Tim Russert recently signed a 12-year contract that rewards him generously for making Meet the Press “the newsmaker show to watch” on Sunday mornings. He almost always comes well prepared to ask equally tough questions of both liberal and conservative guests. He departed from that practice on December 20, when Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Senate Republican Whip Don Nickles were his guests. Daschle had just blocked votes in the Senate on the President’s economic stimulus bill and legislation to lessen our dependence on foreign oil.
Columnist Hugh Hewitt had just published a column expressing alarm at the tactics of obstructionism being practiced by liberals in control of the Senate. He said Daschle “killed economic-stimulus legislation in its cradle in the hopes of prolonging a recession for the political gains he thinks such a slowdown will bring.” But with Russert’s help, Daschle managed to avoid the label of obstructionist and turn the tables on Senator Nickles, who was put on the defensive simply because other Republicans had been quoted as saying they wanted to make an issue of Daschle’s conduct.
Daschle was permitted to portray himself as a defender of the Constitution. But this wasn’t Russert’s only favor for the Democrats. Senator Hillary Clinton had made an appearance on his show, using the occasion to defend her husband’s record on terrorism. She also did some apple-polishing, giving Russert a copy of a proclamation designating a “Tim Russert Day” in Buffalo, New York, his hometown. Hillary gushed, “The people of Buffalo are so proud of you, Tim.” Being the object of fawning attention from Mrs. Clinton may not have bothered Russert, but it may have reminded viewers of his liberal Democratic background. He has admitted slipping Democratic campaign literature into the newspapers he deli-vered as a boy, and he later worked for N.Y. Gov. Hugh Carey.
Russert grilled Senator Nickles about why Vice President Dick Cheney and other Republicans were making the obstructionist charge against Daschle. It was as if the GOP had accused Daschle of being a Communist. Here is the Q&A.
RUSSERT: You said it’s unfortunate the Senate became so partisan. It appears that some are trying to make Senator Daschle a poster boy. Let me show you The New York Times from December 21. There’s the headline on the screen: “G.O.P. Pushes to Make Daschle Appear a National Villain; Trying to turn a senator into a latter-day Newt Gingrich.”
And the article goes on to cite a memo from Frank Luntz, a Republican consultant: “It’s time for someone, everyone, to start using the phrase ‘Daschle Democrats’ and the word ‘obstructionist’ in the same sentence,” the Republican strategist Frank Luntz wrote in a memorandum of suggested talking points to the Senate Republican caucus on Wednesday. “It’s time for Congressional Republicans to personalize the individual that is standing directly in the way of economic security, and even national security.”
“The memorandum added: ‘Remember what the Democrats did to Gingrich? We need to do exactly the same thing to Daschle?’”
Is he an obstructionist?
NICKLES: He wasn’t exactly helpful when we were trying to pass the stimulus package…
RUSSERT: But should the Vice President be using words like obstructionist to describe the majority leader?
NICKLES: Well, I wouldn’t try and correct the Vice President. He’s a good friend of mine.
RUSSERT: So you let it stand?
With Russert and the Times defending him, Daschle followed up on January 4, accusing President Bush of being responsible for “the most dramatic fiscal deterioration” in history. It was an outlandish charge. Ignoring the economic effect of the 9/11 attacks and the cost of the war in Afghanistan, Daschle said the Bush tax cut, which passed the Senate with 12 Democratic votes, was the “biggest reason” for the fall in the federal surplus and that it “probably made the recession worse.” But the major media failed to note the evidence that his claims are simply false.
Several stories emphasized the alleged large size of the tax cut. The New York Time called it “major.” Some referred to it as the $1.35 trillion tax cut. But it is being phased in over a ten-year period. MSNBC, affiliated with NBC News, was the only news organization we surveyed which pointed out that the bulk of the tax cut has not been implemented. Raymond Keating of the Small Business Survival Committee told them that Daschle’s claims were “bizarre.” MSNBC confirmed Keating’s criticism, noting that, “Only five percent of the total tax reductions which were signed into law took effect in fiscal year 2001, which ended last September. The bulk of the tax cuts do not take place until 2004-2006, according to calculations by the Congressional Budget Office.” In fact, seventy-two percent of the tax cut takes place after 2005. MSNBC noted that the National Bureau of Economic Research said the recession began in March, less than fifty days after Bush took office. The New York Times put this near the bottom of its story about Daschle’s speech even though it proves that the recession cannot be blamed on Bush’s policies.
