Tuesday's must-reads

Published July 20, 2004 1:20PM (EDT)

Two candidates, two Americas
Ralph Nader famously derided his rivals in 2000 as Gush and Bore, a reference to how little he thought their visions and plans differed -- but in 2004, the differences between John Kerry and George W. Bush, at least in their rhetoric, are unusally stark, the New York Times reports. In his piece, Adam Nagourney cites John Kerry as saying recently: "...We're not going to have one of those elections where it's mealy-mouthed, and you can't tell the difference between the two candidates,' Kerry said."

On issue after issue, Nagourney writes, the two candidates see different Americas, and he credits the contrast in part to both campaigns' wish to get out their base voters: "One day Mr. Bush is heralding his tax cuts as the engine that, as he told voters recently in Wisconsin, has lifted the nation into an economic recovery. ...Two days later, Mr. Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, is in West Virginia calling those same tax cuts a threat to health care and education, and a burden that has saddled the nation with a debt that is throttling hope for long-term prosperity."

"Mr. Kerry looks to Iraq and sees a war that has demoralized this country, caused the needless deaths of young Americans, spawned new terrorists in the Middle East and alienated allies around the world. Mr. Bush looks at the same war and sees an American enterprise that removed a dangerous dictator, struck a blow against terrorism and is fostering the growth of democracy."

"Mr. Kerry talks about health care as he promotes an ambitious plan to expand coverage for the uninsured and lower health insurance costs for middle- and lower-income Americans. When Mr. Bush raises the same subject, he talks fleetingly about his considerably more modest plan for tax credits to help low and moderate-income families buy insurance. The president grows more animated in denouncing trial lawyers whose malpractice lawsuits, he said, have driven health care costs out of control."

Two Americas: Manolos vs. Payless
Who is benefiting, and how, from the economic recovery is one of the key contested issues on the campaign trail. The Democrats preach about Two Americas where the rich benefit on the backs of the working class, and George W. Bush argues that "sophisticates" just don't understand how much $2,700 in tax relief means to the working people. The Wall Street Journal reports that "many economists" are with the Democrats on this one.

"With the U.S. economy expanding and the labor market improving, it isn't clear how well the Democrats' message of a divided America will resonate with voters this fall. But many economists believe the economic recovery has indeed taken two tracks..."

"Upper-income families, who pay the most in taxes and reaped the largest gains from the tax cuts President Bush championed, drove a surge of consumer spending a year ago that helped to rev up the recovery. Wealthier households also have been big beneficiaries of the stronger stock market, higher corporate profits, bigger dividend payments and the boom in housing."

"Lower- and middle-income households have benefited from some of these trends, but not nearly as much. For them, paychecks and day-to-day living expenses have a much bigger effect. Many have been squeezed, with wages under pressure and with gasoline and food prices higher. The resulting two-tier recovery is showing up in vivid detail in the way Americans are spending money."

"At high-end Bulgari stores ... consumers are gobbling up $5,000 Astrale gold and diamond 'cocktail' rings made for the right hand, a spokeswoman says. The Italian company's U.S. revenue was up 22% in the first quarter. Neiman Marcus Group Inc., flourishing on sales of pricey items like $500 Manolo Blahnik shoes, had a 13.5% year-over-year sales rise at stores open at least a year."

"By contrast, such "same store" sales at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., retailer for the masses, were up just 2.2% in June. Wal-Mart believes higher gasoline costs are pinching its customers. At Payless ShoeSource Inc., which sells items like $10.99 pumps, June same-store sales were 1% below a year earlier."

War strains states
Governors complained to the Pentagon last weekend that "with tens of thousands of their citizen soldiers now deployed in Iraq ... they were facing severe manpower shortages in guarding prisoners, fighting wildfires, preparing for hurricanes and floods and policing the streets," the New York Times reports.

"Concern among the governors about the war's impact at home has been rising for months, but it came into sharp focus this weekend as they gathered for their four-day annual conference here and began comparing the problems they faced from the National Guard's largest callup since World War II. On Sunday, the governors held a closed-door meeting with two top Pentagon officials and voiced their concerns about the impact both on the troops' families and on the states' ability to deal with disasters and crime."

"Much of the concern has focused on wildfires, which have started to destroy vast sections of forests in several Western states. The governor of Oregon, Ted Kulongoski, a Democrat, said in an interview after meetings here Monday that the troop deployment had left his National Guard with half the usual number of firefighters because about 400 of them were overseas while a hot, dry summer was already producing significant fires in his state."

Kerry to take federal $$$
The Boston Globe reports that "Kerry is poised to take federal campaign money once he is nominated for the presidency next week, according to top campaign finance advisers, a move that will allow him to disburse millions of dollars in leftover campaign cash to Democratic Party operations, effectively augmenting the $75 million he will receive in federal funds."

"Aides expect the Kerry campaign committee to end up with enough money to make sizable transfers to the Democratic National Committee, state Democratic committees, and possibly the committees working to elect a Democratic Congress. The aim would be to have the committees, especially those in battleground states, air television ads on Kerry's behalf this fall, and finance get-out-the-vote operations on Election Day."

"Such efforts at the national and state levels will help mitigate the spending advantage that President Bush has by virtue of his later nomination date. Candidates accepting federal financing must stop using their campaign's privately raised funds once they have accepted the nomination. Because Kerry's nomination will come on July 29 -- five weeks before President Bush's -- the Massachusetts senator's $75 million must cover 13 weeks, while Bush's $75 million will cover just eight weeks. Kerry also plans to repay himself for a $6.4 million loan he gave to his cash-strapped organization last December, according to one adviser."

Former EPA head rejects Bush "polluter protection"
The former co-chair of Conservationists for Bush will vote for John Kerry, the AP reports.

"The head of the Environmental Protection Agency for two Republican presidents criticized President Bush's record on Monday, calling it a 'polluter protection' policy. Russell E. Train, who headed the EPA from September 1973 to January 1977  part of the Nixon and Ford administrations  said Bush's record on the environment was so dismal that he would cast his vote for Democrat John Kerry."

"'It's almost as if the motto of the administration in power today in Washington is not environmental protection, but polluter protection,' Train said. 'I find this deeply disturbing.'"

"In 1988, Train was co-chairman of Conservationists for Bush, an organization that backed the candidacy of George W. Bush's father. Train spoke at an event organized by Environment 2004, which opposes Bush's environmental record. He accused Bush of weakening the Clean Air Act and said the president's record falls short of those set by former Republican presidents, from Theodore Roosevelt, who advocated creating national parks and forests, to George H. W. Bush, who supported revised standards for clean air."

By Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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