Polispeak: October 2006: Archives
The following video clip is of Marilyn Musgrave, the Republican incumbent in Colorado Congressional District four (4). She is one of the most homophobic politicians in the country and in this video she refuses to answer a question posed on behalf of one of her constituents. In a matter of moments the camera person and the interviewer are confronted by some of her supporters who proceed to cover the camera and grab the microphone. Musgrave never answers the question. The clip has been seen by over 40,000 viewers in just 24 hours on You Tube.
The most recent polling indicates that her Democratic opponent Angie Paccione has a slight lead in the race. Musgrave has run a very negative campaign that has sought to undermine Paccione's credibility...an effort that seems to be working to her detriment at the moment.
Daniel DiRito | October 31, 2006 | 8:37 PM |
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Every now and then, we get a glimpse of a politician that is willing to give a reasonably candid assessment of their own political party. Unfortunately, it is typically a former politician that provides that assessment. Rarely does a politician in office provide voters with such an honest evaluation...which simply reinforces voter perceptions that politics is all about power and less about doing the right thing.
Sadly, statesmanship seems to surface only after the need to win and the goal of advancing rigid party rhetoric is no longer the driving force. Dick Armey provides an honest evaluation of where the Republican Party has lost its way in a new article in the Washington Post.
Somewhere along the road to a "permanent majority," the Republican Revolution of 1994 went off track. For several years, we had confidence in our convictions and trusted that the American people would reward our efforts. And they did.
Where did the revolution go astray? How did we go from the big ideas and vision of 1994 to the cheap political point-scoring on meaningless wedge issues of today -- from passing welfare reform and limited government to banning horsemeat and same-sex marriage?
The answer is simple: Republican lawmakers forgot the party's principles, became enamored with power and position, and began putting politics over policy. Now, the Democrats are reaping the rewards of our neglect -- and we have no one to blame but ourselves.
It seems to me that politics has become a least common denominator equation. Political parties look for voter prejudices in order to gain their loyalty through divisive wedge issues. Negative campaign ads are virtual tabloid trash intended to garner Americans ghoulish attraction to gossip and innuendo regardless of fact. Despite the protestations often heard, voters respond to these ads so there is no incentive to campaign otherwise. We would rather hear about a candidate’s messy divorce or their failure to pay their property taxes on time than to know what kind of a manager each candidate might be once in office...what abilities and insights they can offer as an effective advocate in Washington.
Each November voters become voyeurs and both parties roll out the garbage we seem to seek. Perhaps we're addicted to the misfortune of others because it makes us feel better by comparison...but if that's the case, we're destined to see more of the same each election cycle.
Gingrich and I and a handful of true believers in Ronald Reagan's conservative vision set the goal of retaking the House. The "Contract With America" outlined our platform of limited government. This vision appealed to both the social and economic wings of the conservative movement; equally important, it included institutional reforms for a Congress that had grown increasingly arrogant and corrupt. The contract nationalized the vision of the Republican Party in a way that unified our base and appealed to independents. We championed national issues, not local pork projects or the creature comforts of high office.
Welfare reform in 1996 only affirmed the revolution. Bureaucrats, special interests and the White House all claimed that the sky would fall if we touched this failed Great Society program, but we held firm. When you take on a sacred cow, you must kill it completely -- tinkering on the margins is ineffective. In the end, the reform proved so successful and popular that President Bill Clinton (who rejected the original bill twice) considers it one of the best ideas his administration ever had.
At one point during the welfare reform debates, a member approached me and said, "Dick, I know this is the right thing to do, but my constituents just won't understand." I told him, "So you're telling me they are smart enough to vote for you but not smart enough to understand this?" He ended up voting to pass the bill.
Bipartisanship isn't glamorous and it doesn't incite the vitriol of the party base. Karl Rove and the GOP realized as much and they have made brazen partisanship the centerpiece of their divisive approach to politics...having bet that it would be easier to maintain a majority constituency be defining the enemy rather than outlining an agenda to advance broader goals that might benefit the entire electorate...and the last two election cycles suggested it works quite well.
Since the party [GOP] won the majority in 1994, the GOP Conference had been consistent in requiring offsetting spending cuts for any new spending initiatives. (In fact, during the aftermath of a large Mississippi River flood, Rep. Jim Nussle even waited to find and approve offsets before moving the relief legislation for his own state of Iowa.) But by the summer of 1997, the appropriators -- rightly called the "third party" of Congress -- had begun to pass spending bills with Democrats. As soon as politics superseded policy and principle, the avalanche of earmarks that is crushing the party began.
Now spending is out of control. Rather than rolling back government, we have a new $1.2 trillion Medicare prescription drug benefit, and non-defense discretionary spending is growing twice as fast as it had in the Clinton administration. Meanwhile, Social Security is collapsing while rogue nations are going nuclear and the Middle East is more combustible than ever. Yet Republican lawmakers have taken up such issues as flag burning, Terri Schiavo and same-sex marriage.
They're fooling only themselves.
Pelosi says she would preside over a moderate Democratic majority, and has committed to raising taxes only as a last resort. But Democratic policy goals such as nationalized health care and low-interest student loans are expensive, and dozens of new spending "priorities" will crop up as soon as the election results are tallied. Democrats have promised that all new spending will be offset by tax increases, so will they raise taxes in the run-up to the 2008 race?
In essence, Pelosi will be forced to choose between a vocal base -- expecting immediate satisfaction on issues such as withdrawing from Iraq, legalizing same-sex marriage and the impeachment of President Bush -- or policies that are tolerable to a majority of Americans. That's quite a dilemma: appeasing a base that has been hungry for political revenge since 2000 and 2004, or alienating moderate and swing voters.
The problem is that the partisanship becomes the drug of choice in a back and forth battle of punitive periods of power whereby one side is given the opportunity to impose a measure of revenge on the enemy in order to pay back the base that gave them that power. In doing as much, those voters who prefer bipartisanship are further alienated from the process and many simply choose to ignore politics altogether...thereby perpetuating and reinforcing more of the same.
The likely Republican losses in next week's elections will not constitute a repudiation of the conservative legacy that drove the Reagan presidency and created the Contract With America. To the contrary, it would represent a rejection of big government conservatism. When we get back to being the party of limited government, putting a national agenda ahead of parochial short-term politics, we will again be a party that the American voters will trust to deal with the serious challenges facing our nation.
The 2006 midterm elections will be a success for the Democrats. Republicans will have to manage their own disappointment. Fingers will be pointed, and various villains will be fashioned out of recent events. But the plain fact is that Republicans have been setting the stage for this outcome for nearly a decade, running from themselves and their own principles. We will not find ourselves by conforming to the status quo, but by returning to our Reagan roots.
I'm not sure I completely agree with Armey's conclusion. I wasn't a Reagan fan but I give him credit for speaking to all Americans far more than our current president. One could disagree with Reagan's policies but one didn't necessarily feel that he governed by defining and using those divisions for political advantage. Frankly, there were Reagan Democrats because his rhetoric allowed as much...something that isn't part of today's political equation.
Armey seems to hinge his conclusion on Reagan's conservative credentials and while I respect that observation, I'm not sure that alone brought Reagan his success. He chose to govern as a conservative but that conservatism wasn't filled with divisive social issues intended to polarize. Fundamental conservative philosophy no longer serves the goals of the GOP because they chose to embrace issues that endeared them to voters regardless of their underlying ideology.
Until those who seek office reaffirm their commitment to public service and relegate partisan politics to its proper place, we will continue to swing from one extreme to the other in an ever escalating battle for the power to impose and punish.
Daniel DiRito | October 29, 2006 | 7:45 AM |
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With barely two weeks until the midterm election, the Bush administration seems to believe that they need a new message on the war in Iraq. The Washington Post has an article that discusses the GOP attempts to nuance the issue and the adjusted rhetoric. Call me a skeptic, but nuance has never been part of this President’s equation…which leads me to conclude that the house of cards is in peril.
President Bush and his aides are annoyed that people keep misinterpreting his Iraq policy as "stay the course." A complete distortion, they say. "That is not a stay-the-course policy," White House press secretary Tony Snow declared yesterday.
Where would anyone have gotten that idea? Well, maybe from Bush.
"We will stay the course. We will help this young Iraqi democracy succeed," he said in Salt Lake City in August.
"We will win in Iraq so long as we stay the course," he said in Milwaukee in July.
"I saw people wondering whether the United States would have the nerve to stay the course and help them succeed," he said after returning from Baghdad in June.
But the White House is cutting and running from "stay the course." A phrase meant to connote steely resolve instead has become a symbol for being out of touch and rigid in the face of a war that seems to grow worse by the week, Republican strategists say. Democrats have now turned "stay the course" into an attack line in campaign commercials, and the Bush team is busy explaining that "stay the course" does not actually mean stay the course.
Snow said Bush dropped the phrase "because it left the wrong impression about what was going on. And it allowed critics to say, 'Well, here's an administration that's just embarked upon a policy and not looking at what the situation is,' when, in fact, it's just the opposite."
