I think this Matt Miller column is just hugely important. And Bette? The only thing that may conceivably eclipse her talent is her good will. And if you’ve ever seen her emerge in full mermaidenform from a giant clam shell – that’s saying something.

[Emphasis added for hurried readers.]



Here at Matt Miller Global Column Headquarters, we report, you decide.

So here are the facts:

President Bush attacked John Kerry this week for Kerry’s alleged attempt to “gut” U.S. intelligence services via a 1995 proposal that would have cut roughly $300 million a year from a roughly $30 billion annual budget.

In other words, Kerry’s proposal would have cut 1 percent of the intelligence budget.

Readers who are in business may pause here to laugh their heads off.

Can you imagine tough Pentagon CEO Donald Rumsfeld facing down a general who told him that a 1 percent cut Rumsfeld wanted somewhere would “gut” that area?

Calling a 1 percent cut a “gutting” is beyond ludicrous. It’s beyond preposterous. The only possible conclusion is that it is an intentional deception.

(Yes, Democrats can be prone to “argue” in similar ways on Medicare and Social Security, but we’ll gut those programs another day – and, as your mother told you, two wrongs don’t make a right.)

So what was Bush’s attack about? There are two ways to look at it: as a measure of how dumb the White House thinks we are and as a measure of how anxious the White House is a full eight months before November.

Think of the choice. Team Bush made a decision to reach back to an obscure 9-year-old proposal, blow it utterly out of proportion, and then have the president – not some surrogate – utter the deception himself, to assure that it would make national headlines and force the press to write stories about just what it was Kerry may have done (which, sensibly enough, was to include shaving some intelligence bloat as part of a broader deficit reduction effort).

This is not about facts. It is about planting seeds of mistrust. Which brings us to Bush’s flip-flop strategy.

“Once again, Sen. Kerry is trying to have it both ways,” Bush said in his offending remark. “He’s for good intelligence, yet he was willing to gut the intelligence services. And that is no way to lead a nation in a time of war.”

Is this rubbish supposed to be the way to lead a nation in a time of “war”? This from the man who always boasts that he’s “plainspoken”?

Bush’s bogus attack followed shortly after the White House scored a major propaganda coup by getting The New York Times to do a Page One story on whether Kerry is, indeed, a flip-flopper. You know this charge must poll well because Team Bush is entirely on message. Dick Cheney barely opens his mouth nowadays without noting that “that kind of indecision may not be what the American people want.”

Surely that’s right – which is why they must be upset about Bush’s own flip-flops on steel tariffs, farms subsidies, nation-building, and funding his own education bill. And that’s just for starters.

Why parse this in detail? It’s a preview of Bush’s unfolding strategy. Karl Rove knows that the public has little impression of John Kerry. He’s determined to use the GOP’s colossal financial advantage, and the media news void now that Kerry is the nominee, to define Kerry before Kerry can define himself.

This is politics 101. But it’s also a surreal commentary on how news management (or dueling propaganda) is central to political life in ways that 285 million of our 290 million fellow citizens likely don’t notice or understand.

Presidential elections are largely fights over how the press will frame the debate. It’s a case of the “observed” and the “observers” blending interactively in one giant feedback loop. How each side can get the national press to behave – what the press can be persuaded to define as “news” – will go a long way in determining public opinion.

Whether you think this is any way to run a democracy or not, it’s a reality. And that means there are three centers of power that matter in the months ahead: the Democratic Party, the Republican Party and the national press. I know top editors and producers at these outlets are often uncomfortable with their enormous power in this process, but it’s unavoidable.

As stenographic reports of Bush’s bogus attack this week show, the only question is whether the media has a strategy for exercising this power responsibly – a strategy that’s as thoughtful as those partisans will deploy in attempting to influence the press.

Matthew Miller, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, is the author of The Two Percent Solution: Fixing America’s Problems in Ways Liberals and Conservatives Can Love. Reach him at www.mattmilleronline.com.


Dana Dlott: ‘When I read last week’s New York Times article about gay Republicans, I thought:

The Log Cabin Republicans, a group of gays who delivered almost 1 million votes to George W. Bush in 2000, have announced they are withdrawing support for the President following his announcement of support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

In related news, Chickens for Colonel Sanders have announced they are withdrawing support for the Kentucky icon after learning that Kentucky Fried Chicken is made of … chicken.


