Did Bush make the grade with readers?

Did Bush make the grade with readers?

Did Bush make the grade with readers?

What's happening in our readers' forum.
April 15 2004 12:32 PM

The President in Two Parts

Did Bush make the grade with readers?

Methodology and Ideology: In the Feb. 16 issue of The New Yorker, George Packer ("A Democratic World") argues that

"Terrorism" is a method; the terror used by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka is not the enemy in this war. The enemy is an ideology—in the German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's phrase, "Islamist totalitarianism"—that reaches from Karachi to London, from Riyadh to Brooklyn, and that uses terror to advance its ends. The Administration's failure to grasp the political nature of the war has led to many crucial mistakes, most notably the Pentagon's attitude that postwar problems in Afghanistan and Iraq would essentially take care of themselves, that we could have democracy on the cheap ...

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In Ballot Box Fray, Thrasymachus extends Packer’s metaphor even further:

World War II was fought against Germany and Japan, not Bitzkrieg and naval sneak-attacks. The Administration's failure to articulate this point implies that its members fail to grasp it; and the consequences of this failure are clear and (insanely) manifest in American policy.

America's legitimate enemies are not those who employ employ terrorism as a tactic; they are those who employ terrorism, or any other kind of violence, against the United States.

According to T., "Bush is overstating the fear that Americans feel at this point in history. Or, rather, I think he's stating the fear wrong."

What really scares people is this economy. The statistics are looking up, which is nice, but everyone I know is petrified because their debts are out of control, they have no health insurance, they can't put their kids through college, can't afford a house, can't retire, think they'll lose their jobs to an internet-kid in Bangladesh ... THESE fears are realistic, and I don't see the Administration doing fuck-all about it.

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Zathras has some critical words for William Saletan's characterization of President Bush's credibility as "dangerously unhinged" and intractably committed to yesterday's reality ("Trust, Don’t Verify: Bush’s incredible definition of credibility"). Zathras responds

This is a rather obtuse statement from someone whose job it is to cover election campaigns. For it is precisely in election campaigns that the definition of credibility Saletan ascribes to Bush is pretty well generally accepted. You don't flip-flop; you don't go off-message; you never, ever admit error.

Why is this important? It's important because election campaigns are Bush's primary frame of reference.

Fraywatch fave MatthewGarth comes out hiding to contrast Saletan's piece and Kausfiles. What say MG on the reverberations of the echo chamber?

Saletan keeps riding his hobby horse about Bush's consistency, confidence and the self-sealing nature of his administration. Meanwhile, over in Kausland, we find the NYT doing the same. …

the Bush administration is about to launch itself into full-on campaign mode, in which Karl will put Bush back on message, while the Times has no vote of confidence currently scheduled.

The Bush message will come from outside the administration's tidy feedback loop. So don't be surprised if, a month from now, Saletan is writing an article about how everything's changed for Bush. And don't be surprised if Mickey is writing an article about how at the Times, nothing has.

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Has the NYT truly assumed the role as the positional counterpoint to Rove? To respond to MG, click here.

Mini Vox Populi: WVMicko had a mixed response to the President's Tuesday night speech and press conference:

What can I say? Dubya started out with a hell of a speech … Dubya's speech shows Iraqis that America gets it, that we understand it. And he went on, praising Iraqis "as a proud, independent people, Iraqis do not support an indefinite occupation...and neither does America." ... for the first time from this Administration, I've heard a War on Terror rationale that included Iraq yet still truly resonated with my critical, opposition heart ... For once, Dubya didn't say something that linked Iraq with the War on Terror or that reeked of us-vs.-them ideology, justification and spin. The enemy Dubya spoke of is one that all civilization should despise ... For the first time in a long year and a half, I was actually proud of my President.

So Bush did well in the compulsories. What about the long program?

Unfortunately, that's when the other Dubya took over. When asked about Iraq, he gave a long answer outlining his thought processes at the time, eventually claiming that 9/11 changed the way we think about threats like Iraq ...when the problem before the nation in general, and Dubya right then and there, wasn't how 9/11 changed how we thought of dangers, but what we and the world was told that Iraq possessed, and how easy the postwar would be because the Iraqi people would shower us with love as liberators ...

