Nah, Just The Fox, Ma’am

Walter Olson notes an anti-tort-reform ad that several networks refused to run – and how its backers touted this fact:

It’s a time-honored publicity technique: prepare an ad likely to be rejected by media outlets, and when they turn you down, complain to the press that you’re being denied a fair hearing. . .
[T]he ad campaign does something sneaky and misleading. It entirely omits mentioning the three older networks, instead leaving readers with the impression that Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News management is the primary obstacle keeping viewers from seeing the ad on air. In fact in a mere 38 words the ad manages to pack in four references to Fox News, three by name and one to the network’s motto (“We report. You decide.”).
Maybe the small space of the blog ad just couldn’t accommodate the extra few characters needed to replace “the ad FOX won’t run” with “the ad the broadcast networks won’t run”. Or maybe the devisers of the ad knew that their cause wouldn’t seem as sympathetic if readers knew that CBS, ABC and NBC agreed with Fox in ruling the spot off bounds. Or maybe they knew a certain portion of readers who instinctively assume the worst of Fox would be more likely to click on the ad at the tingly thought of catching Rupert’s minions misbehaving.

Unhealthy Fixation

Tuesday’s fun with the “chicken hawk” argument was, at first blush, about yet another of the stupid arguments you encounter (from Left and from Right) in political debates, an ad hominem that feels good to toss around but makes no logical sense. But this argument is much more than that: it’s political hemlock that the Left/liberals/Democrats can’t seem to stop imbibing, with catastrophic consequences in the 2004 election. You would hope that they’ve learned something from that. Let me count the ways:
1. The Wesley Clark Boomlet: One of the problems the Democrats faced, once Howard Dean flamed out, was the absence of meaningful alternatives to John Kerry that anti-Kerry voters could rally around. One reason for that was the time wasted in the fall of 2003 fawning over Wesley Clark, whose only qualification for running was his military experience. The willingness of Democratic pundits, bloggers and (for a time) voters to swoon over Clark’s military pedigree was a bad early sign of their confusion of military experience with good ideas on foreign policy. Significantly, some of the biggest Clark boosters in the blogosphere, like Kevin Drum and Mark Kleiman, were the same people who went ga-ga over the “AWOL Bush” story. Coincidence? I think not. They convinced themselves that you could defeat Bush in a foreign policy debate by comparing Clark’s distinguished service record to Bush’s.
2. The Rise of Michael Moore: Moore had been on the political scene for some time, with his books and movies. But you may recall that his first direct insertion into the campaign came in January 2004 when he endorsed (who else) Wesley Clark and, in the process of his endorsement, called President Bush a “deserter.” In retrospect, that was the best opportunity then and there for somebody to smack down Moore and keep the debate focused on things that happened less than 30 years ago. Nobody did; to the contrary, Moore kick-started a blog and media frenzy over the previously dormant AWOL story, setting off, among other things, comments from DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe on the subject. This created a monster, as Moore quickly learned that he could say whatever he wanted and still be embraced by the party’s leadership.
3. The Kerry Nomination: Of course, the biggest debacle of all was the decision to nominate John Kerry. I believe, and I doubt too many people would disagree with me on this one, that Kerry would never have won the nomination had it not been for the widespread perception that he could take advantage of the distinction between his own combat record and Bush’s military service record. That calculation wound up overcoming a wealth of reasons, well known to many Democrats, why Kerry could be a terrible candidate.
Now, Kerry did have a decent resume at first glance (two decades in the Senate) and did have his strengths as a candidate, notably his startling aggressiveness as a debater. And he didn’t get blown out in November. But he did lose a lot of ground Al Gore had held, and as more than a few people pointed out during the primaries as well as later on, he was a sort of Frankenstein’s monster of bad candidate traits: in a Senate divided between work horses and show horses, Kerry is a show horse who doesn’t show well, a faux populist who’s bad with people, an orator who gives deadly dull speeches, a guy who’s all image and no substance . . . and his image is as a guy who’s dull, condescending, mean, arrogant, and insincere. A glass-jawed bully who picks fights and boasts “bring it on,” yet whines when attacked back. He’s basically spent thirty years living off youthful exploits that he himself denounced, hiding behind medals he pretended to throw away. And, of course, there was his famous inability to take a clear position and stick to it.
All of this was well known to Democrats. But they overlooked it all in their obsession with proving that Bush was a chicken hawk and Kerry a noble war hero.
4. The Convention: You know the story: the Democratic Convention produced almost no bounce in the polls, and turned out to be a missed opportunity to lay out a coherent message. Why? Does the phrase “reporting for duty” ring a bell? Yet another blind alley, as the Democrats stressed over and over the contrast in Kerry’s and Bush’s service records at the expense of talking about a winning strategy in the war on terror or even laying out a stronger and more detailed critique of Bush’s.
5. The Swift Boat Vets: We knew all along that Kerry would take some heat from Vietnam veterans over his conduct after the war. But nobody had really expected Kerry to suffer such damage from attacks on his service itself. There’s no question that those attacks were motivated and given more visibility by the extent to which Kerry sought to play the “I served and you didn’t” card.
6. Rathergate: The final way Bush’s critics went astray over their obsession with hunting chicken hawks was the fiasco of the 60 Minutes hack job on Bush’s National Guard service. Once again, the zeal of Bush critics who had pursued this story for five years overbore their judgment about the credibility of their sources, and led to a humiliating reversal that symbolized, for many voters, the media’s mania to get Bush by any means necessary. Worse for the Democrats, the report coincided to a high degree of coordination with attack ads rolled out by McAuliffe. (And I’m leaving out here the roles of Tom Harkin and Max Cleland)
Could Bush have been beaten in 2004? It’s a debate that can rage on through political history, but those of us who lived through it, on either side of the fence, certainly thought it was at least possible, and at any rate a stronger race against him might have salvaged some of the down-ticket disasters for the Dems.
Most of us who supported Bush recognized that Kerry’s service record compared to Bush’s was a positive for Kerry. If the Democrats had left it at that, it would have helped them. But at every turn, the obsession of Bush’s critics with the “chicken hawk” argument – the idea that Bush’s lack of combat service wasn’t just one factor but a disabling fatal flaw for a wartime president – overbore their better judgment about sticking to the issues and the record, and wound up turning a positive into a series of disasters. Will they ever learn? Stay tuned.

