Bush’s Slow Bleed

On the same day that Joe Biden writes in the Boston Globe in favor of repealing the 2002 war resolution, Julie Hirschfeld Davis of the Associated Press reports that Dems are backing away from the idea. Or maybe they’re just postponing it. Or not.

However, later in the article, Hirschfeld Davis claims that a rift has developed between Jack Murtha and Nancy Pelosi over plans to use congressional spending powers to force a change in Iraq policy. But a closer look reveals that Hirschfeld Davis is suffering a rift between her keyboarding fingers and her brain. HD writes,

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meanwhile, said she doesn’t support tying war funding to strict training and readiness targets for U.S. troops.

The comments distanced her from Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who has said he wants to use Congress’ spending power to force a change in policy in Iraq, by setting strict conditions on war funding.

Pelosi said she supports holding the administration to training and readiness targets, but added: “I don’t see them as conditions to our funding. Let me be very clear: Congress will fund our troops.”

Asked whether the standards should be tied to a $100 billion supplemental war spending measure _ as Murtha has proposed _ Pelosi demurred, saying it was up to the panel that drafts funding bills.

HD of the AP is comparing apples to oranges and coming up with spinach. To understand where Pelosi and Murtha are coming from, check out what Lolita Baldor (who would name a kid “Lolita”?) reports for the Associated Press

Strained by the demands of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a significant risk that the U.S. military won’t be able to quickly and fully respond to yet another crisis, according to a new report to Congress.

The assessment, done by the nation’s top military officer, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, represents a worsening from a year ago, when that risk was rated as moderate.

The report is classified, but on Monday senior defense officials, speaking on condition on anonymity, confirmed the decline in overall military readiness. And a report that accompanied Pace’s review concluded that while the Pentagon is working to improve its warfighting abilities, it “may take several years to reduce risk to acceptable levels.”

Just one more indicator that Bush’s Folly is making us more, not less, vulnerable. Anyway, Nancy Pelosi just issued this statement:

This unacceptable state of readiness affected our military long before President Bush ordered an escalation of the Iraq war in January, but the escalation is making it worse.

The harmful effects on the readiness crisis of the President’s escalation plan are just beginning to be seen. Two Army brigades scheduled to go to Iraq in the spring will do so without completing their normal training cycles and without all of the equipment required to do their jobs. We should not be sending troops to Baghdad unless they are fully trained and fully equipped. We already owe a great deal to our troops, and we do them a disservice by putting them in dangerous situations without being fully prepared.

What Pelosi says it not at all at odds with what Jack Murtha has proposed. To the contrary; as David Sirota explains, Murtha’s plan also supports troop readiness. Although you wouldn’t know that from reading the “mainstream” media. Quoting the Washington Post:

To be sent to battle, troops would have to have had a year’s rest between combat tours. Soldiers in Iraq could not have their tours extended beyond a year there. And the Pentagon’s ‘stop-loss’ policy, which prevents some officers from leaving the military when their service obligations are up, would end. Troops would have to be trained in counterinsurgency and urban warfare and be sent overseas with the equipment they used in training.

Hmm, you might be saying. I thought Murtha’s plan was all about de-funding the war; what the Republicans are calling a “slow bleed.” In fact, “slow bleed” is what the Bush Administration is doing to our military, and Jack Murtha is trying to stop the bleeding.

What Murtha proposed was tying war funding to readiness. According to the WaPo article by Jonathan Weisman and Lyndsey Layton linked above, Murtha “botched” this proposal.

The plan was bold: By tying President Bush’s $100 billion war request to strict standards of troop safety and readiness, Democrats believed they could grab hold of Iraq war policy while forcing Republicans to defend sending troops into battle without the necessary training or equipment.

But a botched launch by the plan’s author, Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.), has united Republicans and divided Democrats, sending the latter back to the drawing board just a week before scheduled legislative action, a score of House Democratic lawmakers said last week.

For the life of me I can’t figure out what it was Murtha “botched.” After wading through several paragraphs reeking with hysteria, it appears that Murtha’s only “flub” was that he announced the plan on a web site associated with Moveon.org. After which all of Washington came down with the vapors.


Anyway, since Weisman and Layton announced that the Dems are rifting, our gal Hirschfeld Davis picks up the cry:

The developments on both sides of the Capitol reflected a new level of disarray in Democratic ranks on Iraq. Swept into power by voters clamoring for an end to the war, Democrats have seen their efforts falter under a reality more complicated than they found on the campaign trail.

Hirschfeld Davis doesn’t mention that most of the “complications” are being manufactured by the Right Wing Echo Chamber. The fact is, you have to go to leftie web sites to get a clear, non-hysterical explanation of what Murtha proposed. The MSM is just recycling rightie talking points and declaring the plan “botched” and the Dems “divided”; the usual narrative, in other words.

Elephant Autopsy

Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press reports that Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida will replace Ken Mehlman as chair of the Republican National Committee.

Martinez started slowly in the Senate where he was embarrassed by a one-page unsigned memo that originated in his office. Written by a Martinez aide and disavowed by Senate Republicans, the memo laid out the political benefits to getting involved in the fate of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman whose end-of-life battle became a rallying cry for conservatives.

“This is an important moral issue and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue,” said the memo. Its author resigned.

A quick cruise around the rightie blogs tells me “the base” is way underwhelmed. They’re pissed because Martinez, who immigrated from Cuba in 1962, is a moderate on immigration. Allahpundit:

Hot Air commenters agree: it’s an awful pick, transparently aimed at appealing to pro-amnesty Hispanic voters. If the GOP goes ahead and puts Boehner and Blunt back in place in the minority leadership, you’re looking at a very dire electoral situation in 2008.

