Hardball

Sept. 28, 2006 | 4:19 p.m. ET

Traps are set for Dems

We knew it was coming.  That moment when the “silly” season (as we call election time  in Washington) morphs into the “mean” season. 

The moment when every action by the Congressional leadership is intended to provide fodder for the attack ads running the last few weeks of the campaign of vulnerable incumbents and challengers is here.

There will be a few big votes over the next few days.  Will they markedly change anything going on in our country that people care about?  No.  Will they affect the war in Iraq? No.  Will they affect the economy? No. Healthcare, wages or taxes? No.

Here are the two Senate votes to look for:

Torture:  The Democratic leadership is stuck.  They had too much faith in the independence of Senators John Warner, Lindsay Graham and John McCain who last month were girding for a showdown with the White House over the torture of prisoners.  The Dems said at the time, “We’re with those three Senators and will vote to back them up.”  Of course now those three Senators, by most experts’ accounts, have caved and given the President and the CIA largely what they sought – to be able to torture people when they want to – and the Dems have to decide now whether they will vote for a bad bill or be subject to the attack ad that they are soft on terrorism.

Immigration – what a disaster.  A few weeks ago the conventional wisdom was that George Bush failed massively in his push to pass immigration reform.  Now the White House and the Republican leadership in both houses are behind an immigration bill that calls for a big wall to be built around the country.  The proposal deals with nothing that was important to Bush or anyone who really wants to solve this issue, like what we do with illegal immigrants who are already here, how we integrate them, judge them or enforce with other countries other than Mexico.  No, the vote is on building a wall.  Here’s the thing nobody is telling you – the Bush Administration already has the authority to build a wall.  INS has the starter funds and they don’t need another act of Congress.  But doing nothing wouldn’t give them a potential attack ad suggesting that Democrats don’t care about illegal immigrants taking jobs from hardworking Americans. 

These are pathetic traps that further no public purpose.  Yet, they will be the most hotly debated issues in Congress over the next few days.  Will Democrats take the bait?

Sept. 25, 2006 | 1:55 p.m. ET

Not safe. Not safer. Less safe.

“We are fighting them on the streets of Baghdad so we don’t have to fight them here at home.”

This has been the mantra of the bush administration regarding an invasion and occupation they’re pleased to lump into the category “war on terror.” It’s usually paired with, “we’re safer but not yet safe.”  In other words, we the Republicans have made you more secure through our steadfast efforts in Iraq, but not safe enough that you should consider voting for the “cut and run” democrats.

Now, we have word of a comprehensive national intelligence estimate reflecting the combined assessments of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that reveals both assertions to be utterly false.

If you are an Iraq War diehard, an ardent believer in “staying the course,” you now have to face the fact that the best opinion of our government - the real opinion, not the Rose Garden spin - is that our presence in Iraq has made us less safe, more vulnerable to terrorism. Not safe. Not safer. Less safe.

“The Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,” is how one Intel official summed it up. The report says Iraq is now a training ground for terrorists and the primary cause of a metastasizing jihadist ideology around the world.

With that, the last vestige of an excuse for this misbegotten war evaporates. Those who continue to support placing young American lives in danger to support this dubious mission will now have to explain why we must do so, not for the enhancement, but at the expense of national security.

Sept. 25, 2006 | 1:51 p.m. ET

Whoops. My sincere apologies to Congressman Tom Davis (R-Va). I mistakenly wrote he had met with the lobbyists about the NRCC. Congressman Tom Reynolds (R-NY) is the NRCC chair who warned K Street lobbyists.

Sept. 21, 2006 | 2:39 p.m. ET

GOP Warning: We’re Watching Your Money

Hardball the Republican way is in full force on Capitol Hill in anticipation of this upcoming close election.  National Republican Campaign Committee Chair, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) -- the guy responsible for rounding up the money to fund the re-election of the House Republicans -- gathered a group of Republican lobbyists to give them a stern warning.  Don’t try and hedge your bets and start giving to Democrats between now and election day, he warned.  We at the campaign committee will be watching your contributions, he warned.  And we will share the news of your contributions to Democrats with other members of the Republican caucus, he warned.

