Why Conservatives are Winning the Campus Wars

In 1973, when Richard Mellon Scaife and Joseph Coors kicked together some seed money to start the Heritage Foundation, the Democrats held the Senate and had a 50-seat majority in the House. As progressives are starting to understand, the funding, planning, and coordination of the conservative movement has led to tremendous success in elections and government policy. But another arena of ideological competition has gone largely beneath the radar. An asymmetric political war is raging at universities across the country, and once again conservatives are running circles around progressives.

The campus Left, which is still organized for the most part by students and community activists, increasingly finds itself facing off against seasoned conservative strategists. And while progressive student groups are mostly self-funded, by the mid-1990s roughly $20 million dollars were being pumped into the campus Right annually, according to People for the American Way.

That money and expertise are directed at four distinct goals: training conservative campus activists; supporting right-wing student publications; indoctrinating the next generation of culture warriors; and demonstrating the liberal academic "bias" that justifies many conservatives' reflexive anti-intellectualism.

Morton Blackwell, the treasurer of Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation, understands the value of those efforts. The long-time GOP activist and one-time Reagan advisor has been fighting the campus wars for four decades. Currently, he's president of the Leadership Institute, which trains, supports and does public relations for 213 conservative student groups nationwide. If you want to fight the Left on your campus, the Leadership Institute is one-stop shopping � they'll provide you with conservative guest speakers, help starting a conservative newspaper, and training in how to win campus elections.

Young America's Foundation (YAF), like Heritage, is another shop started in the 1970s with Scaife seed money. According to Insight magazine, "the Foundation organizes so many programs on so many campuses that it's difficult to find a [young] conservative activist" who hasn't been associated with its activities.

Those include the National Conservative Student Conference, where this year's speakers included ABC News' John Stossel, Alabama's Judge Roy Moore and Reagan era paleo-cons Edwin Meese and Jeanne Kirkpatrick. For the most active student organizers, YAF also has a rewards program: if you work really hard "fighting the Left on campus," you can visit the Reagan Ranch for "an immersive �themed' weekend aimed at getting a chance to live as Reagan did..."

These organizations, along with others like the National Association of Scholars and Students for Academic Freedom, serve as ready sources of materials, skills and support for young conservative activists. What it adds up to is that while progressive students organize around a multitude of specific issues like sweatshop labor or affirmative action, conservatives have launched a coordinated, nationwide movement with a single goal: defeating campus liberalism itself.

The media and the message

One of the bulwarks of that movement has been the creation of a rtight-wing college media. The effort has been led by YAF's National Journalism Center, which "trains scores of students every year in the skills of press work, and assigns them internships [with] cooperating media locations" like the Washington Times .

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) � founded by William F. Buckley and run by another former Reagan advisor, T. Kenneth Crib, Jr. � is one of the country's leading recipients of conservative funding, according to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy . In addition to its generous scholarships and research grants for conservatives, ISI funnels cash to over eighty right-wing student publications through its Collegiate Network (CN). A report by People for the American Way quotes the editor-in-chief of the conservative Stanford Review as saying CN staffers "help us form our opinions."

The fruit of these efforts has been a sea change in campus media over the past twenty years. While right-wing publications like Ann Coulter's Cornell Review were once somewhat rare, today nearly every major school in the nation has an active, right-minded student newspaper. The same cannot be said for the Left.

The Backlash comes to campus

To truly understand today's campus conservatives, you have to look past the organizing to the ideology. And that means appreciating the shift from traditional conservatism to the �backlash' politics of the past few decades. As Thomas Frank argues in What's the Matter With Kansas? , the backlash came about when traditional big-business conservatives, tired of facing the resentment of ordinary working-class Americans, stumbled onto �wedge' social issues in the 1960s. They found that cultural battles could transform the populist anger of "regular folk" � long directed at "fat-cat" corporate elites � into a new cultural populism aimed at the liberal intelligentsia.

That backlash is as evident on campus today as the diversity upon which it feeds. So while the scholarly roots of conservatism are still a big part of the college movement, it's clear that much of the current focus is on angry, non-debatable cultural conservatism.

That's why YAF has a �conservative speakers bureau' that sends all kinds of pissed-off culture warriors to campus, including black conservatives to argue that liberals are "soft racists" and conservative "feminists" to rail against the "misogynistic" liberalism of "The Vagina Monologues."

But beyond anger, the defining characteristic of cultural populists is that they view themselves as victims of murky forces operating behind the scenes. And just as they'll pass their adulthoods convinced they belong to a silent majority that's repressed by a covertly liberal media, they go through their college days believing a biased faculty is trying to force a hidden lefty agenda down their throats.

In fact, liberal bias in the academy is a fiction based on the same sort of selective analysis used to "prove" bias in the media. While there are certainly plenty of liberal professors, never mentioned are inherently conservative departments like economics, right-leaning frats and student groups, the influence of campus ROTC or the fact that for every left-leaning Vassar or Oberlin there is an equally conservative Washington and Lee or BYU.

Instead, the focus is on departments like sociology or ethnic and women's studies where there's a lot of progressive thought. In those departments conservatives collect liberal professors' statements, take them out of context and use them to weave a circumstantial case of bias. The goal is not to promote diversity of opinion but to convince people that our nation's universities have been hijacked by, as the title of one book put it, "tenured radicals" who brainwash our youth with their crypto-socialist ideology.

Unfortunately, many students buy into the myth. For a generation raised on the reactionary polemics of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, more intellectual brands of conservatism � those based on Hobbes, Hayek and Friedman � are often unrecognizable; they appear solidly centrist to today's backlash youth. And once you're convinced that the university is a virtual liberal re-education camp, then every slight and inconvenience of campus life becomes further proof of the malevolence of the Left. That fits nicely with Thomas Frank's claim that populist ideology isn't built from the ground up with ideas but is a "horizontal" argument � amounting to a never-ending laundry list of petty gripes and grievances.

In that spirit, whenever a liberal professor clashes with a conservative student or an arbitrary rule causes a conservative some inconvenience, the offense is tracked assiduously by professional watchdogs like David Horowitz's Center for the Study of Popular Culture or Daniel Pipes' Campus Watch. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a group founded by Lynne Cheney, issued a report about unpatriotic professors following 9/11, and another group, Accuracy in Academia, made waves in the 1980s when they offered the McCarthyite claim that their "research" showed there to be 10,000 known Communists among university faculties.

Rebels with a cause

Savvy organizers have seized on all that righteous anger and created an appealing image for today's young conservative: rebellious and oddly counter-cultural, courageously fighting the power. They've also co-opted the mocking, confrontational tone of bygone campus radicals in their tactics. So we see stunts like "affirmative-action bake sales" (in which people of different races are charged different prices for cookies) or the announcement of "whites only" scholarships on campuses across the country.

And since conservatives are now the rebels, they sometimes run afoul of university "speech codes" and get into other trouble. When they do, groups like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Center for Individual Rights � both flush with right-wing foundation money � step in with pro-bono legal help and sue on behalf of the aggrieved students. Usually, the suits get thrown out of court or the university immediately settles. But the cases become further "evidence" of the tyranny of the Left and are thus eaten up by the conservative media.

The young conservative's conspiratorial view of liberalism will last a lifetime. That's why progressive leaders have a choice to make: they can continue to leave it to earnest but poorly-networked students to fight it out with a shoe-string budget against a well-lubricated political machine, or they can get in the game and start pushing back.

That means taking a page from the conservative playbook and giving young liberal activists the tools they need to be more effective. Right now, only the College Democrats and a few single-issue groups are doing anything at all on a nationwide basis. The campus Left needs a network that links activists at different schools, and their publications and speaker programs need financial support. Above all, the Left needs a national organization with the training, scholarships, media savvy and "leadership conferences" that the Right has used so effectively.

Only now, more than thirty years after conservatives began planning and organizing for the long haul, are progressives attempting to do the same thing. But unless they bring that long-term vision to the campus wars, the next generation of conservatives will be even more dogmatic and uncompromising than the ones in power today, and they will have won plenty of converts along the way. That should come as a troubling thought to liberals of every generation.

Secret Society

On April 29, 1992, Tom DeLay stood up on the House floor and decried a "tax-funded boondoggle" that sent freshman members of Congress to Harvard for a seminar. "Yes," DeLay asserted, "the congressional freshman orientation at Harvard doesn't cost millions of dollars. But even the thousands of dollars of tax money used for this congressional boondoggle sets a bad example for new Members of Congress." Instead, DeLay urged, "grassroots organizations" should conduct orientations at no cost to the American taxpayer. The organizations DeLay named were the Coalition for America, the Council for National Policy, Free Congress, and Free the Eagle, all radical conservative groups with ties to the right-wing Christian evangelical movement. As DeLay spoke, the Council for National Policy (CNP) was in a fight with the IRS over a tax-funded boondoggle of its own, a fight in which CNP ultimately would emerge the victor.

Most Americans – even many self-professed political junkies – probably have never heard of CNP or would confuse it with countless other groups with similarly unremarkable names (including the Center for National Policy, a liberal group). But conservative activists would know what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has referred to as "the heart of a great conservative movement that helped to make America strong and prosperous in the 20th century – and is now helping to ensure she remains free and secure in the 21st century," or what Indiana Republican Congressman Mike Pence has called "the most influential gathering of conservatives in America." But because CNP has been so successful at maintaining its secrecy – flouting the law for more than two decades – it has managed to obscure the depth of its reach in conservative political organizations, political fundraising, the conservative media, and even the Bush administration itself.

Who Is Behind CNP?

While the law does not require a tax-exempt organization to disclose the names of its members (in order to protect their ability to exercise their constitutional right to freedom of association privately, if they choose), it does require disclosure of the officers and directors of these organizations, and this information is available to anyone with access to the internet. And some CNP members, often in the context of bolstering their conservative credentials, have proudly revealed their CNP membership, even though CNP's policy is to keep membership a secret.

CNP was founded in 1981 by Tim LaHaye, the right-wing, evangelical political motivator and author of the Left Behind serial, which chronicles a fictional Armageddon and second coming (in which the non-believers are left behind while believers are carried off in a rapturous moment without their clothes. It gives an eerie ring to the No Child Left Behind Act). LaHaye's empire includes his fingerprints on a number of evangelically-oriented, right-wing political action groups, his wife Beverly's Concerned Women for America, along with the twelve Left Behind novels, which, according to the author's own web site, have sold 55 million copies worldwide since their introduction in 1995. The original directors, as listed with CNP's articles of incorporation filed with the Texas Secretary of State in 1981 were, along with LaHaye, Howard Phillips, a long-time conservative activist with plenty of conservative groups under his wing, and Bob J. Perry, a Texas businessman who has long donated vast amounts of money to conservative causes, including the tort reform effort in Texas. Last year, Perry gave over $8 million to conservative 527 groups, including $4.5 million to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and $3 million to the Progress for America Voter Fund, which spent over $35 million running pro-Bush and anti-Kerry ads during the campaign and is now backing Bush's Social Security privatization.

Today, CNP's board and roster of known members is a who's who of the radical right, and a sampling includes former Reagan cabinet member Donald Hodel, also president of James Dobson's Focus on the Family; Heritage Foundation president Edwin Feulner, who has served on CNP's board, as have Grover Norquist, president of the anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform and Paul Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation; Holly Coors; T. Kenneth Cribb, president of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute; and Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Council, which provides a media network through which it disseminates radical conservative ideology and propaganda.

CNP's tentacles also reach into a community of well-connected activists who advocate for the imposition of fundamentalist Christian ideology in public life and have succeeded in forcing their agenda in the Bush administration. Besides the well-known affiliation of Dobson and Hodel, just one example is the Home School Legal Defense Association, which has paid CNP dues so that Michael Farris, its executive director, could attend the meetings. Farris has since also become president of Patrick Henry College (PHC), founded in 2000 for home-schooled students. PHC aims to "prepare Christian men and women who will lead our nation and shape our culture with timeless biblical values and fidelity to the spirit of the American founding" and "to aid in the transformation of American society by training Christian students to serve God and mankind with a passion for righteousness, justice and mercy, through careers of public service and cultural influence." Janet Ashcroft, the former attorney general's wife, and Barbara Hodel, Hodel's wife, also serve on PHC's Board of Trustees. PHC's academic dean, Paul Bonicelli, was appointed by Bush to a private U.N. delegation to promote biblical values in U.S. foreign policy. Farris, along with Hodel and Dobson, were on hand with Bush at the signing ceremony of the so-called Partial-Birth Abortion Ban. PHC students have gone on to work for Karl Rove and for the White House Office of Public Liaison, and students and faculty are frequently invited to be on hand for White House and inaugural events. The fact that the school's choir sang at a CNP meeting – when the meetings and membership are a closely guarded secret – testifies to the ties between the school and CNP.

CNP's Tax Exemption: A History of Broken Promises

The benefits of tax-exempt status are considerable to both an organization's supporters and the organization itself: contributions are deductible from an individual's taxable income, and the organization pays no federal income tax. In order to maintain tax-exempt status, these organizations must make educational materials available, by providing instruction or training by way of discussion groups, forums, panels or lectures that are open to the public. The instruction may be made through media such as radio, television or the internet.

The IRS, which had granted CNP permission to operate as a tax-exempt educational organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code in 1981, revoked CNP's tax exemption in early 1992. CNP then sued the IRS in the United States Tax Court to gain reinstatement of its tax-exempt status. Shortly before the 1992 presidential election, the IRS settled the case with CNP and gave it back its tax shelter. Since that time, however, CNP has changed nothing about its operations. But the IRS has continued to give it a free ride.

CNP operated since its inception – and continues to operate today – in direct contravention of these legal requirements. CNP's membership is by invitation only. Unlike most other tax-exempt educational organizations, an ordinary person cannot just write a check and join, attend a forum, or purchase a publication. Its meetings – which consist of speeches, panel discussions, workshops and meals – are open only to members and special invited guests. CNP prohibits attendees from discussing the content of meetings publicly. The media are prohibited from attending. CNP does not disseminate any written materials to non-members. In other words, you won't see one of its meetings televised, and you can't order a book, journal or pamphlet from CNP. The IRS cited all these reasons when it revoked CNP's tax-exempt status in 1992.

CNP is not merely excluding outsiders from neighborhood bridge games. The prominence and power of its members – and their political clout within the Bush administration – require, more urgently, the openness of its activities. But CNP has laughed in the face of the IRS and the American public's right to know for more than 20 years, a period during which the radical right has aimed – and largely succeeded – in hijacking the Republican Party.

When CNP first applied to the IRS for tax-exempt status, it promised that it would provide educational opportunities for its members and "issue publications." But CNP artfully phrased the language regarding membership qualifications; instead of saying, as is the case, that membership was by invitation only for committed conservatives, CNP told the IRS that "[m]embers must be elected by the Executive Committee. There are no fixed qualifications."

During the application process, the IRS specifically pressed CNP for evidence it would educate the public. In response, CNP produced a copy of Foreign Affairs, the quarterly publication of the Council on Foreign Relations, on which CNP claimed to model itself. (The Council on Foreign Relations, also a tax-exempt educational organization, operates transparently and produces many educational items for the use of the general public. And although CNP claimed to model itself on the Council on Foreign Relations, at its founding CNP considered itself a conservative antidote to what it decried as the "liberalism" of the Council on Foreign Relations.) CNP told the IRS that Foreign Affairs is "an example of the type of publication we are likely to issue forth within the next year or so. Most publications will probably go only to members. However a quarterly scholarly journal would be widely distributed to libraries and the general public." CNP has never produced such a quarterly scholarly journal.

In fact, the absence of the quarterly journal, or any other materials for the use of the general public, was the main argument the IRS made in revoking CNP's tax-exempt status eleven years later, in January 1992. The IRS focused on the fact that CNP's primary activity was hosting meetings for its members, who could join only if invited by the Executive Committee, at luxury resorts, where they (and in some cases their families) ate gourmet meals and had access to all the recreational amenities the resorts had to offer. And because CNP's principal activity was organizing these membership meetings, and not presenting discussion groups, forums, panels, lectures or other programs that the public could attend or view through television, print or other media, the IRS determined that CNP was serving a private, not a public, interest and was not entitled to tax exempt status.

Two weeks after DeLay made his pitch on the House floor (perhaps in a vain effort to portray CNP as an organization that did indeed educate the public), CNP sued the IRS in the United States Tax Court to have its tax-exempt status reinstated. The case was scheduled for trial in May 1993. But on Oct. 15, 1992, when the presidential campaign between then-President George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton was drawing to a close, the tax court judge entered an order reinstating CNP's tax exempt status. According to the judge's order, CNP had filed a new application for tax-exempt status in February 1992, which the IRS granted in August 1992. (The IRS releases the tax-exempt applications, known as the Form 1023, without a Freedom of Information Act request. The IRS makes CNP's 1981 Form 1023 available, but an IRS agent at the agency's public records center said that a Form 1023 CNP filed in February 1992 does not exist. The agent, who did not have specific knowledge of the CNP case, said that in litigation, the organization and the IRS often agree to changes in the organization's operations that lead the IRS to reinstate the organization's tax-exempt status without another application. The agent said in such cases the IRS typically does not require the organization to file another application because it would be an "undue burden.")

CNP's Activities Since Reinstatement of Its Tax-Exempt Status

One might have expected then, that CNP and the IRS had agreed to a change in operations that would have lent legitimacy to CNP's tax-free ride. But in the 12 years since the dispute went away, CNP has changed virtually nothing about its operations. It has no quarterly journal or any other publication that is distributed to the general public. It has no web site. Its meetings are still closed, and are still held at exclusive hotels and resorts. Its members are still forbidden from talking to the press or the public about what happens at meetings, as are invited guests, including representatives of foreign governments. From both the secrecy and the scant information that is available about CNP's activities, it is clear that no significant changes have been implemented since 1992.

