Monday, May 28, 2007

Iraq: The Long View

The intellectual landscape is littered with sensible-sounding, well-argued plans for dealing with Iraq.

Some experts talk about working harder to secure the country's borders; others favor a new emphasis on economic development; still others call for partitioning the country. The list of plausible alternatives goes on and on.

The theoretical debate, to be sure, is worth having. But for the past couple years, American politicians have faced one real-world question about Iraq that overwhelms all the others.

Either they've believed that the President, his history of fecklessness and bad judgment notwithstanding, should be given more or less free rein to formulate and execute America's policy; or they've believed he needs to be confronted and reined in.

There are other important questions--granted. But all of them flow from this one.

Because the views of clear-headed experts and well-meaning policy wonks are, sadly, beside the point. The cold political reality is: As long as there are enough red state, Bush-aligned Republicans in congress to sustain a veto of any Iraq legislation the President doesn't like--a situation that continues to this day--the options on Iraq are confined to those that George W. Bush can live with.

And so, with George W. Bush in the drivers seat, politicians have been faced with a stark choice: Either continue to politely ask him to drive a bit less recklessly or use every lever of power you have to try to pry the keys from his hands.

It's been literally that simple.

And over more than four years, Sen. Collins has consistently put herself in the camp of those who believe that the President needs to be cajoled rather than confronted.

Sure, she's voiced qualms now and then. But there is no evidence--at least none I'm aware of--that any of her misgivings have influenced administration policy on Iraq.

And when the time has come to turn those misgivings into action, Collins has balked. In vote after vote, she's stood with George W. Bush, giving him maximum leverage to conduct war policy as he's seen fit.

Don't get me wrong: That approach was defensible for a while--till, let's say, early 2005. Not everyone saw (as Rep. Allen did) that our Iraq adventure was destined to be a disaster from the start.

But at a certain point, the weight of the evidence that the Bush administration was fundamentally dysfunctional and that George W. Bush was utterly out of his depth became overpowering.

And at that point, those supporting him on Iraq were no longer just guilty of wishful thinking. They were enabling--and participating in--a political, economic, diplomatic, humanitarian and human catastrophe of staggering proportions.

That was the time for people of good will to stand up. (And many of us thought the Colin Powells and Arlen Specters and Susan Collinses in the Republican party would stand up).

That was when giving the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt became an act of political malpractice. And that was when senators and house members who failed to use their public platforms--and their votes--to confront the administration became guilty of moral cowardice.

Maine's junior senator is on the wrong side of those divides. When the stakes were high, when the crisis arrived, she failed the test.

And for that reason, more than any other, she needs to be sent packing.

UPDATE: I think the original post is accurate as far as it goes, but I wish I'd been clearer on one point.

Namely, the reason for pols to confront and oppose the President isn't simply to shame him, or as an empty protest.

Instead, since the options on Iraq are confined to those that George W. Bush can live with, the point of confrontation is to generate enough political pressure on the President so that he's forced to widen the universe of options he can live with.

In other words, to force him toward a saner approach.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Great Writ

The Bangor Daily News chides Sen. Collins on habeas corpus.

Allen: Collins Wrong As Ever

They write blog posts:

Today, I voted against the Iraq supplemental bill because it does not contain a timeline for withdrawal of American troops. It is clear that the President will not change course in this war unless we use the force of law.

Unfortunately, Susan Collins is as wrong today as she was at the beginning of this war. Since she first voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq in 2002, she has continually bowed to the President's terrible judgment. Tomorrow, she is expected to yet again support the President's failed policies.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Gonzales Yet Again

It's now pretty clear that the Attorney General--the chief law enforcement official in the land--has been engaged in a determined effort to obstruct an obstruction of justice investigation.

Ms. Goodling told the panel that at a meeting in March, just before she resigned, Mr. Gonzales asked her questions that made her uncomfortable, as though he was trying to coach her so their accounts would be consistent.
When Gonzales breaks the law, he drags our entire system of laws down into the mud with him.

Anyone who cares about the rule of law should be appalled by his performance in office.

But you'd expect an independent-minded, clear-headed, moderate, centrist senator in particular to want to call him out for his bad behavior.

Clearly, Sen. Collins isn't that senator.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Astroturf Watch

To reiterate: There's nothing wrong with stalwart Republicans taking cheapshots at Rep. Allen eighteen months before election day.

There's nothing especially egregious, even, about partisans framing a political attack as nothing more than objective information.

But there's also no reason for local papers to let this junk onto their letters pages--especially unattributed.

Come on, editors. Kristen Dorion is--or recently was--Executive Director of the Maine College Republicans State Committee. That fact isn't exactly buried.

Would it be so difficult to identify her that way?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Gonzales Watch

From the Portland Press Herald:

Following the revelation that the Bush administration long considered firing Maine's U.S. attorney, the state's two Republican senators sharply criticized Attorney General Alberto Gonzales but stopped short of calling for his resignation.