His answer about why the administration demanded that he and Dick Cheney appear together before the 9/11 Commission, like ventriloquist and dummy, was the most outrageous spinmeistering I've heard in weeks: "because the 9-11 commission wants to ask us questions, that's why we're meeting. And I look forward to meeting with them and answering their questions." And he said the exact same thing three times!

Never before have the two Dubyas been so clear as in the press conference. It was fitting that the last question was whether Dubya had problems communicating to the people of this country, and of the world. Fact is, when he cares about a subject, President Dubya communicates just fine. At times, I could easily see the strong and visionary President Dubya that the right loves -- and believe me, I'm not a man who's going to warm to Dubya easily. Yet as the press tried to force him to confront awkward and uncomfortable failures in the recent past, I could see the Princeling Dubya, who was unknowledgeable, uncurious, and far too weak to even contemplate his own mistakes or deal with that hardest responsibility of power, the responsibility to torment yourself over past mistakes so that future ones will not befall those who you are responsible for.

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Writers on the Storm: Michael Crowley, who wrote up Max Cleland for Assessment a couple of weeks back gets an earful from Cleland 2002 Communications Director Jamal Simmons here:

Michael Crowley is lucky that Anne Coulter exists, because otherwise he would be crowned with the ignominious title of columnist with the "Most Crass Misunderstanding of Heroism" ... For some reason, Mr. Crowley insists on following Ms. Coulter down this path in referring to Max's injuries occurring in a "non-combat" situation as if that minimizes his heroism.

Crowley responds here:

But I can't allow his rhetorical dirty bomb—that Ann Coulter comparison—to pass unchallenged. So let me be clear: whatever criticisms I have of Max Cleland, I don't in any way discount or minimize the sacrifice he made in Vietnam. That he volunteered for service and the risks it entails is all that really matters, not whether his injury occurred on a live battlefield. That said, it also shouldn't be taboo simply to describe the circumstances of that tragedy as a matter of biographical information. Jamal teeters at the brink of a kind of censorship-by-intimidation when he seizes upon one unmodified word describing the defining moment in Cleland's life and uses it to lump me in with a fire-breathing partisan right-winger. That's just silly.

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Simmons gets the last word in here, that is except for Zathras who takes exception to Simmons listing Senator Zell Miller's "increasingly frequent willingness to align himself with the Bush White House" as one in a catalog of factors that may have cost Cleland his seat. Z here:

Miller cut ads for Cleland during that race. They were the most effective ads the Cleland campaign ran. Miller defended Cleland against the now-famous Chambliss Homeland Security ads a lot better than Cleland did himself. And it's Miller's fault Cleland lost?

If Max Cleland had tied himself a little closer to Zell Miller instead of advertising his abject subservience to public employee unions and other special interests he might have had a chance to win that race.

Back to MatthewGarth, who hosted a witty exchange with Alex Abromovich ("Back to Black: The long-anticipated Pixies reunion") over in Music Box Fray. What drew Alex's attention?  Perhaps this addendum from MG:

The Pixies are one of the great channels of the surrealist imaginary in American popular music ... Or, in Alex's terms, if the Pixies' structure is one of the all-expenses-paid musical vacation from reality (quiet/loud) it is only that some of the time, and we might wonder why and why it matters.

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The thread starts here and continues lucidly for the better part of four days. Gouge away … KA9:25 a.m.

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Monday, April 12, 2004

Things are just heating up in Fighting Words Fray, where dovish fraysters can't wait to take aim at Christopher Hitchens and his dismissal of the Vietnam-Iraq analogy. And in TV Club Fray, the mobologists don't seem to be generating the sort of traffic that Slate's panel of shrinks did a season (errr ... 18 months) ago. Nevertheless, zinya, Magnus, lucabrasi, and others continue to offer their armchair analysis for free.

Subject: "Notice Adriana Lima"
Re:     "Tangled Up in Boobs: What's Bob Dylan doing in a Victoria's Secret ad?"
From:  TheAList
Date:  Mon Apr 12 0939h

I'd just like to point out that Seth Stevenson just gave a D- to an ad that was mostly close-up shots of Adriana Lima strutting around Venice in her underwear.

Focus, Seth. Focus.


