Friday, March 10, 2006

New Poll Shows Even Republicans Are Losing Faith in Bush's Presidency

Bush's Job-Approval Rating Plummets in Face of Furor Over Ports Deal -- and Congressional Republicans are Now Worried as Democrats Jump Out to Nine-Point Lead in Campaign for Next Fall's Midterm Elections

By Ron Fournier
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- More and more people, particularly Republicans, disapprove of President Bush's job performance, question his character and no longer consider him a strong leader against terrorism, according to an AP-Ipsos poll documenting one of the bleakest points of his presidency.

Nearly 80 percent of Americans surveyed -- including 70 percent of Republicans -- now believe that an all-out civil war will break out in Iraq, the bloody hot spot upon which Bush has staked his presidency. And nearly 70 percent of respondents say the U.S. is on the wrong track, an increase of six points since February.

"I'm not happy with how things are going," said Margaret Campanelli, a retiree in Norwich, Connecticut, who said she tends to vote Republican. "I'm particularly not happy with Iraq, not happy with how things worked with Hurricane Katrina.

Election-Year Pressure Driving GOP Rebellion Against Bush Over Ports

Republican Party leaders said the survey explains why GOP lawmakers are rushing to distance themselves from Bush on a range of issues — port security, immigration, spending, warrantless eavesdropping and trade, for example.

The positioning is most intense among Republicans facing election in November and those considering 2008 presidential campaigns.

"You're in the position of this cycle now that is difficult anyway. In second term off-year elections, there gets to be a familiarity factor," said Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), a potential 2008 GOP presidential candidate.

"People have seen and heard [Bush's] ideas long enough and that enters into their thinking. People are kind of, `Well, I wonder what other people can do,'" he said.

The poll suggests that most Americans wonder whether Bush is up to the job. The survey, conducted Monday through Wednesday of 1,000 people, found that just 37 percent approve of his overall performance. That is the lowest of his presidency.

Rank-and-File GOP Support For President Drops Sharply

Bush's job approval among Republicans plummeted from 82 percent in February to 74 percent, a dangerous sign in a midterm election year when parties rely on enthusiasm from their most loyal voters. The biggest losses were among white males.

On issues, Bush's approval rating declined from 39 percent to 36 percent for his handling of domestic affairs and from 47 percent to 43 percent on foreign policy and terrorism. His approval ratings for dealing with the economy and Iraq held steady, but still hovered around 40 percent.

Personally, far fewer Americans consider Bush likable, honest, strong and dependable than they did just after his re-election campaign.

By comparison, Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan had public approval in the mid 60s at this stage of their second terms in office, while Dwight Eisenhower was close to 60 percent, according to Gallup polls. Richard Nixon, who was increasingly tangled up in the Watergate scandal, was in the high 20s in early 1974 -- the lowest ratings ever recorded of a sitting president.

Republicans In Congress Fare Even Worse -- And Now Trail Democrats, Poll Says

The AP-Ipsos poll, which has a margin of error of 3 percentage points, gives Republicans reason to worry that they may inherit Bush's political woes. Two-thirds of the public disapproves of how the GOP-led Congress is handling its job -- and a surprising 53 percent of Republicans give Congress poor marks.

"Obviously, it's the winter of our discontent," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma).

By a 47-36 margin, people favor Democrats over Republicans when they are asked who should control Congress.

While the gap worries Republicans, Cole and others said it does not automatically translate into GOP defeats in November, when voters will face a choice between local candidates rather than considering Congress as a whole.

In addition, strategists in both parties agree that a divided and undisciplined Democratic Party has failed to seize full advantage of Republican troubles.

"While I don't dispute the fact that we have challenges in the current environment politically, I also believe 2006 as a choice election offers Republicans an opportunity if we make sure the election is framed in a way that will keep our majorities in the House and the Senate," said Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

White House Insists to GOP: Don't Rock the Boat

Stung by criticism, senior officials at the White House and the RNC are reminding GOP members of Congress that Bush's approval ratings may be low, but theirs is lower and have declined at the same pace as Bush's. The message to GOP lawmakers is that criticizing the president weakens him — and them — politically.

