Monday, January 31, 2005

ASDC vote a repudiation of SOP

The Hill has a good write up on this morning's endorsement of Howard Dean by the Association of State Democratic Chairmen (ASDC). One thing is clear is that Mark Brewer, the head of the Association, hasn't a clue what his members actually think. He was apparently predicting that the Executive Committees endorsement of Fowler the day before would translate to approximately "70 to 80 votes" when the final tally was taken this morning.

Fowler only got 23 votes.

I have to think that Brewer's days as head of the Association are numbered after a repudiation like that!

Dean's got big balls!

AC/DC Endorses Howard Dean!

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Asking the right questions

Sometimes it requires being in the middle of the crap to best understand the crap. Even the soldiers of America are only in Iraq for short while. It is not their life. It is only their life right now.

But for people like this, what is going on is their life and will remain their life because it is where they live.

The entire world is shouting and asking, are Iraqis going to take a part of the elections or no?
Wallahi I have headache because of times I was asked this question
Yes, of course I am for the elections, and for the participation and voting, but not in this way! Not in this shallow and superficial way!
At the same time, I am against violence and preventing people from going to elections.
The funny thing is that we face the same kind of question in post-war Iraq: are you against or for saddam? Are you against or for the elections?
No one asks: what do you think about what is happening?
You always find yourself in a narrow space put by the person asking you!
And this is funny, because the world is not just Yes and No!
Life is full of options, and your answers are very rarely mere (Yes)s or (NO)s.
In a free world is a multi-optional world that gives us the space of thinking and answering in a calm way.
Life is colourful, it is full of options and choices, and for a happy and comfortable life all the colours should be there.

Faiza makes the point: the questions we are asked often restrict our ability to answer. The questions have an agenda. The dishonest journalists ask questions based on their concerns. The honest journalists ask questions based on the concerns of the people they are questioning.

(link courtesy Loaded Mouth)

Saturday, January 29, 2005

No announcement from the Dean camp on Ickes' endorsement

There are many surprising things about the Ickes endorsement of Howard Dean. But one of the more intriguing for me is the fact that this news has yet to be announced on the Democracy For America web site. You would think, normally, that they would be trumpeting something this important.

There are two explanations I can think of for the cricket noise coming from Burlington: (1) they aren't ready to make the announcement official and this report is just a leak of something that will be happening soon, or (2) they have learned some lessons from the handling of the Gore announcement and don't want to make the same mistake.

I think the latter is the more likely possibility. When Gore told Dean that he would endorse the governor, Dean quickly arranged a press conference to announce it. It happened so quickly that even Joe Trippi didn't know about it in advance! While the announcement quickly cemented Dean's status as the front-runner, it also produced what I call the "Risk" moment in the campaign.

In the game of Risk, there comes a time when one player becomes so overwhelmingly powerful that it is in the best interest of all the other players to combine forces and wipe them out (because no single player would have a chance). This happened in the Democratic campaign, where members of the Gephardt and Kerry campaigns worked together behind the scenes to release some really disgusting attack ads on Dean. Furthermore, while I don't have proof of this, I am convinced that Gephardt deliberately sacrificed his own candidacy in order to take out Dean (perhaps in exchange for a seat in Kerry's cabinet).

None of this excuses Dean's mistakes in that campaign. I'm only talking about this as an illustrative example of why Dean may be more circumspect about the Ickes' endorsement. It is a big feather in his cap. But if he were to really brag about it it could quickly coalesce the Anybody-But-Dean forces into a final effort to stop him. He's already experienced that once. He doesn't want it to happen again.

So he will keep the Ickes's endorsement as a nice little piece of news to pass around behind closed doors, another way to persuade reluctant delegates. But he won't go talking about it much in front of the cameras or in press releases on his web site. Instead he'll make much more noise about endorsements from the rank-n-file delegates.

After all, it is they who will ultimately have to vote on whether Dean gets the job.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Dean unity

I argued the point this morning that Dean was good at the unity thing, the main argument that Josh Marshall made in his support for Rosenberg.

Case in point, Harold Ickes, a close confident of the Clintons, has endorsed Dean for the DNC chair position.

Ickes would not do this if the Clintons seriously objected to Dean as DNC chair. That doesn't mean they like it. But this is a a strong signal that they realize that Dean not getting the position would be worse than the potential downside of him getting it.

I would be extremely surprised if the Clintons came out and endorsed Dean. That would be burning to many bridges and there just wouldn't be that much to gain from it. In fact, I think Dean would be better off winning this without a Clinton endorsement. Such an endorsement would create the impression that Dean was a Clinton lackey.

I don't know the details behind this endorsement, but I think it demonstrates once again that Dean can unify the Democrats in just the way that Josh feared he couldn't.

Giving to much credit. Not taking enough credit.

There has been some speculation that the Republicans never really meant to push that hard for dismantling Social Security and replacing it with private investment accounts (or, as I like to call them, "forced gambling accounts"). There has been speculation that, because the battle over Bush's plan seems to be going so badly so quickly that there must be some ulterior motive behind their proposal.

Kevin Drum has a good writeup on this possibility:

I wonder if the final phase of this strategy is behind Bush's Social Security posturing? Maybe the plan looks something like this:

1. Bush proposes private accounts for Social Security.

2. As expected, Democrats go to the mattresses in opposition. However, in an effort to demonstrate reasonableness they all agree — almost in passing — that of course they have nothing against encouraging savings, but that it should be done in addition to Social Security, not in place of it.

3. After pretending to give it a good try, Bush counts noses, realizes he can't win, and reluctantly agrees to settle for tax-free private accounts on top of Social Security, just like the ones Dems say they have nothing against. Of course, this will be the Republican version of tax-free private accounts — big, unrestricted ones that mostly help the well off — but by now the Dems can hardly oppose a compromise like this, can they?

4. Part 5 of Five Easy Pieces is now enshrined in law.

The idea being that it was really some form of tax-free private investment accounts that the Republicans were after all along.

Now, I am as good at paranoid speculation as the next man, but really, can't we be open to the possibility that the Republicans simply over-reached? Can't we give ourselves credit for simply putting up a much stronger opposition than they expected? Or are we really so insecure as to believe that we can't actually win a fight now and then?

I admit that these guys are good at strategy. But even this idea seems a bit far-fetched. The potential political damage to Bush for coming out strongly for his plan (and he did come out strongly for it), only to have to backtrack would be enormous. Would Karl Rove really play a game that on the edge?

Admittedly, Kevin's analysis might be a good description of the inevitable face-saving plan the Republicans will come up with. Bush has been very good at making it look like whatever he gets in the end is precisely what he wanted all along (e.g., he initially opposed the Homeland Security Department. Now he touts it as a signature initiative of his first term.) As such, we need to take this analysis to heart and think about how we can keep Bush from saving face while bringing credit for saving Social Security to the Democrats..

But let's not spend to much time on paranoid visions of grand conspiracies. You'll drive yourself mad trying to avoid the simpler explanation that they just fucked up.

Not even Karl Rove is perfect.

Dean vs. Rosenberg

Josh Marshall has endorsed Simon Rosenberg for DNC chair.

Josh makes a compelling case (please read it before continuing with my post), I'm just not convinced that it is a compelling case for Rosenberg.

I absolutely agree with Josh's assessment of the two things that the Democrats need to do: organize and unite. We need to build, from the ground up, a new organizational structure to match the impressive Republican machine. Every candidate for the position has this as a major talking point (so much so that "50 state organization" has almost become a cliché). We also need to present a united front and not give the Republicans any cover in advancing their agenda. Bush and Co. would never have gotten as far as they had were it not for the breathing room they needed.