Finance 101 – You Fail!

Matt Yglesias demonstrates what he doesn’t understand about finance:

A lot of people, including George W. Bush himself, seem unduly impressed by the fact that the trust fund does not consist of a “a pile of money being accumulated somewhere.” . . . Here in the United States . . . nobody accumulates literal piles of money. Instead they buy stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments. The Social Security Trust Fund is, like most of Bush’s money, invested in bonds issued by the U.S. government.
It seems to have become fashionable in the precincts of the contemporary right to start noting that these are “just IOUs,” which is to say a promise that the money will be paid. The fact that all bonds are just IOUs, however, highlights the importance of making good on them. . . Our ability to borrow money at a reasonable price . . . is dependent on the perception by investors and foreign governments that Congress won’t do this, even though it could.
Changing the law so as to no longer honor the commitment made by Ronald Reagan and the congressional leadership in 1983 would be a dangerous indication that today’s president and Congress don’t take such commitments seriously. That would be a poor signal to send at the exact same time the president asks the central banks of China and Japan to loan him a few trillion more dollars to cover the costs of the transition. After all, if bonds are “just IOUs,” who’s going to pay perfectly good yen for them?

(Emphasis added). Look, there are perfectly good arguments to be made about Social Security, but this ain’t one of them. Let’s say you can invest in two companies. Both are identical except that, for a third of their assets, they hold a portfolio of corporate bonds. Company A holds corporate bonds issued by, say, General Motors. Company B holds corporate bonds issued by . . . Company B. Wouldn’t you be just a bit skeptical about the value of Company B’s investment? Don’t you think Company B would get into some trouble with its investors if it just said “a third of our assets are invested in corporate bonds” and didn’t bother to disclose that they were buying their own bonds? There is a very big difference between buying bonds issued by somebody else and buying bonds you issued yourself.
Now, all of us make mistakes, and I’m certainly no expert on all the economic issues here – there’s a reason I haven’t delved too deeply into the Social Security debate – but if Yglesias can’t grasp that simple distinction, he really should not be writing about this issue.
MORE: He’s at it again here. Yglesias’ point is that foreign holders of Treasury bonds will panic and fear a default by the U.S. if we don’t repay the Social Security Trust Fund’s theoretical holdings of Treasuries. But that’s nonsense, and anybody who believes that wouldn’t last a day as a bond trader, because the anticipated dramatic narrowing of risk-premium spreads between other bonds and Treasuries just wouldn’t materialize. Holders of Treasuries know full well that nothing done to rearrange the U.S. government’s internal accounting for what it “owes” itself (they’re really IOMEs, not IOUs) will make it more likely that we would decide to default on bonds held by a non-federal-government holder, any more than the bank that holds my mortgage cares whether I keep a New Year’s Resolution to put more of my money into my 401(k). You can argue over whether Bush’s plan would improve or harm the federal government’s overall long-term fiscal outlook (we’ll leave that one for another day), but there’s nothing here that remotely suggests the likelihood of a general default on Treasury bonds.

Dayton Bails Out

Mark Dayton (D-MN) won’t run again for the Senate, giving the GOP a major opportunity to pick up a Senate seat. Rod Grams, who held the seat for one term before losing a close race to Dayton in 2000, is said to be in the running to seek the GOP nomination. (via regular commenter Large Bill). Dayton is one of three Senators whose seats are up for election in 2006 who were elected with less than 50% of the vote; the others are fellow Democrats Maria Cantwell of Washington and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan (yes, this reminds me I’m overdue to do my early roundup on the 2006 races).
UPDATE: Minnesota conservatives John Hinderaker and Ed Morrissey, unsurprisingly, have more.
SECOND UPDATE: The Dayton v. Kennedy blog will need a new URL.


Gerry Daly on Kevin Drum and the Democrats and their approach to Social Security:

I have a simple question for Mr. Drum. The last time I checked, Democrats can still introduce legislation. They may not have the votes, but they can introduce their own plans. If they are unified and can peel off some Republicans such as Lincoln Chaffee, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins, they might even be able to pass something. And if it does not pass, they will be able to point to their plans during the next election cycle. Why are they not doing so?
Let me answer my own question with a guess. The reason is because Democrat politicians believe that their preferred alternatives would be political poison. Keep the death tax and roll back the Bush tax cuts? Sounds like a plan for cementing the view of the Democrats want to raise taxes. How about private Social Security accounts as an add-on? Most people have something already (401-k plans, IRAs)- and it would send a disasterous (for Democrats) message: private accounts are good, and those who can afford it can have them, but those who are barely getting by, you are out of luck . . .
The main obstacle to Democrats’ alternatives to Bush’s reform proposal is not Republican objection, but rather fear of voters. Especially on the matter of raising taxes; voters just went to the polls after the Democrats ran against Bush’s tax cuts, and Democrats lost.
So the Democrats are reduced to making incoherent arguments:

It’s George Bush who’s insisting on a private account plan that even his own people admit won’t do anything to shore up Social Security’s finances. It’s George Bush who’s insisting that the only cures he’ll consider are ones that include huge – but quiet – benefit cuts…
The facts: Social Security has modest problems that are many decades out. They could be easily solved with small benefit cuts combined with small tax increases.

