<br /><br />La Margaret was trying to imply here that Felt, by ratting out Richard Nixon and assisting in his downfall, is partly responsible for "a cascade of catastrophic events," including the rise of Pol Pot. Actually, she didn't imply it. She said it.<br /><br />Um, for the record. Nixon, that serious president, quite seriously and secretly bombed Cambodia in direct contravention of international law and the rules of war. This created a massive refugee crisis (in addition to creating a bunch of innocent, dead Cambodians).<br /><br />The crisis was too much for the government of Lon Nol, a repressive and corrupt potentate whose repression and corruption were very much backed by Nixon and Gerald Ford. The heavy U.S. bombardment of the country, and Lon Nol's collaboration with the United States, sent recruits running into Pol Pot's arms; his forces had grown to number 700,000 men (10 percent of the entire population) by the time of his takeover in 1975. Neither Mark Felt nor Bob Woodward nor Carl Bernstein nor John Sirica had a thing to do with it.<br /><br />Noonan presumably knows all about this, because the White House for which she scribbled, Ronald Reagan's, backed the Khmer Rouge in the early 1980s, after the regime had completed its murderous rampage and the facts were well-known. This support -- which included voting to seat a Khmer Rouge official as Cambodia's representative at the United Nations -- continued until 1985, when the administration finally changed course. The change came after a House foreign-affairs subcommittee -- in Democratic hands at the time, remember -- pushed for the change and voted to send aid to anti-Khmer Rouge forces.<br /><br />That is the factual history. Thank goodness they haven't yet managed to rewrite Watergate except in the pages of their own sheets. But they're rewriting the 1990s, and they're working overtime to ensure that they will control how the history of the current administration is written. Young people who don't care about Mark Felt should at least be moved, one hopes, to care that history remains history and is not subverted into propaganda. The future depends on it.<br /><br /><i>This article is available on <a href="http://www.prospect.org/">The American Prospect</a> website.<br /><br />Michael Tomasky is the Prospect's executive editor. Copyright © 2005 by The American Prospect, Inc. Preferred Citation: Michael Tomasky, "Reliving History", The American Prospect Online, Jun 6, 2005. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to <a href="mailto:permissions@prospect.org">permissions@prospect.org</a>.</i> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> Mon, 06 Jun 2005 08:00:01 -0700 Michael Tomasky, The American Prospect 615463 at http://www.alternet.org Media Media In GOP We Trust? http://www.alternet.org/story/20573/in_gop_we_trust <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Legislators are supposed to respond to the will of the people. With the GOP, it&#039;s the other way around.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->One of the longstanding criticisms of liberalism going back to its heyday involved the extent to which it relied on the courts to gain victories that could not have been achieved legislatively. School desegregation, abortion rights, and less well-remembered anti-miscegenation laws, struck down by the Warren Court in its <i>Loving vs. Virginia</i> decision of 1967, were all judicial triumphs for liberalism, not legislative ones. Advocates of each cause chose to go through the courts specifically because they knew that the odds on achieving these goals through legislation were slim.<br /><br />The criticism – to which there is a lot of validity – is that getting too far ahead of the popular will, as these and other decisions did, created backlash. And of course it was exactly that backlash, exploited by Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan (and still being exploited today), that contributed to liberalism's decline. Time has long since caught up with the Warren Court, if not on the still divisive issue of abortion, at least on racial questions. No one today would argue that <i>Loving</i> or the more historic <i>Brown v. Board of Education</i> were wrong, indeed, I would argue that it took a lot of courage for the Supreme Court to hand down these decisions. Nevertheless, the criticism has validity because undergirding it is the assumption that legislative action more accurately reflects the people's will.<br /><br />But that assumption is being mightily challenged in the waning days of the current Congress. Yes, the Republicans won their majority fair and square over the course of the last decade (fair and square except for the possibly illegal Texas redistricting). But they seem awfully less interested in conducting the people's business than their movement's.<br /><br />Just last week, Republican congressional leaders made three power moves – just because they could. