Patriotic Democrats who fear President Bush will too-readily attack Iraq would be well-advised to make encouraging noises about the President's Medicare reform proposals when they're unveiled in Tuesday's State of the Union address. Why? As David Frum's well-written insider account ( The Right Man) makes completely clear, Bush's presidency had run out of gas in the summer before the 9/11 attack. Two of Bush's four major domestic policy initiatives (tax cuts, education) had essentially been accomplished. A third, Social Security privatization, wasn't happening. And the fourth, the faith based initiative, was always trivial -- a "ploy," Frum admits, designed mainly "to unite conservative evangelicals, urban Catholics, Minority pastors and traditional noblesse oblige Republicans." By the end of August, "the domestic agenda of the administration had filled up with gimmicks and dodges," including a pathetic collection of Dick-Morrisesque microinitiatives:
The speechwriters had received early notices of a big new initiative for the fall. Under the title "Communities of Character," a grab bag of proposals would address a long and various list of ills: obscene music lyrics, children not eating dinner with their parents, racial intolerance, pervasive cynicism, school shootings, and so on.
9/11 (as Morris himself, among others, has noted) is what gave Bush's presidency renewed meaning, as well as renewed popularity.
Cut to the present. Bush now has the power to make war in his hands. Will he pull the trigger? Even relatively hawkish Washingtonians should want him to weigh the risks and benefits of war wisely, without even a subliminal tug toward conflict. But suppose Bush were thinking of stopping short of war -- bluffing Saddam into cooperation with inspections, but deciding that this was sufficient to keep him bottled up for now. It will be difficult enough for Bush to draw down the military force now building in the Gulf without losing face. Add to that the inevitable sniping from rivals, maybe even from John McCain. Add to that the probability that not going to war would result in the nation's focus shifting to domestic issues -- and threatening to plunk Bush back down into the unhappy Summer of '01, when he had nothing to accomplish.
Except that he now has something to accomplish -- Medicare reform. Here's an initiative big and bold enough to give meaning to any presidency. Nervous Democrats should react favorably to Bush's Medicare plan precisely to drive home the point that his presidency can still have meaning quite apart from any foreign achievements, and apart from any wars.
Of course, Democrats hate Bush's Medicare plan. That's not important! As the CW says, it's probably a political loser anyway. Will Bush really get away with offering prescription drug coverage only to seniors who abandon their beloved Medicare for HMOs? I don't think so. Once the prospect of prescription drug coverage is on the table, it will be hard to deny it to the vast bulk of the elderly. Democrats can win this argument (and if they can't, they should give up and go home).
But that's a fight the Democrats can win later. The important thing now is to encourage Bush to advance his proposal -- and when he does to give him a lot of good (and not undeserved) press for finally tackling the issue of controlling Medicare's long-term expense. If after a year or so Bush gets clobbered on the HMO issue -- if prescription drug coverage gets extended to regular Medicare, if Bush comes to feel he's been suckered into a Medicare meat grinder -- that will still be a year in which he's been able to easily imagine a legacy other than as the President who invaded Iraq.
He may still invade Iraq, of course -- and that decision may well be the right one. But it will be less likely to have been made for the wrong reasons. [Are you saying Bush would consciously put American and Iraqi lives in danger in a war merely to give his presidency a purpose?--ed. No! I don't doubt Bush's sincerity, or his courage -- Frum's book adds evidence of both. But one of the (seemingly obvious) teachings of evolutionary psychology is that subconscious and subliminal motivescan be important, and can tip the balance in close cases. Should I go help the poor in the Amazon where I'll be the only American for miles around -- or should I go to work for the New York Times where I'll be a big wheel in a set of smart, attractive peers? Gee, that's a close one but on balance ... I ... I ... I guess I'll go work for the Times! I can do more to help the poor that way -- yeah, that's the ticket! Bush's subliminal motives are undoubtedly higher-toned, but he'd be a fool not to worry, at least subconsciously, about the meaning his presidency will have for future generations. As he's making his decision, we should want him to be able to envision his term as a historic time of progress even if he doesn't go to war. 6:40 P.M. Friday, January 24, 2003 Even I find it hard to believe Page Six's suggestion that the NYT spiked a PR man's column because Howell Raines is engaged to a PR woman from Poland who might, just might, have indulged in some of the same PR tricks the column discusses. Kf condemns the NY Post's paranoid Raines-centric conspiratorialism! ... Except that strange things do happen in big organizations when mid-level employees are afraid of the boss. People start to censor things they somehow fear the boss might dislike, and fear of the boss becomes much more stultifying than the boss himself (or herself). When I worked at Newsweek, for example, fear of offending our owner, Katharine Graham, was a mild problem -- and way more destructive than Mrs. Graham herself, who in person was about as benign a boss as you could ever expect. But since we didn't see all that much of her, paranoia occasionally flourished. ... If Raines is smart, and serious about combatting self-censorship, he'll do something to actively counteract this paranoia. [What?-ed. Good question. I don't know the answer. Hanging around the newsroom a lot and making it clear he's a tolerant fellow would be the obvious solution. But that might be a tough act to pull off. ... I've got it! Have Gerald Boyd issue a memo!] ...4:00 P.M.