In other words, lobbyists who want to continue to receive favors from the Republicans who control the Congress had better keep playing ball.  This story was reported this week in the Capitol Hill newspaper of record, Roll Call, and then it was done.  No fuss, no outrage, no onslaught of accusations of corruption.  Why?  Because this has been the Republican way of doing business since they took control of Congress.  It doesn’t even faze Washington anymore. 

A sitting member of Congress threatens the use of the public policy process in retaliation to anyone who supports the other party’s agenda of environmental safety, healthcare access, education, civil rights and most importantly, rejecting special interest politics.   Unabashed threats.  Corrupted process.  Anything to stay in power.

It begs the question:  What do those loyal contributors get – what have they gotten -- by playing along and keeping the contributions to the Republicans?   Whatever it is, it can’t be good for most of us. 

Sept. 20, 2006 | 2:20 p.m. ET

First pitch at Tuesday's Washington Nationals game

Check out photos of Chris Matthews throwing out the first pitch at Tuesday's Washington Nationals game. Photos are courtesy of the Peace Corps.

Peace Corps
Peace Corps
Peace Corps

Sept. 19, 2006 | 3:46 p.m. ET

World of the poor and the real
(Chris Matthews, "Hardball" host)

Tonight is “Peace Corps Night at the Nationals” and I’ve been picked to throw out the first pitch.

It’s a great and distinctive honor for me.  I spent two years in Swaziland, Africa, during the late 1960s.   I taught business to several hundred local traders, all of whom were wonderfully cordial to me, a skinny young 22 year-old from America.

People ask me if they should join the Peace Corps.  My first question is “Are you good with languages?”  I say that because communication is everything out there in the Third World. If you can’t really hold a conversation with someone you really can’t get anything important across to them.

The second thing I ask is, “Do you mind being alone?”   The reason for that inquiry is that a Peace Corps volunteer can find himself or herself stuck way out in the bush, hours from anything like a city or from people with a similar background to us in America.  It can be very lonely, especially at nightfall.  Dusk is a bad time to be alone.  All you have is your short-wave radio and your thoughts.

But for all the sacrifice the Peace Corps experience is a life-changer.  I got to “see the world,” got to hang out and work in a country that was very nice to us volunteers, got to hitchhike to Mozambique on a fairly regular basis, got to hitchhike up through East Africa, all the way to Mount Kilimanjaro by myself.  I got to know people personally who live very different lives than we do in America, got to experience the “other.”

It’s one thing to travel abroad.  It’s another thing to get out there in the world, hang out with other young travelers, get to find places to stay, to get used to the local cigarettes.  That’s the life of the road and I love it. 

But it’s even better to really connect to people in the Third World, to really live in that world, to get to know people one-to-one, to see things - if only in a limited way - the way they do.   I think we wouldn’t be in so much trouble with the world if more of our leaders had such an experience in their younger years. 

I will never forget a dream I had.  It was about visiting the Holy Land in 1971 on my way back from Swaziland.  I dreamt that the only way I could enter into Jerusalem was through a dark, narrow tunnel that was barely big enough to squeeze through.  That tunnel, I believe, was the two years I’d lived in the Third World, an experience that allowed me to come to the Old City of Jerusalem as someone who had spent the two years before in the world of the poor and the real.  Sept. 13, 2006 | 11:15 a.m.ET

Tomorrow's political newsmakers (Craig Crawford)

What I like most about primary elections are the new faces they often put on the political map -- and yesterday's balloting produced at least two newbies who could become tomorrow's newsmakers.

For starters, Minnesota is now set to elect the first Muslim member of Congress, Keith Ellison. The 43-year-old Democratic state lawmaker, who converted to Islam as a young man, won a hard-fought primary campaign and is now a shoo-in to represent heavily Democratic Minneapolis. Ellison's campaigning skills have been compared to the charm and passion of the state's liberal icon, Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died in a 2002 plane crash. In another historic milestone, Ellison would be the first African-American to represent Minnesota in Congress.

