Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
In September 2003, I published a book immoderately titled, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception. Its contention was a simple one: that Bush had gone beyond the normal boundaries of presidential spin in using falsehoods and misrepresentations to skew the public discourse on many fronts: stems cells, global warming, tax policy, and, above all, the invasion of Iraq.
At the time, this was not--in certain circles--a well-received argument. Conservative pundits, pointing to my book and others that came out at the time (Al Franken's Lying Liars, Molly Ivins' Bushwhacked, written with Lou Dubose, and Joe Conason's Big Lies), declared a new phenomenon was at hand: rabid, irrational Bush hatred. MSM commentators, ever looking to reside within the comfortable, above-it-all middle, observed that the left was now mirroring the extreme rhetoric of the Limbaugh-crazy, Coulter-loving right. I noted some examples of this dismissive reax in a recent Mother Jones essay. The New York Times' Matt Bai, citing my book, wrote, "the new leftist screeds seem to solidify a rising political culture of incivility and overstatement." Conservative columnist David Brooks proclaimed that "the core threat to democracy is not in the White House, it's the haters themselves." (Yes, I was more dangerous than George W. Bush.) What few of these commentators of the center and right bothered to do was to evaluate the case I (and the others) had put forward. That is, to confront the facts I had presented. Their aim was to discredit the very idea of anyone going so far as to call the president of the United States a liar. And National Review editor Rich Lowry opined, "I don't think the public is going to buy the idea that [Bush is] a liar."
Lowry got it wrong. By Election Day 2004, polls showed that a slight majority believed that Bush was not honest and trustworthy. Still, Bush managed to best John Kerry in an election that was something of a referendum on Bush's first term. But that election came too early. Had it been held a year later--post-Katrina--any Dem would have thrashed Bush and Cheney at the polls. And now about seven out of ten disapprove of his presidency, and most of the public agrees with the premise that Bush deliberately misled American citizens about WMDs and the threat supposedly posed by Iraq. Bush is heading toward the door widely regarded as a failure: Iraq, Katrina, the financial meltdown. He has become the vanishing president. Hardly seen. Barely relevant.
Bush's style of politics, his policies, his political party--it's all been discredited. Whatever happens in the presidential race, the GOP is poised to take a beating in congressional races. He has led his party to ruin. The battle over the W. story has been won by his critics--at least in the short run. The view that Bush has been a dishonest president and bad for the United States has become the majority position in the United States. If John McCain somehow manages to win, it will be in spite of Bush.
Many presidents are elected as reactions to the previous president. George W. Bush's (faux) victory in 2000 was a reaction to the Bill Clinton soap opera. And a Barack Obama triumph would be the natural reaction to the W. years. Obama is the most progressive (or liberal) Democratic nominee since FDR ran for reelection. He is black (or biracial). He is an intellectual. He is no child of privilege. To sum up: he is the opposite of George W. Bush. Not only has Bush started two wars he couldn't finish, presided over a government that lost a major American city, and did little as a financial tsunami hit the nation; he has (I am guessing) created a yearning among many Americans for a non-Bush. And within the realm of conventional U.S. politics, Obama is about as non-Bush as it gets. No wonder Obama has a strong chance of becoming president. He spoke (endlessly) of change; he is an antidote to the Bush presidency.
By december 2007, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) had been toiling on environmental and clean-energy legislation in Congress for three decades—and for the past few years, the task had increasingly come to feel like pushing a boulder up Capitol Hill. But that was then. Now Markey, a garrulous lawmaker with a thick Boston accent, was elated. As chairman of a new committee on energy independence and global warming set up by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he had helped pass a groundbreaking energy bill that would cut greenhouse emissions and boost fuel standards for the first time since 1975. The new standard—35 mpg by 2020—would eventually eliminate 190 million metric tons of global warming gases, the equivalent of getting rid of 28 million cars and trucks. The bill also required utilities to generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2020, increased building efficiency standards by 50 percent, and shifted tax breaks from Big Oil to renewables. With all this, Markey notes, the United States would have met 35 percent of the Kyoto Protocol's greenhouse targets by 2030—not bad, considering that Markey's global warming committee was less than a year old.
