The Carpetbagger Report

McCain Campaign Inadvertently Stirs Nerd Army

When the McCain campaign unveiled its now-infamous Spears/Hilton ad, the NYT's editorial board, like every other sensible political observer, criticized it. Michael Goldfarb, McCain's official in-house blogger, responded by comparing the Times' editors to "the average Daily Kos diarist sitting at home in his mother's basement and ranting into the ether between games of Dungeons & Dragons."

This week, after questions arose about the veracity of a McCain anecdote from his days as a prisoner of war, Goldfarb went back to the well.
It may be typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd to disparage a fellow countryman's memory of war from the comfort of mom's basement, but most Americans have the humility and gratitude to respect and learn from the memories of men who suffered on behalf of others.

After the first insulting comment, Goldfarb backed away, while sticking to the vernacular: "If my comments caused any harm or hurt to the hard working Americans who play Dungeons & Dragons, I apologize. This campaign is committed to increasing the strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma scores of every American."

This led my friend Adam Serwer to raise an excellent point:

Why are Corporate Media Giving Fat Paychecks to Former Bush Aides?

I’m not surprised Dan Bartlett is going to one of the networks; I’m surprised Dan Bartlett didn’t go to one of the networks sooner. (via TP)
Former Counselor to President Bush, Dan Bartlett, has joined CBS News as a political analyst. Bartlett will provide on-air analysis on a variety of political issues, “including at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions and beyond,� according to the press release.
Said CBS News & Sports president Sean McManus, “We’re very pleased to have Dan Bartlett join our team. We now go into the final stages of this fascinating political season with two analysts � Dan and Joe [Trippi] � who have had unique and extensive hands-on experience in major political campaigns and government.�
This is the latest part of a strange phenomenon of rewarding the Bush gang with high-profile opportunities at major media outlets. The Bush White House has been, for lack of a better word, a disaster for the country. From a journalistic perspective, these guys have been a nightmare � embracing almost comical levels of secrecy, propaganda, and media manipulation.

And yet, the moment presidential aides leave the West Wing, media outlets jump at the chance to put them on the payroll:

More McCain Plagiarism?

In December, when most of the leading presidential candidates were releasing holiday-themed ads, John McCain -- who's "reluctant" to talk about his service during Vietnam -- was able to combine two messages in a single campaign commercial: "One night, after being mistreated as a POW, a guard loosened the ropes binding me, easing my pain. On Christmas, that same guard approached me, and without saying a word, he drew a cross in the sand. We stood wordlessly looking at the cross, remembering the true light of Christmas."

It's a story McCain has not only put in his ads, but has also repeated for several years, including over the weekend, at the forum at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church.

Yesterday, however, questions arose about its veracity:

Corporate Media Get Another Injection of Conservative Commentators

CNN continues to add to its team of political commentators, and announced five new members of the team yesterday. Atrios posted the press release, which touted the network adding "five more top political reporters and commentators to its deep bench of political contributors and analysts."

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Group Headed by James Dobson Asks Christians to Pray for Rain at Obama Speech

As reported here over the weekend, James Dobson's Focus on the Family employs Stuart Shepard to make short, "clever" religious-right videos for the evangelical powerhouse. Shepard creates these videos regularly, and most of them are entirely forgettable.

Last week, however, Focus unveiled a new video, asking politically-conservative Christians to pray for rain on Aug. 28, in order to disrupt Barack Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Shepard called for "abundant rain, torrential rain ... flood-advisory rain." He adds, "I'm talking about umbrella-ain't-gonna-help-you rain ... swamp-the-intersections rain." Explaining why he wants everyone to pray for rain, Shepard explains, without a hint of humor, "I'm still pro-life, and I'm still in favor or marriage being between one man and one woman. And I would like the next president who will select justices for the next Supreme Court to agree."

In other words, Obama disagrees with the religious right on culture-war issues, so Focus on the Family wants God to smite Obama with rain. Got it.