Friday, January 24, 2003
Even I find it hard to believe Page Six's suggestion that the NYT spiked a PR man's column because Howell Raines is engaged to a PR woman from Poland who might, just might, have indulged in some of the same PR tricks the column discusses. Kf condemns the NY Post's paranoid Raines-centric conspiratorialism! ... Except that strange things do happen in big organizations when mid-level employees are afraid of the boss. People start to censor things they somehow fear the boss might dislike, and fear of the boss becomes much more stultifying than the boss himself (or herself). When I worked at Newsweek, for example, fear of offending our owner, Katharine Graham, was a mild problem -- and way more destructive than Mrs. Graham herself, who in person was about as benign a boss as you could ever expect. But since we didn't see all that much of her, paranoia occasionally flourished. ... If Raines is smart, and serious about combatting self-censorship, he'll do something to actively counteract this paranoia. [What?-ed. Good question. I don't know the answer. Hanging around the newsroom a lot and making it clear he's a tolerant fellow would be the obvious solution. But that might be a tough act to pull off. ... I've got it! Have Gerald Boyd issue a memo!] ...4:00 P.M.
The door that hasn't closed: Hillary Clinton beats all Democratic contenders in the latest NBC/WSJ poll. The usual objection -- that these early polls merely reflect name recognition -- would seem to apply here, with one exception. Can Joe Lieberman really say he's lagging because he doesn't have name recognition? He was the party's most recent VP candidate, after all. Democrats know who Lieberman is. If Hillary's clobbering him among Dem primary voters that probably means Hillary would clobber him in the Dem primaries, no? ...P.S.: And if this keeps up, won't Hillary come under intense pressure to issue a definitive, Shermanesque statement ending the distraction her dominance of the field is causing -- a statement she will have trouble coming up with, since she's an inveterate options-keeper-opener. ... It may not even be that easy to come up with a sentence she couldn't wriggle out of later, given post-Sherman innovations in wriggling. ("It all depends on what the meaning of 'run' is. ...") 12:56 P.M.
Thursday, January 23, 2003 Kf's casual empiricism at a Hollywood-left gathering last night confirms Ryan Lizza's excellent, less casual, reportingto the effect that Vermont governor Howard Dean "won" the Dem candidates' Tuesday joint appearance before the pro-Roe National Abortion Rights Action League. Dean did it, not with a Sister Souljah Moment but what might be called a Super Pander Moment -- or maybe "G-Spot Moment" -- in which he cast aside all the hesitations and caveats (i.e., about "partial birth" abortion and parental notification laws) that inhibit his rivals. ...11:15 A.M.
Thursday, January 23, 2003
Kf's casual empiricism at a Hollywood-left gathering last night confirms Ryan Lizza's excellent, less casual, reportingto the effect that Vermont governor Howard Dean "won" the Dem candidates' Tuesday joint appearance before the pro-Roe National Abortion Rights Action League. Dean did it, not with a Sister Souljah Moment but what might be called a Super Pander Moment -- or maybe "G-Spot Moment" -- in which he cast aside all the hesitations and caveats (i.e., about "partial birth" abortion and parental notification laws) that inhibit his rivals. ...11:15 A.M.