John Aravosis of AMERICAblog:

It’s probably no surprise that the GOP chose someone anti-gay after rumors had swirled for years about the exact sexual orientation of outgoing RNC chair Ken Mehlman (Mehlman publicly avoided the question for years).

But even more interesting is that a top staffer on Martinez’s Senate campaign, Kirk Fordham, was also the former chief of staff to child sex predator ex-congressman Mark Foley. Foley represented Florida in the House. Martinez represents Florida in the Senate.

I’m just saying…

I’m saying the Republicans are flapping around like a headless chicken. And who is in charge these days, anyway? President Bush is still, I assume, the official head of the party, but he’s a head that few seem to be following at the moment. Even the VRWC media machine is abandoning him. The Bush cult of personality appears to be evaporating rapidly, which is a good thing. But the Republicans have invested everything in Bush for the past six years, and now their investment is deflating like a failed soufflé. What are they going to do?

More post-election commentary — Chuck Todd writes,

When a political party gets shellacked, the intra-party feud becomes dominated by the base, not the moderates. The base will swear, in this case, that the party needed more true-blue conservatives running, or that it should have been more conservative in its congressional governance. And then these losses would have been avoided.

There are some shreds of truth in that thinking, but the GOP will only isolate itself even more if it takes a turn to the right. Republicans will not regain the majority if they continue to grow away from the inner-suburban voter. Missouri and Virginia, for instance, sent that message loud and clear.

My survey of the Right Blogosphere tells me righties want to erase the past couple of years. That not being an option, they still want hard-Right positions from the GOP. I’m sure the Christian Right is as militant as ever. Republicans must choose between appeasing its whackjob base and getting elected outside the Deep South. Will they (date I say it?) choose to move left to win back independent voters? Will they have to mirror the Clinton strategy of taking the base for granted (who else are they going to vote for?) and moving right?

Todd also provides evidence that President Bush’s last-minute trips to Missouri and Montana helped push those Senate seats into Democrats’ laps. In spite of what we were being told about a last-minute Republican “surge,” the Democrats actually picked up most of the last-minute votes in those states, according to Todd.

It’s hard not to look at the White House and wonder if it was flying blind. For 18 months, there was evidence that this was going to be a tough midterm thanks to basic history (six-year itch, after all) and the war in Iraq. So why didn’t Karl Rove attempt to do what he did in ’02 and ’04 and dictate the terms of the debate? It was clear this was going to be a national election, yet the White House stuck to its “stay the course” guns for way too long. Northeastern Republicans were desperate for Bush to pivot on Iraq and he just wouldn’t do it. When he finally did, it was too late.

The political arm of the Bush White House doesn’t usually miss this badly, but it appears this election was misjudged from the beginning. Maybe they believed all the “genius” books that were being written about them.

Todd predicts that “cooler heads will prevail,” and that Republicans will be thinking “moderate” (or a facsimile thereof) in 2008, even though this will alienate the base. But Karl Rove may still try to run Republican politics his way.

Dan Froomkin:

Rove’s divide-and-conquer political strategy, his insistence that Republican candidates embrace the war in Iraq as a campaign issue, his supremely self-assured predictions of victory — all were proven deeply, even delusionally wrong last week.

His prediction that Republicans would retain both houses of Congress, in particular, is hardly explicable by “bad math” and Mark Foley.

Either Rove lied or he’s clueless. Or both. But will that tarnish Rove’s reputation in Washington? Maybe not.

Rove, at least for the moment, remains too powerful to be ignored. Plus, he knows how to play the press like a fiddle. Right now, he’s on a rare, on-the-record charm offensive — and so far, it seems to be going pretty well.

Froomkin quotes several other analysts who say — as I wrote yesterday — that Rove is making excuses for his campaign decisions. For example, Peter Baker:

The Architect, as President Bush once called him, has a theory for why the building fell down. “Get me the one-pager!” he cried out to an aide, who promptly delivered a single sheet of paper that had been updated almost hourly since the midterm elections with a series of statistics explaining that the ‘thumping’ Bush took was not such a thumping after all.

The theory is this: The building’s infrastructure was actually quite sound. It was bad luck and seasonal shifts in the winds that blew out the walls — complacent candidates, an ill-timed Mark Foley page scandal and the predictable cycles of history. But the foundation is fine: “The Republican philosophy is alive and well and likely to reemerge in the majority in 2008.”

The rest of Washington might think Tuesday’s elections were a repudiation of Rove’s brand of politics, but Rove does not. . . .

Rove’s brand of politics aims to sharpen differences with the opposition, energize the conservative base and micro-target voters to pick off selected parts of the other side’s constituency. As he has in past elections, Rove designed a strategy to paint Democrats as weak on national security and terrorism, the “party of cut and run.”

In an expansive interview last week, Rove said that strategy was working until the House page sex scandal involving ex-representative Foley (R-Fla.) put the Republican campaign “back on its heels,” as he put it. “We were on a roll, and it stopped it,’ he said. ‘It revived all the stuff about Abramoff and added to it.”

This may be just bravado, but I’m betting it isn’t. As I wrote yesterday, Rove gained his reputation as a political genius by picking off Democratic incumbents in Southern states. Right now he’s in a place he’s never been before — standing beside an incumbent whose incompetence has been laid bare for the whole world to see. Is Rove smart enough to realize he needs to re-think his strategy? He doesn’t appear to be.

Mike Allen:

… here is Rove’s extraordinary explanation to Allen of his pre-election predictions:

[H]e does not believe his data let him down. “My job is not to be a prognosticator,” he said. “My job is not to go out there and wring my hands and say, ‘We’re going to lose.’ I’m looking at the data and seeing if I can figure out, Where can we be? I told the president, ‘I don’t know where this is going to end up. But I see our way clear to Republican control.'”

