Friday, August 31, 2007

"Bush in Bellevue"

The Stranger (Eli Sanders):
The President Stumps for GOP Congressman Dave Reichert, Democratic Challenger Profits--As President Bush paid a fundraising visit to Bellevue on August 27, three telling scenes unfolded. The first, and the most closely watched, took place inside the Bellevue Hyatt, where Bush was the big draw for a $1,000-a-plate (and $10,000-a-photo-with-the-president) event designed to fill up the campaign coffers of Republican Congressman Dave Reichert.
Most significant about this fundraiser was the fact that Reichert allowed it to happen at all. After being attacked repeatedly in his 2004 reelection race for his support of the president's unpopular Iraq war strategy, Reichert could have declined the Bush visit, scored some political points in a moderate district that he won by only 3 percent last November, and helped out his own long-running efforts to cast himself as an independent thinker.

Instead, he hugged Bush at the fundraiser, posed for yet another picture with the president (adding to the Democratic stash of Bush-Reichert photos that's sure to get lots of airtime next fall), and allowed the man with the 32 percent approval rating to describe him as the right guy for the job.

"He's tough when he needs to be, compassionate when he needs to be," Bush said, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Why risk being praised and financially supported by the same president who a lot of up-for-election congressional Republicans are trying to distance themselves from this year? Reichert seems to have concluded that in the long run, the money matters more than the moment itself.

The Bellevue fundraiser reportedly took in between $250,000 and $500,000. If the past is any guide, some of that cash will go to the state Republican Party, some will be used to cover the cost of the event itself, and the rest will be used by Reichert to buy lots of airtime next fall—airtime that will be filled with campaign commercials designed to cultivate his image as an independent, while ignoring the Bellevue event and his indebtedness to Bush.

A few blocks away from the Bush-Reichert event, liberal blogger David Goldstein was in a conference room at the Bellevue Westin watching some political counterprogramming by Democrat Darcy Burner and doing a few money calculations of his own.

Burner, who is trying for a second run against Reichert, was sitting on a low dais with a panel of Iraq experts, speaking about the problems of Bush's war strategy for a webcast "Town Hall Meeting." As Burner discussed the need for a "responsible exit plan for Iraq," Goldstein did some math. Taking the low estimate of Reichert's haul from the Bush fundraiser ($250,000), and subtracting the state party's cut and the cost of putting on the event, he figured Reichert's campaign might net around $100,000. That, Goldstein pointed out gleefully, was about the same amount that Burner had raised through a counterfundraiser she'd launched with the help of some of the nation's top liberal bloggers.

Goldstein called the response from the liberal blogosphere "unprecedented." Burner spokesman Sandeep Kaushik told me, "We're very pleased." While the Reichert event in Bellevue reportedly drew about 300 people, Burner's online appeal drew over 3,000 contributors from around the country who had given a total of $122,000 as of August 28.

Burner's online haul offered a telling indicator of which liberal blogs currently have the most money clout. By Goldstein's calculations, links from the hugely popular blog DailyKos led to around $40,000 in donations to Burner—the most of any blog participating in her fundraiser. The blog Eschaton was second, delivering about $25,000. And Goldstein's blog, HorsesAss, was fifth, bringing in about $5,000.

The counterfundraiser also served as another body check to Burner's opponent in the Democratic primary, state senator Rodney Tom. While Burner was raking in the online donations, at one point at a rate of $100 a minute, Tom was reduced to joining the protest outside the Bush event—nice symbolism, perhaps, but not very lucrative.

Those Bush protesters, who numbered in the hundreds on a warm Monday afternoon, created the last important scene from the president's visit. As Bush's motorcade whisked him into the Hyatt, the demonstrators held aloft signs celebrating the resignation that morning of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and called for the heads of Dick Cheney and Bush next. The dominant theme of the protest, however, was fury at the continuing cost of the Iraq war—a reminder to both Reichert and Burner, as if they needed another, that the coming campaign, like the last one, is probably going to revolve largely around a single, volatile issue that is unlikely to be resolved to anyone's satisfaction by next November.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

"John Edwards Bets the Farm"

At the end of a perfect summer day in Iowa, it is almost possible to believe that John Edwards' presidential campaign is right on track. At stop after stop on his mid-August bus tour, the pretty small-town squares fill with voters who say they feel a strong attachment to the former Senator from North Carolina. They relate to his rural Southern style. They agree with his argument that Washington insiders have twisted the system to rip off people like them. They don't care how much he pays for his haircuts. And they plan to caucus for him.
Edwards hopes these people will propel him to the 2008 Democratic nomination, despite national polls and fund-raising tallies that heavily favor Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The Democratic establishment has fallen into line behind Clinton; a great many people are inspired by Obama; the media are preoccupied with the competition between the two. But Edwards is busy casting his own spell in Iowa, where he came from nowhere to a second-place finish in 2004, before joining John Kerry's ticket as the vice-presidential candidate. He is betting that early success in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina can slingshot him into contention in the 20 or so states that vote on Feb. 5. But in recent weeks, as his campaign pulled staffers from Nevada and he stayed stuck in third place in New Hampshire, the first of those four states has become a must-win. "I'm not going to kid anybody," says Edwards strategist Joe Trippi, who ran Howard Dean's 2004 campaign. "Not winning Iowa would severely diminish our ability to whoosh out."

And so, as the Edwards caravan rolls into Ottumwa in the southeastern part of the state, the candidate and his wife Elizabeth conduct a master class in the art of emotional connection. More than 300 people have packed into a wood-paneled room inside uaw Local 74, a modest brick union hall around the corner from a vast John Deere plant. They cheer when Elizabeth Edwards cites a poll that puts her husband 8 points ahead of Hillary Clinton in Iowa, and they fall into a hush when Elizabeth talks about health care. "Ninety-five thousand women in this state are uninsured," she says, "and if you are uninsured, you are 30% to 50% more likely to die of breast cancer." Her words resonate with the knowledge that her breast cancer has spread incurably to her ribs and hip. She mentions her husband's health-care plan, which promises to cover every American at a cost to taxpayers of $90 billion to $120 billion a year, and says, "I want you to ask the other candidates, 'When your health-care plan passes, what is the number of uninsured?' That number needs to be zero." Then she hands the microphone to her husband.

Everything John Edwards says, does and wears, from the frayed cuffs of his faded jeans to the rolled-up sleeves of his basic blue shirt, tells these people he is one of them. He may be a millionaire trial lawyer, but he made his money by taking on corporations on behalf of regular folks, "and I beat 'em and I beat 'em and I beat 'em again." He and Elizabeth fall into a little routine onstage—she's the smart, gabby wife, he's the exasperated but loving husband—and when she interrupts him by mopping up some water that has spilled at his feet, he pretends to get mad. "Quit frettin' about it! Y'all stop messin' around and listen!" People laugh—husbands nudge their wives—and then they lean in and listen, because Edwards is bearing down now, telling them they need "real change in America, serious change" and they won't get it by replacing George W. Bush with just any Democrat. "We need to take the power out of the hands of these insiders that are rigging the system against you. And I'm telling you they are rigging it. You want to know why you don't have universal health care? Drug companies, insurance companies and their lobbyists in Washington, that's why. We will never change America until we have a President who's willing to stand up to those people and take 'em on!"

For 30 years, Democratic contenders have hugged the political center and avoided such talk because they believed that populism scares away middle-class voters. But Edwards thinks those rules are finally changing, that voters everywhere are ready for a sharp critique of what's gone wrong. And he has one advantage his opponents lack: a sweet-tea voice that makes his tough talk go down easy. He isn't ranting; he's twanging like a bluegrass banjo, rolling along in full control—outraged on behalf of people who have lost their jobs or pensions to corporate restructuring, people who watch their children go off to "this mess of a war in Iraq." And he's enthusiastic about all the things he'll do for these people as soon as he shuts down those rascally insiders: pass universal health care and middle-class tax relief, raise taxes on rich folks, end the war, stop global warming, rebuild labor unions, bail people out of foreclosure, and let's not forget highways and bridges and "college for everyone" and an antitrust investigation of Big Oil, and on and on.

Trippi likes to say Edwards is running a "transformational" campaign that calls on our better angels rather than a "transactional" campaign full of policies meant to buy votes from specific groups. But Edwards' sales pitch is full of transactions—a couple hundred billion dollars' worth of them, give or take—and the crowd in Ottumwa wants all of it. When he is finished, the people clap and whoo-hoo and head up to shake his hand and hug Elizabeth. A gray-haired woman in front of me, who wears a blouse covered with Harley-Davidson logos, is cheering as hard as anyone, so I tap her on the shoulder. When she turns, I can suddenly see the tears welling up in her eyes. I apologize for intruding and say, "He touched you, didn't he?"

