Friday, March 30, 2007

Romney Chooses Running Mates - If That's Okay With James Dobson

Despite an unsettled field for the Republican presidential nomination, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is already talking about potential vice-presidential running mates. At a campaign stop in South Carolina, he threw out the names of South Carolina's own conservative governor, Mark Sanford, the ethically-challenged former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and the religious right's favorite son, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

The move is, of course, presumptuous, but Romney must be willing to risk seeming a little arrogant so that he can convince conservatives that he's their guy. The extreme right-wing of the Republican Party hasn't been happy with front-runners Romney, Rudy Guiliani and John McCain. They're not even happy with Fred Thompson, former senator from Tennessee, who is said to be considering a run, and looking to fill a void for the religious right. (Doesn't look like that's happening, at least not if James Dobson - the hard right's voice - has anything to say.)

Romney had the nicest things to say about Jeb Bush, saying that "I love him." Then, seemingly admitting that President George W. Bush's standing with the public is a problem, he added "If his name weren't Bush, he'd be running for president, I'm convinced." How lucky for the rest of us that the younger Bush didn't adopt a stage name, or we'd see a continuation of this dynasty of disaster. Sanford is an obvious name to drop for anyone hoping to score points with the conservative voters in South Carolina. Christian conservatives tried to enlist Sanford himself as a presidential candidate, although he declined.

Meanwhile, conservative religious guru James Dobson, who seems to think he's choosing the next president all by himself, said Romney "can't win" because "there are conservative Christians who will not vote for him because of his Mormon faith." Out the vast field of candidates, Dobson only had good things to say about Gingrich, whom he called "the brightest guy out there." It seems Newt must be a shining example of religious redemption for Dobson to praise him like that.

The Republican Party is being held hostage by religious conservatives like Dobson, since every candidate seems to feel the need to genuflect to the religious right. McCain's gone back on his comments that Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were "agents of intolerance" and even Guiliani - tough guy from Brooklyn - seems to feel it is necessary to qualify those of his socially-moderate stances that the religious right doesn't like.

Romney - who has his own troubles with the religious conservatives who don't like his back-tracking on gay rights and his Mormon faith - is clearly trying to gain favor with them by choosing three potential running mates that he knows the right approves: Sanford, whom they tried to enlist; Bush, who's been called one of the religious right's "strongest elected officials;" and Gingrich, who practically has Dobson's Focus on the Family seal of approval stamped on his forehead. All of which is designed to get an endorsement from Dobson, who claims he only talks about politics as "a private individual," so as not to upset the non-profit status of his group.

If ever there was anybody who needed a tax audit, it's Dobson. To paraphrase George Carlin, if he wants to talk politics and influence elections, let him pay his admission fee like everyone else.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Edwards Campaign Shaping Election

Despite the news of his wife's recurrence of cancer, John Edwards said that his campaign for president will continue "strongly." There is a lot ahead of them that they can't possibly know yet, but if there's anyone running a strong - and honest - campaign in this presidential election so far, it is John Edwards.

Candidates for political office, especially presidential candidates, are often short on specifics. Everyone knows the routine: a candidate promises a fresh start, new ideas, a way out of bad prior policy decisions, a strengthening of vaguely defined values, and a host of other proposals that sound good but lack specificity. Perhaps the best example of this was Richard Nixon's promise in the 1968 campaign of a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War, which he would only disclose if he won. (He did, and there wasn't any, as he later admitted in his memoirs.)

Edwards, the former senator from North Carolina and former vice-presidential candidate, seems as fed up with that kind of campaign as the rest of the country. In the few short months since it began, his campaign has released detailed plans for health care reform and combating climate change, among other proposals. He was the first to call for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign, prompting responses from the other candidates. His campaign declared itself carbon neutral recently, presenting a standard for the others to match. He was also the first Democrat to pull out of a Nevada debate that was being run by Fox News, known for its hostility to Democrats. Other candidates followed suit and eventually, the Nevada Democratic Party dropped Fox. Whether he is ultimately successful or not, there is no denying Edwards is strongly shaping this election.

While President Bush is sticking with his idea of voluntary measures to combat global warming, this week Edwards proposed mandatory caps on the emission of heat-trapping gases and stricter standards for auto emissions as well. Not only does Edwards reject the idea that these proposals will harm the economy, he said the government could help in creating a new energy-based economy with the benefit of adding one million new jobs, a feat that the Bush administration hasn't come close to in their years in office. The League of Conservation Voters recently issued a statement praising the Edwards plan, along with a similar bill that is in Congress. The League said Edwards' plan shows "he understands the magnitude of the challenge before us."