Kenneth Walsh writes for U.S. News and World Report:

[Rove] is telling GOP operatives and organizers that things weren’t as bad as they seemed and that the news media have been exaggerating the extent of GOP losses.

“There was a rush to say there was a huge wave against the Republican Party,” says a Republican strategist who is close to Rove. “That was premature.”

For example, Rove says many races went down to the wire–there were 35 House contests in which the winner got 51 percent of the vote or less–suggesting that the country is still closely divided between Republicans and Democrats. In the 18 races decided by 8,000 or fewer votes, the GOP won 12 and lost six, Rove says. Rove argues that there was a bad “environment” for the GOP, one marked by stories of scandal and corruption, intensified by the unpopularity of the Iraq war and President Bush.

Rove estimates that 10 House seats were lost to the GOP specifically because of one-time scandals and that those losses weren’t due to any flawed strategy on his part. Rove also says the results were not outside the norm in which a president’s party generally suffers losses in congressional elections in his sixth year. In addition, Rove tells glum Republicans that the party “saved” eight to 14 GOP candidates because of its vaunted 72-hour plan to get out the GOP vote.

However, Walsh says, there is much grumbling within the GOP. Bush critics complain Rove just continues to do what worked for him in the past and is too inflexible to change his tactics to match changing reality.

John Dickerson wrote last week that beltway Republicans were not blaming Karl Rove on last week’s loss. As reality sinks in many of them are likely to re-think their position. But George W. Bush is still head of the party, and Karl Rove is still his political strategist. Unless, somehow, another leader emerges before 2008, for the next couple of years its going to be every elephant for itself.

Rove Over

We’ll have Karl Rove to kick around awhile longer, unfortunately. But Rove’s glory days may be behind him. Richard Wolffe writes in Newsweek that Karl Rove just plain miscalculated the midterm elections:

Rove’s miscalculations began well before election night. The polls and pundits pointed to a Democratic sweep, but Rove dismissed them all. In public, he predicted outright victory, flashing the V sign to reporters flying on Air Force One. He wasn’t just trying to psych out the media and the opposition. He believed his “metrics” were far superior to plain old polls. Two weeks before the elections, Rove showed NEWSWEEK his magic numbers: a series of graphs and bar charts that tallied early voting and voter outreach. Both were running far higher than in 2004. In fact, Rove thought the polls were obsolete because they relied on home telephones in an age of do-not-call lists and cell phones. Based on his models, he forecast a loss of 12 to 14 seats in the House—enough to hang on to the majority. Rove placed so much faith in his figures that, after the elections, he planned to convene a panel of Republican political scientists—to study just how wrong the polls were.

I guess the panel idea is shelved for now.

His confidence buoyed everyone inside the West Wing, especially the president. Ten days before the elections, House Majority Leader John Boehner visited Bush in the Oval Office with bad news. He told Bush that the party would lose Tom DeLay’s old seat in Texas, where Bush was set to campaign. Bush brushed him off, Boehner recalls. “Get me Karl,” the president told an aide. “Karl has the numbers.”

On the other hand, Ken Mehlman’s numbers were pretty close to reality: “the GOP would lose 23 in the House (5 short of the final tally), 5 in the Senate (1 shy) and 6 governors (spot on).” Yet Mehlman’s the one who is stepping down. (Not that I mind.)

At Slate, John Dickerson reports that beltway Republicans are not blaming Rove for the midterm results.

…when I went looking for what I expected to be a massive orgy of Rove schadenfreude, I actually found that, for the most part, Republicans were defending him.

They started by arguing that the election could have been a lot worse. Conditions really called for a 35- to 45-seat loss in the House. Rove and Ken Mehlman built a ground operation over the last seven years that limited the losses. They knew where to drop all the cash they’d raised and how to micro-target voters. I find this silly. No one praises football coaches for losing by five touchdowns instead of six.

More plausible is the claim that much of what flipped the election was beyond Rove’s control. He couldn’t reverse the violence on the ground in Iraq. Could he have pushed Bush to drop Rumsfeld earlier? Maybe, if he’d made that case a year ago, but dropping Rumsfeld too close to the election would have looked desperate and would have enraged the Rummy-loving conservatives.

But the most persuasive argument of Rove’s defenders is that congressional Republicans deserve the blame for Tuesday’s outcome. What sapped the energy and enthusiasm of the base were Congress’ ethical lapses (culminating in the Foley fiasco), excessive spending, and addiction to earmarks. Rove allies are quick to point to exit polls showing that people mentioned “corruption” as their top concern when voting (but remember, Jack Abramoff visited the White House, too).

Dickerson points out that Rove still has a lot of power — “There are still commissions and ambassadorships and corporate boards that Rove can pack with Tuesday’s losers.” But I have a problem with this:

Even if Rove leaves Washington tomorrow, he’ll remain a leading light of the conservative movement for the unapologetic, even brutal, way he fights for conservative ideas.

Somehow, I doubt Karl gives a hoo-haw about “conservative ideas.” Karl’s interest in “ideas” begins and ends with which ones he can exploit for political purposes.

Take, for example, Karl Rove’s support of the Christian Right. According to Gary Wills’s recent article “A Country Rules by Faith” in the New York Review of Books (emphasis added):

… The evangelicals had complained for years that they were not able to affect policy because liberals left over from previous administrations were in all the health and education and social service bureaus, at the operational level. They had specific people they objected to, and they had specific people with whom to replace them, and Karl Rove helped them do just that.

