Saturday, December 16, 2006

'08 dropout watch: Why Evan Bayh is taking a bye

There’s apparently no need for Democratic voters to actually go to the polls during the 2008 presidential primary season and winnow the field of candidates – because the candidates are already winnowing themselves.

The first volunteer casualty was Mark Warner, the ex-Virginia governor who was assumed to be positioning himself as a centrist alternative to Hillary Clinton. And now, this morning, we have another casualty – Evan Bayh, the senator from red-state Indiana who was also expected to be position himself as a centrist alternative to Hillary Clinton.

This may be the shortest toe-dipping candidacy in history; just two weeks ago, Bayh announced that he was setting up his "exploratory" committee. But apparently he decided to take a bye on ’08 after realizing that he would not be able to compete for money and media buzz - not just with Hillary, but with the rapidly ascendant Barack Obama.

No doubt Bayh realized this last weekend, when he found himself stumping in New Hampshire at the same time as Obama, and drew roughly as much attention as a panhandler in midtown Manhattan.

He could probably have dealt with one rock star celebrity rival. But two? Forget about it.

From his statement today: “The odds were always going to be very long for a relatively unknown candidate like myself, a little bit like David and Goliath.” Try two Goliaths.

It has actually become common for aspiring candidates to deal themselves out long before the actual voting commences. One reason why perceived frontrunners like to amass money and resources is because their daunting assets might scare away potential competitors. Hillary Clinton is doing that now. Al Gore did that in 1999, as did George W. Bush. And Obama told the Chicago Tribune the other day that he can probably raise $60 million if he takes the plunge.

Bayh would have a hard time matching that kind of money – which is arguably unfair, because he, unlike Obama, has a long track record in elected politics, having served two terms as Indiana governor before moving to the Senate, and thereby having demonstrated great success at selling Democratic values to red state voters. But Bayh is a bland guy with a serious passion deficit, hardly the kind of persona that would fire up primary voters. That was a concern even before Obama became the flavor of the month.

And there was another big impediment, the same one that may have given Warner pause: Democratic primary voters are disproportionately liberal, whereas Bayh is a moderate who has frequently jousted in the past with the liberal wing. He voted to authorize the war in Iraq. He has also cast a lot of votes that liberals would interpret as being sops to the corporate sector (like his fealty to the credit card companies, for instance). For these reasons alone, it was hard to see how he could navigate the crucial early primaries successfully.

Which brings us to Iowa caucuses, the first pit stop on the primary trail, and another rival that has been widely overlooked amidst the media focus on Clinton and Obama. A poll in Iowa earlier this fall suggested that the favorite there right now is…John Edwards. Under the radar, he has been assiduously working the state. He, unlike Bayh, does not have a day job in the Senate, which means he is freed up to work the grassroots 24/7. He, unlike Bayh, has been moving to the left, wooing the labor groups that are crucial to the caucus process in that state. And he, unlike Bayh, is an instinctive performance artist who knows how to turn on his audience.

So maybe it was three Goliaths.

The result is that Bayh has opted for the next best thing: Waiting by the phone, during the summer of 2008, in the hopes that he wins the nod for running mate. He’ll have plenty of company.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Now begins the process of denting the Obama halo

Picture the scene: a heroic Democratic celebrity senator from a big Midwestern state ventures out on the campaign trail to test the presidential waters, far in advance of the actual campaign, and is besieged by the fawning multitudes. As one press report puts it, “residents in one town hosed down their housefronts in preparation for his arrival…he was greeted with extraordinary warmth…Voters lined up for autographs and snapshots…his folk stature gives him tremendous believability with his audiences…”

I am referring, of course, not to Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, but to the man who in 1983 was deemed to have the right stuff for the White House – Senator John Glenn of Ohio, the former gung-ho, can-do astronaut/folk hero who was immortalized on celluloid in The Right Stuff. The quotes above are drawn from a Time magazine article which appeared on June 20 of that year. The movie, starring Ed Harris as Glenn, also appeared that year.

Yet, in the winter of the following year, it was Glenn who disappeared. The purportedly perfect candidate wilted quickly once he was exposed for the first time to the hothouse climate of an actual presidential primary campaign. Which is just my way of saying that all this breathless 24/7 talk about Obama might prove to be a waste of time.

