By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, August 9, 2006; 2:18 PM
Political fledgling Ned Lamont's unlikely triumph over President Bush's favorite Democrat in the Connecticut Senate primary lends itself to all sorts of fascinating interpretations -- and one is that it could mark the emergence of an anti-Bush voting bloc.
Lamont's out-of-nowhere victory, fueled by his depiction of incumbent Joseph Lieberman as a presidential patsy, suggests a political awakening of that sizeable group of Americans who intensely disapprove of Bush, his war in Iraq, and pretty much anything else he touches.
Consider that, according to the latest Washington Post poll , a near-majority of Americans -- 46 percent -- strongly disapprove of the job Bush is doing. That's strongly. Another 12 percent somewhat disapprove.
On Iraq, which is the dominant political issue going into the 2006 election, 62 percent disapprove of Bush's leadership (52 percent strongly).
Political guru Karl Rove won his boss a second term in 2004 by making that election less a referendum on Bush as on his opponent, John Kerry. But the potential here is that the 2006 congressional elections could turn out to be the "accountability moment" that Bush retroactively claimed the 2004 election to have been, in a Washington Post interview in January 2005.
That's certainly what Lamont was telling Connecticut voters yesterday, in a message on his Web site: "Your vote will determine the national headlines tomorrow: 'Connecticut Democrats show support for war, President Bush' or 'Democrats in Connecticut foreshadow national call for accountability in Iraq.' Your call."Analysis and Opinion
Adam Nagourney writes in the New York Times: "The victory of Ned Lamont over Joseph I. Lieberman, a three-term senator and former vice presidential candidate, was a vivid demonstration of how the Iraq war is buffeting American politics and of the deep hostility toward President Bush among Democrats. It also suggested there are stiff anti-status-quo winds blowing across the political landscape as the fall elections approach. . . .
"For Republicans already contemplating a gloomy fall horizon, the Lamont victory suggested that many Democrats -- stirred by their opposition to the war and hostility toward Mr. Bush -- are as energized as any group of voters in years, enough so to move them to the voting booth in huge numbers. . . .
" 'This shows what blind loyalty to George Bush and being his love child means,' said Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the leader of the Democratic House Congressional campaign. 'This is not about the war. It's blind loyalty to Bush.' "
Susan Milligan writes in the Boston Globe: "Polls show that Democrats are more motivated to vote this year, noted Stu Rothenberg, an independent political analyst, a factor which could negate the Republicans' historically stronger get-out-the-vote efforts.
" 'From the numbers I've seen, they are generally more energized than the Republicans about the war, but not just about the war. They've had six years to build up their distaste' for the Bush administration on matters ranging from civil liberties to foreign policy, Rothenberg said.
" 'They'll want to send a message about the war, about George W. Bush. And it's not a friendly message,' he said."
And here's a New York Times editorial : "The rebellion against Mr. Lieberman was actually an uprising by that rare phenomenon, irate moderates. They are the voters who have been unnerved over the last few years as the country has seemed to be galloping in a deeply unmoderate direction. A war that began at the president's choosing has degenerated into a desperate, bloody mess that has turned much of the world against the United States. The administration's contempt for international agreements, Congressional prerogatives and the authority of the courts has undermined the rule of law abroad and at home.
"Yet while all this has been happening, the political discussion in Washington has become a captive of the Bush agenda. Traditional beliefs like every person's right to a day in court, or the conviction that America should not start wars it does not know how to win, wind up being portrayed as extreme. The middle becomes a place where senators struggle to get the president to volunteer to obey the law when the mood strikes him. Attempting to regain the real center becomes a radical alternative."War Crimes
White House officials are apparently afraid that at some point in the future (presumably, when Democrats are in charge of the Justice Department) they could be prosecuted for war crimes. So they're trying to change the law.
