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Saturday, December 20, 2003

Center Cut

Matt Yglesias is right when he says:

Everyone must read David Brooks' column and come to the realization that either Brooks is lying to us, or else administration sources are lying to Brooks. The program that Brooks describes sounds reasonable enough, but this bundle of proposals is, in fact, designed to accomplish something rather different. The idea is to shelter from taxation various savings and investment schemes that will provide a minor level of help to average middle class folks. At the same time, however, there will be no caps on the quantity of money that can be thereby sheltered.

The result is that already-wealthy people will be able to obtain vast quantities of investment-driven income without paying any taxes on it. As John Edwards has been saying -- to little avail -- on the trail, the idea is to move from a society that rewards work to one that rewards wealth.

Of course the Bush administration is finding more ways to shelter wealth from taxes. Is there any economic policy they've produced that isn't designed toward that end?

However, what is interesting about Brooks' piece is the way he frames it politically. I think it is a portent of things to come. The Republicans are going to say they are the natural inheritors of the center because the Democrats have "moved so far to the left." Passage of the bogus prescription drug bill and the schoolvoucher enabling act are calculated to do just that, leaving Democrats kvetching about the Norwood-Dingell details while Republicans bring home a boatload of roast suckling pig.

This "Ownership Society" gambit is another of those slick sell jobs that Americans love to buy into since it gives them an illusion of guaranteed upward mobility by dint of their own special talent and superior moral values. Most people would rather hear that, I'm afraid, than hear that they are a bunch of rubes who've been sold down the river by a rich, elitist snake oil salesman. It will take a serious economic catastrophe to get people to admit that their belief in the "low-taxes-will-make-you-rich" American Dream was a scam.

And the GOP base is going to love calling themselves centrist because it is a validation of their belief that they are the "mainstream."

It's the usual Orwellian Up-Is-Down GOP projection, but it could work. While hard core partisans on both sides are mostly team players who have made a blanket decision to back their party's interpretation of events, the majority of swing voters, in my view, are not interested enough or have enough time to sort out this kind of cognitive dissonance (unless they are faced with a personal crisis that forces them to.) Instead they rely on an instinctive barometer of a politician's temperament and image to determine if they are strong or weak, extreme or moderate, candid or secretive, honorable or base, elitist or common.

If an incumbent seems to manifest a preponderance of positive character traits, and the country isn't in obvious crisis, they will tend to preserve the status quo if they see it as moderate and sensible. This is even more likely during a time of "war" when a sitting president can make a case for continuity on security grounds. Most importantly, in Rove's calculation, these are the types of people for whom politics is "TV with the sound turned off." Image becomes substance, hence the unsubtle brainwashing techniques of the repetitive phrases behind Junior's head as he speaks to wildly adoring crowds.

If the ground game is going to mean anything besides getting a larger popular vote margin in blue states it will be in one on one encounters, calm and reasonable in tone, in which Democrats engage swing voters in close swing states and whittle away at Bush's image without turning him into a caricature that rings false to what they see on television. And, considering that Rove is going to spend huge amounts of time and money portraying our nominee to these people as an emotionally unstable extremist Real Player (which none of them actually are) I believe that we will have to make a serious effort to sell our guy, whoever he is, to these swing voters as someone who is steady, level-headed and in control.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Bouncing Baby Bush

There is a lot of good stuff over on Donkey Rising these days.

This enthusiastic post praises Michael Tomasky's excellent and thought provoking article about the excitement of the Dean campaign revitalizing the Democratic Party. It also raises some important questions about a realistic electoral strategy that will win the general election. This post is a must read on the subject, as well.

His post today examines the ephemeral nature of the repeated Bush War bounces. My theory is that he's a 50% president whose approval rating goes up whenever he gets to go on TV and act like Barney Fife on viagra. Any politician who got that much drooling infatuation from the media would go up in the polls. RoveCo held the Saddam capture story for 14 hours admitting they wanted to "manage the announcement" and the press loved them all the more for it. Tabloid pics, spoon fed "facts", good ratings. Now, that's the kind of story our Kewl Kidz love.