I could be wrong, obviously. But, for the moment, it’s interesting to note that the inevitable dynamics are beginning to take hold. The more Obama inches toward an actual candidacy, the greater the public scrutiny, and the greater the risks of denting that halo on his head. It’s all happening already. When Maureen Dowd is writing about your big ears, and Rush Limbaugh is laughing about how Maureen Dowd is writing about your big ears, it's clear that the honeymoon is over.

Memo to Obama: Welcome to the big leagues, kid.

Policywise, he is already being attacked from both the left and the right. David Sirota, a liberal Democratic activist and blogger, says that Obama may well turn out to be a willing stooge of the corporate special interests that routinely corrupt Washington. And, just a couple days ago, conservative commentator Larry Kudlow wrote that Obama is “an extremely liberal-left politician” who stands against those selfsame corporate interests. Obama may have been in the Senate for only two years, but already he has enough of a voting record to provide ammunition to both sides of the ideological divide.

And for those Americans who profess to care about policy but who, in their heart of hearts, find that stuff to be tad dry, there is already a scandal to latch onto. Or maybe it’s just a perceived scandal. No matter; in politics, perception is akin to reality.

It turns out that the Up With Hope celebrity got down in the muck with a shady dude. As the press back home in Chicago has been reporting lately, Obama swung a lucrative real estate deal with a longtime friendly fund-raiser – one Antoin “Tony” Rezko – who, at the time of the deal, also happened to be the target of a wide-ranging federal investigation. Today, Rezko is in worse shape, having been indicted two months ago on charges of seeking to extort campaign donations and kickbacks from firms that wanted to do business with the state of Illinois.

Rezko says he is innocent. A court of law will determine that. But, for Obama, the court of public opinion has more flexible rules of evidence. A tainted image can be enough to pull a politician down off his pedestal; it doesn’t take much these days, in the presidential campaign realm, to go from hero to zero. From Obama’s perspective, it can’t be a good thing for voters to find out that, in financing his deal with Rezko, he drew on the book advance from his stirring ’04 tome, The Audacity of Hope.

The Rezko deal itself, which appeared to be a cleverly contrived plan to get Obama a sweet purchase on a home for his family, is hardly a fatal political embarrassment. Even though Obama himself acknowledges that Rezko was probably trying to strengthen their “relationship” by doing the senator a favor, this was no taxpayer-financed boondoggle. And Obama has reacted smartly to the press reports; rather than sounding defensive, he has been cranking out mea culpas to anyone who will listen. For instance, he told the Chicago Tribune that it was “stupid” and “boneheaded” to business with a guy who “was already under a cloud of concern.” Indeed, the best way for a politician to defuse a story is to ‘fess up to it.

Nevertheless, for Obama, this episode is a likely portent of what is to come. He has already sought to sell himself as a potentially transformative leader, a rare beacon of hope at a time when most Americans see their country heading in the wrong direction. Any candidate who aspires to that image is setting the bar pretty high for himself. All the more reason why his inevitable policy compromises in the Senate will be placed under the microscope - and why all his past dealings in the bare-knuckled world of Chicago politics will be closely scrutinized.

After all, in many American environs, Chicago politics is hardly a term of endearment.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A history of Tim Johnson, the Bush team's '02 test target

I’m following up on Tim Johnson, the Democratic senator who is currently listed in critical condition after “successful” brain surgery – and whose illness could imperil the fragile ’07 Democratic Senate majority, as I wrote here late yesterday.

Undoubtedly, a lot of people are reacting to this story by asking, “Who’s Tim Johnson?” So while everyone is scrambling to understand the laws and precedents relating to senatorial incapacity, let’s also focus a bit on Johnson – and the important role that he played in national politics, back in 2002.

Early that year, Tim Johnson of South Dakota was the canary in the coal mine. He was arguably the first Democratic senator to be targeted for electoral defeat by the Bush administration on the charge that he was insufficiently patriotic.

I know this well, because I spent a week in South Dakota, in February of 2002. Actually, what I remember most was that you could drive in South Dakota for two straight hours without seeing a tree. What I next remember is that Johnson, a freshman Democrat, was slated to be up for re-election in November – and yet, even at the start of the year, the White House was already trying to take him apart.

Bush, at this particular time, was at the apogee of his popularity. The 9/11 attacks had just happened only a few months earlier, the retaliatory war in Afghanistan was front and center, and the Iraq sales job had barely begun. Moreover, Bush in the 2000 election had won South Dakota by 22 percentage points. Hence, the early decision to go after Johnson, assailing him as a weak obstructionist of the unassailable commander-in-chief. That winter, the White House knew that if they could eject Johnson from his job, the Democrats would lose their one-seat Senate majority (sound familiar?).