The question for me is which of the two candidates, Dean or Rosenberg, has the best chance to achieve both of these goals (I'm not going to deal with Frost because I just don't think he has a chance of achieving either of Josh's goals.)


When it comes to organization, both Dean and Rosenberg have compelling resumes. Rosenberg has a longer record at national organization (The New Democrat Network is older than Democracy For America). But DFA has been remarkably effective in its short time in existence, turning the legions of his supporters into a grassroots army for new (small-n) Democrats. Furthermore, Dean, was a proven organizer as head of the Democratic Governors organization. 

Finally, organization requires motivation and Dean is a proven motivator while Rosenberg has virtually no record in that regard.


When it comes to unity, on the surface, at least, Dean is the more divisive figure than Rosenberg. Rosenberg is well liked in some Dean circles if for no other reason that he rejected the From/Reed line on Dean. Rosenberg recognized the organizational power of Dean's campaign before most other establishment Dems did. It is within the latter circle that Dean has the most ingrained opposition and thus, arguably, has less chance of leading the establishment into the required unity. But there is a significant ingrained opposition to Rosenberg as well within the reform ranks because of his past history with the DLC. Even his break with From and Reed over Dean does not alleviate that history for many people.

Trust me on this, there are a lot of Deaners out there that are as suspicious of Rosenberg as there are establishment Dems who are suspicious of Dean.

In Dean's favor is his proven record of bringing people together who might otherwise be divided. Consider his work getting a united endorsement from AFSCME and SEIU, two service unions that have traditionally been at loggerheads. Dean, if nothing else, is a great negotiator. During his time as governor of Vermont there were a lot of people who disagreed with him, but nearly all of them respected his leadership abilities because they felt like he actually listened to what they had to say. Dean has a long and positive record when it comes to uniting people who have real divisions. Has Rosenberg ever proven himself similarly?

The public image of Dean as a divider is well known, but how much of that image is media created? How much of it comes from the fact that those who dislike him the most also hold considerable power in framing the public message? How much of it comes from the very people who are most opposed to reforming the party? It's all well and good to say that Dean has enemies. He most certainly does, but he has the right enemies.

Dean gets this image of being a divisive figure partially because he is at the head of an army of rabble-rousers. Yet Dean has a proven ability to keep those rabble-rousers in check when it is needed. For example, he told his supporters not to overwhelm DNC members in their support for his run. The reports I hear are that they have done just that. Dean can control the torch and pitchfork crowd. Can Rosenberg?

The party needs that army. Dean has the respect within that army to wield its power effectively. Does Rosenberg? Most of the people in that army know nothing about Rosenberg other than his work in the DLC. Within that group that is a serious handicap.

I respect Josh's endorsement. I just disagree with the assumption that Rosenberg will be more capable of bringing about the necessary unity that the party needs. I don't think it will be easy for either man. But consider this: Dean will only have to ease the minds of a few hundred party insiders. Rosenberg will have to ease the minds of a million grassroots supporters.

I know who I think has the better chance in that fight.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The use of federal money to promote partisan agendas

Democrats are showing increasing skill at rapid response. Case in point is a new report from the House Democratic leadership on the recent revelations of questionable Bush administration expenditures for public relations (pdf). In it they demonstrate that the Bush administration has overseen a 128% increase in federal spending on such promotional activities. Furthermore, an increasing number of these activities are being contracted without "full and open competition". 40% of the 2004 contracts were noncompetitive.

The two aspects of this scandal (and I do think it is scandalous) that I find most disturbing are (1) the use of federal money to advocate policy change as opposed to just educating the public on existing policy and (2) the use of federal money to pay advocates who are already supporters, suggesting that federal money is being used as a reward for good behavior.

Click here to see the Executive Summary of the report

"I have here in my hand a list of 205 names of Communists ... "

So began the illustrious career of one Joseph McCarthy, Senator and scourge of communists everywhere. Of course, the fact that he didn't really have such a list in his hands was besides the point. The communist menace was everywhere and it was necessary to keep people jumping at shadows in order to allow him to fight the enemies of America.

Joe McCarthy, meet FBI agent Charles Jordan:

"Jihadists" living in Oregon, FBI says

PORTLAND — The FBI knows of "jihadists" who have trained in terrorist camps in Afghanistan and are now living in Oregon, the agency's Oregon chief said in an interview with The Associated Press yesterday.

"We don't have an imminent threat that we're aware of. But I will say this: We have people here in Oregon that have trained in jihadist camps in bad areas. In the bad neighborhoods of the world," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Jordan.

Asked what he meant by "bad neighborhoods," he said Afghanistan, as well as several other countries he would not specify.

During the session with The AP, which lasted nearly two hours, Jordan discussed a wide range of themes — from his agents' participation in the Bush administration's war on terrorism to the upcoming opening of a Portland laboratory for forensic work on computers seized from suspects.

Jordan refused to say how many "jihadists" live in Oregon.

He said the FBI knows "they've trained overseas, taken oaths to kill Americans and engage in jihad," but the challenge is "to prove those things."

Jordan contrasted the known "jihadists" living in Oregon with the so-called "Portland Seven," a group of seven Portland-area people accused of plotting to wage war against U.S. troops in Afghanistan. One of them was killed in combat; the six others returned to Oregon, where they eventually pleaded guilty to all the charges against them.

The reporter says Jordan contrasted his claims with the "Portland Seven" case, but the report doesn't give the details of that contrast. Which leaves open the question of why, if the FBI could arrest the "Portland Seven" on suspicion of training with al Qaeda, then why can't they these alleged "jihadists" if they know for a fact that they have participated in similar training?

The background that is missing in this report is the fact that the Portland City Council is seriously considering a proposal to drop out of the Joint Terrorism Task Force. The record of their participation has been mixed at best and there is a lot of lingering anger over the Brandon Mayfield case (the lawyer for the Portland Seven who was briefly arrested by the FBI because of a fuckup involving misidentified fingerprints) . Randy Leonard, one member of the city council, has already said he would vote in favor of this proposal.

The timing of this kind of report is suspicious to say the least.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Blogroll additions

Legal Fiction

There Is No Crisis

News Hounds


Left of Center

Ezra Klein

Q: How do you eat an elephant?

A: One bite at a time.

Courtesy DemSpeak:

I saw this phrase recently, and I thought that it fit so perfectly with what we are doing here, that I had to share. I think it is a nice metaphor for the task that lies ahead. We need to do in a matter of months what the conservative "movement" took 30 years to accomplish. We have a huge advantage that they didn't have, the internet.

The internet allows us to each be taking one bit at a time, and in the process take 55 million bites at once, in a somewhat coordinated fashion. The need for the "think tanks" that conservatives created, is considerably lessened in this day and age. With Dean at the helm of the DNC, we, the people, will have the power to change this country.

I do think that we have this enormous task of changing the moral frame of 5 or 10 million people, but by working together in cyberspace, I am quite hopeful about our success.

Don't eat the elephant by yourself!


United States: Suffering from System Failure

Reading this post over on MyDD about how the world is switching from a U.S. centric, uni-polar world to a more decentralized multi-polar world (a post inspired by this article from The Financial Times), I am reminded of what, in the computer world, might be called star clusters and mesh clusters.

A star cluster is one in which primary communication channels are implemented through a central hub while a mesh cluster is one in which the nodes of the cluster can communicate with each other without any oversight from a central controller. A star cluster is easier to implement than a mesh cluster because the knowledge of what is going on in the cluster is centralized. But a mesh cluster has the advantage of the star cluster of not being dependent on the reliability of the central controller.