Meanwhile, Edwards' health care plan has drawn praise from Princeton economist and New York Times op-ed writer Paul Krugman, who called it a "smart, serious proposal." ("Edwards Gets It Right," New York Times, Feb. 9, 2007.) Long on specifics, the Edwards plan would guarantee insurance for all citizens and monitor insurance companies who "game the system" by only insuring healthy people. Edwards even went so far as to say he'd pay for this program by eliminating the Bush tax cut on the wealthiest of Americans, which would simply put them back where they were during the Clinton years. No other candidate has been bold enough to say anything of the kind.

Which is not to say they won't. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson may yet come out with detailed plans to rival Edwards', but so far they haven't. (Krugman quotes Clinton as saying she is "not ready to be specific.") The same goes for the Republican candidates. And it's worth keeping in mind that Bush's plan for health care includes taxing the middle class on their "golden" plans -- an idea that was dead in the water as soon as he presented it.

The Edwards campaign, so far, is the only one talking about poverty in America, and around the world. While he hasn't used the "Two Americas" theme of his 2004 campaign extensively this time around, Edwards has been a constant voice on this subject. The Boston Globe said in 2005 that "Edwards got it right about poverty."

Yet every time the issue comes up, the Republicans cry that the other side is trying to wage "class warfare," which is their way of not talking about the subject. If any party's policies have created warfare among the classes, it is the Republicans, who for more than 25 years have adopted economic policies that have hurt working people. Meanwhile, Edwards - who ran the poverty center at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill - recently said confronting global poverty would actually make the U.S. safer, since terrorism thrives in failed states.

We wish John and Elizabeth Edwards the very best in their latest struggle. We hope her health remains as good as it appeared yesterday for many years to come. And we hope to see both of them stay on the campaign trail as long as they can, running a different kind of campaign and, in the process, creating a legacy of which the nation can continue to be proud. Whether or not they end up in the White House in January 2009, the Edwardses have already presented a better presidential campaign.

More info: Edwards Gets It Right (NYT, subscription required)

Friday, March 9, 2007

Is It Too Late For Rehab?

Newt Gingich is sorry. He's admitted that he cheated on his wife while he was pushing impeachment on Bill Clinton for lying about an affair. So he told right-wing crackpot James Dobson that he "sought God's forgiveness" and has "gotten on my knees."

Of course, Gingrich is pushing a new book called Rediscovering God in America, and is saying he will run for the Republican presidential nomination "as a last resort." What he means is that if the front-runners for the GOP nomination aren't satisfactory to the hard-core right, he'll step in as their savior. Oh, and did he mention he's selling a book with "God" in the title? And that he's really, really sorry for that affair (and those three marriages)?

Meanwhile, Gingrich is pulling in $50,000 for every speaking appearance (he makes about 60 a year) and running a for-profit "think tank" on health care that promotes the business interests of its backers (yeah, that's a great academic exercise), according to a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Jan. 21. Also in January, Gingrich's new 527 group, "American Solutions for Winning the Future," got a $1 million donation from Sheldon Adelson, a casino CEO and prominent donor to the GOP. (Wow, a new group that includes the title of Gingrich's previous book! Quite a coincidence!) Fortune magazine, which disclosed Gingrich's speaking fees, said his post-Congressional career is "making him rich." He's also a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the same think tank funded by Exxon that is offering reward money to any scientists or economists who are willing to dispute the U.N's report on global warming.

Gingrich claims his "American Solutions" group is bipartisan (is there any 527 group that is?), but yet the group proposes private savings accounts for Social Security, "patriotic education" in public schools and appointment of judges that understand "the centrality of God in American history." It's amazing how much stock Gingrich is taking in God these days now that he might need the right-wing religious vote if he chooses to run for president (expect an obscene amount of religious rhetoric if he does).

Calling his bid for the presidency a "last resort" (gee, are we imposing?), Gingrich said he wants to influence the race by providing both parties with "solutions" to health care, energy, education, national security and immigration issues. Lucky for us that he's set up a for-profit company to do all that.

Has there ever been a bigger political phony that Newt Gingrich? His few years of prominence in the 1990s were highlighted by mean-spirited attacks on the poor, back-handed attempts to gut environmental regulation and legendary power-grabs. He's still at it, too: At last week's Conservative Political Action Conference, Gingrich alleged that the reason disaster hit New Orleans' Ninth Ward during Hurricane Katrina is "a failure of citizenship." He said the people were "so uneducated and so unprepared, they literally couldn't get out of the way of a hurricane." Never mind the ineptitude of those in charge at the federal level or the lack of response or the disdain for the role of government that conservatives have which he helped establish, it's the peoples' fault!

