Wednesday, April 30

To think Al Gore might have been president these last 8 years

April 30, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
Dumb as We Wanna Be

It is great to see that we finally have some national unity on energy policy. Unfortunately, the unifying idea is so ridiculous, so unworthy of the people aspiring to lead our nation, it takes your breath away. Hillary Clinton has decided to line up with John McCain in pushing to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for this summer’s travel season. This is not an energy policy. This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks. What a way to build our country.

When the summer is over, we will have increased our debt to China, increased our transfer of wealth to Saudi Arabia and increased our contribution to global warming for our kids to inherit.

No, no, no, we’ll just get the money by taxing Big Oil, says Mrs. Clinton. Even if you could do that, what a terrible way to spend precious tax dollars — burning it up on the way to the beach rather than on innovation?

The McCain-Clinton gas holiday proposal is a perfect example of what energy expert Peter Schwartz of Global Business Network describes as the true American energy policy today: “Maximize demand, minimize supply and buy the rest from the people who hate us the most.”

Good for Barack Obama for resisting this shameful pandering.

But here’s what’s scary: our problem is so much worse than you think. We have no energy strategy. If you are going to use tax policy to shape energy strategy then you want to raise taxes on the things you want to discourage — gasoline consumption and gas-guzzling cars — and you want to lower taxes on the things you want to encourage — new, renewable energy technologies. We are doing just the opposite.

Are you sitting down?

Few Americans know it, but for almost a year now, Congress has been bickering over whether and how to renew the investment tax credit to stimulate investment in solar energy and the production tax credit to encourage investment in wind energy. The bickering has been so poisonous that when Congress passed the 2007 energy bill last December, it failed to extend any stimulus for wind and solar energy production. Oil and gas kept all their credits, but those for wind and solar have been left to expire this December. I am not making this up. At a time when we should be throwing everything into clean power innovation, we are squabbling over pennies.

These credits are critical because they ensure that if oil prices slip back down again — which often happens — investments in wind and solar would still be profitable. That’s how you launch a new energy technology and help it achieve scale, so it can compete without subsidies.

The Democrats wanted the wind and solar credits to be paid for by taking away tax credits from the oil industry. President Bush said he would veto that. Neither side would back down, and Mr. Bush — showing not one iota of leadership — refused to get all the adults together in a room and work out a compromise. Stalemate. Meanwhile, Germany has a 20-year solar incentive program; Japan 12 years. Ours, at best, run two years.

“It’s a disaster,” says Michael Polsky, founder of Invenergy, one of the biggest wind-power developers in America. “Wind is a very capital-intensive industry, and financial institutions are not ready to take ‘Congressional risk.’ They say if you don’t get the [production tax credit] we will not lend you the money to buy more turbines and build projects.”

It is also alarming, says Rhone Resch, the president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, that the U.S. has reached a point “where the priorities of Congress could become so distorted by politics” that it would turn its back on the next great global industry — clean power — “but that’s exactly what is happening.” If the wind and solar credits expire, said Resch, the impact in just 2009 would be more than 100,000 jobs either lost or not created in these industries, and $20 billion worth of investments that won’t be made.

While all the presidential candidates were railing about lost manufacturing jobs in Ohio, no one noticed that America’s premier solar company, First Solar, from Toledo, Ohio, was opening its newest factory in the former East Germany — 540 high-paying engineering jobs — because Germany has created a booming solar market and America has not.

In 1997, said Resch, America was the leader in solar energy technology, with 40 percent of global solar production. “Last year, we were less than 8 percent, and even most of that was manufacturing for overseas markets.”

The McCain-Clinton proposal is a reminder to me that the biggest energy crisis we have in our country today is the energy to be serious — the energy to do big things in a sustained, focused and intelligent way. We are in the midst of a national political brownout.

Monday, April 28

Ocean Hill-Brownsville, 40 Years Later

The lessons of the New York City school strike


They were the pink slips that helped change American liberalism.

Forty years ago — on May 9, 1968 — the local school board in Brooklyn's black ghetto of Ocean Hill-Brownsville sent telegrams to 19 unionized educators, informing them that their employment in the district was terminated. Eighteen were white. One black teacher was mistakenly included on the list but reinstated almost immediately after the error was discovered. Although there was some ambiguity in the notices about whether the teachers were being terminated or merely transferred to another district, members of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville board repeatedly said they had "fired" the teachers, and Rhody McCoy, the local superintendent, told The New York Times: "Not one of these teachers will be allowed to teach anywhere in this city. The black community will see to that."

Fred Nauman, a United Federation of Teachers chapter leader, was among those fired. An admirer of Martin Luther King Jr. and a member of the NAACP, he was sympathetic to the plight of his black students. Unlike many teachers in ghetto districts who moved to more-affluent schools at the first opportunity, Nauman, a Holocaust survivor, started teaching at a junior high in Ocean Hill-Brownsville in 1959, and he had stayed because he enjoyed the kids. As required by the UFT contract, hearings were eventually held, and a retired African-American judge determined that there were no credible charges against the teachers. In one case, a teacher accused of allowing students to throw chairs was found to have taught in a classroom where chairs were nailed to the floor.

Liberals in New York were not sure how to react. When white people fired black people for no cause, liberals knew it was wrong; when conservative employers arbitrarily fired unionized employees, they knew which side they were on. But what was one to think when black people were firing white people, and when the assault on labor unions came from the left? The controversy unleashed a civil war within American liberalism, tearing apart groups that had hitherto been allies: black people and Jews, and civil-rights groups and organized labor.

Most upper-middle-class liberal New Yorkers, including the leadership of the New York Civil Liberties Union and the editorial pages of the Times, were sympathetic to the black community school board. The Ocean Hill-Brownsville board had been established as part of an effort to give poor minority communities greater say over the affairs of New York City schools. School integration — the old liberal dream — had run up against white flight, so an unlikely coalition of Black Power activists, like Sonny Carson, and white, patrician liberals, like Mayor John V. Lindsay and McGeorge Bundy, president of the Ford Foundation, advocated letting black communities control their own de facto segregated schools.

Part of the idea behind community control was that students of color would perform better if local school boards hired more minority teachers as role models. Bundy — whose 1967 report on school decentralization, "Reconnection for Learning: A Community School System for New York City," laid the intellectual and political groundwork for community control — noted that 50 percent of New York City public-school students, but just 9 percent of the system's staff members, were black or Puerto Rican. While New York City schools had long been run by a single citywide school board, the Bundy report called for establishing between 30 and 60 community control boards and allowing local boards to use race as a factor in hiring and promotion. Black and Puerto Rican candidates often had special "knowledge of, and sensitivity to, the environment of pupils" and should be provided preference, the Bundy report said. It was one of the nation's earliest calls for race-conscious affirmative action as a remedy for past discrimination.

But a second camp of liberals, led by Albert Shanker, the 39-year-old head of the UFT, took a different view. Shanker, the son of a newspaper deliverer and a seamstress, was a strong advocate of civil rights, had traveled with a contingent of teachers to hear King's address at the 1963 March on Washington, and had marched with King in Selma in 1965. A supporter of school integration and magnet schools, Shanker had gotten into some trouble with his union's members for being too concerned about civil rights and not sticking to bread-and-butter issues like wages and working conditions.

Shanker understood and sympathized with the need for more black teachers, but he thought firing (or hiring) based on race was antithetical to what the civil-rights movement had been about. He believed that the universality of King's message — that people be judged not "by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" — was fundamental to the moral power of the movement, not something to be casually dismissed, as Bundy seemed to suggest.

And while Shanker agreed with Bundy that one shouldn't just maintain the status quo of racial exclusion and the legacy of segregation, he argued for taking affirmative action that helped the economically disadvantaged of all races, an approach that King also embraced. In his 1964 book, Why We Can't Wait, and in his 1967 testimony before the Kerner Commission, King argued that it was not enough to pass civil-rights legislation and expect equality to ensue. He said, "For it is obvious that if a man is entered at the starting line in a race 300 years after another man, the first would have to perform some impossible feat in order to catch up with his fellow runner." But the remedy had to be racially inclusive, King added. He proposed a "Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged," not a "Bill of Rights for Blacks," saying: "While Negroes form the vast majority of America's disadvantaged, there are millions of white poor who would also benefit from such a bill. … It is a simple matter of justice that America, in dealing creatively with the task of raising the Negro from backwardness, should also be rescuing a large stratum of the forgotten white poor." Over time, King's commitment to broadening the civil-rights movement to include all races deepened, and in April 1968, when he was cut down by an assassin's bullet, he was in the midst of planning a Poor People's Campaign to unite low-income people of all races.

The Ocean Hill-Brownsville board, however, had a very different vision in mind. Its superintendent, McCoy, took his inspiration not from King but from Malcolm X, whose home he had visited on many occasions. McCoy made clear that his ultimate goal was an all-black teaching force in his district.

Shanker and UFT members reacted to the firings by voting to strike in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district. If teachers didn't unify and protect their colleagues from arbitrary dismissal, why have a union at all? When the Ocean Hill-Brownsville teachers were not reinstated, Shanker suggested that the entire New York City teaching force go on strike in the fall. Some union members raised concerns that the strike would be seen as antiblack, but Shanker responded: "This is nonsense. This is a strike that will protect black teachers against white racists and white teachers against black racists." Members overwhelmingly voted to go on what would turn out to be a series of three strikes, from September to November 1968, throwing one million students out of school for a total of 36 days. At the time, it was the largest and longest set of school strikes in American history.

Shanker drew strong support from pro-labor white liberals like Michael Harrington, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and some black allies of King's from the March on Washington — Bayard Rustin, the march's organizer, and A. Philip Randolph, the former head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Randolph and Rustin held a joint news conference and released a statement saying: "It is the right of every worker not to be transferred or fired at the whim of his employer. … It is the right of every worker to job security. These are the rights that black workers have struggled and sacrificed to win for generations."

For their support of the UFT, Rustin and Randolph were pilloried in the black community. Rustin later recalled, "You'd think we had committed a heinous crime from the insulting telephone calls, vulgar letters, and general denunciation in the press we received from a number of black people." King's allies from the Washington march were effectively written out of the civil-rights movement.

As the strikes wore on, a number of Black Power advocates took an increasingly anti-Semitic tone. Many Jews had flocked to teaching in part because they faced less discrimination in hiring than in the private sector; at the time, about two-thirds of New York City's teachers, supervisors, and principals were Jewish. One community-control protester complained, "We got too many teachers and principals named Ginzburg and Rosenberg in Harlem." During the strike, Shanker learned that a particularly egregious leaflet had been distributed to teachers in mailboxes at two schools. It labeled Jewish teachers "Bloodsucking Exploiters" and called on them to get out of black schools. Shanker decided to have 500,000 copies of the fliers distributed, giving them far more circulation than they originally received. Critics accused Shanker of unfairly trumpeting the ravings of a lunatic as if they were representative of black leaders in Ocean Hill-Brownsville. The local board issued a statement denouncing anti-Semitism, but then, astoundingly, McCoy refused to condemn the statements in the fliers. "I have to work in both worlds," he said. "We have more things to be concerned about than making anti-Semitism a priority." Later a black teacher in Ocean Hill-Brownsville appeared on a radio show and read a poem written by a 15-year-old student dedicated to Shanker. The poem began: "Hey, Jew boy, with that yarmulke on your head/You pale-faced Jew boy — I wish you were dead." The teacher called the poem "beautiful" and "true."

