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Monday, January 12, 2004

Fact Checking Their Asses

I realize that there can no longer be any form of political discourse that cannot fit on a bumper sticker, but this is really getting ridiculous.

Mark Kleiman sets the record straight on this nonsense today about Clark's "inconsistencies" on the subject of whether Iraq and al Qaeda were "linked."

But there is even more.

Clark is also on record as a military expert testifying about this very subject before the House and Senate Armed Services Committess, in full context, saying exactly what he claims to have said and believed at the very same time.

There has been no inconsistency. He said then that Saddam had no substantial ties to al Qaeda and that there was no evidence that he had been involved in 9/11. He did, however, say that it would not be unusual if there were some low level links between them.

transcript 9/29/02

SAXTON (R-NJ): Mr. Perle, General Clark indicated a few minutes ago that he wasn't sure -- I'm sorry, I don't want to mischaracterize what General Clark said but something to the effect that we don't have information that Al Qaida and the Iraqi regime are connected. Is that a fair characterization, General Clark?

CLARK: I'm saying there hasn't been any substantiation of the linkage of the Iraqi regime to the events of 9/11 or the fact that they are giving weapons of mass destruction capability to Al Qaida, yes sir.

SAXTON: OK, now that has been a widely held view, at least in some quarters, and I suspect that one of the difficulties that we've had in addressing this subject comes because of the difficulty of collecting intelligence in that region of the world for all the reasons that we know.

However, yesterday the president's national security adviser began to talk about this subject in a different light. She said we clearly know that there were in the past and have been contacts between senior Iraqi officials and member of Al Qaida going back for a long time. We know too that several of the Al Qaida detainees, in particular some high-ranking detainees have said that Iraq provided some training to Al Qaida in chemical weapons development.

Now I suspect that it would be difficult for someone to say that if they didn't have information to back it up and she also suggested that the details of the contacts would be released at a later to date and from my knowledge of intelligence work, which is sketchy, but from what I know it's difficult sometimes to disclose details because you endanger sources.

And so, I think this is a subject that certainly there are beginning to be indications that there are -- as a matter of fact, other bad guys have gone to Iraq. Abu Nidal died there recently, and when you couple all this with the notion that Saddam has been very determined to act out against his neighbors and the West and seems to stop at nothing, to draw the conclusion based on evidence that is beginning to emerge that there is no contact and no general theme of cooperation between Saddam and officials or the leadership of Al Qaida is a stretch, and I think a dangerous conclusion to come to. Richard Perle, would you give us your opinion?

PERLE: Yes, thank you, Mr. Saxton. I think you've identified an important issue and a serious problem. It is true that it is difficult to collect intelligence in these areas but the bigger problem in my view has been a stunning lack of competence among our own intelligence agencies. They've simply proved incompetent in this area and I've testified on this theme several times over the last ten or 15 years.

What we are now beginning to see is evidence that was there all along. It simply wasn't properly assessed, and the reason why it wasn't assessed in my view is that a point of view dominated the intelligence community, the CIA in particular and that point of view held that a secular Baathist regime like that of Saddam Hussein would not cooperate with religious fanatics like Al Qaida.

This was a theory. There was nothing to support it except the speculation of the intelligence officials who held that view, and as a result they simply didn't look for evidence that there might be a connection. Now that we are aware of the strange ways in which terrorists cooperate all over the world, we're beginning to find significant evidence.

There is no logical basis for the IRA cooperating with terrorists in Columbia and yet we've caught them red handed doing it. There's a kind of professional trade craft involved in which people engaged in the business of terrorism work with one another for mutual convenience, sometimes for exchanges of money and the like.

So there is, in fact, evidence of relations between Saddam and Al Qaida and I believe that the more intensively we scrutinize databases of information available to us in the past, the more evidence of that we're going to find.

CLARK: Representative Saxton, if I could just tag along on that. I think there's no question that, even though we may not have the evidence as Richard says, that there have been such contacts. It's normal. It's natural. These are a lot of bad actors in the same region together. They are going to bump into each other. They are going to exchange information. They're going to feel each other out and see whether there are opportunities to cooperate. That's inevitable in this region, and I think it's clear that regardless of whether or not such evidence is produced of these connections that Saddam Hussein is a threat.

So I think that, you know, the key issue is how we move from here and what do we need to do to deal with this threat? But I think what's also clear is that the way you deal with the threat from Iraq is different than the way you deal with the threat from Al Qaida. And so, my contention has been we need to look at different means for dealing with these threats. We need to take advantage of all the resources at our disposal, not just the military.

