Okay, now what in Iraq?

Politics and policy.
Nov. 8 2006 5:38 PM

Rummy's Gone. Next.

Okay, now what in Iraq?

(Continued from Page 3)

But there seems to be a deficit in wit from elected Democrats. John Kennedy had the weightless élan of ready humor. Bill Clinton knew how to use this trick. Barney Frank has it too but doesn't have the national throw-weight. Perhaps the cleverness deficit comes from the fact that the Democratic Party doesn't have any one leader, but the prospects the nominee in 2008 are also dim. The auditioning presidential candidates are not skilled in this area (Senator Chris Dodd is witty but not going to be president). Where is Obama on this question?

The point is not to be constantly frivolous and glib. Most of our public debate could use more, not less, sobriety. Tom Friedman's response ($$$) to the recent attacks on John Kerry was appropriately outraged. But humor must be matched with humor, and that's what's called for here. Also, the president's hubris charge is so zany it can only be punctuated with a grin. To rebut it seriously upgrades it and gives the claim a credit it doesn't deserve.

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George Bush knows the power of the funny. It punctures pretension. He can use it to make fun of himself and in smaller settings he uses it to own people—making fun of the bald guy's hair, the older guy's age or the tall guy's size puts him in charge. Liberals say George Bush isn't very smart, but he's getting a lot of mileage out of this joke and so far the combat feels asymmetrical. ... 4:28 p.m. (link)

Bench Warner: In the final days of the 2002 campaign, George Bush traveled to states with close Senate races like Arkansas, Missouri, and Minnesota and to battleground House districts like Indiana's 2nd District. His travel schedule was a map of the competitive races. Now, it feels more like a wilderness trail. He stopped in Montana Thursday and will travel to Missouri Friday, where there are key battleground races, but he's staying away from the Senate fights in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia ,and New Jersey. The 2nd District of Nevada where he stopped Thursday hasn't been won by a Democrat since its creation 25 years ago.

Bush is being deployed to places where he has the best chance of turning out the GOP troops. Since he's preaching to stir the faithful, I'll be looking at his speeches over the next six days to see what we can learn about the messages the GOP thinks will move their people out the door on Election Day. Bush will talk about taxes and the war on terror, but what else will he emphasize?

For his first day, the new emphasis was on judges, a favorite for roiling the blood because it hits multiple GOP constituencies. Corporate executives and small-business owners worry that liberal judges will enforce regulations and reward plaintiffs; social conservatives worry that judges will destroy the institution of marriage and give unfair advantages to women and minorities.

Bush didn't talk about specific rulings by activists judges, like the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling on civil unions, but focused instead on the ruin that would follow if Democrats in control of the Senate could determine what kinds of judges sit on federal courts. In both Billings, Mont. and Elko, Nev. he told voters that John Roberts' nomination to a lower court had been blocked when the Senate was in Democratic hands. "I want you to hear this loud and clear: If the Democrats controlled the Senate, John Roberts would not be the Chief Justice today," Bush said.

One last note: The John Kerry piñata has been put away for the moment. In both speeches Thursday ,the president dropped his references to the senator's recent botched joke. Did Bush accept his apology? Doubtful. ...12:54 a.m. ( link)

Thurdsay, Nov. 2, 2006

Which Is It?  Yesterday in interviews with wire-service reporters, the president defended his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, who in the most-recent NBC/WSJ poll only 26 percent of respondents say they view positively, while 49 percent view him negatively. "He's handled all three at the same time (Afghanistan, Iraq, and the military at home)," said Bush. "And I'm pleased with the progress we're making." But in an East Room press conferencea week ago, the president said he wasn't pleased with the progress: "I know many Americans are not satisfied with the situation in Iraq. I'm not satisfied, either." ... 1:16 p.m. ( link)

Lock in your punditry. Every race has overblown turning-point moments that may not have any real effect on the races but which live on long after in campaign mythology. They get repeated at Harvard symposia on elections, pundits recycle them, and bloggers grip them like a squirrel with a nut. Howard Dean's scream after losing the Iowa caucus is one such turning-point moment. The conventional wisdom about these turning-point moments plays a big role in the strategy and arguments and plotting in the next race.

The Playboy party ad run against Harold Ford in Tennessee feels like it's going to become one of those moments. Ford is slipping in the polls. In the latest Zogby poll, he now trails Bob Corker by 10 points. Ford is widely viewed as having run a perfect race by minimizing his family baggage, moving to the center, and not letting his opponent and the Republicans paint him as a liberal. So, why is he slipping? Liberal pundits are likely to say it was the ad, which tapped latent racist feelings among Tennessee voters. Other analysts will say that the press outrage over the ad created a backlash that favored Corker.

The ad may also have had no great impact on the race, but just arrived at a natural turning point. Tennessee is a tough state for a Democrat, and the polls might just reflect late-in-the-game tightening. Or, could it be that those push polls running against Ford, which I argued were incredibly lame, were actually effective?

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