If “small benefit cuts” are part of, in Mr. Drum’s analysis, an ‘easy’ solution, then how can it be that Bush’s plan “won’t do anything to shore up Social Security’s finances” when it includes “huge – but quiet – benefit cuts”? If benefit cuts are part of a solution to shore up Social Security’s finances, wouldn’t a plan that includes benefit cuts at least be doing something towards that end, directly contradicting the “won’t do anything” claim? And if private accounts “won’t do anything to shore up Social Security’s finances”, then why would Democrats be “happy to support add-on private accounts”? Do the Democrats often support things that don’t do anything (or at least, that they think won’t do anything)? Or do the Democrats think that private accounts have some positive, desirable benefit? What might that benefit be, and could it be part of the reason they are in Bush’s plan?


The Democrats could negotiate with the American people. They could do so by offerring their own detailed plan. If Republicans blocked it, then Democrats could use that during campaigns. What the problem for the Democrats really is, is that their solutions are distasteful to Americans. As such, the Democrats are pretty much stuck with a strategy of trying to claim there is no big problem (contrary to things that party leaders like Bill Clinton had been saying for the last decade) and trying to make sure that people do not understand the President’s plan and how the two parts of it (the indexing change and the private accounts) fit together.
. . . Reid was arguing that he did not object to having some portion of Social Security money invested in the private sector, but that he did object to letting individuals do it:

REID: Well, but, see, that’s easy, Tony, to throw those words out. My father, probably as smart as any of the three of us, but he had no education. My father never graduated from the 8th grade. And to think he can invest his own money, he couldn’t do that.

This highlights one of the main reasons that Democrats will not offer “Bill Clinton’s proposal for the government to invest part of the Social Security trust fund in the stock market” (Drum’s description). The argument for that as opposed to Bush’s personal accounts boils down to who do voters trust with their money- themselves, or government? The Democrats, or at least Reid, take the position that government is to be better trusted than individuals. The Republicans position is the opposite. This difference in political philosophy has been a theme of the past few elections, and the Democrats have not liked how those have turned out.
And on a side note to my side note, I cannot help but wonder about something. If Senator Reid, from Nevada, thinks that the President’s proposal for individual private accounts amounts to “gambling”, and that this is bad because there are those who have lesser education who couldn’t make good choices, then why is he not trying to get gambling either outlawed in Nevada, or at a minimum pushing for some sort of means testing whereby those who cannot afford to gamble or are less bright than most are prevented from doing so?

(Emphasis mine; read the whole thing). Meanwhile, as if to cement the negative perceptions of Democrats on this issue, Dales points out that the governor of New Jersey is planning to tax 401(k) contributions.

The Simpleton

The Minute Man continues his dissection of Paul Krugman’s broadsides against Social Security reform, and argues that Krugman gets three points wrong in the macroeconomic case against private accounts helping to close the funding gap. As I understand Maguire’s argument, on #1, Krugman contends that it “is mathematically impossible” to have growth in returns on stocks in the neighborhood of 6.5-7% without very high levels of growth in the economy as a whole, higher than any reasonable current estimate. Maguire contends that it is possible, and that this can occur if corporations hold down wage growth and thus pass on to investors much or all of the benefits of economic growth. (You would think that liberal/Democratic pundits, of all people, would grasp this zero-sum-game workers vs. capital dynamic as at least a possibility.) As Maguire has noted before, this scenario becomes more plausible when you consider the possibility of capital invested in low-wage foreign markets.
If Maguire is right, not only is this a possible outcome, but it is one in which it becomes uniquely desirable for laborers to become capitalists to offset their vulnerability to stagnant wages. Which explains why #3 is wrong too: since private accounts are an investment in the international stock and bond markets while the current pay-as-you-go means (on a macro level) an investment in domestic payrolls, any scenario in which (a) wages don’t keep up with profits or (b) jobs go offshore is likely to throw off the 1:1 relationship of returns on capital:payrolls, and thus defeat Krugman’s tidy syllogism.
#2, I’m not sure I understood, however. I think Krugman is saying that corporate profits (before, or after payment of interest to bondholders?) determine the return on capital to the corporation’s owners. I get that Maguire says this is not necessarily so, but I’m not sure I followed why.
Anyway, go check the comments, where Don Luskin actually says he thinks Krugman is sort of right on these points (but wrong overall, by Luskin’s projections).

Chairman How

From where I sit, I think the problem for the Democrats with Howard Dean as DNC Chair isn’t organization or ideology; the problem, which Jonathan Chait just nails, is the gaffes:

The DNC chairman has two main jobs. First, he transmits the party’s message – an important role when the party lacks a president and majority leaders in Congress. This job requires one to master the dismal art of “message discipline,” boiling down the party’s ideas into a few simple phrases and repeating them over and over until they have sunk into the public consciousness.
It’s a role for which Dean is particularly ill suited. During his campaign, remember, he fashioned himself a straight talker, delighting reporters by repeatedly wandering “off message.” On the plus side, he won friends in the media by appearing honest and human. On the negative side, he did himself enormous damage, when, for example, he suggested that he wouldn’t prejudge Osama bin Laden until he had been convicted in a court of law.
For presidential candidates, the negatives of “straight talk” usually outweigh the positives. Paul Maslin, Dean’s former pollster, wrote in the Atlantic Monthly after the campaign fell apart: “Our candidate’s erratic judgment, loose tongue, and overall stubbornness wore our spirits down.” But at least for a presidential campaign there are some positives in going off message. In a job like party chairman, a loose cannon is nothing but downside.

Read the whole thing (via Will Collier). The history of the decline of the Dean campaign is the story of Dean’s gaffes – the three worst of which, at least while he was still running, were (in debatable order) (1) the bin Laden line Chait notes, (2) his grudging response to the capture of Saddam, and (3) perhaps the most damaging of all – in ways the mainstream media never quite understood but that Iowa voters, even Iowa Democrats, got: the “George Bush is not my neighbor” crack. A lot of Christians have trouble living up to that Biblical injunction, but no real Christian would make that statement, nor would any polite Midwesterner. (I’m not even getting into when he sorta-kinda endorsed the Cynthia McKinney theory that Bush knew in advance about the 9/11 attacks) What Dean gives Republicans is the ability to dominate a news cycle with some similarly foolhardy quip and tattoo it on every Democrat in the land.

