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Friday, January 30, 2004

As The Election Turns

The next time anybody starts reaching for their smelling salts because of negative campaigning, they should recognize that one of the main reasons politicians resort to it is because the flaccid political press corps will not cover anything that falls outside of their settled narrative unless it's a deliciously vicious stab in the back. (And for reasons unknown they will cover Joe Lieberman as if he were a serious contender with endless droning televised interviews and serious examination of his performance in debates.) Other than that, it would appear that only a full-on, feral attack by rivals will shake their attention from the story they decide is the story that must be told.

The story of the Democratic campaign for the presidential nomination in 2003/2004 is "The Howard Dean Story."
Whether he's winning or losing, the plucky governor from Vermont and his erstwhile campaign manager are the only story they wish to tell. Even John Kerry, the man who looks as if he is going to sail through the nominating process without Democrats ever taking a real look at him, only exists as a sub-plot to the ever exciting "Dean Phenomenon." (I realize that Kerry got skewered early last year, but the only people paying attention at the time were 3 bloggers and Ed Gillespie.)

The Dean rise and fizzle is an interesting story. But, the continuing obsessive attention it is getting is not only destroying Dean's chances of coming back, it has ruined everyone else's chances of getting any oxygen whatsoever. Kerry wins the nomination because he beat Dean in Iowa, period. The press framed the election in those terms and those terms seem to be propelling the voters to assume that this is the contest. Nobody else exists, except as they relate to Howard Dean.

(The big story of the debate last night, for instance, wasn't the debate at all. It was the fact that Joe Trippi was going to speak out on Deborah Norville's show following the debate. And, he delivered a soap opera worthy performance. And there is no greater sign that the tabloid artists are taking over the story then the appearance of Lisa "Gary Condit did it!" Depaulo. There she was, showing all of her noted objectivity practically delivering a big juicy lewinsky to Trippi, right there on TV. )

There is no oxygen left after that kind of thing. My favorite candidate, Wesley Clark, has apparently vaporized, for instance. Despite the fact that as of yesterday he held the lead in 3 of the 7 February 3rd primaries, was well in the mix in 2 others and had plenty of money to continue, the NY Times and Washington Post did not even acknowledge that he was at the debate last night in their first editions, although they quoted Lieberman and Kucinich at length. (I wrote to both papers and was informed that they would add something about him in later editions. They did; it was pathetic.)

I don't think there is any malice or political bias, it's just that Wesley Clark existed in their minds only as the Anti-Dean and, as such, is irrelevant in the current plotline of Dean the soap-opera and Kerry the juggernaut. They are obsessing on Dean's demise from frontrunner to such an extent that they apparently see no necessity to examine Kerry's questionable statements, gaffes and inconsistencies. (I think we can all say with some assurance that the Republicans will have no trouble making up for lost time on that count.)

Dean fucks up. Kerry wins. Let's move on to the general election.

So, what should a candidate like John Edwards or Wesley Clark do in this situation? They both have good reasons to challenge John Kerry's unexamined claim to electability. He represents, in many ways, a return to the 80's for the Democrats and another round of liberal bashing on a scale we haven't seen since Dukakis was derisively accused of being "a card carrying member of the ACLU." (Most importantly, his appeal as a veteran is going to be shredded by the RNC in ways that already make me sick to my stomach.) Clark and Edwards are new faces who don't have the tired familiarity and old fashioned bombastic rhetoric of a liberal Senator from Massachusetts (ohjayzuz) who has a record of voting, a personal life and a public statements so long that Rove can spoon out a psuedo scandal a day into the yawning maw of the political media until Kerry has been morphed into a bizarre combination of Hanoi Jane Donald Trump, Al Gore and Foghorn Leghorn.

Nonetheless, it looks like Kerry is poised to win, Dean is poised to be the goat and everybody else is poised to disappear because nobody can get their message out over the rank silliness of the media narrative --- at the very time when people are actually paying attention and need the information.

So, the other candidates will go negative. It's the only way to make the mediawhores look up from their soap opera scripts and sniff the air for something nasty and enticing. Once they do, of course, they will tut-tut about how sad and desperate it all is. But, they have no choice but to try to change the narrative and refocus the little lemmings in another direction. It's not pretty, but I can't see what other options exist.

Normally, I would not encourage the Democrats to go negative on each other. However, I think if they are going to do it, the time is now. If Kerry sweeps on Tuesday, the game is over before he has been properly tested. And, then we're stuck. I like Kerry, and I voted for him in 1984. I'm a liberal, after all. But, he has got some general election weaknesses you can drive a semi through. The voters need to know this and he needs to show how he's going to deal with them before we make this decision.

The Dean story has so overshadowed everything else, for good and ill, that the other candidates have not gotten a proper airing. If Kerry can take the kind of heat that Dean underwent, then he deserves to win. But, to let him win as a default is a grave mistake.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Ooooh, so that's why they call them "mediawhores"

Final note from Sunday night: Which well-known “Fox Democrat” approached the comedians’ table and boasted about how much money Fox pays her? (Brought it up twice!) “That’s exactly what we’ve been saying,” one mordant wag later said.

Via the incomparable Daily Howler

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Card Smarting

Regarding the post below, I thank those who wrote to fill me in on the meaning of Dean's speech. I had read it, and the two articles I linked and was skeptical of the McCullough spin. However, I don't think it was out of line for me to have had questions about Dean's comments even though he made it clear that he was a believer in privacy rights. The substance of his remarks about this new technology was, at least, murky.

I realize it isn't the biggest deal in the world and I don't plan on making a crusade out of this. It's just a hot button issue with me. I'm dead set against a national smart-card and I'm extremely resistant to using property rights (in the guise of copyrights) as an excuse to further encroach on individual liberty.

Having said that, it goes without saying that our civil liberties would be in much safer hands with Howard Dean in charge than Junior and the Calico Cat-Man. I never meant to suggest otherwise.

Dean On Individual Liberty

I just got a note from Charlie Stross asking if I knew anything about this. I confess I didn't, but after reading the article, I am concerned. I'm one of those "left-libertarian" types on the political compass (I score in the same area as Noam Chomsky, if you can believe that) so privacy and civil liberties are a huge deal to me.

Do any of you internet Deaniacs out there have some information about this?

Dean's current stand on privacy appears to leave little wiggle room: His campaign platform pledges unwavering support for "the constitutional principles of equality, liberty and privacy."

Fifteen months before Dean said he would seek the presidency, however, the former Vermont governor spoke at a conference in Pittsburgh co-sponsored by smart-card firm Wave Systems where he called for state drivers' licenses to be transformed into a kind of standardized national ID card for Americans. Embedding smart cards into uniform IDs was necessary to thwart "cyberterrorism" and identity theft, Dean claimed. "We must move to smarter license cards that carry secure digital information that can be universally read at vital checkpoints," Dean said in March 2002, according to a copy of his prepared remarks. "Issuing such a card would have little effect on the privacy of Americans."