Years after its tax-exempt status was restored, CNP purchased the domain names and (neither of which have any content) and put up a web site of its supposed journal, Policy Counsel. The web site is the "biannual journal of the Council for National Policy." The "journal" consists of selected speeches from CNP meetings, and lately have included "Fighting the Domestic War," by Marvin Olasky (the architect of George W. Bush's 2000 campaign pabulum "compassionate conservatism"), in which he advocated the "overthrow" of the National Education Association "regime," a group that he described as "an unelected group that demands allegiance to a central atheistic uniformity." The speech took place after Secretary of Education Rod Paige's characterization of the NEA as a "terrorist organization;" Olasky said the NEA wasn't a terrorist organization but it was "terrifying." Another speech was "Campaign Finance Reform," by NRA President Wayne LaPierre, in which he complained that the McCain-Feingold restriction on mentioning a candidate's name within 60 days of an election infringed on the NRA's free speech rights. He further complained that the NRA would have trouble raising money for a PAC, which was the only way around the restriction. (The NRA Political Victory Fund raised over $12 million in 2003-04, ranking it 8th among all PACs in receipts, and it was the 10th top PAC in total independent expenditures in the 2004 election cycle, a figure that includes advertising that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a specific candidate.)

While one might conclude that represents CNP's effort to produce a scholarly journal along the lines of Foreign Affairs, one would be forced to conclude otherwise – if not based on its flimsy content – based on its inaccessibility. First, the site is constructed in such a way that search engines do not find it if you search for, say, "Council for National Policy." You would find it if you searched "policy counsel" but not if you searched "'policy counsel' and 'council for national policy,'" on Google. (You would find a web site, not affiliated with CNP, at which you can supposedly purchase a subscription to Policy Counsel for 20 dollars a year, compared to the cover price of zero dollars.) You similarly would not find the site if you Googled Steve Baldwin, CNP's executive director, whose name is on the Policy Counsel web site. In other words, you would have to know that CNP's journal was called Policy Counsel, but CNP hardly publicizes that fact, and it takes considerable investigation to track it down. Even though CNP owns the domain names and, it has no content on those sites, not even a link to In response to an e-mail request, a CNP staffer responded that "the current Policy Counsel Journals are no longer available in print."

Moreover, none of the many organizations with which CNP directors and members are affiliated link to, including Americans for Tax Reform; the Free Congress Foundation; the Heritage Foundation; the Media Research Center; and The Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty. (The Patrick Henry Center was formed in 1998 by former FBI agent and Clinton antagonist Gary Aldrich; its board of directors is filled with current and former CNP Directors: former Attorney General Edwin Meese, Iran-contra figure Oliver North, former Louisiana State Rep. Woody Jenkins; Minnesota businessman and education activist John Scribante; Weyrich; Phillips; and Alan Dye, a lawyer who represented CNP its Tax Court litigation.)

In other words, not only does CNP make no effort to distribute its "journal," it makes a concerted effort to hide it.

Where Are the Media?

Probably the most-talked about CNP speech that both the organization and the speaker refused to make public was George W. Bush's speech to a CNP meeting in 1999, when he was first running for president. The internet is rife with speculation about what Bush said – or promised – at this meeting. But Bush the candidate refused to release the text of the speech, citing CNP's own internal policy of closed meetings. And the CNP, of course, refused to release it for the same reasons.

There was a small flurry of media coverage of candidate Bush's refusal to release his speech, but it soon died down and CNP slipped into hiding again. Since then, only two major news outlets have published stories devoted entirely to CNP, and while both discussed the organization's secrecy, neither questioned the propriety of it. In May 2002, ABC News ran a piece on their web site called, "Inside The Council for National Policy: Meet the Most Powerful Conservative Group You've Never Heard Of," which outed some high-level BushaAdministration officials as speakers at a meeting at a "ritzy hotel" in Tysons Corner, Va. The article did not question whether it was acceptable in a democracy – not to mention legal – for a Supreme Court Justice (Clarence Thomas), White House counsel (Alberto Gonzales) and close Bush advisor (deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison Timothy Goeglein, himself an evangelical Christian who has said that Bush is "God's man,") to give secret speeches or have secret meetings with a secret organization subsidized by the American taxpayer.

At the time of the 2004 Republican National Convention, the The New York Times ran a brief story on CNP's meeting in New York, described as "'a pep rally' to re-elect President Bush," buried on page 10 of a Saturday paper. The article disclosed some high-level attendees, including Undersecretary of State John Bolton, Assistant Attorney General R. Alexander Acosta, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and revealed, well after the fact and for the first time in the American press, that Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had attended a meeting "not long after the Iraq invasion." The article did virtually nothing to add to the public discussion of CNP's activities or to question its tax-exempt status.

And while the mainstream media is asleep at the switch, CNP members' access to conservative media outlets enable them to collaborate and disseminate their propaganda. One example is Bozell and the Media Research Center, the mission of which is "to provide the conservative movement with the marketing and public relations tools necessary to deliver its message into the 21st century." Another example is that five directors of Salem Communications Company are or have been officers and directors of CNP: Salem's president and CEO, Edward G. Atsinger, III; Stuart W. Epperson (host of Truth Talk Live, a radio show broadcast on Salem's radio network); Roland S. Hinz (who is also president of Hi-Favor Communications, which has purchased radio stations from Salem to implement a Christian format in Spanish); Hodel; and Judge Paul Pressler (a retired Texas judge who has made a career of advocating a conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention). Salem owns over 100 Christian broadcast radio stations, is the provider of Christian programming on XM Satellite Radio, and recently agreed with America Online to provide the only Christian talk radio station on the AOL Radio Network. Last year, Salem was ranked in the top 100 in Fortune Small Business magazine's list of fastest growing small public companies. Salem is the seventh largest owner of radio stations in the country, and while it barely rivals Clear Channel at over 1,200 stations, the combined Christian broadcasting power of Salem and American Family Radio – a project of the American Family Association – would rank them fourth, just behind powerhouses Clear Channel, Cumulus, and Citadel. Many Republican House and Senate candidates, as well as the Bush/Cheney campaign, the Republican National Committee, and the Republican Majority Issues Committee, the issue advertising committee formed by DeLay, have been the beneficiaries of not only Atsinger's largesse, but that of Salem Communications' political action committee as well.

How the Conservative Media "Covers" CNP

Members of the conservative media – many of whom have CNP ties – have on occasion reported on CNP meetings and suggested a CNP hand in shaping Administration policy. In May 2001, World magazine, which is edited by Olasky, reported on its web site that CNP, "a confidential network of several hundred highly influential conservative business leaders," received "lavish attention from the White House" at its twentieth anniversary conference. World reported that CNP's "elite Gold Circle Club met May 3 at the White House with chief strategist Karl Rove and President Bush," that Attorney General John Ashcroft spoke at a "private Gold Circle dinner," and that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spoke to the entire group. Records of White House staff whose sole function is to advise and assist the president are not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests, but a speech given to an organization that essentially receives public funding is not a "government record." It is a document that the public is entitled to see and would see if the IRS were doing its job. Similarly, records of federal courts are not subject to FOIA, but all the Supreme Court justices, except Scalia and Thomas, have posted their speeches on the Supreme Court we bsite. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the Department of Justice said that "a written speech was not prepared for the Attorney General to deliver to the Gold Circle Club dinner in May 2001, because the Council had asked the Attorney General to participate in dinner conversation only and had not requested any formal remarks from him."

Around the same time ABC published its piece on the CNP meeting, in May 2002, the conservative press filled in some additional details. At that CNP meeting, which took place ten months before the U.S. invaded Iraq, a writer for the ultraconservative NewsMax participated on a CNP panel about the war on terrorism. (NewsMax's president and editor is Christopher Ruddy, who formerly wrote for Rupert Murdoch's New York Post and Richard Scaife's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and is the author of the conspiracy-mongering The Strange Death of Vincent Foster.) The writer, Dr. Alexandr Nemets, reported that among the 500 "prominent" attendees, "several high-ranking officials in the Bush administration made speeches and participated in panel discussions." He reported a complete uniformity of judgment – at a meeting attended by Bush administration officials when the Bush administration would still pretend for several months to try diplomacy – that Saddam needed to be deposed with military force. According to Nemets, everyone at the meeting agreed that:

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Throw Down Your Cross

This wintry season, as the faithful continue to receive alarming reports from the news that Republicans are all that stand between them and the outlawing of Christmas itself by hordes of secular humanists, the two presidents Bush have endorsed a powerful conservative interest group specializing in removing the cross – not from schools or courthouses, but from churches.

Rather than the traditional egg hunt, this group, calling itself the American Clergy Leadership Conference, sponsored a nationwide "Tear Down The Cross" day for Easter, 2003. Last week, leaders in this radical cause presided over a Washington prayer breakfast featuring messages of thanks from the presidents. Former Sen. Bob Dole came in person.

Mostly African American, pastors who joined in 2003's ACLC-sponsored "Tear Down The Cross" won gold watches from the wealthy group, which unabashedly claims in its publications to have stripped churches of over a hundred crosses over the Easter holiday alone. This, movement leaders said, cleared the way for a new age and second messiah.

Speaking of messiahs, make a quick stop at the Web site of the ACLC, and it's clear there's more to it than the "rapidly growing movement of clergy committed to the endeavor of making this nation the best that it can be," as the ACLC described itself in a Dec. 8 Washington Times op-ed. It's actually a vehicle for Sun Myung Moon, the billionaire conservative donor who calls himself the True Father.

Though the breakfast boasted two other "co-sponsors," both are easily identifiable as projects of the self-declared Messiah: the International and Interreligious Federation of World Peace and the American Family Coalition, which Moon founded in 1984. How much more eminent these names sound than "the Moonies"! In the 1970s, that was the shorthand on the evening news for Moon's followers, whose frank call for crushing Western democracy, combined with success in recruiting teenagers, made them a popular nightmare on the evening news.

On Wednesday, a video file containing the elder President Bush's message to the ACLC disappeared from the movement's web site, though both Bush endorsements were reported in the Washington Times. Neither the White House nor the ACLC returned requests for comment on the breakfast and President Bush's participation.

Taking out the Trash

One series of photos found on Moon's Web site, but purged after receiving unfavorable attention earlier this year from evangelicals, shows Massachusetts preacher John Kingara taking down the cross from his church, hauling it behind the old brick building and hoisting it into a dumpster. Another shows a ritual in Israel disposing of the cross in the earth.

Kingara, embracing the ACLC's new gospel, declared in remarks found in the Unification News, "The fact that the cross is a symbol of division, shame, suffering and bloodshed prove that it is not of God but Satan." He continued, "On this 18th day of April 2003, we are beginning a new history. Pastors, please, help me to bring the cross down, because it is not of God but the devil."

Cheerfully pitched to pastors as "trade your cross for a crown," Moon's rebate plan takes its name from a 1913 hymn with a somewhat different slant. Whereas "The Old Rugged Cross" pines for salvation in heaven, Moon offered the pastors the possibility to cash in here on earth, at a taxpayer-funded Senate building. At a secret March 23, 2004 ceremony, he declared he was erecting heaven on earth. That evening, the elderly Korean eminence behind the ACLC was brought the twinkling crown by bowing Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.).

Moon was no accidental VIP that night. Far from being on the fringes of Washington, he's the supermogul behind a political and media empire that includes the Washington Times and United Press International, as well as being a longtime friend of the Bush family.

In Moon's teachings, God himself is shedding tears over mankind's obsession with the cross, which prevents us from recognizing the real "returning lord": Moon himself. It's no secret. This is something he's patiently explained to many audiences of congressmen and former Republican presidents over the years, in Washington pageants that hardly ever make the news.

Moon was keynote speaker last week, declaring in remarks reprinted by the Times that "God's heart is under confinement." In some ways it was a repeat performance of the Senate coronation ceremony, which The New York Times editorial page compared to an act of the mad emperor Caligula.

You may remember that Sen. John Warner and other congressmen unloaded on Moon's entourage for "deceiving" them into sponsoring a ceremony where America "surrendered to [Moon] in the king's role," according to an internal church memo. "America is saying to Father, 'please become my king,'" claimed Moon minister Chung Kwak. The versatile Kwak is currently wearing a second hat as head of the UPI news agency, added to Moon's collection of media properties in 2000.

Strangely enough, last week the hosts of the "surrender" ceremony weren't blasted but blessed by two presidents of the United States. The same faces were there: George Stallings, Jr., the flamboyant ex-archbishop who bellowed at the March dinner for America to open up its heart to Moon; Michael Jenkins and Chang Shik Yang, hosts of past "Tear Down The Cross" rituals; and former Democratic D.C. representative Walter Fauntroy, who shares the Moonies' opposition to gay civil unions (Moon calls gays "dung-eating dogs"; Fauntroy calls same-sex marriage "an abomination"). Congressman Davis did not attend.

Like the Senate party, this conference climaxed with a new Crown of Peace awarded to Moon by his own organization, though in this case they held off on the royal treatment until the following evening. The award was reported by UPI.

According to a report in the Washington Times as well as video found on the Moon-affiliated Web site, the elder Bush made a taped appearance before the ACLC's 3,000-strong crowd, which he thanked for their work. "I thought about parachuting into the building," he joked about wishing he could make it. And he paid lip service to Moon's unwieldy religious jargon, using phrases like "peace centered on God," a goal that he called "right on target."

His son, George W. Bush, wrote a warm letter of support presented at the event by a state senator, in which the president and his wife Laura sent his best wishes to the sponsors – and thanked them for rallying his "armies of compassion." It is unclear what the ACLC has done for society's problems, though its Web site is selling a video called "Beyond The Cross," and an affiliated Moon front group, Free Teens USA, has received almost half a million dollars under Bush's abstinence-only program.

Last year, as word seeped out of a movement with billions in the bank, exchanging gifts and promises of financial security for the rejection of Protestant beliefs, more mainstream, born-again Christians, like radio host Vic Eliason, were horrified. He warned on his nationally-syndicated program CrossTalk that the ACLC was ushering a false teacher into the houses of belief. Others speculated Moon was the Antichrist. But how many listeners knew that the false teacher's phone number might as well be programmed into George H.W. Bush's mobile phone?

Wouldn't Be Prudent

The elder Bush once explained his cooperation with Moon's Unification Church to the Washington Post, through a spokesman, as follows: "this group is about strengthening the family and that's what President and Mrs. Bush are deeply focused on." Well, after a fashion. Moon preaches that Jesus failed to start a family, which is why God is "confined," as he said Tuesday – grieved by his son's having blown it for mankind, with the Nazi Holocaust a punishment for the Jews' failure to unite behind the King of the Jews.

And so Moon says he's building a new kingdom centered on "absolute family-ism," referring to his True Family of sworn followers. In the past, his new sons and daughters have rejected their own families to join Moon, who handpicks mates for them to marry at his mass weddings. One ex-member is Cathryn Mazer, whose grieving family was filmed in 1993 by the "Today Show" as they tried without success to enter a Moon dormitory where Cathryn was staying. She says photos of Moon with Bush played a major role in the seminar that indoctrinated her into the cult – used to sell potential converts on the legitimacy of Moon.

"If someone told you about it, it would seem too far-fetched to be plausible," she says.

Yet the friendship is well-documented. Reuters reported in the mid-'90s that the elder Bush trekked to Argentina as a paid spokesman for Moon, whom he introduced as "the man with the vision." During the Clinton years, Bush also tagged along with Moon's speaking tour in Japan, where the former president had kind words for his strange bedfellow, an ex-convict. Bush is estimated to have received upwards of $1 million for these appearances. Moon also gave $1 million to Bush's presidential library. And when Bush was vice president, it was a generous check from Moon that opened Oliver North's Contra Freedom Fund.

But Washington conservatives are most thankful to Moon for lavishing more than $2 billion on the money-losing Washington Times. The paper was an important building block in the construction of the alternative, Republican media machine as we know it today. But many conservatives were quietly uneasy – fretting that a pact was being made with the devil. At a 1997 Washington Times anniversary dinner, the elder Bush made a video appearance similar to Monday's, crediting the paper with winning the Cold War, and similarly sharing a stage with Moon, who claimed then that he had founded the Times to save the world.

In Monday's video, Bush declared: "I want to salute a man I respect: Wes Pruden," referring to the Times editor, whose paper frequently publicizes Moon projects that most newspapers would ignore. On December 7 he ran a piece by ACLC Rev. Donnie McLeod, who has argued for the removal of the cross in sermons covered by Unification Church publications.

The cross-disposal theologian wrote: "as the president is now free from the election concerns and can never be reelected, he can now build a legacy for America and the world." ACLC leaders, he said, "are ready to see the president as I see him, a man to God who is truly ready to make the sacrifices and commitments to create a legacy of faith and family that will guide our nation for the next 200 years."

The Washington Times Foundation is slippery to define, an organization with multiple public faces that morphs when convenient into the ACLC and other religious organizations. The Senate coronation, for example, was booked under the name of the foundation, though it was treated as a photo opportunity for the South Korean religious arm of the church, which trumpeted it as the U.S. government's official stamp of approval on plans for the future of Christianity.

A former Times editor, James Whalen, told me that the protean nature of the group makes it easy to involve national-level figures in "showcasing" Moon – yet conveniently allows politicians to claim, for example, that they only dropped by to lift a glass to the awesome investigative reporting of Times reporter Bill Gertz.

And meanwhile, at the other end of the invisible line between mainstream and eldrich, there is the ACLC and its persistence in seeing the Christian cross disposed of like nuclear waste. A month after Easter last year, the group flew holy men from all over the world to a graveside in Israel, where undertakers had draped a cross beneath the blue and yellow flag of Reverend Moon, and buried the cross forever – another casualty at the hands of the armies of compassion.