Sen. Susan Collins stressed in a telephone interview that the decision is President Bush's, but also said, "I think the attorney general's credibility has been incredibly damaged."
(Emphasis added.)

So there it is: More poo-pooing from the junior senator, but still no movement.

We're at a point, now where it's worth asking if there is anything--literally anything--Gonzales could do that would merit, in Collins' mind, calling for him to resign.

(I'm genuinely curious: I have no idea how she'd respond to that question.)

She may not be thrilled with Gonzales, she's saying, but his performance is none of her business: What happens in the executive branch stays in the executive branch.

How's that for a campaign slogan?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gonzales Watch

10 Senate Republicans think it's time for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to go.

Sen. Collins is not among them.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

In Other News

Did I mention we're still in Iraq?

Spud1 over at Turn Maine Blue has the lowdown on Sen. Collins' Iraq-related votes earlier today.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Astroturf Early, Astroturf Often

Now comes more compelling evidence that an astroturf campaign on Sen. Collins' behalf is underway: A tipster directs me toward the letters section of Sunday's Portland Press Herald, where we find two letters of interest.

The first, by Jason Lavoie (second from the top), has the exact same first sentence as the Kettell letter. We're talking word for word. And Lavoie's second sentence duplicates almost exactly the second sentence of the Roundtree letter.

(Naturally, Lavoie is--you guessed it--active in Maine Republican circles.)

Another letter, from Andrew Hughes (third from the bottom), mixes and matches. But he's also working from the same template.

So it's now safe to say that this isn't just a couple college Republicans firing off missives to their local papers.

The bottom line? There's a concerted Republican effort going on, eighteen months out, to trash Rep. Tom Allen. (That, and the Maine newspapers are doing a poor job of policing their letters pages.)

But here's the question: Why are the supporter of a popular incumbent taking cheapshots at a lesser-known opponent a year-and-a-half before election day?

If you answered, "Because they're confident and upbeat" then I've got a friend in Nigeria with a business proposition that might interest you...

UPDATE: It's worth taking this opportunity to mention that news tips are always welcome. E-mail them to collinswatch [at]

Trash Talking and Astroturfing

There's nothing untoward about the Editor-in-Chief of the Maine College Republicans' official newspaper publicly taking a few swipes at Rep. Allen.

But there's also no reason for the Morning Sentinel to publish his cheapshots without making the writer's affiliation clear.

(More on astroturfing here.)

UPDATE: Okay, now this is getting interesting: It turns out that just yesterday the Sentinel published another pro-Collins letter without any affiliation listed--this one by Ralph Kettell. And would you believe he's also on the Maine College Republican State Committee? What are the chances?

I just spoke to Naomi Schalit, Opinion Editor of the Sentinel, who graciously explained that the editors "do our best to find out" the affiliation of letter writers. That said, she confirmed that the paper may have dropped the ball in this instance.

At the same time, she noted that if any affiliations had been listed on the letters, the paper would have printed them. And that she'd be happy to run a future letter drawing attention to Kettell and Roundtree's affiliations.

"This is going to be a long campaign," she lamented, wearily. Indeed, Ms. Schalit. Indeed.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Seriousness Watch

Somehow I missed this Sunday op-Ed from the junior senator, in which she pats Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)--and implicitly herself--on the back for being serious about climate change.

In the piece, she notes that, "the history buried in the Antarctic ice suggests we could now be in for a climate catastrophe" and that "climate change is one of the most daunting challenges we face."

But as we've discussed before, Sen. Collins isn't serious about protecting the environment--and there's proof.

After all, if she'd had her way, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK)--a notorious climate change denier--would still be chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment And Public Works. Remember, not long ago Inhofe said about global warming:

George Soros, the Hollywood elitists, the far left environmentalists on the committee that I chair--all of them want us to believe the science is settled and it's not.
So, think about it.

If you really believed that we were on the road to a climate catastrophe, would you support a Republican leadership that's made Inhofe its point man on environmental legislation?

Of course you wouldn't. Not, at least, if you were serious about it.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

It's Evolution, Baby

This just in: The junior senator has gone on the record as a believer.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Early Line

Evans-Novak political report looks at where the Maine race stands on day one:

Maine: Rep. Tom Allen (D-Maine) is surely a more formidable challenger to Sen. Susan Collins (R) than her 2002 opponent, Chellie Pingree (D). Collins is a moderate who is nonetheless the more conservative of Maine's two Republican senators. She is beloved in Maine, but after the defeat of so many Northeastern Republican moderates in 2006--including Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.)--there is doubt as to whether they can long survive.

Allen already had more than $800,000 on hand to Collins's $1.2 million in campaign money as of the end of March. Her fundraising clip was much faster in the first quarter, but this will change as soon as he makes his official announcement over the Memorial Day weekend. Collins is already being attacked by outside groups on television for opposing an Iraq withdrawal timetable.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Collins on Allen

The Collins camp responds to the Allen announcement:

Republican Senator Susan Collins' re-election campaign is highlighting her work across party lines and expresses confidence she'll beat Democratic challenger Tom Allen as the congressman announces his candidacy for her Senate seat.