"When issue like the internal Republican debate over the ports dominates the news it puts us another day away from all of us figuring out what policies we need to win," said Terry Nelson, a Republican consultant and political director for Bush's re-election campaign in 2004.

Bowing to a ferocious firestorm of opposition in Congress, a Dubai-owned company on Thursday abandoned its quest to take over operations at several U.S. ports. Bush had pledged to veto any attempt to block the transaction, pitting the president for the first time against his own party in Congress and against most voters.

(The New York Times reported in its Friday editions that a group of Republican congressional leaders met with the president in the White House on Thursday and warned him that his veto threat would not deter opponents of the ports deal from passing legislation to block it, strongly hinting that the measure would pass by a veto-proof two-thirds majority or greater.)

All this has Republican voters like Walter Wright of Fairfax Station, Virginia., worried for their party.

"We've gotten so carried away I wouldn't be surprised to see the Democrats take it because of discontent," he said. "People vote for change and hope for the best."


Volume I, Number 15
Friday News Extra Copyright 2006, The Associated Press.
"'Skeeter Bites" Copyright 2006, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Eating Their Own: How an Iraq War Veteran and 'Fighting Democrat' Got Sabotaged By His Own Party

At a Time When Bush and Congressional Republicans Have Sunk to Record-Low Poll Ratings, Why Did the Democratic Party Leadership Torpedo the Senate Bid of Paul Hackett?

By Skeeter Sanders

For months now, the liberal talk-radio network, Air America, has been featuring on its Web site ( a collection of "Fighting Dems" -- military veterans running for Congress and the Senate whom both the network and Democratic Party leaders say are the kinds of candidates the party needs to both revitalize the party among its base and attract moderate independents and independent-minded Republicans to take back control of Congress in next fall's election.

But there's one "Fighting Dem" listed on the Air America site who's no longer in the running. In Ohio, Paul Hackett found his campaign to win his party's nomination to unseat two-term Republican Sen. Mike DeWine torpedoed by economic sabotage, a nasty whisper campaign about his war record and outright threats against his financial backers.

In a state where controversy over the integrity of the voting process continues to simmer below the surface after the 2004 election that saw President Bush carry the Buckeye State amid accusations of rigged electronic voting machines, one would think that Hackett, a now-retired Marine Corps major and Iraq War veteran, had become the target of right-wing Bush supporters.

Hackett Was the Kind of Candidate the "Deaniacs" Loved...

After all, Hackett had made a name for himself for blasting Bush as a "chickenhawk S.O.B." while campaigning last summer in a special election for a U.S. House seat in a heavily Republican district outside Cincinnati. And while on the stump for his Senate bid, Hackett, in the true style of an ex-Marine, minced no words, branding opponents of gay marriage as "un-American" and the GOP as having been taken over by Christian extremists who he said "aren't a whole lot different than [Muslim extremists such as] Osama bin Laden."

Indeed, Hackett was the kind of progressive Democrat that supporters of Howard Dean's ill-fated 2004 presidential campaign loved. And there's little doubt that had he won the Democratic nomination, GOP strategists would have gone after Hackett with a right-wing vengeance.

But it wasn't the Republicans who sabotaged Hackett's campaign. It was the leadership of Hackett's own party who did him in.

On February 13, Hackett stunned his supporters by announcing his withdrawal from the race -- and that he was leaving politics for good after only 11 months. "I made this decision reluctantly, only after repeated requests by party leaders, as well as behind-the-scenes machinations, that were intended to hurt my campaign," he said. only hinting that he had been royally screwed.

...But a Party Insider Stood in Hackett's Way

In a subsequent interview with the left-leaning Mother Jones magazine, Hackett told about backroom battles inside the party that forced him out. Hackett was running against seven-term state Rep. Sherrod Brown of Akron in the May Democratic primary, with the winner going on to face DeWine in November -- baring, of course, DeWine losing the GOP primary to a far-right-wing challenger.

DeWine is considered one of the most vulnerable incumbent Senate Republicans, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is going all-out to defeat him. Hackett was courted heavily by Democratic leaders, including Sens. Charles Schumer and Harry Reid, to take on DeWine.

