Saturday, March 25, 2006

Saturday mailbag: More on Robert A. Taft

I'm going to inaugurate something new: the Saturday mailbag.
Every weekend, I'll try to respond to comments and queries that I receive in emails or in posts on this blog. I reserve the right to be highly selective, for two reasons: (1) My aim is only to advance the conversation, not engage in ripostes, and (2) I don't want to detract from the usual Saturday priorities, most of which involve doing as little as possible.
Having said that, let's talk some more about Robert A. Taft. A goodly number of emailers, and a University of Virginia professsor, have asked for more information about the Taft quote that I posted here a few days ago, on March 22, about the importance (and patriotism) of questioning a commander-in-chief in wartime.
His words matter, because there has always been an intrinsic tension in the American experiment: between minority rights and majority rule; between diversity and conformity; between respect for the straight-shooting loner and the desire for a shared identity. And these tensions are generally more acute in wartime.
So here's the full context:
At the time of Pearl Habor, Senator Taft of Ohio was the undisputed leader 0f the Republican right, the most anti-FDR faction in politics. He and his followers detested the New Deal and were concerned that the new war would stifle their right to dissent. So Taft decided to confront the issue.
His remarks, as previously quoted here, were delivered in a speech to the Executive Club of Chicago on Dec. 19, 1941 (full disclosure: I previously said that he spoke a week after Pearl Harbor; actually, it was 12 days).
As far as I can determine, a complete transcript is not available anywhere on the Internet. I first stumbled across an excerpt in the spring of 2003, when historian Arthur Schlesinger used it during a commencement address in Indiana. (Schlesinger repeated the excerpt here, last November.)
After my initial find in 2003, I spied other chunks of the Taft speech in other places. For instance: "The duties imposed by the Constitution on senators and congressmen certainly require that they exercise their own judgement on questions relating to war." And here's another, questioning FDR's Pearl Harbor preparedness - all this, at a time when bodies were still in the water: "Perhaps the fault in Hawaii was not entirely on the admirals and generals."
From what I can tell, from checking my own history books and FDR biographies, it doesn't appear that Taft was ever told by the governing party to "shut up" (as John McCain said to Jimmy Carter in March 2003, when the latter tried to question the new Iraq war) or that Taft was ever treated like the Dixie Chicks.
Indeed, Taft was behaving just like the backwoods freshman congressman who opposed the U.S.-Mexican war of 1846-8, who assailed the U.S. troops even as they fought, charging that the troops had "marched into peaceful Mexican settlements and frightened the inhabitants away from their homes." He charged that President Polk was waging war to win votes, and some critics did think he was being treasonous. But today the face of that backwoodsman, Abraham Lincoln, is on the coins in your pocket.
So that's the Taft story, though I doubt that every American would find his arguments persuasive. Pat Boone, for example, probably wouldn't.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Get ready for March madness

