Joe Conason's Journal

Kerry outshines Lieberman at a Manhattan "New Democrat" beauty pageant. Plus: Can this White House only dish it out?

By Salon Staff
Published July 29, 2002 3:40PM (EDT)

Manhattan beauty contest
The Democratic Leadership Council, known by their brand name as "New Democrats," are holding an annual meeting/presidential beauty contest at a Manhattan hotel. I missed Tom Daschles speech but heard Joe Lieberman and John Kerry. Lieberman offered a rather safe, somewhat clichid homily about cracking down on corporate crime while remaining "pro-business," and ended with an appeal to faith. He evidently believes that if the corporate crooks had prayed more they would have stolen less. For some reason he finds such displays of piety irresistible.

Kerry was more subdued in style but bolder in substance. He insisted that Democrats must not retreat from leadership on military and international policy because the Republican administration is so mediocre. He reiterated his earlier criticism of the operations in Afghanistan, which allowed al-Qaida leaders to escape from Tora Bora; then he outlined a critique of Bushs unilateralist approach, from Iraq to Russia to the Middle East to North Korea. And finally he tied the foreign policy problems that now face the United States to a new search for renewable energy sources. As a decorated veteran Kerry can speak this way without fear, unlike so many politicians in either party; he is bidding to become the Democrats McCain. He also had the best line of the morning: "This administration remains trapped in old thinking , stuck in an ideological cement of their own mixing." Tuesdays contestants: John Edwards and Dick Gephardt.

Clinton whacks Bush
Heres some advice for the Bush White House, where theyre whining today about Bill Clintons weekend remarks regarding Republicans and corporate criminality: If they dont want to hear the former president talking about them, they should stop talking about him. For weeks theyve been telling everyone that the proximate cause of economic upheaval is behind Clintons zipper. Now they get upset when he replies that the Republicans have always been soft on corporate malfeasance (or misfeasance, or whatever Bush called it), and defends his own administrations record. Karl Roves minions have been trashing their Democratic predecessors from the day they stepped into the White House. They shouldnt dish it out if they cant take it.

Ive got (lots of) mail
My ambitious policy of trying to answer nearly all email messages is already inoperative. The volume of correspondence is rising so rapidly that I cant even attempt to answer most of them any more. That doesnt mean I wont read and appreciate them, including those that disagree, scold or even advise me to "give up" or "shut up." Its especially flattering that several Freepers took the trouble to write. For many of them, completing a coherent sentence is no small challenge.

The mail also called my attention to errors in this space. The most glaring was my retroactive promotion of Brad DeLong. Graciously and modestly, he writes to inform me that he was "never Bob Rubin's deputy, either at the National Economic Council or at the Treasury," and goes on to explain that he worked as a Deputy Assistant Secretary  one of 30 or so -- when Larry Summers became Treasury Secretary after Rubin left. DeLongs boss was Alicia Munnell, the Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy. I ought to have picked all this up from his excellent website, and for that my apologies.

Brent Mitchell was the first of several readers who wrote to correct my identification of Haley Barbour as the campaign manager for Chip Pickering, the largest congressional recipient of WorldCom cash. Theyre right, as a call to Pickerings headquarters proved. A Gannett story on June 28 quoted superlobbyist Haley as the campaign manager, but its actually Haleys cousin Henry (not to be confused with William Barbour, another of Haleys cousins who also happens to be the judge who buried the WorldCom shareholder lawsuit.) Relying on clips at deadline is a good way to fill space with mistakes.
[Posted: 2:08 p.m. PDT, July 29, 2002]

Why Gore should run
One possible pleasure of the 2004 presidential primaries would be watching the swift elimination of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who represents the insurance industry in Washington and infrequently visits his home state. The sanctimonious senator attacks Al Gore -- a man deserving rebuke because he so foolishly overestimated Lieberman's talent and appeal -- for behaving too much like a real Democrat in 2000. He must not have read the polls after Gore's populist convention speech, which kicked their numbers upward. It's hard to remember anything Lieberman said or did that helped as much, and easy to recall much he did and said that was useless. And if Gore runs again, Lieberman might have to honor his pledge not to run against the former vice president.

It's Up to Daschle
In a little-noticed vote last Wednesday evening, the House voted to authorize an independent investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks -- a front-page story relegated to inside pages in most major newspapers except USA Today. A group of 35 Republicans, mostly from the Northeast, helped to resurrect an issue that Bush and Cheney have tried to bury for months. Soon we'll see whether Daschle and the Senate Democratic leadership have the courage to get this done, or whether they'll let Dianne Feinstein, John Edwards, Evan Bayh and the assorted bipartisan adornments of the Senate Intelligence Committee continue to delay this essential legislation. This vote signaled Bush's increasing alienation from his own party's congressional caucus, whose defectors almost cost him the trade bill and are challenging his Miami-style Cuba policy.

Horton huckster goes West, again
An inauspicious aura of dij` vu surrounds Bill Simon Jr. His newest consultant Ed Rollins has brought adman Larry McCarthy with him into Simon's fizzling campaign for governor of California. This is the same duo that spent unprecedented millions failing to elect Michael Huffington to the U.S. Senate (a tale the likable Rollins tells amusingly in his memoir). McCarthy is best known for the creation of the racially polarizing Willie Horton ad, a historic low point in American political advertising that featured the terrifying visage of an African-American murderer-rapist. In "Running on Race," Jeremy D. Mayer's exhaustive and scrupulously nonpartisan account of racial politics in presidential campaigns since 1960, the Georgetown political scientist calls the Horton ad "truly odious" and the Republican alibi that it wasn't about race "laughable." (I must digress, however, to say that I enjoyed McCarthy's description of his creative process when he later tried to defend his trashy masterpiece: "If [Willie Horton] had looked like Ted Bundy, I probably wouldn't have used his picture, because [Bundy] looks perfectly normal -- like a YR [Young Republican]." Actually, I've seen plenty of Young Republicans who looked more like John Wayne Gacy. )

Several years after the Horton flap, Rollins had to wave goodbye to McCarthy when he resigned from Christie Whitman's first race for governor, after black ministers in New Jersey protested the adman's hiring. Ed had assumed that the Horton disgrace was "old hat." It wasn't. So far, only the Washington Times has noticed McCarthy's presence in the Simon camp.
[Posted: 9 a.m. PDT, July 29, 2002]

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