Republican Lawmaker Wants Environmentalists to Know Jesus Has Already Saved the Planet

For a few months, I've been corresponding with a friend and regular reader, "Zeitgeist," who insists that Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) is, without a doubt, the single craziest member of the House of Representatives. I usually respond by pointing to Rep. Michele Bachmann, the infamous Minnesota Republican.

Given recent events, King is really going to have to pick up his game -- because Bachmann keeps getting further and further out there.

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McCain is Losing Veterans

A couple of months ago, Time magazine posed the question: "Does McCain Have a Vets Problem?" The question hardly fits into the existing media narrative -- John McCain is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War. He shouldn't, the argument goes, have any trouble winning over the support of other veterans.

But the narrative is incomplete, to put it mildly. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gave McCain a grade of D for his record of voting against veterans (Obama got a B+), while the Disabled Veterans of America gave McCain a 20% vote rating. The Vietnam Veterans of America compiled a list of key votes, and found McCain voted against the group's position 15 times and with the group eight times. (Obama, in contrast, voted with the VVA 12 times, and against it only once.)

With that in mind, when McCain went to Las Vegas over the weekend to speak to the Disabled American Veterans, perhaps it shouldn't have been too big a surprise that the presumptive Republican nominee received lukewarm support:

Obama Goes on the Offense on Energy

Last week, it seemed Barack Obama spent just about every day on the defensive. If today’s speech in Lansing, Mich., is any indication, it’s a new week.

“You won’t hear me say this too often, but I couldn’t agree more with the explanation that Senator McCain offered a few weeks ago. He said, ‘Our dangerous dependence on foreign oil has been 30 years in the making, and was caused by the failure of politicians in Washington to think long-term about the future of the country.’

“What Senator McCain neglected to mention was that during those 30 years, he was in Washington for 26 of them. And in all that time, he did little to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. He voted against increased fuel efficiency standards and opposed legislation that included tax credits for more efficient cars. He voted against renewable sources of energy. Against clean biofuels. Against solar power. Against wind power. Against an energy bill that — while far from perfect — represented the largest investment in renewable sources of energy in the history of this country. So when Senator McCain talks about the failure of politicians in Washington to do anything about our energy crisis, it’s important to remember that he’s been a part of that failure. Now, after years of inaction, and in the face of public frustration over rising gas prices, the only energy proposal he’s really promoting is more offshore drilling — a position he recently adopted that has become the centerpiece of his plan, and one that will not make a real dent in current gas prices or meet the long-term challenge of energy independence.

Is The Religious Right Losing Its Edge?

In January, Focus on the Family's James Dobson ruled out voting for John McCain, if he won the Republican nomination. "Speaking as a private individual, I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances," Dobson said in a statement. In February, just as McCain was wrapping up the GOP nod, Dobson reiterated that McCain was unacceptable.

As recently as April, Dobson told the WSJ, "I have seen no evidence that Sen. McCain is successfully unifying the Republican Party or drawing conservatives into his fold. To the contrary, he seems intent on driving them away." Dobson added that McCain has "written off" social conservatives.

And yet, Dobson has suddenly discovered that his hatred of McCain is not as intense as his hatred of Barack Obama.

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This Week in God

First up from the God machine this week is a poll that didn’t get a lot of attention, but was actually pretty important.

A Quinnipiac University national poll released on Thursday covered quite a bit of ground when it came to “culture war” issues, and perhaps most importantly given the recent campaign discussion, produced some interesting data on faith-based federal funding.

American voters support 53 - 41 percent giving money to faith-based organizations to help them run social programs. But voters say 77 - 16 percent groups which receive federal funds cannot discriminate by hiring only members of their own faith.

This is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, that 41% of Americans don’t want faith-based groups to get social-service grants is a surprisingly high number. There’s a perception, which I’ll admit to buying into on occasion, that these kinds of partnerships and contracts — which have been around for years — are overwhelmingly popular. A poll like this suggests there remains some discomfort about mixing church and state, which I find encouraging.

