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Howard Kurtz Media Notes

Bush Rules

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 17, 2004; 9:01 AM

The media have discovered George Bush's regulatory policies and are not pleased.

By a remarkable coincidence--do they have moles in each other's newsrooms?--the New York Times and Washington Post have weighed in with lengthy dissections of the administration quietly helping business and hurting consumers through regulations.

_____More Media Notes_____
Advantage Kerry? (washingtonpost.com, Aug 16, 2004)
The McGreevey Affair (washingtonpost.com, Aug 13, 2004)
Reverse Media Bounce (washingtonpost.com, Aug 6, 2004)
Post Power? (washingtonpost.com, Aug 5, 2004)
Moore's Army (washingtonpost.com, Aug 4, 2004)
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"Quietly," of course, is one of those journalistic words--"little-noticed" is another--that means something important happened and we missed it and now we're playing catchup.

In other words, why have we had to wait until 2-1/2 months before the election to read these takeouts, fine works though they are, about incredibly important subjects with huge social and economic impact?

Years ago, I covered, or kept an eye on, a number of regulatory agencies--HUD, EPA, OSHA and some others. I've long complained that they don't get enough coverage, at least beyond the trade press, because they're not considered sexy beats.

But it's been clear since the Reagan administration that a president can change domestic policy with little interference from the Hill by working through the alphabet-soup agencies. Some of the higher-profile changes of the Bush years--from arsenic in the water to clean air and logging rules--have obviously been covered by the press. But the administration counts on many of the other changes slipping under the media radar.

This is an important debate--striking the right balance between protecting health and safety and overburdening business--that has largely been absent from the first term. The stories are more complicated, and harder to explain, than standing on the White House lawn talking about the latest poll or attack ad. That's why they get a fraction of the journalistic resources that campaigns do.

The New York Times begins by recalling how much Iraq was in the news on April 21:

"On the same day, deep within the turgid pages of the Federal Register, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a regulation that would forbid the public release of some data relating to unsafe motor vehicles, saying that publicizing the information would cause 'substantial competitive harm' to manufacturers.

"As soon as the rule was published, consumer groups yelped in complaint, while the government responded that it was trying to balance the interests of consumers with the competitive needs of business. But hardly anyone else noticed, and that was hardly an isolated case.

"Allies and critics of the Bush administration agree that the Sept. 11 attacks, the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq have preoccupied the public, overshadowing an important element of the president's agenda: new regulatory initiatives. Health rules, environmental regulations, energy initiatives, worker-safety standards and product-safety disclosure policies have been modified in ways that often please business and industry leaders while dismaying interest groups representing consumers, workers, drivers, medical patients, the elderly and many others."

The Washington Post kicked off its series with a look at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration:

"By the time President Bush moved into the White House, the tuberculosis rules, first envisioned in 1993, were nearly complete. But the new administration did nothing on the issue for the next three years.

"Then, on the last day of 2003, in an action so obscure it was not mentioned in any major newspaper in the country, the administration canceled the rules. Voluntary measures, federal officials said, were effective enough to make regulation unnecessary.

"The demise of the decade-old plan of defense against tuberculosis reflects the way OSHA has altered its regulatory mission to embrace a more business-friendly posture. In the past 3 1/2 years, OSHA, the branch of the Labor Department in charge of workers' well-being, has eliminated nearly five times as many pending standards as it has completed. It has not started any major new health or safety rules, setting Bush apart from the previous three presidents, including Ronald Reagan."

Other parts of the Post series--about a questionable herbicide banned in Europe but approved by the Bush team, and water pollution from coal mining--appear here and here.

The Boston Globe is looking ahead to Bush II:

"There's no indication that this team will take office in January for Bush's second term, the one being advertised in New York. In fact, the smart betting in Washington is that almost everyone will be gone.

"Powell and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge act a lot like good soldiers dutifully serving out their enlistments. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft have been on fewer Christmas-card lists every year they've been in office, and each is expected to skip the second term.

"If Rumsfeld goes, his number two and number three -- Iraq War planners Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith -- may go as well. Unless there's a major Republican sweep, neither Wolfowitz nor Feith could be confirmed for any other job.