She nods. "And she did too," she says. Her name is Donna Ward, and she works in a mousetrap factory. "I've made up my mind," she says. "He's my man. He knows exactly what we want." When I ask her what impressed her most, she can't point to anything in particular. She's quiet for a moment, then says, "It's more the whole feeling." So far, Edwards' spell over Iowa remains strong. A new TIME poll of likely Iowa caucus goers, taken a week after Edwards' seven-day, 31-stop bus tour, gives him 29% of the vote, 5 points ahead of Clinton and 7 ahead of Obama. With the field limited to the top four candidates, his lead over Clinton widens to 32% vs. 24%. Iowa polls can be unreliable since only 5% to 10% of voters go to the caucuses; some surveys have Edwards in a dead heat with Clinton and Obama. But Edwards' real problem is that Iowa may be the only place where the feeling for him is so powerful.

Nationally, he has found it difficult to break through the media's focus on Clinton and Obama. Edwards trails Hillary by double-digit margins, and he may not have the money to compete against their carpet-bomb television spots. "It's still possible for Edwards as well as Obama," says former Senator Bill Bradley, who in 2000 ran an insurgent primary campaign against an entrenched front runner named Al Gore. "Edwards is the best political athlete in the field—giving a speech, working a room, interacting one-on-one. He has the most detailed domestic policy, and his message [that the system is rigged] has resonance. His challenge is to say what he's going to do to fix it."

Another challenge is that much of the attention he's gotten recently has been the unflattering kind, stories that question his sincerity and assail his image as a fighter for the little guy by focusing on his pricey haircuts, huge house and hedge-fund job. These viral attacks, spreading from the Drudge Report and other blogs to newspapers everywhere, make a dumb argument. They assume that someone who's wealthy can't be a sincere advocate for poor and working people. By that logic, the healthy can't speak on behalf of the sick, or whites on behalf of people of color. But in politics, of course, dumb arguments can hurt you, which is why some Edwards aides urged him not to build such a big house. Their effort failed because the Edwardses—having battled cancer and lost a son, Wade, in an automobile accident 11 years ago, when he was 16—wanted to enjoy the luxuries they could afford. "We live our lives," says Elizabeth. "We're not pretending to be anything we're not. People have said, Don't do this or that. How would it look? But I honestly don't know how much time I've got. So we're going to live our lives."

Here's what would truly be hypocritical: if Edwards spoke out on behalf of the disadvantaged while pushing policies that benefit the rich. This he does not do. He favors boosting the capital-gains tax rate for families earning over $250,000 and closing the loophole that allows fund managers—like those at Fortress Investment Group, where he earned almost $500,000 in 2006—to get taxed at just 15%. "He wants to take money away from the people who paid him," says deputy campaign manager Jonathan Prince. "That's not hypocrisy. That's sincerity."

But once a politician is branded as inauthentic, however unfairly, it's hard to shake the label. (Ask Gore.) And the Edwards campaign has not always done a good job of anticipating and shutting down potential lines of attack. In an attempt to paint Clinton as a creature of the corporate establishment, Edwards demanded that all candidates return their contributions from Rupert Murdoch and executives at News Corp., which owns Fox News. (Clinton has taken about $20,000 from them.) Murdoch's New York Post hit back with a story that Edwards had made $800,000 from a coffee-table-book deal with HarperCollins, a News Corp. subsidiary. The advance was actually $500,000, and Edwards had long since donated it to charity; the other $300,000 was expense money paid to vendors, writers and editors. But a more adroit messaging operation might have questioned—before the fact—whether Edwards was in a position to take a clean shot at Murdoch. Campaign manager David Bonior says that when they planned the shot, "I don't think the book deal ever came up."

More serious was the news that Edwards, who launched his candidacy in New Orleans and has denounced predatory lenders' foreclosing on people there, has some $16 million invested with Fortress—and Fortress has stakes in subprime lenders that are foreclosing on people in New Orleans. Edwards told me that when the story broke in May, he sought assurances from Fortress that it wasn't engaging in predatory practices and asked the company to intercede on behalf of a New Orleans mortgagor facing foreclosure. "They said, We'll do that, I said O.K., and then I forgot about it," he said. That was another mistake. By August, the Wall Street Journal was reporting that subprime companies in which Fortress has a stake had foreclosed on 34 homeowners in New Orleans. Edwards announced that he was moving his money out of the relevant funds and would dip into his own pocket to help the foreclosure victims. Of course, he would have avoided the embarrassment if he had cashed out when the issue first surfaced. Hillary and Bill Clinton, it's worth noting, liquidated their portfolio in April to avoid precisely this sort of thing.

"In the political world ... all the rough edges of life are sanded away," Elizabeth Edwards writes in a poignant new chapter of her book Saving Graces. "But the exercise of sanding away the edges has always been a waste of time." Wouldn't it be nice if that were true? Sadly, sanding away the edges remains a political necessity because opponents will grab at anything to pull a candidate off course. Even a diagnosis of cancer. The Edwardses know that some people were put off by their decision to continue the campaign despite her cancer's recurrence, that he is accused of being power-hungry and she of playing the victim card. Elizabeth explains the decision in the new chapter. After her biopsy results came back, she writes, she burst into tears "from panic at the thought that this cancer might take him out of the race. It might have seemed odd to someone who had not spent years in this fight, but this was his life and mine."

When I ask Elizabeth about this passage, she says, "He has to be President. We need someone whose motives are as honest as his. At a level nobody else sees, I know how deeply committed he is to helping people. Which is why I insisted that he stay in this race. I tell people, 'If you don't think he really believes the stuff he's saying, then don't vote for him. I'm not going to convince you.'" By the time midsummer rolled around, the negative stories had crowded out substantive ones about Edwards' proposals, so most primary voters didn't know he had been leading the debate on domestic policy. He was the first to present a credible plan for universal health care. (Obama later offered a similar but less expensive plan that leaves some 15 million uninsured; Clinton still hasn't revealed hers.) He came up with a Gore-approved policy to combat global warming and a well-conceived antipoverty package, including a $1 billion fund to help people facing mortgage foreclosure. (Clinton later proposed a similar fund.)

Edwards was more in command of the details than he was in 2004, though nobody would mistake him for a wonk. On Iraq, however, he was a bit less impressive, promising that as President he would immediately withdraw 50,000 troops but not explaining which 50,000 he had in mind. "I haven't specifically identified them," he says. "I know the regions—the north and the south, not Baghdad. I think it's a mistake for the President to micromanage. Execution should be left to the people who have the expertise."

If his policy work wasn't yet doing Edwards much good, his "change in Washington" rhetoric wasn't either. In TIME's Iowa poll, Obama beat him, 35% to 25%, on the question of who "will take on special interests in Washington." (Clinton trailed with 19%.) Iowa Democrats seem to like Edwards more for who he is than for what he says. They call him the most likable and the one who best understands their concerns, but his toss-out-the-insiders message hasn't stuck. So by late August his campaign found itself in something close to relaunch mode as he delivered what was billed as a major speech in New Hampshire designed to reclaim his role as the authentic change agent in the race. The New York Times gave the speech 276 words on page A15. Inevitably, a certain frustration has risen to the surface inside the campaign.

"The media goes to this very engaging story about a legitimate woman candidate and a legitimate candidate with an African-American heritage, and that drives up their fund-raising numbers," says Elizabeth, the unfiltered voice of the campaign, during an interview on the bus a week before that speech. "Then the media folks say, 'See, that proves we were right to focus on these two candidates' ... It's enough to make you tear your hair out." Soon she's pressing the argument that her husband is the most electable candidate, the one who will help other Democrats win in the South and West—and she's managing to attack Clinton while defending her. "I want to be perfectly clear: I do not think the hatred against Hillary Clinton is justified. I don't know where it comes from. I don't begin to understand it. But you can't pretend it doesn't exist, and it will energize the Republican base. Their nominee won't energize them, Bush won't, but Hillary as the nominee will. It's hard for John to talk about, but it's the reality."

John Edwards always knew Clinton was going to be formidable, but he didn't bank on Obama. Edwards' plan was to run a transformational campaign on Hillary's left flank, but then a fresher transformational change agent set up shop alongside him. Obama's message is more cerebral and less specific than Edwards'—it sounds a lot like Bill Bradley's in 2000—and Edwards believes that Obama will fade, as Bradley did, giving him a clean shot at Clinton. So far, Obama isn't cooperating, and Clinton is trying to triangulate her differences with Edwards and Obama by being the candidate of "change and experience," someone who sees the "invisible people"—a theme Edwards used off and on for months.