In the computer world, decisions on whether to go with one organization model of another are not always made rationally, in the sense that they are planned ahead of time. Often they just grow into whatever structure seems to work best. Changes in structure only occur when the existing structure's flaws become manifestly obvious (like when the President can no longer access his email). A change from a star cluster to a mesh cluster would typically only occur when it becomes clear that the central controller can no longer be trusted to fulfill its role in the organization.

America, under George W. Bush, has become an unreliable controller and that unreliability has become manifestly obvious to those who would otherwise prefer to not go through the pain of change.

The illusion of control

Among the many contradictions in Bush's Social Security "Reform" plans (e.g., we should take on a huge financial burden now in order to avoid a huge financial burden in 40 years) is this whole concept that his plan would give people more control over their money (you know, the whole "ownership society" con job). Yet how much control would Bush's privatization give the American people?

Not a whole lot

Social Security accounts would limit control

By William M. Welch, USA TODAY

President Bush is selling his idea to transform Social Security with private investment accounts as part of a new "ownership society" for Americans. The accounts, Vice President Cheney says, would be "a retirement fund they control themselves and can call their own."

But the reality would produce a lot less individual control than Bush and Cheney suggest.

Major proposals, including those from the president's own commission, to revamp Social Security with private investment accounts include provisions that place big limits on how much money individuals can invest, where it can be invested, what they can do with it when they retire and how much they can pass on to heirs.

If Bush and his people really did believe in giving more control to people over "their money" than they wouldn't be proposing these kind of straight-jacket accounts. They would just simply say, "cut the payroll tax and you can do whatever you want with it!"

But they know that wouldn't sell.

So they use the veneer of "ownership" to push a plan that really gives more control of the money to stock market investment firms than it does to the American people.

What, it went from really really hard to really really REALLY hard?

Budget Deficit to Set Record

WASHINGTON — White House officials said Tuesday that this year's budget deficit would reach a high of $427 billion, propelled by President Bush (news - web sites)'s request for an additional $80 billion for war costs in Iraq (news - web sites) and Afghanistan (news - web sites).

Separately, congressional analysts forecast a generally worsening budget outlook, saying the federal deficit would become a knottier problem in the next 10 years.

Together, the developments suggested Bush would have a harder time than previously thought in keeping his promise to cut the deficit in half by the end of his presidency. White House officials said, however, that they would still meet that goal.

A harder time than previously thought?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

No on Gonzales

Drawing a line in the sand

With this nomination, we have arrived at a crossroads as a nation. Now is the time for all citizens of conscience to stand up and take responsibility for what the world saw, and, truly, much that we have not seen, at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. We oppose the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States, and we urge the Senate to reject him.

I wholeheartedly concur!

What Democracy meant to Johnny Carson

I didn't say anything yesterday about the passing of Johnny Carson. Not because I didn't like him, I did immensely. I have very fond memories of growing up watching Johnny. I used to sneak out of bed and go down to the living room and watch him with the lights turned out and the sound turned down low so my parents wouldn't hear it. This was before they let me have my own little black and white. After I developed my long standing habit of staying up past midnight.

The reason I didn't say anything yesterday is because I really didn't have anything to say.

I still don't, beyond saying that he is sorely missed (as are other great lights like Carl Sagan and Jim Henson, both regular guests on Johnny's show) and posting the following reprise, courtesy of Salon, on the event of his retirement. It is Carson's 1991 monologue "What Democracy Means to Me", delivered at the time of the fall of communism and to the sounds of Doc Severenson's band playing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in the background.

Democracy is buying a big house you can't afford with money you don't have to impress people you wish were dead. And, unlike communism, democracy does not mean having just one ineffective political party; it means having two ineffective political parties. ... Democracy is welcoming people from other lands, and giving them something to hold onto -- usually a mop or a leaf blower. It means that with proper timing and scrupulous bookkeeping, anyone can die owing the government a huge amount of money. ... Democracy means free television, not good television, but free. ... And finally, democracy is the eagle on the back of a dollar bill, with 13 arrows in one claw, 13 leaves on a branch, 13 tail feathers, and 13 stars over its head -- this signifies that when the white man came to this country, it was bad luck for the Indians, bad luck for the trees, bad luck for the wildlife, and lights out for the American eagle. I thank you.

And thank you Johnny.

Fun with accounting

So, the Republicans have discovered a neat trick. Kevin Drum gives the details:

DEFICITS FOREVER....The CBO's latest deficit projections are out, and the press is accurately reporting that they show a reduced deficit for 2005 only because the CBO is projecting zero new expenses for the war in Iraq. Why? Because last year supplemental military appropriations totaled $115 billion and CBO is required by law to extrapolate that into the future. This year — so far — there have been no supplemental military appropriations, so CBO is now legally required to extrapolate that into the future.

The media is already starting to report that the CBO has reported a huge drop in the long term federal budget deficit by the simple mistake of comparing a previous estimating that includes Iraq with a new estimate that does not. Score one for Bush who is now almost all the way to his 2004 promise of cutting the deficit in half!

Of course, Kevin illustrates the problem neatly:

Bottom line: if you do an apples-to-apples comparison, last September CBO was projecting a 10-year deficit of $861 billion not counting Iraq. Today, CBO is projecting a 10-year deficit of $1,364 billion not counting Iraq. In other words, the projected deficit has gone up 58%.

So here's the trick: Wait until the CBO report comes out each year before announcing a request for additional Iraq funds. That way those funds don't get factored into their deficit projections. Then brag about how you have substantially cut the budget deficit while at the same time requesting more budget busting dollars for Bush's misadventure.

Voila! $80+ billion a year in free money and great PR!

Monday, January 24, 2005

Stay United!

Josh Marshal is exactly right, we are approaching the most critical stage of the early Social Security battle. The administration is now signaling that it may be willing to adjust its plans in the face of an unexpectedly united Democratic front. But this is precisely the time when Democrats most need to be united. We need to make it clear to the Democrats that they need to make it clear to Bush that any legislation dealing with Social Security must not include any provision for a phase out of any kind.

That is the line in the sand and Democrats must remain united on this point.

(BTW, If anyone ever develops the web equivalent of a Pulitzer I nominate Josh's work on the Social Security story. He's the best advocacy journalist around today, online or offline.)

Reviewing the American Promise, Part 1

I'm going to try and review each of the 10 Senate Bills included in Harry Reid's "American Promise" agenda.

Standing With Our Troops (S.11)

Democrats understand that putting America’s security first means providing our troops, both the active duty and reserve components, and their families with the resources they need to protect our freedom.  S. 11 recognizes the sacrifices our troops make on our behalf by providing them the personnel, equipment, compensation, and benefits they need to them accomplish their mission. 

Key Points:

* Increase Army and Marine Endstrength By Up to 40,000 by 2007

Bush's misadventure in Iraq demonstrates that America does not have a large enough active duty force to deal both with the fight against terrorism and any other regional conflicts that may arise. This would address that problem.

* Recognize the Sacrifice and Valor of Our Troops

Requires better accounting of deaths and injuries to America's fighting men and women. Sets up advisory panel on awards and decorations to better recognize their sacrifice. I wasn't actually aware that the latter is a problem, but if it is then this would be a good issue to push.

* A National Guard and Reserve Bill of Rights

Bush's misadventure has sorely stressed our Reserve and National Guard services while their status in the military effectively treats them as second class citizens compared to the active military. This point contains a whole list of measures designed to rectify this problem including: improving equipment procurement, better representation within the Defense Department, timely compensation, improved compensation for civilian workers called to active duty, access to health care for all reservists and their families, increased death and survivor benefits.