An article in Commentary magazine, noting the unusual alliance between black militants and the upper crust of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment, like Bundy and Lindsay, theorized that "WASPs are exercising residual anti-Semitism by encouraging blacks to attack Jews." But Shanker rejected that idea, saying the alliance was explained not by ethnicity or religion, but by class: "What you have is people on the upper, upper economic level who are willing to make any change that does not affect their own position." Such people condemned insecure middle-class white teachers who didn't wish to sacrifice their jobs for black advancement, Shanker argued, but "what if you said give 20 percent of Time Inc. or U.S. Steel to the blacks? Who would be narrow then?"

Ultimately, the public was on Shanker's side, and the Ocean Hill-Brownsville experiment was shut down. Although Shanker was victorious, he was despised by the chattering class and "most of the literary intelligentsia," one journalist wrote. Woody Allen, a good gauge of New York liberalism, made Shanker the butt of a joke a few years later in his science-fiction comedy, Sleeper. In the film, Allen's character wakes up 200 years in the future to discover that civilization was destroyed when "a man by the name of Albert Shanker got hold of a nuclear weapon."

In the real world, however, Shanker immediately set out to repair the labor-civil-rights alliance, which lay in tatters, by finding a way to increase the number of black teachers in New York without resorting to racial hiring or firing. In 1969 he sought to unionize the city's teachers' aides, known as paraprofessionals, who were mostly poorly educated black and Hispanic welfare mothers. Shanker wanted to improve their wages — then just about $2 to $2.25 an hour — but also negotiated a career ladder for them, including a stipend so they could go back to school, earn high-school diplomas and college degrees, and become full-fledged teachers. He proclaimed that "this is going to be a generation of black teachers in the future." By the time of Shanker's death in 1997, the career-ladders program had helped more than 8,000 paraprofessionals to become teachers, making the program the largest source of minority teachers in New York City.

Civil-rights groups and Democrats, however, took a different line, endorsing not the difficult and costly task of providing advancement programs for low-income and working-class people of all races, but rather championing a race-specific program of preferences. It was a pivotal decision, and a turning point for American liberalism.

While the more extreme tactics of the Black Power movement in Ocean Hill-Brownsville — like the embrace of anti-Semitism — fortunately proved not to have much staying power, Black Power's rejection of colorblind hiring, firing, and university admissions moved into the mainstream of Democratic Party thinking. Republicans, too, briefly flirted with affirmative action. In 1969, Richard Nixon put into effect the Philadelphia Plan to impose quotas in the construction trades, in part to divide organized labor and civil-rights groups. But by 1972, Nixon would reverse himself and run against George McGovern's embrace of racial preferences.

Shanker and Rustin favored race-blind, class-based affirmative action not only as a matter of principle, but also because they worried that race-conscious policies were thrusting a dagger into the heart of the traditional Democratic alliance. They saw Bundy and Lindsay's coalition of support in Ocean Hill-Brownsville — centered on members of minority groups and upper-middle-class white people — as far less potent than an alliance of the black and white working classes, especially if one hoped to promote both economic and racial equality in the United States. Shanker and Rustin agreed with King that the labor-civil-rights alliance was a natural one. "Negroes are almost entirely a working people," King told the AFL-CIO in 1961. "The identity of interests of labor and Negroes makes any crisis which lacerates you, a crisis in which we bleed."

Shanker and Rustin warned that the racial preferences embraced in Ocean Hill-Brownsville were unleashing a second white backlash against civil rights and liberalism. The first backlash, against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, involved a salutary cleansing of the Democratic Party's unholy alliance with white racists. But the second backlash was disastrous, for it involved many Northern white people who had come to embrace King's universal version of civil rights and felt betrayed by the politics of racial preference.

In the decades after Ocean Hill-Brownsville, Bundy and other white liberals continued to push for race-conscious policies. Prior to the famous 1978 case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke — in which the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed quotas in college admissions but upheld the ability of universities to use race as a factor in admissions — Bundy penned a line in The Atlantic, later paraphrased by Justice Harry Blackmun in Bakke, that "to get past racism, we must here take account of race."

A generation later, in the 2003 University of Michigan cases contesting affirmative action, the old Lindsay-Bundy coalition of civil-rights groups allied with wealthy corporations and foundations successfully appealed to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to preserve racial preferences for another 25 years. However, in the very states whose policies were litigated in the Supreme Court — California and Michigan — white voters subsequently came roaring back and passed anti-affirmative-action ballot initiatives. This November antipreference initiatives are expected to be on the ballots in four additional states — Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, and Nebraska. Affirmative action remains deeply unpopular and carries great symbolic value. Unlike welfare or crime, issues that merely have racial overtones, racial preferences are explicitly about race, and the Democratic embrace of them surely helps solve the central political riddle of why the party of working people consistently loses the white working-class vote. Non-college-educated white people supported Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and both Bushes. According to my Century Foundation colleague Ruy Teixeira, Al Gore lost the non-college-educated white vote by 17 points in 2000, as did John Kerry by 23 points in 2004.

Forty years after Ocean Hill-Brownsville, however, liberals have a unique opportunity to heal old wounds. While tensions remain among groups pitted in that battle — some minority parents and a mostly white teaching force now fight over the No Child Left Behind Act, charter schools, and private-school vouchers; and blacks and Jews remain wary partners — Democrats may finally find a way out of the moral and political thicket of affirmative action.

Barack Obama's candidacy offers the possibility of resolving the difficult question raised in Ocean Hill-Brownsville: how to remedy the history of discrimination in this country without creating new inequities and divisions. Hillary Rodham Clinton has been a strong supporter of race- and gender-based affirmative-action preferences and has shown little openness to new ideas on that front. By contrast, Obama, who sounds far more like King than Ocean Hill-Brownsville's McCoy, emphasizes common ground among races. He declared in his recent speech in Philadelphia on race, "We may not look the same and we may not have come from the same places, but we all want to move in the same direction — towards a better future for our children and our grandchildren."

Still, in many states, Obama has failed to reach beyond the old Lindsay political coalition of black people and highly educated white people. Nothing would galvanize white working-class voters more than a rejection of the racial preferences born in Ocean Hill-Brownsville in favor of King's Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged.

Obama appears open to that approach. In his Philadelphia speech, he outlined the need to remedy discrimination but also acknowledged the anger that racial preferences inspire. Most stunning, for a Democratic politician, he observed: "Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. … As far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything." Resentment builds, Obama said, "when they hear that an African-American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed." He warned against seeing those resentments as "misguided or even racist" without understanding that they are "grounded in legitimate concerns."

Moreover, in response to a reporter's question last May, Obama said that his own relatively privileged girls don't deserve affirmative-action preferences, but poor minority and white students do. Emphasizing class would remove such preferences for upper-income members of minority groups — treatment that Obama concedes makes little sense — and would, for the first time in 40 years, benefit the vast majority of working-class black people who have been helped little by affirmative-action programs to date. It also would be politically popular: While racial preferences are strongly opposed by Americans, income-based preferences are supported by a two-to-one margin.

The change would remove the message that race-based preferences send to white people — that their interests are distinct from those of people of color — and instead help unify the old coalition of working-class white and black people that conservatives most fear. The move would be transformative, recapturing not only the colorblind character of King's vision but also its aggressive assault on class inequality. And it would, at long last, turn the page on the divisiveness of Ocean Hill-Brownsville.

Richard D. Kahlenberg is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and author of Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race, and Democracy (Columbia University Press, 2007).

Saturday, April 26

McCain’s Compassion Tour


John McCain — this is the guy, you may remember, who’s going to be the Republican presidential nominee — has been visiting the poor lately. Appalachia, New Orleans, Rust Belt factory towns. This is a good thing, and we applaud his efforts to show compassion and interest in people for whom his actual policies are of no use whatsoever.

McCain’s special It’s Time for Action Tour was in the impoverished Kentucky town of Inez on Wednesday, so he was unable to make it to Washington to vote on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. This is the bill that would restore workers’ ability to go to court in cases of pay discrimination.

But McCain was not ducking the issue. After all, this is a man who told the folks in Youngstown, Ohio — where most of the working single mothers cannot make it above the poverty line — that the answer to their problems is larger tax deductions. He is fearless when it comes to delivering unpleasant news to people who are probably not going to vote for him anyway.

So McCain made it clear that if he had been in Washington, he would have voted no because the bill “opens us up for lawsuits, for all kinds of problems and difficulties.”

How much straighter can talk get? True, this is pretty much like saying that you’re voting against the federal budget because it involves spending. Still, there is no denying that a bill making it possible for people who have been discriminated against to go to court for redress would open somebody up to the possibility of a lawsuit.

Lilly Ledbetter was a supervisor at a Goodyear Tire plant in Gadsden, Ala., for almost 20 years — the only woman who ever managed to stick it out in what was not exactly a female-friendly environment. When she was near retirement, she got an anonymous letter listing the salaries of the men who held the same job. While she was making $3,727 a month, the lowest paid man, with far less seniority, was getting $4,286.

“I was just emotionally let down when I saw the difference,” she said on Friday.

The company declined Ledbetter’s offer to settle for the difference between her earnings and that lowest-paid man’s — about $60,000. A jury awarded her $223,776 in back pay and more than $3 million in punitive damages.

Goodyear appealed, and the case arrived at the Supreme Court just as President Bush’s new appointees were settling in. The court ruled 5-to-4 against Ledbetter, saying that she should have filed her suit within 180 days of receiving her first paycheck in which Goodyear discriminated against her.

The fact that workers generally have no idea what other people are making when they start a job did not concern the court nearly as much as what Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, called “the burden of defending claims arising from employment decisions that are long past.” In other words, pay discrimination is illegal unless it goes on for more than six months.

Ledbetter did not even get her back pay. And Goodyear billed her $3,165 for court-related costs.

The bill being voted on this week would have made it clear that every time a woman like Ledbetter got a check that was lower than those of the men doing the same job, it triggered a new 180-day deadline. That was the status quo before Alito and John Roberts arrived on the scene. But the sponsors needed 60 votes, and they only got 56. “I would never have believed this in the United States of America,” said Ledbetter, 70, who watched from the Senate gallery.

McCain’s vote wouldn’t have made any difference. But his reaction does suggest that on his list of presidential priorities, the problems of working women come in somewhere behind the rising price of after-dinner mints.

Having delivered his objections to the Ledbetter bill this week, McCain went on to tell reporters that what women really need is “education and training, particularly since more and more women are heads of their households, as much or more than anybody else. And it’s hard for them to leave their families when they don’t have somebody to take care of them.”

Maybe George Bush isn’t all that incoherent after all.

Was McCain saying that it’s less important to give working women the right to sue for equal pay than to give them help taking care of their families? There have been many attempts to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act to protect more workers who need to stay home to take care of a sick kid or an ailing parent. “We’ve never gotten his support on any of that agenda,” said Debra Ness, the president of the National Partnership for Women and Families.

We also have yet to hear a McCain policy address on how working mothers are supposed to find quality child care. If it comes, I suspect the women trying to support their kids on $20,000 a year are going to learn they’re in line for some whopping big income-tax deductions.

Let them eat dinner mints.

Monday, April 21

Rockridge Institute

The Rockridge Institute was founded with a mission: to teach Americans about the role of values and framing in political debate, and to help progressives equalize the framing advantages enjoyed by conservatives. With your help, Rockridge has done more than any small think tank could be expected to do. About 1,000 of you have donated to support our efforts. More than 8,000 have registered as members of Rockridge Nation to engage actively with us. And hundreds of thousands, both in the US and abroad, have bought our books and used our materials. If you are one of those hundreds of thousands, political discourse will now look different to you. As you read the newspapers and the blogs and watch TV, you can see the effects of our work everywhere. Your support has made that possible. For this and so much more, you have our complete admiration and gratitude.