No better issue demonstrates the growing divide between President Bush and his erstwhile congressional Republican allies than immigration. Barring some unforeseen event, the fireworks will ignite next week, in the U.S. Senate.
This one has been building for a long time. Bush is actually to the left of his base on immigration; essentially, he wants a guest worker program that would allow the 11 million illegals to ease their way to legal status; the conservatives want those folks to go home and to prevent others from coming in. What's most striking - and I heard a lot of anger at a recent conservative conference in Washington - is the contention by so many conservatives that Bush, by refusing to stress border enforcement, has turned out to be soft on national security.
It's an issue destined to divide the GOP, because the business faction wants the guest workers (cheap labor) while the ideologically conservative faction views the illegals as a threat to the nation's cultural identity. Bush has straddled the factions for years, mostly with success. Those days appear to be over. He doesn't control the debate on this issue anymore, and that may well enhance his increasingly lame-duck status (which he inadventently confirmed the other day, when he said that the ultimate decisions about U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq will be made not by him, but by future presidents).
Speaking of being a lame duck, the '08 presidential race also needs to be factored into the immigration debate. Take Bill Frist, for example. The majority leader never inveiged about faulty border security back when his first priority was carrying Bush's water in the Senate. But now he's pushing something called the Securing America's Borders Act. Now that he needs to woo the conservatives who vote heavily in early Republican primaries, the good doctor is proverbially donning sunglasses, chambering a piece, and walking the border with the Minutemen.
The tone of this debate could also get nasty quickly. Yesterday, Bush had this to say about the impending immigration debate: "When we conduct this debate, it must be done in a civil way. It must be done in a way that doesn't pit one group of people against another."
This is the same president who said that the Republicans who opposed his Dubai ports deal were anti-Arab; who said (through his emissaries) that the Republicans who opposed high court nominee Harriet Miers were sexists; who said that the Minutemen - described by the conservative Washington Times as "good American citizens worried about the breaking of immigration law" - were, in fact, "vigilantes."
In other words, there's already bad blood between the White House and its allies on the Hill. Note this remark yesterday by Arizona GOP congressman J. D. Hayworth: "If I had any advice for my friends at the White House, I think it would be to really reconsider posturing every disagreement as some sort of new political (or) psychological malady."
(Regarding that remark, many Bush skeptics would say: Hey, J. D. , join the club. As I noted the other night on a cable TV panel show, Bush's defenders always seek to dismiss substantive criticism as "anti-Bush hysteria," as a psychological malady, rather than accept it for what it really is: The attempt by thinking Americans to hold this president accountable for his performance, using factual evidence. As they would any president.)
I plan to track the political aspects of the immigration debate next week, either here or in print.

I remember, back in my youth, editing a story about the travel foibles of rock bands, including the no-brown-M&Ms edict, all of which was later satirized in the film Spinal Tap, when Nigel Tufnel freaked out about the olives and sandwich bread.
Now we have Dick Cheney, with his edicts about decaf Sprite and entering a room only when all the lights have been turned on.
The liberal blogosphere is chuckling today about the revelation that when the vice president travels, he requires that all TVs in his hotel suite be pre-tuned to Fox News. Not to be a contrarian, but is that so surprising? No doubt he would want all the comforts of home, which presumably would include the ingestion of the friendliest news with a minimum of effort. No, the real surprise is that he also requires that The New York Times be waiting for him. Maybe it's just a way to keep up with what the perceived enemy is saying, or a way to find fresh fodder for his next friendly banquet audience, or a way to check on who on his staff might be leaking, but at least it's a sign that (unlike his boss) he is willing to read articles without them first being filtered by his aides.
Anyway, it's not as bemusing as the Jennifer Lopez travel document, which requires that hotel bed sheets be made of Egyptian cotton with a minimum thread count of 250.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Not so fast for the Fightin' Dems

