"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
Politics 2004 Archives
December 27, 2004
POLITICS: How It's Done
This Powerline item is a classic fisking (link via Instapundit).
December 15, 2004
POLITICS: Answering Josh Marshall's Call
(Also posted in The Corner after I emailed this to Jonah Goldberg - Welcome, Corner readers!).
For all of Josh Marshall's huffing and puffing about the effort to expose how Joe Wilson got picked for the Niger trip, it's worth taking a little trip in the Wayback Machine to what Marshall had to say on July 8, 2003, less than a week before Bob Novak's now-infamous column identifying Wilson's wife, CIA officer Valerie Plame, as the person who picked Wilson:
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A U.S. intelligence official said [Joseph] Wilson was sent to investigate the Niger reports by mid-level CIA officers, not by top-level Bush administration officials. There is no record of his report being flagged to top level officials, the intelligence official said. "He is placing far greater significance on his visit than anyone in the U.S. government at the time it was made," the official said, referring to Wilson's New York Times article.
Let's run through what we know.
Wilson has said repeatedly that he was sent to Niger because, as he wrote in the Times, "Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report."
Now, note the difference in what's being said here. No one, let alone Wilson, has claimed that any "top-level Bush administration officials" sent him on his investigatory trip. What he and others have said is that CIA officials sent him out, because they were following up on a request from the Office of the Vice President (OVP) to look into the Niger-uranium allegations.
So to start with you can say that the 'intelligence official's' statement amounts to a sort of non-denial denial. But what about the broader question? Was the whole effort triggered by an inquiry from the OVP or not?
Wilson says yes. And presumably he's basing this on some knowledge of the situation. Nick Kristof said the same thing in his June 13th column in the Times, though it's possible that Wilson was his source. But if there's a factual dispute here, let's find out. Is Wilson's description of the OVP's involvement accurate? In particular, did the OVP get Wilson's eventual report? I think this is something a good investigative reporter with juice should be able to resolve for us pretty quickly. So, again, let's find out.
(Emphasis added). Josh Marshall - Bob Novak's assignment desk? Cliff May, who like Marshall is as much a part of this story as a commenter on it, responds to the questions Marshall posed at the time:
Sources can sometimes mislead you and sources can sometimes be wrong (NB: NYT editors) but that’s what I have in my notebook.
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December 13, 2004
SCIENCE/POLITICS: Getting Warmer
The Mad Hibernian's post on Friday on Michael Crichton's new book questioning "global warming" and similar environmental dogmas (which followed on this powerful speech by Crichton last year denouncing global warming theories) prompted some interesting comments and links. Now, I'm no expert on the subject myself, but I did think it was worth repeating here something I said in the comments to that post. I'm very skeptical of hearing "global warming" discussed as if it is a single concept, like "the earth is round." Basically, "global warming," as I understand its popular meaning, is really three different concepts:
1. The earth has, for some period of time, been getting warmer.
2. This past warming trend is not a random or cyclical phenomenon but is a trend that will continue into the future unless interrupted by human intervention.
3. The past trend and its continuation into the future are the results of specifically identifiable human activities, i.e., carbon emissions.
It is entirely possible to believe #1 without believing #2 and #3, or even to believe #1 and #2 without believing #3. Beware of anyone who tries to use evidence supporting just one of those propositions to convince you of all three.
POLITICS: 2004 Bedfellow Awards
Well, as promised back in late October, it's time to award the 2004 Bedfellow Awards. The Bedfellow Awards are named in honor of the comic strip "Bloom County," in which Senator Bedfellow was defeated on the strength of an election-day headline, "WARNING: VOTING FOR BEDFELLOW MAY CAUSE HERPES". Although the award gives special points for attacks that are false and/or unfair, the simplest definition of a Bedfellow Award nominee is a news story that (1) comes out shortly before the election, and (2) has a much larger impact on the election than it would have if it had come out earlier.
I solicited nominations, although I didn't get a whole lot of them. You can see some of the nominees here and a very early candidate here as well as in the post linked above and its trackbacks. Let's run through the awards:
1. Overall Winner: Osama bin Laden
Political experts will debate endlessly which candidate it helped and whether it had much of an impact one way or another (Kerry says it cost him the election), but there's no question that the big, knock-everything-else-off-the-front-page surprise story of the campaign's last weekend was the emergence of OBL himself from his gopher hole with a video message aimed directly at the American people and obviously timed deliberately to influence the election. (I'll leave aside here as well the debate over whether he was actually trying to help Kerry or just to show he could influence an American election as his minions had in Spain). The story, once out there, was a legitimate story, which is why I'm giving the award to bin Laden himself rather than the news media or the candidates, who had no choice but to react to it.
2. Anti-Bush Winner: The Al-Qaqaa Explosives Story
This was a favorite nominee, and it would have been an even more outsized story if CBS had succeeded, as planned, in sitting on the story until the Sunday before the election (instead, because the NY Times broke the story a week earlier, 60 Minutes had to settle for a story attacking the Bush Administration over the sufficiency of equipment for the troops in Iraq). The explosives story got more heat and less light than it would have earlier in the campaign because there was so little time to get to the bottom of the thing.
3. Anti-Kerry Winner: The Dishonorable Discharge
On November 1, the New York Sun's Thomas Lipscomb finally broke through Kerry's long stonewall on the circumstances of his discharge from the military, but the day-before-the-election timing wound up making the story a late hit. Of course, unlike late hits against Bush, this one got ignored and buried.
4. Senate Race Winner: The Kentucky Senate Race
Nasty, nasty, nasty, full of allegations of whispering campaigns, the most late-hit-filled and under-the-radar campaign of the year turned out to be the Kentucky Senate race, with Democrat Dan Mongiardo openly challenging the mental competence of Republican righty Jim Bunning, and Bunning accused of a whispering campaign to convince voters that Mongiardo was gay.
I didn't get enough nominations or pay close enough attention to pick a House winner, but the latest of the late hits had to be the attack on Louisiana Republican Billy Tauzin III for a citation for trespassing and illegal hunting of nutria, a kind of rodent.
Anyway, there were plenty of candidates from this year's presidential elections. Feel free to suggest additional honorable mentions in the comments and trackbacks.
December 10, 2004
WAR/POLITICS: 12/10/04 Links
*Great, great column by Tom Friedman on the radicalization of Iraqis under sanctions. Friedman often infuriates; he's right about diagnosing problems but responds by suggesting daft solutions. This one's more on the diagnosis side. (Link via Geraghty).
*A fine primer on Ukrainian history from a Ukrainian friend of LT Smash. If you've studied Russian history, as I did in college, some of this will be familiar, but there were also things here that were new to me or that I'd long forgotten.
*You'll want to head over to Soxblog, where pseudonymous blogger James Frederick Dwight (you really shouldn't need to think too hard on the origin of his pseudonym) is tearing apart a sloppy New Yorker piece comparing hospitals and clinics that treat cystic fibrosis (start here and scroll up for followup posts, including his discussion of my initial reaction to the piece, which was that it sounds like something drafted by the plaintiffs' bar).
*Victor Cha, a Georgetown professor who advocates a "hawk
*You can look at this chart here and argue, as these Berkeley professors do, that the results on this graph show that the 2004 vote in Broward and Palm Beach counties were a suspicious outlier, but isn't the far more logical inference that the 2000 count in Broward and Palm Beach is the suspicious outlier? Gee, does anyone remember any controversy over the vote-counting methods used in Broward and Palm Beach in 2000? I wonder if the results would look less anomolous if you used the Election Day 2000 counts in those two counties rather than the figures that were generated a month later.
December 07, 2004
POLITICS: Whither CBS News?
Jim Geraghty maps out the possibilities for CBS News after the final report comes out on Rathergate:
Two, they could define themselves as the left-of-center news channel, and aim for the blue state audience. Instead of trying to prevent bias, they could embrace it, and make it part of their brand identity. "CBS News: The channel that progressives prefer."
Three, they could define themselves as the tabloid news channel, rushing things to air without checking, and intentionally eroding their standards for accuracy in the name of being first. They could be one part supermarket checkout line tabloid, one part Drudge, one part Wonkette, one part British Fleet Street scandal sheet.
The third is obviously somewhat tongue in cheek, especially for a deep-pocketed broadcast network. I agree that CBS can and should make a clear decision as to which way the Evening News goes: try to build a new reputation for evenhandedness, or embrace the Left the way FOX has embraced the Right. On the other hand, the departure of Rather, who after all brought this story on himself in his capacity as a 60 Minutes II correspondent rather than as Evening News anchor, offers a third way: start splitting the brand, letting 60 Minutes and 60 Minutes II go their way as crusading liberal newsmagazines, while attempting to play it straight on the Evening News. This can work in the newspaper business - the Wall Street Journal has had success with both a highly ideological opinion page (which hires its own reporters) and a news section with a high reputation for evenhandedness and balance. Would it work in TV? If CBS tries to rebrand itself as a network that distinguishes between a balanced newscast and an openly left-wing newsmagazine, of course, the network would have to decide which side of the line they want to dominate the morning show, the coverage of big events like the conventions (where FOX, for example, has prospered by stacking its panels with conservative commentators who draw in right-leaning viewers). Splitting the two sides makes some sense: while the Evening News has floundered in the ratings, 60 Minutes remains healthy and can profit by enlarging its reputation as a vocal critic of all things Bush (although they might do well to stop shilling books sold by Viacom).
I've also got an outside-the-box suggestion for Rather's replacement: CNN Headline News anchor, technology reporter and former Tech TV anchor Erica Hill. Hill would bring a number of advantages to the anchor position. First, and most obviously, she's drop-dead gorgeous, better-looking than most of the actresses on CBS' prime-time schedule, let alone in the news business. That never hurts in the ratings department, and before you gripe about looks as a job qualification, remind me again why Brian Williams is succeeding Tom Brokaw, and why John Roberts has been mentioned as a replacement for Rather: first and foremost because they are big, good-looking guys with reassuring voices. Let's not pretend otherwise.
But there are other women on TV who could look good reading the news; what's additionally noteworthy about Hill is her background as a tech reporter. If you've seen her reports on CNN, she clearly comes off as someone who understands and enjoys new technologies and, frankly, spends a lot of time on the internet; she's been reporting for months on the influence of blogs and the internet on campaigns. That's precisely the fresh perspective towards newsgathering that CBS badly needs. I don't know how smart she is - her bio says she's a summa cum laude graduate of BU, which is nothing to sneeze at - but she comes off as intelligent on the air, which is important.
Granted, there would be internal resistance at CBS to bringing in someone with minimal experience (she can't be more than 30 years old, and looks younger than that), although again, the CNN bio does say she anchored the now-defunct Tech TV's on-air coverage all day on September 11, which is a real baptism of fire for any anchor. And maybe shaking things up would be a good in itself, sending a message that the way things have always been is part of the problem and bringing in someone not so set in her ways that she can't take the program in new directions. In any event, part of CBS' problem, even above and beyond bias, is age: Rather and Bob Schieffer and Mike Wallace . . . these guys are fossils, and whatever their other virtues they can't be expected to connect with younger viewers or change with the times. Maybe CBS, with an older-skewing audience, is happy with that dynamic, but it's unsustainable long-term. A young, fresh-faced anchor would change all that. With Brokaw leaving, there will be a window of opportunity for a new anchor to capture market share if CBS can make a splash. Erica Hill in Dan Rather's chair would make a splash.
UPDATE: You can catch a flavor of Hill's style with her online "Hot Wired" columns at CNN.com here (from January, discussing campaign blogs), here (marveling that she could survive a few days without internet access) and here (discussing procrastinating online).
December 06, 2004
POLITICS: Anti-Family Zealots
And the Democrats wonder why they lost even normally Democrat-friendly states like New Mexico:
Oh, and to repeat a point we Republicans keep making: you take the people who abort their children, and we'll take the families with four kids, and we'll see in a generation which of us has more voters.
November 30, 2004
LAW/POLITICS: Self-Evident Idiocy
I heard about this one during the significant amount of time I spent stuck in traffic on I-95 over the holiday weekend, while flipping past Sean Hannity’s radio show. Not considering that the most reliable source and more than a little skeptical, I decided to check it out and, lo and behold, The Smoking Gun had the documentation, including the teacher’s complaint.
Politically, this is an example of Democrats needing to better police their fringes. I can’t imagine that the mainstream of that party is really opposed to the Declaration of Independence or shares such absolutist hostility to religion, but the cumulative effect of stories like this, fairly or unfairly, pushes a lot of otherwise undecided people into the Republican camp. It’s hard to get anyone to trust their children to people who think the ideas of people like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams are unfit for public schools.
RELIGION/POLITICS: Getting Tolerance Wrong
This Nicholas Kristof column in last Wednesday's NY Times, denouncing the "Left Behind" series of novels popular among evangeical Christians, rather perfectly captures a misunderstanding of religious tolerance that is found too often on the Left, and one I've dealt with before. Here's Kristof:
Gosh, what an uplifting scene!
If Saudi Arabians wrote an Islamic version of this series, we would furiously demand that sensible Muslims repudiate such hatemongering. We should hold ourselves to the same standard.
. . . [I]f I praise the good work of evangelicals - like their superb relief efforts in Darfur - I'll also condemn what I perceive as bigotry.
See, here's the problem. Kristof isn't just asking the authors of these books to allow for people of other faiths to practice their own faiths in peace; he's demanding that the authors change what they themselves actually believe to be the Word of God. That's not a plea for religious tolerance; it is, in fact, religious intolerance, as Kristof is saying that the beliefs of these Christians are so offensive to him that they must be branded as "bigotry" and driven from public expression.
Let me put this another way to explain why the comparison to radical Muslims is so offensive. I have no problem with people who believe that God is going to send me to Hell for being a Catholic. They believe their thing, and I believe mine. I have a major problem with people who think that they, rather than God Himself, should send me there. It is right and proper and necessary to denounce religious extremists who are unable to accept the peaceable coexistence of people of different religions, who call for earthly violence and political opression against those of different faiths. But to demand that people give up the tenet of their faith - a central one in many faiths - that says that they are following the one and only path to salvation, that's what Stephen Carter has referred to as demanding that people treat "God as a hobby" rather than taking faith seriously. While it may in some circumstances be rude to say it, I wouldn't want to live in a country where people could not feel free to profess that theirs is the only true faith; such a country would be one in which no one really believed in anything at all.
The "Left Behind" guys aren't asking that anyone be harmed in the here and now; they are content to wait for Jesus to take care of that. By failing to distinguish between the two, Kristof shows that he still views religious beliefs as something that can be bent to the needs of human society rather than the other way around. Which is to say, not religion at all.
November 28, 2004
POLITICS: 11/28/04 Links
*Patterico has a tremendous idea: Senate Republicans should introduce a non-binding resolution of support for each of the filibustered judicial nominees, so as to put on the record the fact that they would be confirmed if granted a floor vote. Would the Democrats filibuster this as well, so as to prevent the public from finding this out? (Link via Bashman).
*If you liked my marginal vote analyses, Patrick Ruffini has a map that captures a lot of the same type of stuff in graphic form. I take it that some of the swing towards the Democrats in Montana may have been aided by the victory of the Democratic gubernatorial candidate there.
*Speaking of cool charts, check out this piece with its charts of blog activity during the campaign.
*This "Email of the Day" to Andrew Sullivan pretty well captures the Democrats' image problems.
*Two more from Ruffini, who's on a roll: first, this:
The counties with the most population loss (from people picking up and leaving) voted for Kerry 68.6% to 30.4%.
This, of course, echoes many of the things the GOP side was saying before the election. Did McCain-Feingold actually succeed in hamstringing Kerry? Then again, the turnout and exit poll numbers do suggest that Kerry's side didn't do so badly in turning out the Democratic base and swinging Nader voters; where they lost was in high GOP turnout and, perhaps most of all, the defection of something like 10% of the people who voted for Gore in 2000. You win them back with the message and the candidate, not by digging deeper at the roots. Plus, the Republicans have an advantage: new GOP voters tend to stay put in their homes with their children, whereas the Democrats' newly registered voters are often transients - college students, new immigrants - and even if you can still find them four years later, they may start to lean more Republican as they set some roots down, which means the Dems need to reinvent the wheel every four years with their register-young-voters push.
November 24, 2004
POLITICS: Unilateralism Watch
Dan Drezner notes another diplomatic triumph for the Bush Administration, as James Baker hammers out an agreement with Russia, France, Germany and others to forgive 80% of Iraq's debts.
November 23, 2004
POLITICS: The Tragedy of Multiple Viewpoints
I had to laugh at this exchange on CNN’s Sunday Late Edition between Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) and Wolf Blitzer:
BLITZER: But, Loretta, when you say the media -- when you say the media is not in your hands, are you saying that ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN are hostile to Democrats?
SANCHEZ: No, that's not what I said. I'm saying that -- if you would let me finish -- that the majority of people are now receiving a lot of their information out of radio. And the radio isn't in the hands of the Democrats anymore.
Many years ago, the Republicans made a very effective play. They sat down. They made a strategy. They decided they were going to put big thinktanks around, that they were going to fund them. They decided that they would buy radio, that they would use that to talk to people. And people drive in their cars, they're listening to the radio all the time. They're getting a lot of information that way.
You know, networks are losing -- you know, they're getting less and less viewership.
The transcript doesn’t quite do justice to how depressed Sanchez sounded when she said “the media is not in our hands any longer.” But the interview did make me want to learn more about this sinister, so-called “radio” device and how the government can curb its pernicious influence.
Seriously, though, isn’t it overstating the case - and more than a little rude to Al Franken, who was on the very same panel – for a Democrat to say that radio is “completely in the opposition’s hands.” Comments like these would also seem to belie Sanchez’s claims.
POLITICS: A Little Perspective for Kevin Drum
I'm counting on you, Cornerites. The eyes of the blogosphere are on you.
Well, if Drum wants us conservatives to say that preferences for less-qualified male students in university admissions are bad, he can relax; obviously, this kind of discrimination is not justified. But, in the Kleiman style, he wants instead to paint conservatives as hypocrites for not dropping what they are doing and writing what Drum tells us to write.
But he can't be serious; this is one isolated and possibly unique feature of one not terribly prominent university. To say that it is deserving of the same attention as the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee - a matter that affects the court system and legal reform issues as a whole - is unserious at best and disingenuous at worst. Even to compare this to conservatives' principled opposition to racial preferences misses the fact that the latter are pervasive, perhaps universal, in higher education admissions. That doesn't make one more or less wrong than the other, but it certainly suggests why the emphasis falls naturally on the more prevalent program. A little perspective would go a long way.
November 21, 2004
POLITICS: Is It Ever Enough?
Ricky West reminds us, graphically, that a major focus of George W. Bush's budget-busting spending increases compared to Clinton has been in education spending, an area where he's been criticized relentlessly for not spending enough.
You know, some jokes just never get old.
November 19, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: Links 11/19/04
Inside the building, U.S. soldiers found documents, old computers, notebooks, photographs and copies of the Quran.
*While what he did may well have been wrong, I'm loath to sit in judgment of the Marine who shot what appears to be a wounded and non-threatening sniper in Fallujah. I believe very, very strongly that a man who wears the uniform is entitled to the benefit of every doubt. But Dale Franks explains why sometimes soldiers have to be punished for reasons that have nothing to do with justice and everything to do with discipline.
*Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post on the centrality of corruption to Arafatistan. Jeff Jacoby, of course, had the definitive Arafat post-mortem:
November 18, 2004
POLITICS: The Democrats' Dilemma - Part II: Personnel
Part II of a three-part series on what the Democrats need to do from here; Part I, on Communications, is here, and Part III, on Policy, will follow.
1. Governors and State Legislatures
Obviously, the Democrats need to start by rebuilding their hold on governorships, which they lost in the mid-1990s. Republicans presently hold the governor's mansions in the nation's four largest states - California, Texas, New York, and Florida, although New York may be due to swing back their way when Eliot Spitzer runs in 2006, with George Pataki probably wisely choosing not to run again. Republicans have also captured several natural Democratic strongholds - Massachusetts (which hasn't elected a Democratic governor since Dukakis), Maryland, Hawaii, even Vermont. The near-abandonment of the South has left the Dems in a serious bind there as well, although the cyclical nature of governorships, particularly due to the lure of corruption in state government, means that they take one from time to time.
As far as developing presidential candidates, I'll get to that later when I'm handicapping the 2008 race, but they are just at the wrong part of the cycle, with few governors in office long enough and one of their biggest media stars (Jennifer Granholm in Michigan) ineligible to run because she's Canadian-born. It didn't help when Gray Davis was humbled by the California voters, Jim McGreevey stepped down amidst a multitude of scandals, Roy Barnes lost in Georgia, and even smaller-time governors like Gary Locke felt the need to quit and go home. The process of building up governors to run for president or Senate means having someone be successful and popular enough to get re-elected. Even Granholm may face a tough re-election battle in Michigan.
The picture at the state legislature level is much stronger, as the Dems gained a lot of seats this year in seveal states, both red and blue. If they can consolidate those gains, it will be particularly important when another round of redistricting arises after the 2010 census, which seems likely to send still more congressional seats and electoral votes out of the blue states and into the red states.
2. Carville for DNC Chair
I take it he doesn't want the job, and there seem to be too many other people focused on their own self-interest (and on stopping the Hillary juggernaut) for anyone to persuade him, but much as I loathe James Carville, he's exactly what the Democrats need in a party chair - he's a regular-guy type, knows the South, doesn't fall into the trap of believing his own BS, and understands how you craft a message to win elections. You can always have a McAuliffe type as your #2 to work the fundraising - Mercer Reynolds, for example, raised vast sums of money for Bush this year and I'd never even heard of the guy until last week. The party chair winds up on TV a lot, and Carville is good with TV.
More thoughts on the DNC/consultant side: The Dems badly need a new batch of consultants who have cut their teeth in states outside the Northeast and West Coast. They need to permanently banish Bob Shrum and his grim populist message from the party - not just from presidential races, because half the problem is that all their presidential candidates have been groomed from the start by Shrum. Ditto for humorless types like Tad Devine and Chris Lehane who don't know when to stop spinning. On the other hand, Donna Brazile is one of the more sensible types and an expert on turnout among African-Americans, and needs to get a larger role. And as with accepting the loss of Shrum's good record with Senate campaigns, the party needs to cut bait with Terry McAuliffe even if it means losing some of his golden fundraising touch; the guy is a disaster in every other way (McAuliffe was one of the fools whose obsession with Bush's National Guard record led to so many bad decisions this year, from Rathergate to the overdone stress on Kerry's combat record), and his fundraising skills are partly offset by the scandals he engenders.
3. More Chuck Schumer
In developing presidential candidates, the Democrats need to present the face of moderation, bring along people who have the personal touch. Congressional leadership is a different game. That's why, if it was my party, I'd have wanted Schumer rather than the soft-spoken Harry Reid to head the Senate Democrats. Schumer will never be president; as a liberal Jewish lawyer from Brooklyn with an accent to match, he's too NY to be president in the way that Phil Gramm was too Texas and, frankly, Kerry was too Massachusetts (truth be told, in an ordinary year Kerry would never have won the nomination). But Schumer brings to bear a number of advantages that would make him ideal as a party leader in Congress. He's insanely hard-working. He's exceptionally PR savvy; I've noted before his habit of doing a press conference on a consumer-protection issue every Sunday, guaranteeing him a block of time on the Sunday evening local news once a week to the point that the local networks know they can give their consumer reporters the night off. He's actually relatively sane on national security and law enforcement issues. He's tough as nails. And, unlike guys like Daschle and Gephardt, Schumer doesn't talk down to people and doesn't sound like he's reading made-up focus-grouped talking points he doesn't believe in.
4. Say Goodbye To Hollywood
Hollywood stars tend to lean very far to the Left, and tend to spout off their political opinions without being asked and whether they know anything about the subject or not. The Democratic Party can't change this fact. They also give a lot of money to Democrats. The Dems shouldn't want to change this fact. But what the party can and should do is stop being star-struck and just stop making public appearances with Hollywood types. It's one of the tendencies that makes so many people identify the Democrats with the values-free zone that is Hollywood and with unserious dilettante leftism. Take their money? Sure. But don't telegraph to the American people that you take Ben Affleck's opinions seriously.
Of all the celebs who worked with the Kerry campaign and supporting 527s this year, only two seemed like they might help: Bruce Springsteen, because he's a fairly serious guy with an older fan base including a lot of blue-collar types (although as I noted some time ago, Bruce's fans tend by the nature of his music to be more conservative), and Puff the Magic Diddy, because he would help get young urban African-Americans registered to vote. It's not clear even that these two were any help, although it may be that Bruce's appearances in Wisconsin were part of the major Kerry operation that delivered the state by a hair.
5. No More Moore
For many of the same reasons, the Democrats need to walk away from Michael Moore. Yes, his movies and books are beloved by a segment of the Democratic base. But having Moore appear in public with Democratic candidates like Wesley Clark and appear at the Democratic Convention (they couldn't really stop him from appearing at the GOP convention) led to far too close a public association with a shameless and deeply dishonest huckster. And worse yet is allowing Moore's favorite hobby-horses to become Democratic talking points and ad campaigns.
Don't like that advice? Think the GOP has people it should distance itself from? Well, to some extent yes - but as a matter of practical electoral politics, the Democrats lost. They are the ones who disregard such advice at their peril.
6. No More Sharpton
In the current political environment, racial division helps the Democrats. The 2000 NAACP James Byrd ad, promising that a Bush Administration would set off a wave of lynchings, was highly effective. The Bush camp was probably politically wise to give no reason for this election to be racially polarized, even to the point of compromising its principles by signalling to the Supreme Court in the Michigan affirmative action case that it would not attack racial preferences.
More astonishingly, Republicans even held their fire when Al Sharpton, the David Duke of the Democratic party, spoke at the convention in prime time; if there had been a similar speech at the GOP convention, you would have heard nothing else for months. But don't think voters didn't notice: as I noted before, Bush won white voters by a 17-point margin, and while Sharpton may not have been much of a factor in that, the Democrats simply have to suck up the short-term cost of annoying Sharpton if they want, in the long term, to win back the confidence of non-Jewish white voters and stem erosion of voters from two groups Sharpton has targeted with particular bile: Jews and Asian-Americans.
November 17, 2004
POLITICS: Objectivity, the Foreign Press and the Missing European Center
Jim Geraghty, back from vacationing in Italy (and still in need of a new title), has some interesting thoughts on the international press. He starts by surveying various options for someone in Europe looking for more objective coverage of the U.S. This caught my eye:
Here at home, I’m a fan of USA Today, because I feel like its aspirations to be a national paper and its famous brevity combine to make it one of America’s more objective publications. USA Today is generally scorned by readers of more hefty papers like The New York Times, but, unlike that paper, it really is a pretty good bellwether for the country. (Of course, brevity does not guarantee objectivity. Down here in DC, commuters are treated to the free Washington Post Express paper, which manages to cram an incredible amount of spin into just a few brief paragraphs every day.)
In fact, I’ve long wondered: what it is the most objective news source in the country?
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American conservatives rage against the liberal leanings of The New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, NPR, CNN, MSNBC, the wire services and the major networks, among others. Still, the alternatives tend to be obviously conservative-leaning outlets, such as FOX News, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, New York Post or talk radio. They all have their uses, but is anyone actually in the middle? For those, on either side, who don’t like to live in an echo chamber, there is kind of a missing market. Or, in reality, is being truly “fair and balanced” just a pipe dream?
Geraghty also makes a good point about the foreign press:
I was wondering that myself with the recent turmoil in the Netherlands and latest statements from France. Generalizing, it seems like most of the political parties in Western Europe represent either different brands of “left wing” socialism or fringe “right wing” isolationism/anti-immigrant nativism, with some of the worst tendencies of the American right, but few of the positive ones. There seems to be a big void in the middle, especially on the center-right. Is European media the cause of that or just a symptom?
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November 16, 2004
POLITICS: Games of State
President Bush just introduced Condoleeza Rice as the new Secretary of State.
One question: Rice’s former deputy Stephen Hadley is taking over as the new National Security Advisor. Since one of the main jobs of that position is to coordinate between the often-contentious State and Defense Departments, won’t it be hard for Hadley to take sides against his former boss? While the conventional wisdom is that Rice replacing Powell will move the Bush Administration’s foreign policy to the right, I’m wondering if the interaction between Bush, Rice and Hadley will move the balance of power in Washington towards Foggy Bottom. Which may actually be a good thing, assuming – and it is a big assumption - that that Department has the President’s best interests in mind.
On the other hand, Rumsfeld might increasingly run rings around those two less experienced figures. We shall see.
POLITICS: Exiting The Democrats
You have to take the national exit polls with a grain of salt, but it appears that this poll weights out to the correct result, and if so, a few things jump off the page:
1. Bush won white voters 58-41. He won white males by 25 points and white women by 11. Now, I know white people aren't exactly a cohesive group, and that there's something vaguely distasteful, even, about speaking of a "white vote". But if you're not even competitive with a demographic that constitutes 77% of the electorate, you got problems. Similarly, 81% of the electorate consists of Christians, and while the poll doesn't combine Protestant and Catholic, if my (rusty) algebra is correct, Christians voted for Bush by a margin of 57-42. At the cross-section of the two majority groups, 61% of the electorate is white Christians, and they broke 63-36 for Bush. Again, you can't afford to lose by that kind of margin with a majority voting bloc.
2. 49% of voters trusted Bush and not Kerry to fight terrorism, and those voters broke for Bush 97-3, such a decisive margin as to suggest that this issue was a deal-breaker for nearly half of all voters. In short, all else aside, Kerry was about 99% defeated just by the lack of voter trust in him as a war leader. This is supported by the fact that voters who trusted both candidates on terrorism broke for Kerry 75-24, while voters who trusted both candidates on the economy broke for Bush 61-38.
November 15, 2004
POLITICS: The Democrats' Dilemma - Part I: Communications
Since everyone and his brother is giving advice to Democrats, I might as well put in my own two cents as to the features of the Democratic Party that (1) might, possibly, be subject to change and (2) could help the Democrats in the long run if they were changed. I realize a lot of this will read as a criticism of Democratic candidates, but these really are some of the things I've found frustrating about Democratic campaigns, and I suspect that they are also things that turn off voters who are open to persuasion by Democrats; take this for what it's worth. I'll break down my analysis into three parts: Communications, Personnel, and Policy. Let's start with the Communications issue:
1. Obfuscation is a defensive tactic, not a strategy:
Republicans from the mid-1960s down through today have tried to brand Democratic candidates as "liberals," as a way of summarizing attacks on a broad range of positions on crime, defense, taxes, spending, social issues, etc. GOP consultant Arthur Finkelstein became particularly well-known for this tactic, which can be very effective. There are basically four ways to respond to this tactic: (a) defend liberal positions on the merits; (b) pretend that the positions are not really liberal; (c) nominate candidates who do not take liberal positions; or (d) be evasive about the candidate's positions.
Following the spectacular failure of (a) in the 1984 presidential election (when Mondale openly advocated raising taxes, among other positions) and (b) in the 1988 presidential election (when Dukakis proclaimed "competence, not ideology" was at issue), the Democrats have had to choose between (c) and (d). While Bill Clinton had sporadic success with (c) (notably on crime and trade issues), the party's presidential and Senate candidates, at least - Clinton included - have increasingly leaned towards (d).
John Kerry is perhaps the pinnacle of this strategy, a man who got burned by the liberal label in his unsuccessful 1972 House race, and has spent the rest of his career dodging the label. He does so in two ways. One is to salt his record with votes that he can use to defend himself against charges of liberalism - which would be a convincing strategy if he actually took consistent positions on those issues, rather than a vote here or there, usually accompanied by his other tactic, weaselly disclaimers that leave you guessing as to where he actually stands. I dealt with this issue here and here. As I've noted, the Republicans have a time-tested counterattack when a Democrat does things like this to avoid taking clear and identifiable positions: call him a flip-flopper.
With each of the last three Democratic presidential candidates there has been endless speculation as to what they believe on a whole battery of issues, and while Clinton was able to eke out victories with this tactic, politicians without his unusual talents have had a much rougher go.
Now, let me make one thing clear: all politicians fudge, straddle, and flip-flop from time to time to create confusion in the public mind as to where they stand on issues. This is a useful tactic for a candidate who does not want to offend potential supporters on a particular issue, and I'm not suggesting that Democrats should avoid it altogether. But here we come to the Democrats' weakness: mistaking a useful tactic for a strategy. You can obfuscate some of your positions so as to emphasize others, and you can obfuscate on small issues so as to emphasize big ones. But once voters start to catch on to the idea that you are playing hide-the-ball on multiple major major issues, you are toast. The place of the Iraq War in the War on Terror was the most central issue at stake in this year's campaign, and nobody but maybe John Kerry himself believed that he had a single, clear and coherent position on the issue. That may have been, under the circumstances, a necessary compromise to keep his base from splitting in half, but it was death in Kerry's efforts to broaden his appeal beyond Bush-haters to people who wanted a leader they could depend on to know where he stands. And the problem hasn't been limited to presidential candidates either, as red-state Senate Democrats like Tom Daschle and Mary Landrieu have struggled to balance their moderate images at home with their fealty to liberal causes in Washington.
If the Dems are going to try to become a majority party, they need candidates who will get out there and lead on issues rather than fudging and trying to be all things to all people. It will require courage, discipline, avoidance of panic at temporary setbacks and the willingness to suffer bad press and risk losing some elections. Of course, this presupposes that their positions are actually capable of attracting popular support. But if the Democratic party has lost faith that its ideas can attract popular support, then this entire conversation is pointless. Isn't it worth a try?
2. Biography is not a substitute for policy:
This is a second and related example of the Democrats taking a tried-and-true campaign tactic and trying to pass it off as a strategy, and another one in which Kerry represents a nadir. Again, all candidates use their biography when possible to shore up both the strong and weak points in their images. But what we've seen increasingly from Democrats is efforts to use biography as a shield to cover the candidate's policy positions. Get asked about gun control? Don't talk about the issue - go hunting! Get asked about war? Talk about your service record!
Leave aside for now the debate over whether the tendency to do this is just a feature of recent Democratic candidates and consultants or whether it's driven by the party's devotion to identity politics. As a practical matter, there are two problems with this approach. First, voters aren't stupid; a dove with medals is still a dove, and a hunter who favors gun control is still in favor of gun control. Second, nobody has enough biography to cover every issue, and the need to have something personal to say on issue after issue is one of the roots of the exaggerations and resume-padding that got Gore and Kerry into so much trouble. Look at Bush and Cheney for a comparison: Bush's bio story is well-known, but he rarely tries to connect it to a particular policy debate, and Cheney only reluctantly talks about himself at all despite having a genuinely impressive up-by-the-bootstraps story.
3. Forget Vietnam:
This goes with the issue above - voters just keep on rejecting combat veterans who aren't right on policy. And I won't rehash the whole Kerry Vietnam story here. But it goes deeper: the constant references to Afghanistan and then Iraq as "quagmires," Ted Kennedy calling Iraq "George Bush's Vietnam" - don't Democratic politicians and their allies in the media realize how sick Americans are of hearing about Vietnam, and how dated their worldview sounds? If there's one rhetorical crutch the Dems need to drop, it's Vietnam.
4. Voters want to be spoken to as adults:
This one is mostly a matter of speaking style, although it's also an issue of substance: too many Democratic politicians (prime offenders include Gore, Gephardt and Hillary Clinton) talk to audiences like they are five years old. With the exception of Lamar Alexander I can't think of a Republican who does this. Again, Cheney is a good model to imitate on this point (not that anyone has to go to his extreme) - you can tell when he gives a speech that he's talking to you exactly as he would speak to a room full of senior advisers. That's respect, and even if voters don't put it into words, we appreciate it.
5. Don't believe what you read in the papers:
The Kerry campaign spent much of the year reacting to newspaper headlines and stories on broadcast networks. On a few occasions, they got burned by believing that anything reported there would be backed up by evidence and widely digested and believed. In fact, a lot of the rage on the Left at the notion of ignorant voters is an inability to comprehend that some people out there don't watch 60 Minutes and don't believe everything they read in the NY Times. Much as Democrats may wish to deny the idea of liberal media bias, eventually they have to accept that they can't just sit back and expect that the media will do their jobs for them and still produce a credible product.
6. Explain programs in terms of incentives:
Government programs are complicated; that's just the way they are. When Democrats propose changes to programs or new programs, they often wind up choosing one of three ways to talk about them: either they oversimplify and just tell us what they intend the program to accomplish without explaining how it will work, or they talk up how much more money they will spend, or they start reeling off complex, wonkish details that put everyone to sleep.
In fact, one reason that I suspect that domestic policy was the dog that didn't bark in this campaign was that John Kerry was never able to explain any of his policy proposals in a way that allowed people to understand them and compare them to President Bush's.
Democrats should look at how Bush explains his proposals and take a lesson. With programs like private Social Security accounts and Health Savings Accounts, what Bush focuses on is how the incentives in the program work in favor of the citizen. People instinctively understand, for example, that a shift to private ownership of funds will give them more control. Of course, one might argue that plans to, for example, impose direct or indirect price controls on medical drugs can not be explained in terms of incentives without revealing their fundamental flaws.
7. People don't like being called bigots:
The same-sex marriage flap is only the most recent manifestation of the tendency of pundits, bloggers, entertainers and the like on the Left - and to some extent politicians as well, notably John Kerry in his speech against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 - to refer to their opponents as driven solely by "bigotry and ignorance." This position is especially sharp with regard to same-sex marriage, since the pro-same-sex-marriage argument depends on the idea that there is no rational basis grounded in anything but irrational bigotry for anyone to want to treat traditional opposite-sex marriage any differently from same-sex unions. The problem, of course, is that - even leaving aside the rights and wrongs of the debate for the moment - people tend to get defensive when their lifelong beliefs, especially their deeply-held religious beliefs, are branded as irrational superstition and bigotry. It's not a strategy for winning hearts, minds, or votes, as the overwhelming rejection of same-sex marriage at the polls even in liberal Oregon showed.
8. Bloggers and pundits matter too:
On some of these points, notably the last one, I'm thinking as much about liberal bloggers, newspaper columnists, TV and radio personalities, and the like as I am about Democratic politicians. But one thing conservatives and Republicans have learned, sometimes to our grief, is that people look at the Right as a single entity, and tend to have trouble remembering what arguments they heard from President Bush and which ones they heard from Rush Limbaugh or Pat Robertson.
Put another way: for a lot of people, their most regular exposure to liberal ideas comes from the New York Times editorial page, or from Atrios, or from The Daily Show, or from CBS News. If those organs constantly blare the same theme - Bush is a liar and a draft dodger! - people will identify it with the voice of the Left. That doesn't mean people should feel totally inhibited, especially on blogs, but if commentators on the Left think that the recent spate of "Jesusland" bashing, especially from the Times columnists, has no impact on the public's view of Democrats, they are sadly mistaken. And, bloggers: remember, you may not have a huge audience, but your readers include people in Democratic Party circles, both in Washington and at the grass roots, as well as people in the media. You do have an influence on the debate, and don't think that you can push anger and bile all day and pound the table for agendas that are not likely to fly with voters, and then wonder why the candidates you support can't convincingly portray themselves as level-headed moderates, or why your party has a bad reputation on religious issues when you sneer constantly at people of faith. You want to shape opinion? You got it. Use it wisely.
November 11, 2004
POLITICS: Not a Bad W-L Record
In contrast to Kos, who as I and others have noted backed 15 Congressional candidates and they all lost, the Club for Growth had a pretty decent 19-14 record in Senate and House general election races this year, a record that looks better when you look at some of the longshots they backed (not that Kos didn't back a few longshots, but you'd think in 15 races he'd get one right).
LAW/POLITICS: McConnell for Chief Justice
The more I think about it, the more I have to agree with Stuart Buck that, if Chief Justice Rehnquist is the first Supreme Court Justice to step down, Michael McConnell would be the best choice to replace him. As Buck pointed out in an email, this People for the American Way brief against McConnell actually summarizes pretty well why pro-life conservatives should want him on the bench. McConnell is one of the most distinguished scholars in the federal judiciary, having for many years been a leading scholar and court advocate on Establishment Clause issues. He is well-regarded as well in academia as a man of even and judicious temperment, which is one reason why his nomination for the bench in 2001 attracted the broad support of even liberal academics like Laurence Tribe and Cass Sunstein. This is one reason why Senate Democrats, having seen how badly the filibuster issue hurt them in many elections in 2002 (as it did again this year), moved swiftly to drop the filibuster against McConnell, and he was approved by the Senate by voice vote on November 15, 2002. That issue will loom again for 2006, as five Democratic Senators face re-election in states Bush carried in 2004 (although two of those, Robert Byrd and Jeff Bingaman, are likely to be immune to public pressure). Surely, recognizing that a filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee will be an unusually divisive and unpopular move - it's only been done once, in the case of Abe Fortas' elevation to Chief Justice, and then only on allegations of improprieties that eventually forced Fortas' resignation from the bench - the Dems may quietly be looking for an excuse not to filibuster the replacement for the conservative Rehnquist but instead save their fire for nominations to replace the moderate Sandra Day O'Connor or liberals John Paul Stevens or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, especially if the nomination comes up right on the heels of the election. McConnell would give them a good reason not to fight, and present major obstacles to having one.
Others who agree that McConnell would be a good choice:
*John Hinderaker (although the Deacon has his own suggestions)
November 07, 2004
POLITICS: Where Bush's Swing Voters Came From
In this post, I examined the national popular vote and concluded that, comparing of the increased number of Bush voters from 2000 (about 8.66 million) and the increased number of Kerry voters as compared to Gore voters in 2000 (about 4.56 million), one of two things had happened - either:
1. Bush had won the votes of 65.5% of "new voters," defined as people who - regardless of whether they had voted in past elections - didn't vote for either Bush or Gore in 2000; or
2. Bush had won less than 65.5% of such voters but had stolen away so many Gore voters (even over and above Nader voters who switched to Kerry) that he could approximate the same effect.
As more poll data comes in, I'm more convinced now by some of the commenters to the prior post who argued that it was more the latter than the former, and that the Gore voter switch is particularly pronounced when you consider the likelihood that most of Nader's voters from 2000 went over to Kerry. (I heard someone on TV claim that exit polls showed Bush won 10% of Gore voters). This is a conclusion that should cause ABC's The Note great embarrassment for its now-famous declaration, back on August 11, that "we still can't find a single American who voted for Al Gore in 2000 who is planning to vote for George Bush in 2004."
I calculated the 65.5% "marginal votes" figure by applying the following formula to the national popular vote:
((Bush 2004 votes) - (Bush 2000 votes))/(((Kerry 2004 votes) - (Gore 2000 votes)) + ((Bush 2004 votes) - (Bush 2000 votes)))
As noted, Bush won an additional 8.66 million Republican votes, whereas Kerry won something on the order of 4.56 million additional Democratic votes. I computed these figures by ignoring third-party candidates, figuring that people Kerry won over who had voted Nader last time are, in many ways, equivalent to bringing new people into the process, and by comparing the official FEC tabulations from 2000 and the latest running tallies so far. I would caution that the 2004 figures are still moving targets; returns are coming in daily. The 65.5% figure, for example, is down to 64.5% as of Friday, and may go up or down as more absentee and provisional ballots are tabulated in various states.
Anyway, I thought I'd take a state-by-state look to see where it was, precisely, that all of those 8.66 million new Bush voters came from. The numbers that follow were computed Friday, November 5, following the call of Iowa, the last contested state, for President Bush. It's a particularly interesting question for me, as a New York City Republican listening to my fellow New Yorkers rage at what they saw as the provincialism of the red-staters who gave Bush his victory (See here and here for examples): where was it that all these extra Bush votes came from? What state led the charge to Bush?
That's right, New York. The single largest percentage of marginal voters swinging to Bush came among the benighted, provincial, knuckle-draggin', Bible-thumpin', troglodytes of the Empire State itself. New York was one of only three states in the Union (along with Rhode Island and Alabama) to see an increase in Bush votes and a decrease in Kerry votes as compared to Gore, and the only one in which the decrease was significant. Bush gained nearly 400,000 additional votes in New York while Kerry lost more than 120,000 - a swing of nearly half a million votes. That swing, by the way, all but eliminated Gore's 540,000 advantage in the national popular vote all by itself. Before New Yorkers fume at Bush voters in the South and the Great Plains states they should look around at their neighbors and ask themselves how many of them have been strangely quiet about this election.
It wasn't just New York, of course; the fourth-largest marginal swing was New Jersey, and Bush won over 80% of the marginal votes in Connecticut. Can you say, "September 11"? And, come to think of it - when you combine those states with the nearly 1 million new Bush votes in Florida - there may have been another factor at work in 2000, much noted in the media at the time and much ignored in the media this time: Joe-mentum. Without the presence of the first Jew on a national ticket, Kerry may not have had the same oomph in states with a large Jewish population ("Where have you gone, Joe Lieberman, your party turns its lonely eyes to you . . . ") Of course, these are basically Democratic states, so Bush still didn't win them. But he won over a lot of people here in the past four years, and that showed in the final tallies.
I list the states in order of the percentage of the marginal vote won by Bush:
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A few thoughts:
*I had to tweak the formula a bit to adjust for the two states with declining turnout and Alaska (where I used Kerry as the numerator).
*California's turnout was probably down for at least two reasons: Bush had campaigned there in 2000, creating an impression of being in play, and ignored the state this time; and voters may have been a bit burned out after the 2003 governor's race. But I also suspect that the numbers will come up a bit when the final tallies crawl in. The declining California turnout compared to booming turnout in the dark-red states had a lot to do with Bush's national popular vote gains.
*Alaska's swing towards Kerry I would attribute mostly to voter anger at Frank and Lisa Murkowski (anger Republican voters felt safe venting, given how safe the state was for Bush).
*You can see that Bush lost ground in Ohio and New Hampshire and Colorado, but only enough to lose him New Hampshire.
*I have no idea what was up in Montana.
*Unsurprisingly, the real battleground states were closer to 50% on the marginal turnout scale.
*Bush winning 55% of the marginal turnout in Illinois seems particularly impressive; not only did he cede the state to Kerry, but Election Day saw juiced-up state Democrats and depressed state Republicans due to Barack Obama's landslide victory over Alan Keyes.
*Note that booming turnout in states like Texas, Florida and Georgia may also be a sign of population growth in those states.
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November 06, 2004
POLITICS: The Insincerest Form Of Criticism
Criticizing the GOP ain't gonna build us a new national majority. But the process is brick by brick, or perhaps, brickbat by brickbat. We didn't decide the rules of engagement, but that's what they are and so we may as well start firing away.
I have heard this attitude many times, and it always seems to come from the Left. Not from everyone, mind you, but the people it does come from . . . let's back up a bit here: we all know that many people on the Right and on the Left regard some or all of the other side as liars, cheaters, etc. in their conduct of elections and political debate. Leaving aside for the sake of argument who's right about this and in what ways, it can be very frustrating to fight against people you regard as fighting dirty and cheating.
I've read or been party to plenty of bitter wallows after election defeats, from widespread debacles in 1989, 1990, 1992, 1996 and 1998 to more localized issues like Hillary Clinton's senate win in 2000. I've seen plenty of examples of conservatives looking for ways to stop lies, election fraud and other sorts of wrongdoing by Democrats. I've seen conservatives willing to hoist Democrats by their own petards, most notably with the Independent Counsel statute and with he-said-she-said sexual harrassment claims (Paula Jones as revenge for Anita Hill). And yes, I've seen conservatives argue points that were just not true.