Nonetheless, the Rockridge era will come to an end on April 30.

What we have written will remain as archives on our websites and

The end of any organization, even a small one, is a complex matter, and an emotional one for those who have invested themselves in its life. In important ways, Rockridge's triumphs and its limitations reflect the state of the progressive community and point to what the progressive future needs to be. Let's begin at the beginning.

The Rockridge Institute was formed to address a set of challenges: The right-wing think tanks, after spending 35 years and 4 billion dollars, had come to dominate public debate. They had done this by framing Big Ideas their way: the nature of government, the market, taxation, security, morality, responsibility, accountability, character, nature, even life. This allowed them to then frame lower-level issues, special cases like terrorism, Iraq, education, health care, retirement, stem-cell research, the death penalty, affirmative action, and on and on.

Our challenge was to figure out exactly how they had achieved such dominance over the minds of Americans and what progressives could do--not just how to respond case by special case, but how to do the Big Job: to reframe the Big Ideas governing our politics.

How could a tiny institute in Northern California hope to make any progress on such a large task? Our strategy was to use the tools of the cognitive and brain sciences, and to address not just one or two issues, but the full range.

In the last five years, and on a shoe-string budget, Rockridge has achieved more than we could have dreamed of:

Theoretical achievements: We worked out the theory of conceptual structure in politics, including how framing works; value-based modes of reasoning for conservatives and progressives; biconceptualism; top-to-bottom issue-based framing; neo-liberalism; contested concepts; elementary and complex cultural narratives as they apply in politics; and the idea of cognitive policy.
Applications: We have applied top-to-bottom issue framing and other theoretical results to many issue areas, most recently, health care, immigration, and climate change policy. And we have applied other of our theoretical results to such issues as the war on terror, tort reform, popular democracy, education, religion, and so on.
Popularizations: We popularized the understanding of framing and values in political discourse, and have produced a progressive handbook--Thinking Points--and other useful materials, all free online. As a result, political advocates all over America have become far more sophisticated about framing and values than they were five years ago.
Community Creation: We have created and maintained a busy, interactive and sophisticated on-line community, Rockridge Nation, with features like question-answering, a weekly workgroup, and a blog. And we have aligned with key influencers to turn our ideas into action on health care, climate policy, and more.
Trainings: We have done successful trainings and workshops on a small scale.
Political effectiveness: We have helped get progressive candidates elected across this country at all levels, and even in Spain. Various observers, upon reading Thinking Points, have seen in it many elements of the Obama campaign and a new politics.

Most important to us has been how our work has resonated with you. We are proud of what we have done together. In short, with your support and participation, we have had more of an effect than any tiny Northern California nonprofit think tank had any right to expect.

But... we have not done the Big Job, not even close. The conservatives' Big Ideas about government, taxes, security, the market, and the rest still dominate political discourse. Democrats in Congress still cringe at attacks based on these Big Ideas, and many have been intimidated into voting for conservative policies--on funding for Iraq, on government spying without a warrant, on taxes, on bankruptcy, and on and on. The Big Idea intimidation is still working. Changing that is the Big Job.

We at Rockridge have used the physical think tank form to get us this far. We've made important advances in understanding and articulating political cognition. We have done more in-depth studies than most people have the time to read, and we know what has to be done to tackle the Big Job. But we also realize that no small non-profit think tank can do significantly more of the Big Job than we have already done. That will take a large-scale, well-funded progressive cognitive infrastructure.

The progressive infrastructure built so far does not include a cognitive infrastructure. It has not tackled the Big Job--reversing the dominance of conservative Big Ideas in public life. Policy institutes do not address cognitive policy--the ideas and values that have to structure the public mind in order for nuts-and-bolts progressive policy to be accepted as just common sense.

When Rockridge started on its mission, we knew there were huge hurdles -- not just from the Right, but within the progressive community itself.

The Progressive Funding Problem: The 1997 Covington Report [Sally Covington, Moving a Public Policy Agenda: The Strategic Philanthropy of Conservative Foundations] observed that conservative foundations tend to give large, multi-year block grants to promote conservatism in general. By contrast, progressive foundations tend to give small grants for a short time over a short list of specific issue areas. This results in small nonprofits having to constantly spend a lot of time and effort raising money, and all too often failing to raise enough.
The Cognitive Science Problem: Few people are aware of the results in cognitive science and neuroscience and the techniques of analysis developed in cognitive linguistics. Progressives tend to view research in terms of polls, surveys, and focus groups, rather than the methods for understanding human cognition.
The Enlightenment Reason Problem: Progressives commonly believe in some version of Enlightenment Reason, which says that reason is conscious, dispassionate, logical, universal, literal (it directly fits the world), and interest-based. The cognitive and brain sciences have shown this is false in every respect. But if you aren't aware that we normally think unconsciously in terms of frames and metaphors, then framing would seem like deception, spin, or propaganda.
The Material Policy Problem: Unlike conservatives, progressives tend to think of policy as material policy alone--the nuts and bolts--and not cognitive policy: the ideas that must be in the brains of the public for policies to be seen as common sense. There is thus little or no understanding of the importance of cognitive policy.
The Framing-as-Messaging Problem: If you don't know that framing is the study of thought, then you would naturally but incorrectly think of framing as messaging. This is reinforced by the fact that understanding framing does, in fact, help with effective messaging.
The Training Problem: Framing research can't be done by just anyone. It takes training. And since staff members have lives and need financial security, it is hard to maintain a highly-trained staff without sufficient and stable funding.

In the end, we encountered all these problems. They are endemic to progressive advocacy and politics. We weathered them for years and accomplished a huge amount. Eventually--even with a thousand donors--the funding problem caught up with us.

Thank you for all your support.

Together, we will keep the Rockridge spirit alive and together we will continue to build a strong progressive movement with a sustainable infrastructure and a vital understanding of the cognitive dimension of politics, policy and governance.

--The Rockridge Staff
Joe Brewer
Bruce Budner
Evan Frisch
Eric Haas
George Lakoff
Sherry Reson
Glenn W. Smith

The haunting of the Democrats

The party is caught in an excruciating Catch-22. Whether it chooses the establishment figure or the liberal reformer, history offers many paths to defeat.

By Andrew O'Hehir

Apr. 21, 2008 | History, in Marx's famous dictum, tends to repeat itself: the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce. So what do you call it the third time around? A bad sitcom? A bad marriage? A bad dream? All three of those seem like viable ways of describing the Democratic Party's current predicament, locked in an endless and self-destructive struggle with itself, like a would-be Buddhist penitent unable to atone for eons' worth of bad karma.

Even in the annals of Democratic ritual suicide, the 2008 campaign is something special: It's not just that the protracted and painful nomination struggle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton repeats all the classic themes of intra-Democratic conflict -- left vs. center, reformer vs. the Establishment, pragmatist vs. idealist, call it what you will -- up to and including the fact that the differences between the candidates are mainly semiotic rather than substantive.

In his recent Salon article, Michael Lind identifies the split between dueling Democratic wings of the 1950s, specifically between hard-headed pragmatist (and Cold War hawk) Harry Truman on one side and liberal idealist (and Cold War dove) Adlai Stevenson on the other. Like almost any comment anybody makes about this split, that's an invidious comparison, and Lind is clearly advocating one side of the equation. Truman won an election as the nominee of a divided party (against the odds) and Stevenson lost two of them (against even greater odds). But let's let that stand, since Lind's dating of the emergence of this division is clearly correct: The last president to command enthusiastic support from all sides of the Democratic coalition was Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Before this year's historic campaign, poisoned at the root by overt and ugly sexism and covert and coded racism, Democrats have never been asked to choose quite so nakedly which absolutely necessary demographic they would like to do without. Here is the question, a cynic might suggest, that the Democratic Party must answer this summer: Do we want to lose because we drove away blacks or because we drove away white women? (Recent polling data suggests another cynical question: Do we prefer the candidate Americans believe is a liar or the one they believe is a Muslim?)

We've all seen this movie before, whether we realize it or not. If we're not quite sure how it's going to end, the characters and situations all seem strangely familiar. Beginning with the debacle of 1968, every Democratic campaign for four decades has followed pretty much the same template, even if the labels have shifted with the tide. The quadrennial conflict between liberals and moderates, outsiders and insiders, let's-win-an-election realists and let's-save-our-party dreamers -- supply your own dichotomy here -- reflects the fatal uncertainty of a political party that lacks any clear constituency or ideological focus. Even as the Democratic Party encompasses the views of a plausible majority of the population, its unresolved internal struggles have time and again undermined its ability to win elections or (when it happens to stumble to victory) to govern effectively.

To get specific, the 2008 Obama-Clinton contest offers eerie echoes of two of the most traumatic -- and defining -- campaigns of recent Democratic history. Neither of them is likely to give party faithful the nostalgic warm fuzzies. First, and most explosive, there's the comparison increasingly drawn on the right (and lately among a handful of Democrats) between Obama and Sen. George McGovern, who played the paradigm-shaping role of reformist outsider in 1972. Of course it's meant to be a toxic metaphor, suggesting that Obama is a dewy-eyed Pied Piper leading his followers into a November electoral catastrophe. Let's set that silliness aside right now. Whoever the Democrats nominate will not be facing a popular incumbent but an awkward Republican nominee who has embraced an unpopular war and remains unloved by his own party's base. One should never underestimate the Democratic ability to lose elections, but ain't nobody carrying 49 states this fall.

Get past that, though, and the McGovern parallels are seductive. The South Dakota senator was a heartland American from central casting -- a preacher's kid turned decorated bomber pilot turned Methodist minister. McGovern was far from the most leftward candidate in the race, which in its early stages included antiwar veteran Eugene McCarthy and black New York congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. As Hunter S. Thompson describes the field in his legendary "Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72," McGovern initially appeared earnest, sincere and not especially ideological. Many left-wing activists saw him as too mainstream (a charge that was not much heard later). But his left-populist views, notably the fact that he had opposed an unpopular foreign war almost from its inception, meant that he began his long-shot 1972 campaign supported by a burgeoning nationwide network of young, liberal volunteers.

In early primary and caucus states, it was McGovern's superior ground-level organization that ambushed Sen. Edmund Muskie, the Establishment-backed, well-funded front-runner. In fact, McGovern and his campaign manager (a young man named Gary Hart, about whom more later), often credited as the men who put the Iowa caucuses on the political media map, devised a strategy to win them based on a committed core of activists rather than a broad base of support.

Muskie was widely seen as more experienced, more responsible and more electable, but was also widely loathed by younger and more liberal voters because of his views and voting history on -- yes -- a controversial overseas war. To coin a phrase, Muskie was for the Vietnam War before he was against it. As the running mate of the 1968 Democratic nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Muskie had kept silent while Humphrey struggled to justify Lyndon Johnson's massively unpopular escalation of the war. By 1972 everyone in American politics (including incumbent Richard Nixon) wanted out of Vietnam, and early in the campaign Muskie held a press conference where he apologized for his previous views and pronounced himself a born-again antiwar candidate.

Thompson observes that Muskie's awkward public apology put him permanently on the defensive against McGovern, who had opposed the war vigorously since 1964. (Actually, he had voted for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that year, but recanted his support a few months later after learning that the alleged attack on two American destroyers was, in his words, "a total fiction.") You can bet the ranch that someone in Hillary Clinton's campaign -- quite possibly the candidate herself, who was a McGovern volunteer in Texas, alongside her Arkansan boyfriend -- has reflected on the Muskie debacle and vowed to avoid any public apology.