On the other hand, Karl Rove may be good at managing the timely bounce but he sure screwed up with that aircraft carrier stunt, didn't he? He ain't perfect.

Disavowal Movement

From my E-mail bag:


You must have heard about the ad attacking Howard Dean’s foreign policy experience. If you haven’t here is the link.

Are you prepared to publicly disavow this smear campaign as you asked Howard Dean to disavow Ted Rall? If you are not prepared to do this you might as well sign on to the Bush campaign.

You have been very critical of Al Gore’s endorsement with your rant that his message of unity was undemocratic. This ad is the result of your position. The circular firing squad is in place and you are holding the gun.


Just a small point, but if we Democrats are forming a circular firing squad then, by definition, Mr. X is also holding a gun on me. I’m just saying…

Now, about this disavowal business. I was away for a few days and didn’t quite know what to make of this demand.

Regarding my alleged request that Howard Dean disavow Rall, I thought it was possible that Mr. X was confusing me with Instapundit because of our similar traffic stats, influence and public profile. (It happens all the time.) He was the one who demanded a disavowal of Ted Rall way back when:

The antiwar left -- if it wants to be taken seriously, which is at best an open question -- should disavow the likes of Rall. But it won't, because too many of its supporters agree with him.

If I recall, that statement set off quite a brouhaha. I swear on my autographed copy of “Profiles In Courage” that I had nothing to do with it .

Then I thought maybe he really believed I was a Republican in sheep’s clothing. After all Senator Bill Frist recently issued a disavowal demand:

Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) called on the author of the memo -- which laid out a possible Democratic strategy to extend the investigation to include the White House and executive branch -- to "identify himself or herself . . . disavow this partisan attack in its entirety" and deliver "a personal apology" to Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence.

(Just in case anyone is worried, I completely and totally disavow that demand for Democratic disavowal but I refuse to disavow the Democratic disavowel of … what was I disavowing again?)

I still couldn’t quite figure out what was really going on so I looked at the ad and then realized that all Democrats were asked to disavow it, as this angry blogger wrote:

And every Democrat who fails to disavow this ad and that man- you can go fuck yourself too.

Ooops. Never mind. That’s John Cole demanding that Democrats disavow a Kucinich ad. I ‘m pretty sure that I’m not supposed to disavow it, but I can’t be sure. I’ll disavow it later if necessary.

I looked around and realized what was going on. Some top bloggers sent an open letter to John Kerry asking him to disavow the ad because one of Kerry’s former professional political operatives was involved in it.

I was prepared to completely disavow any affiliation with the Kerry campaign or anyone who has ever been a member of the Kerry campaign until I read this:

Joe Trippi, in a letter to Gephardt on Wednesday, demanded that the Missouri congressman disclose whether he is associated with Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values…"It's just a little too much of a coincidence here," Trippi said in a conference call with reporters. "That the campaign was totally in the dark is laughable."

At that point I was going to drop this whole disavowal thing because I couldn’t keep straight who or what I was disavowing --- until Dr Dean himself weighed in:

DEAN: They've got these Washington Democrats who think that's going to win elections. It's not going to win elections. It doesn't help Democrats. And I think the people behind it ought to be not only be ashamed of themselves, I think they ought to remove themselves from the party.

Yow. I knew then what Mr X was getting at. I had better disavow what I was supposed to disavow or risk having to “remove myself from the party.”

To that end I have taken an all around oath that I’m hoping will cover all contingencies:

I swear by God and Holy Mary and by the sign of the cross and the words of the holy gospels, that I will favor and defend and assist the holy Catholic faith and the Holy Inquisition, its officers and ministers, and that I will declare and discover all heretics whatsoever, abettors, defenders, and concealers of them, disturbers and obstructers of the said Holy Office, and that I will not give them favor, nor help, nor concealment; but that immediately that I know them I will reveal and denounce them to the senors inquisitors; and should I act differently may God so punish me as those deserve who willfully perjure themselves."

Oh wait. That’s not the one I was looking for. Here it is:

I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of “Americans for Jobs, Healthcare and Progressive Values,” nor do I know or have I ever known anyone who is.