Edwards joins us on the bus, and soon he's musing on electability too. "I think most journalists would agree that I'm the most progressive, Senator Obama next, and Senator Clinton closest to the center. But I'd be willing to bet that if you ask most Americans the same question, they'd reverse it." That's not only, he says, because "she's a woman and he's an African American and Ah talk lahk thee-is. It's simple geography. Ask Middle Americans: You've got three Democratic candidates. One's from New York, one's from Chicago and one's from rural North Carolina. Who do you think is most like you?" One thing the Edwards campaign has going for it now is a focused, energized candidate. That hasn't always been the case. At campaign events earlier this year, some Edwards staffers noticed that their man seemed distracted, perhaps because of his wife's illness. That changed as a result of the three days in mid-July that he devoted to his "poverty tour," an eight-state trip meant to shine a light on some of the neediest places in the country.

The tour got off to an unimpressive start. In New Orleans, where it began, Edwards moved through a series of rushed photo ops that gave him little time to interact with people or show off the substance of his antipoverty proposals, about which he knows plenty. (In 2005 he became founding director of a poverty think tank at UNC-Chapel Hill, and since then he has visited more than 100 antipoverty programs.) As his tour moved up the Mississippi Delta, he met people enduring dreadful conditions with remarkable fortitude, and he slowly came alive.

But the poverty was more compelling than the candidate. He didn't go in for big, Bill Clinton-style shows of emotion; he simply interviewed people and let them tell their stories. At the Mount Levi Full Gospel Baptist Church in Canton, Miss., he spoke with poultry workers who live in a trailer park beside the chicken plant, as many as 10 or 12 stuffed into a single trailer with two beds. In West Helena, Ark., he met with home-health-care workers who earn little more than minimum wage from the state department of health—which won't let them work more than 20 hours a week, they say, because it would then have to give them health benefits. In a powerful moment, Edwards asked the workers how much they're paid to change geriatric diapers and salve bedsores. Hesitantly at first, then with pride and defiance, the numbers came out: "$6.30 an hour," said one woman; "$7.75," said the next; "$7.25." No one was making more than $8.63 an hour—less than $175 a week.

On Cotton Street in Marks, Miss., not so much a town as a sprinkle of cottages baking in the sun, Edwards retraced the steps of Martin Luther King Jr., who was so moved by what he saw there in 1968 that he decided to launch the Poor People's March on Washington from Marks. Sammie Mae Henley lived on Cotton Street in 1968 and still lives there today, surviving on a $620 a month Social Security check, sitting on the plywood porch of the same tumbledown shack that King visited 39 years ago. She is 80, with gunmetal-gray hair pulled back in a bun and eyes that are warm and rheumy, blinking at the politician and the reporters. "You are not 80 years old!" Edwards hollered at her. "You are looking good, I'm telling you!" She eyed him skeptically, and soon he and the media horde moved on. I asked her if a visit like this did any good.

Her son answered first. "It got them to fix the potholes in the street this morning," said Leroy Jones, 62. Is that it? "Well, I think it's a good sign," Henley said finally. "This place is looking up." Another man on the porch, James Figgs, said he was moved by Edwards' visit but he'll probably vote for Obama.

On the last day of the poverty tour, Edwards finally caught fire. It happened at the Wise County Fairgrounds in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, where he was interviewing health advocates and patients. Everybody said their bit except for one man—slim as a stick, with thick brown hair combed straight back from a well-worn face that was anchored by a salt-and-pepper goatee. He didn't say a word until Edwards noticed him. He reminded the candidate of men who'd worked in the mills with his father. "I'd like to hear from you," Edwards said.

And so James Lowe started talking, something he couldn't do until a year ago. He is 51, a disabled coal miner from the hollows of eastern Kentucky, and he was born with a severe cleft palate. When he tried to talk as a boy, he couldn't make himself understood, so after a while he stopped trying. Lowe dropped out of school in the fifth grade, followed his father into the mines and still couldn't afford treatment. Then he was partially paralyzed in a mining accident. That didn't leave him many options.

Lowe lived a mute and, by his own account, diminished life for five decades in all before he finally got a break last year. At the Wise Fairgrounds, where a volunteer group called the Rural Area Medical Health Expedition once a year provides free medical and dental treatment to all comers, dentists referred him to someone who could help. Now he has a prosthesis that enables him to speak pretty well. And so here he was on a Wednesday morning in July, back at the fairground because he wanted to say thanks. "We grew up hard, had nothing," he said. "But what these people done for me made me feel like a different person."

Lowe seemed startled when Edwards got angry on his behalf. "We have to do something about this! This is not O.K.!" the candidate said. "How can we allow this to happen, that James had to live 50 years without treatment? Let me tell you, as long as I am alive and breathing, I'm going to do something about it." He told Lowe's story at every event for the rest of the day, and he hasn't stopped since.

Edwards makes less frequent mention these days, however, of his goal of eliminating poverty within 30 years. He has taken the passions that were stirred in him by the poverty tour and moved them up the economic ladder. Rallying people to help the have-nots has given way to rallying people to help themselves. That's smart—but not especially transformational—politics. I had no idea I'd get such an emotional lift out of that trip," says Edwards, riding his bus. "But the rage I feel about James Lowe translates into the fight I bring to this campaign. And when people feel a connection with me, that's what they feel." Now his task—and it is immense—is to forge that connection with people who have never been in the room with him. He has been trying to do it while painting his opponents as fake change agents, pointing to their positions on the subject of federal lobbyists. Edwards has never taken money from them, compares their contributions to bribes and has challenged the Democratic Party to stop taking them. Obama, who used to take lobbyist donations but no longer does, has refused to join Edwards' call for a party-wide freeze on lobbyist cash. The Edwards camp calls this proof that Obama is a creature of the system who doesn't want to alienate the insiders. (Obama says he has his own plan for reform, thank you.) Clinton does take money from federal lobbyists—some $400,000 so far—and has defended them, saying they "represent real Americans ... They represent nurses, they represent social workers ... they represent corporations that employ a lot of people." That's impolitic but true—as legislators know, lobbyists serve a purpose. "Some of the best information I got was from lobbyists," says Bill Bradley. "What's important isn't shutting them out but breaking the money connection."

Edwards wants to do both. "Senator Clinton is part of the system," he says. "That's the reason she's not going to say no to lobbyist money. Her argument would be that she knows how to get things done, that the system may be flawed but she can operate in it. Obama would say his strength is bringing people together to reach a political compromise. My distinction from both of them is I'm not part of that system"—a hard argument for a former Senator and vice-presidential candidate to make. "I don't think you can nice your way through this."

When Edwards says he won't "negotiate or compromise" with lobbyists, it sounds good, but what does it mean? Negotiation and compromise are the heart of politics, so how does he intend to pass health-care reform—or anything else—without them? "I'll negotiate and compromise with the leaders of Congress," he clarifies, "but that's different than negotiating with the lobbyists. I would not negotiate with them or compromise on core principles." But even if lobbyists weren't talking to his White House, they'd still be talking to Congress and influencing the bills he'd sign. So isn't this lobbyist stuff mostly symbolic—a message to voters rather than a plan for governance?

"That's right," he concedes. Then he adds, optimistically, "But the differences between us are clear." That may be true in a union hall in Ottumwa at the end of a perfect summer day. But for much of the rest of the country, John Edwards hasn't yet managed to cast that spell.

"Rep. Adam Smith to be Washington state chair for Obama's campaign"

The Bellingham Herald (WA):
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Rep. Adam Smith has been named chairman of Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign in Washington state, Obama's campaign announced Thursday.

In a statement, Smith said that "Barack Obama is the right man for the job."

"We need a change from the divisive politics of the past few years," he said.

Smith will also advise the campaign on policy issues, including foreign policy and economic policy.

"U.S. Rep. Smith is a strong Democratic voice on foreign policy and works in Congress to help our nation fight the spread of terrorism," Obama said in a statement.

Smith is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chairman of the House Armed Services terrorism subcommittee.
Howie P.S.: I thought he already had this job. Wasn't Adam also in this role for John Kerry in 2004?