He has skillfully played the "family values" card throughout his political career, and yet he's an admitted adulterer. He's also a draft-dodger, having avoided service in Vietnam with a combination of student and family deferments, and marrying one of his teachers when he was 19 years old. His first wife - with whom he discussed the terms of divorce when she was hospitalized - sued him for child support when utilities were going to be cut off.

He's also bounced 22 checks during the House Banking scandal, and violated House ethics rules for using taxpayer donations for his personal and political purposes. (He had, at one point or another, 84 ethics charges filed against him while in the House.) He's appeared on Fox News quite a bit - and why not, since they're politically attuned to one another? - and has even hosted specials for them. But is that because Rupert Murdoch owns his ass? In 1995, one of Murdoch 's publishing companies offered Gingrich $4.5 million for a book, while Murdoch was having problems with a complaint from NBC that Fox is a foreign-owned network (which is against U.S. law). Gingrich and Murdoch had several meetings (one reportedly on a park bench) but said their purpose was politics, not contracts. (Gingrich eventually took a lucrative royalty-based deal in lieu of the $4.5 million.)

By the way, news of Gingrich's affair during the impeachment period isn't new. In 1998, it was reported that he told his (second) wife that he was leaving her for a woman 23 years younger than him. The news apparently came to her when Gingrich called his mother-in-law to give her birthday wishes, and then asked to speak to his wife, who was brought to tears by the news. By that point, Gingrich had allegedly been seeing the younger woman for at least three years (she eventually became his third wife). Meanwhile, in his professional capacity, Gingrich said those who didn't support the so-called morality of his allies in the Christian Coalition were "abnormal."

Let's not forget that Gingrich recently said that free speech should be curtailed in the U.S. in order to fight terrorism. Since President Bush has told the nation that this is a war unlike any other and could last generations, Gingrich is proposing a fundamental - and for all intents and purposes, permanent - restriction of freedoms. Gingrich has - both in the past and in the present - advocated a second Constitutional Convention, at which the U.S. Constitution would be revised. This is a man who respects our national heritage? Anyone who doesn't believe in the Constitution shouldn't be running for an office where the job is to protect the Constitution.

The only thing that's new in Gingrich's "confession" to James Dobson is his penitence. All he has to do now is go to rehab and blame a bottle or a pill or bad sexual urges. Throughout his career and his personal life, Gingrich has been a hypocrite, using "family values" to motivate voters whose morality he doesn't share, while acting as an agent in the government for powerful corporate interests and enriching himself in the process. Don't dismiss him; he's as dangerous a political entity and a genuine threat to democracy and freedom as this country has ever seen.

There aren't many who could claim the title of "most despicable" from the likes of Tricky Dick Nixon (although there are several in the current Bush administration vying for the title), but Newt Gingrich qualifies for and has achieved his own grotesque stature.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Let's Impeach the President

How is it that the right wing portrays anyone who talks about impeaching George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as nutcases, yet acted as though the impeachment of Bill Clinton was the most important action of government since the signing of the Constitution? How is it that they equate Clinton's actions, which were of a personal nature, with Bush and Cheney's, which have resulted in the deaths of thousands, not to mention a shredded Constitution?

On Tuesday, more than 30 towns in Vermont passed resolutions calling for the impeachment of the president for misleading the nation on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and for engaging in illegal wiretapping, among other charges. Richard Nixon faced charges that were less severe, and he resigned when it became clear his impeachment was imminent. The political winds were against Nixon, and have been in Bush's favor, although that's changing.

Most now believe - finally - that Bush and Cheney misled the country into war, and as the Iraq situation gets worse with each passing day, more Americans see the mess they've gotten the country into, and the question arises: How do you hold them accountable?

Republicans won't even let the Senate debate a resolution that would simply criticize the president's decisions on the war, so how can we expect them to allow impeachment to come up? Well, we can't. The House of Representatives could bring up the issue of impeachment - even though Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she is not in favor of it - but the Senate would never convict Bush, and so, unlike Nixon, Bush would never feel impeachment was imminent and would never resign.

So why are the good people of Vermont (and other states as well) pushing it? It's because average citizens have been so helpless to stop the Bush administration's destructive policies that passing resolutions of impeachment is the best way to channel and express their outrage. This president and vice president have so threatened the rule of law - and placed themselves above it - that impeachment, however improbable, is the only option left. Add to the mix the administration's constant breaking of the law, and you've got a case for high crimes and misdemeanors, the standard the Constitution requires for removal.