So the Bush strategists dispatched Bush emissaries to South Dakota, to deify the Decider; I recall being at a banquet where Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans said of his Texas buddy, “This is a man who has a great mind, a big heart, an extraordinary leader, judgment you can trust.” And the Bush strategists followed up by running a slew of TV ads, sponsored by the national GOP, depicting Johnson as a national security softy whose judgment should not be trusted. (Locals told me that they had never seen such an early barrage of ads, nine months before an election.)

Johnson was a bit of a challenge for the Bush strategists, because he did have a son in the military; in fact, the kid was stationed with the 101st Airborne in Kandahar, Afghanistan. And Johnson himself was an Army vet. But these trifling details didn’t deter the strategists (just as they were not deterred later that year, when they questioned the patriotism of Democratic Sen. Max Cleland, a triple-amputee war vet).

Nor were they deterred by the fact that so many South Dakotans seemed to be ignoring the ads. People complained that the ads were a big waste of money, and that folks were more fixated on their local worries, such as the fact that pine beetles were chewing up the mountain forests on the western border, and prairie dogs were ravaging the land. One rancher named Bill Hutchinson told me, "Maybe if you could believe the ads, you'd pay attention. But you know there's always a shady area, or some exaggeration, or something left out. These [candidates] are good men, but the people writing those ads? I wouldn't want them working for me, because they're not honest."

No matter. South Dakota was a test market for the TV messages that would ultimately help Bush recapture the Senate that November, and Tim Johnson was a test target. Most vividly, there was this TV ad: “Al Qaeda terrorists, Saddam Hussein, enemies of America, working to obtain nuclear weapons. Now, more than ever, our nation must have a missile defense system to shoot down missiles fired at America. Yet Tim Johnson has voted against a missile defense system 29 different times.”

Note the facile linking of al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein; we would hear a lot more of that during the prelude to war in Iraq. More importantly, the ad attacked Johnson for voting against a system that America didn’t have, that America probably won’t have, and that would have been ineffective against the 9/11 attacks anyway. But this was probably a smart ad to run in South Dakota, where the Cold War missile silos had been emptied only a decade earlier.

Nevertheless, Tim Johnson survived on election night – by 524 votes. Yet another squeaker in this era of squeakers. Republicans cried foul, charging fraud at the polls; the Republican state attorney general dismissed the outcry, calling it “shoddy and irresponsible and sensationalistic and garbage.”

So here we are today, fixed again on South Dakota. Will the ’07 Senate stay in Democratic hands, even if an ailing Johnson remains horizontal for the foreseeable future? Quite possibly, because the rules do not require that convalescent senators give up their jobs – which is why Strom Thurmond was able to hang onto his, despite the fact that he was virtually bedridden in his final years.

And we also have the case of Clair Engel, a California senator who was rendered mute by a brain tumor – yet stayed in his seat, and showed up to vote for the historic 1964 Civil Rights Act. Since he could not speak, he indicated “aye” by pointing to his eye.

He died a month and a half later, with no attendant political speculation about his seat. This was, after all, the era of strong Democratic majorities.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Democrats win Senate...wait, not so fast

As I have often observed, Democrats are a lot like Phillies fans - always dreading the worst, usually for good reason. It did appear, however, that their habitual gloom was dispelled on Nov. 9, when the U.S. Senate officially went Democratic, 51-49.

But not so fast. As the late great Gilda Radner used to say, it's always something.

There is news tonight that Democratic Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota has been hospitalized with a possible strike. We all wish him a speedy recovery, and that's what matters most. The political stakes, however, are obvious. Let's play this one out:

If Johnson is somehow unable to serve, he might have to step down.

If he steps down, the governor of South Dakota is empowered to appoint a replacement (who, as I read the state law, would be allowed to serve until a special election is held - on the same day as the next general 2008).

The governor of South Dakota is a Republican. The odds that he would appoint a Republican are approximately 200 percent.

If a Republican takes Johnson's seat, the '07 Senate party breakdown would be 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans.

If it's a 50-50 breakdown, Vice President Cheney is empowered to break the tie.

Which means that the Republicans would probably get to run the Senate after all...although, as explained here, it's not necessarily that simple. Is there ever a dull moment in national politics anymore?

