Highlights of This Page
Bush/Rove campaign to promote the privatization of Social Security falters. Iraqi national elections.
See my Update Information page for an explanation of why this and other pages between September 2004 and September 2006 are not yet complete.
- Bush's 2005 federal budget proposal continues his push towards redistributing America's wealth upwards, with a proposal that families be able to shield as much as $30,000 of their annual investment income, essentially ridding investors of paying taxes on their investments. The budget also calls for 42 separate subsidies for "everything from health insurance to decommissioning nuclear plants," according to the New York Times. All told, the budget requires over $737 billion in new tax cuts to be phased in over ten years, much of which, again, goes to the wealthiest Americans and to large corporations. As always, federal tax cuts have a "ripple" effect on state taxes, many of which index their personal and business income tax requirements to the federal tax system, so Bush's enormous tax cuts, which have already cost the states $200 to $300 billion in their own revenues, and will cost them perhaps $10 billion more. As usual, Bush says that his tax cuts will spur job creation and revenue growth, but, as author Frances Fox Piven writes, "tax cuts for the affluent are unlikely to have the effect of stimulating the economy and job creation." Economist Paul Krugman is more blunt: "Although financial reporters have started to realize that Mr. Bush is out of control -- he has 'lost his marbles,' says CBS Market Watch -- the sheer banana-republic irresponsibility of his plans hasn't been widely appreciated. That $674 billion tax cut that you've heard about literally isn't the half of it. Even according to our own lowball estimates, the administration wants $1.5 trillion in tax cuts over the next decade." Though 13 Wall Street economists expressed unwavering support for Bush's tax cuts in 2003, 450 other economists, including ten Nobel laureates, came out in opposition to Bush's economic plans.
- The 2005 budget does a masterful job of concealing the ballooning deficits by simply leaving out the money to be spent on several of the administration's most expensive outlays. The budget allocates not one dime for Iraq. Defense spending is drastically underestimated. The cost of revamping the alternative minimum tax, which will cost the government $600 billion over ten years, is not reflected. Both the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of the Treasury revised their methodology of estimating fiscal spending over time to further mask the tremendous spending and the effects of Bush's tax cuts on America's finances. So how will the budget pass? War hysteria. "Never before in wartime, with Americans killed, wounded, and captured in the line of duty, have the wealthy lined their pockets with tax breaks," writes AlterNet's Holly Sklar. Yet these tax cuts that gorge the wealthiest Americans are pushed as necessary for both the "war on terror" and for the revitalization of the US economy. The rhetoric of Bush and congressional Republicans routinely juxtaposes the war effort and the budget proposals. Piven writes, "The administration invoked patriotism to push for tax cuts that would benefit the affluent, even while it was also beating back attempts to improve soldiers' pay or improve veterans' benefits." (New York Times/Frances Fox Piven)
- January: The Iraq Survey Group, the organization searching Iraq for Hussein's supposed WMDs, shuts down, having issued its damning final report in December 2004. (See the December 2004 page for more information.) Reporters ask White House press secretary Scott McClellan, "If the information about WMDs is wrong, as we all agree now, is there no consequence?" McClellan responds that Bush's "focus is on helping to support those in the region who want to move forward." Days later, Washington Post reporters interview Bush aboard Air Force One. One reporter says, "In Iraq, there's been a steady stream of surprises. We weren't welcomed as liberators, as Vice President Cheney had talked about. We haven't found the weapons of mass destruction as predicted. The postwar process hasn't gone as well as some had hoped. Why hasn't anyone been held accountable, either through firings or demotions, for what some people see as mistakes or misjudgments?" Bush is supercilious and flip:"Well, we had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 election." (Michael Isikoff and David Corn)
- January: Undersecretary of defense Douglas Feith, implicated in the illegal passing of intelligence to Israel, announces he will leave his position later in the year, but will still be involved in defense policy through the Quadrennial Defense Review. Donald Rumsfeld has already let it be known privately that he intends to ask for Feith's resignation, though his reasons have nothing to do with Feith's contacts with Israeli intelligence. (Washington Post/Washington Times/Daily Kos, Bob Woodward)
- Early January: Rumsfeld sends General Gary Luck to Iraq to perform a sweeping review of strategy, troop levels, and training programs. Luck, a former head of US forces in South Korea and an advisor to General Tommy Franks during the 2003 invasion, comes back with dismal news. The Iraqi Army training program in particular is a disaster. In some cases it consists of little more than handing the recruit a rifle, giving him three days of training, and proclaiming him a soldier. Luck tells JCS chairman General Richard Myers, "You know we have underestimated the effect Saddam Hussein and his regime had on the spirit of the Iraqi people. Nobody got any credit for showing any initiative under Saddam Hussein. Now we're asking them to show all this initiative and they don't know how to do it." Condoleezza Rice doesn't need the Luck report to know how badly things are going in Iraq. One thing the report does drive home to her is the need to train, not just individual Iraqis to be soldiers, but entire units. (Bob Woodward)
- January 3: Conservative televangelist Pat Robertson, host of the Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club, makes a number of predictions for 2005, all of which he says he has received directly from God. According to Robertson, God told him, "I will remove judges from the Supreme Court quickly, and their successors will refuse to sanction the attacks on religious faith," apparently predicting that a number of Supreme Court judges will suddenly die in some sort of divine murder spree. "Robertson also says that God told him that Bush will have Social Security and tax reform passed, and that the world's Muslims will turn to Jesus Christ.