Dean also suggested that computer makers such as Apple Computer, Dell, Gateway and Sony should be required to include an ID card reader in PCs--and Americans would have to insert their uniform IDs into the reader before they could log on. "One state's smart-card driver's license must be identifiable by another state's card reader," Dean said. "It must also be easily commercialized by the private sector and included in all PCs over time--making the Internet safer and more secure."

This article indicates that there might be something more to the story. I reserve judgment. But, I'd like to hear from people who could shed some light on this.

My Fearless Primary Prediction

I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict with total confidence that today the people of New Hampshire are going to go into voting booths all over the state and vote for the candidate of their choice. The television pundits will begin to hint broadly at the winners at about 3pm eastern time based upon exit poll information they have promised not to share with the public until the polls close. Unable to help themselves, they will wink and nod and "let slip" all kinds of information to those who are watching closely.

Then, about 30 seconds after the designated closing time they will reveal the winner.

That's my prediction.

Oh, you want winners and losers?

Well, my crystal ball is as foggy as always, but it looks as if the New England homeboys Kerry and Dean are going to come in 1st and 2nd, which is only noteworthy because both of them have already performed a Lazarus-like resurrection. Third or fourth are probably Clark/Edwards --- which means that New Hampshire could have been predicted last fall with almost total accuracy.

The real story of New Hampshire is that Howard Dean has the humility, nimbleness and flexibility to learn from defeat and live to fight another day. He's shown me more in his handling of the post Iowa bitch lap than he did in all the months of Deaniac fever. If he comes back strong tonight the slate is clean and he's back in business.

One thing seems sure. The pundits' pronouncements of inevitability or death should probably be seen as signs that the opposite is true. So far, they have written off Kerry, Dean and Edwards at least once and if Clark doesn't take 3rd today he's next. And so far, they have been wrong each time. The February 3rd race will probably show who has legs and who doesn't, but tonight the pundits are going to make a bunch of premature pronouncements about all of the candidates that I guarantee are wrong. Their track record in this race so far is worse than I've ever seen it.

As I said before, I'm not afraid of a long primary fight. It's the best show on TV. Bush is sinking in the polls (even the virtually guaranteed SOTU bounce didn't happen) because he's being shown up by all of our candidates as a gibberish babbling moron every time you see him speak. People had forgotten what president's are supposed to sound like. We're reminding them every day.

I say let's keep it going for as long as possible. We can take the pressure and so can our candidates. You can't buy this kind of exposure.

Ten Patriots

As we all sit on pins and needles today awaiting the outcome of a very exciting primary I think it would do us all good to take a step back and give a word of thanks to the ten Democrats who had the guts and the stamina to take on The Mighty Wurlitzer and all that that entails. You have to admire every single one of them for being willing to put themselves through the meatgrinder of modern politics, sacrificing their time, their families and personal reputations to face a shallow derisive media and a ruthless, highly motivated foe. They are patriots, one and all.

In putting themselves in the line of fire, these Democrats have finally changed the political narrative that seemed to be frozen in time after 9/11. They took on the Warrior King from every different angle – from Howard Dean’s brave dissent on the Iraq war to John Edwards’ brilliant assessment of Bush’s “war on work” to Kucinich’s erudite defense of liberalism to Clark’s scathing expert critique of Bush’s failed foreign policy to Kerry’s fighting words against the special interests to Sharpton’s witty prodding of Democrats’ consciences, to Carol Mosely-Braun’s smiling reminders of the concerns of women to Bob Graham’s important early assessment of the terrorism threat. The message is finally out there. The inexorable Bush juggernaut has been stopped.

All of these people have been out there making our case for us, getting the Democratic view before the people, reminding Americans that there is a different way, that there is a better way. They’ve challenged the prevailing storyline. People now see that they are not alone in mistrusting this administration. They realize that even though the press behaves as if Bush is invincible, there are many people in the country who beg to differ.

Most importantly, even though there are some frayed feelings between the various camps and we are all pulling for our candidates to prevail, it’s clear that these ten patriotic Americans have actually pulled the Democratic Party together. They gave us hope, they gave us inspiration and most of all they gave us our voice back. The Democratic position is once again getting equal time.

To all the Democratic candidates, each of whom has more intelligence, integrity, courage compassion and common sense in their little fingers than the entire Bush Administration combined --- I salute you. I’d be proud to have any one of you as my president.

Cross posted on American Street where there are many interesting items to read. Go.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Oh My Goodness, Here's Another One

President Bush defends drug addict and possible felon as "great american":




President Bush expressed support of radio star Rush Limbaugh in conversations with top staff on Thursday, a senior administration source told the DRUDGE REPORT.

"Rush is a great American," the president said of the beleaguered host, who has championed the conservative movement for decades. "I am confident he can overcome any obstacles he faces right now."

Limbaugh is to host his daily broadcast from New York City on Friday.

This is troubling. I'm afraid that I'm going to have to demand that President Bush at least distance himself from these remarks. He will definitely have to disavow the Oxycontin-popping, doctor-shopping, parking-lot drug scoring, "great American" at some point unless he is willing to be held accountable for Limbaugh's drug use.

You can tell a lot about a man by his friends....

McAulife Rips Off His Tutu On National TV

From the Karl Rove "I wish I'd never told Fred Barnes to make a big deal out of this" department:

BLITZER: Terry McAuliffe, when Wesley Clark was on that stage with Michael Moore, one of his campaign supporters, and Moore called President Bush a deserter and General Clark refused to distance himself from that comment right away, was that a huge blunder? You don't believe that President Bush was a deserter, do you?

MCAULIFFE: Well, Wolf, in order to to be a deserter, you have to actually show up.

Let's just deal with the facts. As you know, when President Bush got out of college in 1968, it was at the height of the draft. It's well known that the president, former president, used some of his influence to get George Bush into the Texas National Guard.

He then wanted to go to Alabama and work on a Senate campaign. So he went to Alabama for a year while he was in the National Guard, and he never showed up.

I mean, I would call it AWOL. You call it whatever you want. But the issue is the president did not show up for the year he was in Alabama, when he was supposed to show up for the National Guard.

BLITZER: All right.

MCAULIFFE: And I think that's what Mr. Moore was trying to say.


BLITZER: Hold on one second. I'm going to let you respond.

But I want to make sure I heard you right. Are you saying you don't dispute what Michael Moore was saying, branding the president of the United States as having been a deserter?

MCAULIFFE: He never should have called him a deserter. There are other issues that you can say -- AWOL, just didn't show up for duty. But he shouldn't have called him a deserter. Let's get out of this discourse in American politics. Let's just deal with the facts.

BLITZER: All right.

MCAULIFFE: The facts are that George Bush didn't show up when he was supposed to in the National Guard, and that's just the fact.

But I wouldn't call him a deserter, nor should anybody call the president a deserter.

GILLESPIE: Well, Wolf, I'm glad to hear Terry acknowledge that what Michael Moore said was reprehensible. But Terry's wrong that the president was AWOL in the National Guard. That is not accurate. The president served honorably in the National Guard.

This is one of the -- the Democrats throw these charges out there. They're just completely inaccurate, and it's unfortunate that they stoop to this kind of politics.