"The Trouble with Moral Clarity" (Updated)

UPDATE II: Geov Parrish sent me this comment:
There's a lot of evidence that the American presence is in an of itself making things worse. McGovern's plan - apologize for the invasion, full withdrawal, no bases, no oil laws, and pay for a Muslim internnational peacekeeping force - seems to me to make the most sense. Bush/Cheney would never consider it, of course, but neither will any of the leading Dems, which is pretty damn discouraging.
UPDATE: Howie Opinion--I think I'll put myself in with the Postman-Shue option. As dinazina commented to me:
What evidence does Baird have that Bush & Cheney (they are controlling everything, after all) will do ANYTHING decent, moral, or constructive for the people in Iraq?
David Sirota seems to agree.

switzerblog (Evergreen Politics):
So I'll be the 38th blogger to weigh in on Brian Baird's "change of heart" concerning Iraq. Since voting for a bill containing a timetable for troop withdrawal, he's visited Iraq and decided he can no longer support such an idea. Truth be told, of course, his heart didn't have to go far; he was reluctant to vote for the withdrawal amendment in the first place.
He didn't like it, and after visiting Iraq andTardy Howie Opinion: I think Postman-Shue combo seems about right. dinazina commented to me, "What evidence does Baird have that Bush & Cheney (they are controlling everything, after all) will do ANYTHING decent, moral, or constructive for the people i seeing the changes (progress? I don't know) brought about in the situation after the "surge", decided he just couldn't do it again. Baird's view on things?

"We have a moral responsibility to try to help these people whose lives we have impacted."


"It seems to me the threat of withdrawal is not such a clean instrument and may be counter-productive."

Something of a "we broke it, we bought it" view, one I've argued against, but not entirely unreasonable. It's important to remember that Baird voted against the war in Iraq and would do so again today, but his view is that we have to deal with the situation as it is right now. The interesting part of what he says, though, is his suggestion that we have a moral responsibility to the people of Iraq.

Much is made about moral responsibility regarding Iraq - many on the left view it as a moral imperative that we get out of Iraq immediately or as close to it as possible, while many on the right view it as equally morally necessary that we stay and "finish the job". Both see themselves having moral clarity and the other side lacking moral standing altogether. But is that true?

Where do we all stand on Iraq? All rhetoric aside, are the bulk of people that far apart? Is Brian Baird that far out of touch with morality, with his constituents, with Americans? Are we? I think if you strip away the rhetoric, you'll find that, aside from cranks on both sides who advocate extreme solutions, right and left aren't arguing over goals as much as methods, and while that's a heated discussion, ultimately the morality of the discussion is inherently vague.

  • A moral case can be made that we have brought physical, emotional and financial ruin on Iraq, and must correct this abhorrent situation before we move ourselves out of their world (let's call this the Baird imperative for today).
  • Another moral case can be made that we have brought physical, emotional and financial ruin on Iraq, and must correct this by moving ourselves out of their world (let's call this the...Postman imperative, for lack of a better term).
  • A case can be made that there are horrible people in Iraq just waiting to pounce, first on Iraqis, then on us, as soon as we leave, and therefore we must stay and pacify them (Lieberman imperative).
  • A case can be made that there are horrible people doing horrible things in Iraq and we have to leave quickly so the Iraqis can roust these troublemakers out on their own (I'll call this the Shue imperative, although it doesn't map directly to Mr. Shue's own stance. His vocal advocacy deserves its own imperative).
  • And a case can be made, popularly in our own Northwest, that we have a moral need to get our own children, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, out of Iraq and prevent further loss of American life (we'll call this the Sheehan imperative).

These are, of course, simplified and do not include variants and combinations, but I think this is a good outline of the root mainstream belief structures about Iraq in American discourse today. I do not include end-of-the-spectrum ideas intentionally.

Each of these cases has polls, proof points, Iraqi and American voices, troops on the ground, and logical strength behind them. Each has moral weight, and each provides its own moral clarity. The nature of such things is such that there exists a ready-made blockage to any other idea. I see a moral issue. I have moral clarity on that issue. If you disagree on any point, you are wrong, and therefore immoral. There is no need to debate an immoral person. And that, my soon to be leaving angry comments readers, is the trouble with moral clarity.

We cannot change Baird's mind, nor he ours, for each stands in moral opposition despite each wanting to get our troops out and see a stable, safe, self-governing Iraq. Many will, I'm sure, condemn his moral failure and support of the Bush ideas for Iraq (indeed, at the Slog, a commenter has already pondered where Baird intends to find "more people to sign up to be Darth Cheney's Imperial Stormtroopers", as though this were Baird's hope or plan). War supporters will trumpet Baird's moral conversion and the imminent collapse of Democratic unity on the issue. But what will not happen, in the house down the street or any Congressional meeting room, is a meeting to discuss what can and should really be done.

Originally, the argument on Iraq was "Go or Don't Go". It became "Stay or Leave", and now that "Stay" has lost, the argument should be "When do we Leave". Unfortunately, moral clarity has intruded, and we waste time claiming that Baird wants permanent occupation, or Kucinich wants to abandon our troops, or someone else wants to abandon Iraqis...all nonsense, all ultimately irrelevant, and all distracting from any possible solution.

We must drop this moral clarity and seek answers. Moral clarity has led too many politicians to find the answers they've wanted - Republicans (and Joe L) visit Iraq and find progress, troops who embrace the mission, high morale, while Democrats visit Iraq and find chaos, death, danger and troops lost in hopelessness. Pre-screened audiences and carefully designed routes provide cover. But why are we lost in these one-answer mazes? Why do we spend tax dollars on these Iraqi campaign ads? Would it not be more fruitful to bring John Murtha and Brian Baird and Lieberman and John Thune together in Iraq to meet with all manner of troops? To simply listen to their feedback? To meet with Iraqis in secure neighborhoods, as well as those not secure? Sunnis and Shias?

But this won't happen, because we've lost our way. We're blinded by our moral clarity, unable to seek further answers or ask better questions, and in the chokehold of the madmen in charge, run by their own moral clarity which drags us all down with them. I'm sick of moral clarity. I want questions and doubt. We don't know what will happen when we leave Iraq; we don't know if we're better off staying or leaving. We don't know if it's making us safer or not. And we can't admit we don't know because we no longer doubt, we no longer question, and we no longer talk.

I disagree with Brian Baird, based on what knowledge and understanding of the situation I have. But I have to listen to him because I don't know the answer. Until our leaders - Republican and Democrat - take that one small step back and decide that they don't know the answer, they'll just keep asking the wrong questions, and these short-term Congressional battles will continue to resolve nothing, letting the very real war continue with lethal results and no way out.

Our moral clarity is creating a moral vacuum around Iraq, and in the end may be the biggest moral failure of all.

"Tauscher hits Baird"

Ellen Tauscher, just back from Iraq, essentially calls Baird naive and easily manipulated:

Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), who recently returned from Iraq as well, said his experience led him to believe the escalation should be sustained until next year. Asked to address Baird’s comments, Tauscher suggested he had become a victim of the “green zone fog”:

I will tell you that when you get in the Green Zone, there is a physiological phenomenon I think called Green Zone fog. … It’s death by powerpoint. … It’s always that their argument is winning.

She added later, “It’s very, very easy to be influenced, from their point of view, that things are better.” She said they will “shape” facts to show gains being made. Meanwhile, the reality in Iraq is that there is a lot of sectarianism in the government, particularly at the Ministry of Interior. “The MOI is basically this sleeper cell organization of Shiite death squads,” she said.

Don't you sense a "night and day" difference with Rep. Ellen Tauscher? She's apparently decided that being a Lieberdem isn't all that it's cracked up to be.

As for Baird, if there are any credible, hungry Democrats in that district looking for a promotion, now might not be a bad time to consider their options.

Darcy Burner: "Thank you!" (video)

Darcy Burner thanks the netroots, video (00:37).

"Terrorism Policies Split Democrats"

WaPo (page one):
A growing clamor among rank-and-file Democrats to halt President Bush's most controversial tactics in the fight against terrorism has exposed deep divisions within the party, with many Democrats angry that they cannot defeat even a weakened president on issues that they believe should be front and center.
The Democrats' failure to rein in wiretapping without warrants, close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay or restore basic legal rights such as habeas corpus for terrorism suspects has opened the party's leaders to fierce criticism from some of their staunchest allies -- on Capitol Hill, among liberal bloggers and at interest groups.

At the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress yesterday, panelists discussing the balance between security and freedom lashed out at Democratic leaders for not standing up to the White House. "These are matters of principle," said Mark Agrast, a senior fellow at the center. "You don't temporize."

The American Civil Liberties Union is running Internet advertisements depicting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) as sheep.

"Bush wanted more power to eavesdrop on ordinary Americans, and we just followed along. I guess that's why they call us the Democratic leadersheep," say the two farm animals in the ad, referring to Congress's passage of legislation granting Bush a six-month extension and expansion of his warrantless wiretapping program.

Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.), who leads a newly created House select intelligence oversight panel, lamented, "Democrats have been slow to recognize they are in the majority now and can go back to really examine the fundamentals of what we should be doing to protect democracy."