But I have never seen anybody on the Right argue that we ought to knowingly spread untruths or create false impressions to win political arguments. What's disturbing about a lot of the reactions from people in the Left's fever swamps and sometimes even in more mainstream venues is the notion that Democrats ought to imitate precisely those facets of Republican tactics that they profess to find offensive. What's particularly damaging is the desire to imitate the GOP without really understanding why Republicans do the things we do and why they are effective, which is how you get what amounts to cargo-cult operations like Media Matters, which purports to be a complement to conservative outlets that decry media bias but instead spends most of its time just taking potshots at conservative pundits.
POLITICS/WAR/LAW: 11/6/04 Links
*Now, They Tell Us: the lead story on the NY Times website yesterday was one that veterans of the 1992 election will find familiar: the discovery, all of a sudden, that the jobs picture is better than it was painted in the run-up to the election. I'm watching carefully for signs of economic revisionism where Democrats and Bush Administration critics who just a few days ago were comparing this economy to the Great Depression start arguing that Bush was hard to beat because economic times are good.
*Kos just topped the "screw 'em" classic, by openly hoping for America's defeat in Iraq:
Kos is undoubtedly particularly peeved at the failure of his personal ambition to become a power player in the Democratic party, as all 15 of the House and Senate candidates he backed lost. The list, here, is particularly funny now due to the misspellings and egregious cheap shots, like claiming Jim Bunning's mental health was deteriorating. (Link via Blogs for Bush)
Look at the recently resurrected Osama bin Laden. Three years ago he was Mr Jihad, demanding the restoration of the caliphate, the return of Andalucia, the conversion of every infidel to Islam, the imposition of sharia and an end to fornication, homosexuality and alcoholic beverages. In his latest video he sounds like some elderly Berkeley sociology student making lame jokes about Halliburton and Bush reading My Pet Goat.
*Speaking of gloating, while I might divide the group differently, I endorse the general sentiment of John Derbyshire as to the people who deserve to be gloated at and those who don't.
*From November 2: Best Jimmy Breslin column ever.
*Lileks on New Yorkers who are aghast at the supposed ignorance of the red states that voted for Bush:
*Tim Blair links to some classic inside stuff from the Bush and Kerry camps. The guy who comes off in this as the real political brains isn't Karl Rove but Bush himself - note that Bush figured out before Rove did that Howard Dean was toast in the primaries. Of course, this is consistent with the theory that Bush's expertise is knowing people, and he knew Dean personally.
*Stuart Buck thinks - and I agree with him - that Justices Rehnquist and O'Connor would have retired before the election if it were not for the legitimacy questions that people raised after Bush v. Gore.
*Where credit is due: Wretchard notes that "[t]he French may have performed a valuable service by admitting Arafat to a military hospital in Europe which will reduce the risk of imputing his death to Jewish poisoning, a rumor that has already made the rounds in the Middle East."
Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:35 AM | Law | Politics 2004 | War 2004 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
November 05, 2004
POLITICS: Unsolicited Advice to Democrats
Looking at Slate yesterday, it was unsurprising to see a characteristically Democratic “why do they hate us” debate ongoing among its liberal writers. Two things struck me about this. On one hand, things aren’t quite as bad for the Democrats as a lot of us are assuming. A few more votes in a few of the swing states and we might be talking right now about what’s wrong with the Republican Party. However, on the other hand, this election did turn out to be, in the end, a profound disaster for the Democrats and, as someone who definitely leans Republican, even I am a little bit concerned about the degree to which one party currently has control of our government. So what should the Democrats do? At risk of being greeted with hostility, here is some unsolicited, yet sincere, advice for the minority party for the years leading up to 2008:
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* This is the simplest: look for likeable, plain-speaking candidates who can relate with people nationally. Believe it or not, a lot of people like President Bush, few really liked John Kerry. That is blunt, yet basically true. A generally likeable personality, like Bill Clinton, despite his ample failings, goes a long way. Unlike Clinton, Gore and Kerry both came off as very aloof. However, similar to Clinton, both men rarely, if ever, would give a straight answer to a question. That is a problem. Sometimes answers you don’t agree with are better than answers you constantly need to interpret.
* Tolerate more dissent on social issues and, above all, do not allow your supporters to ridicule the social values of Middle America, the South and those with strong religious beliefs. Regional condescension kills in national elections. How you say things is probably as important as what you say. See here for similar thoughts.
* Avoid scaremongering with black voters. The economic principles and ideals of the Democratic party should be enough to maintain a large percentage of the black vote without transparently, if implicitly, resorting to calling Republicans racists. By doing so, many white voters become alienated and, in the age of the Internet, it is increasingly harder to say something to one audience without another unintended audience hearing it and being disillusioned.
* Similarly, playing to fears of a draft is massively irresponsible. In addition to being baseless, the idea that voters should oppose President Bush because of some alleged secret plan for a draft plays into fears of people not wanting to serve their country. It makes service a dirty word. Someday, there may again be some unforeseen military eventuality that may require a draft. I hope it never happens, but we should all soberly recognize that it could, regardless of the party in power. In such a scenario, if called, I’d probably be frightened, but hope to God that I would answer the call the way our fathers and forefathers did. The idea that the draft, though almost certainly unnecessary, is an inherently evil boogeyman is one that Democrats should be more clear in opposing.
* There is a lot of conflicting advice about which direction the party should move in, but my advice would be clear: move to the right. Since FDR, the only Democrat to serve two full terms has been Clinton and he did so largely by being perceived as a moderate and appealing to voters nationally, even in the South. Clinton was nobody’s hard-liner on foreign policy, but he could play one on TV. I’m an admirer of Tony Blair, a man who has always struck me as a Clinton with values and a backbone. The Blair or Joe Lieberman model is a good one to follow. The Brookings Institution and The New Republic are fertile grounds for responsible Democratic views. Listen to them and you’ll be alright.
* On that point, the middle, it seems, has moved right. Bush may seem outrageously conservative to you, but, to a lot of people, he is fairly moderate. Though I would never dispute that this election was close, more people just voted for Bush than had voted for any one candidate in an election in American history. I’ve heard a lot of Democrats wonder about whether selecting a candidate like Kerry was a mistake because of allegedly moving away from the left-wing base. Well, look, Kerry may seem moderate to right-leaning to Democrats, but by national standards he was still easily portrayed as liberal. If you don’t see that the middle has migrated to the right on national security and a number of moral issues, you are in trouble.
* In terms of specific people, you may nominate her in 2008, but be leery of putting all your eggs in the Hillary basket. She is deeply reviled in Republican circles and the Clintons still inspire the sort of often irrational dislike among right-wing types as President Bush seems to in left-wing types. Her presence on a ticket is a lightning rod for the Republican base. Frankly, I think Hillary has done an very good job recasting herself as a moderate, but old memories die hard. I think she’ll be the Democratic nominee in 2008, but there’s something to be said for shopping around.
* Finally, Jeff Greenfield on CNN had the best comment when asked about who should be the Democrats’ leader going forward. Greenfield said simply that Democrats need to first decide what it is they want to stand for and, only then, should look for leaders. In the end, there is no substitute for ideas.
None of this is to say that the Republicans don’t have problems themselves. They do, and, long-term, they’re not going to be able to keep writing off New York and California and consistently win national elections. And none of this is to say that the Democratic Party should abandon its principles or that it should become a carbon copy of the Republican Party. It cannot and probably should not. Economic populism and support for international diplomacy, for example, will always have a place. But the broader country needs a more viable two-party system and right now it’s not getting it. The Democrats need to do a difficult balancing act of moving right, while either keeping much of its base or grabbing new supporters in the middle or leaning Republican. It’s a tricky task, but I wish them well.
UPDATE: David Brooks has an excellent column in The New York Times related to this topic. I think he is totally right.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Bill Clinton has some useful comments as well. (As an aside, I think it may be a sign that Democrats have drifted too far to the left when I find myself citing Clinton approvingly.)
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November 04, 2004
POLITICS: Marginal Votes For Bush
Here's something I think is really, really interesting, as long as you understand that the methodology isn't so much science as a rough way of measuring the impact of something that might be more accurately measured if you had accurate exit polls. Turnout was up across the country, such that Bush got more votes everywhere than he did in 2000, and Kerry got more votes everywhere than Gore did in 2000 (except California in each case, as far as I can tell, although there may be a bunch of absentee ballots yet to count).
((Bush 2004 votes) - (Bush 2000 votes))/(((Kerry 2004 votes) - (Gore 2000 votes)) + ((Bush 2004 votes) - (Bush 2000 votes)))
For these purposes, I ignored third-party candidates, since people Kerry won over who had voted Nader last time are, in many ways, equivalent to bringing new people into the process. Looking at the official FEC tabulations from 2000 and the latest tallies so far, I get the following:
When you put the numbers in that context, you see that Bush was actually hugely more successful at the margins in his combination of bringing new voters to the polls and convincing more people to switch to him than away from him. Remember that next time you hear that high turnout always and everywhere favors the Democrats.
POLITICS: Paint The Map Red
POLITICS: Believe The Polls
By now you've heard a lot about how the partial exit polls that leaked out during the day on Election Day across the internet were skewed to an almost absurd pro-Kerry extent, and you've seen how pro-Democrat pollster John Zogby's final results were the same way just before the election (he projected more than 300 electoral votes for Kerry).
But the state-by-state polls actually weren't all that far off if you knew how to read them. Personally, I was relying on two reliable sources down the stretch: Daly Thoughts and RealClearPolitics, both of which came out with the same Election Day prediction of 296 electoral votes for Bush. Assuming that nothing overturns Bush's lead in Iowa, which looks like the last state not definitively called, Dales and RCP will have each gotten 49 of 50 states right, missing only Wisconsin, which Kerry held on to by the narrowest of margins.
In fact, RCP's national poll average showed a fairly steady lead for Bush throughout the fall, so anyone who put their faith in the RCP guys knew what was likely to happen. Media reports to the contrary were mostly based on cherry-picking pro-Kerry polls and/or on the assumption that new voter turnout would moot all the old polling models. Dales in particular should be explaining over the next few weeks why that was a bad idea (Kaus got in the best cheap shot yet: "Bush 51, Kerry 48: Pollster Ruy Teixeira demands that these raw numbers be weighted to reflect party I.D.!")
Mark Steyn often argues that liberal media bias is a Republican's best friend, as Election Day is the only time that Democrats are forced out of the self-serving illusions given them by the media and compelled to face reality. On this one, he seems to have been right; the evidence was there in the polls, but people who were reading Zogby and the various media outlets that trumpeted a late Kerry surge missed it. Glad I was reading guys who could tell me the score.
POLITICS: The Message
We'll see more from exit polls and the like, although one of the ironies of this election is that the exit polls were so wrong about the result, yet they will still be used to break out who voted for who and why. Makes you wonder.
Anyway, here's my best guess on the message of this election as it pertains to the issues (more later on the candidates and the campaigns):
1. The War on Terror: Polls regularly showed that people are split on the war in Iraq, with many Americans having misgivings on the reasons for going there and our progress in winning the war. Ultimately, nothing succeeds like success; I'm confident that in time, we'll have enough tangible progress to get more public acceptance.
But Democratic hopes that unease about the war would sink Bush turned out to be largely unfounded. Even if people weren't so sure they supported the Iraq war, it was clear throughout the campaign that they trusted Bush and his team to carry the broader war through to victory, or at least as far as they could get in four more years. To some people, that may sound irrational: if you don't trust Bush on Iraq, why trust him at all? But most people, I think, understand that the president knows more than they do about any particular foreign controversy; they are perfectly capable of doubting the Iraq war based on what they know, and yet resting comfortably with the more general sense that Bush has proven himself to be a guy who's not going to take potential threats sitting down.
One of the criticisms that has sometimes been made by Democrats is that Bush politicized the war. If they mean simply that Bush sought political profit from his leadership in wartime and his handling of the time of crisis after September 11, well, that's politics; do these people not remember Oklahoma City, or the 1944 election for that matter? But that's not it; what really rankles is not that Bush scored political points off of having handled some uncontroversial things well. What rankles is that Bush found electoral advantages in 2002 and 2004 from the Democrats' own differences of opinion with his policies. As if it was noble of Democrats to attack the president's policies at all turns in the harshest of possible terms and seek to undermine them in Congress, and yet somehow improper for the president to point out these differences to the American people and ask them to decide which side of these various controversies they trusted.
This is the great dilemma for Democrats. Democrats have a set of beliefs about domestic politics (more later on this), and many of them feel cheated in some sense that foreign policy swamped those issues in the campaign. But at the same time, a large segment of Democrats remain harshly critical of the president's foreign policies. A Tony Blair/Joe Lieberman-type Democrat who doesn't put daylight between himself and Republicans on foreign policy and national security issues would make it nearly impossible to politicize those issues and remove deep divisions in our politics. If Democrats are going to bemoan the prominence of national security in our politics, they need to decide: are they willing to go along with Republican policies and attitudes that are popular, at least in broad outline, with the public? If they are, the security issue can be neutralized. If not, then they will have to accept the natural consequences of their own ideas.
2. The Economy: Some Republicans will argue that the president's economic policies have been blessed by the electorate. I'm not sure I'd go that far. Polls seemed to indicate, again, a generally divided view, with Kerry sometimes having advantages on the economy. But it is clear that voters found Bush's economic management at least sufficiently unobjectionable that bread-and-butter issues didn't overwhelm the rest of his message, even in hard-hit places like Ohio and Michigan (Bush did better in Michigan than in 2004). And, of course, there's no question that Bush's fealty to his tax cut pledges helped him hold his base, and that - as in 2004 - a number of House and Senate races went Republican after being fought on economic issues.
3. Social Issues and the Courts: Here, I believe there is a mandate, if one that Republicans need to interpret carefully. Republicans up and down the ticket did exceptionally well with rural and other socially conservative voters, and Karl Rove's prediction that he could bring out millions of evangelical Christian voters who didn't vote in 2000 proved prophetic. Polls regularly showed that voters preferred Bush over Kerry in picking judges, and it's now already conventional wisdom that the same-sex marriage issue played disastrously for Democrats in the heartland. With the Senate now up to 55 Republicans, Bush will be amply justified in appointing conservative judges and in pushing to get through the appellate judges who are already stalled. If Bush is really devious, he could respond to the next Supreme Court vacancy by appointing Miguel Estrada and daring Democrats to complain about his lack of judicial experience after they spent years keeping him off the bench.
But the posture of the same-sex marriage issue should also serve as a reminder: America is a progressive country and a conservative country, and politicians forget one of the two parts of that formula at their peril. Progressive, in the sense that there is a broad, general acceptance of social change. People may fight about particular changes in our society and grumble and groan about the decay of everything, but at a fundamental level, the public is willing to accept that attitudes about race, gender roles, sexual behavior and the like do change over time, and the society changes accordingly. Certainly, efforts to use government to forcibly hold back such changes in attitude almost always result in political setbacks. Bill Bennett had this to say yesterday:
With all due respect to Bennett - much as I'm sure he and I agree on many values issues - that's not going to work. But if it's important to recognize the progressive nature of social change, it's at least equally important to recognize the conservative impulse as well: people who may be willing to be persuaded to change their minds about things - or who may give way in time to people with different opinions - may not be so enthused about court decisions that take away from the people the development of that process and tie it up in a constitutional straitjacket. In some cases, that straitjacket can actually reverse the direction of the progressive impulse (as any social change can be reversed over time if attitudes change); pro-lifers are optimistic that, if anything, the absolutism of pro-abortion groups like NARAL and their allies in the courts have succeeded in provoking a general trend towards more rather than less disapproval of abortion. If such a trend grows visibly over time, eventually there will not be popular support for candidates like Kerry who swear to appoint judges with a pro-Roe v. Wade litmus test. This election could wind up being seen in retrospect as such a turning point, as Bush (like Reagan) got a larger share of the popular vote than avowedly pro-abortion candidates like Kerry, Gore, Clinton, Dukakis and Mondale ever did.
People like Kevin Drum keep telling us that times are a-changing and eventually, issues that favor conservatives will go away. But this dichotomy will never go away, no matter what the particular issue. Liberals are forever trying to use the courts to short-cut or entirely avoid the process of persuading people on social issues, and that will continue to be a self-defeating tendency no matter what the specific issue at hand. As long as conservatives focus their energies on appointing judges who will leave most such issues in the hands of the people and don't try to make major social changes of their own before their time, social issues will remain a bulwark of conservatism.
November 03, 2004
POLITICS: Kerry Concedes
Kerry reportedly will be speaking at 1 PM in Boston. Bush will probably speak later today.
UPDATE: It is very interesting, and quite heartening, to hear how much respect Bush and Kerry apparently have for one another. I got the sense in 2000 that Bush and Gore really could not stand one another, something subsequent events have only seemed to reinforce.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Jim Geraghty has a classy salute to Tom Daschle that I completely endorse.
FINAL UPDATE: My take on today’s speeches: I thought Edwards was trying to rally Democratic spirits, but came off all wrong, a little too partisan for the occasion. Kerry was very good, striking just the right tone and doing his best to heal the bitterness of a too-long campaign. Like Gore at the very end in 2000, I'm not a fan of the guy, but it was hard not to feel for him and his supporters (well, most of them). Cheney was Cheney, with a deadpan crack about having “delivered” Wyoming for the ticket. Bush seemed very gracious and relieved. The President proceeded to give a very nice speech about looking forward, serving all Americans and about what he hopes to accomplish. In all, a peaceful and honorable democratic transition all around.
If you’re depressed, Daniel Drezner has some encouraging words for moderates who voted for Kerry.
POLITICS: 2004: The Morning After
I stayed up until Edwards spoke at 2:30 (after being announced as "the next vice president of the United States"), so I'm just too spent this morning to do the full what-it-all-means post, or even to fully absorb the meaning of Kerry's refusal so far to concede. My gut tells me that Kerry's refusal to call it last night was only fair, given the traumatic 2000 experience for his party and given how close this one was in the Electoral College, although it's rather sad to see the tradition of Election Night concession speeches fade away. But I would hope he buries the hatchet by the end of today; fishing for an extra 500 votes when you have a popular vote plurality at your back is one thing, but going to war for 146,000 votes is quite another, and with Bush having won a decisive majority of the national popular vote, I suspect the public would run out of patience for a fight that lasts more than another day or so. The Democrats never got closure on the last election because the leader of their party never looked them in the eye and said, "we lost fair and square, it's over" the way the loser of every election had before. Kerry surely must be able to appreciate, particularly with the passions that election and the war have stirred up, why it will be crucially important to the peace of the nation going forward to do that soon.
My feeling this morning is mostly one of overwhelming relief. We got through the election without a terrorist attack, meaning the last thing Al Qaeda might have been holding back something for has passed. Not that they are done, but there was no other reason to wait other than lack of capacity to strike. And the election went well. The Commander-in-Chief will stay at the helm, and we will have the opportunity to carry his strategy through for another four years. The Senate will be more Republican, as we steel for a likely Supreme Court battle and maybe several.
For historical perspective, not only has Bush won a majority of the popular vote for the first time since 1988, but his 51% of the vote is larger than any Democrat has won, other than FDR (who did it four times) and LBJ in 1964, since the Republican party ran its first national election in 1856 (Jimmy Carter in 1976 is the only other Democrat to muster a majority in that period, and then it was 50% in the wake of Watergate). The Republican party remains a majority party at the national level, having won popular majorities now 7 times to the Democrats' two since 1945. It is, of course, particularly satisfying, on an emotional level, to see Bush win a larger share of the vote than Clinton ever did.
On the coverage last night, I was flipping channels continuously. CBS was actually the fastest network to call states early, but only FOX and NBC called Ohio for Bush, and at last check nobody was willing to say 270; it's safe to say that some of the networks just couldn't quite bring themselves to call a winner until the other side had conceded defeat. I do think FOX had the best coverage, for two reasons. First, FOX had the best ticker, packing in useful information on popular vote totals along with the percentages and share reporting for all the major races. Some of the others left out the raw numbers. Second, FOX had the incomparable Michael Barone, whose encyclopedic understanding of every battleground state down to the precinct level gave FOX viewers a decisive informational advantage in digesting the returns from hotly contested states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida.
Furthest-out line of the night, besides some of Dan Rather's Ratherisms, had to be Joe Scarborough discussing why statewide and nationwide elected officials like hurricanes in Florida.
Anyway, I'm tired and I need to get back to work. I'll be back on my usual early-morning blogging schedule wrapping up the election the next two days, and then I'll be resuming baseball coverage next week. I'll also be taking down some of the election-related bells and whistles on the site over the next several days.
November 02, 2004
POLITICS: It Stays Early Late Around Here
I'm done blogging for the night, having done little enough anyway. I may even try to go to bed if it looks like this will drag on all night.
Still no blue states red and no red states blue. And the networks are quivering in fear of calling Florida, which looks very solid for Bush. The bad news is that it looks at the moment like Bush may need to hold Ohio because he's not gaining ground in any blue state, plus Nevada is tight and NH a slight Kerry lead, eroding further Bush's margin for error.
POLITICS: It's A Trap!
POLITICS: Holding Pattern
Very little blood drawn yet, in the sense of either side losing anything they'd had much realistic hope of winning. The calls so far that are at all interesting:
R: Win WV, Win Senate races for Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint, Mitch Daniels wins IN gov, defeat Amendment 36 in CO.
D: Win NJ.
Like I said, not a lott of blood drawn as of 9:53 pm. And Isakson and Obama won.
UPDATE (10:17 pm): NBC calling Arkansas for Bush. Another mild heartburn extinguished.
But everything I'm hearing seems to augur well for Bush in Florida, and Florida is the key state. (This sounds particularly good for Bush in FL).
POLITICS: Kerry Cavalry Not Coming?
At almost 8pm, everyone on both sides is dying of anxiety right now. But this one sounds good for Bush:
POLITICS: Sites I'm Watching
And checking in on a few others, but those are the ones to watch.
Will I be in the right-wing coccoon to some extent? Well, Election Day is one day you want the news - even and especially the bad news - from your friends. Besides, there's always the TV.
UPDATE: I'd pass along some of the cautions you'll see elsewhere: I'm trying not to get too excited about anecdotal reports about turnout, fragmentary exit polls, and the like. And that particularly includes voter fraud and similar shenanigans - while my two biggest concerns about this election have been litigation and fraud, I'm hoping as much as possible to keep from thinking about them. Remember that initial reports of any kind of fraud or irregularities coming out on Election Day are likely to be wrong, much the way that initial reports from a war zone (or anywhere else where there's a lot of people, a lot of fast-moving activity and news reports rely on eyewitnesses and hearsay) tend to get a lot of the details wrong. There should hopefully be enough diligent people on hand to record the facts almost anywhere things get dicey.
POLITICS: The Big Day
I voted absentee and took the day off because I had planned on volunteering for the Bush campaign, but I never got a response back despite several attempts; I'm not sure if that means the campaign has enough lawyers, or what. Anyway, I'm home much of the day, although I've been running errands and dealing with work stuff anyway so far. But I'll be chasing the same fragmentary bits of information as everyone else and I'll post as I get the chance.
Two links to start off:
*Rasmussen's final tracking poll showed Bush surging to over 50% for what is, I believe, the first time all year. No time like today!
*The Brothers Judd on Kurds in Iraq keeping their fingers crossed for a Bush victory.
POLITICS: Go to Hell, Bin Laden
My vote is in.
POLITICS: The Most Precious Freedom
A few weeks back, discussing Afghanistan’s first democratic election in its history, I trotted out a favorite quote from Churchill. In honor of today’s election at home, it seems appropriate to bring it out again:
For the slightly more cynical, here is another:
Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.
I believe that America is the greatest country in the world, not because Americans are inherently any better than others, but because we were blessed with the very best constitutional foundation in the world. Today, from Afghanistan to Indonesia to Ukraine to Iraq, democracy is, with our help, increasingly on the rise and the sphere of representative governments continues to expand every year. We should be thankful to live in a country that not just practices democracy, but is willing to sacrifice to promote and defend it.
Whatever the outcome of today’s election, I sincerely hope that never changes.
November 01, 2004
POLITICS: The Optimists' Club
Latest from the most credible of the GOP optimists:
I can't tell you what these are worth, but their arguments have been a principal source of my optimism. Are they spinning, or deluding themselves? We'll know soon enough.
POLITICS: Last Call
Well, I've put my faith all year in Dales as the best of the poll-watchers. Now, it's put up or shut up time. He's currently showing states solidly behind the two candidates at 222-186 for Bush, 276-238 for Bush - game, set, match - if the candidates each take the states where they are leading only by a little, and just two states (Ohio and Hawaii) too close to call. Electoral-vote.com has Kerry 298, Bush 231, coming to different conclusions (all in Kerry's favor) on Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Mexico, and Hawaii, with the sole call more in the Bush direction being New Hampshire, listed with New Mexico as the only tossups.
POLITICS: Strong Incumbents, Strong Challengers
Looking at the RealClearPolitics 3-way polling averages, 11 out of 12 have Bush with between 47 and 51% of the vote, and 8 of 12 have Kerry with between 47 and 49% of the vote. The latest Rasmussen tracking polls are consistent as well, showing Bush leading 47.9-47.1, 48.1-47.1, and 48.8-47.4 over the past three days (the most recent listed last). Which means, essentially, that we have both an incumbent and a challenger who have a fairly solid base of support entering the last two days of the campaign. I think most of us will agree that it is highly likely that Bush will poll at least 47% on Election Day, and equally highly likely that Kerry will poll at least 46% and probably at least 47% - thus, at least a decently close election remains likely, although we could still have a decisive popular-vote majority and/or an Electoral College landslide.
Recognizing the limits of historical analogies, what can we determine from this? I decided to take a look at the final election results for elections dating back to 1824, when they started keeping records of the popular vote. There have been 25 elections in that period in which an incumbent has stood for re-election; 16 have been re-elected, 9 have been voted out of office.
Strong Incumbents, Weak Incumbents
What's interesting - and, in fact, what shows the limitations of historical analogies - is how few incumbents have lost races without a complete collapse in their support. Besides Ford, the other four incumbents to lose since 1900 got completely abandoned at the polls: Carter in 1980 got 41%, Hoover in 1928 got 39.6%, Bush Sr. in 1992 got 37.4%, and Taft in 1912 got 23.2% and finished third. Besides Cleveland and van Buren, the other two 19th century incumbents to lose also showed weakly, in both cases against candidates who beat them in the popular vote four years earlier: Benjamin Harrison drew just 43% in his 1892 rematch with Cleveland, and John Quincy Adams drew just 43.6% in his 1828 rematch with Andrew Jackson.
The average margin of victory for successful incumbents? 54.9 to 41.1 overall and 54.9 to 40.9 since 1900. The average margin of victory for successful challengers? 49.5 to 41.2 overall, and 48.5 to 37.8 since 1900.
Strong Challengers, Weak Challengers
Strong Incumbents, Strong Challengers
If you look at matchups of a strong challenger against a strong incumbent, there's only two historical precedents, both of them bad for the incumbent: 1888 and 1976.
In other words: tomorrow, history leaves us on our own. It's our job to make it.
POLITICS: The Virtues of Not Voting
POLITICS: Tom Daschle's Neighborhood
How popular is Bush in South Dakota, the state where Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle is fighting for his political life after four years of efforts to undermine and denounce Bush at every turn? Popular enough that Democratic Representative Stephanie Herseth felt the need to pledge that if the Electoral College ends in a 269-269 tie, she would vote to re-elect Bush.
POLITICS: Drum Declares Victory
Leave aside the fact that Kevin Drum is obviously living in a different universe from people like Steyn when it comes to the election; that, after all, will be settled at the polls in the next 36 hours. But this post, arguing that this election - win or lose - spells the death of movement conservatism, is just daft. First of all, the idea that Republicans are on the brink of agreeing that it's a good idea to raise taxes is . . . well, I can't even find a principle so central to the Democratic party to compare it to. A Republican Party that believes in higher taxes would be, in short order, a recipe for a one-party state.
It's true, as Drum has said in the past, that Republicans' failure to even try a large-scale attack on government spending shows the difficulty of a frontal assault on spending, although I think it's equally true that the war and Bush's personality have as much to do with that as anything, and I'm on record saying the GOP will be looking for a spending hawk to nominate in 2008 no matter what happens here.
It's particularly hilarious to hear Drum claim that this election is being held in "the most favorable environment imaginable for a conservative tough guy." Well, if Drum is prepared to agree that the economy is booming and the Iraq War is going seamlessly - heck, even I wouldn't go quite that far on either score, and I'm pretty optimistic on both counts - I'll believe him. Talk about reversing your own spin when it's convenient to do so.
As I've said before, if Kerry wins - even if, as I suspect is his only realistic path to victory, he wins by keeping it close enough to be decided by fraud and/or litigation - it will be seen, and rightly so, mainly as a decisive popular rejection of the Iraq War. This is doubly true if - as I also think is likely even in a Kerry-wins scenario - Kerry wins in spite of Bush getting a very impressive turnout by his base and a more-than-respectable share of non-first-time independent voters, each of which would suggest that the appeal of the Republican message as a whole remains in the general 50/50 neighborhood.
My own predictions, for what they're worth, later today.
POLITICS: Putting His Chips Down
Mark Steyn's latest Spectator column is vintage Steyn, albeit a bit less laugh-out-loud than usual (and I like the new Spectator layout, for what it's worth, although you can't see it in the printer-friendly format). Steyn concludes by assuring his British audience that if he's wrong they can get a new analyst of the American scene:
The above prediction needs to be able to withstand Democrat fraud, which I’m nervous about. If Tuesday goes off as smoothly as the Afghan election, we’ll be very lucky.
Usually after making wild predictions I confidently toss my job on the line and say, if they don’t pan out, I’m outta here. I’ve done that a couple of times this campaign season — over Wes Clark (remember him?) — but it almost goes without saying in these circumstances. Were America to elect John Kerry president, it would be seen around the world as a repudiation not just of Bush and of Iraq but of the broader war. It would be a declaration by the people of American unexceptionalism — that they are a slightly butcher Belgium; they would be signing on to the wisdom of conventional transnationalism. Having failed to read correctly the mood of my own backyard, I could hardly continue to pass myself off as a plausible interpreter of the great geopolitical forces at play. Obviously that doesn’t bother a lot of chaps in this line of work — Sir Simon Jenkins, Robert ‘Mister Robert’ Fisk, etc., — and no doubt I could breeze through the next four years doing ketchup riffs on Teresa Heinz Kerry, but I feel a period of sober reflection far from the scene would be appropriate. My faith in the persuasive powers of journalism would be shattered; maybe it would be time to try something else — organising coups in Africa, like the alleged Sir Mark Thatcher is alleged to have allegedly done; maybe abseiling down the walls of the Presidential palace and garroting the guards personally.
But I don’t think it will come to that. This is the 9/11 election, a choice between pushing on or retreating to the polite fictions of September 10. I bet on reality.
POLITICS: Final Pre-Election Kerry War Position Update
Greyhawk, who I believe is still blogging from the front in Iraq, has the details, and a memorable empty throne (via Lileks, who has some as-always-worth-reading thoughts of his own on how Kerry plans to find bin Laden).
POLITICS: Why I Voted For George W. Bush
As I mentioned, I voted absentee already, and proudly cast my ballot for George W. Bush. If you've been reading this site the past 2+ years, you already know why, and I have neither time nor space here to go through all the reasons. So, I'll just summarize the top three. For a compare and contrast, you can look back at why I voted for McCain over Bush in 2000.
1. The War on Terror: By far the overarching issue in this election is the war. Put simply, Kerry could get me killed. Having been targeted for murder once before on September 11, and given that I still work a few blocks from Times Square, that's something I take rather seriously.
I've written too much about Bush, his leadership and his strategy to recount here, but let's just say this: from the time that he grabbed that bullhorn at Ground Zero to vow that we would be heard from, Bush has gotten it. My philosophy in the war on terror is aptly summarized by the Churchill quote I use as a tagline to the site; the full quote:
Does Bush apply a similar philosophy to the war on terror? I believe he does, and his willingness to absorb endless abuse and wavering support from the public and from some of our allies is, in a wartime leader, a sign of the kind of constancy we desperately need. Bush knows what he wants to do, and he will not be deterred until it is done.
Which brings us to the contrast with his opponent. Can you even begin to picture Kerry insisting that the war on terror does not end until our enemies feel that they are beaten, that it ends only on our terms and at a time of our choosing, that we will not and should not believe we have peace until we have victory? I can't. Not with Kerry's history, not with how he has conducted himself in this campaign. And, of course, Kerry's long history of shifting course with the winds, too well known and extensive to be worth rehashing here, does not inspire confidence in his ability to stay single-mindedly focused on a coherent strategy in the face of obstacles, setbacks and criticism. (For more on Bush's and Kerry's differences as leaders, see here and here).
Even aside from the issue of the two candidates' fundamental differences in philosophy and temperment, there is the question of strategy, which is why this election - which frankly everyone recognizes is a referendum on that strategy - is so critical. Kerry has tried, at every opportunity, to attack Bush on tactics. But even if you agree with some of Kerry's tactical criticisms (which I discussed here), the larger issue is that Kerry rejects the overall strategy of the Bush Administration in fighting the war on terror (including the place of the Iraq war in that strategy), and has not advanced a credible alternative strategy or even convinced me that he would have one other than a return to the do-not-enough policies of the Clinton era. Consider the major strategic doctrines of this administration - each of which I wholeheartedly endorse (see Steven den Beste for more on the grand strategy; the Bush Administration thus far has stuck rather closely by the detailed vision surmised by den Beste) - and how little faith Kerry has in them:
A. The United States is pursuing a "forward strategy of freedom" by which it seeks to encourage reform and/or directly undermine or overthrow undemocratic regimes and replace them with more democratic regimes. Kerry went out of his way in the debates and at the Democratic Convention to avoid saying anything complementary about democracy promotion as a key weapon against tyranny; instead, just as in his dealings with Communist regimes in the 1970s-1980s (think: Daniel Ortega) and his statements about Arafat and Aristede in more recent years, Kerry has shown a disturbing degree of deference to existing regimes that are recognized as legitimate by the international community, no matter how little their legitimacy derives from the consent of their people and no matter how hostile they are to the United States, its allies and its interests. When he does talk about democracy, Kerry says things like this:
Labor unions???? In countries with huge pools of unemployed young men and no skilled labor? And that's how you propose to topple the region's tyrants? By getting them to join the AFL-CIO? Independent media and human rights groups do have a role to play, assuming they don't get co-opted into carping mostly about the tyrant's enemies (as so many did with Saddam), but most of the region's regimes need stronger medicine than that.
B. States that sponsor, harbor, or encourage terrorists are as culpable as the terrorists and will be treated as enemies; states with past connections to terrorists must be either with us or against us. Kerry, again, seems more concerned with making sure that we are on the sides of our allies than the other way around, and is profoundly allergic to incurring the anger of allies if it is necessary to get people to do what we want. (See here on why I think Kerry is saying he would not have gone to war with Iraq).
C. The United States reserves the right to launch a pre-emptive strike against our enemies when we believe they represent a serious and developing threat to our security, whether or not we have established that the threat is imminent. (As announced, I don't think this doctrine extends to threats to our interests, but more narrowly to direct threats to our physical security). Kerry, as I have discussed, takes a narrower view of when and how we can respond to threats.
On whether Kerry can effectively rally the nation to finish the job in Iraq no matter what the obstacles, just ask yourself: you work for a big company, and a new guy gets appointed CEO after a protracted power struggle. Do you really want to get assigned to a project that the new CEO, all the way through his climb up the ladder, has savaged as a diversion, a waste of money, and precisely the opposite of the direction the company should be going in?
I didn't think so.
Finally, and of grossly underestimated significance in this election season, there's the signal a Kerry victory would send to the world. As I noted recently, when you try to strip Kerry's message down to soundbites - which is how a president's message gets translated to the rest of the world - it can't be seen as anything but a message of retreat and retrenchment and a popular repudiation of Bush's aggressive defense of American interests. Kerry would need to labor long and hard, at great cost in life and treasure, to correct that impression even if he was totally dedicated to doing so. (More on Kerry's credibility and the message a Kerry victory would send here and here).
2. The Courts: I tend to focus my concerns, on the domestic side, first and foremost on those areas where the president's polices, once in place, are most difficult to change. Nothing has a longer-lasting impact than Supreme Court nominations. One reason for the rising temperature of the last three presidential and last five Senate election cycles is that activists on each side have, on each occasion, steeled for battle over the next Supreme Court nomination on a narrowly divided Court, and each time we've gone another two/four years with nothing happening. That can't hold forever, with a couple of Justices past 80 and several suffering major health problems.
As a practicing litigator, I see the many ways in which the composition of the courts affects the progress of litigation and its effects, direct and indirect, on society. And although it's not an ironclad rule, it's true in most cases that conservative judges, even when they err, wind up leaving things in a position that can be changed by the voters; liberal judges tend, when in doubt, to constititionalize more issues in a way that gradually narrows the scope of democratic accountability and control. That's an ominous development.
3. Social Security: The biggest long-term issue in the federal budget is entitlements. Bush took a step backward on that issue when he fulfilled his campaign promise to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. But in his second term, Bush will be looking for a domestic legacy, and he recognizes the importance of changing the fundamental operation of Social Security as the key to his long-range view of an "ownership society" in which individuals have ownership and control over more aspects of their lives. And Bush is a guy who gets things done. (More on the larger themes at stake here). I look forward to the debate on this issue after the election (see here for a key point on the transition-cost issue); if Kerry wins, of course, nothing will change in the way the government does business.
Conclusion: There are many other issues at stake here, and many reasons I have not discussed. But on the biggest of the big things - leadership, determination and strategy at war, the role of the courts in our society, and the long-term structure of the entitlement programs that consume the largest share of the federal budget - the choice of Bush over Kerry is clear. May the right man win; I cast my vote for him already, and hope you do too.
FOOTBALL/POLITICS: From the Frozen Tundra of Lambert Field
Brett Favre has apparently joined the Bush camp. Not a big surprise, but that’s good news for Republicans in Wisconsin, since Favre is easily more popular there than either of the two candidates this year.
(By the way, if you don’t get the headline above, you're obviously not following the campaign obsessively enough! See here.)
UPDATE: There is now some doubt about that earlier report. Maybe someone in Wisconsin could confirm or deny?
POLITICS: Why Others Are Supporting Bush
ELECTION EVE UPDATE: This is my final update to this post, which you may or may not find to be a useful resource. May the best man win.
Well, I’ve more or less said my piece about who I’m supporting this year, offering one of the least-coveted endorsements of the season here. The following are just a few of those who seem to agree...
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John McCain: “President Bush deserves not only our support, but our admiration.”
Rudy Giuliani: “President Bush will make certain that we are combating terrorism at the source, beyond our shores, so we can reduce the risk of having to confront it in the streets of New York.”
Ed Koch: “I intend to vote for President George W. Bush in the next election, because in my view he is best able to wage the war against international terrorism.”
Bernard Kerik: “George W. Bush has my vote...for the future and safety of this country.”
9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America: “We are deeply grateful to President Bush, who rallied this nation on that dark September day, who has earned our respect and confidence, and whose leadership we trust to steer this country on the right path.”
Firefighters for Bush: “We haven't forgotten the way our nation rallied around the President, or the confidence he gave us all, showing up at Ground Zero against the wishes of the Secret Service.”
Fraternal Order of Police: “For the past four years, President George W. Bush has proved himself to be one of the very best friends that rank-and-file law enforcement officers have ever had.”
Catholics for President George W. Bush: “President Bush's views on issues such as life, marriage, and family are in accord with the Catholic Church.”
Athletes for Bush: “George W. Bush…is a leader we can depend on to make the tough decisions and the right decisions.”
P.J. O’Rourke: “Because I don’t want Johnnie Cochran on the Supreme Court.”
Armed Liberal: “In a pre-9/11 world, this balance would have certainly tipped me toward Kerry. Sadly, I live in a post 9/11 world.”
Gregory Djerejian: “I don't believe, in his gut, Kerry believes that we face an existential challenge with regard to the war on terror.”
Debra Saunders: “Bush chose to send U.S. troops to hunt down al Qaeda and oust the Taliban regime that protected the terrorist group, even as the anti-war left accused him of killing innocent Afghans in an act of misguided vengeance.”
Ron Silver: “Under the unwavering leadership of President Bush, the cause of freedom and democracy is being advanced by the courageous men and women serving in our Armed Services.”
Zainab al-Suwaij: “America, under the strong, compassionate leadership of President Bush, has given Iraqis the most precious gift any nation has ever given another --- the gift of democracy and the freedom to determine its own future.”
Christopher Hitchens: “I am in fact a member of a small international regime-change ‘left’ that originates in solidarity with our embattled brothers and sisters in Afghanistan and Iraq, brave people who have received zero support from the American ‘antiwar’ movement.”
Zell Miller: “I have come to believe that George Bush is the right man in the right place at the right time.”
The Express-Times (Easton, PA): “Now is not the time to back away from the fight. Or the president.”
The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, OH): “The Dispatch believes a second-term George W. Bush would stand a better chance of leading the nation up the difficult road that lies ahead.”
The Cincinnati Post: “With George W. Bush we choose stability, continuity and decisive leadership.”
The New York Post: “America will be safer with George Bush in the White House.”
John Howard: “I certainly think George Bush has given great leadership to the world fight against terrorism, I think he’s been a very strong leader in that fight and I hope he wins.”
Silvio Berlusconi: “We hope and believe that the next president will again be Bush.”
Junichiro Koizumi: "I don't want to interfere with another country's election but since I'm well-acquainted with President Bush, I want him to carry on."
Arnold Schwarzenegger: “We are one America, and President Bush is defending it with all his heart and soul.”
Tommy Franks: “I support George W. Bush.”
Ann Althouse: “I never forgot that [Kerry] got testy and accused a man of not listening, when in fact Kerry had never expressed himself clearly about what he would do in Iraq.”
Beldar: “Dubya has my vote, and I feel good about that.”
Sarah Baxter: “If Bush is ousted, there will be victory celebrations across the undemocratic Arab world.”
Randy Kelly: “In turbulent times, what the American people need more than anything is continuity of government, even with some imperfect policies.”
Al Leiter: “I don't absolutely agree with the president. But the Republican platform is more suitable for me than the other one."
Kathleen Acton: “Your leadership since September 11, 2001 has inspired me to change who I am as a person and what I do with my life.”
Scott O’Grady: “We have a very strong commander-in-chief. In these critical times, that's exactly what we need.”
The Oshkosh Northwestern (Oshkosh, WI): “We believe that the leadership of George W. Bush during the past four years shows a man who resolutely stays on the issues that affect Americans.”
The Denver Post: “On Sept. 11, 2001, this country accepted a great challenge - to inflict justice on terrorists who would attack us and to take every reasonable step to protect our homeland. The task has been pursued with dogged resolution, and we think President Bush is best suited to continue the fight.”
Peggy Noonan: “With the decline of the Democratic Party, I have become convinced there is a greater chance we will win the war if the Republican Party wins the election.”
George Pataki: “President Bush understands we can't just wait for the next attack.”
James Na: “I do not agree with Bush on everything, but because I know the choice is crystal clear on this issue of life and death, my vote is for him.”
Dale Franks: “A retreat in the War on Terror that results in a decade of threats to American security like those that appeared in the 1970s could very well make domestic political calculations about the relative libertarian-ness of the GOP moot.”
Brian Golden: “President Bush speaks of supporting the ‘culture of life’ — the call to ‘uphold and affirm the dignity of every person, rich and poor, able and disabled, born and unborn’ — and he has backed his words with action.”
Norma McCorvey: “I am the former 'Jane Roe' of the Supreme Court's abortion decision Roe vs. Wade, and I am writing this note in my personal capacity, not as the representative of any organization. This year I am going to vote to re-elect President Bush”
George McKelvey: “Although I have never publicly endorsed a presidential candidate, the significance of this election - an election which I view as the most important of my lifetime - has motivated me to acknowledge my support for President Bush.”
Kelsey Grammar: “I’ve been a pro-Bush guy for some time now. I think he’s got a clear message; I think he’s got a conscientious message, and I think he has some real courage. So it’s just nice to see in a President and I’m actually a fan.”
Bill Owens: “Thanks to the President's firm decision to confront and defeat terrorists and the regimes that support them, America is safer, and more than 50 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan are free.”
Steve Dunleavy: “I want my GI son to serve under Bush.”
Matthew Manweller: “Down one path lies retreat, abdication, and a reign of ambivalence. Down the other lies a nation that is aware of its past and accepts the daunting obligation its future demands.”
William Kristol: “September 11 saw horrible hours. But it could also be the beginning of one of America's finest hours. The chances of that will be greatest under President Bush.”
Mitt Romney: “President Bush has shown unwavering commitment to win the war on terror, and to rebuild the economy.”
Michele Catalano: “I have to vote with both my head and my heart, and they both want to vote for George W. Bush on November 2.”
John S: “I trust and support President Bush in his leadership of the war and our nation's role in the world. I do not trust John Kerry's instincts, voting record, and positions on the same.”
Dennis Prager: “There are overwhelmingly powerful Jewish reasons to vote for President Bush and equally powerful Jewish reasons not to vote for John Kerry.”
The Jewish Week: “Bush’s changing of the Oslo tactics, by letting Israel protect itself, has changed the course of Israel’s history.”
The Mansfield News Journal (Mansfield, OH): “Between the two, it seems clear Bush will put the safety of America first on his agenda. He understands the threats posed against this country. He is willing to do whatever it takes, regardless of domestic or world political opinion, to destroy those who seek to destroy us.”
Max Boot: “I'm a one-issue voter...Bush gets it; he was transformed by 9/11.”
Bob Dole: “President Bush is my guy.”
Captain Ed: “I'm going to vote for the man who woke up on 9/11 and saw the danger that our country and the Western world faces, and who has remained consistent in his determination to fight and beat that danger regardless of the polls and the calls for appeasement from weak and corrupt allies. “
John Hawkins: “The War on Terror is serious business and our country desperately needs George Bush to lead the fight for the next four years.”
Hugh Hewitt: “Because John Kerry isn't a credible Commander-in-Chief. Bush is. He's led through the first two battles of the GWOT to victory and he'll lead this one as well, and the ones that come later.”
Anne Bayevsky: “President Bush made it clear that the Israeli fight against terrorism is not a localized dilemma but rather part of the same war being waged by Americans against global terrorism.”
David Gelernter: “Bush makes me laugh…and I'm voting for him.”
David Zucker: “I was really a liberal Democrat until 9/11…There is no question in my mind that President Bush is doing a great job fighting the war on terror.”
Dan Ackroyd: “Let this administration finish this war and this fight against terrorism.”
Pat Buchanan: “I cannot endorse the candidate of Michael Moore, George Soros, and Barbra Streisand, nor endorse a course of action that would put this political windsurfer into the presidency, no matter how deep our disagreement with the fiscal, foreign, immigration, and trade policies of George W. Bush.”
The Sioux Falls Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, SD): “Four years ago, the Argus Leader endorsed Al Gore over President Bush. We're facing a different world situation now, with different needs. In 2004, given the choices, George Bush is the right person to lead our nation.”
Glenn Reynolds: “I'm certainly not a Republican, although I will very probably - actually, almost certainly - vote for George Bush this time.”
Roger L. Simon: “I am a registered Democrat. I disagree with George W. Bush on gay marriage, stem-cell research, a woman's right to choose, and, to a lesser extent, a host of other issues, but I am supporting him unreservedly for president. We are in a protracted war with Islamofascism and I do not trust John Kerry to lead us in that war for one minute.”
Orson Scott Card: “I'm a Democrat voting for Bush, even though on economic issues, from taxes to government regulation, I'm not happy with the Republican positions. But we're at war, and electing a president who is committed to losing it seems to be the most foolish thing we could do.”
