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A good run-down of

A good run-down of the day's events from the summary section of today's Nelson Report ...

SUMMARY: is there an object lesson for North Korea and the 6 Party talks as Iran seems ready to make a deal on at least freezing its nuclear program? A combination of hard work by European diplomats, the results of the US presidential election, and a convergence of US/Euro negotiating positions seems to have resulted in solid progress in defusing the Iranian nuclear weapons crisis. Previously skeptical US observers report optimism that a “realistic” European position has narrowed the differences which kept the Bush Administration at arms’ length, just last month. So the US is now more active than before, not just letting the Euros do it all. Big question remains...what can Iran “really say ‘yes’ to?” Secretary of State Powell will meet the Iranians Nov. 22-23, and is expected to offer to lift some important bilateral sanctions, in return for Iran’s announcement it’s ready to suspend uranium enrichment “indefinitely”. Bush not likely to OK complete lifting of ILSA sanctions, but a quiet deal not to enforce it against European companies may be enough to move to the next level. In any event, a Powell deal on the 23d would head off an immediate sanctions vote crisis if the IAEA had to refer all this to the UN Security Council. Longer run, some observers warn Iran is not really giving up its nuclear weapons ambitions, but is trading temporary concessions for badly needed aircraft parts, investment money, etc. So at worst (for Iranian bomb supporters) Teheran has brought some time, and potentially opened a big rift between Europe and the US if things fall through because of a tough US line which neither China nor Russia would support, in any event.

Gossip: nothing solid yet, but business community sources are buzzing that every Republican’s favorite free trade Democrat, Rep. Cal Dooley, of California, is a good bet to succeed Bob Zoellick at USTR. Dooley would not appease House Dems, who consider themselves international human rights victims, at this point. But the press and public certainly could be expected to see the symbolism of President Bush putting into practice his promise, last week, of a more sincerely bipartisan approach for his second term. Where is Zoellick going? Some say he’s hoping to land a private sector CEO’s position, and will keep his eye on future hopes at Treasury.

Supreme Court...the Drudge Report’s Sunday item that Bush is seriously thinking of Clarence Thomas for Chief Justice is not taken seriously...and if advanced, would stiffen the backbone of every Democrat, and not a few Republicans. Smart money remains on Justice O’Connor for Chief. In meantime, it’s still not clear if Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter has talked himself out of the Judiciary Committee chairmanship by daring to warn about not overturning Roe v. Wade, then backtracking, frantically.


Frantically, <$NoAd$>indeed.

I keep returning again

I keep returning again and again to this issue of the comical overstatement of the Republican victory last Tuesday. But let me just hit at least once on two of the silliest talking points of those pushing this argument.

First is the argument, voiced by Mr Cheney and others, that President Bush won with more popular votes than any president in history. A truly silly point. Yes, the president got more popular votes than any other candidate in history. He is followed by John Kerry. And Kerry is followed by Ronald Reagan and Al Gore, in that order.

The fact that the president got more popular votes than anybody in the past isn't a measure of the margin of his victory. It's a measure of population growth, which (unless he's more of a bounder than we know) he is not responsible for, and a high-turnout election, for which his unpopularity is as responsible as his popularity.

And please, no more of this nonsense about how the president's crushing victory is plainly shown by just how much red there is on the map.

As in this flourish from Robert J. Caldwell in the San Diego Union-Tribune ...

From California's border to the Atlantic coast and from Canada to Mexico, the political map of the United States is awash in Republican red. A once dominant Democratic Party is now largely confined to three enclaves: the Northeast, a thin fringe along the Pacific coast and the upper Midwest (where shrinking majorities put the Democrats' hold there increasingly at risk). Almost everything else is Republican.


I'm tempted to say that this hearkens back to that age-old debate between 'one man, one vote' and 'one acre, one vote', but I'll spare us all the agony because, as it happens, there actually was such a debate. Presumably it does not require mentioning that the relative absence of blue on the electoral maps for an election in which the blue-state candidate won 48% of the vote points to the fact that the blue areas are so heavily populated.

(Here is a map, for instance, in which geography is weighted to population size.)

