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Michael Ubaldi, October 2, 2003.
I happened to watch this yesterday morning and came to the same conclusion as Tim Graham on NRO's The Corner:
Yes, in between his other network gigs this morning, Howard Dean was fearless enough to appear on the Fair and Balanced Channel this morning. When co-host E. D. Hill asked where he would cut federal spending, he hedged, trashing Bush's "borrow and spend presidency." When Hill followed up about the $87 billion Iraq-reconstruction bill, Dean said "There's a ready source for that. The president gave three trillion dolars of our tax money away to people like Ken Lay." Huh? Three trillion in the last two years? Who fact-checks this guy? Krugman Truth Squad?
WHICH REMINDS ME: If Howard Dean can't be straightforward on the primary campaign trail about Medicare reform because he happened to share an opinion with Newt Gingrich, while he may be able to inch to the right on the issue for the General Election, would he really return to out-of-the-box politics once in Washington? Governor Dean, the "fiscal conservative" that Andrew Sullivan and others see and place against a spending-soft Bush, may be just that - history.
Michael Ubaldi, October 1, 2003.
After the summary failure of Enron, Halliburton, Taliban Quagmire, Afghanistan Forgotten, Iraqi Quicksand, Occupation Quagmire, and Sixteen Words to develop into Bushbane, I'm one to be a little wary and weary of would-be scandals - especially in their first week. If you ask me, Bush's opponents used their third "Wolf!" cry some time last year; it's nothing to grow flustered about at the outset. At the very least, reality needs to be separated from outrageous innuendo; the press doesn't help its reputation or domestic politics when journalists run out of the initial set of facts to throw at headlines and tickers, and start guessing to complete the triangle. When Valerie Plame is considered an American James Bond without cause, Karl Rove's or the White House's participation is based on partisan assumption, and when the Washington Post downgrades its lead story from describing "senior administration" or "senior White House" officials to "administration officials," we should take it as a sign to give the matter some breathing room. At least I plan to. I'd remark that it's interesting to see Robert Novak's column, published in mid-July, resurface just as the press was beginning to take some serious heat on poor reporting in Iraq (just as the Sixteen Words resurfaced after Iraqi Quicksand met Toppling Statue) - but that would only add to the speculation.
ALSO: Some on the right have been mediating a bit by agreeing that it's "An outrage! Outrage!" Jim Geraghty reminds us that classified leaks, intentional or accidental, are nothing new to Washington. His point is a little tu quoque, yes, but some of the worry I heard from a friend last night seemed to be drawn from the impression that a leak like this was absolutely unprecedented [and couldn't have been anything but a calculated hit]. And though some take Joe Wilson to be an impeccable diplomat and foreign affairs specialist, the man seems to be his own worst rhetorical enemy, "frog-marching" flamboyance and all. A little too eager to inject means and motive, especially given his ideological past. [Damn, I've gone and speculated again.]
ANOTHER LOOK: Pontificating is easier than I thought (at least I waited several days). James Robbins goes after Wilson's trip. First of, if Clifford May is to be believed, Dick Cheney would not have been likely to select Wilson; more logically, he'd delegate specifics to the CIA. They chose Wilson. Robbins' analysis returns us to July - where a convergence of Wilson, forged documents and the State of the Union Address formed the basis for this latest episode - and posed the question of how drinking mint tea for eight days qualifies as definitive investigative analysis:
Uranium trade with Iraq was illegal after all; you could not expect to get a straight answer from anyone involved in it. Moreover, the wounds of 9/11 were still fresh, and this was only a few months after Coalition forces had swiftly overthrown the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. What country was going to freely admit to selling illegal WMD material to the only ruler in the world who openly praised the attacks on the Twin Towers? As noted, Wilson came away with no evidence that the 1999 uranium sale had taken place. But over the last few months, particularly since Wilson's New York Times piece, this very narrow finding has been taken as proof that Iraq never even tried to obtain uranium. That was not the question Wilson was sent to Niger to answer, and his investigation certainly never came close to being that thorough. Yet the press reflexively cites this brief visit as the basis for the definitive answer on the entire Niger uranium controversy.
And incriminating the White House is the value of this incident, isn't it? Robbin also quotes Novak's consistent defense that Plame's identity was far more conversational than directive - that's problematic for pushing the scandal. If a departmental official or three spoke out of line, they get fired; that's the end of it, and the Bush administration could actually gain.
More to unfold, undoubtedly.
MORE: Andrew Sullivan is thinking along the same lines, in that Wilson's utter contempt for all things rightward - especially the White House - will undercut his credibility.
Michael Ubaldi, September 30, 2003.
Reading the letters: Andrew Sullivan examines the breadth and depth of a good man through his correspondence.
Michael Ubaldi, September 29, 2003.
Arnold Steinberg marvels at Arnold Schwarzenegger's easy time with the last conservative left to split the Republican vote, Tom McClintock:
[I]ronically, Tom McClintock's campaign has pretty much let Arnold off the hook. Schwarzenegger's high profile was an early gift to McClintock, but his campaign didn't know what to do. If the state senator had confronted Arnold daily, a dozen cameras would have covered him. Here was the perfect storm for an indigent candidate like McClintock who could barely afford paid media: unlimited free media.