Spurred on by the likes of Bill O'Reilly, conservatives are outraged at the war against Christianity supposedly declared in department stores' "Happy Holidays" signs. But secularism is one thing, and sacrilege is something else, especially coming from Sun Myung Moon's cult, which indulges dreams of becoming the state religion. The president has built his reputation on being a good Methodist, but he rarely attends church, come to think of it. And he has cozied up to a desecration spree that Tim LaHaye couldn't make up in his "Left Behind" books. Is he what he pretends to be?

Anti-feminists for Iraqi Women

"I am pleased to announce that, as part of the Department of State's Iraqi Women's Democracy Initiative, we are awarding $10 million in grants to several U.S.-based non-governmental organizations to train Iraqi women in the skills and practices of democratic public life�These grants will�mobilize women across the land to build a secure, prosperous and democratic Iraq." – Secretary of State Colin Powell, Sept. 27, 2004

The State Department announced this week that the Independent Women's Forum is one of the recipients of $10 million in grants to "train Iraqi women in the skills and practices of democratic public life."

Which leaves me wondering: Train women in the skills to do what, exactly? The Forum, started by supporters of Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court to oppose "radical" feminism, and an early beneficiary of Richard Mellon Scaife's deep pockets, has a record of using its own skills and practices to oppose women's progress in the United States. If you think I'm exaggerating about how atrocious the IWF's anti-feminist record is, consider the following:

  • The Forum actually lobbied against the Violence Against Women Act, deriding "wishful thinking about the power of the federal government to curb violence against intimate partners."

  • The IWF also disputes the existence of a wage gap between men and women and opposes efforts to strengthen enforcement of the Equal Pay Act. In a statement charmingly titled "The Mothers Day Gift We Don't Want," their president explained that any disparity in income results from the fact that women choose to have children.

  • An IWF-sponsored study criticized women's studies curricula at 30 universities, and the study's author, Christine Stolba, claimed on Fox's O'Reilly Factor that women could learn more about gender politics by reading Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew" than reading any of the many important books on the various syllabi.

  • The group is nourished by a steady diet of contributions from some of the most conservative family endowments in the country, including the Olin, Bradley, Scaife, and Randolph foundations.

  • The IWF's board of directors is an all-star lineup of anti-feminism, including the vice president's wife, Lynne Cheney; Clinton-hunter Midge Decter; former Enron board member and wife of former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, Wendy Lee Gramm; and National Review columnist and television personality, Kate O'Bierne.

Why conservatives think it's just fine to minimize the danger of domestic violence, punish women for having children, or ignore critical thinking about gender issues, I'm not sure � but those are topics for another discussion. What I do know is that Iraqi women � who should rightly expect that a responsibility of any new democratic government is to keep them safe, might find the statements and actions of the IWF less than reassuring. What signal does it send that a group like the IWF has been entrusted with the task of supervising an Iraqi women's leadership program?

Upon learning of the award, the Forum issued a press release, which read, in part: "IWF appreciates the great vote of confidence this State Department grant represents," said Heather R. Higgins, chairman of IWF's Board of Directors. "Even more, we are gratified that we will again have the privilege of walking the walk as we did with our 9/11 Infant Care Project, trying to make lives better by putting into action the ideas we espouse, using both our heads and our hearts."

IWF, with its partners, will implement a 12-month Women Leaders Program and Democracy Network Information and Coordination Center to provide Iraqi women with education on democracy and political advocacy and build networks of Iraqi women activists with a common agenda. The Center will be a key source of information and educational materials on democracy, campaigning, and governance for a variety of Iraqi democracy and women's rights advocacy organizations.

A key source of information and educational materials? The Independent Women's Forum supports weakening Title IX, which protects equal education opportunities, charging that insistence on women's athletic opportunities "wreaks havoc on men's sports teams." They argue against more opportunities for women in the military, and even opposed the integration of Virginia Military Institute.

So just what does the Independent Women's Forum plan to teach Iraqi women? Media training in how to disparage quaint concepts like equal pay, or calling on government to ignore complaints about violence against women? Or, perhaps they'll sponsor a seminar in "How to Raise Money from Anti-Women Sources to Attack Every Current Initiative to Benefit Women."

Next time you hear George W. Bush boast about what his administration is doing for the women of Iraq, think how they grateful they ought to be for this latest American import.

Questions Worth Asking

The St. Louis debate was spectacular. The citizens selected to ask questions proved that most talking heads don't have a thing on a group of thoughtful, gutsy Americans. I haven't seen every televised presidential debate. But of all those I've seen since the first election for which I was eligible (1988), Wednesday's was the most substantial, point-counterpoint battle I can recall.

After learning his lesson during the Mistake in Miami, President George W. Bush rid himself of the scowl. Though he was more shouty than pouty on Friday night at Washington University, the president won't make any stylistic errors at Arizona State on Wednesday, and I suspect Sen. John Kerry will maintain his cool as he did in the first two clashes. Because 68 percent of the 46 million Americans who watched the vice presidential debate said the debate had no effect on their voting plans, the debate in Cleveland between incumbent Dick Cheney and challenger John Edwards was a wash.

And thus, barring one of the candidates making an egregious factual error or bogus claim during the Tussle in Tempe, the net effect of this year's debates is two-fold:

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Bezerkly Radicals

As if making a last-ditch attempt to sneak away and avoid being seen in this company, the American flag flops off the chalkboard behind the raven-haired beauty, breaking free from some duct tape securing it. It half-dangles below where "Welcome Michelle Malkin" has been scrawled in chalk by the University of California, Berkeley College Republicans.

Malkin scrunches her face, determined not to be silenced – not by the contingent of gigglers in the audience, nor the protesters outside with their rhyming chants and not entirely relevant ("We Need a Worker's Party") signs. In the little time we have together, she is here to warn us of a "radical alliance," of Japanese-American civil libertarians teaming up with Arab-Americans to betray America. They're doing it by incessantly comparing the barbed-wire internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II with the treatment of Arab citizens today: racial profiling, due process suspensions for "enemy combatants."

"In a post-Sept. 11 world," Malkin says, "we can no longer afford the indulgent abuse of history as multicultural group therapy." And now the two groups "have declared solidarity with each other," she says.

Protected Minorities

The audience is pumped. Damn those indulgent Japanese – maybe we should intern them again! Or, to use Malkin's term, "evacuate," like the people fleeing Hurricane Ivan. Usher them far, far away from the Arabs and their insidious group therapy craze.

You know, for their own protection.

But not for protection from racist hysteria, the internment excuse revived last year by U.S. Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), to widespread disgust. Malkin's book, "In Defense of Internment," sidesteps Coble's rationale, dismissing racism as a factor completely. (Here in California, however, locking up the Japanese and forcing them to sell their land cheap was welcomed by whites as the long-awaited follow-up to the Japanese Exclusion Act of 1924. That law followed warnings by the Michelle Malkins of the time that the Mikado's "brown hordes" were poised to subjugate the Bay Area.)

The spell breaks, however, as the duct tape plastering up Old Glory succumbs to the vibrations of the walls. Protesters are stomping in the halls outside. They're trying to edge past a few brave College Republicans, arms akimbo, who have appointed themselves "security," the last line of defense between the protesters and Ms. Malkin. Later they tell tales of the liberals getting in their face, of their opponents' lack of Right Guard and the capacity for abstract thought required to grapple with the works of Malkin, the Fox News Channel historian. For Malkin, having feverishly pored over declassified documents, claims to have reversed over 50 years of standing historical thought in only 16 months, by the calculation of University of North Carolina professor Eric Muller, a vocal Malkin critic.

Now and then the doors blow open to underscore, by the roar of the crowd outside, the Malkin speech, which is taking on "one of the most critical national security issues facing our country" (according to the red-headed girl who introduces Malkin). The protesters are indulging the Berkeley tradition of drowning out speeches by right-wingers they disagree with. It's a custom that the likes of David Horowitz have counted on for headlines as free speech heroes. As Malkin says of the rabble: "What are they afraid of?" For the innocent would have nothing to fear in a Malkin Administration.

But the sexy revisionist will have to wait until that Sunday for her headline. That's when the Washington Post reports that another campus has canceled her stop, leaving the helpless youth of American University in Washington abandoned behind the Iron Curtain of left-wing orthodoxy. "Staff members for the Bush campaign have frowned on us for having an event centered on the internment of Japanese Americans," Mike Inganamort, president of the club, writes in an e-mail to her. This hot campus cause is "an issue we frankly cannot defend at our heart of hearts," he says.

Tonight, however, the night is all Malkin's. She's on a roll because her honor has just been defended on television by U.S. senator Zell Miller (D-GA), who tells Chris Matthews he saw what the Hardball host had done to "that young lady," and said it would be good for the two men to duel. Tonight, in the tone of a school board member who has grown tired of explaining the policy that expelled your kid, she says of the internment, with an intimidating head tilt: "It was a tough call!"

And tonight Malkin, as Whitney Houston sang, believes the children are our future. "These are the students who are going to be making our Homeland Security issues in the future," she says, with yearning in her voice, of the audience.

She dreams of a time when children won't just be taught to relate to Japanese kids behind barbed wire at camps, but to the officials who put them there. To teach otherwise, she says, is "educational malpractice."

Apparently American University's Republicans are not quite so stoked for the future Malkin envisions – in which a wiser generation of teachers will allow fourth-graders to role-play being internment decision-makers. Who gets to be Chase Clark, the Idaho governor who brainstormed at the time, "Japs live like rats, breed like rats, and act like rats?"

Berzerkely Republicans

Berkeley's College Republicans, however, pride themselves on being at the bleeding edge. Besides the now-standard "bake sales" that mock affirmative action by charging whites extra for muffins, they've printed trading cards of Berkeley's homeless, taking a stand against the poor and the weird. Such gestures, like inviting Malkin, foster debate, they say.

The night after the Malkin appearance, a campus meeting for the group is packed. Conventional wisdom is that Cal's rise in conservatism stems from a greater proportion of Asian kids at the school. But this crowd, at least, doesn't bear out the theory. Inviting Malkin can't have helped.

Announcements include some talk of rival frat parties, then laughter at an e-mail from a Mass Communications professor, Dr. Jonathan Gray, who has hilariously suggested that the Washington Post is more reliable than Fox News, a source Gray brands "pathetic." The word brings gasps. The crowd howls when the student reading the letter comes to the part about how Fox viewers are more likely to believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

"Do we have Students for Academic Freedom on campus?" someone asks, referring to the group that watchdogs professors for signs of liberalism. The answer is yes.

"Does anyone not know what the Drudge Report is?" asks host Andrea of the group, as if making sure everyone has the syllabus.

Now the floor is opened up to what Andrea calls "the Malkin discussion." But there isn't so much a debate as a feeling of epiphany. Rhianna, the treasurer, responds to one of Malkin's more misleading assertions: "I didn't know that like 50 percent of the people in camps were white! It's not in our textbook at all!"

And Andrea tells of confronting protesters, only to realize they were woefully underinformed. They'd only heard the title, In Defense of Internment, and assumed it was something else. And when told what it was really about, she says, they realized of Malkin's thesis, "Oh well, it wasn't as bad as we thought," in her words.

Beyond that, everyone seems to think it was pretty cool. They're much more interested in sharing war stories from the front – fighting off the "nasty liberals outside" with their sweat stains. "A thousand pansy guys with excessive facial hair," describes a guy named Jeb, to laughter. "Two people tried to get in my face!" says Josiah, a handsome boy in a polo shirt, pantomiming how it happened. There's talk of a protester with a sign reading, "Berkeley Coward Republicans." ("Why?" "Because none of us were willing to go to war," says one of the leaders. An awkward pause follows.)

These are the apple-cheeked athletes who form the central clique of the group, along with a scattering of Republican Geeks who fidget on their periphery, wonks with the vibes of potential Grover Norquists.

Fringes of the Fringe

Gathering further towards the fringes, as we leave to head for the campus bar to watch the Packers game, is an even shyer group, the Michael Savage fans. They're sharing their favorite moments when Savage reportedly stuck it to someone or other. They agree that he might be "a little too-right wing" sometimes (like when he mocked homeless ladies with shopping carts), but admire him because "he speaks his mind."

There are also unassuming new recruits like John, a quiet young freshman from Los Angeles. Why'd he join? "The whole atmosphere," he says. "You just want a normal school atmosphere..."

The lack of normalcy here at Berkeley is well-documented. On the other hand... well, surely someone has to disagree with Michelle Malkin, right? Such was the spell cast by her visit that you'd think Ronald Reagan had never called internment "a grave injustice."

Down at the pub, I talk to Nick, a Ben Affleck type hitting on a Democratic chick friend of his. He says he normally wouldn't talk to a media guy like me, except that he's wavering from a few drinks. Anyway, he has no real objections to Malkin. So, I move deeper into the crowd at the Bear's Lair, and the Republicans I find mostly just repeat Malkin's lines.

Curious. I pull aside political science major Jeff Bauer (no relation to Gary), who seems to have given it more thought than the others. It pains him, but he'd have to say the government made the right call – the tough call. What would he say to someone humiliated by having being herded into a camp? "I would say, in the most sincere way, 'You took one for the country,'" he says. I thank him and he returns to watching the Packers game.

Finally I sit down with the executive director of the group, third-year student Amaury Gallais, who admires Malkin as "loving mother" to her own offspring. I run past him the possibility that Malkin, who is Filipina-American (since we're in Malkin's 1940s groove of analyzing behavior by race) just resents the Japanese for savaging the Philippines.

He doesn't think so. Internment, he says, "prevented Japanese-American citizens from helping our enemies." He cites Malkin's studies, which describe intercepted "MAGIC" telegrams supposedly proving a military need to round up American citizens. Usually characterized as the last resort of cranks less ravishing than Michelle Malkin, the MAGIC defense has been consistently rejected by such P.C. handwringers as Lt. Col. James C. McNaughton, the Command Historian in charge of the U.S. Army's official history of the Pacific.

So why not lock up all Arab citizens, I ask, since a few people resembling them have actually gone to the trouble of forming terror cells, as opposed to the scattered incidents of "disloyalty" Malkin cites among the Japanese. Would it bother him if we did?

"The overwhelming majority of Arabs are not enemies," he says. "They love peace. They love the freedom that we provide."

Will they love it if we provide a lot less of it? Because that's what syndicated columnist John Leo seems to be floating, now that Malkin has tested the waters of revisionism. Finding the water is just fine, Leo wades right on in, opining in a September 19 column that internment has been a "taboo" for far too long. It's "reasonable and important," he concludes, "to open an honest discussion of internment, past and present."


A Matter of Debates

Now that the schedule and format for the three presidential debates appears to be set, the conventional wisdom seems to be that President Bush won the debate about the debates by a small margin, much like many predictions of how he will fare against John Kerry on Nov. 2.

Sure, Bush gave up on his demand to have just two debates, but insider accounts suggest his representatives, led by James Baker III, didn't really put up much of a fight on this front, so it can't be that much of a loss. This seems more like one of those things you give up in a negotiation to get something else.

So what did Bush get? Two things. One, the first, and typically most watched, debate will focus on foreign policy and national security, issues where polls show he has a solid advantage over Kerry, and which voters typically trust Republicans more than Democrats.

Two, the "town hall" format of the second debate will be heavily regulated. The regular folks asking questions will have to submit their questions in advance to the moderator; the audience will be comprised of either "soft" Bush or "soft" Kerry supporters instead of pure undecideds; and there will be no follow-up questions.

(Microphones will be cut off immediately after the question is asked, and then presumably some UPenn thug – not to be confused with the three Quaker grads that edit and produce Gadflyer – will drag the miscreant out by the hair and beat them to a bloody pulp.)

While it's true that these things may be advantageous to Bush, it's also quite possible that this may be a case of "be careful what you wish for."

Whose bar is set low this time?

Start with the first debate on security and foreign affairs, slated to be in Coral Gables, Fla. True, these are issues voters think Republicans are better at handling than Democrats, and on which they have more confidence in Bush than in Kerry. Bush will no doubt pound Kerry as a flip-flopper too indecisive to lead the country in wartime. And no one – not the White House, not voters, and certainly not the press – thinks Kerry can offer a concise, coherent explanation for his seemingly contradictory positions on the war in Iraq over the last two years.

And therein lays his opening. Despite the fact that debates are the most substantive moments in a presidential campaign, the best chance for voters to really learn something from the candidates about what kind of leader they would be, the press doesn't report on any of that. Instead, they play the "expectations game," reducing their post-debate analysis to who "won" or "lost" instead of whether what they said made any sense.

In this case, it would be difficult for the bar to be set any lower for Kerry. The consensus is that he has already proven that he simply cannot give a direct answer on Iraq.

But as President Bush knows better than anyone, exceeding what might be called the soft bigotry of low media expectations is remarkably easy and pays huge dividends politically.

After all, the one question that will define this debate is the one Kerry knows is coming: How do you reconcile your vote giving the President war authority with your vote against funding that effort, or your statement in August that you'd still make the initial vote if you had it to do over again with your comment on the Imus show that there is no circumstance in which this war was worth fighting?

But precisely because he knows it's coming, Kerry should have an answer. Frankly, I'm not sure what it could be, or how he could reduce it to a soundbite as he will have to. But Kerry has proven in the past – notably during his hotly contested race for reelection against William Weld in 1996 – that he can be a highly skilled communicator during a debate.

Let's be clear: The August comment seemingly contradicting his entire critique of Bush's waging war in Iraq could be enough to cost Kerry the election. The Coral Gables forum is thus quite simply his last, best chance - before the largest audience he will ever get - to explain himself, offer a reasonable alternative plan for Iraq and the war on terror, and prove to voters he's capable of being commander in chief.

If he doesn't pull it off, the election truly could be over. But if he does, if he answers that one question deftly, he will have "won" the debate by exceeding media expectations.

At that point the debate could become Bush's worst nightmare. In addition to being about expectations, debates come down to which candidate rises above the negative stereotype hung on them by the press and their opponent, and which one has that image reinforced. Swatting away the "flip-flopper" label would allow Kerry to turn the attention on Bush, casting him as a stubborn Pollyanna who misled the American people and has tragically mismanaged not one, but two wars.