But we're going to hear more of these kind of attacks against the president, personal attacks, because they don't want to talk about their policies because their policies are wrong for America. Raising taxes, reducing our national security expenditures and making us weaker when it comes to winning the war against terror are the wrong policies for America. That's the bottom line, and that's why President Bush is going to be successful in November.

BLITZER: Ted Gillespie and Terry McAuliffe, we'll leave it right there. But we'll have both of you back. I understand both of you will be here in New Hampshire on Tuesday. You'll probably be on one of our shows here on CNN. Thanks very much for joining us.

Quick ... the smelling salts!

Now, there was a time when it was considered a-ok to call the president a rapist, a murderer and pervert and a traitor all within the space of one segment of Hardball, and there was nary a complaint. They drew pictures of his penis, psychoanalysed both him and his wife, accused them of sexual deviancy, assault and corruption on an epic scale.

But, that was a different time. Let the word go forth that we must all line up behind our Dear Leader and NEVER, EVER even hint that he is anything less than perfect. It's treasonous, actually. Terry McAuliffe is obviously an enemy combatant who belongs in a 3x5 cell in Gitmo.

Bipartisan Disavowal Treatment

Peter Jennings, Tim Russert, Wolf Blitzer and others have been relentless in their pursuit of a proper repudiation of Michael Moore and his deserter comment from Wesley Clark.

As many of you know, I am a big believer in the newdisavowel movement in this country. Guilt by association is an excellent political shortcut and I'm all for it. As Peter Jennings said at the debate the other night, "You can tell a lot about a man by his friends." Politicians, bloggers, supporters and others must realize that they are not only responsible for their own words, but they are responsible for their friends' words as well. And, if anyone takes issue with your friends you must be prepared to defend or reject them on that basis alone. It's the American way.

But, I do wonder if the media's new insistence on taking responsibility for your supporters words is in danger of not being seen as fair and balanced and I think that would be such a shame. For instance, while I'm sure it's nothing to worry about, I was struck that nobody seems to have asked the president about this:

Miller Emerges as New Voice for Bush Re-Election

Sat June 28, 2003 03:10 PM ET

CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - A new voice has emerged in the re-election campaign of President Bush, that of Dennis Miller, who is gaining a reputation as a conservative comic by attacking Democrats with biting humor.

Miller flew on Air Force One from San Francisco to Los Angeles with the president on Friday, and later gave a stand-up routine at a Bush fund-raiser in Los Angeles.

"I spent an amazing couple of hours with Dennis Miller," Bush said during his Los Angeles speech after Miller's routine. "He keeps you on your toes."

He added: "I was also honored to meet his wife, Carolyn. Like me, he married above himself. It may not be all that hard, in his case. But I'm proud to have his help."

Miller, who was an analyst on ABC's "Monday Night Football, had an HBO comedy show and does commentary for Fox News, adds a celebrity touch to Bush's re-election campaign, much like actor Bruce Willis did in 1992 when Bush's father ran for re-election.

Bush remained offstage until after Miller's often caustic comic performance during the fund-raiser that drew in $3.5 million, most of it in $2,000 checks from 1,600 people.

For instance, he took aim at West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, a Democratic elder statesmen who has questioned the Iraq war and its chaotic aftermath.

Even some in the crowd of Republican loyalists booed when Miller said of Byrd: "I think he must be burning the cross at both ends."

Responding to the boos, Miller said: "Well, he was in the (Ku Klux) Klan. Boo me, but he was in the Klan."

He likened the nine Democratic presidential candidates running to unseat Bush in 2004 to the 1962 New York Mets, perennial losers, and called them an "empty-headed scrum."

He had a special barb for one candidate, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who has questioned the Iraq war, comparing him to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who followed a policy of appeasement of Nazi Germany in the years before World War II.

"He can roll up his sleeves all he wants at public events, but as long as we see that heart tattoo with Neville Chamberlain's name on his right forearms, he's never going anywhere," Miller said.

I would be hesitant to call this political hate speech and gawd knows, that Hitler ad that was on the Move-On web-site for 3 and a half minutes was shocking in its allusion to Bush and incipient naziism. But, it seems to me that the whole forearm tattoo reference to Chamberlain might also be seen as a bit tasteless as was the crossburning thing. I could be wrong. (Calling the Democratic candidates "empty headed scrum" is just fine, of course. Who doesn't believe that?)

I realize that nothing could be worse than implying that our Codpiece in Chief is anything but brave and true and heroic, but I still think it could be said that the media aren't holding him to the same standards if they don't at least ask him if he thinks he might want to disavow Miller. He did spend time with him on Air Force One and he did say he was "proud to have his help...." after he made those comments.

I'm sure Bush will clear this right up in a hurry and everyone can get back to harrassing Democrats as it should be. It's just a little housekeeping, that's all.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Nit Pickler Of The Day

Stories Not Fully Told

By CALVIN WOODWARD, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - Wesley Clark (news - web sites) left a few things out Thursday when he defended his Democratic credentials; namely, the Republicans he's supported for president.

"I voted for Bill Clinton (news - web sites) and Al Gore (news - web sites)," the retired general said in a Democratic presidential debate Thursday, then stopped there. He also has said previously that he voted for Republicans including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan (news - web sites) and the first George Bush.

Stories not fully told were part of the story of the night.

John Kerry (news - web sites), a Vietnam veteran who addressed his days as a protest leader against that war, talked about how "we camped on the Mall underneath the Congress," although accounts of that April 1971 demonstration had him staying in a friend's Georgetown town house while the masses stayed in tents.

Kerry spokesman David DiMartino said Kerry did sleep on the Mall and used the Georgetown house for protest organizing during the day.

Do read the rest. It's fascinating. It would appear that the Nit Pickler has become a legitimate new form of journalism at the AP.

All the candidates are weasels who are trying to hide their nefarious and embarrassing pasts. When they speak of their lives they should always present a full unbiased account including any detail that might be construed by others as relevent. If they don't they are lying sacks of garbage.

Unless, of course, they are George W. Bush in which case this is how it's done:

Bush said spending on homeland security-related activities will rise from about $28 billion to more than $30 billion in his next proposed budget. The White House said counterterrorism efforts at the Department of Justice would receive about a fifth more money than they currently get, rising to $2.6 billion.

It wasn't clear where else the new money would go, or whether other government programs would have to be cut to make way for this spending at a time when Bush has promised to cut the record $500 billion budget deficit in half.

The streets along Bush's motorcade route were lined with hundreds of supporters, and the convention hall was packed on his sixth visit to the state as president. The White House lined up cadets from the New Mexico Military Institute behind him for his speech.

Afterward, Bush made a rare motorcade-route stop to linger with locals on the way out of town. Bounding into the Nuthin' Fancy Cafe, the president hugged a few delighted restaurant patrons, saying he wanted to help "this lady put some money in her pockets."

"I need some ribs," Bush said from behind the counter, his arm around a diner employee. "I'm hungry."

He made passing reference to the years of talk about a 1947 UFO crash in Roswell, a small city surrounded by rugged land.

