More Bad News for Bush

Via Dr. Atrios, the Associated Press reports that voters don’t care for Bushies:

St. Paul voters punished Mayor Randy Kelly on Tuesday for standing with President Bush a year ago, denying the Democrat a second term in Minnesota’s capital city.

Former City Council member Chris Coleman, also a Democrat, routed Kelly by a more than 2-to-1 margin in unofficial returns with most precincts reporting. Ahead of the election, independent polls showed voters were primed to fire Kelly, and most cited his 2004 endorsement of the Republican president as the reason.

Kaine Wins in Virginia!

That’s worth a banana dance!

Peter Baker wrote in today’s Washington Post:

In jumping into the Virginia governor’s race just 10 hours before polling booths open, President Bush put his credibility on the line last night and ensured that the results will be interpreted as a referendum on his troubled presidency. But the White House is gambling that after weeks of political tribulations, Bush has little more to lose.

Bush’s election-eve foray to Richmond to rally behind Republican Jerry W. Kilgore inserted him into the hottest election of the off-year cycle and will test his ability to energize his party’s base voters, according to strategists from both parties. Even in a traditionally Republican-leaning state such as Virginia, polls register disenchantment with Bush’s leadership, and Kilgore has had trouble running against national headwinds. …

Ed Rogers, a Republican lobbyist close to the White House, said a Kilgore win would essentially avoid another setback for a president who has seen nothing but reverses lately. “Nobody’s going to suggest that ‘Gee, something happened in Virginia that’s an overall tonic for the president’s problems,’ ” he said. “But it would be the absence of bad, and when you’re in trouble the absence of bad is the first step toward recovery.”

On the other hand, analysts said, if Democrat Timothy M. Kaine beats Kilgore in a state that solidly backed Bush twice, it will feed into a widespread perception of weakness afflicting the president and those associated with him. With the troubled response to Hurricane Katrina, the failed Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers, the indictment of a top White House official in the CIA leak case and continuing violence in Iraq, Bush’s approval ratings have sunk to some of the lowest ever for a second-term president in modern times. And with Democrats likely to win the New Jersey governorship, the only other major race on the ballot, Bush can find little good news to seize on.

The vote totals aren’t final yet, but it wasn’t terribly close–Kaine 51%, Kilgore 46%, Independents and write-ins mopping up the rest.

“They need a win,” said Charlie Cook of the independent Cook Political Report. “With the exception of [the confirmation of Chief Justice John G.] Roberts, they haven’t had a break all year. Just pulling off one of these would slow down the snowball a little.”

The Virginia venture, though, could accelerate the snowball. “I think he will regret it and I think the only reason he went is because not going was a threat to his manhood,” Democratic political consultant Mark Mellman said. “It’s a very big risk. . . . There’s not much gain for him there. I don’t think anybody is going to say Bush’s popularity helped Kilgore. But people will say Bush’s unpopularity really hurt Kilgore.”

Heh. How about another banana dance?

Trent’s Revenge

You probably know that Trent Lott lost his chance to be Senate Majority Leader because of remarks he made at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party. It is widely believed that it was the White House, not nasty Democrats, who took away Trent Lott’s leadership position, because the Bushies wanted the more ideological Bill Frist instead of Lott. True or not, in his new book, Herding Cats: A Life in Politics, Lott says he felt betrayed by Frist. “If Frist had not announced exactly when he did, as the fire was about to burn out, I would still be majority leader of the Senate today.” Lott implies that Frist stabbed him in the back.

I think Trent may have found the opportunity he’s been waiting for. Tgnyc writes at Daily Kos:

Too funny! Hastert and Frist make a big show of calling for an investigation into a leak allegedly affecting national security — the locations of secret “black site” torture prisons. And then — BOOM!!! Lott just said, Tuesday afternoon, that he thinks it was a GOP Senator who leaked the info to the Washington Post last week. He says the details had been discussed at a GOP Senators-only meeting last week, and that many of those details made it into the WaPo story.

Money quote from Lott; “We can not remain silent. We have met the enemy, and it is us.”

All just reported on CNN. We are, folks, witnessing the full-on implosion of the national Republican Party. And not a second too soon.

Trent is not stupid. He’s been in Washington longer than the Bushies have been in Washington, and he’s not about to go down the drain with them.