I must regretfully confess, however, that I laughed at the ad in question when I saw it because I thought it was a Saturday Night Live parody. I assumed that everyone would find it equally absurd. But, I now disavow my laughter. I realize that bad, ineffective advertising is a serious threat to the Party.

I hope that Mr. X and all those who have had occasion to question my commitment to the Party, blogging and the American Way will be satisfied with this statement. But do keep me posted on further disavowalments. You can count on me. I’ll name names.

Update: I should know by now to always read The Poorman.

Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead

What an exciting few days it's been. Evil-doer extraordinaire Saddam Hussein was captured. This is a very good thing for the Iraqi people and a very good thing for the Bush campaign. You can always tell it is a good thing for the Iraqi people when they start shooting guns off in the streets in celebration. You can always tell it's a good thing for the Bush administration when they allow Commander Codpiece out in public to strut and blather smugly about holes and caves and such. (If I'm not mistaken he had to adjust himself more than once during his triumphal press conference. Kate O'Beirne was noticeably flushed.)

Will this make a difference in the campaign? Of course. One of our best attack lines "...can't even find Saddam" is now inoperative. And the companion "Osama bin Forgotten" line is treading on thin ice, too. You never know when they might trot him out and make you look like an ass. But, since I think this campaign is going to be a death match with the advantage going back and forth several times ending with the predicted close election dependent on turn-out and persuading a handful of swing voters in close swing states, I doubt that catching Saddam will be decisive.

Unfortunately, however, it doesn't do much to change the fact that the Democratic party is perceived as far weaker on national security and foreign policy than the GOP. Judging from the reaction of the press to the capture of Saddam, and Wolf Blitzer's appearance on Entertainment Tonight last Monday assuring viewers that the trial will be "the best show of the year," I think we can be pretty sure that the servile media is going to actively help Bush's traveling salvation show with everything they've got. War is good television and Bush is going to be starring as Master And Commander of the Pax Americana no matter how much we try to change the subject.

It's possible, of course, that something terrible could happen to change the dynamic. The economy could take a serious nose dive. We could have another terrorist attack. Bush could be caught on tape snorting coke with his brother Neil and a 12 year old Thai hooker. But hope, as they say, is not a plan, nor is it decent, humane or liberal to wish for such things. (Well, maybe the last one.)

Barring any of that, I'm afraid that this is going to again be one of those TV sitcom renewal elections. Has the show run its course? Is the new Darren cuter than the old Darren? Has the storyline dried up?

All the signs point to no, so far. The Bush Show ratings go up every time they are able to trot out Lil' Cap'n T-Ball bragging on the might and right of the USA. People love that stuff. 'Specially if it means we kicked some Ay-rab butt. And nobody loves it more than those alienated white male Bush lovers that Buzzflash profiled yesterday in this interview with Berkeley sociologist Arlie Hochschild.

The doctor's diagnosis is convincing, but her prescription needs a little work. She claims that these males can be won over by this "plain spoken" appeal:

Hochschild: "You've been exposed to a giant hoax, and here's what the hoax is. It is offering you a make-believe candied apple with one hand and picking your pocket with the other hand. And take your own feelings back. They're yours. And put them behind a vote for someone who's going to really solve your problems. Set about seriously setting up a domestic agenda that makes a difference to you."

This series of wars that's an imperial stretch into the Middle East -- how does that help the blue-collar man, except for killing his relatives? The Democrats can say that's Bush's war. That's not a U.S. war. It has nothing to do with U.S. security. In fact, it's a whole "tap the hornet's nest" approach to international relations which makes us all a great deal less safe. So tell the blue-collar guy that this is a giant ruse and a scapegoating.


There's been a whole hug-the-middle strategy of the Democratic Leadership Council, and that worked for Clinton. But it's not going to work for anybody after Clinton. I think the Democrats have got to go in the opposite direction -- stop hugging the middle. Get out there behind the issues we really believe in. And I guess along with that we have to enliven a vision of what life would be like if we weren't just privately rich, but rather, all publicly rich. If we really had great schools, and great playgrounds, and great public hospitals, and then there wouldn't be such a desperate scramble to be privately well off.