Jay Caruso: “I’m a one issue voter this year. It’s only because I feel that President Bush will do a much better job fighting terrorism than John Kerry, that I am voting for him. Otherwise, my vote would go elsewhere (though not to Kerry).”
Stephen Green: “There's a war on, and I don't trust Kerry to wage it.”
Bob Geldof: “Clinton talked the talk and did diddly squat, whereas Bush doesn't talk but does deliver…You'll think I'm off my trolley when I say this, but the Bush administration is the most radical, in a positive sense, in the approach to Africa since Kennedy.”
Pete du Pont: “Mr. Bush believes in an ownership society in which individuals have the resources to improve their lives, owning their own health-care and retirement accounts.”
Dennis Miller: “9/11 changed me…I'm shocked that it didn't change the whole country, frankly.”
MORE (From the Crank):
Meryl Yourish: "I will be breaking a lifelong streak of voting for Democratic Presidential candidates on Tuesday: I'm voting for George W. Bush. . . . I think Kerry is a liar and a poseur. You cannot have a career of pacifism and voting against military issues and suddenly turn around and declare yourself a fit commander-in-chief. . . . I disagree with nearly every single part of George Bush's domestic policies. . . . We are at war, and we need a president who will recognize that, and act accordingly."
Thanks for that one. Now, still going…
Paul Johnson: “I cannot recall any election when the enemies of America all over the world have been so unanimous in hoping for the victory of one candidate. That is the overwhelming reason that John Kerry must be defeated, heavily and comprehensively.”
LT Smash: “You know where he stands.”
Drew: “George W. Bush has served our nation well for four years. It has not been an easy time for our country, but I thank God that he provided us with someone that has put America first and helped to keep us strong.”
Bill: “A guiding factor that holds sway over steering a massive and inherently flawed bureaucracy in the right general direction is sincerity and strength of character. George W. Bush possesses these qualities, and that goes a long way towards earning my vote.”
Robert Bidinotto: “President Bush -- though far from ideal -- is much better than Kerry…[A] vote for the Libertarian, instead of Mr. Bush, is a de facto vote for Kerry.”
The King County Journal (King County, WA): “No one can question the patriotism of Sen. John Kerry, but it is the resolve of President Bush that our country needs at this critical time in American history.”
An Ex-Pat in Bulgaria: “Most of the fellow ex-pats I meet around here are split 70/30 Bush...Kerry is seen as weak. And frankly, many people, even here, work in risky jobs and don’t want another ‘Tomahawk thrower’.”
Walt Latham: “George Bush has made tough decisions on the defense of the United States and civilization. He has put his presidency on the line.”
Curt Schilling: “[M]ake sure you tell everybody to vote, and vote Bush next week.”
Bill Frist: “Mr. Kerry will empower those who tax you. President Bush will empower those who cure you.”
Elaine Chao: “President Bush speaks our language: the language of opportunity, family and a better future for each new generation.”
John O’Neill: “We resent very deeply the false war crimes charges [Kerry] made coming back from Vietnam in 1971 and repeated in the book ‘Tour of Duty’…We believe, based on our experience with him, that he is totally unfit to be the Commander-in-Chief."
George “Bud” Day: “John Kerry's character is not only fair game, it is the primary issue…Can anyone trust John Kerry?”
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “[M]y dad was a Republican, and I'm a Republican.”
Professor Bainbridge: “I'm a yellow dog Republican who voted the straight party ticket.”
Jews for George: “We believe The President's record on Israel, Homeland Security, and the War on Terror demands the full support of Michigan's Jewish community.”
Gerard Baker: “[P]erhaps less because he has been right and more because those who hate him so much have been so wrong, I want this President re-elected.”
For now at least, the last words...
Rich Lowry: “Kerry is attempting to boost his own toughness by the association with Reagan…It is Bush, of course, who has the national-security policy organically connected to Reagan's, featuring the same strength of purpose and moral resolve.”
Ramesh Ponnuru: “If Bush is serious about what he said in New York City…then his second term will indeed see an increase in liberty…Conservatives have good reasons to see Bush through this November and to hold him to his word.”
Jim Geraghty: “Kerry's incoherent, sort-of-for, sort-of-against, shapeless gray blobs of linguistic ooze make debating his views impossible, because there's nothing to support or to dispute.”
Mark Steyn: “This is the 9/11 election, a choice between pushing on or retreating to the polite fictions of September 10. I bet on reality.”
James Lileks: “I do not believe Bush walks on water…I have one issue above all: the war. And yes, I’m one of those deluded types who thinks we’re at war, and that the absence of attacks since 9/11 no more means we’re not at war than the absence of air raids on Manhattan in 1942 meant we weren’t at war with Germany and Japan.”
Andrew McCarthy: “President Bush is promising to win. If we leave Iraq without winning, we lose. Militant Islam grows stronger, and bolder…We can defeat them there, in Iraq, where they are massed against us; or we can duck and meet them in Manhattan — once again — when they are stronger, and when they have been fortified in the conviction of our weakness and their own invincibility.”
Jonah Goldberg: “George W. Bush is the best option available in the range of possible options given the fact that we are at war. John Kerry is the best option for those who are in denial about the fact that we are at war.”
John Ellis (added by the Crank): "The man I know is smart, extraordinarily disciplined, enormously hard-working, open to new ideas and approaches, decisive, shrewd and gifted with a keen sense of the possible. He is decent and honest and true, which cannot be said of many of his critics. . . . Our enemies will brace for four more years of hell if Bush is re-elected. They will celebrate if Senator Kerry wins. Here's to four more years of hell."
Megan McArdle: “I've decided to take the advice of a friend's grandmother, who told me, on her wedding day, that I should never, ever marry a man thinking he'd change…Kerry's record for the first fifteen years in the senate, before he knew what he needed to say in order to get elected, is not the record of anyone I want within spitting distance of the White House war room…I'm sticking with the devil I know. George Bush in 2004.”
Jason Steffens (added by the Crank): "There is a cause. And one candidate willing to fight for that cause."
Charles Johnson (added by the Crank): "In this presidential election, you need to vote as if your life depends on it."
The New York Daily News: "Returning Bush to office is the wise course, The News believes, despite our sharp disagreement with his domestic policies. Those pale in comparison with the overarching challenge of securing the nation and preserving New York's vital way of life."
Victor Davis Hanson: “We should remember that all our victorious past presidents were, at the moments of their crises, deeply unpopular precisely because they chose the difficult, long-term sacrifice for victory over the expedient and convenient pleas for accommodation (if not outright capitulation). We are faced with just such an option today: a choice between a president whose call for patience and sacrifice promises victory, and a pessimist stirring the people with the assurances that we should not have fought, and now cannot win, the present war in Iraq.”
Spoons (added by the Crank): "When the MSM, especially the NYT and CBS, is so in the tank for John Kerry that they're willing literally to make up phony story after phony story in order to defeat the President, then I just can't stay on the sidelines."
Tom Wolfe: “I would vote for Bush if for no other reason than to be at the airport waving off all the people who say they are going to London if he wins again. Someone has got to stay behind.”
Tammy Bruce: “As a Democrat and a pro-choice feminist, it’s time for me to explain why I support the president, and why other thoughtful Democrats should join me in doing so…I voted for President Bush because he has freed 50 million people, 25 million of which are women and girls. The feminist establishment, in a shameful exhibit of their hypocrisy, has ignored that fact.”
Greyhawk: “A very necessarily empty throne in Baghdad. It's not that hard to understand, is it?”
Brendan Miniter: “Tomorrow's election is the most consequential since Ronald Reagan sought re-election in 1984 and perhaps on par with the Gipper's run in 1980. The reason for this is simple: Sept. 11.”
Dale Amon: “I have voted for a Republican for President for the first time in my life. I don't agree with George Bush on many issues, but I do indeed agree with him on the war and the war cabinet is one I quite like.”
Bill Whittle: “[T]he fact remains that George W. Bush was Commander in Chief and President when we needed him the most. I made a mistake when I cast my vote for Al Gore in the most important election of my lifetime. I won't make that mistake again on Tuesday.”
Vanderleun: “It will be the first time I've ever voted for a Republican ticket in a National Election. Before this, I voted Democrat right down the line. But I was asleep and I was foolish. Now, at least I can say I'm awake.”
A few more…
Norman Schwarzkopf: “I am supporting President Bush for reelection, because he is the candidate who has demonstrated the conviction needed to defeat terrorism. In contrast to the President's steadfast determination to defeat our enemies, Senator Kerry has a record of weakness that gives me no confidence in his ability to fight and win the War on Terror. His attempt to make up for these deficiencies by falsifying my endorsement only confirms my impression that he is not the man we need to lead our nation.”
Mike Tice: “When it's the fourth quarter and the game is on the line, you want somebody with a cool head calling the plays.”
Virginia Postrel: “Given the current balance of power in Congress, there are only two things the president can significantly affect: foreign policy and regulatory policy. I prefer Bush to Kerry on both. It's a cold calculation.”
The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ): “In a time of great peril, George W. Bush has stepped forward to provide, certainly not perfect leadership, but steady, unwavering leadership and, overall, effective leadership. We therefore urge -- strongly urge -- his re-election.”
Asbury Park Press (Asbury Park, NJ): “Bush is flawed. But America will be in better hands with him at the helm than someone still struggling to figure out where he wants to take the country and what he stands for. For that reason, we endorse George W. Bush for re-election to a second term as president of the United States.”
The Daily Telegraph (United Kingdom): “The intellectual vacuum at the heart of [Kerry’s] candidacy has profound implications for Britain's strategic interests and the lives of our troops: in both cases, this country would be better served by the re-election of Mr. Bush.”
The Mesopotamian (Iraq): “President Bush now represents a symbol of defiance against the terrorists and it is a fact, that all the enemies of America, with the terrorists foremost, are hoping for him to be deposed in the upcoming elections.”
The final word goes to…who else?
The Baseball Crank: “There are many other issues at stake here, and many reasons I have not discussed. But on the biggest of the big things - leadership, determination and strategy at war, the role of the courts in our society, and the long-term structure of the entitlement programs that consume the largest share of the federal budget - the choice of Bush over Kerry is clear. May the right man win; I cast my vote for him already, and hope you do too.”
« Close It
October 31, 2004
POLITICS: Bullish on Bush
Jay Cost, who seems to be one of the most optimistic poll-readers these days, in an item posted yesterday:
Present Probability that Bush will win the Electoral College: 96.36% (This is the probability that Bush wins FL and IA and WI or OH. Thus, we can be 96.36% confident that Bush would receive a minimum of either 271 EVs or 281 EVs).
Personally, I continue to believe that Florida, not Ohio, is the real key right now, because winning Florida gives Bush (or, to a lesser extent, Kerry) multiple ways to win, while losing Florida leaves Bush with almost no margin for error and Kerry with none.
POLITICS: More Bedfellow Award Candidates
*Tonight's final pre-election broadcast of 60 Minutes weighs in, as you knew it would, with a last-ditch
*More on bin Laden's effort to meddle in U.S. elections - should we read something into this MEMRI translation of one of his statements?
POLITICS: Election Night Timeline
Here's a handy scorecard of the poll-closing times in each state on Tuesday night. The first states to close up the polls entirely start at 7pm EST and include two early indicators: New Hampshire and Virginia. Bush is going to win Virginia, but if it's close, that could be a bad indicator. New Hampshire has been fiercely contested; I expect Kerry to take it, but a Bush victory is certainly still possible. Bush taking New Hampshire would not be fatal but it would be a very bad sign for Kerry, as this is the swing state in which Kerry has spent the most time (other than perhaps Iowa) and the one most likely to be receptive to his New England persona.
At 7:30 we get North Carolina and West Virginia, two more Southern states that could be warnings of weakness for Bush but that Bush will win even if he's losing. And we get Ohio, although for a variety of reasons, if Ohio is as close as everyone thinks it will be, it could be a long time before the networks announce a winner. Recall that the networks appear to have absorbed the lessons of incorrectly calling Florida for Gore early on Election Night 2000 (before the polls closed in the most Republican parts of the state, in fact); any state that looks close won't get announced until they are sure.
8pm brings the witching hour for a huge swath of the country, including Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Again, if we're looking for knockout blows, look at MI and NJ; if Bush wins NJ, Kerry is toast in a big way, and if he wins MI, the math gets really ugly for Kerry. And frankly, the more I do the electoral math, the harder it is to see how Kerry can win a close one without Florida, because he then needs to win almost every other state that's even remotely contested. Shortly after 8, in other words, is the first point at which Election Night could for all intents and purposes be over if the networks have clear enough winners to start calling a bunch of states (Bush can win if he loses both Florida and Ohio, but it's hugely improbable).
After that, brace for the long haul, as Wisconsin, Minnesota and New Mexico don't check in until 9pm, Iowa at 10, and Hawaii at 11pm, and of course some states (like Oregon) aren't likely to be declared for weeks.
October 30, 2004
POLITICS: He Said It, Not Me
Josh Marshall, who ought to be an expert on this particular subject, on Democrats' reactions to the bin Laden tape:
[Emails Marshall received] struck me with what is one of the Democrats' greatest weaknesses: their vulnerability to getting knocked off stride by the rush of events, their tendency to fret that all is lost, almost to indulge in it, when the car hits a simple bump in the road.
(Emphasis in original). Note that Marshall has been down this road before. Which party do you trust to stick to its guns when times are hardest?
October 29, 2004
POLITICS: Bedfellow Award Season
I have, in the past, threatened to hand out - but never got around to awarding - a "Bedfellow Award" for too-late-to-respond hits in the campaign season, especially (but not exclusively) false ones. The name comes from the comic strip "Bloom County," in which Senator Bedfellow was defeated on the strength of an election-day headline, "WARNING: VOTING FOR BEDFELLOW MAY CAUSE HERPES".
2002 had loads of candidates, including the flap over the Wellstone memorial service; the 2003 winner probably went to the LA Times sexual harrassment story on Schwarzenegger (the accuracy of which never seems to have been examined, although I don't doubt that there was a good deal of truth to it, given Arnold's reputation), although there may be something I'm forgetting; the Kerry-intern story was a good example from the primaries, although the rolling nature of primary elections gave him time to get the truth out before more damage was done.
The simplest definition of a Bedfellow Award nominee is a news story that (1) comes out shortly before the election, and (2) has a much larger impact on the election than it would have if it had come out earlier. Obviously, (2) is particularly true of stories that are false or misleading, since they tend to be easier to explain or debunk if they come out with adequate time to respond. If I get enough nominees, I'll hand out awards for the presidential race, a Senate race and maybe a House race, as well as an award for each party.
Anyway, we've got a battery of candidates so far in this year's presidential election (let alone the Senate and House races), and the late hits - some true, some false, some fair, some inserted by people outside the US political process - keep rolling in fast and furious:
*A new bin Laden video! (See here, link via McArdle, in which bin Laden seems to be relying on "Fahrenheit 9/11" for his talking points, and here, in which a very sad-looking bin Laden sounds like he's cribbing from DNC speeches for material, ripping the "inflexibility of the American-Israeli alliance" and accusing Bush of "misleading" the American people. Is it for real? Is it recent? Will there be enough time to tell the difference?
*Another example just from Instapundit's backup singers: Michael Totten links to this FOX News report saying maybe we really did protect and dispose of at least a big chunk of those missing explosives. The whole HMX/RDX story, of course, is a leading candidate for the award at the moment, but there's plenty of time for more.
Anyway, those are just the early entries; we'll get crazier stuff still as we go. Put your favorite candidates in the comments - and I'll update this post as we go - and I'll try to hand out awards after the election.
UPDATE: (And I've also added a little to the text above). From NRO Battlegrounders, word that a Pennsylvania judge has unsealed records from a Heinz family lawsuit over the death of Teresa Heinz Kerry's first husband, records that could potentially shed more light on the family's finances. There probably isn't much news in there, but if there is, there won't be time to give it context.
POLITICS: Kay on HMX
Saw David Kay being interviewed by Soledad O'Brien on CNN's American Morning this morning on the issue of accounting for Iraq's prewar stocks of heavy-duty conventional explosives HMX and RDX (a link to the transcript should be posted on this page later today). Specifically, they watched a newly-released (as of last night, I think; I confess that this story is unfolding too fast for me to have confidence that I've followed every twist in it). First off, agree with him or not - or agree with him only in part - you have to like David Kay; his bluntness stands in stark contrast to the doublespeak of most international bureaucrats, and he mostly doesn't seem to have a dog in the various fights he weighs in on (recall how his initial report cheered opponents of the war with his declaration that "we were nearly all wrong" about Saddam having WMD, and also cheered proponents of war with his insistence that Saddam was deceiving and evading inspections and that Iraq was even more dangerous, on the whole, than we thought).
Anyway, once again Kay's recollections and analysis of the video gives a little something to everyone. His points, in no particular order:
1. He (Kay) had argued during the 1990s for destroying this stuff, but Hans Blix gave in to the Iraqi regime's demand that they be allowed to keep it for civilian construction purposes.
2. The tape (apparently shot by US media in April 2003, if I heard correctly) clearly shows an unbroken IAEA seal on at least one bunker, indicating that there was still some quantity of the explosives there at the time US troops arrived.
3. To Kay's eye, it's clear that the tape shows the presence of HMX. Kay didn't talk about RDX. Since I, like most bloggers, had never heard of either one until four days ago, I'm still mulling the significance of this, but as I noted below, Wizbang has been looking into the RDX side of the ledger.
4. Kay believes that US troops would and should have recognized these as explosives but, not being professional weapons inspectors, would likely not have recognized them as stocks of HMX.
5. Kay thinks the troops, having located stocks of explosives, should have been responsible for guarding them.
6. Although he didn't discuss the logistics of moving 360 or 380 or whatever tons of the stuff, Kay cautioned that you would be surprised at the things that looters, moving without trucks, can cart away by hand. He noted having seen people literally dismantling and taking away buildings brick by brick.
7. Kay stressed that it's important to keep in perspective the fact that this was just a small percentage of the high explosives in Iraq; he asserted (and this surprised even me) that Iraq possessed approximately 2/3 the amount of explosives as the US military, a staggering quantity for a country the size of California that could barely feed its people.
POLITICS: Dogs Not Barking
Looking back over my recent take on the election, I’m actually struck by some of the things I left out. Notably, the things we’re not paying attention to, especially in foreign affairs.
In 2000, Bush and Gore famously never debated the issue of terrorism. Today, the election has focused on the fight against al Qaeda, the insurgency in Iraq and, to a lesser degree, on Iran and North Korea, with a dash of Darfur thrown in. As some have noted, however, that leaves an awful lot of the world undiscussed. Might there not be big things we don’t see coming or big areas that we are taking for granted because things are going fairly well?
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For example, in a very significant move earlier this week, Colin Powell controversially restated and even modified America’s position on Taiwan, an issue that, if ignored, could drag us into a war that would make Iraq look like the invasion of Grenada. The Taiwanese, whom we have long supported, are incrementally inching towards declaring independence, a situation which would almost certainly lead to an invasion from mainland China. For all the talk about Bush’s reckless and naïve foreign policy, his administration has maintained a very realist posture in other parts of the world, while we take on more pressing and ambitious projects in the Middle East. Thus, Powell, despite the initial furor, restated the conditional nature of America’s support for Taiwan, thereby maintaining the good relations the U.S. has with China, throwing some cold water on the most aggressive Taiwanese and helping to preserve a status quo which is in our interest. This course may go a long way to preventing a massively destructive war, yet it was quietly overlooked in the West.
In fact, in a campaign where one side is denouncing the administration’s lack of diplomatic skill, it is easy to forget that the U.S. has probably never had better relations with both China and Russia at the same time. Of course, both governments have major problems, but the current good relations are clearly helping us in many areas, including Central Asia. The Bush Administration has also helped achieve a gradual easing of the standoff between India and Pakistan and bolstered America’s alliance with Japan, maintaining a delicate balance between friendly relations with both it and its Chinese rival. Meanwhile, peaceful democracy continues to spread in Latin America, in Eastern Europe and even in Southeast Asia, where Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, recently had its first democratic elections. All is not perfect, but it has rarely been better in many parts of the world.
It’s also worth considering a few things that didn’t happen these past four years. As Charles Krauthammer notes, John Kerry would have you believe that he would’ve exactly replicated all of the recent triumphs in Afghanistan and Iraq, but would’ve avoided all the mistakes. Right. Given Kerry’s multilateral instincts, I suspect that he would have gone through the long, torturous UN process prior to any invasion of Afghanistan, not just Iraq, and that our whole military response would’ve either been airstrikes or an invasion delayed by months or years by diplomatic haggling. Al Qaeda would not have “escaped” from Tora Bora, since they probably would’ve been gone long before we ever even got there. It is easy, with retrospect, to see past mistakes, it is a little more difficult to see pitfalls that were avoided.
Anyway, I could go on, but my point – such as it is – is that there is an awful lot going on in the world, in Iraq and elsewhere, but we should not let ourselves forget the big developments or non-developments throughout the world which often go under-reported. There are a lot of dogs barking at the moment, but, every once in awhile, we should pause to consider those which are not.
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October 28, 2004
POLITICS: Europeans for Bush
As you can see below, I’ve paid some attention to who’s been endorsing who, but I confess to being pretty shocked that Germany’s largest, in fact Europe’s largest, newspaper has apparently endorsed President Bush. (Via Michael Totten).
Of course, it would be a little hypocritical for me to put too much stock in this, especially since the paper’s reasoning seems to be that Europeans should support Bush because it will keep them from having to do any heavy lifting in the War on Terror. But it is a nice reminder that world opinion is not as monolithic as some would have us believe. See here for another excellent example of that.
UPDATE (from the Crank): According to the left-wing Guardian, add Tony Blair, who of course won't come out and say it publicly, to the list of world leaders backing Bush:
Who are these 'they' whose 'mucking about' makes Tony Blair so anxious? They are Iran with its sponsorship of terrorism and its ambitions to go nuclear. They are Syria. They are the psychotic regime in North Korea along with the rest of the planet's rogue and risk states.
The mind of Mr Blair was summarised for me in vivid terms by someone who has an extremely good claim to know what is going on inside it: 'Tony thinks the world is a very dangerous and precarious place. Bush is the tough guy who keeps the bad guys under their rocks.'
POLITICS: Exuberance of Debatable Rationality
Is Jim Geraghty's source in the Bush-Cheney campaign giving him (a) good grounds for optimism, (b) self-serving spin, (c) the results of coccooning self-delusion, (d) certainty about the unknowable based on small sample sizes or cherry-picked polls, or (e) a bit of each?
We won't know until Tuesday.
POLITICS/WAR: An RDX Disposal Question
Paul at Wizbang wants answers. For now, all he has is a potentially plausible working hypothesis: that by January 2003, all but 3 tons of the 141 tons of RDX at Al Qa'qaa was gone from that facility, and that IAEA inspectors knew this and withheld the fact from the UN Security Council during the pre-war debate. If you can help shed light on his analysis, drop by and lend a link or a comment.
I have to say, given that "there were no dangerous weapons in Iraq" was one of the points Kerry had decisively won in this year's political debate, he seems to have shot himself in the foot by placing so much emphasis on the eve of the election on the dangers posed by these conventional weapons that were in Saddam's hands before the war.
LAW/POLITICS: Chutzpah Award
Stuart Buck passes along word of an Alice-in-Wonderland decision to prevent the Ohio Secretary of State from investigating what may well be a substantial number of voter registrations - on the grounds that the individuals can't be notified of a hearing on the matter because they don't live at the addresses they used to register! (Coincidentally, the decision is by a Clinton appointee who is the wife of one of Ohio's leading plaintiffs' attorneys - what are the odds of that?)
BASEBALL/POLITICS: Schilling for Bush
I'm going to offer a perhaps-unexpected (to new readers, at least) point here and say that now is not the time, and a puff-piece interview on Good Morning America was not the place, for Curt Schilling to stump for President Bush. The stakes in this election are indeed life and death, and of course I welcome Schilling's endorsement. But:
1. I've long been infuriated by entertainers who stick their politics into a venue (interviews, concerts, etc.) where I'm expecting to just be entertained, as opposed to presenting a political argument in a political context. That should go for conservatives in sports and entertainment just as much as liberals. There's a reason why, despite the baseball/politics mix on this site, I labor to keep the two types of content clearly marked.
2. Sox fans are celebrating right now, and, let's be frank, a lot of them are Democrats. Don't spoil that with politics, no matter the cause; just don't (more on that idea here).
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:55 PM | Baseball 2004 | Politics 2004 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: They Went Down To The Courthouse, And The Judge Put It All To Rest
Ann Althouse notes that there is really no way to stop a large number of Illinois Democrats from voting for Kerry in Wisconsin following a joint Springsteen performance/Kerry appearance that 60,000 people are expected to attend. Of course, this looks like a prime opportunity for Republicans, for once, to keep a close eye out for ballot fraud without getting accused of racism in the process, as Bruce's fan base is pretty white.
UPDATE: Althouse says not too many people went and voted after the rally anyway. Which is good news.
POLITICS: Another Endorsement
It's not exactly a surprise, but given the publicity machine that surrounds the handful of September 11 widows who have consistently agitated against President Bush, it's worth noting this open letter of support for Bush from a much longer list of families of people killed on September 11.
I'm sure that there are also plenty of other Bush supporters among those who, like me, were fortunate to survive the attacks.
October 27, 2004
POLITICS: The Vet Vote
McQ notes a number of polls breaking down different voting blocs, with interesting commentary. One significant group:
McQ notes one obvious reason for this:
The line you often hear quoted, from various sources, is about a Kerry defeat being the parade Vietnam vets never had. Of course, consider this in tandem with the 75% or so support that Bush appears to get from both active-duty military and from the Guard and Reserves, and the overall picture is not one of great love for Kerry by his fellow veterans and soldiers.
POLITICS: Um, About Those Late-Breaking Undecideds . . .
The candidates are essentially tied among those who made up their minds during the summer. However, those who decided in the past month favor President Bush by a 57% to 38% margin.
Our sample included 136 Likely Voters who made up their mind over the last week. These voters also appear to be breaking in the President's direction but the small sample size prevents any definitive assessment.
There are very few undecided voters today. Those who have recently made their final decision are most likely firming up a choice for the candidate they have been leaning towards for some period of time.
At the moment, 93% of Bush voters are certain they won't change their mind and 89% of Kerry voters say the same. Our daily Presidential Tracking Poll shows that just 2% of voters remain undecided at this time (many of whom may not vote).
UPDATE: Hugh Hewitt points to a 51-47 Bush lead among the most-likely voters of all: the 9% of all respondents to an ABC poll who say they have already voted by absentee ballot or early voting. I cast my own absentee ballot for Bush on Friday, to free myself up to volunteer on Election Day.
POLITICS: Daily Must-Reads for 10/27/04
*Lileks on Andrew Sullivan's Kerry endorsement. The closing line, which Lileks has delivered by Tony Blair, is deadly.
*The Sultan of Snark on Ron Suskind: "If Suskind misreads his own facts wrong in order to (willfully? subconsciously?) pander to New York Times readers' fear of Christian fundamentalism, what other facts has he misread? And what kind of 'empiricist' is he?" I also liked the line about the "imperturbable" Andrew Sullivan.
*Will Collier on heavy early-voting turnout in Georgia, nobody's idea of a battleground. High turnout in Georgia, of all places, tends to undercut the idea that it's Kerry's supporters who are fired up. Remember, you have a lot of people out there who support the war and have had to keep silent as the media has poured hot boiling scorn on the war effort for the past couple of years.
Either way, I predict that the loser of this election will get substantially more votes than any prior presidential candidate in history. And if Kerry wins, Bush would break with a long tradition of incumbents losing only if they have a severe split in their party, a major third party candidate and/or a catastrophic setback on the order of Watergate, the Great Depression or the one-two punch of stagflation and the Iranian hostage crisis.
*Jay Cost (link via NRO Battlegrounders) on why he thinks the Bush-Cheney campaign has a decisive advantage in the Ohio ground game that will show up on Election Day. I'm prepared to believe, among other things, that the GOP's get out the vote (GOTV) effort benefits from being an integrated organization as compared to the alphabet soup of "independent" groups working for the Dems, but I'm more skeptical about the idea that there's some enormous hidden advantage here that Karl Rove knows about and we don't.
Who controls the British pound? Who keeps the metric system down?
Who leaves Atlantis off the maps? Who keeps the Martians under wraps?
Who holds back the electric car? Who makes Steve Gutenberg a star?
Who robs cavefish of their sight? Who rigs every Oscar night?
POLITICS: Getting The Job Done
The latest and apparently last theory that Kerry and his media allies have settled on is to attack Bush's execution of the War on Terror, including both the Iraq war and Afghanistan; the theme of the attacks has been that Bush is incompetent, which is taken now as received wisdom beyond challenge by fact. Go read Greg Djerejian's long essay on this point, and yesterday's shorter Wall Street Journal op-ed (for a similar analysis, see Dan Darling on the Washington Post's effort to argue that the Iraq war and anti-Iran hardliners undermined the al Qaeda manhunt). Both contribute to a few of the key points that need to be borne in mind in evaluating the Bush Administration's performance:
1. War is a difficult and complex endeavor, requiring the making of scores of decisions large and small. Many of those decisions are, by their very nature, made on the basis of severely incomplete information, fraught with uncertainty and likely to have lethal consequences if they go wrong - and often if they go right, as well. The military acronym SNAFU got that way for a reason. Bush, by leading the nation in wartime, is certain to make more mistakes, and with worse consequences, than any peacetime president.
2. The history of wars, in fact, is almost unbroken in the making of catastrophic misjudgments by even the best of wartime leaders. Certainly if you review the records of Lincoln, FDR and Churchill, three of the models of civilian leadership in war, they and their generals and civilian advisers made numerous errors that cost scores of lives, many of which in retrospect seem like obvious blunders. I'd like the critics who formerly supported Bush and have now abandoned him to at least admit that on the same grounds, they would have voted for Dewey in 1944 and McClellan in 1864.
3. More specifically to the issue at hand, in almost all cases, the decisions by Bush and his civilian and military advisers involved avoiding alternatives that had their own potential bad consequences, and the critics are judging these decisions in a vacuum. The decision to disband Saddam's army and undergo a thorough de-Ba'athification is a classic example, cited incessantly by critics on the Left. But what if Bush had kept that army together, and they had acted in the heavy-handed (to put it mildly) fashion to which the Ba'athists were accustomed, say, by firing on crowds of civilians? Isn't it an absolute certainty that all the same critics would be singing "meet the new boss, same as the old boss," accusing Bush's commitment to democracy as being a sham and a cover for a desire to set up friendly tyrants to keep the oil pumping, that we'd hear constantly about how we've alienated the Iraqi people by enabling their oppressors, how we showed misunderstanding of the country by leaving a minority Sunni power structure in place over the Shi'ite majority? Wouldn't we hear the very same things we hear now about Afghanistan, about using too few US troops and "outsourcing" the job, or the same civil-liberties concerns we hear when we turn over suspects for interrogation to countries without our restraint when it comes to torture? Don't insult our intelligence and try to deny it.
The same goes for many decisions. More troops? We'd hear that this is a heavy-handed US occupation. I mean, we heard something like that when Giuliani put more cops on the street in New York, let alone a foreign country. Like most conservatives, my preference would have been to go hard into Fallujauh in April. But even if the alternative decision to hold off until there could be significant Iraqi participation in the assault was wrong, it was not an illogical one, but rather a decision made with the patience and foresight to consider the long-range political consequences in Iraq of differing military approaches.
4. Many of the decisions at issue here, from specific ground commanders' decisions to secure particular sites to Tommy Franks' call on Tora Bora, were decisions principally made by people lower in the chain of command, many of them in the military. This is not to say that Bush, as the head of that chain of command, is not ultimately responsible to the voters for those decisions; he is. But it is to remind people that they are not second-guessing solely the judgments of a small coterie of the president and civilian advisers, but the entire chain of command. Tom Maguire makes this point explicitly with regard to Tora Bora:
If Kerry is campaigning on a promise to make the battlefield decisions and always make the right ones, good for him. Say Anything, John.
5. Much of the criticism has focused on the idea that Bush needs to admit more errors, and that Kerry would be better at recognizing and admitting mistakes. Djerejian zeroes in on an argument made by David Adesnik and Dan Drezner:
As a professional researcher, I think I simply find it almost impossible to trust someone whose thought process is apparently so different from my own. In theory, I am sure that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld all believe in evaluating the relevant data and adjusting their decisions to reflect reality. Thus, when I say that I object to the way that this administration makes decisions, I am saying that I do not believe that it has lived up to the intellectual standard it presumably accepts. [emphasis added]
As an initial matter, admitting mistakes, especially in wartime, is overrated, particularly if that means (1) admitting a decision was wrong before you have all the information to reach a final conclusion about it, or (2) making a public self-analysis that gives useful information to the enemy. How often did Churchill, battling daily to keep up the fighting spirit of the British, go on the radio to say, "sorry folks, I blew it again and got a bunch of people killed"? I tend to think that Bush made a big mistake of this kind when he conceded the point last summer on the inclusion in the State of the Union Address of British charges that Saddam was trying to buy uranium in Africa; as it turned out, the Brits stood by their report, and Saddam really did send an envoy there to do precisely that.
The more important point in wartime is the ability to recognize what's not working and change tactics or, if appropriate, strategies. Djerejian cites several examples of Bush doing precisely that, most notably with the firing of Jay Garner but also extending to expanding the number of troops on the ground.
In any event, where, I would ask, is the evidence that Kerry is better at admitting mistakes than Bush? This is a guy who brought all sorts of political grief to himself by stubbornly refusing for three decades to admit that he was wrong to repeat false charges, under oath and on national televison, that smeared his comrades in Vietnam as guilty of pervasive war crimes. Has Kerry admitted he was wrong to oppose nearly every aspect of the foreign policy strategy that President Reagan pursused to great effect in the closing and victorious chapter of the Cold War? Has he admitted he was wrong to oppose the use of force to kick Saddam out of Kuwait in 1991? Maybe I missed something, but I don't even recall him admitting he was wrong for trying to slash the intelligence budget in the mid-1990s following the first World Trade Center bombing. Indeed, one of the most common threads throughout Kerry's behavior in this campaign has been his unwillingness to take any personal responsibility for mistakes, from blaming his speechwriters for things that come out of Kerry's own mouth to picayune things like blaming the Secret Service when he falls down on the slopes. As Jonah Goldberg notes, Kerry's "liberal hawk" backers may argue that the decades of bad judgment in Kerry's past are rendered inoperative by September 11, but Kerry's stubborn insistence that he hasn't changed in response to September 11, and that he had the right answers all along even when he wrote a book in 1997 that barely mentioned Islamic terrorism, gives the lie to the notion that Kerry is a model of self-reflection. Even the man's own supporters can't seriously defend the proposition - on which many of them heaped well-deserved scorn during the primary season - that Kerry has been consistent from the start on whether Saddam was a serious threat that justified a military response. Yet there Kerry stands, insisting to all the world what nobody believes, that he hasn't changed his position. Preferring Kerry to Bush because Bush won't admit mistakes is like preferring fresh water to salt water because salt water is wet.
In any event, will Kerry somehow change, grow in office, shed a lifetime of bad judgments and blanching at the use of American power, suddenly stop valuing diplomacy as an end and the status quo as the highest virtue? Just because Bush changed in office means nothing. First of all, Bush was a guy who had already proven his willingness to change and admit his problems when he quit drinking, had a religious awakening and basically overhauled his whole approach to life in his forties; Kerry can show no similar example of a willingness to change. And Kerry is now in his sixties, six years older than Bush in 2000, and while Bush may count September 11 as a life-changing event, Kerry had already had his, in Vietnam. Kerry's foreign policy world view was set decades ago, both by the example of his diplomat father and by Vietnam. The fact that Kerry has been malleable and vascillating over the years, clear a pattern though that may be, is no reason to think that he will suddenly re-examine his approach to accept the need for the United States to lead a continuing effort to overturn the corrupt, rotten and deadly status quo in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
6. The final charge is that Bush's errors would be forgiveable if he had done more, earlier, to explain the risks and burdens of war to the American people. Of course, this has nothing to do with the execution of the war, but political leadership is important, and in many ways it's much more the president's job than is the decision to use X number of troops to seal off a particular location. First off, the charge that Bush argued the war would be easy is refuted by virtually all his speeches, in which he said over and over and over again that we were in for a long haul, and there would be difficult times ahead. Of course, that has long since become obvious from events, and in any event we really were not in a position before the war to know precisely how it would all play out. But I will agree that he never gave a Churchillian "blood, toil, tears and sweat" speech specifically about Iraq, and that many hawks in and out of the administration underestimated in their public arguments the difficulties of a post-conquest insurgency (then again, many doves told us that we'd be bogged down with thousands of casualties taking Baghdad). Of course, the war itself, up to and through the fall of Baghdad, was as much of a "cakewalk" as a real life shooting war against a substantial enemy can ever be; the problem is simply that we didn't broadcast the coming insurgency (which, by the way, would have had the effect of greatly encouraging the insurgents).
In the end, that's what this argument is all about - not the difficulties of war, which are well-understood, but simply a political argument about the use of speeches to predict the unpredictable. Moreover, on that ground, again, there's no reason to think Kerry would be better; after all, Kerry is the guy who won't even admit to this day that his war vote was a vote for war. Kerry's the guy who wasn't able to predict that his campaign would have to prepare for attacks by people who'd been holding a grudge against him for 30 years.
No, Bush hasn't been a perfect war leader, but show me who was. He's had tough calls to make, and unlike Kerry he can't shift with the wind without consequence. Progress has been frustrating at times, because our overall enemy - the forces of terror and tyranny, of radical Islamism and fascist gangsterism - have recognized that an American victory in Iraq would be a defeat for them in the war on terror. You know that, I know that, they know that. But that just makes it all the more urgent to stick with a guy who believes in the mission, and who has proven that he will keep on trying new approaches until the job is finished, rather than looking for the door.
October 26, 2004
OK, we've heard both sides say it over and over again, and I'm compelled to agree: both sides in the presidential campaign are appealing to fear. Of course, if your fears are rational, it may be a very logical thing to vote your fears. So, let's just get on with it:
Kerry and Edwards want you to believe that George W. Bush is plotting to bring back the draft, stop Social Security benefits from being paid to today's senior citizens, and turn firehoses on African-Americans who try to go vote. If you believe those things, you should vote for Kerry and Edwards.
Bush and Cheney want you to believe that Islamist terrorists are plotting to kill large numbers of Americans with terrorist attacks. If you believe that, you should vote for Bush and Cheney.
POLITICS: Irony Alert
In 1987, Dukakis staffer John Sasso sank the presidential aspirations of Joe Biden by distributing a videotape demonstrating that Biden had plaigarized parts of speeches. Dukakis fired Sasso for his troubles, although most observers today regard this as standard opposition research rather than a dirty trick.
Today's New York Sun reports that Sasso's candidate, John Kerry, stands accused of plaigarizing campaign materials and even parts of the 1997 book "The New War" that he used to burnish his image as a deep thinker, chunks of which bear strong resemblances to uncredited newspaper and magazine articles. Unlike in 1987, the charge is not likely to do much damage to Kerry - plaigarism scarcely seems to dent scholars these days, let alone politicians - and maybe it's of a piece with the by-now well-known fact that Kerry's idol, John F. Kennedy, had ghostwriters draft large sections of his award-winning book Profiles in Courage. But the irony should not be lost, at least.
POLITICS: Impractical Libertarians
Libertarian Jane Galt quotes Libertarian Party presidential candidate Michael Badnarik at length, on his theory that paying federal income taxes is not legally required, as proof that Badnarik is a fringe nut. If you vote for Badnarik, you are doing nothing to advance the cause of liberty.
If further proof were needed of the impracticality of doctrinaire libertarians, check out this revealing Reason Magazine symposium. Even Glenn Reynolds wasted his ballot in 2000 on Harry Browne. And Richard Epstein is voting for Badnarik!
The GOP has, in fact, committed sins against small-government libertarianism, some by wrongly buying in to big government and some by taking pro-law-enforcement and pro-life stances that I, as a conservative, approve of. But libertarian ideas are taken seriously in Republican circles, while they are scorned at every turn by the Democrats. And in the real world, if there is ever to be progress away from Big Government, it will require that the public accept fewer guaranteed entitlements and more individual decisionmaking. With his plans for private accounts in Social Security and Health Savings Accounts, Bush is far further out on the limb in favor of such progress than any presidential candidate since Goldwater. And whether Bush wins or loses, the GOP will be under pressure to nominate a spending hawk in the next campaign; that candidate's job will be much easier if Bush has laid the groundwork for changing an entitlement system that dwarfs the size of any discretionary spending. And yes, Bush wants conservative judges; but conservative judges will do no more on social issues than leave them to the people's elected representatives.
If libertarians can't support Bush, faults and all, they are simply not interested in testing their ideas outside a laboratory.
UPDATE: The Mad Hibernian points me to Dale Franks' endorsement of Bush as a counter-example of a libertarian (actually a neolibertarian, as the QandO guys call themselves) who understands the stakes:
In any event, I’m far more concerned with keeping the USS America from slipping beneath the waves than I am about watching the GOP sink. Maybe, once the last terrorist’s head is stuck on pike, I’ll be more concerned with the fate of the GOP’s L/C direction.
Until then, I want a president that I’m sure will pull the trigger, when it needs to be pulled. That president is George W. Bush.
POLITICS: One for the Ladies
POLITICS: The Stakes
First, we will reject the notion that America can do big things.
Once a nation that tamed a frontier, stood down the Nazis and stood upon the moon, we will announce to the world that bringing democracy to the Middle East is too big a task for us. But more significantly, we will signal to future presidents that as voters, we are unwilling to tackle difficult challenges, preferring caution to boldness, embracing the mediocrity that has characterized other civilizations. The defeat of President Bush will send a chilling message to future presidents who may need to make difficult, yet unpopular decisions. America has always been a nation that rises to the demands of history regardless of the costs or appeal. If we turn away from that legacy, we turn away from who we are.
Second, we inform every terrorist organization on the globe that the lesson of Somalia was well learned. In Somalia we showed terrorists that you don't need to defeat America on the battlefield when you can defeat them in the newsroom. They learned that a wounded America can become a defeated America.
Twenty-four-hour news stations and daily tracking polls will do the heavy lifting, turning a cut into a fatal blow. Except that Iraq is Somalia times 10. The election of John Kerry will serve notice to every terrorist in every cave that the soft underbelly of American power is the timidity of American voters. Terrorists will know that a steady stream of grizzly [sic] photos for CNN is all you need to break the will of the American people. Our own self-doubt will take it from there. Bin Laden will recognize that he can topple any American administration without setting foot on the homeland.
Read the whole thing. Jay Nordlinger makes the same point:
In my view, this election is not a contest to determine how we'll fight the War on Terror; it's a contest to determine whether we will fight it at all. And the decision made by the Americans will be fateful.
George W. Bush and his people think that our security requires wholesale changes in the Muslim world — changes that we must abet. The other side — which includes a portion of the Right — believes that we can just hunker down, lashing out when some occasion demands. And if only Israel weren't so damn troublesome, perhaps the Arabs would be calmer.
I have never liked the terms "pro-war" and "anti-war," certainly the former. None of us is pro-war. It's just that some of us think that it's necessary to wage, while others do not. The Bush side thinks the war is a matter of self-defense; the other side thinks it's a matter of belligerence, or arrogance, or utopianism, or servitude to "Sharon," or something else bad.
As I have said before, I wish this election weren't so important. But I'm afraid it is. If the Americans elected John Kerry in, oh, 1992 or 1996, that would be one thing. If they elect him in 2004 — that will tell us something disheartening.
A little story: Some time ago, England had what was called "the Metric Martyr." This was a fellow — a grocer or a butcher, I forget which — who sold his goods in imperial measures: pounds, ounces, etc. But because England is now beholden to Brussels, he was prosecuted for not using the metric system (hence, Metric Martyr).
I asked our senior editor David Pryce-Jones (a Brit), "How could the British people permit this? I mean, it's their system — the imperial system, or the English system — to begin with." David answered, "The British people wouldn't permit it. The question is whether they remain the British people."
(Nordlinger has some other godd stuff, including this gem from a reader: "Did you see that Fidel Castro took a fall? I wonder if Jimmy Carter broke his nose.")
Roger Simon has a related point about how the anti-Israel, anti-democracy pro-status-quo "Arabists" have found their home in Kerry's Democratic apparatus, as evidenced by Kerry's top foreign policy adviser, Richard Holbrooke, specifying that a Kerry administration would put the screws on three countries in the region: Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Krauthammer, if you missed his latest must-read column, explains how and why Kerry would sell out Israel, which remains our most unpopular ally among the Europeans, the UN, the Arab dictators and others whom Kerry feels the need to please.
Call me naive, but I still have more faith in the voters than that. But I remain worried that the election will be close enough to be swayed by fraud and litigation, and that's bad news for Bush - and for the nation.
October 25, 2004
POLITICS: Role Model
POLITICS: Explosive Charge
The NY Times - with the assistance, predictably, of 60 Minutes - is pushing a story about explosive stockpiles in Iraq that have been unaccounted for since the invasion. Why now? I'll leave that to the reader. But the relevant questions about what's missing from this story are asked by Captain Ed, Geraghty, the Minute Man, Henke, and John Cole.
UPDATE: Andrew McCarthy at NRO argues that the existence of the explosives in question constitute yet another example of Saddam's violations of UN resolutions, one UN inspectors apparently decided to let slide because Saddam's regime told them that the explosives could conceivably have non-military applications. And remember, this particular cache was just a small proportion of Saddam's explosives stockpiles, in addition to all the other problems with his regime. Oh, but "the sanctions were working," right?
ONE MORE UPDATE: Geraghty, who's been on this story all day, quotes NBC News Pentagon reporter Jim Miklaszewski saying that the NBC News crew embedded with the 101st Airborne during the war confirms that the missing explosives were already gone when the 101st Airborne arrived at the site on April 10, 2003, the day after the fall of Baghdad. More here from what appears to be a contemporaneous report of what some parts of the 101st (recall that a division is more than 10,000 troops) was tasked with that day:
The troops encountered resistance almost immediately on entering the city. About 200 Fedayeen fighters on pick-up trucks counter-attacked with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Several Iraqi tanks also fired rounds at U.S. tanks.
U.S. forces responded with tank fire, artillery, and air strikes. Scores of Iraqi troops were killed during the four-hour battle. Three U.S. soldiers were wounded.
A lieutenant colonel with the 101st Airborne, Rick Carlson, says his soldiers, conducting a building-to-building search of the city, discovered what he called a "gigantic" warehouse full of weapons and ordnance.
Other weapons were found inside schools. He says the soldiers searched school buildings because that is where U.S. troops in neighboring cities of Najaf and Karbala have uncovered large weapons caches:
"Every school that we have encountered in those three regions has been used as a weapons depot. So, whenever we have gone into a (militarily) built-up area, we go straight to a school."
POLITICS: The Big Story: A Fabricated UN Meeting
Powerline points us to the much-hyped story of the weekend, a Washington Times piece by National Review's State Department correspondent, Joel Mowbray:
This contradicts Kerry's assertion at the second presidential debate that he had such a meeting:
Kerry was even more emphatic in one of his big prepared foreign policy speeches:
Kerry is now backing down:
But after being told late yesterday of the results of The Times investigation, the Kerry campaign issued a statement that read in part, "It was a closed meeting and a private discussion."
A Kerry aide refused to identify who participated in the meeting.
The statement did not repeat Mr. Kerry's claims of a lengthy meeting with the entire 15-member Security Council, instead saying the candidate "met with a group of representatives of countries sitting on the Security Council."
