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I think the Times

I think the Times is on to something in this piece in Saturday's paper. A few days ago I noted that the Democrats' success in blocking the White House's overtime rollback plan in the Senate might mark a small but significant shift in the political winds. It seemed questionable whether the Dems would win at all on this amendment. But they ended up winning by nine votes. In the context, that meant winning handily.

(Union sources tell me that they may also get another bite at this apple in the House on a motion to instruct the conferees who will reconcile the House and Senate bills.)

As the Times notes, the fact that this came just as the president is facing reverses on his Iraq policy and on the economy is no accident. (The Times piece also notes a handful of recent small victories for the Dems.) Basically what happened here is that six moderate Republicans didn't feel the White House could protect them on this one.

Those sorts of calculations have been critical to the president's power, as indeed they are to any successful chief executive. The president's partisans have said that they gave the Senate moderates a pass on this one, figuring there was no reason for them to cause themselves trouble over this vote. And that may be true, as far as it goes. But the real issue is that it was a dangerous vote for them. The president's popularity could no longer give them cover.

In a sense, all that's odd is that it ever should have been otherwise. The issue here is overtime pay for middle class families. Dice it, slice it, shred it, whatever --- it's awfully hard to paint that as part of some counter-culture agenda. It's a kitchen table issue if there ever was one. And yet for the last eighteen months the White House has been able to push through a lot of similar stuff. And all for a simple reason: politicians will do almost anything an extremely popular president of their own party tells them to do.

That sort of power has made the White House cocky. How else to explain their decision to push a cut in overtime pay going into an election year? This is the sort of thing Republicans would often like to do but seldom are foolish enough to try.

Now that's starting to change. It's a small change and perhaps an impermanent one. But I think we may look back on this single vote as the first small signs of the tide turning.

For more on the president's current standing, the backdrop for this vote, and the fall-out from last weekend's speech see this comment from CNN's Bill Schneider on Thursday night …

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): It didn't work. That is the unambiguous conclusion of a poll taken in the days following President Bush's speech Sunday night.

Before the speech, the president's job approval rating was 59 percent in the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll. After his rating dropped suddenly to 52 percent. That's his lowest rating since -- note the date -- September 10, 2001.

Why the drop? One word: Iraq.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: We knew that it was going to be a lot of money and it was going to take a lot of time. But this was the first strong message that the president put out like that.

SCHNEIDER: Approval of the president's handling of Iraq dropped from 57 to 51 percent.

BUSH: Two years ago I told the Congress and the country that the war on terror would be a lengthy war, a different kind of war, fought on many fronts and many places. Iraq is now the central front.

SCHNEIDER: People don't get that connection. Approval of the president's handling of terrorism remains high. Much higher than his rating on Iraq. And that rating hardly changed.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What President Bush gave the American people on Sunday night was a price tag, not a plan.

SCHNEIDER: The public agrees. Strikingly, after the president laid out his policy, the number of Americans who felt the Bush administration does not have a clear plan in Iraq went up, from 54 percent before the speech to 59 percent afterwards.

And what about that price tag?

BUSH: I will soon submit to Congress a request for $87 billion.

SCHNEIDER: Yikes, said the Democrats.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's costing a billion dollars a week. He needs to get the help from the international coalition that he should have gotten months ago.

SCHNEIDER: Yikes, say the voters, who balk at the prospect of spending $87 billion in Iraq when the U.S. economy is shaky.

Our polls suggest President Bush is in political trouble.

Before his speech Sunday night, he had a 12-point edge over an unnamed Democrat for re-election. After the speech, that lead shrank to 4 points. Too close to call.

(on camera): There is a little good news for President Bush. Nearly 60 percent of the public still says Iraq was worth going to war over. The public hasn't turned against the policy, they've turned against the game plan and the price tag.

After everything that has transpired over the last two years we are back in a political situation very similar to that of September 10th, 2001.

The headline summary from

The headline summary from today's Nelson Report ...

IRAN…a real nuclear crisis

Summary: the press is covering today's IAEA vote on Oct. 31 compliance by Iran as forced by U.S. pressure. In fact, the Europeans are just as worried and didn't have to be Boltonized. Russia, China also understand…that's critical, since Russia is at once the problem and the solution. Reliable sources confirm intel on Iran is real, not Feith-based. Iran is well on the way to what Saddam was blocked from doing…diverse WMD, with missiles. But U.S. misuse of intel to force the war in March, bullying of Europe and the U.N., and overextension of current resources in Iraq, now makes heading-off Iran very difficult. Next step…will Tehran quit IAEA? Maybe not…that's where Russia comes in.

More on this soon.

One of the good

One of the good things about the tight relationship between the United States and Israel is that the USA is on hand to save the Israelis from themselves when this or that Likudnik government decides to do something truly stupid.

The Israeli security cabinet's decision to expel Yasser Arafat from the occupied territories (so far a decision in principle, rather than implemented) is a case in point.

Set aside whatever you might think of Arafat and just consider how many positive things would flow from this decision.

On the positive side, expelling Arafat would confirm Israel's already ample support in Europe and around the world. It would strengthen the hand of accommodationist Arab governments like Jordan and allow pro-Israel Palestinian parties on the West Bank a chance to breath free. And of course since Arafat wouldn't have access to like a phone or anything there'd be no way he could continue to exercise control within the PA just as he now does from Ramallah.

So many upsides and no drawbacks.

What a great idea.

I havent had a

I haven't had a chance to look at the specifics and contexts of all of Howard Dean's various remarks about Israel and the Palestinians in recent days. But it strikes me as an extremely bad move on the part of his opponents to try to make Israel into a divisive issue in the Democratic primaries. Bad for the party, bad for the country, bad for everybody.