"I understand you had reports this morning of an unfamiliar aircraft," Bush said. "Don't worry, it was just me."

The story not told was that the president of the United States was acting like a 15 year old trash talking punk in the above mentioned restaurant and refused repeatedly to answer any of the questions posed by reporters by throwing his weight around and making stupid, juvenile jokes for about 15 minutes.

At least he should have been acountable for not explaining that when he's hungry he doesn't always "need some ribs." In fact, he's reportedly eaten many different kinds of foods over the years besides ribs when he's hungry.

Oh yes. And "it wasn't clear where else the new money would go, or whether other government programs would have to be cut to make way for this spending..."

Tuesday, January 20, 2004


It's a wide open race and I think it's a good thing because it's turning into a helluva show. And, a helluva show keeps the media talking to Democrats, showing footage of Democrats, analyzing Democrats and basically giving us lots of free air time and exposure. Our guys are entertaining, unpredictable and they are giving some very good television. Every minute that we are being discussed and examined is a minute they aren't showing another tedious, mind-numbing Dubya fund raising speech in front of "subliminable" backdrops and handpicked cheering crowds. The longer we keep Bush from getting that free and easy oxygen and the longer our story remains suspenseful and exciting, the less he gets to dominate the narrative.

As far as I'm concerned, it's not a big deal even if we take it all the way to a brokered convention. We'd keep Rove on his toes and it would be an exciting show to watch. As we've (re) discovered, many people make up their minds late in the game. If we spend the next 6 months with 4 guys slamming the hell out of Bush day in and day out, it may take its toll.

Regardless of how it all turns out, I hope that we can all agree that ever believing media hype is a fools game. They are very rarely right with their crystal ball gazing and they have absolutely no shame about being wrong. Indeed, as you look around the TV dial today it's hard to find any talking head who is the least bit chagrined at having called the election over about 6 weeks ago. (By the way, has anyone heard from Ted Rall lately?)

I wrote below in my rambling posts about "the base vs swing voters" that I was skeptical about Dean's movement. (Actually, I'm skeptical of all movements that are tied too closely to one person or event, but that's another post.) The results in Iowa did not ease my mind. The argument has been that Dean's organization and ability to attract new voters, particularly young voters, mitigated his perceived weaknesses as a Northeastern "liberal," his association with the controversy of civil unions and his lack of foreign policy experience. Iowa is only one state and it has an arcane caucus system, but the results mirrored the polls which do tell a story.

According to the entrance polls, 40% of voters get some news from the internet. Of those, Dean got 24%, Edwards got 22% and Kerry got 33%. The "internet vote," such as it is, is not solely a Dean phenomenon. The first time voters made up an astonishing 45% of the caucus goers. But again, of that 45%, Dean got only 19%, Edwards got 28% and Kerry got 35%. It appears that the turn out was high and many were first time voters, but the benefit did not go to Dean. In the 17 to 29 year old age group, which made up only 17% of the electorate, Dean received 25%, Edwards 20% and Kerry 35%. So, young voters did not turn out in force and of those that did, only a quarter supported Dean.

Iowa is not dispositive. However, it is the first time we've had any way of measuring the claims that seemed to have been taken as gospel by the media. I've no doubt that Deans supporters are very sincere and passionate. But, until now we literally had no way of measuring whether that passion was widespread and well-organized or whether it was campaign hype and wishful thinking. I think we will have to wait and see the results of a couple more of the races, but we now have some data upon which to begin making decisions about whether Dean's unorthodox electoral strategy for the general election has a chance of working.

I've argued that in this election we don't have to reinvent the wheel --- that conditions remain pretty much frozen where they were in 2000. 9/11 brought foreign policy to the fore as an issue, but it didn't change the electoral map, it merely reinforced existing conditions. Indeed, in a strange way, 9/11 may have given us an opening by allowing Democratic candidates with military experience (whom you may have noticed far outnumber leading Republicans with military experience) to use that experience as one of the cultural signifiers that can challenge Junior in swing states and force him to work a bit to hold the south.

By doing this, we might be able to challenge the absurd "he kept our babies safe" narrative enough to make him defend his ridiculous foreign and economic policies alike. There is no guarantee, of course, but there is ample evidence that you can get swing voters in those desperately needed swing states with the right blend of cultural comfort and economic populism. Foreign policy credentials, particularly combat and military leadership, are part of that cultural comfort.

I don't have anything against the concept of forgetting that strategy and instead concentrating on bringing in disaffected voters, appealing to young voters and trying to get swing voters based on the theory that because they embody the duality of Lakoff's "strict father/nurturant mother" definition of the two parties, they will vote for whichever party's candidate excites them the most. Any or all of these things could mean that our presidential candidate would not have to have the cultural signifiers that appeal to swing voters. But, for at least two of those suppositions, there is evidence from the past that it will not work. The young voter/disaffected voter paradigm was touted as the way out again and again during our years in the wilderness and it always failed. We have never tried the Lakoff approach so I can't say that it doesn't work, but we do know that swing voters in the past have leaned toward whoever seemed to be more moderate, not more exciting. It might work the other way, but it has never been tested.

I remain unconvinced that the internet has become the defining organizational tool of the modern campaign. It has shown itself to be useful in fundraising, but the rest remains an amorphous potential as yet undemonstrated. It is too new and too insular just yet to be touted as having surpassed the personal skill of the candidate, the mainstream media and advertising as the most effective way to reach voters, as some have argued. It's definitely in the mix and it's likely to become much more important over time, but I don't see that it has yet changed the process fundamentally. (I say this as an inveterate political internet junkie who is so hooked that life is unthinkable without it now.)

John Emerson has made some very valuable points in his posts over on Seeing the Forest about long term strategy, along with his tag team blogger Dave Johnson who has long touted the need for the Democrats to create an info-structure to battle the Republicans on explicitly political grounds (as he does here on American Street.) They are both absolutely correct that we have to think long term and build the institutions and create the rhetoric that can break the deadlock we find ourselves in. They are not winning on policy, they are winning on politics and we've got to counter them more effectively overall.

However, I continue to believe that this presidential election is the most important in my lifetime and we will only win it by running the smartest campaign we possibly can. It's imperative that we break the GOP lock on institutional power ASAP. Therefore, I don't think we can afford to experiment. As I said, I'll wait to see what develops in the next couple of primaries. But, if these numbers out of Iowa are indicative of other states then I do not think we can afford to nominate Howard Dean. Unlike the other leading candidates, I can't see a scenario in which he can win if he isn't able to draw great numbers of young and disaffected voters in swing states that haven't been friendly to a Northeastern Democrat since JFK --- who won, by the way, only by the slimmest and most dubious of margins.

Nowadays, Democrats don't take the office when that happens.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Sunday Must Read

Kevin Hayden has written an awesome analysis of Iowa and the possible ramifications of what is looking like a possible serious upset, over at The American Street. If what he thinks is true, this race is going to be very, very exciting.