Great work by the bloggers who got this story rolling and by Mowbray for putting it all together. What does it all mean? This is a lot bigger deal, at a minimum, than Dick Cheney forgetting that he'd ever run into John Edwards; the problem with some of Kerry's fabrications is that they tend to be complicated, self-important embellishments that are hard to square with a simple trick of memory. That's how Roger Simon, who compares this to the "Christmas in Cambodia" fairytale, views the story. Jason Steffens is less impressed with the electoral significance of yet another "Kerry made stuff up" story, as apparently are some of Simon's readers.
I doubt myself that this will be a game-breaker, but then, anything that puts Kerry on the defensive for even a day at this late stage can be a big momentum-suck, and this is a legitimate question, and one that Kerry would have to answer if we had a press corps that demanded answers from Kerry, which it often has not. Of course, the ultimate test is whether other news agencies will pick up this story - as they would if it were a claim that Bush had lied and ran on CBS or ABC or in the New York Times - or if this will get buried in the right-wing media ghetto. This morning's Drudge Report is not encouraging: there's a small headline, totally eclipsed by the blaring coverage of Bill Clinton's triumphant, press-oxygen-sucking return to the campaign. We know which story Big Media would rather cover; Matt Lauer last week was worshipfully comparing a Clinton return to Willis Reed hobbling onto the court in the 1970 NBA Finals (which is a humorous analogy because it puts Kerry in the Clyde Frazier role). Stay tuned.
UPDATE: INDC Journal has more, including links to other commentary. Bill also considers a possible justification:
Captain Ed finds this unhelpful and telling of Kerry's attitude towards our allies in Eastern Europe:
POLITICS: Why I’m Voting for Bush
Above all, we are at war. This will be the first Presidential election since the September 11, 2001 attacks, which nearly killed the primary author of this site and which claimed the lives of almost 3,000 innocent Americans whose only offense was going to work or getting on a plane in a free country. It is essential that we never forget that day and that we affirm our commitment to seeing the War on Terror through. President Bush is the best candidate to do so and offers the best plan to lead this country for the next four years.
I am not a blind supporter of the President. Were there a George Washington or Winston Churchill running against Bush, I’d be quite happy to vote to replace him. In fact, in 2000, I supported John McCain and that year, as John Kerry might say, I voted against Bush before I voted for him. But, over the last four years, I believe Bush has been an excellent wartime leader and that there is simply no credible alternative offered in this election.
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John Kerry is not a wartime consiglieri. In fact, in my view, he is a terrible, terrible candidate. Kerry is utterly irresolute, indecisive, elitist, pompous, condescending and, above all, an advocate for misguided policies which would ultimately imperil America.
The September 11th attacks were the defining moment of the 21st century thus far. It has profoundly changed our world and refocused the lives of many young Americans, including my own. Yet, John Kerry has repeatedly made statements about terrorism being a nuisance, about fighting a more sensitive war on terror, about subjecting American national security decisions to a “global test” and about how 9/11 did not significantly change him (see here). Taken individually, such statements can perhaps be defended. Collectively, they are the portrait of a September 10, 2001 mindset, an approach which is utterly irresponsible for a post-9/11 commander-in-chief.
Worse still are Kerry’s actions and track record. Kerry’s recent tough talk is belied by his two decades of dovish voting in the United States Senate. Kerry received his title as America’s most liberal Senator the old-fashioned way: he earned it.
Kerry was consistently wrong during the Cold War, advocating passivity at every turn (see here). Kerry voted against the 1991 Gulf War, the ultimate multilateral engagement backed by the largest coalition in history, staking out a position to the left of the French in that time of crisis (see here). Regardless of what you think of America’s policy since that time towards Iraq, ask yourself if it has been preferable to a 13-year occupation of Kuwait and its oil supply by a Saddam Hussein armed with nuclear weapons, as would likely have been the case had Kerry’s course been followed. Most recently, Kerry voted for the Iraq War, apparently on the belief that we should’ve tried to “bluff” Saddam Hussein into surrendering. (Although, it is hard to tell, since his shifting positions on the issue are so incomprehensible). Then, in an effort to outflank Howard Dean as the more irresponsible candidate during the Democratic primaries, he voted against funding to support our troops and reconstruct Iraq.
Kerry has a blind faith in multilateralism and global opinion which is as naïve as it is dangerous. Anyone who thinks the French and Germans are going to ride in to fight, in Kerry’s words, the “wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time” is daydreaming. Even if they did, it would do little to change the situation on the ground. America should do all it can to cultivate its alliances and we have many, from NATO to Great Britain to Australia to Canada to Japan to South Korea to Israel to Eastern Europe. But we should never forget that, as September 11 teaches, America is at its most popular in the world as when large numbers of innocent Americans have just been slaughtered. I, for one, much prefer the temporary unpopularity that inevitably comes with taking decisive action to head off gathering threats.
I have no doubt about the patriotism of John Kerry and most of the Democratic party, but we must ask more of our leaders than simply that they do not wish ill of our country. They must be prepared to take determined action to defend it. The Democrats have moved to the left of where they were even under President Clinton and are staking out an overly passive position on national security in an extremely dangerous age. It wasn’t always this way; in the middle of the twentieth century a strong triumvirate of Democratic presidents, FDR, Truman and Kennedy, while far from perfect, advocated and carried out vigilant policies to “bear any burden” to combat fascism and communism. Just a few days ago came news of the death of Paul Nitze, a conservative Democrat who served presidents from FDR to Reagan and who was a leading advocate of aggressive containment of the Soviet threat. Some Democrats today, like Joe Lieberman, Evan Bayh or Zell Miller, still embody such strong views on national security, but the mainstream of the party, currently led by John Kerry, increasingly does not.
Finally, I’d like to say that I’ve always admired Kerry’s military service in Vietnam. As for his behavior protesting the war and testifying before Congress in 1971, I’ll leave that to those who lived through or fought that war to decide. Personally, my main concern, in 2004, in the midst of a fight to the death with uncompromising enemies, is that I don’t want a President who consistently summons the ghosts of Vietnam before and during every military operation from Grenada to Libya to Panama to Kuwait to Afghanistan to Iraq. We need leadership that is informed by history, not imprisoned by it.
So, that’s why, among many other reasons, I’m not voting for Kerry. Why am I voting for Bush?
Since September 11, 2001, President Bush has led America in toppling the regimes of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, two of the most brutally repressive, terrorist-supporting dictatorships in recent history. Free and fair elections were held in Afghanistan for the first time its long, unfortunate history and are similarly scheduled for January for the long-suffering people of Iraq. Large portions of al Qaeda’s membership has been killed or captured, its sanctuaries have been removed and its leadership remains on the run. Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, while probably not already dead, will inevitably be killed or captured by the dragnet that continues to hunt them. The wait is frustrating, but it will happen.
Yet, much more work needs to be done. Beyond 9/11, al Qaeda and its ilk have committed terrorist atrocities in Bali and Beslan, in Madrid and Istanbul, in Jersusalem and across Iraq. There have been attempts to blow up planes with shoe bombs and plots to contaminate cities with radioactive dispersal devices. We are facing enemies who slit the throats of defenseless stewardesses, who saw off the heads of bound contractors and who are willing to strap explosives to themselves to blow up women and children. Only decisive military action, coordinated law enforcement cooperation, steadfast leadership and a commitment to expanding the sphere of representative, accountable governments will ensure the gradual destruction of the al Qaeda network and its allies. And only with a willingness to go on offense, even when it is unpopular, will we ultimately triumph. Passive defensive measures and after-the-fact reprisals are not enough. President Bush gets this. John Kerry simply does not.
The Iraq War was a swift and smashing military triumph, but its aftermath has been bloody, confusing and imperfectly planned. Still, we were right to fight the war and we were right to topple Saddam Hussein when we did. See here, here, here and here for my take on why. World War II analogies can be overused, but the United States made some mammoth mistakes in that war – including strategy, tactics and intelligence from Pearl Harbor to the Philippines to Arnhem to the Battle of the Bulge – but that does not mean we were wrong to fight it and that does not mean that throwing FDR out of office in 1944 would’ve been a wise course. Wars can be both difficult and worth fighting; the Iraq front of the War on Terror qualifies.
President Bush and Vice President Cheney have shown the ability to make incredibly difficult real-time decisions, from giving orders to shoot down hijacked commercial airliners to invading Afghanistan to leading an international coalition to enforce a decade’s worth of violated UN resolutions to ultimately deciding to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime. Bush has not wavered. When he commits to something, both his supporters and his critics know all too well that he will not lightly change course, regardless of unpopularity. That is a necessary component of wartime leadership.
When Bush says we will keep our commitments to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, I trust him. As an attorney myself, I feel that I have every right to say that what America needs in this war is the decisive leadership offered by Bush/Cheney and not the legalistic nuance offered by Kerry/Edwards. Further, I feel that Bush’s hardline position towards Iraq increases the likelihood for making progress with the intransigent regimes of Iran and North Korea, as it did with Libya. Deterrence only works where it is credible and I fear that Kerry, who routinely badmouths America’s allies, simply would not be viewed as credible by America’s enemies.
On the domestic front, I support Bush’s positions on reforming health care, promoting tort reform, offering tax relief and appointing responsible federal judges. On social security, Kerry offers more of the same, while Bush’s move towards individualized accounts offers the best hope for people of my age to actually get something out of an outdated, broken entitlement program in which younger Americans are currently paying into a system from which they have no hope of recovering anything later in life. I also support Bush’s position on school choice and voucher programs, issues which Bush should promote more strenuously.
My biggest criticism of President Bush is McCain’s fair assessment that this administration, along with Congress, has been spending like a bunch of drunken sailors. The problem is that, if you listen hard to Kerry, it becomes clear that he thinks they haven’t been drunk enough. John Kerry is promising even more massively costly programs, which will inevitably lead him to raise taxes. The Republicans absolutely and unequivocally need to do a better job living up to their rhetoric as the party of fiscal responsibility, but I see little evidence that a President Kerry - with his hugely costly spending plans, including his proposed “Department of Wellness” - would be any better.
Also, Bush’s lax immigration policies, placing political and diplomatic concerns over law enforcement and security concerns, are also misguided, especially since they run counter to the interests of the War on Terror. In terms of civil liberties, Bush’s defense of the PATRIOT Act is admirable, since the legislation is so critical, but I do not support the Administration’s position in attempting to classify American citizens like Jose Padilla and Yasser Hamdi, no matter how heinous the charges against them, as enemy combatants. Those are the two most prominent, yet very isolated, examples where I feel the Administration has gone too far in fighting the war and, in those limited circumstances, I’m glad to see the courts stepping in.
Overall, however, I believe that President Bush has done an excellent job and that the brand of decisive leadership he offers is what America needs in prosecuting the War on Terror. Further, I believe that, led by Bush, the Republican Party remains the best vehicle across the political spectrum for promoting and protecting economic liberty, free trade, personal responsibility, traditional values, religious freedom, intellectual diversity and, above all, national security. In that belief, I agree with these sentiments.
I also personally like President Bush, who is self-deprecating, unpretentious and plain-speaking, and particularly admire Mrs. Bush, who is an epitome of class. I find Kerry’s self-important windbaggery intolerable and am decidedly unimpressed with both the loud-mouthed Ms. Heinz and the slick-talking Mr. Edwards. But, in the end, while personalities have some impact, this election is serious business and I suspect the issues have shaped my perceptions of the candidates’ personalities, not vice versa. There is a war on, after all.
Perhaps in less perilous times, America could afford the luxury of the feckless, indecisive shifting and tired ideas of someone like John Kerry, but, especially in times of terrorism and war, America needs the steadfast and committed leadership of someone like President Bush.
That is why Mr. Bush will receive my vote on November 2.
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October 24, 2004
POLITICS: Color Me Skeptical
A big, campaign-moving story needs no introduction. Thus, for all the Josh Marshall-style hype here, here and here about a Washington Times story breaking Monday "that the Kerry campaign will be forced to address regarding a previous criticism of Bush's foreign policy" and that constitutes "another chapter in the story of John Kerry making stuff up," I'm doubtful that whatever it is will move the needle much in the campign, especially since Big Media outlets often take several days to check into stories from the Washington Times.
The bloggers in question are pushing this story in part because they apparently did the research on the issue, which is one of numerous reasons to think it's not a game-breaker like the status or whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. But if everyone is playing the speculation game, the hint that Kerry will be forced to address the story suggests to me that it could be something about Cuba, which has obvious electoral significance.
POLITICS: Pretension Does Not Equal Intelligence
Amusing article from The New York Times, of all places, about the likelihood that the young President Bush had higher IQ and SAT scores than the young John Kerry (Via Instapundit). No wonder the Times is opposed to standardized tests!
I loved this line:
Anyway, take that for what it’s worth - I’ve always thought leadership and management ability trump raw intelligence as a measuring stick for the Oval Office - but I’ve also long wondered how many of the people who take it as an article of faith that Bush is an idiot scored below what he did on the SATs.
POLITICS: Do The Math
Tom Maguire on why there doesn't need to be a draft:
In the late 80's, we had 2.2 million folks on active duty. Now it is down to about 1.4 million. The notion that we couldn't add several hundred thousand troops without a draft seems to be contradicted by our past experience.
As Maguire notes, this sort of higher math is apparently beyond the capacity of Paul Krugman. By contrast, Geraghty has numbers that explain why Kerry will win Pennsylvania:
This is repeated in several areas - like Milwaukee and St. Louis. In each place, of course, the fact that there are more registered voters than eligible people of voting age means that there is a high potential for voter fraud. In each case, this is occuring in a Democratic-dominated city in a state that otherwise seems primed for the GOP picking. I haven't followed the voter-fraud and election-related violence beats on this site the way Bill Hobbs or the Powerline guys (among others) have (see this for a good example), but it's a major concern. A lot of us Republicans are very worried about this election entirely because of the threat of fraud and/or litigation; the way the national and state polls are going, I can't see how Kerry supporters can be optimistic unless they are depending on fraud to carry the day.
After all, the internals on various polls consistently show that large majorities (1) recognize that the nation is at war and (2) trust Bush better to prosecute that war, while the same polls measure the candidates as about even on economic issues and place Bush decisively ahead on leadership and sharing the voter's values. Add in Bush's structural advantages in the Electoral College, the difficulty of Kerry replicating Gore's voter-turnout miracles among African-American voters and unionized voters, and the fact that the GOP totally overhauled its own get-out-the-vote drive after 2000 (to great effect in 2002), and all Democrats are really left with, besides the always-hoped-for surge of young liberals (recall how they didn't show for Howard Dean this year), is shenanigans at the polling places.
Yes, I know - many Dems will claim that this is overstated or whatnot. But, tell me: how can you be optimistic if you aren't banking on it?
POLITICS: Gonna Get Me A Shotgun
Am I the only one who read this item and thought of that classic Garret Morris SNL skit where he sings to his parole board, "gonna get me a shotgun, and kill all the whiteys I see . . ."
Probably not the association Kerry was looking for.
October 23, 2004
POLITICS: Gets By Buckner
The fun never ends: an alert reader sends this link to a "Football Fans For Truth" item on John Kerry apparently having falsely claimed to have been at Shea Stadium for Game Six of the 1986 World Series, when he was apparently at a fundraiser in Boston that night (although he appears to have been at Game Seven two days later).
UPDATE: I should add a caution for new readers: not every story of a politician saying something that's not true is (1) hugely significant or (2) proof the guy is lying. People forget stuff and embellish their own memories all the time. I don't expect anybody to change their vote over this trivia; it's mostly just funny. Still, (a) if baseball were all that important to Kerry . . . well, I sure know where I was for Game Six, and I'd particularly remember if I'd been there or not, and (b) what this suggests is less that Kerry is some sort of liar as that he's a prototypical braggart, the guy who has to put himself at the center of things when he wasn't. The type, of course, is a familiar one and all too prevalent in politics.
SECOND UPDATE (10/26): Kerry campaign says he flew to the game after the fundraiser; Thomas Galvin runs the timeline on this and finds it unlikely. I can't speak to when the shuttle runs, but I can add a few points to Galvin's analysis that suggest that Kerry's account is not necessarily implausible:
1. Galvin discusses the game time; the game definitely ended after midnight; I vividly recall debating whether the 10th inning ended "before" the 9th and what the true end-of-game time was, because it was the night we set the clocks back (I know now you do that at 2am, not midnight).
2. Galvin includes 45 minutes for Kerry to get from from LaGuardia to Shea. You could walk there faster.
3. It's not odd for VIPs like Kerry to fly around just to catch part of a game (or to duck early out of a fundraising dinner), especially if he thought it would end with the Sox ending their streak of defeats.
So, it may be that Kerry is telling the truth here.
POLITICS: Classic Kerry
And that honesty, that lack of a sense of honesty is part of what is driving people's anger toward the United States today. That's why we have the vote in the U.N. That's why people--our allies, too--are disturbed by this defense posture. You can't abrogate the ABM treaty and move forward on your own to build this defense in a way that threatens the perceptions of security people have. And if you build a defense system, Tim, that can do what they say at the outside, which is change mutual assured destruction, you have invited a potential adversary to build, build, build, to find a way around it. The lesson of the Cold War is, you do not make this planet safer by moving unilaterally into a place of new weapons. Every single advance in weaponry through the Cold War was matched by one side or the other, and that's why we put the ABM treaty in place, and that's why we need to proceed very cautiously and very thoughtfully.
First of all, this insistence on national apologies is very one-sided. Does China have "legitimacy in the world"? When does China apologize for anything?
More importantly - I know I harp on Kerry's past a lot, particularly his views of the Cold War, but a man who could not or would not take the unambiguously pro-American position whenever that conflict got difficult - and who, to this day, can not or will not admit his mistakes in opposing President Reagan's winning strategy at every turn - is never going to understand this war, in which we will often be called upon to make hard decisions. Who on earth thinks that the "lesson of the Cold War" is that we built too damn many weapons systems? Kerry has learned nothing.
All of this is based on the naively dovish theory that strengthening one's defenses is a provocative act, and its necessary corollary that one can make peace by remaining weaker. People on the left, like Kerry, have (retroactively, after all of their Doomsday Clock and "The Day After" talk of the 80s) fallen in love with "mutually assured destruction" as a peacekeeping deterrent. But MAD kept the peace because Russia was afraid we could destroy them if they attacked us; the fact that they could also destroy us was not in any way a good thing. The fact that Kerry still views strengthening our military as a dangerous thing is best demonstrated by his argument, repeated in two of the debates, that it's a bad thing that the US is developing "bunker-busting" nuclear weapons. From the first debate:
You talk about mixed messages. We're telling other people, "You can't have nuclear weapons," but we're pursuing a new nuclear weapon that we might even contemplate using.
Not this president. I'm going to shut that program down, and we're going to make it clear to the world we're serious about containing nuclear proliferation.
Note that he doesn't even say he will do this through negotiatons - just a unilateral shutdown. The second debate:
This is Kerry going all wrong again, thinking that nations lead other nations by example. It's just not realistic, and it's a dangerous way to proceed in a dangerous world.
POLITICS: A Modest Proposal
Memo to the Guardian: please stop printing columns openly calling for the assassination of the President of the United States. I would add some commentary here, but if you’re not already disgusted after reading that, nothing I can say will make you feel that way.
For a less hate-filled take on our election from across the pond, see here.
UPDATE: Perhaps the Guardian is in an ill-tempered mood because of the unintended consequences of its letter-writing campaign to lecture the people of Ohio.
October 20, 2004
BASEBALL/POLITICS: World Series Election Trivia
There would indeed be a little bit of humor, in this election season, if we were to see an Astros-Red Sox World Series, Texas vs. Massachusetts. Here's a little quickie trivia (answers to follow later):
1. Who was the last team from a major party presidential candidate's home state to make the World Series in an election year?
2. Who was the last team from a successful major party presidential candidate's home state to win the World Series in an election year?
("Home state" here meaning the conventional view - the state where the candidate spent his adult life and won elective office, rather than, say, considering Bush from Connecticut and Kerry from Colorado, the states of their birth)
UPDATE: The first commenter gets it, so think of your answer before you check the comments.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 09:26 AM | Baseball 2004 | Politics 2004 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
October 19, 2004
POLITICS: Closing On the Stump
I was very favorably impressed with President Bush's speech in New Jersey yesterday, which really honed in on Kerry's biggest vulnerabilities on national security. I've got more on the speech over at RedState.
POLITICS: Flu The Coop
Kevin Drum reviews the various possibilities for why we are dependent on a single company with British-based facilities to make flue vaccines. (Link via Instapundit). Drum's answers are reasonable - he focuses on the burdens of FDA regulation as compared to British regulations - although I think he discounts the product liability lawsuit problem and the incentives it creates to have vaccines manufactured by an overseas subsidiary. In either case, the landscape Drum reviews - narrow profit margins squeezed by fluctuating demand, a demanding regulatory regime and serious litigation risks - is entirely irreconcilable with the picture of drug companies commonly painted by Democrats in general and the Kerry campaign in particular.
October 17, 2004
RELIGION/POLITICS: The Candidates and the Church
With the election getting ever closer, I’m uncomfortable with a lot of criticism of President Bush’s or Senator Kerry’s respective religious convictions (or lack thereof). It seems to me to be entirely possible that either man could be far more or far less devout than they outwardly appear or present themselves. Inquiring about the issue seems unduly speculative, presumptuous and even invasive. However, the actions and stated beliefs of each candidate are fair game.
In that vein, you may want to read Rich Lowry’s column from Friday on Kerry’s approach to issues of concern to Catholic voters, such as myself. Here is a key section:
I think there can be little doubt that on issues of abortion, gay marriage, federal funding for stem-cell research and related “family values” issues, Bush’s positions are far closer to the Catholic Church than are those of Kerry. This might explain, why, despite unsavory attempts by surrogates of John McCain to tar Bush as an “anti-Catholic bigot” during the 2000 primary season, Bush appears to have significant support among the Catholic community, even though it his opponent who is Catholic.
Three primary issues strike me as areas of potential divergence between Bush and Catholic voters: the death penalty, policy towards low-income individuals and the Iraq War. It’s worth considering all three.
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1) The Death Penalty
There is little argument here that President Bush is a strong supporter of the death penalty and that the Catholic Church is generally opposed to the practice. I have decidedly mixed feelings on the death penalty, believing that it is often justifiable and is a matter for each state to decide, but that, in practice, its costs outweigh its benefits. Thus, I have no problem with societies deciding to take the high road on this issue, though they should not demonize the differing views of others.
President Bush has previously been known to display an almost Old Testament-style enthusiasm for the death penalty, which seems alien to modern Catholic views. I would say that if you are a single-issue Catholic voter and opposition to the death penalty is that issue, you should not vote for Bush. Still, three caveats come to mind. First, the Church’s position on the death penalty is not as unequivocal as its view on the immorality of abortion. Second, John Kerry, while generally an opponent of the death penalty, has, characteristically, flip-flopped during this campaign on its application to terrorists. Third, presidents, unlike state governors, have limited control over death penalty issues; they appoint federal judges and can block federal executions, but are rarely as intimately involved in the process as governors. (Since the death penalty is, fairly obviously, not prohibited by the Constitution, the impact of federal judges should be minimal, although potential judicial activism can never be ruled out.)
Catholic teaching emphasizes the importance of caring for the poor, the Republican party is frequently caricatured as the uncaring party of the rich. Should that make this issue a slam-dunk for John Kerry? Not exactly.
Most Republicans, though perhaps not all, would agree that the government has an interest in helping the poor. The debate is over how. The conservative approach to poverty is not one of malicious neglect, but one of alternatives to unconditional government handouts. It holds that freely spending other people’s money is not an indicator of virtue. It holds that there are better ways to help low-income individuals than trying to redistribute income to them through the filter of inefficient, historically wasteful, centrally-planned bureaucracies. It favors grass-roots approaches, involving private entities, faith-based initiatives or even state of local governments. It is based on helping others to help themselves and promoting the greater good through encouraging personal industry and responsibility.
Likewise, Catholic teaching emphasizes each individual’s responsibility for helping others. It does not indicate that that responsibility is best accomplished by simply having the federal government take increasingly large chunks out of one’s paycheck without doing anything proactive oneself. In short, I can understand why this issue is often viewed as favoring Kerry, but Bush’s positions in this area are, by no means, inherently antithetical to Catholic values.
Most controversially, the Iraq War, which Kerry voted for, but which Bush has prosecuted, has been denounced by some as unjust. In fact, the Pope himself has expressed that view on occasions. However, like many other Catholics, I believe that the Iraq War met the criteria of Catholic “just war” theory. Review the elements of that theory here and compare it with this. You can draw your own conclusions.
I would add that complete, undiluted pacifism is probably the ideal for Catholics. The hard realities of international relations, national defense and domestic politics, however, make such an approach sadly infeasible. The consequences of complete non-violence in the face of aggression by the likes of Hitler, Tojo, Stalin, Saddam or bin Laden are too terrible to fully contemplate. The best America can hope for is that, in defending our interests, we act in a just manner, protecting the innocent wherever possible against brutal repression, genocide or terrorism and advancing democratic values and the cause of human freedom, while sparing as much as possible collateral damage to those caught in the cross-fire. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we have done just that (aside from isolated incidents of cruelty, such as the Abu Ghraib scandal) and, in the process, freed two nations from among the most repressive regimes in modern history.
The United States, under President Bush, could perhaps do better, but it could also do far worse. (In fact, the foreign affairs track record of the only Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, may be more difficult to reconcile with the Church’s teaching. In particular, the Bay of Pigs invasion and America’s involvement in the coup which led to the assassination of South Vietnamese President, and fellow Catholic, Ngo Dinh Diem were quite dubious by these standards.) It is also worth noting that the Catholic Church favors aggressive efforts to reconstruct and provide humanitarian assistance to both Afghanistan and Iraq.
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POLITICS: Arrogant Interventionism?
Earlier this year Mr Kerry said that as president he would have sent American troops to protect Jean-Bertrand Aristide who was ousted from power in February.
The Brazilian UN general, Augusto Heleno, said Mr Kerry's comments had offered "hope" to Aristide supporters. Much of the recent unrest has centred on areas loyal to Mr Aristide.
More than 50 people have died over the past fortnight.
In fairness, blaming American politicians for chaos in Haiti is like blaming them for the sun being hot. There are far deeper problems to blame. Of course, were the situations reversed (i.e. were this Dole challenging Clinton in 1996), would the challenger be held to a higher standard?
October 15, 2004
POLITICS: A Unified Mary Cheney Theory
Speculation abounds: why did both Edwards and Kerry bring up the fact that Dick Cheney has a lesbian daughter? Some think they were trying, clumsily, to get religious conservatives to feel disenchanted with the Bush-Cheney ticket. I'm doubtful that will work; if anything, conservative Christian voters who already like and agree with Bush and Cheney are more likely to see this as personal family business that shouldn't be used in a campaign.
But they may not be the target audience. Connsider: the Kerry campaign seems very worried that African-American voters, who by large margins (especially the majority of African-Americans who are regular churchgoers) are opposed to same-sex marriage, might be less motivated to show up and vote for Kerry on Election Day. This is compounded by the fact that Kerry, unlike Clinton and Gore, doesn't have much experience appealing to black voters and doesn't seem to have the same emotional rapport with them. This concern is almost certainly why you never hear Kerry compare the same-sex marriage fight to the civil rights movement (as Andrew Sullivan does on a daily basis), since African-Americans are understandably touchy about diluting the moral weight of their struggle for equal rights, and doubly so for a cause many of them don't sympathize with.
Perhaps bringing up the gay daughter won't work with people who are already fond of Bush and Cheney and likely to respond by circling the wagons around them. But it could be savvy politics in trying to neutralize the issue with a bloc of voters Kerry badly needs who are predisposed to dislike the Republican ticket. I don't know how this gambit played with African-Americans, but if you think about it logically, they seem like the most likely target audience.
WAR/POLITICS: Showdown in Fallujah
The Big One is on in Iraq, as US forces are finally doing what, at least in retrospect, they should have done back in April, cordoning off Fallujah and opening a major offensive against the heart of the insurgency. I can't offer any insights on the military angle, but here's what's interesting: the Bush Administration was quite happy to leak word earlier this week that it had no intention of any major offensive actions in Iraq until after Election Day. The left, predictably, went nuts over this report (see Kevin Drum, Mark Kleiman, Matt Yglesias, Atrios, Brad DeLong, and, yes, even the Kerry campaign), claiming that Bush was putting politics over national security by not launching an offensive in mid-October. Which raises four possibilities:
1. Something changed between Monday and today. Unlikely, given the amount of preparation that goes into something like this.
Without discounting the other possibilities, #4 sure sounds like typical Bush political strategy, with #3, of course, being an added bonus. And the usual suckers fell for it, for the same reasons they always do.
And maybe now we know why Bush wanted to talk to Kerry after the debate.
October 13, 2004
POLITICS: The Closer Gets Rocked
Yes, even with two classic baseball games on, you knew I had to watch the last presidential debate. Now, I called the first debate a narrow Kerry victory and the second a clear but not decisive victory for Bush.
Maybe I've just let my biases cloud my judgment. But I really thought Bush cleaned Kerry's clock tonight, regularly outmaneuvering him, projecting superior charisma and humor and landing a number of body blows that Kerry really wasn't able to react to, while Kerry stepped in a bunch of holes on social policy that he really wasn't even forced into.
From the top:
Kerry always does this long throat-clearing opening that means nothing; Bush gets right to work.
Wow, Kerry's forehead is enormous.
X-raying cargo holds . . . Kerry is in reruns.
Reagan again! When will Bush smack him for embracing Reagan today after denouncing him in the 80s?
Bush is giddy when Schieffer and Kerry mention foreign policy, so he can talk about Afghanistan's elections.
Kerry voted against the Homeland Security bill? Even I didn't know that.
Kerry is becoming a big Tora Bore. Bush has obviously decided never to respond on this. But it draws the first Bush smirk of the night.
Flu season? Schieffer decides to make the night's second question about flu shots? Bush gives an answer that's good public health and bad politics . . . until he decides to blame John Edwards. Kerry sounds hoarse, decides to just blame Bush for everything. Wellness? Remember the Department of Wellness? I guess Bush won''t mention that.
Bush: A plan is not a litany of complaints. Good line.
Kerry: The Jobs Fairy is coming! Jobs for everyone!
McCain-Kerry, Kerry is slipping into Washingtonese again. Dingell-Norwood, anyone?
Bush is calling for the Fiscal Sanity Fairy. Nice try, George.
Bush again: "Here's some Trade Adjustment Assistance money" is not a winning slogan. Keep moving.
Kerry compares Bush to Tony Soprano. Classless move, doesn't accomplish anything.
Kerry says he supported a Reagan tax cut?
"Far left bank of the mainstream - makes Teddy Kennedy the conservative Senator from Massachusetts." Amazingly, Kerry essentially lets this stand with just some flapdoodle about Gramm-Rudman. It's all he's got.
My wife points out that Bush isn't always using his whole time. Yeah, but he says one thing and then stops. By the end of a Kerry answer, just try remembering what he was talking about at the beginning.
Homosexuality. Bush has an even-handed answer he obviously prepared. Slams decisions made by judges. Kerry jumps on Dick Cheney's daughter. Why that again? Kerry talks about gay people living in straight marriages. Did anyone not immediately think of Jim McGreevey? This is a train wreck for Kerry.
Rebuttals? There seem to be no rebuttals.
Abortion. Kerry says choice involves woman, doctor and God. Who's missing from this picture? "I will defend the right of Roe v Wade". Kerry should hope that polls well, because he's unambiguous on this point. Harks back to JFK - when abortion was illegal!
Kerry says 56 bills, not 5. Does that include commemoratives?
The jury will disregard Bush's potshot at the networks, when he starts to slam Kerry for relying on network reports and then drops the point. Point is made.
Rationing healthcare. Bush is doing the best he can on this. Also mentions health savings accounts. He'll lose this issue, but he's battling.
Social Security - better ground. Bush preempts the attacks by saying they said checks wouldn't come 4 years ago, and they came just the same. Problem in the trillions - status quo not an option. Bush promises to front-burner this issue - dare I hope he means it?
I missed - did Kerry say Greenspan supported the Bush tax cut? Why admit that?
Kerry may like saying "tTop experts in the country" but I doubt it warms the heart of swing voters.
[Phone rings. Miss some immigration stuff].
Kerry wants to speed up border crossings by fingerprinting everyone?
Minimum wage hike. Bush fudges rather than point out how this would harm small business.
Kerry on judges: "Yes, I'll have a litmus test."
[Phone rings again]
Bush drops the hammer on the 1991 Gulf War. Kerry fails to respond. Stop the fight!
Bush blames Tom DeLay on assault weapons ban expiring. Not a high point.
Affirmative action. Kerry goes for his base, to heck with people who don't like it. Both candidates agree to lie and pretend Bush is against quotas.
Bush says nice things about aetheists. Good answer on faith and prayer. Kerry's "faith without works" line will play well with Northeastern Catholics, not so well with Protestants.
The Daschle hug is defended! Kerry plays team!
More campaign finance reform? No!
Bush draws laugh from audience deprecating his English. Kerry says he married up, has to say it twice to get anyone but Schieffer to laugh.
Closings. No minds changed here, just closing the book.
UPDATE: Why do I think Bush won? On style, he was just more accessible, while Kerry seemed tired and hoarse. On substance, Bush wanted to define Kerry as a conventional liberal, and Kerry offered little resistance and helped Bush's case by giving a number of conventional liberal answers. Bush is much more at home with social issues, and he's less apt to fall into Beltway-speak on how programs work.
The voters, of course, will be the final judge. But Bush did about as well as I could have hoped, and in a number of cases Kerry gave worse answers than I would have expected. That's how I scored it.
POLITICS: Quick Links 10/13/04
*It's not too late to read Jane Galt's hilarious blogging of the second debate ("K[e]rry: I was there when the budget was balanced! Me: I was there when the World Trade Center site was cleaned up! I claim full credit!" "Memo to Mr Kerry: Pro-life voters don't want you to respect them--they want you to not spend their tax dollars on abortions!")
*Smash on Kerry and the anniversary of the USS Cole bombing: "My problem with Kerry isn’t that he sees Iraq as a diversion from the War on Terror, but rather that he sees the War on Terror as a diversion from his domestic agenda."
*Hitchens on Saddam's nuclear program ("Of course, we could always have left Iraq alone, and brought nearer the day when the charming Qusai could have called for Dr. Obeidi and said: 'That barrel of yours. It's time to dig it up.'")
*Matt Welch, who disdained the whole Swift Boat story, nonetheless rips the media for not diving into the merits of the story earlier.
*More on the Swift Vets' latest campaign, including the words of Medal of Honor winner Bud Day ("Shot down over North Vietnam in 1967, Maj. Day suffered numerous injuries, managed to escape from his prison, walked for two weeks through the jungle eating live frogs before he was recaptured." More here).
*Bill Frist rips John Edwards for giving false hope by saying "If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve will get up out of that wheelchair and walk again" (Link via the Corner).
*Mark Steyn thought Kerry sounded awful when he looked at the debate audience and declared that he, Bush and Charlie Gibson were the only ones in the hall who made $200,000:
I had the same reaction - when Kerry said that there was a guy over his shoulder, older guy in a decent suit, balding, grey hair and glasses - he certainly looked to me like the type who could easily be a doctor, lawyer, businessman type. There were a couple of others who, even just on appearance, could easily have been the same, and as Steyn points out that's still just picking by the stereotypes.
October 12, 2004
WAR/POLITICS: The Right War, The Right Place, The Right Time – PART IV
This is the final part of a four-part series on the Iraq War.
Part I looked at why America could not rest after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan and why state sponsors of terror, such as Iraq, require our attention. Part II looked at why, in particular, North Korea and Iran should not have taken precedence over Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Part III looked at why the decision to go to war in Iraq was necessary and justified. Those questions provide a necessary background to this analysis.
This part looks at what, roughly a year and a half on, America has gained and what it has lost from the Iraq War. Do the benefits outweigh the costs? The answer, attempting to look at the war from all angles, is yes.
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First, however, it’s useful to take a few steps back and get some perspective what “the war” was and is. The Iraq War, insofar as it originally aimed to achieve the disarmament of Saddam Hussein and force regime change, was a smashing success. Those objectives have long since been accomplished. Post-war reconstruction and counter-insurgency continue, however, and together are far more difficult, challenging and potentially rewarding than even the war itself. Perhaps it’s a semantic point, but the war and the insurgency are two different animals. America and its allies won the war. America, its allies and the new Iraqi government have not yet put down the insurgency.
Overall though, what has the war (if, for shorthand, we define it as both) cost us?
The sacrifices of our troops are nothing short of awe-inspiring and should give us pause. Spend a little time over at this site. It is relatively easy to sit here and advocate or justify war when others are volunteering to fight it. They are our very best men and women. I know some people who have been in Iraq, some who are in Iraq and some who will be going to Iraq. I have the deepest admiration for their service and concern for their safety.
Furthermore, we should never overlook or trivialize the deaths of those on whose behalf our troops are now acting and even those against whom they are fighting. People are being killed in Iraq and it is all too easy to say that our actions have resulted only in the death of terrorists and radicals. When people are dying from our bullets and our bombs, however much we may regret and try to avoid it, we need to always have a damn good answer ready as to why we are fighting. In Iraq, the answer is that, long-term, the temporary suffering from establishing a stable, representative government and removing a tyrannical dictatorship is outweighed by the inevitable suffering which would have resulted from leaving such a brutal and militarily reckless regime in place. The only thing worse than military action would have been inaction.
Also, while I don’t want to get into grisly tallies of body counts from other conflicts, suffice to say, that comparisons between the human toll of the current Iraq conflict and Vietnam are highly lacking in perspective. Approximately 58,000 Americans died during the Vietnam War. We have not even taken 2 % as many casualties in Iraq. It demeans the sacrifices America made during the Vietnam War to equate it with this conflict (yet, it must be said, we have perhaps achieved more of our objectives in less than two years in Iraq than we did in a over a decade in Vietnam). Another perspective: almost three times as many Americans died on September 11, 2001, as have died in over a year and half in Iraq.
Some would also emphasize the financial and diplomatic costs. Neither is a wholly inconsequential consideration. Yet, neither should have prevented decisive action.
By any measure, the Iraq War and post-war reconstruction have been financially costly. As John Kerry and John Edwards point out, the first Gulf War was tremendously cheaper, due to the size of that coalition and the cost-sharing involved. However, the Gulf War – which Kerry voted against – was the exception rather than the rule; the 1991 coalition was the largest in history and the war’s objectives were very narrowly defined. Wars, like foreign aid or humanitarian assistance, tend to be costly.
Yet, national security concerns trump short-term economic considerations. So, too, should humanitarian concern for helping rebuild a country crippled by decades of dictatorship and war. But, if money is your major concern, think strategically. A stable, relatively friendly and oil-producing Iraq should be an economically viable partner. Look at the prosperity enjoyed by previous countries the United States has rebuilt. Look at Western Europe. Look at Germany. Look at Japan. Look at South Korea. Think about what those countries’ prosperity has meant to ours. Iraq is unlikely to ever achieve those economic heights, but, if it can get on its feet, its standing will only improve.
Also, the war, which is very unpopular in many foreign quarters, has clearly taken some diplomatic toll on the U.S. Global popular opinion tends to disapprove of any reminders of American hegemony, no matter how justified the action in question. Our alliance structure survives nonetheless. Still, America’s alliances are important, but they are not as important as doing what’s right, both for our own interests and for those of maintaining global order. Responsibility and occasional unpopularity are the price America pays for its hegemonic status. At the same time, international bodies will never be fully accepted by Americans until they are willing to stand up decisively to tyrants and until serial violators of their resolutions are dealt with resolutely.
Some would say the war was a distraction from the “real war” against al Qaeda. That is indeed the main event, but, as indicated earlier in Part I, the U.S. can’t just go openly barreling into a place like Pakistan just because we are frustrated and impatient for results. Unfortunately, the war against al Qaeda is one which, for the most part, must be fought in the shadows. It is frustrating, but (a) just because we are not hearing about certain activities does not mean they are not taking place, (b) this is the nature of fighting terrorism and (c) it is why it is critically important to hold accountable those supporters of terrorism, like Saddam Hussein, who were flouting the will of America and the world out in the open. (As an aside regarding distractions, I would add that deploying all of the troops we have in Iraq as a “bluff” to allow for the never-ending dance of the weapons inspectors - which some floated as an option - would likely have been equally “distracting” without any of the advantages of removing a vile and menacing dictatorship…for good.)
Finally, some would argue that the war is a recruiting tool for al Qaeda and that it will only provoke more terrorism. This is the “we are giving bin Laden what he wants” argument. I agree that the Iraq War is a recruiting tool for al Qaeda and I agree that short-term it is certainly encouraging terrorism in Iraq. But long-term, which is how we absolutely need to think about all this, the promotion of a stable and representative Iraq would be a body blow to al Qaeda and its ideals. Open and accountable Middle Eastern governments are the best long-term solution to radical Islamic terrorism. More on that in a moment.
Unquestionably, the Iraq War has not been without very real costs. What, then, has it all accomplished?
We should not be unrealistic about the many obstacles to democracy in the Arab and Muslim worlds and we should recognize that democracy, in general, is not a panacea, but we should also not be reflexively pessimistic. Iraq need not ever look like America. If it could become a stable, representative, yet still utterly imperfect, democracy like Turkey, the world would be a much better place. Recently, Indonesia the world’s largest Muslim nation, held relatively free democratic elections for the first time. Afghanistan followed soon after. Iraq, with our help, is scheduled to have elections in January. The tide may slowly be turning against autocracy in the Middle East and the broader Muslim world. We should do all we can to see that it does.
Only by establishing accountable governments will terrorism slowly recede. Middle East autocracies have for decades been passing off their internal failings by diverting hatred towards the United States and Israel. In so doing, they encourage terrorism against us. While Arab-Israeli peace is one potential solution we should push for, it is not on the near horizon. A move towards democracy and away from repressive strongmen like Saddam is the other solution and it could have much more sweeping ramifications in the long-term.
One small silly anecdote comes to mind. When New York Governor George Pataki visited Iraq he was asked what he thought. He offered a seemingly glib reply that it reminded him of his time as mayor of Peekskill, New York – everyone was complaining, about sewers, power outages, schools, etc… In a democracy, people generally do not spend their days worrying about how to evade the secret police or being encouraged to rain fire down upon a “Great Satan” or planning to strap explosives to themselves to blow up Zionists. They care about things like feeding their family, paying their bills, educating their children and fixing the septic tank.
Democracy was simply never going to take root under the iron fist of Saddam Hussein. Even the most sincere and committed opponents of this war must recognize that. Saddam, in fact, now sits in a jail cell, awaiting trial before an Iraqi tribunal to publicly air his crimes and render the long-overdue justice he so richly deserves.
The Iraq War has had other benefits. Libya, soon after the war, made its most dramatic reversal in its public stance, peacefully agreeing to verifiably dismantle its weapons of mass destruction in return for a slow reemergence into the community of nations. Between Iraq and Libya, the United States and its allies have two very distinct examples to show to Iran, North Korea and other would-be dictators, proliferators, and potential enemies. Used wisely, these contrasting examples can be an invaluable deterrent to war and should encourage resolute engagement with such regimes, on our terms, not just on theirs. (The war should be justified on terms other than just chest-pounding posturing, but there is something to be said for Jonah Goldberg’s two-part pre-war argument - see here and here – analogizing international relations to a prison yard and…well…follow that to its logical conclusion.)
Amid an insurgency which needs to be combated, much good is coming of America’s war in Iraq. See here and here for just two of such examples. Of course, the bloody reality of that insurgency cannot be ignored; some mistakes were clearly made by Rumsfeld and others in the early stages of reconstruction and, I think, the Bush Administration has been overly tentative in its tactics during the past year. Many comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam are unwarranted, but I think it is fair to say that counter-insurgency strategy and election-year politics do not make great bedfellows, be it 1964 or 2004.
What does the future hold? I have no idea. Post-war success in Iraq, as defined as a stable, representative Iraqi government we can live with, is by no means assured. The United States and its allies have a huge role to play, but ultimately the future will be written by the Iraqi people. Freedom is theirs for the taking.
Broadly speaking, two sets of foreigners have poured into Iraq. One fought to remove Saddam Hussein from power and has brought security assistance, humanitarian aid and the determination to allow the embattled country to forge a new democratic future. The other is ruthlessly fighting to repel the first group through an indiscriminate campaign of roadside car bombs, ambushes (often aided by pushing children in front of military convoys) and videotaped beheadings, designed at establishing either a repressive, close-minded theocracy or an anarchistic safe haven for terrorists. Iraqis face a stark choice between those two groups. We must do all we can to help them make the right decisions, but, in the end, they will chart their own course.
Once the Iraqi government has established a relatively stable foothold, we should begin to slowly and responsibly withdraw. America need not, and should not, remain there in perpetuity. One thing I can proudly say about this country: I have read countless articles and editorials by proponents of the war - some even far to my right - but I cannot readily remember even one observer seriously suggesting that America should have even the slightest designs on conquering, colonizing or unfairly exploiting Iraq for material gain. I’m sure some such people exist, but they are a distinct and silent minority.
On a personal note, I will add that I was not always supportive of the notion of military confrontation with Iraq. I once held the view that Saddam was contained and barely tolerable and that al Qaeda should be America’s primary focus. I no longer believe the former, still believe the latter, but, above all, have come to believe that the combination of realpolitik and balancing of evils that characterized America’s policy towards the Middle East needed to change. While realism should always be a part of our worldview, American foreign policy is at its best when our ideals are aligned with our interests. The pre-9/11 status quo in the Middle East of authoritarian regimes, anti-American designs and seething misdirected hatred needed to be altered for the better. After deposing the Taliban and removing terrorist safe havens in Afghanistan, no better or more deserving candidate for regime change existed than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, an open state sponsor of terror led by a man who would do anything to hurt the United States.
Here’s hoping we see it through.
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POLITICS: Fighting Against "Liars and Demons"
Jesse Jackson and John Kerry sound awfully worried and defensive about the potential for the same-sex marriage issue to pry off African-American voters from the Democratic ticket:
Following him a few minutes later, Mr. Kerry urged his audience to try to ignore diversions from the issues Mr. Jackson had mentioned.
"All they're going to do is attack and attack and try and divert, and push some hot button that has nothing to do with the quality of your life on a daily basis," the senator from Massachusetts said.
And, I've heard of demonizing your opponents, but I always thought that was in a figurative sense:
"He's fighting against liars and demons," Mrs. Meek said.
The article does not mention if Kerry disagreed with the characterization of Republicans as "demons." Then there's the usual hyperbole:
Mr. Kerry told the congregation he is taking steps to allay the grievance of many Florida blacks that their votes were not counted in 2000. "Never again will a million African-Americans be denied their right to exercise their vote in the United States of America," he said.
Why only a million? Why not a billion, or a trillion, if you're going to make up numbers out of thin air?
Oh, and don't forget all the hyperventilating we get from the Left over the idea that "Bush actually believes that God told him to become president." (But it's OK for a writer to knock that if "[s]ome of my best friends believe in God . . . "). Now, Kerry would never nod along at a suggestion like that, would he?
"For every Goliath, God has a David," he said. "For every Calvary's cross, God has a Christ Jesus. To bring our country out of despair, discouragement, despondency and disgust, God has a John Kerry."
Mr. Kerry mostly sat stolidly during the 20-minute sermon, nodding slightly. Mr. Smith said God can work His will through the election. "If he did it for Clinton, he can do it for you," he said.