In Arizona, the national Republican Party establishment lost a fierce bid to stop conservative activist Randy Graf for the seat held by the retiring and popular GOP Congressman Jim Kolbe -- who energetically endorsed Graf's primary opponent. Anytime a Republican outsider can break tradition and whip his own party leaders the political world should take notice. Graf is on a roll to do well in November against Democratic former state Sen. Gabrielle Giffords, thanks to a fired-up cadre of supporters drawn to his tough talk against immigration in this Mexican border district.

Ellison and Graf have almost nothing in common politically or ideologically. But both seem destined to make waves in Washington.

For more of Craig's thoughts go to www.crawfordslist.com

Sept. 11, 2006 | 2:11 p.m. ET

There was no sound

It’s hard to believe that five years have passed since September 11, 2001, because I remember the day as if it were yesterday. As an NBC News correspondent I raced to lower Manhattan that bright, crystal clear morning, and, like so many others, I struggled to stay in control of my emotions in order to do the job of reporting on what had happened.

After the Twin Towers crumbled I remember being at Ground Zero and there was ash falling from the sky like a blanket of rain.  I picked up a handful of it and asked a fire captain, “What is this?” And he said it’s “pulverized concrete from the Twin Towers”.

I shuddered at the thought.  If buildings of brick and mortar and concrete had been crushed to dust how on earth could any one who had been in those towers possibly survive?

While the first responders talked hopefully of their determination to rescue victims, even the sounds around Ground Zero suggested it would not be.

There was no sound.  The silence was frightening and telling. I’ll never forget it.

Sept. 11, 2006 | 12:51 p.m. ET

Missed chances, squandered opportunities

This will be, quite naturally, a week for remembering. Short of shunning all media and perhaps locking yourself in a root cellar, there will be no way to avoid thinking about the events of 9/11.

But what will you remember? What would you just as soon forget?  The initial puzzlement after the first plane hit? The dawning realization, after the second plane, that this was no accident? The smoke? The flames? The bits of office paper, like confetti, snowing down on the onlookers? The bodies tumbling through the air?

As it happened, I had flown into New York on Sept. 10, 2001.  Jet-lagged, I overslept the next morning, finally opening my eyes to a digital clock that read 8:46 a.m., as is my habit when traveling, I flipped on the TV to check the morning’s news and was mildly startled to see the very first pictures broadcast of what virtually everyone, newscasters included, assumed was a tragic accident. An airplane of some sort had crashed into one of the Trade Center towers. A small private plane, the pilot of which had suffered a blackout? Nobody could say.

As I sat there in bed watching smoke pour from a gash in the facade, it seemed obvious this would be the day’s major story. I wondered if anyone had been at work in the offices behind that smoke. Were there many casualties?

After a few minutes, watching a long shot of both towers, one of them still intact, I noticed another airplane moving into the picture from the right. My first thought was, wow, who knew the fire department had such big planes?

Then the impact, the fireball and the instant realization that this was all shockingly, horribly deliberate.

Immediately, I picked up the phone and dialed my wife in Seattle. I knew she’d still be sleeping but I left a message telling her that something very big had happened, that I was ok and that she needed to turn on the TV as soon as she got up. Next, I attempted to call the TV network I was working with to warn them - as if they’d somehow managed to miss it - of what was going on. The phones were already dead.

I’m sure my memories of the subsequent days are shared by many. As I headed uptown that morning, having jumped into my clothes to race out of the hotel, I realized that maybe half the people on the street hadn’t yet realized what was transpiring at the other end of Manhattan. You could pick out the people who knew - their faces gave them away. I remember the smell that drifted north - like an electrical fire, but harsher. I recall the strange sense of peace and calm amidst unavoidable tension as the city emptied of traffic, the feeling of comradeship and shared experience that came as such a relief.

Like many people, I was stuck in the city for days, unable to get home but, in an odd way, glad to be there if only as a witness. Long, strange days, but memorable to say the least.

I’m sure I’ll carry some of those memories with me forever. But now, five years on, other thoughts, newer thoughts, crowd in.  Today, when I think of 9/11, I think, among other things, of missed opportunity.

For a short while - an instant in geopolitical time - virtually the whole world stood with America, even those who didn’t really care for us. What did we do with this moment?

