Has Tom Daschle lost a couple of screws?

Did the normally mild-mannered senator accuse Rush Limbaugh of inciting violence?

He came pretty darn close. There were cameras there. You can watch the replay.

We can understand that Daschle is down, just having lost his majority leader's job and absorbed plenty of blame for this month's Democratic debacle.

What we can't understand is how the South Dakotan can suggest that a mainstream conservative with a huge radio following is somehow whipping up wackos to threaten Daschle and his family.

Has the senator listened to Rush lately? Sure, he aggressively pokes fun at Democrats and lionizes Republicans, but mainly about policy. He's so mainstream that those right-wingers Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert had him on their Election Night coverage.

Here's what Daschle told reporters:

"What happens when Rush Limbaugh attacks those of us in public life is that people aren't just content to listen. People want to act because they get emotional .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. and the threats to those of us in public life go up dramatically, against us and against our families, and it's very disconcerting."

Even if that were true, can a commentator be blamed for the actions of a few crazies?

It got worse. Daschle talked about fundamentalism in foreign lands becoming violent, then likened it to "shrill tone" of "Rush Limbaugh and all the Rush wannabees."

Limbaugh responded on the air: "It's not just against me but it's against you folks, the entire audience. You all now are being characterized as unsophisticated barbarians. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. This is the continuation of a pattern. Every time the Democrats lose, either elections or a major issue, they blame me, they blame talk radio and they blame you."

Thanks to talk radio and Fox News, Limbaugh said, "suddenly these liberal politicians have to fight in the arena of ideas, and they simply can't win there because evidence refutes liberalism. This is the first salvo in an attempt, I am certain, to try and discredit or even limit the freedom or the ability of people on talk radio by characterizing it as a violent, fringe activity. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"I'm sure Senator Daschle would love it if nobody were out there pointing out his hypocrisy and his contradictory nature on the farm bill, logging in South Dakota, and his support or lack of, for the president on something like that war on terrorism. However, that's not how free speech works."

Here's a sample of some of Limbaugh's "harsh" rhetoric:

"Guess who John F. Kerry is getting presidential candidacy advice from, ladies and gentlemen? None other than The Loser, Michael S. Dukakis. I don't think God is generous enough to give us another liberal Massachusetts Democrat to run against."

And: "Another interesting observation is a Sally Quinn piece from the Washington Post this past weekend titled, 'All Dough And No Mo'.' She's the only writer who called 'Bubba vs. Dubya' right. Before the election, the press billed it as a war between the two -- but after the election, nobody reported how it went. Bubba just disappeared. Even though her column contains a whole lot of Barbra Streisand BS, she does mention that the ideas of Bush soundly defeated the non-ideas of Bill Clinton."

Golly gee. We've heard worse on "Crossfire."

What really rankles Daschle, we suspect, is that conservatives seem to have a cheering section among the Fox/Rush/WashTimes/NYPost/WSJ editorial page gang. Meanwhile, the liberal organs of the liberal media, from Frank Rich to the New Republic, are ripping Daschle & Co. for forfeiting the election without a message.

There was a time when libs thought they could compete on talk radio. But after the likes of Mario Cuomo flamed out, they've more or less ceded the turf to Sean Hannity and Ollie North and Bill O'Reilly and like-minded folks in most cities.

Clearly, the Democrats have to find a better way to get their message out. Demonizing Limbaugh, it seems safe to say, is not it.

USA Today carries a wire report on Daschle's remarks.


The Gore media tour continues with a USA Today interview:

"Former vice president Al Gore said yesterday that it's now or never: He'll decide over the next month or so to run for president in 2004 or give up elective office forever. 'I assume that for all practical purposes, a decision whether or not to run again in 2004 is probably a decision on whether or not to ever be a candidate again,' he said."

Pretty groundbreaking.


And here's the Los Angeles Times session:

"Former Vice President Al Gore, as he nears a decision on whether to seek the presidency again, has begun formulating plans for a possible campaign that would be much more informal in style and more ambitious in its ideas than his unsuccessful race in 2000."


And the Washington Post sitdown:

"Former vice president Al Gore today accused President Bush of losing focus on the war against terrorism, saying Bush's two-month campaign to 'beat the war drums' against Iraq may have helped Republicans win control of Congress this month but left the country less secure against possible future attacks.