If I could say with respect to the inspections issue, as well as the comments of my friend and colleague Richard Perle, I'm not either optimistic or pessimistic. I practiced weapons inspection. I've been involved in diplomacy at the United Nations, and I've been involved in setting up the plans for a number of post conflict situations, including Bosnia, Haiti, and Kosovo, so I'm only giving you the best judgment from my own perspective. I don't label it. So, Richard, if I could just in a friendly way say if you won't label me, I won't label you.

You really need to read the whole transcript. You'll be reminded just how certifiably insane Richard Perle and the GOP lackeys in congress were at the time. I think we've all blocked it from our memories. It was downright surreal.

Clark's views are clear. He calls Saddam a threat, but not an imminent threat. He states that the most important thing is to get inspectors back into the country and gain the support of the international community. He rejects the notion of a preemption doctrine. He said that the use of force was to be used as diplomatic leverage, but thought that the president should be required to come back for final authority.

In both this and his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee at around the same time you see his unwillingness to jump on to what was becoming an unstoppable train. Senators, congressmen and Republican assholes of all stripes gave him tons of shit, but he kept right on saying what they didn't want to hear.

It's not quite as simple as "Let's Kill The Bastards!" or "Hell No We Won't Go" but it is the serious and thoughtful position of a man with a fine mind and years of experience who had great reservations about the way the administration was hurtling us into war. He deserves some credit for that. Indeed, one might even think that such complexity of thought would be a requirement in a president.

Dressing Down

Jayzuz. Apparently, Kevin of Tooney Bin continues to get a ration of shit for posing a silly question to General Clark during our little wireside chat the other day. Frankly, I don't know why he's getting the brunt of it, because I did exactly the same thing he did, but was lucky enough to have a serious question posed as well as the light one.

We all submitted several questions. I submitted three, two of which were serious policy questions and one of which was a lighthearted personality type question about how many states he had lived in and which foreign countries he found most interesting. Kevin did the same thing. They used one of my serious questions (about electoral reform) and my silly one. In Kevin's case they only used his silly one.

Here's the deal. This was a chat with friendly or neutral political bloggers. It was not a Russertesque grilling situation. I am not unbiased nor do I pretend to be. I wanted to ask serious questions, but I also wanted to use my rather unique opportunity to help Clark's candidacy if I got the chance.

People who read this blog know that I believe the electorate to be moved on an emotional basis as much as anything else. The vast majority of people vote because of party ID (even if they don't know it.) But, those who don't, and they are the ones who it's necessary to win over, tend to vote based on their personal impression of the man. Therefore, I thought that asking a personal question might illuminate something of the man that such people might find appealing. In addition, supporters of a candidate are often interested in such little tid-bits of information and often turn them into rituals and iconic campaign symbols among the faithful. It's a nice bonding thing.

I also wanted to bring up the fact that Clark had lived all over the United States in his years in the military, something I don't think many people realize. It's not a big thing, but it's a detail that sets him apart and perhaps gives him a bit of a national cultural identification that people might like. I asked him which foreign country he liked the most because I also thought some of the sophisticates in the Party might be interested. I was extremely pleased with the answer because it was much more colorful and interesting than I expected.

Kevin's question was posed for laughs and designed to change the pace. Quite a few people on the Clark blog thought it was fun, just as they think it's fun that he's a Cheetos freak. People like this stuff. It makes their guy human. Politics is more than policy papers and polls and strategy. A campaign is an audition of sorts and the person who wins must appeal to people on a number of levels. There is a reason why the late night talk shows and Oprah are part of campaigning nowdays. Personal appeal is a big part of why people vote.

Finally, bloggers and political internet "experts" need to get some perspective. We are one of the moving parts of the modern campaign and that's terrific. But, we aren't that big of a deal. It is highly doubtful that any of us asked a serious question that hasn't been posed before by one of the hundreds of journalists following the candidate all over the place or the thousands of New Hamshirites he's appeared before at town hall meetings.

In fact, it just may be that the salad dressing question is the only one, in which case it was a major scoop.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Sneak and Peek

It looks like a bunch of liberal bloggers have formed some sort of virtual street gang. I'm pretty sure that falls under the definition of the terrorism under the Patriot Act so it's a good thing Jerralyn Merrit's in da hood.

Oh wait. They aren't entitled to lawyers under the Patriot Act are they?