Republican strategists were glad to see him reject the language, if not the policy. "They're acknowledging that it's not sending the message they want to send," said Steve Hinkson, political director at Luntz Research Cos., a GOP public opinion firm. The phrase suggested "burying your head in the sand," Hinkson said, adding that it was no longer useful signaling determination. "The problem is that as the number of people who agree with remaining resolute dwindles, that sort of language doesn't strike a chord as much as it once did."
My own experience tells me that people who stand on principle rarely feel the need to tell you they do so...their actions are sufficient. Conversely, it seems to me that those who routinely talk about their principles like a badge of honor are often the first to abandon those principles when it becomes expedient. The difference between these two extremes is obvious. People of integrity and sincerity have the quiet confidence that comes with both and those who lack either need to frequently assert that they possess both because deep down they know that both are absent. To express the concept another way, there are those who know they can lead and there are those who know they want to lead.
For the bulk of the time we have spent fighting the war in Iraq, the Bush administration has held fast to its original strategy...asserting that they were committed to completing the mission even in the face of criticism and growing voter dissatisfaction. Many times the President has acknowledged that the war was unpopular but went out of his way to assert that leaders cannot be concerned about polls when faced with issues of principle. Further, this administration has made a habit of characterizing those who expressed concerns that the strategy was flawed as unpatriotic and weak on issues of defense and national security.
Since the initiation of the war effort in 2003, numerous military officials, who served in the conflict and subsequently retired or were forced to retire, have voiced doubts about the military plan of action. In most instances, their remarks have also been met with criticism and there has been a concerted effort to discredit their observations. To their credit, the Bush administration was able to succeed in connecting the war in Iraq with the war on terror which allowed them to hold voter doubts at bay. This was achieved by reminding voters of the President’s resolve following 9/11 and the need for continued diligence in preventing another terrorist attack...the fear factor. The 2002 and 2004 elections provide the evidence of that success.
Fortunately, time has a way of forcing truth to the surface and it now appears that the Bush administration has reached its day of reckoning. For the bulk of this year, the GOP has waged a relentless attack on Democrats...all the while convinced that they had the votes they needed to succeed in November...a virtual rerun requiring little more than the roll out of their battle tested rhetoric. Unfortunately for the GOP, during this same time frame voter doubt grew as casualties mounted, sectarian violence became civil war, assurances that the end of conflict was in sight were wrong, and, lastly, the assertions that the opposition was in its last throes proved inaccurate. Additionally, the purple fingers of democracy served little more than symbolism as the Iraqi's almost immediately reverted to long held tribal alliances, cultural values, and religious beliefs.
With that said, it isn’t difficult to understand why the GOP is now on the precipice of defeat. While the Republican Party focused on savaging Democrats, they failed to pay attention to the all too obvious realities...realities that did not escape the awareness of the voters they took for granted. As we’ve approached the midterm election, two problems emerged for the GOP. One, voters saw the realities in Iraq and the unwillingness of this President to shift strategies…and that has led to irreconcilable doubts about the President’s judgment and growing skepticism for the sincerity underlying his professed resolve. The bottom line is that voters lost confidence in the attributes they had been willing to assign and attach to this President.
Two, now that the election is upon us, the Bush administration has apparently decided to alter their intransigent adherence to “staying the course"…because it isn’t resonating with voters…and that is giving skeptical voters the final evidence needed to doubt the President’s sincerity. When this shifting rhetoric on Iraq is coupled with revelations that suggest that the GOP may have manipulated the millions of loyal evangelical voters, I believe these moderate voters are in the process of concluding that this President is more concerned with retaining power than acting with intelligence and integrity to serve the best interests of the nation.
In my opinion, it looks to me that Rove/Bush concluded that 2006 could be won with the same strategy that succeeded in 2002 and 2004. Instead, I believe that it forced voters to view the election as a referendum on the policies and priorities of the Bush administration at a time when it could least withstand the scrutiny. It looks like voters are preparing to call a halt to this charade.
Daniel DiRito | October 24, 2006 | 10:01 AM |
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Keith Olbermann has certainly found his niche. His new segment called "Special Comment" has become a must see. Olbermann has repeatedly demonstrated an ability to discern clarity out of this thing we call politics and this latest iteration is a searing criticism of the GOP'
s use of fear for political gain.
Daniel DiRito | October 24, 2006 | 12:19 AM |
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E. J. Dionne offers further analysis on the possibility that the political terrain may be in the process of a fundamental shift in a new article in the Washington Post. Before providing some excerpts from the article and some added comments of my own, I wanted to mention an item that isn't directly related to this subject but I think it has more relevance than meets the eye.
I traveled around the world in late 2004 and early 2005. I left for Europe only a couple days after the presidential election so I was frequently asked about the elections by Europeans and it was clear to me that the prevailing sentiment is that they simply didn't understand how George Bush was reelected. I was asked on numerous occasions what was wrong with America and a number of those I encountered went on to explain that they had long understood that the U.S. government didn't always act in a way that represented their impression of the basic goodness of the American public. They indicated that they had always found Americans to be reasonable and fair minded...except they were now beginning to wonder if the election signaled that that was no longer the case.
I struggled to explain the election in a way that they could comprehend...probably because I didn't have an explanation that I found hopeful or satisfying. Regardless, those conversations have troubled me ever since because it seemed to me that the impression of America was no longer consistent with my own beliefs and those I had always felt were representative of this great country. Perhaps the perceived shift that I've written about and that Dionne discusses will begin to restore the inherent goodness and fair mindedness the world has come to expect from the U.S. and that has always made me proud to be an American. I certainly hope so.
HANCOCK, Mich. -- President Bush's six-year effort to create an enduring Republican majority based on a right-leaning coalition is on the verge of collapse. The way he tried to create it could have the unintended consequence of opening the way for an alternative majority.
This incipient Democratic alliance, while tilting slightly leftward, would plant its foundations firmly in the middle of the road, because its success depends on overwhelming support from moderate voters. That's why a Democratic victory in November -- defined as taking one or both houses of Congress -- would have effects far beyond a single election year.
The Democrats' dependence on moderate voters and moderate candidates belies Republican claims that a Democratic victory would bring radically liberal politics to Washington. In fact, the first imperative of Democratic congressional leaders, if their party is successful, will be finding policies, ideas and rhetoric to allow the party's progressives and moderates to get along and govern effectively together.
The strategy pursued by Bush and Karl Rove has frightened most of the political center into the arms of Democrats. Bush and Rove sought victory by building large turnouts among conservatives and cajoling just enough moderates the Republicans' way. But this approach created what may prove to be a fatal political disconnect: Adventurous policies designed to create enthusiasm on the right turned off a large number of less ideological voters.
I may be presumptuous in saying as much but I believe that this article along with other articles and growing commentary being disseminated in the media is the initiation of what I would call a moment of clarity whereby the nation comes to a halt to reevaluate its direction and reconcile the actions of its recent past. Let me be clear. I am not suggesting we engage in a moment of blame...though many would be so inclined and likely justified in doing as much...but rather a moment where we mutually reaffirm those values that connect us as Americans and begin to reject the politics of division and the rhetoric of absolutism. We are a great country when we are focused on the things that unite us rather than focusing on the issues that seek to pit one group against another in order to amass power.
The Democrats' lead in the polls can be thus explained by two factors: the energy of a passionate phalanx of voters desperate to use this election to rebuke Bush, and the disenchantment of moderates fed up with the failures of Bush's governing style and ideology, notably in Iraq.
A survey this month for National Public Radio in the 48 most-contested House districts makes clear that anti-Bush energy is this election's driving force. While only 22 percent of those surveyed by Public Opinion Strategies and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner strongly approved of Bush's performance in office, 44 percent strongly disapproved. This points to a huge enthusiasm deficit for the Republicans.
But the survey also showed that the Democrats' 51 to 40 percent lead in these competitive districts came not just from liberals but also from self-described moderates, who favored the Democrats by 59 percent to 34 percent. There are twice as many moderates as liberals in these key districts, so moderates are the linchpin of Democratic chances.
There has long been talk about the rise of a "radical center," made up of voters essentially moderate in their philosophical leanings but radical in their disaffection with the status quo. This looks to be the year of the radical center. If it is, the Democrats will win. And if they win, their task will be to meet the aspirations of a diverse group of dissatisfied and disappointed Americans. Not an easy chore, but one that certainly beats being in the opposition.
If this election unfolds according to the current trending and the statistics substantiate the speculations here and by many others around the country, then my own conclusion will be that one thing remains certain...when America moves too far out of balance...or as I prefer to view it...too far from those fundamental values that have sustained our system of government and guaranteed our commitment to faithfully uphold it...there is a will and a spirit that methodically emerges with quiet certainty to right the course.
I find it ironic that our leaders have chosen to offer two phrases to define this election..."stay the course"...or "cut and run". I believe that on November 7th Americans will reject both in favor of a much more meaningful concept..."return and restore". If American history is correct, that's as close as one can come to a sure thing.