Are we better off for not more effectively pursuing the architect of this atrocity, Osama bin Laden? Could we not see that to a culture steeped in a tradition of honor and vengeance, this failure to bring bin Laden to justice shamed us? Did we think that would make it easier to win hearts and minds?

Secret prisons, torture, and an unnecessary war against the wrong enemy - were these signs of wisdom or panic? Was there no more constructive way to approach that part of the world which spawned our attackers - not to appease but to creatively engage? Have we, in the intervening years, done our nation proud?

We will all remember 9/11 in our own ways. For me, the tragedy  merely began on that day, then continued every day since in a litany of missed chances and squandered opportunities.

Sept. 11, 2006 | 12:38 p.m. ET

'We are all Americans now'
(Joe Alicastro, NBC Producer and former Rome Burea Chief)

I had been the Rome Bureau Chief for NBC News from 1989 till 1992. On September 10, 2001, I returned to Rome with my wife for a long overdue vacation to the city that we both love. On 9/11 we had a wonderful lunch at Ristorante Mario in Piazza del Grillo, where we had eaten so many times before and where we were still greeted with hugs and kisses.

Upon returning to our pensione, the phone rang. A friend from the Italian news service, ANSA, was on the phone.

“Pack your bags, you are going home,” he said.

I told him to stop the joking and we’d meet him at the Enoteca (wine bar) that evening. He said that I had better turn on the TV. We watched in horror as the second plane hit the World Trade Center followed by the fall of the North and South Towers.

In the following days, as we waited for U.S. air space to open for our immediate return to New York, our friends in Rome could not have been more gracious as they shared in the horror of what had happened to our great city. Each day another invitation would come to share dinner or lunch, to not be the Americans left alone.

We stood outside the American Embassy on the via Veneto for Rome’s moment of silence in tribute to our fallen. That evening, RAI -TV broadcast a story of the citizens of the southern city of Gaeta who marched to the port where the U.S. 6th Fleet is based. They were defiantly carrying signs high above their heads which read: “Siamo tutti Americani adesso”...”We are all Americans now.”

Sept. 11, 2006 | 12:11 p.m. ET

A modest proposal

Here’s a modest proposal: Let’s make 9/11 a day of national memory and unity, not an occasion for scoring partisan points, launching or abandoning election strategies, or suggesting that some Americans are patriotic and others are, well, soft on terrorism.  September 11, 2001, is five years in the past and vividly present in the public consciousness.  We all remember how we felt and acted then and in the days that followed.  We were one America as never before.  No one asked whether the fire fighters climbing the towers were Republicans or Democrats; the rubble at ground zero signified unspeakable tragedy and the rescuers who stood there in the smoky ruins, and the nearly 300 million Americans who stood with them in spirit, represented an unparalleled triumph of our national resolve and values.  And it wasn’t just us; the headlines abroad spoke the voice of the world: “We are all Americans.”

The world and country are very different now.  The nation is deeply divided; America’s image around the globe is devalued.  We can change that through politics if we will.  But 9/11 is not the day to wage that battle.  So I refuse to speculate today on the political implications of this anniversary; I refuse now to assign blame for the partisan exploitation of a sacred day that should belong to all Americans.  The exploiters know who they are.  It is too late this year, to borrow a phrase, to “change the tone” that surrounds and cheapens this day.  But it is time to declare that starting next year, we will mark 9/11 not as citizens of blue states or red states, but as one nation indivisible—red, white and blue.  Let it become one day and one season that truly brings us together.  The issues that separate us will remain and in the best traditions of our democracy they should be debated vigorously and honestly.  But once every September they can and should be put aside.

Next year, George Bush should stand at ground zero with Bill Clinton—and Al Gore and John Kerry.

Next year, Dick Cheney should mark the now invisible wound of terrorism on the Pentagon wall by standing there with John Murtha, Nancy Pelosi, and Russ Feingold.

Next year, in every state, members of Congress from both parties should stand together to witness to the truth that on this day, there are no Democrats; there are no Republicans; there are only Americans.

There is in our public life plenty of time to attack and defeat each other.  But is it too much to ask that as we commemorate the day on which America was attacked, we all give life to the first words of our Constitution—“We the people of the United States”?