Subject: "Scalia Immune to Irony"
Re:     "Marhsal, Marshal Marshal: Scalia's goon squad."
From:  taxhaven
Date:  Mon Apr 12 1446h

Does the very nature of so staunch an originalist make him tone deaf to irony? Irony usually requires being able to see what the author (in this case of an act) was unable to see himself. Scalia's main jurisprudential position demands the ability to embody an author's mindset, even if that author's mind existed long ago. Perhaps, like the proverbial blind man who has enhanced hearing, Scalia, blind to irony, benefits from a heightened capacity always to empathize with an ancient author. Perhaps this is why originalism seems so absurd to post-modernists who revel in irony, especially involving Supreme Court justices.

Subject: "Don't be so quick on this one"
Re:     "Marhsal, Marshal Marshal: Scalia's goon squad."
From:  JohnLex7
Date:  Mon Apr 12 1728h

One thing that Dahlia left out of her article was the question of Mississippi's eavesdropping laws. Yes, that's right, eavesdropping. If this had taken place in Illinois, unless the law has changed since I left the state, the person taping Scalia would have been committing a crime because they would have been taping a communication without the consent of ALL of the parties to the communication. I had this pressed home to me by a law school professor who refused to allow taping of his classes and specifically stated that anyone who did was doing so without his consent and eavesdropping.

According to a link on the website for the Reporters Committee For Freedom of the Press, Mississippi's eavesdropping law "specifically provides that if a person is a party to a communication, or has obtained consent from any one of the parties, no civil liability can be imposed unless the interception was accompanied by a criminal or tortious intent. Miss. Code Ann. § 41-29-531. According to current legislation, the laws in place regarding the interception of wire and oral communications are set to be repealed on July 1, 2004. Miss. Code Ann. § 41-29-537."

So the legal question becomes, if the "communication" in question is a lecture, does someone have to get consent of the lecturer to tape? From these laws, it might seem like you do, because it could be argued that the only person that could give consent is the lecturer.

Lord knows that I don't normally defend Scalia, but I think that this was an angle that was never really explored in the article.

Subject: "A Nit"
Re:     "Vietnam? Why the analogy doesn't work."
From:  Ender
Date:  Mon Apr 12 1253h

It seems to me that the Vietnam War was a war just like any other. In that sense, Iraq is another Vietnam, i.e. just another war. Oh, you can argue the particulars however you want, but no amount of parsing is going to change the root nature of war, or the fact that war is what we're waging in Iraq. Is it fare then to compare Iraq specifically to Vietnam? To answer that you have to ask, why Vietnam, what makes Vietnam unique? The answer to that question is simple: Television.

The specter of Vietnam is rooted in the spectacle of Vietnam. So the question then is, are we being treated to the bloody spectacle night after night that is Iraq? I don't think we are. However, I do think the Arab world is. You'd better believe Iraq is another Vietnam. Only this time, the blowback of a televised war isn't going to manifest itself here at home in the form of nonviolent peace movement. Nope, the blowback is going to be manifest in violent opposition to our troops in the Middle East. That's right, tomorrow's Jihadists will be born of the same stuff that gave rise to the 60's peaceniks.

Subject: "Rorschach Sopranos night"
Re:     "The Sopranos, Week 6."
From:  zinya
Date:  Sun Apr 11 2354h

Well, I have a feeling this one's gonna be kind of like the Aug. 6 PDB ... meaning: If you're already convinced Carmela is a user and bitch (as some of you have voiced in your various ways), you're going to be convinced that Strathairn, the counselor (he now has title of Dean for College admissions, or something like that), saw the light and woke up to the real Carmela which she is either in denial about or put on an act to cover.

But while i confess what i loved most about the script tonight was precisely the ambiguity which Chase put into it, toying with us, with a series of new twists starting from the first night that Carmela had stomach pains and left rather than spend the night, leading us through about four false-start stages of Will the Real Carmela Please Stand Up? (you know, where the wrong guy would start to rise, to fake us out) ...

And i do think there's the possibility that Carmela is so immersed in "the life" that she might have elements of denial about her own assimilation of 'user' tactics, I come down on the side of finding that this episode was decisively tipped the scales toward telling us that at the very least Carmela has been misunderstood and has not been consciously manipulative.