Through The Looking Glass

Maybe this has been covered before and I missed it, but the following comment about the space initiative from Scarborough Country just blew me away:

REP. TOM FEENEY ®, FLORIDA: Well, in the first place, Joe, I actually am very excited about the president‘s proposal, even though I‘m one of the leading fiscal conservatives, voted against the recent Medicare proposal, partly because it does bust our budget, in my view.

But let me say this. Bottom line, Joe, exploration is important. Research is important. But somebody on the face of the Earth is going to control and dominate space in the next several decades and centuries. If it‘s not the United States, it may be a hostile nation, a hostile set of nations, or even a hostile or rogue terrorist group.

This is a matter in part of national security and homeland defense. If we lose our dominance of low Earth and high Earth orbit, bottom line is, we‘re going to risk our very security in the United States of America.


Ultimately, somebody will dominate space. If it is not the United States, it‘s going to be somebody very hostile to our interests. We can‘t permit that to happen. And NASA, while it needs to work closer with the Defense Department, NASA is part of America‘s leadership and dominance in the future of space exploration and in protecting our security and homeland.

The PNAC paranoids have long believed that we should weaponize space. This reasoning isn't really that far out for that crowd.

Via: Civic Dialogs

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Reinventing The Wheel

John "uncool when uncoolness is necessary" Emerson wrote me and others an e-mail in which he argues that we can't keep running to the center because it takes us ever rightward.

I agree that any more policy shifts to the right are a mistake, but "running" to the center is a different thing altogether. The party moved to the center for two reasons during the late 80's and early 90's. The first and most important reason was purely because we were losing ground across the board and the future looked grim. We were about to lose our congressional majority as soon as the remaining southern Democrats retired; they had only stayed with the party because they would have lost their powerful committee positions if they had jumped. (That process was finished in 1994.) And, presidential politics had been a disaster since LBJ. The Democrats decided they needed a different, more pragmatic approach in order to win.

But, there was another reason they moved to the center. People like Mickey Kaus and others advocated it as a way to force the Republicans to tack leftward or be left looking like extremists. This was a serious miscalculation as we now know because the old bipartisan consensus was disappearing with the emergence of the new breed of GOP gangster like DeLay and Gingrich. The more we shifted to the right on policy, the more rightward they went in response.

So, to the extent that John is talking about the latter, I am in complete agreement. We simply cannot compromise on policy anymore. No more "pilot programs" on privatization, no quarter on "faith based" initiatives, no bipartisan cover on anything. It only hurts us. Any experimental ideas can be tested in the states. As a national party, and particularly as congressional delegation, we have moved as far to the right as we can go and it is time to hold the line.

Just as important, we must counter their obfuscatory rhetoric and never, ever adopt it as our own. Any Democrat who uses terms such as "tax relief," "tort reform" or "partial birth" abortion should be fined 1000 dollars per instance. (And, might I add that constantly calling the leadership of the Democratic Party "cowards" only reinforces Rush Limbaugh's daily rants, as well.) Changing the language, re-framing the terms of the debate and developing an idea/media infrastructure has been the most brilliant Republican achievement of all and we have to stop enabling it. It is, in my view, the primary reason why they are in power today.

But, I don't think any of those things have much to do with winning presidential elections and winning this next one is mandatory. This GOP lock on institutional power is so dangerous and has such huge long term ramifications that we must be ruthlessly pragmatic and intensely focused. We must take control of one branch of government and the executive branch is the only option in 2004. We have to assume responsibility for foreign policy because if Bush gets elected legitimately they will take it as a further mandate to expand the Bush Doctrine of unilateralism and military confrontation. This is too dangerous to allow.

Likewise, while I know that we are all tired of damage control and we want desperately to enact a progressive agenda, the fact is as long as the GOP has control of the congress, damage control is our singular duty. The checks and balances aren't working. The modern GOP is a rogue Party that has proven it cannot be entrusted with the reins of power. Taking back the executive branch is job one. It's more immediately important than "taking our party back" or building for the future or purging the Clintons or "letting it rip."

I hate to be too dramatic here, but it is our responsibility to save the country and the world from another four years of a power mad, reckless group of ideologues who are acting more and more crazy with each passing day. (Can we talk about Mars?)

This is not the time to reinvent the wheel or ignore the things that we know. We won the last 3 presidential elections. Until 2 years ago the Republicans had been losing seats in every election subsequent to 1994. There is data and experience to be culled from that. We just had a census, information from which when combined with sophisticated new marketing tools and detailed demographics can help us figure out how to target voters and formulate a winning message. Dean and Clark and all the others to a certain extent have opened up a new way of communicating and fundraising (and potentially organizing) via the internet. The base is unified on policy.

We don't have to blow this thing but from what I see, there is an increasingly good chance that we are going to if we decide that this election, of all elections, is the one where we must simultaneously attract 8 to 10 million disaffected voters, try out a untried theoretical idea for winning swing voters, experiment with an electoral strategy that openly writes off the south, and ignore all of the empirical data we have about how people vote in this country. (I'm not, by the way, accusing Emerson of advocating these things.)

I don't mean that we can't be innovative or that this election doesn't present unique opportunities, but we don't have to behave as if we've been in the wilderness forever. We know that the economic message alone does not work with people who are culturally conservative. We know that we are weak with white males and stronger with white females. We know that Bush's highest ratings are on leadership and national security. We know that polls consistently show that 40 percent of voters consider themselves conservative, 40 percent moderate, and just 20 percent liberal. We know that incumbent presidents have a built in advantage. We know that Bush is going to run as The Bold Man Of Vision Who Saved The World and anybody who disagrees with that is going to be labeled an unpatriotic, irreligious, cowardly, decadent, unhinged traitor. We know many things.

I realize it has become fashionable to say that we needn't worry about our candidates' perceived weaknesses because the Republicans just make stuff up anyway but that's like saying that you might as well send a fighter with a glass jaw into the ring because the other guy has a reputation for hitting below the belt. (I am guilty of saying that same thing some months ago, right on this blog, but I am here to say that I was completely full of shit.) The Republicans aren't omnipotent, but they are good at what they do and they have years of practice tearing down Democrats for being godless, elitist, sissified libertines. Of course they'll make stuff up but that doesn't mean that we should play into their hands by making ourselves even more vulnerable in areas that play into people's by now hard wired negative perceptions about Democrats. It's insane to think we can win this election without taking into account what the opposition is planning to do and trying to counter it. We know how to do that, too.

If we don't use our heads and focus intently on the goal of beating George W. Bush, I fear that the worst result will be a Bush landslide and at best, this, most depressing scenario:

David Berthiaume a Manchester taxi driver, has not been to any candidate's events. He hasn't paid much attention to the race -- he said he turns off the television when political ads come on -- and he says that most of his friends aren't particularly focused on the race either.

On the afternoon of Nov. 21, on a ride to Manchester Airport, here's what he told a nosy reporter in the back seat: "I'll tell you where my vote's going: to our president. I'm not a Republican, I'm an Independent. And I'm pro-choice. But I think he's done a good job, and so does at least 51 percent of the country. Fine, he might have been misled about Iraq, but it needed to happen anyway. We kicked Saddam in the teeth, and now he's gone. We should all be happy about that."

