Dude, Where's My Agenda?
Tuesday, July 20, 2004; 11:05 AM
George Bush's lack of a second-term blueprint has finally made it to the front page of The Washington Post.
Which kind of makes you wonder: Where has this issue been until now?
It's a testament, really, to the media's general lack of interest in policy issues. Swing states, veepstakes, polls, potshots, F-word, attack ads, good hair, dumping Cheney -- we're all over it. But the fact that the president of the United States hasn't spelled out what he would do over the next four years -- hey, we can't cover everything, right?
Bush aides told reporter Dan Balz that they're just biding their time and will unveil plenty of proposals around convention time. And maybe they don't want to use up all their ammunition now. But if it comes late in the game, won't an eleventh-hour agenda have kind of a tacked-on feeling?
Bush's dad, often accused of lacking the vision thing, had Jim Baker cook one up in September '92, but it was too little, too late.
Kerry, of course, has a very long agenda. In fact, critics say his multitude of proposals has left him with no clear theme and that the accumulated cost, including a big-deal health insurance plan, far outstrips the money he'd save by raising taxes on the over-200K crowd.
But there's another reason it's puzzling that Bush has had little to say beyond the broad strokes of fighting terror, improving the economy and landing on Mars. If he wins, he won't have much of a mandate to tackle new challenges. Yes, the fact that Bush wants to make his tax cuts permanent leaves him little fiscal running room for new proposals. But unless he makes a major cause of privatizing Social Security or something along those lines, he could be squandering an opportunity.
The interim head of the CIA, meanwhile, hasn't Gotten With The Program writes the Los Angeles Times:
"President Bush said Monday that his administration was investigating possible links between Iran and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a statement that distanced the president from acting CIA Director John McLaughlin, who had downplayed a possible connection a day earlier.
"'As to direct connections with Sept. 11, we're digging into the facts to determine if there was one,' Bush said of Iran.
"In a second sign of a potential rift between the White House and the intelligence agency, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters that McLaughlin was not speaking for the president when he said it was unnecessary to create a new, more powerful intelligence czar, despite faulty information before the Iraq war. . . .
"The independent commission is widely expected to report that some of the Sept. 11 hijackers had traveled freely between Iran and Afghanistan during 2000 and 2001. Last month, the panel's chairman, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, said in a television interview that Al Qaeda had 'a lot more active contacts, frankly, with Iran and with Pakistan than there were with Iraq.'
"Iran's emerging prominence in the Sept. 11 investigations looms as a potentially difficult issue for the White House, because it could raise new questions about why Bush led a war against Iraq but so far has taken a distinctly less bellicose stance toward Iran."
The forthcoming report seems to have "political football" written all over it:
"Even before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks releases its report later this week, Democrats and Republicans are trying to use it for political advantage," says USA Today.
"This city's movers and shakers began trading barbs Monday over the not-yet-released report in an effort to sway public opinion on national security issues seen as pivotal to the presidential election.
"Republicans suggested that it pins much of the blame for the terrorist attacks on the Clinton administration. Democrats said it proves President Bush did not take the threat of terrorism seriously enough.
"Political Web sites posted commentaries about the report. Strategists went on TV to talk about it. And e-mail baskets nationwide filled with diatribes about who was to blame for the attacks.
"It was all part of an effort to gain the upper hand on an issue polls show is critical to voters who will cast presidential ballots in November for the first time since 9/11: Who will better handle the nation's war on terrorism and protect against future attacks?"
The AP has popped an odd but intriguing story:
"President Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, is the focus of a Justice Department investigation after removing highly classified terrorism documents and handwritten notes from a secure reading room during preparations for the Sept. 11 commission hearings, The Associated Press has learned.
"Berger's home and office were searched earlier this year by FBI agents armed with warrants after he voluntarily returned documents to the National Archives. However, still missing are some drafts of a sensitive after-action report on the Clinton administration's handling of al-Qaeda terror threats during the December 1999 millennium celebration.
"Berger and his lawyer said Monday night he knowingly removed handwritten notes he had made while reading classified anti-terror documents at the archives by sticking them in his jacket and pants. He also inadvertently took copies of actual classified documents in a leather portfolio, they said.
