John Kerry and John Edwards rip Bush over Katrina. Bill Clinton blasts the tax cuts. Harry Reid says he'll vote against Roberts.

Do you detect something of a pattern here?

A more aggressive Democratic opposition, washed in by the hurricane, appears to be finding its voice.

Whether it's a winning message or not remains to be seen. But liberals who feel the Beltway Dems have been way too timid for the last four years must be pouring the champagne.

In the case of Kerry and Edwards, the '08 positioning by the '04 boys couldn't be more obvious.

With Bush's poll ratings at record lows, the thought crossed my mind: What if Katrina had struck a year ago? Could it have changed the outcome of the election?

In my humble opinion, the Democrats need to do more than just criticize the bungling of the past. They need to lay out a compelling vision for the reconstruction of New Orleans. There's an important debate to be had here, but my sense is that voters don't have much patience for the usual partisan bickering.

It's similar, in a way, to the Democratic dilemma over Iraq: Yes, we know it's a mess, but what would you do differently in the future?

The disparate paths taken by the two Johns speak volumes about their approaches. Kerry, sounding very much in 2004 form, unleashed a litany that attempted to tie the hurricane debacle to other perceived Bush failures:

"Brownie is to Katrina what Paul Bremer is to peace in Iraq, what George Tenet is to slam-dunk intelligence, what Paul Wolfowitz is to parades paved with flowers in Baghdad, what Dick Cheney is to visionary energy policy, what Donald Rumsfeld is to basic war planning, what Tom DeLay is to ethics and what George Bush is to 'Mission Accomplished' and 'Wanted Dead or Alive.' "

Edwards, one of the few politicians who talks frequently about poverty--as in his signature "Two Americas" speech last year--offered policy prescriptions while hitting the White House for suspending prevailing (read: union) wages on Katrina projects:

"I might have missed something, but I don't think the president ever talked about putting a cap on the salaries of the CEOs of Halliburton and the other companies . . . who are getting all these contracts. This president, who never met an earmark he wouldn't approve or a millionaire's tax cut he wouldn't promote, decided to slash wages for the least of us and the most vulnerable."

And Bill Clinton (whose wife, we've heard, may be interested in his old job) jumped into the fray over the weekend with George Stephanopoulos (they had not parted on good terms after George's tell-all book and his harsh criticism on Monica, but must have buried the hatchet). Clinton said that he, as a wealthy guy, should not have gotten so many tax reductions:

"Whether it's race-based or not, if you give your tax cuts to the rich and hope everything works out all right, and poverty goes up, and it disproportionately affects black and brown people, that's a consequence of the action made. That's what they did in the '80s; that's what they've done in this decade. In the middle, we had a different policy."

What's emerging is a Democratic critique of the Bush years that uses the hurricane as a metaphor for other administration shortcomings. Ordinarily, I'd say, the danger is that the Dems will propose so many expensive programs that they'll be Velcro'd with the old tax-and-spend label. But with the president making clear he'll spend whatever it takes in the Gulf region--make that both Gulf regions--the borrow-and-spend Republicans are giving them plenty of competition.

You can check out this Dan Balz | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/19/AR2005091901427.html piece in the WashPost, or Ron Brownstein | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-091905dems_lat,0,3940508.story?coll=la-home-headlines in the LAT, calling it an "early start to the maneuvering for the 2008 White House race."

Meanwhile, even though everyone believes Roberts is a lock for confirmation, this New York Times | http://nytimes.com/2005/09/20/politics/politicsspecial1/20cnd-confirm.html?hp&ex=1127275200&en=6081fc585ad71e7c&ei=5094&partner=homepage story makes clear the new opposition strategy:

"Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, said today that he will vote against the confirmation of Judge John G. Roberts Jr. to be the 17th chief justice of the United States, in part because he does not know enough about him.

"'No one doubts that John Roberts is an excellent lawyer and an affable person,' Mr. Reid said on the Senate floor. 'But at the end of this process, I have too many unanswered questions about the nominee to justify a vote confirming him to this enormously important lifetime position.'

"The move comes as a surprise; many Senate observers expected Mr. Reid, who comes from a Republican-leaning state, to support Judge Roberts. But with a second vacancy on the court, Mr. Reid could be using his vote to send a message to the White House, which must replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a critical swing vote on the court."