"Gore said in an interview here that Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network pose a greater immediate danger than does Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Bush's decision to shift attention to possible war with Iraq, he said, represented 'an historic mistake' that has left Afghanistan facing chaos and U.S. intelligence agencies without some of the resources needed to carry out the war against terrorism."


The New York Times strikes a similar note: "Al Gore said today that the United States had failed to destroy Osama bin Laden and dismantle the network of Al Qaeda because President Bush spent the fall campaign 'beating the drums of war against Saddam Hussein' instead of prosecuting the war on terror."


The Wall Street Journal put it this way:

"Is Al Gore preparing to join the 2004 presidential race, or abandon it? It's hard to tell from the media blitz Mr. Gore is conducting after two years largely out of public view. 'I haven't ruled out running,' the former vice president said in an interview."

Gored out? We are, for the moment.

Are the Bushies backing off their big surveillance program? Sure sounds like it from this Wall Street Journal piece:

"The Bush administration is trying to calm fears that a planned Pentagon program to comb through large quantities of citizens' personal information will erode civil liberties.

"The Total Information Awareness program has been blasted by advocacy groups and in the media as a potentially serious invasion of privacy. Pentagon officials argue that the pilot program, which has yet to be put into operation, could be a useful tool in the war on terrorism.

"Edward 'Pete' Aldridge, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, said yesterday the program is still being tested and that criticisms of it are premature. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"The selection of retired Rear Adm. John Poindexter to lead the project also has stirred criticism. Mr. Poindexter was convicted on five felony counts, including lying to Congress, in the wake of the Iran-Contra scandal. Though his convictions were overturned on appeal, choosing him for such a sensitive project has fueled critics' concerns."

Why on earth would they pick a lightning rod like Poindexter?

National Review's David Frum has an interesting take on JFK the pill-popper:

"Robert Dallek's revelations about John F. Kennedy's frail health are fascinating but incomplete. The story of the Kennedy entourage's denial of their leader's illnesses and drug regimen is not merely a story of one man's courage -- or even one man's deceit. It is a story of political manipulation; probably the most successful and enduring act of political manipulation of this century.

"Kennedy's 1960 campaign was organized around one central theme -- that Eisenhower's Republicans were too old and sick to cope with the Soviet threat. Eisenhower had suffered a heart attack in 1955 and then a mild stroke in 1957. After the stroke, Eisenhower sometimes had difficulty speaking, a disability that the White House press corps savagely mocked. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Unlike Franklin Roosevelt's concealment of his polio, Kennedy's pretended vigor was not a defensive maneuver. The pretense was the core of his message. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. To sustain the pretense, Kennedy threw away his hat and played football for the cameras, kept up an artificial tan and ceaselessly promised 'vigor.' .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Even now, 40 years later, the power of the televised image continues to convince us of the contrast between the bold, dynamic young president and the superannuated Eisenhower and his anachronistic vice president, Richard Nixon. Will the knowledge that the image was a lie -- that it was really Nixon who was the physically stronger of the two men -- change our reaction? Somehow, I doubt it. Images are stronger than facts.

"For two decades now, one historian after another has attempted to debunk the Kennedy myth -- and many of them have succeeded. And yet, no matter how many scandals they expose, no matter how many lies they annihilate, Americans remain entranced by Kennedy's charm, his beauty, and his gorgeous rhetoric. He possessed a magic that was stronger than truth, and with the passage of time the magic only grows stronger."


Salon's Robert Scheer gets worked up over the administration's contracting-out scheme:

"President Bush, a scion of great wealth who has never had to earn an honest living, has abruptly wiped out the job and retirement security of 850,000 blue- and white-collar federal workers. Always bailed out of losing business ventures by his daddy or a family friend, Bush apparently finds it easy to play games with the livelihoods of ordinary Americans as a way of punishing unions that opposed him at election time.

"The move to privatize half of the federal civilian jobs is shortsighted, with negative consequences likely for the economy and democracy, and potentially for national security. It's politics and not policy as the administration launches yet another partisan strike at its opponents, this time in the form of a presidential edict that takes effect in 30 days, without being debated by Congress. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Why would the White House pursue such a policy? Simply put, the Bushies hate unions because they are the steadiest opponents of corporate consolidation, the transfer of jobs overseas and the thievery of greedy accountants and CEOs. In other words, strong unions are still anathema to the corporate gravy train that fattened Bush, Dick Cheney and a historic number of fellow administration honchos."


