Archive for the ‘Talking Heads’ Category

See Rush Limbaugh’s question to Sarah Palin.

SCRANTON, Pennsylvania (CNN) – Though her cell phone service repeatedly dropped during her call-in, Sarah Palin made her first appearance on the Rush Limbaugh show on Tuesday, just minutes before taking the stage at a rally in Scranton.

In an unusual moment, Limbaugh asked Palin if she had thought about her “political future beyond this campaign.” The vice presidential nominee told the conservative talker and his millions of listeners: “That’s a good question.” But she then quickly re-assured the radio host that her focus was on winning the White House with John McCain on November 4.

“No, because I am thinking about November 4, and I am just so absolutely passionate about the job that we have in front of us from now to November 4,” she said.

If Limbaugh’s asking about Palin’s future, odds are that rank and file conservatives are probably thinking and feeling the same way.


Marc Ambinder does a good job of explaining the war of words between conservative pundit Bill Kristol and McCain surrogate Nancy Pfotenhauer.

Less than 12 hours to go before the second presidential debate, this time in the town hall format moderated by Tom Brokaw where the candidates take questions from voters. Here’s a look at what the two candidates need to do, based on the first debate and the events of the last week.

McCain, his campaign, and his operatives have decided to go on a full blast assault on Barack Obama based on his associations with Bill Ayers, Tony Rezko, and to a lesser degree, Jeremiah Wright. The harshly negative tone borders on shrill at times. While Hillary Clinton and her campaign tried to make an issue out of it during the primaries, there was no silver bullet there to sink Obama’s candidacy. Unless some enterprising reporter uncovers a previously undiscovered damning smoking gun, odds are the guilt by association attacks won’t have any impact during the general election either.

The Muslim Manchurian Candidate rumors are beginning to circulate again, and a sheriff at a Palin event in Florida dropped the H-bomb, a comment the McCain campaign called “inappropriate.”

Political operatives and TV pundits say that people are turned off by negative campaigning, but the reality is it works. The risk for the person who goes negative (in this case, McCain) is that in going negative, you risk driving up your own negatives in addition to the other guy’s. A political murder-suicide, if you will.

The point of doing this is not for McCain to win an election, but for Barack Obama to lose it. McCain has been losing since the financial crisis hit, and he is running out of time to change both the media narrative or political momentum in his favor before voters go to the polls. By focusing the narrative of the last day or so on blistering attacks on Barack Obama, McCain has all but guaranteed he will go there during the debate tonight if Tom Brokaw does not.

Looking back at the first debate, McCain got the Al Gore 2000 treatment from the media and the talking heads afterward, when almost everyone pointed out his inability (or refusal, depending on your perspective) to look Barack Obama in the eye when answering a question, even at the encouragement of Jim Lehrer. McCain’s advisors would be guilty of political malpractice if they did not point this out to him and correct it before the debate tonight.

He also needs to avoid any major gaffes, or repeating any of the exaggerated or false lines of attack which have already been well documented and debunked by the press (i.e. the sex ed for kindergarteners ad). If McCain goes there, do not be surprised if Tom Brokaw, if not Barack Obama himself, calls him out on it.

McCain prefers the townhall format, which of course means the Obama campaign is raising expectations of him before the debate.

Obama has been in the driver’s seat for the better part of two weeks and continues to build on his momentum in state and national polls. He already held his own in the first debate, which thematically was focused on John McCain’s strong subject.

Obama was clearly prepared for a negative barrage in the home stretch, since he launched a website attacking McCain for his role in the Keating 5 scandal at the same time McCain began hinting of his own negative attacks earlier this week. It wouldn’t be a classic October Surprise for anyone who knows McCain’s history, and the candidate himself has written about it in his own books. But this has more relevance to the current situations than Obama’s dealings with Ayers, Rezko, and Wright because 1) it was part of the biggest banking and financial crisis of its day, which Obama can then try and tie into what is happening right now; and 2) it involves McCain’s behavior and judgment as a U.S. Senator.

Like McCain, Obama needs to avoid making any gaffes in the debate which can be exploited by his opponent. Obama has been very cool in the sense that he doesn’t get rattled or angry during a debate, a benefit of the long hard slog that was the Democratic primary earlier this year. If he can get under McCain’s skin, that might create an unfavorable impression with voters at the debate and watching on TV, as well as the network pundits and talking heads.