One of the duties of a campaign manager is to spin--that is, not tell the truth. I remember that on Election Day 1992, Mary Matalin, a top aide for President George H.W. Bush's reelection campaign, went on television throughout the day and said that the campaign was going to win. But its internal polls showed Bush I was heading toward a loss to Bill Clinton.
On Friday, Rick Davis, John McCain's campaign manager, offered a similar whistling-past-the-graveyard stretcher. In a conference call with reporters, he talked up Sarah Palin, claiming she was an asset to the GOP ticket. It was a tough day for doing so. The New York Times had front-paged a poll showing that 59 percent of voters believe that Palin is not prepared to be vice president--up 9 points since the beginning of October. A third of the voters polled said that her selection would be a major factor in picking a president--and those voters favored Obama. Can you say, "drag on the ticket"?
Davis couldn't. He told reporters:
Governor Palin's crowds are huge. In fact, she was in a location last night, the same general vicinity of Senator Biden. He had about 800 people at his event, she had 20,000. So, all the talk that we see on television and the newspapers about what a drag Governor Palin is on our ticket can't be further from the truth. She's electrifying crowds all across the battleground states, and we really appreciate the hard work she's putting in.
So Palin is helping McCain? Davis and the McCain crew seem to be alone among the politerati in believing this. No one should call the election before the votes are counted, but it does seem clear (assuming polls mean anything at all) that if McCain does manage to win it will be in spite of--not because of--Sarah Palin.
Every few weeks, I do a Bloggingheads.tv diavlog with Jim Pinkerton, one of my favorite conservatives. Months ago, Pinkerton, who was a top aide for the first President Bush and who was a senior adviser to Mike Huckabee's presidential effort, predicted that Barack Obama would be (or could be) destroyed by a campaign that highlighted his ties to Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright. In a diavlog we conducted on Wednesday, Pinkerton said that John McCain didn't do all that was necessary for such a crusade to work, but he also noted his admiration for Obama (though not his policy ideas). It seemed to me that Pinkerton was close to endorsing Obama. So as our conversation was finishing, I asked whom he was voting for. You can see the exchange that ensued at the end of this clip:
Note that Pinkerton declined repeated opportunities to say that he will vote for McCain.
In the final weeks of the 2008 presidential campaign, Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin have accused Senator Barack Obama of being a socialist bent on taking money from hard-working folks to finance hand-outs to others. At the last presidential debate, McCain declared, "the whole premise behind Senator Obama's plans are class warfarelet's spread the wealth around." This line of attack has been the centerpiece of McCain's closing blast against Obama: because Obama wants to tax the well-to-do to pay for middle-class tax relief, he's an untrustworthy, divisive, redistributionist who cares more about controlling wealth than creating it. He's an enemy of the American dream.
But eight years ago, in January and February 2000, McCain was on the receiving end of similar criticism, as conservatives and Republicans accused him of engaging in class warfare by opposing tax breaks for the rich while advocating tax cuts for middle- and low-income Americans. That is, McCain was denounced in much the same way as he is now denouncing Obama.
Back then, McCain was locked in a fierce fight with George W. Bush for the GOP presidential nomination. Bush had proposed a massive tax-cuts package. At the time, McCain said, "Sixty percent of the benefits from [Bush's] tax cuts go to the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans--and that's not the kind of tax relief that Americans need .I don't believe the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans should get 60 percent of the tax breaks. I think the lowest 10 percent should get the breaks .I'm not giving tax cuts for the rich." On Meet the Press, he maintained, "There's a growing gap between rich and poor in America .I think that the people who need [tax cuts] most and need the relief most are working middle-income Americans." At a campaign rally in February 2000, he declared, "I don't think Bill Gates needs a tax cut. I think your parents do." The New York Times described McCain's tax plan as "apportioning the spoils of the nation's current prosperity."
For taking this stance, McCain was walloped by Republicans.
* On Hardball, former Housing Secretary Jack Kemp said, "John McCain is waging class warfare, and he should stop it."
* On Meet the Press, Representative David Dreier, a California Republican supporting Bush, said of McCain's stance, "The idea of engaging in class warfare is not a pro-California thing."
* On CNN's Crossfire, co-host Mary Matalin huffed, "John McCain has been running on class warfare."
* Texas Republican party head Susan Weddington excoriated McCain for engaging in a "shameless kind of class warfare."