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist threatened to break decades of tradition, which developed when both parties were in power, and employ a rarely used procedure (called "the nuclear option") to prevent Democrats from mounting a filibuster against any judicial nominations. The GOP has played this whole debate with admittedly masterful cynicism, making the Democrats look like "obstructionists" even though nearly 200 of George W. Bush's judicial nominees have been approved and just a handful have been blocked.<br /><br />Second, they tossed into a spending bill a provision that would greatly expand an existing law by which hospitals and other health-care providers could deny abortion services to women and still receive federal funding. And third, they tried to sneak into the same bill a provision that would have allowed certain committee chairs and their staffs a carte blanche access to the tax returns of individual tax payer. On this last one, some unknown, eagle-eyed, and probably Democratic staffer caught the provision, buried deep in a several-hundred-page omnibus bill. A few Republicans feigned outrage, and a smaller few actually were outraged. But while Republicans promised to back off this proposal, there's little doubt the effort was deliberate. All this of course comes in the wake of the incredible DeLay rule, which again breaks all precedents and would permit House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to retain his post if he's indicted.<br /><br />Well, they're the majority. The people elected them, and they're merely reflecting the people's will, right?<br /><br />Uh, no. On each of the three matters in question, it's hardly clear that a majority of Americans back what the GOP tried to do. Americans don't want their elected officials to be prevented from having an honest debate about extremist judges; a majority of Americans still support the right to an abortion, and if their feelings are complicated on this issue, it seems safe to say that a majority would rather not see law on so important and contentious a question changed by sneaking a provision into a bill about something else. And I'm reasonably confident that a decisive majority doesn't want representatives poring over their tax returns and leaking juicy or embarrassing information to the media when the time is right.<br /><br />So legislation doesn't always reflect the people's will. This has always been true to some extent, and no doubt there were Democratic excesses in earlier times (although it's worth remembering that in the 1960s, there were literally twice as many Democrats as Republicans in both chambers of Congress, so it was far clearer then that the people had decided that they wanted the Democrats to exercise power; also, don't forget that many of the Republicans, from Charles Percy to Everett Dirksen to Jacob Javits, were pro-civil-rights moderates).<br /><br />But no congressional party has governed like this in modern American history, because today's Republicans are less interested in the will of the people than in awarding their large contributors and pursuing their ideological crusades. They'll use their majority for those purposes far more than they will for thinking seriously about the will of the majority and acting on that. And they'll rub the opposition's face in it to boot, as they did in such tawdry fashion last week when not a single Republican bothered to show up during the floor speeches bidding adieu to Tom Daschle, who gave a quarter-century of his life to the body.<br /><br />Legislative action confers popular legitimacy that judicial action does not. But that's only true if the legislators are legislating responsibly. I seem to recall the idea being that the legislators were supposed to respond to the people. With this bunch, it's the other way around. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Michael Tomasky is executive editor of The American Prospect. Copyright © 2004 by The American Prospect, Inc. Preferred Citation: Michael Tomasky, "Will of the People?", The American Prospect Online, Nov 22, 2004. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to <a href="mailto:permissions@prospect.org">permissions@prospect.org</a>. </div></div></div> Mon, 22 Nov 2004 13:00:01 -0800 Michael Tomasky, The American Prospect 610758 at http://www.alternet.org Election 2004 Election 2004 Kerry On Offense http://www.alternet.org/story/20001/kerry_on_offense <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Polls show that attacks on George W. Bush&#039;s flawed record are working.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->The Democratic National Committee and operative Howard Wolfson certainly took a lot of heat for "Operation Fortunate Son," the tough public-relations campaign they initiated to put the questions about President Bush's National Guard service on the front burner. Wolfson was repeatedly denounced by the usual suspects on cable television, The Weekly Standard criticized the operation (while the "Swift" Boat veterans, of course, raised legitimate questions about John Kerry!?!), and even a lot of Democrats were heard to mutter their discomfort at the party opening up this personal front against the incumbent.