Daniel DiRito | October 23, 2006 | 10:12 PM |
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The political climate in the United States has been one of raucous partisanship since the late '90's and it has only escalated over the six years of the Bush administration. Results from the last two elections support the notion that the country is fairly evenly divided and that those who are aligned with either the Democratic or Republican Party are not apt to support a position held by the opposition.
In 2002 and particularly 2004, Democrats were baffled at the continuing support of President Bush and his confrontational approach to policy decisions and those who endeavored to explain the GOP success primarily attributed it to the large turnout by evangelical voters. I generally agree with that analysis but I suspect that the post mortem on the 2006 election will be focused on a clear and significant shift by moderate independent voters.
I've long felt that the middle (moderate, independent voters who are open to voting with either party) is responsible for major shifts in the country's political climate...events like the post-Watergate years and the 1994 Contract with America era. I also believe that this group of voters is far less volatile than the bulk of those who identify with one party or the other and they tend to row downstream with a party until their agenda and their policies become so unacceptable that they reach a tipping point. I suspect we have reached one of those moments given the latest data from the new Washington Post - ABC News poll.
Two weeks before midterm elections, Republicans are losing the battle for independent voters, who now strongly favor Democrats on the major issues facing the country and overwhelmingly prefer to see them take over the House in November, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Independents are poised to play a pivotal role in next month's elections because Democrats and Republicans are basically united behind candidates of their own parties. Ninety-five percent of Democrats say they will support Democratic candidates for the House while slightly fewer (88 percent) Republicans said they plan to vote for their party's candidates.
The independent voters surveyed said they plan to support Democratic candidates over Republicans by roughly 2-to-1 (59 percent to 31 percent), the largest margin in any Post-ABC News poll this year. Forty-five percent said it would be good if Democrats recapture the House majority while just 10 percent said it would not be. The rest said it would not matter.
The poll also found that independents are highly pessimistic because of the Iraq war and the overall state of the country. Just 23 percent said the country is heading in the right direction compared to 75 percent who say things have gotten off track. Only a quarter of independents approve of the job Congress has done this year and only a third believes the Iraq war has been worth fighting.
Independent voters may strongly favor Democrats, but their vote appears motivated more by dissatisfaction with Republicans than by enthusiasm for the opposition party. About half of those independents saying they plan to vote Democratic in their district said they were doing so primarily to vote against the Republican candidate rather than affirmatively for the Democratic candidate. Just 22 percent of independents voting for Democrats are doing so "very enthusiastically."
So my take on this group of voters is that they are generally skeptical of both political parties but they are also not inclined to making radical or precipitous adjustments. Members of both the Democratic and Republican party are apt to believe that these voters take far too long to decide that its time to toss out one group and enable the other...but I would argue that they are demonstrating what I might call the jurors mentality...they see the party in power as innocent until proven guilty. They sit back, evaluate the evidence, and then speak with a resounding and definitive voice. Again, I don't want to predict an outcome but I do like to study the factors and attempt to offer some informed speculation...and it appears that these voters are prepared to be heard.
The poll showed that Democrats not only have a significant advantage in Blue states (those won in the 2004 presidential race by Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts) but also have a narrow advantage in Red states won by Bush, which helps to explain why the number of GOP-held seats that now appear competitive has increased recently.
Iraq is cited most frequently as the most important voting issue in the midterm elections. Two weeks ago, 26 percent of those surveyed cited the war as the single most important issue determining their vote in November, compared with 23 percent who cited the economy and 14 percent saying terrorism. In the new poll, 27 percent say Iraq but 19 percent mentioned the economy, with 14 percent saying terrorism.
Independents are almost as likely as Democrats to cite Iraq as the single most important issue in the campaign. Both are twice as likely as Republicans to single out the war when asked about the election's top issues.
One would expect to see the strong Democratic support in predominantly blue states but the shift in red states is far more telling. I believe there is a bit of a misconception when pundits and strategists attempt to characterize regions or states. That is not to say that there isn't ample evidence to suggest that certain states or regions lean towards one party or the other. Nonetheless, I believe that the party in the majority is there because these independent voters have determined to cast their lot with one of the parties...so long as they believe that party has been prudent with the power they have been granted.
The South is a good example. For years it was solidly Democratic but it has now been solidly Republican for a time frame that loosely equates with the last major shift that occurred in the early to middle 1990's...when voters put an end to some 40 years of Democratic control of congress. What connects each of these shifts seems to have been the determination that the majority party had demonstrated an abuse of power...far more than any indication of a major shift in voter ideology. Let me be clear. We tend to pay attention to the extremes and our impressions of notable shifts in voter sentiment (ideology) is largely driven by recognition of the vocal nature of one of the extremes rather that a gauging of the middle and which party they have chosen to empower. In other words, we have a predisposition to conclude that there has been a major ideological shift each time one party is empowered but I think that may be a misattribution of where moderate voters actually stand on the left right spectrum.
Voters also continue to trust Democrats more than Republicans to deal with the war, as well as the economy and ethics in government. On terrorism, the two parties are at parity.
But independents, the key swing voter group, strongly trust the Democrats on all of those issues by margins ranging from 14 percentage points on terrorism to 23 percentage points on Iraq and North Korea and 26 points on ethics in government.
The growing independent support for Democratic House candidates represents a significant shift in attitudes since the 2004 election, when the Democrats held only a narrow advantage. In winning his reelection, Bush and Kerry split the independent vote (49 Kerry-48 Bush) and in the vote for the House, independents divided 49-46 percent for Democratic candidates.
One important question that will affect the outcome of the election is who shows up to vote. More Democrats than Republicans (32 percent versus 24 percent) say they are "very closely" following the campaign. Democrats are more likely to be very enthusiastic about voting. Independents show less enthusiasm about this election than do Democrats or Republicans.
Note the evenly split independent vote during the 2004 election and keep in mind that at the time, the GOP was viewed as the party of family values and felt to be more ethical. If you look at the current numbers on that issue, independents have shifted to the Democratic Party. More importantly, one cannot identify any significant shift on moral values issues on the part of the Democrats which supports my argument that their beliefs are frequently mischaracterized.
The fact that independents voted with the GOP for a number of years wasn't necessarily an across the board endorsement of Republican values and should the presumed shift to the Democratic Party take place in November, I would still argue that they haven't made a clear ideological shift. Frankly, I tend to believe that they would actually prefer that values issues be personal decisions and not an integral component of a political agenda...but they aren't usually offered that choice so they vote on the issues that they find meaningful and accept that they are attached to a larger agenda.
In my opinion, independent and moderate thinking voters appear to have made the conclusion that the GOP should no longer be in power and they plan to vote accordingly. Further, if my theory is correct, it shouldn't be difficult to predict when this group of voters is going to say enough is enough. We often hear assertions that voters are stupid...but if my speculation is correct...it may well be the politicians and those in positions of power that are guilty of stupidity. The bottom line is that it looks like that message is about to be delivered.
Daniel DiRito | October 23, 2006 | 4:46 PM |
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While it may not be scientific to look at trending, there is growing evidence that the GOP is on the wrong side of this one. I keep thinking back to the days following the 2004 election and the statement by President Bush that the election had given him political capital and that he intended to use it. As I look at the events between that moment and now, it may have been one of the most precipitous falls in recent presidential history...and November 7th may attach the exclamation mark to the story. The Los Angeles Times has a new article that discusses the expanding number of congressional seats in play.
Republican seats at risk have nearly tripled since January, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Then, 18 GOP seats were endangered; now, 48 are considered in play.
"The battleground is way broader than anyone thought was possible," said Eli Pariser, executive director of the political action committee associated with the liberal group MoveOn.org.
To take back the House, which they lost in 1994, Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats — something they could do, perhaps, without capturing any of these newly competitive seats. But Democratic strategists believe that if the party can break into this second tier of Republican-leaning districts, they could greatly increase their odds of building a majority large enough to survive for longer than two years.
In a measure of the party's growing optimism, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee plans to announce Tuesday that it will begin airing advertisements in 11 new districts, including eight the party had not considered competitive until recently, party sources say.
It really is remarkable to witness this election cycle unfold. My own suspicion is that the news on election night is going to be clear and convincing. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that the Democrats are destined for a sweeping victory...although that looks possible. What I mean to say is that the election is going to be a big win and a big loss...because I just don't expect the results to be inconclusive. The message from voters will either be a demand for change or an anemic acceptance of the status quo...and that means that the Democrats either win big or lose big. I just don't think anyone will argue otherwise. Perhaps that's the irony of a referendum election.
"In order for them to make any of these races potentially come true, they have to spend money there, and it's unclear how much money they have left or how much in debt they are willing to go," said Carl Forti, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Still, in elections characterized by a strong desire for change, such as 1974 and 1994, the current of discontent was powerful enough to sweep in even underfunded challengers. And whatever happens Nov. 7, it is already clear that Democrats have generated intense pressure on many Republicans who have not needed to run full-scale campaigns for years — and did not expect to do so now.