It is common knowledge that the Republican White House and Congress let “K Street” lobbyists have a say in the drafting of economic legislation, and on the personnel assigned to carry it out, in matters like oil production, pharmaceutical regulation, medical insurance, and corporate taxes. It is less known that for social services, evangelical organizations were given the same right to draft bills and install the officials who implement them. Karl Rove had cultivated the extensive network of religious right organizations, and they were consulted at every step of the way as the administration set up its policies on gays, AIDS, condoms, abstinence programs, creationism, and other matters that concerned the evangelicals. All the evangelicals’ resentments under previous presidents, including Republicans like Reagan and the first Bush, were now being addressed.

Yet Rove-watchers James Moore and Wayne Slater say that Rove is agnostic and (according to David Kuo) calls evangelical leaders “nuts.”

I say Rove isn’t in politics because he cares deeply about conservative values, or conservative government, or even the United States of America. I don’t think he cares much about any of those things. Then why is he in politics? It might be useful to reflect on Karl Rove the “human being.” From Wikipedia:

Rove was born in Denver, Colorado and later raised in Nevada, the second of five children. His biological father abandoned the family early on and his mother remarried. His new adoptive father, Louis Claude Rove Jr., was a mineral geologist, and his mother, Reba Wood, was a gift shop manager. His older brother is Eric P. Rove, and his younger sister is Reba A. Rove-Hammond.

In The Architect, a new book chronicling Karl Rove’s life and conservative agenda, authors James Moore and Wayne Slater, reveal Rove’s father, Louis Rove, was homosexual.

Louis Rove left his family during the 1969 Christmas holidays and moved to Los Angeles where he eventually “came out.” According to Rove’s father’s best friend, an openly gay man named Joseph Koons, “Louie didn’t hide the fact that he was gay. But he didn’t play it up either.” The Architect describes Louis Rove as a shy man, encumbered by his three hundred pound figure. To encourage Rove to socialize, Joseph Koons, invited him to join a retired gay men’s group called the “Old Farts Club,” jokingly referred to among the men as the “Rainbow Casket.” …

… In December 1969, Rove’s father left the family, and divorced Rove’s mother soon afterward. After his parents’ separation, Rove learned from his aunt and uncle that the man who had raised him was not his biological father [Rove was about 19 at this point]; both he and his older brother Eric were the children of another man. Rove has expressed great love and admiration for his adoptive father and for “how selfless” his love had been.

Rove’s mother committed suicide in Reno, Nevada, in 1981, when Rove was 30 years old. He did not meet his biological father until he was in his 40s.

I’m saying that when your family history is that bleeped up, you either rise above it and become a bleeping saint, or you have Issues. Damn big ugly mother-bleeping Issues. So which way did Karl go? Joshua Green wrote in the Atlantic Monthly, “Karl Rove in a Corner” (November 2004):

It is frequently said of him, in hushed tones when political folks are doing the talking, that he leaves a trail of damage in his wake—a reference to the substantial number of people who have been hurt, politically and personally, through their encounters with him. Rove’s reputation for winning is eclipsed only by his reputation for ruthlessness, and examples abound of his apparent willingness to cross moral and ethical lines.

Face it; Rove isn’t in politics to champion “ideas.” He’s in politics so he can act out his many unresolved Issues and get paid for it.

Rove attended “nearly half a dozen colleges without getting a degree” says this page. This suggests a lack of direction. But early on he “found himself” in politics. When he dropped out of college for the last time in 1971 he took a job with the College Republican National Committee and never looked back. In the late 1970s he began working in Republican election campaigns and founded a direct mail consulting firm. Before getting involved with the Bushies and the 2000 elections, most of his successes as an election campaign manager were in Texas and Alabama. Back to Joshua Green, writing in 2004:

If there is any compelling reason to think that Rove may be out of his depth in this election, it is an odd lacuna in his storied career: no one I spoke with could recall his ever having to run an incumbent in a tough re-election race. This is partly a by-product of his dominance. Rove’s power in Texas was such that he could essentially handpick his candidates, and once elected, they rarely lost. And he spent most of his career in the favorable terrain of the Deep South. One reason Rove was spared re-election fights is that as demographic changes swept across the South, and Republicans in Texas and Alabama began displacing Democrats, the likelihood that a Democrat could depose a sitting Republican became remote. Rove has long excelled at knocking off incumbents in tight races. Now, at last, he must defend one.

Now we know that Rove succeeded, by the skin of his teeth and with a little help from his friends in Ohio. But I think two points are significant: (1) most of Rove’s campaign experience was in the South; and (2) Rove’s strength is knocking off incumbents with aggressively nasty campaigning. He generally doesn’t hang around to see if his candidates can actually govern or not.

With Rove there’s an almost total disconnect between politics and government. For example, in the Richard Wolffe column linked above we find:

Rove blames complacent candidates for much of the GOP’s defeat. He says even some scandal-tainted members won when they followed what he calls “the program” of voter contacts and early voting. “Where some people came up short was where they didn’t have a program,” he told NEWSWEEK.

In fact, Karl Rove’s influence over the White House and the Boy King may explain much of the Bush Administration’s near total dysfunction. Ron Suskind wrote in Esquire, “Why Are These Men Laughing?” (January 2003):

They heard that I was writing about Karl Rove, seeking to contextualize his role as a senior adviser in the Bush White House, and they began calling, some anonymously, some not, saying that they wanted to help and leaving phone numbers. The calls from members of the White House staff were solemn, serious. Their concern was not only about politics, they said, not simply about Karl pulling the president further to the right. It went deeper; it was about this administration’s ability to focus on the substance of governing—issues like the economy and social security and education and health care—as opposed to its clear political acumen, its ability to win and enhance power. And so it seemed that each time I made an inquiry about Karl Rove, I received in return a top-to-bottom critique of the White House’s basic functions, so profound is Rove’s influence.