With younger antiwar voters flocking to McGovern on the left and Nixon's dirty-tricks squad sabotaging him from the right -- Republican operatives apparently concocted a letter alleging that Muskie had laughed at a derogatory comment about French-Canadians (!) -- Muskie may or may not have broken down in tears during a New Hampshire news conference. But male Granite State tears in 1972 do not have the same sociocultural resonance as female Granite State tears in 2008, it seems. Seen as emotionally unstable and losing ground rapidly, Muskie was driven from the race.

After Muskie's departure, the role of the Establishment candidate fell once again to Humphrey, the man who had captured the 1968 nomination without winning any primaries or pledged delegates. At that point, most Democratic delegates were the kinds of party apparatchiks we would today call superdelegates, and in fact it was a commission led by McGovern that redesigned the nominating process for '72 such that primary voters would play the decisive role. While the system worked as designed -- McGovern won the most primary delegates and captured the nomination in the end -- the race went all the way to a floor fight over delegate credentials at the Miami Beach convention, partly because (ironically enough) the more moderate Humphrey had won a slight plurality of the Democratic popular vote.

Even if you weren't alive or conscious in 1972, you don't need me to tell you what happened in the fall election, or to expound on its significance. If the McGovern race was the scourging tragedy whose marks the Democratic Party still carries on its collective body, then the 1984 contest between Walter Mondale and Gary Hart -- another primary season that stretched all the way to the convention, with superdelegates implicated in the final outcome -- was its farcical mirror image.

Despite whatever whispered comparisons between Obama and McGovern have circulated among a few McCain and/or Clinton supporters in recent weeks, the Illinois senator seems unlikely to make the kinds of risible political mistakes that doomed McGovern to a history-making wipeout. (He was never going to win, no matter what, but a respectable defeat in which McGovern carried 12 to 15 states might well have altered subsequent history.) Obama isn't going to give his convention acceptance speech at 3 a.m., and he won't select a running mate with a documented history of mental illness -- not to mention a running mate who turns out to be the source of the campaign's single most damaging remark. (As Bob Novak revealed last year, it was Sen. Thomas Eagleton who launched the infamous description of McGovern as the candidate of "amnesty [for draft dodgers], abortion and acid.")

What's at work here is the Democratic hierarchy's interminable and tiresome case of 1972-related PTSD, and its tendency, like a dog that's been mercilessly beaten, to internalize the worst behavior of its persecutors. Many Democrats fear (and a few hope) that Obama will be eviscerated as an America-hating Black Muslim al-Qaida agent and get wiped off the electoral map this fall. Be that as it may, Obama strikes me as much closer in tone and temperament to Hart, 1984's golden-boy outsider, than to McGovern.

Hart was McGovern's campaign manager in '72, and evidently learned both positive and negative lessons from that experience. He played a lite-beer version of the reform-minded progressive, with great taste and 80 percent less ideology. He promised a pragmatic, hands-across-the-aisle approach that rejected Mondale's old-school partisan politics and "failed policies" in favor of unspecified "New Ideas." Although the word "yuppie" had appeared in print as early as 1982, it first achieved widespread currency as a descriptor for Hart's core demographic. Energetic and charismatic, Hart was a good speaker and a relatively young man in a political field dominated by jowls and gray hair. (He was 47 in 1984; Barack Obama is 46 today.)

Hart's opponent was more knowledgeable on foreign policy and more experienced with the machineries of Washington. Former Vice President Mondale had done time in the Oval Office, offering the president sage counsel in times of crisis. He was a known and trusted figure to working-class white voters in the Rust Belt states. In fairness, the electoral map of the Hart-Mondale race looks almost like the Obama-Clinton contest in reverse, which may reflect a lack of clarity over which '84 candidate was the liberal and which the moderate. Hart won many of the big prizes -- including Massachusetts, Florida, Ohio and California -- but was outspent and out-organized in numerous Eastern and Midwestern states.

Still, the odd feeling of déjà vu persists. After Hart became the surprise front-runner, he faced heavy media scrutiny and had to weather a few minor scandals that suggested a "flake factor" in his personality. (He had changed his name, his birth date and his signature, and had twice separated from his wife -- but the Donna Rice scandal did not erupt until 1987.) His close and acrimonious contest with Mondale zigged and zagged and was endlessly dissected by the media for its sociological and generational significance.

By the time the two candidates reached the San Francisco convention, Mondale was virtually assured of the nomination, but it's worth noting why that happened. If the '84 election had been conducted under the "McGovern rules" of 1972, the duo would have hit the summer solstice virtually tied in pledged delegates. But in the intervening years, a balance of power had been restored to party leaders through an arcane delegate-selection process, and a new term had been invented. Mondale's victory came not because he zinged Hart as a lightweight by asking "Where's the beef?" in a memorable debate moment (although that helped) but because most of the party's Establishment superdelegates had been in his camp from the beginning.

The end of the story was depressingly familiar, but nobody ever reflects on the fact that Mondale's defeat by Ronald Reagan was nearly as bad as McGovern's 1972 loss to Nixon. (In Electoral College terms, it was even worse.) It's fair to say that the Democratic leadership is always more eager to lose with a Mondale than with a McGovern -- with a familiar, safe, mainstream candidate rather than a reform-minded outsider. Certainly the 1984 result produced little of the ritual self-excoriation and rending of garments that followed 1972; and while Mondale is among the party's respected elder statesmen, McGovern remains pretty much a pariah. You'll never hear anyone ask with terror in his voice, "Good God, is this guy another Fritz Mondale?"

But here's the real point: In both campaigns, supporters of whichever Democrat had lost the intra-party conflict felt aggrieved by the end result. In 1972, moderates believed that Humphrey (or Muskie) might have stanched the outward flow of working-class heartland Democrats and triangulated his way into a close race against Nixon. On the other side of the coin, the burgeoning bicoastal yuppies of 1984 were convinced that the younger, brighter, more vigorous Hart would have offered a stronger contrast to the geriatric and increasingly befuddled Ronald Reagan. I don't claim to know whether those alternative scenarios could have borne fruit (it seems dubious in both cases), but the result was more intra-Democratic bitterness and bad karma, as the dessert topping to humiliating defeat.

As is true again in 2008, ideology plays no more than a supporting role in these contests. Certainly there were political differences between McGovern and Muskie/Humphrey, although the former was never the Ho Chi Minh-loving, acid-eating radical of Bob Novak's wet dreams, and their policies as president wouldn't have been all that different. With Hart and Mondale, as with Obama and Clinton, ideological distinctions are almost invisible, and one could argue that the older, Establishment candidate in each pair is actually closer to old-line Democratic liberalism than the younger reformist.

These conflicts are about other things. Like every other American consumer experience, they're about affect and manner and first impression, and similar elements of unconscious psychological response. (Who you want to have a beer with, for example, or who reminds you of which of your parents.) As Lind would have it, they're about class and geography and certain unrecognized elements of American tribalism, although I find his insistence that the ancestral roots of white voters still plays a role in this most ahistorical of nations pretty bizarre. In this Democratic race and the two others I've discussed, the conflict is also clearly about age and generation and one's relationship to the recent historical past. This year's election, of course, is uniquely about race and gender, about the feminist revolution and the civil rights movement and their uneasy shared history.

But I don't believe that the Democratic Party's incurable case of schizophrenia can be boiled down to any single social or cultural factor. Lind's learned-sounding dissertation, casting Obama as the preferred candidate of moralistic Northern white Protestants in a "Greater New England" that stretches, apparently, from Maine to Oregon, is both overly broad and overly reductive, in the great tradition of half-baked social science. (In a piece that decries the perceived elitist tendency to mock working-class white Americans, Lind apparently feels it's OK to make fun of Wisconsin. My Waukesha County in-laws are up in arms.)

Maybe Lind is correct to imply that a multimillionaire senator whose voyage in life has taken her from an upper-middle-class Chicago suburb to a nosebleed-wealthy New York suburb, by way of the Arkansas governor's mansion and the White House, is an "extroverted, populist party regular" in the Truman mold, with an appetite for red-meat political struggle. Maybe her opponent, a mixed-race immigrant's kid who had a poor and peripatetic childhood (and, as recent estimates reveal, possesses about 5 percent of her net worth), really does fall on the Stevensonian side of the culture gap, "urbane, ironic, detached, introverted, intellectual and disdainful of petty politics." If that's so, it only reinforces my earlier point that American politics has become an entirely semiotic affair, a shadow play of gestures, codes and signals that long ago abandoned any relationship to material reality.

As Lind and many others may reply, there is an underlying reality here: Someone will carry enough states in November to win an Electoral College majority, and right now the Democratic Party is doing an outstanding job of ensuring that person will be John McCain. I won't bore you with my personal theory as to whether the liberal reformer or the Establishment moderate, in their 2008 incarnations, is more electable. Nobody knows. What we might laughably call the evidence is all over the place; the question can be argued in either direction and we're all bullshitting. I do, however, have a prediction of sorts: If Hillary Clinton remains within, say, 100 delegates and 100,000 popular votes after June 3, she will be the nominee. It's unlikely to be that close, but if it is, you read it here first.

Barack Obama remains the more plausible nominee, by far, and if he bears a certain resemblance to the primary-campaign version of George McGovern, he bears almost none to the general-election caricature crafted by Nixon's ruthless campaign. (Although I'm sure we will be hearing the comparisons.) He bears a stronger resemblance to Hart and perhaps, as his supporters would say, to John F. Kennedy, a young philosopher-king riding to Washington on his white charger. There are other, less heartwarming possibilities.

As a couple of my friends have suggested, Obama could also turn out to be the smooth-jazz remix of Michael Dukakis, another blue-state yupscale reformer who upended the Democratic primary season and emerged a surprise winner against better-known politicians. When the Donna Rice affair knocked Hart from the 1988 field, Dukakis inherited his mantle as the voice of a dispassionate, rational post-McGovern liberalism. Democrats from all regions of the country flocked to his unflappable, intellectual style, which belonged unmistakably to the Adlai Stevenson tradition. There was no incumbent in the White House, and after eight years of Reagan, conditions seemed ripe for a Democratic victory over George H.W. Bush, Reagan's aristocratic, ill-at-ease veep.

Dukakis sailed into the fall campaign with a Gallup Poll lead of as much as 18 points and seemed blissfully unable to respond when legendary Republican hit man Lee Atwater depicted him as a wimpy Massachusetts tax-and-spend liberal -- who had released a convicted murderer from prison so he could commit rape and armed robbery. (Said convict being Willie Horton, subject of the most famous attack ad in American political history.) Dukakis' disastrous photo op at the helm of a tank, wearing a too-tight helmet and a goofy grin -- as David Brinkley observed, he bore a striking resemblance to Rocket J. Squirrel -- sealed the deal. In absolute terms '88 was nowhere near as bad as '84 or '72 (Dukakis carried 10 states and the District of Columbia), but it remains the classic example of a Democrat snatching crashing defeat from the jaws of achievable victory.

Here's a trivia question for extra credit: Name the Establishment Democrat who was Dukakis' leading primary opponent. No, you get only half a point for Dick Gephardt, who dropped out early. That's right, in the back: It was a Tennessee senator, future vice president and global-warming guru, who won several primaries but never appeared viable outside the South. If we imagine for a moment that he had been the '88 nominee and daddy Bush had never been elected in the first place ... but that way lies madness.