Reid and Pelosi promised last week that they would at least confront the president next month over his wiretapping program, with Pelosi taking an uncompromising stand in a private conference call with House Democrats. When lawmakers return in September, Democrats will also push legislation to restore habeas corpus rights for terrorism suspects and may resume an effort to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But conservative Democrats and some party leaders continue to worry that taking on those issues would expose them to Republican charges that they are weak on terrorism. And advocates of a strong push on the terrorism issues are increasingly skeptical that they can prevail.

"I don't think it's that we're reluctant to take on Bush," said Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (Fla.), a senior member of the House intelligence committee. "I think it's we are reluctant to take on each other. . . . If I can fast-forward to September, October, November, December and see where we'll be, we'll be nowhere."

Said Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (Va.): "I would've thought the administration would have been bereft of credibility by now, but they seem to be able to get what they want from this Congress."

The terrorism issue came to a head early this month in an explosive final closed-door House Democratic Caucus meeting before the August recess. Reps. Hastings, Moran, Melvin Watt (N.C.), John F. Tierney (Mass.) and Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) pleaded with party leaders not to bring to a vote a White House bill extending the administration's authority to listen in on electronic communications from abroad without a warrant.

Conservative Democrats, including Rep. Allen Boyd (Fla.), argued just as vociferously that Democrats dare not leave on vacation without passing the White House bill.

"The most controversial matters are the ones that people use to form their opinions on their members of Congress," said Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.), who voted for the administration's bill. "I do know within our caucus, and justifiably so, there are members who have a real distaste for some of the things the president has done. But to let that be the driving force for our actions to block the surveillance of someone and perhaps stop another attack like 9/11 would be unwise."

The administration's bill passed 227 to 183, with 41 Democrats joining all but two Republicans in favor.

Such divisions will not be easy to bridge in the coming weeks. Republicans have said that Democrats who are trying to close the Guantanamo Bay prison want to import terrorists to Americans' back yards. And they have said that those pushing to restore habeas corpus rights want to give terrorists the legal rights of U.S. citizens.

"People say to me, 'Well, what about the 30-second spots?' " said Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, referring to attack ads. He is pushing a bill to restore habeas corpus.

"If you just say you're standing up for civil liberties, the American people are with you, but if you say terrorism suspects should have civil liberties, it stretches Americans' tolerance," said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), who along with Hastings represents Congress on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, a human rights monitor. "It's a tough issue for us."

Pelosi signaled last Thursday that she is serious about revisiting the warrantless-wiretapping law, which expires in January. In a rare recess conference call with House Democrats, she opened the session by having John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, lay out his schedule for hearings on the issue, starting right after the break. She also instructed Conyers; Silvestre Reyes (Tex.), chairman of the House intelligence committee; and other committee chairmen to move quickly on draft legislation.

In the Senate, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) are reviving their bill to give the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court exclusive authority over wiretapping, with new provisions to enhance the government's ability to tap e-mail and other modern forms of communication.

Because the January deadline will force legislative action, some Democrats are cautiously optimistic that they can prevail this time. "I'm hopeful. Am I sanguine? Certainly not," Nadler said.

But others are pessimistic. Hastings said that Congress will probably be consumed with the Iraq war through the fall. He predicted that administration officials will announce that the current permissive law has thwarted terrorist attacks and saved lives but will withhold details as classified.

"Then Bush walks all the way to the end of his administration with no changes," he said.

If anything, the habeas corpus and Guantanamo Bay issues will be tougher. In June, nearly 150 House Democrats signed a letter by Moran urging the shuttering of the prison. But Moran said last week that he no longer thinks he could muster the votes to pass the measure, even though the move is supported by former secretary of state Colin L. Powell, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. Republicans appear to have won the argument with their accusation that Democrats want to import terrorists.

A restoration of habeas corpus rights may have a better chance. Leahy said he will push the issue next month, and legislation co-sponsored by Conyers and Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is likely to move through their committees this fall.

But political fear still hovers over any legislation that touches on the fight against terrorism, which, for Democrats, may be the new third rail of politics.

"We can do this, but you have to keep in mind Republicans care more about catching Democrats than catching terrorists," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "They have spent years taking Roosevelt's notion that we have nothing to fear but fear itself and given us nothing but fear."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"Edwards Takes Shots; Carter By His Side"

First Read (MSNBC):
From NBC's Lauren Appelbaum
With former President Jimmy Carter by his side, Edwards visited Georgia Southwestern State University to discuss his vision for America and his plans to build One America. Edwards began his speech with an attack on Bush's request for more money to fund the surge in Iraq. Using his fingers to make quote marks while saying the word "surge," Edwards dismissed the idea as a good plan.
"The Congress will be coming back next week, and I think the American people have seen enough excuses," Edwards said. "They don't want excuses anymore. They want to see this war come to an end. They want to see it brought to an end. What the Congress should do when they come back next week is make it absolutely clear, no timetable, no funding. And there should be no further excuses. The Congress needs to stand their ground. They had a mandate from the American people in the election in November in 2006 and they need to meet that mandate."

Invoking the second anniversary of Katrina, Edwards said another surge in Baghdad is not what America needs. "We need a surge in New Orleans."

Edwards also attacked Hillary Clinton once again on the lobbying issue. "That system has to change," Edwards said. "I don't think anybody should defend that system, whether it is Senator Clinton or anybody else. I think the system needs to be changed. There is nobody in this audience who thinks the way Washington works today is working for them. I am absolutely certain about that."

On poverty, Edwards lamented that the economic growth over the last five years has only benefited the richest Americans. In combating poverty, Edwards called for (1) truly universal health care; (2) a higher raise in the minimum wage; (3) an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit and removal of its marriage penalty; (4) the strengthening of workers' rights to organize unions in work places; and (5) strong national predatory lending laws. All of these items clearly cost money, and Edwards proposed paying for health care specifically by cutting Bush's tax cuts. He did mention how he would pay for the other changes.

Edwards borrowed a line from his wife Elizabeth regarding his stance on healthcare. "If you are shopping for a presidential candidate and they come before you and they tell you they have a health care plan and you find out that health care plan is not universal, then you should make them explain to you what man, and what woman, and what child in America is not worthy of healthcare?" He furthered the sentiment, stating if a candidate isn't for truly universal health care, the voter "ought to be looking for another candidate."

On a different note, Edwards took an aggressive stance on nuclear weapons in Iran and Pakistan. "I want to be the President of the United States that initiates and leads an effort, over time, but an effort to actually rid the planet of nuclear weapons ... America will have to lead the way and I'm not short sighted about this. I don't think it can be done overnight. I know it will take time, it will take leadership, and it will take cooperation from other countries."

Carter, an alumnus of GSW, told the audience Edwards is a "candidate whom I really admire." While he did not officially endorse Edwards, he came pretty close with his bold prediction that the presidential hopeful "has a very good chance to do well."

"I can say without equivocation,” Carter said, “that no one who is running for president has presented anywhere near as comprehensive and accurate a prediction of what our country ought to do in the field of environmental quality, in the field of healthcare for those who are not presently insured, for those who suffer from poverty and with a special attention to a subject he knows quite well, and that is the rural areas of America.”

"Conyers: Impeachment off Pelosi's table, but not mine" (video)

RAW STORY, with video (06:05):
Rep. John Conyers declared House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could not stop him from beginning impeachment proceedings in the House Judiciary Committee against a 'long list of people'in the Bush administration, although he did not make a firm commitment to begin proceedings.
"Nancy Pelosi has impeachment 'off the table,' but that's off her table, it is not off John Conyers' table," the Michigan Democrat said during a town hall meeting in his district Tuesday. "Nancy Pelosi, who I actually supported, cannot prevent me from introducing an impeachment resolution against, well I've got a long list of people who are eligible."

Conyers did not announce plans to begin impeachment proceedings, which he has previously said would be politically untenable. Rather, his speech seemed to indicate that pro-impeachment activists did not yet convince him that Bush and Cheney deserved to be booted from office. A Conyers spokesman did not immediately respond to RAW STORY's request for clarification of the congressman's comments.

"I want you to know that I have no reticence, no reluctance, no hesitation to use the tool of impeachment ... whenever I feel that it is appropriate," Conyers said. "I only wish that I could be moved by a lot of people coming to my office."

One activist who helped organize hundreds of protesters who traveled to Washington to push Conyers to begin impeachment remains unconvinced that the congressman will actually take action.

"I think John Conyers ... is saying, 'I'm not going to do what my constituency wants, I'm going to do what the Democratic leadership wants,'" Tina M. Richards, CEO of Grassroots America, told RAW STORY Wednesday.