I made these inquiries in part because last spring, when I spoke to White House chief of staff Andrew Card, he sounded an alarm about the unfettered rise of Rove in the wake of senior adviser Karen Hughes’s resignation: “I’ll need designees, people trusted by the president that I can elevate for various needs to balance against Karl. . . . They are going to have to really step up, but it won’t be easy. Karl is a formidable adversary.”

One senior White House official told me that he’d be summarily fired if it were known we were talking. “But many of us feel it’s our duty—our obligation as Americans—to get the word out that, certainly in domestic policy, there has been almost no meaningful consideration of any real issues. It’s just kids on Big Wheels who talk politics and know nothing. It’s depressing. Domestic Policy Council meetings are a farce. This leaves shoot-from-the-hip political calculations—mostly from Karl’s shop—to triumph by default. No one balances Karl. Forget it. That was Andy’s cry for help.”

Suskind quoted the famous John DiIulio letter:

“There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus,” says DiIulio. “What you’ve got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.” …

… “I heard many, many staff discussions but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions,” he writes. “There were no actual policy white papers on domestic issues. There were, truth be told, only a couple of people in the West Wing who worried at all about policy substance and analysis, and they were even more overworked than the stereotypical nonstop, twenty-hour-a-day White House staff. Every modern presidency moves on the fly, but on social policy and related issues, the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking: discussions by fairly senior people who meant Medicaid but were talking Medicare; near-instant shifts from discussing any actual policy pros and cons to discussing political communications, media strategy, et cetera. Even quite junior staff would sometimes hear quite senior staff pooh-pooh any need to dig deeper for pertinent information on a given issue.”

Now that Rove’s had his ass handed to him on a plate, he still makes little connection between how elected officials do their jobs and their chances for re-election. He admits scandal and corruption took a toll, but that was just part of “the general distaste that people have for all things Washington.” And Iraq may have been a factor, but Lieberman won, so maybe not.

(I agree with Arianna Huffington on the Lamont-Lieberman race; Lamont lost ground when he stopped pounding an antiwar message — “Lieberman started sounding like Jack Murtha, while Lamont got off the Iraq train that had carried him to victory in the primary.” See also “America has had Enough of Bush’s Disastrous Course in Iraq” by Rep. John Murtha.)

With tongue just a little in cheek — I hope — Will Bunch trotted out a theory that Bush and Rove blew the midterms on purpose as part of Rove’s dastardly brilliant plan to pin the disaster of Iraq on Democrats; see also Greg Mitchell’s comments. Will has one point right, which is that the Democratic Congress might actually force Bush into governing for a change, instead of just politicking, which may actually work in Bush’s favor. Jonathan Alter pretty much says the same thing.

I’ll believe it when I see it. Karl still whispers in Bush’s ear, and I don’t believe Karl has learned much from the thumpin’. I wrote a whole year ago

What about Karl Rove, who has been trying to build a permanent Republican majority? Although Rove is supposed to be some kind of all-seeing evil genius, I wonder sometimes if he isn’t more of an idiot savant. He’s brilliant at doing one thing–building political power through sheer nastiness. He may not be wise enough to see the seeds of destruction he has planted.

I stand by that. I do not think Rove will change either tactics or strategy. He’s a one-trick pony. The methods that work so well in the South are finally causing revulsion in the rest of the nation. But Rove can’t see that. He’s still thinking about a permanent Republican majority. But if the national Republican Party doesn’t cut its ties to Karl Rove, it might find itself trapped in the deep South, nothing but a quaint artifact of history and southern culture.

Fitzmas Cancelled?

Well, folks, if you’ve been living in the “When will Karl be indicted” camp, it appears you can strike the tents. According to David Johnston at the New York Times, Fitz won’t indict.

The prosecutor in the C.I.A. leak case on Monday advised Karl Rove, the senior White House adviser, that he would not be charged with any wrongdoing, effectively ending the nearly three-year criminal investigation that had at times focused intensely on Mr. Rove.

The decision by the prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, announced in a letter to Mr. Rove’s lawyer, Robert D. Luskin, lifted a pall that had hung over Mr. Rove who testified on five occasions to a federal grand jury about his involvement in the disclosure of an intelligence officer’s identity.

In a statement, Mr. Luskin said, “On June 12, 2006, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald formally advised us that he does not anticipate seeking charges against Karl Rove.”

Mr. Fitzgerald’s spokesman, Randall Samborn, said he would not comment on Mr. Rove’s status.

Many hopes will be hung on that last sentence.

A series of meetings between Mr. Luskin and Mr. Fitzgerald and his team proved pivotal in dissuading the prosecutor from bringing charges. On one occasion Mr. Luskin himself became a witness in the case, giving sworn testimony that was beneficial to Mr. Rove.

Make of that what you will.

Yeah, I Gotta Problem With That

I can’t help myself; sometimes I just have to take a peek at what the righties are up to. Part of my fascination with social pathology, I suppose. Anyway, after checking some rightie blogs for commentary on the Senate Judiciary Committee NSA hearings, I can report that the most compelling arguments put forth on the Right in defense of the programs are:

1. Democrats are helping the terrorists.
2. The President is right.
3. You gotta problem with that?

Truly, this controversy is less about security than it is about faith. I offer this example from Right Wing Nut House [emphasis added]:

AG Gonzalez acquitted himself well but was at a huge disadvantage. Because of the secrecy of the program, he was unable to reveal details that could have buttressed his case that the Administration’s warrantless interception of American citizen’s communications was inherently legal based on both exceptions to the FISA statute and the authority granted by the President by Congress when that body authorized the use of military force after 9/11.