But no sooner did Hackett enter the Senate race last October than Brown announced his candidacy, reversing an earlier decision he had made to stay out of the race. With Brown, a party insider, on board, the Democratic Party leadership quickly began pulling away from the fiery Hackett.

Hackett Bucks the Beltway -- And the Beltway Bucks Back

Schumer, after having wooed him in August, called Hackett again in October. "Schumer didn't tell me anything definitive," Hackett told Mother Jones at the time. "But I'm not a dumbass, and I know what he wanted me to do." Hackett, a maverick who relishes the fight, decided to buck the Beltway insiders and stay in the race.

Much like the former Vermont governor's 2004 presidential run, Hackett's take-no-prisoners rhetoric delighted the Democrats' liberal rank-and-file, especially the "Deaniacs." Left-leaning bloggers loved him. Hard-core anti-GOP donors poured cash into Hackett's campaign, primarily via the Internet. It was the kind of campaign that Dean, now Democratic national chairman, would have loved. The "Deaniacs" -- most of whom are younger people under 40 -- certainly did.

A Swift Boat-Style Rumor Campaign

But some of the "old fogey" Democratic Party insiders weren't happy at all. They grumbled that Hackett wasn't "senatorial." Soon enough, according to Mother Jones, sharks soon appeared on the horizon. A whisper campaign started: Hackett committed war crimes in Iraq -- and there were photos to prove it.

Dave Lane, chairman of the Clermont County Democratic Party, said he had heard on numerous occasions rumors that "someone was distributing photos of Paul in Iraq with Iraqi war casualties with captions or suggestions that Paul had committed some sort of atrocities.

"Who did it? I have no idea," Lane said. "It sounds like a Republican modus operandi to me, but I have no proof of that. But if it was someone on my side of the fence, I have a real problem with that. I have a hard time believing that a Democrat would do that to another Democrat."

In late November, Hackett got a telephone call from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, in which Reid demanded to know if the rumors about the photos were true. "No sir," replied Hackett. To drive home his point, Hackett traveled to Washington to show Reid's staff the photos in question.

Hackett refused to provide copies of the photos to Mother Jones, but a member of Sen. Reid's staff did confirm that Hackett had showed them several photos. "The ones I saw were part of a diary he kept while serving in Iraq and were in no way compromising. The one picture in question depicted Marines doing their work on what looked like a scorching day in Iraq," said the aide, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Hackett insists that the pictures show another Marine -- not Hackett -- unloading a sealed body bag from a truck. "There was nothing disrespectful or unprofessional," he insists. "That was a photo of a Marine doing his job. If you don't like what they're doing, don't send Marines into war."

Hackett Supporters Blame Primary Rival Brown for Rumors

But the rumors would not go away. By this time, even Hackett's closest supporters were asking him privately about them. Hackett was becoming increasingly annoyed. "It creates doubt and suspicion," Hackett told the magazine. "It tarnishes my very strength as a candidate, my military service. It's like you take a handful of seeds, throw them up in the wind, and they blow all around and start growing. It really bothered me."

Hackett's supporters soon pointed accusing fingers at the Brown campaign. A senior Brown staffer angrily dismissed the accusations as "ridiculous." Brown campaign spokesperson Joanna Kuebler refused to address the rumors, but did issue the following statement: "This campaign has never been about Paul Hackett or about Sherrod Brown. This campaign is about the hard working people of Ohio, and what Republican corruption has done to them."

An angry Hackett wanted to stay in the race -- and raised nearly $500,000 in the last quarter of 2005, matching Brown's fundraising. But Brown entered the race with a $2 million war chest. Early polls show both Brown and Hackett running in a dead heat against DeWine. But an internal poll done in February for the Hackett campaign that was obtained by the The Plain Dealer of Clevelend showed Brown leading Hackett among Democratic primary voters by 20 points.

Party Bigwigs Put the $ Squeeze on Hackett

With the very real prospect of a smear campaign against him going public late in the campaign -- reminiscent of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's attacks on John Kerry -- Hackett soon discovered that top Democrats were attempting to shut off his campaign money faucet.