In the end it doesn't matter if it's a landslide or a squeaker. The kind of destruction that the Republicans are going to wreak if they get four more years of unfettered power is truly frightening. It simply cannot happen.

Right Wing Freak Show

The weekend after September 11, George Bush's former Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, sat in a leather armchair at Camp David, the presidential retreat, devouring a pile of intelligence documents on al-Qaeda handed out by the CIA boss, George Tenet.

A two-day crisis meeting of Mr Bush's senior advisers had finally wound up. The President had gone to bed.

Across the room, the National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was singing hymns, accompanied on the piano by the Christian fundamentalist Attorney-General, John Ashcroft.

Leafing through the CIA documents, Mr O'Neill was astonished to read plans for covert assassinations around the globe designed to remove opponents of the US Government. The plans had virtually no civilian checks and balances.

"What I was thinking is, 'I hope the President really reads this carefully', Mr O'Neill said. "It's kind of his job. You can't forfeit this much responsibility to unelected individuals. But I knew he wouldn't."

It makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck, doesn't it?

Inappropriate Triumphalism

I've been greatly concerned these last couple of days about the reports of Wes Clark's hawkish triumphalism as expressed in that London Times article from last April as Baghdad fell. Even though he had spent 34 years in the Army and was predictably proud of the military victory, there was really no reason for him to be so effusive in his congratulations. It is unseemly, particularly if one wasn't a strong supporter of the war, to say things like this:

The first order of business is to congratulate the United States military, to congratulate the Iraqi people and to say that this is a great day, both for (the) American military and American people and for the Iraqi people. I think President Bush deserves a day of celebration. Everybody in America is elated. We congratulate the troops. They've done an extraordinary job. We're blessed to have the best military we've ever had. We are all so proud of their efforts not just today, but every day as they work tirelessly to bring democracy to Iraq.

Oops. I made a mistake. The above comments were made by Howard Dean, John Kerry, and John Edwards after the capture of Saddam just last month. It's so hard to keep straight when you are allowed to effusively congratulate the troops and President Bush for successful military operations and when you're not. My bad. Never mind.

Friday, January 16, 2004


While I'm on the subject, SKBubba turned me on to this article in the Atlantic about the sophisticated new methods being used to find and understand these wacky swing voters. There is much of interest in the article, but I was particularly struck by this:

The New Democrat Network, a centrist political organization, was among the first in this election cycle to use polling to sketch out a profile of the latest generation of swing voters. Data shared with each of the Democratic candidates (and provided to The Atlantic) describes them as mainly white and also younger, less likely to vote, and more likely than self-identified Democrats or Republicans to characterize themselves as "workaholics." They are most heavily concentrated in suburbs and small cities, and though they disapprove of many Bush Administration policies, they tend to be more religious and to admire military service more than most Democrats do. "On many issues their attitudes correspond strongly with the Democratic Party even though demographically they are closer to Republican voters," says Peter Brodnitz, of the firm Penn, Schoen and Berland, which conducted the poll.

The New Democrat Network identified civil liberties and the environment as the two issues on which independents and Republicans most strongly disagree—and, indeed, many of the Democratic candidates have sounded precisely these themes. (Buried in the report's "tactical recommendations" is information that both sides in the next campaign may find useful: independents listen to a disproportionate amount of country radio, and they watch SportsCenter more often than other Americans—a taste, the poll reveals, that corresponds more closely with Democrats' than Republicans'.)

Other organizations, including Emily's List, have conducted broader studies to sort independents into smaller "lifestyle clusters," the better to target them in the fall. Emily's List has identified four basic groups: disengaged "Bystanders," who when motivated to vote lean Democratic; "Senior Health Care" voters, whose gender (predominantly female) suggests an inclination to support Democrats; "Education First" voters, 64 percent female and 66 percent pro-choice but currently more supportive of Bush and the Iraq War than the typical Democrat; and the "Young Economically Pressured," many of whom work more than forty hours a week and may care for an elderly parent. Though this last group tends to support the Democratic position on funding public schools and other issues, its members live predominantly in small towns or rural areas and are culturally conservative.

The challenge for the next Democratic candidate will be reaching all these independents, many of whom live in small cities and suburbs that are gradually abandoning the Democratic Party. The suburban vote, which Bush won narrowly in 2000, continues to grow. Suburban women already tend to vote Democratic, so the nominee must make a special effort to appeal to men, whose vote fluctuates more than women's in presidential elections and who have lately deserted the party in large numbers: men now prefer Republicans over Democrats by 19 percentage points.

Read the whole article. It's got a lot of food for thought.

The Base Part II

Nick Confessore at TAPPED discusses the "bringing in new voters" meme and highlights some interesting information from an article (subscriber only) by John Harwood in today's Wall Street Journal.

Granted, Dean laid out his swing voter strategy in the article I linked in my earlier post, but according to this article he is also saying in Iowa this week:

"We can't beat George Bush with the same people who voted in 2000.The only way we can beat George Bush is by attracting people who have given up on politics."

Now, I don't have any beef with Dean saying this. It's a big part of his appeal and his strategy. But, I confess that I'm always skeptical of any politicians ability to deliver on the claim because I went through those years in the 70's and 80's when Democrats often said it and it never turned out to be true. (In fact, just last fall, everyone including the candidate himself said that Schwarzenegger was going to pull a Jesse Ventura and bring in a bunch of new voters and that didn't turn out to be true either. He won with an average turn-out of the usual suspects including the support of 20% self-professed liberal Democrats.)

However, that does not mean it isn't true this time, so I'm keeping an open mind. As always, I'd like to believe it because ... well, I'm a loyal Democrat and I'd genuinely like to see an influx of voters who have been turned off by politics in the past. Confessore doesn't seem to think it's likely and I have to admit that this excerpt from the WSJ piece doesn't soothe my worries about this strategy:

There's no doubt that rousing new enthusiasm in the country as a whole will prove more difficult for Mr. Dean than it has been in the nomination contest. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows greater Democratic sympathies for Mr. Dean among those who aren't registered to vote than among those who are. But among all unregistered voters, there isn't a greater propensity to vote for Mr. Dean -- either in the Democratic race or in the general election.

In fact, those not registered are slightly more supportive of the Iraq war than Americans as a whole. So are younger voters, whom Mr. Dean has been counting on but who have rarely turned out in large numbers. An exception was Mr. Ventura's third-party win. So far, "Dean is no Jesse Ventura" when it comes to drawing young voters, observes Robert Teeter, who conducts the Journal/NBC poll with his Democratic counterpart Peter Hart.

Confessore adds:

Let's recap. Democrats not registered to vote are slightly more pro-Dean, but the non-voting masses are not -- in part, it would seem, because they are actually more pro-war than registered voters. So that doesn't exactly net out to Dean's benefit. And although you see a lot of media coverage about Dean's capacity to excite young voters, that group isn't exactly coming out in droves for the guy -- again, probably in part because they are relatively pro-war.