But don't hold your breath waiting for the denunciations of this from Slate and its ilk.
October 11, 2004
POLITICS: Dropping The "L" Bomb
So President Bush, in the second debate, goes out of his way to call Kerry a "liberal," to which Kerry's response is to grouse about "labels" rather than try to show how his record disproves the charge (which he can't; as Bob Novak has pointed out, this is the same Kerry who in July 1991 said "I'm a liberal, and proud of it").
During the second Presidential Debate, President Bush made several references to Senator Kerry as politically liberal. Kerry consistently responded that labels don't matter.
That's just one debate. If Bush can hammer this theme in the second debate and in ads, he may quickly have Kerry wishing he could go back to debating Iraq.
POLITICS: Dumb Question
Bush and Cheney rip into Kerry for his remarks in that NY Times Magazine profile, drawing this response:
"I think the answer is pretty clear it's because they don't want to talk about the issues that people are facing."
Um, maybe because Kerry is, you know, running against Bush?
It is, of course, a bad sign when a campaign does nothing but attack. But really, you have to be living in la-la land to think Bush hasn't campaigned on the basis of his own past record and future platform. Whining about being criticized for the candidate's own, rather lengthy and detailed remarks on the primary issue of the campaign is just weak and pathetic.
If anything, I almost feel bad for Kerry staffers trying to explain away this interview, which really can't be defended on the merits and shows staggeringly bad political judgment in addition to the bad strategic thinking on national security.
WAR/POLITICS: The Right War, The Right Place, The Right Time – PART III
This is the third part of a four-part series in praise of, and defense of, the Iraq War.
Part I looked at why America could not rest after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan and why state sponsors of terror, such as Iraq, require our attention. Part II looked at why, in particular, North Korea and Iran should not have taken precedence over Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
This part, the longest yet, details why America and its allies were right to take it upon themselves to enforce years of violated UN Resolutions by military force and, ultimately, to remove Saddam Hussein. In other words, this is the meat of the sandwich.
The hardest part of writing this is deciding where to start.
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* In the fall of 1980, when Saddam ordered the invasion of Iran, provoking the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, one of the bloodiest and most pointless conflicts in modern history?
* On June 7, 1981, when Israel, acting unilaterally, destroyed Saddam’s French-built Osirak nuclear reactor, which was the centerpiece of his secret nuclear plan? Europe and the most of the rest of the world, including even some quarters of the Reagan Administration, reacted with scorn. Today, that world is immeasurably safer as a result. (See Rodger Claire’s “Raid on the Sun” for a great book on this topic).
* In 1985, when Palestinian terrorist Abu Abbas murdered a 69-year old Jewish American in a wheelchair aboard the hijacked Achille Lauro, only to find welcoming arms in Iraq? Or in April 2003, when Abbas was captured by U.S. Special Forces in Baghdad?
* Throughout the 1980’s, when Abu Nidal and his organization, sponsored by Saddam’s Iraq, “mounted terrorist operations in 20 countries, killing about 300 people and wounding hundreds more.” Or in 2002, when Nidal died in Baghdad?
* In 1988, in Halabja, when Saddam ordered “the largest-scale chemical weapons (CW) attack against a civilian population in modern times”?
* In 1991, when an again-almost-nuclear Saddam invaded, without provocation, neighboring Kuwait? Armed with the largest coalition in history, the United States acted, over the objection of a certain Massachusetts senator, to repel the invasion, but not before Iraq fired missiles into Israel and Saudi Arabia and torched its own oil fields. Regrettably, in retrospect, the U.S., believing Saddam would soon fall, did not finish the job and encouraged Iraqis to rise up, only to pull back and watch them be slaughtered by Saddam’s henchmen after the cease-fire.
* Throughout the 1990’s, when Saddam violated virtually every provision of that cease-fire, brutally suppressing all internal challenges to his power along the way? When, during that period, Saddam had Iraqi forces routinely fire at American planes patrolling the no-fly zone?
* In 1993, when Saddam plotted to assassinate former President George H. W. Bush on his visit to Kuwait?
* When, in May of 1994, Saddam ordered amputation of the ears of approximately 3,500 of his former troops?
* When Saddam ordered the crushing of a two-year old toddler’s feet when her father fell under suspicion?
* When his sons, potential heirs to the regime, tortured Iraqi Olympians and toured the streets of Baghdad looking for women to rape?
* When Saddam initiated a system of financial rewards for the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, including members of Hamas and other radical organizations?
* In 1998, when Saddam kicked out weapons inspectors? Those inspectors were only reintroduced to Iraq by President Bush’s threat of imminent military force, a threat which could not be credibly maintained in perpetuity.
* When, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Saddam issued the following statement?
* When Saddam violated UN Resolutions 678, 686, 687, 688, 707, 715, 949, 1051, 1060, 1115, 1134, 1137, 1154, 1194, 1205 and 1284, leading up the final act in 2002-03?
* When, as the Duelfer Report details, Saddam perverted the Oil-for-Food program, turned the world against the sanctions programs aimed against him and engaged in a systemic campaign to bribe French, Russian, Chinese and other UN leaders?
* Or right before the war, when Saddam was obligated by UN Resolution 1441 to unconditionally and verifiably disarm or face “serious consequences”? Saddam did not comply. After a decade of defiance, would another slap on the wrist have been a serious consequence?
* With the 9/11 Commission hearings, which raised more questions than they answered about long-debated ties between Saddam’s Iraq and al Qaeda? [The evidence here really is inconclusive, but if the lessons of pre-war intelligence teach us anything, it is that we should not jump to conclusions, in either direction, or rule out that which is clearly possible].
* Or in January 2004, by which time approximately 270 mass graves had been reported and 53 found and confirmed in the killing fields of Iraq?
What about the weapons of mass destruction? Read the Duelfer Report for more on that, as well as this and this. We have to think long and hard about how the world’s assumptions were so wrong about that issue and how to improve, but, centrally, those are intelligence questions, not political ones. Presidents and Prime Ministers are forced with life and death choices in real time, not with the luxury of hindsight. I, for one, am far more content to accept that we invaded Iraq and found no weapons of mass destruction, rather than invading and, as many feared, seeing those weapons dropped on the heads of our troops. [And, as a final word, I would say that there is no final word on this. Again, I’m deeply skeptical of the notion that we really now know for absolute certain what Saddam had and did not have and where such weapons may be today. Given some of the alternatives, I sincerely hope they didn’t exist.]
Again, rambling as all of the foregoing may seem, it remains a highly incomplete list of why military action was justified. An attempted summary: America’s containment policies towards Iraq were no longer working. Saddam had twisted the international sanctions regime to his advantage, to the point where world opinion had turned against them. Further, the Duelfer Report indicates Saddam’s intent and capability to aggressively reconstitute his WMD programs shortly after any lifting of sanctions. As it now appears, three members of the UN Security Council (France, Russia and China) were receiving substantial bribes from Saddam’s regime, deterring the world body from approving of any kind of decisive action.
Weapons inspectors, only allowed back into Iraq under threat of a massive imminent invasion, could not possibly provide the level of unconditional assurance the U.S. had every right to seek within the time frame they were given. In a sense, that process was doomed from the beginning due to its very circular dynamics (i.e. Saddam historically played games with or exiled inspectors when force was not imminent; however, credibly maintaining that threat indefinitely would have been massively expensive and unrealistic logistically. Such delay would eventually have only led to more games from Saddam and time was on his side until a policy of zero-tolerance was enacted and enforced).
Saddam’s track record of military recklessness, support for terrorism and an obsession with weapons of mass destruction gave the U.S. every reason to consider his regime an unacceptable threat in a post-9/11 world. The unspeakable brutality of his regime was a convincing moral rationale for action and a decade of defiance of a laundry list of UN Resolutions was a convincing legal rationale.
Tactically, unlike Iran and North Korea, the United States had a recent track record of fighting the Iraqi army and the likelihood of military disaster was quite low. In fact, the war itself, not to be confused with its aftermath, was a triumphant success. More on that in the final part, but, suffice to say, we sometimes take for granted everything that has gone right in Iraq. Quite a lot, in fact, did go right.
In the end, some would have you believe that the U.S. went to war to serve the narrow ideological interests of some sort of “neo-conservative” cabal. That cabal apparently includes the following:
Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Joe Lieberman, Kenneth Pollack, Christopher Hitchens, Joe Biden, John McCain, John Edwards and even, at times, John Kerry, along with many, many others.
I cite these moderate to left-leaning figures, not to mock them, but because they shared the same assumptions, and in many cases, advocated the same policies as the “neocons” (whatever that term means anyway). Some of their facts may occasionally have been wrong, but they were on the right side of history nonetheless. If only the latter two, in particular, would stick to that conviction.
Of course, Saddam never attained the capabilities of his infamously tyrannical predecessors (such as the Nazis or, his idol, Josef Stalin). For some, that is proof that America was wrong to wage war to remove him from power. For many of us, however, it is reason to be proud and grateful that he was removed when he was.
The decision to go to war was the right one. A year and half later, what, then, have we lost and what have we gained?
More on that in Part IV.
UPDATE: I re-read the link regarding mass graves and updated the post accordingly; 270 were reported, "only" 53 have been found. I imagine that is small comfort to those who are buried within them.
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POLITICS: Kerry At War, or, Rather, War At Kerry
Many people, starting as usual with Powerline, are piling on John Kerry's answers in this NY Times Magazine profile of his foreign policy views. Geraghty says that it "confirms every conservative’s worst fears and suspicions about Kerry’s views on how to fight terror." Eugene Volokh is appalled by Kerry's analogy of terrorism to illegal gambling and prostitution, our responses to which "are examples of practical surrender, or at least a cease-fire punctuated by occasional but largely half-hearted and ineffectual sorties." Maguire notes Kerry's hesitancy to talk even to the sympathetic ears at the Times, and points out, "if Kerry does not think he can communicate clearly with a Timesman, how can we take seriously his belief that he can sell his message to a cold, uncaring world?" Lileks, as usual, offers the most cutting critique of Kerry for saying that "[w]e have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance":
But that's not the key phrase. This matters: We have to get back to the place we were.
But when we were there we were blind. When we were there we losing. When we were there we died. We have to get back to the place we were. We have to get back to 9/10? We have to get back to the place we were. So we can go through it all again? We have to get back to the place we were. And forget all we’ve learned and done? We have to get back to the place we were. No. I don’t want to go back there.
There's more; read the whole thing.
The profile is an astonishing caricature of Kerry, and all the more frightening because it doesn't seem that the writer - this is the Times Magazine, after all - wants to do a hatchet job on Kerry. There's the elitism:
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There's the insistence on a posture of seeking the approval of other nations:
This, by the way, is precisely the usage of the word "sensitive" that so many Democrats said Kerry wasn't using when Dick Cheney mocked him for using the word to describe the proper approach to the war on terror. There's the use, as Prof. Volokh suggested, of obviously losing efforts as a role model:
I'd agree that these can be useful supplemental tools, all of them - in fact, several of the Patriot Act's provisions are modeled on what we could already do in drug investigations - but I'm sorry, the war on drugs is just not a winning model.
There's the telling contrast on the role of states:
Again, half right - it's true that Al Qaeda's operations seem starkly nihilist and anarchist . . . except that it does aim at a political vision of a radical Islamist caliphate, and it has gained crucial advantages from states who tolerate it.
There's the complete misunderstanding of how we introduce democracy in the Middle East:
''You can't impose it on people,'' he said. ''You have to bring them to it. You have to invite them to it. You have to nurture the process.''
Um, yeah. And how would the people of Iraq and Afghanistan have gone about acepting that invitation, precisely? How do you deliver it to the people of Syria?
Leave aside that "the old forces they remember from the colonial days" would include the French (and the Turks) but not the U.S. And that the Saudis, for one, were never colonized. Is Kerry unaware that the religious leaders in many parts of the Islamic world are either part of the governing apparatus (Iran) or on the public payroll (Saudi Arabia)?
Mubarak is, at best, an evil to be tolerated while we work on the heart of the region. Kerry thinks he can be helpful? And "getting American businesspeople involved" - yeah, I'm sure lots of companies will want the kind of good press that Kerry has given to Halliburton for its work in Iraq. What's most ominous about the "American businesspeople" line is the suggestion that the solution here is an economic one, which completely misreads the political-religious nature of the problem. Islamism isn't communism; you can't break it just by touting the free market.
Perhaps Kerry can enlighten us on whether he thinks the Palestinians have cooperated with the "road map" sufficiently to move down that road.
No, I can't satirize that. How could you?
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October 10, 2004
WAR/POLITICS: The Right War, The Right Place, The Right Time – PART II
This is the second part of a four-part series on why the Iraq War, contrary to the position de jour of Senator John Kerry, was the right war in the right place at the right time (see Part I here). America acted both wisely and decisively in removing Saddam Hussein from power and is doing the only right thing in helping the Iraqi people get their country back on its feet.
Why, though, of North Korea, Iran and Iraq was a military response appropriate for the latter but not for the first two?
Let’s look at them one at a time.
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North Korea, a staggeringly repressive and twisted regime, is a hard-line Stalinist government which starves its own people so that it can spend its money on conventional and nuclear weapons. It throws out wild anti-American rhetoric, acts in a militarily provocative nature, tramples over agreements and has brazenly pulled out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It is, arguably, the primary threat to the United States.
Yet, North Korea is a regime which acts out of extreme weakness. Its Soviet patrons have faded into history. Its southern counterpart, just across the DMZ, has become a thriving democratic society. Its primary ideological enemy, America, maintains a huge military presence on its doorstep. It is a regime which is contained and feels threatened.
By way of analogy, North Korea is like the last survivor of gang of armed robbers who unsuccessfully tried to knock over a liquor store. Its partners are now dead, the store’s alarm is ringing and the cops have the place surrounded. If it starts a shoot-out or surrenders, it will be the end of the road. It apparently views its only rational course as negotiating with a gun (i.e. nuclear weapons) pointed at the head of the owner.
A military attack on North Korea is an eventuality no one should desire. It has the military forces and artillery to devastate key South Korean population centers and kill thousands of Americans in the opening hours of any conflict. Its nuclear weapons could be fired at American forces in Japan or even, possibly, American territory. North Korea, as we know it, would be destroyed and its regime would fall, but at what cost.
There are a whole host of bad options with North Korea and only one strikes me as particularly viable: some sort of policy of resolute engagement (well outlined here). In particular, unilaterally giving in to every North Korean demand would set an awful precedent to aspiring violators of the NPT. I wish we could quietly ignore North Korea’s weapons and threats and wait for its eventual collapse (i.e. simply give it no reason to lash out). However, actively negotiating its way back from the brink is probably necessary. Bush has chosen to do this while not buckling to North Korean demands of face-to-face talks and firmly demanding the inclusion of other relevant parties. He is choosing what looks like the worst possible course of action. Except for all the others.
In any case, focusing primarily on North Korea, to the exclusion of lingering Middle East threats, never struck me as most logical second phase of a War on Terror begun on September 11th.
What, then, about Iran?
Clearly, the U.S. has few longer-term enemies than the Islamic Republic which decries us as the “Great Satan”, famously held American Embassy personnel as hostages, supports terrorism and trumpets its desire to destroy the state of Israel. Its advancing nuclear program now appears to have been far beyond that of Iraq, a state we once supported against Iran in the 1980s. In fact, the bill of particulars against Iran is almost as long as that against Iraq.
It would be too much of an effort to explain every reason why the Iranian regime is repugnant. Perhaps Salman Rushdie can do that for you. A few stand out: its nuclear development, unbending hatred of Israel, involvement in the Khobar Towers bombing and ties to al Qaeda.
You want to get rid of the Iranian regime? Sign me up.
The problem is how.
There is significant support for engaging Iran among European states, which, even though many appeased him, were willing to stipulate to the awfulness of Saddam Hussein. Also, Iran is a huge country, with a stock of religious fanatics we don’t need to look hard to see – many are in highest positions of government. However, that government does have some sense of legitimacy; it is far from our understanding of democracy, but it was originally brought into power by popular movement, not simply military coup. Furthermore, as a legal matter, Iran has not flaunted the will of the United Nations as consistently as Iraq and the United States was not in a state of cease-fire with Iran, as was the case with Iraq. Above all, Iran is an enormously complex country, one which makes our understanding of Iraq seem profound by comparison. Any plan which calls for the occupation of Iran - at any stage - would be folly.
There are many options for Iran: massive air strikes, direct negotiation, détente, tougher economic sanctions, etc… Similar to Daniel Drezner, I personally support a policy of more carrots and sticks; giving the Iranians some of the benefits of American engagement, while showing them the tangible consequences of misbehavior (i.e. pulling back such benefits). I think the way to deal with them is to show strength while being willing to talk and simultaneously being prepared to use incremental force. The more the regime opens up, the more likely its internal collapse will be. The mutual interests we both have in an Iraq democratically controlled by a Shia majority are a good starting point and I think Bush alone, among our two candidates, has the hard-line credibility to be able to come to the table without appearing like a weakling.
It seems fair to say that military action against Iran, especially as a distinct and overriding alternative to action against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, would have been misguided.
The foregoing has been an argument against taking certain military actions and in favor of engagement strategies and diplomacy. In the case of Iraq, however, such options were simply not viable.
In Iraq, in late 2002, it was time to act.
More on why in Part III.
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POLITICS: Quick Links 10/10/04
*North Georgia's own Ricky West on Max Cleland and Jimmy Carter: "Thing is, the two Georgians most cited by the MSM (Cleland and Jimmy Carter) are so far outside of the pulse of Georgia, neither could win a state-wide election even if they were running against each other."
*Check out Jonah Goldberg with what has to be the angriest G-File ever, on Kerry's Iraq posturing. A sample:
And one more:
*In case you missed it a few weeks ago, here's your summit:
(Emphasis added). Kerry demands that we have a summit, and his proposed summit depends on the inclusion of people who want to negotiate with terrorists. But don't hold your breath waiting for Kerry to get called on this.
WAR/POLITICS: Go John Go!
Make sure you check out Tim Blair for a well-deserved bout of "[h]urtful, savage, imbalanced and triumphalist ranting" at Saturday's election victory by Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Howard's opponent, Mark Latham, sounds like an an Aussie Howard Dean:
Meanwhile, some irregularities but no widespread violence as Afghans went to the polls for the first time since the US liberated their country from the Taliban.
In both cases, of course, the elections represent a setback for John Kerry's campaign. Afghanistan is a clear triumph for the Bush Administration; we're hardly home free there, but the ability to conduct an election free of violence gives the lie to claims that the country has fallen apart, and gives hope for similar progress in Iraq. That's terrible news for Kerry.
In Australia, of course, Kerry's sister - the head of his campaign there - created a stir in mid-September when she basically told Autralians to side against the United States by voting Howard out of office:
Diana Kerry, younger sister of the Democrat presidential candidate, told The Weekend Australian that the Bali bombing and the recent attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta clearly showed the danger to Australians had increased.
"Australia has kept faith with the US and we are endangering the Australians now by this wanton disregard for international law and multilateral channels," she said, referring to the invasion of Iraq.
Asked if she believed the terrorist threat to Australians was now greater because of the support for Republican George W. Bush, Ms Kerry said: "The most recent attack was on the Australian embassy in Jakarta -- I would have to say that."
Ms Kerry, who taught school in Indonesia for 15 years until 2000, is heading a campaign called Americans Overseas for Kerry which aims to secure the votes of Americans abroad -- including the more than 100,000 living in Australia.
Howard's victory stands as a rebuke to the Kerrys and their ham-handed attempt to pry another ally out of the coalition. And, of course - of much greater importance - it preserves the role of our most faithful ally as a vigilant force against terrorism.
October 09, 2004
POLITICS: "John Edwards and I . . . "
The October issue of Catholic Digest carries extended interviews with both Bush and Kerry, although it's not entirely clear from the context whether these were sit-down interviews or were, as often seems to happen with these sorts of things, written answers submitted in response to written questions.
I didn't find anything all that enlightening in the answers, but there was one tic in Kerry's answers that seems oddly illuminating. Kerry was asked 13 questions - 5 on economic issues, one open-ended "why should a Catholic vote for you" question, 6 on religion or foreign policy, and one on the Latino vote.
In his answers to each of the questions on the economy, as well as in his answer to the open-ended question, Kerry worked Edwards' name into his answer, usually by opening a sentence with "John Edwards and I . . . " In none of the other answers did he mention his running mate. Presumably, Kerry thinks of Edwards as rubbing off some sort of positive air when dealing with bread-and-butter issues, but doesn't find the need to bring him into other areas.
WAR/POLITICS: The Right War, The Right Place, The Right Time - PART I
The United States and its coalition partners were right to invade Iraq to depose and disarm Saddam Hussein and we are right to be staying to help the Iraqi people combat a ruthless insurgency and develop a stable, representative government. President Bush made the right strategic decision at the right time.
Why Iraq? This is the first of a very lengthy, four-part post on that question. (Like the Crank, I’m sorry to be short-changing baseball - which I do love - but I feel that these are important issues and that this may be the very biggest.).
As we live in the continuing wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, America has a responsibility to aggressively confront rogue regimes, allies of terror and repressive dictatorships wherever and whenever it can. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq emphatically fit all three categories.
I strongly disagree with the argument that state sponsors of terror are irrelevant to the Global War on Terrorism simply because the specific terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 were sub-state actors. Following the successful invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of the Taliban, the United States was right to broaden its sights and to act to head off gathering threats, correct festering wrongs and enforce long-ignored international resolutions. The approximately 3,000 victims of September 11th deserve no less.
The main question is where, post-Afghanistan, should the next front have been? Let's examine that.
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Believing that war should be, if not a last resort, certainly not the first one, I reject the notion that our response should’ve been to attack one of our allies. Two examples come to mind.
Michael Moore has disingenuously suggested that, in response to (a) the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers of 9/11 were Saudis, (b) other legitimately repugnant behavior and (c) several utterly facile conspiracy theories, the United States should have attacked Saudi Arabia. Following such thinking: would the occupation of Mecca and Medina serve as a disincentive to al Qaeda recruiting and win the U.S. support and respect in the Muslim world? Moore is not a serious figure and I will pay him the complement of not taking his ideas seriously.
Similarly, Kevin Drum, motivated by legitimate frustration with Osama bin Laden’s elusiveness as well as myopic partisanship, has previously suggested that President Bush has been irresponsible in not openly invading Pakistan. The invaluable cooperation the Musharraf government is giving the U.S., the very apparent risk of provoking a destabilizing Islamist coup and the resulting threat of nuclear war on the Indian sub-continent are apparently acceptable costs of an anything-but-Bush approach to foreign policy driven by impulsive frustration.
Should we demand, and are we demanding, more of untrustworthy allies like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan? Yes. Are there ways of doing that short of war? You bet.
On to more serious arguments.
During the period in question, the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror included Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, North Korea and Cuba, all of which are objectively enemies of the United States.
However, some represented more realistic threats than others. Cuba is primarily a political and ideological enemy of the United States; its support for terror is somewhat incidental to its place on this list. Libya was a long-term enemy of the U.S., but one which had substantially mellowed its behavior, even prior to 9/11. Colonel Qadhafi was aptly characterized as “the rogue who came in from the cold” even before the Iraq invasion prompted his most dramatic reversal of behavior (more on that later) and eventual removal from the list.
Sudan and Syria are legitimate sponsors of terror which are receiving the increased pressure they deserve from the United States. However, Syria’s support for Hezbollah is primarily tied to Lebanese politics and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Most Americans would agree that that is a conflict we should seek to reconcile, not actively fight ourselves. Sudan, as the Darfur crisis indicates, is a repulsive state, but also an absolute basket case. As a hotbed of al Qaeda, it deserves our attention, but is a place where legitimate humanitarian concerns would likely subsume any military mission. In other words, both require vigilant attention, but would’ve been poor choices for immediate post-Afghanistan action.
Which brings us to the “Axis of Evil” – three states, North Korea, Iran and Iraq, which are not really an “axis” because they did not act in concert, but which were led by undeniably “evil” and threatening regimes.
Of the three, Iraq was, by far, the most logical choice to confront first.
In fact, I believe Iraq is the only one of the three that was a good candidate for direct military confrontation.
More on why in Part II.
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October 08, 2004
POLITICS: Round Two
Well, that was an improvement. Bush was visibly livelier, faster on his feet, more in command. He didn't use every single line he needed, didn't uncork some of his most powerful weapons. But he hit Kerry, and hard, on several occasions.
Kerry was mostly the same as the first debate; as noted, he's a good debater. But tonight we saw even more clearly the real Kerry in his repeated determination to deny who he is, run from his record, duck the "liberal" label that so aptly fits him. If Kerry isn't as liberal as Ted Kennedy and Mike Dukakis . . . well, why can't he find examples of how?
Kerry on Saddam's threat, same debate just a few minutes later:
And what's interesting is, it's a threat that has grown while the president has been preoccupied with Iraq, where there wasn't a threat.
Of course, for my perspective Bush's best answers were early on, on the war, although to be honest some of them don't seem as great, or at least as new, on paper. This was the home run:
BUSH: No, I appreciate that. I -- listen, I -- we've got a great country. I love our values. And I recognize I've made some decisions that have caused people to not understand the great values of our country. I remember when Ronald Reagan was the president; he stood on principle. Somebody called that stubborn. He stood on principle standing up to the Soviet Union, and we won that conflict. Yet at the same time, he was very -- we were very unpopular in Europe because of the decisions he made.
BUSH: I recognize that taking Saddam Hussein out was unpopular. But I made the decision because I thought it was in the right interests of our security. You know, I've made some decisions on Israel that's unpopular. I wouldn't deal with Arafat, because I felt like he had let the former president down, and I don't think he's the kind of person that can lead toward a Palestinian state. And people in Europe didn't like that decision. And that was unpopular, but it was the right thing to do. I believe Palestinians ought to have a state, but I know they need leadership that's committed to a democracy and freedom, leadership that would be willing to reject terrorism. I made a decision not to join the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which is where our troops could be brought to -- brought in front of a judge, an unaccounted judge.
BUSH: I don't think we ought to join that. That was unpopular. And so, what I'm telling you is, is that sometimes in this world you make unpopular decisions because you think they're right. We'll continue to reach out. Listen, there is 30 nations involved in Iraq, some 40 nations involved in Afghanistan. People love America. Sometimes they don't like the decisions made by America, but I don't think you want a president who tries to become popular and does the wrong thing. You don't want to join the International Criminal Court just because it's popular in certain capitals in Europe.
Even if indirectly, he did finally deal with the Tora Bora garbage, by talking at the end about military decisions being open to question. Of course, I was thrilled to hear him stress the leadership theme I was pressing for earlier today:
I know I'm biased. And it wasn't a knockout. But I certainly thought, especially after how Bush got clobbered in the press after the last debate, that this was a clear win.
UPDATES: And what was with Kerry talking about Red Sox fans living in a fantasy land? Didn't he see Ortiz' home run?
The transcript doesn't capture this moment, where Bush basically swatted Charlie Gibson aside to drop the hammer on Kerry:
GIBSON: Mr. President, let's extend for a minute...
BUSH: Let me just -- I've got to answer this.
GIBSON: Exactly. And with Reservists being held on duty...
BUSH: Let me answer what he just said, about around the world.
GIBSON: Well, I want to get into the issue of the back-door draft...
BUSH: You tell Tony Blair we're going alone. Tell Tony Blair we're going alone. Tell Silvio Berlusconi we're going alone. Tell Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland we're going alone. There are 30 countries there. It denigrates an alliance to say we're going alone, to discount their sacrifices. You cannot lead an alliance if you say, you know, you're going alone. And people listen. They're sacrificing with us.
(The other time he tried to say "Berlusconi," Bush gave up half way through).
Why do we have another debate limited to the economy? Seems like we covered a lot of that tonight. The foreign policy stuff, I think we can say they've repeated themselves plenty by now. But there's a host of issues (social issues come to mind) that haven't been much ventilated.
Kerry, after Bush called him the most liberal Senator:
Mr. President, you're batting 0 for 2.
I mean, seriously -- labels don't mean anything. What means something is: Do you have a plan? And I want to talk about my plan some more -- I hope we can.
Say it with me: "competence, not ideology." I guarantee you the Bush camp is giddy tonight; maybe they're wrong, but it sure looked like a Bush win to me, and I suspect it did to them as well.
You will notice once again that in discussing our strategy in the war on terror, Kerry never mentions freedom or democracy and never refers to us fighting anyone but Al Qaeda.
Starting to see some reactions . . . I'd agree that it was a good sign that Kerry was mostly on the defensive.
WAR/POLITICS: The Big Picture
Tonight's debate will do much to decide this election. The president also needs for it to help the country focus on something broader: a debate about the fundamental question of what kind of war we are now engaged in. That is the question that has divided our political system since at least the January 2002 State of the Union speech, when President Bush labeled Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an “axis of evil.” None of this is new ground for those of us who have followed these questions closely and debated them endlessly. But as the time of decision approaches, it is useful once again to go back to first principles on the issues that divide us.
Here's the bottom line:
Kerry: We are at war with Al Qaeda and the remnants of the Taliban because they attacked us; we are at war in Iraq because we attacked them.
Bush: We are at war with any and all international terror groups, whether or not they have previously attacked us, and we can win only when we have removed or fundamentally altered the regimes that support or harbor them.
That's the distinction. Let's explore. There are a number of different strains of thought among President Bush’s critics on the Left, ranging from those whose disagreements focus principally on the mechanics of war-fighting to the Michael Moore/Ted Rall=type lefties who opposed the war in Afghanistan and would oppose basically anything that involves the exercise of American power. The latter group, of course, is beyond reason or argument.
The principal thrust of the argument advanced by many mainstream Democrats, however, and recently embraced by John Kerry, goes something like this:
1. The US may only go to war (a) to respond to an attack, (b) to interdict an imminent threat, or (c) with the sanction of the UN. In other words, we have the right to engage in direct self-defense ((a) or (b)), but the legitimacy of any mission that goes beyond direct self-defense depends on the agreement of collective bodies like the UN and, to a lesser extent, NATO.
On one level or another, this has been the argument of critics like Howard Dean, Al Gore, and Bob Graham, and John Kerry has now embraced it by calling the Iraq war a "diversion". I think I’ve been fair in setting out the syllogistic quality of this line of thought, which in its defense does have deep roots in Western thought about war. I actually agree with some of its underlying philosophy, although as I’ll discuss below, the current situation demands the competing argument of the Bush Administration and its supporters that this approach is hopelessly insufficient to deal with the ongoing threat of international terrorism.
For all of John Kerry’s past efforts to appeal to pro- and anti-war voters alike, there has long been copious evidence to suggest that this is what Kerry actually thinks. One of the clearest signs came back in June, when Kerry said this:
In short: we are at war with a single organization (Al Qaeda) and have gone and started a second, separate war in Iraq, without meeting necessary preconditions for doing so.
What Bush, his administration and its supporters (myself included) have consistently argued is that the old way of looking at these issues is wrong, for a number of reasons; I'll focus here on two.
1. "Al Qaeda" is not the only enemy. Yes, that's who attacked us. But the goal here isn't just to put them out of business but to end the terrorist threat to the U.S. once and for all. To my mind, we are at war with (a) any organized terrorist group that can reach across national borders or within the U.S.; (b) any state that sponsors, supports or gives aid and comfort to any such group. Even if you discount the evidence of Saddam's overtures to bin Laden, the fact that Saddam had a long history of actively supporting some terrorists and harboring others makes the ability to tie him to bin Laden almost academic; you can't well say you are at war with terrorist sponsors and leave Saddam in place. Remember, after all, that Al Qaeda itself is only a loose association of groups anyway, formed by a merger with the Egyptian group Islamic Jihad. It's sort of silly to have arguments over whether, say, Ansar al-Islam or Zarqawi were or are part of Al Qaeda; the similarity in rhetoric, tactics, goals and ideology makes them part of the same problem regardless of where the lines on their org charts point.
2. We can't win the war without broadening it. Because we are fighting a type of enemy, united by its ideas and tactics rather than as a single organism, we can't win just by rolling up body counts, capturing territory and choking of funds, although all of those are helpful. What we need to do is change the dynamics of the states that have fostered the problem, both by supporting such organizations and by encouraging the hatreds that breed terrorists.
The choice between Bush and Kerry is clear, it is fundamental, and it is essential to our security. It's a matter of life and death that we get it right.
POLITICS: A Prediction
I just got an email from the RNC with an update of the "Kerry on Iraq" video (linked up top). I predict that, in tonight's debate, President Bush will send people to the website if Kerry tries to claim that his position has been consistent.
POLITICS: The Leadership Gap
There's another thing Bush needs to drive home tonight, and it's a point he's more comfortable making. Here's something like what I'd like to hear:
You know, I've been listening in this campaign to Senator Kerry talk about foreign policy, domestic policy. And it's clear that we have some fundamental differences in philosophy. But leadership matters too. You can't tell people you're going to get things done better if you can't lead.
There's a common thread throughout Bush's career, from his admittedly checkered business career, to his days as Texas Governor, to his presidential candidacy, to his domestic policy and his conduct of foreign affairs. Bush's expertise is in finding out how many people he needs on board to get a particular job done, and putting together a coalition that will do the job. He has a practical politician's understanding that you need to make concessions to win allies on any issue, so you don't bring along more than you need. And sometimes, you sacrifice some long-term good will to do it, from inflaming Jim Jeffords during the tax cut flap in 2001 to enlisting allies in Iraq (namely, Spain's Aznar government) who couldn't survive the poilitical pressures caused by going along. But in each case, Bush got what he needed.
Kerry's record couldn't be more opposite. Kerry's done nothing with respect to our allies this whole campaign - both the Iraqi allies and the countries that have sent troops - but scorn and insult them. There's a reason his Senate Democrat colleagues have never followed him anywhere, let alone cobbling together enough help from Senate Republicans to pass a bill. There's a reason the great majority of Kerry's peers in Vietnam, as well as the guy who spent the most time in his command on his boat, are willing to drop everything to run around the country opposing him. There's a reason almost nobody can find close Kerry friends among his peers anywhere he's been. Even Kerry's finest hours in the Senate were either lone-wolf investigations or tasks like the POW issue that nobody else wanted to get involved in. Kerry's not a coalition-builder, not a leader, not a guy who gets things done. And Bush, who is all those things, needs to point that out.
UPDATE: Linked this post to this week's Beltway Traffic Jam.
POLITICS: The Kryptonite Stays Home
As has been pointed out in numerous places, most of John Kerry's "plan" for Iraq involves claiming to do the same things Bush claims he's already doing. Yes, partisans on each side can argue over what's actually getting done and how much more could be (see here on the latest iteration of the Bush plan), although if Kerry thinks he can get more done faster and better just by pouring more resources into Iraq, he's underestimated how much more difficult he will have made the task of raising those resources after campaigning on a platform of "we should be spending that money at home instead" and "we shouldn't be opening firehouses in Baghdad and closing them at home."
The key to how Kerry tries to bridge that gap, of course, is by claiming he can obtain - and the president should have obtained - more foreign support, including the blessing of key players at the UN. But there is an enormous vulnerability there for Kerry: a skilled debater could expose the childish naivete behind Kerry's faith in the European and UN cavalry, especially after he was finally forced to concede that the French and Germans won't be sending troops. Likewise, the Duelfer report from the Iraq Survey Group report has revealed the extent to which the inspections process, the UN Oil-for-Food program and our "allies" in France, Russia and Germany were hopelessly compromised by corruption and bribery (see here, here, here, here and here for starters). Roger Simon explains why this is so fatal to Kerry, whose worldview simply can't survive contact with these scandals.
But I fear that Bush will never use them. The irony is that Kerry has this great reputation for diplomacy when all he does is defecate all over our allies, while Bush is supposed to be Mr. Ugly American, yet Bush is the one who often pulls his domestic political punches out of what can only be concern that his remarks will harm our ability to work with other countries. If Bush spent tonight working some riffs from Roger Simon and Mark Steyn and Ralph Peters about the French, the Germans, the Russians the UN - their military impotence, their corruption - he could leave Kerry's signature issue in a smoldering pile of ash. But then Bush would have to go back and work with Chirac, Putin, Schroder, and Annan, so instead he plays nice.
Sometimes being the only grownup in the room stinks.
POLITICS: Where Credit Is Due
You have to give the Kerry camp this: they've been very effective, albeit with the cooperation of the press, in spinning the results of the first two debates to be a smashing victory for Kerry and a draw for Edwards. This is where the arrival of the Clinton people comes up big. They can't and won't make a difference in improving the quality of Kerry's message, to the extent he even has any. But contentless spin, subject-changing and news cycle management are their expertise, and we've seen it in play.
Did top Kerry campaign staffer and former Ted Kennedy aide actually say that she never saw Edwards in the Senate either? Sure looks that way from this partial transcript (albeit without a link), but I suspect she just had a brain cramp and meant to say Cheney. Still pretty funny. Link via Wizbang.
POLITICS: Why "Flip-Flop"?
Some people have argued that then Bush campaign needs to get off calling Kerry a flip-flopper and go after his actual positions. Indeed, one Bush staffer told CrushKerry.com that the campaign is in the process of a long-planned October pivot to a "shock and awe"-style sudden-from-all-directions bombardment of Kerry's liberal record in the Senate. (Link via Geraghty). But then you hear something like this from Kerry:
The president and I have the same position, fundamentally, on gay marriage. We do. Same position.
This is a perfect example of why I always thought "flip-flop" was a necessary defensive tactic - you'd rather run against Kerry's ideas, but he's so good at denying what he stands for, by pointing to examples of him saying or doing the opposite ("that dog won't hunt, and let me tell you why . . ."), that it winds up being necessary to argue that he doesn't stand for anything at all, to force him to bear the burden of proving what his position is before you try to knock it down.
POLITICS/WAR: A Word About Credibility
One of the major themes of the first two debates has been America's credibility in the world at large, and the corresponding ability of the nation to get other nations to follow us. John Kerry and John Edwards insist that America has "misled" the world, as far as the reasons for war and the progress in Iraq. Bush and Cheney have responded that Kerry has sent "mixed signals" that undermine our credibility. Now, far be it from me to suggest that it doesn't matter, particularly on the home front, if the president tells the truth. (I also don't agree with Kerry and Edwards that this administration has been misleading about why we are in Iraq and how we're doing there, but that's another day's argument). But Bush and Cheney are, fundamentally, talking about an entirely different type of credibility - the type that really matters in international affairs.
Because, in the end, most of the countries on this earth, and most of the large masses of people, aren't real big on believing what foreign governments tell them, and with good reason. Most of us on some level - and diplomats and heads of state most of all - recognize that governments speak self-interestedly, and don't take what they say at face value. Or, at a minimum, they make their own minds up - the justifications for war in England are viewed as an issue of Tony Blair's credibility, in Australia an issue of John Howard's credibility, not so much Bush's.
But where a nation's credibility is critical is when you ask whether it is believed that a country keeps its promises - and its threats - acts reliably in its own interests, finishes the jobs it starts, and the like. Did the Soviet Union care if the United States saw "the light at the end of the tunnel" in Vietnam, or whether the explosion in the Gulf of Tonkin was just a pretext? Of course not. But the Soviets watched very carefully when they saw that America didn't stay to finish the war and didn't stand behind the South Vietnamese when the resulting peace treaty was violated by the renewed invasion from the North. And they watched equally carefully when Reagan started fighting to back up our interests, even in places like Grenada where the direct US interests were relatively minor. Because Reagan understood that our credibility in the Hobbesian world of international affairs depended upon not taking slights lightly. And every new president faces, fairly early, tests of his credibility - that is, in some sense, what the Chinese did to Bush in early 2001. There have been other tests, too - and don't think the world hasn't noticed that from Kyoto to the ABM treaty to the International Criminal Court, Bush has stood for one thing and one thing only: protecting US interests against agreements that failed to adequately protect them. Next time someone wants to make a deal with us, they will remember that. In short, credibility in international affairs isn't about telling the truth - it's about being clear where you stand and following through, so your allies know you will keep your promises and your enemies know you will back up your threats. Does anybody seriously think Kerry has that kind of credibility?
The real problem of US credibility in the Middle East - and yes, it's been a bipartisan one - is the widespread belief that we don't have the guts to stick it out through tough times and that we will abandon our allies on the ground to the same old despots. Think Somalia, or the abandonment of the Kurds and Shi'ites in 1991. In a way, that's one of the most compelling reasons, if an unstated one - but one that any world leader immediately understood - why we went to war with Saddam. The guy was flouting the terms of the cease-fire, calling into question the credibility of our willingness to enforce agreements with the US. He was thumbing his nose at the US in myriad ways (including his public cheerleading for the September 11 attacks, something nearly none of even our declared enemies dared to do), calling into question the credibility of our willingness to respond to slights, insults and threats.
And now, we have found ourselves in a daily struggle to win over the Iraqi people - and the biggest obstacle is the fear that we will once again cut and run and abandon them to the same old forces of evil, as we did in 1991, as we did in Somalia, as we did in South Vietnam. It is critically essential to our credibility - and to the security of the situation of our troops in the field - that there be no doubt that the US can not be deterred from finishing the job in Iraq, no matter how long it takes, what the obstacles or the costs are or what political pressures are brought to bear on the president by the Howard Deans of the world. Can John Kerry say he has that kind of credibility, the kind that led the Iranians to conclude that they didn't want to be holding US hostages even a minute into the new Reagan Administration? Bush and Cheney are dead right, and deadly serious, about the fact that Kerry does not. Everything in his record and history suggest a guy who is consumed by fear of the quagmire, who hemmed and hawed and finally opposed the first Gulf War, who has grown gloomy and panicked about this war whenever things have gone badly in the field or in his own political campaign. In fact, Kerry has even argued that we should have threatened war with Saddam - but not been ready to back that threat up the minute he failed to cooperate.
Credibility matters. Lack of it gets people killed. The kind of credibility that counts is not the credibility to persuade people in argument or admit mistakes. It's the credibility to say, "this we will do," or "this we will not stand for," and then prove that you will not yield in that determination. That's the credibility that Bush has, and Kerry does not.
October 07, 2004
POLITICS: Who Said It?
On catching bin Laden - January 20, 2002:
I think they are doing the maximum amount right now possible to try to track him down. And it is an extraordinarily hard thing for him to hide somewhere. I mean, over a period of time, I think, he is in trouble."
(Emphasis added). If you've been following this campaign, you can probably guess who.
POLITICS: Quick Links, 10/7/04
* From the Asia Times: why John Kerry’s plan for dealing with North Korea is ill-conceived.
* Glenn Reynolds (who memorably stated last week that he’d “be delighted to live in a country where happily married gay couples had closets full of assault weapons”) looks at some of the under-covered aspects of the Duelfer Report. Don’t just listen to spin, though, take a look at the report’s key findings yourself.
* It doesn’t sound like Alexandra Pelosi’s new film is too flattering to Mr. Kerry. I actually enjoyed “Journeys With George” even though it was rather more cynical about our political process than I am.
* Finally, Bruce Springsteen and the “Vote for Change” tour of contested battleground states have now added a last minute trip to New Jersey. Draw your own conclusions.
POLITICS: Good News For The GOP
CBS Sportsline reports a massive increase in viewership for the vice presidential debate vs. four years ago:
The 43.6 million viewers were up from the 29.1 million people who saw Cheney take on Democrat Joe Lieberman in 2000, and reflects the heightened interest in the race.
Fox was the only major network not to carry the Cheney-Edwards debate in the New York area. It was contractually required to show the AL Division Series Game 1 between the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins, which had 8.5 million viewers.
Fox affiliates in other markets chose to carry the debate.
Of course, some folks would have you believe that John Edwards won or drew the debate, which may be the case if you watched with the sound off. But particularly given the way Cheney drilled the Kerry-Edwards team on Iraq, I'd score these ratings as excellent news for the Bush-Cheney ticket.
POLITICS/WAR: Failing the Test of History
With the Presidential campaign finally heading towards a climax and the baseball playoffs in full swing, I couldn’t resist jumping back into the mix here, however temporarily.
Anyway, I noted with some satisfaction that President Bush finally went on the offensive about one of the most glaring weak points in John Kerry’s various positions on Iraq: his vote against the 1991 Gulf War.
John Kerry and John Edwards have very disingenuously been holding up the Gulf War as a model of multilateral military engagement and cost-sharing. The problem is not that this isn’t true – it clearly is – but that Kerry voted against the very war which his campaign now says forms the criteria by which he defines acceptable multilateralism (i.e. virtually the entire world on our side).
A rough history follows (I apologize for any errors, but am mainly going from memory). In 1991, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was, for the second time, on the verge of developing nuclear weapons, yet, in an act of almost incomprehensible recklessness and stupidity, invaded neighboring Kuwait prior to attaining a nuclear capability. After some hesitation, the United States led by the first President Bush decided that the invasion could not stand and developed the largest international coalition in history, backed by, among many others, the U.N. Security Council, a number of Arab allies and the indispensable sine qua non of any successful military alliance: the French.
Yet, when the vote had come before the U.S. Congress, Kerry voted against taking military action.
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The U.S. alliance met every possible criteria that Kerry has articulated in his efforts to undermine the credibility of the current U.S. coalition. Iraq had unilaterally and brazenly invaded a neighbor and virtually the whole world was prepared to take action. Yet, Kerry was not.
As Bush said yesterday:
Over the years, Senator Kerry has looked for every excuse to constrain America's action in the world. These days he praises America's broad coalition in the Gulf War, but in 1991 he criticized those coalition members as, quote, shadow battlefield allies who barely carry a burden. Sounds familiar.
Looking back, the consequences of inaction in the first Gulf War are hard to imagine. Saddam would have occupied Kuwait unopposed and would likely have had nuclear weapons very soon afterwards. He would have been a hero in the Arab world and would have been further encouraged to menace Israel, Saudi Arabia and other nearby neighbors as he did during the Gulf War and since. Saddam’s support for terrorism would likely have only increased and, just as worrisome, terrorist support for him would have grown.
But Saddam would’ve been virtually untouchable and protected by a nuclear shield. To be sure, there would’ve been many other unpredictable consequences (American involvement in the war was a major motivation for bin Laden), but it is very hard to look back and not see how the first Gulf War was, in every way, justified.
As John Edwards holds up the Gulf War as model of U.S. action, Kerry’s defense to voting against that action, to the extent he offers any, is that this was long before September 11th and that the world forever changed that day.
The world has indeed changed, but my fear remains that Kerry has not.
UPDATE: "I do not believe our nation is prepared for war. If we do go to war, for years people will ask why Congress gave in. They will ask why there was such a rush to so much death and destruction when it did not have to happen." – John Kerry in 1991, justifying his vote against the Gulf War. (Via Tacitus).
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POLITICS: Yesterday's Bush Speech
Yesterday morning's speech by the president had some good stuff along with some typical stump speech filler, but also a few disappointments:
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I am sure many of you stayed up to watch the vice presidential debate last night.
Only Bush considers it "staying up" to watch a debate that ends at 10:30. The GOP should insist that Bush get to debate Kerry in the middle of the afternoon.
When I took office in 2001, the bubble of the '90s had burst, our economy was headed into recession. And because of the attacks of September the 11th, nearly a million jobs were lost in three months. It was a dangerous time for our economy. People were warning of potential deflation and depression. But I acted.
Translation: expect to hear about September 11 at the debate Friday, to heck with the agenda. But Bush shouldn't imply that the tax cuts came after 9/11.
He says the tax increase is only for the rich. You've heard that kind of rhetoric before. Rich hire lawyers and accountants for a reason: to stick you with the tab. The senator's not going to tax you, because we're going to win in November.
Yeah, those damn rich people. We Republicans hate them.