- Robertson, on his Web site, features a letter under the heading "Operation Supreme Court Freedom," a letter released following the June 2003 Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas that decriminalized homosexual sodomy. In the letter, Robertson asked his supporters to pray for liberal US Supreme Court Justices to, apparently, retire: "Would you join with me and many others in crying out to our Lord to change the Court? ...One justice is 83 years old, another has cancer, and another has a heart condition. Would it not be possible for God to put it in the minds of these three judges that the time has come to retire? With their retirement and the appointment of conservative judges, a massive change in federal jurisprudence can take place." When asked to clarify his remarks, Robertson said that "he was not talking about any particular Supreme Court justices when he asked his television audience to pray that three liberal justices retire. ...I don't care which three, I mean as long as the three conservatives stay on. ...There's six liberals, so it's up to the Lord."
- Robertson says that his 2004 New Year's prediction that Bush would win re-election in a "blowout" was confirmed by Bush's November 2004 victory, the smallest margin of victory for a re-elected incumbent president since Woodrow Wilson in 1916. Robertson has, over time, proclaimed that God would ensure his election as president, that God had told him Senator Jay Rockefeller would become president in 1996, that Russia would invade Israel in 1982, and that the world's economy would collapse in 1985.
- For 2005, Robertson makes the following divinely inspired predictions (among others):
For more on Robertson, search the other pages of this site. (MediaMatters)
- "Again, 2005 is going to be a year of extraordinary prosperity for this nation and for CBN [Christian Broadcasting Network]. And I think the American stock market is going to surge upward, if I heard from the Lord. Again, ladies and gentlemen, don't go and buy stock on my recommendation, but that's what I feel in my heart. The Lord was saying it's going to be a super good year."
- "Well, the Lord has some very encouraging news for George Bush.... What I heard is that Bush is now positioned to have victory after victory and that his second term is going to be one of triumph, which is pretty strong stuff. ...He'll have Social Security reform passed. He'll have tax reform passed. He'll have conservative judges on the courts. And that basically he is positioned for a series of dramatic victories which I hope will hearten him and his advisers. They don't have to be timid in this matter because the wind is blowing at his back, and he can move forward boldly and get results."
- "In America, again if I'm hearing God right, we will see a tremendous incident of miracles in the year 2005. ...God's spirit is going to be moving in dramatic power around the world. And his spirit is going to be touching the hearts of many in the Muslim world and they will be turning to the gospel, to Jesus Christ. I think many of them already are, but this is going to be an acceleration that will really amaze the world. ...[In God's words,] 'Revival will break out throughout the Muslim world, my [God's] truth will penetrate their hearts. The hold of that falsehood that has gripped them will be broken.'"
- "2005 will be another good year for the world. The terrorist threat will diminish. Nations will walk in peace, but it will be an illusion. The peril to Israel is greater now than it has ever been for she will be seduced into a false peace that will leave her vulnerable."
- "The vendetta against religion in America is about to end. ...'I [God] will remove judges from the Supreme Court quickly and their successors will refuse to sanction the attacks on religious faith.'"
