Friday, June 16, 2006

Friday's passing fancies

Today I'm keeping most of my powder dry for a Sunday print column, but, in the meantime, here are some drive-by hits (the list could grow as the day lengthens):

This morning the congressional Democrats unveiled their election agenda, backed by their '06 slogan, "New Direction for America." The planks call for more stem-cell research, lower prescription drug prices, a minimum wage hike, elimination of taxpayer subsidies for the oil and gas industries, tighter security at our ports, and a lot more money for homeland security.

Take a guess what's missing. Iraq.

It's 2002 all over again; that was the year Democrats decided to tiptoe around Iraq (while President Bush was beating the war drums) and instead try to change the subject by stressing their pet domestic issues. The November election results demonstrated the futility of that idea.

Now, in 2006, Iraq is the issue that tops voter concerns. One might reasonably ask whether the Democrats can take back the House or Senate in November by changing the subject. Meanwhile, I'll have more on the Democrats and Iraq in the Sunday print column, which will be linked here.


But the Republicans are hardly a cinch to win big by emphasizing Iraq this fall, given the majority disgust with the prosecution of the war. And some congressional Republicans clearly have concerns about that.

As I wrote here yesterday, the GOP has been pushing a pro-war House resolution that is designed to make the Democrats uncomfortable, yet the effort also put some imperiled Republican incumbents on the spot. These incumbents hail from northeastern districts where Bush and the war are very unpopular; as a result, they have felt the need to verbally distance themselves from their party's stay-the-course declaration.

Jim Gerlach, a vulnerable Republican from the Philadelphia suburbs said today, "The American people are looking to us to answer their questions on how much progress is being made, what are the Iraqis themselves willing to do to fight for their freedom, and when will our men and women come home" -- and none of those questions are addressed in the resolution.

And Rob Simmons, one of three Connecticut Republicans being threatened with defeat in a state where Bush's approval rating is below 30 percent, said on the floor: "This resolution fails to fully address a key question that most Americans are asking, 'When are our troops coming home?'"

But, in the end this morning, they fell into line and voted Yes on the Bush stance. Only three of 217 voting Republicans dissented. As practitioners of party unity, the Bush-era GOP remains unparalleled.


Looking ahead to '08, you can bet the house that all presidential candidates will paint themselves as champions of the little guy, of the average voter who works hard to make ends meet. Just don't expect any of these candidates to be people who personally experience the problem of making ends meet.

Eight of the '08 hopefuls are currently U.S. Senators. That chamber requires that its members disclose a general range of their net worth (excluding the value of their primary residences, and certain other assets). Turns out, all eight are multimillionaires.

With a thank-you nod to the CNN Political Unit, here they are:

Evan Bayh (D-Indiana): $1,954,000 to $6,360,000
Hillary Clinton (D-New York): $10,045,000 to $50,235,000
John Kerry (D-Massachusetts): $158,691,000 to at least $241,590,000
George Allen (R-Virginia) $1,828,000 to at least $3,845,000
Sam Brownback (R-Kansas): $2,313,000 to $9,095,000
Bill Frist (R-Tennessee): $12,660,000 to at least $46,715,000
Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska): $2,183,000 to $7,495,000
John McCain (R-Arizona): $13,875,000 to at least $23,085,000
Plus, John Edwards (former D-NC), whose last statement was: $12.8 million to $60 million

In other words, that's nine people who are rich enough to bankroll some or all of their own campaigns, bypassing the public financing rules that provide taxpayer money in exchange for mandatory spending ceilings. On the other hand, maybe deep pockets are overrated. The richest man on that list discovered in '04 that irresolution on Iraq trumped money on election day.


Sen. Joe Lieberman's political woes continue in Connecticut. It now seems quite possible that the three-term Democratic hawk and Bush ally on Iraq could be toppled in his August primary by antiwar challenger Ned Lamont. The polls keep narrowing, which means that Lieberman may soon have to decide whether he, as the losing candidate, would be a loyal Democrat and back Lamont in November -- or whether he would try to save his own skin at the expense of his party by filing and running as an independent. (Big pending question: would the Democrats' Senate campaign arm in DC ignore Lamont and side with Lieberman out of past loyalty?)

