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Talking Points seems to

Talking Points seems to be getting old.

And fast.

The first sign has been creeping up on me slowly for the last several months: Frank Sinatra just seems a lot cooler to me than he used to. I mean, yes, yes, yes, I still mainly listen to Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones and John Coltrane and Billie Holiday. But that voice! I mean, I'm not sure quite what he had but, man, he had a lot of it.

Admittedly the whole thing is a rather disturbing development. Maybe it's something to do with the Cianci affliction.

The second sign came on me this afternoon with a jolt. I was working my way down my normal jogging path on S street in Dupont circle when a little goofball on a skateboard -- maybe 13 years old or so -- was coming toward me and stumbled and fell in my direction. I hopped out of the way and all in one motion steadied him with one outstretched hand as he fell. And as this happened I instinctively blurted out an avuncular "Watch out, son."

Son? SON!!! Watch out, son? Where'd that come from? I'm only 33 years old. I'm not even old enough to ... or at least ...

Anyway, enough about me. What I actually came to talk to you about tonight is Iraq.

There have been a slew of quite good articles appearing recently. Not all great actually, but good informational articles. Here's one yesterday which appeared in UPI, another in the Times of London and this from today's USA Today. There's a lot of good information in each of these pieces. But, frankly, my doctrine on these pieces in the dailies is not to believe any of them. If you did you would have to believe that the US from one day to the next went from preparing to go to war with Iraq to backing out of it entirely and then back to war again, all within a couple days. These articles are all based on self-interested leaks and few if any of them take the time to probe the nature of their sources self-interest, though that is admittedly a difficult thing to do. Each of the three pieces above has solid factual information. But the central thrust of each is, to the best of my knowledge, false.

There is one fact, however, that I believe may be becoming clear.

Many people believe that an Iraq invasion would be questionable, perhaps disastrous, policy but great politics. Great politics at least in the sense that a successful campaign in Iraq sometime in 2003 or 2004 would seal George W. Bush's reelection.

The truth I think is almost precisely the opposite.

(The Bush administration has gotten a lot of things completely upside down about Iraq and this is totally one of them.)

As regular readers of this column know, a couple months ago I came to the reluctant conclusion that regime change in Iraq probably was the right thing to do. But I feel pretty strongly that it's at best a wash politically.

Let's grant for a moment that if an invasion of Iraq went badly the political consequences would be disastrous for the administration. I don't think anyone doubts that. But let's say it went well: a quick victory, no grave collateral damage either human or geo-political, and few US casualties.

Still, I'd say it's basically a wash for the administration.

Here's why.

For better or worse President Bush has convinced a substantial majority of the country that he's a strong war leader and a sure hand at foreign policy. Whether or not you or I believe that is irrelevant. Most of the country does. And so, unlike the case when he came into office, it wouldn't accomplish that much politically for President Bush to show he could successfully conduct a military campaign.

The other point is more fundamental. I suspect that if the US invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam's government with few negative consequences, the typical American voter's response would be something like this: "Wow. That was impressive. Great execution. I guess we're not gonna have to worry about Saddam Hussein any more. But then again I'd never really given the whole thing too much thought anyway. So what's the next issue?"

I don't doubt for a second that if such a successful engagement took place during an election, or not that long before it, that the president would get a sizeable boost. But not too long after I suspect the political benefit would be gone entirely, much as it was in 1991. This issue is just not very high on anybody's agenda. It's a big gamble. And it wouldn't end for a long time. The United States would have a big military presence on the ground for a years and years.

9/11 was totally different. Everybody in the country was scared and angry. Very scared and very angry. The president said he'd strike back. He did strike back. And at least in the first major engagement -- overthrowing the Afghan government -- he succeeded rapidly and unambiguously. It's never surprised me that his popularity has lasted as long as it has.

But Iraq? Totally different. This doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. I think it's still the right thing to do. But politically it's a total loser.

More postcards from the

More postcards from the responsibility era.

One of the things I like that they [Andersen Accounting] do for us [Halliburton Co.] is that ... I get good advice ... from their people based upon how we're doing business and how we're operating, over and above the, just sort of the normal by-the-books audit arrangement ...

--Dick Cheney, 1996

They say that patriotism is the last refuge to which a scoundrel clings. Steal a little and they throw you in jail, Steal a lot and they make you king.

--Bob Dylan, 1983

This sharp little number

This sharp little number on the president's July 8th press conference attacking the Democratic Senate for allegedly holding up various legislative priorities is well worth your reading.

Is this the better

Is this the better part of wisdom? Or some other part I haven't come across yet?

Here's an interview with Dr. Sari Nuseibeh published at the Al Bawaba website in which Nuseibeh defends himself against the charge that he has betrayed the Palestinian people by organizing and signing a statement demanding an end to suicide bombings against Israel.

Here is a story in today's New York Times about how the Israeli Public Security Minister Uzi Landau today ordered the shut down of Nuseibeh's Jerusalem offices because he was "undermining Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem."

Next up, Arial Sharon derides Palestinian peaceniks as anti-Islamic wussies...

I have to admit

I have to admit that the president's speech admonishing Wall Street about corporate responsibility threw me at first. But now Tommy Lee is givng a speech about safe sex. And tomorrow, I'm told, Pam Anderson is giving a major policy address about how it's what's on the inside that really counts. All of this throws me.

Hi. Im Harvey. And

Hi. I'm Harvey. And I was in the wrong place at the wrong time...

I don't know if Harvey Pitt has uttered these words in the last few days. But he should ... especially if he can find the meeting place of the DC twelve-step group for political appointees who through a mix of cruel fate and poetic justice are about to receive the Washington equivalent of a vicious melvin and a two-minute-plus swirly.