This is the ultimate thing -- not to be afraid to say there's another America that doesn't leave us hanging, each on our own, and then feeling bad about feeling bad, and that says we can structurally wire it so there aren't failures here. That's the problem we've got to fix -- by providing a vision of an alternative.

See? The way to win over blue collar guys who like Bush because he represents their sense of white male entitlement is to calmly inform the slow but earnest losers that (unlike us smart people) they have been duped by the rich Republicans. Illustrate your point by using 5 year old child metaphors like "make-believe candy apple" so they can understand. Tell them to "take their feelings back" and vote for somebody who's going to "solve their problems." Tell 'em we'll help them to "stop feeling bad about feeling bad."

Or maybe we could just invite the morons to brunch and screen Beaches over mimosas.

I certainly hope that no Democrats are running on the idea of trying to end Americans' "desperate scramble to be privately well off" or saying that we will "structurally wire it so there aren't failures here." I know what she meant, but it might not travel well in a country where even a fair number of its most progressive citizens are willing to see disabled children lose their funding rather than pay a higher registration fee on their BMWs.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Friends In High Places

It's always good to know that important people are reading your blog. I had no idea that I had such influence, but here it is:


By Ted Rall


What if the other Democratic candidates came together at a joint press conference to announce that they were dropping out of the race to endorse Dean? If nothing else, cash-starved states would love it--the average primary costs taxpayers $7 million. More to the point, it would save Dean roughly $75 million--enough to close the money gap with Bush.

A more ephemeral but bigger benefit would be the message that a unified Democratic party could send to the electorate. Canceling the primaries would convey that Democrats are no longer a clumsy amalgamation of special interests. We're organized, it would say.

Cancelling elections to save money and send a message of unity is such a good idea. But, you know, it might be better to utton-bay your ips-lay lest the GOP get the same idea about the general election. Course, it's pretty hard to pull that off. Even Saddam had to at least stage elections in order to pretend to have some democratic legitimacy. Maybe we could get Diebold to rig one of those on-line polls for us. That would save money AND allow us to argue that we shouldn't cancel elections as a matter of principle.

Rich or poor, black or white, liberal or conservative, anyone who loves America must set aside their usual biases and prejudices to open their eyes to the truth: Bush is not just a Republican. Not only is his radical "neoconservative" Administration illegitimate, it is neofascist.

Patriots must support the candidate with the best chance of defeating him, whoever he is. That man is Howard Dean.

I've been thinking about this for a while myself. Knowing all we know about George W. Bush, it is not only selfish to support anyone other than Howard Dean. It is, I'm afraid, unpatriotic.

In fact, if I'm not mistaken, I think I see a 5th column forming from within the Democratic party. Ted doesn't come out and say it, but I will. The taint of treason will cling to any candidate who doesn't drop out right now.

The outcome of the Democratic primaries is now a foregone conclusion. Why should Dean and his fellow Democrats waste more than $100 million between them--some estimates rise as high as $150 million--to beat each other up over relatively minor differences of policy and tone? The DNC ought to read the business pages. Ours is an age of monopoly and amalgamation. Bigger wins over better except when better happens to also be big. Divided Democrats can't beat unified Republicans.

Rumor has it that Ralph Nader (news - web sites), whom I respect deeply as a man of integrity and intelligence and for whom I voted in 1996 and 2000, is mulling over another run. Nader should take a pass this time. Just this once, let's pull the left together. We can go back to tearing each other apart in December '04. I promise.

This is a man who knows what he is talking about, so I urge all of the candidates to listen to him. His record proves that he has a keen sense of political strategy and I have no doubt that he is on the right side of history this time too.

Update: Let me make this perfectly clear once and for all. I do not give a flying fuck that Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean. The entire Clinton Gore administration along with Tony Blair and Fidel Castro could endorse him and I wouldn't care. Endorsements are ALWAYS part of the primaries, folks. Take your complaints to that asshole Richard Cohen. I'm making a different argument.

Neither do I hate Al Gore or Howard Dean. I like both of them. And I like Bill Clinton and I like Teddy Kennedy and I like John Edwards. I am a Democrat. Not only will I vote for Dean if he gets the nomination, I will vote for Joe Lieberman if he gets it and I can't stand the guy. I think I am aware of the danger Bush presents.