Senator Kerry's proposal would put us on the path to Clinton care.
The 2008 campaign has officially begun . . .
Over the years, Senator Kerry has looked for every excuse to constrain America's action in the world. These days he praises America's broad coalition in the Gulf War, but in 1991 he criticized those coalition members as, quote, shadow battlefield allies who barely carry a burden. Sounds familiar.
Yup. Great line. Never expect your political opponent to forget that you insulted his father.
The senator speaks often about his plan to strengthen America's alliances, but he's got an odd way of doing it. In the middle of the war, he's chosen to insult America's fighting allies by calling them window dressing and the coalition of the coerced and the bribed. The Italians who died in Nasiriyah were not window dressing. They were heroes in the war on terror. The British and the Poles at the head of the multinational divisions in Iraq were not coerced or bribed. They have fought and some have died in the cause of freedom. These good allies and dozens of others deserve the respect of all Americans, not the scorn of a politician. Instead, the senator would have America bend over backwards to satisfy a handful of governments with agendas different from our own. This is my opponent's alliance-building strategy: brush off your best friends, fawn over your critics.
Good knife-twisting: Kerry's treatment of our allies is his weakest point, particularly because Kerry thinks alliance-building is his strongest.
My opponent says he has a plan for Iraq. It should sound pretty familiar. It's already known as the Bush plan. Senator Kerry suggests we train Iraqi troops, which we've been doing for months. Just this week Iraqi forces backed by coalition troops fought bravely to take the city of Samarra from terrorists and Baathist insurgents. Senator Kerry's proposing that Iraq have elections. Those elections are already scheduled for January. He wants the U.N. to be involved in those elections. Well, the U.N. is already there. There was one element of Senator Kerry's plan that's a new element. He's talked about artificial timetables to pull our troops out of Iraq. He sent the signal that America's overriding goal in Iraq would be to leave even if the job isn't done. That may satisfy his political needs, but it complicates the essential work we're doing in Iraq. The Iraqi people need to know that America will not cut and run when their freedom is at stake. Our soldiers and Marines need to know that America will honor their service and sacrifice by completing the mission. And our enemies in Iraq need to know that they can never outlast the will of America.
This would be more persuasive if Bush hadn't botched this up so badly at the debate, but it does need to be said: other than Kerry's vascillating statements about exit strategies, the only difference is his claim that increasingly mysterious "allies" will bail us out.
I was a little disappointed that there's still no effort to use Kerry's record in the 1980s against him - yes, it's a long time ago. But most people now realize Reagan was right, and Kerry's wrongheadedness on this is the thread that ties together his 1970s peacenikery and leftism with his 1990s-present absorption with the quagmire of international process.
In the end, a speech is just a speech; what we really need to see is Bush bring his "A" game to the Friday Night Fight.
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October 06, 2004
POLITICS: Taken To School
Man, Dick Cheney's gonna be pulling chunks of John Edwards out of his stool for months after tonight's debate.
I had not, you may recall, planned on watching tonight's debate, or any of today's playoff games; I started an arbitration today, which had been projected to run the rest of the week. I won't go into details here except to say that it only took one day of hearings to bring the case to a successful conclusion, leaving me unexpectedly free, after hearing a few innings of the Yankees-Twins game, to catch the back end of the debate on radio and TV and then catch up on the rest on tape and transcript.
My impressions? Well, as I said at the time, I thought the first presidential debate was pretty good; Bush was solid but far too slow to respond to Kerry's attacks; Kerry was at the top of his game, albeit due to throwing out a lot of falsehoods.
Tonight's debate was even better (as debates often are when the candidates are sitting down) - these guys weren't afraid to mix it up, and frankly called each other liars quite often (Cheney: "Well, Gwen, it's hard to know where to start; there are so many inaccuracies there."). Now, some people really do think most of what Dick Cheney says is lies. You can't reach those people. But to anybody else, it had to be obvious that Cheney won this one, and the Kerry camp had to be hoping that a lot of people were watching the baseball game instead. Cheney was on top of just everything, very fast on his feet, he was calm, deliberate, and serious.
Edwards, meanwhile: well, to those of us who are practicing litigators, Edwards is a recognizable type - the lawyer who's great in front of juries, where he gets to control the narrative, but not so hot in front of judges, because he keeps trying to launch into an emotional closing argument instead of answering questions. Here's a perfect example:
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Yet French and German officials have both said they have no intention even if John Kerry is elected of sending any troops into Iraq for any peacekeeping effort. Does that make your effort or your plan to internationalize this effort seem kind of naive?
EDWARDS: Well, let's start with what we know. What we know is that the president and the vice president have not done the work to build the coalition that we need -- dramatically different than the first Gulf War. We know that they haven't done it, and we know they can't do it.
They didn't, by the way, just reject the allies going into lead- up to the war. They also rejected them in the effort to do the reconstruction in Iraq, and that has consequences.
What we believe is, as part of our entire plan for Iraq -- and we have a plan for Iraq.
As far as spin goes, by the way, by my count of the transcript Edwards referred to Kerry's Thursday debate performance six times ("The American people saw John Kerry on Thursday night. They don't need the vice president or the president to tell them what they saw. They saw a man who was strong, who had conviction, who is resolute . . . "). The Kerry folks either think or want us to think that Kerry was so dominating in that debate that the election's over. Nice try.
Cheney did a particularly good job of coming back to the points in Kerry's record where he actually had to make decisions and made the wrong ones, and got in a solid zinger early that turned out to be just a warmup:
He repeated this later:
And you cannot use "talk tough" during the course of a 90-minute debate in a presidential campaign to obscure a 30-year record in the United States Senate and, prior to that by John Kerry, who has consistently come down on the wrong side of all the major defense issues that he's faced as a public official.
Edwards, by contrast - go back and look at what he said - lapsed into lawyer-speak trying to defend Kerry's record:
He said that -- made mention of this global test. What John Kerry said -- and it's just as clear as day to anybody who was listening -- he said: We will find terrorists where they are and kill them before they ever do harm to the American people, first.
Yeah, the testimony's in the record. Unfortunately, so is Kerry's record and his past statements. As usual, the only way to defend Kerry is to try to deny the existence of his position; to defend it in a way that is distinguishable from the president's is to stand on indefensible turf. Democrats want to say that they would get more allies before going to war, without recognizing the corollary - that they would have let the absence of certain allies stop them from doing what they otherwise claim they believe should have been done. (Cheney's use of Kerry's 1991 vote reminds us that this is pretense - there's always an excuse not to do something).
Probably Cheney's best moments, just as Bush had his best catching Kerry denigrating the role of allies like Poland, were when he cleaned up something Bush should have responded to on Thursday, when Edwards trotted out the talking point about the US supposedly bearing 90% of the costs and 90% of the casualties in Iraq. First, this:
With respect to the cost, it wasn't $200 billion. You probably weren't there to vote for that. But $120 billion is, in fact, what has been allocated to Iraq. The rest of it's for Afghanistan and the global war on terror.
The allies have stepped forward and agreed to reduce and forgive Iraqi debt to the tune of nearly $80 billion by one estimate. That, plus $14 billion they promised in terms of direct aid, puts the overall allied contribution financially at about $95 billion, not to the $120 billion we've got, but, you know, better than 40 percent. So your facts are just wrong, Senator.
Then, when Edwards tried to defend his exclusion of the Iraqis in the field from the casualty figures:
EDWARDS: Oh, I'm not...
CHENEY: ... as beyond...
EDWARDS: I'm not demeaning...
CHENEY: It is indeed. You suggested...
EDWARDS: No, sir, I did not...
CHENEY: ... somehow they shouldn't count, because you want to be able to say that the Americans are taking 90 percent of the sacrifice. You cannot succeed in this effort if you're not willing to recognize the enormous contribution the Iraqis are increasingly making to their own future.
CHENEY: We'll win when they take on responsibility for governance, which they're doing, and when the take on responsibility for their own security, which they increasingly are doing.
And, of course, the evening's killer line about Kerry and to a lesser extent Edwards zigging to the left on the war last fall:
Now if they couldn't stand up to the pressures that Howard Dean represented, how can we expect them to stand up to al Qaeda?
Naturally, I also liked how Cheney drew together the strands of Zarqawi and the Palestinian suicide bombers and how they all trace back to Saddam.
I wasn't surprised to see Edwards run on and on about Halliburton; it's sometimes all the Democrats have to cling to. Although Cheney took the same shots back at Edwards later by tweaking him for using tax loopholes to avoid Medicare taxes, a picayune point but one that reminds the viewer that these guys all have advantages we don't.
Cheney got in another great prepared dig at Edwards' puny record and poor attendance in the Senate, even though it was out of place in answer to the question about Israel:
Now, in my capacity as vice president, I am the president of Senate, the presiding officer. I'm up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they're in session.
The domestic policy stuff was a bit dreary by comparison - it's hard to follow war-and-peace issues with domestic stuff without gearing down a bit - but provided more entertainment. After some back and forth in which Cheney and Edwards competed to see who could look most uncomfortable talking about gay marriage, we got this exchange. Edwards larded on the condescending empathy for the Cheneys and their gay daughter:
After a convoluted series of non-sequiturs from Edwards on the issue, the moderator went back to Cheney:
CHENEY: Well, Gwen, let me simply thank the senator for the kind words he said about my family and our daughter.
CHENEY: I appreciate that very much.
IFILL: That's it?
CHENEY: That's it.
At this juncture, Cheney and Edwards reminded me of nothing so much as a father sitting at a dinner table trying to cut off some line of conversation started by a young fellow dating his daughter who was meeting the family for the first time and had brought up something inappropriate.
The tort-reform stuff was interesting, but I may get back to it another day; you could see that Edwards felt the need to play defense on that issue, which suggests that it's playing well for the GOP:
My wife and I found it telling that Edwards, when he then talked with pride about his career as a trial lawyer, had to pick an example of a case that had nothing to do with medical malpractice.
Cheney also gave us a revealing admission that a Democrat would be terrified to make, in response to a statistic about AIDS among African-American women:
I have not heard those numbers with respect to African- American women. I was not aware that it was -- that they're in epidemic there, because we have made progress in terms of the overall rate of AIDS infection.
Cheney punted on directly attacking Edwards' experience. I almost wanted to hear him say, "Senator, I know Dan Quayle. I worked with Dan Quayle. Dan Quayle is a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Dan Quayle." Quayle, of course, had been in Congress twice as long as Edwards by 1988, and hadn't spent most of his time there running for president.
Finally, from the closing statements, John Edwards committed a faux pas by loudly ripping a piece of paper while Cheney was talking, but then he said something that made me think:
Was I the only one who thought: "and there, on the TV, was Dick Cheney"?
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October 03, 2004
POLITICS: Did Kerry Cheat? [UPDATE: No]
Well, anyone who's done any kind of public speaking or argument can tell you that a guy who has prepared notes can whup a guy with no notes nine times out of ten, unless the guy without notes is (unlike George W. Bush) really a masterful extemporaneous speaker. Is it really possible that a Kerry operative told Drudge, in response to questions, "See you at the inauguration, Drudge"? That does sound like the Kerry people's type of self-justification, although it also sounds like the kind of unverifiable reporting one tends not to trust, coming from Drudge.
A colossal scandal? Not really. But pretty low-rent behavior and not the mark of a man with any honor, if you ask me. I just assumed watching the debates that Kerry had prepared notes - he certainly appeared to be using note cards - and was wondering why Bush didn't have better ones himself. I hadn't realized that the candidates had agreed to do without them.
UPDATE: The NY Post claims that the video shows that Kerry pulled out a pen. Apparently this was also in violation of the rules, although I could have sworn I saw Bush taking notes and I know I saw Kerry taking notes almost every time Bush was speaking. Clearly, bringing in a pen isn't a big deal. Bringing in prepared notes, when you've agreed with the other guy not to, is something of a bigger deal, although I'd tend to agree with a number of commentators who think that this isn't going to put a dent in Kerry either way, and we're best off leaving the issue. Frankly, I think the quality of the debate - which was actually pretty good - and its ability to inform the public would have been improved if the candidates had agreed to bring prepared notes, just as any competent lawyer will have prepared notes at an oral argument or a trial. How many decisions does a president make without the ability to consult notes or talk to advisors, anyway?
SECOND UPDATE: Bill has reviewed the evidence and retracted his accusation. End of story.
October 02, 2004
POLITICS: You Can Tell A Man By The Company He Keeps
In light of John Kerry's puzzling insistence on a go-it-alone approach to North Korea in Thursday night's debate, I thought I'd make a little list. Admittedly, I'm doing much of this from memory, but there seems to be a certain consistency . . .
1. The North Vietnamese, during the Vietnam War, compared Ho Chi Minh to George Washington, argued that their war was one of national liberation, accused US troops of regularly committing war crimes and atrocities, called on Nixon to end the war immediately, argued that the people of South Vietnam would be happy to accept communism, and generally argued that the US war in Vietnam was immoral from beginning to end. John Kerry, during the Vietnam War, compared Ho Chi Minh to George Washington, argued that the North's war was one of national liberation, accused US troops of regularly committing war crimes and atrocities, called on Nixon to end the war immediately, argued that the people of South Vietnam would be happy to accept communism, and generally argued that the US war in Vietnam was immoral from beginning to end.
2. The Soviet Union and its allies denounced the US invasion of Grenada in 1983. John Kerry denounced the US invasion of Grenada in 1983.
3. The Soviets, in the 1980s, denounced Ronald Reagan as a warmonger and a threat to peace for deploying missiles in Western Europe. John Kerry, in the 1980s, denounced Ronald Reagan as a warmonger and a threat to peace for deploying missiles in Western Europe.
4. Daniel Ortega, in the 1980s, denounced US support for the Nicaraguan contras and argued that the US should have peace talks with his regime. John Kerry, in the 1980s, denounced US support for the Nicaraguan contras and argued that the US should have peace talks with Ortega's regime.
5. Moammar Qaddafi argued that Reagan's bombing of Libya was unjustified and caused excessive civilian casualties. John Kerry argued that Reagan's bombing of Libya was unjustified and caused excessive civilian casualties.
6. Our adversaries during and since the Cold War have argued that we were reckless and irresponsible by pursuing missile defense. John Kerry has argued that we were reckless and irresponsible by pursuing missile defense.
7. Fidel Castro has, for decades, regularly denounced US sanctions against Cuba. John Kerry has, for decades, regularly denounced US sanctions against Cuba.
8. In 1991, Saddam Hussein wanted to draw out the process of the Western response in the hopes that it would bog down. John Kerry said we should have drawn out the process.
9. Yasser Arafat has denounced the security fence erected by Israel. John Kerry has denounced the security fence erected by Israel.
We can add four more from the debate alone:
10. In 2002-03, Saddam Hussein wanted to draw out the inspections process and make it more multilateral. John Kerry says we should have drawn out the inspections process and made it more multilateral.
11. Kim Jong-Il wanted to have bilateral talks rather than multilateral talks. John Kerry says we should have had bilateral talks rather than multilateral talks.
12. Osama bin Laden says we helped him by invading Iraq. John Kerry says we helped bin Laden by invading Iraq.
Does Kerry have company on some of these stances? Yes. Can he defend some by pointing to occasions (as with Israel and Cuba policy) where he's since taken the opposite position? Yes. Is he actually an unpatriotic America-hater? Of course not. But remember: Time and time and time again, America's enemies have argued against us - and Kerry has echoed their charges. I'd rather trust the national defense to someone who's not so quick to echo the words and strategies of our enemies.
(A partial list of sources: Kerry's stances on Grenada and Nicaragua, the first Gulf War, the Cold War and Grenada again, the security fence, the Cold War again, Libya, Nicaragua again, and Grenada again, and Cuba).
POLITICS: Debate Fables
Well, we know John Kerry wasn't at the Republican Convention in August (I was), but he shouldn't have claimed that the subways weren't running for the convention without checking with someone who was.
But what about some of Kerry's other claims? Lileks covers Kerry's claim that we should have used more allied troops in Iraq. Smash covers Kerry's claim that we should have used fewer allied troops in Afghanistan. And this National Review analysis debunks Kerry's claims about body armor.
October 01, 2004
POLITICS: A Notable Absence
This has to be a first in a foreign policy debate:
Nothing about Castro
Nearly nothing about Mexico
Nothing about Haiti or Venezuela or Colombia
Viewers who tuned in to hear the candidates' views on America's role in the Western Hemisphere could be forgiven for concluding that neither of them has any views on America's role in the Western Hemisphere.
POLITICS: The Commander
One more thing I should add that was impressive about the debate - even if we should all know better by now - was Bush's command of the facts. Bush is often regarded as a guy who grasps only as much as is written down in front of him, but last night he was on top of a broad array of issues, from the onset of the rainy season in Sudan to the upcoming summit in Japan. None of this should be a surprise, and as I said, Bush certainly wasn't in his element, but for voters who may have gone in expecting Bush to read "My Pet Goat" while he waited for Uncle Dick to bring him the answers to the questions, Bush's performance had to be reassuring.
September 30, 2004
POLITICS: Happy Coattails
The happiest people from tonight's debate have to be down-ticket Democrats. John Kerry's strong performance may not move the needle much in the presidential debate, given Bush's refusal to be pushed around and his bouts of feisitiness. But if the debate didn't help Kerry much, it should be enough to finally arrest his catastrophic decline, and that will help other Democrats worried about a Mondale-sized disaster.
POLITICS: The Debater and the Chief
If you had any doubt that John Kerry is a tough, aggressive debater - in fact, a man who's at his best in debate - tonight should have removed any doubt. Kerry put in a fine point-scoring performance, getting off his shots at President Bush, avoiding his trademark rambling and getting away, actually, with quite a lot of statements that the president should have called him on, from fairy tales about buying body armor on the internet to the fundamental illusion that Kerry can change the opinions of allies who haven't helped out in Iraq. Bush, partly because he's not a great debater and partly because he carries the burden of his office (can't scorn the French if you might someday have to work with them), was unable to dismember the fundamental falsehood at the heart of Kerry's "plan" for Iraq.
But Bush also did what was probably necessary: he stood on the podium as Leader of the Free World. He made clear over and over the importance of being consistent, not sending "mixed messages." Yes, like Kerry, he had a few points he repeated endlessly, but he had to.
Bush's strongest performances were on two points: calling Kerry on his stream of insults aimed at the allies who HAVE helped us in Iraq, and making Kerry look like an idiot on North Korea, where Kerry was left sputtering about the need to have bilateral rather than multilateral talks without giving any reason other than that's not what Bush is doing.
Bottom line: Kerry is a better debater, and it showed. He's faster on his feet. But when Bush sets his feet, he doesn't budge. The voters will decide which is a more important qualification to lead in wartime.
UPDATES START HERE:
Bush talked a lot about freedom, liberty. Kerry hardly did, except in Russia, but he did bring more emphasis to winning than in the past.
I hope this debate doesn't change much in the election; I think it may not. Bush started badly but held his ground after that, while Kerry was consistent throughout.
This summarizes one exchange: Kerry: "He's a liar." Bush: "I don't take that personally."
I liked how Bush repeatedly stressed staying on the offensive.
It was tacky how Kerry said "the president invaded Iraq." No, the United States and its allies did.
Kerry said Bush didn't work with our allies like Reagan did. Reagan, rolling over in his grave: "oh, now you support my foreign policy."
People who ripped Zell can shut up after Kerry called our troops "occupiers".
Kerry dodged Jim Lehrer rolling out his "last man to die for a mistake" line after Kerry called the war a "mistake"
Bush's turning point was when he called Kerry's attack on Bush for turning own UN help "totally absurd." Also, Kerry stepped in it when he started talking about yet another UN resolution and when he used the phrase "passes the global test" for preemptive action, and when he griped about us developing bunker-busting nukes to take on North Korea. Ill give Reagan the last word: "now that's the Kerry I remember."
POLITICS: The Kerry Kool-Aid Comes In Two Flavors
POLITICS: Quick Prediction
Lots of interesting issues to address for tonight's debate, but I'll just make a prediction on one. A key issue of tone for Kerry is whether to try to look presidential and be likeable, and thus temper his attacks on Bush in favor of trying to lay out his own vision, or whether to play to his natural strength as a debater - the strength that forged his reputation as a "good closer" - and go mercilessly on the attack, questioning Bush's truthfulness and trying to bait Bush.
My prediction: the latter. Several reasons: (1) Bob Dole, who shares some of Kerry's strengths and weaknesses as a presidential candidate, tried the former approach in 1996, to no effect (as Kerry's Clinton-era staffers will recall); (2) Kerry has been on the attack in recent speeches, to say nothing of his spokespeople; (3) Kerry's base wants it (to the point where some people have been pining for Howard
I'm not saying this is necessarily the wisest strategy. But it will feel good, and stands a chance of breaking the race's momentum (or, alternatively, burying Kerry entirely). I predict that Kerry decides that he's been too cautious for too long, throws caution to the wind, and turns his rhetorical boat into the fire, coming out swinging as the man Kerry obviously believes he really is.
Stay tuned. The fireworks could be fun to watch.
September 28, 2004
POLITICS: Lowered Expectations
Karl Rove must dream, in the says leading up to the first debate, of stories like this:
And remind me why someone who gets snookered this badly by the mere threat to pull out of one debate should be trusted to negotiate with Iranian mullahs and crazy Kim.
Then again, Dales warns that the history of pre-debate polls and their power to predict the general election result doesn't necessarily support the idea that the debates are as influential as everyone thinks.
September 26, 2004
POLITICS: From My Blog To Jonathan Alter's Ear
Back on July 28, at the height of enthusiasm for the Kerry campaign, I noted this, from Josh Marshall's site, about a conversation Marshall had with Michael Moore at the Democratic convention:
[A]s he breezes by he says, "Oh, Really? I liked it. You don't even have to say it. Everyone knows how bad it is."
Think what you will about Michael Moore or evening one of the convention, I think that sums up precisely what this event is all about and the dynamic on which it's operating. I've seen a slew of articles today arguing that the Democrats must energize their 'base' while not alienating the swing voters John Kerry needs to clinb from the mid-40s past 50%.
But this strikes me as a tired conventional wisdom that has little to do with what's actually happening here. . . .
Among Democrats, the rejection of this president is so total, exists on so many different levels, and is so fused into their understanding of all the major issues facing the country, that it doesn't even need to be explicitly evoked. . . . the primetime speeches were actually brimming with barbs, and rather jagged ones at that. They were just woven into the fabric of the speeches, fused into rough-sketched discussions of policy, or paeans to Kerry.
Perhaps it's a touchy analogy, but like voters who understood the code-words Republicans once (and often still do) used to flag hot-button racial issues they dared not voice openly, these Democrats could hear the most scathing attacks on President Bush rattling through the speeches they heard tonight.
As it turns out, this is rather precisely the problem: Kerry didn't think the American people needed any persuading. Thank you, big media/lefty pundit coccoon. Now, months later, Jonathan Alter has noticed the problem:
Oh, well. The Shrum strategy was the product of short-term thinking (the assumption that Bush's unpopularity in the period of the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal would last until fall) and was reinforced by the sealed and often smug world of Democratic politics, where it was taken for granted that Bush was bad, bad, bad, and any reasonable person already knew why. Shrum correctly realized that a Michael Moore-style sledgehammer would do little to sway undecided voters who don't loathe Bush. But Shrum wrongly extrapolated from that point that Kerry had no need to indict Bush in easy-to-remember phrases that would stick. He once told me as much, and that name-calling wouldn't work in post-9/11 presidential politics.
That was wishful thinking.
Of course, it's a bit late now to fix the problem. But turning to the meta-issue, amazingly, this isn't the first time Alter has followed one of my trains of thought. On September 9, I wrote:
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Of course, for this to work, the Democrats have to fall into Bush's trap and start complaining about Bush's reluctance to debate and pressuring him to do three debates.
Now, neither of these is the most original or incisive point in the world, and I actually got the first one third-hand from Michael Moore. But it goes to show how replaceable a guy like Alter is when an amateur writing in his spare time can spot the same trends weeks earlier. As Bill James would observe, that makes Alter a replacement-level pundit, and he should probably be paid and treated accordingly.
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POLITICS: Stale Humor . . .
POLITICS: The Microbial Theory
Let's consider exactly how bad things look right now for John Kerry in the Electoral College, by looking over RealClearPolitics' state-by-state battleground poll averages. Bush, of course, starts with a historical advantage: he needs 269 electors to tie, 270 to win, and if he holds the 2000 "red states," he gets 278. On the RCP scoreboard, Bush gets 291 if you count the states where his average margin is at least 3 points over Kerry.
With Ohio drifting away from Kerry and Wisconsin looking firmly planted in the Bush camp, Kerry's hopes are now totally dependent upon wresting Florida from Bush, while holding on to big battlegrounds like Pennsylvania (Kerry by 1.7), Minnesota (tied), Oregon (Kerry +0.7), and New Jersey (Kerry +1.4) (Michigan, at Kerry +5 now looks fairly safe for Kerry barring another big shift in the dynamics of the race).
But, leaving aside the issue of Maine and possibly Colorado splitting their electoral votes, consider this outcome - even if Florida gets away from Bush, he could still win with the following states:
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That's 273 electors, with Bush needing only to hold one red state that's close (New Hampshire, at +1.7), pick up one blue state that's close (New Mexico, Kerry +0.5), one that's trending Bush (Iowa, Bush +3.6), and one that's not close (Wisconsin, Bush +6.5), and he wins even if Florida (Bush +3.4) slides away and he can't replace it with another big state.
None of which means the race is over. But it means that a strategy of targeting states is almost entirely doomed for Kerry (although he does need to keep defending states like New Mexico). Kerry needs to change the race's overall dynamic. The debates are all but his last chance to do that.
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POLITICS: Links 9/26/04
*Go read Captain Ed, and keep scrolling. There's just so much good stuff there I can't begin to link to it all.
*I've added Let's Fly Under The Bridge to the blogroll for Roland Patrick's unique combination of exhaustive examination of the "Bush AWOL" nonsense (with the benefit of knowledge derived from his own military experience) and his longstanding crusade to mock Brad DeLong. In this installment, he carves up the US News and World Report for misunderstanding Bush's TANG payroll records and service requirements. (Hat tip to the redesigned QandO - update your blogrolls! - for linking to Patrick).
*Geraghty notes more examples of Kerry's chronic indecisiveness, this time with quotes from exasperated party loyalist and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.
*Godwin's Law alert from Josh Marshall: "Can we re-check the sprinkler system in the Reichstag?"
*Drezner's got some great stuff on life in the campaign press corps bubble.
*The spate of retractions on stories harmful to Kerry on Friday seems like a sign of what the ex-Clinton guys like McCurry, Lockhart, Carville and Begala are good at - jumping all over the media to get their side of the story out or, in these two cases, to get errors fixed before they spread too far. Just because media bias, sloppiness and laziness so often tilts against Republicans, we shouldn't forget that Democrats get burned at times as well, and a Democratic candidate needs people to push back at the media.
By the way, I thought at the time that people might be misreading the Burkett paraphrase that later got retracted. Here's the original:
During a single phone conversation with Lockhart, Burkett said he suggested a "couple of concepts on what I thought [Kerry] had to do" to beat Bush. In return, he said, Lockhart tried to "convince me as to why I should give them the documents."
Some people read this as saying that Lockhart wanted Burkett to give the documents to the Democrats, but it always looked to me like he was saying Lockhart told him to give the documents to CBS. This is just bad writing, which leaves the reader in doubt as to critical facts (as Daffy Duck would say, "Pronoun Trouble!"). Anyway, the later retraction clarified that Burkett had told the reporter that CBS wanted the documents - and if that's what he really said, the reporter just goofed terribly.
*As long as John Kerry is in public life - at least as long as he fails to apologize for or retract his statements in the Vietnam Veterans Against the War - stories like this one will just keep coming (hat tip to Allah).
*And another point, albeit not from what you would call an independent source, on Bush's entry into the TANG, for those of you not sick to death of this:
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Link via Powerline.
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September 23, 2004
POLITICS: Quick Links 9/23/04
*Ramesh Ponuru notes the Kerry campaign's misuse of a study whose author contends that it did not, as the Kerry folks claim, show that President Bush's Social Security reform plans would lead to massive benefit cuts.
What else is new?
*It's official: the Kerry campaign is raising the white flag in Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri, all once thought of as potential swing states. Kerry has pulled any plans for running additional ads in those states.
*Jon Stewart last night, on Rathergate: "To see fake journalism taking off like this is very refreshing."
*Progress in winning over African-American voters is, like the Yeti, a durable yet mythical figure in Republican circles. But hope springs eternal. Red State has a chart (the second one, not the first, which is a sample of 40 voters) that seems to show President Bush doubling or tripling his support among black voters in several states compared to 2000, mainly in the South. I'm not sure if this is reliable stuff, but if it is, I'd bet that military families are heavily represented among those willing to give Bush a hearing.
*Captain Ed's readers keep digging up new documents at the Navy Archives regarding Kerry's tour in Vietnam. This one relates to David Alston, who spoke persuasively at the Democratic Convention but has tended to tell stories about engagements where he and Kerry did not serve together.
*Try this one on:
First of all, the commission said, it has to determine which candidates have enough support in the polls to qualify for the debates, which it does not plan to do until Friday.
They need a poll to determine if Kerry still has enough support to be included in a debate? ;)
*What is Kerry hiding? Quite a lot of things major candidates usually disclose, including medical records, tax and financial records, and military records. (via QandO). The press usually doesn't tolerate this - they didn't let go with Bill Simon's tax returns in 2002 or Jack Ryan's divorce records this spring (in each case, inflicting huge damage on the candidate), and we saw in the case of Paul Tsongas why the medical records of a candidate - especially a cancer survivor - can be a significant omission. Yet the media has given Kerry a free pass on stuff that he would have to disclose if he was running for Senator or Governor.
September 22, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: Flip, Flop & Fly
Tracking all the Kerry flip-flops on Iraq is a hopeless endeavor, but here is a choice one. Kerry's speech on Monday:
Secretary of State Powell admits that Iraq was not a magnet for international terrorists before the war. Now it is, and they are operating against our troops. Iraq is becoming a sanctuary for a new generation of terrorists who someday could hit the United States.
A brutal, oppressive dictator, guilty of personally murdering and condoning murder and torture, grotesque violence against women, execution of political opponents, a war criminal who used chemical weapons against another nation and, of course, as we know, against his own people, the Kurds. He has diverted funds from the Oil-for-Food program, intended by the international community to go to his own people. He has supported and harbored terrorist groups, particularly radical Palestinian groups such as Abu Nidal, and he has given money to families of suicide murderers in Israel.
Man, this is just too easy sometimes. I also found this amusing:
The President . . . should give other countries a stake in Iraq’s future by encouraging them to help develop Iraq’s oil resources and by letting them bid on contracts instead of locking them out of the reconstruction process.
So, after all of Kerry's bluster about a coalition of "the coerced and the bribed," be wants to get more people on our side by . . . bribing them. But at least he's being consistent in calling for outsourcing jobs currently done by U.S. companies and workers, right?
POLITICS: The Expectations Game
A few weeks back I noted the Bush campaign's strategy to lower expectations for Bush's performance in debates by creating a debate-about-debates dynamic that made it seem as if the president was afraid of too many debates; I also noted how hard it was for Bush's detractors to resist the temptation to fall into the trap by mocking Bush on this score.
The good news for Kerry supporters: Matt Yglesias isn't stupid enough to fall for the trap. The bad news: John Kerry is.
(Stephen Green notes about Kerry: "Man, I'd love to play poker with this guy." Of course, Kerry is the same guy who has now announced to the world that we should be willing to threaten war when we don't mean it, so his bluffing skills are as bad as his ability to recognize a bluff - "Gee, John, you put a lot of chips on this hand." "Yes, I'm bluffing.").
September 21, 2004
POLITICS: Question of the Day
1) Burkett comes into the possession of documents that, if true, would damage Bush and aid Kerry.
2) Via Max Cleland, the Kerry campaign is notified that Burkett has some highly interesting documents related to Bush.
3) Via Mary Mapes of CBS, Joe Lockhart is notified in particular that Burkett had some "records" that would "move the story forward."
4) Indeed, Burkett "had agreed to turn over the documents to CBS" only "if the network would arrange a conversation with the Kerry campaign."
5) Lockhart, a very busy man, then calls Burkett.
6) Despite the fact that Lockhart would have had no reason for calling Burkett in the first place other than the story about National Guard documents, and despite the fact Burkett had already tried to get the documents to the Kerry campaign via Max Cleland, and despite the fact that he had made CBS promise to get him in touch with the Kerry campaign before he would release the documents, both Lockhard and Burkett somehow neglected to talk about the documents.
7) Instead, Burkett merely took the opportunity to tell Lockhart that Kerry needed to talk "more" about his "Vietnam experience," as if Kerry hadn't already emphasized that theme, and as if Lockhart had called Burkett merely to hear this sort of generic advice.
Are 6 and 7 believable?
Like I said about Sandy Berger's-pants-gate: man, Clinton scandals are just the gift that keeps on giving, aren't they?
Oh, and: could there be a clearer contrast between (1) the media presumption of Bush and RNC involvement in the Swift Boat ads in the absence of any evidence of same and (2) the media presumption that the Kerry folks had nothing to do with this even though key figures in the Kerry and DNC camps were talking to all the major players, including a known crackpot, at the critical junctures? Particularly given that Bush and the RNC have never tried to add the Swift Boat Veterans' charges to their own litany of attacks on Kerry, while the open attacks on Bush's Guard service have come in the form of Kerry speeches, Kerry press releases, daily attacks by the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, ad campaigns paid for by the DNC, speeches by Wesley Clark, Tom Harkin and other Democratic candidates and officeholders, to say nothing of veiled references from numerous speakers at the Democratic Convention. It's not like the Democrats can credibly say that they didn't ask Burkett about this stuff because they weren't interested in this issue.
UPDATE: Wizbang has an entertaining trip into the Sixty Minutes wayback machine to visit with the original wacko who started all these anti-Bush "Fortunate Son" stories before committing suicide after his criminal record (for paying someone to commit murder via car bomb) was exposed.
POLITICS: Web of Connections
Well, we keep digging deeper on the web of connections between the Democrats and the forged documents used in CBS' hit job on President Bush.
First of all, beyond his statement on CBS Evening News, Dan Rather sat for a longer interview with local reporter Marcia Kramer of WCBS-TV here in NY (Kramer is best known as, among other things, Hillary Clinton's favorite reporter during the 2000 Senate race, which should tell you something). I didn't see a transcript, but you can go here and view the video.
Rather seemed genuinely contrite and apologetic, and kept saying there was no excuse, "this is not a day for excuses." But his factual assertions belied that:
1. He focused entirely on the idea that CBS had to change its story when it determined that Bill Burkett lied to them about the provenance of the documents. Still no admission that there was anything wrong with the documents themselves or that anyone else but CBS' own diligence led to the discovery.
2. Rather seemed to admit that CBS, or at least Rather, never saw anything purporting to be originals: "I believed in the authenticity of the copies of the documents we had"
3. Rather refuses to accept responsibility for putting the documents on the air over the objections of two of CBS' experts, and continues to insist either that the experts are lying now or that he personally was misled by his staff at CBS about what the experts were telling them. I haven't exactly transcribed this - I'm paraphrasing - "I was told that we had four experts who by and large agreed that the documents were not forgeries, probably weren't fake - two of those came back later and either changed their story or changed what I was and we were told was what they were saying"
4. Additional information on Burkett's additional source: Burkett told CBS that the documents came from a person (who Rather still won't identify) who would have had access to the original files and who was out of the country and CBS could not locate them.
But wait, there's more!
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In other words, Burkett wanted the Kerry people to know he was helping them so they would be grateful later.
*Via Allah - well, I can barely keep up at this point. Burkett also talked to Howard Dean within the last 45 days. And, the out-of-country source? There are two, actually. USAToday:
Burkett said Ramirez told him she had seen him the previous month in an appearance on the MSNBC program Hardball, discussing the controversy over whether Bush fulfilled all his obligations for service in the Texas Air Guard during the early 1970s. "There is something I have that I want to make sure gets out," he quoted her as saying.
He said Ramirez claimed to possess Killian's "correspondence file," which would prove Burkett's allegations that Bush had problems as a Guard fighter pilot.
Burkett said he arranged to get the documents during a trip to Houston for a livestock show in March. But instead of being met at the show by Ramirez, he was approached by a man who asked for Burkett, handed him an envelope and quickly left, Burkett recounted.
"I didn't even ask any questions," Burkett said. "Should I have? Yes. Maybe I was duped. I never really even considered that."
By Monday, USA TODAY had not been able to locate Ramirez or verify other details of Burkett's account. Three people who worked with Killian in the early 1970s said they don't recognize her name. Burkett promised to provide telephone records that would verify his calls to Ramirez, but he had not done so by Monday night.
An acquaintance of Burkett, who he said could corroborate his story, said he was at the livestock show on March 3. The woman, who asked that her name not be used, said Burkett asked if he could put papers inside a box she had at the livestock show. Often, she said, friends ask to store papers in her box that verify their purchases at the livestock auction. She said she did not know the nature of the papers Burkett gave her, and he did not say anything about them.
After keeping the copies for a couple of days, he said he drove to a location he would not specify, about 100 miles from his ranch, to put them "in cold storage." Burkett said he took the action because he believed the papers were politically explosive and made him nervous. "I treated them like absolute TNT," he said. "They looked to me like they were devastating."
Burkett said he passed the rest of the documents to Smith around Sept. 5, at a drive-in restaurant near Baird.
Pressed about the inconsistency between his initial account and the story of Ramirez, the mysterious Houston source, Burkett confessed that the Conn story had been a lie to throw reporters off the trail.
Let's be frank here: this is crazy talk, and shreds any remaining credibility any of Burkett's other tales might have had.
UPDATE: Who is George Conn? Wizbang notes that he has previously publicly repudiated Burkett's nutty stories.
SECOND UPDATE: Who is Lucy Ramirez? Well, maybe that's Spanish for "Mister Snuffalupagus." But if she's for real, Ace has one possible suspect with a Democratic connection. Oh, and if Burkett thought the records were real and he destroyed the originals, isn't that a felony as well?
*Spartac.us has more on the timeline. And keep your eyes on the Kerry Spot, where Jim Geraghty notes that the Democrats were able tro release their "Operation Fortunate Son" the very day the CBS story aired.
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September 20, 2004
POLITICS: Josh Marshall's Timeline
Allah and Jeff Goldstein have been wondering about the timeline set out in the Washington Post for how CBS put together the "Sixty Minutes II" story, and what it means in the hunt to identify who was responsible for creating and disseminating forgeries. You'll want to read their whole analyses. Now, it appears that CBS will point the finger at Bill Burkett, see here and here, a guy about whom Kevin Drum - who interviewed Burkett in February - said
Here's the basic timeline derived from quotes from the WaPo article, which I've excerpted and bullet-pointed:
*During the Republican National Convention in New York [August 30-September 2], Rather got a call from Ben Barnes, a onetime Texas lieutenant governor and veteran Democrat who has known the anchor, a former Houston TV reporter, for 30 years. Barnes said he was ready to say before the cameras that he had pulled strings to get Bush a coveted slot in the Texas Guard in 1968. Mapes had long been urging Barnes to tell his story.
*On Friday, Sept. 3, the day after the convention ended, Mapes hit pay dirt. She told Howard her source had given her the documents.
*The next stop was Texas. Rather was in Florida, so CBS chartered a plane to get him to Austin. On Sunday, Sept. 5, he and Mapes interviewed Robert Strong, an administrative assistant in the Texas Guard during Bush's service there.
*Document analyst Marcel Matley flew from California to New York, and Rather interviewed him on Labor Day, Sept. 6
*On Tuesday, Sept. 7, as Rather sat down in a CBS studio with former Texas lieutenant governor Barnes, the top brass was turning its attention to the explosive story.
The story ran Wednesday, September 8.
So, that's it? Well, here's an item quoted by Goldstein that needs to be factored in:
Cleland confirmed that he had a two- or three-minute conversation by cell phone with a Texan named Burkett in mid-August while he was on a car ride. He remembers Burkett saying that he had “valuable” information about Bush, and asking what he should [do] with it. “I told him to contact the [Kerry] campaign,” Cleland said. “You get this information tens of times a day, and you don’t know if it is legit or not."
Cleland, as we know, was in Texas August 25 to deliver a letter to the president's ranch in Crawford; on August 21, Cleland was in Wisconsin.
Anyway, that's all background here. Someone with more time to spend on this can connect these dots, but I'd like to add a few links to the fire:
*On August 22, with no apparent prompting from anything in the news, Josh Marshall, out of the blue, calls for Ben Barnes to come forward:
But he's never really spoken openly about how he helped Bush hop in front of everyone else or other aspects of the president's abbreviated military service, about which he is said to know a great deal.
Maybe now would be the time?
By August 27, still well before Barnes was reportedly in touch with Dan Rather, Marshall touts a Kerry campaign video featuring Barnes:
I'm told the tape is from a recent Kerry rally . . .
[snip; includes Barnes saying, "I got a young man named George W. Bush in the National Guard when I was Lt. Gov. of Texas and I’m not necessarily proud of that. But I did it."]
One of those two men is Jim Moore -- co-author of Bush's Brain. Moore told me this afternoon that the clip is from June 8th of this year, at a Kerry rally in Austin. Moore assures me that the tape is legitimate.
I placed a call to Barnes' office and left a message with one of his assistants; but the request for comment has not yet been returned.
Click through Marshall's site to see the video. Soon, Marshall was pushing the Barnes-is-talking story; by September 1, six days before Barnes supposedly met with Rather, Marshall reported:
Apparently, the attacks on Kerry's war record just proved too much for him. As we've noted previously, for almost a decade now Barnes has gone to great lengths to avoid causing trouble for the president on the Guard matter. And the Bush folks in Texas have made it clear to him during this election cycle that if he spills the beans about the president that they'll do everything in their power to put him out of business in the state (Barnes is now a lobbyist). And that heat has, I'm told, increased dramatically in recent days.
But apparently those threats haven't done the trick because he has already taped a lengthy interview slated to appear in the not-too-distant future on a major national news show in which he'll describe the strings he pulled to keep Bush out of Vietnam and apparently more.
(Between you and me, according to my three sources on this, Barnes told his story to Dan Rather -- remember, the Texas connection -- for 60 Minutes.)
(Allah noted a similar report in Salon that day). What does it all mean? Not clear yet. But Marshall's sources were clearly pushing Barnes to come forward and get him to talk to Rather, at precisely the time that Burkett was talking to Max Cleland and was, apparently, involved in getting the forged documents to CBS.
Developing . . .
September 19, 2004
POLITICS: The Forgery Trap
This hypothetical scenario, which I linked to earlier, suggests (among other things) that the White House, while having no role in their creation, basically entrapped CBS into putting forged documents on the air:
An hour later two high-power experts are pouring over the documents. Within fifteen minutes they're telling Bush and Rove that the memos are not only fakes, they are really, really bad fakes. Rove: 'How easy would it be for other experts to see that?' Expert: 'Anyone can see it. I can't believe that CBS found a legitimate expert to authenticate these. No professional is going to risk his reputation by saying that these are genuine, especially if he only has copies to go by.'
But what's the White House going to do? Rove expects 60 Minutes to show a small picture on the TV screen with a blow-up highlighted overlay of a couple of critical sentences from each memo. It won't be enough for experts to analyze. The general public will believe it, and White House denials will be brushed aside.
Now Rove comes up with a counter-ploy: Re-fax the documents to the rest of the news media. That way they'll have the evidence available for their own experts to analyze and knock down. Don't say much of anything; just reiterate the usual boilerplate that the President fulfilled his National Guard obligation and was honorably discharged.
The 60 Minutes crew is a bit surprised by the White House tactic, but immediately concludes that Rove is trying a pre-emptive strike, to minimize the significance of the memos. In a way it's even better than an angry response. It shows that the White House is shell-shocked! The White House reaction proves that the memos are genuine, despite the doubts which have been raised during the pro forma review by CBS' outside experts, and despite the denials of Killian's son.
The Washington Post's account seems to support this general theory, if not its specifics:
Half an hour later, Roberts called "60 Minutes" producer Mary Mapes with word that Bartlett was not challenging the authenticity of the documents. Mapes told her bosses, who were so relieved that they cut from Rather's story an interview with a handwriting expert who had examined the memos.
At that point, said "60 Minutes" executive Josh Howard, "we completely abandoned the process of authenticating the documents. Obviously, looking back on it, that was a mistake. We stopped questioning ourselves. I suppose you could say we let our guard down."
(No word on whether pun intended).
Howard was struck by the fact that Bartlett, in his interview, kept referring to the Killian memos to support his argument that the president had fulfilled his military obligations.
"This gave us such a sense of security at that moment that we had the story," Howard said. "We gave the documents to the White House to say, 'Wave us off this if we're wrong.' " But Bartlett said CBS never asked him to verify the memos and that he had neither the time nor the resources to do so.
I note with amusement CBS' defense, in stark contrast to its sneers at the one-man-band nature of the bloggers criticizing it:
POLITICS: The Steyn Challenge
Mark Steyn challenges CBS' typewriter "expert" Bill Glennon, who still insists that it was possible to create the now-infamous Killian memos with a 1972-vintage typewriter:
Any takers, CBS?
POLITICS: Bear Baiters for Bush?
If you follow the Electoral College too closely for your own good, you may be aware that, if each of the two presidential candidates wins the vote in each of Maine's two Congressional districts, they are each awarded one elector, with the state's two remaining electors going to the statewide winner. Apparently, while John Kerry is still doing solidly in Maine, President Bush is running ahead in the state's predominantly rural Second Congressional District, a potentially significant win if the election swings back to being airtight-close by Election Day. To what does CNN attribute this?
Is that anything like this?
POLITICS: And Now For Something Completely Different
Add to the list of new government agencies to be added by John Kerry: the Ministry of Silly Walks:
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September 18, 2004
POLITICS: Misguided Fox Hunters
Stuart Buck catches Kevin Drum and the New Republic making charges against FOX News - of promoting a doctored photo of John Kerry and Jane Fonda - without any supporting evidence. Buck goes through the transcripts and finds that FOX anchors mentioned that the photo was doctored and a hoax every time they referred to it.
POLITICS: Latest on Rathergate
*ABC has decided to go for CBS' jugular, and comes up with the man who actually got Bush into the Texas Air National Guard:
"I never pressured anybody about George Bush because I had no reason to," Staudt told ABC News in his first interview since the documents were made public.
Staudt insisted Bush did not use connections to avoid being sent to Vietnam.
"He didn't use political influence to get into the Air National Guard," Staudt said, adding, "I don't know how they would know that, because I was the one who did it and I was the one who was there and I didn't talk to any of them."
During his time in charge of the unit, Staudt decided whether to accept those who applied for pilot training. He recalled Bush as a standout candidate.
"He was highly qualified," he said. "He passed all the scrutiny and tests he was given."
Staudt said he never tried to influence Killian or other Guardsmen, and added that he never came under any pressure himself to accept Bush. "No one called me about taking George Bush into the Air National Guard," he said. "It was my decision. I swore him in. I never heard anything from anybody."
He added that Bush more than met the requirements for pilot training. "He presented himself well. I'd say he was in the upper 10 percent or 5 percent or whatever we ever talked to about going to pilot training. We were pretty particular because when he came back [from training], we had to fly with him."
"There was no contact between me and George Bush ... he certainly never asked for help," Staudt said. "He didn't need any help as far as I knew."
He added that after retiring he was not involved in Air National Guard affairs. "I didn't check in with anybody - I had no reason to," he said. "I was busy with my civilian endeavors, and they were busy with their military options. I had no reason to talk to them, and I didn't."
