Joe Conason's Journal

Conservative columnist gets duped by a spoof. Don't cry for Cynthia McKinney. Plus: This fall's most important book.

Published August 23, 2002 3:33PM (EDT)

Perkins gets the blahs
"Do you want our government run by corporations? Vote Democratic in November. That's the text of the latest attack ad rolled out by the party of Terry McAuliffe. The Democratic National Committee chairman plans to air them in selected battleground states and congressional districts throughout the country." So claimed conservative columnist Joseph Perkins in an Aug. 16 column that insisted Democrats are as culpable as Republicans for the corporate crime wave. He really doesn't know what he's talking about, beginning with the fact that there is no such DNC ad, except in his fevered mind. What Perkins quotes is actually the text of the clever online "ad" blurbed here a couple of weeks ago. (Meanwhile, the creative types at have added two new ads to their "Money" series on the deficit and offshore tax havens that prove McAuliffe should hire them.) So far no word on whether Perkins, obviously well-trained as an editorialist for the Wall Street Journal, will retract his bizarre error.

McKinney and the Jews
While many readers enjoyed the defeat of Bob Barr, some took issue with my reference to his fellow defeated Georgia incumbent, Cynthia McKinney. "I was saddened to see you take satisfaction in McKinney's defeat," wrote one. "I was troubled by the comment you made about Cynthia McKinney. I do not know enough about her views or her positions (however, I do hear she is a progressive, which means she was one of a handful of progressives left in our government). However, the real issue with McKinney, as it was with Earl Hilliard in Alabama, was that their opponents were heavily financed by money coming from Jewish organizations outside the state and the funding was motivated by these groups' beliefs that these two black candidates had supposedly anti-Israel views. As a Jew, I was horrified that Jewish groups would partake in such dirty politics."

Others insisted that the White House had plotted against McKinney for her outspoken opposition to Bush policies.

Actually, I think the White House may miss McKinney, whose verbal gaffes and foolish initiatives they found so useful in discrediting opposition to the president. But there is also evidence that Republicans in Georgia think her defeat improves their statewide prospects. The latest newsletter sent out by, a group of Georgia GOP activists, hails the ruin of the McKinney "machine" -- and looks forward to the defeat of her father William in a state senate primary runoff on Sept. 10. It's hard to disagree with the latter sentiment: Sen. McKinney is the idiot whose remarks about "Jews" made his daughter's defeat so ignominious. The Jewish organizations that opposed Cynthia McKinney did nothing illegal or "dirty" -- and neither did the Arab and Muslim groups that backed her.

This fall's most important book
I'll have more to say about this next week, but for now let me simply recommend "The Emerging Democratic Majority," by John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira. For anyone interested in the future of progressive politics in this country, it is essential (and fascinating).
[2:38 p.m. PDT, August 23, 2002]

But not without our allies
This morning's CNN/USAToday poll reveals why the proponents of immediate, unilateral war on Iraq feel they must demonize dissent and close off debate. (Also check out this thoughtful column by David Ignatius in the Washington Post.) The ultra-hawks have good reason to fear open discussion of the risks of their plan for violent "regime change." Gallup's survey shows that support for sending troops to Iraq is now down to 53 percent from a high of 74 percent last November. This despite the fact that nearly every respondent believes that Saddam has or is trying to develop weapons of mass destruction and might try to use them against us. What the vast majority want is for the United States to deal with the Iraqi threat in cooperation with our allies. In fact, only 20 percent of those who answered the CNN/USA Today survey favor an invasion without support from at least "some" U.S. allies. (Incidentally, the same poll also found that Bush's approval rating has dropped to 65 percent -- "still healthy but is at its lowest level since before Sept. 11.

Phony flips sink ships
Rigging a war-game -- as a retired three-star Marine general has accused the Pentagon of doing -- can be very dangerous, and not only to officers' morale. An astute reader provided this link to a 1990 essay in Air Force Journal, which mentions the perils of rigged war-gaming and discusses a "classic example of this pitfall." When the Japanese Imperial Navy wargamed the Battle of Midway, the chief umpire, Admiral Ugaki, overturned the results of a surprise attack by the "American commander" that had sunk two of the Emperor's aircraft carriers, and returned them to the game. Our real surprise attack later sank all four Japanese carriers. (The recent U.S. exercise in Virginia was reportedly marred by a decision to "refloat" the entire American fleet in the Persian Gulf, after the "enemy" commander sank it with surprise maneuvers.)

Veterans and chickenhawks
Speaking of combat, rhetorical and real, I frequently receive mail from American veterans. Many are political progressives and moderates infuriated by presumptuous right-wingers (including a certain author currently billing herself as America's spokeswoman) who claim an exclusive franchise on the flag, patriotism, and martial virtue. A compelling example arrived yesterday from a reader named Edward:

"I just read the part of the Coulter interview where she was advocating killing [John] Walker [Lindh] to intimidate the liberals...I consider myself liberal and find it interesting that Coulter would think of me as a traitor. I am a middle-aged baby boomer and (unlike DeLay, George W., Cheney, Gingrich, Phil Gramm, Quayle, ad infinitum) I volunteered for the Marines during the Viet Nam war. I spent my tour in Viet Nam as as 0311 rifleman (grunt) and was even there for the Tet Offensive. It would seem my past actions as a combat Marine cut no ice with Coulter who would still regard me as little better than a traitor."

I also heard from Dennis, another Vietnam vet, about the White House decision to withhold certain funds appropriated by Congress:

"President Bush has been rather shortsighted in holding up the Homeland Security bill. Embedded in the bill is the $275 million it will take to fund [Veterans Administration] health care through Sept. 30. In addition, he is trying to cut the VA health care for Fiscal Year 2003 by more than $2 billion. These funds will be needed more than ever if he commits our troops to invading Iraq, since the "Fourth Mission" of the VA is to provide backup emergency medical care to the nation in the event of a national emergency. Let's urge Bush to release the VA funds before the shortfall hurts the very people who have bravely answered our country's call..."
[8:38 a.m. PDT, August 23, 2002]

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