Sept. 10, 2006 | 2:59 p.m. ET

Our best selves after 9/11

Think about it.  Do you know a single adult who has not re-evaluated his or her life and priorities since 9/11/2001?  For days and weeks afterwards, our shared experiences and memories of where we were at the moments when the planes hit or the towers collapsed held us together.  Recounting the fear brought us together.  Then slowly, it dawned on us that we were on our own again.  Within the year, we were back to being a nation at war, not only with the terrorists, but also with ourselves.  While we were trying to make sense of our lives, our leaders bickered.  And our President unearthed his knack for political retribution and cronyism even as he prepared the nation to fight an uncertain war. 

We have all made up emergency boxes of household items and contingency plans for the next terrorist attack.  We have been more thoughtful about our families, paid attention to what makes us happy not just what makes us wealthy and, although prompted by terrible storms, we have shown increased compassion for the community around us. We have been teaching our children about a new world order where too many people around the world seek to destroy the values and beliefs we hold.

I want that feeling of security back that I lost on 9/11, but I know it is something I can never have again.  However, we can have leaders who focus as much attention on the quality of our lives each day as they do on the length of their political power.  Leaders who focus on the security, health and well being of Americans.  Leaders who know that preparing for the aftermath of crises is as important (and often more realistic) than assuming we can prevent all emergencies.  Leaders who want world peace more than they want world domination.  Leaders who nurture that best part of us that we felt on September 11, 2001, even as we faced the worst.

Sept. 7, 2006 | 11:18 p.m. ET

Work hard, play hard
(Shelby Poduch, "Hardball" Producer)

In Washington, we work hard and play hard. After months of working, tonight’s a night for play. 

Here at the Watergate, we’re celebrating the new partnership of MSNBC.com and the National Journal Group. Just to bring you up to speed, that’s the National Journal, the Atlantic, and The Hotline, something everyone at Hardball lives by. 

The chicken satay sticks and cantaloupe shooters are popular, but the coolest thing by far at the party is MSNBC.com’s election map.  Computers are set up between cocktail tables and everyone is checking out the new site.  Take a look for yourself.  Go to www.politics.msnbc.com

Trust me, if Chris Matthews likes it, you will too!

All the stars are out tonight, including NBC’s own Tim Russert, David Gregory and Norah O’Donnell.  Political hard hitters are here too.  Terry McAuliffe, former Democratic National Committee Chairman and Tucker Eskew, former Bush Deputy Assistant for Communications, both made appearances.

The crowd gathered around the National Journal piano as Mark Lukasiewicz, NBC News VP of Digital Media, beat the gathered crowd in a fierce game of "stump the journalist." There was no show tune or pop tune he couldn't perform. Nothing like ending an evening singing "Let It Be."

Hold up your lighter, ladies and gentlemen!

Sept. 6, 2006 | 5:21 p.m. ET

Washington ignores army of poor
(Mike Barnicle, MSNBC political analyst)

I see them nearly every morning: men who wear faces battered by time, travel and the tension of trying to make a living one day at a time. They gather in knots of five to ten, together on street-corners in Boston and its suburbs where they wait for work.

They come from places like Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras and they are here illegally having traveled literally thousands of miles for the opportunity to use a leaf blower, serve coffee, clean restaurants, mow lawns and service swimming pools. The wages earned, most of them, are sent back home to families who are missing both the men and money.

And one of the great myths about this immigration debate that supposedly roils America is that this flood of illegals – and it is absolutely an enormous tide of people - potentially include an army of terrorists. But eyesight and common sense tells you that they are here for the oldest of reasons: economic survival.

They come from a third-world nation – Mexico – and farms and villages where there are either no jobs or the few jobs that did exist have disappeared to places like China and India where workers toil for even smaller wages than Mexican industries once paid. They are an army of the poor.

Naturally, the issue of illegal immigration is a hot topic in so many political fights across the nation. It is a simple matter to throw out the threat of some Mexican taking someone’s job away from them in Kalamazoo, Green Bay, Sacramento or Worcester, Massachusetts. It gets people angry and the madder they get the more they might be inclined to scratch a social sore and vote.