Godspeed, 5th columnists.

We're Number 1!

Matt Yglesias says:

Speaking personally, I'm a walking stereotype of a rootless cosmopolitan liberal, and I've been to Vermont, and I can tell you that New York City is definitely where the freak show is at and it gets a whole lot freakier than a damn latte. Just wait 'till Elliot Spitzer's in the White House, then we'll show 'em...

Now, wait a minute. Is he actually saying that the real left wing freak show is in New York? I beg to differ. While it is undoubtedly true that New Yorkers are more likely to read The New York Times, in every other category we here in the land of fruits and nuts are definitely the true home of the left wing freak show.

We boast of more sushi per square foot in just the west side of Los Angeles than any other city on the planet, including Tokyo. They serve it as baby food in this town.

We don't just swill Lattes. We buy them at drive-thru Starbucks from behind the wheel of our Prius hybrid (suitably adorned with a Darwin fish and Save The Bay sticker.)

And you bet we love Hollywood. We ARE Hollywood and we really, really love ourselves. We love ourselves so much that per capita we spend more on on every form of bodily improvement including lifts, tucks, percings, tattoos, implants and extensions than all other states combined. When it comes to defilement of the human body, we are unequalled. Remember, we are not only the home of the squalid and depraved mainstream Entertainment business, we are the capitol of the multi-billion dollar pornography business, as well.

Eliot Spitzer? That's nothing!

In California even the Republicans are sushi-eating, latte swilling, body-building, Kennedy-marrying, nude-posing, armani-wearing, sexual-harrassing, card carrying members of the left wing freak show. We not only worship empty-headed celebrities, we elect them to the highest office in the state.

Seriously Matt, while Vermonters may wear big comfortable shoes and drive big Swedish cars and New Yorkers might read the paper and watch depressing Swedish movies, isn't it obvious that the real left wing freak show is indisputably here in Lalaland? Barbara Streisand lives here, for crying out loud.

Crime Of Fashion

It's good to have MoDo back isn't it? What with Kit Seelye being relegated to Adwatch blurbs and Ceci devoting herself to becoming the female alternative to Morton Kondrake, there has been a serious dearth of bitchy, Mean Girl coverage of the campaign. I have been at a loss as to how one should interpret the candidates' character flaws as expressed in their clothing choices and it's awfully difficult to know who to vote for without that important insight.

Today, we find out that Wes Clark's decision to wear sweaters in New Hampshire during the past week, and his ill-fitting wardrobe in general, "intensifies the impression that he's having a hard time adjusting to civilian life." I didn't know that he had the dreaded bad wardrobe, nor did I know that he was having problems adjusting to civilian life. Now I can see that his clothing choices very clearly show that he's got serious psychological problems that can no longer be overlooked.

This is what makes MoDo a NT Yimes columnist and me an obscure blogger. When I saw Clark wearing a sweater last week, I thought it was because the temperatures in New Hampshire were breaking cold weather records and he was cold. Same thing with the duck boots. I stupidly assumed that he was wearing them because it was slippery outside and he didn't want to fall on his ass on the sidewalk. I didn't realize that he was sending some very important subliminal messages that only a trained journalist would be able to spot. This, my friends, is why she makes the big bucks.

I can't believe she missed the chance to advise Clark to go on Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, though. She could have penned a "Don't Ask Don't Tell" riff that would have had the Kewl Kidz guffawing all over their eggbeater frittatas at brunch this morning. Of course, MoDo's thesis of the generic male Democratic Candidate is of an ungendered, ineffectual manchild, so she would have to steer clear. QEFTSG is a good natured comedy that features men of both orientations who are secure enough in their masculinity to send up their own images. MoDo cannot admit that any Democrat even knows who he is, much less that he's sure of his masculinity.

In MoDo land, Clark is a typical sissyfied Democrat who drones on about health care and abortion rights and affirmative action and all that other boring girly-man crap. He wears snow boots in New Hampshire in January purely because somebody told him it would make him more appealing to women. He's having trouble "adjusting." He's a typical liberal pussy.

I doubt very seriously that even the fact that Clark is a highly trained professional killer will be enough to dispell these new doubts about his masculinity. I should have remembered the premiere dictum of Democratic politics ever since Dukakis. Real Men have innate fashion sense.

Update: As always, I should read Atrios before I write anything. He's always ahead of the curve.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Former Treasury Sec. Paints Bush as 'Blind Man'

This just has to be too good to be true:

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill likened President Bush at Cabinet meetings to "a blind man in a room full of deaf people," according to excerpts on Friday from a CBS interview.