Such a beautifully pure faith makes one want to weep. If only it weren’t so misplaced.

Not everyone on the Right is a true believer. Via Daou Report, there’s at least one rightie Doubting Thomas, The Lonewacko. See also “Conservative Scholars Argue Bush’s Wiretapping Is An Impeachable Offense” at Think Progress.

Chalres Babington of the Washington Post reports that “activists” of the right and the GOP are splintering on the NSA issue.

GOP lawmakers and political activists were nearly unanimous in backing Bush on his Supreme Court nominations

Um, are we forgetting the Harriet Miers flap?

and Iraq war policy, but they are divided on how to resolve the tension between two principles they hold dear: avoiding government intrusion into private lives, and combating terrorism. The rift became evident at yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing into the surveillance program, and it may reemerge at Thursday’s intelligence committee hearing.

Babington mentions Arlen Specter , Lindsey Graham, and the Cato Institute as among those breaking ranks with the Bush Administration. On the other hand …

Democrats making similar arguments [against the NSA program] have fallen under scathing attacks from some GOP lawmakers. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, put himself at odds with Specter last week after his panel questioned the director of national intelligence and the CIA director about the NSA program.

“I am concerned that some of my Democrat colleagues used this unique public forum to make clear that they believe the gravest threat we face is not Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, but rather the president of the United States,” Roberts said.

The argument could be made. Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda can knock down buildings and kill people, but they can’t destroy the United States itself. The Bush Administration, on the other hand, is destroying our democratic institutions from the inside.

And the White House must be worried. Moonie Times auxiliary publication Insight says that Karl himself is making offers GOP politicians can’t refuse:

The White House has been twisting arms to ensure that no Republican member votes against President Bush in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation of the administration’s unauthorized wiretapping.

Congressional sources said Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove has threatened to blacklist any Republican who votes against the president. The sources said the blacklist would mean a halt in any White House political or financial support of senators running for re-election in November.

Makes you wonder what they’re afraid of, huh?

Mr. Rove is leading the White House campaign to help the GOP in November’s congressional elections. The sources said the White House has offered to help loyalists with money and free publicity, such as appearances and photo-ops with the president.

Those deemed disloyal to Mr. Rove would appear on his blacklist. The sources said dozens of GOP members in the House and Senate are on that list.

So far, only a handful of GOP senators have questioned Mr. Rove’s tactics.

How much political capital does Bush really have, though? Some congresspersons facing re-election this year might think it smarter to establish some distance between themselves and the White House.

See also — Today at 2:10 EST Glenn Greenwald of Unclaimed Territory will be debating John Hinderaker of Power Tool on NPR’s “To the Point.”Should be good. Also recommended, Audio clip: Comments by Michael Isikoff at Newsweek.

See “What We Heard from the Attorney General” by Senator Russ Feingold at TPM Cafe.


Viveca Novak’s account of what she told Bob Luskin about the Plamegate investigation is up at Time. And it reveals much about why what passes for “jounalism” is clueless.

Washington “journalists” and Washington “government officials” and their “attorneys” are all one big happy family. They have drinks together. They meet for dinner. They go to the same parties. They bump into each other at posh vacation spots. And loyalty to one’s source-buddies comes first — before employer, nation, or truth itself.

This has been apparent of the television “punditocracy” — Cokie et al. — for years. But after the Judy Miller, Bob Woodward, and now Viveca Novak episode, it is apparent more humble print reporters have crawled into the same compromised bed.

As Jeralyn, Kevin, and Jane point out, the impact of Novak’s testimony on Karl Rove’s future depends a lot on what other information Patrick Fitzgerald might have. But the corruption of journalism is crystal clear. I sincerely hope that every working reporter covering Washington politics — and politics elsewhere — is doing some heavy-duty soul searching right now.

Greg Mitchell writes at Editor & Publisher:

Where will it end, and when will reporters pay with their jobs? First we learn that Bob Woodward failed to tell his editor for years about his role in the Plame/CIA leak case. Today, we find out that Time reporter Viveca Novak not only kept her editors in the dark about her own involvement, but even had a two-hour chat with the special prosecutor about it well before telling her superiors.

At the end of her first-person account at Time online today, we are told in a brief editor’s note that she is by ”mutual agreement” now on a “leave of absence.” Has she been taken to the woodshed and, if not, why not?

Swopa writes,

… as it turns out, just for the sake of stalling Rove’s indictment for a month or two, Luskin has torched Novak’s career with Time (which notes as the end of her article that she is on a mutually agreed “leave of absence”). It seems that Viveca didn’t tell her bosses about her chats with Luskin to begin with, nor even when she first was interviewed by Fitzgerald — and when she did admit her involvement after being asked to testify under oath, they weren’t happy.

There should be an object lesson there for Washington, D.C. reporters playing the “access journalism” game … the sources who you’re covering up for even as they give you lies and personal smears will burn you in the blink of an eye if it helps them in the slightest.

Then again, that seems to be a larger message that the Bushites are all too happy to send to the media. What the latter thought was merely an occasionally distasteful exchange of information was really a blackmail ring. In the Corleone administration, reporters aren’t expected to keep quiet out of duty to the First Amendment — they’re expected to do so because they’ll be destroyed by any means possible if they don’t.

Reporters, please note: “Sources” are not “buddies.” And sources who try to use you to manipulate news, by feeding you lies and smears, are not worthy of protection. Got that?

Serious Matters

IF it weren’t tragic it would be a New Yorker cartoon. The president of the United States, in the final stop of his forlorn Latin America tour last week, told the world, “We do not torture.” Even as he spoke, the administration’s flagrant embrace of torture was as hard to escape as publicity for Anderson Cooper.