Quick Links 2/8/05

*Was Rehnquist “Deep Throat”? Hey, who in the Nixon White House hasn’t been the subject of that speculation? I suppose it’s more plausible that it would be Rehnquist than Pat Buchanan, and it would explain why the source’s identity could never be revealed.
*Eugene Volokh defends Clarence Thomas from yet more false charges.
*The old saw about a liberal being a man too broad-minded to take his own side in an argument doesn’t even begin to capture the madness of the Dutch banning their own flag in Dutch schools “because this would provoke students of other nationalities”. (I’d give 10-to-1 odds on this report showing up in a Mark Steyn column in the next two weeks)
*I’ve always hated columns like this one, ripping Michael Jordan for being circumspect with his image and opinions. It’s not like we haven’t seen plenty of glimpses of the realm MJ, from tearful or fist-pumping victory celebrations to the decidedly uncommercial decision to become an outfielder in AA ball at the peak of his career following the murder of his father. But Charles Pierce gives away his real gripe:

Had Jordan been as willing to be as reckless with his influence on the stump as he was with his money at the blackjack table, poor Harvey Gantt might now be in his third term as senator from North Carolina.

(Actually, Jordan was a big backer in this election of Barack Obama, giving him money early in the primaries). So, MJ hasn’t played ball for the Democrats, and that makes him some sort of phony? Get real.
*These two Margaret Carlson columns, on why criticism of Barbara Boxer is sexist while criticism of Condoleazza Rice isn’t, and in praise of Hillary, pretty well capture why I look forward to a possible Hillary-for-president campaign with such loathing: we will hear over and over and over from Carlson and Anna Quindlen and their ilk that any criticism of Hillary is criticism of all women (this is not true of criticism of Republican women, who after all are Republicans). Of course, you don’t have to be a He-Man Woman-Hater to think Boxer is as shrill and as far out of her gourd as Howard Dean and Ted Kennedy.
*Speaking of Ted,Noemie Emery nails him:

“Defeat is an orphan,” Ted’s big brother the president once famously said, but this fails to apply when Ted is in the neighborhood. He preemptively embraced failure in Iraq, declaring defeat three days before the election, just in time to demoralize American troops and Iraqi voters (and calling to mind another JFK comment, that his youngest brother was not “terribly quick”). But it wasn’t the first time Ted had stumbled over his feet in his rush to proclaim a defeat for the United States. In 1990, he wanted to leave Kuwait and its oil fields in Saddam’s possession, proclaiming a war would kill 50,000 Americans and become a new Vietnam. But things lately have been confusing for Teddy, what with George W. Bush morphing into JFK, while he himself turns into something rather more like his father, famous in 1940 for saying democracy was finished in England and attempts to save it would lead us into a quagmire–call it FDR’s Vietnam.

(via Powerline).
*Powerline rips Bill Moyers for spreading lies (what else is new?). (Via Instapundit) The critical point the Powerline guys keep making is not just the things that big media liberals get caught doing, but the fact that until recently, there were fewer ways to expose them, which makes you wonder how many things like this they’ve gotten away with. (On the other hand, James Watt and Zell Miller aren’t exactly illiterate migrant workers; I assume a letter to the editor from one of them would get printed).
*Ballot box fraud – Wisconsin Edition
*We can all stop pretending now:

Preceding its Women Who Make a Difference Awards Dinner on March 1, the National Council for Research on Women is featuring “a conversation with Teresa Heinz,” . . .
“Teresa Heinz will speak to her commitment to women’s economic security, including Social Security and retirement,” writes the council, not bothering to mention her married name in several references.
“I just checked, and she no longer uses her [entire] last name; only during the [presidential] campaign did she use Kerry,” the council’s Tamara Rodriguez Reichberg told Inside the Beltway upon our inquiry.

*Snopes has the now-infamous Volkswagen Polo “suicide bomber” video here.

On Not Being Indifferent Between Law and Anarchy

Via RCP, two good columns from Wednesday that, on closer inspection, are about related topics. First, the Rocky Mountain News calls for the firing of Ward Churchill, the state college professor who called those of us who worked at the World Trade Center “little Eichmanns” and essentially argued that the September 11 attacks were justified. The Rocky Mountain News points out that these views are consistent with Churchill’s long history of openly advocating violence against the United States. Because state action would be involved, it may be difficult to remove Churchill. But the state can’t be indifferent about its own survival; there have to be some outer limits to what ideas the taxpayers are compelled to finance, and their own murder should not be one of them. Moreover, academic freedom surely doesn’t mean the abdication of quality control, and if you admit that there are any standards at all, you have to look skeptically at allowing a loon like Churchill to keep teaching.
Then, Michael Goodwin has a tremendous column on NYPD cops not shooting threatening suspects – and how the consequences of that forbearance with violent men aren’t always good.

Not Quite Getting The God Stuff

I actually saw little of Bush’s speech last night. I saw the Democratic response, which like all SOTU responses, was horrid. (See my vigorous fisking of Gary Locke’s response in 2003 here). Harry Reid, like Locke two years ago, opened and closed with an upbeat, can-do set of personal anecdotes that were completely at odds with the relentless pessimism of the response.
This was my favorite part, as Reid tried a ham-handed impression of what some Democrat speechwriter thought of as good Republican-style “moral values” rhetoric:

Sometimes important questions like Social Security or the economy or education get reduced to dollars and cents or competing policies and political parties. But really, these are questions that are about old-fashioned moral values that don’t get talked about much in Washington, but matter so much to our country. Are we willing to do right by our parents and care for our children? Do we believe that big corporations with powerful lobbyists should get special favors and that the wealthiest should get special tax breaks? Or do we believe we are all God’s children and that each of us should get a fair shot and each of us deserves a say in our future? Will we be able to tell young people like Devon back in Searchlight that America is still the land of the open road and that you can travel that open road to the place of your choice?