Staudt said he continues to support Bush now that he is president. "My politics now are that I'm an American, and that's about all I can tell you," he said. "And I'm going to vote for George Bush."
Link via Allah.
UPDATE: Allah has some pointed comments about Burkett's phone call to Max Cleland; he's right on the money in his point about Josh Marshall. And Mickey thinks Staudt could sue CBS, although the bigger question is why they never talked to him in the first place.
September 17, 2004
POLITICS: Swift Dodge?
Has the Navy determined that John Kerry was entitled to his medals? An AP report seems at first glance to say so:
Vice Adm. R.A. Route, the Navy inspector general, conducted the review of Kerry's Vietnam-ear [sic] military service awards at the request of Judicial Watch, a public interest group.
Hmm, "procedures followed properly"?
"Our examination found that existing documentation regarding the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals indicates the awards approval process was properly followed," Route wrote in the memo sent Friday to Navy Secretary Gordon England.
"In particular, the senior officers who awarded the medals were properly delegated authority to do so. In addition, we found that they correctly followed the procedures in place at the time for approving these awards."
This is almost certainly the right decision as far as the Navy is concerned, but it does nothing to resolve the public question, which is dumped back on the voters to decide whether the facts matter and, if so, what they are. Not the reference, however, to "existing documentation" - I'm sure Judicial Watch will be hot to pursue whether everything available to Route has been made public.
UPDATE: Tom Maguire thinks this proves that the Navy has documents we don't, since there isn't sufficient public information to conclude that the proper procedures were followed with regard to Kerry's first Purple Heart.
POLITICS: Quick Links 9/17/04
*I had meant to tear into Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter's claim that "There was no terrorism in Iraq before we went to war," but Stephen Hayes had done it for me.
*Does Kofi Annan want Bush to win, or is he (more likely) completely oblivious to how little most Americans (even many critics or skeptics of the Iraq war) like having some UN functionary tell them that it's "illegal" for America to go to war with a country that repeatedly violated the terms of a cease-fire? The State Department fires back.
*Got your Florida campaign slogan right here: "[L]et them go naked for a while" may not exactly be "let them eat cake," but it's close.
*Not that Kerry himself is any better; he's about as convincing a populist as Prince Charles. Vodkapundit notes that Kerry calling Lambeau Field "Lambert Field" is hardly the first example of him botching the local color, citing his campaign's ignorance of St. Louis radio powerhouse KMOX and his misadventures with Philly cheesesteak. Of course, then there's touting "Buckeye football" to a Michigan crowd, misidentifying Eddie Yost as a Red Sox player . . . it's stupid stuff, and the Yost thing is particularly forgivable because it was from a years-ago memory, but it does bespeak a certain disinterest in connecting with people on things that should be easy to get right. But here's what's hilarious about the Lambeau thing: Lambeau is a French surname, and Kerry said it like one of those guys who deliberately refuses to pronounce a French name properly. If Kerry can't get a French name right, what, precisely, is he good for?
*Opportunity knocks: Bush and Kerry have each been invited to appear, separately, for half-hour segments on Black Entertainment Television (BET) to address questions of special concern to African-American voters. Bush should jump at this. Yes, any potentially hostile interview is a risk in the stretch run of an election. And yes, Republicans often eschew advertising and campaigning directed at African-Americans out of a rational short-term calculation that there are more likely votes to be won elsewhere. But this is free TV, it's just a few hours of the president's time, and it's a way to showcase his interest without having to get booed by an NAACP crowd.
*Hey Hey, Ho Ho. (But check out the definitive rebuttal in the second comment).
*The camera does not love John Kerry. Of course, the caption here suggests an improvement on current campaign tactics.
POLITICS: 54-40, or Fight?
Bush leads 54-40 in a Gallup poll due out this morning, raising further questions about the sometimes wide variance in polling. Still, I'd be surprised if many presidential candidates have won after trailing by double digits in a Gallup poll as late as the middle of September. The electoral math is getting grim for Kerry; if Bush wins Florida and Ohio, it's very hard for Kerry to win, and Bush is looking stronger in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which would really lock down the electoral college.
But don't get cocky; Dales still sees a lot of states in play.
September 16, 2004
LAW/POLITICS: More Cracks In The Wall
Breaking news in the Valerie Plame case. DC District Judge Thomas Hogan yesterday unsealed this opinion (link opens a PDF file) requiring New York Times reporter Judith Miller to "appear before the grand jury to testify regarding alleged conversations she had with a specified Executive Branch official" and produce related documents; the court notes that Miller did not write an article but "spoke with one or more confidential sources regarding Ambassador Wilson's article, 'What I Didn't Find in Africa.'" The court concluded that requiring Miller's testimony was proper because "all available alternative means of obtaining the information have been exhausted, the testimony sought is necessary for the completion of the investigation, and the testimony sought is expected to constitute direct evidence of innocence or guilt." (Emphasis added).
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that one of its own reporters, Walter Pincus, has indicated that his source has revealed his (or her) identity already:
Post reporter Walter Pincus, who had been subpoenaed to testify to a grand jury in the case, instead gave a deposition yesterday in which he recounted his conversation with the source, whom he has previously identified as an "administration official." Pincus said he did not name the source and agreed to be questioned only with the source's approval.
"I understand that my source has already spoken to the special prosecutor about our conversation on July 12 , and that the special prosecutor has dropped his demand that I reveal my source. Even so, I will not testify about his or her identity," Pincus said in a prepared statement.
"The source has not discharged us from the confidentiality pledge," said The Post's executive editor, Leonard Downie Jr.
POLITICS: Quick Links 9/16/04
It's all about 9/11, Iraq, terrorism, and national security, baby. This election is going to be won on that issue, and Kerry needs to convince the country that he can handle it better than Bush. And really, considering the botch Bush has made of national security, that shouldn't be all that hard.
Bottom line: Republicans aren't avoiding the issues. It's just that their signature issue happens to be the one people care most about this year. Democrats had better figure that out pronto.
(Emphasis in original).
*In a funny Monday G-File, Jonah Goldberg compares Dan Rather's decision to use and then defend the use of forged documents to the decision of the Hapsburgs to enter World War I:
I don't have any better idea about what's coming next than the folks in 1914 did. I don't think blogs have the ability to replace CBS News any more than Gavrilo Princip and the Black Hand could replace the Hapsburgs. Blogs are great but they can't do the heavy lifting of investigative journalism. But it seems obvious to me that we are officially at the Goodbye To All That moment of old media.
*Allah has a real Columbo moment with the acronym "OETR." My main source on things military confirms this: "I have a half dozen OERs but I have never heard of OETR." (Link via Geraghty, who needs to get permalinks)
*Speaking of Geraghty, he has tons of poll news this morning. What does it all mean? Dales has the answers.
*Funny Bushism in his speech to the National Guard (where he pointedly stated that "I respect and honor all of those who serve in the United States Armed Forces -- active, Guard, and Reserve."):
Um, wasn't that the war of or for Independence?
BLOG/POLITICS: Why CBS Matters
My law school classmate Orin Kerr comments on the CBS frenzy:
C'mon, folks: don't we have more important things to blog about?
Dan Drezner concurs. I see their point about the extent of the coverage, but:
(1) Most of us have blogged many angles of the Iraq war to death, especially the justifications for the war in the first place.
(2) Getting a good picture of the facts on the ground to blog about the war's continuing progress can be quite frustrating for the U.S.-based civilian observer. Part of the problem is that we are so heavily dependent on the media to give us an accurate picture of what is going on.
In that context, the fact that one of the three major networks - in a story immediately disseminated by many other media outlets (including on the front page of numerous newspapers) - is being exposed for having used forged documents, perhaps knowingly and almost certainly recklessly, in pursuit of what looks like a partisan and/or personal vendetta against the president, is tremendously important. The problems being revealed go to the heart of CBS' newsgathering and editorial decisionmaking practices, which in turn affects the credibility of the news we rely on to interpret so many other stories.
In a way, then, this is about the Iraq war. It's about everything.
(3) I'll add a third point: I can blog until I'm blue in the face about the Iraq war, as we all have, without doing much to change the world. But as with the Trent Lott story, the blogosphere has actually affected the course of this story. That's where the emphasis comes from - bloggers are always going to be most attracted to the stories on which they can actually have some impact or uncover some new facts.
September 15, 2004
POLITICS: On Wisconsin
Millionaire construction magnate and former Army Ranger Tim Michels yesterday won the Republican primary to challenge Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold. The Feingold-Michels race, in a critical swing state in the presidential race, promises to focus heavily on national security:
Michels, the only candidate in the race with military experience, also argued his background was critical in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Yes, it's ironic to have a Republican, in this year of John Kerry, stressing his military record. But a military record remains a very good thing for a public official to have; it just can't be everything. Feingold's vote against the Patriot Act naturally invites a serious debate on the issue. It's also ironic to have a self-financed millionaire businessman running against one of the authors of the campaign finance reform bill that will only proliferate the number of such candidacies in the future.
Feingold remains favored to win, but polls have consistently shown that he was vulnerable; Michels will need to move fast to make an impression. Fortunately, Feingold called before the primary for five debates with the GOP nominee. I was a little disappointed here - I'd given money to Bob Welch (not the pitcher), a long-time Wisconsin state senator and conservative favorite. Either way, though, it will be a senate race to watch.
September 14, 2004
POLITICS: Not So Fast
Greyhawk, who's headed off to Iraq (drop some cash in his tipjar to help out keeping his site live while he's deployed), catches even RatherBiased.com missing a chance to rip an inflated claim by CBS News about its role in publicizing the horrors at Abu Ghraib. (Link via Instapundit).
POLITICS: Charlie Cook Unplugged
Wonkette, breaking with her usual practice, carries some actual political analysis from Charlie Cook of the National Journal (note that this is analysis someone else paid to get and then leaked to Wonkette):
A savvy poiunt about Obama, who gave a speech that left us all feeling very good . . . about Barack Obama. (See here for my critique of the Democtrats' convention strategy, although I hadn't pointed the finger at Obama). I also liked the plug for Real Clear Politics and its averaged polls. The Kerry Spot (a daily must-read these days) has more free-premium-content gloom for Democrats with a link to this FreeRepublic post reprinting an analysis of congressional races by Roll Call's Stuart Rothenberg.
POLITICS/OTHER SPORTS: Band of Ruggers
Eric McErlain takes apart one of the stupidest political arguments I have ever seen, this Bob Harris post at Tom Tomorrow's place showing a still photo of George W. Bush playing rugby at Yale and trying to make out Bush as some sort of dirty rugby player. I'm no expert on rugby, but it always seemed like one of those sports where the technical term for someone who never played dirty was "loser."
Anyway, I emailed Harris some time back - he never responded - to point to this David Pinto post:
Lesson: maybe you don't want to make this an issue. Although McErlain links back to a post where he quotes Denis Leary making Kerry out to be a weak-minded, vascillating showboat as a hockey player, at least in his later years. So who knows?
Anyway, the best line about the whole Bush rugby thing comes from a commenter at Michele's place back in mid-August:
And, of course, it's a devastating picture, ruining Bush's rugbycentric strategy, which he planned to kick off at the end of the convention when he'd be joined by a dozen former Yale rugby players, his "Band of Ruggers."
Posted by Baseball Crank at 09:53 PM | Other Sports | Politics 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: I Link, You Decide
Two more stories on the "AWOL"/medals issues, which I pass along without further comment:
BASEBALL/POLITICS: The Ownership Society
Following up on an earlier post, a few diligent readers sent me links to this AP story observing that President Bush - unlike Senator Kerry - has raised a lot of money from baseball owners and, to a lesser extent, baseball players. Of course, given that a lot of these people know Bush personally from his days as owner of the Rangers, that's not all that surprising, nor is it surprising that the owners would, as a result, view Bush as being sympathetic to their interests.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 06:32 AM | Baseball 2004 | Politics 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
September 13, 2004
POLITICS: CBS' Downfall
Deacon at Powerline notes possible ways for CBS to feel the heat from its use of forged documents, including boycotts of their advertisers or FCC consequences. These are unrealistic and penalize innocent parties. The answer here is obvious. You are never going to get CBS or its affiliates off the air.
POLITICS: Hopefully But Almost Certainly Not The Last Post About Bush's and Kerry's Service Records
As recently as five days ago, this, from Kevin Drum, was the motto of the Left in dealing with the dueling stories about (1) whether George Bush was given preferential treatment in joining the Texas Air National Guard and whether he fulfilled his service requirements to the TANG and (2) whether John Kerry earned bogus medals to get an early trip home from Vietnam:
As it turned out, of course, the documents Drum was discussing in that post were crude forgeries. Even apart from that, however, Drum is way off base in his analysis, as I'll discuss below. Now, we get a different tune from Matt Yglesias, who's been an unlikely bitter-ender in the forged-documents debate:
A third perspective comes from this comment by Oliver Willis (scroll down; it's in the comments section) that pretty well sums up the mindset of Willis, the rest of the Media Matters crowd and their ilk:
(You can see a similar approach in this DNC email and press conference Friday morning after the 60 Minutes documents had been fairly well exposed as frauds). Well, let's start with Drum's and Yglesias' points about the burdens of proof. And let's recognize the basic truth about these stories:
1. George W. Bush was paid by the TANG for a sufficient number of drills to meet all requirements, and was given an honorable discharge in 1973.
2. John Kerry was awarded three Purple Hearts, the Silver Star and the Bronze Star by the United States Navy, was granted permission to leave Vietnam early, and was given an honorable discharge from the Navy Reserves in 1978.
So before we go talking about documents and witnesses, let's recognize that the official records of both the TANG and the Navy reflect decisions made at the time to credit Bush with the service and Kerry with the honors they claim today. So of course, the burden of proof is on their accusers, especially given that there is (now that the Killian memos have been revealed to have been frauds) no sign that anyone questioned Bush's service prior to, I believe, his 1994 race for governor of Texas, and that most (though not all) of the questions about Kerry's medals were aired for the first time in 2004. How do those cases stack up?
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The AWOL Story
I've about beaten this one to death and I won't revisit all the links here. But a critical theme that runs throughout coverage of this issue by people who actually have some experience serving in the Guard or the Reserves (which are two different animals, of course, but share some important similarities) is that irregular periods of service and spotty records are not all that unusual. For example, we have no shred of evidence that John Kerry ever drilled with the Navy Reserves between 1970 and 1972, when he was still an officer. For more detailed and thorough perspectives on this, see McQ of QandO here and here as well as A View From The Flight Deck. Each of these guys stresses a critical point: it's in the nature of the Guard for service requirements to be flexible. The purpose of the National Guard is not drills; the purpose is to have people you can call up for varying types of service if needed. Making the drill requirements flexible is, in fact, a good way to accomodate the work schedules of people who - as all Guardsmen do - have other jobs. That tends to be misunderstood by people who (1) haven't served themselves and (2) think of Vietnam-era Guard service as some sort of benefit that had to be paid for in drill time. It took some time, I must confess, for me to grasp that point as well.
At the end of the day, the critics of Bush's record have a tough time arguing that the TANG was somehow duped into giving Bush an honorable discharge, since this basically amounts to proving a negative - specifically, that he wasn't where he claims he was, at the base in Alabama, on the days in question. But there are a number of witnesses who do remember Bush's service in Alabama, including this new one noted by Captain Ed today:
Copeland, 65, remembers meeting Bush on two occasions. He does not remember the precise dates. On one occasion, Copeland said, Bush and Lt. Col. John "Bill" Calhoun came to Copeland's office with a question about Bush's pay. Copeland is not sure, but he believes the question had to do with where to mail Bush's checks.
Read the whole thing. As I said, the burden of proof is on those who would argue that the TANG didn't know what it was doing when it granted Bush an honorable discharge. Simply saying that the records are not complete is not enough to carry that burden. As for Yglesias' point about the Killian memos, let's not forget a key dynamic in both of these stories: neither Bush nor Kerry likely spends much time personally involved in these issues. To add to that, the Bush White House generally likes to let things simmer a bit in the blogosphere/talk radio/NR/WSJ universe before jumping on an argument. My assumption is that the press people were just expected to talk around these documents, and Bush himself (the only guy in the White House with any relevant personal knowledge) wasn't ever going to look at them unless the thing blew up big time.
The Swift Boat Story
As Drum's post indicates, the general tendency on the Left has been to just dismiss the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth as liars and avoid getting into the details. It's certainly true that some of the Swifties' claims have been overwrought and others have included factual assertions that are contradicted by some documents. Neither of these facts should be surprising, however, given that the men involved have lingering anger against Kerry and are, in many cases, just now revisiting events of 35 years ago:
That was then. After their opening news conference, the veterans — most of whom had not seen one another in 35 years — began talking among themselves about their memories of Kerry. They read Douglas Brinkley's hagiographic war biography, Tour of Duty, and found descriptions of events they didn't recognize. They compared notes. And their point of view changed. They came to question what Kerry had done, not just after leaving Vietnam, but while he was serving alongside them. In particular, they came to question some of the cornerstones of Kerry's Vietnam record, the engagements in which he won the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts. The result of that questioning was a book, Unfit for Command, written by the group's main spokesman, John O'Neill.
That's from Byron York's summary and analysis of the Swifties' charges in the latest issue of National Review; it's available on the web only to NR Digital subscribers, but I'd highly recommend it as a concise and even-handed analysis of the central factual issues. Another terse summary can be found in this "30 Questions" list (link via Kaus), and a much more detailed analysis of the attacks on Kerry's medals (though not his now-infamous claim to have spent Christmas 1968 in Cambodia) was assembled here by some readers of Captain's Quarters. ( Matthew Continetti of the Weekly Standard also had a decent but less comprehensive roundup a few weeks ago).
The bottom line? Well, the "Christmas in Cambodia" story decisively discredited Kerry's original account, and it seems unlikely that Kerry would have gone into Cambodia without the knowledge of any of his boatmates, fellow Swift Boat skippers or commanding officers, not one of whom to my knowledge has corroborated his story; it was also apparently not done, at least in the time before Kerry left Vietnam in March 1969, to send big, noisy swift boats on clandestine missions to drop off CIA agents. Nobody has found any record of swift boats being used in this way, even 35 years later when many of the details of secret missions in Cambodia are far less secret. Still, it remains unclear whether there is any shred of truth to Kerry backers' revised theory that maybe he was in Cambodia at some later date. Unlike the medals and AWOL issues, there are no Navy records of any kind supporting Kerry having done what he says he did.
The medals? Some of Kerry's medals are for real heroism: There's no serious question about Kerry's second Purple Heart, and you can nitpick, as a military matter, about Kerry's Silver Star, but as to the latter the controversy seems to keep coming back to Kerry shooting a guy who'd shot at his men with a rocket launcher in the back, and to me that's a good thing even if the guy was a teenager in a loincloth. Maybe that's not quite Silver Star material, but that's for the Navy to decide, they did, and I don't see a point in second guessing it. The same goes for inside-baseball debates about the wisdom, in combat terms, of Kerry's decision to beach his boat. That leaves two other controversies:
Kerry's First Purple Heart
The eyewitness accounts on the central issue (whether Kerry's wound suffered on December 2, 1968 was the result of enemy fire or whether there was no enemy fire that night) are fairly muddled - Kerry's defenders have some points on their side in arguing that William Schachte, Kerry's immediate superior, may not have been on the boat that night, although the idea that Kerry was on a training mission with no one there to train him seems a bit implausible - and the few available documents (most are missing or nonexistent) are most decidedly not in Kerry's favor, particularly his journal a few days later saying "we" hadn't been shot at yet. But the really damning thing for Kerry on this one is the fact - undisputed, as far as I've been able to tell - that his commanding officer, Grant Hibbard, refused to grant him a Purple Heart at the time, and yet Kerry seems to have re-applied for one later when no one involved in the incident was still around to object. It's not clear exactly when he re-applied, but the medal was awarded in late February 1969, timing that's more consistent with the idea that he was hatching a plan to use the three-and-out rule to go home, since all three of his Purple Hearts were awarded in a span of about 20 days. Here's John O'Neill, in an interview with John Hawkins of Right Wing News:
Our contention is both his first and third Purple Hearts were fake. He invoked the 3 Purple Heart rule to leave Vietnam 243 days early. None of these involved any injury that required even an hour of hospitalization. None of these involved any kind of real injury.
The timing and the fact that Hibbard denied the medal the first time around give this story enough juice, in my mind, to overcome the burden of the fact that the Navy eventually awarded the medal. In fact, the Kerry campaign has made some noises about conceding the possibilty that the medal was improperly awarded, although as usual with the Kerry people I couldn't tell you what their position on that is at this moment. We may never know who is right about whether there was enemy fire that night, although it would help if Kerry would release his records so we could find out if there is anything else there on this engagement.
The Bronze Star and the Third Purple Heart
Both of these decorations were awarded to Kerry on the basis of action on March 13, 1969; almost as soon as the medals were awarded, Kerry took advantage of the three-Purple-Hearts rule to get out of Vietnam, itself a decision that irritates some of his fellow swift boat comrades but doesn't really raise the blood pressure of most of us who haven't walked a mile in those shoes.
The story of the Bronze Star, endlessly repeated in the Iowa primaries, is basically that (1) Kerry returned his boat to the scene of an ambush, (2) under heavy fire, and (3) by so doing saved the life of Army Special Forces officer Jim Rassman. The he-said-she-said aspects revolve around Kerry's account - including that embodied in the official Navy report, which Kerry appears to have written - and Rassman's vs. those of the other swift boat captains. But Rassman, by his own account, was under water during most of the engagement and not in a position to guage the location of the various boats or tell the difference between hostile and friendly fire.
Which is significant, because most of the case against Kerry's account rests much more heavily on physical evidence than on uncorroborated points of testimony by his accusers, notably the facts that (1) the other boats were, in fact, quite close enough to pick Rassman out of the river themselves (as they were essentially stationary after one boat, PCF-3, was disabled by a mine) and (2) since only one of the boats sustained any bullet holes and no one was shot (and there's some debate over whether the three bullet holes were even from that day), the heavy fire described by Kerry is fairly impossible; large boats in a narrow canal are huge targets. Similar issues arise with Kerry's claim that his own boat hit a mine, which according to the Swifties is inconsistent with the physical evidence.
On this one, I'm reserving judgment until I get my copy of Unfit for Command (it's shipping slowly; the Wall Street Journal's best seller list shows three times as many copies sold as any other non-fiction book last week), because the devil is in the details. But nothing I've read seems to offer much of a persuasive rebuttal to the various points noted by the Swifties; the most the critics have done is point to the three bullet holes and to poke at the credibility of the witnesses. Of course, witness credibility is a far less significant issue when testimony can be corroborated.
Kerry's third Purple Heart is tied up with this incident. By his own accounts, it appears that Kerry sustained self-inflicted wounds earlier in the day from throwing a grenade at too-close range into a rice bin. But York, at least, contends that Kerry may nonetheless have merited a Purple Heart due to a contusion on his arm sustained during the Rassman incident.
Without new records from Kerry, the Swift Boat story is unlikely to advance any further in either direction, but at this point there's no incentive for Kerry to do that. On the present record, I have to give credit to two of the Swift Boat Veterans' charges - against the "Christmas in Cambodia" story and the first Purple Heart - and essentially call a draw pending further analysis on the Bronze Star and third Purple Heart. As I've indicated repeatedly before, the relevance of all this is dubious - Kerry did serve, and in highly hazardous duty, and nobody questions this (least of all the other swift boat veterans) - although the Cambodia thing is more significant because (1) it appears that Kerry may have spent years retailing a wholly false story and (2) he used it in policy debates and not just as campaign bacvground fluff. But to use the Swift Boat Veterans as an example of a group throwing wholly unsubstantiated mud, as Kerry's defenders have repeatedly done, is just severely misleading and doesn't square with a detailed appraisal of their charges.
« Close It
September 10, 2004
POLITICS: What To Apologize For
Rich Lowry notes this, from a Washington Post story:
Aides say Kerry may soon apologize for some of his most heated comments during the Vietnam War protests of the early 1970s, a move that would rekindle the debate for a few more days.
The time to do that would be today, before the rally planned for Sunday in Washington, where thousands of Vietnam vets are planning to denounce Kerry. A little more from memory lane with Kerry's 1971 testimony will explain why:
Read More »
Did Kerry imply that returning Vietnam vets would be dangerous and unstable in a way that veterans of prior wars had not been?
"[W]here America finally turned" - these are not the words of a man who thinks a great country made a terrible mistake. These are the words of a man who thinks Vietnam was the logical end of a nation that had long been headed in the wrong direction.
Did Kerry foresee the catastrophic consequences of American withdrawal?
Kerry also told some stories - maye true, I don't know - about his experiences in trench warfare in the Navy:
Then there's this question from Senator Pell:
Wouldn't you agree with me though that what he did in herding old men, women and children into a trench and then shooting them was a little bit beyond the perimeter of even what has been going on in this war and that that action should be discouraged. There are other actions not that extreme that have gone on and have been permitted. If we had not taken action or cognizance of it, it would have been even worse. It would have indicated we encouraged this kind of action.
Would Kerry admit that what Calley did at My Lai was not the usual way American troops behaved in Vietnam?
I think it lies with the men who designed free fire zones. I think it lies with the men who encourage body counts. I think it lies in large part with this country, which allows a young child before he reaches the age of 14 to see 12,500 deaths on television, which glorifies the John Wayne syndrome, which puts out fighting man comic books on the stands, which allows us in training to do calisthenics to four counts, on the fourth count of which we stand up and shout "kill" in unison, which has posters in barracks in this country with a crucified Vietnamese, blood on him, and underneath it says "kill the gook," and I think that clearly the responsibility for all of this is what has produced this horrible aberration.
Now, I think if you are going to try Lieutenant Calley then you must at the same time, if this country is going to demand respect for the law, you must at the same time try all those other people who have responsibility, and any aversion that we may have to the verdict as veterans is not to say that Calley should be freed, not to say that he is innocent, but to say that you can't just take him alone, and that would be my response to that.
Did Kerry at least recognize the threat of world Communism, which would still claim many more victims before it was defeated 27 years later?
I say that because so long as we have the kind of strike force we have . . . I think we have a strike force of such capability and I think we have a strike force simply in our Polaris submarines, in the 62 or some Polaris submarines, which are constantly roaming around under the sea. . . .Why do we have to, therefore, consider and keep considering threats?
At any time that an actual threat is posed to this country or to the security and freedom I will be one of the first people to pick up a gun and defend it, but right now we are reacting with paranoia to this question of peace and the people taking over the world. . . .
Therefore, I think it is ridiculous to assume we have to play this power game based on total warfare. I think there will be guerilla wars and I think we must have a capability to fight those. And we may have to fight them somewhere based on legitimate threats and that is what I would say to this question of world peace. I think it is bogus, totally artificial. There is no threat. The Communists are not about to take over our McDonald hamburger stands.
Senator, I will say this. I think that politically, historically, the one thing that people try to do, that society is structured on as a whole, is an attempt to satisfy their felt needs, and you can satisfy those needs with almost any kind of political structure, giving it one name or the other. In this name it is democratic; in other it is communism; in others it is benevolent dictatorship. As long as those needs are satisfied, that structure will exist.
But when you start to neglect those needs, people will start to demand a new structure, and that, to me, is the only threat that this country faces now, because we are not responding to the needs and we are not responding to them because we work on these old cold-war precepts and because we have not woken up to realizing what is happening in the United States of America.
The lack of willingness to admit the difference between democracy and communism is particularly striking. Another question from Pell, who was still trying to defend democracy:
They have all become dictatorships when they have achieved the size and complexity of this country. Only smaller countries really have made a democratic system work at all.
So I only wish to throw it out hopefully that, in spite of the tragic experiences of you and so many other people and the deaths of so many people, this system is not beyond recall and with the assistance of people like yourself and the younger generation we can get back on the track, and can make this system operate effectively. . .
Have you yourself arrived at the point where you believe that basic structural changes must be brought about in our system or do you believe it can be made to work?
Kerry's response does finally give some qualified support to democracy, but makes clear what he was selling, anyway:
But I will say that I think we are going to keep trying. I also agree with you, Senator. I don't see another system other than democracy, but democracy has to remain reponsive. When it does not, you create the possibilities for all kinds of other systems to supplant it, and that very possibility, I think, is beginning to exist in this country.
But this question from Senator Symington really gets at another element of Kerry's testimony that enraged Veitnam vets:
Kerry's answer first tried to use a severely inflated bogus statistic, but then fell back on a characterization that nonetheless painted with the broadest of brushes:
The problem exists for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the emptiness. It is the only way to get through it. A lot of guys, 60, 80 percent stay stoned 24 hours a day just to get through the Vietnam-
Senator Symington: You say 60 to 80 percent.
Mr. Kerry: Sixty to 80 percent is the figure used that try something, let's say, at one point. Of that, I couldn't give you a figure of habitual smokers, let's say, of pot, and I certainly couldn't begin to say how many are hard drug addicts, but I do know that the problem for the returning veteran is acute because we have, let's say, a veteran picks up at $12 habit in Saigon. He comes back to this country and the moment he steps off an airplane that same habit costs him some $90 to support. With the state of the economy, he can't get a job. He doesn't earn money. He turns criminal or just finds his normal sources and in a sense drops out. . . .
It is very, very widespread. It is a very serious problem. . . .
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POLITICS: Freepers 1, Big Media 0
If you read political blogs other than this one, you have by now already seen some of the details of this story; it's such a perfect illustration of the speed with which the blogosphere can detect, analyze, and ultimately overwhelm a bogus story in the mainstream media. And it all started with one guy on a message board. Here's the timeline:
1. Stories about President Bush's National Guard service had been pushed very hard by the media back in February, but little new information had surfaced since then. Following a month of tough questions about John Kerry's Vietnam service, however, Democrats were desperate to put some heat back on the president. Enter Dan Rather, ever eager to move the ball against Republicans; "60 Minutes II" had a story in the works for some time built around an interview with Ben Barnes, a Texas Democrat who claimed he'd pulled strings to get Bush into the National Guard in 1968. Leaving aside the fact that Bush actually didn't need any help because there was no waiting list for people willing and able to spend a year learning to fly the F-102, Barnes has an obvious credibility issue: he's a high-ranking official with the Kerry campaign and is the campaign's third-largest donor/fundraiser.
Enter the memos: CBS pushed the fact that the story also included "newly discovered" documents from the files of Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, who died in 1984 (dead men dispute no tales). Even before it aired, lefty bloggers like Josh Marshall and Kevin Drum started hyping the fact that the story would be more than just Barnes. The documents weren't hugely damning, but they added just enough weight to some of the pre-existing theories about Bush avoiding a flight physical and getting favored treatment to keep the story moving. The story aired Wednesday evening. In apparent coordination, the New York Times and Boston Globe on Wednesday released new high-profile stories including a retired military officer's analysis that had apparently been in the works since at least February (more on that one later).
2. Having been launched by CBS, the story took off immediately, with none of the slow-boil skepticism that had been applied to bona fide eyewitness accounts of Kerry's service. Thursday morning, the Times, the Washington Post and the New York Daily News all ran CBS' documents story on the front page. ABC's The Note aptly summarized the instant media feeding frenzy (links omitted):
ABC's Terry Moran's wrap of Bush's military Guard records was the first stand alone package in GMA. Moran included sound from White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett claiming Ben Barnes was acting "on behalf of John Kerry" and reported in his live close that Lt. Col. Jerry Killian wrote in one memo that "I'll back-date, but won't rate," a statement that "raises the possibility that Bush's military records were falsified."
CBS' Bill Plante's wrap led the "Early Show." Plante reported that the White House says Bush did not have to take the annual physical exam he never showed up for because the Alabama National Guard did not have the kind of airplane Bush was flying. Plante also reported that the White House says they are trying to get all of his records released.
NBC's Carl Quintinilla wrapped both Kerry's and Bush's Wednesdays within the "Today" newsblock, focusing on Kerry first then reporting nothing new on Bush's Guard records. Quintinilla was the only one to include the new "Texans for Truth" ad featuring former Alabama Air National Guard Lieutenant Bob Mintz claiming he didn't remember Bush being there.
The New York Times and the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune and USA Today wrap the days' developments. LINK, LINK, LINK, and LINK
The Boston Globe 's Robinson and Latour ran the "60 Minutes" documents by military officers who said it "contain[ed] evidence that political influence may have come into play as he sidestepped his training requirements in his final two years of service, from May 1972 until May 1974." LINK
"Bush's service has been in dispute for years because of a six-month gap in 1972 that has not been fully explained by military records. Repeated news reports and document releases by the White House and Pentagon have not settled the question," writes James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times. LINK
Rainey's last graph calls the Globe's Wednesday "scoop" into question:
"Two retired officers interviewed by The Times on Wednesday and familiar with National Guard procedures differed as to whether Bush was still obligated, at that point, to check in with a unit in the Boston area."
The Washington Times looks at the Democrats' strategy. LINK
Rush Limbaugh calls it all a cheap media ploy. LINK
DeFrank, Meek, and Siemaszko of the New York Daily News report the Bush campaign was "rocked yesterday by allegations that the "Top Gun President was a substandard pilot who disobeyed a direct order while serving in the Texas Air National Guard." LINK
The big lefty bloggers jumped instantly into the breach, with Kevin Drum, Mark Kleiman and Oliver Willis, in posts too numerous to link here, calling Bush a criminal and a liar and accusing the Whiite House of a cover-up.
3. Before the papers had hit the stands, however, CBS had posted PDF copies of the documents online, however, and around 9pm Wednesday, one guy on a FreeRepublic.com message board was raising questions about their authenticity:
In 1972 people used typewriters for this sort of thing, and typewriters used monospaced fonts.
The use of proportionally spaced fonts did not come into common use for office memos until the introduction of laser printers, word processing software, and personal computers. They were not widespread until the mid to late 90's. Before then, you needed typesetting equipment, and that wasn't used for personal memos to file. Even the Wang systems that were dominant in the mid 80's used monospaced fonts.
I am saying these documents are forgeries, run through a copier for 15 generations to make them look old.
This should be pursued aggressively.
47 posted on 09/08/2004 8:59:43 PM PDT by Buckhead
Now, the "freepers" have taken more than their share of guff over the years, and since I don't go there I can't vouch for whether the bad reputation is deserved. But on this one, all it took was one skeptical guy - one more, apparently, than works for Dan Rather (at least when it comes to anti-Bush stories).
4. At 7:51 AM Thursday morning, the Big Trunk over at Powerline - which may well be the best single conservative blog out there - simply posted a copy of the FreeRepublic post and asked whether the CBS memos were genuine. As soon as I saw that post, I knew this was a big story - and apparently, so did everyone else. Blog after blog started linking to it, emails poured in, and the Big Trunk started updating with thoughts from people all over the country who had experience with typewriters and computers and could tell the various telltale signs that this was a Microsoft Word document created on a laser printer rather than a genuine typewritten document. The incoming feedback really took off once the National Review Online linked to Powerline's analysis both at The Corner and the Kerry Spot. Typewriter museums (did you know such things existed?) were contacted, bloggers produced exact duplicates of the memo on Microsoft Word, forensic document experts were interviewed (see this INDC Journal post for a particularly in-depth treatment), people familiar with the technology and terminology available to the military in the early 70s weighed in. Dan Rather's most persistent critics jumped aboard. By late yesterday, the original Powerline post had over 250 trackbacks; by this morning, nearly 500.
5. Then, the breakout: around 3pm, the Drudge Report linked to the Powerline analysis, flooding the site with so much traffic it crashed. By 9pm, the Weekly Standard had a column out with this tidbit:
6. By this morning, the Washington Post and ABC News were running with the story - WaPo had it on the front page - of how CBS may have been duped, and Killian's own son was disputing the documents' authenticity. John Podhoretz was retracing some of the timeline in his NY Post column. And now, for all of Rather's eagerness to put some pressure on Bush, the heat will instead fall on CBS, which at last check was simply insisting that it adequately sourced its story.
In just a day, one citizen's skepticism shook CBS and reminded the major media outlets of the hazards of running with a story just because it came from one of their own. Ten years ago, they would have gotten away with it.
September 09, 2004
POLITICS: More Republican Liars?
“Little did the American prisoners of war imagine that half a world away events were conspiring to make their precarious situation even more desperate. That an American Naval Lieutenant after a 4-month tour of duty in Vietnam was meeting secretly in an undisclosed location in Paris with a top enemy diplomat. That this same lieutenant would later join forces with Jane Fonda to form an anti-war group of so-called Vietnam veterans, some of whom would be later discovered as frauds who never set foot on a battlefield. All this culminating in John Kerry’s Senate testimony that would be blared over loud speakers to convince our prisoners that back home they were being accused and abandoned. Enemy propagandists had found a new and willing accomplice.”
That's from Stolen Honor, a new documentary (independent of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth but featuring some of the same former POWs) expanding at length on the excesses of John Kerry's "war crimes" testimony and the harm it caused. Go here and see if you think these guys are just another bunch of lying, crooked Republican attack dogs. Just for one example of a guy who appears in "Stolen Honor" and has also supported the Swift Boat group, check out this bio on "Bud" Day, who doesn't strike me as the kind of guy you want challenging your activities in wartime:
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POLITICS: Debate About Debates
The "process" issues of a political campaign, in particular the "debate about debates," tends to bore me. But I do have one observation to offer. The Bush camp is floating a trial balloon about maybe only agreeing to two debates instead of three. My suspicion is that Bush is posturing about ducking a third debate so as to (1) signal to the press that he's winning (the underdog always wants more debates, so if the dynamic is Kerry pestering Bush for debates, the media will draw that conclusion) and (2) subtly lower expectations (Kerry can't simultaneously accuse him of being afraid to debate while building him up like Lou Holtz before the Navy game).
Of course, for this to work, the Democrats have to fall into Bush's trap and start complaining about Bush's reluctance to debate and pressuring him to do three debates. Fortunately, some of them, at least, are as knee-jerk predictable as monsters in a video game who fall for the same fake-out every single time. Go see Atrios and Oliver Willis fall right into the trap.
UPDATE: Mark Kleiman marches right into the trap as well. Where's Admiral Ackbar when you need him? These guys are just too easy.
SECOND UPDATE: For now, the Kerry camp sticks to the script:
[M]ake no mistake, George Bush is a skilled debater. In fact, he has never lost a debate in his entire political career.
POLITICS: Shorter John Kerry Foreign Policy
"[T]he United States of America never goes to war because we want to, we only go to war because we have to."
But the French and the Germans, well, they'd go to war if we asked them nicely.
POLITICS: Human Lives Are One Thing, But Money?
If you look at John Kerry's latest line of argument in yesterday's big Iraq speech, he gives a brief nod to the loss of life in Iraq:
He clearly is tiptoeing around saying whether those 1,000 have given their lives in vain or for a noble cause. But he then spends the bulk of the speech griping about the bill:
George W. Bush's wrong choices have led America in the wrong direction in Iraq and left America without the resources we need here at home. The cost of the President's go-it-alone policy in Iraq is now $200 billion and counting. $200 billion for Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford after-school programs for our children. $200 billion for Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford health care for our veterans. $200 billion for Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford to keep the 100,000 new police we put on the streets during the 1990s.
This is a deeply morally offensive line of argument. The decision to go to war means the decision to sacrifice the lives of some number of our soldiers. That's a very grave decision. If the decision is worth making - if it is worth asking even one young man or woman to lay down his or her life for the greater good of the nation - it is petty and ungracious to complain about the bill. Yes, it's a lot of money. But it's only money. And if it's what needs to be done to win the war, then we who have asked for those sacrifices should spend that money without complaint. Think the war was a bad idea? Fine, tell us that. Want money for job training and after-school programs? Fine, tell us how you'll cut domestic spending, raise taxes or borrow money to pay for it. But don't dare tell us that we should pay for those things by haggling over the price of national security while our troops are dying in the field.
POLITICS: The Long Arm of Grover Norquist
September 08, 2004
POLITICS: Kerry AWOL?
Since people are still pushing the "Bush was AWOL" story in the absence of any supporting evidence, and in particular any evidence that Bush was even required to show up for any drills in Alabama in 1972 after four years of extensive service in the Texas Air National Guard, it's worth noting for contrast that there seems to be an absence of evidence that John Kerry fulfilled his contractual commitment to drill with the Navy Reserves during the time when he was busy being an anti-war leader, meeting with Vietnamese Communists in secret, and running for Congress. Jon Henke at QandO pulls together some links, including an analysis concluding that "Kerry, while in violation of his contract . . . was not legally required to drill and hence not AWOL." Which would not bother me one bit. Does it bother those who nitpick at the last year of President Bush's service?
(PS - Go here and read through my prior link-filled analyses on the "AWOL Bush" charge, in particular these fourteen questions. While we're at it, see here and here (Links via QandO and Bill Hobbs) and here - QandO is really on top of these issues - regarding the fact that Bush didn't bypass anybody on a waiting list to get into the Texas Air National Guard because so few people were willing, able and qualified to spend a year training to fly the F-102. Finally, recall that John Edwards - like Dick Cheney - passed up the opportunity to enlist and go to Vietnam).
POLITICS/BUSINESS: Not That Simple
Mark Cuban, trying his hand at politics, makes a serious error regarding drug company profitability:
They don’t run their companies to make a profit. They run their companies to make Wall Street happy, to push their stock prices up, and if they are lucky, to hit the jackpot personally.
They know that in order for their stock prices to go up, they have to sell the future. If all they have to sell is the cash flow from their existing base of drug patents, they have a problem. Could you imagine the CEO of a major drug company saying, “Well, we can’t come up with any new products, and our R&D isn’t really working, so we will just play out the patents on our drugs and pay out the cash to shareholders.” Yeah Right.
They will do just what they are doing now — keep on investing in their own R&D hoping they can hit a home run with new drugs, and when that doesn’t work, they will use their stock and cash to buy other companies that have better prospects. In all cases, they hope the results will propel their stock and their own net worth.
They aren’t going to change how they do business at all. Won’t happen. CEOs are a competitive bunch. You don’t get to run a major corporation by not being motivated to succeed. A measure of that success is personal wealth.
As long as CEOs and those around them want to be rich, we can change the laws regarding drug pricing and nothing at all will change…Nothing.
This is a perfect example of how a smart businessman can believe a stupid idea when it comes to politics. Cuban is right, of course, about the kind of motivations that make executives tick - like any other worker, they work to make their companies profitable because they are given incentives to do so, not out of some abstract love for their shareholders. And he's right that, if drug companies realized tomorrow that they could no longer expect future profits from large R&D layouts, executives would be loath to become doomsaying pessimists about their own companies.
But what would really happen is right under Cuban's nose, and he misses it: what does a company do when it realizes that its current business is throwing off profits that can't sustain in the future? Well, the most common response is what Cuban himself suggests: "use their stock and cash to buy other companies that have better prospects." In other words, diversify.
Which is precisely the point: if R&D in new drugs starts looking like a bad gamble, sooner or later drug company CEOs will devote more of their available resources to acquiring companies who do other things than invest in drug R&D, and less to that R&D. And, in the long run, we'll have fewer drugs produced. Not none; that goose won't stop laying golden eggs entirely. But the natural response of CEOs who want to stay successful will be to migrate their companies' capital investments away from a low-margin business. And we'll all suffer.
September 07, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: The Iraq Straddle
Kerry supporters have been howling since the Republican convention (see this EJ Dionne column on Zell Miller's speech for an example) that Republicans were somehow dishonest for suggesting that a Kerry Administration would subordinate its judgment to that of the UN or let decisions to protect U.S. national security be held up by the French.
In a lot of ways, this is classic Kerry non-definition: the man spends nearly all his energies (including those spent on Vietnam, which is deployed in the service of this endeavor) trying to explain what he doesn't stand for rather than what he does ("that dog won't hunt"). Let's see if we can unpack Kerry's semi-current Iraq position on its own terms and see if I can explain precisely why I find these cries of outrage - and, indeed, Kerry's entire position on the Iraq war - so spectacularly disingenuous.
1. Was Iraq A Sufficient Threat To U.S. National Security To Justify War? The Bush Administration and other war supporters made many arguments about the nature of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein to our national security (see here and here for some of my own thoughts on the subject), ranging from his pursuit of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction to his ties to international terrorists to broader arguments about his role in the region.
There is a coherent argument - albeit one I regard as dangerously irresponsible - to the effect that Saddam's regime was not a threat, and there are those who dispute particular items in the Administration's bill of particulars against him. But Kerry has not renounced his prior conclusion - underlying his vote in favor of authority to use force against Saddam's regime - that the regime posed such a threat. Despite generalized blather about "misleading the nation into war," Kerry has never, to my knowledge, made a serious effort to attack the factual underpinnings of the Administration's case, something that would be particularly difficult to do on the WMD issue given his own and Edwards' prior statements on the issue. He hasn't tried to deny Saddam's ties to terrorist groups and provision of safe haven to terrorists; that's a place Kerry, wisely, doesn't want to go.
2. Could Steps Short of War Have Removed The Threat or Revealed It To Be Overstated? Another of the "process" arguments before the war, and emphasized by some critics since, is that if the weapons inspectors or sanctions had been given more time, we would have discovered an absence of weapons - and not gone to war - or would have found some other way to defuse the multifaceted threat posed by Saddam's regime. Kerry has also not attempted to pursue this argument, perhaps recognizing the foolishness of arguing that we could at some point have taken Saddam's word - or the word of the inspectors he was actively working to deceive - that he was cooperating with inspections (when there's been substantial evidence since the war that he was doing anything but), and perhaps simply recognizing that Kerry would look foolish if he renounced his own war vote. Instead, Kerry has admitted that, even knowing what he knows now, he would have voted the same way. In other words, for all his arguments that war was unnecessary, Kerry hasn't made any effort to convince the public that the reasons he cited for voting in favor of war would or could have been resolved short of war.
3. Should We Have Waited For More Allies? Instead, Kerry's main argument has been that (1) we went to war without sufficient support from our allies and (2) things would have gone better, and easier, for us if we had waited to get that support. Of course, given what we now know about weapons inspections - i.e., that inspectors were never going to unearth a "smoking gun" - it is entirely implausible to suggest that "more time" would have resulted in a larger coalition. What was going to happen to change the minds of the war's critics? If the 12-year history of the conflict shows anything, it's that prolonging confrontations inevitably leads to fissures in the coalition encircling Saddam. Delay would only have led more of the allies to walk away from war.
In short . . . Kerry's position on the war, at least as set forth in his convention speech and some of his other efforts to explain it, amounts to this: we needed more allies, we shouldn't have gone to war without them . . . but we weren't getting them. If that's not a veto in the hands of our "allies," specifically those (France, Germany, Russia and China) with seats on the UN Security Council or leading positions in NATO, what is? (Howard Dean on Bill Maher's show the other night was focusing this point on Iraq's neighbors, but let's not pretend that any more Arab states would have lined up to give public support to the war).
P.S. - Of course, all this is an analysis of Kerry's position on the war as of his speech to the Democratic Convention, not the Howard Dean imitation he's now peddling. Bill Kristol notes that Kerry's current position is one he previously saw as so irresponsible as to disqualify one from high office:
Not an unheard of point of view. Indeed, as President Bush pointed out today, it was Howard Dean's position during the primary season. On December 15, 2003, in a speech at the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles, Dean said that "the capture of Saddam Hussein has not made America safer." Dean also said, "The difficulties and tragedies we have faced in Iraq show the administration launched the war in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with inadequate planning, insufficient help, and at the extraordinary cost, so far, of $166 billion."
But who challenged Dean immediately? John Kerry. On December 16, at Drake University in Iowa, Kerry asserted that "those who doubted whether Iraq or the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein, and those who believe today that we are not safer with his capture, don't have the judgment to be president or the credibility to be elected president."
