Tuesday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
June 1, 2004 5:16PM (UTC)

Conduct unincumbent
President Bush, down in the polls and on the defensive about Iraq, looks less like an incumbent building on the advantages of office with "Morning in America" type themes than an attack dog trained on tearing down his opponent. The Boston Globe analyzes Bush's aggressively negative tone.

"The Bush strategy seems simple: Use the Republicans' fund-raising advantage to portray Kerry as a Massachusetts liberal just the way George H. W. Bush portrayed Michael Dukakis as an out-of-touch, card-carrying left-winger in 1988. But so far, this campaign has played out as Bush-Dukakis the way Dukakis must have envisioned it unfolding: Bush has seemed a little shrill and insistent, while Kerry travels the country making presidential-type addresses. He's currently on an 11-day tour discussing national security."

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"That's not to say that anyone, even the most diehard Democrats, thinks that Kerry is cruising to victory. The state-by-state numbers are only moderately encouraging, and the possibility of an event that could tip the election in Bush's favor -- a major terrorist attack, the capture of Osama bin Laden -- will be present every day until Nov. 3. But the continued closeness of the election only makes Bush's attack-dog tactics seem more out of proportion for an incumbent seeking reelection. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton seized the initiative in their reelection runs by portraying their administrations in gauzy, upbeat themes, conveyed in 30-second spots that played like Viagra ads."

On Monday in a similar piece, the Washington Post reported on the unprecedented negativity and misleading nature of the Bush ad campaign. The Post wrote: "Scholars and political strategists say the ferocious Bush assault on Kerry this spring has been extraordinary, both for the volume of attacks and for the liberties the president and his campaign have taken with the facts. Though stretching the truth is hardly new in a political campaign, they say the volume of negative charges is unprecedented -- both in speeches and in advertising. Three-quarters of the ads aired by Bush's campaign have been attacks on Kerry. Bush so far has aired 49,050 negative ads in the top 100 markets, or 75 percent of his advertising. Kerry has run 13,336 negative ads -- or 27 percent of his total. The figures were compiled by The Washington Post using data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group of the top 100 U.S. markets. Both campaigns said the figures are accurate."

Bush to wage ideological campaign
Another sign of desperation from the Bush-Cheney '04 team: They're determined to portray the election as a choice between conservatism and liberalism in an effort to motivate the right-wing base. The Washington Times reports on the Bush campaign's plan to run an ideological campaign.

"'Conservatives have for a generation yearned for an election in which there would be a very clear choice on the issues and a strong focus on grass roots,' said Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman. 'This election will represent a clear choice, an ideological choice on the issues. And this campaign is totally committed to grass roots. So if you're a conservative Republican,' he added, 'this campaign is doing what you wanted.'"

" ... The Bush campaign's effort to play up the ideological differences between the president and the Massachusetts senator comes at a time when the president's job-approval ratings are at record lows."

Kerry's ABB strategy?
Newsweek takes a look at the theory that John Kerry's campaign is banking less on his strengths as a candidate than on the incompetence and inadequacy of George W. Bush.

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"At Kerry headquarters in Washington, no one's calling it the 'sock puppet' theory, but it's pretty much the one they are operating on. The election, in their view, doesn't turn on Kerry's legislative victories (in 20 years in the Senate, they are few) or on his grand new ideas (his foreign policy, judging from his advisers, would be a Clinton Restoration). Rather, his handlers think, the race is about being a minimally acceptable alternative and in the right position to capitalize on the president's weakness."

"Indeed, Kerry last week inched ahead in the battleground states -- less because of his own 'bio' spot (though Republicans admit it's pretty good) than because of six weeks of bleak news from Iraq. 'I don't hear very much passion in Kerry's campaign,' says Joe Trippi, who managed Dr. Howard Dean out of obscurity. 'But Kerry won the primaries by benefiting from the other guy's collapse, and he may do it again.'"

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Judith Miller's "bottomless ambition"
The New York Times may have gone easy on newsroom diva Judith Miller in its mea culpa over the paper's breathless -- and faulty -- pre-war coverage, but New York magazine isn't being so kind. In an unflattering profile that also condemns former Times editor Howell Raines for enabling Miller, writer Franklin Foer describes Miller as having "seemingly bottomless ambition" who walked all over her colleagues -- many of whom spoke anonymously and uncharitably about Miller for this piece.

Foer writes: "The editors note was correct: The Judy Miller problem is complicated. That is, the very qualities that endeared Miller to her editors at the New York Timesher ambition, her aggressiveness, her cultivation of sources by any means necessary, her hunger to be firstwere the same ones that allowed her to get the WMD story so wrong."

"Miller is a star, a diva. She wrote big stories, won big prizes. Long before her WMD articles ran, Miller had become a newsroom legendand for reasons that had little to do with the stories that appeared beneath her byline. With her seemingly bottomless ambitiona pair of big feet that would stomp on colleagues in her way and even crunch a few bystandersshe cut a larger-than-life figure that lent itself to Paul Bunyanesque retellings. Most of these stories arent kind. Of course, nobody said journalism was a country club. And her personality was immaterial while she was succeeding, winning a Pulitzer, warning the world about terrorism, bio-weapons, and Iraqs war machine. But now, who she is, and why she prospered, makes for a revealing cautionary tale about the culture of American journalism."

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About that exit strategy
The Washington Post looks at the growing debate over whether the U.S. should set a date for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

"'The destruction of the Baathist regime is the fullest expression of liberation that we can accomplish,' said Boston University professor Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who favors a pullout. 'It is simply beyond our ability to bring into existence a liberal democratic order, and to persist in attempting to do so is, first of all, to end in failure.' Win Without War, a coalition of 42 antiwar groups, called Thursday for the setting of a withdrawal date on the grounds that the presence of an 'unwelcome occupation force' and the ill treatment of Iraqi prisoners are strengthening the bloody anti-American insurgency."

"Even so, neither Bacevich nor Win Without War is demanding an immediate pullout. As with others who are uneasy about the U.S. role in Iraq, the antiwar organization is torn, with some members favoring a quick exit amid mounting casualties and others believing troops should leave only when Iraqis have a government of their choosing."

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Robin Hood in reverse
Paul Krugman takes on the Bush administration's plans to cut programs such as nutrition for women, infants and children, Head Start, and homeland security to pay for the president's tax cuts.

".. Whatever they may say in public, administration officials know that sustaining Mr. Bush's tax cuts will require large cuts in popular government programs. And for the vast majority of Americans, the losses from these cuts will outweigh any gains from lower taxes. It has long been clear that the Bush administration's claim that it can simultaneously pursue war, large tax cuts and a 'compassionate' agenda doesn't add up. Now we have direct confirmation that the White House is engaged in bait and switch, that it intends to pursue a not at all compassionate agenda after this year's election."

"That agenda is to impose Dooh Nibor economics Robin Hood in reverse. The end result of current policies will be a large-scale transfer of income from the middle class to the very affluent, in which about 80 percent of the population will lose and the bulk of the gains will go to people with incomes of more than $200,000 per year."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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