The effort to cast Republicans as the folks who don’t believe we are all God’s children (apparently as evidenced by the corporate tax code?) would be manipulative if it wasn’t so transparently desperate. How about that “each of us deserves a say in our future” line as a reason why letting people make their own decisions amounts to “taking Social Security’s guarantee and gambling with it”? And, again, we have this upbeat “open road” rhetoric married to a message of “don’t mess with the welfare state,” another jarringly bad contrast.

World? What World?

If you’re interested in the Social Security debate, you must read the Minute Man on a daily basis. Today, he points out that Paul Krugman’s economic analysis completely ignores the international nature of the capital markets.
Of course, as Krugman’s analysis admits, many of the arguments being made on both sides depend on economic projections far into the future, and the only thing we know for sure about such projections is that all of them are certain to be wrong. The difference is that a private-accounts model contains, within its design, an inherent check on fiscal catastrophe: the number of people who draw on personal accounts can never exceed the number who paid into them. The system thus has the flexibility to grow or contract with the population, and is therefore more stable over the long term than a system in which benefits are tied to yesterday’s workers, while revenues are tied to today’s. As a result of this self-correction mechanism, a private accounts system is less likely to generate a renewed fiscal crisis if the future fails to meet a specified set of financial assumptions than is the current system.

Liberal Meanies?

Ann Althouse complains about the different treatment she gets from Right and Left:

In the year that I’ve been blogging I’ve taken a lot of different positions, some left and some right. What I’ve noticed, over and over, is that the bloggers on the right link to you when they agree and ignore the disagreements, and the bloggers on the left link only for the things they disagree with, to denounce you with short posts saying you’re evil/stupid/crazy, and don’t even seem to notice all the times you’ve written posts that take their side. . .
I’m just saying that I’m struck by the way the right perceives me as a potential ally and uses positive reinforcement and the left doesn’t see me as anything but an opponent — doesn’t even try to engage me with reasoned argument. Maybe the left feels beleaguered these days, but how do they expect to make any progress if they don’t see the ways they can include the people in the middle?

Read the whole thing, which has some similar thoughts from readers. (Link via Dales). John Hawkins thinks he has the answer:

Well, as Charles Krauthammer once opined,

“To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil.”

I’d probably replace “stupid” with “hopelessly naive” or “let their emotions cloud their judgement,” but I think Krauthammer is basically on target. On many issues, most liberals don’t look at deviations from the holy scripture of liberalism as differences of opinion, they view them as moral failings. You aren’t just wrong, you are as Ann’s reader puts it a “heretic”.

Hawkins is partly right, especially because the Left’s self-identification is tied so closely to the notion of themselves as lonely crusaders against bigotry, a posture that requires you to regard all your opponents as bigots. I suspect at least two other factors at work:
1. Althouse is widely thought of, much against her will, as more a conservative than a liberal. She voted for Bush. Thus, lefty bloggers think of her as an enemy, while conservatives think of her as an ally, if an unreliable one.
2. The influence of academia and pop culture. Quite simply, college ensures that, at a fairly young age, most conservatives get the experience of being surrounded by people who vocally disagree with their political opinions, which teaches you to keep your head down a bit and stay civil. This is reinforced by the fact that a lot of us watch movies and listen to music made by people whose political opinions we find repugnant. I think a lot of liberals, particularly the more vocal ones on the internet who grew up in blue-state cities and went to blue-state colleges and got into blue-state occupations like the law or academia, just don’t have the same formative experience of having had to reconcile themselves to political disagreements with people they otherwise like or respect, and it shows.

Making the Sale

President Bush will undoubtedly be tempted to spend a lot of tonight’s State of the Union Address on Iraq, what with the wind at his back after Sunday’s elections. But the “march of freedom” isn’t a new story, and he just went there, very publicly, in his Inaugural Address. Instead, tonight has to be focused first and foremost on the one thing Bush needs to do: start laying out the case for Social Security reform. 2005 is Bush’s best and perhaps only chance to make this happen, and he only gets so many prime-time opportunities to take his case directly to a big audience.

Giving Hersh the Boot

Max Boot on Seymour Hersh’s record:

According to Bart Gellman of the Washington Post (a real investigative ace), Rumsfeld has created a new spy unit to make up for the CIA’s deficiencies. Gellman’s Jan. 23 story has all sorts of specifics that the New Yorker piece lacks, including the unit’s name (the Strategic Support Branch). Hersh’s contribution is to spin this into something nefarious by including anonymous speculation that military operatives might sponsor foreign “execution squads” or even carry out “terrorist activities.” Umm, guess we’ll have to take your word for it, Sy.
But how good is Hersh’s word? His record doesn’t inspire confidence. In 1986 he published a book suggesting that the Soviets shot down a South Korean airliner because they mistook it for a U.S. spy plane — a claim debunked by the opening of Soviet archives. In 1997 he published a book full of nasty allegations about John F. Kennedy that was widely panned. As part of that project he tried to peddle a documentary based on forged documents.
Few facts in Hersh’s stories are checkable by an outsider, but, of those that are, a number turn out to be false. In November 2001, he claimed that 16 AC-130 gunships participated in a raid (a “near disaster”) on Mullah Mohammed Omar’s compound in Afghanistan. There were only nine AC-130s in the entire region, and they are never used more than one or two at a time. In a story in October 2001, he claimed that Predator drones cost $40 million; the actual price tag is $2.5 million. In the latest article, he says two Pentagon policy officials would be in the “chain of command” for covert operations; the actual chain of command runs from the secretary of Defense to military commanders in the field.
OK, anyone can make a mistake, but all of Hersh’s errors run in one direction: toward making the U.S. government look bad. His November 2001 article included a quote, hilarious in retrospect, from “one officer” who claimed, “This is no war for Special Operations.” That ran a month before special operators toppled the Taliban. The April 7, 2001, issue of the New Yorker contained his article quoting a “former intelligence official” who said of the invasion of Iraq, “It’s a stalemate now.” Two days later, Baghdad fell.

