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Saturday, September 27, 2003

Back at the beginning of August, I noted that a group had formed a presidential exploratory committee for the imprisoned former Ohio congressman James Traficant. A few days ago, they decided to give up the effort due to lack of support. They had hoped to raise the $100,000 needed to qualify for federal matching funds by October 1, but they aren't saying now how close they came.
--Posted at 12:58 PM | link

Republicans are making a lot out of a comment that Wesley Clark allegedly made about his decision to join the Democratic party. Newsweek's Howard Fineman wrote the following in a recent article:

After Al Qaeda attacked America, retired Gen. Wes Clark thought the Bush administration would invite him to join its team. After all, he’d been NATO commander, he knew how to build military coalitions and the investment firm he now worked for had strong Bush ties. But when GOP friends inquired, they were told: forget it.

Word was that Karl Rove, the president’s political mastermind, had blocked the idea. Clark was furious. Last January, at a conference in Switzerland, he happened to chat with two prominent Republicans, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and Marc Holtzman, now president of the University of Denver. “I would have been a Republican,” Clark told them, “if Karl Rove had returned my phone calls.” Soon thereafter, in fact, Clark quit his day job and began seriously planning to enter the presidential race—as a Democrat. Messaging NEWSWEEK by BlackBerry, Clark late last week insisted the remark was a “humorous tweak.” The two others said it was anything but. “He went into detail about his grievances,” Holtzman said. “Clark wasn’t joking. We were really shocked.”

Republicans have decided to accept Owens' and Holtzman's version of the story--that Clark was serious--instead of Clark's version that it was a "humorous tweak." Here's Rush Limbaugh's take on it:

This is Clark's attempt to say all these stupid things he's said were just jokes, just playing around, but this is intellectual vacancy. Can we be honest here? We're tip-toeing around the issue here. Politics requires a certain mind-set, a certain experience. This guy just doesn't have it. Maybe he's cut out for something else, but I don't know what it is. What's a good job for people who equivocate? Karl Rove doesn't return your phone calls so you become a Democrat? So much for core beliefs, my friends.

Limbaugh goes on to cite a Weekly Standard article, which states the following:

WHEN WILL Wesley Clark stop telling tall tales? In the current issue of Newsweek, Howard Fineman reports Clark told Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and University of Denver president Mark Holtzman that "I would have been a Republican if Karl Rove had returned my phone calls."

Unfortunately for Clark, the White House has logged every incoming phone call since the beginning of the Bush administration in January 2001. At the request of THE DAILY STANDARD, White House staffers went through the logs to check whether Clark had ever called White House political adviser Karl Rove. The general hadn't. What's more, Rove says he doesn't remember ever talking to Clark, either.

Thus, the conclusion we're supposed to draw is that Clark's "Karl Rove" comment simultaneously displays his absence of political conviction, and proves that he's a liar. It seems that Limbaugh and the others who are promoting this story are missing a more obvious conclusion: The comment was in fact a "humorous tweak," as Clark said it was.

If Clark did in fact call Rove, and joined the Democratic party in disgust after Rove didn't return his calls, then the Weekly Standard's article is wrong to call Clark a liar. If Clark didn't call Rove, then the alleged phone calls can't support the conclusion that Clark joined the Democratic party out of spite. In short, Republicans are trying use the same issue to make two mutually exclusive accusations.

Of course, if Clark was joking when he made the Karl Rove comment, then both accusations are groundless. Owens and Holtzman claim that he wasn't joking in the Newsweek article, but then again they are high-ranking Republicans who presumably would want to discredit a strong Democratic candidate. It's Clark's version of the story against theirs. The Weekly Standard's article seems to back up Clark's version of the story. And honestly, the statement certainly sounds like a joke, in my opinion. How many people, let alone high-profile political figures, would say that they chose their party based on who returned their phone calls--and mean it? It's hard for me to imagine Clark saying this in a serious context.

I'm not saying that Clark is hereby absolved of all charges regarding lack of political conviction or opportunism. Nor am I saying that his comment definitely was a joke. All I'm saying is that the accusations drawn from the Newsweek and Weekly Standard articles don't support each other--and in fact contradict each other. It isn't logically consistent for Limbaugh and other Republicans to use the stories together as a double-blow against Clark. If I'm overlooking some other way of reconciling the two articles, feel free to email me.

UPDATE: I shouldn't have implied that Republicans are the only ones using the "Karl Rove" comment against Clark. Doug Ireland, a writer for LA Weekly and certainly no Republican, uses the story in a column attacking Clark, calling it "the explanation" for Clark's decision to become a Democrat. He doesn't mention the Weekly Standard article, however.
--Posted at 12:14 PM | link

Clark defends his praise of the Bush administration at a 2001 fundraiser, which has drawn some criticism from the other Democratic candidates, especially Joe Lieberman, and has caused Republicans to assert that Clark is just an opportunistic phony.

Clark fired back, saying that when it came time to pick a political party, "I was going to be either a very, very lonely Republican or I was going to be a very happy Democrat. ... I'm a new Democrat, and you know what, I'm going to bring a lot of other new Democrats into the party."