Pointing out the foolishness of this mandate talk is important and has a purpose, just as those advancing it do so with a very specific goal.

I've been making the point mainly with derision and humor. But if you'd like to read a more serious-minded take on the subject, check out this instructive new piece on this topic by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson in The New Republic.

Maybe the most telling

Maybe the most telling shot across the bow of Arlen Specter came yesterday from a man who hasn't even been sworn in yet as a senator: Sen-elect John Thune, the man who will succeed Tom Daschle.

Here are Thune's comments from yesterday on This Week, as reprinted in the Frontrunner, when asked if he would support Specter for the Judiciary Committee Chairmanship ...

I think all that's going to be decided...next week when we get in for orientation and as the leadership begins to make committee assignments. There's some proposals about changing the rules to give the leaders more latitude when it comes to making those types of assignments. The seniority system in the Senate is something that's worked for a long time, but I do -- I am troubled by what Senator Specter said. And I think he quickly, as you noticed, came back and said that he had misspoke. ... My assumption is that, if he's going to be the person that's going to be set forward by the leadership, that we'll all support him. ... But I think it's going to depend upon an understanding from many of us, particularly new members, the freshmen who are coming in, who are concerned about the things that he said and were, many of us, elected, you know, because we spoke about the importance of judges and having judges on the bench who are going to be judges who interpret and apply the Constitution, the laws of the United States. So I suspect there's going to be -- there will be some questions asked by those of us who are coming in as freshmen who ran our campaigns and built around that very central theme that we need to have good judges on the bench.


The question now, I think, is less whether Specter will keep his chairmanship through this process as whether he'll hold on to any of his remaining <$NoAd$>dignity.

And it doesn't look too promising.

Heres a story that

Here's a story that pulls together a slew of questions we'll be watching closely over the next weeks and months.

Remember that just after his reelection, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) suggested that President Bush should be cautious in nominating doctrinaire pro-life judges after he becomes Judiciary Committee Chair next year. Specter is outspokenly pro-choice.

Soon after, however, Specter was volubly protesting his fealty to the president and insisting he'd give the go-ahead to more or less anybody the president nominated to the bench.

Evidently, in the interim, Specter got a call letting him know that if he wanted the Judiciary Committee Chairmanship, he'd better recant. And quickly. And so he did.

At this point, to use judicial jargon, the White House had already forced Specter to enter into a non-custodial relationship with his testicles. But now the ante is being upped.

James Dobson, one of the most powerful leaders of the religious right, now says he doesn't want Specter as Chairman no matter what. "He is a problem," said Dobson, "and he must be derailed."

I have a hard time believing that Specter will actually be turned aside while he is so loudly protesting his willingness to toe the party line. But it puts even more pressure on Specter to be a down-the-line supporter of every judicial nominee the president sends up to the Hill.

This raises two issues. First, how much room will remain for the moderate GOP senators and how much freedom will they have to deviate from the White House line which, predictably, is now moving even more decisively to the right. Second, how much de facto control will the White House and the president have over the internal governance of the senate under Bill Frist? Who chairs what committees? What rules get or don't get changed, etc.?

A couple days ago

A couple days ago, I wrote that I believe "Hillary Clinton never should and probably (hopefully) never will run for president." And a number of you have asked, why?

I have two basic reasons, one principled, another pragmatic.

Before we get to those, however, I should note that I wrote close to the same thing almost four years ago in an article in Slate about why the Hillary for President idea was fanciful verging on ridiculous. And, on top of that, I'm a fan of hers. I don't buy into any of the Hillary-bashing myths.

(At first, I believed that only journalists and Republicans were fueling the Hillary for Prez line. But eventually I learned that there were actually some Clinton insiders who believed and wanted it to happen.)

But back to the two reasons.

First, I don't like the idea of the presidency becoming the private preserve of a few chosen families. It's bad for democracy, even if a given individual might have much to recommend him or her as a candidate.

Since many are now talking up the possibility of Jeb Bush running for president in 2008, that opens up at least the theoretical possibility that one family could hold the White House for most of a 28 year period (1989-2017). Whether you're a Republican or Democrat, Bush-lover or Bush-hater, that can't be good for republican government in the United States.