O'Neill, who was fired by Bush in December 2002, also said the president did not ask him a single question during their first one-on-one meeting, which lasted an hour.

"As I recall it was just a monologue," he told CBS' "60 Minutes," which will broadcast the entire interview on Sunday.

In making the blind man analogy, O'Neill told CBS his ex-boss did not encourage a free flow of ideas or open debate.

"There is no discernible connection," CBS quoted O'Neill as saying. The president's lack of engagement left his advisers with "little more than hunches about what the president might think," O'Neill said, according to the program.

CBS said much of O'Neill's criticisms of Bush are included in "The Price of Loyalty," an upcoming book by former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind.

It appears that what everyone thinks of as Bush loyalty is actually Bush fear. The reason they rarely fire anyone is because they know that this is the kind of thing that will likely come out.

Welcome to the Freakshow

Joe Conason puts the smackdown on Stephen Moore's fine example of calm, reasoned discourse.

The fragile yet plucky Ed "Victoria" Gillespie must have been called to action after being forced, once again, to endure the horrors of political hate speech like this:

"I think Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading," barks a man leaving a barbershop; a woman with him completes the sentence: "... body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont where it belongs."

What, you say Her Majesty the Gillespie didn't make the rounds of all the bloviators and take these hooligans to task for their cruel bigotry? How odd. He must have taken an extra dose of laudenum after seeing that shocking internet Hitler ad on the RNC web site, and passed out.

Stephen Moore says the Iowa ad is about "cultural elites across America who are the ones behind Dean," who are so unlike the "middle-class families with Middle America values, as in Iowa, [who] are going to be very turned off by Dean's economic program."

After pointing out that the Club For Growth is run by a bunch of rich champagne-swilling libertarian Fat Cats, Conason retorts:

I wouldn't be surprised if many Iowans and even more Vermonters wish Moore would take his right-wing freak show back to Wall Street and K Street.

Actually, the real freakshow is going to be the 527 ad war. From what I've seen so far, it would appear that they're using material Jon Stewart rejected for being too broad and obvious. (But hey, in a country where a majority believe that Saddam had something to do with 9/11, you really can't be too broad and obvious, can you?)

This is going to be one wild election.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Clark Chat

If anyone's interested, I'll be participating the following live blogger chat with General Wesley Clark, who most of you know I support for the Democratic nomination:

Public IRC Server: irc://irc.forclark.com
Closed Read-Only Channel: #wireside
Open Discussion Channel: #clark04

We will also be mirroring the closed #wireside channel on a web-based page,
which any one can view at this following URL: http://www.clark04.com/chat/

The chat is scheduled to begin promptly at 5:00 PM EST, January 7,
2004. It will last approximately 30 minutes.

The questions that will be asked are being drawn from 15 leading political
bloggers. Follow-up questions will be taken, if time permits.

We estimate approximately 3000 people to be participating in this live
real-time chat with General Clark.

I have written several pieces about General Clark, going back some months prior to his joining the race. I still think that he is best positioned to beat George W. Bush, which as a good ABB Democrat, is of primary importance to me. However, as his campaign has been fleshed out and his positions, strategic instincts and political ability have become clear, I am even more enthusiastic about him.

I wrote below that I think that politics is really a matter of consumer marketing and I stand by that. I have seen almost no evidence of any interest among partisans or anyone else in specific policies this time. But, that does not mean that it doesn't matter to me and many others who do follow politics on a substantive level.

On both counts, General Clark fills the bill. From a marketing standpoint, I believe he is the best positioned to embody the 2004 "manly outsider" zeitgeist without alienating large numbers of people who don't like overt partisanship. I think he is the best candidate to capture swing voters in swing states and I still maintain that this is the key to winning the election. Big turn-out in blue states won't get it done.

From a substantive standpoint, well, the guy is just awesomely smart. I, unlike my GOP countrymen apparently, consider this a requirement to run the most powerful nation on earth. His character is sterling, his credentials are top flight and his thinking is bold yet practical. I'm proud to support him.