But that second part of the question is even more striking.

Former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow Dies at Age 53

Tony Snow, dead at age 53:

Conservative commentator and former White House press secretary Tony Snow has died of cancer, Fox News reported Saturday.
Snow, 53, was a broadcaster for Fox News Channel and Fox News Radio when he replaced Scott McClellan as President Bush’s press secretary in May 2006.
Snow served just 17 months as press secretary, a tenure interrupted by his second bout with cancer. He resigned as Bush’s chief spokesman six months later, in September 2007, citing a need to earn more money. He then joined CNN as a commentator.

It wouldn’t be fair of me to pretend that I valued Snow’s work; I’ve criticized him enough times to prove otherwise. But even as he misled reporters and the nation, I always found Tony Snow to be an affable, likable guy, who enjoyed politics as much as I do. Even more important, I always respected his courage and tenacity when dealing with his serious illness.

My condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.

McCain Thinks the Recession is All in Our Heads

Given economic conditions, the housing crisis, the energy market, dispiriting employment numbers, and the value of the dollar, you’d think the McCain campaign would be going to extraordinary lengths to show that John McCain a) recognizes the seriousness of the problem; and b) has a plan to help turn things around.

But that’s not quite the path the McCain campaign has chosen. Instead, the Republican presidential campaign has decided that the economy is really great, but Americans just aren’t smart enough to realize it.

Obama Outlines Faith-Based Agenda

The notion of the government contracting with religious ministries to provide social services is not, on its face, scandalous or unconstitutional. Groups like Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services have partnered with public officials for decades, almost always without incident. There have always been safeguards in place to protect church-state separation, the integrity of the ministry, and the rights of those who receive the benefits.

The safeguards were just common sense, and helped make these partnerships legal. Independent religious agencies, not churches themselves, handled the public funds. Tax dollars supported only secular programs, and no religious discrimination with public funds was permitted.

So what happened? George W. Bush decided he wanted to re-write the rules. His White House identified those safeguards and renamed them “barriers.” To protect the First Amendment and the interests of taxpayers, the president said, was to stand in the way of churches helping families in need. The safeguards, Bush insisted, had to be eliminated.

I was working at Americans United for Separation of Church and State when Bush was pushing this, and I worked specifically on this project. So, when I saw this AP feed this morning, I nearly fell out of my chair.

Reaching out to evangelical voters, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is announcing plans that would expand President Bush’s program steering federal social service dollars to religious groups and — in a move sure to cause controversy — support their ability to hire and fire based on faith.

Dick Cheney is a Barnacle on the Rotting Hull of the Executive Branch

Exactly one year ago tomorrow, the Office of the Vice President gave up on the notion that Dick Cheney isn’t really part of the executive branch. In the midst of an oversight fight regarding the handling of classified material, the OVP had made the absurd argument about Cheney’s branch, but on June 27, 2007, the Vice President’s team decided that was too ridiculous to keep repeating.

In fact, the next day, the NYT reported, “A White House official placed further distance from the dual role argument by adding that Mr. Cheney did not necessarily agree with it.�

So, all of this unpleasantness is behind us? We can finally agree that Cheney is the Vice President, and the Vice President is part of the executive branch? Apparently not. Cheney’s reclusive chief of staff, David Addington, told the House Judiciary Committee this afternoon that the VP is “attached� to the legislative branch.

The video shows Addington reading a 1961 memo describing the OVP as belonging “neither to the executive nor to the legislative branch.�
Addington refused to go into any additional detail, saying only that Cheney is “attached� to the legislative branch. When Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) suggested that would make the Vice President a “barnacle,� Addington, disgusted, said he didn’t “consider the Constitution a barnacle.�

Just as an aside, I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen any government official express the kind of contempt for Congress as I’ve seen from Addington today. Every response to every question is soaked in pure revulsion. I keep expecting him to spit at the members of the committee after every exchange.

