So there it is, exposed for all to see on the front page of yesterday's Washington Post |

The total cost of Bush's proposals at the Republican convention -- permanent tax cuts, prescription drugs, rural health clinics, the whole shmear -- is "likely to be well in excess of $3 trillion over a decade."

This from a guy who's been hammering Kerry for proposing a mere $2 trillion in programs (a figure Kerry denies, just as the Bush camp disputes the $3 trillion).

So will this now become the subject of endless cable debates, blogosphere posts and newspaper investigations? The conservative president, the apostle of limited government, is revealed as a Big Spender?


The chatter is still about IBM Selectrics and Kitty Kelley.

Whether we spend ourselves into bankruptcy: Booorring.

Whether the candidates are over promising: Yadda yadda yadda.

After all, there are no secret sources, no coke-at-Camp-David allegations, no 1972 documents with a raised "th." That's what media people like to argue about.

Maybe the campaign coverage will turn serious at some point. The belated stories on the unbanned assault weapons were a hopeful sign. But it sure seems like substance doesn't sell.

It was, however, a substantive day on the trail.

"Sen. John Kerry trumpeted his health care program Tuesday as a recipe to bring down soaring medical costs, rejecting Republican contentions that a Democratic plan would mean a government takeover," says USA Today |

"John Kerry defended his health care proposals Tuesday against President Bush's charges that he's planning a government takeover of the nation's medical system. In Michigan on Monday, Bush had said Kerry has 'a massive, complicated blueprint to have our government take over the decision-making in health care.' "

The Washington Post | has this lead from Milwaukee:

"Sen. John F. Kerry, stepping up his campaign to convince voters President Bush is dishonest, told a group of seniors Tuesday that the White House attempted to conceal government statistics showing the elderly will soon pay a much bigger share of their Social Security income on Medicare expenses. 'Once again, this administration hides the truth from the American people,' Kerry said at the St. Ann Center here."

As often happens when Kerry tries to do the domestic thing, world events intrude:

"The Massachusetts senator also attacked Bush's war policy in Iraq yesterday -- a day when at least 47 Iraqis were killed by a suicide bomber as they waited at a Baghdad police station," says the Boston Globe |

"Kerry called the war 'a mess growing greater and greater on the ground each day.' He blamed U.S. policy for making 'elections harder to hold' there because growing swaths of Iraq are 'held by terrorists and jihadists and insurgents.' "

The Wall Street Journal looks at . . . taxes:

"Tax overhaul is back on the national agenda. Will anything get done this time?

"President Bush says he will push for tax overhaul if he wins in November, but he isn't saying exactly what he envisions. Amid a close presidential race and a current federal budget deficit of $422 billion, radical changes such as a flat tax or a national sales or consumption tax probably are too politically explosive. So there is a good chance that in a possible second Bush term, tax overhaul might translate into something less drastic: simplifying the system and making it more taxpayer-friendly."

After the White House finishes tangling with hordes of Gucci-clad lobbyists.

The prez is still popular with the National Guard, says the Los Angeles Times |,1,7993141.story?coll=la-home-headlines:

"President Bush, whose military record has been a recent focus of the presidential campaign, told a National Guard conference Tuesday that he was proud of his time in the Texas Air National Guard and assailed his Democratic challenger, John F. Kerry, for what he said were shifting stances on the Iraq war.

"Bush received a warm welcome from the National Guard Association of the United States. The crowd interrupted him frequently with applause, standing to cheer when the president criticized Kerry and when he talked about his own service.

"In interviews, several of the hundreds of delegates at the conference said they had little interest in the flap over Bush's military record in the early 1970s. Democrats have accused Bush of skirting his National Guard service requirements and of using family connections to win a coveted spot in the Guard to avoid service in Vietnam."

Thought the Swifties were fading away? Guess again:

"A newly surfaced document from John Kerry's Navy record says he shot a lone, wounded enemy who was running away in the incident that led to his Silver Star, his highest military decoration," says the New York Post |

"Members of the anti-Kerry Swift Boat Veterans for Truth say the report vindicates their claim that Kerry didn't show the kind of valor that merits a Silver Star. The after-action report was obtained from the Navy archives by syndicated TV commentator Mark Hyman of 'The Point.' A Navy official confirmed its authenticity."

Kerry campaign officials said they would not respond to the story until they saw the documents.

The New Republic's Michelle Cottle | is fed up with Democratic panic attacks:

"Jeez. The Republicans throw one decent convention, Bush's poll numbers show signs of life, and suddenly the entire Democratic Party is agonizing about why its chosen candidate is such a loser. John Kerry was too slow defending himself against attacks. He is too easily put on the defensive. He relies too much on his personal history. His policy positions are too complicated. His campaign has too many advisors. He lacks a core message. He lacks a common touch. His wife is a raving lunatic. His chin is too big. He dances like a girl. And on and on and on.