Quick Answer

If anyone tries to claim, as the Wall Street Journal does today, that Wes Clark and Richard Perle were in agreement during their testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on September 26, 2002, just point them to this statement:

PERLE: "So I think General Clark simply doesn't want to see us use military force and he has thrown out as many reasons as he can develop to that but the bottom line is he just doesn't want to take action. He wants to wait."

Update: The above comment is from the very same transcript.

The Base

I know I'm going to get royally flamed for posting this, and I'm sure I'll regret ever thinking of it, but I was waiting for it to get circulated and it never did, so I guess it's up to me.

By Susan Page
USA Today

Former Vermont governor Howard Dean is leading in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, but a demographic portrait of the voters he's drawing nationwide shows he'll face major challenges when the opening contests are over and the Democratic field narrows.

An analysis of the Democratic electorate indicates that Dean's major rivals are likely to be in a better position than he is to appeal to voters whose candidates drop out of the race.

And many of the contests next on the calendar are in states dominated by the sort of voters Dean has had relatively little success drawing, at least so far.

USA TODAY combined responses from 3,238 Democrats surveyed in the USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll since September, when retired general Wesley Clark got in the race. They were sorted into the 14 demographic groups devised by the marketing firm Claritas, which uses Census data to characterize Americans.

The contrast between Dean and Clark, who lead the field, is stark:

Dean's support is disproportionately drawn from affluent, college-educated voters who live in big cities and their suburbs. His largest single group of supporters is called "Urban Uptown."

He is weakest in a group called "Rustic Living," a mix of young and old people who live in rural areas and small towns.

Clark's support is the most balanced among the six major contenders, generally tracking the distribution of Democratic voters among cities, suburbs and rural areas. He draws strong support from a group called "Second City Society," affluent, college-educated voters who live in medium-size cities. His single largest group of supporters is in "Rustic Living."

The "Rustic Living" group looms large in the Democratic contests. It makes up the biggest bloc of Democratic voters, comprising one in 10 U.S. households but one in six Democrats. It is the greatest single source of support for Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

This is the first I've seen of any serious demographic analysis of the various candidates' support. I've not seen the underlying data but assuming it is basically correct it validates the questions many of us have with Dean's "turn out the base" strategy, since he doesn't seem to be clicking quite yet even with Democrats outside of big cities. Maybe these "Rustic Living" Democrats who make up six in ten members of the party will vote ABB no matter what, but I don't think that's clear. More importantly, it's not a very good way to deal with the electoral college challenge. Big turn out in blue state big cities simply isn't going to get it done.

Dave over at Seeing the Forest linked to this comment by Dean in
US News and World Report
about his "crank the base" strategy:

Though Dean did not enter the race with the expectations of winning, he did see a way to win. "Karl Rove [President Bush's political guru] discovered it, too, but I discovered it independently," Dean says and adds that the theory is embodied in the writings of George Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California-Berkeley. "What you do is crank the heck out of your base, get them really excited and crank up the base turnout and you'll win the middle-of-the-roaders," Dean says. The reason, according to the theory, is that swing voters share the characteristics of both parties and eventually go with whatever party excites them the most. "Democrats appeal to them on their softer side--the safety net--but the Republicans appeal to them on the harder side--the discipline, the responsibility, and so forth," Dean says. "So the question is which side appears to be energetic, deeply believing in its message, deeply committed to bringing a vision of hope to America. That side is the side that gets the swing voters and wins."

I have expressed my doubts about the usefulness of Lakoff's framing of the two parties for any kind of electoral strategy or message. It is simply a descriptive frame, and I think Dean aptly uses it here. However, I have absolutely no idea, and frankly neither does he, if this theory about swing voters is true. Certainly, it has not been true in the past.

In 1992, the Republican convention showcased a party of energy, one that deeply believed in its message and portrayed a strong vision of hope for America. Pat Buchanan made a case for taking the country back from the moral relativists who were ruining the country. It was much too strident and ended up sending swing voters running. I am not comparing Buchanan to Dean, so save your fury for someone else. I am merely pointing out that there is some evidence that Dean's theory, at least sometimes, does not work.

Indeed, contrary to what Dean asserts in his comment, after the overt partisanship of that convention and the divisive leadership of Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove went in the opposite direction and ran George W. Bush as if he were a card carrying member of the NAACP and the ACLU. Apparently, they thought that being too "deeply believing in its message" was turning off voters. (Of course, he lost by half a million votes, so perhaps that theory doesn't work either.)

So, maybe it is the message that counts with swing voters, after all. Or perhaps it's a matter of cultural affinity or a "good feeling" for the candidate. I'm not sure anyone really knows what moves swing voters. Whatever the case, Dean's theory cannnot be tested if he cannot stir the base beyond the big cities. The next two months will tell that tale.

I know that I will get some comments about Dean's bringing in new voters and his organizational prowess. I am not dismissing that. However, as with the demographic data I referenced above, I have been waiting to see whether Dean is, in fact, bringing in new voters and whether his organization is, in fact, powerful. I've only heard campaign boasts and anecdotal evidence from his supporters that this is true. The press repeats it as if it were gospel, but I haven't seen any actual evidence from them either. The proof is in the pudding and I presume that actual real life voters will confirm whether his campaign has broken new ground beyond its obvious success with fundraising and internet communication.

I hope that it has because gawd knows we Democrats need all the help we can get.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Bad Politics

Chris Suellentrop gives a rather tortured defense of his incomprehensible screed from the other day to which I won't even bother to respond in detail.

I do take issue with his characterization of both Clark and Dean engaging in "bad politics" by making what he calls "impolitic" statements. Clearly, what Suellentrop knows about politics, bad or otherwise, could fit on the head of a pin.

Yes, both men have made impolitic statements, as have Kerry, Edwards, Gephardt and even(Gawd help me) George W. Bush. I would bet that every single candidate for office in the history of the world has made "impolitic" statements, and many of them won because of them. They give several speeches every single day and answer huge numbers of questions which are then poured over by smug, superior reporters who search for small niggling inconsistencies with which to Gore them. Fine. We all know that.

Suellentrop, from his perch atop Mt Olympus also apparently believes that each of the candidates are perceived in exactly the same way by the voters (as clowns, evidently, since that is how he sees them) so when they make these "impolitic" statements they are also received by the public in exactly the same way. This is ridiculous.

It is bad politics for Wesley Clark to make an "impolitic" statement about abortion because it reinforces the perception that he doesn't know anything about women's issues or the minefield of abortion politics in America. In the Democratic Party that is a BIG mistake. That comment plays to his weakness and is therefore, bad politics. On the other hand, when he makes an "impolitic" statement about national security it reinforces the idea that he is prepared to take on the conventional wisdom about George W. Bush on national defense. That plays to his strength.

When Howard Dean makes an "impolitic" statement about national security it reinforces the perception that he is inexperienced in an area that makes him vulnerable to George W. Bush. This is a big issue for Democrats. That comment plays to his weakness. On the other hand, when he makes an "impolitic" statement about his supporters being unwilling to back another candidate it reinforces his independence from the Democratic power structure. It plays to his strength.