Make no mistake, the president is very vulnerable on this point. Polls show voters know Iraq is a mess and think Bush is responsible. Only a small minority think he's telling them the truth about the situation. Yet Bush's comments on Iraq of late are so wildly optimistic he runs the risk of opening a credibility gap between his rosy portrait and what people know to be true.

This became glaringly obvious on Wednesday when Bush gave his upbeat speech to the United Nations at virtually the same time terrorists beheaded the second American hostage in two days.

Bush hasn't had to face tough questions about these things (or anything else) on the campaign trail, where his audiences are carefully screened to make sure he isn't challenged. In these situations he's looked smooth and relaxed, leading to fawning media stories about how he's "hit his stride."

But this lack of practice dealing with pointed questions could backfire on him. We got a glimpse of this Wednesday when reporters asked him about the criticisms of his Iraq policy by conservative Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel, John McCain and Richard Lugar, and a gloomy CIA report on the future of Iraq. Bush's response to the former was pique and obfuscation: Both men "want me elected," as if that was the issue.

His answer to the latter bordered on delusion: "The CIA laid out several scenarios and said life could be lousy, life could be okay, and life could be better." In fact, the options were "tenuous stability," "further fragmentation and extremism," and "civil war." Merely lousy would be a dramatic improvement on any of these.

If Kerry can bring out in Bush this combination of belligerent tone and fantastical disconnect from reality it will be the president that looks foolish and will thus be playing defense into the next debate.

That match-up, tentatively scheduled for St. Louis, has been stripped of the kind of true spontaneous give and take that tripped up Bush's father in 1992 (where he got peevish with a questioner and looked at his watch twice to see how much longer he had to endure "10 more minutes of this crap" as he later described it). And the apple doesn't fall far from the tree: the only debate Bush lost to Al Gore in 2000 was the one in which ordinary folks were allowed to grill the candidates.

Which raises an interesting point about these debates missed by many analysts. Recent research shows that Gore drew on the momentum from his "win" in that third and final debate in 2000 to surge from a solid deficit to a popular vote victory over Bush. Why? In large part because that debate focused on domestic issues, especially Social Security, that typically favor Democrats.

Gore spent the last two weeks of that campaign attacking Bush on Social Security, and received an accompanying windfall of largely positive news stories. Unfortunately for him, that coverage only served to boost his support in non-battleground states. Bush ran many more ads than Gore did in the competitive states and, studies show, thus won the Electoral College.

(Apologies to those who think that last sentence is based on a false premise.)

This year the last debate, although not a town hall format, will reportedly also focus on domestic issues. Assuming Kerry is still in the race, this could be a huge advantage: These are precisely the issues that favor Democrats and on which polls show Kerry has an advantage over Bush. If, like Gore, he can dominate that discussion and then parlay that win into two weeks of keeping the campaign agenda on his terms, he will have the advantage going into Election Day.

(And Democrats appear able to at least keep pace with GOP advertising in battlegrounds the final two weeks, so we shouldn't see a repeat of Gore's mistake in 2000.)

To put this in horse-race terms reporters would understand, this means the debates come down to this: Bush is hoping for a quick knockout, exposing Kerry as a hopeless flip-flopper in front of probably the largest audience of the campaign. But if Kerry can give a succinct and believable answer to just one question – how do you reconcile all of these apparent contradictions? – he will be in perfect position to put the President on the defensive and seize the advantage for the final month of the election.

Bush Debates Attending Town Hall

According to recent news reports, the Bush campaign is attempting to reduce the number of debates the President has with John Kerry from the three proposed by the Commission on Presidential Debates to only two. More specifically, they are attempting to eliminate the town hall style debate scheduled for October 8 in St. Louis.

Let us put aside the strong possibility that the Bush team's negotiating position has been constructed with an eye toward convincing reporters that Bush is afraid to debate Kerry, thus lowering expectations for the president and raising them for Kerry. If there is one debate that the president would rather skip, it's the town hall, because it calls Bush to do the things he is least capable of: responding to unpredictable questions, talking about a wide range of issues, and addressing the day-to-day concerns of real people. And it would be a shame, because the town hall is far and away the most entertaining and edifying format.

The town hall debate originated in 1992, when with the assistance of Gallup the Commission on Presidential Debates gathered a group of undecided voters in Richmond, Va. to quiz George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot about their positions and personalities. The format was perfectly suited to Bill Clinton's skills; he understood that viewers at home could connect with him by watching him connect with ordinary people. In what would become the debate's signature moment, President Bush found himself unable to answer a voter's question about how the national debt had affected him personally. Staying close to his podium, Bush struggled to figure out what she meant, finally saying with an awkward smile, "I'm not sure I get – help me with the question and I'll try to answer it." When it came time for Clinton to rebut, he walked over to the woman, looked in her eyes, and said, "Tell me how it's affected you." The election was effectively over.

But apart from what it revealed about the candidates, the Richmond debate – and the similar ones held in 1996 and 2000 – proved themselves to be the best thing the Commission could offer voters, for a few reasons.

Power to the People

First, it turned out that ordinary citizens ask much better questions than journalists. The pre-1992 format, in which a panel of journalists would question the candidate, was dominated by efforts to play "gotcha" – with their brief moment on the national stage, reporters often asked candidates questions of the "Have you stopped beating your wife?" variety in hopes of creating a compelling slip-up. They also focused on process, with questions about campaign strategy and tactics.

But the voters assembled for the town hall debates have done nothing of the sort. To a fault, their questions have been substantive and practical, focusing on issues and asking candidates to elaborate their positions and specify what actions they will take as president.

For Bush, this presents a problem: it's one thing to brush off a reporter with yet another recitation of a talking point ("We're safer... Saddam was a threat... we're turning the corner..."), since most voters think reporters are cynics just trying to get the candidates to slip up. But doing the same thing to a voter asking for some real answers doesn't make you look clever, it makes you look rude. Bush knows how to stay "on message" as well as any president in history, a talent that serves him well in many situations. But a town-hall debate isn't one of them.

The second distinction of town hall debates is that citizen questioners tend to cover much greater ground than journalist questioners. While reporters – who travel and think in a giant pack most of the time – tend to focus on the few issues that are dominating the campaign, citizens have brought concerns to the town-hall debate that a Washington journalist might never have thought of. For instance, in the 2000 town hall debate, Bush and Gore fielded questions about national health insurance, FDA procedures for approving new drugs, education, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, military overstretch, the Brady Law, family farms, low turnout among young people, taxes, affirmative action and the death penalty. Both campaigns can predict fairly accurately what questions a journalist will ask them. But you can never tell what an ordinary citizen is going to bring up.

And this too is a problem for President Bush. To put it charitably, his facility with the details of the myriad policy issues a president confronts has its limits. The citizen questioners bring an unpredictability to debates that plays right to Bush's weakness. As we've seen time and again, when Bush is forced to think on his feet the results range from the comical to the embarrassing. While some issues may allow him to fall back on tried-and-true sound bites even if he doesn't really know what he's talking about, the chances Bush will be thrown a curve ball – and come out looking silly – are fairly high.

There may be another reason Bush doesn't want a town hall debate: the one in 2000 was his worst performance by far. Although the press didn't interpret it this way at the time, there may not have been a debate since the Bentsen-Quayle matchup in 1988 in which one candidate so clearly outclassed his opponent. Bush came across as uninformed, confused, and at times even self-parodying. He repeatedly said the opposite of what he meant – "If I'm the president, we're going to have emergency room care, we're going have gag orders... I'm not so sure 80% of the people get the death tax. I know this, 100% will get it if I'm the president." Asked by an audience member "How will your tax proposals affect me as a middle-class, 34-year-old single person with no dependents?" Bush gave an answer about Medicare. Answering a question about health care, he said, "Insurance, that's a Washington term." When Gore interrupted him in one back-and-forth exchange, Bush said petulantly, "There are certain rules in this that we all agree to, but evidently rules don't mean anything."

In part as practice for a town hall debate, President Bush has been conducting town-hall meetings as he campaigns across the country. But these events, like all Bush appearances, are carefully restricted lest anyone who doesn't support Bush slip through. The assembled supporters are given the opportunity to speak to the President, but they're as likely to heap praise on him as ask a question; one said, "Mr. President, I don't have a question, I have three thank-yous. One, thank you for your availability to serve. Two, your candle is burning brightly. And three, thanks for accepting the call and answering the call to work for what's right in the country and in the world." Not exactly hard-hitting – and nothing that would help him prepare for a real town-hall debate.

Rather than risk a repeat of his 2000 town hall performance, Bush is apparently trying to eliminate the town hall debate altogether. His representatives have said that their concern is that Kerry partisans could infiltrate the debate. But they're probably just as worried that Bush might encounter an actual undecided voter.

Bush is at his best in front of an adoring crowd, where he can lean forward, look resolute and deliver declarations he's repeated dozens of times before, safe in the knowledge they'll be greeted with thunderous applause. But in a town-hall debate, applause lines are greeted with a skeptical silence and evasion can prove costly. Bush's strengths will be of little use, and his weaknesses will be cast in high relief.

When Larry King asked Bush whether he runs into undecided voters on the campaign trail, Bush responded candidly, "The president generally doesn't run into anybody." That could be his biggest problem – and why he's afraid of whom he'd run into if he showed up in St. Louis.

Whither Afghanistan?

In August, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had a gift for the women of Afghanistan. What did your tax dollars bestow upon half the population of a country where the majority of people don't have access to electricity, fresh water, sanitation, nutrition or the most basic life-saving medications? Twenty thousand battery operated, talking women's health books produced by Leapfrog, a "designer, developer and marketer of innovative, technology-based educational products and related proprietary content." A bargain at $62.50 a pop.

Listening to the administration, you might believe Afghanistan is a blooming democracy full of emancipated women and hopeful Olympic athletes. But while we send Afghans talking books, the real-life needs and underlying causes of the ongoing crises are being ignored, accelerating the situation in Afghanistan to the point of "implosion," to borrow language from a recent British Parliament report.

On the Precipice

The American press rarely reports the precipice upon which Afghanistan is poised. President George W. Bush makes frequent reference to the humanitarian advances in Afghanistan, especially among women. He offers platitudes, and smiles cheerily for photo-ops with soccer-playing Afghan girls as if their fates are somehow representative. But in every segment of Afghan life, there is glaring evidence of the gap between Bush's rhetoric and reality.

The thin veneer of liberation benefits those with power, money and guns, and unfortunately many of these people share the same ideology as the Taliban, albeit masked by their shaved faces, Western clothes, and facility with English rhetoric. In a telling moment of candor, Sebaghattullah Mujadiddi, the former, civil war-era president and chairman of the Constitutional Loya Jirga, told women in December 2003: "Do not try to put yourself on a level with men. Even God has not given you equal rights�under his decision two women are counted as�one man."

Of the five million children who returned to school after the fall of the Taliban, only 34 percent are girls. Two to three thousand young women were removed from school in September 2003 when President Hamid Karzai upheld a 1970s law banning married "women" (no matter their age or whether the marriage was consensual) from attending school with unmarried "girls."

The peril of the situation is abundantly clear from observations and conversations with Afghans about post-Taliban life, where guns and money substitute for the rule of law; upcoming elections, rather than being celebrated as a sign of progress, are dreaded for the violence and fraud that is already accompanying them (see guns and money substitute for the rule of law); the United States has provided a $25 million loan to rebuild a five-star hotel, and warlords are using money from opium poppies and CIA payoffs for fighting the Taliban to build palatial private residences on stolen land, while teachers and government workers in Kabul can not afford the $100 per month rent for three rooms without water or electricity on their $30-a-month salaries.

It is a country teetering dangerously on the edge of a steep precipice.

Liberation or Retaliation?

The Afghan people knew all along that the United States bombed Afghanistan for retaliation, not liberation. Many Afghan women asked me in December 2001, "If the United States was so committed to liberating us, where was your government for the past five years? Why did then Governor Bush invite Taliban officials to Texas? Why was the Clinton Administration trying to negotiate a pipeline while we were being beaten on the streets for showing our faces?" And now they ask: "Why did your government return the same criminals who destroyed our country in the civil war, and who were so brutal and repressive that the Taliban was welcomed in 1996 as liberating heroes?"

While 18,000 American and allied soldiers spend their time unsuccessfully searching for Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar � the missing weapons of mass destruction from the Afghan conflict � only 6,500 NATO peacekeepers are on the ground to protect a population estimated to be 25 million to 28 million. This ratio of one peacekeeper per 4,000 Afghans is nothing like the 1:50 ratio that was maintained in Bosnia and Kosovo, and is laughable to a warlord and, until recently, provincial governor like Ismail Khan, whose personal army of 20,000 to 30,000 soldiers dwarfs the peacekeepers. President Karzai's attempt to control him by removing him as governor and promoting him to Minster of Mines and Industry last week was rejected by Khan and sparked deadly attacks on U.N., U.S. and Afghan interests in Herat.

With at least 1,000 civilians (including 600 aid and election workers) killed in the past year alone and rockets falling nightly on Kabul, it is clear to the populace that America is there to serve its own interests, with little concern for Afghan security, democracy or peace. Even President Karzai has admitted that the warlords, whom the United States has supported since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, pose a greater threat to the country than Taliban resurgents.

The depth of the problem is clear when a group like Doctors Without Borders, who stayed in Afghanistan throughout the Taliban period, recently pulled out of the country entirely, having been unable to obtain justice for the killings of five of their workers. They no longer believed their Afghan and foreign staff could be protected.

The Bush Definition of an Election

The election preparations, financed predominately by the United States and Britain at a cost of $100 million, are based on 24-year-old census data because, without disarmament, the country was not secure enough to take a new census. This calls into question the celebratory mood surrounding the United Nation's announcement that over 90 percent of "eligible" voters had been registered in advance of the thrice-postponed, October 9 presidential election (parliamentary elections are off until at least April).

That 90 percent figure is also questionable when one considers that nearly half of the country has been deemed at elevated risk by the United Nations, and much of these risky areas are entirely off limits to U.N. workers. Even more astonishing is the recent upward revision of these registration figures. Now the U.N. figures show that over 107 percent of eligible voters have been registered to vote. In response, President Karzai, a leading candidate, responded: "This does not bother me. This is an exercise in democracy. Let them exercise it twice."

This early whiff of voter fraud, and of a government and international community unable and unwilling to address it, coupled with targeted killings of at least 30 election workers and registered voters so far, and signs that this violence will continue to escalate as the elections draw closer, make it unlikely that election reality will match the rhetoric of a free and fair democratic process.

A Dangerous Game

In 2003 Iraq received $26 billion in reconstruction aid while Afghanistan, larger and more populous and with a fraction of Iraq's wealth and infrastructure, received less than $1 billion. Meanwhile, the 2003 opium crop brought an estimated $2.3 billion, accounting for roughly 95 percent of the heroin sold on the streets of Europe. And the Bush administration admits that the 2004 crop is expected to be 50 percent to 100 percent higher than last year's.

All of this illegitimate wealth only serves to further enrich criminal elements, from the warlords who control the countryside to suspected al Qaeda remnants rumored to be funding future operations with this uncontrolled wealth. Taken together it is an alarming picture of a country spiraling out of control. Meanwhile, the American political calendar ensures that we will hear predominately heartwarming stories of how children's toys better Afghan lives.

By playing leapfrog with Afghanistan, the Bush Administration jeopardizes the safety and health of poor Afghans who will suffer if their country once again becomes hostage to narco-terrorists, warlords and unlawful rulers. Humanitarian concerns aside, the policies also threaten to destabilize the country in ways that, as we've seen, lead to tragic consequences for the rest of the world, too. When your playmate is a country teetering on the edge of a chasm, leapfrog is the most dangerous game of all.

W is for Wuss

He's strong. He's resolute. He looks evildoers in the eye and doesn't blink. He's our national daddy, standing in the doorway with a righteous six-gun and a steely gaze, striking fear in the hearts of all who would do us harm. By god, George W. Bush is a real man.

Or is he? We certainly know that Bush wants us to believe he's a real man - in fact, there are few things he works harder at. Sometimes it seems as if the entire might of the United States government is being wielded for the purpose of creating photo ops where Bush can look manly. We saw plenty of examples at the Republican convention; the video introducing Bush, narrated with the profound vocal stylings of actor/politician Fred Thompson, begins this way: "How do you tell the story of a presidency? How do you tell the story so far? The story is, in part, but inescapably, the story of a man."

Despit being billed as a "biography," the video told virtually nothing about what Bush has actually done in the last four years, let alone his life to that point; instead, it was mostly about Bush's September 11-related moments of theater. For the umpteenth time, we saw Bush vowing revenge through a bullhorn at Ground Zero; then Bush being photographed visiting soldiers in the hospital. The film ends with an extended retelling of Bush going to Yankee Stadium and throwing out the first ball at a World Series game not long after September 11, presented with swelling music and slow-motion, as though his ability to walk to the mound and throw the ball was some act of extraordinary heroism of which no mere mortal would have been capable.

And in his convention speech, Bush reemphasized his masculinity. "Some folks look at me and see a certain swagger," he said, "which in Texas is called walking." There's certainly a swagger in Bush's walk, but what is most notable about it is how affected it is. It's not about being strong, it's about looking strong.

Who's Your Daddy?

New York Times columnist Frank Rich recently noted that "castration warfare has been a Republican staple ever since Michael Dukakis provided the opening by dressing up like Snoopy to ride a tank." Democrats are understandably frustrated that Bush has been so successful at painting John Kerry as the one possessed of insufficient testosterone, down to calling his Vietnam service into question. After all, when their country called them to go into harm's way, Kerry said, "Where do I sign?" while Bush said, "How do I get out of this?"

Vietnam was hardly the last time Bush would show himself to be something of a sissy-boy. In fact, when you begin to think about his history, an unmistakable picture emerges: George W. Bush is a coward.