Every administration, by the way, has contracted out jobs; Bush is just ratcheting up the number.

How's this for free enterprise?

"Until very recently, some of the largest companies in America have advertised their products on a Beirut-based TV station owned and operated by the terrorist group Hezbollah," says the New York Daily News.

"Pepsi, Coke, Proctor & Gamble, Western Union and Switzerland-based Nestle are among the companies that bought ads on Al-Manar, Hezbollah's television outlet in Lebanon. Al-Manar is not on the Treasury Department's terrorist watch list, but Hezbollah has been for many years."


The American Prowler is eyeing the Kerry campaign:

"Rumor in Washington has Democratic uber political consultant Bob Shrum jumping off the presidential bandwagon of Sen. John Edwards, and hopping on board that of Sen. John Kerry. There is no apparent rift, but some insiders posit that Shrum feels less comfortable shaping a faux-centrist campaign like the one Edwards will have to run in 2004, and more comfortable the with standard liberal Democratic dogma of Kerry. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Shrum was a key player in the later years of the Clinton White House, advising the president in some of his most politically tenuous days during impeachment proceedings. During the 2000 presidential runup, Shrum was the most vocal Gore adviser pushing the candidate to pick Edwards as his running mate. But of the prospective presidential candidates, Kerry may be in the best position for some big momentum in the coming months. He's contracted with historian and Jimmy Carter biographer Douglas Brinkley, who'll write a biography of sorts on Kerry's experiences in Vietnam. And Kerry is expected to be a far more vocal critic of the Bush administration in his senior position in the Senate."


For all those whose in-boxes are flooded by electronic garbage, this report from Salon's Katharine Mieszkowski:

"When Ken Pugh, a computer consultant, returned to his home office in Durham, N.C., this summer after spending three weeks hiking the Appalachian Trail in Connecticut and New Hampshire, he discovered a new breed of junk e-mail fighting for his attention among the usual crowd of penis enlargement and Viagra advertisements.

"He was the disgruntled recipient of political spam from then wannabe-senator Elizabeth Dole. Pugh, who gets about 25 spam messages a day, had received eight unsolicited e-mails from candidate Dole, outlining her positions on everything from estate taxes (she's against them) to drought relief for North Carolina farmers (she's for it). .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"North Carolina is one of 26 states with anti-spam laws. So Pugh wrote to the Dole campaign demanding $80 in reparations -- $10 for each unsolicited message, as the state statute specifies.

"On Aug. 26, the Dole campaign responded, assuring Pugh that he'd been removed from its mailing list, but refusing the payout, pointing out that North Carolina's anti-spam law applies specifically to 'commercial' e-mail messages. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Instead, Pugh filed suit against the Dole campaign in small-claims court the second week of September. He asked for $80 in damages, which he justifies as $20 for the 12 minutes, at $100 an hour, he spent reading the messages; $20 for 'emotional distress for having received spam from someone who should know better'; and $40 in punitive damages."


Finally, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial writer Michael McGough recounts a recent on-air experience:

"How could I be so stupid as to agree to appear on Bill O'Reilly's radio show to defend an editorial approving the idea of allowing prisoners to form musical groups and be photographed for a cable TV documentary? .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"I did the unthinkable: I criticized O'Reilly for 'parading' the murder victim's sister on his show. Here is some of what followed, as found on O'Reilly's Web site:

"'Mike, shut up. I resent the fact that you said that we exploited this woman. We gave this woman a voice. That's something that you and your stupid newspaper would never do, you pinhead. You would never do that.

"'You're too busy making highfaluting moral pronouncements about how prisoners should be treated inside of prison, that they should have creative expression after they've taken a human life. You see, you and your ilk and all of this pinhead editorial nonsense never get down to the suffering and pain of the crime victims, because you don't want those voices to be heard. The Post-Gazette should be ashamed of itself.'

"Again, fair (or unfair) enough. I expected cut and thrust, and if the 'shut up' and 'pinhead' seemed like elementary-school invective, well, that was apparently part of O'Reilly's shtick.

"But then O'Reilly hung up on me. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. If you criticize O'Reilly, the No Spin Zone becomes the No Talk Zone."