The post-Kinsley LAT | http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-ed-roberts20sep20,0,3519504.story?coll=la-home-oped editorial page, joining the WashPost, now says: "It will be a damning indictment of petty partisanship in Washington if an overwhelming majority of the Senate does not vote to confirm John G. Roberts Jr. to be the next chief justice of the United States." So I guess that's an indictment of Roberts. It's a 2-1 split for the MSM, with the NYT editorializing against JR.

Some Democrats are in a tight spot, the Wall Street Journal notes:

New York Sen. Charles Schumer has told colleagues that Judge Roberts overall acquitted himself well before the committee. But a yes vote could undermine Mr. Schumer's ability to raise money from anti-Roberts donors for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which he now heads. When asked Tuesday if he had made up his mind, Mr. Schumer answered, "Nope."

Similar battles are bedeviling Democrats not on the committee. Some moderates, such as Florida's Sen. Bill Nelson and Nebraska's Ben Nelson, face re-election next year in Republican-leaning states and are eager to pocket some centrist credentials by voting for Judge Roberts. Mr. Nelson of Nebraska said Tuesday he has "not seen anything that would cause me to vote against" the nominee. Another red-state Democrat, Max Baucus of Montana, said, "I'm inclined to vote for him."

By backing Judge Roberts, some Democrats argue, the party will have more credibility if it takes on the president's nominee for Justice O'Connor's seat, one that arguably is more important because she has played a critical role in rulings on issues such as affirmative action and abortion rights.

By the way, I'm in New York, where I covered the Peter Jennings memorial service, which you can read about here | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/20/AR2005092001705.html.

I question whether this Washington Post | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/19/AR2005091901930.html article would have been a front-page story before Michael "Arabian Horse" Brown, but here it is:

"The Bush administration is seeking to appoint a lawyer with little immigration or customs experience to head the troubled law enforcement agency that handles those issues, prompting sharp criticism from some employee groups, immigration advocates and homeland security experts.

"The push to appoint Julie Myers to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, comes in the midst of intense debate over the qualifications of department political appointees involved in the sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina."

The key paragraph:

"Her uncle is Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She married Chertoff's current chief of staff, John F. Wood, on Saturday."

Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin | http://michellemalkin.com/archives/003576.htm, who often sides with the administration, unloads on this one:

"Oh, give me a circ*&%$# break and a half! This nomination is a monumental political and policy blunder in the wake of the Michael Brown/FEMA fiasco. And I can tell you that contrary to the Miss Mary Sunshine White House spokeswoman's comments, rank-and-file DHS employees and immigration enforcement officials are absolutely livid about Myers' nomination.

"Everything was supposed to change after 9/11. No more business as usual, blah blah blah. But when it comes to immigration enforcement and border security, Bush keeps installing clueless cronies."

Bloggers against pork seems to be getting some traction, based on this post from Tapscott's Copy Desk | http://tapscottscopydesk.blogspot.com/2005/09/momentum-grows-in-congress-to-swap.html:

"The concept behind Porkbusters | http://truthlaidbear.com/porkbusters.php - brainchild of N.Z. Bear and Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds - is getting a big boost on Capitol Hill. Rep. Ron Lewis, R-KY, is circulating a 'Dear Colleague' letter challenging fellow Members of Congress to join him in asking the House to adopt a one-year moratorium on all 'non-defense earmarks.' That's Washingtonese for 'pork barrel projects.'"

Non-defense? Meaning Pentagon pork is okay?

What's this? Republicans blaming Bush for excessive spending?

"Congressional Republicans from across the ideological spectrum yesterday rejected the White House's open-wallet approach to rebuilding the Gulf Coast, a sign that the lockstep GOP discipline that George W. Bush has enjoyed for most of his presidency is eroding on Capitol Hill," says The Washington Post | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/20/AR2005092001704.html.

"Trying to allay mounting concerns, White House budget director Joshua B. Bolten met with Republican senators for an hour after their regular Tuesday lunch. Senators emerged to say they were annoyed by the lack of concrete ideas for paying the Hurricane Katrina bill."

Bottom line? It didn't work.

Arianna Huffington | http://www.huffingtonpost.com has gotten a lot of attention for her blog, which is less celebrity-oriented and far more liberal and anti-Bush (despite the presence of a few token conservatives) than I had expected. In Wired, Adam Penenberg | http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,68860,00.html?tw=rss.CUL admits error:

"Last May, when I first heard that Arianna Huffington planned to launch a blog and news site, I glibly predicted she would attract as much traffic as she did votes for California governor (she ended up dropping out of the 2003 recall election that Arnold Schwarzenegger went on to win).