As I indicated here last weekend, in a print column, it's by no means a slam dunk that the so-called "Fighting Dems" -- Iraq war vets running for Congress as Democrats -- will become a great '06 success story. The party's hope is that they'll win some races, help the Democrats take over the House, and, by their presence, help erase the national security softy image that has dogged the party ever since the '70s.
But now we have a few news developments that will make the skeptics nod knowingly.
Two nights ago, in suburban Chicago, Iraq vet Tammy Duckworth did win a Democratic primary, thereby earning the right to face off against a GOP foe in November. But it's the way she won that gives pause.
Despite strong backing from House Democrat Rahm Emmanuel (a fellow Illini who leads the '06 House Democratic campaign effort), and backing from John Kerry, and TV commercials, and huge free publicity because of her dramatic and heroic personal story (she lost both legs in Iraq to a rocket-propelled grenade), and three newspaper endorsements, and a big money advantage over serious Democratic rival Christine Cegelis -- despite all that, Duckworth won by only three percentage points. Her share in the 3-person race: 43.8 percent.
It's noteworthy that Cegelis - not Duckworth - attracted major support from liberal grassroots activists. They didn't believe that Duckworth's hero profile was sufficient qualification for office (especially since she didn't even live in the district). Instead they believed that Cegelis, who had run and lost in that congressional district two years ago, was the more worthy candidate, in part because her experience as a software engineer/businesswoman might translate into finding good jobs for the region.
And there was another complicating factor: the Iraq war vets don't want to be viewed as antiwar candidates, yet the Democratic liberal base is generally antiwar. Duckworth, therefore, had a problem. Political analyst Ken Rudin lays it out in his new online column:
"(Duckworth's) views on Iraq were...designed to appeal to the Republican majority of the district, or squishy, depending on your perspective. Cegelis, on the other hand, ran as an out-and-out peace candidate, winning the backing of Democracy for America (once run by Howard Dean and now run by his brother Jim) and other assorted liberal groups...It's nice to run as an Iraq war vet and be charismatic, but having something to say might not be a bad idea, either."
The grassroots Democrats certainly aren't impressed with the notion that a war vet is an automatic winner. One angry Illinois blogger calls Duckworth "a gimmick candidate," believes that "getting your legs blown off by an RPG does not a legislator make," and sneers, "I'm sure the DC Dems think that 'Oooo, wounded in the Iraq war! Trump card! Let's see the GOP out-patriot that' is a winning strategy across the board," whereas, in reality, "a carpetbagger with no (local) name recognition is just as vulnerable in the general election (to Republican attack) even if she is a veteran."
And yesterday, Cegelis' finance director, Amy Tauchman, didn't seem willing to join Duckworth beneath the Fighting Dems banner, either: "I'm not going to vote in (November). No way. A lot of the Dems are going to stay home." Disaffected people often tend to come around by election time, but the mood in suburban Chicago suggests that grassroots bitterness might hurt the party more than the war vet banner will help -- all this, in an open House seat that Democrats badly need, in their bid to recapture the House itself.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, Democrats had been banking on war vet Tim Dunn to defeat a Republican incumbent down there. Dunn was endorsed last week by the Iraq and Afghanisatan Veterans of America Political Action Committee, a new Washington group. Dunn had been garnering major publicity, at one point telling the Boston Glove that he and other Iraq vets "will have a very strong voice and instant credibility. We bring to the table the experience and knowledge gained through our service...People will listen to us."
Apparently not enough people have been listening to Dunn. He quit the race on Tuesday night. He said he was dropping out because the financial obligations had become too strenuous. That's code for not being able to raise enough money. The incumbent Republican Robin Hayes, had raised over $700,000 by the start of this year; Dunn, $80,000. And, in another reminder that being a war vet is not enough, Hayes alienated many Democrats in his district by taking a conservative stance on abortion.
Maybe the Discovery Channel, which is reportedly readying a documentary on the Fightin' Dems, should hang loose on the idea for awhile -- at least until there's some evidence that they can actually win.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

An act of patriotism

Based on what I wrote here yesterday - about the gap between President Bush's past and present claims about Iraq - I have received some inevitable emails charging that such assessments of the commander-in-chief are either treasonous, or helpful to the enemy ("aid and comfort"). I have a response to that. Actually, it's not my response at all. I am merely quoting somebody else.
Here's the quote: "As a matter of general principle, I believe there can be no doubt that criticism in time of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of democratic government ... too many people desire to suppress criticism simply because they think that it will give some comfort to the enemy to know that there is such criticism. If that comfort makes the enemy feel better for a few moments, they are welcome to it as far as I am concerned, because the maintenance of the right of criticism in the long run will do the country maintaining it a great deal more good than it will do the enemy, and will prevent mistakes which might otherwise occur."
The speaker was senator Robert A. Taft, leader of the conservative movement back in the '40s. His nickname was "Mr. Republican." And he made those remarks one week after Pearl Harbor.