"Thus, Bush and his team will be running for reelection on a set of policies that will be carried out by a new crew of people. And because the old crew is still there, Bush won't be able to say who might be occupying the most important positions in his administration -- and if they'll really be following the same course as their predecessors.

"For Bush, it's like putting a fully furnished house on the market without mentioning that most of the appliances are due to be replaced in January."

Roger Simon rips the "gay American," whose own Democratic Party is now pressuring him to resign quickly so it can run Sen. Jon Corzine in a special election:

"I keep hearing how 'remarkable' and 'poignant' and 'courageous' it was when New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey announced recently that he was gay, an adulterer and was resigning from office.

"But I don't buy it. I don't think it was poignant or courageous. I think it was just old-fashioned politics. And the only thing remarkable about McGreevey's announcement was how disingenuous it was.

"I saw McGreevey's announcement on TV - - some keep referring to it as a press conference, but since he took no questions, it was no press conference - - and I have since read the text of his statement six or seven times. (It is not long.) And the one thing I still cannot figure out is why the guy is resigning. You certainly can't figure it out based on what he says in his statement. . . .

"For those praising McGreevey today for his courage and candor, would it not have been more courageous and more candid of him to say something like, 'I put my lover on the public payroll in a job for which he was not qualified. That was wrong; I am sorry and am resigning immediately.' But McGreevey did not say anything like that. Instead, he used his sexuality and his family as a smokescreen."

The statement did sort of leave out some relevant facts, didn't it?

Looks like the state isn't buying the speech either, according to this AP story:

"Many New Jersey voters think there is more to the resignation of Governor James E. McGreevey than what he has told them, and it has little to do with his sexual activities, according to a poll released yesterday.

"Nearly half of those surveyed said they believed McGreevey resigned because of corruption in his administration, while just 8 percent said they think he is leaving because he is gay. Another 11 percent said he was quitting because of the extramarital affair."

Salon's Arianna Huffington is more sympathetic, and explains why television shows were on a tear to book her:

"I was the proverbial two birds being killed with one stone -- a political commentator whose ex-husband had come out as gay. . . .

"McGreevey's resignation announcement, a true nexus of the personal and the political, was undoubtedly the best speech he's ever made. It was powerful, compelling, emotional and in sharp contrast to the pre-packaged speechifying we are so accustomed to hearing from politicians. At this profound crisis point in his political and personal lives he sounded almost liberated. It's hard to resist playing armchair psychoanalyst and wondering: Did McGreevey unconsciously make certain choices -- like putting his lover on the government payroll in a high-profile position he was not qualified for -- in order to force upon himself Thursday's public announcement: 'I am a gay American'?

"We can't, of course, know what was going on in McGreevey's psyche, but hiring his lover, Golan Cipel -- an Israeli foreign national unable to obtain a federal security clearance to be the homeland security czar of New Jersey (and at a salary of $110,000 a year, no less) -- is the height of recklessness, and only makes sense as a taxpayer-funded cry for help."

That will be $90 for the hour, and you can get off the couch now.

How nasty is this campaign becoming? The New York Daily News has the answer:

"Ex-Navy fighter pilot Sen. Tom Harkin called Vice President Cheney a coward who dodged military service but is willing to be tough 'with someone else's kid's blood.'

"Harkin said he was infuriated by the veep mocking Sen. John Kerry for saying he would fight a 'more sensitive war on terror.'

"'When I hear this coming from Dick Cheney, who was a coward, who would not serve during the Vietnam War, it makes my blood boil,' Harkin said yesterday, elevating an already vicious war of words between the two campaigns and their allies. 'He'll be tough, but he'll be tough with someone else's kid's blood,' Harkin said of Cheney."

Slate's Fred Kaplan is downright bleak about Iraq:

"This is a terribly grim thing to say, but there may be no solution to the problem of Iraq. There might be nothing we can do to build a path to a stable, secure, let alone democratic regime. And there's no way we can just pull out without plunging the country, the region, and possibly beyond into still deeper disaster. . . .