Summation: This bill contains a lot of stuff, all of which looks needed to me. I think it is long past time that the Reserve and National Guard stop being treated as the military equivalent of a petty cash fund. A Guard and Reservist Bill of Rights is a good first step in that direction. The politics of this is good but the policy is even better. It's going to be hard for Republicans to vote much of this down and, if they fail to do so, the Democrats will get the credit.

Offering an olive branch to a fool

Josh Marshal suggests that we help Rep. Allen Boyd, the only Democrat who has publicly signed onto a Bush style Social Security privatization plan, come back in off that increasingly shaky branch.

Now, some may be tempted to say, "fuck him". But I happen to think even one Democrat signed onto Bush's plan is a bad thing. If we can find a clever way for Boyd to pull back from his blunder than (1) it will embarrass the Republicans even more and (2) give us a big fat chit with respect to Boyd's future political plans.


I didn't read the American Promise closely enough when I talked about it this morning. It isn't just a list of promises. It outlines actual legislation that the Democrats, under Reid, will introduce in the Senate this session.

This is a very good sign. Democrats have been pretty much entirely reactive the last few years, under the theory that, since they didn't have the power to get their programs past, it wasn't worth spending "political capital" on lost causes. Reid seems to understand that you can actually gain political capital by fighting for something even if you don't win.

Give 'em hell Harry!

Wistful for Dick

Nixon vs. Bush (video)

You mean kicking people when their down doesn't keep them down?

Shorter assessment of the fuckup in Iraq: hitting the insurgents only makes them stronger.

Gee, isn't that a liberal position? You know, the idea that our actions could somehow be partly to blame for the negative reaction?

A New Coke Moment

Mr. M at Left of Center has a good rundown of the DNC chair race and offers some of his own opinions on who should win. I was particularly struck by his comment that  "we need someone passionate, someone willing to invest time and effort and money into not redefining the Democratic message, but in repackaging it."

I think that really is the heart of it. The ideological battle within the Democratic party, as far as it impacts this race, is a battle over whether the core Democratic message needs to be "redefined" or whether the message is just fine as it is, it just needs to be "repackaged" to appeal to a new generation.

The Democratic Party is facing a New Coke moment.

Coke dominated the cola market for so many years that it got complacent. In the meantime, Pepsi came forward and stole the mo'. The Coca-Cola corporation responded to this threat by tossing out its old formula and putting out New Coke, a sweeter, more Pepsi-like alternative. In other words, Coke was replaced with Pepsi-Lite. The market responded with outrage and Coke's fortunes went even further south until they re-packaged their original formula as Classic Coke and became competitive once again (eventually they dropped the Classic adjective and pretty much act like the whole sorry incident never happened).

The Democrats dominated the political scene in America for so long that it got complacent. In the meantime, the Republicans came forward and stole the mo'. The Democratic party responded to this threat by tossing out its old formula and putting out the New Democrat formula, a sweeter, more Republican-like alternative. In other words, Democrats were replaced with Republican-Lite. The electorate responded with outrage and the Democratic party's fortunes went even further south.

Isn't it about time for us to introduce Classic Democrats and become competitive again?

The Daily Wisdom

Do not fight reality for reality always wins.

White House invoking Clinton in Social Security fight

There is another advantage to pushing back hard on the Social Security fight, it actually encourages the establishment press to report the deceptions from Bush:

With their push to restructure Social Security off to a rocky start, Bush administration officials have begun citing two Democrats -- former President Bill Clinton and the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan -- to bolster their claims that the retirement system is in crisis.

But the gambit carries some risk, Bush supporters say. Clinton's repeated calls during his second term to "save Social Security first" were specifically to thwart what President Bush ultimately did: cut taxes based on federal budget surplus projections. Likewise, internal Treasury Department documents indicate that Moynihan, a New York Democrat who was co-chairman of Bush's 2001 Social Security Commission, expressed misgivings about the president's push to partially privatize Social Security.

Typically, in the past, the Post and others would just report the White House's daily line and frequently fail to give context. The Democrats are pushing the context envelope in this fight and are essentially forcing the Post and other media outlets to be more "balanced" in their reporting.

There is another danger to the White House in taking this tack. Moynihan is dead, so he can't respond to distortions of his position. But Bill Clinton is very much alive and active and more than capable of hitting back. Indeed, he could one of the most powerful opponents of Bush's efforts. The White House's use of his comments on Social Security create the perfect opening for him to step into the battle. I think he should do just that.

ThereIsNoCrisis has more.

African Americans for Dean

Steven Gilliard has some interesting things to say about the issue of black voter support for Democrats. Specifically, he addresses the notion that Howard Dean might actually further the split between blacks and Democrats because of his comment about "confederate flag decals on pickup trucks". I'd like to talk specifically about this issue.

Republicans are fools if they think the "confederate flag decals on pickup trucks" comment is going to divide blacks about Dean. I've yet to meet a single African American who was upset by that comment and have heard from several who understood and approved of Dean's intent behind that comment.

Al Sharpton tried to make some hay from that comment during the primaries, but it was really John Edward's criticism of Dean's stereotyping of white southerners that hurt Dean more. Sharpton's criticism felt like opportunism. Edward's criticism appeared heartfelt. I believe it was the latter that ultimately prompted Dean to drop that talking point.

There is a potential problem with the disconnect between black churches and the Democratic party. One of our local Deaners spent a few months before the election going around to local black churches and discovered that a lot of them were pushing many of the same talking points that you find at the more right-wing, predominantly white evangelical churches. Whether that message was getting through is not clear yet, but the Democrats should not take the black vote for granted.

I don't think there is going to be a black exodus to the Republican party anytime in the near future. But the disconnect mentioned above could lead to increased apathy among black supporters.

African Americans have been one of the most reliable segments of the Democratic vote. We can't assume that that will always be the case.

UPDATE:Ari Berman has more on the fraud that is the faith-based initiative

The American Promise

Harry Reid has launched a promising new web site called It looks to be a central point at which people can learn what the Democrats are doing now in the legislative arena and maybe get involved in the process.

The first entry is a new Democratic Agenda called The American Promise. It's a good first step, though I am a bit disappointed that it makes no mention of Social Security. Perhaps Reid's thinking behind this agenda is that he only wanted it to cover the positive legislative efforts Democrats will undertake this session. The Social Security fight is primarily a negative effort to defeat Bush's plan to gut Social Welfare. If that is his intent then I applaud it because Democrats can't just be the party of "no". But maybe part of the Social Security fight could be a positive reform proposal from the Democrats?

Still, I am happy with this first sign that Reid wants to make use of the internet to organize Democratic legislative efforts. It remains to be seen how it will be used when the real fights begin. It will be a failure if all it is is a place to post news. It will be a success if it is also used to rally the troops to get behind legislative battles. That two-way relationship is the key to the success. The site does provide a page where you can "co-sponsor" the agenda. Hopefully that means more than just being a signature on a petition.


The Moose brings us further evidence of the real motives behind the effort to undermine Social Security. It comes in the form of a quote from a prominent conservative in the New York Times:

"Social Security is the soft underbelly of the welfare state," said Stephen Moore, the former president of Club for Growth, an antitax group. "If you can jab your spear through that, you can undermine the whole welfare state."

There you have it folks. If they succeed in gutting Social Security then that will be the end of the entire 20th century experiment in social welfare.

This fight is that important.

Crisis in Bush's Social Security plan?

The tide is definitely turning against Bush as several prominent Republicans not only pooh-pooh Bush's "crisis" talk but also question the wisdom of the overall White House strategy. Some are even suggesting that tax increases should not be automatically dismissed!