Al Gore and the redemption scenario

Hey, remember Al Gore? Big guy maligned for his charisma-challenged demeanor who neverthless won 600,000 more votes than George W. Bush in 2000? Grew a beard and seemingly disappeared after the U.S. Supreme Court installed his opponent in the big chair? Flirted with the idea of an '04 Nixonesque comeback bid, and even yukked it up on Saturday Night Live, before opting for the life of a new-age entrepeneur?
Yeah, that Al Gore. Amazingly, however, there seems to be a bit of a boomlet about Gore these days. Who knows if it'll go anywhere, but there are serious folks in the political community who think that the newly unfettered Gore - with new lefty pedigree as's favorite Bush antagonist - now has the best shot at becoming the left-leaning alternative to Hillary Clinton in the '08 Democratic primaries.
Far-fetched? In the end, maybe. But we're currently in the season when everybody goes around kicking the tires of every vehicle in the lot, and suddenly, in some circles, the souped-up Gore model doesn't look so bad. He's universally known, he has a staunchly consistent anti-Iraq war stance, and he can raise big money quickly (as much as $50 million, some claim) from grassroots liberals via the Internet.
Buzz abounds. Donna Brazille, the Democratic consultant, when asked by the NY Times magazine to name somebody who could best challenge Hillary, replied, "This sounds absolutely strange coming from me, because I never in life thought I would utter these words again, but Al Gore." Unnamed "Democratic insiders" and "party operatives" told columnist Bob Novak over the weekend that Gore could be a big threat to Hillary. Ex-Clinton pollster Dick Morris says that "Gore has three things going for him: A perception that he was robbed of the White House and Hillary’s possible stubbornness in continuing to back the war. The third thing? The weather. As the evidence of global climate change impresses everyone who doesn’t work at the White House, Gore looks more and more like a man whose time may have come."
The most thorough contribution to the Gore boomlet appears here, in a respected liberal magazine; the writer/blogger, Ezra Klein, suspects that the liberal wing and the online community might begin "calling for a Bigfoot of its own" to challenge Hillary, because of her hawkishness on Iraq and her moderate stances on other issues. His scenario is grist for considerable debate right now on his own blog, and I wouldn't care to drop a bet right now on Gore. Why would he want to give up the life of a free-wheeling enterpeneur (cable TV, a new documentary on global warming which will be released in May by Paramount) in order to again become the focus of conservative ire?
But Klein does bring up a compelling issue: the changing nature of media coverage in political campaigns. Gore was cuffed around in 2000 by the so-called mainstream media, and he didn't like it. In the years since, he has been talking up the possibilities of new information streams, and, as Klein points out, a new Gore candidacy might test the notion that a candidate, rather than speaking through the traditional press, could power a campaign by blasting out "speeches on email, post videos on the Internet, release statements on a blog, use online organizing tools to empower the grassroots." Maybe those tools will have matured by '08, maybe not. But Gore is the kind of guy who could test the concept by putting them in play...
...If he wants. The other day, he issued a statement that would suggest disinterest in 2008: "I'm not planning to be a candidate again." That's not exactly Shermanesque - at least by the traditional rules of parsing. But in the case of Gore, who is no longer under the sway of political consultants, perhaps the traditional rules don't apply.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Groundhog Day in America

