Thursday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
February 19, 2004 7:35PM (UTC)

Bush losing popularity
President Bush's poll ratings on the issues of honesty and trustworthiness are at the lowest of his presidency, the USA Today reports. In general, "Bush's slip coincides with growing complaints about slow job growth, accusations that he shirked his National Guard duty in the 1970s, failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and stalled efforts to establish democracy there."

Plus, if the election were held today, either John Kerry or John Edwards would beat Bush. One week ago, the matchup would have resulted in a tie. In early January, Bush would have walloped any democrat in the race. It's early in the campaign, of course. Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution, told the paper it is too early to consider the new numbers a forecast of the Nov. 2 election. "The economy and Iraq are unpredictable factors, and the campaign has yet to take shape, he said. 'To say that Bush has not yet begun to fight is an understatement for a man who is sitting on $100 million,' Hess said."

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Big ruling on 527s
The Federal Election Commission ruled that 527s, advocacy groups designed to work around fund-raising restrictions in campaign finance law, can continue to spend unlimited contributions for television commercials and other communications, though they face new restrictive rules. The New York Times article on the ruling says it "could have profound effects on the 2004 election by helping Democrats, who have been much more aggressive than Republicans in creating these committees to help the party compete with the Republicans' overall 2-to-1 fund-raising advantage. None of this money winds up in the candidates' hands but it can be used to raise issues and attack or promote candidates by name." The FEC considered the state of 527s because Republicans want the commission to prevent soft money contributions by the committees. Curbing soft-money spending would help the GOP because Republicans far outraise Democrats in "hard money."

"Some Republicans objected on free-speech grounds to their party's own drive to prohibit 527's from using soft money. In fact, Bradley Smith, a Republican who is chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said he does not understand the Republican drive to further regulate 527's. 'I'm disappointed that so many people in the party hierarchy feel that this is important,' said Mr. Smith, who voted against Wednesday's ruling. 'It comes at the cost of good law.'"

The junk science administration
More than 60 leading scientists, including a dozen Nobel laureates, have accused the Bush administration of frequently suppressing or distorting scientific analysis from federal agencies when it disagrees with administration policies, the Los Angeles Times reports. "When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions," the scientists said in a statement. The scientists say the Bush administration distorts science by putting people with conflicts of interest into official positions, censoring and suppressing reports by its own scientists and failing to seek independent advice.

The U.S. presidential campaign in Iraq
The New York Times says diplomats and some Bush administration officials are starting to worry that the June 30 deadline to return sovereignty in Iraq is a function of the president's reelection ambitions more than what's good for Iraq. "Many in the administration say that while they have no proof that the urgency to install a government is politically motivated, it feels to them like part of a White House plan to permit President Bush to run for re-election while taking credit for establishing self-rule in Iraq. 'I can make all kinds of arguments about why we need to establish democracy in Iraq on an urgent basis,' said another administration official. 'But when you hear from on high that this is what we must do, and there can be no questioning of it, it sounds like politics.'"

A movement to stop Ralph
The Hartford Courant looks at the early and intense adversaries to a Ralph Nader third-party candidacy in 2004, as the consumer advocate is reportedly in the final days of deciding whether to run this time. "Fairly, or not - and Nader adamantly says not - many of Nader's former supporters and other liberal voters blame him for President Bush's slim electoral victory over Vice President Al Gore. Their contention is that if Nader voters in either Florida or New Hampshire had instead cast their votes for Gore, the country would now be led by President Gore. 'There's been a real sea change in attitudes this year,' said Justin Martin, whose 2002 book 'Nader' is being released in paperback. 'Given the stakes in this year's election, Democrats now realize the value of a pragmatic vote.'"

"Angry Democrats are not the only voters Nader will have to worry about if he chooses to run. Many of Nader's ideological kin are privately fretting about another go, since they don't want to live through another Nader backlash. Public Citizen is a Washington-based consumer advocacy group that Nader founded and, though he has not been on its board since 1980, he is often associated with it. President Joan Claybrook said that after the 2000 election, Public Citizen lost 20 percent of its membership and about $1 million in financial support. What they got instead, she said, were thousands of angry letters."

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Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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