But that aside, Addington’s argument about Cheney’s branch was silly when he first started pushing it, and it hasn’t improved with age.

Karl Rove advising McCain campaign

For several weeks, a variety of political observers, most notably ThinkProgress’ Amanda Terkel and Matt Corley, have highlighted Karl Rove’s connections to John McCain’s campaign. And for several weeks, Bush’s former chief strategist � the man the president affectionately calls “Turd Blossom� � has been arguing that there really isn’t a relationship.

Just a couple of weeks ago, George Stephanopoulos identified Rove as an “informal adviser� to McCain before an ABC News interview. Rove denied it, and when Stephanopoulos suggested that Rove offers the McCain camp advice and information, Rove would only concede to “chit chat� with the Republican presidential campaign.

Not surprisingly, there appears to be a little more to the relationship. Peter Stone writes in National Journal:

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Army Public Affairs Office Oversteps Its Bounds in Partisan Politics

In the coming issue of Joint Force Quarterly, an official military journal widely distributed among officers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff writes a welcome but unusual open letter to everyone who wears an Armed Forces uniform: stay out of the political arena during the election season.

“The U.S. military must remain apolitical at all times and in all ways,” wrote the chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, the nation’s highest-ranking officer. “It is and must always be a neutral instrument of the state, no matter which party holds sway.”

It’s good advice, and a good policy. If only the Army’s public affairs office had taken the Admiral’s advice. Phillip Carter has the story:

The Army’s public affairs office publishes a daily roundup of Army-related news called “Stand To” — named for the set of procedures combat units do just prior to dawn, when they go to full alert for a possible enemy attack. The daily wrap-up contains links to mainstream media articles, Army press releases, foreign media stories and blogs. It’s similar to the Defense Department’s Early Bird — but much briefer, and obviously more focused on the Army.

Tuesday’s edition contained an entry under “WHAT’S BEING SAID IN BLOGS” that struck me as unusual — both for its headline and its patent political bias: “Obama: World peace thru surrender (KDIHH)”

Comparing Obama and McCain on Taxes

Media efforts to minimize the differences notwithstanding, Barack Obama and John McCain couldn’t be much more different, especially on the issues of taxes.

The irony is, McCain, after his last presidential election, thought Bush’s trickle-down, class-warfare-style tax plan was ridiculous. “I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle-class Americans who most need tax relief,” McCain said in 2001.

Now, however, McCain is anxious to do precisely what he couldn’t in good conscience do before. Obama, meanwhile, is prepared to deliver for middle-class families and those at the lower end of the scale. The Washington-based Tax Policy Center crunched the numbers.

Both John McCain and Barack Obama promise to cut taxes for the majority of Americans. But an Obama administration would redistribute income toward lower- and middle-class households, while a McCain White House would steer the bulk of the benefits to the wealthiest families, according to a nonpartisan analysis of the still-evolving tax plans of the presidential candidates. […]

Under Sen. McCain, those in the middle — making between $66,354 and $111,645 — would see their after-tax income increase by 0.7%. The biggest benefit would flow to those in the top 0.1% — those with incomes above $2.8 million — who would see their after-tax income increase by 4.4%.

Sen. Obama skews his tax cuts toward the lower- and middle-end of the income scale. Those in the middle would see their after-tax income increase by 2.4% , or $1,042. Americans with incomes above $2.8 million would see their after-tax income decrease by 11.5%.

Obama Puts Lieberman on the Defensive with Challenges About Religion

Last week, in an eye-catching moment on the Senate floor, Barack Obama led Joe Lieberman to the back of the chamber and, according to one report, “engaged in what appeared to reporters in the gallery as an intense, three-minute conversation.” No one could hear the senators, but Roll Call noted the body language, and said Obama “leaned in very close at times, and appeared to be trying to dominate the conversation.”

