And so it begins
President Bush essentially launched his reelection campaign last night in a speech to Republican governors, showing his hand on how he'll paint himself and his Democratic opponent in the general election. Bush's strategy seems to be: I'm steady and optimistic (He's a war president, remember, who wants to take us to Mars.) Democrats, on the other hand, are uncertain in the face of danger, and have no solutions, only anger. (They'll raise your taxes, to boot.) The New York Times says the speech "was billed by Mr. Bush's campaign as the start of a more aggressive phase of the race after months in which the president, to the growing consternation of some in his party, had remained largely on the sidelines."
The president mocked John Kerry, but didn't name him. The Democratic field, Bush said, is "for tax cuts and against them. For Nafta and against Nafta. For the Patriot Act and against the Patriot Act. In favor of liberating Iraq and opposed to it. And that's just one senator from Massachusetts." Recycling a Bush attack line from the days when Howard Dean was Democratic front-runner, the president said: "Our opponents have not offered much in the way of strategies to win the war, or policies to expand our economy," he said. "So far, all we hear is a lot of old bitterness and partisan anger. Anger is not an agenda for the future of America."
John Kerry launched a pre-emptive attack on the president last night, rebutting Bush's speech to GOP governors before he delivered it. The Washington Post runs a take. "I think George Bush is on the run, and I think he's on the run because he doesn't have a record to run on," Kerry said on the campaign trail in New York. "Kerry, who campaigned in New York's Harlem and later in Queens, said that under Bush, the nation has lost 3 million jobs, several million more Americans have lost health insurance, and the country is no safer from terrorist threats. 'That's the truth of what is happening,' he said. 'Tonight, you'll hear words. Today, Americans are living the truth.'"
Crime watch at Halliburton
The Financial Times reports that the Pentagon has launched a criminal investigation into fraud allegations against Kellogg Brown & Root, a Halliburton subsidiary, for its Iraq contract, including charges that the company overcharged for fuel shipments. Halliburton, of course, is the oil services giant formerly run by Dick Cheney and under all sorts of fire recently for alleged misdeeds. Along with the fuel delivery overcharge allegations, the company recently admitted that employees accepted kickbacks from a Kuwaiti subcontractor and gave the government a refund for apparently overcharging for military meals. (Separately, adding to Halliburton and Cheney's problems are probes into possible bribes paid to Nigerian officials.)
The FT says: "The Pentagon probe comes as Halliburton tries to repair its corporate image, which has been tarnished by allegations of irregularities in Iraq contracts. It recently launched a television advertising campaign in which David Lesar, chief executive, says Halliburton was awarded contracts in Iraq because of 'what' and not 'who' it knows. Halliburton on Monday said it had not been informed about the decision to open an investigation. 'If it is true, this is a normal, routine step in any kind of high-profile inquiry,' said Wendy Hall, Halliburton spokeswoman. 'In the current political environment, it is to be expected.'"
Progressives are debating what Ralph Nader's candidacy will mean in 2004. Nader concedes he may have problems getting enough signatures to make it on the ballot in many states. Many observers think he won't even get the 2.7 percent of the vote he managed in 2000. And Nader himself rejects the idea that he's a spoiler in any race. Democrats aren't voting for him, he says, Republicans and Independents will. So, does Ralph's run matter? (The Times today shows how, based on voter surveys from 2000, it is safe to assume that Nader cost Gore states that Bush narrowly won, like Florida and New Hampshire, which cost Gore the race.)
And, what does it say about Nader that he's running again? Writers on the left are still hashing this all out. On AlterNet, Paul Loeb says Nader's argument that he has a "right to run" reverses the course of a long career of teaching that actions have consequences. "Now, he's taking the opposite tack, fixating on his own absolute right to do whatever he chooses, while branding those who've argued against his running as contemptuous censors, who 'want to block the American people from having more choices and voices.' This argument would seem familiar coming from an Exxon executive. Coming from Ralph Nader, it marks a fundamental shift from an ethic of responsibility to one of damn the consequences, no matter how much populist precedent he tries to dress it up with," Loeb says.
On TomPaine.com Micah Sifry says Nader is running from reality. Nader's claim to be fighting for third parties doesn't quite wash, he'll probably end up hampering the fight for open debates with partisan bickering, and he won't likely move any disaffected Republicans away from Bush, Sifry says. "There's more to be said about how Nader hasn't even fulfilled the promises he made in 2000 to keep building an independent political movement, how he disappeared from sight during the Florida recount, and how he treated the Green Party. But on this first reaction to his announcement, I'm left with one last irony to observe. At the end of the day, Nader contradicts himself. 'We need more civic and political energies inside the campaign,' he says, meaning more candidacies. But when it comes to listening to the civic and political voices of others, he stands alone."