I'm not arguing that Obama is doomed to suffer Dukakis' fate. For one thing, Obama is turning out to be among the best orators of recent American history, while Dukakis was a tedious policy wonk who kept audiences awake only because his nasal Boston accent was so irritating. I am arguing, though, that the Democratic Party is caught in an excruciating Catch-22 of its own making. Democrats are acutely aware that once they finally choose a candidate -- whether it's the reformer or the Establishment figure -- history offers many paths to defeat, and few to victory. But the tortuous indecision of the 2008 campaign (as in the '84 and '72 campaigns) may itself prove fatal.

When Lind writes that the Democrats' fate in November depends on healing "long-familiar regional and cultural splits among whites in the Democratic electorate," he's skipping directly over the central issue and arguing that his side (Humphrey-Mondale-Clinton) must prevail and the other side (McGovern-Hart-Obama) must capitulate. Here's what I mean by the central issue: It isn't flippant or metaphorical to describe the Democratic Party as schizophrenic. The ugly flame wars conducted between Obama and Clinton supporters all over the blogosphere, and not least on Salon's letters pages, reflect a deep pathology at the core of the party's identity.

To caricature the two groups only a little: One side embraces a tight and sweaty electoral calculus not much different from those of the Gore-Kerry elections, and seeks to focus on a meticulously triangulated blend of wedge economic issues and flag-waving patriotism that might siphon off a few hundred thousand moderate whites and Latinos in a few Midwest, Mountain West and not-so-deep South states. The other side wants to sweep the electoral map as clean as a Tibetan sand mandala, with the broom wielded by a magical figure pledged to purify the polluted realm of politics.

In my darker moments, I suspect that one side would rather lose a battle fought on the narrow ground they see as pragmatism and realism, rather than risk discovering that their starry-eyed opponents have a fairer and more generous vision of the country than they do. Conversely, the other side might actually prefer to go down in the flames of idealistic self-immolation, McGovern-style, rather than suffer through another Clintonian era of perennial compromise and constant dissatisfaction.

Even if the warring parties do not consciously feel that way, results speak louder than words: Excluding the Jimmy Carter "Watergate election" of 1976, Democrats have elected just one president since LBJ. And while Bill Clinton's economy looks pretty good right about now, let's remember that he lost both houses of Congress halfway through his first term, was virtually paralyzed by scandal in his second, and drifted toward social policies slightly to the right of Richard Nixon's. Then there was his wife -- what was her name again? -- who botched the issue of national healthcare so badly that it's been off the table ever since.

This intra-Democratic conflict is profound and epistemological. It speaks to deeply divergent ideas about the nature of politics, of America and indeed of human life. It dwarfs the so-called divisions in the Republican Party, which always seem miraculously healed by the time Election Day arrives. (You don't hear Mitt Romney's former supporters vowing to vote for Obama.) It isn't a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party; it is the Democratic Party. It is not likely to be healed anytime soon, whether or not this year's nominee can lure the semi-mythical gun-loving lumpenproletariat at whose feet Lind prostrates himself. It has robbed the United States of an effective opposition party for four decades, with no end in sight.

-- By Andrew O'Hehir

Saturday, April 19

Shoddy! Tawdry! A Televised Train Wreck!


“THE crowd is turning on me,” said Charles Gibson, the ABC anchor, when the audience jeered him in the final moments of Wednesday night’s face-off between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

I can’t remember a debate in which the only memorable moment was the audience’s heckling of a moderator. Then again, I can’t remember a debate that became such an instant national gag, earning reviews more appropriate to a slasher movie like “Prom Night” than a civic event held in Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center:

“Shoddy, despicable!” — The Washington Post

“A tawdry affair!” — The Boston Globe

“A televised train wreck!” — The Philadelphia Daily News

And those were the polite ones. Let’s not even go to the blogosphere.

Of course, Obama fans were angry because of the barrage of McCarthyesque guilt-by-association charges against their candidate, portraying him as a fellow traveler of bomb-throwing, America-hating, flag-denigrating terrorists. The debate’s co-moderator, George Stephanopoulos, second to no journalist in his firsthand knowledge of the Clinton White House, could have easily rectified the imbalance. All he had to do was draw on his expertise to ask similar questions about Bill Clinton’s check-bearing business and foundation associates circling a potential new Clinton administration. He did not.

But viewers of all political persuasions were affronted by the moderators’ failure to ask about the mortgage crisis, health care, the environment, torture, education, China policy, the pending G.I. bill to aid veterans, or the war we’re losing in Afghanistan. Those minutes were devoted not just to recycling the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Bosnian sniper fire and another lame question about a possible “dream ticket” but to the unseemly number of intrusive commercials and network promos that prompted the jeering at the end. The trashiest ads often bumped directly into an ABC announcer’s periodic recitations of quotations from the Constitution. Such defacing of American values is to be expected, I guess, from a network whose debate moderators refuse to wear flag pins.

Ludicrous as the whole spectacle was, ABC would not have been so widely pilloried had it not tapped into a larger national discontent with news media fatuousness. The debate didn’t happen in a vacuum; it was the culmination of the orgy of press hysteria over Mr. Obama’s remarks about “bitter” small-town voters. For nearly a week, you couldn’t change channels without hearing how Mr. Obama had destroyed his campaign with this single slip at a San Francisco fund-raiser. By Wednesday night, the public was overdosing.

Mr. Obama did sound condescending, an unappealing trait that was even more naked in his “You’re likable enough, Hillary” gibe many debates ago. But the overreaction to this latest gaffe backfired on the media more than it damaged him. For all the racket about “Bittergate” — and breathless intimations of imminent poll swings and superdelegate stampedes — the earth did not move. The polls hardly budged, and superdelegates continued to migrate mainly in Mr. Obama’s direction.

Thus did another overhyped 2008 story line go embarrassingly bust, like such predecessors as the death of the John McCain campaign and the organizational and financial invincibility of the Clinton political machine against a rookie senator from Illinois. Not the least of the reasons that the Beltway has gotten so much wrong this year is that it believes that 2008 is still 1988. It sees the country in its own image — static — instead of as a dynamic society whose culture and demographics are changing by the day.

In this one-size-fits-all analysis, Mr. Obama must be the new Dukakis, sure to be rejected by white guys easily manipulated by Lee Atwater-style campaigns exploiting race and class. But some voters who lived through 1988 have changed, and quite a few others are dead. In 2008, they are supplanted in part by an energized African-American electorate and the young voters of all economic strata who fueled the Obama movement that many pundits didn’t take seriously before Iowa. And that some still don’t. Cokie Roberts of ABC predicted in February that young voters probably won’t show up in November because “they never have before” and “they’ll be tired.”

However out of touch Mr. Obama is with “ordinary Americans,” many Americans, ordinary and not, have concluded that the talking heads blathering about blue-collar men, religion, guns and those incomprehensible “YouTube young people” are even more condescending and out of touch. When a Washington doyenne like Mary Matalin, freighted with jewelry, starts railing about elitists on “Meet the Press,” as she did last Sunday, it’s pure farce. It’s typical of the syndrome that the man who plays a raging populist on CNN, Lou Dobbs, dismissed Mr. Obama last week by saying “we don’t need another Ivy League-educated knucklehead.” Mr. Dobbs must know whereof he speaks, since he’s Harvard ’67.

The most revealing moment in Wednesday’s debate was a striking example of this media-populace disconnect. In Mr. Gibson’s only passionate query of the night, he tried to strong-arm both Democrats into forgoing any increases in the capital gains tax. The capital gains tax! That’s just the priority Americans are focusing on as they lose their houses and jobs, and as gas prices reach $4 a gallon (a subject that merited only a brief mention, in a lightning round of final questions). And this in a debate that took place on the same day we learned that the top 50 hedge fund managers made a total of $29 billion in 2007, some of them by betting against the mortgage market.

At least Mr. Gibson is consistent. In the ABC debate in January, he upbraided Mrs. Clinton by suggesting that a typical New Hampshire “family of two professors” with a joint income “in the $200,000 category” would be unjustly penalized by her plan to roll back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. He seemed oblivious not merely to typical academic salaries but to the fact that his hypothetical household would be among America’s wealthiest (only 3.4 percent earn more).

Next to such knuckleheaded obtuseness, Mr. Obama’s pratfall may strike many voters as a misdemeanor. He was probably rescued as well by the typical Clinton campaign overkill that followed his mistake. Not content merely to piously feign shock about Mr. Obama’s San Francisco soliloquy (and the operative political buzzword here is San Francisco, which stands for you-know-what), Mrs. Clinton couldn’t resist presenting herself as an unambiguously macho, beer-swilling hunting enthusiast. This is as condescending as it gets, topping even Mitt Romney’s last-ditch effort to repackage himself to laid-off union workers as the love child of Joe Hill and Norma Rae.

The video of Mrs. Clinton knocking back drinks in an Indiana bar drowned out the scratchy audio of Mr. Obama’s wispy words in San Francisco. Her campaign didn’t seem to recognize that among the many consequences of the Bush backlash is a revulsion against such play acting. Americans belatedly learned the hard way that the brush-clearing cowboy of the Crawford “ranch” (it’s a country house, not a working ranch) was in reality an entitled Andover-Yale-Harvard oil brat whose arrogance has left us where we are now. Voters don’t want a rerun from a Wellesley-Yale alumna who served on the board of Wal-Mart.

Privileged though they are, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama do want to shape policy to help the less well-heeled. Mr. McCain, who had a far more elite upbringing than either of them and whose wife’s estimated fortune exceeds the Clintons’, is not just condescending to working Americans but trying to hoodwink them. Next week, in a replay of the 2000 Bush campaign’s “compassionate conservative” photo ops among black schoolchildren, he will show he’s a “different kind of Republican” by visiting what he calls the “forgotten” America of Alabama’s “black belt” and the old steel town of Youngstown, Ohio. What he wants voters to forget is the inequity of his new economic plan.

That plan’s incoherent smorgasbord of items includes a cut from 35 percent to 25 percent in the corporate tax rate. For noncorporate taxpayers, Mr. McCain offers such thin gruel as a battle against federal pork (the notorious Alaskan “bridge to nowhere,” earmarked for $223 million in federal highway money, costs less than a day of the war in Iraq) and a temporary suspension of the federal gas tax (a saving of some $2.75 per 15-gallon tank). Now there’s a reason for voters to be bitter — assuming bloviators start publicizing and parsing Mr. McCain’s words as relentlessly as they do the Democrats’.

That may be a big assumption. At an Associated Press luncheon for newspaper editors in Washington last week, Mr. McCain was given a standing ovation. (The other candidate who appeared, Mr. Obama, was not.) Cindy McCain, whose tax returns remain under wraps, has not received remotely the same scrutiny as Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton, except for her plagiarized recipes. The most damning proof of the press’s tilt toward Mr. McCain, though, is the lack of clamor for his complete health records, especially in the wake of his baffling serial factual confusions about Iraq, his No. 1 issue.

But that remains on hold while we resolve whether Mr. Obama lost Wednesday’s debate with his defensive stumbling, or whether Mrs. Clinton lost it with her ceaseless parroting of right-wing attacks. The unequivocally good news is that ABC’s debacle had the largest audience of any debate in this campaign. That’s a lot of viewers who are now mad as hell and won’t take it anymore.

Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand

The New York Times
April 20, 2008

In the summer of 2005, the Bush administration confronted a fresh wave of criticism over Guantánamo Bay. The detention center had just been branded “the gulag of our times” by Amnesty International, there were new allegations of abuse from United Nations human rights experts and calls were mounting for its closure.