It's easy to imagine how the campaign might have turned out had Bill Simon and McClintock watched Arnold's polling remain steady far beyond the first week of novelty, shrugged their shoulders and dropped out: even as a liberal Republican, Schwarzenegger would have run to the right of Cruz Bustamante. He would not have had to moderate as many - or any - of his general policy stances. He may not even have had to configure a platform, Davis' recall inevitable and Bustamante's campaigning so uncharismatic. But Simon badgered Arnold into putting his sloganeering into writing before dropping out (and notice that Simon, who could have easily remained Republican-neutral, endorsed Arnold even before the state GOP.) McClintock may not have performed with the wit that Schwarzenegger used successfully against Ariana Huffington - which, apparently, delighted the average center-right Joe Voter - but he certainly impressed observers with his command of issues. Schwarzenegger is likely to both subtly polish his image as part-time policy wonk and refine a moderate-conservative message. He'll continue to do so as long as McClintock stays in.
Darrell Issa was the bellwether of this race: when Schwarzenegger entered, he knew it was the actor's to lose. Chances are every other serious campaign - that excludes the just-for-kicks-and-grins candidates, the megalomaniacs and the former oddball comedians - came to the same conclusion. So is it any wonder why McClintock, regarded by an expert observer like Steinberg to be more interested in ideas than allies or elections, would be best served forcing a winning Schwarzenegger to be electorally beholden to as much of McClintock's own platform as possible? According to most polls, Arnold doesn't need the conservative holdout's share anyway. But it's close enough to make the big guy sweat. And unlike Simon, who in his endorsement seemed to be furtively slipping Arnold a resumé, neither McClintock's withdrawal nor his support of Schwarzenegger would be necessary.
Michael Ubaldi, September 29, 2003.
Bill Buckley on Democrat hyperbole:
That is a great deal of money, but of course needs to be viewed in perspective. In the current fiscal year, the non-defense budget deficit will increase by $120 billion, which is nearly five times the rich-cuts. Those increases in government expenses, which ran more than 20 percent higher than indexation, were not criticized by the Democratic candidates in part, one must suppose, because most of them were voted for by Democratic congressmen.
Michael Ubaldi, September 26, 2003.
Just when he seemed to be posting nothing but errata, politicized BBC headlines and compromising photographs of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the inimitable Matt Drudge found quite a powerful glimpse into the confused political mind of Wesley Clark:
During extended remarks delivered at the Pulaski County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner in Little Rock, Arkansas on May 11, 2001, General Clark declared: "And I'm very glad we've got the great team in office, men like Colin Powell, Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice... people I know very well - our president George W. Bush. We need them there."
More difficult to shed will be the other gratuitous compliments - statements that speak of Clark's core values, now quite different given the man's present company. And a simple case of disillusionment will be more difficult to prove to anyone but Clark supporters. The man is a liar, he doesn't often know what he's talking about - or, as is sadly becoming apparent, he alters his entire ethical and moral shape to fit the circumstance. Once again, he comes off looking unsuited for the presidency.
Michael Ubaldi, September 24, 2003.
What about the big news - Wesley Clark, newly announced Democratic presidential candidate, slightly ahead of George Bush, according to a Gallup poll? First off, an overlooked inference made of the poll shows that Clark, however pleasant a welcome from the press, is very much within reach of his Democrat competitors. But the apparent Bush electoral weakness is what has grabbed all the proper headlines. Thankfully, I woke up this morning to Andrew Sullivan's observant critique of the survey's interpretation that Bush is weak and Clark is, at least out of the starting gate, able to defeat him. I've been thinking about Sullivan's remarks all day long:
By the way - Do most national polls have 48 percent Democrats, like the CNN/USA Today poll? It seems pretty loaded in that direction to me. Where are all the Independents?
[Voter News Service] data shows that this is a center-right-leaning country, not the ideologically driven 50/50 electorate that has become the conventional wisdom after the razor-thin 2000 election. In fact, in the 2002 elections...the number of self-identified conservatives increased from 30 percent to 34 percent.
But Gallup does provide us a bit of insight. Where can we find roughly 48% of voters Democrats? California, New York, Pennsylvania, to name a few places. Congratulations, Mr. Bush - you may be in a statistical dead heat for the biggest Blue States.
Michael Ubaldi, September 21, 2003.
Like Schwarzenegger to California's recall, the entrance of Wesley Clark into the presidential bid has brought a momentary flash of excitement to what over the past few weeks has been turning into a Dean runaway. Clark is a man who is not, at least for civilian service, a politician; he is considered moderate, or is presumed so in contrast to his Democrat rivals. Between my interactions on the blogosphere and a few conversations in real time, Clark is the un-Cola for Democrat voters disappointed with the stock of nine. Like any general who isn't a Patton or MacArthur, Clark is a politically attractive outsider. On paper, he'd be the best running mate and centrist accessory to Howard Dean. He's neither hounded by scandal nor impeded by a notorious personality that's soluble into a sound bite - his is a clean slate at first sight, an advantage he and his Clinton-loyal campaign team have been quick to engage.