February 24, 2004

Dear President Bush,

Today you called upon Congress to move quickly to amend the US Constitution, and set in Federal stone a legal definition of marriage. I would like to know why. In your speech, you stated that this Amendment would serve to protect marriage in America, which I must confess confuses me. Like you, I believe in the importance of marriage and I feel that we as a society take the institution far too lightly. In my circle of family, friends and acquaintances, the vast majority have married and divorced – some more than once. Still, I believe in marriage. I believe that there is something fundamental about finding another person on this planet with whom you want to build a life and family, and make a positive contribution to society. I believe that we need more positive role models for successful marriage in this country – something to counteract the images we get bombarded with in popular culture.

When we are assaulted with images of celebrities of varying genres, be it actors, sports figures, socialites, or even politicians who shrug marriage on and off like the latest fashion, it is vitally important to the face of our nation, for our children and our future, that we have a balance of commitment and fidelity with which to stave off the negativity. I search for these examples to show my own daughter, so that she can see that marriage is more than a disposable whim, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

As a father, I’m sure you have faced these same concerns and difficulties in raising your own daughters.

Therefore I can also imagine that you must understand how thrilled I have been over the past few weeks to come home and turn on the news with my family. To finally have concrete examples of true commitment, honest love, and steadfast fidelity was such a relief and a joy. Instead of speaking in the hypothetical, I was finally able to point to these men and women, standing together for hours in the pouring rain, and tell my child that this is what its all about.

Forget Britney. Forget Kobe. Forget Strom. Forget about all the people that we know who have taken so frivolously the pure and simple beauty of love and tarnished it so consistently. Look instead at the joy in the beautiful faces of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon at 51 years together! I mean, honestly Mr. President – how many couples do you know who are together for 51 years?

I’m sure you agree that this love story provides a wonderful opportunity to teach our children about the true meaning and value of marriage. On the steps of San Francisco City Hall, rose petals and champagne, suits and veils, horns honking and elation in the streets; a celebration of love the likes of which this society has never seen.

This morning, however, my joy turned to sadness, my relief transformed into outrage, and my peace became anger. This morning, I watched you stand before this nation and belittle these women, the thousands who stood with them, and the countless millions who wish to follow them. How could you do that, Mr. President? How could you take something so beautiful – a clear and defining example of the true nature of commitment – and declare it to be anything less? What is it that validates your marriage which somehow doesn’t apply to Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon? By what power, what authority are you so divinely imbued that you can stand before me and this nation and hold their love to a higher standard?

Don’t speak to me about homosexuality, Mr. President. Don’t tell me that the difference lies in the bedroom. I would never presume to ask you or your wife how it is you choose to physically express your love for one another, and I defy you to stand before Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon and ask them to do the same. It is none of my business, as it is none of yours, and it has nothing to do with the “sanctity of marriage”. I’m sure you would agree that marriage is far more than sexual expression, and it’s high time we all started focusing on all the other aspects of a relationship which hold it together over the course of a lifetime.

Therefore, with the mechanics of sex set aside, I ask you again – what makes a marriage? I firmly believe that whatever definition you derive, there are thousands upon thousands of shining examples for you to embrace. You want to protect marriage. I admire and support that, Mr. President. Together, as a nation, let us find and celebrate examples of what a marriage should be. Together, let us take couples who embody the principles of commitment, fidelity, sacrifice and love, and hold them up before our children as role models for their own futures. Together, let us reinforce the concept that love is about far more than sex, despite what popular culture would like them to believe.

Please, for the sake of our children, for the sake of our society, for the sake of our future, do not take us down this road. Under the guise of protection, do not support divisiveness. Under the guise of unity, do not endorse discrimination. Under the guise of sanctity, do not devalue commitment. Under the guise of democracy, do not encourage this amendment.

Bette Midler [NOT: see below]

Hey, but as much as I appreciate Bette Midler’s letter, go back and read Matt Miller again – and send it to your list. (You have his permission to cut and paste it.) The media totally rolled over in 2000. We can’t let them do it again.

Late-breaking correction: I’m told Bette Midler says she did NOT write this letter that’s been going round the web — but that she agrees with it. Sorry.


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