NBC's Tom Brokaw certainly landed the big news that former Secretary of State Colin Powell was supporting Barack Obama. But in nearly half an our of airtime on "Meet the Press," Mr. Brokaw didn't bother to ask Gen. Powell about the success of the surge in Iraq or Mr. Obama's vote against General David Petraeus's winning strategy.
Newsbusters.com, a watchdog site run by the Media Research Center, notes that Mr. Powell, at one point, did suggest Iraqis are "going to make the political decisions, their security forces are going to take over, and they're going to have to create an environment of reconciliation where all the people can come together and make Iraq a much, much better place."
As Newsbusters observes, "This would have been an ideal moment for Brokaw to ask Powell if it was the surge that put America in a position to draw down troops . . . and what it says about Obama's military and foreign policy acumen that he opposed this strategy?" Instead, Mr. Brokaw suddenly changed the subject and veered into a question about William Ayers, the Obama associate and former Weather Underground member whom John McCain has criticized. Oh, how we miss Tim Russert, the late host of "Meet the Press," who would never have let go of a subject until he had drained the last ounce of news value from it.
-- John Fund
Colin Powell attributed his endorsement of Barack Obama on "Meet the Press" yesterday not just to the unreadiness of Sarah Palin to serve as president but also to John McCain's reaction to the financial crisis, the general rightward tilt of the GOP and comments anonymous senior Republican officials privately made in recent months about Mr. Obama's faith.
In fact, Mr. Powell's estrangement from the GOP predates the McCain campaign and goes back to his speech on Feb. 5, 2003 making the case in the United Nations for war against Iraq.
The best reporting on this turning point was done by Karen DeYoung, an associate editor at the Washington Post. In a lengthy article published two years ago, she recounted how at one point Dick Cheney poked Mr. Powell in the chest and told him: "You've got high poll ratings; you can afford to lose a few points."
The rest is history: In the months after the invasion, when no stockpiled WMD were found in Iraq, Mr. Powell grew disenchanted with the White House and offered at least two dissenting public statements about WMD that drew a rebuke (including calls from Condoleezza Rice asking him how he was going to clean up the mess his comments created). When a special prosecutor was appointed to look into who leaked the name of CIA agent Valeria Plame, Mr. Powell never stepped forward with the leaker's name, even though he knew all along it was his own deputy Richard Armitage. Instead, Mr. Powell allowed the special prosecutor to spend months questioning White House staffers and journalists, eventually leading to the indictment of Cheney aide Lewis Libby for obstruction and perjury.
Shortly after Mr. Bush won re-election in 2004, Mr. Powell resigned and has spent much of the past year making noises about endorsing Mr. Obama, including praising the speech the Democratic presidential candidate gave on race in Philadelphia and defending his intention of holding presidential level talks with Iran. When asked about Mr. Powell's endorsement, John McCain yesterday said it "doesn't come as a surprise." Given the history, what's surprising is that it took Mr. Powell so long to leave the GOP.
-- Brendan Miniter
"We have never had a presidential race, since 1944, where the contest was not the most important news in the four weeks before the election. (In 1944, the war overshadowed the election much to the frustration of the Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey). The candidates seem unable to get a word in edgewise as the financial news dominates. People follow the Dow Jones more than the Gallup, Rasmussen or Zogby polls. If the presidential race remains an afterthought, crowded out by the financial news, Obama will waltz into the White House by a comfortable margin. But if the stock market stops its gyrations for a while and no new household name/corporation or bank goes broke, the negatives against Obama will compel attention at last. And then the race may close swiftly and dramatically" -- former Clinton consultant Dick Morris, writing in The Hill newspaper.
I caught up with the most famous man in America these days, Joe Wurzelbacher, aka Joe the Plumber, when we appeared together on the new Fox TV show Huckabee. Joe has a shiny bald head and a burly, chiseled body. Though resolute in his beliefs and always polite, he seemed a bit overwhelmed by the attention he's received in the past week. He also gave me a first-hand account of his encounter with Barack Obama and his reaction to the vicious left-wing attack machine that has been turned on him over the past week.
"I just thought his tax plan would really hurt small businesses," he told me, explaining why he spoke up when the Democratic nominee came canvassing down his street outside of Toledo, Ohio. "It seemed contrary to the American dream to me. Why tax success?" Joe said he hoped to build a business as a plumbing contractor, and those taxes "would really hit that kind of small business." "It's not just the taxes," he added. "The health care plan that Obama has will also add to employer costs."
He's right on the mark there. The Obama pay-or-play health care plan imposes new costs on small and medium-sized businesses that don't pay health care for their employees. "A lot of these employers just can't afford it," he says.
I asked him why he had not joined the plumbers union, which seems to have caused heartache among his liberal critics. "I don't have anything against the unions," he says. "I just didn't see the purpose of paying the dues. Never wanted to." No wonder the left is out to get him. He also brushes off the criticism altogether of his unpaid $1200 tax bill. "That's all beside the point. I just raised a question about how the Obama plan would affect people like me. This election is about America and what our country will look like."
As for the attacks mounted in the New York Times and elsewhere on his character, "To be honest, I never saw this coming," he tells me with a pained expression. "It's not fair to my family."
Mr. Wurzelbacher was accompanied by his father, also a blue-collar worker, and his 12-year-old son in his visit to Fox News -- seemingly a tight-knit Midwestern family feeling the same tough times that many Americans from states like Ohio are confronting. On talk radio shows this past week, we have learned there are thousands of people like Joe the Plumber, all raising the same questions. These are voters Democrats say they stand behind and whose economic interests they protect -- as long as they don't question the left's vision of America. If John McCain pulls off an upset, he will have Joe Wurzelbacher and others like him to thank.
-- Stephen Moore
I also crossed paths with Joe the Plumber over the weekend and found him to be a common-sense, down-to-earth guy who knows a lot more than just pipes.
Asked about his exchange with Barack Obama on the candidate's tax plan, he said Mr. Obama was a smooth talker but not a good listener. He seemed mistakenly to think Joe was already making a lot of money, not merely that he hoped someday to own a business that would make over $250,000 a year. "I don't make nearly that much now, but I hope to in the business I buy someday," Mr. Wurzelbacher told me.
Mr. Obama also muffed details of his own tax plan, confusing a small business's revenue and net income, and the tax rate that would apply under his proposals. He also seemed hazy about the Flat Tax, put forward by Steve Forbes and Dick Armey a decade ago, confusing it with proposals for a national sales tax and saying the rate would have to go to 40%. "I was talking about one thing, and he was answering me about something else," Mr. Wurzelbacher recalls.
The Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank in Chicago, points out that a flat tax would let Americans see exactly how much government costs in one easy, transparent and accountable tax. Mr. Obama's reforms, in contrast, would only add to the thousands of loopholes, exemptions and complications of the current 67,000 page tax code. "A candidate for president should at least know the difference between a flat tax and a national sales tax," Heartland concludes. "But both a flat tax and a national sales tax are head and shoulders over the convoluted tax system we have now."
- John Fund
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL'S POLITICAL DIARY ONLINE FOR 20 OCT 08