But the pathetic nature of our politics is that the issue of immigration – protecting the borders, devising some way of dealing with those here illegally and those flooding into the country each night and every week from Mexico – has become nothing more than a cynical tool wielded by congressmen and senators who have sat on their hands and done too little about an item that is now dealt with on talk-radio rather than Washington D.C.

The men – and women too – standing on the corner waiting for work and cash wages will be there tomorrow and for all the tomorrows of the foreseeable future. They are heading in the same direction the Congress heads toward solving the problem too: Nowheresville.

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Sept. 6, 2006 | 11:39 a.m. ET

Honesty is the best policy  -- until it’s not

With the primaries upon us, the 2006 midterm elections shift into high gear.  Out here in the piney northwest corner of our contiguous United States, the big race pits Democratic incumbent Senator Maria Cantwell against Republican Senator Mike McGavick (both are expected to win their primaries in walkovers).

Though Washington State is generally regarded as bluer than blue, astute conservatives realize that, in other West Coast states, blue fades to red as soon as you leave the populous coastal communities.  The political climate may favor Dems, Cantwell may be the incumbent, she may have raised twice as much money as McGavick, but Republicans smell opportunity.

Cantwell won her last race in a squeaker by about 0.1%.  She has alienated some liberal supporters by not being sufficiently remorseful for her pro-Iraq war vote in 2002.  Though she leads McGavick in most polls by around 10%, that margin has been shrinking. With two months to go in the race, McGavick has seemed a strong and credible challenger who has taken some pains to distance himself from Bush on the topic of war.

But funny things happen on the way to the polls.  McGavick, for reasons that remain unclear, recently decided to issue a mea culpa on his campaign blog, preemptively exposing “the very worst and most embarrassing things” in his past.  Uh-oh.  He discussed his divorce from his first wife (wince-inducing but hardly fatal), the lay-offs he ordered as CEO of Seattle-based SafeCo. Corp. (possibly a plus for some conservatives) and a dishonest political attack ad when managing the Slade Gorton campaign in 1988 (can anyone even remember 1988?).  Then he revealed that he’d been charged with drunk driving 13 years ago (shades of W.).

The last appears to have been something of a “modified limited hangout” in former Nixon and John Erlichman’s memorable phrase.  A bit of digging - did he think there wouldn’t be any? - has revealed that McGavick was apparently less than entirely honest.

He claimed to have run a yellow light; police reports indicate full red.  More troubling, he said he was merely cited for having a blood alcohol level of 0.17% (that’s Mel Gibson anti-Semitic rant level!) when, it turns out, he was actually arrested.  Suffice to say, there is now a pall of gloom over the MaGavick camp.  A promising, if uphill battle may yet turn into the Bataan death match.

The lesson here would seem to be two-fold.  First, when considering whether to release embarrassing details of one’s past indiscretions, a politician would do well to ask if anyone is really interested in the first place.  In McGavick’s case, there is no indication that sharks were circling—until now.  Second, if you’re going to let it all hang out, go all the way.  If the Cantwell-McGavick race turns out to be whisker-close, this partial revelation and the backlash it has created may make the difference for Cantwell. 

Honesty is the best policy  -- until it’s not.

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Sept. 6, 2006 | 8:18 a.m. ET

Pay attention to key races

On Election Day, the question on everyone’s mind is going to be: Can the Democrats take back control of the House—and maybe even the Senate? Unfortunately, due to plenty of close contests and late election returns, we might not know the answer until very late in the evening or the next day. But for those trying to get an early read of how Election Night is going, there are a few key races to pay attention to.

The first are the four toss-up congressional races in Indiana and Kentucky, where polls begin to close at 6:00 pm ET. These contests are incumbent Rep. Chris Chocola (R) vs. challenger Joe Donnelly (D) in IN-2; incumbent Rep. John Hostettler (R) vs. challenger Brad Ellsworth (D) in IN-8; incumbent Rep. Mike Sodrel (R) vs. challenger Baron Hill (D) in IN-9; and incumbent Geoff Davis (R) vs. Ken Lucas (D) in KY-4. If the Democrats win two or three of these races—all of which are in red states—then that will likely foreshadow big gains for the party. Conversely, if they come up empty, it could be a long and disappointing night for the Democrats.