The Night is Young, II:
I predict that in the years ahead Enron, not Sept. 11, will come to be seen as the greater turning point in U.S. society.
--Paul Krugman, Jan. 29, 2002
I'd forgotten about that one. Does Krugman's fevered prediction look completely idiotic today? Not quite. But give it a few months. [Maybe until Thanksgiving?--ed FY. But yes, kf's 9/12/01 suggestion that 9/11 would be "off the evening news by Thanksgiving" was equally wrong -- not just superficially wrong but profoundly wrong.] ... P.S.: Last June, Krugman somewhat defensively recalled his Enron prediction, asking "Does that sound so implausible today?" Implausible? Er, yes. ... P.P.S: In yesterday's WaPo profile of Krugman by Howie Kurtz, Krugman
says [New York Times executive editor Howell] Raines barred him from using the word "lying" for the duration of the campaign.
Good to know that Raines doesn't exercise any sort of fine-grained control over his columnists! The idea that he does must just be right-wing paranoia! ... 2:00 A.M.
The Night is Young, I: It's not too late for that long-anticipated hellacious media-fed wave of public disgust to force House Republicans to back down from their planned shakedown of corporate lobbyists for free meals and charity junkets. WaPo had a gratuitous, crusade-ish front pager on the new loopholes on Tuesday [as noted by TP], and now Arianna Huffington contributes a suitably outraged column. She calls them "Meal for Deals," which beats "Steaks for Tax Breaks." ... Unlike Arianna, I'm not so bothered if lobbyists know when Rep. Hastert's bill-drafters are working late. That's their job. But it's one thing to have lobbyists loitering out in the hall. It's another to have major legislative decisions made in an atmosphere of petty corruption in which money talks, and Congressman, whom the public pays in the six figures, begin to think a cushy, lobbyist-subsidized life is their due. ... [You live in L.A. and go to parties. Hasn't Arianna fed you more than $50 worth of meals?--ed. See, it works! That's the point.] 1:01 A.M.
Incomplete answer: ANSWER, one of groups sponsoring recent antiwar marches, seems to be associated with an old, hard left organization -- the Workers World Party (WWP) -- that supports various odious Communist and anti-American dictatorships. The issue is well-ventilated by Instapundit, David Corn, Lileks, and Michael Kelly (in his recent column, "Marching with Stalinists"). The WWP's role reflects badly on the marchers. On the other hand, I remember that during the Vietnam War, the biggest antiwar marches were organized by Trotskyists. That didn't automatically make the marches wrong, or make the war a wise use of American power. The people who showed up on the Mall to protest against Vietnam weren't Trotskysists and they didn't become Trotskyists -- and everyone knew that. The Trots just did the work, while they diluted their message to attract a big mainstream crowd. In the end, the mainstream anti-war marchers were using them, rather than the other way around. Similarly, if millions of American one day join ANSWER's demos, that won't mean they've become Stalinist cadres. It will mean the Iraq war has serious opposition. ... [What if the organizers were Nazis or the Klan?-ed. I'd feel different. So sue me.] 12:15 A.M.
Wednesday, January 22, 2003
Remodeling glitch: Hillary Clinton's drive to appeal to the center (see below) might be slowed if wider publicity were given to her astonishing gloss on Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, as reported in the New York Sunand linked in Opinion Journal:
Yes, we want to be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin. But what makes up character?" she said, quoting from Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. "If we don't take race as part of our character, then we are kidding ourselves."
I assume this is an accurate quote and not some sort of early April Fool's joke. ... [Is it that crazy. Aren't race experiences part of someone's makeup?--ed. At the very least, King was talking about an individual assessement of each person's character, not an automatic 20 points added (or, in effect, subtracted from everyone else) based on skin color, which is the practice Hillary's defending. Giving people who have actually overcome race discrimination bonus points, on a case by case basis, might be a different matter. In fact, it would arguably be a Bush-style "race neutral" approach, since people of any color may suffer discrimination. It's still not clear to me why that case-by-case approach isn't advocated more often. Presumably it's because it would not produce the numbers "diversity" proponents seek.] Update: Volokh has pithy comments. Minuteman finds another newspaper with a slightly different version of Hillary's sound bite. It seems to have been from a second, different event (in Harlem, not in the Bronx). But it clarifies what Hillary undoubtedly means. I don't think it gets her off the hook. ... 3:27 P.M.