Clearly he's in big trouble with Democratic voters because of his pro-Bush stance on the war, and because of his other high-profile assistance to the GOP, but Lieberman seems to have a different take on all that. Just check out his new campaign ad, which was posted today. He is blaming his woes on....Lowell Weicker.

The guy that Lieberman defeated back in 1988.

What's he got to do with this?
Nothing, except for the fact that Weicker, long in retirement, now backs Lamont.

So what?
Exactly. It's rarely a good sign when an incumbent starts targeting a bystander, instead of his opponent. Imagine that you're a 30-year-old Connecticut Democratic preparing to choose between Lieberman and Lamont. That means you were 12 years old when Weicker was last in the Senate. And you were barely 19 when he left the governor's job. Yet the Lieberman campaign is trotting out Weicker as Connecticut's version of Tony Soprano, thirsting for payback against Joe (Narrator: "He's never gotten over losing his Senate race to Joe Lieberman. But instead of coming out of hibernation, he's sent his bear cub, instead. Ned Lamont").

At the end of the ad, Lieberman utters the required words, "I approved this message." He says that like it's a good thing.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

They're so wild about Harry

All of a sudden, it seems like everybody is fighting over Harry Truman. Fifty three years out of office and 34 years in his grave, the feisty Democratic president who was widely reviled in his own era is now the object of a tug of war between Bush Republicans and moderate Democrats.

Both camps seek to lay claim to his legacy. With terrorists seeking to destroy us, with Iraq continuing to defy the prewar cakewalk predictions, and with polarized Washington seemingly incapable of forging a foreign policy consensus, both camps are asking the question, WWHD? (what would Harry do?), and citing Truman words and deeds that support their arguments.

The selective pillaging of historical figures is a favorite American parlor game, anyway; one can find, in the prolific writings of Thomas Jefferson, for example, enough opinions to support virtually any position, in part because Jefferson (as well as many other designated Great Men) said and did so many things, often contradictory, often reacting to the exigencies of the moment. Truman was no exception.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seem to have launched the Truman show when she declared last December, in the Washington Post, that the Bush administration's efforts abroad are "consistent with the proud tradition of American foreign policy, especially such recent presidents as Harry Truman." President Bush followed up during a speech May 27 at West Point, by invoking Truman 17 times (I'm sure it was complete coincidence that he was citing a guy who was plagued during his tenure by low poll ratings), and contending that the Bush mission of spreading democracy is consistent with what Harry did back in 1947.

That was the year when Truman announced U.S. military aid for Greece and Turkey, both of which were under threat from communism; Bush cited this passage from a Truman speech: "It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressure."

Amidst our skirmishings with the Soviet Union in those early Cold War days, said Bush, "fortunately we had a president named Harry Truman who recognized the threat, took bold action to confront it, and laid the foundation for freedom's victory in the Cold War."

And that's when the battle over Truman was joined. Within days of Bush's speech, he was challenged by Peter Beinart -- author of a new book, The Good Fight, which urges Democrats to get tough on national security by rediscovering their inner Truman. He argued on June 1 in the Washington Post that Bush was hijacking Truman for his own political purposes, by ignoring all the stuff that Truman said about the importance of American humility and the need to work with multinational organizations; hence, this Truman line: "We all have to recognize, no matter how great our strength, that we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please."

That in turn provoked conservatives. On June 14, foreign policy commentator Max Boot acknowledged in the Los Angeles Times that, yes, it's true that Truman did push for the 1949 creation of multinational NATO and, yes, he did preside over the founding of the United Nations, and, yes, he did work through the U.N. before sending troops to Korea in 1950...but Truman did tell his secretary of state, in a letter, that if the U.N. had balked on the latter, "we would have had to go into Korea alone." Boot was seconded by political analyst Michael Barone, who said last week in U.S. News and World Report that the Truman-backed Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe was a unilateral initiative (just like Bush's unilateral initiatives).