"'I deeply regret the sloppiness involved, but I had no intention of withholding documents from the commission, and to the contrary, to my knowledge, every document requested by the commission from the Clinton administration was produced,' Berger said in a statement to the AP."
This Wall Street Journal piece seems tailor-made for Edwards's Two Americas rhetoric:
"Joshua Berry and Ricky Williams, both Houstonians, have seen two very different economic recoveries.
"Mr. Berry, an entrepreneur, has profited handsomely from the stock market, in the real-estate boom and by selling a business. Mr. Williams, an airline baggage handler, has been waiting since 2001 for a pay raise.
"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, exemplified by the experiences of these two Texas residents.
"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."
Could this be why upper-middle-class reporters keep emphasizing the positive statistics?
Conventions have long been stage-managed affairs. Now the week before conventions is stage-managed as well:
"Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards will embark on a thematic voyage across America this week to build momentum behind their campaign heading into next week's Democratic National Convention," says the Philadelphia Inquirer.
"The tour, aimed at building a drumbeat of excitement as the candidates head to Boston to accept their nominations, will begin Friday in Aurora, Colo., where the Massachusetts senator was born in an Army hospital 60 years ago, officials from the Kerry-Edwards campaign announced yesterday.
"After Kerry and Edwards appear together in Colorado, they will split up. Kerry will go to Sioux City, Iowa, where Lewis and Clark passed through on their tour of discovery two centuries ago, to emphasize optimism. On Sunday, the presidential candidate will travel to Columbus, Ohio, to talk about rebuilding the nation's manufacturing base. He will visit Florida's Cape Canaveral on Monday to argue that the nation should tackle the goal of providing affordable health care with the same spirit that took man to the moon in 1969.
"Kerry will stop in Norfolk, Va., the home of a major Navy base, to highlight his service in Vietnam as commander of a Swift patrol boat. On July 28, he will visit Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were written, for a final rally before going to Boston, where he will accept his party's presidential nomination July 29."
What, no stop in Aspen to symbolize the vitality of Kerry's vacations?
The New York Post carries this reminder that all politics is local:
"What does New York get for pumping $13.5 million into the Kerry campaign? Crummy seats at the back of the convention hall.
"The bulk of New York's 284-member Democratic delegation will be penned in a section off the convention floor more than 100 feet from the Fleet Center stage - well behind the choice seats given to delegates from the prized battleground states."
Slate's Jack Shafer finds it's possible for journalists to Just Say No, "as reporters in Omaha, Neb., proved last week. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz visited the area, where he observed a military ceremony and gave a July 9 speech sponsored by the Omaha Chamber of Commerce.
"Wolfowitz's office invited several regional reporters for a post-speech discussion with the deputy secretary. Among the small group of reporters attending the session were Scott Canon of the Kansas City Star, William Petroski of the Des Moines Register, Don Walton of the Lincoln Journal Star, Henry J. Cordes of the Omaha World-Herald, and The New Yorker's Peter Boyer, who was traveling with Wolfowitz.
"Wolfowitz's public affairs officer, Bill Turenne, began by asking that Wolfowitz's comments be attributed to a 'senior Defense Department official.' The Kansas City Star's Canon took immediate issue with these ground rules. . . .
"Canon politely explained to Wolfowitz and Turenne that the conversation would be of no professional value to him if he couldn't name Wolfowitz as the source of the remarks. There just wouldn't be much use at his paper for such blind quotery. 'My complaint was less about the practice in general than that it would be a waste of [Wolfowitz's] time.'
"Petroski, who wrote a short account of the incident for the Register, told the deputy secretary that going on background was not the way local reporters did their business. Canon advanced the point that no reader was going to be fooled by the protective coloration of 'a senior Defense Department official' in a news story. Wolfowitz was easily the only senior Defense Department official in the city, the state, and maybe the region that day.
"The tiny showdown was over before it started, with Wolfowitz cordially agreeing to stay on the record unless he felt a pressing need to say something on background-which he did once or twice to no consequence."