Okay from the ridiculous

Okay, from the ridiculous to the sublime, only in reverse.

Adam Nagourney's piece in the Times gives the standard run-down of Wes Clark's seemingly imminent announcement of his candidacy. He puts a bit more flesh on the story than Dan Balz in the Post and leaves less doubt about the outcome.

But look at the quote he got from Mark Fabiani ...

He's an intriguing figure. You spend any time with him and you realize he is a prestigiously talented person with an extraordinary record. He would be a very potent candidate.

Here's my question: what the &#$% is a "prestigiously talented person"?

Aha More news about

Aha! More news about Dean Campaign Manager Joe Trippi's 'he's-begging-to-be-our-VP' dirty tricks campaign against Wes Clark. This from the just-posted edition of USNews' Washington Whispers ...

And forget about that talk that all the retired four-star general and former NATO boss wants is the veep nomination. Supporters say that's a dirty-tricks campaign pushed by rival Howard Dean who's scared of a Clark candidacy. Says Frisby: "Wes Clark firmly believes that he is the best choice to be president, not be vice president or hold any other government post."

Leave it to TPM to bring you the scoop first.

And in this just-released AP story signaling Clark's decision to run, see these two grafs ...

While mulling his options, Clark has met with several presidential contenders who covet his endorsement and might consider him for a vice presidential slot. He met Saturday with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who said it is too soon to talk about political alliances.

"There is a lot of vetting that would have to be done before you would have those kinds of discussions," Dean said when asked whether he had discussed the vice presidency with Clark.

In other words, the Dean camp is trying to pooh-pooh the bogus spin they floated to the Washington Post only yesterday.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave ...

Is the Dean camp

Is the Dean camp trying to set up Wes Clark? (Yep, I'm talkin' about you, Joe!) This piece in today's Post says Dean and Clark "discussed the vice presidency at a weekend meeting in California." Read down into the article and there doesn't seem to be that much there there. But the story got picked up on CNN too. And now the story of the day is not those very active discussions Clark is having about his own presidential run, but the potential 'Dean/Clark alliance'. And if Clark decides to get into the race after all, doesn't that mean that he wobbled, that as recently as this week he was thinking of taking the number two slot from Dean, or endorsing Dean? (His opponents want to play to the 'indecision' meme, remember.) I think that's what some people would like us to think. The Post calls those people "sources familiar with the [Dean/Clark] discussions." But I think we can imagine who those folks might be.

Two years ago today

Two years ago today I rolled out of bed in the morning, still semi-conscious and half asleep. As I walked into my living room --- the TV was still on from the night before --- I saw the second plane slam into the World Trade Center and explode in an orange and black fireball.

I'll never know whether that was a live shot or a replay of the images from a few minutes before. It was just after nine. Still groggy, I had a hard time processing what I had seen. I knew it was a big deal. But I didn't at first grasp just how big a deal.

When I sat down at my desk my girlfriend was already typing out messages on IM from her office at work. Had I seen? Where was I? They (she worked on Capitol Hill) were next, she said.

Beside watching the plane crash into the building, what stands out in my mind about those few minutes was that I asked her why she was so sure it was terrorism.

Partly --- mainly, I think --- this was because I was still only half awake and still trying to process what I had seen. I'm not sure in those first moments I was quite clear on how large the planes were. But certainly part of what was happening was that I was still for a moment living in a pre 9/11 world, where something like this was still hard to comprehend, hard to imagine.

Then she said something like: Two planes one after another in to both buildings? What do you think it is?

With that, suddenly everything snapped into place. The sleep fell from my eyes. My mind cleared. Everything was obvious.

A few moments later she typed out a quick message: they were evacuating.

This weekend I watched a CNN documentary about September 11th. 'Documentary' is probably too grandiose a term. But the images and recollections still cut into me. Perhaps more than I'd expected, perhaps because it had been some time since I had seen some of these pictures.

There was one set of images that got to me most, ones I didn't remember seeing before. As we all have, I'd seen many times the crushing images of bodies falling the hundreds of feet from the upper floors of the towers. But I hadn't seen or didn't remember the close-ups, the zoom-ins of people on the upper floors leaning out the windows and waiving shirts or clothes into the air, trying to grab the attention of helicopters circling nearby, hoping for help.

To me these sorts of images are worse than all the rest, the bodies falling, all of them. There is something unbearable about seeing people clinging to hope when, you know, there is no hope. Their fate is sealed; they just didn't know it yet. Those were the pictures that even today made me grit my teeth and twist up my face.

Watching brought me back to the newness and rawness of those first hours and days. I recalled the images of the president getting the first word from Andy Card about the attacks, the later ones of his touring ground-zero and talking to the assembled search and rescue crews. I found him an inspiring leader in those moments. And not simply because it was such a traumatic event. I never thought much of the criticism that President Bush didn't get back to Washington till late that evening. I thought he served admirably in those first days.

As the documentary moved toward the aftermath, I wondered whether those thoughts of mine would seep into the present to color what's happening today.

They didn't.

What I felt wasn't continuity but the jarring contrast, the cheap, obvious lies, the hubris, the tough-talk for low ends, not so much the mistakes as the tawdriness of so much of what's happened, especially over the last eighteen months. Fred Kaplan has an excellent piece in Slate this week about the missed opportunity of September 12th. "By the summer of 2003," writes Kaplan, "it could fairly be said that most of the world hated the United States, or at least feared the current U.S. government." That sounds like such an extreme, over-the-top statement. "Hate" is a pretty subjective word. But it's hard to read the papers regularly and not realize that what Kaplan says is true. It's sickening.