- January 4: Republican James Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works, gives an inflammatory and scientifically wrongheaded speech on global warming to the Senate. Inhofe's speech opens, "As I said on the Senate floor on July 28, 2003, 'much of the debate over global warming is predicated on fear, rather than science.' I called the threat of catastrophic global warming the 'greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,' a statement that, to put it mildly, was not viewed kindly by environmental extremists and their elitist organizations." The environmental organization RealClimate dissects and debunks Inhofe's statements.
- RealClimate takes particular issue with several areas of "scientific" argument which Inhofe uses to claim provide "compelling new scientific evidence" that human-caused global warming is not threatening.
- One line of argument is, in Inhofe's words, "We are also in the midst of a natural warming trend that began about 1850, as we emerged from a 400-year cold spell known as the Little Ice Age." Inhofe relies on information from popular novelist Michael Crichton to bolster his claim. According to RealClimate, the vast majority of scientific studies come to the opposite conclusion: "All published scientific investigations of the causes of 20th century warming have consistently found that natural factors alone cannot explain the warming. Model simulations of large-scale temperature changes in past centuries , for one, can only reproduce the post-'Little Ice Age' warming through the inclusion of non-natural, anthropogenic forcing. ...All quantitative paleoclimate reconstructions of the past millennium published in the scientific literature have come to the opposite conclusion. They consistently find that late 20th century warmth is anomalous in the context of at least the last 1000 years for the Northern Hemisphere on the whole. Though certain regions appear to have exhibited mild conditions during the so-called 'Medieval Warm Period,' there is no credible evidence we are aware of that average temperatures for the Northern Hemisphere or globe were as warm as (let alone warmer than) the late 20th century."
- Inhofe claims, equally erroneously, that scientific studies prove "there is a total absence of any recent acceleration in sea level rise." Instead, estimates from tide gauges show that the sea level has risen between 1.8 and 2.4 mm per year over the last century. Satellite altimeter estimates show similar changes.
- Inhofe contends that "current Arctic temperature is no higher than temperatures in 1930s and 1940s" and cites studies that appear to agree with him. Real Climate goes into a relatively technical explanation of why these studies are, not necessarily wrong, but misused by Inhofe. "Arctic temperatures did indeed have a peak around 1940, but the decadal mean temperatures are now (1995-2004) warmer than the mean over 1935-1944. The variations in temperature in the Arctic resemble the global mean changes over the last century but are larger, clearly demonstrating the effect of polar amplification. ...The current consensus view is that warming in the 1940s was likely a combination of increasing [greenhouse gases] and solar forcing combined with a significant amount of internal variability, particularly associated with the North Atlantic. The subsequent cooling was related to the post-war increase in (mainly) sulphate aerosols. Subsequent to the 1970's greenhouse gas forcing has become dominant, leading to the recent warming."
- The article concludes, "Inhofe has a history of making inflammatory and incorrect claims about the science of climate change. He previously gave a speech on the senate floor in July 2003 on 'The Science of Climate Change'...in which he stated that 'catastrophic global warming is a hoax' and made a rather substantial number of false claims about the science. ...In this speech, Inhofe repeated many of the standard contrarian arguments challenging the mainstream, consensus view of the climate research community that the activity of human beings now has had a discernable impact on global climate and that this warming is likely to continue as anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations continue to increase. Most of these arguments are debunked on the pages of RealClimate."(RealClimate)
- January 5: Bush meets with a number of carefully selected surgeons and doctors as part of his well-orchestrated, PR-savvy campaign to cap malpractice lawsuit liability judgments, a meeting set up by Karl Rove to lead into Bush's upcoming State of the Union address. The campaign is part of the Bush/Rove assault on trial lawyers, one of the largest and most lucrative sources of campaign contributions for Democrats. (See related items throughout this site.) The meeting is in Collinsville, Illinois, in Madison County, which has been dubbed by the American Tort Reform Association as a "judicial hellhole" for giving big awards in malpractice lawsuits. The ATRA is a shell organization created as a successor to the Illinois Civil Justice League, itself a copy of Karl Rove's Texas Civil Justice League; all three organizations were created by Rove and other Republican operatives to help put business-friendly judges in place in their states.
- In 2002, the ICJL issued a report that claimed, falsely, trial lawyers were improperly donating big contributions to judicial candidates in Madison County. To counter this "improper" influence, the ICJL, like its Texas predecessor, began gathering and donating contributions to judicial candidates of their own selection.