These alleged impolitic statements aren't made in a vaccuum. The candidates are a package of image, talents, experience, strengths and personality. The fact that they each may be making similar claims that sound "impolitic" to the ears of Chris Suellentrop does not mean that any of the the claims are wrong or that it is equally bad politics for all candidates to say them.

Frankly, I'm not really sure that journalists such as Suellentrop are in a position to guage what bad politics are in the first place. To completely butcher a great quote by Rebecca West, they seem to believe that Democrats practice bad politics whenever "they express sentiments that differentiate them from a doormat."

Someone's Watching

Via TAPPED, I find that the Columbia Journalism Review has started a blog of sorts called "Campaign Desk" to try to fact check some of the lies and misinformation that get into the bloodstream of the body politic during the campaign.

One of the minor rituals of American presidential politics is the post-election self-examination (or perhaps I should say self-flagellation) by the press. Quadrennially, we regret having pursued some lines of inquiry while ignoring others, or having gotten caught up in momentary feeding frenzies over unimportant things, or having been too susceptible to spin -- and then we resolve to do a better job next time. But now we have a new tool. In 2004, the Web makes it possible to analyze and criticize press coverage in real time, so that suggestions for improved coverage might actually be heeded, and incorporated into campaign coverage, while the campaign is still under way.

Thanks to generous funding from foundations -- mainly the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Revson Foundation, and the Open Society Institute -- we have set up a campaign press criticism "war room" here at the Journalism School, with the beginnings of a full-time professional staff of seven that will monitor as much of the campaign coverage as possible, and write about it here. The managing editor of CampaignDesk.org, Steve Lovelady, is already on board, and he and Mike Hoyt, the editor of CJR, are well into the hiring process. Steve is a veteran journalist who earlier served as a deputy page-one editor at the Wall Street Journal; then, as part of Gene Roberts's dream team at the Philadelphia Inquirer, helped supervise eleven Pulitzer Prize-winning works of journalism over twenty years; and, more recently, was an editor-at-large at Time Inc. Bryan Keefer, assistant managing editor, was one of the co-founders of the website Spinsanity.org. CampaignDesk.org will be updating the site several times daily, with particular emphasis on speed when the staff feels it can get inside the news cycle and try to improve coverage as it's being formed.

They are already doing a fine job in my estimation. They've taken on the lazy lurid non-story of yesterday about Dean's "trooper" beating his wife and have debunked today's breathless Drudge exclusive in which he butchers Wes Clarks testimony before the televised House Armed Services Committee on Iraq.

The hope, I think, is that journalists will turn to this site to get information on the latest spin and misinformation so that they will not be reporting it blind. I have my doubts as to whether many of them give a damn, but there must be at least a few who didn't become reporters purely for the social acceptance of their peers.

Likewise, might I hope that people do not spam this site with abusive e-mails when it doesn't conform to their point of view? It seems like one place where we should try to make reasoned arguments and present evidence rather than vent our spleen. They might actually have an effect on the way the campaign is covered if it works and it would be helpful if it could be a flame-free zone.

Aaaah. Who am I kidding....

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Thanks, Chris!

Kleiman, Drum and Marshall have all weighed in on this strange column by Chris Suellentrop in Slate. According to Suellentrop he was making an ironic statement about how Fox news would treat Clark if they treated him the same way they treat Dean. Or something.

It seems that his technique needs some work because huge numbers of people wrote in to ask him what the hell he was talking about, since the headlines bear no relationship to what Clark actually said and his article is not written in such a way that anyone would assume that he is being ironic.

Sadly, his delightful little piece has made the rounds of the wing-nuts, who are irony impaired at the best of times, and they have now taken Suellentrop’s unamusing drivel as gospel. Kleiman points out in his post that Andrew Sullivan gleefully took the bait, but there are more. *sigh*

I have not complained about campaign tactics and wrung my hands about the unfairness of attacks and you won’t see me doing that in the primary. (I reserve my right to whine profusely in the general election.) However, I am going to complain about the press’ treatment of Clark all I want. I expect that the other candidates’ supporters will do the same for them.

For whatever reason, Suellentop decided to write an opaque little piece that was easily misinterpreted about Wesley Clark and which he clearly stated later was written in tongue in cheek fashion to show that Howard Dean has been getting unfair coverage. That doesn’t seem quite right to me. If I were a paranoid type I might even think that it’s downright biased.

It's certainly fair for Suellentrop to write a piece about the unfair coverage he feels that Dean is getting, but it doesn't quite add up to me that in order to do that he had to write a false and misleading "humor" piece about Clark that is now being widely circulated and is feeding a meme that will undoubtedly serve Dean, not by showing that he's gotten unfair press coverage (perfectly legitimate complaint) but by circulating nasty innuendo about his rival. That is the sort of thing I expect from campaigns, not from journalists.

Here’s just a little taste of the fallout from Suellentrop’s ironic pratfall:

(Links not included. If you want to read the full-on wing nut reaction you can google it.)

Wes Clark - Foot in Mouth Disease From: Go Dubya! Tue, 13 Jan 2004 12:45:50 CST
Slate.com has a great collection of Wesley Clark's ridiculous statements from the New Hampshire campaign trail. My favorite is: Young men in an Islamic culture cannot get married until they can support a family. No job, no marriage. No marriage,...

Wes Clark's Big Mouth From: Deinonychus antirrhopus Tue, 13 Jan 2004 12:36:25 CST
Looks like Gen. Wesley Clark also has a tendency to open his mouth and insert foot. Does Islam need an...

Foot Planted Firmly In Mouth From: Internet Ronin Tue, 13 Jan 2004 11:51:41 CST
Wesley Clark has been saying some very interesting things in recent days. Chris Suellentrop has a round-up of the retired...

CHRIS SUELLENTROP writes in Slate that Wesley Clar From: Instapundit.com Tue, 13 Jan 2004 11:00:43 CST
CHRIS SUELLENTROP writes in Slate that Wesley Clark is saying some pretty odd things. The trouble with the Internet, where candidates are concerned, is that when they say odd things, word tends to get out. UPDATE: The Loonatic Left blog is defending...

WHOPPERS From: Pejmanesque Tue, 13 Jan 2004 10:07:51 CST
Chris Suellentrop has the goods on some pretty outrageous statements by Wesley Clark. For all the talk about Clark's poise and command, he really is given to making some eye-rolling statements. Be sure to check out the article....

Five Items (1/13/04). From: Tasty Manatees Tue, 13 Jan 2004 06:32:33 CST
1. "Wesley Clark's Loose Lips". Oh, my. Here are six unbelievable quotes from Wesley Clark that pretty much settle the point I made earlier, which is that Clark is seriously not ready for prime time. Funny, but none of these gems have been getting play.

It was funny all right.

Update: Ted Barlow at Crooked Timber comments as well.


I did a little street-walking today. Check it out, along with all of my other vatos over in the hood.

I'll be hanging there on Wednesdays. Hump-day. Make of that what you will.

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.