<br /><br />I had my own set of reservations, having to do with whether Bush's National Guard service is really the point anymore. That is, I think this would have been a wonderful line of attack in 2000, when voters didn't know George W. Bush and he had no track record on foreign policy and national security. There seems almost no doubt that if Al Gore's campaign had chosen to question Bush's Guard record aggressively, Bush would not be president today. But that was four years ago. Now, Bush has a record; people have had a chance to watch him for four years and decide whether his actions in office have earned him another trip to the plate. So I didn't consider the National Guard all that relevant, and I'm still not convinced that it is, unless a clear smoking gun can be handed to the media that proves Bush has been lying for years about some aspect of the story.<br /><br />But lo and behold, it would appear that "Operation Fortunate Son" has worked.<br /><br />According a recent poll by FOX, Bush's lead over Kerry among veterans stood, on the September 21 and 22 dates on which the poll was conducted, at the single-digit margin of 48 percent to 39 percent. You'll recall the CBS poll in August, at the height of the Swift Boat frenzy, showing that Bush had grabbed a "gaudy," as the sportswriters say, 23-point lead among veterans (matters were about even before the Swiftie blitz). Well, it's been shaved by well more than half, and Bush is below 50 percent, which means that Kerry could fight the veterans' vote back to a draw.<br /><br />Don't sit by the television waiting for the cable gabbers to make a big hoo-ha of this, as they did the CBS poll showing Bush's huge lead. You and I know it doesn't work that way. But if anything (assuming, of course, that this poll is accurate), this is an even more remarkable development than the Bush surge in August. "Fortunate Son," while it's gotten plenty of press, didn't get anywhere near the play the Swiftie barrage received; beyond that, it ceded much of the narrative space in the "what-they-did-30-years-ago" story line to the Dan Rather/documents controversy.<br /><br />It proves that attacks work. There's no point in being self-righteous about them. There is, of course, an important distinction to be made between attacks that have at least some relationship to the factual record and attacks that are outright fabrication and slander. But one can abhor the latter without opposing attack politics in general. Any pursuit of victory involves exploitation of the opposition's weaknesses, and why Democrats chose to strip themselves of this weapon during their convention has always mystified me. Kerry, it seems, has figured out what a silly mistake that was and has delivered a series of speeches recently hitting Bush pretty hard on foreign policy.<br /><br />Now, beginning with this Thursday's debate, Kerry should strike right at the dark heart of Bush's national-security failures. Where, he should ask, is Osama bin Laden? We sent about 12,000 troops to Afghanistan. We removed the Taliban, but the man who orchestrated the Sept. 11 attacks and then delivered to the world a videotape gloating about them slipped away. Then – boom – we sent 130,000 troops to Iraq, which was somehow more important than getting the man who killed 2,700 Americans. bin Laden still circulates.<br /><br />Can you imagine the furor from the Limbaugh/FOX News corner if a President Gore hadn't captured the 9-11 malefactor by now (and had diverted resources to go after someone else instead? And how about if – remember this one? – anthrax packets had been sent to congressional Republican leaders and Gore's Justice Department hadn't yet nabbed a culprit?)? There should be blind outrage afoot in this country that bin Laden hasn't been captured or killed. And Kerry should stoke it.<br /><br />I can already hear the nervous Democratic operatives: Ooh, that's too risky. What if we capture bin Laden between now and November 2? The argument is cut out from underneath Kerry. Well, that's inarguable. But guess what? If we capture bin Laden between now and election day, Bush wins anyway, no matter how you slice it and no matter what Kerry did or did not say. So the risk involved in talking directly and aggressively about bin Laden – Kerry began to do so at Temple University last Friday, but the invocations weren't at the center of that speech – is in fact rather minimal. From the Kerry campaign's point of view, the possible bad political outcome (Bush captures bin Laden, wins election) would have happened anyway, while the possible good political outcome (nation finally focuses on why this man is still at large, Bush put on defensive) will come only if Kerry starts asking the question.<br /><br />"Operation Fortunate Son" showed that answering attacks and attacking back produces results. In the campaign's remaining weeks, Kerry should apply that lesson to the Bush failure that is, on a list that offers hefty competition, clearly the most morally scandalous.<br /><br /><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Michael Tomasky is <a href="http://prospect.org">The American Prospect</a>'s executive editor. </div></div></div> Mon, 27 Sep 2004 08:00:01 -0700 Michael Tomasky, The American Prospect 609247 at http://www.alternet.org Election 2004 Election 2004