THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT
Has Ted Kennedy gotten suckered again? In recent years, the supposed liberal lion of the Senate, perhaps with an eye toward his legacy, has grown ever more fond of bipartisan deal-making. The most recent example was Kennedy’s agreement earlier this month to help Republicans advance the administration’s $400 billion prescription-drug plan in the Senate. Democrats howl that Kennedy’s blessing preempted their hopes of improving what they call a deeply flawed bill—“[He] took the steam out of any effort to fix it,” says a senior aide—and, by moving the debate rightward, may enable House Republicans to slip broad anti- Medicare provisions into the bill in conference committee. Not to worry, Kennedy says, the new drug law can be improved in future years. “This is an opening,” he told The New York Times, “and we ought to take advantage of it.” What’s more, Kennedy argued, it will be a political boon for Democrats because seniors who want a better drug benefit will elect Democrats to get it.
Haven’t we seen this movie before? It was only two years ago that Kennedy backed the president’s ballyhooed No Child Left Behind Act, shrugging off warnings (see Michael Crowley, “Teddy Bear,” August 13, 2001) that George W. Bush would use his support to achieve feel-good, bipartisan passage of the bill but never follow through on the funding promises that helped to win that support. And guess what? That’s exactly what happened. Shortly after the bill’s passage, Bush proposed a measly 2.8 percent increase in education spending, or about $7.2 billion less than the bill had called for. Soon Kennedy was bellowing about a “tin-cup budget” that dealt “a severe blow to our nation’s schools.” This year, Bush asked for $22.1 billion in school spending—another $7 billion short of the bill’s nonbinding target. (Indeed, in what may have been a prophetic coincidence, just days after he agreed to the prescription- drug deal, Kennedy pointedly skipped a White House ceremony commemorating the education law.) Meanwhile, Bush’s successful efforts to play up his empty school reform have wiped out the Democrats’ advantage on education—which, like prescription drugs, had traditionally been one of the party’s most potent political weapons. Despite months of Democratic braying about school-funding shortfalls, education was largely a nonfactor in the 2002 elections. Now, in supporting a GOP prescription-drug plan, Kennedy is asking Democrats to trust his judgment once again. They’d be crazy to.
9/10 PRESIDENCY WATCH, CONT’D
For those who believed President Bush’s November promise to “take every possible measure to safeguard our country and our people,” a new study by homeland security expert James Jay Carafano will prove disillusioning. Released last week, the report looks at all six priorities in Bush’s National Strategy for Homeland Security, concluding, “It is not clear ... that in every case the level of resources requested [for fiscal 2004] is adequate to meet the critical goals the Administration has established in its strategy or that these efforts are appropriate to address future threats.”
Topping the list of concerns, according to Carafano, are “shortfalls in maritime security.” A crucial element of maritime security lies in the effective and rapid dissemination of information from the federal level down to each individual port in the country. Yet a crucial initiative for maritime information-sharing, the Ports and Waterways Safety System—which the report says would “automatically collect, process, and disseminate information on the movement and location of ships in ports and on waterways”—receives a paltry $1. 7 million in Bush’s budget, a sum that Carafano says “largely funds the initial capitalization costs of the program,” not its implementation. Nor is this failure to fund information-sharing limited to port security. “Even within the newly established Department of Homeland Security,” writes Carafano, “significant integration efforts are not as of yet underway. The department’s entire proposed information technology budget for FY2004 is $1.7 billion, with only about $200 million earmarked specifically for information integration.” By contrast, Carafano estimates a substantial information-sharing plan “could run well over $10 billion.” It gets worse. Border and transportation security? “A decline in real spending of about 3 percent from the FY2003 budget request.” Even on critical infrastructure protection—an area where the administration has requested a substantial funding increase, from $177 million to $829 million in fiscal 2004—Carafano writes that “it is not clear if this is sufficient to help bridge the prodigious gap between security needs and the total investments required.” You might think from these dire assessments that the study’s author works for some left-wing think tank whose purpose is to crank out talking points for the president’s political enemies. Not exactly: Carafano is a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation. It’s reassuring to see concern for Americans’ safety trump partisan politics. It would be more reassuring still if we saw it in the administration.
DEPARTMENT OF GLASS HOUSES
Last April, CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan admitted in an op-ed that his network withheld news of Iraqi atrocities in order to maintain reportorial access to the Baathist dictatorship. Fellow journalists were—rightly—appalled. The Washington Times, for example, ran not one but two pieces attacking Jordan on April 15, an op-ed by former CNN Baghdad correspondent Peter Collins as well as a staff-written editorial. “I took part in meetings between the CNN executives and various officials purported to be close to Saddam,” wrote Collins. “[I]t seemed to me that CNN was virtually groveling for an interview.” The Times’ editorial board concluded, “No careful viewer can trust CNN’s reporting on international affairs.”
But, as Howard Kurtz revealed in The Washington Post this week, the conservative, Moonie-owned Times has done some groveling of its own. In 2001, editor-at-large Arnaud de Borchgrave sent a letter to Saddam requesting an interview. In it, he promised “two entire newspaper pages in The Washington Times, the newspaper of choice of the Republican establishment.” (Not that the Times is a partisan paper or anything.) De Borchgrave also told the dictator that he “had the honor of interviewing you” in the 1970s and modestly predicted that a second interview “would lead to a reappraisal of American policy toward Iraq.” Now, who’s reporting on international affairs was it that we weren’t supposed to trust?
UNINTENTIONAL IRONY WATCH
“NGOs: The Growing Power of an Unelected Few”—title of a June 11 conference sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute
“[T]he American Enterprise Institute [is] a think tank that has provided much of the ideological underpinnings of the Bush administration” —Los Angeles Times, April 23, 2003
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
In the Correspondence section of our June 23 issue, we erroneously identified letter-writer Peter Schuck, who is a professor at Yale Law School. We regret the error.
This article originally ran in the July 7 & 14, 2003 issue of the magazine.