As in the first debate, he doesn’t have to do or say anything risky except hold his own. The momentum and the political climate are working to his advantage right now. Given that the top concern on most voters’ minds right now is the economy, that automatically puts Obama at an advantage because polls show that voters prefer him to McCain on dealing with the economy, and the economy will be the focus of a lot of the questions. Because he is leading, a draw in this debate essentially amounts to the same as an outright Obama win.

One thing that both candidates need to be careful about, and it is something beyond either of their control, is the audience. Slate’s John Dickerson has this article on the perils of the town hall format and how it hurt George H.W. Bush during the 1992 campaign. It may be in the substance or tone or body language of their response to the question, but the nature of the town hall format offers plenty of opportunities for candidates to shoot themselves in the foot.

Karl Rove has launched a website. As if you needed more tea leaves that McCain was in trouble, the most prominent Republican strategist of his generation is projecting an Obama win in his analysis of the Electoral College map a month out from Election Day.

Separately, this Politico article points out the pressure the McCain campaign is under to defend Virginia, which has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1964. But it also looks at the national map as a whole, and how the unfriendly dynamics of the race are forcing the McCain campaign to adjust in the final stretch:

Beyond the financial implications of that approach, the GOP ticket is confronting new demands on its time. The McCain campaign would prefer to have the Arizona senator and Alaska governor campaign together, but they are now being forced to protect more states so they may have to spend more time apart.

It’s a akin to a campaign version of whack-a-mole, where finite time and money is being spread across the landscape to defend against sudden and unexpected Democratic surges on GOP turf.

Not good omens for the GOP with less than a month to go before the election.

Look who’s about to go on book tour

(CBS) Ex-CIA Director George Tenet says the way the Bush administration has used his now famous “slam dunk” comment — which he admits saying in reference to making the public case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — is both disingenuous and dishonorable.

It also ruined his reputation and his career, he tells 60 Minutes Scott Pelley in his first network television interview. Pelley’s report will be broadcast Sunday, April 29, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

The phrase “slam dunk” didn’t refer to whether Saddam Hussein actually had WMDs, says Tenet; the CIA thought he did. He says he was talking about what information could be used to make that case when he uttered those words. “We can put a better case together for a public case. That’s what I meant,” explains Tenet.

It will be interesting to watch the verbal hand grenades being tossed back and forth between Tenet, the White House and the GOP.

Plenty of time to be sedated later, though.

By this time tomorrow, the ballot boxes will be open and in 48 hours we will know who’s going to run the Congress for the next two years, barring any Florida recount-esque electoral debacles.

Here’s some reference material to follow the races tomorrow.

The Hotline
CQ Politics
Political Wire
CNN 2004 Election Analysis and Results
CNN 2006 Election Analysis and Results
CNN Political Ticker
MSNBC/National Journal Politics
ABC News Politics
Washington Post Campaign 2006

In light of yesterday’s nuclear test, this seemed worth highlighting. [Note: At the time, Bandar was the Saudi ambassador to the United States and a close friend of the Bush family] From pages 12-13 of State of Denial:

George W. pulled Bandar aside.
“Bandar, I guess you’re the best asshole who knows about the world. Explain to me one thing.”
“Governor, what is it?”
“Why should I care about North Korea?”
Bandar said he didn’t really know. It was one of the few countries that he did not work on for King Fahd.
“I get these briefings on all parts of the world,” Bush said, “and everybody is talking to me about North Korea.”
“I’ll tell you what, Governor,” Bandar said. “One reason should make you care about North Korea.”
“All right, smart aleck,” Bush said, “tell me.”
“The 38,000 American troops right on the border.” Most of the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division was deployed there, along with thousands of other Army, Navy and Air Force personnel. “If nothing else counts, this counts. One shot across the border and you lose half these people immediately. You lose 15,000 Americans in a chemical or biological or even regular attack. The United State of America is at war instantly.”
“Hmmm,” Bush said. “I wish those assholes would put things just point-blank to me. I get half a book telling me about the history of North Korea.”
“Now I tell you another answer to that. You don’t want to care about North Korea anymore?” Bandar asked. The Saudis wanted America to focus on the Middle East and not get drawn into a conflict in East Asia.
“I didn’t say that,” Bush replied.
“But if you don’t, you withdrawl those troops back. Then it becomes a local conflict. Then you have the whole time to decide, ‘Should I get involved? Not involved?’ Etc.”
At that moment, Colin Powell approached.
“Colin,” Bush said, “come here. Bandar and I were shooting the bull, just two fighter pilots shooting the bull.” He didn’t mention the topic.
“Mr. Governor,” Bandar said, “General Powell is almost a fighter pilot. He can shoot the bull almost as good as us.”