"Frankly, I didn't think a liberal version of the Drudge Report that would depend on the ruminations of blognorant celebrities like Laurie David (wife of Curb Your Enthusiasm's Larry David), octogenarian news anchor Walter Cronkite and actor John Cusack could be anything more than a virtual Hollywood cocktail party . . .

"But I was wrong. Not only has Huffington delivered on her promise to create an 'innovative group blog,' she has created a viable business. In its first month, The Huffington Post started out with more than 700,000 visitors, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. By inking deals with AOL, Tribune Media Services and Yahoo, site traffic has grown to almost 1.5 million readers a month -- a leap of more than 60 percent from the prior month -- who click through 10 million pages."

Dan Rather is criticizing the media again, as we see in this Hollywood Reporter | http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/nm/20050920/tv_nm/television_rather_dc_1 dispatch:

"Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather said Monday that there is a climate of fear running through newsrooms stronger than he has ever seen in his more than four-decade career. . . .

"Addressing the Fordham University School of Law in Manhattan, occasionally forcing back tears, he said that in the intervening years, politicians 'of every persuasion' had gotten better at applying pressure on the conglomerates that own the broadcast networks. He called it a 'new journalism order.'

"He said this pressure -- along with the 'dumbed-down, tarted-up' coverage, the advent of 24-hour cable competition and the chase for ratings and demographics -- has taken its toll on the news business. 'All of this creates a bigger atmosphere of fear in newsrooms,' Rather said."

Dan has issued the dumbing-down indictment before, but I wonder if the "fear" diagnosis related to his own National Guard fiasco.

Paul Mirengoff at Power Line | http://www.powerlineblog.com/ responds:

"Dan Rather finds that there is an increasing 'climate of fear running through newsrooms' these days. I certainly hope that this is so -- the former monopolists in the newsrooms should fear that, unless they report with less bias, their audience will continue to decline in the face of competition. And, at a minimum, they should fear that if they present blockbluster reports based on fabricated evidence, as Rather did, they will lose their jobs."

Mirengoff hits the MSM for trumpeting the 10,000-may-be-dead-from-Katrina story. I agree that blaring that without qualification was irresponsible, but you can't not report it when the mayor of New Orleans says so. What you can say is that he has no evidence to indicate he knows what he's talking about.

I just saw the Paul McCartney ad for Fidelity Investments, and as an old Beatles fanatic, it bugged me (the guy doesn't exactly need the money). Here are some ruminations from Seth Stevenson | http://slate.msn.com/id/2126568/?nav=tap3 in Slate:

"The British press was all over McCartney (even though the spot has not run in the U.K.). The Brit tabloids roasted 'Macca' for tainting his legacy with vile commerce. Several stories trotted out a 2002 statement in which McCartney claimed, 'We're not in the business of singing jingles. We do not peddle sneakers, pantyhose, or anything else.' The headlines ranged from 'Rubber Sold' to 'I Am the Ad Man, Goo Goo G'joob.' American papers were a tad more restrained, but the Miami Herald titled its piece 'Sir Paul Sells Out.'

"I'm not sure that the concept of selling out has much traction anymore. The battle is over, and the sellouts have won. At this point, about 97 percent of Who songs have been used in automobile ads. The Rolling Stones appear in ads for Ameriquest, a mortgage-services company. Bob Dylan made a cameo in a spot for Victoria's Secret underwear.

"Those are all geezers, you protest -- not fierce and uncorrupted young bucks. But when I talk to younger people, the sellout label seems not to exist anymore. They expect TV ads to introduce great new music. They don't care when Oscar-winning actors turn up in spots for Diet Coke. To them, endorsement deals just seem like a natural byproduct of fame, and nothing to get worked up over.

"I'm not quite post-integrity, yet. Part of me continues to wince when artistic heroes get sucked into the marketing machine. It makes me wonder what their work really means to them. It makes me contemplate the force of greed. Bottom line, it's just sort of a bummer/

"I think Paul's driving desire is for relevance. This is a way for Paul to say: Remember that bloke in the home-movie clips? The guy you loved so much? I'm still here. I've got a fresh new album."

Then he should have paid for his own ad campaign and heeded his long-ago advice: 'Cause money can't buy me love.