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Key Republicans in Congress on Sunday questioned White House assertions that the Social Security (news - web sites) system was in crisis, one of President Bush (news - web sites)'s justifications for acting now on private accounts, and said new taxes should be considered.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Congress should "look beyond" the payroll tax to fund the Social Security retirement system and consider a value-added tax and other changes.

Though Bush said he will oppose tax increases for Social Security, Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), an Arizona Republican, told CBS's "Face the Nation" that a hike in payroll taxes "has got to be on the table" along with other financing options.

Thomas called the retirement system's finances a "problem" rather than a crisis, distancing himself from the crisis terminology used by the White House in seeking public support for creating private accounts.

"I think 'problem' really is what we're dealing with," said Thomas, when asked if he thought it was a crisis.

In a separate interview, moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe (news, bio, voting record), of Maine, questioned the White House's proposals and strategy, a sign of trouble for Bush in the Senate.

Snowe said she does not object to personal savings accounts "per se," but told CNN: "I'm certainly not going to support diverting $2 trillion from Social Security into creating personal savings accounts." 

A member of the Finance Committee, which will craft any Social Security legislation in the Senate, Snowe complained that the "public discussion thus far, without a specific proposal, has created and enhanced a lot of confusion and fear among seniors."

Methinks Snowe has been getting an earful from constituents on this issue and doesn't appreciate the position her party's leader has put her in.

Friday, January 21, 2005


Good advice

Blowback for supporting Dean?

This report on the heat that one Dean endorser is receiving should be taken as a warning:

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Some Democrats aren't happy with the state party chairman's endorsement of a presidential candidate to lead the Democratic National Committee.

State chairman Jay Parmley yesterday said he supported former Vermont Governor Howard Dean for the post over six other candidates.

Parmley is joined by party chairs from Mississippi, Florida and three other states in supporting Dean's bid to replace Terry McAuliffe.

Durant state Senator Jay Paul Gumm says the endorsement doesn't represent the majority view of Democrats in his legislative district.

Parmley is voting in place of Oklahoma City state Senator Debbe Leftwich, a member of the Democratic National Committee.

Leftwich says she's disappointed in Parmley's choice and doesn't believe Dean is the right person to lead the party at this time.

Parmley said Dean would provide party leadership that would help all 50 states, not just states that traditionally support Democratic candidates.

As I said in my previous post on this topic, Dean has the largest core following in the party today, but that core is simply not large enough to put him over the top. He will need a lot of the fence-sitters to ultimately win. The last thing we need to do right now is give those fence-sitters a reason to join the Anybody-But-Dean forces.

In that sense, I would probably have preferred that Parmley and others not have endorsed Dean this early. It may make for good headline copy, but it can also be an encouragement to others to redouble their efforts to find an alternative to Dean. This is what happened with the Gore endorsement. We don't want a repeat of that.

So, while I still stand by my warning to the ABD people, I would also warn the Dean supporters to stay cool in their efforts to win this race. Don't let your enthusiasm be your weakness.

Democratic opinion on Dean

The following report from Political Wire on a WSJ poll on Howard Dean brings to mind something I've talked about before:

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds Howard Dean is fighting "a tarnished image in bid for Democratic chairmanship. Just 27% of party backers view the Vermont ex-governor positively, down from 48% a year ago. But he's less of a lightning rod for Republicans than during his presidential bid; 37% view him negatively, down from 58% in January 2004."

After the "Dean Scream" moment in Iowa, a lot of Democrats who were considering supporting Dean ran for the hills. Yet I have met more than a few Independents and Republicans since that time who have told me that it was that moment that first turned them on to Dean. The irony here is that many Dems ran from Dean on the assumption that The Scream would make him political dynamite. They never understood that Dean's passionate nature is just what makes him such a compelling figure for those outside the Democratic establishment.

The moral: often the people least capable of seeing the solution to a problem are the people who are closest to the problem.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Fair Warning

I was reading this AP update on the DNC race and Dean's early head start in same when I was struck by a thought.

Dean's six opponents for DNC chair, capable party activists with many friends inside the party, don't have Dean's high profile and the organizational track record that revolutionized party politics in the presidential campaign.

They'll be competing to see which one can be the anti-Dean.

Many party veterans are nervous that the outspoken Dean will lead the party too far to the left and are eager to rally around an alternative candidate.

"The question about Dean is: While he will have a third of the vote easily, can he get to 50 percent?" said Donnie Fowler, one of Dean's opponents. Then Fowler referred to Dean's presidential campaign.

"Dean had the oranges," Fowler said, "but he couldn't make orange juice."

Fowler is right that Dean's core is not enough to get him over the hill by itself. But a 30% core is not something to be taken lightly by the party insiders. I don't have the numbers to back this, but I don't think even Clinton had that level of devotion within the party even as he was starting to lock up the party nomination in 1992. Nor, I suspect, did George W. Bush.

The point I think these insiders need to understand is that a repeat of the Anybody-But-Dean effort of the 2004 primary race could be the worst possible course of action for those insiders. Why? Because a core group that large and that dedicated will not take kindly any effort to sabotage Dean's campaign. If the process is played out fairly and Dean loses then he loses. But if his loss is seen to be the result of yet another gang-bang on Howard then the party can pretty much kiss off much of the energy and money of those Dean inspired activists.

Let me be clear on this. This is not a threat to take our ball and go home. This is not a threat to break with the party and form a third party around Howard Dean and DFA (the Democratic party hasn't fallen so far that that is a practical alternative). It is simply a warning to those insiders who think they can undermine the Dean movement once again that doing so will likely extract a severe price.

The simple fact is that the party needs Dean and his people much more than Dean or his people need the party. If Dean is shut out again that will not stop him or us any more than the 2004 primary losses stopped him or us. We will still work just as hard to take this country back. We will still use Democratic candidates to affect change. We just won't do it with the resources of the party itself.

If Dean and the people he represents are unfairly shut out, then, by 2008, DFA could hold more political power in this country than the DNC. If that happens, and the Democratic party still hasn't learned its lesson, then what happens next may be inevitable.

Bring me the head ... er ... whatever ... of Spongebob Squarepants!

I think we should follow the example of James Wolcott and Mel Brooks. Sometimes the best way to confront evil is with derision.

Blood on our hands

Newsday has a report from the journalist who took the photos of those kids whose parents were killed last night.

Last night I was hesitant to post this picture online. Today I say screw it. This is the face of war folks and I don't feel like protecting anyone from it.

I couldn't help thinking about what must have been going through the minds of the soldiers as they watched this girl scream. They will be scarred by this incident for the rest of their lives. Every time they hear a kid cry they will have flashbacks to this night. 40 years from now they will wake up screaming in the night with images of their own grandkids covered in blood.

This is the American legacy.

The horror of war

(Warning: disturbing pictures)

The horror of war affects young and old.

The horror of war kills parents.

The horror of war leaves orphans screaming in the night, covered in their mother's blood.

The horror of war leaves scars on soldiers who have to kill innocents because to do otherwise might open themselves up to the risk of death.

That is the horror of war.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Takes one to know one

Bill O'Reilly calls Howard Dean an S.O.B. (courtesy News Hounds)

O’REILLY: “Again, I think you guys are missin’ the big picture here. Let me put it another way, Mary Anne. Howard Dean has alienated many people.” O’Reilly gestures towards himself and after a pause, continues: “Me, alright! Because he’s an obnoxious SOB. With all due respect, he is. He’s obnoxious. Now if he gets the DNC Chair, Dean doesn’t like me. Now, I’m willin’ to listen to him. He’s welcome on the program but I don’t like him. Alright! And I’m skeptical of him and that’s not good, Mary Anne, because I’m a guy with an open mind. I’m not anti-Democrat, as you know, but, if he gets it, I guuuh - ya’ know - Howard Dean! That can’t help! There’s a lot - there’s not a lot of guys like me. But there are enough, there are enough people, who are not gonna like this, that think a new, more neutral guy would help the party.”