Bob Woodward can probably forget about waiting for the invitation to the White House Christmas party to arrive in the mail this year.

From the New York Daily News:

The CIA’S top counterterrorism officials felt they could have killed Osama Bin Laden in the months before 9/11, but got the “brushoff” when they went to the Bush White House seeking the money and authorization.

CIA Director George Tenet and his counterterrorism head Cofer Black sought an urgent meeting with then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on July 10, 2001, writes Bob Woodward in his new book “State of Denial.”

They went over top-secret intelligence pointing to an impending attack and “sounded the loudest warning” to the White House of a likely attack on the U.S. by Bin Laden.

Woodward writes that Rice was polite, but, “They felt the brushoff.”

Tenet and Black were both frustrated.

Black later calculated that all he needed was $500 million of covert action funds and reasonable authorization from President Bush to go kill Bin Laden and “he might be able to bring Bin Laden’s head back in a box,” Woodward writes.

Black claims the CIA had about “100 sources and subsources” in Afghanistan who could have helped carry out the hit.

The details of the incident are emerging just days after Sen. Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton sparred with Rice over whether the Bush administration had tried to get Bin Laden before the terror attacks.

Update: Woodward also reports that President Bush was urged to dump Donald Rumsfeld twice after he won re-election, first by his then-Chief of Staff Andrew Card, the second time by Card and (interestingly enough) the First Lady. Looks like Andrew “Marketing Point of View” Card is trying to do some retroactive CYA after being replaced earlier this year.

From today’s Washington Post:

Former White House chief of staff Andrew Card on two occasions tried and failed to persuade President Bush to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, according to a new book by Bob Woodward that depicts senior officials of the Bush administration as unable to face the consequences of their policy in Iraq.

Card made his first attempt after Bush was reelected in November, 2004, arguing that the administration needed a fresh start and recommending that Bush replace Rumsfeld with former secretary of state James A. Baker III. Woodward writes that Bush considered the move, but was persuaded by Vice President Cheney and Karl Rove, his chief political adviser, that it would be seen as an expression of doubt about the course of the war and would expose Bush himself to criticism.

Card tried again around Thanksgiving, 2005, this time with the support of First Lady Laura Bush, who according to Woodward, felt that Rumsfeld’s overbearing manner was damaging to her husband. Bush refused for a second time, and Card left the administration last March, convinced that Iraq would be compared to Vietnam and that history would record that no senior administration officials had raised their voices in opposition to the conduct of the war.

Photo from CBS News/60 Minutes

It’s that time of year again in Washington… not election season, but the release of Bob Woodward’s next book. Last time around, he broke the story of George “Slam Dunk” Tenet’s case for WMD in Iraq, among other things.

I’m not one to judge a book by its cover, but the title doesn’t sound too flattering to the Bush Administration.

Woodward taped an interview with Mike Wallace that will run on 60 Minutes this Sunday night. Here’s the teaser from CBS News:

According to Woodward, insurgent attacks against coalition troops occur, on average, every 15 minutes, a shocking fact the administration has kept secret. “It’s getting to the point now where there are eight-, nine-hundred attacks a week. That’s more than 100 a day. That is four an hour attacking our forces,” says Woodward.

The situation is getting much worse, says Woodward, despite what the White House and the Pentagon are saying in public. “The truth is that the assessment by intelligence experts is that next year, 2007, is going to get worse and, in public, you have the president and you have the Pentagon [saying], ‘Oh, no, things are going to get better,'” he tells Wallace. “Now there’s public, and then there’s private. But what did they do with the private? They stamp it secret. No one is supposed to know,” says Woodward.

“The insurgents know what they are doing. They know the level of violence and how effective they are. Who doesn’t know? The American public,” Woodward tells Wallace.

Woodward also reports that the president and vice president often meet with Henry Kissinger, who was President Richard Nixon’s secretary of state, as an adviser. Says Woodward, “Now what’s Kissinger’s advice? In Iraq, he declared very simply, ‘Victory is the only meaningful exit strategy.'” Woodward adds. “This is so fascinating. Kissinger’s fighting the Vietnam War again because, in his view, the problem in Vietnam was we lost our will.”