Anyway, this game can feature endless rebuttals and re-rebuttals. The Boot camp, for instance, seems to overlook the fact that conservatives in the late '40s actually attacked the Marshall Plan, because Truman allowed the Europeans to draft the details of that economic aid program, and because Truman was essentially giving our money (up to five percent of our national income, a share unthinkable today) to foreign governments that included high-ranking socialists, and with few strings attached. Not to mention the fact that this president, whom Bush is now lauding as a tough-minded hawk, was the same guy who, in his time, was mercilessly attacked by the right for allegedly being soft on communism.

Beinart, in his book, clearly wants to keep Truman for his fellow Democrats, hoping that they will resurrect Truman's hawkish liberalism and thereby win the confidence of '06 and '08 voters who still seem skeptical about the party's national security bona fides. But perhaps the final wrinkle is that the liberal wing of the party doesn't want to play the WWHD game; as liberal activist leader Robert Borosage complains, "the current rage in center-right Democratic circles is to resuscitate Harry Truman," and commit the party to a policy of policing the world.

What all this Truman-mania suggests is that today's politicians and thinkers seem bent on cherry-picking the past because they lack creative thoughts about the future. If Harry could hear these partisans skirmishing over his legacy, he might well say of them what he once said of the political reporters who covered him:

"Not one of them has enough sense to pound sand in a rathole.''


Meanwhile, I wonder what Harry Truman would have thought of this:

Today, on the floor of the U.S. House, Republicans are pushing their politically conceived pro-war resolution that calls for all members of Congress to stay the course, support the troops, and accept the premise that Iraq is a central front in the global terror war. In the debate today, various congressional Republicans were dutifully finding ways to link the 9/11 attacks to Saddam's Iraq. The ultimate aim is to force Democrats to either vote yes (and thereby accept Bush's frame on the Iraq conflict), or vote no (and thereby presumably be exposed as a cut-and-running defeatist).

Caveat for the GOP: there is the inconvenient truth that the 9/11 Commission long ago cleared Saddam on the 9/11 charge; as the members concluded, Saddam had no "collaborative relationship" with al Qaeda. So the Republicans are clearly finessing factual reality.

I suppose that even plain-speakin' Harry Truman might also have fudged the facts once in awhile. But I do wonder what he would have said if his enemies in what he called "the do-nothing Republican Congress" had attempted to paint his fellow Democrats as potential cowards, the way that House Speaker Dennis Hastert did earlier today.

Credit Hastert with the most...creative...political use of the 9/11 tragedy: "America’s response started high above a corn field in rural Pennsylvania. Brave men and women armed with nothing more than boiling water and dinner forks and broken bottles stood up as Americans always do when our freedom is in peril and they struck back....We in this Congress must show the same steely resolve as those men and women on United flight 93."

The message from give-em-hell Denny was clear: Any Democrat who opposes the GOP Iraq resolution is not only denying the 9/11-Iraq connection, but is also clearly betraying the people who died on that plane.

Gee, these Republicans sure don't care about making nice. On some level, Harry Truman would probably understand that. After all, he's the guy who once said, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The light at the beginning of the tunnel that, with more sacrifice and more patience, may some day lead to the light at the end of the tunnel

President Bush, seeking to capitalize on several rare shreds of good news in Iraq -- the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and the fact that the new "unity government" has finally filled its Cabinet -- summoned the White House press corps to the Rose Garden this morning. His purpose was to rally the skeptical citizenry, paint the Democrats as quitters, and to generally insist that the future in Iraq is potentially bright, in accordance with his own party's philosophy, which he described as "forward looking and optimistic."

But as Bush enumerated the tasks that await the new government helmed by prime minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, he was inadvertently sending a very different message:

Iraq is a terrible mess, it will take an unspecified period of time to clean it up, we have no measurements that would tell us the degree to which it is getting cleaned up, and we Americans will have to stay for an unspecified period of time to see whether it does get cleaned up.