R. Jeffrey Smith writes in The Washington Post: "The Bush administration has drafted amendments to a war crimes law that would eliminate the risk of prosecution for political appointees, CIA officers and former military personnel for humiliating or degrading war prisoners, according to U.S. officials and a copy of the amendments. . . .
" 'People have gotten worried, thinking that it's quite likely they might be under a microscope,' said a U.S. official. Foreigners are using accusations of unlawful U.S. behavior as a way to rein in American power, the official said, and the amendments are partly meant to fend this off."
Smith explains: "The amendments would narrow the reach of the War Crimes Act, which now states in general terms that Americans can be prosecuted in federal criminal courts for violations of 'Common Article 3' of the Geneva Conventions, which the United States ratified in 1949. . . .
"Common Article 3 is considered the universal minimum standard of treatment for civilian detainees in wartime. It requires that they be treated humanely and bars 'violence to life and person,' including murder, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture. It further prohibits 'outrages upon personal dignity' such as 'humiliating and degrading treatment.' And it prohibits sentencing or execution by courts that fail to provide 'all the judicial guarantees . . . recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.' . . .
"Former Justice Department lawyer John C. Yoo . . . said that U.S. soldiers and agents should 'not be beholden to the definition of vague words by international or foreign courts, who often pursue nakedly political agendas at odds with the United States.' . . .
"But [retired Army Lt. Col. Geoffrey S.] Corn, the Army's former legal expert, said that Common Article 3 was, according to its written history, 'left deliberately vague because efforts to define it would invariably lead to wrongdoers identifying 'exceptions,' and because the meaning was plain -- treat people like humans and not animals or objects.' "War in Lebanon
Colum Lynch and Robin Wright write in The Washington Post: "The United States and France have split over key provisions in a compromise resolution to end hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel, triggering intense diplomatic scrambling, according to European and U.S. officials."
The problem: France wants to incorporate some ideas proposed by Lebanon and the Arab League, but the United States is only interested in what Israel wants.
This in spite of the fact that, according to Lynch and Wright, French officials fear that if Lebanon's proposals are not incorporated in some significant way, the fragile Beirut government will break apart and throw Lebanon into political chaos.
Peter Grier writes in the Christian Science Monitor: "As the fighting between Israel and Hizbullah passes the one-month mark, it has grown from a skirmish into a swirling conflict with a geopolitical impact that could rival the iconic wars of modern Middle Eastern history.
"At stake may be the US push for democracy in the region, the influence of radical Islamists in surrounding states, and the progress of Iran's nuclear program - not to mention the futures of both Israel and Lebanon. . . .
"But the US decision to, in essence, allow Israel time to continue its assault has sounded harsh to much of the Middle East. Anti-Americanism in the region was already on the rise, said Hisham Milhem, Washington correspondent for the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar.
"Now, 'it is the new religion in the Middle East,' said Milhem at a recent conference at the Brookings Institution in Washington."
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora himself pleads on The Washington Post op-ed page for an immediate, unconditional and comprehensive cease-fire and the withdrawal of the Israeli army -- most distinctly not the U.S. position.
"Enough destruction, dispossession, desperation, displacement and death! Lebanon must be allowed to reclaim its position in this troubled region as a beacon of freedom and democracy where justice and the rule of law prevail, and as a refuge for the oppressed where moderation, tolerance and enlightenment triumph."The War in Iraq
The Associated Press reports: "U.S. Rep. Howard Coble, a close ally of President Bush, said the White House should admit that U.S. mistakes have plagued the post-invasion occupation of Iraq.
" 'Candor is not a sign of weakness,' the 11-term Republican from Greensboro said Monday. 'People in my district who stood in line to vote for President Bush aren't happy about Iraq.' "
Harol Meyerson writes in his Washington Post opinion column that "the role of American soldiers in an intra-Islamic conflict is impossible to plausibly articulate. . . .
"For the Bush administration, then, any admission that the Iraqi civil war is in fact a civil war destroys whatever remains of its justification for our presence there. . . .