It is indeed a topsy-turvy world when Bill Clinton could be impeached for not telling the truth about an affair, but George Bush cannot for starting a war under false pretenses and violating explicit laws about spying on U.S. citizens. People want to impeach Bush because of his policies and the substance of what he has done in office. Republicans impeached Bill Clinton because they didn't like him.

Clinton was villified by the right wing from the early days of his presidential campaign. Conservatives hated him for his baby-boomer background and intellectual openness. The cultural wars of the 1960s have never gone away, and they manifested in the 1990s battle between Clinton and the Republican-led Congress. (Right-wing extremist Pat Buchanan explicitly declared a "culture war" during the 1992 campaign. Newt Gingrich once called the Clintons "counter-culture McGoverniks." Sounds like a compliment where we're sitting.) They just didn't like him - or his wife - or approve of their lifestyle. So when they could embarass him publicly for having an affair, they did. Shut down the government! The president kissed a girl!

Today, there are plenty of people who don't like George Bush and Dick Cheney. Does that mean the president and vice president are bad people? We don't know. We'll never know if Bush cheats on his wife, is short-tempered with his children, or kicks his dog. To the extent that those things don't make him a hypocrite, they don't matter.

What matters is the ideas behind the administration. Experts say Bush administration policies have actually made the country less safe in the wake of 9/11. The wiretapping program clearly violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. And lying to the people, massaging intelligence reports to say what you want them to say and commiting the country to war has got to be high on the list of high crimes for any president. (Neil Young wrote a song about it last year, "Let's Impeach the President," and the lyrics spell out the reasons.)

Conservatives will always say "don't put the country through it," referring to impeachment. But it was okay when Clinton was president? It's okay to put the country through a mangling of the Constitution, a redistribution of wealth to those who need it least and an illegal and seemingly never-ending war? How much longer do we have to hear this Republican hypocrisy?

If there was any justice, impeachment proceedings would begin tomorrow and Bush and Cheney would be packing their bags. But the political reality is very different, despite what the people of Vermont (and many of the rest of us) might think. There are certainly those who would say Bush and Cheney are patriots, but how is patriotism defined? They haven't been loyal to the ideas that the nation was founded upon, or which it has fought to protect. They've shown disdain for the very concept of government, and against all reason and logic, have pushed ahead with politics and policies that divide the country and harm its citizens. Greater disrespect has never been paid to the nation's laws and traditions, and - absent impeachment - a greater confounding of justice has never been seen.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Pardon Me? (Or: Why Bush Will Pardon Libby)

Scooter Libby's been found guilty and in the three months or so before his sentencing, the question will continue to be debated as to whether George W. Bush will pardon him. The answer is: Of course he will.

The only thing standing between Libby and many years of prison is his ability to cut a deal with prosecutors. What does Libby have that they would want? Information on the leak scandal and how far up the ladder of the Bush administration it goes. What could convince him to keep quiet? A presidential pardon.

It's hardly unprecedented. Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, and damned himself and his party as a result. The former President Bush pardoned former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger and others who were set to go to trial in the Iran-Contra affair, thus assuring that the public would never receive an accounting of what transpired. Among those also pardoned was Elliott Abrams, who went on to be George W. Bush's Special Assistant and Senior Director on the National Security Council. The former President Bush issued the pardons after the 1992 election, when he had nothing left to lose politically. (Although, he stood to lose if the truth about Iran-Contra came out, since he was said to be a key player.)

The timing of the pardon depends on how much the current president is concerned with the reaction of his own party. The Republicans have to know that a Libby pardon will taint them even more than the Watergate scandal did more than 30 years ago. They should be joining Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's call for Bush to pledge not to pardon Libby. It's in their self-interest and their party's longevity to do so.

If Bush pardons Libby before the sentencing or before the end of his term, his legislative agenda is over. Nothing that the Bush administration prioritizes will gain any ground in the next year and a half, and his own party will turn on him. (It's amazing more of them haven't already. What has Bush done for them?) More likely, Bush will gamble that Libby knows a pardon is coming and will keep his mouth shut, and a pardon will come in time for Christmas 2008, after the election is over. Bush will leave office with a smirk and Republicans will wonder why they ever supported someone who so carelessly damaged their party.