The evidence:
1. Three years after Bush proclaimed liberation, the government is infested with corruption. Bush said it himself this morning: "We want to establish an internal affairs bureau, to root out corruption. No question this government has got to deal with corruption at all levels in order to earn the confidence of the people."

2. In what Bush calls "free Iraq," the Iraqi judges have little concept of democratic-style justice, they can't function because of the violence, and there isn't enough jail space to house the guilty anyway. Bush telegraphed all that: "Part of the prime minister's plan is to improve the Iraqi judicial system. And to assist him, I've directed the attorney general and the secretaries of State and Defense to work together on a new rule-of-law initiative. Under this initiative, we'll help train Iraqi judges, increase security so they can do their jobs, improve Iraqi prison capacity, and help the Iraqi government provide equal justice for all its citizens."

3. The average Baghad resident doesn't even have receive enough electricity to live decently (in fact, according to the Brookings Institution's ongoing infrastructure index, a Baghdad denizen had 16-24 hours of electricity on a daily basis under Saddam Hussein; the May figure was 8 hours). Bush spoke repeatedly today about the electricity problem, saying at one point, "The answer to electricity is, sooner the better. It's hot over there, and it would be helpful if people had the capacity to cool their homes. It would be a pretty good signal that the government is making a difference in somebody's life."

4. Key regions of Iraq are essentially lawless at this point, and government police are part of the problem; thanks to mass infiltration, many of the purported peace officers are actually sectarian militia members who torture and kill at will, unfettered by government command and control. Bush basically confirmed all that: "We've deployed advisory teams to assist Iraq's new...Ministers of Defense and Interior, both of whom I met. We want to help them build the command and control capacity of their ministries. In other words, you can't have an effective army unless you've got command and control coming out of government....This is a tough struggle, and the reason why is because the rules of warfare as we used to know them are out the window. I mean, there's no rule of warfare. It's just, if you can kill innocent life in order to shake somebody's will or create consternation in a society, just go ahead and do it."

From a communications standpoint, Bush's new approach -- acknowledging problems -- is arguably more effective than his previous habit of eschewing detail while simply insisting that "freedom is on the march." But he still omitted some important facts today; for instance, the new Interior minister - whose job is to weed death-squad militia killers out of the police -- was rportedly chosen as the result of a deal between Maliki and a powerful Shiite political party that runs one of the offending militias.

Given all these challenges (and many more, including the need to establish what Bush called "repair teams" to restore electricity and oil production when insurgents blow it up), one might ask how the Bush administration plans to measure Mailiki's progress or failure, and whether it has settled on a reasonable time period. In fact a White House reporter asked Bush that very question:

"I'm wondering if you can say how you're going to measure that in terms of time. In other words, are you going to put a six-month time frame on this, or a 12-month time frame on this?"

Bush's answer: "Look, I understand the pressures to put timetables out there on everything. And my answer to you is, is that we will work with the Iraqi government to do what's realistic. And the people on the ground will help me understand what is realistic. We will know whether or not the government is capable of following through because we're going to help them follow through....(W)e've got to be realistic with this government. There is a -- but, nevertheless, I do believe that it makes sense to develop with them benchmarks, so we can measure progress. And once those are in place, and to the extent they are, we'll be glad to share them with you."

In other words, Bush can't offer a time frame, and he can't say how progress will be measured, but if those criteria are established at some point, "we'll be glad to share them with you."

Hence, the paradox in Bush's message: On the one hand, he repeatedly contended today that, from now on, the proverbial ball is in the Iraqis' court, that it's their responsibility to sort out their own future: "If the Iraqis don't have the will to succeed, they're not going to succeed....(I)f they choose not to...make the hard decisions and to implement a plan, they're not going to make it....(I)t's up to them to succeed. It's really up to them to put a plan in place and execute it."

But on the other hand, he signaled that his administration is really not entrusting (or even expecting) the new regime to sort out its own future, because apparently the U.S. will be backstopping the Iraqis all the way, with an open-ended commitment. He stated: "The policy of the United States government is to stand with this new government and help them succeed, and we will do what it takes to help them succeed."