The administration’s communications experts responded swiftly. Early one Friday morning, they put a group of retired military officers on one of the jets normally used by Vice President Dick Cheney and flew them to Cuba for a carefully orchestrated tour of Guantánamo.

To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times on television and radio as “military analysts” whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.

Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.

Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse — an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.

Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence. They have been briefed by officials from the White House, State Department and Justice Department, including Mr. Cheney, Alberto R. Gonzales and Stephen J. Hadley.

In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access.

A few expressed regret for participating in what they regarded as an effort to dupe the American public with propaganda dressed as independent military analysis.

“It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you,’ “ Robert S. Bevelacqua, a retired Green Beret and former Fox News analyst, said.

Kenneth Allard, a former NBC military analyst who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, said the campaign amounted to a sophisticated information operation. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he said.

As conditions in Iraq deteriorated, Mr. Allard recalled, he saw a yawning gap between what analysts were told in private briefings and what subsequent inquiries and books later revealed.

“Night and day,” Mr. Allard said, “I felt we’d been hosed.”

The Pentagon defended its relationship with military analysts, saying they had been given only factual information about the war. “The intent and purpose of this is nothing other than an earnest attempt to inform the American people,” Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said.

It was, Mr. Whitman added, “a bit incredible” to think retired military officers could be “wound up” and turned into “puppets of the Defense Department.”

Many analysts strongly denied that they had either been co-opted or had allowed outside business interests to affect their on-air comments, and some have used their platforms to criticize the conduct of the war. Several, like Jeffrey D. McCausland, a CBS military analyst and defense industry lobbyist, said they kept their networks informed of their outside work and recused themselves from coverage that touched on business interests.

“I’m not here representing the administration,” Dr. McCausland said.

Some network officials, meanwhile, acknowledged only a limited understanding of their analysts’ interactions with the administration. They said that while they were sensitive to potential conflicts of interest, they did not hold their analysts to the same ethical standards as their news employees regarding outside financial interests. The onus is on their analysts to disclose conflicts, they said. And whatever the contributions of military analysts, they also noted the many network journalists who have covered the war for years in all its complexity.

Five years into the Iraq war, most details of the architecture and execution of the Pentagon’s campaign have never been disclosed. But The Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to 8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing years of private briefings, trips to Iraq and Guantánamo and an extensive Pentagon talking points operation.

These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.

Internal Pentagon documents repeatedly refer to the military analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who could be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.”

Though many analysts are paid network consultants, making $500 to $1,000 per appearance, in Pentagon meetings they sometimes spoke as if they were operating behind enemy lines, interviews and transcripts show. Some offered the Pentagon tips on how to outmaneuver the networks, or as one analyst put it to Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, “the Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the world.” Some warned of planned stories or sent the Pentagon copies of their correspondence with network news executives. Many — although certainly not all — faithfully echoed talking points intended to counter critics.

“Good work,” Thomas G. McInerney, a retired Air Force general, consultant and Fox News analyst, wrote to the Pentagon after receiving fresh talking points in late 2006. “We will use it.”

Again and again, records show, the administration has enlisted analysts as a rapid reaction force to rebut what it viewed as critical news coverage, some of it by the networks’ own Pentagon correspondents. For example, when news articles revealed that troops in Iraq were dying because of inadequate body armor, a senior Pentagon official wrote to his colleagues: “I think our analysts — properly armed — can push back in that arena.”

The documents released by the Pentagon do not show any quid pro quo between commentary and contracts. But some analysts said they had used the special access as a marketing and networking opportunity or as a window into future business possibilities.

John C. Garrett is a retired Army colonel and unpaid analyst for Fox News TV and radio. He is also a lobbyist at Patton Boggs who helps firms win Pentagon contracts, including in Iraq. In promotional materials, he states that as a military analyst he “is privy to weekly access and briefings with the secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high level policy makers in the administration.” One client told investors that Mr. Garrett’s special access and decades of experience helped him “to know in advance — and in detail — how best to meet the needs” of the Defense Department and other agencies.

In interviews Mr. Garrett said there was an inevitable overlap between his dual roles. He said he had gotten “information you just otherwise would not get,” from the briefings and three Pentagon-sponsored trips to Iraq. He also acknowledged using this access and information to identify opportunities for clients. “You can’t help but look for that,” he said, adding, “If you know a capability that would fill a niche or need, you try to fill it. “That’s good for everybody.”

At the same time, in e-mail messages to the Pentagon, Mr. Garrett displayed an eagerness to be supportive with his television and radio commentary. “Please let me know if you have any specific points you want covered or that you would prefer to downplay,” he wrote in January 2007, before President Bush went on TV to describe the surge strategy in Iraq.

Conversely, the administration has demonstrated that there is a price for sustained criticism, many analysts said. “You’ll lose all access,” Dr. McCausland said.

With a majority of Americans calling the war a mistake despite all administration attempts to sway public opinion, the Pentagon has focused in the last couple of years on cultivating in particular military analysts frequently seen and heard in conservative news outlets, records and interviews show.

Some of these analysts were on the mission to Cuba on June 24, 2005 — the first of six such Guantánamo trips — which was designed to mobilize analysts against the growing perception of Guantánamo as an international symbol of inhumane treatment. On the flight to Cuba, for much of the day at Guantánamo and on the flight home that night, Pentagon officials briefed the 10 or so analysts on their key messages — how much had been spent improving the facility, the abuse endured by guards, the extensive rights afforded detainees.

The results came quickly. The analysts went on TV and radio, decrying Amnesty International, criticizing calls to close the facility and asserting that all detainees were treated humanely.

“The impressions that you’re getting from the media and from the various pronouncements being made by people who have not been here in my opinion are totally false,” Donald W. Shepperd, a retired Air Force general, reported live on CNN by phone from Guantánamo that same afternoon.

The next morning, Montgomery Meigs, a retired Army general and NBC analyst, appeared on “Today.” “There’s been over $100 million of new construction,” he reported. “The place is very professionally run.”

Within days, transcripts of the analysts’ appearances were circulated to senior White House and Pentagon officials, cited as evidence of progress in the battle for hearts and minds at home.

Charting the Campaign

By early 2002, detailed planning for a possible Iraq invasion was under way, yet an obstacle loomed. Many Americans, polls showed, were uneasy about invading a country with no clear connection to the Sept. 11 attacks. Pentagon and White House officials believed the military analysts could play a crucial role in helping overcome this resistance.

Torie Clarke, the former public relations executive who oversaw the Pentagon’s dealings with the analysts as assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, had come to her job with distinct ideas about achieving what she called “information dominance.” In a spin-saturated news culture, she argued, opinion is swayed most by voices perceived as authoritative and utterly independent.

And so even before Sept. 11, she built a system within the Pentagon to recruit “key influentials” — movers and shakers from all walks who with the proper ministrations might be counted on to generate support for Mr. Rumsfeld’s priorities.

In the months after Sept. 11, as every network rushed to retain its own all-star squad of retired military officers, Ms. Clarke and her staff sensed a new opportunity. To Ms. Clarke’s team, the military analysts were the ultimate “key influential” — authoritative, most of them decorated war heroes, all reaching mass audiences.

The analysts, they noticed, often got more airtime than network reporters, and they were not merely explaining the capabilities of Apache helicopters. They were framing how viewers ought to interpret events. What is more, while the analysts were in the news media, they were not of the news media. They were military men, many of them ideologically in sync with the administration’s neoconservative brain trust, many of them important players in a military industry anticipating large budget increases to pay for an Iraq war.

Even analysts with no defense industry ties, and no fondness for the administration, were reluctant to be critical of military leaders, many of whom were friends. “It is very hard for me to criticize the United States Army,” said William L. Nash, a retired Army general and ABC analyst. “It is my life.”

Other administrations had made sporadic, small-scale attempts to build relationships with the occasional military analyst. But these were trifling compared with what Ms. Clarke’s team had in mind. Don Meyer, an aide to Ms. Clarke, said a strategic decision was made in 2002 to make the analysts the main focus of the public relations push to construct a case for war. Journalists were secondary. “We didn’t want to rely on them to be our primary vehicle to get information out,” Mr. Meyer said.

The Pentagon’s regular press office would be kept separate from the military analysts. The analysts would instead be catered to by a small group of political appointees, with the point person being Brent T. Krueger, another senior aide to Ms. Clarke. The decision recalled other administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism. Federal agencies, for example, have paid columnists to write favorably about the administration. They have distributed to local TV stations hundreds of fake news segments with fawning accounts of administration accomplishments. The Pentagon itself has made covert payments to Iraqi newspapers to publish coalition propaganda.

Rather than complain about the “media filter,” each of these techniques simply converted the filter into an amplifier. This time, Mr. Krueger said, the military analysts would in effect be “writing the op-ed” for the war.

Assembling the Team

From the start, interviews show, the White House took a keen interest in which analysts had been identified by the Pentagon, requesting lists of potential recruits, and suggesting names. Ms. Clarke’s team wrote summaries describing their backgrounds, business affiliations and where they stood on the war.

“Rumsfeld ultimately cleared off on all invitees,” said Mr. Krueger, who left the Pentagon in 2004. (Through a spokesman, Mr. Rumsfeld declined to comment for this article.)

Over time, the Pentagon recruited more than 75 retired officers, although some participated only briefly or sporadically. The largest contingent was affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the other networks with 24-hour cable outlets. But analysts from CBS and ABC were included, too. Some recruits, though not on any network payroll, were influential in other ways — either because they were sought out by radio hosts, or because they often published op-ed articles or were quoted in magazines, Web sites and newspapers. At least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.

The group was heavily represented by men involved in the business of helping companies win military contracts. Several held senior positions with contractors that gave them direct responsibility for winning new Pentagon business. James Marks, a retired Army general and analyst for CNN from 2004 to 2007, pursued military and intelligence contracts as a senior executive with McNeil Technologies. Still others held board positions with military firms that gave them responsibility for government business. General McInerney, the Fox analyst, for example, sits on the boards of several military contractors, including Nortel Government Solutions, a supplier of communication networks.

Several were defense industry lobbyists, such as Dr. McCausland, who works at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a major lobbying firm where he is director of a national security team that represents several military contractors. “We offer clients access to key decision makers,” Dr. McCausland’s team promised on the firm’s Web site.

Dr. McCausland was not the only analyst making this pledge. Another was Joseph W. Ralston, a retired Air Force general. Soon after signing on with CBS, General Ralston was named vice chairman of the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by a former defense secretary, William Cohen, himself now a “world affairs” analyst for CNN. “The Cohen Group knows that getting to ‘yes’ in the aerospace and defense market — whether in the United States or abroad — requires that companies have a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the thinking of government decision makers,” the company tells prospective clients on its Web site.

There were also ideological ties.

Two of NBC’s most prominent analysts, Barry R. McCaffrey and the late Wayne A. Downing, were on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, an advocacy group created with White House encouragement in 2002 to help make the case for ousting Saddam Hussein. Both men also had their own consulting firms and sat on the boards of major military contractors.

Many also shared with Mr. Bush’s national security team a belief that pessimistic war coverage broke the nation’s will to win in Vietnam, and there was a mutual resolve not to let that happen with this war.

This was a major theme, for example, with Paul E. Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 to 2007. A retired Army general who had specialized in psychological warfare, Mr. Vallely co-authored a paper in 1980 that accused American news organizations of failing to defend the nation from “enemy” propaganda during Vietnam.