- Bush meets with a number of doctors, then tells reporters that malpractice awards have drive up the cost of insurance so dramatically that doctors were shutting down their clinics and cutting back on services. Bush, parroting the agenda of Rove, is lying; the costs are actually going up because of extravagant price-gouging and collusion by medical insurance providers. Illinois's trial lawyers protest Bush's characterizations, and accuse Bush of demonizing Collinsville and Madison County, which in reality has seen very few large malpractice settlements. They accurately pin the blame for rising medical costs on unregulated insurance providers in the area.
- The lawyers spend $250,000 on a television ad for Washington, DC, and St. Louis, telling the tragic story of a woman victimized by a medical error which resulted in an unneeded double mastectomy. "It wasn't lawyers who switched my tests, told me I had cancer, and amputated both of my breasts," says the woman, Linda McDougal, in the ad. "I will never be the same, nor will nearly 100,000 people who die every year because of medical errors. Politicians and big corporations blame the lawyers. I don't buy it and neither should you. I'm glad I live in a country where we can trust a jury to look out for people like me." But Rove has his own PR campaign underway, portraying Bush as the friend of the average American, even though analyses have shown that the soaring costs of malpractice insurance are because of incompetent doctors and rampant profiteering by insurance providers. While there are undoubtedly instances of trial lawyers seeking unreasonably large judgments, those instances are surprisingly few and far between. But Bush and Rove want to protect the insurance profiteers and the huge medical corporations that between them donate millions to Republican candidates and campaigns, at the expense of ordinary Americans like Linda McDougal, and to weaken the ability of trial lawyers to impact campaigns, since those lawyers are traditionally big donors to Democrats. Bush's well-publicized statements garner national attention throughout the country; McDougal's ad runs a few times in St. Louis and Washington, and disappears.
- "We don't want to have to see pregnant mothers having their OB/GYN doctor go out of business or move to another area because they can't afford to practice their medicine," says White House press secretary Scott McClellan, another Rove creation. "We want them to be able to get the care they need when they need it." But if McClellan is honest, he and his superiors would be targeting the insurance companies and the state regulatory boards, not the trial lawyers.
- Linda Lipsen of the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA) is determined to fight back. She says in March 2005 that malpractice lawsuits are difficult and expensive to mount, and only 20% of those suits are won by plaintiffs like McDougal. "These are the hardest cases," she says. "It's hard to get witnesses to testify against each other. People have an emotional relationship with their doctors. They don't want to hurt them -- especially if they say 'I'm sorry' or 'I care about you.' And then there's the cost of experts and investigations to prove the claims. And so the defense lawyers don't see any frivolous cases. You can't find any frivolous cases. You just don't bring them unless they are serious and real." While Bush continues to insists that "malpractice suits are driving really fine, competent people out of the practice of medicine," and that frivolous malpractice lawsuits cost the US economy over $250 billion a year, no statistics can be found to back that claim. And class-action lawyers such as the ones Bush and Rove are targeting make up only a small number of the ATLA's membership. But the ATLA has already accepted defeat over the passage of recent bills capping malpractice lawsuit judgments.
- The ATLA airs another television ad around the time of Bush's State of the Union address, which features a prominent attack on malpractice lawsuits and the trial lawyers who file them. The ATLA ad focuses on the story of Ian Malone, whose mother, Christine, was given a drug to induce labor while she was carrying Ian. The manufacturer had warned that the drug had the potential to cause brain damage in the newborn. Ian suffered severe brain injuries because of the drug, and was born with cerebral palsy. He lived four years by being fed through a tube and stomach before he died a painful death. The Malone family won $4 million in a lawsuit in the case, and Ian's father, Dylan, says in the ad that Ian's death was not "frivolous." The ATLA and an allied organization, USAction, tries to buy air time for the ad on NBC, but are turned down for unspecified reasons by the network. Millions see Bush's attack on trial lawyers during the State of the Union address; few see the Ian Malone ad.