Are there opportunities for the Democrats to effectively counter the President's latest "be patient" message? To provide an alternative war path, for Americans who are hungering for something new? It would seem so. But, for the Bush White House, those ever-squabbling Democrats -- a roomful of liberals booed Hillary Clinton yesterday because she opposes a troop withdrawal timetable -- continue to be the gift that keeps on giving.

The Democrats find a Marine (and this time it's not John Murtha)

Quick tip for you campaign junkies: Keep an eye on the '06 Senate race in Virginia.

It had long been assumed that incumbent Republican Senator George Allen -- a Reaganesque conservative; son of the late, lionized football coach; and likely '08 presidential candidate -- would cruise to an easy re-election victory in November, while barely needing to dip into his reported $7.6-million campaign kitty (the remainder of which could be used in a White House bid). But last night, in the Democratic primary to choose his challenger, voters came up with a potentially viable challenger -- somebody with a daunting portfolio who, at the very least, will make Allen work hard and spend a lot of that '08 money.

The Democratic winner is James Webb, an ex-Marine and best-selling author who served in Vietnam, who later served as Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, and who considered himself a lifelong Republican until very recently. He has become a strong critic of President Bush (whom he voted for in 2000), especially on the war in Iraq.

Webb's victory -- easily beating the more liberal Harris Miller, a longtime Democratic activist -- suggests that Democratic voters, at least in red states, are becoming more pragmatic, siding with the candidate they deem most electable. Certainly, that's the goal this year of national Democrats, who have been promoting "fighting Dems" (antiwar vets) with mixed results this year; indeed, their DC Senate campaign arm backed Webb over Miller. And it's noteworthy that Webb ran strongest last night in the populous northern Virginia suburbs near Washington, where hardcore primary voters tend to be liberal.

Conservatives like Webb. Editorial writer Brendan Conway, writing yesterday at the pro-Republican website, lauded Webb as "an unimpeachable military man" who is "a demigod to several servicemen I know." (Theoretically, that profile could help Webb compete seriously with Allen for the votes of rural whites.) And a Virginia conservative at says that Webb "comes with a formidable record of service for his country. Unlike many Senate challengers, he comes with polished foriegn policy credentials, a populist style that has had many uttering the words 'Andrew Jackson' about his candidacy. "

But can he win statewide against a popular Republican, thereby improving the Democrats' prospects for taking over the Senate? It'll take big money to do that, for starters. Webb begins his campaign against Allen with only around $200,000 reportedly in the bank. We'll soon see whether the Washington Democrats put sufficient money in Virginia.

And we really don't yet know whether Webb -- who, Iraq aside, has conservative views on many issues -- can galvanize Democratics en masse in November; last night's turnout amounted to only 3.4 percent of the state's registered voters, and a lot of liberals are annoyed that Harris Miller, who had toiled loyally for the party, was denied what they feel he deserved. And Webb did poorly in the black community, thanks in part to the perception that he is not a big fan of affirmative action programs.

Nevertheless, a third-tier Senate race has been moved up a notch, and will serve as a test of whether an antiwar Marine with a Reaganesque pedigree can pull red-state voters into the Democratic column. That factor alone will make Virginia worth watching.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Dodging the silver bullet

This is what passes for great news at the beleaguered Bush White House: The president's chief political guru gets word from federal prosecutors that he is not an accused criminal.

Nevertheless, the news that Karl Rove will not be charged in the Valerie Plame CIA leak case is clearly a political victory for the Bush administration. (In the careful words of Rove's lawyer, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald sent word that he "does not anticipate seeking charges.") Disappointment in the opposition camp is undoubtedly palpable. After all, Bush critic Joseph Wilson, Plame's husband, had publicly expressed his hope that Rove would be "frog-marched" out of his White House job; and liberal blogs have been giddy for months about a supposedly imminent "Fitzmas" present.