Later he said: “One thing I like about Dean is that he is crusty and he is straightforward. What I don’t like about him is he is narrow-minded and vindictive.”

Sounds like an endorsement to me!

There is no crisis

The fight for Social Security now has a central location.


The Rude Pundit, in his typically rough style, lays it out for the Democrats who continue to provide cover for the Bushies (in this case, on the Rice confirmation):

Of course, since every Democrat on the committee opened his or her remarks with some variation on "Of course, you're going to be confirmed," much like in the Alberto Gonzales "hearing," the uselessness of the questioning was just this side of pathetic. With confirmation-denial off the table, why in the world would Rice bother fully answering a question? It's like a cop telling a dope dealer, "You're gonna walk out of here today, but tell us who your supplier is."

Democrats will never get respect until they earn respect. Boxer and Kerry earned it by voting no. The rest are still this administration's bitches.

You know things are bad...

...when the criminal underworld gives up on the dollar. (courtesy Mecury Rising)


Freedom is not a child that needs protecting by big daddy Bush against the evils of the world.

Freedom is not weak as conceived by Bush.

Freedom is strong as conceived by us.

Freedom is the force that will lead us out of the dark valley of fear into the light of hope.

Freedom doesn't need us to protect it. We need Freedom to protect us.

(Inspired by this post over at Frameshop)

Losing to soon?

Mark Schmitt (The Decembrist) has some interesting thoughts on what's really going on with the Social Security fight.

With the report this morning that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Thomas has declared Bush's plan a "dead horse" and increasing evidence of Democratic unity in opposition of Bush, the question has to be asked: has Bush(Rove) made a colossal political blunder by engaging in this fight? Or, is it possible that there was some other ulterior motive? Is it possible that they never intended to win this particular fight but were, instead, trying to engage a broader political debate?

What Thomas was saying is exactly the point I've been trying to make: that the Bush/DeLay goal is not primarily to privatize Social Security, although they would be happy to do that if they can. Rather, the goal is to create a political dynamic over the next one to two years in which the Republicans appear the party of opportunity, ownership, dynamism, and forward thinking, while the Democrats appear to be the defenders of old, boring, inadequate safety net programs. As Gingrich said, going for the biggest privatization of Social Security has the biggest political payoff, but only if it doesn't actually become law. (If it were to become law, the global financial markets would write off our debt and we would go begging to the IMF, not an event that is likely to redound to the benefit of the party in power.)

I'm unconvinced. While I give a great deal of credence to the nefariousness of the typical Bush(Rove) scheme. Even this kind of maneuvering seems to clever for this crew. After all, if they expected to lose the Social Security fight, that meant they were exposing themselves to a tremendous political embarrassment. But Mark makes an additional point that mitigates my doubts:

The problem for the White House is not that they will lose the legislation. They were prepared for that. The problem is that they can't even get to the starting point of credibility on their legislation, even befor they offer it. If they can't get to the debate they want, they will lose control of the agenda, and it will disintegrate into a bunch of nutty and hugely embarassing ideas like Thomas's plan to "gender-adjust" Social Security to reduce benefits for women because they live longer. (Putting all this together, Social Security is, according to Republicans, unfair to African-Americans because they die young and too generous to widows because they live too long.) If you can remember not to panic about any of this actually becoming law, it will be highly entertaining.

This sorry game is over. The challenge for Democrats is now to drag it out, to inflict maximum pain, to drag this out at least as long as the Clinton health care debacle was drawn out.

It may be that, while Bush(Rove) never expected to win the privatization fight, they never expected the opposition to their efforts to coalesce this quickly. They may have expected the battle to drag out indeterminately over the next 6-9 months, resulting in a compromise proposal which would be what they really wanted in the first place and which would allow them to brag about "Saving Social Security" in the 2006 campaign. What they didn't expect is that their own side would abandon the fight before it was even joined.

Mark is right that the advantage is to the Democrats right now, if they have the political acumen to play it right (a big IF of course).

Don't cheer yet

I would caution against reading to much into the following:

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) predicted yesterday that partisan warfare over Social Security will quickly render President Bush's plan "a dead horse" and called on Congress to undertake a broader review of the problems of an aging nation.

Thomas, one of Capitol Hill's most powerful figures on tax policy, is the highest-ranking House Republican official to cast doubt on the president's plan for creating individual investment accounts. He said that as an alternative, he will consider changes such as replacing the payroll tax as Social Security's financing mechanism and adding a savings plan for long-term or chronic care as "an augmentation to Social Security payments."

"What I'm trying to get people to do is get out of the narrow moving around of the pieces inside the Social Security box," Thomas said at a forum on Bush's second term sponsored by the National Journal. "If we miss this opportunity . . . I think we will have missed an opportunity that may not present itself for another 20 years."

The good news is that Thomas has provided us with the perfect sound bite. But if you read deeper into Thomas' comment it appears that he is gunning for an even more fundamental restructuring of government financing than even Bush is proposing.

The push back on Social Security has to come as a real surprise to Bush(Rove). But we shouldn't get cocky. Bush(Rove) is an expert at shifting gears radically and then claiming credit for the final results. Think Homeland Security Department. Think 9/11 commission. Think Intelligence Reform. All of these efforts were initially opposed by Bush(Rove). But when it became apparent that they would pass regardless of his opposition, he did a complete about face, became their biggest cheerleaders, and then boasted of his own initiative in bringing them about.

Similarly, whatever form of Social Security "reform" that passes, you can bet that Bush(Rove) will claim that it is exactly what he wanted all along.

Bob Kerrey says no to stopping Dean

I think this qualifies as a non-endorsement endorsement.

WASHINGTON - A band of Democratic governors seemingly out to stop Howard Dean recently tried to draft Bob Kerrey into running for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee.

But the former Nebraska senator and governor said Tuesday that he has all but rejected their entreaties to join the contest.

It isn't wise, he said, to try to thwart the fiery former Vermont governor and presidential candidate. Dean is among a handful of Democrats campaigning for the post, which will be decided in a vote next month.

"It does feel like a 'stop Howard' effort," Kerrey said of the outreach by governors he declined to name. "I don't think that's a good idea - stopping anybody."

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Good for the Post

The Washington Post has come out this morning against the confirmation of Alberto Gonzalez. Says The Post, "Senators who vote to ratify Mr. Gonzales's nomination will bear the responsibility of ratifying such views as legitimate."

This is in line with my post below about the re-election of Bush. By voting for Bush, the American people have validated his actions in his first term. By voting for Gonzalez, Democratic Senators will validate his opinions with regard to torture.

Flippancy, thy name is Bush

With regard to that interview with Bush, I actually find the answer to this question to be far more egregious than his "accountability moment" comment.

The Post: Why do you think [Osama] bin Laden has not been caught?

THE PRESIDENT: Because he's hiding.

3000 Americans died on 9/11.

Over 1300 soldiers have died in Iraq.

Over 10,000 soldiers have come home permanently scarred by the experience, and that's just counting those with physical injuries.

And this asshole has the temerity to turn a serious question like this into a joke?

Something useful from Free Republic

Amazingly enough, the freepers aren't entire useless. The following comes from a post at Free Republic (I got it courtesy of Burnt Orange Report). If you are using Firefox as your browser and have a broadband connection, following these instructions can speed up your page loads considerably. Since I don't want to give the freepers any more traffic than they deserve, I reproduce these instructions here.