It's been said that the CIA leak case is the loose thread which could unravel the entire ball of string of the Bush administration's false case for going to war and its general lawlessness. Bush and Cheney know that the only chance they have to stop that is to keep Scooter Libby out of jail. So Bush will pardon him, not because he's a patriot (the excuse his father used in pardoning the Iran-Contra figures), not because it's in the national interest (it's in the national interest for the truth to come out!), not because justice hasn't been served (Libby received a fair trial), but simply because their asses are on the line.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

School-Yard Politics and Train-Wreck TV

Most people learn at a young age that one of the surest signs that someone has lost an argument is when they have no response, and resort to name-calling. The older you got, the nastier the names got, but the result was the same: Your opponent had nothing substantive to say and could not dispute your position.

Ann Coulter is the 13-year-old schoolyard bully on the national political scene. Her vicious name-calling in reference to Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards last Friday underscored that not only is she not a woman of substance, but the same hateful, scared child that attacked everyone who ever thought differently than she did.

Coulter also, evidently, has a problem with homosexuality. It seems to be her epithet of choice, as she's used it to attempt to demean John Edwards, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton. But why? What is it about that label she pins on people that makes her feel superior? (It is worth noting that she allegedly has a brother who is gay.) Is she inferring that homosexuals are weak, and therefore ineffective leaders? Does she think we could possibly have more ineffective leadership than George W. Bush? And if Coulter thinks Bush is ineffective, does that mean she thinks he's gay too?

The answer, of course, is that there is no answer. Coulter has no logic to her arguments. She's staked out a place on the extreme right-wing fringe (she's on record as saying Joe McCarthy was right in his witch hunts of the 1950s and that he was a "great American")and she's sticking to it, although all she seems to be doing to defend her beliefs is to engage in name-calling. What does she think of John Edwards' healthcare plan? Or Barack Obama's healthcare plan? Or Al Gore's environmental policy recommendations? We don't know because she hasn't bothered to say, although we're sure she'd simply dismiss the individuals without addressing their ideas.

Hey, maybe all this politics and policy is over her head. That's fine; it's not for everyone. But, what, then, makes her think she's qualified to talk about these people? There are probably some extremists who admire her for speaking her mind, however hate-filled it may be. Maybe there are those who admire her mean streak.

Coulter got her start in political commentary on MSNBC in the mid-90s, where she was a legal correspondent. She was fired from that station for the first time when she insulted the former U.S. ambassador to France during the woman's funeral. She was brought back, only to be dismissed again when interviewing Bobby Muller, a paralyzed Vietnam veteran who was campaigning against landmines. When Muller explained that many soldiers in Vietnam were killed or maimed by landmines the U.S. had laid, Coulter responded "No wonder you guys lost." The insensitivity of that statement is staggering enough - and insulting to all veterans - but to demean Muller, who founded Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (now called Veterans of America) and has been a tireless spokesman for veterans affairs for 30 years, is inexcusable. This from a woman who has publicly declared herself a Christian and a follower of Jesus.

Of course, she later found opportunities at Fox News and CNN. NBC's Today Show has even hosted her from time to time. In 2006, she was featured on the cover of Time magazine. All of these entities bear some responsibility for her continued presence on the national scene.

There are two things that give Ann Coulter and people like her attention: The first is the Republican party, which caters to the extreme right-wing, and keeps inviting her to speak at functions like last week's Conservative Political Action Conference (although there have been calls in the days since Friday to keep her away from now on). The second thing, and by far, the most enabling, is the corporate media's attitude that "news is entertainment."

When people like Coulter, Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity spew their ill-informed, misguided and often hate-filled rhetoric on television, it's not because the news organizations are trying to bring audiences different sides to political issues. It's because they know the Coulters and O'Reillys and Hannitys will say outrageous things that are out-of-step with mainstream viewers. They want viewers to pause in front of the TV and ask "What did she just say?" and then sit down and observe every train-wreck minute of it. (I hesitate to add any left-wing names to the list of people saying outrageous things on television - not because left-wing folks don't say outrageous things, but because they are rarely, if ever, invited on the Crossfires and Hardballs. All of which has the effect of shifting the whole debate to right, but that's another matter.)

Coulter's an attention-seeker, like the bully in the schoolyard who has to get in everyone's face and say the most repugnant things he or she can say. But she's proven that she'll say anything to get attention and to peddle her books -- like when she took to the airwaves last year to promote her latest and knew she'd get everyone's attention by calling the 9/11 widows "self-obsessed women... who enjoy their husbands' deaths." Hurt entire families that lost a loved one? Pervert historical facts? Offend the national consensus? Who cares! She's got books to sell!

Having no shame and saying anything to get attention makes her a media whore. Not having anything substantive to say makes Ann Coulter a phony. She only offers hate and ignorance. Is this really who the Republicans and conservatives want representing them?

If not, the time to say so is now.