Daschle’s attacks got big play in the news media, but none of the major media contrasted his complaints about the budget deficit with the 15 new or increased spending proposals in his speech. The proposals, identified by CNSNews.com, were:
1. Reauthorized spending on welfare programs
2. Increased federal education spending
3. New funding for high-speed Internet access
4. Increased funding for the National Science Foundation;
5. Additional spending for the Advanced Technology Program
6. Greater funding for the National Institutes of Health
7. Expanded “investment” in physics, computer science, math, and electrical engineering research
8. Continued funding for the nuclear security assistance program in Russia
9. Expanded nuclear assistance security programs to include India and Pakistan
10. Increased funding for the Office of Homeland Security (already rejected by OHS)
11. Higher levels of defense spending
12. Expanded unemployment insurance benefits
13. New health insurance benefits for unemployed workers
14. Additional spending for job training programs
15. New spending to protect against “wage loss” when the unemployed take jobs paying less than they had been getting
A Washington Post editorial noted that Daschle’s spending programs would weaken the budget and that he supports a pork-filled farm bill that Bush opposed. But it agreed with Daschle that the tax cuts were too big and that Bush’s economic stimulus plan should be rejected, without noting that Daschle had prevented a vote on it because it had passed the House and a majority of Senators would vote for it. He has also blocked a Senate vote on the Bush energy plan to open some of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration.
On Meet the Press, Tim Russert questioned Daschle about blocking votes on these issues, asking, “Don’t you believe in majority rule?” “Oh, absolutely the majority should rule,” said Daschle, “but in controversial issues, the Founding Fathers have said that it ought to take a super majority to pass.” By invoking the Founding Fathers Daschle implied that he was referring to the Constitution. There is no mention in the Constitution of any requirement of a 60-vote (three-fifths of the Senate) majority for anything. The Constitution requires only a simple majority for any action by the Senate except for proposing amendments to the Constitution, overriding vetoes, ratifying treaties and convicting officials impeached by the House. All these require a two-thirds majority of those voting.
The Senate has a rule that provides for halting filibusters by a 60-vote majority vote. A filibuster is defined as “the use of obstructionist tactics, such as the making of long speeches, to delay legislative action.” Daschle has found a new way to filibuster. Rather than adopt the obstructionist tactic of having a minority tie up the Senate with long, irrelevant speeches, he adopts the obstructionist tactic of refusing to let the Senate vote on bills and nominations that he and a minority of the Senators oppose. He has the gall to deny that this is obstructionist by mendaciously attributing it to the wise men who drafted our Constitution.
Neither Russert nor Senator Nickles asked Daschle to tell what the Founding Fathers had done to assure that Congress would not pass anything controversial unless it had the support of three-fifths of the Senate and why this did not apply equally to the House. When Russert accused him of blocking votes that a majority in the Senate favored Daschle just repeated, “Well, Tim, I don’t refuse to allow votes. We’re going to have votes on a lot of these issues, but again, as I said, the Founding Fathers in their wisdom chose to assure that there would be ample support for controversial measures before they pass. And I’ve said on many occasions we’re prepared to take up these issues, but a 60-vote majority is something that should be achieved in these cases, and I don’t fault that.”
Russert’s December 9 interview of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was another big disappointment. Even Russert’s good friend, radio shock jock Don Imus, noted the pro-Hillary tone. In an editorial on December 13, the Washington Times said, “It wasn’t just that NBC’s Tim Russert was throwing softballs last Sunday to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on ‘Meet the Press.’ Indeed, as the New York Times noted, Mr. Russert’s questions ‘were not all softballs.’ This is true. Some of his questions were big, old shiny beach balls that Mrs. Clinton could lob back and never see followed up.”
The Washington Times focused on Sen. Clinton’s response to a Russert question about what the Clinton administration should have done about terrorism. It said, “Two hundred and three words later, Mrs. Clinton may have stopped talking but she hadn’t answered that simple question. She was too busy elaborating on having already done what needed to be done and could be done to entertain notions of ‘what should have been done.’ The bottom line was this: ‘I know that fighting terrorism and going after bin Laden was a top priority of the Clinton administration,’ she said.” The Times called that a “whopper,” saying that “Even the most die-hard Clintonista won’t whisper that one in the dark.”
