President's latest response to the tsunami tragedy: badmouth Bill Clinton.
From the Post ...
Earlier yesterday, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the president was confident he could monitor events effectively without returning to Washington or making public statements in Crawford, where he spent part of the day clearing brush and bicycling. Explaining the about-face, a White House official said: "The president wanted to be fully briefed on our efforts. He didn't want to make a symbolic statement about 'We feel your pain.' "
Many Bush aides believe Clinton was too quick to head for the cameras to hold forth on tragedies with his trademark empathy. "Actions speak louder than words," a top Bush aide said, describing the president's view of his appropriate role.
Let's do a short update on the Fainthearted Faction.
Former congressman Tim Roemer voted against the Filner Amendment back in 2001, which would have gotten him grandfathered into the Faction, only he retired from congress in 2002. We've always liked Roemer. Since then he served on the 9/11 Commission and now he's thrown his hat into the ring for the DNC chair. We think he's a good spokesman for the party if not necessarily the spokesman.
Now, it turns out that back in 2000, when he was defending his seat against challenger Chris Chocola (whose name always makes me think of Count Chocula; but that's growing up in the '70s for ya. My mom -- God bless her heart -- was a bit of a health food nut. So such delicacies were few and far between.), he campaigned heavily on his opposition to privatization or any other plan to phase out Social Security and replace it with private accounts.
Distinguishing himself from Chocola didn't end up being all that hard since Chocola had had an accidental moment of honesty in an interview with a local paper in which he said that then-candidate Bush's plan was "a start." "Eventually," he continued, "I'd like to see the entire system privatized."
(Chocola was elected to the seat in 2002 after Roemer declined to run again.)
Given the backstory, I figure Roemer opposes phasing out Social Security. But his vote against the Filner Amendment still does raise some questions. Given that he's running to be the titular head of the Democratic party and that Social Security seems likely to be the defining issue for the next two years -- at least in terms of domestic policy -- you'd think he might make some simple statement just to make clear where he stands.
(I put in a call today but haven't heard anything back.)
On the senate side, the more we hear about Jonathan Cowan et al.'s Third Way outfit the more concerned we get, given his strong past advocacy of replacing Social Security with a private accounts system and with what many are telling us is the group's goal of giving Red State Dems alternative policy positions to both Republicans and the Democrats, notwithstanding the policy merits.
We also haven't yet been able to get any comment from any of the group's co-chairs Senators Bayh, Lincoln and Carper. That's still not enough to get them in the Faction. But put us down as concerned.
Meanwhile, what about the Dean? You know, Congressman Harold Ford, Jr.? Someone reminded me of this great Ryan Lizza article from 2002 in TNR.
Here are a few choice moments ...
Consider Ford's role in the race between Republican Anne Northrup and Democrat Jack Conway for Kentucky's third district in the last election. Northrup was considered one of the most vulnerable House Republicans, and, to help challengers like Conway, the party instituted a "buddy" system in which safe incumbents would campaign for particular candidates. Ford was assigned to Conway. The only problem was that he never did any of the fund-raising or campaigning expected of him. Finally, close to Election Day, a furious Dick Gephardt intervened and called Ford, demanding he get to Kentucky. The night before he arrived, Ford called Conway's staff, but by then there were no useful events they could set up. He campaigned for about half a day. Northrup won by four points and scored an impressive 20 percent of the black vote--a constituency with which Ford, African American himself, obviously could have helped Conway.
His last spat with the party establishment came two years later, when his friend Al Gore invited him to deliver the keynote address to the Democratic National Convention. As usual, the media wrote laudatory profiles about the 30-year-old, black, Southern New Democrat who represented the future of the party. Behind the scenes, however, Gore's aides were not as praiseworthy. They complained that he was a headache to work with. They were disappointed with his initial version of the speech, but, when they dispatched writers to fix it, Ford dug in his heels. "Harold Ford deeply resented this," says one Democratic strategist who was involved. Gore's senior aides were so frustrated that they actually bumped the keynote address out of its prime-time slot. (Months later, they learned that Ford had relied on Republican media consultant Frank Luntz to shape the speech.)
Tragedies, or stories into which one has no unique or particular insight, are always a challenge for a blogger because silence is read by many as indifference or inattention. Not so. But in the case of the tragedy unfolding across South and Southeast Asia I'm just an observer. ABC news now puts the number past 50,000 dead. And I can only imagine that with the shattered lines of communication, and the geographical breadth of the damage, that it will run far higher.
The Globe gets it: "The run-up to President Bush's plan to deal with Social Security is looking a lot like the run-up to his plan to deal with Saddam Hussein." Read the rest.
Here's a book I'm excited to read, and you may find of interest too: When America Was Great: The Fighting Faith of Postwar Liberalism by Kevin Mattson. It just arrived in the mail today and I don't know anything about it but what I just read on the dust jacket and skimming through the front matter. But I like the concept and where the author seems to be going with it.
For most politicians, fundraising is a dreaded chore. But until recently, Rep. John T. Doolittle of California and other members of the House Republican leadership had adopted a painless solution: fundraising events in luxury sports boxes leased largely with the money of Indian gaming tribes, where supporters snacked on catered fare in plush surroundings as they watched the Wizards, Caps, Redskins or Orioles.
Doolittle, a Mormon, is an ardent opponent of casino gambling, so it is somewhat ironic that he would invite supporters to watch the Wizards play the Sacramento Kings from an MCI Center suite paid for by casino-rich Indian tribes. But the plaque at the door to Suite 204 did not say Chitimacha or Choctaw. It said "Jack Abramoff," a name synonymous with largesse and influence in the GOP-controlled Congress.
The president and the White House have now <$NoAd$> compared their build-up to the Iraq war with their push to phase out Social Security enough times that it seems worth creating a detailed taxonomy of the Bush White House approach to major policy initiatives in order to predict their efforts over the next two years.
The Journal said last week ...
The president has yet to lay out specific ideas for changing the entitlement program; he and his aides are focused first on selling the idea of change. "For a while, I think it's important for me to continue to work with members of both parties to explain the problem," he said in a Monday news conference.
So are there any senators in the Fainthearted Faction?
Hard to tell -- certainly a lot harder than in the House, where you've got Ford as Dean and Allen Boyd as Vice Chair.
The only guy who seems clearly in is Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
He's frequently talked up by the White House as someone who they think they can get to come across. And here's what the Journal said about him last week ...
Mr. Nelson says he is "not saying no to some level of privatization " and is spending the holiday recess assembling a template for overhaul. He says he won't support a plan that could destabilize the current system and says he will insist on "real accounting" in tracking the cost. Like Sens. Conrad and Graham, he doesn't rule out painful steps like cutting benefits. "It's always an option," Mr. Nelson says. "It's sort of the last thing you do."