In what way does President Bush resemble Sonny and Cher?
Read on for the answer.
The president held a press conference today on Iraq, and delivered yet another Iraq speech yesterday, this time in Cleveland, and arguably he gets points for leaving the White House bubble and taking impetinent questions from non-loyalists.
But the problem is, he keeps saying the same things over and over; worse yet, he keeps repeating things that are contradicted by factual reality. As a result, the average skeptical American is starting to feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, who awoke over and over to the same morning and the same radio rendition of "I Got You, Babe."
Consider, for instance, the lyrics in today's press conference: Troop levels will be determined by the commanders in the field...He wants to "spread liberty around the world"...Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will not be fired, because "he's done a fine job"..."This is a global war, and Iraq is part of that..."
Bush's poll numbers have slid to new lows because the majority of Americans, anxious to avoid Bill Murray's quandary, are tuning out the old song -- refusing to buy his optimism about a victory plan at a time when so many respected competing voices are openly contradicting him.
One of those voices is retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, the former head of Central Command (which includes the Middle East). He has a new book out. In that book, he writes that Rumsfeld ignored the pleas of military leaders who believed that the postwar occupation of Iraq would require far more troops than Rumsfeld was willing to supply. Zinni writes that "ignoring this reality, the United States and a handful of allies forcibly evicted (Hussein) with no plans for a new order to replace it. Today, U.S. military forces in Iraq are mired in an ever-worsening insurgency. Civil war is an ever-growing danger. Disorder and chaos grow ever more entrenched."
But perhaps one moment this week stands out above all. Bush was asked yesterday to explain his administration's frequent claims that Saddam Hussein and his Iraq regime had played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks. Bush said this in response: "I don't think we ever said -- at least I didn't say -- that there was a direct connection between Sept. 11 and Saddam Hussein."
Oh really?
Bush defenders complain all the time that the mainstream media "bashes" the president too much. I would argue, however, that the media's role is to hold any president accountable for what he says, and when he says things that are contradicted by the record, it's our job to point it out.
So let's compare Bush's Monday claim to the factual record:
1. In Bush's March 21, 2003 letter to Congress, justifying the launching of the war against Hussein, he said it was important "to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001."
2. On May 1, 2003, standing in front of the Mission Accomplished banner, he stated: "The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We have not forgotten the victims of September the 11th...With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States. And war is what they got."
3. On June 17, 2004, Bush disputed the findings of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, which had just concluded there was no "collaborative relationship" between Hussein and al Qaeda. Bush begged to differ, saying, "The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda: because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda."
4. On Sept. 14, 2003, Vice President Cheney told NBC, "If we're successful in Iraq, we will have struck a blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11."
5. On Dec. 9, 2001, Cheney told NBC that it was "pretty well confirmed" that Sept. 11 mastermind Mohamed Atta met in Prague with a senior Iraqi official 17 months before the attacks. (On June 17, 2004, after the 9/11 Commission concluded that no such meeting occurred, Cheney changed his story: "We have never been able to confirm that, not have we been able to knock it down, we just don't know.")
That's a sampling. Bush also said yesterday, "I don't want to be argumentative...I was very careful never to say that Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks on 9/11." True, as far is it goes; Bush never used the word "ordered." But there was a reason why 42 percent of Americans still believed, shortly before the '04 election, that Hussein had financed and planned the 9/11 attacks. It was because the administration implied and suggested it, by the artful phrasings it employed, and never dissuaded Americans from connecting those errant dots.
Bush also insisted today: "I didn't want war." That, too, is contradicted by the factual record.
Time magazine reported in March 2003 that one year before the war, Bush had poked his head into a White House room and told three senators, "(Expletive) Saddam, we're taking him out." And on July 23, 2002, long before Bush went to the United Nations, his British allies met with him and subsequently wrote, in the now-famous Downing Street memos, that Bush "had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided." Neither the Time anecdote, nor the British memos, have been disputed by the White House.
The hunger for competing voices is now endemic in Washington (a development that Bush dismisses out of hand; he said today that "Washington is a great town for advice"). How else to explain the news that Congress has now established a bipartisan group of prominent people to study the war with "fresh eyes" and propose new future policies?
Interestingly, it will be co-helmed by former Secretary of State James Baker, who worked for Bush's father; a number of senior Bush alumni (such as Brent Scowcroft) have long been critical of the Iraq war. Baker's partner will be Lee Hamilton, the intelligence expert and ex-Democratic congressman who co-chaired the 9/11 Commission.
Not everybody agrees that these voices are needed; as conservative blogger/radio host Hugh Hewitt contends here that "this is a terrible move," and that such panels "inevitably become show trials, and the new concentration of media will guarantee such a debacle unfolding quickly, with Bush's enemies in the (mainstream media) using every opportunity to bend every witness and every report into a political weapon." (In the interest of being fair and balanced, Hugh also lauded Bush's press conference performance today: "He was on fire.")
What all this means is that Bush no longer monopolizes the megaphone, as he did when the war began, and that complicates his efforts to rebuild credibility. When he was asked yesterday about whether he still has political capital, he replied: "I'm spending that capital on the war."
No argument there.