The thing I find the most baffling about this type of an election is the inability to actually predict the outcome...despite ample evidence of voter sentiment. There are clear indications that a majority of voters are disenchanted with the Iraq war and the general direction the GOP has taken the country and yet it will still come down, in large part, to who actually goes to the polls and votes. I guess that fact is an indictment of American voter apathy. I know I'll never get an answer to the following question, but I would love to know the numbers..."If we were able to poll every voting age American, would it affirm what pollsters call trends or would it prove that talk is really as cheap as it often appears to be?" So much for speculation.
Daniel DiRito | October 23, 2006 | 1:17 PM |
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The RNC has released a new ad, "These are the Stakes", that is designed to scare voters as they believe they can win when the public is focused on terrorism and threats to national security. I found another video that is a parody of the RNC ad that is called, "These are the Stingrays", that I've included below and that does a good job of poking fun at the Republican's fear tactics.
If I were the Democrats I would create a new ad by taking excerpts from this very ad and then intersperse them with regular Americans talking about their fears of continuing with a do-nothing, rubber-stamp, GOP controlled Congress. I think its time for the Democrats to go toe to toe with the GOP with a light hearted...but very pointed "Fear Factor" campaign.
I just don't think fear can work this time if the Democrats will hit back. Karl Rove has made a career of taking his opponents strengths and turning them into liabilities...and its time someone return the favor. His house of cards is ready to fall.
Daniel DiRito | October 23, 2006 | 10:24 AM |
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With only two weeks until the midterm election and the GOP base appearing to lack sufficient motivation, could a ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court on same-sex marriage prove to be the catalyst the Republican Party has been seeking? 365gay.com is reporting that the court may issue its long awaited ruling on gay marriage this week. Should a ruling favoring same-sex marriage be issued this week, I would expect the GOP and evangelical leaders to herald the ruling as evidence that the base must get out and vote because the U.S. Supreme Court will in all probability have the final word on gay marriage and unless another conservative is appointed, the conservative movement may come up one justice short of their decades old goal.
(Trenton, New Jersey) The New Jersey Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling this week on same-sex marriage, coinciding with the retirement of Chief Justice Deborah T. Poritz.
Portiz turns 70 on Thursday. Her last day on the bench will be Wednesday and both supporters and opponents of gay marriage say they believe the ruling will be issued before then.
Some legal experts, however, suggest that the ruling will not be handed down until after Portiz's successor, James R. Zazzali, is sworn in.
The justices heard arguments in the case in February.
A New Jersey appeals court ruled in June 2005 that the state constitution does not require the recognition of same-sex marriage.
The court, in a split decision, said that it is up to the legislature to change marriage laws if same-sex couples are to wed in the Garden State.
At the Supreme Court the justices peppered both sides in the case about whether the court or the legislature should be the proper venue for the issue.
It was the same question that led the high courts in New York and Washington state to rule earlier this year that the legislatures had the right to decide.
My own perception is that the court won't issue a ruling this close to the election...but it may well happen. With the state in the midst of a hotly contested Senate race and the possibility that control of the House and the Senate could shift on November 8th, it seems unlikely that the court would want to be accused of releasing a controversial ruling that could be misconstrued as partisan act or used by any particular group for political advantage. Regardless, we will have to wait and see.
Daniel DiRito | October 23, 2006 | 9:21 AM |
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I've never been a gambler and I've never actually understood the mentality. Years ago, I told a friend that we live in a country driven by "chain letter economics" and I'm convinced my perception is truer today than it was at the time it first crossed my mind. The basic gist of my theory is that we Americans are always focused upon being first and winning and we often make choices consistent with that premise...which of course means we are employing the kind of thinking that underlies the premise of a chain letter...and therefore makes it a fully flawed equation.
In other words, if everyone believes they can sit atop the pyramid as the victor, who are the individuals that make up the rest of the pyramid? The bottom line is that for every winner (by that I am defining a winner in terms of a sports champion like Tiger Woods or a business success like Bill Gates or being elected president) there has to be countless losers.
The same equation applies to politics. That brings me to Karl Rove...and that has to include George Bush, if simply by association...though I'm inclined to believe that their alignment is fully deliberate and that it is predicated upon the notion that anything short of absolute victory is insufficient. A good friend of mine has an alternate description for the same mindset I've described. He called it "Bet 'em high and sleep in the streets". In the end, both theories suggest that people often take risks that have a low likelihood of succeeding or being sustained…even if one has been lucky enough to occasionally beat the odds.
Ron Brownstein has an article in the Los Angeles Times that points to the possibility that the Rove/Bush strategy for success may have some of these very same characteristics. In the build-up to this midterm election, I've written extensively about Karl Rove because I am truly fascinated by strategy...particularly when it is heavily reliant on an understanding of human psychology...something I believe Karl Rove views as a primary consideration. You can read some of my prior observations here, here, here, and here. Some excerpts from the Brownstein article follow.
The great risk in President Bush's political strategy has always been that it leaves him very little margin for error.
From the outset of his presidency, Bush has accepted division as the price of mobilization.
In Congress and across the country, that ideologically polarizing agenda has helped Bush unify and excite Republicans. But it has come at the cost of antagonizing Democrats and straining his relations with independent voters.
This strategy has rested on the calculation that if Bush generates enough constituent turn-out on Election Day from Republicans and conservative-leaning independents, he can survive unease among moderate independents and intense opposition from Democrats.
I've previously suggested that Karl Rove's approach to political strategy is counterintuitive and it isn't difficult to understand if you simply look at how he goes about creating a voting coalition. Conventional wisdom would suggest that one would want to have broad appeal and be able to pick off voters from the middle and even occasionally from the opposition Party. That's not the case in Karl Rove's world. His goal is to actually focus on defining the enemy and drawing the distinctions in order to build a coalition with clear and rigid views...and it has worked remarkably well...at least to this point in time. As Brownstein aptly states, this leaves little room for error...and it also comports with my own theory. If one can pull it off, the rewards are great...but if your calculations are off in the slightest, it can spell disaster.
On balance, that equation worked for Bush in his first term. Bolstered by his post-9/11 glow, Bush inspired an enormous Republican turnout that spurred GOP congressional gains in 2002. In 2004, another Republican surge powered gains in Congress and Bush's reelection over Democrat John F. Kerry. For Karl Rove and other top GOP strategists, those victories were evidence that Bush was building a narrow but stable electoral majority.
Bush's margin of victory over Kerry, measured as a share of the popular vote, was the smallest ever for a reelected president. Even in the usual post-election honeymoon period, Bush's approval rating never exceeded 55% in Gallup surveys, below the high point for every other reelected president since World War II. Bush's support fell back beneath 50% even before his second inauguration.
All of this meant that even on Bush's best days, nearly half the country opposed him and his direction. That didn't leave him with much of a cushion for bad days, which have come in bunches during his second term.
It takes little analysis to see the limitations of this type of strategy. If you alienate any of your constituents, as the GOP may have done with the Mark Foley scandal, the potential to add a replacement constituency is virtually nonexistent and should you actually decide to attempt as much (which would mean altering your message), you may well anger even more members of the constituency you're already losing. You also run the risk of alienating an altogether different constituent group. Frankly, the Bush administration has attempted several of these midstream adjustments and it appears that voters may no longer be willing to overlook these indiscretions. Further, after six years of confrontational rhetoric, one would expect to find very few converts as the polarizing sentiment has only heightened with the passage of time.
A combination of missteps (the faltering federal response to Hurricane Katrina) and miscalculations (the Terri Schiavo case, the crash of the Social Security restructuring plan) topped by the relentless, grinding violence and disorder in Iraq, have kept Bush on the defensive almost constantly since early 2005.
Because Bush started with backing from only about half the country, these reversals have lowered him, and his party, to dangerous depths. His approval rating since mid-2005 has rarely reached 45%, and he is now limping into the midterm election with support in most surveys below 40%.
One measure of Bush's impact on the election comes from the Majority Watch project conducted by the polling firms RT Strategies and Constituent Dynamics. Since the summer, the project has conducted nearly 75,000 automated phone surveys in congressional districts around the country. And it has found a close correlation between attitudes about Bush and preferences in November.
The obvious danger for Republicans is that far more voters in the surveys disapprove (53%) than approve of Bush's performance (39%). Among independents, those who disapprove outnumber supporters by 2 to 1.
We see pundits debating whether this election will be a referendum on the President or if it will simply be about local issues. Historically, midterm elections are indeed decided upon local issues but I contend that this one will be different. The reason I believe as much is because the high stakes Rove/Bush strategy has required lockstep loyalty and that means it will be increasingly difficult for GOP candidates to distance themselves from the President and succeed in not being viewed as an appendage that is fully connected to the Bush agenda. That makes it virtually impossible to separate local issues from any voter mandated referendum on the Bush administration. Essentially, I believe that voters, for the most part, see the Republican congress and George Bush as one and the same and intend to vote accordingly.