President Bush is absolutely certain that he has the U.S. and Iraq on the right course, says Woodward. So certain is the president on this matter, Woodward says, that when Mr. Bush had key Republicans to the White House to discuss Iraq, he told them, “I will not withdraw, even if Laura and Barney are the only ones supporting me.”

The book is being released one month before the election, so you can bank on political operatives who are going to read it cover to cover to pick and choose the tidbits that suit their opposition research and talking points. Whether any of Woodward’s revelations this time have an impact on the election remain to be seen. The person who got it worse last time was George Tenet. As a result of Woodward’s reporting, the phrase “slam dunk” is guaranteed to be in the first or second paragraph of his obituary.

I’ll watch 60 Minutes to see what else Woodward has up his sleeve, and I’ll pick up the book next week.

Update: The New York Times has obtained a copy of the book and written up some of the highlights.

The White House ignored an urgent warning in September 2003 from a top Iraq adviser who said that thousands of additional American troops were desperately needed to quell the insurgency there, according to a new book by Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporter and author. The book describes a White House riven by dysfunction and division over the war.

The warning is described in “State of Denial,” scheduled for publication on Monday by Simon & Schuster. The book says President Bush’s top advisers were often at odds among themselves, and sometimes were barely on speaking terms, but shared a tendency to dismiss as too pessimistic assessments from American commanders and others about the situation in Iraq.

As late as November 2003, Mr. Bush is quoted as saying of the situation in Iraq: “I don’t want anyone in the cabinet to say it is an insurgency. I don’t think we are there yet.”

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is described as disengaged from the nuts-and-bolts of occupying and reconstructing Iraq — a task that was initially supposed to be under the direction of the Pentagon — and so hostile toward Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, that President Bush had to tell him to return her phone calls. The American commander for the Middle East, Gen. John P. Abizaid, is reported to have told visitors to his headquarters in Qatar in the fall of 2005 that “Rumsfeld doesn’t have any credibility anymore” to make a public case for the American strategy for victory in Iraq.

The book, bought by a reporter for The New York Times at retail price in advance of its official release, is the third that Mr. Woodward has written chronicling the inner debates in the White House after the Sept. 11 attacks, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the subsequent decision to invade Iraq. Like Mr. Woodward’s previous works, the book includes lengthy verbatim quotations from conversations and describes what senior officials are thinking at various times, without identifying the sources for the information.

Mr. Woodward writes that his book is based on “interviews with President Bush’s national security team, their deputies, and other senior and key players in the administration responsible for the military, the diplomacy, and the intelligence on Iraq.” Some of those interviewed, including Mr. Rumsfeld, are identified by name, but neither Mr. Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney agreed to be interviewed, the book says.

The book describes a deep fissure between Colin L. Powell, Mr. Bush’s first secretary of state, and Mr. Rumsfeld: When Mr. Powell was eased out after the 2004 elections, he told Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff, that “if I go, Don should go,” referring to Mr. Rumsfeld.

Mr. Card then made a concerted effort to oust Mr. Rumsfeld at the end of 2005, according to the book, but was overruled by President Bush, who feared that it would disrupt the coming Iraqi elections and operations at the Pentagon.

Vice President Cheney is described as a man so determined to find proof that his claim about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was accurate that, in the summer of 2003, his aides were calling the chief weapons inspector, David Kay, with specific satellite coordinates as the sites of possible caches. None resulted in any finds.

The 537-page book describes tensions among senior officials from the very beginning of the administration. Mr. Woodward writes that in the weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Tenet believed that Mr. Rumsfeld was impeding the effort to develop a coherent strategy to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Mr. Rumsfeld questioned the electronic signals from terrorism suspects that the National Security Agency had been intercepting, wondering whether they might be part of an elaborate deception plan by Al Qaeda.

On July 10, 2001, the book says, Mr. Tenet and his counterterrorism chief, J. Cofer Black, met with Ms. Rice at the White House to impress upon her the seriousness of the intelligence the agency was collecting about an impending attack. But both men came away from the meeting feeling that Ms. Rice had not taken the warnings seriously.

In the weeks before the Iraq war began, President Bush’s parents did not share his confidence that the invasion of Iraq was the right step, the book recounts. Mr. Woodward writes about a private exchange in January 2003 between Mr. Bush’s mother, Barbara Bush, the former first lady, and David L. Boren, a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a Bush family friend.