Maine Republican Party State Chairman Mark Ellis contrasts the records of the two.

Ellis points to Collins' sponsorship of legislation that implemented recommendations of the 9/11 commission, and postal reform legislation that established predictable rates.

Ellis says Allen's been unwilling to break ranks with his party during his decade in Congress.
Okay, but I'm a bit confused.

Is the point supposed to be that Allen opposed implementing the 9/11 commission recommendations? I'm almost certain that isn't the case.

Is Ellis arguing, instead, that Collins bucked her party by backing the commissions recommendations? That's not right either because the key piece of legislation passed 89-2.

As for Collins' maverick role in the postal reform legislation debate, well, I'm baffled: I can understand why Ellis might want to distract voters from Collins' record of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the President on the major issues of our time.

But if that's the best they could come up with for an opening salvo--if the junior senator's backers think Maine voters are more concerned about the $.41 postage stamp than the war in Iraq--then they're deeper in denial than I'd thought.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Profile In Cowardice

CNN reports that Sen. Collins "will consider calling for troops to be withdrawn from Iraq if sufficient progress has not been made in the country by September."

Someone pinch me.

In all seriousness: It's one thing to consider calling for troop withdrawal. It's another thing to actually call for troop withdrawal. And it's yet another thing to back those words up with actions.

Look: If Collins was serious about redeployment, she had a chance to put that conviction into action less than two weeks ago. It was called the emergency supplemental spending bill.

But she voted against it. And by lining up with the President, she voted for more of the same.

Given the chance to make a difference, Maine's junior senator opted not to rock the Republican boat.

There's no getting away from that.

The Big Picture

Maine voters pulled the lever for Sen. Susan Collins in 1996 and again in 2002 for a variety of reasons.

But if you set aside her hardcore Republican supporters--who were too few in number to provide the margin for victory in either race--it's safe to say the following: Voters thought of Collins as a moderate, clear-thinking, independent-minded pol, more loyal to Maine values than conservative ideology or the national Republican party.

And independents and Democrats voted for her on that basis.

But today, five-and-a-half years after Collins' 2002 victory, that justification seems exceedingly thin.

Because voters who counted on Collins to be a force for moderation and an agent of common sense have little to show for their investment.

Whether it's the war in Iraq--which Collins backed from the beginning and continues to support--the torture bill or the Alito nomination, Collins didn't just fail to stop the disastrous, immoderate drift of national policy. She accelerated its progress.

Of course Collins would be the first to tell you that she has qualms about the Iraq war; that she opposes huge deficits; and that she thinks the President's inaction on global warming is a shame.

But nearly every time she's had an opportunity to act on these beliefs, she's swallowed hard and voted with her Republican colleagues. And by being a loyal supporter of the President, she's helped ease the country's path toward disrepute, lawlessness and fiscal ruin.

Maine deserved better. It deserves better.

The First Poll

Just minutes out of the starting gate, WMTW cites what it calls the first independent poll of the election: It shows Collins leading 57%-32% among likely voters.

Also notable is that Collins garners 65% of independents and 35% of Democrats.

These are good number for Collins--to be sure. But anyone who follows polls knows that they're not out of line with what you'd expect for a popular two-term incumbent facing a lesser-known rival.

The question is, will these numbers hold up as voters take a closer look at Allen. And at Collins.

UPDATE: Also of note in the poll? President Bush's approval rating in Maine is down to 20%, a new low. Approval of his Iraq policy is down to 22%.

Allen Is In

It's: official:

Democratic Representative Tom Allen filed papers today formalizing his anticipated challenge to two-term Republican Senator Susan Collins.

Allen, a six-term congressman from southern Maine's First District, filed Federal Election Commission paperwork and launched his campaign Web site.

But his office said duties in Washington forced a delay in his return to Maine for a series of whistle-stop announcements that traditionally kicks off bids for statewide office.
COLLINS WATCH has had little to say about Allen so far.

The thinking was: Why spend time picking apart the record and positions of a candidate who hasn't even declared? Of course, now that all changes.

The next eighteen months should be an interesting ride.

UPDATE: Video and a new campaign website here.

Monday, May 7, 2007

The "Centrist" Canard

Nancy Grape gets it:

To frame a senatorial election as one that pits a centrist vs. a partisan, you have to have a centrist in the race.

And Collins' centrist credentials, like those of Sen. Olympia Snowe, are getting frayed.

In establishing herself as a main player in "homeland security" and standing visibly with President Bush early in a disastrous war in Iraq (she now opposes the troop surge but refuses to support a timetable for withdrawing troops), as well as in voting to confirm Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., to succeed Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court, Collins has moved public perception of her to the right.

That raises the stakes considerably in a state where independents--including independent women--play a major role. It also raises the national significance of the race.