Although she acknowledged Conyers "adamantly wants to impeach," Richards said he is being precluded from doing so by Pelosi and other top House Democrats. Hundreds of impeachment activists are expected to descend on Pelosi's office next month to pressure the House Speaker to allow impeachment proceedings.

The 21-term congressman, who took control of the Judiciary Committee this year, boasted that he was the first to introduce a resolution calling for Richard Nixon's impeachment.

Conyers mentioned frequent visits by anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, who recently led hundreds of protesters to urge him to begin impeachment proceedings.

He told the activists he would not begin impeachment hearings because there is not enough support among Democrats, who control the House, for the move.

"I understand the politics of impeachment," Conyers said. "But we have something going on now that we've never had before."

The following video was posted online Wednesday.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Susan Hu Needs Our Support Right Now!

Howie Intro: Susan Hu has been been one of my most loyal and helpful comrades in the blogosphere. Please read and do what you can:
From time to time, those of us who are urgently and diligently working to "take our country back" are drawn to one of our own who needs our assistance. Susan Hu has been blogging on Kos, Booman Tribune and more recently on No Quarter for some years now, but her health issues call us to action today.
Susan can't walk more than a few steps with a cane or walker. She can't bend over. She can't sweep, make her bed, or reach the bottom shelves or drawer of her refrigerator. The slightest odd movement makes her scream in pain. She can barely lift her feet, and often
can't go out because the two small steps down/up her back door are too scary, and she can't go into the laundry room because of its small steps. Taking a shower is frightening. She can no longer drive more
than two miles without intense knee and back pain. Riding in a car is also very painful. Sitting in the drive-through at the pharmacy is agonizing. The intense burning pain in her thighs and knees gets
worse when she lies down, and she can't sleep more than an hour or two each day.

The local doctors told her it was her back (she does have significant lumbar damage). She complained to doctors for years about hip pain, but they always said it was bursitis. They sent her to a neurosurgery
unit, which kept examining her but couldn't determine the problem. Last spring, they advised she go to a rehabilitation medicine physician to get more flexible and stronger, and get an exercise

The rehab doctor watched her walk and within five minutes told her it was her hips, not her back, he suspected. The xrays he ordered showed
that both hips are "shot" -- there is no cartilage and the bone has disintegrated and presses against her femur bone, creating bone-on-bone pain. That doctor is now her hero for looking at her with "fresh eyes." The rehabilitation doctor recommended against any
pre-surgery exercise program because her condition is too delicate.
(The orthopedic surgeon concurred.) She does lift weights to keep her arms strong.

It took two months to see the orthopedic surgeon who told her that her situation is complex, and that she needs significant repair of both her back and her hips. He puzzled about which to tackle first. He decided on replacing both of her hips with implants. Then he'll
tackle her lumbar region. While she is in the hospital, she will receive radiation because, he told her that he could see a lot of bone spurs, which means her body tends to grow bone spurs. The radiation will keep the cells, post-surgery, from creating new bone spurs near
the implants. He said normal stay is 3 days but she'll be in the hospital for 7 days so that the rehabilitation doctor and physical therapists can work with her. She will then go to an after-care facility.

Her bilateral hip replacement surgery is in three weeks but she just found out that she has significant dental caries and a couple infected teeth. She must be infection-free seven days before surgery because implants are at high risk for infection. Because she had no idea she needed so much work done, and had to wait for a dentist appointment, she didn't have time to sign up for dental insurance. She is going to a dental school to have the work done, but it still will cost over
$2,000, and she has travel and living expenses. Her daughter lives nearby but in a three-story walk-up, so Susan has to stay in a motel. She has a bit of savings, but it'll be gone long before the dental work is completed.
Susan recently shared the following with me:
One thing I forgot to mention is that I've been declared disabled and can't work since 2005 because of my back and other injuries but only recently got any health insurance and was paying for all care for two years before that. The new health insurance I'll get in September will cover my surgery, but the premiums cost over $300 per month, with no dental coverage.

Susan Hu's predicament is one of many caused by our nation's failure to provide health care for its citizens. Because she is one of "our own" netroots family, I am asking you to contribute what you can today to support Susan Hu and help her come back to the front lines of the blogosphere and realize her dreams of renewed health and strength. If we can raise $4,000 to keep her afloat until she comes back, we will be doing a lot for this member of OUR community. We can do this for Susan Hu. Go here now, go to "Send Money" and enter Susan's email address:

Thank you, Howie in Seattle.
Howie P.S.: Cross-posted on Daily Kos right now. Please rec!

Monday, August 27, 2007

It's Not Too Late to Give To "Burn Bush for Burner"!!!


Click on the thermometer!!!

"Bush's Reichert Lovefest In Pictures"

On The Road to 2008:

Bush visited Dave Reichert in Bellevue today and they stopped traffic and blocked off roads for their private fund raiser. Here's a look back at the day in photos...

Hello (AP Photo/Kevin P. Casey)

Tanned (Joshua Trujillo/Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

En Route (AP Photo/Kevin P. Casey)

Introductions (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Good Buddies (AP Photo/Ken Lambert, Pool)

Esser Lurking (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Say Cheese! (REUTERS/Jim Young)

Bush as we see him (AP Photo/Ken Lambert, Pool)

Man of The People (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The People (John Lok / The Seattle Times)

"Report from Vancouver, Washington: Rep. Baird Gets Blasted"

Slog (The Stranger):
This report is being filed by Josh, who’s down in Vancouver. He couldn’t find WiFi in the trendy Uptown Village neighborhood. The Starbucks on the corner of Main was closed and the password at the friendly Ice Cream Renaissance didn’t work, although they let Josh hang out well after closing. He’ll provide a longer report tomorrow, but he phoned this in.
Congressman Brian Baird (D-3 Vancouver, Washington) hosted a town hall tonight at Fort Vancouver High School. It was Baird’s first appearance in front of his constituents since reversing his position on the war. ALTHOUGH he’s been an adamant critic of the war—he voted against the war and the surge—he announced last week that he thinks the surge is working and he wants to give it time.

He spoke in a high school auditorium that was packed with at least 500 people who were overwhelmingly vocal in their opposition to Baird’s new stance. There were also protesters outside calling for Baird to resign.

He was hammered by Jon Soltz, the young, good looking, charismatic chairman and co-founder of political action committee Soltz is also an Iraq war veteran, having served in 2003. Speaking calmly and to raucous applause, he said Baird (who recently returned from a visit to Iraq) was fooled “by a dog and pony show” and is unfortunately providing cover for President Bush.

Afterwards, Soltz told me that his goal is to bring Baird back into the Democratic fold.

Another speaker who brought down the house was Zanne Joi, a Vancouver activist with Code Pink Women for Peace. Joi called Baird “arrogant” for trying to dictate how Iraqis should govern themselves and said the war was only about “American oil profit.”

A third speaker, who also spoke to tremendous applause, was Jane Lustig from Vancouver, whose main complain was that Baird was not representing his constituents’ point of view.

I also talked to several people as they left the auditorium and asked them if they found Baird—who was there to explain his new position—to be persuasive.
To a person, everyone shook their head “no way,” including Doris Holmes, active member of the 18th district Democrats, who said, “He lied. He’s towing the Bush party line. I can’t believe he’s a Democrat.”

"Dean: It's About Time Gonzales Resigned"

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean issued the following statement on the news of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' resignation:

"It's about time that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned," said Dean. "From illegally firing US Attorneys to limiting voting rights to warrantless wiretapping, Alberto Gonzales' Justice Department has promoted a culture of lawlessness designed to serve the Bush White House's narrow political agenda, not the American people. Gonzales now joins a long list of Republican officials resigning under a cloud of scandal, but these resignations cannot purge the Bush Administration of its problems. The true problem rests with the Bush White House itself, which continues to put what's best for the Republican Party ahead of what's best for America."

"Gonzales to Spend More Time Eavesdropping on His Family"

The Borowitz Report:
'Domestic Surveillance Begins at Home,’ Former A.G. Says--Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned today, effective immediately, telling reporters that he wanted to spend more time eavesdropping on his family.

Mr. Gonzales, a champion of domestic surveillance and warrantless wiretaps while in office, said he was “totally stoked” about turning his prying eyes on his own family.

“Domestic surveillance begins at home,” Mr. Gonzales said at a White House press conference. “That means nobody in my family is above suspicion, not even the little ones,” an apparent reference to Mr. Gonzales’ children.

Standing by Mr. Gonzales’ side, President George W. Bush praised his former Attorney General, singling out his “courage” for ramping up his domestic spying program on his own family.