Deconstructing Dick

The Vice President is out of control. This is the essential message of several recent editorials and opinion pieces in the nation’s newspapers and political web sites.

James Carroll wrote in yesterday’s Boston Globe that it’s time to consider “just how damaging the long public career of Richard Cheney has been to the United States.”

After examining Cheney’s past career in which he enabled the rollback of essential antipoverty programs, tried to destroy detente, and always favored violence over diplomacy, Carroll progresses to what The Dick hath wrought as Veep:

With all of this as prelude, it seems as tragic as it was inevitable that Cheney was behind the wheel again when the next fork in the road appeared before the nation. When the World Trade Center towers were hit in New York, it was Cheney who told a shaken President Bush to flee. The true nature of their relationship (Cheney, not Bush, having shaped the national security team; Cheney, not Bush, having appointed himself as vice president) showed itself for a moment.

The 9/11 Commission found that, from the White House situation room, Cheney warned the president that a ”specific threat” had targeted Air Force One, prompting Bush to spend the day hiding in the bunker at Offut Air Force Base in Nebraska. There was no specific threat. In Bush’s absence, Cheney, implying an authorizing telephone call from the president, took command of the nation’s response to the crisis. There was no authorizing telephone call. The 9/11 Commission declined to make an issue of Cheney’s usurpation of powers, but the record shows it.

I realize it can be argued that it didn’t make a damn bit of difference what Junior did on 9/11, since Junior truly cannot watch TV and chew pretzels at the same time. But it’s the principle I’m talkin’ about. Carroll continues,

At world-shaping moments across a generation, Cheney reacted with an instinctive, This is war! He helped turn the War on Poverty into a war on the poor. He helped keep the Cold War going longer than it had to, and when it ended (because of initiatives taken by the other side), Cheney refused to believe it. To keep the US war machine up and running, he found a new justification just in time. With Gulf War I, Cheney ignited Osama bin Laden’s burning purpose. Responding to 9/11, Cheney fulfilled bin Laden’s purpose by joining him in the war-of-civilizations. Iraq, therefore (including the prewar deceit for which Scooter Libby takes the fall), is simply the last link in the chain of disaster which is the public career of Richard Cheney.


Daniel Benjamin writes at Slate:

It has become a cliché to say that Dick Cheney is the most powerful vice president in American history. Nonetheless, here is a prediction: When the historians really get digging into the paper entrails of the Bush administration—or possibly when Scooter Libby goes on trial—those who have intoned that phrase will still be astonished at the extent to which the Office of Vice President Dick Cheney was the center of power inside the White House—and at the grip it had on foreign and defense policy.

With a national security staff that numbered 14 last year (Al Gore usually had four or five), Cheney’s office has a finger in every pie. Several of the State Department’s top diplomats, including Eric Edelman, now undersecretary of defense for policy, and Victoria Nuland, now ambassador to NATO, are alums of Cheney’s office. According to David L. Phillips’ Losing Iraq: Inside the Postwar Reconstruction Fiasco, the dominant figure in some of the key interagency deliberations on postwar Iraq was not the State Department official who chaired them but Samantha Ravich, a Cheney aide who left the government and has since returned to OVP*. In addition, Cheney has remarkable influence over his onetime boss, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

For the next several centuries, historians will be writing about the dark duo of Rummy and Vice and how they destroyed America.

Kevin Drum writes,

As Benjamin points out, when you follow stuff like this back to its origin you invariably end up at the same place: Dick Cheney. Feith may have been the guy in charge of the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, which produced much of the dodgy intelligence that made its way into public speeches from administration officials, but “Dick Cheney was CTEG’s patron.”

As a wise man said back in January 2003 regarding Cheney and his curiously enduring reputation for competence even in the face of mountains of contrary evidence, “his terrible judgment will, at some point, become impossible even for the Beltway crowd not to see.” Looking back, perhaps historians will say that November 2005 was when they finally saw it.

Kevin links to an old Washington Monthly article by Josh Marshall, “Vice Grip,” that’s a must read. Josh documents that throughout his long, public career, The Dick was nearly always wrong. And I don’t mean “wrong” in an ideological sense, but “wrong” in the way policies and events eventually played out. “[I]t’s usually a sure bet that if Cheney has lined up on one side, the opposite course will turn out to be the wiser,” Josh wrote.