The vice president, not satisfied that the C.I.A. had already been implicated in four detainee deaths, was busy lobbying Congress to give the agency a green light to commit torture in the future. Dana Priest of The Washington Post, having first uncovered secret C.I.A. prisons two years ago, was uncovering new “black sites” in Eastern Europe, where ghost detainees are subjected to unknown interrogation methods redolent of the region’s Stalinist past. Before heading south, Mr. Bush had been doing his own bit for torture by threatening to cast the first veto of his presidency if Congress didn’t scrap a spending bill amendment, written by John McCain and passed 90 to 9 by the Senate, banning the “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment of prisoners.

So when you watch the president stand there with a straight face and say, “We do not torture” – a full year and a half after the first photos from Abu Ghraib – you have to wonder how we arrived at this ludicrous moment. The answer is not complicated. When people in power get away with telling bigger and bigger lies, they naturally think they can keep getting away with it. And for a long time, Mr. Bush and his cronies did. Not anymore.Frank Rich, New York Times, November 13, 2005

It’s a shame the way that Frank Rich minces words. He should just come out and say what he thinks.

He goes on to say that the American people are not buying GOP talking points that the Libby-Rove-Plame investigation is all just politics; polls show that “roughly 8 in 10 Americans regard the leak case as a serious matter.” Further, “57 percent of Americans believe that Mr. Bush deliberately misled the country into war.”

Frank Rich continues,

The Bush loyalists’ push to discredit the Libby indictment failed because Americans don’t see it as a stand-alone scandal but as the petri dish for a wider culture of lying that becomes more visible every day. The last-ditch argument rolled out by Mr. Bush on Veterans Day in his latest stay-the-course speech – that Democrats, too, endorsed dead-wrong W.M.D. intelligence – is more of the same. Sure, many Democrats (and others) did believe that Saddam had an arsenal before the war, but only the White House hyped selective evidence for nuclear weapons, the most ominous of all of Iraq’s supposed W.M.D.’s, to whip up public fears of an imminent doomsday.

And then there was, IMO, the Mother of All Lies —

There was also an entire other set of lies in the administration’s prewar propaganda blitzkrieg that had nothing to do with W.M.D.’s, African uranium or the Wilsons. To get the country to redirect its finite resources to wage war against Saddam Hussein rather than keep its focus on the war against radical Islamic terrorists, the White House had to cook up not only the fiction that Iraq was about to attack us, but also the fiction that Iraq had already attacked us, on 9/11. Thanks to the Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, who last weekend released a previously classified intelligence document, we now have conclusive evidence that the administration’s disinformation campaign implying a link connecting Saddam to Al Qaeda and 9/11 was even more duplicitous and manipulative than its relentless flogging of nuclear Armageddon.

But…but…but…the White House says they never claimed Saddam Hussein had anything to do with 9/11! Or did they?

This report by David Shuster was on MSNBC yesterday:

…the White House started claiming that Iraq and the group responsible for 9/11 were one in the same.

“The war on terror, you can’t distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror,” said Bush on September 25, 2002.

“We’ve learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases,” said Bush a few days later on October 7. “He’s a threat because he is dealing with Al-Qaeda.”

In pushing the Saddam-Iraq-9/11 connection, both the president and the vice president made two crucial claims. First, they alleged there had been a 1994 meeting in the Sudan between Osama bin Laden and an Iraqi intelligence official.

After the Iraq war began, however, the 9/11 Commission was formed and reported that while Osama bin Laden may have requested Iraqi help, “Iraq apparently never responded.”

The other crucial pre-war White House claim was that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official in the Czech republic in April 2001.

Cheney stated, “It’s been pretty well confirmed that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a Senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service.”

Confirmed or unconfirmed by Vice President Cheney the 9/11 Commission said, “We do not believe such a meeting occurred.” Why? Because cell phone records from the time show Atta in the United States.

None the less, the White House strategy worked. In March of 2003, one poll found 45 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11.

On the eve of the Iraq war, the White House sent a letter to Congress telling lawmakers that force was authorized against those who, “aided the 9/11 attacks.”

Yet the Bush administration continues to say it never claimed Iraq was linked to 9/11.

“I think I made it very clear that we have never made that claim,” White House Press Secretary McClellan repeated on Sept. 17, 2003.

The brutal irony is that while implications, innuendo, or false claims if you will about a 9/11 connection helped take us into Iraq. The Iraqi war itself has created a real al-Qaeda/Iraq link that may keep us from getting out.

Do you remember the pre-flightsuit, “military” (cough) phase of the Iraq war? Do you remember that a flag that had flown at the Pentagon on September 11 somehow ended up in the hands of a U.S. Marine, who by coincidence was one of the Marines who pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad? The Marines couldn’t actually raise the flag–wouldn’t have looked right, you know–but they could, with much publicity, cover Saddam Hussein’s bronze head with the flag before they pulled the statue down. If Karl Rove wasn’t behind that …

Let’s go back to Frank Rich.

… in October 2002, as the White House was officially rolling out its new war and Congress was on the eve of authorizing it – Mr. Bush gave a major address in Cincinnati intermingling the usual mushroom clouds with information from that discredited, “intentionally misleading” Qaeda informant. “We’ve learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases,” he said. It was the most important, if hardly the only, example of repeated semantic sleights of hand that the administration used to conflate 9/11 with Iraq. Dick Cheney was fond of brandishing a nonexistent April 2001 “meeting” between Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague long after Czech and American intelligence analysts had dismissed it.