They'll need it. Naturally, the gauntlet must be run: the left is beating him with kooky tales of depleted uranium and crypto-Reaganite imperialism, while the most unapologetic on the right have all but shut his morgue drawer.
Clark's problem isn't that he's too far from the Democratic base's leftward center of gravity, or that he's hard-nosed about the wrong issues. In fact the "isn't" about Clark's politics is his weakness. The aforementioned leftist article managed to correctly identify the apophatic platform the Democratic Party seems to be retaining - even after their upset in 2002. What is Clark? Unfortunately, in an Arnold-like obfuscation, he's already given undecided prospective voters enough reasons not to support him in a general election.
As of now, he's simply "Not George Bush." Contrary to claims by well-placed voices who frame him to actually be a refreshment from the rest of the Democratic pack, he risks becoming anything but. He's made disappointing - perhaps unrecoverable - first steps with negative campaigning iced with platitudes, not plans.
Forget the Bush administration's diffident posturing on Yasser Arafat, Iran or Saudi Arabia - unsightly contrasts, strategic as they may be, to the president's relative consistency on Afghanistan, Iraq and al Qaeda. Clark can hardly stick his toe in on the questions that count. A sample of newspaper headlines fails to pin down Clark's opinion on war itself, a decision come and gone, given an up or down vote by 535 Congressmen and one executive. This isn't farm subsidies, or transportation humdrum, or trade intricacies. This isn't September of last year, just as the debate was at its most heated; nor has Clark stood firmly on policies in the here and now for the Near East front. Compelling evidence of Ba'athist weapons intent and terrorist links aside, for Clark to hedge and shift and beg "more time" in the face of mass graves and glimmers of Iraqi liberty - to casually invite us to consider replacing their future with one doomed to decades under Saddam and his heirs - borders on the offensive. One might call it Clintonian, though even the Hope native knew when to have his rhetoric ready on time. Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt, to their credit, have taken boos and hisses for standing firm on their decisions to support the liberation of Iraq; Dean, while dancing around domestically, is at least honest when Iraq wasn't his priority. (Dennis Kucinich, barring his flip on abortion, could probably be considered the most dependable on issues, if only that they begin with tin foil hats and go straight to Bellevue from there. No, Al Sharpton doesn't count.)
Clark, while unblemished at the outset, could also find his chances for the White House as number one or running mate, in a time of war, defeated by none other than his military career. Kim du Toit linked a merciless critique of the former general. Not quite the hatchet job done by the New York Post (but always take unnamed sources with a grain of salt), Wesley Clark the general is put at odds with success in the Oval Office. The factual record of Kosovo could very well undo Clark's greatest policy asset.
Though Clark is the candidate Democrats have been hoping to see run, he's not very far from falling in line with the party's capitalizing on doubt and policy soupçons. His allure will disappear should he be a different man to toe the same line - or simply fail to commit any which way. It is a sure path to defeat, however preferable a Dean-Clark pairing might be to any other combination of the ten. Though wartime never transcends politics, the urgency of victory often defeats politics. In 1944, Republicans tried to unseat the three-term Roosevelt with attacks against his campaigning style, his age and length of time in office - unthinkably petty and short-sighted with Normandy's blood barely dry and the final, arduous push towards Berlin expected by the end of that year. The Republicans were buried.
The Democrats aren't lacking for barbs; unfortunately, only ideas will win the presidency. Wesley Clark may not have them.
Michael Ubaldi, September 18, 2003.
Medicare may be Bush's largest, most embarrassing concession to pragmatism and the Washington spending machine, but the House of Representatives still has a bit of fight left in it:
Conservative House Republicans, a bloc crucial to passage of any Medicare drug legislation, issued a manifesto today insisting on some mechanism to control the cost of new drug benefits for the elderly.
Such competition is anathema to many Democrats. Representative Pete Stark of California, the senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, called the proposal "a cockamamie scheme" to privatize Medicare, and he asserted that it would not save money.
He threw a racial slur against former Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan - calling him a "disgrace to his race." And called Congresswoman Nancy Johnson a "whore." And derided the 2001 White House budget as an "embodiment of the anti-Christ." And accused black Republican Congressman J.C. Watts of having all his children out of wedlock. And, this past July, offered the House (and Republican Scott McInnis) such memorable, tender poetry reading as this:
Oh, you think you are big enough to make me, you little wimp? Come on. Come over here and make me. I dare you. You little fruitcake. You little fruitcake. I said you are a fruitcake.
Michael Ubaldi, September 15, 2003.
Besides infancy and enfeeblement of old age, incompetence never seemed a good reason for security:
The mess in Florida was what prompted a nationwide push to scrap punchcard machines because of their propensity to register and read votes imprecisely the notorious "hanging chad" problem especially in poorer neighbourhoods where their use is most common.
For the record, I checked my November 7, 2000 booth ballot for chads. And all my absentees before that. Without even thinking about it, or knowing what the damn things were yet to be called.