"He's a really good and decent man, but he empowers the Bush administration," Anne Crofts of Providence said at a recent local Democratic rally to explain why she would vote against moderate Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.).
Bush is once again stressing sharp-edged ideological differences with Democrats on taxes and national security; maybe that will rally enough conservatives to the polls to avoid a deluge on Nov. 7. But if a deluge comes, more of the Republicans looking to succeed Bush in 2008 may ask whether a political strategy that provokes so much opposition, even on its strongest days, can be sustained. They may also question whether the White House vision of a narrow but stable electoral majority is a contradiction in terms.
Look, if Lincoln Chaffee cannot separate himself from the President in order to win on local issues in Rhode Island, then countless Republican incumbents are in deep trouble. Chaffee didn't even vote for this President in 2004 and voters may still hold him accountable. I can't imagine an example that better supports Brownstein's point and my contention that the Rove/Bush strategy is a high stakes gamble. While Karl Rove and George Bush bet 'em high, it may be a number of Republican candidates who find themselves in the unenviable position of sleeping in the streets on November 8th.
Daniel DiRito | October 22, 2006 | 1:04 PM |
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A new poll by Newsweek, conducted on the 19th and 20th of October, has little good news for the Republican Party as voters continue to favor Democratic control of Congress. As we approach the final two weeks of the campaign, the GOP will seek to focus voters on issues that have typically been their strong suit...but there is growing evidence that growing dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq may be too much to overcome.
Oct. 21, 2006 - If the elections for Congress were held today, according to the new NEWSWEEK poll, 60 percent of white Evangelicals would support the Republican candidate in their district, compared to just 31 percent who would back the Democrat. To the uninitiated, that may sound like heartening news for Republicans in the autumn of their discontent. But if you’re a pundit, a pol, or a preacher, you know better. White Evangelicals are a cornerstone of the GOP’s base; in 2004, exit polls found Republicans carried white Evangelicals 3 to 1 over Democrats, winning 74 percent of their votes. In turn, Evangelicals carried the GOP to victory. But with a little more than two weeks before the crucial midterms, the Republican base may be cracking.
Take white Catholics, swing voters who went for President George W. Bush in the 2004 election. This time 44 percent of them plan to vote Democrat versus 42 percent who plan to vote Republican. Among independents, 44 percent support the Democrat in their district, while 34 percent support the Republican. And voters have more faith in the Democrats to handle almost every major issue presented in the poll, which was conducted on Thursday and Friday nights through phone interviews with 1,000 adults: from Iraq (46 to 34), to the economy (50 to 35), to federal spending (52 to 29), to health care (57 to 24).
If one considers the voter turnout in the 2004 presidential election, any significant defection on the part of the GOP base...whether that be by voting Democratic or just sitting out the election could lead to a huge Democratic victory. Keep in mind that back in 2004; early returns had Democrats convinced they were heading to victory. While the final results demonstrated that Democrats had succeeded in significantly boosting their voter turnout, the results also confirmed that the GOP had been able to turn out an even larger voter constituency...largely based upon the evangelical vote.
As we approach the November midterm, it looks like Democrats are at least as motivated as they were in 2004 and likely even more anxious to get out and vote to defeat the GOP. Any drop off in Republican turnout could prove disastrous if current Democratic voter enthusiasm holds. As I've thought back to the 2004 election, I recall one particular view that was expressed before the vote...and that was the theory that it would seem likely that if those who had voted for Al Gore also voted for the Democratic candidate (John Kerry) and only a few GOP voters defected, then it would seem that the Democrats might well defeat George Bush. I think it was a good theory but it failed to account for the ability of the GOP to turn out millions of new evangelical voters...enough so to overcome the theory as well as Democratic enthusiasm to defeat the Republican Party.
If one assumes that Democratic enthusiasm will significantly turn out more voters and if current polling turns out to be an accurate assessment as to the dwindling GOP base, independent voter support for the Democrats, and an apparent drop off of evangelical support as well as concerns that many of them could sit out the election altogether, then this could prove to be the perfect storm for the Democrats.
Compared to the NEWSWEEK poll two weeks ago, taken in the aftermath of the Mark Foley Congressional page scandal, the Republicans seem to be closing the issues gap—at least on the issues where they have traditionally enjoyed greater voter trust than the Democrats. The Oct. 5 and 6 poll gave Democrats a lead on moral values (42 to 36), a stunning reversal of every previous poll. While Republicans have not retaken their lead on the issue, they have stopped their slide. In the new poll, 41 percent of Americans say they trust the Democrats more on values and 37 percent said they trusted the GOP more.
Likewise, on the war on terror, once President Bush’s signature issue. While Republicans have not restored their perennial lead over the Democrats, equal numbers of Americans trust each party more (40 percent for each.) Two weeks ago, the Democrats held a seven-point advantage. On immigration, 40 percent trust the Dems more, while 34 percent trust the GOP more. Two weeks ago the Democrats held a nine-point lead on that issue.
The poll found terrorism came fourth as the “most important" issue to voters, at just 13 percent; behind Iraq (31 percent), the economy (18 percent), and health care (16 percent). And a solid majority of Americans want the Democrats to take over Capital Hill, 55 percent, versus 32 percent who want the GOP to retain control—a 23-point margin.
I'm not typically inclined to make bold predictions but I do enjoy psychology so trying to gauge what might be in the minds of voters as we approach the election is always of interest. The GOP intends to run a new advertisement this weekend that many have compared to the famous LBJ commercial from the 1964 election in which it raised the possibility that Barry Goldwater, if elected, could choose to engage in nuclear warfare. That ad sought to play upon the fears of voters and the new GOP ad will seek to do the same thing. I have a suspicion that the ad is going to have the opposite effect on voters.
Here's my thinking. Voters have been fed a steady diet of fear since 9/11 and it seems to have benefited the GOP in 2002 and 2004, but I think we may be at a point similar to what is known as the boy who cried wolf point. Voters have been exposed to elevated threat levels, heightened security measures at airports, news conferences announcing the arrest of potential terrorists, and a general atmosphere of sensationalism that hasn't materialized into any tangible terrorist crisis.
At the same time, they are told that the efforts in Iraq are making progress and that the insurgency is in its final throes...all the while U.S. casualties grow and nightly reports detail the expanding sectarian violence that indicates the country is moving towards full scale civil war. I see that as a dangerous combination for the GOP and one that leads voters to conclude that much of what is disseminated from the Bush administration cannot be taken at face value...and may well not be accurate.
Therefore, I'm inclined to think that this new ad will simply anger voters who feel that they have been played by this President and the ad may turn out to be the defining moment in crystallizing voter sentiment against more of the same from the GOP. To say it another way, you can't tell voters to be afraid of their shadows on a daily basis while at the same time telling them that we're winning the war in Iraq and don't worry about the casualties and the civil war that's brewing. Voters are smarter than that and at some point they resent being insulted.
My dad tells a story about WWII that seems to apply today. He used to go to the movies with his grandfather and before screening the movie they would show newsreels that discussed the war efforts. Essentially, they were propaganda pieces meant to encourage Americans that the war effort was going well. My dad’s grandfather, who had grown up in Italy and witnessed the trauma of war didn't like the newsreels. My dad says that his grandfather would ridicule the newsreels with his own sarcastic explanation of the war that went something like this. He would say that every American bullet would hit its target and kill the enemy, but that each time a German soldier shot his weapon, the bullets would fall harmlessly to the ground and the American soldiers would pick them up and eat them because they were candy.
It seems to me that many Americans may have reached the same point as my father’s grandfather with regards to the war on terror and the war in Iraq...the math just doesn't work and most voters have come to that conclusion. Regardless, we'll know for sure soon enough.
Daniel DiRito | October 21, 2006 | 9:07 AM |
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It’s not unusual for me to wake up two or three times during the night...and last night was no different in that regard. Occasionally I’ll get up for a drink of water or make my way to the bathroom…but I typically find that I’m able to stay inside of the dream that happened to be in progress before I awoke and then easily fall back to sleep once I’m back in my bed. Once in a while, my mind leaves its slumber and some issue or thought will surface and keep me from resuming my nightly hibernation. Last night was one of those nights. It was three in the morning and I started thinking about my childhood days and I began pondering how I had arrived here at this point in this place in this country of ours.
These days I live near the train tracks…something we’ve all experienced much of our lives yet I’m not sure we ever stop to ask how or why that is often the case. It’s funny because when I sold my home and quit my job and set out to travel the world…a good portion of that journey was aboard a train…especially throughout Europe. As I pondered the connection, my mind began its own journey.