Clark's comments could hurt him more among some Democrats in the primaries, but I doubt that the effect will be too severe. Many Democrats have supported Dean despite his moderate stances on some issues, and they'll probably be willing to overlook Clark's mixed political past if they think he's a potential winner. If Clark makes it to the general election, his pro-Bush comments might be emphasized by Republicans and Greens to cause defections to the Green party. But if Clark says enough of the right things between now and the general election, his statements to the Arkansas GOP will be a distant memory.

TNR's Spencer Ackerman has more on Clark's response to his political past.
--Posted at 11:37 AM | link

Friday, September 26, 2003

Wesley Clark has a book coming out next month, titled "Winning Modern Wars. Iraq, Terrorism and the American Empire." In it, he argues that the war against Iraq was a distraction from the more important war against al-Qaeda. Although the war itself was tactically brilliant, he says, it was also strategically flawed:

"Needless risks were taken with the force structure; there was inadequate planning for the postconflict phase; and vital international support was carelessly disregarded.

"It has thus far been a perfect example of dominating an enemy force but failing to secure the victory."

Most of this is familiar to those who have been paying attention to Clark's statements in recent months. Clark also claims, however, that he learned in November 2001 from a senior military officer that Iraq was only the start of a much larger campaign against six other nations. According to this officer, Clark says, the Bush administration also planned (or perhaps still plans) to attack Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan after Iraq.
--Posted at 11:39 AM | link

The Kennedy family appears to be split between different Democratic candidates. Ted Kennedy will be campaigning for fellow Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, while his son, Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, is endorsing Dick Gephardt. Patrick Kennedy has worked closely with Gephardt in the House.
--Posted at 11:22 AM | link

The Democrats held another debate on Thursday. Clark took some flak during and after the debate for allegedly not being a "true" Democrat. Clark praised George W. Bush in a May 2001 address at an Arkansas Republican fundraiser, and also supported presidents Nixon and Reagan, but he says that he has taken "an incredible journey" since then.

Dean also took some criticism for his alleged agreement with Republicans on some issues. Gephardt accused him of being on Newt Gingrich's side during the mid-1990's "Medicare wars," and said "I think you're just winging it" in reference to Dean's claim to be from the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.

It seems a bit odd that Dean and Clark are being criticized for being too far to the right, when their antiwar positions (especially Dean's, which is more firm and well-known than Clark's) would seem to put them to the left of those doing the criticizing. Perhaps this just reflects the usual primary trend of appealing to the party's liberal activists. Despite Dean's moderate record on many issues, he is still perceived as the most "liberal" of the mainstream candidates, and this gives him a boost among certain groups. Maybe the most "centrist" candidates like Lieberman and Gephardt want to drive home the message that all Democrats are guilty, at some time or another, of taking positions that are relatively conservative.
--Posted at 11:17 AM | link

Thursday, September 25, 2003

A new FOX News poll tells us that Bush's approval rating has dropped to the lowest point in his presidency--50 percent. His lowest rating from this poll before now was 55 percent, from before the September 11 attacks. Also, the poll shows him tying a hypothetical generic Democratic candidate (39 percent to 39 percent), compared to a 51 to 30 lead three months ago.

Pundits can argue over the meaning of these numbers for Bush's reelection, comparing them to approval ratings in past races and admonishing people not to draw any hasty conclusions. But the fact is that there are plausible conclusions other than "Bush will win in a landslide," and this wasn't true for much of his presidency.
--Posted at 6:17 PM | link

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Dick Gephardt's campaign has created a to slamming Dean for his statements on Medicare and Social Security.
--Posted at 12:13 AM | link

Monday, September 22, 2003

Clark has raised $750,000 so far in unsolicited contributions. Third-quarter fundraising reports are due on September 30, so it's inevitable that Clark's totals will be far behind much of the Democratic field when these reports are published. If he can get an impressive total out there, however--perhaps by coming in ahead of Kucinich, Sharpton, Braun, and Graham--this will create a lot of positive attention and dispel some of the fears that he has entered too late. $750,000 isn't bad for someone who has been in the race for less than a week. I don't have estimates handy, but I'd bet he's already out of last place for the quarter. Carol Moseley Braun only raised about $150,000 in Q2, after all.
--Posted at 9:20 PM | link

A new national CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll, conducted September 19-21, should make Democrats happy. Clark, Kerry, and Lieberman all tied Bush within the margin of error, and Bush had only a slight lead over Dean and Gephardt. The Associated Press is running this as a story about Clark, possibly because his lead was strongest (within the margin of error) but more likely because he is the most "exciting" candidate at the moment due to his recent entry.

Different polls show different results, however. A Newsweek poll conducted September 18-19 shows Bush in the lead against Clark, Dean, Kerry and (for some reason) Al Gore and Hillary Clinton. But even in this poll, Bush's lead over Kerry and Clark is slim.
--Posted at 9:04 PM | link

Carol Moseley Braun is an official candidate now.

This isn't really "news," because becoming an "official" candidate doesn't mean very much. But I mentioned Edwards' official announcement, so I might as well mention Braun's, especially because she's tying him in many recent national polls.

Also, I didn't notice that she picked up the endorsements of the National Organization for Women and the National Women's Political Caucus last month. This won't make or break her campaign, but it's not too shabby.
--Posted at 10:10 AM | link

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