“If every head of every household was as willing to eavesdrop on his own family as my man Alberto is, we wouldn’t need a Homeland Security Department,” Mr. Bush chuckled.

Mr. Gonzales was noncommittal when a reporter asked him a question about the role that waterboarding and other forms of torture might play in his interrogation of family members.

“Nothing is off the table,” he said.

Asked about his tenure as Attorney General, Mr. Gonzales was candid about his stormy time in office: “Frankly, I can’t believe it took this long for them to shitcan me.”

Andy in Seattle – Labor Day Weekend!

Andy brings “Next Week’s News” to Seattle’s Bumbershoot festival for three performances over Labor Day weekend. See Andy at the Charlotte Martin Theater, 201 Thomas Street, at 4:30 PM on September 1, 2, and 3. Tickets available at

"From the Man Himself"

Dave Reichert's record of independence and bi-partisan leadership.

Please consider giving a bit to Darcy Burner. Apparently total online donations have rounded $75,000 and are heading towards the goal. Help make it happen.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

"The Outsider's Insider"

After three decades in Washington, Pete Rouse is a voice of experience for Sen. Barack Obama.---Sen. Barack Obama had hired Pete Rouse for just such a moment.

It was the fall of 2005, and the celebrated young senator -- still new to Capitol Hill but aware of his prospects for higher office -- was thinking about voting to confirm John G. Roberts Jr. as chief justice. Talking with his aides, the Illinois Democrat expressed admiration for Roberts's intellect. Besides, Obama said, if he were president he wouldn't want his judicial nominees opposed simply on ideological grounds.

And then Rouse, his chief of staff, spoke up. This was no Harvard moot-court exercise, he said. If Obama voted for Roberts, Rouse told him, people would remind him of that every time the Supreme Court issued another conservative ruling, something that could cripple a future presidential run. Obama took it in. And when the roll was called, he voted no.

"Pete's very good at looking around the corners of decisions and playing out the implications of them," Obama said an interview when asked about that discussion. "He's been around long enough that he can recognize problems and pitfalls a lot quicker than others can."

Pete Rouse is the Outsider's Insider, a fixer steeped in the ways of a Washington that Obama has been both eager to learn and quick to publicly condemn. The meticulous workaholic rose through three decades of unglamorous legislating to become arguably the most influential Democratic aide in the Senate when he worked for then-Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.).

"His familiarity with Washington makes him somebody whose judgment I trust," Obama said. And yet this is the Washington of "cheap political points" and "petty" partisanship that figures prominently in Obama's public speeches these days. "I know I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington," Obama tells his audiences. "But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change."

That has made Rouse's job of introducing Obama to Capitol Hill a complicated balancing act: He seeks to burnish Obama's still-modest credentials as a freshman senator while preventing the talented but inexperienced politician from making the kind of mistakes that have denied every senator since John F. Kennedy the presidency. "My role," he said with classic staffer discretion, is simply "to help him accomplish his priorities."

Others credit their unlikely pairing -- Rouse, a stubby 61-year-old, first started work in the Senate in 1971, when Obama was a 10-year-old in Hawaii with basketball dreams -- with helping to fuel Obama's turbocharged rise to become one of the leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. "Barack Obama's rapid political ascent would not have been possible without Pete," said Jim Jordan, a Democratic strategist who has worked with Rouse and is now advising the campaign of Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.).

At his campaign headquarters in Chicago, Obama has assembled a strong team of political veterans to complement -- and at times, compete with -- Rouse's formidable Washington experience. His campaign manager is David Plouffe, and a top strategist is David Axelrod, two longtime Democratic operatives and former partners in a political consulting firm. A third influential campaign voice is that of Robert Gibbs, who was Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential campaign press secretary in 2003; he travels full time with Obama as the campaign's communications director.

Plouffe and Axelrod have pushed the candidate away from traditional Democratic constituency-group politics, convinced that Obama is a unique figure who shouldn't expect significant backing from the Democratic establishment and won't need it anyway.

As the center of gravity in Obama's world shifts away from Capitol Hill and toward his campaign headquarters, Rouse has been carefully monitoring the increasingly anti-Washington tone. When, for example, Obama's campaign team wanted him to propose banning anyone who serves in his administration from lobbying it after leaving, Rouse warned about the consequences: a recruiting problem for the Obama White House.

The campaign announced it anyway.

Building a Reputation

Three years ago, Obama was serving in the Illinois state Senate; Rouse was running the office of Daschle, the U.S. Senate majority leader, and hoping to steer his boss and longtime patron to the presidency. Then Daschle lost his reelection bid in 2004 -- the same year Obama won his Senate seat.

After Daschle lost, he had hoped Rouse would join him working outside of government; the two remain close. But that November, Cassandra Butts, a friend of Obama's since they were students at Harvard Law School together, called Rouse about meeting with Obama. It was a long shot to think he would work for a freshman senator, but worth it, she figured.

So Obama, the charismatic rising star who was being deluged with resumes from people eager to work for him and requests from magazines that wanted him on their covers, went to work trying to persuade a man 15 years his senior to help him.

Obama, first made famous by his rousing oration at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, joked with Rouse that "I can give a good speech" but said he knew little about organizing a Senate office.

"What I want do is form a partnership," Obama said.

In hiring Rouse, whose mother was Japanese and whose father is white, Obama turned down several black candidates (there are only a few black chiefs of staff in the Senate) who sought the post but had less experience.

"The only possible negative was, thinking of Barack as a new kind of politician, you're choosing someone who is very rooted in the Senate and the ways of Washington," said Butts of picking Rouse. "That was a con in perception that we could live with when his pros were so obvious."

With help from Gibbs and Axelrod, Rouse wrote a detailed memo for Obama's first year in the Senate. What they came to call "The Strategic Plan" laid out for Obama the approach adopted by Hillary Rodham Clinton when she entered the Senate in 2001: Show respect to other senators even though you're a star, don't let your constituents think you are forgetting them, and find ways to build relationships with colleagues, particularly those in the opposite party.

Under Rouse's guidance, Obama built close relations with one of the most conservative members of the Senate, Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), working with him to pass a bill that creates a Google-like search system and database to help Americans easily search government spending. He worked with another Republican, Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), to increase U.S. funding to find and dispose of loose antiaircraft missiles and other weapons in the former Soviet Union.

This approach created some vulnerabilities for Obama as a potential 2008 candidate. His focus on becoming an effective senator rather than a liberal fire-breather did not endear him to the left-leaning bloggers who have become an increasingly important constituency in the Democratic Party.

Obama had always opposed the Iraq war, one of the left's biggest issues, but in his first two years in the Senate, he did not make it his focus. He gave few speeches on the war and voted for funding it while opposing timetables for withdrawal -- both stances that he has reversed since he started running for president.

On an issue even more delicate on the Hill, Rouse warned Obama to be careful how he pursued congressional ethics legislation -- a cause bound to irritate some other senators. Obama, pushed by Gibbs, went as far as voting against an ethics bill that most Senate Democrats supported last year, although under Rouse's guidance, he steered clear of publicly criticizing Democratic Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) for what he felt was a weak bill.

When the Senate last month approved a bill that banned lawmakers from flying on corporate jets at discounted rates and required disclosure of the names of lobbyists who also serve as "bundlers," rounding up contributions for candidates, Obama touted his role in getting it passed.

"Pete knows that when you're first elected to the Senate, you've got to pay your dues, visit with senior senators and deliver for your home state," said Chris Lu, Obama's legislative director. "But Pete recognized that Obama's appeal was that he was an outsider and would never be a typical senator, so Pete helped Obama find the delicate balance between being a rank-and-file senator and high-profile national figure."

Building a Campaign

By last fall, two years after he was elected to the Senate, Obama had a second best-selling book, received invitations to speak even in conservative states such as Nebraska and was starting to seriously consider a run for the White House, far sooner than he -- or Rouse -- had anticipated.

Rouse, who organized a presidential operation in 2002 for Daschle before the South Dakotan decided not to run, swung into action. In September, when Obama decided to travel to Iowa to test the waters, Rouse called Steve Hildebrand, an old friend from the Daschle operation who ran Al Gore's Iowa campaign in 2000, to show him around the state, even though the pair had never met.

"I thought, let's have a little fun with this. I wanted to create a little buzz," Rouse said. And he did.

Three other campaigns quickly called Hildebrand, wanting to hire him before Obama formally decided to enter the race.

In November, when more than a dozen advisers met with Obama in Axelrod's Chicago office to discuss running, it was Rouse who had prepared the memos detailing how Obama could win and the pros and cons of running in 2008 versus waiting.