Here's something for broadband people that will really speed Firefox up:

1.Type "about:config" into the address bar and hit return. Scroll down and look for the following entries:


Normally the browser will make one request to a web page at a time. When you enable pipelining it will make several at once, which really speeds up page loading.

2. Alter the entries as follows:

Set "network.http.pipelining" to "true"

Set "network.http.proxy.pipelining" to "true"

Set "network.http.pipelining.maxrequests" to some number like 30. This means it will make 30 requests at once.

3. Lastly right-click anywhere and select New-> Integer. Name it "nglayout.initialpaint.delay" and set its value to "0". This value is the amount of time the browser waits before it acts on information it recieves.

If you're using a broadband connection you'll load pages MUCH faster now!

Note: do not use this if you don't have broadband!

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

I once made a post before the election in which I said that, if Bush is re-elected, the responsibility for his actions will pass from him onto the shoulders of the American electorate. Since Bush wasn't really elected in the first place, it could be argued that all of his fuckups during his first term were entirely his responsibility. But, if the American people returned him to the White House, then they would be assuming their share of responsibility for his policies.

Well, it now appears that Bush believes this as well:

President Bush said the public's decision to reelect him was a ratification of his approach toward Iraq and that there was no reason to hold any administration officials accountable for mistakes or misjudgments in prewar planning or managing the violent aftermath.

"We had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 elections," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. "The American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me."

Now I've seen several in the blogosphere this morning excoriating Bush for this comment, and rightfully so. But we must not let our outrage obscure the fact that he is, in part, correct.

With his re-election, the sins of Bush are now the sins of America. The election does not validate his actions, in the sense that it makes them right. But it does validate them in the sense that they make them the official policy of America as a whole.

We are living in Bush's America.

Lord help us.


It's hard to judge this kind of thing just from a transcript, but Holden of First Draft brings us some extracts from Bush's recent interview with the Washington Post that appear to demonstrate that Bush's mental state is approaching that of Ronald Reagan in his 2nd term. Befuddled would be a kind description.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Confirming Alberto Gonzalez for Attorney General is racist

Alberto Gonzalez is Hispanic. Many on the right are calculating that Democrats won't oppose him because they don't want to be seen voting against the first Hispanic Attorney General. Many on the left are going along with that charade.

Here's the question: would Gonzalez be held to a higher standard for his part in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal if he were not Hispanic?

If so, than to vote to confirm him, when you think that Abu Ghraib disqualifies him, means that you are confirming him because he is Hispanic!

That is racist.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Jeffey Feldman, author of Frameshop, brings up an important point in the whole discussion of framing. No matter how well we come to understand the concept of framing, it won't matter if our frames don't become widely dispersed through the political ecosystem.

The conservatives have engaged in a 30+ year of covert dispersal of their frames through think tanks and right-wing media. Progressives don't have the luxury of time or the resources at hand to match that kind of effort. The conservatives outnumber us in think tanks and media outlets by a factor of ten. We must develop a different method of dispersal.

Fortunately, their is evidence that such a system is already developing. As Feldman points out, the concept of framing and the dialogs that have arisen around it have become widespread in progressive circles despite the lack of a coordinated left-wing dispersal mechanism. Lakoff's work has been promoted by such leading lights as Markos and Dean, but were it not for the personal efforts of thousands of individuals who have "got religion" on this matter, the concept of framing would have gotten no where.

The lesson in this is that progressives can develop their own frame dispersal infrastructure out of their own natural inclinations: openness, sharing, cooperation. These are the hallmarks of the renaissance we are creating. It is in contrast to the conservative model of a more top-down mechanism of development (at the think tanks) and dispersal (through right-wing radio and TV). Ours is the very definition of grassroots.

The key to all of this, in Feldman's view, is branding through repetition. This will not be easy, but it will be necessary.

[...] even as everyone embraces the principle of repetition on the level of the brand, it is often the case that Progressives resist repetition on the level of political debate. Progressives love to be original, to speak against the grain, to be independent. All great things! But framing is not about eliminating those values. Framing is about setting up a set of broad logical concepts that then give rise to a range of creative ways to evoke that frame. Setting the frame is the hard part. Once it's set, we can be very creative within it.

Branding requires us to develop the discipline to repeat our frames until they become commonplace. Once they become commonplace it will be that much easier for people to understand us when we express our points of view. We will no longer be required to go into long winded explanations of what we mean. We will no longer have to bore people with the facts. They will "get it" already.

Bush can get away with his simplistic style of politicking because a foundation for his words has already been built in the minds of the voters. This foundation was created by the right-wing think tanks and right-wing media. Our foundation must be built through the widest possible dispersal of ideas, repeated almost to the point of absurdity.

Only then can the field of political play be leveled.


Imagine if the Clinton administration, at the beginning of the fight for the Clinton health plan, had directed the Health and Human Services department to start publishing material on how poor medical conditions were for the millions of uninsured Americans.

Imagine the uproar that would follow from the Republicans.

Imagine the uproar in the establishment press.

Then read this:

Over the objections of many of its own employees, the Social Security Administration is gearing up for a major effort to publicize the financial problems of Social Security and to convince the public that private accounts are needed as part of any solution.

The agency's plans are set forth in internal documents, including a "tactical plan" for communications and marketing of the idea that Social Security faces dire financial problems requiring immediate action.

Social Security officials say the agency is carrying out its mission to educate the public, including more than 47 million beneficiaries, and to support President Bush's agenda [...]

But agency employees have complained to Social Security officials that they are being conscripted into a political battle over the future of the program. They question the accuracy of recent statements by the agency, and they say that money from the Social Security trust fund should not be used for such advocacy.

"Trust fund dollars should not be used to promote a political agenda," said Dana C. Duggins, a vice president of the Social Security Council of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 50,000 of the agency's 64,000 workers and has opposed private accounts.

(Courtesy Kos)

Friday, January 14, 2005

Conceptions of Government

Jimmy is a frequent commenter on this blog and I have had several valuable conversations with him. He is a principled conservative who argues his points rationally without invective. I don't always agree with him, but I respect him.

In the comments to this post, Jimmy made some interesting comments that I think get to the heart of the difference between conservative and liberal conceptions of government. I'd like to reproduce this conversation here and comment on it further.


When the government runs out of money, who will uphold that guarantee? The answer is all of us. So the current scheme guarantees that we will have to make up the shortfall with additional taxes. Guaranteed.


Jimmy, you seem to come from the perspective that all taxes are inherently bad. I see taxes as a necessary component of good citizenship. I don't see them as the government stealing money from me. Hell, I don't really consider my tax money to have ever really been mine in the first place.

Paying taxes is patriotic. Once you accept that notion than the idea that we might have to pay some additional taxes to meet the obligations of Social Security just doesn't seem like that big a deal to me. We pay taxes for many other things the government does that people never question (military, cops, firefighters, etc.) I see Social Security as just another element of the social safety net that government provides so I don't object to paying taxes for it.


While I won't go so far as to say that paying taxes is patriotic, I will allow that it is at least a measure of good citizenship to do so. Taxes are not inherently bad. But, it is also a measure of good citizenship to question how that tax money is spent. It is irresponsible for us to sweep this problem under the rug for others to deal with when the problem truly becomes large instead of the smaller problem we face if we start paying/cutting/whatever incrementally now.

To clarify one further point, what I meant by "when the government runs out of money" was when the social security "trust fund" isn't enough to cover what's being paid out to retirees. So the government isn't broke it's just got to come up with money to pay those benefits. We can wait until then and have our taxes jacked all at once or we can do something about it now.