Kerry was right then.
September 06, 2004
POLITICS: "When am I gonna make it back to Haiti?"
In the pantheon of bad ideas: someone in the Kerry campaign deciding to call John McCain, one of the few Republicans who's had some nice things to say about Kerry, a liar. Powerline has the details and notes that cooler heads have (for now) prevailed.
If Bush's campaign did this to McCain, even for part of a day, the president would be hounded about it to his grave.
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11. Senator John McCain: “Our President will work with all nations willing to help us defeat this scourge that afflicts us all.”
12. Senator John McCain: “However just the cause, we should shed a tear for all that is lost when war claims its wages from us. But there is no avoiding this war. We tried that, and our reluctance cost us dearly. And while this war has many components, we can't make victory on the battlefield harder to achieve so that our diplomacy is easier to conduct.”
13. Senator John McCain: “After years of failed diplomacy and limited military pressure to restrain Saddam Hussein, President Bush made the difficult decision to liberate Iraq. Those who criticize that decision would have us believe that the choice was between a status quo that was well enough left alone and war. But there was no status quo to be left alone."
Don't hold your breath waiting for the Kerry camp to explain how any of these statements are "lies".
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POLITICS: Targeting the Swifties
Well, even if the 200 Swiftees are lying, what does it say about Kerry's character that 200 of his fellow officers and sailors would come out of the woodwork and lie, cheat, and steal to keep him out of the White House? . . .
Dole made a related point with his "they can't all be lying Republicans"; some of the public probably figures, where there's smoke, there's fire.
And I don't have an answer for that, BTW. But proving the Swiftees "wrong" is not really the point - the point is, the guys Edwards would said would vouch for Kerry loathe him.
Of course, the truth or falsity of the claims about Kerry's medals certainly matter, although the Swift Vets' second charge - that Kerry betrayed and libelled them by his 1971 Senate testimony and by his secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong while still an officer in the Navy Reserve - isn't subject to much in the way of factual disputes. And, as both Maguire and Captain Ed point out, there are still plenty of factual areas in which the Swifties or have either scored a hit or still have a ball in the air.
But Maguire's main point underscores why the Kerry camp has been so desperate to paint these guys as having been bought and paid for by the GOP - if the story is just "bitter ex-Vietnam colleagues smear Kerry," that's still bad for him. It's why Kerry can't just laugh it off and say, "well, it was a long time ago and people's memories always differ about things that happen in combat." It's why, in effect, Kerry can't let anyone believe that these 200+ Navy combat veterans are men of any honor at all, anything but cheap whores bought off for a pittance.
Which is not, to put it mildly, the posture you want as a candidate who's a putative champion of veterans. And certainly not if you're a candidate who said worse things yet about your military brethren all those years ago.
POLITICS: Not The Dream Team
You know, on watching the Democratic and GOP Conventions, a parallel occurred to me to explain why the Democrats, despite having a modestly well-received and tightly-disciplined convention, weren't nearly as successful as the Republicans. You see, putting together a good convention is sort of like assembling a good US Olympic basketball team.
The Democrats, like the US Olympians, started with a decent foundation: a two-time champion (Bill Clinton, Tim Duncan) and a guy with few accomplishments but much talent and potential (Barack Obama, LeBron James). But, like the US Olympic team with the likes of Stephon Marbury and Allen Iverson, the Democrats overloaded their dias with guys who were there more because they were big names and big egos than because they fit into a gameplan to win the fight they're engaged in. Thus, Al Gore. Thus, Jimmy Carter. Thus, Ted Kennedy. And, like the Olympians, they then sent these guys up there in circumstances (in the Dems' case, a stern warning against anger and full-throated Bush-bashing) in which they couldn't even play to their strengths.
The GOP had no such problem. Former presidents Bush and Ford and Bob Dole, the last three guys to lose a national election for the GOP? Love ya, guys, but no invite to the podium. Prominent congressional leaders like Hastert, DeLay, Frist, Santorum? All were deemed bad speakers (Hastert), too controversial (DeLay, Santorum) or both (Frist), and buried in the early evening or not asked to speak. Party maverick John McCain, liberal Republicans Giuliani and Schwarzenegger and Democratic defector Zell Miller? Asked to step up but limited to playing a role, setting up the president's message in the areas where they agreed with him. About the only "vanity" appearance that went over poorly was Bush's daughters.
The Democrats put on too many of their All-Stars without regard to how those guys would advance the ball with swing voters, yet kept them too muted (unlike Miller) to fire up the base. The GOP ensured that everyone at the Convention was there to set up the big man. That's a team - it's winning basketball, and it's winning politics too.
POLITICS: Kerry on the War Again
"I would not have done just one thing differently than the president on Iraq, I would have done everything differently than the president on Iraq," Kerry said.
He denied that he was "Monday morning quarterbacking." The Bush campaign said Kerry had "demonstrated nothing but indecision and vacillation" on Iraq."
"I said this from the beginning of the debate to the walk up to the war," Kerry told supporters. "I said, Mr. President don't rush to war, take the time to build a legitimate coalition and have a plan to win the peace."
He said Bush had failed on all three counts. He called the president's talk about a coalition fighting alongside about 125,000 U.S. troops "the phoniest thing I've ever heard."
"You've about 500 troops here, 500 troops there and it's American troops that are 90 percent of the combat casualties and it's American taxpayers that are paying 90 percent of the cost of the war," he said. "It's the wrong war, in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Update your scorecards accordingly.
UPDATE: The Bush campaign makes a point I had thought of and Googled but couldn't pin down a quote for: that Kerry's "wrong war, in the wrong place at the wrong time" line is verbatim from Howard Dean's stump speech (Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd have also used the same line). Yearrrrgggggh!
POLITICS: Ya Think?
POLITICS: Back Where We Started
57 days from Election Day, the dynamics of the race have not changed. Bush can still screw up (think of Ford in 76 freeing Poland in the debates), and external events can still do him in. But with a bit of a lead going (probably not the 11-point lead in the Time/Newsweek polls, but perhaps a real 3- to 5-point lead) I really don't think there's anything Kerry can do to change the dynamics. Kerry missed his chance at the convention to lay out a positive or coherent agenda, or clarify his position on the Iraq war; after the convention, it's nearly impossible to do another reinvention of the candidate. All Kerry has left is that he intends to attack Bush harder - but really, where can he go that he and Howard Dean and Michael Moore and MoveOn.org haven't covered already? That way lies only deeper into the fever swamps. Were I Kerry's advisers, I'd tell him to keep his dignity and hope the other guy screws up. But Kerry wants to believe he can still win this himself, and that will be his undoing; the harder he thrashes about, the more leeway he gives Bush in case Bush winds up needing it.
POLITICS: Beyond The Pale
The NY Daily News reports that an independent pro-Bush group, "MoveOnForAmerica[, ]led by GOP political consultant Stephen Marks", is preparing to run two controversial ads. The first targets the Democrats' embrace of Al Sharpton:
Fair enough - it's one thing for a party to put a Jesse Jackson or a Pat Robertson on stage, but giving Sharpton a prime-time slot and a nod in Kerry's acceptance speech . . . well, if the GOP did the same for David Duke, they'd deserve what they got. Of course, this is of dubious political wisdom, since the media will want to spin this as playing the race card (as opposed to the racist card) in ways they didn't when the NAACP ran those infamous ads against Bush in 2000. Which is bad; Bush has gone out of his way to avoid racial division, and is banking on Kerry having problems matching Al Gore's turnout of black voters in 2000.
The second ad is just bad:
Which might be a fair point, except the Horton-furlough case didn't happen while Kerry was Dukakis' Lieutenant Governor. Instead, the 'hook' is this:
When Reissfelder was captured three years later, he tried to grab a cop's gun. The ad says he tried to shoot a police officer and pleaded guilty to that, but didn't serve his 15-year sentence.
His sentence, however, had nothing to do with the case that Kerry worked on with his law partner, Roanne Sragow, who was the lead attorney.
Sragow had been assigned by a judge to look into Reissfeld's '67 murder conviction - which turned out to be wrongful.
The ad admits he was cleared but calls him a "would-be cop killer," and points out Kerry was Dukakis' lieutenant governor.
This is precisely the sort of thing that Judge Frank Easterbrook has rightly decried when the Democrats have done it in judicial confirmation hearings:
It is bad enough to assume that a scholar who writes an article opposing rent control would automatically think as a judge that rent control is unconstitutional--the subjects are unrelated--but terrible to assume that a lawyer who (say) represents persons accused of committing securities fraud would then favor securities fraud while on the bench. Nonsense. Ex-prosecutors on the bench acquit defendants; former defense lawyers appointed to the bench convict defendants; proponents of public support for religious instruction still apply the Establishment Clause after appointment; and so on. There is a nasty side effect of condemning the lawyer on the client's account: ambitious lawyers will shy away from representing controversial clients. And as almost any cause or client can be depicted as controversial from some perspective... Do we really want this?
It's true that some clients are so vile they don't deserve a distinguished attorney's best efforts; I could imagine people I would refuse to represent. But the fact is, we shouldn't punish Kerry for representing a criminal defendant - especially when the guy may have been innocent and especially when it was his partner's client. And, of course, invocation of Horton's name will blunt the effect of the first ad, which at least seeks to make a legitimate issue of someone the Democrats should have denounced a long time ago.
September 05, 2004
POLITICS: No Quarter
Ralph Peters, a former Army officer who's been a staunch supporter of Bush's strategic approach to the war on terror while fiercely criticizing Don Rumsfeld for what Peters views as an insufficient commitment to put "boots on the ground," tears into John Kerry's speech to the American Legion like there's no tomorrow. Some choice quotes:
Had he offered each vet a $5 bill and a shot of whisky for their support, his performance could not have been shabbier.
From one Vietnam vet:
On the insurgency in Iraq:
On Kerry's claim to have been fighting all along for veterans' benefits:
Read the whole thing.
September 04, 2004
POLITICS: Schundler at the RNC
Check out RedState's interview with Bret Schundler, the man who lost to Jim McGreevey in 2001 and may yet be in line to win the New Jersey Governorship.
POLITICS: Hang In There, Slick Willie
Best wishes, of course, on a full recovery to Bill Clinton, who'll be having heart bypass surgery early next week. In the immortal words of Mark Steyn, "if we members of the vast right-wing conspiracy don't get back to our daily routine of obsessive Clinton-bashing, then the terrorists will have won." And in all seriousness, Clinton is - by the standards of the 2002-04 Democratic Party - a voice of reason in foreign affairs.
POLITICS: Learning To Think Long-Term
The Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins, in the subscription-only Political Diary (a must this season, I would add) had an important point about how current methods of governmental accounting obscure the real costs of transitioning Social Security to a private accounts system:
Point Two: That's the kind of accounting peculiarity that, in the private sector, leads straight to the hoosegow. Thus the reported national debt is about $3 trillion, but the unfunded liabilities of Medicare and Social Security alone are $11 trillion.
No change in the real net fiscal position of the federal government would be required, just an exchange of invisible (to the uninformed public) debt for visible debt. Better yet, done right, the deal could be a fiscal win-win: Future retirees would have a bigger nest egg (plus ownership and control of how they spend it down, rather than the government dictating terms of their bet with the mortality tables). Meanwhile, the real indebtedness of the federal government would actually go down, not up.
When you tinker with some of the present-value issues - which are beyond my expertise, I can tell you - I suspect the transition from spend-as-you-go to spend-and-borrow-in-exchange-for-cutting-future-obligations is not quite as costless as Jenkins makes it sound, but his fundamental analysis does make an important point about the degree to which the media overstates by orders of magnitude the nature of the transition costs. To my mind, if the transition is something that gives us a better system and fewer long-term costs to taxpayers, then it's worth incurring some additional costs now to put the system on a better footing in the long run.
September 03, 2004
Does Bush pay Kerry for pictures like this?
POLITICS: Inside the RNC, Part III
Bush's speech, I thought, was solid; it lacked a single huge flourish that would bring the crowd to a frenzy (the way, say, Zell Miller did with his "spitballs" line), but it didn't need to be poetry; it needed to tell people what Bush intends to do in the next four years, particularly on domestic policy; and it did just that. Bush needed to get first downs, not throw the Hail Mary pass, so to speak. He said, "Tonight I will tell you where I stand, what I believe, and where I will lead this country in the next four years." And he delivered it.
*Bush seemed to shrug a bit too often during the speech - it's a mannerism of his, but he seemed to use it a lot.
*Bush did a good job, I thought, of drawing together a single coherent theme to his various proposed reforms:
The times in which we live and work are changing dramatically. The workers of our parents’ generation typically had one job, one skill, one career often with one company that provided health care and a pension. And most of those workers were men. Today, workers change jobs, even careers, many times during their lives, and in one of the most dramatic shifts our society has seen, two-thirds of all Moms also work outside the home.
*This one puzzled me:
Aren't these called Enterprise Zones? What's Jack Kemp doing these days, anyway?
*I credit Bush's attack on Kerry's desire to raise taxes and to raise spending, but Bush would have a bit more credibility on the latter if he hadn't overspent so much the past four years and if there weren't so many places in the speech where I was holding on to my wallet. Show me the spending cuts!
*There are a lot of damning Kerry quotes to choose from; Bush picked two particularly good ones by honing in on the pot shot at Reagan (eight years of “moral darkness,” ) and the more egergious pot shots at our allies (“coalition of the coerced and the bribed.”). Both embody Kerry's sneering contempt in a way that can't play well with independent or undecided voters.
*Like Cheney and - from what I could see on TV - unlike Kerry, Bush knew to stop for a drink of water during his liveliest applause lines.
*If you couldn't tell at home, a few of the times when the crowd started chanting "Four More Years" in the middle of something Bush was saying - particularly during the section where he was contrasting the nations that have turned to cooperation in the war on terror - were efforts to shout down the protestors who got in (one of whom held up one of those infantile "Bush Lied People Died' signs - if it didn't ryhme, who would listen?). It definitely did interrupt the flow of the speech, but anyone who thinks this sort of thing will help Kerry defeat Bush needs to get out of Manhattan more. It should hardly bear reminding that even the furthest right wackos never tried to interrupt Kerry's or one of Bill Clinton's convention speeches. Fools.
*I thought the end of the speech went on too long, and there may have been a better place for the jokes. But Bush does self-deprecating humor quite well; it's one of his biggest contrasts with Kerry, who had almost no humor in his speech and who seems to have little or no ability to poke fun at himself (quite the contrary). That's a bigger distinction than it seems. And it's a bad one for Kerry; even Al Gore knew how to mock himself.
*Kerry's response was so predictable it could have been pre-programmed - he accused Republicans of (yawn) attacking his patriotism (Rueters, of course, took this unquestioningly as true) and then (yawn, stretch, rub eyes) on to Vietnam:
Speaking of Iraq, I had no problem with Bush not doing more to explain the ins and outs of the decision to go to war. 'Splainin' is for the debates, when Kerry will have to face questions on the same issues.
UPDATE: Is it too much blog triumphalism to point out that, before bloggers started digging up stuff like this, the President of the United States would not have used a 1946 New York Times article in a speech to the nation?
POLITICS: Inside the RNC, Part II
I was back at the convention last night. Thoughts:
*Man, we are so gonna win this thing. I've been holding off on the optimism for much of the spring and summer, but the contrasts between Bush and Kerry, from their personalities to the professionalism and discipline of their campaign operations, is all saying "victory" at this point in the game. I think Kerry needs a major external event to turn around that dynamic.
*Across the street from Penn Station, which runs under Madison Square Garden, is Macy's; Macy's has a big video screen that runs ads. When I arrived for the convention around 7pm, the video screen was running the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad with Kerry's 1971 Senate testimony.
*It occurred to me that Zell Miller missed an opportunity in his riff on the Democrats' war dissent: besides Wendell Willkie, he might also have referred to Bill Clinton not challenging George H.W. Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq. The contrast would have been sharp, since Kerry opposed that war too and since it would have helped Zell underscore how a 1992 Clinton supporter became a 2004 Bush supporter. Then again, Clinton didn't quite support that war, either, so much as he ignored it because it was a dead issue by 1992.
*There are some things you can't do. You can't beat Democrats by promising to spend money. And you can't beat Republicans by wrapping yourself in the flag.
And yet, in a sense, it's almost beside the point for Bush to wrap himself in the flag. For a lot of Republicans, Bush is the flag - maybe not Old Glory, but at least the battle flag in the War on Terror. Bush has laid out a distinct and aggressive approach to fighting terror, most notably the doctrine of preemption, the "forward strategy of freedom" in the Muslim and Arab worlds, the "axis of evil," and the "Bush Doctrine" (you're with us or against us). Because of the root-and-branch nature of so much of his opponents' criticism of this approach, it has come to be identified worldwide with the person of Bush, and his defeat at the polls this fall would be identified everywhere with a rejection of these cornerstones of American foreign policy. Thus, if Bush goes down, it is very much the fall of the flag in battle - our enemies will exult, and our friends will worry about our commitment. Democrats may regard that as a harsh truth, but it's hard indeed to avoid it.
*The house was packed as it was not on Wednesday, and the delegations on the floor were far better organized in neat circular lines. I don't know if the folks at home could see the group - they had to be Texans - all sitting together with the red, white and blue matching outfits and white cowboy hats.
*The early speakers (former Texas railroad commissioner Michael Williams, Florida Senate candidate Mel Martinez) got more attention froim the crowd than last time, but they didn't have much new to say. During Martinez' speech I saw my first "Jeb '08" sign. It didn't look hand-made, either.
*Pataki's 9/11-heavy opening was cringe-inducing, but he warmed up as he slid into attacks on Kerry. He was wearing too much makeup, I think.
Then, the main event: the president's speech.
September 02, 2004
POLITICS: Inside the RNC
Through the efforts of a friend, I managed to get into the Republican convention last night, and will be returning tonight. A few thoughts on the evening:
*I only had to go through security twice to get in; although security was wall-to-wall and very observant and had closed off many of the numerous approaches to MSG and Penn Station, the actual run through the metal detectors didn't seem as intrusive as the usual routine at airports and courthouses.
*My convention pass got me access to the press area behind the scenes, which means going past booths/tents filled with people from all the recognizable major media outlets, from newspapers like the New York Daily News to opinion journals like the Weekly Standard. But I wanted to see Bloggers Row, and eventually I followed the signs for the media until I got to Radio Row, where numerous radio stations are set up and broadcasting side by side. The blogger contingent was set up at a long patch of table off to the side - a small area crammed with laptops, but well-situated and visible. I was surprised at how many people were dropping by to see the bloggers, some of whom were quite smooth at setting up interviews. I got to meet all sorts of bloggers I had been in contact with by email but never met, including Alan Nelson from the Command Post, "Captain" Ed Morrissey from Captain's Quarters, Kevin Aylward from Wizbang!, Matt Margolis from Blogs for Bush, and David Adesnik from Oxblog. Roger Simon was probably the most recognizable in his trademark fedora. I also spoke with Hugh Hewitt, who had just wrapped up his radio show with an interview with John Fund; Hewitt is set up right across the aisle from the bloggers and is most gracious in person.
*Michael Barone dropped by the bloggers' area; there's a skill level involved in being a really high-level pundit that's truly impressive. Barone was peppered with questions from all sides and poured forth high-level punditry pretty much continuously, and was still doing so in a crowd when he headed away, talking about everything from the effect of down-ticket races (he cited Adlai Stevenson's gubernatorial campaign as particularly crucial to Harry Truman's re-election in 1948, complete with references to the number of electors Illinois had in that year) to the effects of abortion on national politics (he thinks Giuliani is such a star that we may see the first pro-choice GOP nominee in 2008). Barone reminded me of nobody so much as legal scholar Richard Epstein, who I met at a Federalist Society conference in law school, and who had a similar gift for rapid-fire extemporaneous opinions on every topic that passed his way.
*After that, I moved into the arena. A convention is a political junkie's dream come to life; there were familiar faces from the media and politics just everywhere, and if I was more aggressive about these things I could easily have struck up a few interviews (on one of the entrances to the Garden I was on line behind Alan Keyes). From my perch in the arena I could see interviews going on with Jack Kemp and Newt Gingrich, and watched Barone (again) and Candy Crowley and Rudy working the floor.
*Someone with a sense of humor set up the Al Jazeera booth right next to Fox News.
*The first two speeches I saw were Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey introducing her boss, Mitt Romney. Romney got a very warm reception, but it wasn't 10pm yet, and the crowd clearly was not into the early speeches; Healey in particular seemed to be shouting enthusiastically into an empty room. Same-sex marriage? not popular with Republican delegates. Healey's biggest applause line was her reference to how Romney "stood up to an activist court" to protect "traditional values." She did also draw a little reaction by noting that John Kerry doesn't talk much about when he was Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor under Michael Dukakis. Romney's speech seemed just wasted; he told a moving anecdote about a U.S. Olympic athlete who carried the tattered World Trade Center flag at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, but nobody seemed to be paying attention.
*Then, John Kerry was given Zell. Zell Miller is not a guy you want coming after your candidate, as I remember well from 1992. I was surprised that Miller's speech (1) didn't do more to set out his Democratic bona fides (as he's done in op-eds for the Wall Street Journal) and (2) focused entirely on foreign policy. My wife, watching at home - after having seen Rudy and McCain Monday but skipped most of Tuesday - was worried that the convention has been too overwhelmingly focused on national security to the exclusion of domestic policy, although I suspect that that is partly to help set the stage for President Bush to set out his Big Idea agenda tonight (as Bush told Rush Limbaugh on Tuesday when asked about his domestic agenda, "I'm going to save some of it for the speech if you don't mind."). Miller's comparison of the Democrats of today to Wendell Willkie was rough stuff - the common Democratic complaint is that Bush has played politics with national security, but really, if the Dems had been as supportive of the Iraq war as they were in Afghanistan, the war on terror would be a much smaller issue. More on this another day, but it's precisely because of the political battles over foreign policy that this is such a predominant issue this year, to the point that convention delegates seemed bored during the domestic policy parts of Cheney's speech.
My wife worried that Miller came off as too harsh, and he was certainly rough: after he said, "nothing makes this Marine madder than someone calling American troops occupiers rather than liberators," I half expected him to add, "Senator, you messed with the wrong Marine!"
Miller had a field day with Kerry's opposition to various weapons systems, climaxing with "This is the man who wants to be the Commander in Chief of our U.S. Armed Forces? U.S. forces armed with what? Spitballs?" My wife said Miller was less prepared to deal with CNN interviewers later who pressed him with DNC talking points about how Dick Cheney as Defense Secretary had not pressed for some of those systems. That's poor preparation: this has been a Democratic talking point for months, and if you take the record seriously it's hard to put much stock in the notion that Kerry and Dick Cheney have similar records on defense spending and weapons systems. (This particular talking point is vintage Kerry; his campaign isn't willing or able to tell you what Kerry stands for, but is instead obsessed with trying to disprove anything that's said about his record).
This was also a good passage, tying together the long years of Kerry's vascillations on foreign policy and blunting his efforts to hide behind his Vietnam service:
As a Senator, he voted to weaken our military. And nothing shows that more sadly and more clearly than his vote this year to deny protective armor for our troops in harms way, far-away. George Bush understands that we need new strategies to meet new threats.
John Kerry wants to re-fight yesterday’s war. George Bush believes we have to fight today’s war and be ready for tomorrow’s challenges.
*Then, Lynne Cheney, who told us that her husband "entered public life as the Gentleman from Wyoming." I know it's too long ago to be worth explaining the relevance to today of Cheney's term as White House Chief of Staff under Gerald Ford, but is it too much to ask his own wife to remember that he held the job?
*As for the Vice President, he was low-key as always. I was actually sitting next to Cheney's speechwriters, which was amusing, since they knew exactly what was coming and were chattering about various passages in the speech as it went along. His speech started with the much-underappreciated fact that Cheney himself, despite his current image as the Mr. Moneybags guy from Monopoly, is from relatively humble origins: "my grandfather didn’t have a chance to go to high school. For many years he worked as a cook on the Union Pacific Railroad, and he and my grandmother lived in a railroad car."
Many of Cheney's lines were repeats of things he or Bush have said before, which was disappointing on one level, but a sign of both the consistency and the marketing savvy of the Bush team - they understand the importance of recycling key phrases to reinforce the public's image of what they stand for. (And, having done so, they don't blame those key phrases on "overzealous speechwriters").
Cheney told us that Libya's "uranium, centrifuges, and plans for nuclear weapons that were once hidden in Libya are locked up and stored away in Oak Ridge, Tennessee . . . " Gee, should he have just given us a street address? I sure hope they are well-guarded.
The foreign policy section of the speech bored heavily into Kerry, in classic Cheney fashion:
After Cheney cited Kerry's experience as a Senator and a soldier, I half expected him to say: "a man with John Kerry's experience should know better." I was specifically disappointed in two things: first, Cheney should drop that line mocking Kerry's reference to a "sensitive" war on terror, which really is taken out of context; far more damning, in my opinion, was his reference back in June to "the real war on terror in Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan" and his claim that the Bush Administration had "transferred it for reasons of its own to Iraq." That's a stark admission of Kerry's fundamental unwillingness to accept the centerpiece of the war on terror, which is the idea of an offensive strategy of changing the conditions and removing the forces that support and nurture terrorists throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds, as opposed to concentrating solely on taking down those specific nations and organizations that can be proven to have already attacked us.
Second, even beyond the weapons systems and the $87 billion, I really wanted to hear more on Kerry's plan to gut intelligence spending in the mid-90s. I could also have done with some of Kerry's quotes about the Reagan policies that made such a difference in the Cold War; it's one thing to cite votes, but Kerry's speeches took some very tough lines against nearly every major controversial initiative of the Reagan years, from Central America to missiles in Europe. Still, there's only so much time, and you do have to cut to the chase.
My wife was concerned that there seemed to be a lot of empty seats in the hall while Cheney was speaking, although that was news to me where I was sitting. I'm also not sure the TV caught the full impact of the rows of people doing the tomahawk-chop-style "flip-flop, flip-flop" wave. Which played in with this:
Aside from the laugh line, this is clearly a central point to Cheney: a guy who can't keep his message at least straight enough that his supporters could answer the question "would Kerry have gone to war in Iraq" is never going to project the certainty about American intentions and resolve that is itself an important element of stability in foreign affairs.
All in all, an entertaining night, and one with a lot of red meat for the crowd; the parade of moderates was most definitely interrupted, and the base was happy. The stage is now set for the next-to-last major movement (other than the debates) of this campaign - the president's address to the nation laying out his agenda for the second term.
POLITICS: A Revealing Moment From Josh Marshall
Reflecting on the latest shakeup in the Kerry campaign, Dr. Josh Marshall reveals more than he probably intended to in diagnosing the Democrats' counterproductive, morale-sapping tendency to panic and lose faith:
Many folks look back and say Al Gore ran a terrible campaign. Maybe. Maybe not. For me, I look back and see something different. I remember a campaign that was far too sensitive to the spin and CW of the moment and thus capable of being buffeted by the smallest political squall. This, rather than any particular tactic or strategy, has always struck me as its greatest failing.
The Bush 2000 campaign was wholly different. They had many reverses. But there was never any serious question that a Rove or a Hughes would get canned. And if there was, the campaign sent out a clear signal that it would never happen. On many levels they were more disciplined.
That difference made a big difference in consistency of strategy and morale among the troops.
Replace "campaign" with "nation at war" and you have a pretty good summary of why the current leadership of the Democratic Party can't be trusted with the car keys in dangerous times.
September 01, 2004
POLITICS: Like, Bogus
I caught only pieces of the three major addresses last night - Arnold, the Bush twins, and Laura Bush. The twins were pretty much the living embodiment of the phrase, "not ready for prime time." Instapundit rounds up the commentary, including an NRO reader describing them as "bad MTV VMA filler". If this is anything like what George W. was like at 22, it's actually rather frightening to think of him flying fighter jets.
BASEBALL/POLITICS: Leaning Right
Marty Noble of Newsday notes the political tilt of baseball players in general and the Mets in particular towards the Republican party:
"But I'd be surprised if it isn't 4 or 5 to 1 Republican in the game," Mets catcher Vance Wilson said last week. "Not everyone is involved or up to date on what's going on, but of the ones who are, I'm sure it's heavy Republican."
(Link via Baseball Primer). Of course, Noble can't resist this dig:
Would Noble say the same thing about the overwhelmingly Democratic tilt of, say, movie stars? I'm sure making big money and paying big taxes does have something to do with it, but professional athletes have always been a conservative lot, since long before they made a lot of money, and I suspect that's been doubly true in times (like the present) when the principal political issue was war and peace.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 06:47 AM | Baseball 2004 | Politics 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
August 31, 2004
POLITICS: Links 8/31/04
*Tim Blair notes that Kerry staffers have recently been admonished to be "more diligent about staying on top of the Senator's position." They'll need GPS for that one.
*QandO notices that John McCain has pointedly not denounced the Swift Boat Veterans' second ad, the one featuring Kerry's 1971 Senate testimony. Given the history there, this should not be surprising. Meanwhile, Wizbang reports that the Swifties are offering to drop their remaining ads if Kerry will meet certain conditions including an apology for his 1971 charges of war crimes.
*Jonathan Chait gets a convenient case of amnesia (subscription only):
McCain has even asserted that Kerry brought this on himself by emphasizing his record. "His critics are saying, 'Look, you made it fair game,'" McCain said. "I mean, that's very legitimate, and I think there's a risk that he took when he made it such a centerpiece. He may be paying a very heavy price." Uh huh. Four years ago, Bush made a big deal about his record as Texas governor. By that logic, then, it would have been "fair game" for critics to accuse him of using the governor's office for Michael Jackson-style sleepovers with little boys.
Leaving aside Chait's facile dismissal of the Swift Vets' charges, note how he assumes that all the attacks on Bush have been about such high-minded policy disputes as "accusing Bush of weakening environmental regulations." Apparently Chait has never heard of Michael Moore, or of the persistent and entirely unsubstantiated claim (made even by Kerry himself) that Bush was AWOL from his National Guard unit.
POLITICS: The "G" Word
Andrew Sullivan has often ripped President Bush for not using the word "gay" - I wonder if he saw Friday's USAToday interview (only an abstract is now available online, but the cached version is here for now), Bush addressed the same-sex marriage issue:
Bush said he has not discussed the amendment with Mary Cheney, but "of course I've heard from people that are my friends who are gay. ... I will encourage a debate in a way that doesn't divide people into camps and doesn't disparage anybody."
Not that this really makes a huge difference, but since Sullivan has marked this as an important yardstick in his estimation, it's worth noting.
POLITICS: McCain Pulls His Punches
Fine speeches last night by McCain and Giuliani, both of whom made some necessary points about the war on terror and the war in Iraq. The two speeches were a reminder that, no matter how else people may try to spin their presence at the podium, the two were there not because of their moderation on some issues but because of their star power, their obvious political talents, and most of all their unrelenting hawkishness on foreign policy. There's a reason McCain has a big speaking role at this convention and Chuck Hagel doesn't.
McCain's speech, however, was also an illustration of why he is unlikely to find success again as a presidential candidate. Once upon a time, John McCain was a brutally negative campaigner, promising an end to "the truth-twisting politics of Bill Clinton and Al Gore." Lately, though, McCain has seemed to take to heart his own crusade against negativity, alternating between cheerleading and chiding President Bush while staying mostly silent on the sins of the Democrats. McCain's prime-time slot covered the important stuff - the foreign policy stakes, the absence of sensible alternatives in Iraq, and a well-deserved potshot at Michael Moore - along with a clenched-teeth tribute to Bush's leadership. I particularly liked this one shot at the Al Gore far left: "I don’t doubt the sincerity of my Democratic friends. And they should not doubt ours." (Emphasis most definitely in original).
But a convention crowd wants more: an explanation of why John Kerry's competing vision (or lack thereof) should be found wanting. McCain mostly left that to Rudy. And if he seriously wants to be president, he will have to change that. Yes, it's true that Bush himself mostly avoids the big broadsides against Democrats, but he is willing to throw the occasional punch at his opponent. If McCain isn't willing to do the same anymore, maybe he doesn't want it badly enough.
August 25, 2004
POLITICS: McQ Reads The Reports
One of the lingering debates on the Swift Boat story is whether the incident in which John Kerry pulled James Rassman out of the water - and won the Bronze Star - occurred under enemy fire or not; the Swifties say that there was no fire and that several boats (the captains of which have lined up against Kerry on this point) were at the scene for some time fishing the crew of PCF 3 (Kerry's boat was PCF 94) out of the water after it hit a mine and was disabled.
McQ over at QandO explains why the NY Times has (unsurprisingly) misread the Navy documents on Kerry's website to mistakenly claim that several Viet Cong were killed during the incident; McQ contends that the documents actually show that they were killed on land by soldiers the swift boats had been carrying earlier in their mission.
UPDATE: Don't forget to follow McQ's links; this and this present sober, clear-headed assessments of the available evidence regarding the March 13, 1969 engagement, with more supporting links. Frankly, this is getting to be an interesting "whodunit"-type story, even apart from its (tenuous) relevance to the presidential race.
August 24, 2004
POLITICS: In The Tank
Watching Kerry on Jon Stewart - Stewart is totally in the tank for Kerry. Maybe that's not surprising; you don't expect tough questions on a comedy show. But Stewart makes it clear whose side he's on.
One interesting note: Kerry is starting to play the expectations game by noting that Bush has won every debate he's been in.
POLITICS: The F-102
While we're in the pre-convention lull - and I assure you, faithful readers, that by next week I'll be back on the issues as far as political coverage goes - it's worth remembering what a fraud many of the attacks on President Bush's National Guard service have been. The Donovan pointed recently to an essay on Aerospaceweb.org (with useful, and let's face it, really cool pictures) on the F-102, Bush's aircraft, and on his service record. A few key excerpts (but make sure to go there and read the whole thing) [UPDATE: Seems the essay is no longer publicly available]:
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By this time, the 147th Fighter Wing was also beginning to transition from the F-102 to the F-101F, an updated version of the F-101B used primarily for air defense patrols. Furthermore, the war in Vietnam was nearing its end and the US was withdrawing its forces from the theater. Air Force personnel returning to the US created a glut of active-duty pilots, and there were not enough aircraft available to accommodate all of the qualified USAF and ANG pilots. Since USAF personnel had priority for the billets available, many of the Air National Guard pilots whose enlistments were nearly complete requested early release. The ANG was eager to fulfill these requests because there was not enough time to retrain F-102 pilots to operate new aircraft before their enlistments were up anyway. Bush was one of those forced out by the transition, and he was honorably discharged as a first lieutenant in October 1973, eight months before his six-year enlistment was complete. Bush had approximately 600 flight hours by the time he completed his military service. In the fall of 1973, Bush began coursework at the Harvard Business School where he received an MBA in 1975.
Bush's service still doesn't compare to Kerry's, even if you buy the charges against Kerry's service. But neither is the contrast as stark as Kerry supporters would have you believe. Bush took on hazardous duty, served honorably for four years in which he was frequently occupied flying a complicated aircraft on homeland defense missions, and then left the Air National Guard early at a time when his services were no longer of any use.
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POLITICS: Kerry Crack-Up
CrushKerry.com - not an impartial source, obviously - claims that the decision to threaten legal action against the Swift Boaters came from Kerry himself against the better judgment of his advisors. Here's what's interesting about Kerry wanting to use the courts to squelch criticism: remember the FOX lawsuit against Al Franken, which was widely reported to have been instigated by Bill O'Reilly? Remember the hue and cry on the left at O'Reilly over this?
*Matt Yglesias: "If this sort of thing is going to be typical of rightwing tactical thinking in the near future, then Bush is definitely going down in 2004."
*Jack Balkin called it "A Fair and Balanced Attempt at Censorship" and added:
Now, it turns out that the Democrats' presidential candidate is the same sort of glass-jawed bully that O'Reilly is. Oh, the irony.
POLITICS: Don't Know Much About Cambodia
Captain Ed, who's been one of the blogosphere's All-Stars lately, notes a Washington Post article that puts the final nail in John Kerry's claims to have a "memory . . . seared -- seared -- in me" of making an illegal border crossing into Cambodia on a swift boat during his tour in Vietnam.
UPDATE: But one of Kerry's "Band of Brothers," Del Sandusky, is sticking by the Cambodia story.
POLITICS: Quick Links
But oops. Some two weeks earlier, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Kerry had taken a different position: "I think we can significantly change the deployment of troops, not just [in Iraq] but ... in the Korean peninsula, perhaps, in Europe, perhaps." As you might imagine, the Bush campaign quickly pointed out the inconsistency.
The stumble raises two basic questions about Kerry's campaign. First, is he a latter-day Ron Burgundy—the idiot 1970s anchorman of Will Ferrell's recent film who would read anything that appeared on his TelePrompTer? Did Kerry not remember what he had said to Stephanopoulos?
*This is unbelievable, and a good example of why Tad Devine is such a tool: blaming Bush for the Democrats' over-the-top rhetoric:
Link via Hanks.
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Kerry's lies — and they were nothing but lies — about "routine" atrocities committed by average American soldiers and sanctioned by the chain of command were sheer political opportunism. Kerry knew that none of the charges were true.
He'd been there. He may have done some stupid things himself, but atrocities were statistically very rare. Contrary to the myths cherished by film-makers, American troops behaved remarkably well under dreadful conditions.
John Kerry lied. Without remorse. To advance his budding political career. He tarnished the reputation of his comrades when the military was out of vogue.
Now, three decades later, camouflage is back in the fall fashion line-up. Suddenly, Kerry's proud of his service, portraying himself as a war hero.
But it doesn't work that way. You can't trash those who served in front of Congress and the American people, spend your senatorial career voting against our nation's security interests, then expect vets to love you when you abruptly change your tune.
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POLITICS: Candidate, Denounce Thyself
John Kerry is in a box. He's been calling on President Bush to denounce the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad, although Bush's more generalized blast at independent "527" groups yesterday makes it harder to press that point. But what are Kerry's possible arguments for dismissing the Swift Boat ads?
1. It's Ancient History. This is the easy and logical response to attacks on something a politician did 30+ years ago under factual circumstances that have grown hazy: dismiss it as old news. Heck, Bill Clinton routinely called for people to "move on" from things he'd done while he was President. Indeed, even the Vietnamese think that the Vietnam War should be a non-issue in this campaign. But Kerry torched that bridge a long time ago; a man who introduced himself to the general electorate in July and made his Vietnam service literally the first thing out of his mouth, surrounded by his "band of brothers," can't plausibly argue that what happened in Vietnam means nothing to his campaign.
2. Independent Ads Are Bad. Given the vast array of anti-Bush spending over the past year - including Michael Moore pushing his movie's video release up to October - Kerry can't well denounce 527 groups and other independent actors in principle.
3. It's Wrong To Attack A Man's Service Record. Here's the biggest problem: if Kerry wants to stand on principle as saying you shouldn't attack a man's service record, he has a three-pronged problem: (a) he himself is attacking over 200 of his own comrades who are involved in the Swift Boat campaign; (b) he has to deal with his own past history of making false charges of widespread atrocities against American troops in Vietnam; and (c) he has personally attacked Bush's service record with the Texas Air National Guard. From Kerry's own mouth:
Were Kerry to take the same stand he demands from Bush, he'd have to denounce himself and his own campaign. Oops.
4. Attack The Financing. This has been Kerry's main tactic: focus on the Republican financiers of these ads rather than the men in the ads. Of course, Charles Krauthammer had the best response to this:
Anyway, unlike Paula Jones - about whom the charge may have had some credibility - people can't seriously believe that the 200+ Swift Boat Veterans, each one a man who served his country in wartime, have been bought off; they may or may not be the most credible individuals, but most of them seem to be gainfully employed, and some quite successful.
5. They're Lying. Of course, this is the bottom line, but it's a place Kerry doesn't want to go, because it means engaging the Swift vets on their terms: disputing whether the accusations are true. But it's all he has left, and now - with the campaign focusing on Kerry's anti-war activities, about which the only dispute is how clear it should have been to Kerry that his charges were untrue - even that is not a defense.
August 22, 2004
POLITICS: Matthews v. Thurlow
I gotta say, on reading this transcript, Larry Thurlow - one of the Swift Boat vets - doesn't sound very credible to me, although it's hard to tell with Chris Matthews browbeating the guy.
UPDATE: The bottom line: even leaving aside the issue of the relevance of microanalysis of Kerry's war record to the campaign - I continue to think that Kerry's actual record is of little relevance, although if he's been lying about his record all these years that is something, whereas I also continue to think that Kerry's early-70s anti-war activities when he was preparing a run for Congress are much more relevant - it seems over-the-top for the Swift Boaters to be attacking every one of Kerry's medals. The attack on Kerry's Bronze Star (the rescue of Jim Rassman), of which Thurlow is a part, is especially central to this controversy; while the attack on Kerry's Silver Star seems mostly to involve a difference of opinion, there's a direct factual contradiction between Kerry and the other swift boat captains over (1) how many boats were present when Kerry pulled Rassman out of the water and (2) whether there was enemy fire at the time. Rassman seems like a sincere and truthful witness in support of Kerry on this point, but his vantage point may not have been that great - by his own testimony, he was under water for most of the incident and (correct me if I'm misreading this) may not have been able to tell the difference between enemy fire and fire from the swift boats at the shore - and John O'Neill has cited physical evidence supporting the Swift Vets' version of the event.
At the end of the day, it may be that some of the Swift Boaters are not being honest or don't remember things real well, although (1) that doesn't necessarily call into question the whole enterprise, since we've seen examples already of Kerry, to put it charitably, having inaccurate recollections of those events, and (2) I don't for a second think these guys have been bought off or that they are all partisan Republicans; it's much more likely that their primary motivation is bitterness at Kerry's anti-war speeches.
POLITICS: Bob Dole Goes Postal
Bob Dole became the first major Republican to directly attack John Kerry's war record on Wolf Blitzer's show today, lighting into Kerry with startling ferocity:
DOLE: I think this can hurt Kerry more than all the medal controversy. I mean, one day he's saying that we were shooting civilians, cutting off their ears, cutting off their heads, throwing away his medals or his ribbons. The next day he's standing there, "I want to be president because I'm a Vietnam veteran."
And I think he's -- I said months ago, "John, don't go too far." And I think he's got himself into this wicket now where he can't extricate himself because not every one of these people can be Republican liars. There's got to be some truth to the charges. But this is on tape. This is on television. This is before the Senate committee.
BLITZER: Just to remind our viewers, this is when he came back from Vietnam. He testified in 1971...
DOLE: Ran for Congress.
BLITZER: Right. And he was quoting a whole bunch of other Vietnam veterans who opposed the war and making these allegations of atrocities, if you will, war crimes committed by U.S. troops. And a lot of people have always suggested that what's really angered these Vietnam veterans, the other side, is, not so much what he did or didn't do when he served in Vietnam, but what he did when he came back.
DOLE: I think that's true. And I think this ad's going to take -- it's going to be tough on Kerry because -- and he says, "Well, this is all hearsay," what he picked up from other veterans. But he said it. He said it before a Senate committee. It had worldwide attention.
BLITZER: The fact that he said on Tim Russert's "Meet the Press" a few months ago he probably went too far. He was a young man just back from Vietnam, and he probably shouldn't have said some of those things during those statements when he came home from Vietnam. Does that ease the responsibility that he has?
DOLE: Maybe he should apologize to all the other 2.5 million veterans who served. He wasn't the only one in Vietnam. And here's, you know, a good guy, good friend. I respect his record. But three Purple Hearts and never bled that I know of. I mean, they're all superficial wounds. Three Purple Hearts and you're out. I think Senator Kerry needs to talk about his Senate record, which is pretty thin. That's probably why he's talking about his war record, which is pretty confused.
BLITZER: You know, the American public seems to be paying attention to these Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads. There's a CBS poll that came out. I think this is the right poll. Here it is. Presidential choice among veterans, 37 percent support Kerry-Edwards, 55 percent Bush-Cheney. But after the convention it was at 46 percent. He seems to be losing support among veterans, which is an influential bloc of voters out there.
DOLE: You know, I think it's too early to tell what -- nobody maybe in six -- how many days left? Not many. There are eight weeks. Maybe this will be forgotten. Maybe there will be something else. But I think this has certainly damaged Senator Kerry. And I think it's partly his own doing. He can't lay out -- I remember in '96, I was the veteran in the race. Bill Clinton avoided the draft. And we didn't have all this trouble over my service versus his non-service. There wasn't much written about it. People accepted the fact that I had a record. Now there's all the talk about Bush's National Guard service. Has he told the truth? Has he released the records? And one way, I think, for John Kerry, who I consider to be a friend, is to maybe apologize to all these people for something he may have said at a very early age, and let us have those records he's given to the author...
BLITZER: Douglas Brinkley.
DOLE: Douglas Brinkley, the records and the journals...
BLITZER: Who wrote a book about his experience.
DOLE: Yes. But somebody ought to find out the facts. I think this is going to be -- could be the sleeper issue.
So it seems to me they've initiated it, and now they've got into some rather murky area. But I don't -- I wish they'd forget it. It's not about whether or not you're...
BLITZER: And speaking about people getting shot up in Vietnam, the Democrats, at least some Democrats, are now going after the president and the vice president for avoiding service in Vietnam. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, Democrat...
DOLE: He's not a very good one to complain because he was hiding out in Japan, claiming he was a Vietnam veteran.
(via SpinSwimming). Some of this smacks of bitterness, of course, but Dole is plainly disgusted with Kerry's overuse of his Vietnam record, and it's not hard to see why the stress on the three Purple Hearts are particularly galling to Dole, given Kerry's obvious robust health compared to the severity of Dole's wounds. You can also hear the former infantry officer in Dole when he's asked about John McCain's comments and he remarks, "Yes, but, John wasn't there. He was up in the air."
I await the usual suspects calling Dole a "chickenhawk" because he didn't serve in Vietnam. At any rate, we're getting another object lesson in the ugliness of campaigns based on my-war-record-can-beat-up-your-war-record.
UPDATE: Captain Ed suggests that Dole may have been provoked into this outburst by a Boston Globe editorial that denigrated one of Dole's own Purple Hearts. Idiots.
POLITICS: Moving To Close Quarters
Instapundit (just keep scrollin') and the Minute Man have moved in for the kill on the Swift Boat story. Blood in the water! This is getting nasty, and of course it's all feuled by the fact that there's a bunch of veterans out there who have been nursing a very well-deserved grudge against Kerry for 33 years now. This, from the Swift vets' ad (watch it yourself), is just devastating - following an explanation of how the North Vietnamese often tried to get POWs to falsely confess to war crimes:
Welcome to 21st century political campaigns.
August 21, 2004
POLITICS/POP CULTURE: Governor Piscopo
Joe Piscopo says he may abandon his lucrative career as . . . uh . . . well, anyway, he may run for governor of New Jersey as a Democrat.
Piscopo, of course, stopped being funny when he started lifting weights, which makes him the prime example of what I might term Picsopo's Laws of Thermodynamics for Comedians:
*The talent of a small-to-average-size comedian decreases in direct proportion to the increase in the mass of the comedian.
*The talent of an average-size-to-large comedian decreases in direct proportion to the decrease in the mass of the comedian.
Not sure why exactly this is. Partly it's because fat comedians who make jokes about being fat and sloppy get less funny when they get in shape, skinny comedians who do a lot of pratfalls and physical comedy lose some of that if they get fat (think: Dan Aykroyd), and comedians generally get less funny if they start working out and taking themselves seriously. Which is another way of saying that growing up is bad for comics.
POLITICS: Not The Last To Be Tortured With Kerry's Speeches