I do not use the word lightly. Speaking as someone born too late to be drafted, I can't say whether I would have been brave enough to follow John Kerry's course into Vietnam. But Bush's cowardice doesn't only emerge when his physical safety is at stake (although he's quite happy to proclaim his courageous indifference to dangers that will be faced by others, i.e. "Bring 'em on"). Let's look at some other cases:

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Flat-Growth Battlegrounds

George W. Bush should be worried about his re-election prospects, if for no other reason than this: With less than three months to go until November 2, the economy is flatter in the states that matter.

An analysis of battleground state economies reveals that, whatever stock one puts in the President's assurances about an economy having "turned the corner," in terms of employment and income growth during Bush's term the swing states are doing worse than the country as a whole.

Lost jobs and stagnating incomes

The National Journal recently published a special feature profiling the 20 states they deem to be 2004 presidential battlegrounds. For each, the Journal reported the statewide per capita income growth and job growth rates since January 2001, when Bush took office.

The numbers are striking: Of the 20 states, only five – Arkansas, Louisiana, Maine, New Mexico and West Virginia – are doing better than the national income growth rate of 11 percent income growth since January 2001; and only six – Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina and West Virginia – have outperformed the national job loss benchmark of -0.8% during the same period. Crosstabulating these 11 states yields just two – Louisiana and West Virginia – that have outperformed the nationwide averages on both measures.

More damning is the fact that, of the remaining 18 doing worse on at least one measure, fully 11 are doing worse on both, and these 11 include the "big three" swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida (the other eight: Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin). It's as if the battleground states are experiencing an inverse Lake Wobegon effect – almost all of them are below average.

If not obvious, the point is that whatever impact the struggling economy may have on this year's election, any impacts will be more pronounced in the very states that will decide whether Bush returns or John Kerry replaces him. That said, pundits who think the economy will be trumped by war issues may want to rethink the relative impact of the economic situation in these key states.

Southwest Rising

In the Washington Post last November, I argued that the Southwest is the nascent swing region in U.S. presidential elections. Yes, the Southeast and the Midwest have far more electors. But the former Confederate states have swung already, and the Midwest's population is dwindling relative to the Sunbelt. Long term, the Southwest, with its burgeoning Hispanic population, holds the keys to the White House.

When I crosstabbed the data on income and job growth rates for the Journal's 20 battlegrounds, I made a surprising discovery that confirms my earlier suspicions. Confessing that I expected the manufacturing drain in the post-industrial Midwest states to be most demonstrable, I was shocked to discover otherwise. Based on the twin effects of both employment and income changes, the three states which have performed worst relative to national economy since January 2001 are all in the Southwest: Arizona (-7.9 percent job growth; 5.5 percent income increase), Colorado (-4.9; 1.9) and Nevada (-8.2; 3.8).

These states no doubt suffered disproportionately because of lower wages and higher unemployment rates for Latinos (6.1% in 2003) relative to whites (4.0 percent). The region's aberrant case is New Mexico, which has done relatively well, at least on income growth (16.1 percent). The state has gone Democratic in the past three presidential elections, albeit narrowly (Al Gore won by just 366 votes in 2000), following six straight Republican wins.

The real coup for Kerry, therefore, would be to pick up some of the combined 24 electors in Arizona, Colorado and Nevada. If Bush loses all three, he'll be hard pressed to compensate elsewhere.

War and wallets

The economic analysis above ratifies the results in the latest Marist College poll, which shows Kerry with a far wider lead (49-42 percent) in 17 swing states than the Massachusetts senator enjoys nationwide in post-convention polls (in most, Kerry's lead is within the margin of error – if he even has a lead).

Pivotal voters in battleground states may choose based on war, not wallets. But if the economy figures in their calculus, even as a tiebreaker, Kerry stands to benefit where the votes will matter most.

Another Election about Nothing?

Much as we might like it to be otherwise, American presidential campaigns have seldom if ever been high-minded discussions of the critical issues facing the country. But some focus more on triviality than others. With the tons of ink spilled in the last couple of weeks on the allegations against John Kerry by a group of disgruntled veterans, the 2004 campaign risks spiraling far from anything that actually matters to the country. The New York Times now says that the issue "may prove pivotal in determining Mr. Kerry's hopes of victory this fall." Self-fulfilling prophecy alert.

There isn't anything inherently wrong with spending time discussing a candidate's personal qualities, that jumble of experiences, tastes and foibles we put under the broad category of "character." But the question the press usually fails to ask is just how those character questions relate to the challenges and opportunities the next president will face once he actually takes office. This is an epic journalistic failure, and one that gets repeated in campaign after campaign. Four years ago we learned about George Bush that he often mangled his words and didn't seem to know much about foreign countries; Al Gore's alleged propensity to exaggerate was supposed to tell us something critical about what kind of president he would be.

It might be too much to ask for reporters to have predicted that Bush would turn out to be the one with the truth problem, the one who would build a case for a preemptive war on a scaffold of deception. But even in 2000, Bush was already misleading voters about his tax cut plan, telling them that most of the benefits would go to those at the bottom of the income scale. The parallel is that in both cases, Bush had something he fervently wished to do, but the facts weren't enough to convince the public to go along. So he went beyond the truth – well beyond – to get the consent he needed to move forward. Had the public known this was something Bush was prone to do, the 2000 election might have turned out differently.

Now it's four years later, and at least for the moment, reporters are consumed with what John Kerry did or didn't do and say three and a half decades ago. Exactly what this is supposed to reveal about Kerry has yet to be defined, beyond the general charge in the title of the book by longtime Kerry antagonist John O'Neill and creepy bigot Jerome Corsi, "Unfit for Command." Even if we stipulate that many Vietnam veterans were angered by Kerry's anti-war activities, I have yet to hear anyone explain exactly what bearing this has on the kind of president he would be in 2005, thirty-four years later.

Looking Forward to Looking Back

A few months from now, the 2004 presidential race will be over and we'll begin to assess what kind of campaign this was. Something tells me no one will be saying, "It sure was a good thing for the electorate that we spent so much time talking about whether John Kerry deserved all his Vietnam medals. Boy, if we hadn't written hundreds of stories about veterans who were mad about statements Kerry made in 1971, the public would have been much worse off."

After the 1988 election, much of the national political press corps felt that they had failed the citizens they were supposed to serve. They had become consumed with non-issues like the value of the pledge of allegiance and became partners with the Bush campaign in stirring up racist fears. They ignored real issues like the S&L crisis, which will end up costing the American taxpayer well over $300 billion. So reporters pledged to explore issues in more depth, to scrutinize candidate advertising more carefully, and to hold candidates accountable for deception.

It was a nice idea, but with the sporadic exception of scrutiny of advertisements, it didn't happen.

So it's good to keep in mind that all the attention given to the Swift Boat Veterans was hardly inevitable. It is a product of decisions made by journalists. They decided to write story after story after story after story about it, to ask questions about it, to investigate it, to spend day after day ruminating on it in print.

There are two and a half months until the election, and it is possible that the issue of Kerry's Vietnam service and anti-war activism will fade quickly to be replaced by a more substantive discussion that actually has some relationship to the next four years of America's political life. In all likelihood, at some point the press will grow bored with the Swift Boat Veterans. For the moment, though, it has all the elements political reporters gravitate toward like moths to a flame: misleading attack ads, expressions of anger and bitterness, accusations of Machiavellian manipulations, and fertile ground for reporters to play amateur political consultant. (Should Kerry have answered earlier? How should he respond? What do the polls say?)

The 11th Most Liberal Senator

You've heard it over and over from the Bush campaign: John Kerry is the most liberal member of the Senate. Not only that, John Edwards is the fourth-most liberal Senator. A day barely goes by when a Republican spinner doesn't pull this "fact" out to garnish an attack on the Democratic ticket, like a sprig of rhetorical parsley laid across a course of feigned outrage and misleading criticism.

Since we hear it so often, and since so few people know where it comes from or what it means (including some who use the attack themselves), it might be worthwhile to get our facts straight. As you might have heard, the ranking in question comes from the National Journal, a non-partisan magazine read widely in Washington and largely unknown outside the Beltway. Every year, the Journal selects a group of Congressional votes they think are particularly revealing of ideology, and count up where each House member and Senator voted on them. The legislators are then ranked in relative terms, each receiving a score indicating where they voted relative to the other members of their body (this is in contrast to the many liberal and conservative interest groups that give scores in absolute terms, on how often the member agrees with the group on votes important to them).

When the National Journal calculated their ratings for 2003, the Republicans got a gift wrapped up in a big red bow: John Kerry came out as the most liberal Senator, while John Edwards came in at number four. But there was something funny about the 2003 numbers, particularly when it comes to these two.

An Unusual Year

The funny thing about 2003 related to what the National Journal does when a legislator misses votes. The Journal used 62 votes to come up with the 2003 rankings, a fairly small number relative to the hundreds of votes a Senator casts in a year. They calculate three different ratings: one for economic policy, one for social policy, and one for foreign policy. These three are then combined to come up with an overall ranking.

But here's the catch: If a Senator misses more than half the votes the Journal uses in any one of these three categories, they don't count any of the votes he makes for that category, using only the remaining categories to calculate his overall score. If you're running for president, as both Kerry and Edwards were in 2003, you miss a lot of votes when you're off in coffee klatches and VFW halls in Iowa and New Hampshire. So Kerry missed 37 of the 62 votes, while Edwards missed 22. Consequently, the National Journal gave Kerry no score for economic or social policy, basing his entire ranking on his score on foreign policy. Edwards, on the other hand, got no score on foreign policy.

Is Kerry a liberal? You bet. He's pro-choice, against Bush's tax cuts, for environmental protection, and for universal health care, to name a few issues. Of course, so are a majority of Americans. But is he the most liberal member of the Senate? Hardly.

Obviously, if you want to know how liberal or conservative a Senator is, the best thing to do is to look at their entire career. How does Kerry compare to his colleagues? For starters, he's not the most liberal - in fact, among current Senators he comes in eleventh. Here's the top fifteen, with the composite score for each Senator in parentheses:

1. Mark Dayton, D-Minn. (90.3)

2. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md. (89.4)

3. Jack Reed, D-R.I. (89.3)

4. Jon Corzine, D-N.J. (88.8)

5. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. (88.6)

6. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. (88.5)

7. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa (87.6)

8. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. (87.3)

9. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. (86.2)

10. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. (86.0)

11. John Kerry, D-Mass. (85.7)

12. Carl Levin, D-Mich. (85.5)

13. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. (83.9)
14. Patty Murray, D-Wash. (83.8)

15. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. (83.8)

As for Edwards, he was the fourth most liberal in 2003. But he was 40th in 2002, 35th in 2001, 19th in 2000, and 31st in 1999, his first year in the Senate.

But Does it Really Matter?

Ideology itself certainly matters; it reflects the perspective politicians bring to issues we know about and those we haven't imagined yet. There will be some people who hear "John Kerry is the most liberal member of the Senate" and respond, "Great!" while others think the opposite. But while wonks can debate whether Kerry is more liberal than Carl Levin or Pat Leahy, for most people the distinctions are impossible to discern.

For thirty years, the National Election Studies asked Americans which party they believed was more conservative. This is about as basic a question about ideology – and American politics in general – as one could come up with. It would probably surprise most people to learn that the proportion of respondents who correctly answered that the Republicans are the conservative party seldom rose above 60%.

For the rest – and many of the 60% as well – the ideas of "liberal" and "conservative" don't have much meat to them. They don't evoke specific issue positions or policy disagreements, and they have little to do with how people think about themselves. But conservatives have worked very hard to make the word "liberal" call up negative stereotypes – mushy-headed, wimpy, indulgent of deviant behavior and sexual transgression, disrespectful of religious faith, and so on.

Of course, a ranking by someone like the National Journal has little to do with any of these qualities; it's a collection of votes, some of which fall less than perfectly on one side of the philosophical divide between liberalism and conservatism. The Bush campaign isn't hoping that voters will take a clear look at all Kerry has done in the past and is proposing now, and conclude that they disagree with him on fundamental questions of government; in fact, they know (as does the Kerry campaign), that all but a few will do nothing of the sort.

No, the intention is that if they repeat the "most liberal Senator" charge, lots of people will say to themselves, "Gee, I don't know, that Kerry is so liberal." Ask them just what that means and a scant few could tell you. But in the end, it's the impression, much more than the facts, that will make the difference.

Muscular Dem Acceptance Speeches

John Kerry's acceptance speech came at the first Democratic convention of the post-September 11 era – the most important speech of his political life thus far.

The Kerry team has emphasized images and themes of strength, security and security-through-strength. Republican spokespeople will undoubtedly try to paint Kerry as just the latest in a long line of Democrats who have been soft on defense and foreign affairs.

But guess what? There is a tradition of thoughtful, serious, smart and – yes – muscular language in Democratic acceptance speeches from the past four decades:

Sen. John F. Kennedy
Los Angeles, 1960

Abroad, the balance of power is shifting. There are new and more terrible weapons – new and uncertain nations – new pressures of population and deprivation. One-third of the world, it has been said, may be free – but one-third is the victim of cruel repression – and the other one- third is rocked by the pangs of poverty, hunger and envy. More energy is released by the awakening of these new nations than by the fission of the atom itself.

President Lyndon Johnson
Atlantic City, 1964

I report tonight as President of the United States and as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces on the strength of your country, and I tell you that is greater than any adversary. I assure you that it is greater than the combined might of all nations in all the wars, in all the history of this planet. And I report our superiority is growing. Weapons do not make peace. Men make peace. And peace comes not through strength alone, but through wisdom and patience and restraint.

Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey
Chicago, 1968

Last week we witnessed once again in Czechoslovakia the desperate attempt of tyranny to crush out the forces of liberalism by force and brutal power – to hold back change. But in Eastern Europe, as elsewhere, the old era will surely end and, there, as here, a new day will dawn. And to speed this day, we must go far beyond where we've been, beyond containment to communication, beyond differences to dialogue, beyond fear to hope. We must cross the remaining barriers of suspicion and despair. We must halt the arms race before it halts humanity.

Sen. George McGovern
Miami, 1972

Now, it is necessary in an age of nuclear power and hostile forces that we'll be militarily strong. America must never become a second-rate nation. As one who has tasted the bitter fruits of our weakness before Pearl Harbor in 1941, I give you my pledge that if I become the President of the United States, America will keep its defenses alert and fully sufficient to meet any danger. We will do that not only for ourselves, but for those who deserve and need the shield of our strength – our old allies in Europe and elsewhere, including the people of Israel who will always have our help to hold their Promised Land.

Gov. Jimmy Carter
New York, 1976

The foremost responsibility of any President, above all else, is to guarantee the security of our nation – a guarantee of freedom from the threat of successful attack or blackmail, and the ability with our allies to maintain peace. But peace is not the mere absence of war. Peace is action to stamp out international terrorism. Peace is the unceasing effort to preserve human rights. Peace is a combined demonstration of strength and good will. We will pray for peace and we will work for peace, until we have removed from all nations for all time the threat of nuclear destruction.

President Jimmy Carter
New York, 1980

You and I have been working toward a more secure future by rebuilding our military strength – steadily, carefully, and responsibly. The Republicans talk about military strength, but they were in office for 8 out of the last 11 years, and in the face of a growing Soviet threat they steadily cut real defense spending by more than a third. We've reversed the Republican decline in defense. Every year since I've been President we've had real increases in our commitment to a stronger nation, increases which are prudent and rational.

Vice President Walter Mondale
San Francisco, 1984

As we've neared the election, this administration has begun to talk about a safer world. But there's a big difference: As president, I will work for peace from my first day in office – and not from my first day campaigning for re-election. As president, I will reassert American values. I'll press for human rights in Central America, and for the removal of all foreign forces from the region. And in my first hundred days, I will stop the illegal war in Nicaragua. We know the deep differences with the Soviets. And America condemns their repression of dissidents and Jews; their suppression of Solidarity; their invasion of Afghanistan; their meddling around the world.

Gov. Michael Dukakis
Atlanta, 1988

We must be, we are, and we will be militarily strong. But we must back that military strength with economic strength; we must give the men and women of our armed forces weapons that work; we must have a Secretary of Defense who will manage – and not be managed by – the Pentagon; and we must have a foreign policy that reflects the decency and the principles and the values of the American people...Yes, we must always be prepared to defend our freedom. But we must always remember that our greatest strength comes not from what we possess, but from what we believe; not from what we have, but from who we are.

Gov. Bill Clinton
New York, 1992

That's what the New Covenant is all about. An America with the world's strongest defense, ready and willing to use force when necessary. An America at the forefront of the global effort to preserve and protect our common environment – and promoting global growth. An America that will not coddle tyrants, from Baghdad to Beijing. An America that champions the cause of freedom and democracy from Eastern Europe to Southern Africa – and in our own hemispheres, in Haiti and Cuba.

President Bill Clinton
Chicago, 1996

We are fighting terrorism on all fronts with a three-pronged strategy. First, we are working to rally a world coalition with zero tolerance for terrorism. Just this month I signed a law imposing harsh sanctions on foreign companies that invest in key sectors of the Iranian and Libyan economies...Second, we must give law enforcement the tools they need to take the fight to terrorists. We need new laws to crack down on money laundering and to prosecute and punish those who commit violent acts against American citizens abroad... Third, we will improve airport and air travel security. I have asked the Vice President to establish a commission and report back to me on ways to do this. But now we will install the most sophisticated bomb-detection equipment in all our major airports. We will search every airplane flying to or from America from another nation – every flight, every cargo hold, every cabin, every time.