The power of these lies was considerable. In a CBS News/New York Times poll released on Sept. 25, 2001, 60 percent of Americans thought Osama bin Laden had been the culprit in the attacks of two weeks earlier, either alone or in league with unnamed “others” or with the Taliban; only 6 percent thought bin Laden had collaborated with Saddam; and only 2 percent thought Saddam had been the sole instigator. By the time we invaded Iraq in 2003, however, CBS News found that 53 percent believed Saddam had been “personally involved” in 9/11; other polls showed that a similar percentage of Americans had even convinced themselves that the hijackers were Iraqis.

The full story of how the Bushies managed to sell this whopper to so many Americans has yet to be told. Of course, that’s not the only story we don’t know in full. Rich writes,

There is still much more to learn about our government’s duplicity in the run-up to the war, just as there is much more to learn about what has gone on since, whether with torture or billions of Iraq reconstruction dollars. That is why the White House and its allies, having failed to discredit the Fitzgerald investigation, are now so desperate to slow or block every other inquiry.

The White House has launched a counter-offensive against its critics. Bushies are wounded and cornered, so they are going to be vicious. Our job is to keep the pressure on, to answer the lies, and to call loudly for investigations. The next few months could be pivotal.

Fitz Watch

[Update: Fitzgerald will hold a news conference at 2:00 pm.

Update update: Reuters says “information on the case will be available at noon.”]

I’m not sure if last night’s story from the New York Times that suggests only Scooter Libby will be indicted today should be given much weight. In this morning’s Washington Post, Jim VandeHei and Carol D. Leonnig write that Libby and Rove are preparing for possible indictments. On the other hand, CNN just now (8:01 am) announced that Rove “apparently” dodged an indictment but will remain under investigation.

Via Josh Marshall, John Solomon and Pete Yost of the Associated Press write,

White House officials braced for the possibility that Vice President Dick Cheney’s top aide would be indicted in the CIA leak case, but held out hope presidential confidant Karl Rove might escape charges for the time being.

Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald signaled Thursday he might simply keep Rove under investigation, according to a person familiar with recent developments in the case who requested anonymity because of its sensitivity. That would spare Rove bad news Friday when the grand jury that has heard the case for two years is set to expire.

Solomon and Yost note that Dick Cheney and Scooter were up and about unusually early today. The Dick arrived at the White House at 6:25 this morning, and Scooter was seen leaving his home at 6:15.

Also via Josh, the Wall Street Journal reports (subscription required, and I don’t have one),

Karl Rove, President Bush’s chief political adviser and deputy White House chief of staff, was informed yesterday evening that he may not be charged today but remains in legal jeopardy, according to a person briefed on the matter. Mr. Fitzgerald, who meets with jurors this morning, has zeroed in on potential wrongdoing by I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, and is likely to charge Mr. Libby at least with making false statements. The testimony of reporters who have been witnesses in the case has contradicted Mr. Libby’s public statements.

Mr. Fitzgerald appeared still to be pondering whether to charge Mr. Rove and has notified the political strategist that he remains under investigation.

Josh speculates that there are some negotiations going on between Fitzgerald and Rove. I speculate that perhaps these ongoing negotiations are delaying a Rove indictment, not ongoing investigation. VandeHei and Leonnig at WaPo write that “two legal sources” say Fitzgerald really does not want to empanel a new grand jury and would prefer to wrap the case up today.

Scootin’ Scooter?

Aaron Brown just announced on CNN that, according to the New York Times, Scooter Libby will be indicted tomorrow. Karl Rove, he said, will remain under investigation.

I scooted over to the New York Times web site. David Johnston and Richard Stevenson report:

Associates of I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, expected an indictment on Friday charging him with making false statements to the grand jury in the C.I.A. leak inquiry, lawyers in the case said Thursday.

Karl Rove, President Bush’s senior adviser and deputy chief of staff, will not be charged on Friday, but will remain under investigation, people briefed officially about the case said. As a result, they said, the special counsel in the case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, was likely to extend the term of the federal grand jury beyond its scheduled expiration on Friday.

That sounds to me as if the reporters were not absolutely certain. And I thought this grand jury’s term could not be extended, but that Fitzpatrick would have to round up a new grand jury if he needs one.

The reporters continue,

Mr. Fitzgerald’s preparations for a Friday announcement were shrouded in secrecy, but advanced amid a flurry of behind-the-scenes discussions that left open the possibility of last-minute surprises. As the clock ticked down on the grand jury, people involved in the case did not rule out the disclosure of previously unknown aspects of the case.

Jim VandeHei and Carol D. Leonnig at the Washington Post write that Libby and Rove have both assembled legal teams.

The White House, district court officials and two possible targets of the CIA leak investigation were making preparations yesterday for the possible announcement of indictments by special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald today, according to several sources familiar with the investigation.

Two sources said I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, was shopping for a white-collar criminal lawyer and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove began assembling a public relations team in the event they are indicted.

Now David Gergen is speaking to Aaron Brown and saying that it sounds as if Rove isn’t off the hook, and that the investigation will continue to distract him. Fitzpatrick will likely come under increased criticism for dragging things out if he keeps Rove under investigation, Gergen says.

: John Aravosis at AMERICAblog writes,

If this is true, there will be one major indictment tomorrow, of Libby. But it looks like Fitzgerald won’t be finished. All week, we’ve been reading that the White House was just waiting for this to come to a conclusion so they could finally get their act together and get back to work. But if the Times is right, there isn’t a conclusion yet for Karl, by any means. Another grand jury looking even harder at Karl, that means Fitzgerald has his teeth into Karl and isn’t letting go (it also means we don’t have to update our Treason’s Greeting holiday cards – phew!). Just as importantly, Libby will be under indictment and Lord only knows what Fitzgerald is going to uncover about Cheney and the White House’s role in lying to the country about going to war in Iraq etc.