If you're harboring any doubts about whether the corporate corruption scandal has political legs, take a gander at Mr. Pitt and watch your doubts melt away. As nearly as I can tell Tom Daschle, Nancy Pelosi, John McCain and just about every other politician who can get a reporter on the phone is now calling for Pitt to resign. And even the administration's defenders are a bit tepid in their defenses.

Pitt is, in a word, toxic -- as welcome at your political fundraiser as a handfull of plutonium. He's the poster boy for the hot political evil of the day. And everyone and their uncle wants to call for his resignation because there's absolutely no political downside to it.

Got any names of politicians who called on Tom White to resign? Nope? I didn't think so.

Don't get me wrong. I don't have much sympathy for Pitt. But the calls for his resignation don't seem to have much to do with anything he's actually done. Or at least not anything he's done since the Senate (if I recall right, unanimously) confirmed him as head of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The problem for Pitt is that his calling card was the proposition that the SEC was simply too harsh on corporate America and that anti-business busybodies like Pitt's predecessor Arthur Levitt needed to just give the CEOs a *$%#*%* break and let them get about the business of doing the right thing without so much un-fun big government oversight. Now of course we know that at just the time Pitt was parading these views corporate America was actually becoming a Hieronymus Bosch painting of fraud, skullduggery and 'aggressive accounting,' and that, if anything, the SEC hadn't done nearly enough to make folks behave.

That of course makes Harvey Pitt into something like the Neville Chamberlain of corporate governance. And when you consider that even Neville Chamberlain wasn't really quite Neville Chamberlain that's actually saying quite a lot.

In any case, Pitt is really no better or worse than the entire administration. He's a pretty good advocate of what was -- until a few weeks ago -- the administration's stance on corporate government and oversight. Watching Pitt accuse Arthur Levitt of going too easy on CEO shenanigans is more than a touch comic. But it's no more a case of ideological cross-dressing than what the president is going to try to pull off tomorrow. He's just first in line to get the treatment.

More bad news for

More bad news for anyone who puts much stock in the truth-telling abilities of the OMB. TPM regulars will remember the controversy over an inaccurate statistic in a recent OMB press release, and the resulting brouhaha involving Messrs. Krugman, Kaus and, I suppose, TPM.

On Tuesday I questioned whether even the follow-up letter from the OMB -- the one calling Krugman to task -- may have contained some inaccuracies or falsehoods. Now Brendan Nyhan of Spinsanity/Salon has the goods.

The complaining letter to the Times itself contained a statistical inaccuracy. More damningly though, the claim that the original inaccurate data had been "retracted weeks ago" turns out to be utterly bogus. And in this case, unlike the others, this is clearly a fudge or a lie, not a slip-up.

When OMB Communications Director Trent Duffy wrote the Times he said the error had been corrected "weeks ago" to underscore the sheer extent of Krugman's irresponsibility and tendentiousness. On Tuesday I said this sounded very unlikely. And yesterday Nyhan got Duffy to admit that OMB had only erased the false number from the document on July 26th, after the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities publicly called them on the error, a mere five days earlier. And they didn't issue an actual retraction until last night, after Nyhan called them on the error about the error.

Live by the honesty card, die by the honesty card.

President Bush is giving

President Bush is giving a big speech on corporate ethics on Tuesday. Which member of the White House press corps is going to ask the President or Ari to comment on Josh Green's new article in the Washington Monthly? And especially that quote.



C'mon, guys. You can do it ...

A few weeks back

A few weeks back I reported -- and took a little heat for reporting -- that South Dakota's closely-watched Thune-Johnson Senate race might be looking a bit better for Tim Johnson than some people in DC realized. The upshot of the post was that key Republicans in DC weren't entirely sure Thune's team was up to snuff, or at least up to taking on the campaign team Tom Daschle ... errr, I mean, Tim Johnson had put together.

One of DC's sharpest political observers subsequently told me that he thought it was less that Thune's team was weak than that Johnson's team was just so strong, the strongest campaign team in any Democratic campaign in the country, perhaps any campaign in either party. But, whether in relative terms or absolute ones, I stick by the story.

In any case, since then there have been a run of small news items in the state that have make it look like the Johnson campaign might be a bit stronger than some outside the state realized. In recent weeks the Thune campaign has opened up with a fusillade of negative ads. The Johnson folks ran them too. But mainly stuff from outside groups and in any case, not to the same extent.

More recently rumors have spread through the state that the Thune campaign's most recent internal polling had him behind Johnson for the first time ever. Not by much. Well within the margin of error. But behind.

Now, I haven't been able to get to the bottom of those rumors. Republicans officials have denied it to me flatly, if not altogether convincingly. But today the Sioux Fall's Argus Leader reports that a new Johnson campaign internal poll (which of course they've obligingly released) has Johnson up by two points -- 49% to 47%. That's the first poll that's ever had Johnson ahead in this race, to the best of my knowledge.

Now, a few necessary points. This a hardly a big lead. In fact, it's statistically insignificant, since it's in the margin of error. But put it together with the run of polls over recent months and it's hard not to get the impression that Johnson has the momentum in this race. That may explain that round of negative ads from Thune.

One other point about the poll deserves mention. More striking than the tightness of this race is the extremely small percentage of undecideds. Here's why this is important. Many Republicans have looked at this race and said that Johnson's in trouble because he's not over 50%. Normally, this would be true: Incumbents who poll under 50% are by definition in trouble because the voters know the incumbent and polling under 50% means most voters don't think the incumbent deserves reelection. They're just not sure they're willing to take a chance on the challenger. But history says most opt to take that chance.

Democrats have argued that this logic doesn't apply in this case. Their reasoning is that Johnson and Thune are really both incumbents since Johnson represents the whole state in the Senate and Thune currently represents the whole state in the House. That's a pretty good argument. And this poll, I think, tends to show that it's also true.