“We lost the war — not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,” he wrote. He urged a radically new approach to psychological operations in future wars — taking aim at not just foreign adversaries but domestic audiences, too. He called his approach “MindWar” — using network TV and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.”

The Selling of the War

From their earliest sessions with the military analysts, Mr. Rumsfeld and his aides spoke as if they were all part of the same team.

In interviews, participants described a powerfully seductive environment — the uniformed escorts to Mr. Rumsfeld’s private conference room, the best government china laid out, the embossed name cards, the blizzard of PowerPoints, the solicitations of advice and counsel, the appeals to duty and country, the warm thank you notes from the secretary himself.

“Oh, you have no idea,” Mr. Allard said, describing the effect. “You’re back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV.” It was, he said, “psyops on steroids” — a nuanced exercise in influence through flattery and proximity. “It’s not like it’s, ‘We’ll pay you $500 to get our story out,’ ” he said. “It’s more subtle.”

The access came with a condition. Participants were instructed not to quote their briefers directly or otherwise describe their contacts with the Pentagon.

In the fall and winter leading up to the invasion, the Pentagon armed its analysts with talking points portraying Iraq as an urgent threat. The basic case became a familiar mantra: Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, was developing nuclear weapons, and might one day slip some to Al Qaeda; an invasion would be a relatively quick and inexpensive “war of liberation.”

At the Pentagon, members of Ms. Clarke’s staff marveled at the way the analysts seamlessly incorporated material from talking points and briefings as if it was their own.

“You could see that they were messaging,” Mr. Krueger said. “You could see they were taking verbatim what the secretary was saying or what the technical specialists were saying. And they were saying it over and over and over.” Some days, he added, “We were able to click on every single station and every one of our folks were up there delivering our message. You’d look at them and say, ‘This is working.’ ”

On April 12, 2003, with major combat almost over, Mr. Rumsfeld drafted a memorandum to Ms. Clarke. “Let’s think about having some of the folks who did such a good job as talking heads in after this thing is over,” he wrote.

By summer, though, the first signs of the insurgency had emerged. Reports from journalists based in Baghdad were increasingly suffused with the imagery of mayhem.

The Pentagon did not have to search far for a counterweight.

It was time, an internal Pentagon strategy memorandum urged, to “re-energize surrogates and message-force multipliers,” starting with the military analysts.

The memorandum led to a proposal to take analysts on a tour of Iraq in September 2003, timed to help overcome the sticker shock from Mr. Bush’s request for $87 billion in emergency war financing.

The group included four analysts from Fox News, one each from CNN and ABC, and several research-group luminaries whose opinion articles appear regularly in the nation’s op-ed pages.

The trip invitation promised a look at “the real situation on the ground in Iraq.”

The situation, as described in scores of books, was deteriorating. L. Paul Bremer III, then the American viceroy in Iraq, wrote in his memoir, “My Year in Iraq,” that he had privately warned the White House that the United States had “about half the number of soldiers we needed here.”

“We’re up against a growing and sophisticated threat,” Mr. Bremer recalled telling the president during a private White House dinner.

That dinner took place on Sept. 24, while the analysts were touring Iraq.

Yet these harsh realities were elided, or flatly contradicted, during the official presentations for the analysts, records show. The itinerary, scripted to the minute, featured brief visits to a model school, a few refurbished government buildings, a center for women’s rights, a mass grave and even the gardens of Babylon.

Mostly the analysts attended briefings. These sessions, records show, spooled out an alternative narrative, depicting an Iraq bursting with political and economic energy, its security forces blossoming. On the crucial question of troop levels, the briefings echoed the White House line: No reinforcements were needed. The “growing and sophisticated threat” described by Mr. Bremer was instead depicted as degraded, isolated and on the run.

“We’re winning,” a briefing document proclaimed.

One trip participant, General Nash of ABC, said some briefings were so clearly “artificial” that he joked to another group member that they were on “the George Romney memorial trip to Iraq,” a reference to Mr. Romney’s infamous claim that American officials had “brainwashed” him into supporting the Vietnam War during a tour there in 1965, while he was governor of Michigan.

But if the trip pounded the message of progress, it also represented a business opportunity: direct access to the most senior civilian and military leaders in Iraq and Kuwait, including many with a say in how the president’s $87 billion would be spent. It also was a chance to gather inside information about the most pressing needs confronting the American mission: the acute shortages of “up-armored” Humvees; the billions to be spent building military bases; the urgent need for interpreters; and the ambitious plans to train Iraq’s security forces.

Information and access of this nature had undeniable value for trip participants like William V. Cowan and Carlton A. Sherwood.

Mr. Cowan, a Fox analyst and retired Marine colonel, was the chief executive of a new military firm, the wvc3 Group. Mr. Sherwood was its executive vice president. At the time, the company was seeking contracts worth tens of millions to supply body armor and counterintelligence services in Iraq. In addition, wvc3 Group had a written agreement to use its influence and connections to help tribal leaders in Al Anbar Province win reconstruction contracts from the coalition.

“Those sheiks wanted access to the C.P.A.,” Mr. Cowan recalled in an interview, referring to the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Mr. Cowan said he pleaded their cause during the trip. “I tried to push hard with some of Bremer’s people to engage these people of Al Anbar,” he said.

Back in Washington, Pentagon officials kept a nervous eye on how the trip translated on the airwaves. Uncomfortable facts had bubbled up during the trip. One briefer, for example, mentioned that the Army was resorting to packing inadequately armored Humvees with sandbags and Kevlar blankets. Descriptions of the Iraqi security forces were withering. “They can’t shoot, but then again, they don’t,” one officer told them, according to one participant’s notes.

“I saw immediately in 2003 that things were going south,” General Vallely, one of the Fox analysts on the trip, recalled in an interview with The Times.

The Pentagon, though, need not have worried.

“You can’t believe the progress,” General Vallely told Alan Colmes of Fox News upon his return. He predicted the insurgency would be “down to a few numbers” within months.

“We could not be more excited, more pleased,” Mr. Cowan told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News. There was barely a word about armor shortages or corrupt Iraqi security forces. And on the key strategic question of the moment — whether to send more troops — the analysts were unanimous.

“I am so much against adding more troops,” General Shepperd said on CNN.

Access and Influence

Inside the Pentagon and at the White House, the trip was viewed as a masterpiece in the management of perceptions, not least because it gave fuel to complaints that “mainstream” journalists were ignoring the good news in Iraq.

“We’re hitting a home run on this trip,” a senior Pentagon official wrote in an e-mail message to Richard B. Myers and Peter Pace, then chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Its success only intensified the Pentagon’s campaign. The pace of briefings accelerated. More trips were organized. Eventually the effort involved officials from Washington to Baghdad to Kabul to Guantánamo and back to Tampa, Fla., the headquarters of United States Central Command.

The scale reflected strong support from the top. When officials in Iraq were slow to organize another trip for analysts, a Pentagon official fired off an e-mail message warning that the trips “have the highest levels of visibility” at the White House and urging them to get moving before Lawrence Di Rita, one of Mr. Rumsfeld’s closest aides, “picks up the phone and starts calling the 4-stars.”

Mr. Di Rita, no longer at the Defense Department, said in an interview that a “conscious decision” was made to rely on the military analysts to counteract “the increasingly negative view of the war” coming from journalists in Iraq. The analysts, he said, generally had “a more supportive view” of the administration and the war, and the combination of their TV platforms and military cachet made them ideal for rebutting critical coverage of issues like troop morale, treatment of detainees, inadequate equipment or poorly trained Iraqi security forces. “On those issues, they were more likely to be seen as credible spokesmen,” he said.

For analysts with military industry ties, the attention brought access to a widening circle of influential officials beyond the contacts they had accumulated over the course of their careers.

Charles T. Nash, a Fox military analyst and retired Navy captain, is a consultant who helps small companies break into the military market. Suddenly, he had entree to a host of senior military leaders, many of whom he had never met. It was, he said, like being embedded with the Pentagon leadership. “You start to recognize what’s most important to them,” he said, adding, “There’s nothing like seeing stuff firsthand.”

Some Pentagon officials said they were well aware that some analysts viewed their special access as a business advantage. “Of course we realized that,” Mr. Krueger said. “We weren’t naïve about that.”

They also understood the financial relationship between the networks and their analysts. Many analysts were being paid by the “hit,” the number of times they appeared on TV. The more an analyst could boast of fresh inside information from high-level Pentagon “sources,” the more hits he could expect. The more hits, the greater his potential influence in the military marketplace, where several analysts prominently advertised their network roles.

“They have taken lobbying and the search for contracts to a far higher level,” Mr. Krueger said. “This has been highly honed.”

Mr. Di Rita, though, said it never occurred to him that analysts might use their access to curry favor. Nor, he said, did the Pentagon try to exploit this dynamic. “That’s not something that ever crossed my mind,” he said. In any event, he argued, the analysts and the networks were the ones responsible for any ethical complications. “We assume they know where the lines are,” he said.

The analysts met personally with Mr. Rumsfeld at least 18 times, records show, but that was just the beginning. They had dozens more sessions with the most senior members of his brain trust and access to officials responsible for managing the billions being spent in Iraq. Other groups of “key influentials” had meetings, but not nearly as often as the analysts.

An internal memorandum in 2005 helped explain why. The memorandum, written by a Pentagon official who had accompanied analysts to Iraq, said that based on her observations during the trip, the analysts “are having a greater impact” on network coverage of the military. “They have now become the go-to guys not only on breaking stories, but they influence the views on issues,” she wrote.

Other branches of the administration also began to make use of the analysts. Mr. Gonzales, then the attorney general, met with them soon after news leaked that the government was wiretapping terrorism suspects in the United States without warrants, Pentagon records show. When David H. Petraeus was appointed the commanding general in Iraq in January 2007, one of his early acts was to meet with the analysts.

“We knew we had extraordinary access,” said Timur J. Eads, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Fox analyst who is vice president of government relations for Blackbird Technologies, a fast-growing military contractor.

Like several other analysts, Mr. Eads said he had at times held his tongue on television for fear that “some four-star could call up and say, ‘Kill that contract.’ ” For example, he believed Pentagon officials misled the analysts about the progress of Iraq’s security forces. “I know a snow job when I see one,” he said. He did not share this on TV.

“Human nature,” he explained, though he noted other instances when he was critical.

Some analysts said that even before the war started, they privately had questions about the justification for the invasion, but were careful not to express them on air.

Mr. Bevelacqua, then a Fox analyst, was among those invited to a briefing in early 2003 about Iraq’s purported stockpiles of illicit weapons. He recalled asking the briefer whether the United States had “smoking gun” proof.

“We don’t have any hard evidence,” Mr. Bevelacqua recalled the briefer replying. He said he and other analysts were alarmed by this concession. “We are looking at ourselves saying, ‘What are we doing?’ ”

Another analyst, Robert L. Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who works in the Pentagon for a military contractor, attended the same briefing and recalled feeling “very disappointed” after being shown satellite photographs purporting to show bunkers associated with a hidden weapons program. Mr. Maginnis said he concluded that the analysts were being “manipulated” to convey a false sense of certainty about the evidence of the weapons. Yet he and Mr. Bevelacqua and the other analysts who attended the briefing did not share any misgivings with the American public.

Mr. Bevelacqua and another Fox analyst, Mr. Cowan, had formed the wvc3 Group, and hoped to win military and national security contracts.

“There’s no way I was going to go down that road and get completely torn apart,” Mr. Bevelacqua said. “You’re talking about fighting a huge machine.”