Vice President Al Gore
Los Angeles, 2000

The price of freedom is sometimes high, but I never believed that America should turn inward. As a Senator, I broke with many in our party and voted to support the Gulf War when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait – because I believed America's vital interests were at stake ...I will keep America's defenses strong. I will make sure our armed forces continue to be the best-equipped, best-trained, and best-led in the entire world. In the last century, this nation, more than any other, freed the world from fascism and communism. But a newly free world still has dangers and challenges, both old and new. We must always have the will to defend our enduring interests – from Europe, to the Middle East, to Japan and Korea. We must strengthen our partnerships with Africa, Latin America, and the rest of the developing world.


"Black Conservative to Rebut NAACP Leader's Remarks in C-SPAN Interview," read the press release from Project 21, an organization of conservative African-Americans.

I had read in Reuters that Kweisi Mfume, president of the NAACP, had called groups like Project 21 "make-believe black organizations," and a "collection of black hustlers" who have adopted a conservative agenda in return for "a few bucks a head."

So I tuned into C-SPAN with interest to hear what a leading voice in the black conservative movement had to say. But then a funny thing happened: The African-American spokesperson for Project 21 caught a flat on the way to the studio, and the group's director had to fill in. And he was white.

As the segment began there was an awkward Wizard of Oz moment as C-SPAN's Robb Harlston – himself black – turned to Project 21's Caucasian director, David Almasi, and said, "Um...Project 21... a program for conservative African Americans... you're not African American."

It was a remarkable moment. A flat tire had led to a nationally televised peek into what lies behind a murky network of interconnected black conservative organizations that seek ostensibly to bring more African-Americans into the conservative movement. But they're not just reaching out to the community. They also speak out publicly for conservative positions that might evoke charges of racism if advocated by whites. And while that's not to say that there aren't some blacks who embrace conservative values, the groups that claim to represent them are heavily financed by business interests and often run by white Republicans.

Almasi replied defensively, "I wanted to make clear right at the beginning that I'm an employee, I'm an employee of Project 21, my bosses are the members of Project 21, the volunteers...I take my marching orders from them, not from anybody else."

Almasi told me by phone that he is Project 21's only paid staffer, and that he works part-time. He said that the approximately 400 volunteers – among whom there was a core of "a few dozen" – were simply conservative blacks "willing to do interviews, be quoted for press releases and be available to write for Project 21 publications," and that his role was simply to serve as "a syndicator, an editor and a scheduler."

But Project 21 is a subsidiary of the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), which, according to the liberal watchdog, was formed in the 1980s to support Reagan's military interventions in Central America. NCPPR's leadership – president, vice president, executive director – are all white. Amy Ridenour, former Deputy Director of the College Republican National Committee and the organization's president, also sits on the board of Black America's PAC, an organization that claims to be nonpartisan but whose IRS filings state that its mission is to elect Republicans.

NCPPR's directors are also all white. In fact, one of them – Jack Abramoff – is so white that he's actually a high-powered GOP lobbyist and Bush 'Pioneer' who, according to the Washington Post, is the target of multiple investigations into alleged funny-money payments from Indian gambling concerns (along with the $45 million in fees they collected from them, Abramoff and his partner Michael Scanlon convinced the tribes to donate large sums to conservative organizations run by Scanlon, which then funneled the money back to Abramoff, according to the Post).

In the 1990s, NCPPR got into the business of denying that climate change warnings were based on sound science. If the connection between black conservative outreach work and environmental skepticism doesn't seem clear, that's because it's not. But it's logical considering that ExxonMobil donated $30,000 to NCPPR for "educational activities" and $15,000 for general support in 2002, and last year they hiked their operating support to $25,000 and kicked in another $30,000 for NCPPR's 'EnviroTruth' website, according to company financial records.

Project 21 also received funding from R.J. Reynolds and "has lobbied in support of tobacco industry interests, opposing FDA regulation of the industry, excise taxes and other government policies to reduce tobacco use," according to the Center for Media and Democracy. Almasi denied that Project 21 received tobacco industry money, but said he was not sufficiently aware of the details of NCPPR's fundraising to say whether the parent organization had.

A Mile Wide, an Inch Deep

Project 21 is one small part of a broad coalition of black conservative groups that fight for issues of concern to the business community. These organizations draw their intellectual inspiration from Thomas Sowell's landmark 1975 book Race and Economics, one of the founding documents of the new black conservative movement. Just as born-again conservatives like David Horowitz and Zell Miller are showered with praise and money, black conservatives are embraced and elevated by the conservative movement as living repudiations of liberalism.

So Sowell and others – like Robert L. Woodson of the American Enterprise Institute, J.A. Parker of the Lincoln Institute, sometime presidential candidate Alan Keyes of Black America's PAC (BAMPAC), and Jackie Cissel of the Black Alliance for Educational Options – have little trouble finding cushy think-tank sinecures and generous support for their organizations. Many among this small group of prominent black conservatives are on several groups' advisory boards, adding to the appearance of a broad ideological movement. Cissel, for one, also serves as regional director for the African American Republican Leadership Council, a group whose mission "is to break the liberal democrat stranglehold over Black America," according to their web site. As Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten reported last year, 13 out of the 15 members of the AALRC's Advisory Panel are white. They include such well known minority champions as the Free Congress Foundation's Paul Weyrich, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, the Reverend Lou Sheldon, Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council, David Keene of the American Conservative Union, and Fox News host Sean Hannity.

What do people like Weyrich, Norquist, Bauer and Hannity have in common with the black conservatives? It's more than a common affection for low taxes and non-existent government regulation of business. Conservative activists understand that the GOP's history of tolerating bigots in their ranks and seeking out their votes, from Nixon's "Southern Strategy" to George H.W. Bush's use of Willie Horton to George W. Bush's courting of the confederate vote in the 2000 South Carolina primary, presents a problem for moderate voters of all races. Finding African-Americans to make the conservative case goes a long way toward wiping those memories from the public mind.

Big Men on Campus

But ideology starts outside of Washington, and one of the most important ideological battle grounds for the black conservative movement is on campus, where many of the faculty in the social sciences and humanities believe the silly notion that structural racism still exists in America, and aren't afraid to say so.

So in 1998, the Young America's Foundation formed the Alternative Black Speakers Program "in response to the overwhelmingly leftist bent of Black History Month on campuses," according to a press release. The program sends conservative black speakers to college campuses across the country, "giving students an alternative to the often radical and irresponsible message of black lecturers appearing on campuses as part of official university programs." One of YAF's top executives is Floyd Brown, the infamous dirty trickster responsible for creating the 1988 anti-Dukakis ads featuring Willie Horton's menacing mug shot.

Perhaps the most visible black conservative in the campus wars is Ward Connerly, president of the American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI). Connerly was a protégé of former California Governor Pete Wilson, who appointed him to the University of California's Board of Regents. Connerly drafted Wilson's anti-affirmative action initiative Prop 209, and is now attempting to bring a similar ballot measure to Michigan.

When asked what he thought about Trent Lott's comments about segregation in 2002, Connerly told CNN: "Supporting segregation need not be racist. One can believe in segregation and believe in equality of the races."

According to the civil rights group By Any Means Necessary (disclosure: I am a member of BAMN), Connerly reportedly makes $400,000 dollars per year as the president of ACRI.

Follow the Money

And that's what seems to unite these seemingly disparate groups – money. Every black conservative group I've mentioned – without exception – receives a significant portion of their funding (in some cases all of their funding) from at least three of four ultra-conservative foundations (the Lincoln Institute gets its share funneled indirectly through the conservative Hoover Institution).

The four are the usual suspects of the Right's political ATM: Richard Scaife's family foundations, Adolph Coors' Castle Rock Foundation, The John M. Olin Foundation, and the Linde and Harry Bradley Foundation. What's striking about these groups' underwriting of "minority organizations" is that some of them have at times displayed what many would consider a frankly racist agenda.

Scaife has gained notoriety as one of the great funders of the "New Conservative" movement. While he is best known for his anti-Clinton activities, including paying for the American Spectator's "Arkansas Project," he has plenty of unsavory grantees; the Charlotte Observer reported that he provided funding for Children Requiring A Caring Community, a scary fringe group that pays poor women to be surgically sterilized or to undergo long-term birth control.

According to People For The American Way (PFAW), William Coors gave a speech in 1984 in which he reportedly told a largely African American audience that "one of the best things they [slave traders] did for you is to drag your ancestors over here in chains." Later in the speech, he asserted that weakness in the Zimbabwe economy was due to black Africans' "lack of intellectual capacity."

The speech drew controversy and a boycott by African American and Hispanic groups. In response, Coors pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to African American and Hispanic organizations. Apparently, black conservative groups run by white Republicans count.

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation is a particularly interesting case. According to PFAW, Bradley, whose recipients list "reads like a Who's Who of the U.S. Right," is a major funding source for the Center for Individual Rights, which brought the Hopwood v. Texas case that ended affirmative action at the University of Texas law school. Bradley played a major role in financing Pete Wilson and Ward Connerly's Prop 209, and, through the Pacific Legal Foundation, Bradley "provided pro bono representation to ...Wilson in his challenge to five state statutes dealing with affirmative action ..." Clint Bolick, vice president of the Institute for Justice, another recipient of Bradley money, "played a pivotal role in attacks on Lani Guinier, President Clinton's nominee to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. Bolick's Wall Street Journal opinion piece headlined 'Clinton's Quota Queen' dredged up the worst racist and sexist stereotypes and helped throw the Guinier nomination on the defensive."

Even more striking is that Bradley grants supported Charles Murray and the late Harvard psychologist Richard Hernstein while they wrote The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. According to PFAW, "the book was widely seen as a piece of profoundly racist and classist pseudo-science, and was denounced by the American Psychological Association. It had relied heavily on studies financed by the Pioneer Fund, a neo-Nazi organization that promoted eugenicist research. Immediately after its publication, Bradley raised Murray's annual grant to $163,000."

The boards of these foundations aren't exactly "multicultural," if you know what I mean. But they have a message to get out: They're coming after affirmative action, the minimum wage, social welfare programs, pre- and after-school programs and, indeed, multiculturalism itself. And when that's the message, it's good to have it delivered by an African-American.

So there you have it, the leading lights of the black conservative movement. If you believe that the most pressing problems facing the African-American community today are the minimum wage, too many regulations on energy companies and too many people trying to get kids to quit smoking, then maybe you should join the black conservative movement yourself. You don't have to be black, or even know anyone who is. And heck, if you are black and you leave the house early enough, they may even put you on TV to "rebut" the NAACP.

Reinventing John Kerry

Under the front page headline "Reintroducing the Candidate: Convention's Goal is to Ensure Voters Know Kerry," Wednesday's Washington Post said Democratic Party leaders "acknowledge (Kerry) remains an opaque figure for millions of Americans."

What the story omitted was that the Post and other media outlets are at least as responsible for Kerry being an enigma as is his campaign.

Research shows that the press is more likely to tell you a candidate hasn't gotten his message across than to tell you what that message is, much less put this information on the front page. More commonly, superficial stories about strategy and tactics end up on A1 while substantive stories that would actually give voters the information they need to get to know a candidate and cast an informed vote get buried.

Scholars have been documenting and decrying this pattern of privileging horse race stories over those about issues since the mid-70s, and increasingly so since the 1988 Bush-Dukakis race, perhaps the least substantive and most poorly covered campaign in modern presidential history.

This year appears to be shaping the same way, and the result is turning into Kerry's biggest problem heading into the Democratic convention: Voters (and journalists, it should be noted) say they don't know what he stands for and are therefore more open to the Bush campaign's exaggerated and hypocritical argument that Kerry is a flip-flopper.

With the help of Gadflyer super-intern Zoe VanderWolk, I looked at the news coverage of Kerry in the Post and New York Times from April through June to see how the two most important papers had covered his candidacy.

A brief note on methodology to explain how I went about this: Stories were downloaded from Lexis-Nexis, and only news (i.e., not opinion pieces) stories in the A section that discussed Kerry were analyzed. The discussion of Kerry had to be more than passing, so a story in the Times about strip clubs and the convention was not included. For that matter, stories solely about the convention that weren't focusing on Kerry's role there were excluded. Stories were coded as either focusing on "strategy/tactics" (which included those about polls and advertising) or "issues." Substantive biographical stories were coded as "issue," while superficial arm chair psychobabble got sent to the "strategy" category.

For example, the A1 Times story headlined "G.O.P. Offensive Puts Small Dent in Kerry's Image" got coded as "strategy", while the A18 story "Bush and Kerry Offer Plans for High-Tech Growth" was clearly more substantive.

One important note: I mainly used the headline to determine whether a story fit under "strategy" or "issue", though in the rare case where that was vague I used the lead of the story to help make a determination. Often, scholars will look at the lead of a story (or more) to determine whether it is framed strategically or substantively. But since I was concerned more with the topic of the story than its narrative style, looking at headlines (while always reading enough of the story to be sure) was a more appropriate choice.

Interestingly, the results show that both papers were about as likely to run issue as strategy stories about Kerry overall: The Times ran 73 stories about strategy and tactics versus 65 about issues, while at the Post there were 33 stories about both. This isn't totally man-bites-dog - in election years it is during the summer doldrums that relaxed deadline pressures and less frequent polling (i.e., less frequent than the orgy that occurs during contested primaries and, especially, the Bacchanalia of the general election) give bored reporters the courage to tip-toe away from the crutch of simplistic strategy stories.

If this pattern continues after Labor Day I will be pleasantly shocked, although my joy will be shortlived since that will mean the earth will soon stop spinning on its axis and life as we know it will end.

But still, this is only half the story. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Kerry spent the post-primary period making many substantive attacks on the Bush administration, and laying out his positions on everything from the economy to foreign policy to stem cell research (and much more).

The problem for Kerry has been that most readers probably missed or at best skimmed those stories because they ran inside the paper and not on the front page: The Times only ran nine of its issue stories on A1 during this period, and none in June (versus 20 strategy stories overall and 10 in June alone). The story was even worse at the Post, where only three issue stories ran on page one for the entire period, as compared with 12 page one strategy stories.

Of course, another story embedded in these numbers is that Kerry rarely gets on the front page at all. By comparison, stories mentioning Bush got on the front page 239 times in the Post and 331 times in the Times during this period. Not that all of those stories, many of which were about the administration's myriad policy failures and the lost lives resulting from them, were good for Bush. But the contrast highlights the predicament for a challenger: No matter what the President does it's news; conversely, it sometimes seems as if no matter what you do, it's not.

And let's be clear: When a paper puts a story on A1 they are screaming at you "This is important!; but when they put it on A23 they are grunting in passing, "Eh, whatever." Kerry got the brush-off treatment, not the bullhorn.

Of even more concern is that since these are the two premier news organizations in America (though the Los Angeles Times is right on their heels in terms of political journalism) this is probably the best coverage Kerry got. As Post editors Len Downie Jr. and Robert Kaiser pointed out in their savagely good book The News About the News, most American newspapers are unreadable and uninformative. And of course television news is even worse, as numerous studies have shown.

Research also shows that this is not a trivial issue. Studies demonstrate that exposure to a lot of strategy coverage has the effect of activating our latent cynicism about politics and politicians. It also decreases learning, which isn't a surprise given its superficiality. The research is less clear about whether issue coverage taps our more civic-minded side, but one thing is for sure: It gives us more information and doesn't lead us to be as cynical as horse race coverage.

No one is saying there shouldn't be any strategy coverage - god knows political junkies like me get cold sweats if we have to go too long without a poll. But clearly these ratios are out of whack. Yes, Kerry needs to introduce himself at the convention (which of course the networks are always threatening to stop covering; this time each of the big three will give each convention a measly three hours), but it's not for lack of trying the last few months.

The problem is, as we move into the fall when reporters stop even flirting with substantive stories, this may be Kerry's last chance other than the debates to break through the media's cynical filter and connect with voters.

The New Plantation

I am not a black man.

But these days, I can't imagine a riskier thing to be.

Keep reading. This isn't about to become a competition of ranking oppressions, or an indictment of white people everywhere. People have it hard in this country, period. Poor people, Indian Nations, immigrants, and women of all backgrounds. It's a long list, and it's a damn shame. It is, in fact, an embarrassment of suffering in a nation with an embarrassment of riches.

But speaking in purely statistical terms, this isn't a good time to be a low-income African American in the U.S. (when was it ever, you may rightly ask?), but especially if you're one of the nearly 900,000 African Americans sitting behind bars at this very moment.

Already, the U.S. Justice Department itself projects that 32% of African-American men born in 2001 will spend time in prison. That's one in three black men, folks. One in three.

And nearly every month, I come across another shocking new study, another class action lawsuit, or a straight-ahead government report that confirms another escalation in what amounts to a national phenomenon of mass incarceration. Nearly every month, I'm left staring at another staggering finding about the disproportionate impact of imprisonment on people whose skin tones largely range from brown to black. And every month, I'm left wondering what to do with the information at my fingertips. What new twist, what new angle on the facts will finally push the issue to the forefront?

And, more to the point, who cares?

Last month, a team of highly respected sociologists, Becky Pettit of the University of Washington and Bruce Western of Princeton University, published a new report in the American Sociological Review. The study, "Mass Imprisonment and the Life Course: Race and Class Inequality in U.S. Incarceration," reported that African American men are more likely to end up in prison than to earn a bachelor's degree or even serve in the military.

Pettit and Western, who have tackled related topics for many years now, sounded another alarm that should have made front-page news: Fully 60 percent of African-American male high-school dropouts born between 1965 and 1969 had been incarcerated by the time they reached their early 30s.

Could the link between ethnicity, income, education and incarceration in the U.S. be any clearer?

Fifty years ago, the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision resulted in the (gradual and hardly complete) desegregation of schools. The Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project set out to find out how much things had changed since then, where African Americans in the prison system were concerned.

Here's what they found. In 1954, there were 98,000 African Americans in prison or jail. By 1974, that number had crept up to 153,500. By 1994, it had grown fourfold to 635,000. And in 2002, it had risen to a record high of 884,500.