And after Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) decided against a presidential bid in December, it was Rouse who called Bayh's communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, the next day. Rouse, who had hired Pfeiffer in 2002 for what they thought would be Daschle's presidential campaign, wanted him to join the Obama team.

"Do you know what a sense of d�j� vu I'm having?" Pfeiffer asked Rouse.

This time, though, Rouse's man was running. And the team of advisers that Rouse had built for Daschle would prove key at a time when many top Democratic operatives, veterans of the Clinton White House, were signing up for Hillary Clinton's campaign. Rouse personally recruited several Daschle veterans, including Pfeiffer; Hildebrand, who now manages Obama's operations in the early states such as Iowa; and Julianna Smoot, who directs the campaign's prodigious fundraising.

When Daschle was considering whom to support for president, Rouse recruited him, too, telling his old boss that they needed his endorsement early to show that Obama had the backing of some key Establishment figures. Daschle obliged, announcing his support for Obama in February; now, he has occasional dinners with the candidate to advise him on policy.

As the campaign heats up and the Senate continues to focus on Iraq, a key campaign issue, there is constant lobbying on all sides for Obama's time. Rouse, aware that the Senate's Democratic leaders often need the candidates in town to help them prevail on close votes, frequently wants him on Capitol Hill. Advisers in the early states argue that he should be in the places where the campaign is being waged, while the Chicago staff is wary of Obama skipping events by groups in the Democratic Party and leaving them feeling snubbed.

While Obama was in Southeast Washington giving a campaign speech on urban poverty last month, Rouse was imploring Gibbs to make sure that the senator didn't miss a vote that was happening across town -- the Democratic leadership needed Obama's vote to win. Obama, who has missed 59 votes this year, compared with Clinton's 11, did miss that vote, but because a Republican missed it too, the Democrats still won.

"On these tough votes," said one of Obama's top Senate aides, "he has to be here. There are votes you just can't miss."

Even with Obama increasingly absent, Rouse plays a major advisory role. In June, as aides worried that Obama's media operation wasn't responding quickly enough to the veteran Clinton team, Rouse helped engineer a shift in roles: Gibbs, who has worked with Obama since the 2004 Senate campaign, would travel with the candidate, while Pfeiffer would return from the road and help manage the media office in Chicago.

And Rouse continues to educate Obama on how to be an effective senator. Weeks before Obama announced in January that he was forming a presidential exploratory committee, Rouse told his boss to meet with Edward M. Kennedy and Joseph I. Lieberman, two senators who were taking over committees on which Obama serves, to show that he still respected his more senior colleagues. He arrived with signed copies of his best-selling book "The Audacity of Hope" that they could give to others.

There have been limits, though, to Rouse's success at forging close ties between Obama and his Senate colleagues. In the race for senators' endorsements, Obama has received just one: that of his fellow Illinois Democrat, Sen. Richard J. Durbin.

Then again, even that may be a Rouse special. Durbin's chief of staff back when he was a congressman? Pete Rouse.

"Pinning Hopes On Rural Voters"

WaPo (Anne E. Kornblut):
Campaign of Edwards, a Southerner, Sees an Advantage With White Men--BERLIN, N.H. -- When a woman in the crowd shouted a question about education testing here on Saturday, former senator John Edwards made a casual farming quip.

"You don't make a hog fatter by weighing it," he said, meaning that constantly testing children does not make them smarter.

The line was, Edwards acknowledged, borrowed from a friend. But it reflected a persistent subtext of the Edwards campaign: the argument that he is the sole Southern Democrat and cultural conservative in the Democratic presidential field, making him the only top-tier candidate in his party who can appeal easily to white men.
In polls here and almost everywhere but Iowa, Edwards has lagged behind Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y) and Barack Obama (Ill.) from the outset of the marathon campaign. He has tried to provide a spark to his campaign with an increasingly sharp message that tends toward the liberal end of the spectrum on issues -- pounding away at corporate greed, calling for a revived union movement, promising universal health care and skewering President Bush.

Yet in a long tour over the weekend across a wide swath of the New Hampshire countryside -- by no means an Edwards stronghold -- he drew curious voters, almost all older and white, who said they either dislike Clinton and Obama or worry that neither can win.

In the small northern town of Berlin, one Republican woman who attended his town hall meeting said she prefers Edwards over all other candidates in both parties; he looks like her son, Bill, she said, and she liked the way he spoke. In Merrimack, farther south, a 63-year-old independent came to what he said was his first political event to complain about politicians -- and walked away saying he will consider voting for Edwards but no other Democrat.

Edwards, after initially pitching himself as the most viable candidate in Southern and Midwestern states, now avoids talking about his demographic appeal in speeches and forums. Asked about the subject in an earlier debate, Edwards said emphatically that he would not want support from anyone voting on the basis of racial or gender prejudice. He has been careful not to suggest aloud that the country is too sexist or racist to elect Clinton or Obama in a general election.

Rather, Edwards is casting himself as the candidate of rural voters, someone who understands the plight and values of family farmers (especially powerful in Iowa) and who could do in a general election what he argues Clinton and Obama could not: attract culturally conservative voters in states such as Virginia, voters who consider gun ownership an important right and aren't thrown by his drawl.

"I think this Southern Baptist has a better chance of being elected pope than Hillary Clinton does of being elected president in a general election," quipped David "Mudcat" Saunders, a Democratic strategist in Virginia who is advising Edwards and who helped get Mark R. Warner elected governor and James Webb elected to the Senate in the state.

"Rural America is pivotal. It's where the battleground is going to be, and rural America is saying, 'To hell with the Republicans,' " Saunders said. "But you've got to have the right candidate, one who can get through to the culture."

Asked whether his race or sex could benefit Edwards, Saunders said: "No comment. And I've never said no comment."

Edwards, asked in an interview what will propel his campaign out of third place, said that as voters draw closer to picking a nominee, they will ask the same question they did as the 2004 nominating contest reached its decisive moment: Is this candidate electable nationwide?

"I think John Kerry accelerated in Iowa and New Hampshire, partly, in January because people were looking for a winner," Edwards said. This time, he said, "I think it will be similar."

Asked what would make him more electable than Clinton or Obama, Edwards declined to publicly assess the political weaknesses of either. Instead, he alluded to his ability to reflect the electorate.

"I come from the same kind of background that most Americans come from," said Edwards, who regularly reminds audiences that his father was a millworker.

At times, the Edwards campaign has shown signs of frustration that his being a white man isn't earning him points when the news media handicap the contest. His wife, Elizabeth, caused a stir last month when she observed that "we can't make John black, we can't make him a woman" and that "those things get you a lot of press."

So Edwards has sought the media's attention in other ways -- his campaign rhetoric is becoming increasingly blunt, at times seeming to emulate the "straight talk" model that provided a short-lived boost for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) eight years ago. During his weekend bus tour, Edwards freely slung insults at the Bush administration and at the excesses of the Clinton administration, using hyperbolic terms that delighted the crowds. In response to a question in Berlin on Saturday about fully funding the Department of Veterans Affairs, he said he would "not have a political hack running" it.

"A mess" was how Edwards described both the southern border of the United States and the No Child Left Behind education law.

Asked later that day in Concord about the "don't ask, don't tell" policy covering gays in the military, he called it "an embarrassment."

Herbert Sparks, 63, the independent and part of the all-white crowd that came to hear Edwards in Merrimack on Saturday night, said he worries that some of the senator's strong talk is "just rhetoric." But Sparks said that after voting for Republicans his entire life, he will consider Edwards. Asked about Clinton, he said, "Oh, my God, no. She's a socialist." Obama? "No, I wouldn't," he said. "I don't think he has enough experience."

Another Merrimack voter, Kate Chisolm, 18, who described herself as an independent, said she so far prefers Edwards over the rest of the Democratic field. "He seems a lot more genuine and in touch than Clinton," said Chisolm, who will be voting for the first time in the primaries next year.

She joined two other first-time voters at the Edwards event; all three said that they were undecided but that they thought Edwards had as much a chance at winning as anyone. "I think anybody can win against anybody else," said Kiley Naro, 18.

And Beverly Chess, a Republican who had traveled from Norman, Okla., to attend her Class of 1949 Berlin High School reunion, said after hearing Edwards speak that she is pretty certain he will earn her support.

"I voted for Bush, but I kind of got disenchanted," Chess said. "I had thought maybe Barack, but I'm beginning to waver, and I like Edwards more. Definitely not Hillary."
Howie P.S.: My question for David "Mudcat" Saunders:
Is the message of this story that Edwards is courting the "rural" and "older and white" voter with a "straight talk" approach? Or is there another subtext (unspoken) here? Please advise.