Elton John is attacking the administration, the BBC reports:
"Elton John has said stars are scared to speak out against war in Iraq because of 'bullying tactics' used by the US government to hinder free speech.
"'There's an atmosphere of fear in America right now that is deadly. Everyone is too career-conscious,' he told New York magazine.
"Sir Elton said performers could be 'frightened by the current administration's bullying tactics.' The singer likened the current 'fear factor' to McCarthyism in the 1950s."
Elton says "'the Dixie Chicks got shot down in flames last year for criticising the president. They were treated like they were being un-American, when in fact they have every right to say whatever they want about him because he's freely elected, and therefore accountable.'"
Excuse me, Sir, but while the Chicks may have borne the brunt of an unfair backlash from Bush backers, that doesn't amount to "bullying" by the administration itself.
Columbia Journalism Review accuses the LAT of over promising:
"Covering the fallout from Ron Reagan's decision to speak at next week's Democratic convention in favor of stem cell research, the Los Angeles Times sets readers up for some juicy, intra-party strife with the headline, 'To GOP, He's Dishonoring His Father.' The story itself, by Faye Fiore, starts out by whetting the palate further, announcing that, '[a]ffronted Republicans moved to discredit the famously renegade son . . . '
"But which members of the GOP are attempting to 'discredit' Reagan? A prominent senator, perhaps? An obscure member of congress? An anonymous White House official? A Republican National Committee operative?
"None of the above. Instead, Fiore gives us Gary Bauer . . . Fiore identifies Bauer as 'a conservative activist and domestic policy adviser to President Reagan.' But Bauer is also a pillar of the religious right: He's the former president of the Family Research Council, and now heads a group called American Values. Stem cell research is a major concern for Bauer and his constituency, so it's hardly surprising that he'd attempt to undercut the impact of Reagan's planned speech.
"Next, we get Wendy Wright, of Concerned Women for America (CWA), who calls Reagan's appearance 'sad.' CWA is another member in good standing of the religious wing of conservatism -- the group has worked closely with Bauer, and its opposition to stem cell research is equally well-known. (Fiore also gives us an unnamed 'conservative leader,' who she kindly allows to bad-mouth Reagan anonymously: 'He is seen as someone who didn't hesitate to embarrass his family'.)
"Criticism from Bauer and Wright on this issue can't be treated simply as criticism from "Republicans," since it's an area in which their segment of the party has a particular interest."
Are you being buried under an avalanche of e-mail? Salon has a thought-provoking piece on the burdens of the electronic age:
"Early in June, Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School, found himself confronting an extreme version of a problem familiar to many of us-an overflowing e-mail box. Lessig, a polymath whose sharp critiques of copyright law have made him famous online, receives a great deal of mail. On a typical day, between 100 and 200 messages (not counting spam) will crash into his in box, and, incredibly, he manages to keep up with most of it. But over the years, one of Lessig's mail folders-a box called Reply To, stuffed with messages from strangers he felt deserved some kind of response-had ballooned to intolerable proportions.
"By June, Reply To contained almost a thousand messages. That's when Lessig had an epiphany. 'I realized I wasn't ever going to be able to reply to it all,' he says. 'I have a son who's 10 months old. I saw that I could spend the time answering e-mail, or I could spend the time with my son. So that's what motivated me to do it.' A blinding insight!
"What Lessig did wasn't very novel-he gave up. Answering the mail in his Reply To folder was going to take time, and he had better ways to spend it. But where you or I might simply have deleted the waiting messages, Lessig decided to appeal to the Karmic Gods of the Internet. 'Dear person who sent me a yet-unanswered e-mail,' Lessig wrote in a rueful form letter to each of his would-be correspondents. 'I apologize, but I am declaring e-mail bankruptcy.'
"Under the terms of this 'bankruptcy,' Lessig explained, he would ignore all the messages in his brimming folder, but he would allow the senders to write back to him if they really, truly wanted to get his attention. 'It was an extraordinarily liberating act,' Lessig says now. He mailed out hundreds of the bankruptcy notices, and only about 30 people sent back further missives."
Hmmm. Could be a lot of potential bankruptcy cases out there.
© 2004 washingtonpost.com