When I returned from my trip around the world, I moved into an area nearer to the railroad tracks than the home I’d lived in for a number of years...and it seems I’ve been near railroad tracks ever since. I’m somewhat fascinated by the sights and sounds of trains and rail yard sounds at night when the rest of the world is sleeping as it brings me some unusual sense of comfort…perhaps a grounded feeling. When I do wake during the night, I rarely fail to note the sounds of the rail…it might be the slow rumble of a train as it begins to move or the squealing of the tracks as metal meets metal or a blast of air…and of course there’s always the occasional whistle.
As my mind emerged from its rest, I was aware that I had been dreaming about my childhood in Canon City, a small little town in southern Colorado. In my dream I was outside working with my dad on the five acres of land where I spent the bulk of my early years and where my parents remain to this day. Working outdoors was something I loved and I was always thrilled when we would begin a new project. As I reviewed the content of my dream, it struck me just how separated we are in this modern world from the basic toils of years gone by.
As a kid, I remember thinking about having a lawn. You see my dad and my uncle built their houses next to each other while they also continued to run their business…so once the house was habitable, we moved in even though the house wasn’t completed. It would be a number of years before we planted a lawn and I often imagined what it would be like to have a yard…nothing fancy…just an ordinary lawn…and as I think back I always knew we would have one but I also knew we would have to work hard for that to happen. I never stopped believing that we would eventually achieve that simple goal. I think kids are unique in that regard. For children, the world is huge and the slightest of dreams can occupy the mind for days and sometimes even years…and those dreams can retain their meaning and their promise for the duration.
As I embraced my thoughts about the years we struggled…though at the time I don’t think I saw it as a struggle…I realized the inconsequential nature of much of our existence. We moved into our home when I was beginning the second grade and I believe I was a teenager before we had a lawn and just as long before we had a color television. The funny thing is that it never really mattered that we didn’t have either or that it took so long to have both…because my dreams never wavered and I knew hard work would eventually provide both.
Perhaps that is why my dreams are always filled with people and places and things from those distant years…years in which I lived more closely connected to the toils that eventually brought me to this point in time. As I sat in the dark and listened to the sounds of the rail, my mind suddenly jumped forward to recall that we are less than three weeks from an election. I thought about the fact that we are focused upon determining in which political party to bestow enough power to enable them to determine our nation’s course of action…a decision that brings concern and anxiety as we await the outcome. As my mind went back and forth, I started to question whether we ever stop to understand how we actually arrive in the places we find ourselves.
As I rocked my chair…the one that belonged to my grandpa and grandma many decades ago…I tried to answer my own question. The first thing that entered my mind was the railroad tracks because in reality they played a fundamental role in how we each arrive at where we eventually find ourselves. Many of us live by the railroad tracks because it was how we got here…it was how each little city or town began…and it happened because some visionary from our distant past had a dream about where to put down these miles and miles of tracks.
It struck me that we take those dreams and decisions for granted today and I would venture that nary a soul ever ponders how each of these American cities came to pass…or how important those dreams and decisions were at one time long, long ago…and, for that matter, how they were ever brought to fruition. As I pondered the possibilities, the first thing that crossed my mind was the search for opportunity. For my ancestors it was coal mining…but there were many other reasons. For some it was the well documented search for gold. For others it might have been the search for a temperate climate in which to raise a particular crop or an open meadow that allowed for easy irrigation. Regardless, the train went where it should and it wasn’t simply a matter of chance.
At the same time, the train didn’t care who was a Democrat or a Republican…those distinctions were not part of the equation as our fellow Americans primarily needed to make a living and they were looking for a better life in a vast nation with countless possibilities...opportunities that led all kinds of Americans to put down the tracks that now traverse this nation from shore to shore and border to border. As it turned out, there was a place for everyone and the train followed countless dreams in order to connect us with those we left behind and with those that ventured far ahead. More importantly, when those that went before passed away, their tracks remained.
It seems to me that two things connected all of these people…they were all Americans and they all participated in creating the tracks that were made available to all in search of a better life. Wherever people ventured, the tracks went as well…and who one chose to vote for was meaningful but secondary to their shared daily struggles…struggles to find another place to lay down tracks…tracks that would lead or follow citizens to better places and better lives.
On November 7th we vote with the presumption that our choices and our dreams are about the very same things…a better place and a better life…and yet it seems that we can’t see the tracks that preceded us nor can we determine where to place the next set of tracks…but that needn’t be true because they have always been there and they still remain. The larger question is whether we will honor the dreams and the toils of those who placed them there for the benefit of all Americans.
We need not be a nation divided…for we are a country that was built by our countrymen and countrywomen one track at a time…spanning the entire nation in order to bring us together in our American dream no matter where or why we chose to lay down our own unique tracks. Nonetheless I fear we may have lost site of that important reality…having cut ourselves into pieces and divisions that deny our mutual origin and that ignore our mutual tracks. Our actions suggest that our paths no longer cross and that, more importantly, our tracks no longer intersect. It is as if we have determined that we are divided into groups that can only traverse the rails of those who hold fast to one party or one ideology.
We are not red America or blue America…or even purple America. That is a fabrication that ignores the countless tracks that were so wisely placed by those who led us to this land of abundance…so abundant that we went everywhere and we went there together along the tracks of those before us…Irish with Italian…German with Jew…black with white…farmers with doctors…mothers with fathers…young with old…yet all together in one solemn thing…we were all Americans.
This coming midterm election should not be a vote to abandon or deny some of our tracks or to segregate some of our fellow travelers. If we make it so, then we are no longer deserving of the toil that placed them upon this bountiful soil with the hope and the intention that all of her inhabitants could share in all of the benefits. There need not be two Americas…two sets of tracks. We must reject that notion and it is time we did so with one voice.
We are all here…and we are all here together because of the wisdom of our forefathers…those great spirits who occupy your dreams and my dreams at night…those wise souls who found within themselves and their common goals the ability to set aside their apparent differences. They did so in order to place the necessary tracks upon the never before traveled land…so that they could take us to where we sought to be and where we dreamed we would eventually arrive. They did the hard work for all of us…without reservation for who might use those tracks or consideration for who might be denied the use of those tracks. These tracks of ours were put in place for anyone who had the dream to be and the vision to become an American.
Our tracks have carried the living and the dead…they have brought hope and they have brought despair …but they were built to serve all who came together to be Americans…and they are undeniably the product of that which defines us as Americans. On November 7th we are called once again to put down new tracks…tracks that will lead us to our future…but they must be tracks that we can travel together…as Americans…once again.
Daniel DiRito | October 20, 2006 | 6:06 PM |
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I've always found Sidney Blumenthal to be both thoughtful and insightful and his interview in Los Angeles CityBeat doesn't disappoint. He brings a wealth of knowledge and his ability to project how current issues and the associated players will be viewed historically is formidable. In my opinion, he is unmatched in his ability to articulate the big picture. I've provided some excerpts but I would encourage readers to read the entire interview.
In How Bush Rules: The Chronicles of a Radical Regime (Princeton), Blumenthal collects much of that work into a document of the George W. Bush years, a "real time" chronology of missteps and misinformation that very often reads like an indictment of our current president and the GOP. It is the story of an imperial presidency, a time of one-party rule and a collapse of the crucial checks and balances provided for in the Constitution.
CityBeat: How long have you viewed the Bush administration as a "radical regime?"
Sidney Blumenthal: During the Reagan period, I covered the conservative movement and Iran-Contra and the Reagan White House for the Washington Post and spent a lot of time with the neo-conservatives. In the elder Bush administration, they were not allowed in. And when I saw them coming back, I had a very clear idea of what they were all about, and that at least in foreign policy would be very radical.
Is the Cheney that you knew back in the '80s the same as he is now?
The Cheney I knew had hard-right instincts and has moved systematically hard-right .... Cheney went from facilitating [Newt] Gingrich and the so-called Republican revolution to an alliance with the neo-conservatives. And that was facilitated by his wife, Lynn Cheney, who had been far-right chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. I call her Madame Mao. She was at the American Enterprise Institute, where all these neo-conservatives were clustered. Cheney really got to know them well, and saw in them a network that he could put in place.
Popular opinion is now overwhelmingly opposed to the Iraq war. Why has it taken this long?
Historians are going to ask this question. There was a study done on voters by the University of Maryland on the parallel universes of Kerry and Bush supporters, which says people who supported Bush had a completely different set of facts. The vast majority of them believed Saddam Hussein was involved in Al Qaeda and 9/11, that there were WMD in Iraq - and that they had been found.
There were a lot of people who persuaded themselves that what Bush was doing would last forever politically, and they aligned themselves with Bush, including parts of the press corps. They convinced themselves that Karl Rove was a genius and all this was the result of his genius political strategy. And Bush was a stalwart person of profound conviction. And they thought it was all going to work.
It looks like we're about to enter into an interesting period following this election.
We're headed into a potential constitutional crisis if the Democrats get one or both houses of Congress. They will certainly have subpoena power and I think the Bush administration is likely to resist the production of documents.
The idea in my book is that Bush has created a radical presidency that is unaccountable. And if a check-and-balance is introduced for the first time to Bush, instead of one-party rule, we're going to have another crisis. The conflict will increase, not diminish. As Bette Davis said, "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy ride."