What's going on here? No one's denying that crimes are being committed. But the real, underlying questions are how we define criminal behavior; how we decide to punish that behavior; and why, in the face of declining crime rates, are prison numbers – especially for people of color – climbing year by year?

Take California's ten-year anniversary of the "Three Strikes and You're Out" law earlier this year. The law was supposed to take care of the "worst of the worst," but it has been bad news all the way around. Men and women have gotten life sentences for shoplifting, for repeat petty offenses, and out of the very nature of their persistent and untreated drug habits. By the end of 2003, it had cost the cash-strapped state about $8.1 billion in incarceration costs.

When the Justice Policy Institute decided to take an even closer look at the situation in a March 2004 report, Still Striking Out, they found something that made my head reel. The African American incarceration rate for Three Strikes was no less than 12 times higherthan that of European Americans.

This is the kind of thing we need to be looking at. We need to look so hard into this that we actually figure out that there's a serious problem at hand. That we're playing with people's lives, breaking apart families (did you know that there are at least 1.5 million kids out there with parents in prison?), and, in essence, guaranteeing intergenerational cycles of crime and imprisonment. There's nothing like serious family instability to guarantee a kid's likelihood of ending up in trouble. Anyone who works in the "system" will tell you that, regardless of where they stand on the issue of prison expansion.

But by their own admission, many of the editors I work with say that while the over-incarceration of African Americans is something they genuinely care about, they're having to push these kinds of "social issues" to the backburner. After all, we've got body bags coming back from Iraq, a November election to see if Bush can actually win (not steal) the presidency, and a budgetary deficit that has entered the realm of the surreal. All true, I know.

But while we wait to see how the elections shake out, another few thousand African-American men get thrown behind bars. Another few thousand get released with a few dollars and a whole heap of shame, anger and alienation trailing behind them (if you're still under the impression that prison generally rehabilitates the people who get sentenced, I'd encourage you to spend just an hour talking with a former prisoner about what they really "learned" under lock-and-key).

There's an inherent challenge in writing about these realities. People assume that I'm a bleeding-heart liberal who romanticizes the plight of prisoners. As someone who has sat face-to-face with child molesters, murderers and rapists – and as someone who has been victimized herself – I can tell you that is not the case. The thing is that I can see people as more than the nature of their crime, which is what gives me the ability to do this work in the first place.

But why, people frequently ask about my work, do you focus on people of color in prison so much? White people go to prison too, you know!

And these people are right about one thing: European Americans do go to prison. In many states, they're actually still the majority of people in prison. The fact is that many European-American men and women are unjustly imprisoned and harshly sentenced, and suffer degradations and cruelties that most Americans would be shocked to learn about (if only the mainstream press paid as much attention to them as to Abu Ghraib). Consequently, I write about them with as much passion as I write about anyone else who suffers an injustice in the criminal justice system, whether that's an European-American prison guard, a Native American chaplain, or a gay prisoner sold into sexual slavery.

For me, it's a question of numbers and probability. And when the probability of a black man going to prison looks the way it looks right now, it's something that I'm more than likely to pay a hell of a lot of attention to, regardless of what news magazines or newspapers are interested in printing.

This is a crisis, people. An absolute crisis on a national scale that deserves every bit as much attention as the war we're fighting overseas. Because this is a war, of sorts, of our own. It's a drug war; a war on crime gone awry; a twisted war on poverty that targets the poor for their choice to survive by the means that they have at their disposal. We don't need to make excuses. We don't need to look the other way when real crimes are committed. We don't need to romanticize the plight of prisoners to get it through our heads that the prison industrial complex has absolutely spiraled out of control.

We're blind if we don't see what all of this is adding up to: Prisons are the new plantation.

And this is a kind of bondage we've never seen before, with repercussions we're only beginning to grasp.

The Case for Edwards

If it's true that John Kerry has narrowed his vice presidential choice down to Dick Gephardt and John Edwards, he should pick Edwards.

Although his emergence as the best stump speaker came too late for him to win either Iowa or New Hampshire, Edwards was a popular and dynamic campaigner who built a strong following last winter during the Democratic primaries. By early March, when Kerry had locked down the nomination, I was convinced that Edwards would make a superb running mate.

After hearing Democratic pollster Celinda Lake's presentation at the Take Back America conference last month, I am even more certain of Edwards' value to the Democratic ticket, because the North Carolina senator is both Kerry's safest and most aggressive pick all rolled into one.

A Safe Bet

During the primaries, Edwards refined his message and presentation to near perfection. Seeing him up-close for the first time at a small event in Iowa Falls last January, it was obvious how well Edwards connects with audiences, especially in close, personal settings. His charms derive in no small part from his country-lawyer style and uplifting biography.

Plus, as I remarked from Iowa at the time, Edwards fixed the problems with Al Gore's ambiguous "people v. the powerful" message from 2000 by offering a purer dichotomy with his own, "two Americas" theme. Whereas some suburban professionals were understandably unclear as to which side of Gore's people/powerful divide they resided, Edwards's seamless version left no ambiguity: You are either among that select group of Americans with the luxury of fancy tax lawyers and special shelters when April 15 rolls around each year, or you suffered under the tax rules that apply to "everybody else"; you either had private insurance and access to the best specialists in the country, or you grappled with the spiraling costs and administrative hassles so familiar to "everybody else." And so on.

Because he energized a larger bloc of devotees than any other candidate save Howard Dean, Edwards is also generally acceptable to wide swaths of the center-left Democratic community. If reports about Kerry's private conversations with some labor leaders are accurate, even Rep. Gephardt's incomparable labor credentials are no hurdle to Kerry picking his fellow senator over Gephardt (labor wants to win as badly as any other constituency in the "anybody but Bush" movement). Edwards' Democratic Leadership Council credentials, coupled with his courageous anti-poverty themes, make him exactly the sort of pan-ideological ambassador who can repair any residual, center-left tensions with the Democratic Party (that is, beyond the helpful contributions of a certain 43rd president).

If Edwards actually entered the 2004 presidential race to position himself for the vice presidency this year or another presidential bid later, his plan worked. He not only sharpened his campaign skills, but in the process essentially vetted himself among both the media and party regulars. Though Kerry will lose the extra boomlet of attention that would attend a "surprise" veep pick, Edwards remains Kerry's best pick precisely because he is the safest bet.

An Aggressive Pick, Too

Yet, especially in terms of political geography and demography, Edwards would also be a very aggressive pick.

As fellow Gadflyer David Lublin and I argued in the American Prospect last February, the North Carolinian would be a superb asset to the Democratic ticket in swing states outside the South that will decide the outcome. Because key suburban and rural constituencies within border and Midwestern states like Ohio, West Virginia, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri bear striking similarities to constituencies south of the Mason-Dixon Line, Edwards can help Kerry swing undecided voters with southerly sensibilities in these states.

What Lublin and I wrote still applies: "Edwards' greatest asset is that he has the legitimacy to persuade voters in these states to focus on economic issues instead of the social and cultural wedge issues upon which Bush hopes people will cast their votes...His biography also gives him greater credibility in delivering the more subtle message that socially conservative whites ought to be thinking about kitchen-table economic issues."

Celinda Lake's survey findings offer further validation of Edwards' demographic appeal to important constituencies that will decide the election.

Lake identifies five "Republican opportunity" groups – that is, five demographic groups that lean Republican but are potentially winnable by the Democrats this year. They are (with share of total electorate in parentheses): devout Catholics (9 percent); white married moms (10); older, white blue-collar men (10); white post-graduate men (6); rural white women (12).

Whether Kerry's Catholicism is help or hindrance, the first GOP opportunity subgroup is his alone to win or lose. But Edwards' style and story could lure key segments of the other four groups to the Democratic ticket in sufficient numbers to push Kerry over the top in key states. To wit:

- Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, are ambassadors ideally suited to approach suburban, white wives because, aside from his trail lawyer background, the Edwards family typifies the modern, exurban family that is leaning ever more Republican;

- The senator's stories about how he paid his way for school emptying tractor trailers in 100-degree heat allow him to connect with blue-collar men striving to make a better life for themselves and their children;

- As a still-young professional, Edwards can explain to successful white male professionals why conservative policies used to appeal to them are deceptive, shortsighted distractions from the more truly future-oriented education and investment programs to which conservatives mostly pay lip service; and

- Finally, with his southern and bootstrap biography, Edwards can bring to rural American audiences his personal experiences, rather than mere platitudes, in ways few politicians can.

Notice, too, the gender specificity of these persuadable groups. As Lake points out (to great laughter from audiences), 73 percent of husbands say their wives will vote the same way they will, yet only 49 of their wives say the same about their husbands. There's a growing disconnect within households, even rural households – a tension that John and Elizabeth Edwards, especially in tandem, could be very useful in exploiting.

The New Big Dog

Asked by CNN's Larry King last week whether he had any advice on running mates for Kerry, former president Bill Clinton demurred. But Clinton noted the obvious: That as the only presidential decision a challenger gets to make, Kerry's choice of running mate will be scrutinized as an important indicator of his leadership capacity.

There is some scuttlebutt in Washington about Kerry either not liking Edwards, or worrying that the more junior senator will somehow eclipse him. (Sidebar: Let not Ralph Nader's recommendation last week that Kerry pick Edwards be disregarded on account of its source.) I suspect the rumors about Kerry's wariness toward Edwards are based more on conjecture than fact. But even if true, Kerry would impress fellow Democrats, his media detractors, and at least one former president – not to mention he'd prove himself a New Big Dog who is unfazed by petty grievances – by picking Edwards.

Because Edwards, who is simultaneously the safest and most aggressive pick, is Kerry's best option.

Bush Downsizes Small Business

"I love to be in the presence of entrepreneurs and small business owners and dreamers and doers," President Bush recently told a crowd in Appleton, Wisconsin. Indeed, small business is a staple of Bush's rhetoric � whether the subject is taxes, regulation, or health care, you can count on him to cite helping small businesses as a justification for whatever policy he's touting.

The President frequently uses a small business as a backdrop for his political events, and he talks a good game about their importance to our economy and society. After all, more than half of all private sector workers are employed by small businesses. The small businessperson is supposed to embody the qualities that drive the American economy: hard work, risk-taking, and a perfect combination of independence and community-centeredness. And these are the qualities Bush wants Americans to believe he honors.

But what has stayed under the radar, for the most part, is the fact that the Bush Administration has been no friend of America's small businesses.

One of President Bush's early actions was to demote from his cabinet the head of the Small Business Administration (SBA), a position that was elevated to cabinet-level status under President Clinton. Meanwhile, much of the Bush cabinet has been made up of leaders from many of America's largest corporations.

Given how Bush has treated the SBA and its loan programs, it isn't surprising that he demoted its chief. In May of 2001, the Washington Post reported that the administration was seeking to slash the SBA budget by 40 percent. More significantly, it planned to eliminate a $144.5 million appropriation for a small business loan guaranty program and impose higher fees for certain borrowers. It took a bi-partisan effort in Congress to save funding for this program, which is the single-largest source of small business capital in the nation.

This pattern would be repeated in subsequent budgets, and this year is no different. The President has proposed slashing the overall SBA budget next year by 10 percent, including eliminating the Microloan program. This loan program is geared toward very small businesses and the self-employed � frequently women and minorities. Overall, Bush has cut the agency's budget by 25 percent since taking office.

So Bush says one thing and does another. What's new?

Nothing, of course. But a more relevant question is this: Why hasn't John Kerry made an issue of out of Bush's treatment of small businesses? Small businesses, which the SBA defines as those with fewer than 500 employees, make up 99.7 percent of the United States' 22.9 million businesses. They also generate 60 percent to 80 percent of new jobs each year, Newsday reported in March.

Kerry would seem to have the credentials to speak on the subject. He is the ranking Democrat on the Senate's Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. Yet, Kerry's most recent floor statement on small business posted on his Senate web site is two years old. And the last time he posted a press release on the subject was in February 2003. In addition, small businesses are not among the "Kerry Communities" listed on his campaign's web site (although he does have a page on the site devoted to small business).

More significantly, it's becoming increasingly clear that Kerry will have to have to adopt a more aggressive economic message to combat Bush's claims of a warming economy (the Labor Department reported on June 4 that the economy added 216,000 new jobs in May).

For progressive advocates, Kerry's relative silence toward the 23 million Americans who own small businesses is perplexing.

"It seems natural that Kerry would try to appeal to small business, and try to speak to and for them," said Joel Marks, executive director of the American Small Business Alliance. "America loves small business because it is the heart and soul of our communities and our economy. Also, for women and minorities, it's the most accessible path to the American Dream. Bush has dumped on them from nearly day one of his administration. Kerry has a solid background and voting record, and he easily could step in and make himself their champion."

But we haven't heard anything yet.

Not So Keene

Will George W. Bush suffer defections from his conservative base this fall?

Fret not, says American Conservative Union president David Keene, in his recent essay published in The Hill: Unlike with his father 12 years ago, conservatives will stand firmly behind this President Bush.

"There was no talk of a primary protest against the current president this year for the simple reason that, while we might oppose such things as his Medicare prescription drug program and believe he could do far more to cut government spending, few believe he's abandoned us or the principles we like to believe we represent," Keene writes. "No president is perfect, but most conservatives believe that this is one who deserves another term."

That's right, Mr. Keene. Or more aptly, that's the Right -- willing to compromise on niggling matters of principle, like small government and fiscal responsibility, in the interest of the broader conservative agenda of...well, what, exactly?

Conservative crack-up

The indictment that any true conservative could issue against Bush is manifold. Let's take a quick timeout to examine the bill of particulars, including as it does the following:

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Cautious Kerry and Bull-Headed Bush

Although the press has lately been fascinated by the fact that there appear to be only minor differences between what President Bush and John Kerry would do in Iraq over the next year or two, few would argue that the distinctions between the candidates are not substantial, on issues from health care to taxes to the environment.

But there is another critical difference, one that affects every issue and may have a greater effect on how we will ultimately compare their presidencies, should Kerry win in November. It's the most striking contrast in their personal and political styles. Depending on your perspective, Kerry is fearful, cautious, careful or considered. Bush, on the other hand, is decisive, resolute, bull-headed, or reckless.

As I have argued before, Bush's greatest strength and greatest weakness is that his has, in many ways, been a fearless presidency. The public was lukewarm toward the idea of tax cuts, particularly ones targeted largely at the wealthy, but Bush pushed them through Congress anyway. Anyone without ideological blinders on could have seen that invading and occupying Iraq would at best be difficult and costly and at worst an utter disaster, but Bush forged ahead nonetheless. When asked the biggest mistake he has made, Bush couldn't come up with one.

And it shouldn't have been too much of a surprise. Just before his inauguration, Fox News' Brit Hume told Bush that Democrats were suggesting that given the way he took office, he should reach across the aisle and govern from the center. Bush's response: "Too bad." He has governed as if he won a 49-state landslide and had a mandate for major change.

This isn't to say that the Bushies' endless assertions that they don't care about polls are true; they aren't (no one knows exactly how much they've spent on polling since he took office, but estimates are in the millions). And it doesn't mean that Bush is above retracting a policy proposal if it falls flat with the public (heard him mention the manned mission to Mars lately?). But on the big issues, Bush decides what he wants to do and does it. Not only does he not care what those who disagree think, he doesn't even want to hear it. When asked what he thought of the enormity of the protest against war with Iraq (as far as anyone knows, the single largest organized protest in human history), Bush said, "You know, size of protest, it's like deciding, well, I'm going to decide policy based upon a focus group." Bush has said he doesn't read newspapers, because "The best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world." Safe in his cocoon, Bush never has to consider that anyone might have a different view.

As for John Kerry, he is, if anything, too concerned about what those who disagree with him think (perhaps a remnant of his days as a debate champion, where understanding your opponents' case is critical to success). The Bush campaign's endlessly repeated charge that Kerry is a "flip-flopper" is not exactly on the mark, and not just because they apply it to everything Kerry says or does ("A Bush aide today charged that Kerry's breakfast of eggs and bacon was an obvious flip-flop, since he had corn flakes the day before. 'John Kerry can't even be consistent on what he eats,' said the spokesman.").

The problem isn't flip-flopping, the problem is that on the most contentious issues, Kerry's impulse seems to be to articulate his position in such a way that it isn't always easy to tell where he stands. That doesn't mean he doesn't have strong feelings; it's more a matter of the way he articulates them, in sentences full of subordinate clauses that lay out the other side's case and offer far too much context. Perhaps Kerry is like a chess master, thinking four or five moves ahead, or perhaps he is governed by fear. It's impossible for outside observers to know.

In a way, this particular kind of caution is admirable and prudent; Kerry acknowledges that the other side may have a point, and that things may not turn out as he'd like them to. If that had occurred to President Bush, he might have encouraged the Pentagon to give some thought to the possibility that U.S. troops wouldn't be welcomed in Iraq with flowers, and fewer of those troops might have died.

But Kerry's caution emerges on issues large and small, like his vote to give President Bush the authority to invade Iraq, which he followed immediately with statements critical of the President's moves (thereby allowing him to say "I was right" no matter the outcome), to his post-September 11 adjustment of his longtime opposition to the death penalty.

In the latter case, Kerry has modified his stand to say that he now supports the death penalty for terrorists. One can accept the change by offering the somewhat tired if true cliché that September 11 changed everything. But there is an alternative theory, that as he prepared his run for the presidency, visions of Willie Horton danced in Kerry's head, and he foresaw (correctly no doubt) Republican ads saying, "John Kerry opposes the death penalty - even for Osama bin Laden." They can't run those ads now.

We see the results of Bush's lack of fear - the endless quagmire of Iraq, record deficits, Washington gripped by the bitterest partisanship anyone can remember. All this from a man who campaigned by saying he was "a uniter, not a divider," and wanted a "humble" foreign policy. So it's hard to know what implications Kerry's campaign style has for his potential presidency.