I could not resist posting this Rall piece because it is seriously promoting something I set forth as satire just 2 days ago. I thought that was particularly ironic coming from a Naderite, but it also reflects a bit of the unpleasantness I've come across recently whenever I write about the primary. I keep getting a whiff of absolutism that I don't think is very productive. I suspect that I am dealing with some young people who are caught up in the moment so I don't pay a whole lot of attention to it.

But, Ted Rall is not a naive young person and his words about patriotism are just as offensive as when the Republicans do it. Democrats can at least agree about that, don't you think?

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Virtual Democracy

I’d like to officially congratulate Howard Dean for winning the nomination of the Democratic party for President of the United States. It was a hard fought campaign, one in which all of the issues were discussed and engaged in great depth with the internet party faithful. All the candidates had a chance to make their case on-line and the best man won. Now, with Al Gore’s dispensation, we can concentrate on beating George W. Bush.

First on the agenda is figuring out how we can expand our new formula of “winning without elections” to the race at large. If we want to take our country back and empower the grassroots again it is clear that our best strategy is to dispense with the unpredictability of democratic elections. As our recent primary taught us, this is the way we can most effectively avoid the unpleasantness of persuading the large numbers of people who aren’t sufficiently internet savvy to know what is good for them. And if there’s one thing Al Gore knows it’s that voting is a uniquely unreliable method of determining the winner.

The question is how to expand this exciting new paradigm to the general election. What mechanism should we use to decide who should be our next president?

Clearly, polling cannot be used. After all, if people had mistakenly read the numbers today, they could have misinterpreted them as saying that our winner has not even persuaded more than 20% of his own party to vote for him. Why, if we had used those polls, some Democrats might have even made the error of thinking that the race wasn’t over. That would be confusing to many citizens who might get the wrong idea and think that it might matter if they vote for someone other than the one who has been properly anointed. That would defeat our purpose entirely.

The best way to expand our new electionless democracy would be to simply use the tried and true methods of internet activism, political endorsements, the infallible media pronouncements of “inevitability” and raising large amounts of cash. These are the proper measures of a candidate’s fitness for office and surely represent the will of the people better than the archaic practice of actual voting.

We can call it “Virtual Democracy” and run our entire campaign as one super cool internet blogfest polling operation. As yesterdays Pew Center’s in-depth polling of the Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries show:

The Internet is also becoming a tool of the primary campaigns in these states. Significant minorities of voters in Iowa (27%) and New Hampshire (22%) have sent or received e-mails about the candidates or campaigns, and more than one-in-five in both states have visited candidate web sites.

It’s phenomenal! 22% of the roughly 160,000 Democratic voters in New Hampshire have sent or received e-mails about the campaigns. And more than 32,000 of them have visited campaign web-sites!

At last we can lay to rest that awful charge that we internet junkies (and the media) are living in an echo chamber in which we mistakenly believe that our political beliefs accurately reflect the nation’s. Those numbers say it all. Clearly, we grassroots activists of the internet (along with party pooh bahs and the media) represent the majority of voters and are very well qualified to take the reins of democracy and decide the presidency all on our own.

Of course, the big problem is getting the Republicans to go along with the plan. I worry that they might not agree that this is the best way since they’ve got plans to spend upwards of 200 million dollars on get out the vote efforts. It could be a problem. But, if we continue to grow our internet presence, it might make a difference. After all, the Republicans’ greatest weakness is their deep desire to appeal to cool people like us. They won’t be able to resist joining our Virtual Election.

Let’s just hope they don’t stab us in the back and spend their entire war chest on TV commercials. Unfortunately, our anointed candidate has spent more than any candidate in history on TV in Iowa and hasn’t been able to break away from the pack decisively in those irrelevant polls. (He is battling with that charismatic heartthrob Dick Gephardt, so that partially explains it.) But, I do worry that his ultimate coolness might not come through as well on television as we might like.

Which is all the more reason to embrace Virtual Democracy. We will never have to worry about such shallow considerations again when we ultra-hip internet geeks take control of the electoral system. As John Kerry would say, “Fuck the voters!”