The other race to focus on is the Missouri Senate contest between incumbent Jim Talent (R) and challenger Claire McCaskill (D). Political analysts, including Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report, believe that the race is the bellwether of the midterms: Missouri has leaned Republican the last few election cycles, but the poor national environment for the GOP has made it a coin toss. If Democrats win here, they might not take back the Senate—because they will still need to win in Tennessee, Virginia, or Arizona—but it will mean that Democrats are racking up plenty of other victories on Election Night.

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Sept. 5, 2006 | 8:18 p.m. ET

Democrats will play it simple and win in November
(Hillary Rosen)

Courtesy Hilary Rosen
Harry Truman said, “If you can’t convince the people, confuse them.”  Despite this being his tongue-in-cheek comment on political cynicism, the Republicans are using it as their 2006 re-election strategy.  The White House and the Republican National Committee have been organizing tours and events to confuse the voters. 

They want us to think that by staying the course in Iraq, we are keeping America safer at home, that immigrants are bad for society, that tax cuts, which only benefit the wealthy, are good for the economy.  They’ll try to tell us again that gas prices can’t be affected by better policies, that public education is improving rather than declining and right wing Christian evangelical’s political views should matter to all Americans.

So what is the most effective Democratic antidote to their efforts?  We can’t let the Republicans dictate the path to November.  Keep it simple.  Focus on the three prongs needed to succeed: the message, the money and the defense.

The message:

  • Voters know this President does not have a strategy to win the war in Iraq and events in North Korea, Iran and throughout the Middle East this past year have made us feel more vulnerable and less safe.  Yet voters DO need to be reminded that if Democrats take control of the Congress, there will be MORE focus on national security not less.  Congress will hold the President more accountable to our anti-terrorism goals rather than get distracted by civil battles in other countries.
  • Voters need to hear that Democrats understand their desire to grow their own family’s income.  They don’t want to hear old-fashioned rich against the poor class warfare.
  • Voters are more concerned than ever that public education is improved and health insurance is affordable. 

The Money:

  • Democrats need business money and wealthy Democrats and independents to invest in the next two months.  And voters have shown that they don’t care where the money comes from as long as when you are in office you act with integrity.  So Democrats need to stop talking about corrupt lobbyists and corporate influence in Congress.  It doesn’t move the dial and there is little evidence that money won’t be just as important to Democrats if we take over Congress. 
  • Stop attacking “special interests” and no name corporations.  We can show the business community that progressive policies can coincide with responsible governing.  We should encourage them to hedge their bets this election by giving equally to Democrats, which is something they haven’t done since 2000.

The Best Defense (is a good offense):

  • Since the Right Wing has succeeded in gaining a majority on the Supreme Court, there is little rhetoric to be gained on the other side by raising social issues on national level. But it will come in targeted states and districts. 
  • Democrats believe in the family values of love, respect for individuality and non-discrimination. Democrats must be unapologetic.  It is when the Republicans smell blood and fear from Democrats that issues like gay rights and abortion succeed.
  • Families need safety, economic opportunity, clean air and water, good schools and good health.  Voters don’t want Congress to legislate based on anyone’s religious beliefs. 
  • We can succeed in November because voters believe the country is heading in the wrong direction.  We just need to remind voters how simple change can be.

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Sept. 5, 2006 | 12:05 p.m. ET

Are Republicans crying wolf?
(Craig Crawford)

It is not tough these days to find a Republican strategist or member of Congress willing to go off the record to trash their party’s chances for keeping control of Congress after the November elections.

This makes me really suspicious. There is a chance that this doom-and-gloom chatter could be an elaborate scheme to sandbag overconfident Democrats and story-eager reporters into helping frighten glum party activists to get off their duffs and go to work re-electing GOP incumbents. After all, if you cannot energize the troops to rally FOR your candidates, you can always try scaring them to work AGAINST the other side.