Kerry is spending a lot of time these days talking about how strong he is. But at the same time, he's still stepping carefully. With Bush growing more unpopular by the day as he reaps what his fearlessness sowed, Kerry's caution may be enough to get him to the White House.

Chasing the Latino Vote

While talking heads bray about whether Tecate's "Finally, a cold Latina" slogan is offensive or complimentary, a far more important national campaign to gain market share among Latinos has been underway for several months now.

But the New Democrat Network's "Hispanic project" is not targeted to changing what beer Latinos are drinking. Rather, NDN's new outreach program is focused on the partisan commitments of the nation's largest ethnic group, and what they are thinking.

Since December, NDN has been saturating Latino communities in four battleground states with a series of television ads, in both English and Spanish, aimed at instilling or reinforcing Democratic support among the ethnic voting bloc that everyone from NDN president Simon Rosenberg to Bush political adviser Karl Rove believes can break the current partisan deadlock.

"This is not about reaching out to an ethnic minority group," says Rosenberg, matter-of-factly. "This is about building a national party majority."

Rosenberg founded NDN in 1996 as part of the third-way political movement fostered by Bill Clinton. And although the Latino community surely was part of the original calculus of a new progressive politics, the niche that NDN has recently carved out for itself with this project is as visionary as it is surprising to many who viewed NDN as an informal, fundraising adjunct of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.

Rosenberg's efforts are bolstered by the contributions of top NDN strategists Maria Cardona and Gil Meneses, with polling support from Sergio Bendixen. This formidable cadre sees an opportunity to mobilize and persuade a good chunk of the two million Latinos who live in Arizona, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico.

Indeed, their survey research has shown that a majority of Latinos in these four states not only get their political information from Spanish-language media (from an estimated 54 percent of New Mexicans to a stunning 80 percent of Floridians), but that roughly two of every five Latinos are still persuadable.

The reason, Cardona explains, is political socialization. Much like the trend underway in white, suburban middle-class communities, many Latino families in the last two generations have simply failed to socialize their children into partisan politics (the obvious, notable exception to the declining political socialization in the United States in the last half-century is the African American community, which puts MLK photos over the mantle the way grandma used to put up FDR photos).

As a result, notes Cardona, there are at best weak political associations and partisan attachments exhibited by recently-immigrated Latinos, or first-generation children who have reached or are approaching voting age. Unlike an older generation that can "remember the farm movement and Cesar Chavez," the newer generations comprise the swing subset within the Latino community. The ads are thus targeted at them.

Some of the NDN ads tout issues, especially education. Others introduce the current generation of rising Latino politicians, such as U.S. Representatives Bob Menendez and Loretta Sanchez. Still others are geared toward older voters with memories of Democratic presidents Jimmy Carter, John Kennedy and even Franklin Roosevelt. (When was the last time you saw a political ad showing a picture of FDR?) In another ad, a pre-teen Latina asks the President why he broke the "promesas" he made in 2000.

According to Bendixen's before-and-after surveys, the campaign is working. The partisan identification and issue-trust ratings for Latinos in Las Vegas, where NDN has run these ads, far outstrip gains made in Reno, where NDN has thus far been dark (some partisan movement over the past few months is attributable to external factors, most notably the President's waning approval numbers). Ditto for partisan movement in Albuquerque (live) relative to Sante Fe (dark).

Bendixen claims that Orlando Puerto Ricans made a net partisan swing of 27 percentage points in just over four months, a change that could have a huge impact. In his profile of Jeb Bush, the New Yorker's William Finegan reported recently that South Florida's bloc of Cuban Republicans, upon which the President's re-election depends, is showing some signs of defection.

In 2000, says Bendixen, the Bush campaign outspent Al Gore by a 5:1 margin in Spanish-language media. NDN is determined not to let that happen again: In addition to the ad buys thus far, the organization plans to raise and spend another $5 million between now and the election to blanket the new markets and reinforce in places where they have already been advertising.

As I have written previously, although the Southwest does not have as many electoral votes as the Southeast (yet), the increasing competitiveness of southwestern states make it the emergent swing region.

Indeed, look at presidential results. George H. W. Bush carried Nevada and Arizona by more than 20 percentage points in 1988; combining Ralph Nader's votes with Gore's, just three cycles later, Bush 43 carried these two states by a whisker. New Mexico went consecutively for Richard Nixon twice, Gerald Ford once, Ronald Reagan twice, and George H.W. Bush once, before the Democrats carried it during each of the past three elections. If John Kerry can hold the Gore states and pick up just Arizona (which now has two more electors), he can win the White House.

Latinos will comprise an estimated nine percent of the 2004 electorate, a share that will rise as this still-young ethnic bloc matures and expands as a share of the voting-age population. Rosenberg and NDN are paying attention, moving pro-actively to persuade there-for-the-partisan-taking Latino swing voters.

This Is Your Government on Drugs

It sounds a bit like the answer to one of those old late night, "so whatever happened to..." questions. Tommy Chong, 65-year-old grandfather, the lesser-known half of the goofy late-70s burnout comedy duo Cheech and Chong, was convicted of the illegal sale of drug paraphernalia over the Internet (i.e. he marketed a line of glass bongs). In a bit of priceless comedic irony, the investigation was code-named Operation Pipe Dreams. Chong was sentenced to 9 months in prison on the second anniversary of September 11.

Chong, with no prior arrests, is an unlikely figure to wind up in prison for rarely enforced paraphernalia laws. However, much to his misfortune, he does have one asset that the Bush administration's Justice Department covets in spades. He's got a high profile. Chong's takedown was meant to send a message to every stoner in America. Dude, you cannot wink at The Man.

Even as issues like Iraq, gay marriage and the environment command greater attention, the Bush administration has renewed the war on drugs. In this faith-based administration, the drug war is the ur-"values" war, the blueprint for the conservative kulturkampf. In fact, the drug war is even more ancient than most people realize. Temperance as a movement emerged in the early 1800's as drinking, previously considered healthful and a basic component of life, was identified with social disorder. It quickly became an issue of hearth, home and morality.

Long before Bill Bennett gambled away his virtue book profits and before Richard Nixon, the first President to proclaim a "war on drugs," was born, the battle between the Wets and Drys was a defining political issue in America. From the 1880s until the end of prohibition, Americans endured fifty years of pitched battle over the drug alcohol. It's worth remembering that the drug war gave us not one but two Constitutional amendments: one banning alcohol, then another un-banning it. Despite alcohol's decisive win, or rather because of it, the battle moved to other fronts.

In 2000, no sane person following drug policy would have suggested that within three years Tommy Chong would be imprisoned for selling paraphernalia. The trends of the 90s were decidedly favorable for reform. Between 1996 and 2000, voters passed 17 reform-oriented ballot initiatives on subjects as diverse as medical marijuana, limiting asset forfeiture abuse, and treatment instead of incarceration. New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, a Republican, called for legalization of marijuana and ultimately passed a range of reform measures. According to the Drug Policy Alliance (where I was formerly the director of National Affairs), 46 states passed 150 notable drug policy reforms between 1996 and 2002. Countries throughout the world, including close allies such as Britain and Australia began to experiment with reform, often going much farther than the U.S. without appearing to suffer especially ill effects.

As a candidate for President, George W. Bush looked rather moderate on drug issues. In October of 1999, he answered a question from CNN about medical marijuana by stating that "I believe each state can choose that decision as they so choose." Later, after his election, he said "I think a lot of people are coming to the realization that maybe long minimum sentences for first-time users may not be the best way to occupy jail space and/or heal people from their disease." However, the arc of the drug war under Bush veered towards emphasizing morality and punitive policies within months of his inauguration.

Bush Gives Drugs to the Far Right

Drug Czar John Walters is perhaps the key element in this equation. In the 1980s, Walters served as an Assistant to then-Secretary of Education Bill Bennett and then as Bennett's chief of staff at ONDCP when Bennett became the first cabinet-level drug czar. Walters left ONDCP in 1993 and became a bitter critic of President Clinton's drug policies. Prior to his return as ONDCP's director, he solidified his standing in Republican circles as the President of the Philanthropy Roundtable, a far right-wing non-profit funded by the Olin, Scaife and Bradley Foundations and the New Citizenship Project, whose goal is to promote religion in public life. Thus, he is not a neo-con but more of an old-line Bill Bennett values maven. Walters is in touch with his inner kulturkampfer.

Bennett and Walters had long sought platforms from which to force national discussion about character and values. Although the drug czar does not command any actual police forces, it is a cabinet-level position that is not only tasked with creating the national drug strategy but also has some ability to force other cabinet officials to participate in the strategy. Walters was a particularly hard critic of Clinton's drug policies, co-authoring blistering articles for the Heritage Foundation and the Washington Times accusing Clinton of "abandoning" the war on drugs. The articles call for a renewed war on drugs by using the presidential bully pulpit to get an anti-drug message out, stepped up use of the military for interdiction efforts, highlighting the deterrent effects of harsh mandatory minimum sentences, forcing source countries to reduce export of drugs and use of drug testing in treatment.

As drug czar, Walters has enacted his calls for a renewed drug war by emphasizing drug use as a moral issue and by "pushing back" against perceived cultural permissiveness. He has used his bully pulpit to force discussion of drugs into a black/white, us-against-them paradigm, a paradigm to which the concept of war is already well suited. As a result, the major drug initiatives of the Bush administration have taken on a distinctly combative flavor. For example, in the first year following September 11, Walters repeatedly sought to link the drug war to the war on terrorism in taxpayer funded advertising and elsewhere. Indeed, the administration appears to view drug users as one element of a fifth column, a component of the axis of evil inside the U.S.

As part of his efforts to push back against his perception of a countercultural message favoring drugs, Walters has worked to eliminate any visible manifestation of drug culture. Thus, there can be no relaxation of any drug law for any purpose, including use as medicine. As a result, there is a renewed effort to root out physicians who prescribe higher levels of opiates than some of their peers, despite widespread acknowledgement that the American medical establishment routinely undertreats pain. This may also explain the otherwise puzzling use of precious space in Bush's State of the Union address in January to discuss steroids. It's a visible, highly talked-about manifestation of drug-related culture.

Walters has also made good on his desire to invigorate interdiction efforts overseas. In Colombia, the U.S. is now giving aid to help the government shoot down airplanes suspected of smuggling drugs. In 2001, this type of shoot first and ask questions later policy resulted in the deaths of a missionary and her daughter in Peru. Last year, the U.S. spent nearly $600 million in military aid in Colombia, including tacit endorsement of paramilitary units, despite the Columbian government's poor human rights record. Unfortunately, reporting on Colombia is almost non-existent in the wake of the war in Iraq.

Similarly, Walters is intent on ending drug policy experimentation in the states, a decidedly non-conservative position. He has sought to roll back popular medical marijuana laws in the nine states that have passed them. He also directly opposed drug reform ballot initiatives in 2002 by traveling to, and directing taxpayer funded ads to, states where drug reform initiatives are on the ballot. In a similar vein, the DEA conducted raids on most of the major medical marijuana cooperatives in California, resulting in the arrests of patients suffering from cystic fibrosis, cancer and other ailments. Finally, this pushback really does seem to be about a fifth column in the culture war. Thus Tommy Chong isn't merely a paraphernalia dealer, he is a personification of the 70s -- and think how gratifying it must have been to imprison the 70s.

In the meantime, Democrats have found it hard to articulate their interests in drug policy and at ONDCP. Why? The framework of the "drug war" is a trap. If, instead of a "war" it was an "effort to minimize dangers from pharmaceutical, alcohol, nicotine and other psychoactive drugs" -- if, say, we emphasized health outcomes instead of "fighting a war" -- it is very likely that rather than building jails and prisons we would stress health and education. The U.S. now has the highest incarceration rate of documented prisoners in the world, outstripping even China and Russia. And nearly half of all those in federal prisons are serving time for drug crimes. In the meantime, it has been estimated that almost half of those who need treatment for drugs can't get it.

How the Democrats Can Get a Handle on Drug Policy

Democrats need to find a way to begin to step out of the trap of the "drug war." Although all too many Democrats are enthusiastic practitioners of the drug war, some are beginning to reevaluate the issue. For instance, Congressman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) was a confirmed drug warrior in the 80's, but after years of his Harlem constituents being convicted and sentenced to hard time upstate, he has spoken out about overreliance on incarceration, introducing a series of bills to reduce sentencing disparities in crack cocaine.

Representative Rangel's turnaround on sentencing is a good example of how the Democrats can begin to change the conversation. They need to tell the real stories of the real people affected by our drug policies. Kemba Smith is an African American woman who, stuck in a controlling relationship with her college boyfriend, ended up playing a marginal role in her abuser's drug crimes. Eventually, despite neither actually using nor selling drugs, she was convicted under conspiracy laws of all the crimes of his gang. Under mandatory minimum laws, she received 24 and a half years, a longer sentence than manslaughter in many jurisdictions. She was eventually freed after 6 years when President Clinton commuted her sentence in 2000. Women, especially African American women, are now the fastest growing segment of the prison population. Like Kemba, they often play a minimal role in a conspiracy but have little information to bargain with authorities. African Americans already know Kemba's story, but white America doesn't have a clue. She's articulate and smart. It would be interesting to see her onstage at the Democratic convention.

When Americans talk about drugs in the context of pain management, they express far more nuanced views than our current dialogue allows. The baby boomers are getting ready to retire just as the DEA has announced a war on oxycontin, vicodin and other drugs used with little harm by millions to control pain. Certainly they will be ready for a more subtle dialogue. For the same reason, medical marijuana garners up to 80% approval in some recent polls. Americans intrinsically understand its potential benefits as a last resort in helping people to find relief from the pain of cancer or other diseases.

In addition, people convicted of drug crimes face a set of invisible punishments beyond prison. They lose access to housing and needs assistance, they are often forbidden from receiving licenses. In one state, they cannot receive a license to be a hairdresser. A particularly self-defeating law prevents people convicted of drug crimes from receiving federal grants or even loans for higher education. Education is the most likely indicator that an individual will not recidivate.

In the meantime, parents are screaming for assistance at the community level. There are parents who have lost their houses and their jobs in the process of trying to get their kids into decent alcohol or drug treatment. HIV is resurgent in America, and intravenous drug users, their spouses and children are at particular risk. Study after study has shown that syringe exchange coupled with education can slow the transmission of HIV. Americans want to do the right thing on HIV. The lack of health care and the lack of substance abuse treatment (including the startling lack of most kinds of treatment other than 12-step treatment) is a national disaster. A clear, consistent, highly prioritized message by Democrats on this topic could work.

Democrats can also emphasize both the out of control costs of the criminal justice system and the failure to prioritize more serious crimes over drugs. They know that Tommy Chong is not a major threat to their kids and they cannot be happy that it will ultimately cost the government at least $18,000 to imprison him and many thousands more to prosecute him. Ultimately it is up to Democrats to free themselves from the straightjacket of John Walters' war for morality.

As for Tommy Chong? He'll get out of prison in July.

William McColl is an advocate and activist in Washington D.C.

No Laughing Matter

As you listen to journalists discuss the importance of late-night comedy programs, you would almost think Jennings, Brokaw, and Rather were in danger of being replaced by Leno, Letterman and Stewart.

"Scoff if you must, but the musings of Leno, David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Conan O'Brien may have as much to do with shaping the candidates' public personas as a ton of newspaper stories, magazine features and cable arguments," writes the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz. In 2000, Wolf Blitzer argued that there was "no doubt that all this comedy has an impact ... Elections are won and lost on public perceptions in that kind of popular culture." Entertainment Weekly described Jon Stewart as "a real world political agenda-setter" who would "help shape the young-adult ethos in a key election year."

But the people who actually produce the late-night shows aren't buying it. "The idea that somehow kids get their news from late-night television comedy is absurd," Jon Stewart told an audience of student journalists on a trip to the College of William and Mary in late 2002. Leno has argued that his jokes don't influence public opinion, but "reinforce what people already believe." Letterman told Al Gore's class at Columbia that he guessed that "very few votes were cast based on a joke that either [he] or Jay Leno made."

I recently made a trip to New York to interview The Daily Show's executive producer, Ben Karlin, and co-executive producer, Stewart Bailey. I asked Karlin about that old "party line," the one where they claim they can't influence public opinion because viewers need to have certain beliefs and knowledge to get the jokes in the first place.

After some nudging, Karlin conceded that the Daily Show might be a part of the larger information environment. "The whole thing about people getting their news and information from shows like ours is probably a smaller part of a larger trend of the fracturing of information," he explained, "In a small way, yeah, people do pick up a nugget of information -- in the same way that I'll read four or five newspapers a day and have CNN on and I won't necessarily know where I got a certain piece of information from. I understand that we're part of that information flow, but it's really hard to isolate that thing and say, 'OK, well here's the impact of that one thing.'"

Yet, Karlin maintained that shows like his do not influence public opinion. "The ability that we have to actually change people's minds on an issue or challenge conventional wisdom or public perception," he said, "I believe is virtually nonexistent."

So who's right here? Are late-night jokes merely a thermometer of public opinion or are they teaching people about the campaign and influencing public opinion in the process?

Don't You Know Anything?

Young people do report learning campaign information from these shows. The Pew Center for the People and the Press' latest report on the subject indicates that 21 percent of 18-29 year-olds report learning regularly about the campaign from comedy programs like Saturday Night Live and the Daily Show, compared to 6 percent of 30-49 year-olds and only 3 percent of people over 49. Meanwhile, 13 percent of 18-29 year-olds report learning regularly about the campaign from late-night shows like Leno and Letterman, compared to 7 percent of 30-49 year olds and 8 percent of people over 49. Granted, these results tell us only that young people thinkthey're learning something -- whether they really are is another question.

It is plausible that for people who don't know a lot about politics and don't watch the news, these shows could serve as an information surrogate. While monologue jokes do require people to know something, they don't require people to know all that much. Consider, for example, the following joke told by Jay Leno on Apr. 2:

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