"The U.S. military -- the only force in Iraq remotely capable of keeping the country from falling apart -- finds itself in a maddening situation where tactical victories yield strategic setbacks. The Marines could readily defeat the insurgents in Najaf, but only at the great risk of inflaming Shiites -- and sparking still larger insurgencies -- elsewhere. In the Sadr City section of Baghdad, as U.S. commanders acknowledge, practically every resident is an insurgent.

"There are not enough U.S. and British troops now to create the conditions for order. Nor are there likely to be any time soon.

"John Kerry says that, if elected president, he'd persuade our allies -- the ones Bush blew off -- to come help (or bail) us out. Kerry would certainly be an abler diplomat than Bush; he would repair tattered alliances, and the benefits would likely be substantial in many aspects of international politics. But it's unclear how even Kerry would lure reluctant leaders to send significant numbers of combat troops into what they see as the quagmire of Iraq."

He's right -- that's pretty grim.

We mentioned Broder's Bush-in-trouble column yesterday, and now Josh Marshall weighs in:

"Here you have David Broder writing a column which, though it says many things, says mainly that President Bush is likely to be thrown out of office -- not because John Kerry is lighting the hustings on fire, but simply because President Bush's fundamental policy decisions have failed and voters are going to hold him accountable.

"That perception, that conventional wisdom, once it takes hold, can have a poisonous effect on the efforts of the perceived loser. And when that perception begins to take hold among Republicans, if it does, it will set off a vicious internal dynamic within the party.

"And so this, I think, will be the key issue over the next three weeks, as we build up to and then come out of the Republican convention: when does the CW defined by Broder -- the veritable pontiff of beltway CW -- start registering? If the polls change it may never, of course. But if not, when does the president start moving ahead in the polls? Can the GOP convention fundamentally shift the dynamic of the race? And, if not, when do the first signs of panic begin to appear within the president's ranks?

"The GOP convention now seems like it'll be a much more high-stakes affair than the DNC."

Good. Now I've got a reason to go to New York.

American Prospect's Mary Lynn Jones warns Dems about John McCain, "who has become the darling of both parties. A frequent guest on television shows, McCain is seen as a credible, articulate straight shooter. And it's never hurt an ego to be considered the most popular guy on campus. As a result, he's become untouchable in the sense that neither party thinks it can afford to alienate or even criticize him.

"Numerous Democrats, such as Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and even Kerry in his Boston acceptance speech last month, keep touting their friendships with McCain to hitch themselves to his popularity and to show that they're bipartisan. But they also need to recognize that McCain is never going to join their ranks, and that, in the presidential election, he's working for everything they're working against.

"Even though Bush treated him abominably in the South Carolina primary in 2000 and didn't invite him to the campaign finance bill signing in March 2002, McCain is helping Bush by campaigning with him in such swing states as New Hampshire and Washington this year. But it's not as though Bush is throwing more than kisses McCain's way. A release posted on Bush's campaign Web site this month knocking Kerry's energy record quotes a 2003 statement from National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) Executive Vice President Michael Baroody on the Climate Stewardship Act. McCain co-sponsored the bill, which Kerry supported.

"It's unrealistic for him and for Democrats to think he can continue to straddle the middle any longer. Democratic efforts to embrace him in the hopes that he'll return the hug and bring some votes to the Democratic Party are a waste of time. He's clearly chosen sides, and he didn't choose their side."

Finally, red-blooded Americans face a very blue choice, says this Chicago Tribune wire story:

"Sen. John Kerry has blue blood from all the royal houses of Europe, with even more titled relations than President Bush, Burke's Peerage said Monday. Burke's Peerage, which researches genealogy, said the Democratic presidential candidate traces descent through his mother, Rosemary Forbes, to the royal houses of Albania, England, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia, Byzantium, Persia (Iran) and France."

"Forbes was descended from William Forbes, the Laird of Newe, the Peerage said. 'It is via this family that the Democratic candidate is descended from Henry II, the king of England and father of Richard the Lionheart, who was leader of the third Crusade in 1189,' the Peerage said.

"By contrast, Bush is related to Queen Elizabeth II, 20 British dukes and many European princes, it said."

No wonder Sir George and Sir John keep dismounting their steeds to insist they're one of us.

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