Monday, March 20, 2006

My thoughts on political blogs

Howard Mortman - an ex-producer at the Hardball show and former editor/columnist at National Journal's The Hotline - invited me the other day to bloviate at length about the future of political blogs (my guesses are as good as anybody's!), and to choose some of my favorites.
Now I have done so. If you're interested, the discussion has been posted here today, at Howard's entertaining website, which is also a good tip sheet for political junkies, with lots of good links. You can also click on "Blogs the Famous Media Reads," to see the favorites cited by political journalists who are far more famous than I.

An '06 mantra: Change that subject

As Republicans continue to fret about the possibility that they will be subsumed in a political tidal wave next November - swept from power in the House of Representatives, in a mirror image of the 1994 Democratic debacle - it's becoming increasingly clear how they plan to fight back in the months ahead.
Since they arguably can't run on their own agenda - not at a time when they are deeply divided on immigration, federal spending, the Dubai ports deal, and the Medicare drug plan; and deeply worried about President Bush's stay-the-course stance in Iraq - the game plan apparently boils down to this:
Change the subject. Persuade voters not to make the '06 elections a referendum on Bush. Instead, convince them that it's the Democrats who are the real threat to the nation.
As evidenced here in the conservative media, that plan is already in place; some congressional Republicans have reportedly adopted a line that Bush used in a recent meeting - that if the Democrats controlled Congress, they would "raise your taxes and raise the white flag" in Iraq. The GOP message-meisters also plan to warn that if the Democrats take over, the new committee chairmen will be seek to roll back the Bush tax cuts and gum up the government machinery by launching multiple probes of the administration, starting with Iraq.
It's not clear whether that fear message would persuade the independent swing voters, the majority of whom already harbor serious doubts about Bush's overall performance, and particularly his stewardship of the Iraq war (75 percent now believe the U.S. is losing ground in trying to prevent a civil war). And sentiment is strong for substantive troop withdrawals by the end of 2007.
But this message isn't really aimed at the independents - because they're not the dominant voters in midterm elections. The voters that tend to show up are disproportionately the more politically active partisans on the left and right. And the GOP, worried that its base voters will stay home, is mapping a message that will get these folks out of their homes on election day. (Which is also why in the months ahead we'll see a slew of bills on abortion, the gay marriage amendment proposal, the perennial flag-burning ban proposal, among other base-friendly themes.)
Ken Mehlman, the Republican national chairman, also hit the fear-those-Dems theme when he spoke last week at a convention of GOP activists in Memphis. I was there, and his comments wound up in my notes, so this is a perfect time to spring them:
He said that any Democrat who urges "strategic redeployment" of troops from Iraq is really "cutting and running." (Strategic redeployment, which refers to partial phased withdrawals, but only as far a Kuwait and other regional outposts, is a term that was coined last autumn in a policy proposal that was co-authored by Larry Korb, who served as an assistant Defense Secretary under Ronald Reagan.)
Mehlman also hit the flip-flop theme, implying that Democrats shouldn't have a hand in running the war because they lack the resolve: "Would you buy a used car from this party? They say one thing come election time, but their records show that they mean--and will do--another. They were for the Iraq war before they were against it." (That not strictly true, since a majority of the House Democrats voted against war authorization at the ouset. More importantly, Mehlman is actually questioning the American people, the majority of whom were for the war before they were against it.)
Mehlman did tout President Bush at one point, saying that "our nation is safer today" in part because Bush oversaw creation of the Department of Homeland Security. (Actually, the factual record shows that he was against it before he was for it. Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman proposed it first, and the administration resisted the idea for the better part of a year.)
Mehlman's other theme, bound to be heard this year, is that a Democratic majority would imperil the positive economic numbers that are now being posted (the Dow at near all-time highs, the jobless rate lower than five percent). What's striking right now, however, is that Bush is not getting credit in the polls for a good economy. And Pat Buchanan, a populist conservative, suggests the reason why:
"(W)hile the managerial class sees its portfolio growing smartly, the 80 percent of workers who manage no one and nothing is slipping behind. That average Americans are spending every dollar they earn, saving nothing and borrowing to buy consumer goods, more and more of which are imported, suggests we have arrived at the split-level economy. Thus, making the case that the Bush economy is a triumph may be a waste of time, if two-thirds of Americans start off in disbelief. "
So here's the big question: Can Republicans unite behind Bush and win with a fear-the-Dems message? Will that be enough to stoke a big base turnout in November? Or will some GOP incumbents feel compelled to distance themselves from Bush - in acts of stategic redeployment?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Happy (!?!) anniversary