The hosts of a Beverly Hills fundraiser for Hackett received an e-mail from the political action committee of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) that concluded, "I hope you will re-consider your efforts on behalf of Hackett and give your support to Sherrod [Brown]." Waxman's chief of staff, Phil Schiliro, said that the e-mail was only sent to a handful of people and that "it probably came from a suggestion from the Brown campaign."

Michael Fleming, who manages Internet millionaire David Bohnett'’s political and charitable giving, was one of the recipients of the Waxman e-mail. Bohnett has given to hundreds of progressive candidates, but Fleming told Mother Jones that this was the first time he had ever received any kind of communication to not do so in Hackett's case.

"It's unfortunate that the powers that be didn't let the people of Ohio figure this out," Flemming said. "We should be in the business of encouraging people like Paul Hackett and viable progressive candidates like him to run. The message instead is 'don't bother, it's not worth your time.'"

Some Hackett Supporters Vow Retaliation

Needless to say, Hackett was furious. "I feel like I got [screwed] by the Democratic Party because they enticed me in and then they pulled the rug out from beneath me," he said. "It sounds eerily familiar to sending in the military to Iraq -- which was a misuse of the military -- and then not giving them [the manpower and equipment] they needed to fight with."

In what Hackett supporters are now calling the "New Valentine's Day Massacre," Hackett withdrew from the race and insisted he would not be running for elected office anytime soon. He rejected pleas to switch races and run again in the Ohio Second Congressional District against GOP Rep. Jean Schmidt, saying he had promised the candidates currently in that race that he wouldn't run. "My word is my bond and I will take it to my grave," he declared.

Many Hackett supporters have vowed they won't support Brown in November -- with some even threatening to vote to re-elect DeWine in retaliation.

Indeed, support among Democrats for Brown has fallen since Hackett's withdrawal, with a new Rasmussen Reports poll showing DeWine moving into a nine-point lead over Brown, 46 percent to 37 percent -- a gain of four points.

Significantly, the poll found that 31 percent of Ohio Democrats -- mostly progressives -- agreed with Hackett's assertion that he was "betrayed" by Democratic leaders who forced him to quit the race in order to close ranks behind Brown. Twenty-four percent of the state's Democrats -- mostly moderates and conservatives -- disagreed.

These poll numbers do not bode well for Brown in November.

Dems Must Face Reality: There Are No 'Centrists' Anymore

As I See It: If the national leadership of the Democratic Party thinks that quashing progressives such as Hackett is going to win them control of Congress in November, they're living in a dream world.

It's the same kind of "win-at-all-costs-even-at-the-expense-of-the-principles-this-party-stands-for" attitude that is getting Democrats defeated in election after election after election. The time has come for Democrats to wake up and realize that this is a permanently polarized 50-50 nation. The Republicans already have done so. There is no center anymore; it's an illusion. You're either on the left or on the right.

The rise of right-wing talk radio has seen to that. And so have the Baby Boomers.

More than 60 years after the end of World War II, the Baby Boomers are now firmly in charge of this country. This postwar generation, which cut its political teeth on the five most politically and culturally polarizing events in our nation's history while growing up (The Vietnam War, the sexual revolution, the women's movement, gay liberation and the Watergate scandal), is a deeply divided generation that has never known -- and will never know -- the meaning of the word "compromise." And the generations who are following the Boomers are even more polarized.

GOPers Are Proud Conservatives; Dems Must Be Equally Proud Progressives

The Democratic Party leadership just doesn't get it: It's not the party label that matters to voters now. It's the ideology that matters. Republicans learned this years ago and have embraced fully the conservative ideology. They openly and proudly call themselves a conservative party.

Voters who lean conservative are going to vote Republican no matter what the Democrats do. It's time for the Democrats to stop courting them -- and, more importantly, stop alienating its progressive voter base in the process by crushing progressives like Hackett who aren't afraid to stand up for progressive principles.