Yes, court documents have indicated that Rove and the indicted Scooter Libby were both involved in the leak of classified information about CIA employe Plame's identity -- notwithstanding the early White House claims that Rove played no role whatsoever. And yes, the record indicates that Rove discussed her with two reporters, Matt Cooper and Robert Novak. And yes, the White House did insist early on that such leaks were unacceptable ("That is not the way this President or this White House operates," said press secretary Scott McClellan), and yes, the White House did promise back in 2003 that anyone involved in such a leak would no longer be allowed to work there.

Nevertheless, as all the polls have long suggested, the Plame leak case has not been a burning concern for the average American. The chronology is complicated, and, for many people, the details just seem like typical inside-the-Beltway inside baseball. (At the liberal blogger convention that I covered over the weekend, a 90-minute session was devoted to the case, yet even one of the presenters told me that she had to spend many hours getting up to speed on all the intricate details of who supposedly said what to whom when.)

Only one element could have given the Bush critics a massive PR victory: a Rove indictment. That would have reduced the case to a widely resonant soundbite. Bush's political mastermind, dragged into the docket? That would have been devastating. Instead, the news that Rove is in the clear will allow the Republicans to rebuke the Rove-haters for cheering his demise in advance; indeed, GOP chairman Ken Mehlman is already on the prowl, demanding that Democrats apologize for "rushing to judgement."

Longtime Rove critics are taking the fallback position today, suggesting that just because Rove wasn't criminally indicted, it doesn't mean he didn't do something ethically sleazy. As Democratic chairman Howard Dean put it today, "The prosecutor's decision not to indict Karl Rove does not diminish the fact that (he) was involved in leaking the identity of an intelligence operative during a time of war." It's certainly true that, in Washington, there are many variations of vicious hardball (Rove being a reputedly master practitioner) that aren't necessarily criminal in nature; and it's still reasonable to wonder whether a top aide who may have used classified material to retaliate against a war critic (Wilson) still deserves to remain in the President's inner circle.

But that's thin gruel for the Bush critics who were anticipating a much bigger payoff -- particularly some of the liberal bloggers who might feel embarrassed today that their earlier "reporting" of an imminent indictment has turned to dust. I wrote last month about the problem of partisan misinformation on the blogosphere (here), and specifically about the supposedly slam dunk of a Rove indictment, which was widely circulated. As recently as yesterday, the most offending website was insisting that we had been denied the news of Rove's cinch indictment only because the court documents that detailed the official accusations had been sealed. Don't hold your breath for a full retraction.

I received an email yesterday from a blog fan who insisted, "When I want the full truth, I rely on the net." My response to that: Don't.

Meanwhile, the uber blogger himself, Markos Moulitsas, has similar advice this morning. he writes on "I hope this serves a lesson to all of you who link to crap Internet sources...merely because they write what you want to hear.....This is the reality based community, not the 'make up your own reality' community. Conservatives already own the trademark to that name. Be properly skeptical of everything you read. Even on this site. And if I use blind sources, which I'm apt to do every once in a while, be particularly skeptical. I won't be offended."

Still, it's critical to look beyond today's events and stay focused on the big picture. The key question is whether the Rove PR victory helps to fuel a sustainable Bush comeback, or whether it will prove to be merely ephemeral, a temporary reprieve along a downward slide.

Right now the White House is trying to take the offensive on many fronts -- seeking to parlay Rove-is-innocent/Zarqawi-is-dead/Bush-visits-Baghdad into positive political gold, coupled with the news that the newest Iraqi prime minister has finally filled out his Cabinet. There is even a new poll that shows a rise in Bush's job performance rating since Zarqawi died (OK, it's only two points). There is certainly no desire to cede any ground to the opposition; Rove, speaking in New Hampshire last night, threw down the gauntlet for the '06 elections by (again) accusing Democrats of "cutting and running" from Iraq.

But none of this will matter as long as the sectarian strife continues in Iraq; indeed, another new poll finds that only 16 percent of Americans anticipate less violence in the wake of Zarqawi's death, and that 82 percent now view the Iraq conflict as a civil war. The ultimate verdict on this administration will hinge on what happens abroad, not on whether Karl Rove is criminally accused.