- The ATLA and USAction attempt to show the ad on the internal television network of Washington's Mayflower Hotel during the March American Medical Association convention; the hotel's management refuses to run the ad, saying that the ad might offend its guests. Instead, USAction purchases four days' worth of air time on local Washington TV stations, a full-page ad in USA Today, and for a billboard posted on the sides of two trucks which circle the Mayflower for two days during the convention (and which follow doctors trekking to Capitol Hill to lobby Congress on behalf of USAction). And the ATLA arranges a news conference with victims of medical errors telling their stories to news reporters. Dylan Malone and five other victims, or family members of victims, tell their stories to anyone from the media who will listen -- a 58-year old woman whose heart was damaged by the weight-loss drug fen-phen, the husband of a woman who had died in her ninth month of pregnancy after taking a drug to counter the affects of fen-phen, an older man who had suffered a heart attack because of taking the drug Vioxx, and others. But no one in the media listens. After spending $400,000 on the ad campaign, the ATLA received virtually no media coverage. Neither do the doctors who attempt to meet with Congressmen.
- But Rove's well-orchestrated "White Coats Day," where 300 doctors resplendent in lab coats and stethoscopes lobby Congress to protect them from "greedy malpractice doctors" gets plenty of coverage. A countering news conference organized by the Center for Justice and Democracy, an ATLA ally, tries with little success to counter the PR onslaught. "It's pretty simple," explains one of the CJD organizers. "Emotion and language always trump facts. Karl's got the language and the emotion. People love their doctors. And everybody seems to enjoy bashing lawyers."
- The ATLA decides to modify its message, admitting that occasional frivolous lawsuits occur even as it rolls out what it terms "Real Legal Reform" and promising to do its best to ensure that only "meritorious lawsuits that cannot efficiently, expeditiously, and fairly resolved beforehand go to trial." The ATLA also promises to reveal the names of its members who have been publicly disciplined by a state licensing agency. The idea is to highlight how little effort state medical regulatory agencies police doctors, part of their insistence that bad doctors who continue to practice medicine play larger parts in driving up insurance rates than malpractice trials.
- The trial lawyers admit that their two biggest obstacles are lawyer advertisements on television, and the tobacco lawsuits that, in some cases, won trial lawyers multimillion-dollar fees. "The tipping point was the tobacco case and the billion-dollar fees," Lipsen says. "It's hard for the public to understand why that is okay. The second thing is lawyer advertising, which can be extremely tasteless. ...[I]t looks like they are drumming up business from tragedy, and that's unseemly. It runs counter to the American spirit." The tobacco case garnered plenty of publicity, and the public has mixed feelings about the huge settlement. Attorneys who had taken the case on a contingency basis, and who had spent extraordinary amounts of money pursuing the case against the well-heeled tobacco interests, split over a billion dollars' worth of fees after the case was settled; Rove used that fact to portray the lawyers as money-grubbers in Bush's campaign for the governorship of Texas. But Rove has been pursuing an anti-lawyer agenda since the mid-1980s, when he used his attack on Texas tort laws to pack the Texas judiciary with business-friendly judges. Now he wants to use the same template to change America's national judiciary and facilitate Republican realignment.
- Rove's ultimate goal is, of course, to make Republicans a permanent, dominant force in American politics. His work with the TCJL won him a huge list of moneyed business contributors who could be counted on to donate heavily to Republican causes. At the same time, he wanted to crush the influence of trial lawyers and their donations to Democrats. He finally succeeded in 1988, when Rove, the TCJL, and the Texas Medical Association managed to pack the Texas Supreme Court with Republicans -- and transformed Rove from just another Republican political operative into the preeminent GOP power broker in Texas. Two of Rove's brightest and most conservative stars were John Cornyn, whom Rove wangled into the US Senate, and Priscilla Owen, a lawyer whom Rove managed to get onto the Texas Supreme Court. "Everybody knew who Karl was," says Ralph Wayne of the TCJL. "If he put his hand on your shoulder, you were the anointed candidate for raising money. And the word got to every Republican grassroots organization in the state that this was the anointed person." Rove had tremendous influence on the judicial candidates throughout Texas; by the time he and Bush left Texas for Washington in 2001, all nine of the Supreme Court members in Texas were Republicans, and most had been Rove clients.