"Which is why Bush remains determined to dispute any such characterization. 'You know, I hear people say, well, civil war this, civil war that,' he told reporters at his Crawford, Tex., ranch on Monday. 'The Iraqi people decided against civil war when they went to the ballot box. And a unity government is working to respond to the will of the people. And, frankly, it's quite a remarkable achievement on the political front, and the security front is where there's been troubles.'
"As long as there's an Iraqi government, apparently, there can be no civil war in Iraq. Another problem solved in the neat little world of George Bush."Foreign Policy Conundrum
In Slate, Fred Kaplan parses Bush's press conference and wonders if Bush even understands what he's talking about.
"The transcript contains so many mind-boggling statements that it's hard to know where to begin, so let's take them in chronological order.
" 'Everybody wants the violence to stop,' Bush said in answer to the session's first question. But of course this isn't true. If it were, he could have imposed a cease-fire in the first few days. . . .
"Then Bush moved on to his favorite theme -- the titanic struggle between good and evil, freedom and terrorism, and how it accounts for all the world's conflicts. 'The lynchpin of [American] policy,' he said, 'is to support democracies.' Speaking of Lebanon's prime minister, Fouad Siniora, he said, 'We want the Siniora government to survive and be strengthened.' . . .
"Once again, Bush demonstrated that he doesn't understand what makes young democracies flourish or why Hezbollah has appeal even to many nonterrorists. He doesn't seem to realize that democratic governments require democratic institutions and the resources to make them thrive. He evinces no awareness that the longer Israel bombs Beirut into oblivion, the harder it becomes for Siniora (who has few resources) to retain legitimacy -- and the easier it becomes for Hezbollah (which has many more resources) to gain still greater power."His Master's Voice
Peter Wehner , who reports to Karl Rove, writes in a Wall Street Journal op-ed section with what I'm guessing is a trial balloon of potential White House talking points.
The target: The line of argument that suggests that "Recent elections in the Middle East discredit the Bush administration's efforts to promote democracy in that region."
The rhetorical questions: "Do critics of democracy believe we would be significantly better off with the reign of an Arafat? Do they believe that Iraq, which consists of a freely elected, multiethnic government whose leadership is fighting terrorism instead of supporting it, was better under Saddam Hussein than it is now? Do they believe that it was better to have the Taliban control Afghanistan, not Hamid Karzai? Do they believe we should support more repression within Arab societies?"
The false choice: "In the words of President Bush, 'The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.' Those who disagree with him must believe, by the power of their own logic, that continued tyranny is the route to a better world. The president has a fundamentally different view, and his remarkable effort to promote human liberty and American security sets him apart from his critics."Addicted to Oil
John D. McKinnon and Laura Meckler write in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) that it's been six months since Bush "upbraided Americans in his State of the Union address for being 'addicted to oil' and urged them to look at ethanol as a cure.
"It was the signature moment in the energy strategy the president has developed in the year since Hurricane Katrina. Influenced by meetings behind the scenes with advocates of alternative fuels, Mr. Bush is using the bully pulpit to warn that America needs to change its gas-guzzling ways.
"But what the president isn't doing is just as important. He isn't proposing new mandates for ethanol use or new incentives for gasoline stations to stock the fuel. He isn't making tougher auto fuel-economy standards a high priority and doesn't support a higher gasoline tax."
So what's his goal?
"If nothing else, the Bush administration's focus on ethanol is good politics. The ethanol boom is helping two big industries -- domestic auto makers and farmers -- while imposing virtually no pain on anybody else. It could give Republicans an election-year boost in the Midwest, where most ethanol is produced and consumed."Spy vs. Spy
Karen DeYoung writes in The Washington Post: "Early this summer, a new strategy for combating terrorism, described by its authors as 'revolutionary' in concept, arrived on President Bush's desk. The highly classified National Implementation Plan for the first time set government-wide goals and assigned responsibility for achieving them to specific departments and agencies.