What is remarkable about Blumenthal's remarks is his prescience. When he suggests that the real constitutional crisis will take place if and when the Democrats take a majority in the House or the Senate. To this point, Bush and Cheney have been successful in expanding the power of the executive branch...but look for a donnybrook if the Democrats decide to rollback some of these obvious excesses. More importantly, look for a number of Republicans to abandon the President in the ensuing battle. In my opinion, should the Democrats gain control of the House and possibly the Senate, the significance of the 2006 midterm election will be viewed retrospectively as a focal point in American history.
There have been recent reports that the President and those close to him have refused to consider the ramifications of a Democratic victory in November. There are two ways to view what GOP operatives have sought to portray as optimism on the part of the President. One perspective is that it's essential for the head of the GOP to appear confident in order to motivate the Republican base. The second explanation is far more complex. It suggests that this President actually believes that fate and faith have led him to this historical juncture and as such he serves as the designated warrior for the vision of a higher power. Blumenthal doesn't go this far in his prediction...but if I were a gambler, I'd bet he expects nothing less.
Daniel DiRito | October 19, 2006 | 5:27 PM |
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In recent weeks, the U.S. military has stepped up efforts to bring calm to war torn Baghdad and put an end to the rampant sectarian violence. Unfortunately, the news coming from Iraq indicates that the campaign isn't succeeding as U.S. casualties are headed for a monthly record and the number of death squad attacks on fellow Iraqis continues at an alarming pace. The New York Times reports that a leading general has conceded that the plan isn't working and he is calling for a reevaluation of the American strategy.
BAGHDAD, Oct. 19 — The American-led crackdown in Baghdad has not succeeded in reducing a “disheartening" level of violence across the capital and a new approach is needed, a military spokesman said today.
Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the senior spokesman for the American military in Iraq, said that the strategy of concentrating on a limited number of highly troubled neighborhoods had not slowed sectarian violence in the city as a whole.
General Caldwell said that attacks in the Baghdad area went up 22 percent during the first three weeks of Ramadan in comparison with the three weeks before.
The news couldn't be worse for the Bush administration and GOP candidates across the country. It’s well known that the Rove strategy for the 2006 midterm included an effort to connect the war in Iraq with the war on terror but the increasing violence is only heightening voter dissatisfaction with the handling of the war and undermining the message that Iraq is the main front in fighting terror. Even if voters believe that Iraq is the focal point in the war on terror, the lack of success is leading voters to conclude that neither the Iraq war or the war on terror are being properly managed. Those conclusions cannot be good news for the Republican Party.
General Caldwell’s statement comes at a politically sensitive moment, when attacks on American forces have been increasing and many Democrats are making the situation in Iraq their central issue in the fall Congressional campaign.
The White House spokesman, Tony Snow, told reporters in Washington today that the general was not saying that the effort in Baghdad had been a failure.
“What he said is that the levels of violence had not been lowered in a way that met our expectations, and so what we’re doing is we’re adjusting to bring them down, which is what you’d expect," Mr. Snow said.
You can be sure that if Tony Snow has to clarify what the general meant to say, then the Bush administration must realize they need to be in full scale damage control with less than three weeks until the midterm election. I could be wrong, but it does seem that voter sentiment has reached the tipping point and it is doubtful that they will alter their conclusions about the war effort. In fact, it is hard to imagine what news could alter the mood of the electorate at this late date.
In Baghdad, General Caldwell said that violence had begun to return to some of the areas that had been the focus of the crackdown, as Sunni insurgents and Al Qaeda “push back."
He said their strategy seemed to be that “if you want to discredit this government, go back and strike at those areas" that officials have announced as newly peaceful.
He said that American forces had recently returned to the Dora neighborhood in southeastern Baghdad, which had been held up as one of the prime successes of the crackdown.
Reading between the lines, I would equate the strategy with what John McCain has called a game of whack-a-mole whereby we are chasing insurgents from neighborhood to neighborhood because we haven't committed the troop strength necessary to control the entire city. Further, the Iraqi forces continue to prove ineffective...and may be actually participating in the sectarian strife. Frankly, the Bush administration's intransigence must bear the bulk of the blame as they refused to listen to those who argued that we would need a much larger troop presence to win the peace. To call for more troops now will only be met with more criticism and it would be a tacit admission that the war strategy was badly flawed...a perspective now held by a large majority of Americans.
Daniel DiRito | October 19, 2006 | 11:58 AM |
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In 2004 most GOP candidates were traveling downstream in their "swiftboats" attacking every Democratic candidate that dared to criticize the Bush administration's war in Iraq. In 2006 you not only can't find the GOP "swiftboat", you can't find a Republican candidate willing to jump in and try to navigate the hapless dingy against the strong current of voter dissatisfaction with the seemingly never ending war. The New York Times offers a detailed look at the GOP's dilemma with how to best address the war in Iraq on the campaign trail.
With three weeks until Election Day, Republican candidates are barely mentioning Iraq on the campaign trail and in their television advertisements.
Even President Bush, continuing to attack Democrats for opposing the war, has largely dropped his call of “stay the course" and replaced it with a more nuanced promise of flexibility.
It is the Democrats who have seized on Iraq as a central issue. In debates and in speeches, candidates are pummeling Republicans with accusations of a failed war.
Rather than avoiding confrontation on Iraq as they did in 2002 and 2004, they are spotlighting their opposition in new television advertisements that feature mayhem and violence in Iraq, denounce Republicans for supporting Mr. Bush and, in at least one case, demand the ouster of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
It wasn't long ago that calls for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to resign were met by continued support from the Commander in Chief. At the time, Thought Theater suggested that the Democrats would be better served in the midterm election if Rumsfeld remained in his position and it is beginning to look like that may well be the case as the Bush administration can offer little more than rhetoric when it attempts to assert that it is adapting to the situation in the war torn country. With monthly U.S. casualty figures approaching a record level this October...well past three years into the conflict...there is little reason for Republican candidates to mention the war.
The development also suggests that what has been a classic strategy of Mr. Bush’s senior adviser, Karl Rove — to turn a weakness into a strength — is not working as well as the White House had hoped.
“As the Iraq war gets more unpopular, the environment for Republican candidates erodes," said Mark Campbell, a Republican strategist who represents several Congressional candidates, including Representative Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania, who is fighting for re-election in one of the toughest races.
A senior strategist familiar with Republican polling who insisted on anonymity to share internal data said that as of midsummer it was clear that “stay the course" was a self-defeating argument.
Democrats, seeing similar data in their polls, advised candidates to confront Republicans aggressively, in the view that accusations that Democrats would “cut and run" would not blunt Democrats’ efforts to mock Republicans as wanting to “stay the course."
Republicans and Democrats said the White House effort to turn the war into an affirmative Republican issue was undercut by the increasing violence there, along with more American deaths that have brought the war home in the form of mournful articles in local newspapers.
That complicated the White House effort to present the Iraq war as part of the antiterrorism effort, and it has contributed to support for the war reaching record or near-record lows.
The effort to make Iraq a part of the war on terror just doesn't seem to be selling any longer and that may well be because many Americans now believe that the Iraq conflict may actually be fomenting more terrorist animosity and may not necessarily be a favorable piece of the national security equation. The fact that a strong majority of Americans also believe Iraq is in the midst of a civil war is another telling signal that the negative aspects of Iraq are now overwhelming the attempts to link it to the war on terror. In fact, recent polling shows that voters now believe that Democrats are as capable as the GOP to handle the issue of terrorism...which may be connected to the Democrats continued criticism of the current strategies in Iraq.
Mr. Bartlett said Iraq remained a winning issue in the broader context of the war on terrorism, which the party would continue to hit hard.
Mr. Bush tried to do that on Wednesday in an interview on ABC News, telling George Stephanopoulos, the interviewer, that when voters go to the polls on Nov. 7 “they’re going to want to know what that person’s going to do, what is the plan for a candidate on Iraq, what do they believe?"
When Mr. Stephanopoulos asked Mr. Bush whether the increasing violence in Iraq was similar to the Tet Offensive in 1968, the Vietnam War campaign that is often cited as turning American opinion against the war, Mr. Bush said such a comparison “could be right," suggesting that terrorists were aiming for a similar result.
It’s important to note that the President's answer demonstrates his myopic posture regarding the war. While Stephanopoulos was attempting to have the President comment on the growing opposition to the war...asking if voters might be at a tipping point...the President sought to make the point that the terrorists might be attempting to create a Tet Offensive moment. Essentially, his answer virtually ignores the political implications and suggests that he is holding fast to the strategy that connecting the Iraq war to terrorism will produce GOP support. I don't think voter sentiment is moving in the direction that the President may think it is or hope it will.
Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which has polled extensively on attitudes toward the war, said Pew figures suggested that one hope for Republicans earlier in this campaign — that Democrats would be hurt if they were perceived as criticizing the war without offering a strategy for withdrawal — had not been borne out.