Not surprisingly, a lot of us have been anxious to hear more about what, exactly, transpired. Newsweek quoted an anonymous campaign aide who said Obama “told Lieberman he was surprised by Lieberman’s personal attacks and his half-hearted denials of the false rumors that Obama is a Muslim.”

Lieberman’s office is not at all pleased. His spokesperson told the National Review:

“The anonymous Obama campaign staffer’s characterization of the private conversation was entirely false and fabricated.”
And an anonymous Lieberman staffer told Time’s Mark Halperin:

“If the Obama campaign thinks they are going to intimidate Joe Lieberman with these sleazy tactics then they are sorely mistaken.”
Given the context, I assume Lieberman’s aides were referring to the comments to Newsweek as “sleazy,” not Obama’s discussion with Lieberman on the Senate floor (which Lieberman’s office described as “a cordial and friendly discussion“).

Either way, we’re watching the end of Lieberman’s relationship with the Democratic Party. At this point, it’s a matter of “when,” not “if.”

Obama Backs Lieberman Against the Wall

Joe Lieberman, fully embracing his role as a Republican attack dog, took the lead in a GOP conference call this morning to attack Barack Obama’s Middle East policy. On the call, organized by far-right Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Lieberman argued, weakly, that Obama holds the U.S. responsible for Iran’s strength in the region.

“Senator Obama argued today that American foreign policy in recent years has essentially sort of strengthened Iran,” Lieberman said, adding, “If Israel is in danger today, it’s not because of American foreign policy, which has been strongly supportive of Israel in every way. It’s not because of what we’ve done in Iraq, it’s because Iran is a fanatical terrorist expansionist state.”

Obama, apparently, didn’t care for Lieberman’s comments, so much so that the Democratic presidential nominee confronted Lieberman directly on the Senate floor this afternoon. Subscription-only Roll Call reported:

[D]uring a Senate vote Wednesday, Obama dragged Lieberman by the hand to a far corner of the Senate chamber and engaged in what appeared to reporters in the gallery as an intense, three-minute conversation.

While it was unclear what the two were discussing, the body language suggested that Obama was trying to convince Lieberman of something and his stance appeared slightly intimidating.

Using forceful, but not angry, hand gestures, Obama literally backed up Lieberman against the wall, leaned in very close at times, and appeared to be trying to dominate the conversation, as the two talked over each other in a few instances.

What Does Hillary Want?

I was talking to some friends early last night, and they asked what I expected Hillary Clinton to do and say when she took the stage in NYC. At that point, it was already clear that Barack Obama had clinched the Democratic nomination, so it was really a matter of how Clinton would handle the end of a long, difficult process, and how Clinton would address coming this close to winning, before finishing just shy of her goal.

I was actually pretty confident that I knew exactly what Clinton would do. Just a few hours earlier, campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe, Clinton’s right hand man and enthusiastic surrogate, told a national television audience that once Obama reaches the magic number of 2,118 delegates, Clinton will “congratulate him and call him the nominee.” Well, Obama had reached and passed the threshold. The race was over. It was easy to imagine Clinton going out on a high note, reminding everyone of her class and dignity, and taking the initial steps to heal some wounds, rebuild some bridges, and bring like-minded allies back together.

But if Clinton has proved anything over the last 16 months of campaigning, it’s that she’s a fighter. And last night, the lights may have gone out on her presidential chances, but her drive to keep going anyway remains strong. Indeed, last night, Clinton’s remarks weren’t conciliatory, they were defiant.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton took the stage before supporters Tuesday night and finally asked the question that so many people had been posing: “What does Hillary want?”

She listed some policy goals and demanded respect for her supporters. But she did not really answer her own question, demurely suggesting instead that it was up to her backers to advise her by e-mail on what she should do next.