It's time for Democrats to stop running away from their progressive ideology and reclaim it (Don't like being called a "liberal?" Then call yourself a "progressive." Linguistically, "progressive" is a much more accurate antonym to "conservative" than "liberal" is anyway).

It is time for Democrats to start boldly proclaiming that there is no shame in being a progressive. It is time for Democrats to coalesce around -- and fight for -- a solidly progressive ideology that is a real alternative to the conservative ideology of the Republicans.

Canadians certainly know what their political parties stand for. So do Britons. Likewise people in virtually every other democracy. Only we Americans don't know what our political parties really stand for. Actually, we do; we certainly know what the Republicans stand for. So why can't the Democrats get their act together and clearly say what they stand for?

I'll tell you this: It's the refusal of the Democrats to state clearly that they're a progressive party and embrace a progressive ideology which is precisely why I abandoned the Democratic Party in 1990 and have remained an independent ever since. I won't support a party or a candidate that doesn't have the guts to support the progressive ideals that I grew up to believe in.

Crushing of Hackett Mind-Boggling in Face of Mounting GOP Scandals

At least with the Republicans, I know exactly what they stand for. Even though I firmly disagree with them, I give the Republicans credit for having the guts to stand up for what they believe in.

The Republicans are running scared now in the wake of revelations that the Bush White House -- indeed, the president himself -- did know in advance that Hurricane Katrina would pose a grave danger to the New Orleans levee system, contrary to Bush's assertions that the breach of the levees were unanticipated. Bush was caught on tape red-handed in a lie.

And this time, Bush cannot get away from being held accountable for his malfeasance, no matter how many foreign trips he makes or how many times he tries to divert public attention away by repeatedly bringing up the "war on terror" -- which the president himself has now undermined with his mind-boggling approval of an Arab company's takeover of the operations of nine of our nation's ports.

This is cronyism gone too far; it certainly gives new credibility to Michael Moore's expose in Fahrenheit 9/11 of the all-too-cozy business relationships between the Bush family and the potentates of the Persian Gulf region.

This, combined with the influence-buying scandals sinking congressional GOPers, Valerie Plamegate and Iraq on the brink of plunging into all-out sectarian warfare, has sent the approval ratings of the president and congressional Republicans to all-time lows. Even the right-wing Fox News Channel/New York Post poll shows Bush's job-approval rating at a record-low 35 percent.

So why in God's name is the Democratic Party leadership continuing to squash Hackett and other progressives? They are the future of the party. And where is Howard Dean? Why has he not spoken out against this? How can Dean justify crushing a progressive such as Hackett in Ohio's Senate race while at the same time openly supporting the Senate candidacy of independent progressive Rep. Bernie Sanders in Dean's home state of Vermont?

The Democrats cannot and will not win elections by copying the conservative ideology of the Republicans. Conservatives will never vote for the Democrats, not even a closet Republican like Joe Lieberman. Likewise, progressives will never vote for Republicans, not even a closet Democrat like Lincoln Chafee.

The era of "consensus politics" is over. Whether they like it or not, the Democrats must come out of the progressive closet. They cannot hope to win as long as they keep alienating their progressive base.


Volume I, Number 14
Copyright 2006, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.



Jim Hogue, Burlington, Vermont:

Good work, Skeeter. The Democrats are now (with the exceptions of Cynthia McKinney and John Conyers) the white corpuscles of the body politic. They attack the "diseases" of truth and justice. They are the first line of defense for the Republicans. The proof is in the story about Hackett. In this group of traitors, I definitely include Bernie Sanders.


Skeeter Sanders replies: Your comment arrived after last Wednesday's deadline, but I decided to post it anyway. I can't believe that you didn't list Russ Feingold and Dennis Kucinich among your exceptions to your list of Democratic "traitors" to the progressive cause. Feingold just introuduced a resolution in the Senate to censure Bush for lying to the American people about why he took this country to war in Iraq. And that closet Republican from Connecticut, Joe Liberman, has come out against it. Thank God Liberman is finally facing a challenger in the upcoming Democratic primary; he clearly deserves to get booted out of office. It's time for Liberman to finally come out of the GOP closet.

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