"Written by officials at the National Counterterrorism Center, under a directive signed by the president last winter, the 160-page plan aspires to achieve what has eluded the Bush administration in the five years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: bringing order and direction to the fight against terrorism."
Is there a problem here?
"The proof that it is all working, White House officials often say, is that there has been no attack on U.S. soil since 2001.
"But critics say that after nearly five years, the fight against terrorism often seems like a chaotic work in progress."Signing Statements Watch
Charlie Savage writes in the Boston Globe: "The American Bar Association's House of Delegates voted yesterday to call on President Bush and future presidents not to issue 'signing statements' that claim the power to bypass laws, and it urged Congress to pass legislation to help courts put a stop to the growing practice.
"Meeting in Hawaii, the policy-making body for the world's largest organization of attorneys endorsed the findings of its bipartisan task force, which last month issued a unanimous report portraying signing statements as an unconstitutional power grab by presidents. Under the Constitution, the report said, presidents have only two options when presented with a bill Congress has passed: sign it and enforce all its components, or veto it. . . .
"Outgoing ABA President Michael Greco, a Boston attorney who created the task force following a Globe report on Bush's use of signing statements, said the ABA had acted to protect the American system of checks and balances that divides power between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. . . .
"The ABA itself has come under fire from some liberal law professors -- including Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School -- who say that it should have focused its criticism on Bush for his use of signing statements to advance a controversial view of his own powers. The ABA's critics argued that it distorted the issue because it wanted to appear bipartisan."Crawford Watch
Peter Wallsten writes for the Los Angeles Times: "Tugging at their pride, and perhaps straining their loyalty, the exerciser in chief presided Tuesday over the latest inductees into the 100-Degree Club -- the clique of White House aides brave (or perhaps gullible) enough to run three miles in the blazing August sun of central Texas. . . .
"The prize for those who completed the exercise: a 100-Degree Club T-shirt and a photo with the president, along with a sunburn and a good story to tell friends back home.
"Bush, a one-time avid jogger who was forced to stop after developing knee problems in 2003, rode circles on his bicycle around the runners, offering playful taunts and encouragement."
And what else is the president doing?
Here's spokesman Tony Snow at yesterday's gaggle: "Today the President got up, had his normal intelligence briefing. He also had briefings from the National Security Advisor and the Homeland Security Advisor. And I believe they're working on a dock today."
Kevin Corke writes for NBC News that CNN White House producer Erika Dimmler's dog is making the Bush watch a little more tolerable for the press corps.
"Her name is Abigail and she's a 5-year-old Jack Russell Terrier.
"Sporting a chestnut-speckled white coat and the softest little ears you've ever felt, Abby did what no amount of Jay Leno, Dave Chappelle or Jon Stewart could do -- get just about everyone in the White House press corps to smile."Bush and the Bubble
Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters writes: "To Bush, being president means never having to say he's sorry. To tell him he might be wrong or bring him bad news or cause dissonance in his serene world is to antagonize him and be thought disloyal.
"It's now well acknowledged that Bush is happy in his bubble of self-imposed isolation. He meets with foreigners but without true give-and-take even in crisis conversations. Foreigners visit the White House as they used to go on bended knee to ancient Rome. Bush travels but sees few real people. All is scripted. He talks with advisers but rarely interacts with members of Congress, even senior Republicans.
"He seems to care nothing about winning hearts and minds in other countries. Foreign leaders say he lectures but does not listen. He does not have the long telephone conversations late at night that former President Clinton loved to keep him in touch with what others were thinking. He seems indifferent to what experts think."Froomkin Watch
It's August. Bush is on vacation. So it's time for me to do a little maintenance work on some of my handy-dandy resources, like my hoary Who's Who page.
Barring major news, the column will go dark Thursday and Friday -- and will return on Monday, August 14.