What the crowd gathered at Baruch College in Manhattan for her final primary night celebration wanted was clear, from those outside chanting “Denver, Denver,” urging her to go all the way to the party’s convention in August, to those inside interrupting her speech with shouts of “Yes, she will! Yes, she will!”

And while Mrs. Clinton reminisced about her campaign and talked of a need to unite the party, she did not concede, and indeed did not acknowledge that her rival, Senator Barack Obama, had passed the threshold of delegates needed to secure the nomination.
She personally posed the question: “What does Hillary want?” But once her speech was over, the answer to the inquiry was less than clear.

McCain Does Not Understand the Budget

The Up-Until-Recently John McCain took a fairly reasonable line on the federal budget. In 2001, this McCain saw Bush’s tax-cut plan as reckless and irresponsible, and voted accordingly. In 2003, the same McCain went in the same direction.

The New-and-Not-Improved McCain, of course, bears no resemblance to the Up-Until-Recently McCain, and has decided that Bush’s budget policies — you know, the ones that don’t work — are exactly what the nation needs four more years of. The difference, McCain says, is that he will take a firm stand against federal spending, unlike that careless scalawag in the White House now.

Jonathan Chait notes today that McCain is hopelessly confused.

[Y]ou know who else disagrees with George W. Bush on spending? George W. Bush. The president has been lamenting excessive spending for years now. Bush’s line is the same as McCain’s: The tax cuts are swell, but “[t]hat’s just one part of the equation. We’ve got to cut out wasteful spending.”

Actually, McCain is following the pattern of not just Bush but every Republican president since Ronald Reagan. Phase One is to enact tax cuts and promise that they’ll cause revenues to rise, or will cause revenues to fall (leading to spending cuts), or somehow both at once, so, either way, there’s no possibility that it will lead to deficits. Phase Two is deficits. Phase Three is to blame the deficits on big-spending congressional fat cats and to issue increasingly strident threats to cut expenditures, without going so far as to identify actual programs to cut.

Bush thinks the root of the problem is pork-barrel spending. McCain thinks the root of the problem is pork-barrel spending. Bush thinks a line-item veto would solve the trouble. McCain thinks a line-item veto would solve the trouble.

They’re both wrong, for identical reasons.

Corporate Executives Pressured Journalists on Iraq

Bill Moyers had a PBS special last year called, “Buying the War,” which included all kinds of fascinating insights on the journalistic malpractice at the nation’s major news outlets leading up to the war in Iraq. Most notably, Moyers pressed Walter Isaacson, former chairman and CEO of CNN, to explain what transpired. Isaacson noted there was “almost a patriotism police” after 9/11 and when the network showed civilian casualties it would get phone calls: “Big people in corporations were calling up and saying, ‘You’re being anti-American here.’”

The notion that corporate executives would lean on the executives at news networks was more than a little disconcerting. But it’s just as important to realize that journalists were also under pressure to deliberately sell the public a bill of goods.

Last night, CNN congressional correspondent Jessica Yellin made a startling concession on the air.

It’s not every day that a broadcast journalist at a major network acknowledges for a national audience that she was “under enormous pressure from corporate executives,” who later edited her pieces and pushed her in specific pro-war directions.

This is, by any measure, no small admission.

For those who can’t watch clips online, here’s the transcript of the relevant portion:

Obama Puts Veterans Benefits on the Front Burner

One of the week’s more contentious disputes came between Barack Obama and John McCain over benefits for the troops, highlighted by McCain’s opposition to a bipartisan expansion of the GI Bill. Obama questioned McCain’s priorities; McCain lost his cool and attacked Obama for not having served in the military; and the dispute got a little nasty.

But Obama isn’t backing down, and seems anxious to make this a key campaign issue.

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The Republicanification of Joe Lieberman

It’s funny, in a way. Every time Joe Lieberman gets more comfortable in the role of Republican attack dog, I think, “Well, now he’s done it. Lieberman couldn’t possibly get any worse.” And yet, the guy keeps finding new sharks to jump over.