Never take it at face value when politicians downplay their own expectations, even if off the record. Indeed, the Washington crowd often goes on background to spin the news media because we tend to think anonymous quotes are more truthful. Beware political operators who take you aside to say they are really screwed - and that is precisely what we are hearing right now from the GOP side of the aisle.

Read more of Craig's thoughts at www.crawfordslist.com

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Aug. 29, 2006 | 1:16 p.m. ET

Bush's moral compass out of whack

Last week’s announcement by Advanced Cell Technologies that it had perfected a method of generating embryonic stem cell lines without destroying embryos put the stem cell research debate back in the headlines.

The hope was that the new non-destructive technique - already used to check for genetic abnormalities in embryos created for in vitro fertilization - would satisfy those who oppose the research on moral grounds.

That’s unlikely. Even before the breakthrough was announced, opponents were lining up fresh objections.

President Bush has made his position clear on a number of occasions: he believes even a fertilized human egg is an individual human life and that sacrificing human lives, even to save the lives of others, crosses a moral boundary off-limits to decent societies.

For the sake of discussion, let’s assume Mr. Bush is correct about the blastocysts being people. Further, let’s do him the courtesy of taking his position - no lives sacrificed to save lives - seriously. That’s his belief and he’s entitled to it. Here’s what logically follows:

No more wars, certainly not wars that kill civilians. That means no Afghanistan, no Iraq. Not even to save American lives - remember, that would cross Mr. Bush’s moral line.

Terrorism is out in any case, but so is responding in a way that leads to the death of innocent non-combatants. So, no Israeli bombing of Lebanon.

The death penalty has to go. No human enterprise is carried through without error; inevitably, wrongly convicted prisoners will be killed.

Unless Mr. Bush is willing to give on these points or own up to his contradictions, his particular moral objection to the destruction of unconscious cell clusters carries no weight.

He won’t. So there we have it: major medical advances are being resisted on moral grounds by a president whose own moral compass - by his own definition - is out of whack.

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Aug. 22, 2006 | 6:27 p.m. ET

Stay the course or face "disaster"

The president has shifted from defense to offense on the Iraq war. At his press conference Monday he attacked leaders of the “Democrat” party for wanting to leave Iraq “before the mission is complete. “He said he’s staying in Iraq as long as he’s president.

“You know, it’s an interesting debate we’re having in America about how we ought to handle Iraq,” Bush said.  “There’s a lot of people—good, decent people, saying, withdraw now. They’re absolutely wrong. It would be a huge mistake for this country. If you think problems are tough now, imagine what it would be like if the United States leaves before this government has a chance to defend herself, govern herself, and listen to the—and answer to the will of the people.”

The President’s message is brutal: Either stay the course with me or face “disaster” in Iraq.

”What matters is that in this campaign that we clarify the different point of view,” he said.  “And there are a lot of people in the Democrat Party who believe that the best course of action is to leave Iraq before the job is done, period. And they’re wrong.”

Strong stuff. This election will pivot on this yes or no question. If you want to stay in Iraq, vote Republican. If you want to get the U.S. out of Iraq, vote Democratic or “Democrat” as the president puts it.

President Bush won reelection because Americans believed that he had clear convictions. He’s showing us that again. We know precisely where he stands. Conditions have changed from a Sunni insurgency against a U.S.-Shia coalition. Today we face not just the Sunni insurgency but the Shia militia. The casualties in Iraq have reached 110 killed per day. But the Bush policy remains the same: military support for a democratic government in Iraq.

The latest polls show that Iraq is the most important issue to voters in the upcoming fall elections. The president believes that more Americans will support him and his party if he can portray the “Democrat” party as supporting an exit from Iraq “before the mission is complete,” a phrase the president used repeatedly.

It worked in 2004, but two years later, the president is making a big gamble here. Instead of playing defense on the Iraq war, he’s shifted to offense. He’s employing the successful military gambit of attacking from a defensive position. It worked for Henry V at Agincourt. It worked for Ronald Reagan in his debate with President Carter. “There you go again,” Reagan said when Carter rapped him on his opposition to Medicare in the early 1960s. Maybe the tactic will work for George W. Bush.

It’s a question many Americans will have to weigh when they enter the voting booth in November.

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