Hersh’s credibility may not be zero, but it’s pretty close.
And speaking of bad journalism, I had an exchange with a reader in the comments the other day that got me thinking. Whenever you cite anything from the Washington Times, you can be sure to get some lefty going on about the nuttiness of Rev. Moon, who owns the paper. Now, OK, Moon is nuts. But I really don’t see what that has to do with the day-to-day operations of the Washington Times. I’ve certainly never heard of Moon getting involved in daily editorial decisions. Instead, it seems more like an effort to just wish away everything unpleasant reported by the Times: “Moon, Moon, Moon, I’m not listening . . . ”
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think the Washington Times is the greatest of newspapers; if you ranked the major dailies of national visibility in terms of credibility, I probably wouldn’t rank it in the top half. But that record of credibility is based on the work of each paper’s reporters and editors, not ad hominem attacks on the ownership.
What’s funny about this is that the folks who rag on Moon never seem too interested in, say, the politics of the New York Times’ ownership. Or CNN, which was founded and long run by Ted Turner. You want nuts? Turner’s got an endless supply, witness his latest tirade as just the latest . . . Turner spoke at my law school graduation, and he was either drunk, off his meds or both, going on and on about how “we should never have split the atom. Those are dangerous little buggers” and similar rants. Certainly, Turner’s left-leaning politics are no secret. At the end of the day, though, CNN, like other news outlets – and like the likes of Seymour Hersh – should be judged by the news it produces and the people who produce it. Just give the Washington Times the same respect.

Happy Birthday to The Corner

I had meant to write this up at more length, but Happy Third Birthday to The Corner at NRO, which Jonah Goldberg opened on January 24, 2002. Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus and Josh Marshall had already been in business for some time by then (as had Lileks), and people like Instapundit had already caught on after September 11; The Corner wasn’t even the first blog I read daily (that would be Best of the Web Today, which started July 28, 2000). (More thoughts here from Patrick Ruffini and commenters). But like a lot of people on the Right, it was NRO that really introduced me to the world of bloggers and got me in the habit of reading blogs. The Corner is, in fact, a much underrated milestone in the blogosphere’s history.

Budgeting Commerce

When Republicans took over Congress in 1995, there was much talk of abolishing Cabinet-level departments, particularly Education (an area of government that most conservatives feel shouldn’t be handled at the federal level) and Energy (a Cabinet-level agency created in the hated Carter years). These hopes failed terribly, and there has not since been any serious talk of removing a Cabinet-level agency.
Which seems too bad; one would like to see somebody, somewhere, send the message that government can shrink as well as grow sometimes. But, of course, government agencies are very shrewd about entangling essential functions with those that are less so, and eliminating a department without eliminating its underlying functions wouldn’t do much for the budget. Thus, the trick of finding agencies or departments that can be pulled up root and branch is harder than it sounds.
The department I’ve long thought should be abolished is the Commerce Department. Commerce would seem to fit perfectly the profile of a department the Right and Left could agree to do away with. Its publicly identified purpose – promotion of economic growth – is one that is quintessentially the province of the private sector. Its heads in the past (e.g., Don Evans, Ron Brown) have often been chosen primarily on the basis of their ability to raise money for the president. It caters to Big Business in ways that easily bring to mind the phrase “corporate welfare,” most notably by means of the Secretary of Commerce’s trade promotion trips with CEOs. And, of course, Commerce also rides the point for protectionism.
Anyway, that’s what I’ve been saying for years, but I finally decided to take a closer look at the Commerce Department’s most recent budget, for Fiscal Year 2004, as detailed in a “Budget in Brief” summary on the Commerce Department’s website. Here’s what I found.
1. The first thing you notice about the Commerce Department’s budget, in the context of the budget at large, is how tiny it is: approximately $5.5 billion, a pittance compared to, say, the Defense Department or the Department of Health and Human Services. In fact, the incoming Secretary of Commerce, the former CEO of Kellogg’s, may find this a bit of a step down – Kellogg’s had sales of $8.8 billion in 2003. It wouldn’t save much in terms of money, but in terms of size alone you could easily justify merging a department this size into one of the bigger departments.
2. The Bush Administration has, for the past few years, at least tried to hold the line on the Commerce budget, with the department’s budget authority rising from $5.545 billion in FY 2002 to $5.519 billion (estimated) in FY 2004, with a dropoff in between in FY 2003. However, actual discretionary outlays have risen from $5.316 billion in FY 2002 to $5.791 billion in FY 2003 to $5.780 billion in FY 2004. The projected outlays only get worse, rising to $5.972 in FY 2007 and then leaping to $6.353 billion in FY 2008 due to a run-up in projected expenses at the Bureau of the Census in anticipation of the 2010 census.
3. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Commerce Department is the breakdown of where it spends its money, best seen on page 9 of the “Budget in Brief” document. Of a $5.78 billion budget in FY 2004, $3.323 billion – (57.9%) – goes to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, which whatever its virtues has little enough to do with Big Business, per se. Although the NOAA’s functions are varied, it seems to break down into two major types of functions: collecting weather, satellite and natuical data, and managing fisheries. Only the latter, which I suppose caters to Big Fish, is really business-promotion function. While I’m sure you could easily find examples of money not well spent in those areas (and there may well be good privatization arguments as to some of these functions), the “Budget in Brief” buries them fairly well in anodyne descriptions. Either way, I’d bet you didn’t know that more than half of the Commerce Department’s budget is dedicated to weather data and fishing.
The next largest area of Commerce’s budget ($673 million, 11.7%), and also one having nothing apparently to do with commerce, is the Bureau of the Census, whose core function is required by the Constitution.
Third on the list ($652 million, 11.4% and falling – we’ve now accounted for more than 80% of the department’s budget) is the National Institute of Standards & Technology. This one, at least, looks like a better target for budget-cutters (as it apparently has been), as its functions are described (at p. 112) in vague terms like “providing the measurements, standards, verified data, and test methods required for new technologies and competing in the global economy,” “assists industry to invest in and develop high-risk, innovative technologies,” “assists small manufacturing establishments in assimilating new technologies and manufacturing practices,” and, my favorite, “a highly visible quality management program focused on instilling the principles of continuous quality improvement in U.S. businesses and educational and healthcare organizations.” (emphasis added). All of which sounds like something that should be done by trade associations, not your (and my) tax dollars.
After that, you get better targets like the “Economic Development Admistration” ($440 million, 7.7%, down $19 million in FY 2004 after a sharp increase in FY 2003), which lists among its chief methods (at p. 36) “promoting a favorable business environment,” the mischief-making “International Trade Admistration” ($370 million, 6.4%), and a bunch of smaller programs, including the Patent and Trademark Office, which actually makes money for the government (by collecting fees), turning a $366 million profit in FY 2003, $87 million in FY 2004.
4. You also have to remember what isn’t there – the Small Business Administration. The SBA seems like the classic example of an agency that you would expect to find within a department devoted to the development of American commerce, but not so. It’s actually structured as a stand-alone quasi-government entity outisde the purview of any Cabinet-level department, like the Postal Service or the FDIC.
Conclusion: If you are looking to cut fat from the federal government, the Commerce Department certainly seems like a potential target – but it’s simply not where the big money gets spent, and wholesale elimination of its functions does not seem like a realistic goal given how much of its budget is dedicated to functions like the Census and the collection of weather data, although I would remain open to arguments on how much of the weather and fishery-management functions could be privatized.