“They are not getting punished for not offering an opinion," Mr. Kohut said. “The Democrats have an advantage on this issue, without having to say much about it."
There are two important things to note from Mr. Kohut's remarks. One, voters appear to have decided that the President's plan is a failure. Two, despite the fact that the Democrats haven't actually offered a cohesive or comprehensive alternative plan, voters are convinced any change might be better than more of the same. That stands to help Democrats on November 7th...but it also means that voters are hoping for change come November 8th...and that may prove to be the beginning of an even larger problem for both parties.
In my opinion, it will behoove both parties to find some tangible solutions to the Iraq mess if they hope to have any success in 2008. If one thinks voters are unhappy now, imagine their mood if Iraq is still at the top of their list of issues two years from now.
Daniel DiRito | October 18, 2006 | 10:48 PM |
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Its long been said that what goes around comes around and a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll seems to be an indication that the GOP is fast approaching a first hand encounter with the short end of the...
Daniel DiRito | October 18, 2006 | 6:16 PM |
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I hate to be sarcastic...but not so much so that I won't take an opportunity to point out the difficult position in which the GOP finds itself in the aftermath of the Mark Foley scandal. Here's the snark. The...
Daniel DiRito | October 18, 2006 | 9:30 AM |
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Sometimes a pending reality check leads people to let down their guard and expose a little more of the core person that underlies the public persona...and then again sometimes a pending reality check forces people to moderate the rhetoric...
Daniel DiRito | October 17, 2006 | 11:23 AM |
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Daniel DiRito | October 17, 2006 | 9:44 AM |
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Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner, Lester Crawford, has been charged with making false statements and with conflicts-of-interest with regard to stocks he held in companies that were regulated by the administration. Reuters has details of the charges and...
Daniel DiRito | October 16, 2006 | 5:16 PM |
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The Weekly Standard's P.J. O'Rourke, in a new article titled What's the Smell?, does his best to apply relativism in order to endorse the continuation of GOP control. The problem with his argument, as I see it, is that...
Daniel DiRito | October 16, 2006 | 2:16 PM |
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Find this video and thousands of others at vSocial!...
Daniel DiRito | October 16, 2006 | 1:37 PM |
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With less than a month until the midterm election, we begin another week with a number of new polls and growing signs that the GOP is scrambling to determine the most effective ways to defend their majorities in the...
Daniel DiRito | October 16, 2006 | 10:59 AM |
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The following posting is the tenth entry in a continuing Thought Theater dialogue on political strategy. The first posting, Political Strategy: The Opening Dialogue, can be found here, the second posting, Political Strategy: Beyond Extremist Labels can be found here,...
Daniel DiRito | October 14, 2006 | 10:20 AM |
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During the 2004 presidential election a website called electoral-vote.com became a popular place to track the latest polling in an all encompassing format. The site is once again tracking the 2006 midterm election and providing daily projections for both...
Daniel DiRito | October 13, 2006 | 11:20 AM |
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In a stunning piece of news, the leading British general has suggested that the British soon withdraw their troops from Iraq. Should the Brits announce a timeframe for the withdrawal of their military forces or even begin that process...
Daniel DiRito | October 12, 2006 | 6:41 PM |
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Those who presume that voters are being provided with meaningful information in the run-up to this midterm election may well be in for a surprise on November 8th. While that date may not be totally accurate, the report to...
Daniel DiRito | October 12, 2006 | 4:12 PM |
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Logic should tell us that no one group has a lock on morality...but don't look at the last decade to discern that conclusion. Nonetheless, the GOP stranglehold on values voters seems to be on the wane as evidenced by...
Daniel DiRito | October 12, 2006 | 1:59 PM |
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As the dust settles in the North Korea blame game, the only thing that remains relevant is what to do next in light of this unfortunate reality. While making accusations might make one feel better, it won't undo what...
Daniel DiRito | October 12, 2006 | 10:58 AM |
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The Iraqi parliament approved a bill that authorizes the formation of regions within the country that will have a substantial level of autonomy however the provision will not be enacted for 18 months. The delay was a concession by...
Daniel DiRito | October 11, 2006 | 12:00 PM |
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Never underestimate the ability of the GOP to transform scandal into spin aimed to obfuscate fact and shift blame. The latest effort involves the revelations that Republican Congressman Mark Foley sent solicitous emails and instant messages to underage male...
Daniel DiRito | October 11, 2006 | 9:24 AM |
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The GOP is on the offensive in an attempt to blame the Democrats and a "network of gay staffers" for leaking the details about Congressman Mark Foley as well as sitting on the information until it would provide them...
Daniel DiRito | October 11, 2006 | 8:51 AM |
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One thing is for certain about John McCain...he learned his lesson in the 2000 presidential primary that you either join the GOP establishment or find yourself the object of its scorched earth approach to king-making and king-breaking. In a...
Daniel DiRito | October 10, 2006 | 3:09 PM |
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The press enjoys providing details on the money raised by politicians and keeping track of the total funds raised by Republicans and Democrats to influence voters. Unfortunately, the reported numbers often fail to account for the many other ways...
Daniel DiRito | October 10, 2006 | 8:54 AM |
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With four weeks until the midterm election, the GOP is finding little evidence that they will be able to hold control of the House and may well be vulnerable to also lose the Senate. Three new polls suggest that...
Daniel DiRito | October 9, 2006 | 9:52 PM |
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In the wake of the Mark Foley scandal, the GOP has struggled to offer a plausible defense for what appears to have been an effort to cover up the congressman's outrageous communications with underage male pages. While the situation...
Daniel DiRito | October 9, 2006 | 8:07 AM |
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George Bush and Dick Cheney believe that in the aftermath of the resignation of Richard Nixon, the power of the executive branch was unreasonably diminished. From the outset of their election to office, they have systematically sought to amass...
Daniel DiRito | October 6, 2006 | 10:42 AM |
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Daniel DiRito | October 6, 2006 | 10:00 AM |
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Some say the third times a charm, but when it comes to the three most recent polls following the disclosure of damaging communications between Congressman Mark Foley and an underage page, the latest TIME poll suggests the opposite for...
Daniel DiRito | October 6, 2006 | 8:42 AM |
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As they say, when it rains, it pours. In a new Rasmussen Reports poll, the Mark Foley scandal is found to have potentially devastating consequences for the Republican Party. I've previously argued that the scandal might actually increase the...
Daniel DiRito | October 5, 2006 | 12:07 PM |
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Some might call it the gift that keeps on giving. Scandals that have legs have a history of clearing the media deck such that there is little else that receives attention. At the moment, that reality is a boon...
Daniel DiRito | October 5, 2006 | 10:52 AM |
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Despite the admitted efforts of Rick Santorum to assist the Green Party in fielding a candidate in the Pennsylvania Senate race to take some votes from his Democratic opponent, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that Carl Romanelli did...
Daniel DiRito | October 4, 2006 | 5:17 PM |
In light of the recent GOP meltdown that is being driven by the Mark Foley scandal, many Democrats are salivating at the possibility that this "values" scandal will suppress the turnout of Republican conservatives and evangelicals. Initially, it seemed...
Daniel DiRito | October 4, 2006 | 3:03 PM |
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There's nothing like an old fashioned sex scandal when it comes to polling. On the heels of the Mark Foley page scandal, Zogby reports that Democrats are running strong in a large majority of the contested House districts currently...
Daniel DiRito | October 4, 2006 | 12:29 PM |
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If you care to see how desperate the GOP is to shift the blame for the Foley scandal to everybody but themselves, take a look at this video of the usual Republican talking heads giving it their best shot....
Daniel DiRito | October 4, 2006 | 11:00 AM |
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So much for the Bush bump. What appeared to be the makings of a trend may have been derailed by a string of damaging news for the President and his Party. After an impressive rebound brought about by a...
Daniel DiRito | October 3, 2006 | 9:59 PM |
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That didn't take long! Call me a cynic and a skeptic but within hours of the announcement by Mark Foley's attorney that his client is gay, a number of GOP operatives were appearing all over the media attempting to...
Daniel DiRito | October 3, 2006 | 6:05 PM |
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Daniel DiRito | October 3, 2006 | 5:48 PM |
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Like a classic boxing match, where two opponents surge and sink as they are able to land a solid punch, the Democrats and Republicans are in a battle of back and forth as they attempt to gain and hold...
Daniel DiRito | October 3, 2006 | 3:57 PM |
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The dust has yet to settle on the scandal surrounding the resignation of Florida Congressman Mark Foley after the exposure of solicitous emails to an underage male page. Foley's actions are especially damaging to the GOP given his position...
Daniel DiRito | October 3, 2006 | 9:13 AM |
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More than three years into the Iraq war and fast approaching the November midterm election, numerous politicians and countless pundits have sought to explain the U.S. plan for achieving our objectives in the war torn country and the region....
Daniel DiRito | October 1, 2006 | 9:50 AM |
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