You know the smell that permeates not just your neighborhood every day, but millions of neighborhoods nationwide? That pungent stench from all that burning cloth? Surely you are aware of the hordes of anarchists who are burning American flags? Surely you have seen this runaway epidemic of treason highlighted regularly on, say, Fox News?

OK, so you haven't seen or smelled this? Not even once? Me, either. Wait, that's not entirely true; in recent years, there was a documented report of one drunken teenage who tried to burn Old Glory in 2005.

But just in case such havoc is wreaked in some future time, the U.S. Senate is ready to put a stop to it. As this report suggests, the chamber is now only one vote away from enacting a constitutional amendment (the Senate tally takes place late this month) -- with the help of many fearful Democratic senators, including Hillary Clinton, who have decided that their First Amendment concerns can't compete in the emotional marketplace with a tried and true salute to the red, white, and blue.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Emptying the blogger notebook

Well, that’s what I get for weighing in here the other day on Ann Coulter. The producers of It’s Your Call, the Comcast roundtable on CN8, phoned to ask whether I’d like to join the festivities in the studio tonight at 9. Topic: Ann Coulter. Normally I’m more of a C-Span kind of guy, but maybe this can be a chance to put Coulter in the, um, proper perspective. If you're a Comcast subscriber with nothing better to do, feel free to call in.
My newspaper column on the liberal blogger convention is here. It's reasonably lengthy, by today's print standards. Nevertheless, there is much more to say. For instance:

The liberal blogosphere has grown so quickly that nobody has quite figured out whether they should come up with some sort of endorsement process for presidential candidates. And even if they did come up with a process, they’d have to figure out how to pick somebody -– no easy task, given the fact that, despite the presence of a few blogger-leaders (Markos Moulitsas, Jerome Armstrong, Chris Bowers, Duncan Black, to name a few), the blogs tout the notion of a freewheeling democracy in which everybody has a voice, anybody can be a leader.

The issue is surfacing now, because four possible 2008 candidates decided to show up in Vegas: ex-Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (he threw a party at the Stratosphere Hotel & Casino), retired Gen. Wesley Clark (he hosted a schmooze session at the Hard Rock Café), New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (he hosted a breakfast), and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (he appeared on an education panel).

A fair number of bloggers at the Vegas confab were privately perturbed that Warner, a staunch centrist, seems to be getting so much attention from Moulitsas and Armstrong. The latter is working for Warner’s political action committee, as tekkie guru and de facto liaison to the bloggers. Moulitsas praises Warner regularly (even though Warner is hardly a two-fisted partisan brawler, the style that bloggers prefer), and, even though that isn’t tantamount to an endorsement, his warm words for Warner contrast sharply with his pithy dismissals of most everybody else.

In a May 8 online chat with the Washington Post website, for example, the scion of dumped on Russ Feingold (“two divorces, no family to use as campaign props, and he’s short”), Joe Biden (“completely irrelevant”), John Kerry (“yesterday’s news”), and Hillary Clinton (“I can’t imagine a single state that HRC would’ve won that Kerry lost in 2004”). He said that Al Gore won’t run, out of fear of the “moronic media,” and, for good measure, he dumped on Bill Clinton, too (“he killed the party”).

Is Moulitsas trying to nudge blogworld toward Warner? He says no. That would not be a popular move among the bloggers, many of whom suspect that Warner is wooing the bloggers merrely to neutralize them and prevent a stampede toward the guy they love most, Wisconsin Senator Feingold (who voted no on the Iraq war, and authored the recent motion to censure President Bush).

Chris Bowers at, with the cooperation of, recently conducted a survey of the latter group’s members, hoping to gauge intensity of support for various candidates. Feingold drew the most intense support; 38 percent viewed him very favorably. Warner was at the bottom; only eight percent saw him that way.

Many of the bloggers were also annoyed by Warner's Saturday luncheon address. Before he took the stage, he was featured in a lengthy laudatory video that trumpeted his economic record as Virginia governor -- the standard kind of campaign video, with all the tear-inducing artifice, that many in the audience have come to loathe over the years. One blogger from New Haven, Edward Anderson later said, "I can see his TV ads already, 'I created this many jobs, I created that many jobs.' I can see the whole checklist."