- One of Rove's largest and most lucrative corporate clients was Philip Morris, the tobacco firm, which was desperately struggling to get out from under costly smoker lawsuits. Rove helped protect his client by packing the Texas judiciary, the legislature, and even the executive branch with his GOP candidates, most prominently George W. Bush. One of Rove's colleagues, a PR executive named Neal Cohen, was also on Philip Morris's payroll through his organization, the American Tort Reform Association. Cohen's assignment was "assisting the PM family on national and state tort coalitions and other tort reform advocates with political, communications, and grassroots strategies," a fact not revealed until the documents specifying Cohen's duties were revealed in the federal tobacco lawsuit. Rove worked to elect candidates to office who would be sensitive to his well-orchestrated grassroots protests; Cohen's job was to create those protests. Cohen, coached by Rove, created any number of so-called "Astroturf," or specious, grassroots "coalitions" and organizations that seemed to be groups of concerned citizens agitating for their brand of tort reform, but were in reality nothing more than front groups for Philip Morris and other corporations. One tobacco industry memo explained, "In order to be totally effective, the grassroots effort must appear to be spontaneous rather than a coordinated effort." Another of Rove's "grassroots" organizers was an inexperienced but ideologically sound fellow named Scott McClellan, who would wind up being Bush's White House press secretary.
- The day after Bush took the governor's office in January 1995, he dutifully announced that "frivolous and junk lawsuits" was a state emergency, thereby putting the issue on the legislative fast track. The push for "tort reform" helped drive his governorship and his candidacy for the White House.
- What the media never reported was how closely wedded the Rove-driven agenda for "tort reform" was to Rove's corporate allies such as Philip Morris. And once Bush and Rove were in the White House, working with Republican majorities in Congress, passing anti-trial lawyer legislation -- and packaging them in other bills dealing with such disparate issues as terrorism and the bird flu epidemic -- were easy to pass. (James Moore and Wayne Slater)
Bush/Rove campaign to promote the privatization of Social Security falters
- January 5: Part of Bush's second-term political strategy for handling Social Security are outlined in a memo from Karl Rove's deputy, Peter Wehner. The memo reads in part, "Increasingly the Democratic Party is the party of obstructionism and opposition. It is the party of the past. For the first time in six decades, the Social Security battle is one we can win -- and in doing so, we can help transform the political and philosophical landscape of the country." Bush's plans to gut Social Security by privatizing it are documented elsewhere in this site, but Wehner's memo gives voice to Rove's plan to help ensure the continued domination of the Republican Party by, among other things, transforming Social Security -- not coincidentally, one of the mainstays of Democratic political philosophy. While on the surface, the plan to transform Social Security is a policy matter, in reality it, like everything else, is part of Rove's political agenda. It is part of his perpetual political campaigning.
- Rove is in charge of selling the new policy to Congress, and he approaches the task like he does everything -- as a political campaign. He, Wehner, and other staffers sit down in his office and draw up a plan to target key constituencies, marshal the apparatus of the GOP, enlist "independent" outside groups, bring in fat contributions, and slam the opposition with negative attacks on their politics and their character. Staff members will write op-eds for newspapers and schedule calls to conservative talk shows to puff the policy.
- During a political campaign, political advisors like Rove are officially forbidden to interact with independent "527" groups, but not now, and this time Rove doesn't have to break the law to work these groups. Organizations like Progress for America, which had "independently" pummelled John Kerry during the 2004 campaign, becomes part of Rove's coordinated campaign to sell Social Security "reform" to Congress and to the American people. The Republican National Committee holds weekly meetings at the White House to coordinate strategy among the White House, the GOP, and friendly business groups. Rove oversees the creation of another pressure group, Compass, financed by Bush officials, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, and others. Rove's political director for the 2004 campaign, Terry Nelson, is selected to head the "outside" group. Nelson lays out a $20 million television and grassroots pressure campaign, and taps APCO, the public relations firm that has worked with Rove since the 1990s, to lead the publicity onslaught. The RNC creates a "war room" to work the issue.
- In the early days of the campaign, Rove and his protege, RNC chairman Ken Mehlman, are confident to the point of arrogance. The publicity campaign takes off, with television ads and staff-generated "letters to the editor" for key newspapers filling the public debate. Progress for America claims to be independent, and its Web site declares its mission to "forc[e] the media to report the facts about President Bush's common-sense conservative agenda," but it is directed straight out of Rove's office and the RNC. PFA and other groups, at the direction of Rove and Mehlman, apply pressure to key Congressmen. Town hall meetings are organized, and, according to a White House memos, carefully written newspaper op-eds are being placed.