There are a number of valid reasons for criticizing Attorney General John D. Ashcroft. There is his tardiness in replacing cronies of Janet Reno, his refusal to expose the cover-ups of the causes of Vincent Foster’s death, the crash of TWA Flight 800 and the payment of hush money to Webster Hubbell. He has encouraged federal agencies to withhold information subject to release under the Freedom of Information Act and is behind Bush’s invoking executive privilege to withhold Justice Department documents sought by the House Government Reform Committee. These documents pertain to a long-festering scandal involving the FBI’s Boston field office.
Such criticisms are of no interest to the big media. Instead, they have criticized Ashcroft for blocking FBI access to gun records in its terrorism investigation. The Washington Post ran a story under the headline, “Ashcroft Blocks FBI Access to Gun Records.” The story by Peter Slevin said, “The FBI will not be permitted to compare the names of suspected terrorists against federal gun purchase records, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft told the Senate yesterday, offering no encouragement to senators willing to guarantee the FBI the authority to do so.” Slevin went on to say that Ashcroft said “the law does not allow investigators to review the federal records created when a buyer applies to purchase a weapon at a gun store.”
Slevin reported, “Some critics charged that Ashcroft’s strong opposition to gun control is interfering with his role as the government’s top cop. Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, accusing him of ‘handcuffing’ the FBI, pressed him unsuccessfully to say why he did not seek access to gun records when he claimed expanded investigatory powers after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.” The Boston Globe covered the story in a similar vein, bringing up Ashcroft’s long-standing opposition to gun control. It said, “Members of both the House and Senate said the Attorney General’s interpretation of the law is too strict, flies in the face of his aggressive approach to the terrorist investigation, and appears to be aimed at pleasing the gun lobby, of which he was a strong backer when he was a Republican Senator from Missouri.”
Among those claiming Ashcroft’s interpretation of the law was “too strict” were the same Democrats demanding that he strictly enforce the law in the first place. Ashcroft was strictly enforcing the law, which allows only an instant check on persons buying guns to determine whether or not they are legally eligible to make the purchase. The law does not permit the FBI to go back and review those records, because that would convert them into a database of gun buyers in the United States, and that would be unlawful. This is one civil liberty that pro-gun-control journalists would not mind seeing eroded by the war on terrorism.
When Ashcroft was nominated for the post of Attorney General, he came under criticism for his pro-Second Amendment views and also for his religious convictions. One Ashcroft supporter, Kay James, said some of his opponents were engaging in “religious profiling”-that their objections to Ashcroft were to his religion. After being confirmed, Ashcroft came under criticism in the Washington Post for hosting private meetings in the department where staffers could voluntarily come together for prayer.
Now, some are saying that the religious profiling against Ashcroft is still continuing. Kenneth Connor, president of the Family Research Council, notes that veteran journalist Jack Germond said on the “Inside Washington” television program that Ashcroft’s Pentecostal beliefs made him “suspect.” Germond also said that he’d like to see chaplains thrown out of Congress and the motto “In God We Trust” scrapped.
Newsweek pursued the same line in a story headlined, “Holy Warrior in the Hot Seat.” It called Ashcroft “A devout Pentecostal” and said that he was embracing his new role with quasi-religious zeal. Newsweek wrote that, “He is fired by a messianic sense of mission,” and mentioned that he is the son and grandson of fundamentalist preachers. Columnist David Limbaugh called this kind of coverage a smear. Connor added, “He’s right. The vast majority of Americans fully support the common sense way Attorney General Ashcroft is dealing with suspected terrorists. But watch out for those Americans, a lot of them are Christians, too.”
Critics of Ashcroft like Jack Germond have a double standard. We have seen no criticism from Jack Germond or Newsweek about the U.S. Government promoting alternative religions, even witchcraft. The U.S. Army is facilitating the practice of Wicca, a neo-pagan form of witchcraft, on military bases. Several months ago it was reported that Fort Hood, the largest U.S. Army base in the country, is also the center of Wiccan practice in the military. At least 20 witches, and perhaps as many as 100, reportedly take part in covens at Fort Hood.
Three years ago, Wicca was recognized by the Department of Defense as a legitimate religion, deserving the same status as Christianity. A spokesman for the military chaplaincy program said the Army is obligated to make provisions for the religious needs of its members without passing judgment on their beliefs. The Army has prepared a book for the guidance of its chaplains when dealing with a soldier of a “non-traditional faith.”