UPDATE: For the record, I love Al Gore and I think he got sandbagged by somebody in the Dean campaign who couldn't resist leaking the information and ended up makin Al look like an asshole for not calling Lieberman. Sometimes, the guy just breaks my heart.

I think he has a perfect right to endorse Dean whenever he wanted to. But, I object strenuously to certain assumptions he and the media are making that are backed up by no empirical evidence:

Howard Dean really is the only candidate who has been able to inspire, at the grassroots level all over this country, the kind of passion and enthusiasm for democracy and change and transformation of America that we need in this country.

The only place that Deans "passion and enthusiasm for democracy" has demonstrated itself is in New Hampshire, the state next door to his own. Everywhere else, the race is still very close and mostly within the margin of error. There is simply no evidence beyond fundraising that Dean is running a movement that can sweep the country. Indeed, 80% of Democrats outside New Hampshire --- an historically eccentric state to say the least --- are either unpersuaded or haven't yet begun to pay attention.

The media always get ahead of themselves with these horse race stories, but it's foolish to do so ourselves. I'll wait until we get a little bit closer than 6 weeks before the election to decide who's won and lost. I'll probably even wait for some actual voters to weigh in.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Curses, Foiled Again

Atrios and Center for American Progress both have nice lists of George W. Bush using naughty words in public, but it's unfair to single out the President when many of his closest associates are guilty of the same things:

Inside, Rove was talking to an aide about some political stratagem in some state that had gone awry and a political operative who had displeased him. I paid it no mind and reviewed a jotted list of questions I hoped to ask. But after a moment, it was like ignoring a tornado flinging parked cars. "We will fuck him. Do you hear me? We will fuck him. We will ruin him. Like no one has ever fucked him!"

Then there's this one:

Al Franken: "Clinton’s military did pretty well in Iraq, huh?"
Paul Wolfowitz: "Fuck you."

Of course, there is the classic by the famous Bush fixer, and recent appointee, James Baker who said:

"Fuck the Jews. They don't vote for us anyway."

Those family values Republicans certainly are potty mouths, aren't they?

But, then with GOP pretty babies like Lucianne Goldberg saying elegant things like this, they do seem rather tame by comparison...

Sunday, December 07, 2003


David Niewert points to this funny article about the Michigan GOP asking supporters to give them their Christmas lists and a profile of the voting and religious habits of the people on them. David headlines his post, "The GOP Goes Amway."

The funny thing is that he is literally correct. The Michigan GOP is owned by Amway, and its owners, the DeVoses, own a pretty big piece of the national GOP as well:

For the DeVoses, politics is a family affair. Their son, Richard DeVos Jr., serves as president of Alitcor and chairman of "Restoring the American Dream," a political action committee that supports candidates opposed to the "fundamental coarsening of our culture" and the "erosion of civility and basic decency." The family also invested more than a third of the $12.9 million raised to persuade Michigan voters to divert funds from public schools into private-school vouchers -- a referendum defeated last November by a margin of 2 to 1. And in 1999, the inaugural fundraising event for a new "stealth PAC" called the Republican Majority Issues Committee was held aboard the DeVos family yacht.

The RMIC was founded by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) to take advantage of Section 527 of the tax code, which allowed certain campaign contributions to remain secret. The committee, which declared its intention to "identify, educate, and mobilize conservative voters in key House races," was later forced to reveal its contributors after Congress closed the 527 loophole. DeVos donated $150,000 to the group, which ran ads in Utah last October attacking House candidate Jim Matheson for being "gay-friendly."

DeVos and his wife also donate millions to charities -- especially those that promote conservative causes. The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation handed out $95.1 million between 1990 and 1997, with nearly a third of the money going to support organizations that espouse Christian values. But the couple doesn't give to homeless shelters and food banks, saying the poor should raise themselves out of poverty. "I don't want to make 'em too comfortable there," DeVos told the Grand Rapids Press. "I want them to get a little desperate to go out and find their way out of it."

The DeVoses know their way around a good MLM scam and have put their money where their mouths are in the GOP. The party itself has now been converted to a Ponzi scheme.