- The real negativity comes from another "independent" organization, USA Next, which uses the scorched-earth methods of its predecessor, the Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth. In fact, several alumni of SBVT join USA Next. USA Next is aimed at the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), a moderate-to-conservative organization with 35 million members which effectively lobbies Congress on behalf of America's senior citizens and opposes privatizing Social Security. Charlie Jarvis, who left Bush's Department of Interior to head USA Next, says of AARP, "They are the boulder in the middle of the highway to personal savings accounts. We will be the dynamite that removes them." To do so, Jarvis and USA Next throws a sensational smear at AARP that the organization supports same-sex marriage, with an Internet ad that shows an American soldier with a red X over him, two men kissing with a green check over them, and the logo, "The real AARP agenda."
USA Next attack ad against AARP
- In fact, AARP takes no position on gay marriage. USA Next bases its smear campaign on AARP's opposition to the wording of the anti-gay marriage amendment, Issue One, in Ohio, because of the organization's fear that the amendment would affect the legal recognition of any union, even older heterosexuals living together. The AARP is outraged. The White House publicly distances itself from the campaign, but veterans of Rove's previous campaigns can readily see that the campaign has Rove's fingerprints all over it: the use of gay marriage and support for the military as wedge issues, and a searing, slanderous attack on the enemy.
- But Rove's campaign has more enemies than the AARP. Democrats and organized labor are bitterly opposed to the "reform" campaign. Most businesses are leery about the short-term economic disruption the plan will cause, and aren't convinced that diverting payroll deductions to private investment accounts will keep the system solvent. (In fact, such diversions will all but destroy the system, as is the longterm plan.) Fiscal conservatives are balky at the prospect of the government being forced to borrow trillions of dollars to make up the prospective losses.
- And even Congressional Republicans, sensitive to the outcries of their constituents, are reluctant to sign on. The middle- and lower-class voters that Rove relies on to vote Republican are terrified of losing their prospects for federally-backed retirement income. Rove has made a rare miscalculation in counting on a staunch cadre of Congressional Republicans to stump for privatization even as the 2006 elections loom. By and large, they refuse to get behind the proposal. When Treasury Secretary John Snow visits a prominent Wall Street investment firm, the executives question Snow as to why Bush is pushing for Social Security privatization ahead of more pressing financial problems such as the soaring federal debt and the weak American dollar. According to one person in the discussion, Snow's single response is that Social Security is Bush's priority.
- While Rove arranges town hall meetings between Bush and carefully selected citizens, and Bush enthusiastically strings together one talking point after another, the issue is seen as dead by everyone except the White House. But Bush seems to be clueless of that key fact. One House Republican later recalls meeting with Bush during the summer of 2005 and listening to Bush expound on the need for change in the system. "I got the sense that his staff was not telling him the bad news," the Republican says. "This was not a case of him thinking positive. He just didn't have any idea of the political realities there. It was like he wasn't briefed at all."
- Bush doesn't even refer to Social Security in his 2006 State of the Union address, by that time coming to the tardy realization that the issue was politically dead. Perhaps even more interesting than the collapse of Bush's drive to privatize is the inescapable fact that Rove has, finally, made a serious error. (James Moore and Wayne Slater)
- January 14: When asked why Osama bin Laden has not yet been caught, Bush responds with faultless logic, "Because he's hiding." (AllHatNoCattle)
- January 18: The Senate hearings to confirm Condoleezza Rice as the new Secretary of State don't go as smoothly as the White House hopes. Democratic senator Barbara Boxer is scathing in her questioning: "Your loyalty to the mission you were given, to sell this war, overwhelmed your respect for the truth," she says before grilling Rice over her lies and misstatements about Iraq's putative WMDs. Rice is taken aback. "Senator, I have to say that I have never, ever, lost respect for the truth in the service of anything." Other Democrats join in hammering Rice, and though Rice never loses her composure in the hearings, at the White House she is glum. Karl Rove tells her to "buck up." The hearings are controlled by Republicans and are, therefore, a formality. A week later, the Senate votes 85-13 to confirm her nomination. (Bob Woodward)
- January 20: Bush gives his long-anticipated second inaugural speech, essentially crafted by Michael Gerson, Bush's chief speechwriter, with the overarching ideas contributed by Bush. Little input from others was solicited. After he reads the final draft, chief of staff Andy Card cracks, "This is not a speech Dick Cheney would give." "It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world," Bush intones. The focus of the speech, the intertwined concepts of "freedom" and "liberty," are emphasized by the systematic repetition of the two words. The central idea, that the US will secure its safety by spreading democracy throughout the world, codifies what Gerson and many others are calling the "Bush Doctrine." It will point the way for America through the next decades.