And speaking of political power swings, am I the only person who remembers that Al Gore conceded his presidential candidacy six years ago tonight?

Rahm Emanuel gets Clintonesque about Mark Foley

To update a line uttered by Captain Renault in Casablanca, I am shocked, shocked to learn that the House Ethics Committee has recommended that no action be taken against the Republican leaders who allowed a sexual predator in their ranks to roam free.

Yes, the leaders were “willfully ignorant,” and, yes, they failed “to exhaust all reasonable efforts to call attention” to Mark Foley’s behavior, but the Ethics Committee report said nonetheless that nobody broke any rules and therefore nobody should be punished in any way. Pretty toothless stuff. I finally got around to reading the report on Sunday night – it was released last Friday, which was no surprise, because Washington politicians always release embarrassing information on Fridays – and its general thrust was fairly predictable.

…Except for all the juicy info about the Democrats.

And the material is even juicier now, in the wake of the NEWS that Democratic congressman Rahm Emanuel, the party’s chief hardball strategist for the ’06 House campaign, actually knew about Foley’s predilections back in ’05 – even though he insisted, in an ABC interview this autumn, that he had known nothing about Foley until the network broke the news on Sept. 28.

I started to wonder about Emanuel when I reached page 45 of the report, and read that some of Foley’s emails had been forwarded, in autumn 2005, to a staffer on the House Democratic Caucus, who in turn shared them with Matt Miller, the communications director of the House Democratic Caucus, who in turn shared them with the communications director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. As Miller testified, “I gave them to him…with the understanding that [the DCCC communications director] is someone that talks to reporters all day….maybe there's a way that he could get the - you know, that he could give them to a reporter.”

Rahm Emanuel was the DCCC flak’s boss. Emanuel’s name does not appear in the Ethics Committee Report, but it strained credulity to believe that the DCCC flak would not give a heads-up to the top DCCC honcho. Which, it turns out, is exactly what happened – as evidenced by this report the other day on the CNN website:

“The head of the House Democrats' campaign committee, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, had heard of former Rep. Mark Foley's inappropriate e-mails to a former male page a year before they became public, a campaign committee aide told CNN. . . .the Illinois Democrat was informed in 2005, but never saw the correspondence and did not have enough information to raise concerns. The aide said Emanuel took ‘no action’ because his knowledge was ‘cursory’ and little more than ‘rumor.’”

That defense doesn't score well on the Washington spin meter. The entire Democratic argument, in the Foley scandal, rested on the proposition that House Speaker Dennis Hastert and his fellow Republicans took no action because they conveniently chose not to probe deeply into the information they already had in their possession about their predatory colleague. Indeed, Emanuel told ABC on October 8 that the Republicans should pay a price simply for being so incurious. He offered this analogy: “If a high school teacher was found doing this with a child, and the principal knew . . . the community and parents would have that principal and teacher out."

He wasn’t wrong to characterize the Republican leaders in that fashion; and the Ethics Committee report rebukes the Republican leaders for their convenient incuriosity. But the point is, Emanuel covered up the fact that he – for his own political reasons – had been conveniently incurious as well.

And here he is, in cover-up mode (video link, here), leaving the clear impression that he had no advance knowledge of the Foley emails:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: “I just want to ask you plainly -- did you or your staff know anything about these emails or instant messages before they came out?"

EMANUEL: “No…George, never saw ‘em.”

STEPHANOPOULOUS: “So you were not aware of them? Had no involvement?”

EMANUEL: “No. Never saw ‘em.”

REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN ADAM PUTNAM (interjecting): “Was there an awareness?”

EMANUEL: “No. Never saw ‘em. The first time I ever saw these things…was when (ABC reporter) Brian Ross broke the (story).”

Well. One can see how Emanuel, the former Bill Clinton aide, left himself a bit of Clintonesque wiggle room. He kept insisting that he never “saw” the emails in 2005, and maybe that’s literally true. But that’s not what he was asked. Stephanopoulos asked, “Did you or your staff know anything”? Putnam asked, “Was there an awareness?”

So maybe it just comes down to what the meaning of the word “saw” is.

To recap, nothing in the House Ethics Committee report disputes the meta-narrative of the Foley affair, which is that the ruling Republicans acted in their political self-interest when they turned a blind eye to Foley’s behavior. Nor does the report dispute statements made earlier this autumn by ABC’s Brian Ross, who said that he ultimately got wind of the Foley story from Republican contacts.