Some e-mail messages between the Pentagon and the analysts reveal an implicit trade of privileged access for favorable coverage. Robert H. Scales Jr., a retired Army general and analyst for Fox News and National Public Radio whose consulting company advises several military firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, wanted the Pentagon to approve high-level briefings for him inside Iraq in 2006.

“Recall the stuff I did after my last visit,” he wrote. “I will do the same this time.”

Pentagon Keeps Tabs

As it happened, the analysts’ news media appearances were being closely monitored. The Pentagon paid a private contractor, Omnitec Solutions, hundreds of thousands of dollars to scour databases for any trace of the analysts, be it a segment on “The O’Reilly Factor” or an interview with The Daily Inter Lake in Montana, circulation 20,000.

Omnitec evaluated their appearances using the same tools as corporate branding experts. One report, assessing the impact of several trips to Iraq in 2005, offered example after example of analysts echoing Pentagon themes on all the networks.

“Commentary from all three Iraq trips was extremely positive over all,” the report concluded.

In interviews, several analysts reacted with dismay when told they were described as reliable “surrogates” in Pentagon documents. And some asserted that their Pentagon sessions were, as David L. Grange, a retired Army general and CNN analyst put it, “just upfront information,” while others pointed out, accurately, that they did not always agree with the administration or each other. “None of us drink the Kool-Aid,” General Scales said.

Likewise, several also denied using their special access for business gain. “Not related at all,” General Shepperd said, pointing out that many in the Pentagon held CNN “in the lowest esteem.”

Still, even the mildest of criticism could draw a challenge. Several analysts told of fielding telephone calls from displeased defense officials only minutes after being on the air.

On Aug. 3, 2005, 14 marines died in Iraq. That day, Mr. Cowan, who said he had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the “twisted version of reality” being pushed on analysts in briefings, called the Pentagon to give “a heads-up” that some of his comments on Fox “may not all be friendly,” Pentagon records show. Mr. Rumsfeld’s senior aides quickly arranged a private briefing for him, yet when he told Bill O’Reilly that the United States was “not on a good glide path right now” in Iraq, the repercussions were swift.

Mr. Cowan said he was “precipitously fired from the analysts group” for this appearance. The Pentagon, he wrote in an e-mail message, “simply didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t carrying their water.” The next day James T. Conway, then director of operations for the Joint Chiefs, presided over another conference call with analysts. He urged them, a transcript shows, not to let the marines’ deaths further erode support for the war.

“The strategic target remains our population,” General Conway said. “We can lose people day in and day out, but they’re never going to beat our military. What they can and will do if they can is strip away our support. And you guys can help us not let that happen.”

“General, I just made that point on the air,” an analyst replied.

“Let’s work it together, guys,” General Conway urged.

The Generals’ Revolt

The full dimensions of this mutual embrace were perhaps never clearer than in April 2006, after several of Mr. Rumsfeld’s former generals — none of them network military analysts — went public with devastating critiques of his wartime performance. Some called for his resignation.

On Friday, April 14, with what came to be called the “Generals’ Revolt” dominating headlines, Mr. Rumsfeld instructed aides to summon military analysts to a meeting with him early the next week, records show. When an aide urged a short delay to “give our big guys on the West Coast a little more time to buy a ticket and get here,” Mr. Rumsfeld’s office insisted that “the boss” wanted the meeting fast “for impact on the current story.”

That same day, Pentagon officials helped two Fox analysts, General McInerney and General Vallely, write an opinion article for The Wall Street Journal defending Mr. Rumsfeld.

“Starting to write it now,” General Vallely wrote to the Pentagon that afternoon. “Any input for the article,” he added a little later, “will be much appreciated.” Mr. Rumsfeld’s office quickly forwarded talking points and statistics to rebut the notion of a spreading revolt.

“Vallely is going to use the numbers,” a Pentagon official reported that afternoon.

The standard secrecy notwithstanding, plans for this session leaked, producing a front-page story in The Times that Sunday. In damage-control mode, Pentagon officials scrambled to present the meeting as routine and directed that communications with analysts be kept “very formal,” records show. “This is very, very sensitive now,” a Pentagon official warned subordinates.

On Tuesday, April 18, some 17 analysts assembled at the Pentagon with Mr. Rumsfeld and General Pace, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

A transcript of that session, never before disclosed, shows a shared determination to marginalize war critics and revive public support for the war.

“I’m an old intel guy,” said one analyst. (The transcript omits speakers’ names.) “And I can sum all of this up, unfortunately, with one word. That is Psyops. Now most people may hear that and they think, ‘Oh my God, they’re trying to brainwash.’ ”

“What are you, some kind of a nut?” Mr. Rumsfeld cut in, drawing laughter. “You don’t believe in the Constitution?”

There was little discussion about the actual criticism pouring forth from Mr. Rumsfeld’s former generals. Analysts argued that opposition to the war was rooted in perceptions fed by the news media, not reality. The administration’s overall war strategy, they counseled, was “brilliant” and “very successful.”

“Frankly,” one participant said, “from a military point of view, the penalty, 2,400 brave Americans whom we lost, 3,000 in an hour and 15 minutes, is relative.”

An analyst said at another point: “This is a wider war. And whether we have democracy in Iraq or not, it doesn’t mean a tinker’s damn if we end up with the result we want, which is a regime over there that’s not a threat to us.”

“Yeah,” Mr. Rumsfeld said, taking notes.

But winning or not, they bluntly warned, the administration was in grave political danger so long as most Americans viewed Iraq as a lost cause. “America hates a loser,” one analyst said.

Much of the session was devoted to ways that Mr. Rumsfeld could reverse the “political tide.” One analyst urged Mr. Rumsfeld to “just crush these people,” and assured him that “most of the gentlemen at the table” would enthusiastically support him if he did.

“You are the leader,” the analyst told Mr. Rumsfeld. “You are our guy.”

At another point, an analyst made a suggestion: “In one of your speeches you ought to say, ‘Everybody stop for a minute and imagine an Iraq ruled by Zarqawi.’ And then you just go down the list and say, ‘All right, we’ve got oil, money, sovereignty, access to the geographic center of gravity of the Middle East, blah, blah, blah.’ If you can just paint a mental picture for Joe America to say, ‘Oh my God, I can’t imagine a world like that.’ ”

Even as they assured Mr. Rumsfeld that they stood ready to help in this public relations offensive, the analysts sought guidance on what they should cite as the next “milestone” that would, as one analyst put it, “keep the American people focused on the idea that we’re moving forward to a positive end.” They placed particular emphasis on the growing confrontation with Iran.

“When you said ‘long war,’ you changed the psyche of the American people to expect this to be a generational event,” an analyst said. “And again, I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job...”

“Get in line,” Mr. Rumsfeld interjected.

The meeting ended and Mr. Rumsfeld, appearing pleased and relaxed, took the entire group into a small study and showed off treasured keepsakes from his life, several analysts recalled.

Soon after, analysts hit the airwaves. The Omnitec monitoring reports, circulated to more than 80 officials, confirmed that analysts repeated many of the Pentagon’s talking points: that Mr. Rumsfeld consulted “frequently and sufficiently” with his generals; that he was not “overly concerned” with the criticisms; that the meeting focused “on more important topics at hand,” including the next milestone in Iraq, the formation of a new government.

Days later, Mr. Rumsfeld wrote a memorandum distilling their collective guidance into bullet points. Two were underlined:

“Focus on the Global War on Terror — not simply Iraq. The wider war — the long war.”

“Link Iraq to Iran. Iran is the concern. If we fail in Iraq or Afghanistan, it will help Iran.”

But if Mr. Rumsfeld found the session instructive, at least one participant, General Nash, the ABC analyst, was repulsed.

“I walked away from that session having total disrespect for my fellow commentators, with perhaps one or two exceptions,” he said.

View From the Networks

Two weeks ago General Petraeus took time out from testifying before Congress about Iraq for a conference call with military analysts.

Mr. Garrett, the Fox analyst and Patton Boggs lobbyist, said he told General Petraeus during the call to “keep up the great work.”

“Hey,” Mr. Garrett said in an interview, “anything we can do to help.”

For the moment, though, because of heavy election coverage and general war fatigue, military analysts are not getting nearly as much TV time, and the networks have trimmed their rosters of analysts. The conference call with General Petraeus, for example, produced little in the way of immediate coverage.

Still, almost weekly the Pentagon continues to conduct briefings with selected military analysts. Many analysts said network officials were only dimly aware of these interactions. The networks, they said, have little grasp of how often they meet with senior officials, or what is discussed.

“I don’t think NBC was even aware we were participating,” said Rick Francona, a longtime military analyst for the network.

Some networks publish biographies on their Web sites that describe their analysts’ military backgrounds and, in some cases, give at least limited information about their business ties. But many analysts also said the networks asked few questions about their outside business interests, the nature of their work or the potential for that work to create conflicts of interest. “None of that ever happened,” said Mr. Allard, an NBC analyst until 2006.

“The worst conflict of interest was no interest.”

Mr. Allard and other analysts said their network handlers also raised no objections when the Defense Department began paying their commercial airfare for Pentagon-sponsored trips to Iraq — a clear ethical violation for most news organizations.

CBS News declined to comment on what it knew about its military analysts’ business affiliations or what steps it took to guard against potential conflicts.

NBC News also declined to discuss its procedures for hiring and monitoring military analysts. The network issued a short statement: “We have clear policies in place to assure that the people who appear on our air have been appropriately vetted and that nothing in their profile would lead to even a perception of a conflict of interest.”

Jeffrey W. Schneider, a spokesman for ABC, said that while the network’s military consultants were not held to the same ethical rules as its full-time journalists, they were expected to keep the network informed about any outside business entanglements. “We make it clear to them we expect them to keep us closely apprised,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Fox News said executives “refused to participate” in this article.

CNN requires its military analysts to disclose in writing all outside sources of income. But like the other networks, it does not provide its military analysts with the kind of written, specific ethical guidelines it gives its full-time employees for avoiding real or apparent conflicts of interest.

Yet even where controls exist, they have sometimes proven porous.

CNN, for example, said it was unaware for nearly three years that one of its main military analysts, General Marks, was deeply involved in the business of seeking government contracts, including contracts related to Iraq.

General Marks was hired by CNN in 2004, about the time he took a management position at McNeil Technologies, where his job was to pursue military and intelligence contracts. As required, General Marks disclosed that he received income from McNeil Technologies. But the disclosure form did not require him to describe what his job entailed, and CNN acknowledges it failed to do additional vetting.

“We did not ask Mr. Marks the follow-up questions we should have,” CNN said in a written statement.

In an interview, General Marks said it was no secret at CNN that his job at McNeil Technologies was about winning contracts. “I mean, that’s what McNeil does,” he said.

CNN, however, said it did not know the nature of McNeil’s military business or what General Marks did for the company. If he was bidding on Pentagon contracts, CNN said, that should have disqualified him from being a military analyst for the network. But in the summer and fall of 2006, even as he was regularly asked to comment on conditions in Iraq, General Marks was working intensively on bidding for a $4.6 billion contract to provide thousands of translators to United States forces in Iraq. In fact, General Marks was made president of the McNeil spin-off that won the huge contract in December 2006.

General Marks said his work on the contract did not affect his commentary on CNN. “I’ve got zero challenge separating myself from a business interest,” he said.

But CNN said it had no idea about his role in the contract until July 2007, when it reviewed his most recent disclosure form, submitted months earlier, and finally made inquiries about his new job.

“We saw the extent of his dealings and determined at that time we should end our relationship with him,” CNN said.