Sunday, October 17, 2004

Sunday Reading

Lots of papers are out with endorsements in the presidential race. The Miami Herald comes out for Kerry. (The Spanish language version of the Herald, El Nuevo Herald, has no endorsement as far as I can tell.) The Dallas Morning News comes out for Bush (no surprise there) and the Boston Globe comes out for Kerry (again, not a news flash). And – drum roll please – the New York Times comes out with a long indictment of the Bush administration in its endorsement for Kerry. The Chicago Tribune does their own long version to get to endorsing Bush. In other words, no real surprises to anyone who reads the papers and knows a little history. For instance, if the Chicago Tribune had endorsed Kerry, Col. McCormick would have risen out of his grave to wreak havoc over downtown Chicago.

In other interesting news, there’s this story in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ignored advice to throw out a flawed felon voter list before it went out to county election offices despite warnings from state officials, according to a published report Saturday.

In a May 4 e-mail obtained by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Florida Department of Law Enforcement computer expert Jeff Long told his boss in the office that a colleague at the Department of State had told him “that yesterday they recommended to the Gov that they `pull the plug'” on the voter database.

The e-mail said state elections officials “weren’t comfortable with the felon matching program they’ve got,” but added, “The Gov rejected their suggestion to pull the plug, so they’re `going live’ with it this weekend.”

Long, who was responsible for giving elections officials his department’s felon database, confirmed the contents of the e-mail on Friday to the Herald-Tribune. He said he didn’t remember the specifics, but that Paul Craft, the Department of State’s top computer expert, had told him about the meeting with Bush.

A software program matched data on felons with voter registration rolls to create the list of 48,000 names. Secretary of State Glenda Hood junked the database in July after acknowledging that 2,500 ex-felons on the list had had their voting rights restored.

Most were Democrats, and many were black. Hispanics, who often vote Republican in Florida, were almost entirely absent from the list due to a technical error.

[…]

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, the Florida chairman of Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign, said the report shows the extent to which Bush will go to ensure his brother’s re-election.

“Jeb Bush and the Bush campaign need to come clean about their involvement in this sad spectacle,” Meek said.

Florida is one of few states that does not automatically restore voting rights to convicted felons when they complete their sentences. Purging felons from voter rolls has been a hot-button issue since the 2000 presidential election, when many citizens discovered at the polls they weren’t allowed to vote.

And the Bush administration says that John Kerry will say or do anything to get elected? Irony is lost on these people.

What would Sunday be without Frank Rich? He recalls the heady days of journalistic tenacity during Watergate and looks at how far we’ve come – or retreated.

Back then an arrogant and secretive White House, furious at the bad press fueled by an unpopular and mismanaged war, was still flying high as it kneecapped with impunity any reporter or news organization that challenged its tightly enforced message of victory at hand.

It was then that the vice president, Spiro Agnew, scripted by the speechwriter Pat Buchanan, tried to discredit the press as an elite – or, as he spelled it out, “a tiny, enclosed fraternity of privileged men.” It was then that the attorney general, John Mitchell, under the pretext of national security, countenanced wiretaps of Hedrick Smith of The Times and Marvin Kalb of CBS News, as well as a full F.B.I. investigation of CBS’s Daniel Schorr. Today it’s John Ashcroft’s Justice Department, also invoking “national security,” that hopes to seize the phone records of Judith Miller and Philip Shenon of The Times, claiming that what amounts to a virtual wiretap is warranted by articles about Islamic charities and terrorism published nearly three years ago.

“The fundamental right of Americans, through our free press, to penetrate and criticize the workings of our government is under attack as never before,” wrote William Safire last month. When an alumnus of the Nixon White House says our free press is being attacked as “never before,” you listen. What alarms him now are the efforts of Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame-Robert Novak affair, to threaten reporters at The Times and Time magazine with jail if they don’t reveal their sources. Given that the Times reporter in question (Judith Miller again) didn’t even write an article on the subject under investigation, Mr. Fitzgerald overreaches so far that he’s created a sci-fi plot twist out of Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report.”

It’s all the scarier for being only one piece in a pattern of media intimidation that’s been building for months now. Once Woodward and Bernstein did start investigating Watergate, Nixon plotted to take economic revenge by siccing the Federal Communications Commission on TV stations owned by The Washington Post’s parent company. The current White House has been practicing pre-emptive media intimidation to match its policy of pre-emptive war. Its F.C.C. chairman, using Janet Jackson’s breast and Howard Stern’s mouth as pretexts, has sufficiently rattled Viacom, which broadcast both of these entertainers’ infractions against “decency,” that its chairman, the self-described “liberal Democrat” Sumner Redstone, abruptly announced his support for the re-election of George W. Bush last month. “I vote for what’s good for Viacom,” he explained, and he meant it. He took this loyalty oath just days after the “60 Minutes” fiasco prompted a full-fledged political witch hunt on Viacom’s CBS News, another Republican target since the Nixon years. Representative Joe Barton, Republican of Texas, has threatened to seek Congressional “safeguards” regulating TV news content and, depending what happens Nov. 2, he may well have the political means to do it.

Viacom is hardly the only media giant cowed by the prospect that this White House might threaten its corporate interests if it gets out of line. Disney’s refusal to release Michael Moore’s partisan “Fahrenheit 9/11” in an election year would smell less if the company applied the same principle to its ABC radio stations, where the equally partisan polemics of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are heard every day. Even a low-profile film project in conflict with Bush dogma has spooked the world’s largest media company, Time Warner, proprietor of CNN. Its Warner Brothers, about to release a special DVD of “Three Kings,” David O. Russell’s 1999 movie criticizing the first gulf war, suddenly canceled a planned extra feature, a new Russell documentary criticizing the current war. Whether any of these increasingly craven media combines will stand up to the Bush administration in a constitutional pinch, as Katharine Graham and her Post Company bravely did to the Nixon administration during Watergate, is a proposition that hasn’t been remotely tested yet.

The New York Times Magazine‘s cover story this morning is a very disturbing portrait of the unshakeable faith of George W. Bush by Ron Susskind. Far be in from me to criticize another person for their faith and practice, but the absolutism that infuses this man and his administration is, as Sigmund Freud would say, spooky.

Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a treasury official for the first President Bush, told me recently that “if Bush wins, there will be a civil war in the Republican Party starting on Nov. 3.” The nature of that conflict, as Bartlett sees it? Essentially, the same as the one raging across much of the world: a battle between modernists and fundamentalists, pragmatists and true believers, reason and religion.

“Just in the past few months,” Bartlett said, “I think a light has gone off for people who’ve spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he’s always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do.” Bartlett, a 53-year-old columnist and self-described libertarian Republican who has lately been a champion for traditional Republicans concerned about Bush’s governance, went on to say: “This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can’t be persuaded, that they’re extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he’s just like them….

“This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts,” Bartlett went on to say. “He truly believes he’s on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.” Bartlett paused, then said, “But you can’t run the world on faith.”

Read the entire article. I know it sounds like I’m over-reaching, but we have seen this kind of fanaticism before. It is a part of our past, both at home and abroad, and thankfully it has always been defeated. But it does not go away; you can smash the bunker and vanquish the remainders, but it will rise again. We always have to be on our guard.

If this is all too much to handle for a quiet Sunday morning, there’s always football, a good book, or the crossword puzzle.