In closing, the tax money I fork over is most definitely mine. I pay the goverment to do stuff for me and my fellow citizens. For the most part, I'm OK with it (forget the coercion part for now, I'll leave that little libertarian streak in me lie). But it's definitely my money.


I don't pay tax money in order for the government to do stuff for me. I'm not buying a service from the government. The government is not a business with a product that I, as a consumer, am buying.

The government is me. The government is you. The government is all of us.

I work a certain percentage of my time in order to earn the money necessary to maintain the level of government services I believe to be necessary to "form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty." I am doing my part by my labor to defend those principles.

This is where I suspect the heart of the difference lies.

Jimmy seems to see government as just another provider of services and products in a market based economy. I see the government as the manifestation of the will of the people to do all those things that the founders envisioned in the preamble to the Constitution.

Jimmy seems to see the government as a business that he is forced to do business with by paying taxes for certain services that he doesn't want. I see the government as a community concern to which I contribute a measure of my blood, sweat and tears.

Jimmy seems to resent it when he has to buy something he doesn't like from the government. I consider it part of the shared burden of having to live together in a confined space with limited resources where I will not always get my way but, hopefully, through my efforts, I can better the lives of myself and my loved ones.

If your conception is "Government as Business" then it would be perfectly logical to come to the conclusion that government is coercive. If your conception is "Government as The People" then it would be perfectly logical to the conclusion that government is beneficial.

This is the divide between conservatives and liberals.

Neither conception is inherently right or wrong. Both conceptions have their merits. Both can lead to pathological extremes ("Government as Business" => Fascism. "Government as The People" => Communism). I am convinced that it is when these conceptions "check and balance" each other that our society functions the best for all involved. It is when one conception comes to dominate the political operation of the country that things begin to fall apart.

As I said, Jimmy really does help me think about these things.


Bring me the head of Paul Begala!

Is it to much to ask the pundits who are supposed to represent the progressive/liberal perspective to actually be prepared to deal with situations like this (courtesy Atrios):

NOVAK: Howard Dean is running for Democratic National Chairman the same way he ran for President-- as the squeaky clean candidate. Well, he may have been squeaky, but he wasn’t so clean. Zephyr Teachout who was head of internet outreach for the Dean campaign has revealed the campaign hired two political bloggers to say positive things about Dr. Dean at the price of $3,000 a month-- that’s play for pay. Meanwhile, one of the great former DNC chairmen, Bob Strauss, has endorsed one of the candidates, and it is indeed former Congressman Martin Frost, who, like Strauss, is a moderate and a Texan. Will the DNC members be that smart?

BEGALA: I don’t know. First, if in fact people were paid to flak Howard Dean and didn’t disclose it, that’s reprehensible. We talked about that earlier with Armstrong Williams, and the same standard should apply to liberals.

Apart from this being yet another example of how Paul Begala blows as a left-wing pundit, this is also a demonstration of one of the fundamental flaws of TV punditry: the format demands that its participants express an opinion on everything even if they don't have the necessary information to express an informed opinion.

I am reminded of the story of a guy who was invited on a FOX show to discuss some issue that he was an expert on. However, just before he went on the air, some breaking news story happened. The FOX show didn't have any available experts on that topic so the host of the show (I think it was O'Reilly) simply asked this previously booked guest to express their opinion. Obviously, the guest didn't know one thing about the particular topic and, being honest, said as much.

He was never invited back.

"I don't know" is simply not an acceptable answer in the modern establishment media.

Of course, Paul Begala is supposed to be an expert on things like this, so the fact that he got the facts so horribly wrong just demonstrates that he is long past his prime and should be fired.

Oh wait, he already has been.


President emasculated by carnivorous tribble. Secret Service reports it managed to sneak into press conference using forged press pass.

(courtesy Wonkette)

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Good polling on Social Security

What I find most interesting about this table (posted over on Crooks and Liars and based on a new Pew Research poll) are the 18-29 numbers. The lowest voter bracket actually has greater confidence in Social Security than does my own (30-49)! That means the 30 year propaganda campaign to convince everyone that Social Security is failing has been losing ground in the last decade or so. I know that, before I educated myself, I never really questioned the suggestion that Social Security wouldn't be there when I retired. It was just one of those things that everyone knew to be true when I was in that 18-29 bracket. Now it appears that the next generation is not as gullible as we were.

Time is on our side.

It's also interesting that Republicans and Democrats are statistically tied in their assessment of the program's health. That's not what you would expect considering years of Republican efforts to paint the program as a ticking time bomb. And not the kind of thing Republican representatives want to see if they are to sign on to Bush's plan.

However, this table gives a slightly different picture.


Here the divisions are much more partisan, demonstrating that Republicans preference for private accounts is not based on any great fear that Social Security is failing. It's probably more a philosophical issue. But philosophical issues don't sell as well at the ballot box.

The 65-29 polling in favor of guaranteed benefits vs. the 54-30 polling in favor of private accounts is a good sign for opponents of Bush's "reform". It means that the advocates of private accounts have a much tougher fight than those who can legitimately argue that Bush's plan does not guarantee benefits. Guaranteed retirement benefits should be a cornerstone of our campaign. Even a number of those who favor private accounts would appear to back off if that meant losing their guaranteed benefits.

Cartoonists are the best framers

(David Horsey)

Suggestions for winning the Social Security battle

I highly recommend this TNR piece by Ryan Lizza that shows what the Democrats could learn from the Republican's successful derailing of Clinton's Health Care Plan in the upcoming battle over Bush's Social Security "Reform". Here are the main points (read the article, please):

1. Become masters of parliamentary procedure. Don't let the Republicans slip "reform" through in a reconciliation bill. Conversely, learn how to use parliamentary procedures to tie up the "reform" bill as long as possible. Which leads to...

2. Delay, delay, delay. The longer it takes Bush to get this through congress the harder it will be to get it passed. Like pushing a rock through mud, the rock will get heavier as it picks up more and more dirt. And the closer the 2006 elections come the more Republicans will balk at the idea of taking on this big a task right before they go home and ask the voters to send them back to Washington.

3. Beat Bush on other matters and beating him on this will be even easier. There is an argument among Democrats now about whether they should "keep their powder dry". The theory behind this argument is that the Democrats have limited ability to defeat Bush's initiatives, so they should only fight hard on the most important of issues (such as Supreme Court nominees). Lizza points out that the Republicans understood that "defeat breeds defeat":

Many Democrats today argue that their route back to power depends on transforming themselves into a party of reform. Some of these Democrats are scared that mere opposition--and denying Bush's claim that Social Security faces a "crisis"--hampers their efforts. But Republicans faced the same challenge in the early '90s and found that the two goals were not mutually exclusive. They didn't just kill health care reform, they used its corpse as a platform to redefine themselves as a reform movement that swept away the Democratic majority.

4. The fight over Social Security is part of a broader fight over control of the country's destiny. Whoever wins this fight could define the political direction of this country for the next decade, at least. The Republicans understand this already, witness the comment in the leaked Social Security planning memo where it talked about this fight being the best opportunity for Republicans to supplant FDR's place in the political heavens. Democrats have to understand that this battle is bigger than just Social Security.

Politicians like to talk about how they want to do something significant, be there for the really important battles.

Well, here it is folks. Times' a-waisting!


I just stole a neat bit of code from Matthew Yglesias that turns the sidebar menus into dropdowns. Just click on them to see what I mean.

Go to his page to get the details.

(I've also turned off the blogger comments since no one was using them anyway)

Blogroll Update

Several new additions today:

ballotpaper log
David Corn

DC's Inside Scoop

The Editors' Blog

First Draft



New Frames

The Poor Man

Whiskey Bar