It turns out that Attorney General Ashcroft has had a witch on his payroll. Selena Fox, a senior minister with Circle Sanctuary, a Wiccan congregation in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, has been serving as a consultant to the Department of Justice on religious accommodation for followers of alternative religions. Selena Fox, author of the book When Goddess is God, has personally ministered to inmates in prisons. But the critics of Ashcroft have had nothing negative to say about his toleration of Fox or her mission.
Former CBS newsman Bernard Goldberg says in his new book, Bias, that the liberal media have largely overlooked “the terrible things that are happening to America’s children” such as rising rates of child suicides, sexual activity, venereal disease, and poor academic performance. Goldberg ties this to the great increase in the number of working mothers. This, he says, has resulted in an increase in the number of day-care and latchkey kids who don’t get enough parental supervision. In Afghanistan, however, women are now being encouraged to emulate what we have “achieved” in America. The administration seems unaware that radical feminists associated with Senator Hillary Clinton, the United Nations and the U.S.-funded “Sisterhood is Global Institute” are playing a large role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
As noted by reporter Mike Allen in a January 3 Washington Post story, “The President and First Lady Laura Bush have spoken continually?about the plight of Afghan women, a message that pollsters say has resonated among suburban American women.” First Lady Laura Bush has noted that Afghan women “have been denied access to doctors when they’re sick.” She said life under the Taliban was so hard and repressive that even small displays of joy were outlawed-children were not allowed to fly kites and their mothers faced beatings for laughing out loud. “Women cannot work outside the home, or even leave their homes by themselves,” she said.
These horror stories about oppression of women help explain why a Gallup poll found that a little over half of Americans say the U.S. should take active steps to make sure that the new government in Afghanistan guarantees women’s rights. But 43 percent say it should be left up to the new Afghan government. The latter represents awareness that U.S./U.N. efforts to dictate Afghanistan’s political future could backfire, create a cultural backlash against the U.S., and make things worse for the Afghan people. Indeed, it appears that Afghanistan is going from one extreme to another. Global feminists would like to make Afghanistan into a model feminist state.
The pro-feminist bias that Goldberg documents so well in his book explains why reporters have failed to document the involvement of radical feminist organizations in the transformation of Afghanistan. Many of them are NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations). The “Sisterhood is Global Institute,” which receives federal funds through the National Endowment for Democracy, had several representatives at the Bonn meeting where plans for the future of Afghanistan were discussed. Its founder, Robin Morgan, says, “We are the women men warned us about.”
Sima Simar, the first woman to be appointed to the interim Afghan government, is an associate of Eleanor Smeal, former president of the feminist National Organization for Women. Simar, who will serve as minister for women’s affairs, spoke at a Washington press conference where she was introduced by Smeal as “a courageous leader and advocate for women’s rights.” Simar, who has met with Secretary of State Colin Powell and other U.S. officials, says the U.S. should provide 75 percent of the funds needed to rebuild Afghanistan, amounting to billions of dollars. Nancy Soderberg, a former U.S. representative to the U.N., puts the overall cost of Afghanistan reconstruction at $45 billion.
A December 31, 2001 article in The Nation, “Debating Afghanistan’s Future” by Sara Austin, notes that global feminists may take a go-slow approach, not pushing for “reproductive freedom” and other “rights” immediately. However, Inter Dependent, the newsletter of the United Nations Association, highlights the involvement of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) in an effort to “save the lives of women and girls” in Afghan refugee camps. It has a reputation for using coercive birth control techniques on women.
Eleanor Smeal, now the president of the Feminist Majority, and Mavis Leno, wife of NBC Tonight Show host Jay Leno, have met with officials in the State Department and the White House to discuss the representation of women in the planning of Afghanistan’s post-Taliban government. Mavis Leno is chairman of the Feminist Majority’s Campaign to Stop Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan. They have donated $100,000 to the campaign. “We have been working with the State Department and members of Congress, especially women members,” says Smeal. “We began our discussions with the State Department under the Clinton administration, but have continued under the Bush administration. As you know, the Bush administration has now agreed, like the Clinton administration before, to pursue the goal of restoring women’s rights in Afghanistan.”
Smeal’s notion of “women’s rights” is radical. The “Feminist Expo 2000” she sponsored was said to have “ignited the women’s movement on the cutting-edge issues of our time-fighting for women’s equality and empowerment, expanding feminism globally, promoting a gender perspective on our nation’s and world budgets, and countering the right-wing backlash, which threatens abortion clinics and the rights of women, lesbians and gay men, and people of color.” She has compared some American conservatives to the Taliban. In Afghanistan, she may come to be seen as an”Ugly American.”
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