I wrote a print column today about the Democrats signing up Iraq war vets to run for Congress this year. The jury is still out on whether the "fighting Dems" can succeed, particularly since most of them are challenging incumbents. But let us paint for a moment on the larger canvas:

As the war in Iraq enters its fourth year, the public mood is so sour that even Republicans are starting to believe that their congressional majorities, particularly in the House, might be in serious jeopardy in the November '06 elections. One new poll released today reports that only 29 percent of Americans support President Bush's handling of Iraq; another, released a few days ago, reports that 66 percent believe the U.S. is losing ground in preventing a civil war in Iraq. And before Bush defenders start complaining that all these polls are "biased" or creatures of the "MSM," I'll also point out that, in the latest Fox News poll, only 34 percent of Americans are optimistic that Iraq will ever have a "free, stable government."
And while checking out the Sunday shows, it's not hard to see why the domestic mood is so downbeat. Anyone hoping for straight-shooting candor was quickly disappointed.
Exhibit A: Dick Cheney. No surprise there. On CBS, he was asked to revisit his 2005 contention that the Iraqi insurgency was in its "last throes" and his prewar contention that U.S. troops would be "greeted as liberators." He replied that statements such as his "were basically accurate and reflect reality."
Exhibit B: Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. Casey is a military man, not a political leader, so he probably deserves a little slack. But there was something downright Clintonian about his repeated parsing of words.
At one point, on NBC, he was asked about Bush's May 1, 2003 declaration that "all major combat operations have ended." How does that statement square with what happened the other day, when Operation Swarmer, a joint U.S.-Iraqi assault against insurgents, supposedly the biggest U.S. air assault since 2003?
Casey's answer: "I wouldn't categorize Swarmer as a major combat operation."
Maybe it all depends on what the definition of "major" is. Swarmer was staged with American helicopters, planning, logistics, artillery, and medical evacuation teams, and today is Day Four of the operation. But since only 80 people have been reportedly arrested, and 20 of them released, Casey now says "it got a little more hype than it deserved." He omitted the fact that the hype was stoked by the military briefers in the first place.
And later in the NBC interview, Casey was asked about a remark he made last November, when he said Iraq would not be stabilized without "several more years of a major American presence." His answer: "It depends on how you define 'major American presence.'"
Casey didn't parse on one key point, however. He was asked whether he agreed with a weekend statement by ex-Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi, who declared that "we are in civil war...we are in a terrible civil conflict now."
Casey replied, "I don't think he's correct."
How ironic. On October 1, 2004, Allawi was being lauded as "a brave, brave man," whose "credibility" was not open to being "questioned." In fact, it was wrong to criticize "the brave leader of Iraq." The speaker was President Bush.