(Much is made of the father-and-son presidencies of John (1797-1801) and John Quincy Adams (1825-29). Much less is made of the fact that they were, in effect, members of different political parties.)

As big a fan as I am of Bill Clinton, I'd be against another Clinton family presidency even if there weren't a Bush family. But given that we're now two President Bushes and counting, it makes it all the more important for Democrats to be clear on the principle at issue. A (Hillary) Clinton v. (Jeb) Bush grudge match in 2008 would be a sign of all sorts of sclerotic tendencies in American politics.

Now, to the second reason, the one I focused most on in that Jan. 2000 article in Slate. And that would be, 'Are you kidding?'

Let's be honest, Hillary Clinton is a deeply divisive figure. And if there's one thing Democrats have learned in this and the previous election it is the danger of going into a national election with a candidate who cannot even get a real hearing over a large swath of the country.

As I wrote in that Slate article ...

Gore won virtually all the Northeast, all the West Coast, and nearly all the Industrial Midwest, but failed to win any other state except New Mexico. What did him in in the rest of the country was cultural liberalism—support for gun control, abortion rights, and gay rights. This handicap was particularly evident in Appalachia—West Virginia, Tennessee, western Pennsylvania, and southeastern Ohio. And who is more identified with cultural liberalism, Al Gore or Hillary Clinton?


Nothing about 2004 changes that calculus at all, I think. But I would add only this slight gloss on that point.

My point here is not that Democrats need to ditch support for any of those three positions. Nor do I think that the lesson of 2004 is that Democrats need to 'move to the right' or restrict the next nomination cycle to guys born beneath the Mason-Dixon line.

But the electoral fault line running through the country is now quite clear. And, for Democrats, if winning the presidency is to be anything other than the political equivalent drawing an inside straight, the party needs to put a good half dozen more states into play next time around.

(I should say that this would apply even if Kerry had won Ohio and the election.)

The point is that on Hillary Clinton, the cement is already dry. On the cultural fault-line that has played such a clear role in the last two elections, perceptions of her are already set.

Nominating Hillary would simply mean that Democrats would be going into the election with one hand tied -- no chained -- behind their back. And as we've seen, they need at least two hands.

Also worth noting is

Also worth noting is this article in today's Post on Rove's strategy and victory. There's a lot in here that is simply the winning team's version of events -- clever gambits that would have seemed foolish had the result turned out differently. But they didn't turn out differently. And it's worth understanding why and how they believe they did it.

Grant President Bush his

Grant President Bush his due. He's the first president since his father to win the office with a majority of the popular vote. President Clinton, who ran twice in three-way races, came very close (49.2%) in 1996, but never did.

Yet I'm interested in collecting a list of the most ludicrous overstatements of the scope of the president's victory.

The president himself made a good start of it by calling his win a "broad nationwide victory."

So far the best I've come up with is from is from investment advice columnist Donald Luskin who says that President Bush won reelection in a "landslide."

Have any other good ones? Drop me a line and let me know.

One small silver lining

One small silver lining to last week's election result is that it will take away at least some of the election year paralysis over Iraq.

I think there was actually far less disagreement over the course of events in Iraq than election rhetoric would lead one to believe. Democrats grasped on to everything that was going wrong (and it wasn't hard to find things). And most Republicans did the opposite, since to criticize the conduct of the war, they felt, was to criticize the president on his way to a tight reelection contest.

I don't necessarily expect the administration's tune to change in any way. But I'll be watching congressional Republicans to see if and when they start changing their tunes and begin looking for ways to clean up the mess that's been created over there.

We'll probably also start to get a fuller and clearer accounting of various messes in the country that the White House managed to keep hushed up until after the election. Like this story in yesterday's Times about at least 4,000 shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles from Iraq's pre-war arsenal that have apparently also gone missing.

Bill Clinton as Chairman

Bill Clinton as Chairman of the DNC? So says this LA Times editorial. To me it sounds like a great idea. And I say that as someone who believes Hillary Clinton never should and probably (hopefully) never will run for president.

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