On one level, people were flattered by Warner's lavish attention; after all, this guy saw the future of cellphones back in the early '80s -- and invested his money accordingly -- when few others could even grasp the idea. So the bloggers figure that maybe he's also a seer about blogger power. But they sense that maybe the guy is pushing too hard for a quid pro quo.

So there are bound to be clashes between pro-Warner bloggers who see him as a futurist, and anti-Warner bloggers who dismiss him as a "corporatist" (a word I heard frequently). "So far," said Tim Tageris, a blogosphere guru who works for Ned Lamont’s insurgent Senate campaign in Connecticut, “we have all been generally pulling together. But (in the runup to '08)we’ll start to see a lot of different people pulling a lot of different ways.”

Moulitsas also senses that the normally disputatious blogosphere will soon become even worse, as the next election draws closer: “How are we going to enforce a code of civility on the (DailyKos) site when passions are going to be running very high? That’s what keeps me up at night.”


Bloggers consider themselves to be political outsiders, but in truth they have already fashioned their own insider culture, with their own lingo and norms of online behavior. On the DailyKos website, for instance, trolls are jerky people who post highly disruptive comments. And the blogosphere has also spawned its own celebrities, people who are known only by their pseudonyms.

A lot of those folks "came out" at the blogger convention. They showed up in their actual physical state, and during Q&A sessions, they announced who they were -- and the audience would respond with audibly breathless delight.

"You might know me as Major Danby." Gasp...
"I am McJoan." Gasp...
"I blog as DDay." Gasp...

It quickly became a ritual that whenever a blogger stood at a mike and came out, he or she would pause for a long moment, waiting (or hoping) for that gasp of recognition, before proceeding. Some were met with silence, which perhaps should be viewed as the new equivalent of lousy Nielsen ratings.


Some blogger stereotypes are clearly inaccurate. Surveys show that they are not overwhelmingly young. A Pew poll has found that the largest share (33 percent of all bloggers, at least in 2004) are actually between the ages of 45 and 64. And most are highly educated, at a markedly greater percentage than the general population.

Also contrary to the stereotype, most bloggers don't seem interested in forcing Democrats to pass ideological litmus tests. They love Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid (for his feisty anti-Bush style), even though he is an opponent of abortion. They seem flexible on Iraq; despite the Bush administration's claim that everyone on the left is a "cut and runner," the bloggers are not insisting that their favorite political candidates endorse a plan for immediate troop withdrawal.
Arianna Huffington, who hosts her own blog at, was greeted indifferently on Saturday when she insisted that all blogworthy presidential candidates should take that view, "strategically and morally."

At the same time, there are clearly limits to what the bloggers will accept. Joe Lieberman, the hawkish Connecticut Democratic senator, is in the crosshairs because of his strong support for the war, and his stronger support for Bush as commander in chief. One could even argue that this points up an important caveat in liberal blogosphere philosophy: the bloggers hunger for Democrats who will stand up for what they believe -- but, clearly, there are limits to what the bloggers define as acceptable beliefs worth standing up for.


And lastly, despite the fact that many of these bloggers come off as cocky about their potential clout, Markos Moulitsas made it clear that he expects no overnight miracles. Late in the convention, he noted that it took the conservatives 30 years to turn the 1964 Barry Goldwater debacle into the 1994 Newt Gingrich congressional takeover. Then he said:

"It won't take us 30 years. But it may take us 10. People ask me, 'Which Republican scares you most in 2008?' Well, they all do. Whoever they nominate, that person will be pumped up (by the well-oiled, well-financed Republican message machine) , and ours will be dragged down. If we had Jesus as our nominee, he'd be dragged through the mud."

Oh oh...I can see it now, in the conservative media:
Liberal bloggers attack Jesus!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Have a nice day

It's a day of rest for you, a day of travel for me. I'll have a print column tomorrow assessing the clout (real or imagined) of the liberal bloggers in Democratic politics, along with a separate blog entry about the event, based on supplemental material that didn't make the cut for print.