Going Off The Fritz

Opinion Journal’s Political Diary, which is a daily must-read and worth the price, had some hilarious quotes from outgoing and often outrageous South Carolina Democrat Fritz Hollings:

In his farewell address last month, he mourned that the Senate was a duller place than when he first came in 1966. “There’s nobody drunk here today,” he drawled. He also complained that too many Senators were afraid to speak candidly now, and the country was the worse for it.
He also took on the media. An ardent trade protectionist, he bristled when ABC News Correspondent Sam Donaldson questioned him once on live television about what country’s tailors had made the suit he was wearing. The Senator snapped back: “Sam, if you want to personalize it, I got it right down the street from where you got your wig.” Mr. Donaldson later that nothing he’d heard from a politician before had left him quite so speechless.

Why Didn’t Someone Check This Before?

A story that won’t die: Will Collier links to a Washington Times piece that points out yet another reason to regard as a fabrication the claim that Bush refused to take a National Guard physical when ordered to do so:

[F]or the weekend that 1st Lt. Bush was supposedly ordered to report for his physical, May 13-14, 1972, the Ellington Air Guard Base was closed. It was Mother’s Day. Except for emergencies, Air Guard units never drilled on Mother’s Day; the divorce lawyers would be waiting at the gate.
If George Bush showed up at the clinic that weekend, he would have had to get the key from the gate guard.
The drill weekend for May 1972 was the following weekend, May 20-21. A survey of the pay and flight records of several of the Texas Air Guard members of that period shows no activity for May 13-14, but drill pay vouchers and flights for May 20-21.

Good sleuthing there. Read the whole thing.

Iowa and New Hampshire

Patrick Hynes of and Daily Kos have been having an unsurprisingly bruising debate over whether the Democrats should abandon the privileged position of Iowa and New Hampshire on the primary schedule. Hynes, taking the parochial New Hampshirite view, opened with this op-ed piece in the Union-Leader, NH’s most influential newspaper, arguing that

[T]hese efforts to reform the nomination process will force candidates to compete in more states conterminously, thereby driving up the cost of running for President. And the fringe elements behind such plans know that they can dominate the entire nomination process by driving up the cost of running for the Democrat nomination.

Kos responded with his usual ad hominem attacks and venom, but also took on a few of the key arguments along the way:

Small states allow for ‘retail politics’
Wonderful. Retail politics. Too bad the general election has nothing to do with retail politics. Give me the guy or gal who can best use the media to communicate an effective message.
Small states allow ‘underdog’ candidates to be competitive
Dean was about as underdog a candidate as you could get not named “Dennis”, and he did mighty fine. Technology now allows good candidates to fire up partisans nationwide and fill the coffers with the necessary moolah necessary for a strong primary bid.
IA and NH voters take their job seriously
Other voters might take their jobs seriously as well, if they had the chance to voice their choice. Other voters, in states large and small, would take their voters as seriously.
And to be honest, I don’t see how NH took their votes any more seriously than any other state would’ve. As for IA, having 10 percent of Democrats make their choice without a secret ballot is inherently undemocratic.
The winners of Iowa and New Hampshire don’t always decide the nomination
Until 2004, we didn’t have a 24/7 political media on cable news and the Internet. Once upon a time, the IA election results were a one- or two-day story. NH would make its own choice, as would every subsequent state. Nowadays, the media circus around Iowa guarantees that the winner of the caucus will be far more influential than in years past.
Case in point — Wesley Clark led several polls in NH until Iowa. After Kerry’s win, Clark faded to obscurity.

Hynes fires back here, noting, among other things:

Kos is stuck in the 90’s. Retail politics is back. With micro-targeting, individual contact is more important now than perhaps at any time since 1948.