"Enough with the public hand-wringing. For starters, this election is hardly over. Iraq is still a disaster. The economy isn't exactly en fuego. Al Qaeda is very much alive and recruiting like crazy. The entire Middle East, and much of the rest of the world, thinks America is the Great Satan. Our homeland security efforts are scattered and underfunded. Iran and North Korea are building nukes. Dick Cheney is becoming a bigger jerk by the day. Bush's National Guard record is back in the news.

"And not even Karl Rove's flying monkeys can stop the release of Kitty Kelley's new book -- which, while unlikely to inflict much damage to W.'s rep . . . will at least annoy the Bushies for a few days.

"To be fair, the thought of four more years of The George and Dick Show is enough to terrify anyone outside of John Ashcroft's immediate family. But if anti-Bushies insist on wallowing in their doubts, fears, and premature recriminations, they should do so beyond the earshot of the bloodthirsty political media. Publicized angst just plays into Republicans' message that Dems are a bunch of weak, self-doubting girly men."

Hey, angst is their specialty.

American Prospect's Michael Tomasky | gives grudging credit to the GOP:

"It's still possible that John Kerry could win -- although, of course, anytime a liberal columnist opens his column with a phrase like that, it's not a good sign. . . .

"I don't want to sound like a conspiracy monger, but all the evidence of how this campaign has played out so far suggests that something like the following happens. It seems that once the Democratic nominee is decided -- in the current case, that would have been early March -- the top Republican and conservative strategists start having conversations. They probably get together and say something like: 'OK, John Kerry's the nominee. In one sentence or maybe two, what do we want the American voting public to be thinking about John Kerry by November 2? The neighbors discussing their votes on election eve -- what do we want them to be saying about Kerry?'

"The answer they settled on was clearly something to the effect that 'he can't be trusted to fight the war on terror.' Then, once they've agreed on that, they say: 'Okay. How do we get there from here? What are the stages of the argument?' And then they lay it out, and the stages are exactly as we've seen. . . .

"I should note for disclosure purposes that I think they're a bunch of scurrilous liars. But what I think isn't the point of this column. The point is how organized and good they are at what they do."

On the Kitty Kelley front, the NYT's Michiko Kakutani | doesn't think much of "The Family"--"a tacky, voyeuristic and petty-seeming narrative." (Hint: But she repeats all the juicy stuff!)

And here's The Washington Post interview | with her.

Salon | has the best sound bite:

Here is a family that looks "like 'The Donna Reed Show,' and then you see it's 'The Sopranos.'

Meanwhile, in the "60 Minutes" saga, two document experts now say they warned CBS that there were problems with the National Guard memos. Here's my report in The Post | today.

National Review's Jonah Goldberg | makes Dan Rather the issue:

"The charge is the journalistic equivalent of an assassin's bullet for Dan Rather. Had he refused to go to war in defense of these documents, he might have survived. Instead he's determined to go the way of the Hapsburgs and his career is over.

"Oh sure, he'll probably ride out this election and retire in the next couple years with crates full of gold watches, plaques, awards, and attaboys from the establishment media. But the inevitable fact is that he will be drawn into a war he cannot win. The very best he can do is defend the slender possibility that these documents could be real. At this point it seems impossible that he can prove they are real. Indeed, Rather has already largely conceded all this. His defenses are all about how you can't prove the documents are false, as if the burden of proof for a journalistic icon is for other people to prove what he says is wrong rather than for him to prove it is right.

"And, for Rather, this kind of draw is a loss. This could drag on for days or weeks or months. But even if it's days, the bleeding will be fatal. Already, the man looks like a sad buffoon, in denial that the quicksand is already up to his chest. His flailing about 'partisan operatives' being behind the backlash makes him sound like the Norma Desmond of Big Journalism. Someone tell me when ABC News and the Washington Post become arms of the RNC, because I would love to see that memo. But before I believed it, I'd study the size of the 'th's a bit more closely than Dan did.

A Los Angeles Times editorial |,1,7747016.story?coll=la-home-headlines spanks CBS:

"CBS News has been had. It's hard to reach any other conclusion about newly discovered documents that CBS and anchor Dan Rather are defending as revealing the truth about George W. Bush's military service.

"Despite Rather's statement Monday that the network 'believes the documents are authentic,' the evidence keeps mounting that they are not. . . .

"As CBS flounders, conservatives are citing this episode as an egregious case of liberal media bias, while some liberals are indulging in the comforting notion that Karl Rove, who is responsible for everything bad that happens everywhere, must be behind the documents."