It’s not that Lieberman has changed, necessarily, but rather it’s that his hackery has become more intense and bellicose. He’s gone from being a largely incoherent neocon to being a largely incoherent belligerent neocon.

Lieberman touches all the far-right bases in a spectacularly inane op-ed for the Wall Street Journal.

How did the Democratic Party get here? How did the party of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy drift so far from the foreign policy and national security principles and policies that were at the core of its identity and its purpose? […]

The reversal began, like so much else in our time, on September 11, 2001. The attack on America by Islamist terrorists shook President Bush from the foreign policy course he was on. He saw September 11 for what it was: a direct ideological and military attack on us and our way of life. If the Democratic Party had stayed where it was in 2000, America could have confronted the terrorists with unity and strength in the years after 9/11.

Instead a debate soon began within the Democratic Party about how to respond to Mr. Bush. I felt strongly that Democrats should embrace the basic framework the president had advanced for the war on terror as our own, because it was our own. But that was not the choice most Democratic leaders made. When total victory did not come quickly in Iraq, the old voices of partisanship and peace at any price saw an opportunity to reassert themselves. By considering centrism to be collaboration with the enemy – not bin Laden, but Mr. Bush – activists have successfully pulled the Democratic Party further to the left than it has been at any point in the last 20 years.
It’s as if Lieberman is living in some kind of Twilight Zone. After the attacks of 9/11, Democrats were on board with a unified, global counter-terrorism strategy. The problem came when the Bush gang — cheered on by McCain, Lieberman, and Bill Kristol — decided that the strategy needed to change, and it was time to go after Iraq.

The result is the Democratic Party further to the American mainstream on foreign policy and national security than at any point since the end of the Cold War.

Are We Ready for a New Policy on Cuba?

For a couple of generations, every major presidential candidate, from both parties, has taken the same position on U.S. policy towards Cuba: keep the status quo. The embargo needs to stay in place in order to “keep the pressure” on Castro. Any thawing in relations would be a victory for a brutal thug, and would enrage a powerful voting bloc (Cuban Americans) in a key electoral state (Florida).

With that in mind, no candidate has been willing to talk openly about a change. I distinctly remember in 2004 when Wesley Clark said in a debate he wanted a dramatic shake-up in the existing policy. “When you isolate a country, you strengthen the dictators in it,” Clark said. The next day, Clark’s campaign backpedaled, after aides heard from supporters in Miami.

This year, Chris Dodd and Barack Obama went out on a limb and said the status quo isn’t good enough, and had the audacity to point that the current policy doesn’t actually work. They no doubt expected Republicans to try to exploit this, but made the case anyway.

Dodd stepped aside in January, but Obama is poised to be the first Democratic candidate in a half-century to offer a real change when it comes to Cuba. Today, John McCain intends to smack him on it pretty hard in a speech in Miami.

In an indication that John McCain sees foreign policy as the best route to take on Barack Obama — and that he will take it frequently — McCain is set to roll out another tough attack, with a speech today to the Cuban community in Miami. At the rate things are going, the McCain camp will be hitting Obama on some new foreign policy point every day.

“Just a few years ago, Senator Obama had a very clear view on Cuba,” McCain will say, according to prepared excerpts, then quoting Obama saying that normalization of relations would improve conditions for the Cuban people.

“Now Senator Obama has shifted positions and says he only favors easing the embargo, not lifting it. He also wants to sit down unconditionally for a presidential meeting with Raul Castro. These steps would send the worst possible signal to Cuba’s dictators — there is no need to undertake fundamental reforms, they can simply wait for a unilateral change in US policy.”

McCain the Flip-Flopper

Soon after the president told the Israeli Knesset that Democrats are Chamberlain-like appeasers because Obama is prepared to talk to Iran (just as Bush’s own Defense Secretary and Secretary of State have recommended), John McCain jumped on the far-right bandwagon. Aboard his campaign bus, McCain told reporters Obama’s willingness to negotiate with rival heads of state reflects “naivete and inexperience and lack of judgment.�

As it turns out, however, two years ago, McCain was prepared to go even further than Obama. While Obama is willing to try diplomacy with Iran, McCain has expressed interest in possibly even negotiating Hamas.