Oh, What Does He Know - January 23, 2003

General Dynamic - March 9, 2003

I've Been Leaning that Way Myself - March 30, 2003

Wingnuts Launch "Decapitation" Campaign Against Clark - March 31, 2003

4 Star Democrat - April 18, 2003

Waiting For Wesley - August 25, 2003

Deep Thoughts - October 10, 2003

Perot Crazy - November 15, 2003

Tin Foil General - December 3, 2003

There's No Business Like Show Business

Happy Belated New Year, my friends. I've been away travelling the scene, taking the pulse of the American people and now I'm back in the cozy confines of my tribe here in sunny Santa Monica. I have many observations on the primaries, but I fear I will have to swill at least one bottle of Dutch courage before I commit my usual left blogosphere heresy, so it may take a day or two. Or maybe not.

For political junkies like us it's part pain, part thrill, but it’s the big game and if you love politics you’ve got to love presidential election years.

I notice more and more how cynical I’ve become over the past decade or so of bogus impeachments, dubious elections and power mad GOP radicals. I heard the news about Ashcroft recusing himself and my first thought was that it was an obvious delaying tactic. As with the speculation that a scathing 9/11 committee report, in which ”heads will roll” and the Bush administration will be embarrassed and chastised, my reaction is, "Yeah, when monkeys fly."

Republicans control all the levers of power in Washington and there is no way in hell that anything that relies on an official institutional mandate will be allowed to put Bush in anything but a good light in this election year. That’s not to say that the media couldn’t unearth something damaging on its own, but… well, let’s just say that the monkeys will be dodging elephants in the flight path when that day happens. The puerile media kewl kidz will be kept entertained and busy until November with meritless scandals and hilarious GOP manufactured putdowns of the hapless Dems (while Ed Gillespie clutches his Mikimoto pearls and moans dolorously about the barbarity of Democratic "political hate speech.")

I see that John Dean is speculating that Ashcroft’s recusal may mean that somebody has toined states evidence and I imagine that could be true, particularly if some poor low level or midlevel schmuck panicked at the sight of a couple of burly feebies. After all, Karl Rove was overheard screaming (in regards to a disloyal operative) "We will fuck him" in earshot of a reporter who was waiting to see him for an interview, so it’s hard to believe that secretaries, aides, assistant types didn’t see the perps gleefully riverdancing all over the office after they sent their "Luca Brazzi sleeps with the fishes" message via their loyal family bagman, Bob Novak.

So, who knows? But I’ve got a hundred dollar bet going that this investigation will not be concluded before November 2004. These guys control all branches of government and operate above the law in plain sight with no repercussions. They’ll keep the media merrily chasing decades-old rumors of gossip of whispers that say that as a Lt Governor, Howard Dean was once seen using the office telephone for personal use, which while not specifically illegal is nonetheless shockingly improper in its appearance of impropriety.

Meanwhile, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his state of the state speech last evening, tells us that being governor is better than being a movie star, an inspiring and noble sentiment that brings to mind such memorable political lines such as “Who am I? Why am I here?” It send shivers down the spine just thinking of the thousands of schoolkids moved to public service this morning.

He sees a bright future for California which just 3 months ago was teetering on the edge of total collapse and in dire need of a man on a white horse (or a cyborg on a black motorcycle) to save it. He has apparently done so. Hip hip hooray. And if any small niggling problems remain, he has found a winning new formula to end the political polarization that has hamstrung our system. He has promised to ignore the craven and ignoble legislature if they do not conform to his wishes. He will take his True Lies Traveling Salvation Show directly to the people! He’ll sign autographs, ham it up for the fans … er, citizens, toss T3 DVD’s and copies of his awesome nude poster into the crowd. He’ll tell them to vote YES on propositions 3004 - 5003 and not to worry their pretty little heads about the details. Just like in the movies, he will save us and everyone will live happily ever after. sigh

Why, my friends ask me, do I think that modern politics (except in times of real extreme crisis) is almost entirely a matter of entertainment product consumer marketing? Why do I persist in my cynical view that with the proliferation of cable "news" entertainment wrestling, people see politics as a reality TV program, a cross between Survivor and American Idol? Why do I look at the current political contest and the media's predictable yet mind numbingly contentless horserace "coverage" and see a general election that is not a grassroots uprising or a patriotic affirmation, but a made-for-TV game show?

It's because that’s what I see and it's not just here in Lala land, but all across this country.

The primaries are about casting the lead in our new political reality show. Many people will be voting for who they want to "watch" over the next four years, the steely-eyed Rocket Man/bumbling airhead or ??????

The Republicans figured this out more than 20 years ago. It’s time we Democrats figured it out, too. Let’s get on with the show. This is it.

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.