Kos isn’t necessarily wrong just because he’s Kos. The primary season is, in many ways, like reality television or the bar exam: it’s a series of sometimes pointless-seeming challenges we expect presidential contenders to overcome because, traditionally, we’ve learned something about them along the way that helps us pick the right guy. In that vein, I do think there’s something useful about kicking off the process with a round that forces the contestants to do some retail politics. The fact that the president will spend the next four to eight years in a bubble hiding behind spokesflacks and the instruments of mass communication is all the more reason to require him (or her) to first slog through the humbling task of kissing up to oridnary Americans one at a time. It’s a useful reminder that the president works for us.
Kos’ real gripe is the undue influence that the Iowa victory had on Kerry’s air of inevitability in 2004. But the problem wasn’t Iowa; the problem was that the compressed nature of the primary schedule didn’t give adequate time for anyone else to build anti-Kerry momentum after that first victory until Kerry all but had things sewn up. And, I should add, the mood of the Democratic primary voters was a desperate hunger to settle quickly on a candidate and start gearing up for the fall. The solution to that problem has little to do with who goes first.
I’m more sympathetic to some of the anti-Iowa points: that the Iowa caucuses are run in an undemocratic, unrepresentative fashion and that Iowa in particular tends to use its status to extort support from presidential contenders for parochial pork issues (ethanol, ahem). That’s the natural hazard of having the same small states at the top of the calendar every four years.
Kos doesn’t mention another common talking point on the Left: That Iowa and NH are unrepresentative of the Democratic electorate because they are nearly all-white states, and he doesn’t get to the core question of whether he thinks that other states would produce a more or less left-leaning electorate.
On the other hand, it’s sort of ironic that the effort to attack these two states would come now, at a time when IA and NH are two of the most closely divided swing states in the union, with IA one of just two Gore states to go for Bush in 2004, NH the only 2000 Bush state to go for Kerry, and both decided by razor-thin margins in 2000 and 2004. This is why I think changing IA and NH’s status would be a bad idea for the Democrats at this moment in time, regardless of the abstract merits of the idea. If the Democrats are serious about finding a candidate who can appeal to swing state rural voters, you could hardly pick two better places to campaign, especially with the added appeal that a candidate gets name recognition early in a state he’ll need to win later, a factor that clearly helped Kerry in both states (in fact, a rational party would simply look at whichever states were most hotly contested in the previous election and stick those at the top of the calendar). Turning with blind fury against the very states the Democrats need to win, in favor of an effort to rig the process to favor a left-wing insurgency with no base in any swing state, is not a prudent strategy.


Now, as I’ve long argued, the fact that a thing is indefensible, illegal and wrong does not always make it a capital offense. But let us not lose sight of the fact that when a thing is indefensible, wrong and almost certainly illegal, we should denounce it.
In that vein, I can’t imagine what defense there is for the Bush Administration using $240,000 of taxpayer money to buy the support of a conservative radio host for the No Child Left Behind Act, and if I were Armstrong Williams, I’d get myself a good criminal lawyer real fast, because the federal criminal laws can be very broad when it comes to taking something the government should not have been giving out. Shame on him, shame on whoever authorized the payment, and – though this should not be a defense – shame on any prior administration that did the same thing. This is way beyond the usual esoteric question of, say, the president traveling to drum up support for his policies, or some such example of politicians using our money to promote the policies we elected them to enact. This is just graft, and should be treated accordingly.
UPDATE: Williams tells his side of the story, which he frames as accepting paid advertising:

In 2003 Ketchum Communications contacted a small PR firm that I own, Graham Williams Group, to buy ad space on a television show that I own and host. The ad was to promote The Department of Education’s “No Child Left Behind” plan.

I wonder how many ads the federal government airs to promote its policies – the most obvious would be the anti-drug ads.

Everything You Wanted To Know About The Virginia Governor’s Race

I’m late linking to this one, but John Behan at Commonwealth Conservative has an exhaustive look at the 2005 Virginia governor’s race. My only quibble is with his suggestion that this year’s race in New Jersey will be uninteresting; to the contrary, a showdown that could potentially come down to Jon Corzine against Bret Schundler could be a fascinating race, and should be something of a referendum on the New Jersey Democrats’ manipulation of the election laws (Frank Lautenberg, ahem, and the timing of Jim McGreevey’s exit) and general corruption (the cause of Jim McGreevey’s exit).

Caracas, Kiev, Seattle

SoundPolitics has been the place to follow the increasingly bizarre re-recount in Washington, with this being the most recent of Stefan Sharkansky’s efforts to sniff out some real problems in King County (Seattle).
But I agree wholeheartedly with Jim Miller and Tom Bevans that the GOP, as a matter of principle, needs to set a very, very high bar for challenging an election. No election is perfect, and a big part of conservative principles as a whole is a willingness to live with the results of a process as long as the rules are set out clearly in advance.
There’s also another factor at work in Washington. If Christine Gregoire winds up on the outs, she’s got nowhere to go for four years until Dino Rossi is up for re-election. But Rossi, like John Thune in 2002 and like the Missouri GOP in 2000 – both of whom rebounded to knock off incumbent Democratic Senators – has another day to fight on: if he loses to Gregoire, he can, if he chooses, position himself to run against one of Washington’s two Democratic Senators, Maria Cantwell, who won in 2000 with 48.73% of the vote, the lowest vote total of any Senator running for re-election in 2006. Yes, Cantwell has the advantage of being a liberal in an increasingly liberal state. But a Dino Rossi who goes out with his dignity and is perceived by the public as having been robbed would be Cantwell’s worst nightmare as an opponent.

Turning Over A New Leaf

As I’ve done in the past, I’m creating brand-new categories for the new year. You’ll now go to Baseball 2005 for new baseball entries, Politics 2005 for new politics entries, War 2005 for new war entries, and Law 2005 for new law entries (the Law category hadn’t needed an overhaul last year). I’ll shortly be updating the link to baseball-only posts at the top of the page as well to send you to Baseball 2005.
Happy New Year!