How will Hillary vote on Michael Chertoff's nomination to the Ct. of Appeals?
If I ran a blog that's the question I'd be asking -- because it's the best clue to whether HRC is secretly positioning herself for 04. Until now, the CW has been she's not; she's taking the long view and looking to '08. But, recent developments might suggest otherwise.
First and foremost, Bush's drop in the polls, the prospect of an unpopular war, and the still sour economy, are starting to make the '04 nomination look desirable after all. And if Bush is beatable, and a Dem wins in '04, Hillary has to wait until '12. No way she wants to do that -- not with the aggressive, heavily spin doctored remodeling campaign underway to transform her image NOW as a hard-core lefty with a mean streak to a softer, smiling moderate conciliator who can bridge the ideological gap to GET THINGS DONE.
The best example of how active and ongoing that campaign is: Last week's NYT story about how Hillary was working with Don Nickles of all people to GET THINGS DONE on extending unemployment benefits. Its lead quote is from Howard Wolfson of all people (her former campaign flack) saying, in so many words, 'This shows how Hillary can GET THINGS DONE.' Then quotes Hillary saying [disingenuously?] "I happen to like him [Nickles]. I am reluctant to say that because I am sure that will hurt him in Oklahoma." In short, perfect placement-- exactly the story the Hillary remodelers want the Times to be writing. (My guess is Hillary can't stand Nickles.)
Which brings us back to the question-- how will she vote on the nomination of Michael Chertoff, announced over the weekend, to the 3rd Circuit? Chertoff, you remember, was Sen. D'Amato's chief counsel in the Whitewater hearings. It was his subpoeanas-- and relentless digging-- that ultimately uncovered the long lost billing records, leading directly to HRC's humiliating appearance before Starr's grand jury
When Chertoff came up for a Senate vote to head the Justice criminal division, the vote was 95 to 1, with HRC as the one. It was Exhibit A that the old Hillary still lives -- and will never forgive and forget. At the time of that first Chertoff confirmation vote, in early '01, Hillary was only too happy to let the world know she still remembers everything.
But that was then -- and this is now. If Hillary votes against Chertoff this time, it will get her a new round of headlines recalling the old days -- convincing proof that she's not thinking about '04 and is really, truly waiting it out. But if she now votes for him -- I'd say it would be the best signal to date. ...It means she's at the very least keeping her options wide open.
Why isn't it an obvious, no-brainer for her to support Chertoff?
A vote for hiim might be a little hard to explain. If she didnt think he was good enough to be confirmed as Asst. A.G., why then does she think he's good enough for a lifetime judicial appointment? What's changed? His sensitivity to civil liberities in the Ashcroft post 9/11 crackdown? (He was chief implementer of the Ashcroft crackdown!)
Note: A March, 2002 WSJ profile of Chertoff (who at the time was prosecuting Enron and the now-ex accounting firm of Arthur Andersen) notes that he keeps on his office wall a framed "roll-call tally sheet of his Senate confirmation" showing the 95 votes in his favor and Hillary's single vote against him. Guess he has a memory too. ...
P.S.: That NYT story on the Hillary/Nickles alliance was also odd since, if you read all the way to the end, it becomes clear that Hillary's most recent contribution to passing the extension of unemployment benefits was to piss off Nickles and Majority Leader Frist by offering an unexpected last-minute amendment. Yet the NYT 's Carl Hulse still spun the story Hillary's way ("Mrs. Clinton Put Past Behind in Trip Across Aisle"). ... I knew there'd be a Times angle in there somewhere! ... 6:36 P.M.
Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--Escapee from American Prospect. Salon--Better click fast! Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! Washington Monthly--Includes "Tilting at Windmills" Lucianne.com--Stirs the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. The Liberal Death Star--Registration required. NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare! Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog. Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko's MediaNews--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. Overlawyered.com--Daily horror stories. Eugene Volokh --Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna--A hybrid vehicle. Tom Paine.com--Web-lib populists. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk.