Joe Conason’s Journal

A Whitewater blowhard's tough road. Plus: A GOP TV ad's manufactured outrage.

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Leach’s Mena streak
The headline above today’s front-page Times feature on Iowa Rep. Jim Leach describes him as a “moderate.” While that reflects his voting record, the complaint that he “enables” right-wing Republicans rings true. During the Clinton era, Leach turned into Newt Gingrich’s abject Igor, happy to undertake the dirtiest work against the speaker’s enemies in the White House. The normally soft-spoken Leach was among the loudest Whitewater blowhards in the House. Finding nothing there, he proceeded to abuse his House Banking Committee chairmanship to open a bogus probe of the Mena airport cocaine-smuggling hoax, as Murray Waas reported in Salon. He did so at Gingrich’s behest, with the connivance of unsavory figures from Richard Mellon Scaife’s Arkansas Project. Despite heavy-breathing press leaks designed to smear Bill Clinton, Leach and his staff spent three years (and many thousands of staff hours in the House and other agencies, including the CIA) without producing a hearing or even a final written report. A Leach spokesman did eventually admit that there was no evidence whatsoever against Clinton. One of those famously frugal, independent-minded Iowans ought to ask the congressman why he spent millions of taxpayer dollars on such poisonously partisan frivolity.

Senior moment mystery
Still in Iowa, the nasty Republican campaign to unseat Sen. Tom Harkin has taken a bizarre turn that deserves national press attention. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has been running a TV commercial that shows an elderly woman voicing her dismay that the Democrat betrayed her with his votes to tax Social Security. Now this same lady — or someone who looks exactly like her — has showed up in a different NRSC ad. The second ad, however, finds her in South Dakota, sitting in a coffee shop next to an elderly man while he complains about Sen. Tim Johnson’s votes on Social Security.



Is that angry guy in the coffee shop her husband? Or are they both just actors, pretending to be local citizens? For that matter, is the coffee shop really in South Dakota, or somewhere else? I only ask because the sad-eyed woman reciting her sob story in the anti-Harkin ad is most definitely an actor, as a Des Moines Register columnist revealed yesterday. (And the vote she’s complaining about took place in 1983!) If the NRSC and its consultants were capable of shame, they would be mortified by this exposure. Of course if they were capable of shame, they wouldn’t try to bamboozle the good people of Iowa with such blatant frauds, would they?
[1:53 p.m. PDT, Sept. 16, 2002]

“If diplomacy fails”
Did Gen. Rove plan all along to roll out the Iraqi threat as an election distraction, or did the Democrats blunder massively by demanding a war debate? Dana Milbank discusses, while glancing toward evidence that Rove and his boss are indeed wagging the dog. Such “reprehensible” conduct would directly contradict the brief, blunt, solemn exposition of the president’s views on U.S. military intervention abroad in his campaign bio, “A Charge to Keep.” The relevant passage is on Page 55, following an incomplete account of his years in the Texas Air National Guard.

“I also learned the lesson of Vietnam. Our nation should be slow to engage troops. But when we do so, we must do so with ferocity. We must never go into a conflict unless we go in committed to win. We can never again ask the military to fight a political war. If America’s strategic interests are at stake, if diplomacy fails, if no other option will accomplish the objective, the Commander in Chief must define the mission and allow the military to achieve it.”

Somewhat later, he does mention “firmness with regimes like Iraq and North Korea.” And he explains, “Ours should not be the paternalistic leadership of an arrogant big power, but the inviting and welcoming leadership of a great and noble nation.”

I know he didn’t really write his book — politicians rarely do — but did he read it?

Meanwhile, today’s Times reports that the reluctant Saudis will acquiesce in an assault on Iraq — but only if it is sanctioned by the U.N. Now there’s a lesson for our “muscular” armchair warriors. Multilateral engagement is not just morally superior to unilateral arrogance; it works better, too. They seem unlikely to learn, especially if they nurture the fantasies explored in a Scottish newspaper’s alarming Sunday exposé of Bill Kristol’s Project for a New American Century. The Glasgow paper describes a September 2000 report prepared for the group, titled “Rebuilding America’s Defense: Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century,” as “a secret blueprint for U.S. global domination.” A report bearing the same title on the PNAC Web site can be downloaded here.

Swede victory
Those smart, compassionate Swedes yesterday cut off the rightward trend in recent European elections, returning the Social Democratic coalition to power with significantly more seats than they got four years ago. Special note to the Wall Street Journal editorial page and its acolytes: The party pushing tax cuts, the Moderates, lost more seats than any of the other six parties in this election — no doubt because while Sweden still has the highest taxes of any nation in Europe, it is enjoying strong economic growth, negligible inflation and low unemployment (and also remains in the world’s top 10 in both living standards and human development, according to the editors of the Economist).
[11:15 a.m. PDT, Sept. 16, 2002]

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