But now, in the wake of the news about Rahm Emanuel, we have a fuller picture: the House Democrats turned a blind eye as well, clearly hoping – in their own political self-interest – that the Foley info would somehow surface in the press and thus hurt the GOP in campaign ’06.

All told, Americans who believe that politicians should strictly police their ranks were not well served by either party in the Foley affair.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Give that clueless Democrat an "F"!

As the Democrats prepare to share power in 2007, one of their top priorities is to demonstrate that they can be trusted on matters of national security. They have been handed a golden opportunity – thanks to White House bungling and GOP congressional complicity – and their ’08 presidential prospects may well hinge on whether they can convince independent swing voters that they are worthy of that trust.

Too bad they have flunked their first test.

Consider the case of Democratic congressman Silvestre Reyes. He’s the next chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Nancy Pelosi’s compromise choice. She didn’t want to pick the hawkish Jane Harman (they have personal issues). Nor did she want to pick the next Democrat on the panel, Alcee Hastings (he’s a former federal judge who was once impeached by the House and ousted from his job by the Senate). So she went to the next Democrat on the panel, Reyes. He’s considered a decent guy, and he’s a Vietnam vet as well.

The only problem is that, despite his service on the panel, Reyes apparently doesn’t know all that much about the global war on terror.

As Jeff Stein, the national security editor of the nonpartisan Congressional Quarterly magazine put it the other day, “Reyes can’t answer some fundamental questions about the powerful forces arrayed against us in the Middle East….How can the Intelligence Committee do effective oversight of U.S. spy agencies when its leaders don’t know basics about the battlefield?... Members of the Intelligence Committee, mind you, are paid $165,200 a year to know more than basic facts about our foes in the Middle East.”

Stein has a reputation for giving pop quizzes to national security officials, just to see what they know. He has embarrassed some FBI people this way. He has also embarrassed some House Republicans in the past. Maybe he’d even embarrass President Bush, who, as I recall, stumbled during his first campaign when a TV reporter gave him a pop quiz. (Politicians hate pop quizzes. I remember a snowy day in New Hamsphire, in 1996, when GOP candidate Lamar Alexander was asked whether he knew the price of a gallon of milk and the price of a loaf of bread. He flunked both.)

Anyway, now that the Democrats have a chance to show some national security expertise and project an image of strength, it’s fair enough to put Reyes on the hot seat. And it turns out that Reyes couldn’t answer the most basic question about al Qaeda. Here’s how it went, according to Stein:

Al Qaeda is what, I asked, Sunni or Shia?

“Al Qaeda, they have both,” Reyes said. “You’re talking about predominately?”

“Sure,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“Predominantly — probably Shiite,” he ventured.

He couldn’t have been more wrong. Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shiite showed up at an al Qaeda club house, they’d slice off his head and use it for a soccer ball.

That’s because the extremist Sunnis who make up al Qaeda consider all Shiites to be heretics. Al Qaeda’s Sunni roots account for its very existence. Osama bin Laden and his followers believe the Saudi Royal family besmirched the true faith through their corruption and alliance with the United States, particularly allowing U.S. troops on Saudi soil.

It’s been five years since these Muslim extremists flew hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center. Is it too much to ask that our intelligence overseers know who they are?

As Stein also demonstrated, Reyes didn't know all that much about Hezbollah, either. In the end, Stein asks the reader facetiously, “If President Bush and some of his closest associates, not to mention top counterterrorism officials, have demonstrated their own ignorance about who the players are in the Middle East, why should we expect the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee to get it right?”

I can answer that, at least in political terms. If the Democrats expect to win back the White House in 2008, they need to seriously demonstrate during 2007 that they can get it right.


Indeed, they have rarely had such an opportunity. The latest CBS News poll, released last night, shows that just 21 percent of the American people support Bush’s handling of the Iraq war – a record low. Yet the White House is still trying to shrug off its critics, even though the ever-expanding pool of critics now includes rank-and-file Republican senators like Gordon Smith of Oregon.

As I mentioned here last Friday, Smith delivered a long Senate floor speech that upbraided Bush for his failed prosecution of the war. But when Bush spokesman Tony Snow was asked yesterday about Smith’s defection, he dismissed any suggestion that Smith had made any substantive arguments. Rather, Snow simply said that “politics are emotional in the wake of an election.”