Jamie Rubin, a former assistant secretary of state, the State Department’s chief spokesman during the Clinton administration, and an active supporter of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, has the story.

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How the Pentagon Media Machine Operated

It’s been nearly a month since the New York Times first reported on a Pentagon program in which retired military officers, who’ve since become lobbyists or consultants for military contractors, were recruited to become propaganda agents of the Bush administration. Throughout the war in Iraq, these retired officers — or “message multipliers,” as they were described by internal Defense Department documents — took on roles as military analysts for all of the major news networks, without noting their puppet-like relationships with the Pentagon.

Despite the media’s reluctance to even acknowledge the controversy’s existence, a Pentagon document dump has led to some revelations that make the controversy look even worse.

Faiz reported this gem earlier today:

In a Feb. 16, 2006 email exchange, Pentagon media staffers discussed coordinating with the Heritage Foundation to identify someone to speak about detainee treatment at Gitmo. An anonymous employee suggested retired Army Sergeant Major Steve Short because “he seems to be on message and very articulate.”

Pentagon public affairs official Allison Barber responded by warning that the DoD could not officially “endorse” one particular speaker over another. “Important to remember that heritage can invite anyone to present and that we don’t really have an opinion on anyone,” Barber wrote.

The anonymous author then suggested he or she might lie and pretend not to have ever heard of Short: “gasp. are you telling me to tell a lie???? surely not! ;)”
Hilarious. The “wink” emoticon certainly makes it seem as if intentional deception was not an uncommon occurrence.

Conservatives Doctor Gore Audio Clip

It sure would make political attacks easier if we could take interviews from people we don't like, rearrange their words to make them say what we want to hear, and then attack them for it. Sure, it would be deceptive and unethical, but just think how much more efficient smear campaigns could be. Why wait for a rival to say something controversial when we can make them say something controversial?

This week, for example, Al Gore appeared on NPR, and talked a bit about global warming and natural disasters. Business & Media Institute (BMI), a far-right outfit backed by activist Brent Bozell, thought it best to splice the interview together, to make Gore say something he didn't say.

Wonk Room's Brad Johnson has the story.

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Unfortunate Racial Talk Creeps Back into the Democratic Campaign

Hillary Clinton still clearly hopes to make a case to the Democratic Party that she’d be the strongest candidate in a general election, but I have a hunch she’d like to take this one back.

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FBI Raids Office of Special Counsel

It’s been weeks since a corruption scandal humiliated the Bush administration, so I suppose we were overdue for news like this.

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Iran Takes Center Stage on the Trail

I have to admit, watching the race for the Democratic presidential nomination the past several days has been slightly less annoying. It’s been far from perfect, of course, but Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been talking more about actual policy differences, and less about nonsense (take your pick: flag pins, Wright, Ayers, bitter, etc.) and process (electability, polls, etc.).

We’ve certainly seen that with the debate over gas-tax policy, and over the weekend, we saw it again with a debate over Iran and deterrence.

This began in earnest a couple of weeks ago, with a question in ABC’s notorious debate, when, in response to a hypothetical question from George Stephanopoulos, Clinton said, “I would make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from the United States.� Because “massive retaliation� is a Truman-era phrase relating to a nuclear strike, Clinton’s remarks raised a few eyebrows.

She expanded a bit on her remarks a week later, adding, “In the next ten years, during which [Iranians] might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.� (Observers weren’t quite sure what to think when Clinton’s chief spokesperson said neither talk of total obliteration nor her talk about “massive retaliation� should be considered a threat to use nuclear weapons.)

Yesterday, Obama pushed back against the perceived “saber rattling.�

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