The book says Mrs. Bush asked Mr. Boren whether it was right to be worried about a possible invasion of Iraq, and then to have confided that the president’s father, former President George H. W. Bush, “is certainly worried and is losing sleep over it; he’s up at night worried.”

Mr. Rumsfeld reached into political matters at the periphery of his responsibilities, according to the book. At one point, Mr. Bush traveled to Ohio, where the Abrams battle tank was manufactured. Mr. Rumsfeld phoned Mr. Card to complain that Mr. Bush should not have made the visit because Mr. Rumsfeld thought the heavy tank was incompatible with his vision of a light and fast military of the future. Mr. Woodward wrote that Mr. Card believed that Mr. Rumsfeld was “out of control.”

The fruitless search for unconventional weapons caused tension between Vice President Cheney’s office, the C.I.A. and officials in Iraq. Mr. Woodward wrote that Mr. Kay, the chief weapons inspector in Iraq, e-mailed top C.I.A. officials directly in the summer of 2003 with his most important early findings.

At one point, when Mr. Kay warned that it was possible the Iraqis might have had the capability to make such weapons but did not actually produce them, waiting instead until they were needed, the book says he was told by John McLaughlin, the C.I.A.’s deputy director: “Don’t tell anyone this. This could be upsetting. Be very careful. We can’t let this out until we’re sure.”

Mr. Cheney was involved in the details of the hunt for illicit weapons, the book says. One night, Mr. Woodward wrote, Mr. Kay was awakened at 3 a.m. by an aide who told him Mr. Cheney’s office was on the phone. It says Mr. Kay was told that Mr. Cheney wanted to make sure he had read a highly classified communications intercept picked up from Syria indicating a possible location for chemical weapons.

Interesting but not surprising that Bush and Cheney did not agree to be interviewed for this book. My guess is that when they heard about the stuff Woodward had uncovered, they decided to cut him off.

Last week’s “Meet the Press” featured a roundtable discussion with panelists Dana Priest, Bill Bennett, John Harwood, and William Safire.

You’ll recall that Dana Priest won a Pulitzer Prize for her story in the Washington Post on how the CIA was holding Al Qaeda detainees in secret prisons in Eastern Europe. Bill Bennett is the former Secretary of Education and currently a conservative radio talk show host and CNN commentator who has been very critical of reporters who publish classified information.

From the transcript:

MS. MITCHELL: Dana, let me point out that The Washington Post, your newspaper, was behind the others but also did publish this story. And a story you wrote last year disclosing the secret CIA prisons won the Pulitzer Prize, but it also led to William Bennett, sitting here, saying that three reporters who won the Pulitzer Prize—you for that story and Jim Risen and others for another story—were, “not worthy of an award but rather worthy of jail.” Dana, how do you plead?

MS. PRIEST: Well, it’s not a crime to publish classified information. And this is one of the things Mr. Bennett keeps telling people that it is. But, in fact, there are some narrow categories of information you can’t publish, certain signals, communications, intelligence, the names of covert operatives and nuclear secrets.

Now why isn’t it a crime? I mean, some people would like to make casino gambling a crime, but it is not a crime. Why isn’t it not a crime? Because the framers of the Constitution wanted to protect the press so that they could perform a basic role in government oversight, and you can’t do that. Look at the criticism that the press got after Iraq that we did not do our job on WMD. And that was all in a classified arena. To do a better job—and I believe that we should’ve done a better job—we would’ve again, found ourselves in the arena of…

Isn’t it interesting that Dana Priest managed to work in a reference to gambling when addressing Bennett, her detractor, while he’s sitting right next to her?

Crooks and Liars and You Tube have the clip online. Watch Bennett squirm.

I’ll have more in the days ahead about the controversy over news organizations publishing classified information and the recent political uproar surrounding it.

Update: I would like to add that while I don’t agree with Bennett’s criticism of reporters who obtain or publish classified information, I do think that Priest may have stepped over the line as far as taking a personal swipe at him. I would view gambling as a personal problem, which although it is in direct conflict with the reputation that Bennett has made for himself and the beliefs he has promoted over the years, would it be any different for going after someone’s personal problems like alcoholism or drug addiction or anything else? I certainly don’t think Bill Bennett’s gambling problem was relevant in addressing the point that Andrea Mitchell presented to Dana Priest during the discussion.