In other words, the White House is not prepared to take even its Republican critics seriously. The circling of the wagons continues.


There's a prominent new blogger at work this week - Tom DeLay. No word yet on whether he'll be tapping the keyboard in his bathrobe down in his Sugarland basement (seriously, it appears the blog will be ghost-written), although it does appear that The Hammer means business. He says he is hoping to use his blog as a rallying point for conservatives.

As a blogger, however, he doesn't seem very comfortable with the notion that he will attract comments from people who don't like him. For instance, on his very first day, this message was posted for his perusal: "You corrupt hypocrite, crawl back to the hole you came out of."

Well, DeLay's blog team reportedly got rid of that message - maybe 100 in all. It appears that the indicted ex-congressmen who once threatened federal judges ("judges need to be intimidated") just can't take the heat when it comes his way.

Monday, December 11, 2006

In decorous language, the wise men expose the Bush credibility gap

Appearing yesterday on Meet the Press, Bush family consigliere James Baker was in the midst of discussing his Iraq Study Group report when he flatly stated: “We don’t spend any time wringing our hands about what happened or might not have happened in the past…Everything in our report is forward-looking.”

Well, Baker is a seasoned political poker player, and that surely explains why he was able to utter those remarks with a straight face. Because, in reality, one of the prime strengths of the bipartisan report is its willingness to revisit the past and boldly chart the Bush administration incompetence that has brought the American mission in Iraq to the brink of ruin.

The Bush team and its defenders have frequently sought to blame “the media” for the woes in Iraq, essentially by arguing that domestic morale has been sapped by journalists who report the bad news while ignoring the good. Bush himself has complained about this since the autumn of 2003, when he said: “we’re making good progress in Iraq. Sometimes it’s hard to tell it when you listen to the filter.” He complained again this past March, saying, “People resuming their normal lives will never be as dramatic as the footage of an IED explosion,” and, as always, the Fox News team seconded the sentiment. Sean Hannity said there has been "a total and almost complete focus on all the negative aspects of the war."

But Baker and his ISG colleagues demonstrate in their report that blaming the media is a fraudulent exercise. They take no issue with the journalists’ reporting of the violence in Iraq; their beef is with the Bush war team – which, as a matter of official statistical policy, has consistently sought to minimize the violence in Iraq…and has done so in order to protect the Bush administration’s ideological agenda.

It’s right there, in passages buried deep in the report:

“(T)here is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq. The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases.

“A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack. If we cannot determine the source of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the database. A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn’t hurt U.S. personnel doesn’t count.

“For example, on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks of significant acts of violence reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence.”

93 acts of violence reported, as opposed to 1,100 acts of violence committed…Baker and his colleagues are too decorous to state the obvious, but what they are essentially saying here is that the Bush administration, in its official capacity, falsely skews its information.

The next line in the ISG report is particularly damning, even though its bureaucratese may require you to read it twice: “Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals.” That’s dry stuff, intentionally so. But, as an attack on the Bush administration, it has real power. Baker and his colleagues are saying that the war team has “systematically” sought to hide the true extent of the Iraq violence so as not to expose the flaws in the neoconservative mission.

(Read that italicized sentence again. Now read what British officials wrote in their now-famous Downing Street memo, about the Bush team's prewar sales pitch: "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." Sound familiar?)

All told, the ISG report demonstrates that there has been a serious disconnect between the facts on the ground, and what Americans were being told by the Bush administration (in the president’s words in December 2005, there is “quiet steady progress”). And by exposing the in-house informational coverup, the ISG report probably makes it far less likely that the administration will try in the future to blame the downward spiral in Iraq on the journalists who are reporting it. (Although, on CNN this weekend, Bush spokesman Tony Snow made one drive-by remark, accusing the Iraq correspondents of peddling "a failure narrative.")

But journalists well know that the release of the ISG report will not prevent the war’s staunchest defenders from seeking to blame them anyway. Four decades after Vietnam, it’s a virtual axiom in some circles that “the media” “lost” that war, by reporting so much of the bad news. And as Iraq continues to deteriorate, the same line is being floated again; as Michael Novak argues on Rupert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard website, “What we have discovered in Iraq is the weakest link in the ability of the United States to sustain military operations overseas. That link is the U.S. media. They are Islamists' best friends.”

The people who now consider Baker to be a “surrender monkey” are not likely to endorse his contention that it’s the Bush administration, not the media, that should be blamed for destructively shoddy reporting.