- Many traditional conservatives are horrified by the speech. It asserts "an agenda so sweeping that an observer quipped that by the end he would not have been surprised if the president had announced we were going to colonize Mars," writes former Bush I speechwriter Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal. She says the grandiose vision of America imposing democracy on the rest of the world is "over the top." Condoleezza Rice thinks the speech is soaring, one of the best she has ever heard, but wonders, "All right. Now how do we execute it?" She knows it will take years, if indeed it can be done at all. (Bob Woodward)
- January 20: Dick Cheney ratchets up the administration's rhetoric against Iran by calling Iran a top threat to world peace and Middle East stability, accusing the country of sponsoring terrorism against Americans, and building what he calls a "fairly robust new nuclear program." Cheney provides little evidence for his inflammatory claims, but interview Don Imus, on MSNBC, doesn't ask for proof. Cheney appears on "Imus in the Morning" shortly before Bush's inaugural address, which itself lacks many of Cheney's accusations.
- Cheney warns that Israel "might well decide to act first" military against Iran if it feels threatened by Iran's supposed nuclear capabilities, and if the US and its allies fail to solve the diplomatic standoff between them and Iran. Cheney goes on to say that he fears a "diplomatic mess" in the Middle East if Iran doesn't agree to comply with the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. "Given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might well decide to act first, and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards," he says. Without a shred of irony, he proclaims, "We don't want a war in the Middle East, if we can avoid it. ...Certainly in the case of the Iranian situation, I think everybody would be best suited by or best treated and dealt with if we could deal with it diplomatically." Iran has always denied that its nuclear facilities are for anything except generating energy.
- Interestingly, Cheney makes a rare admission of error, telling Imus that had miscalculated how quickly Iraqis would be able to recover from Saddam Hussein's government and begin running their country. "I think the hundreds of thousands of people who were slaughtered at the time, including anybody who had the gumption to stand up and challenge him, made the situation tougher than I would have thought," he says. "I would chalk that one up as a miscalculation, where I thought things would have recovered more quickly." (Washington Post)
Iraqi national elections
- January 30: Iraq holds its first-ever national elections. The predictions, supported by the CIA and military intelligence, of a spate of violence during the attacks does not come true; around 8 million Iraqis cast their votes, identifying themselves as successful voters with purple-inked fingers. The photos of Iraqis waving their purple fingers in the air become icons of the Bush administration, replayed over and over again to prove that, indeed, Iraq is now a functioning democracy. The elections appoint the members of an interim National Assembly that will appoint an acting government, and draft a permanent constitution. The constitution will then be voted on for approval nine months from now, and if approved, two months later, another election will be held to choose a permanent government, The process is long and tedious, but has been hammered out by US and United Nations officials. US media coverage is lavish and almost fawning on the Bush administration and its Iraq policies. Bush considers the elections a vindication of everything his administration has done in Iraq. "The world is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East," he says in a televised address, and Iraqis "have taken rightful control of their country's destiny." A corner has been turned, White House officials declare. But the minority Sunni population, making up some 20% of the country, largely boycott the election. The Sunnis make up the backbone of the insurgency. As expected, Shi'ites, in a coalition dubbed the United Iraqi Alliance, dominate the National Assembly, with Kurds and other religious and ethnic groups filling out the Assembly and a salting of a very few Sunni lawmakers.
- After the elections, Stuart Bowen, the inspector general in charge of auditing funds spent on Iraqi reconstruction, announces that $9 billion in monies directed through the Development Fund for Iraq cannot be accounted for, and is presumed largely stolen. (Bob Woodward, T. Christian Miller)
Iraqi voter displays her purple finger
- Late January: The number of insurgent attacks in Iraq leaps from around 2,000 in December to 3,000 in January. The CIA station in Baghdad compiles a secret assessment, known as an AARDWOLF, that says the insurgency is gaining in strength and Iraq is on the verge of full-blown civil war. US ambassador John Negroponte, after reviewing the report, directs CIA division chief Rob Richer and the Baghdad CIA station chief to be vocal with Bush. "I'm making the same point." Instead, Negronponte merely tells Bush, "We've got some hiccups." Richer feels that Negroponte is sugarcoating bad news, and later confronts Negroponte on failing to back him and the station chief as he had promised. "I got my message across," Negroponte retorts. (Bob Woodward)