This is an editorial in today’s New York Times:

After President Bush’s disastrous visit to Latin America, it’s unnerving to realize that his presidency still has more than three years to run. An administration with no agenda and no competence would be hard enough to live with on the domestic front. But the rest of the world simply can’t afford an American government this bad for that long. …

Yes, the Times really published that in their lead editorial. However, they’ve yet to fire Judy Miller.

…Second terms may be difficult, but the chief executive still has the power to shape what happens. Ronald Reagan managed to turn his messy second term around and deliver – in great part through his own powers of leadership – a historic series of agreements with Mikhail Gorbachev that led to the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet empire. Mr. Bush has never demonstrated the capacity for such a comeback. Nevertheless, every American has a stake in hoping that he can surprise us.

The place to begin is with Dick Cheney, the dark force behind many of the administration’s most disastrous policies, like the Iraq invasion and the stubborn resistance to energy conservation. Right now, the vice president is devoting himself to beating back Congressional legislation that would prohibit the torture of prisoners. This is truly a remarkable set of priorities: his former chief aide was indicted, Mr. Cheney’s back is against the wall, and he’s declared war on the Geneva Conventions.

Mr. Bush cannot fire Mr. Cheney, but he could do what other presidents have done to vice presidents: keep him too busy attending funerals and acting as the chairman of studies to do more harm. Mr. Bush would still have to turn his administration around, but it would at least send a signal to the nation and the world that he was in charge, and the next three years might not be as dreadful as they threaten to be right now.

In theory, I suppose a President with the backing of senior party leaders could in a behind-the-scenes way force a veep to resign, but let’s go on … So far, the Bush Administration has consisted of The Dick running foreign policy, Karl Rove running domestic policy, and Junior prancing about in his paramilitary costumes and playing the role of Dear Leader for the cameras. If Rove and The Dick go, the job of President of the United States would fall into George Bush’s lap. For the first time. Not a cheering thought. But possibly, if faced with doing the actual job he’s supposed to be doing, Junior would retreat to Crawford and spend the rest of his second term hiding under the bed. At least he’d be safely ineffectual.

Yet perhaps The Dick’s days of unfettered power are closing. Thomas DeFrank writes in the New York Daily News that the relationship between Dubya and The Dick is eroding:

Multiple sources close to Bush told the Daily News that while the vice president remains his boss’ valued political partner and counselor, his clout has lessened – primarily as a result of issues arising from the Iraq war.

“The relationship is not what it was,” a presidential counselor said. “There has been some distance for some time.” …

…Other sources familiar with Bush’s thinking say Cheney’s zealous advocacy for what has become a troubled Iraq policy has taken a toll – especially since Cheney’s predictions about how Iraq would play out have proven optimistic.

These sources also said Libby’s indictment was a wakeup call for White House aides who have long believed the Cheney national security operation has enjoyed too much of a free hand in administration policymaking.

“The vice president’s office will never be quite as independent from the White House as it has been,” said a key Bush associate. “That will end.

“Cheney never operated without a degree of [presidential] license, but there are people around who cannot believe some of the advice [Bush] has been given.”

My sense is that Bush has been sailing along not overtaxing his brain too much on foreign policy because he figured The Dick understood that stuff and knew what to do. But now even Junior is starting to notice that nothing has worked out as Dick promised. Iraq is a mess, the world is growing more and more dangerous, and pretty much everyone on the globe hates George W. Bush.

Last week on The Huffington Post, Nora Ephron discussed what she called Bush’s “rosebud moment.”

As you may recall, on May 11, 2005, a small plane made an unauthorized detour into the air space over the nation’s Capitol, setting off a red alert. The Secret Service evacuated Dick Cheney and rushed Laura Bush to a bunker in the White House. The President was not there. He was off riding his bicycle in Beltsville, Maryland, and the Secret Service didn’t notify him about the incident until it was over. At the time they claimed they didn’t want to disturb his bicycle ride. It’s my theory that this incident was one of the reasons for the rift between Bush and Cheney — a rift, I’m proud to say, that I was one of the first to point out (on the Huffington Post), on the basis of no information whatsoever, and which now turns out (according to this week’s Newsweek) to be absolutely true.

Ephron speculates that Bush is depressed, which is an idea I may address in a future post. But for now the point is that The Dick has an alarming tendency to assume power that isn’t rightfully his. And I think Bush is too much of a weenie to smack him down for it.

See also Dan Froomkin, “Cheney’s Dark Side Is Showing.”

Grow Up With God

Following up the last post — Jason Felch and Patricia Ward Biederman write in today’s Los Angeles Times that the conservative National Association of Evangelicals has reached across the doctrinal aisle to support All Saints Church of Pasedena. The church is being hassled by the IRS for preaching that Jesus didn’t like war.

The evangelicals’ act is a welcome contrast to the juvenile gloatings of a couple of trolls; see this, this, and this. I want to point this out because I don’t believe all conservative Christians are pubescent, literacy-challenged Kool Aiders. It just seems that way because pubescent, literacy-challenged Kool Aiders tend to run things in Rightie World. But in this case the evangelicals are behaving like adults:

When Ted Haggard, head of the 30-million-member National Assn. of Evangelicals, heard about the All Saints case Monday, he told his staff to contact the National Council of Churches, a more liberal group.

Haggard said he personally supports the war in Iraq and probably would not agree with much in the Rev. George Regas’ 2004 sermon at All Saints, which was cited by the IRS as the basis for its investigation. But Haggard said he wants to work with the council of churches “in doing whatever it takes to get the IRS to stop” such actions.

For the record, even the Southern Baptist Convention was mightily pissed off by the attempt to exploit churches on behalf of the Bush campaign, as described in the last post.

Haggard’s act was welcomed by the National Council of Churches.

Robert Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, cheered when he heard of Haggard’s offer, which Edgar said represented a rare reaching out by the evangelical group to the council.

Edgar, a United Methodist minister, former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania and ex-president of the Claremont School of Theology, said the IRS move against All Saints appeared to be “a political witch hunt on George Regas and progressive ideology. It’s got to stop.” He stressed that Regas did not endorse a candidate in the sermon.

The article goes on to explain the distinction between issue advocacy and candidate endorsement:

The tax code prohibits nonprofits from “participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office.” The ban includes endorsements, donations, fundraising or any other activity “that may be beneficial or detrimental to any particular candidate.”

Advocating for ballot initiatives, as many California churches have done in advance of today’s special election, is a separate issue, tax experts said. Churches and other tax-exempt organizations are allowed to engage in lobbying as long as “a substantial part of the organization’s activities is not intended to influence legislation.”

Savvy churches make sure they don’t draw unwanted attention from the IRS, church officials and others said.

When elections near, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles sometimes sends reminders to local parishes of its guidelines on political action. “We don’t endorse or oppose candidates, but we can endorse ballot propositions when there is a moral or ethical issue involved,” said archdiocese spokesman Tod Tamberg, who knew of no local Catholic churches under IRS scrutiny.

This weekend, during Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Archbishop Roger Mahony endorsed Proposition 73, the state ballot initiative requiring parental notification before an abortion can be performed on a minor.

Seems to me that advocating for or against a ballot initiative is intended to influence legislation, but let’s go on … throughout American history, religions have been engaged in the nation’s hot-button issues. There was preaching both for and against slavery and secession, for example. Church groups worked to prohibit the sale of liquor and to stop child labor laws (yeah, you read that right; conservative churches wanted six-year-olds to work in factories). More recently, conservative churches have pushed hard to stop legal abortion. African-American churches were at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement. This is a role American churches and other religious institutions have played from the beginning of our history, and I think it’s a legitimate role. And I have no problem with treating churches as tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, as long as they are genuinely nonprofit and not fronts for something that would otherwise be taxed.

However, I agree that tax-exempt organizations should be prohibited from actively campaigning or endorsing parties or candidates. Otherwise, you’d soon have “churches” that were nothing more than fronts for political campaigns. Political parties could take over established churches through generous “donations” in exchange for endorsements and a compliant ministry. Ministers could find themselves serving two masters–God and the Party. The wall of separation so many conservatives want to tear down protects religious independence of politics.

: Don’t miss flaming idiot Don Surber’s comment to this post (here and here) and my response. You will laugh your butt off, unless you are Don Surber. And what is it with righties that they can’t read the bleeping posts they comment on?