I do think this is a moment of self-identity crisis for Carm as she will face the pain of "the Dean"s words sending her into some intense examination of who in fact she has become and/or how to ever overcome the stigma of guilt by association. For me, I took her at face value in her distraught words to her father at the end that it's the price of having been married to Tony that she is assumed by others to be a user. Which isn't to say she never was—For some people on this fray, the fact she clearly used the sister of the neighbor to browbeat her into admission recs for Meadow was sufficient to paint Carm as the ultimate user of all time forever. I myself don't think a couple such examples—and it's curious that this example of being accused this time, rightly or wrongly, ALSO is about her drive to get her child into college ...

But while i myself had a moment of thinking "she used him" ... just before the Dean himself had the same sickened 'lightbulb' ... but that was the twist we were supposed to pretzel through, imo, and the ultimate closer-to-truth (there's no such certainty as absolute truth here :) is that Carm was not the evil person Straithern then comes to paint her as, any more than she was the "virgin" he wanted to be a Svengali to either.

Fray Notes: Today's Club Fray invitees include Chiastic, RyckNelson, Fatman, Utek1KA 7:00 p.m.

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Thursday, April 8, 2004

Subject: "Rice is Tasked to Fall on Her Sword"
Re:        "Condi Lousy: Why Rice is a bad national security adviser."
From:     BeverlyMann
Date:     Fri Apr 9 1229h

One clear inference can be drawn from Condoleezza Rice's testimony before the 9/11 commission this morning: She has been a bad national security adviser—passive, sluggish, and either unable or unwilling to tie the loose strands of the bureaucracy into a sensible vision or policy. In short, she has not done what national security advisers are supposed to do.

Actually, what is clear to me now—after watching Rice's testimony and then reading some of the more astonishing quotes from it last evening in various news reports—is that Rice isn't a national security adviser at all. That is, her job—unlike that of all the others, such as Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, John Poindexter, Anthony Lake and Sandy Berger—was, and is, not to give the president national security advice but instead to carry out orders given by those who actually were devising national security policy: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith.

Rice was simply a glorified supervisory bureaucrat. Her job was to take and carry out orders—or, as she repeatedly put it, to be "tasked"—to carry out this or that bureaucratic aspect of the national security policy set by Cheney and Rumsfeld with the input of Wolfowitz and Feith. Rice was almost as much out of the loop as was Richard Clarke; she was present at these principals' meetings, but only to receive her marching orders.

Rice didn't get Clarke a meeting with the principals because Rice couldn't get Clarke a meeting with the principals. Rice didn't order the FBI director to "shake the trees" of that agency—nor even to notify the field offices of the stunningly clear indications from al Qaeda intercepts about a very, very, very, very big and imminent terrorist attack possibly within this country, or even inquire whether the field offices that were tracking al Qaeda cells within this country had any information that, viewed in light of the intercepted messages, might help pinpoint any such plot within the U.S.—because Rice lacked the authority to do so on her own.

Nor, apparently, did she even have the authority to decide on her own to demand that the FBI director (and later the acting FBI director) do so. Apparently, she lacked the authority even to notify the FBI director of the threats—excuse me, of the non-threats—about some "unbelievable news in coming weeks," about a "big event" that will cause "a very, very, very, very big uproar," about the announcement that "there will be attacks in the near future".

And she didn't have the authority—or maybe the proper word here is clout—to persuade Bush meet not just with the CIA director but also with the FBI director. In that dramatic exchange between her and Ben-Veniste in which Ben-Veniste demanded a yes-or-no answer to his question whether Rice had told Bush "at any time prior to August 6th, of the existence of al-Qaida cells in the United States" although Rice herself had been told of this in early 2001, she answered, finally, that she didn't recall whether or not she had done so.

Rice wasn't tasked to tell the president of the existence of al Qaeda cells in the United States, and so she didn't. Rice was tasked with furthering Cheney's and Rumsfeld's goals of pushing the missile defense system's funding and development and of toppling Saddam Hussein.

The threat posed by Al Qaeda cells in the U.S. didn't further either of these two goals, and in fact hindered the first of them; a big argument against the obscenely expensive and scientifically unperfected missile system was precisely that with the end of the Cold War, the biggest security threat to the U.S. was the potential for terrorists to wreak havoc simply by infiltrating the country. So Rice, untasked to tell the president of the presence of al Qaeda cells within the U.S., didn't tell the president of the presence of al Qaeda cells within the U.S.

Bizarre though it was, her weirdest statement was not the one in which she says that the intercepts about "a very, very, very, very big uproar" that will be caused by "unbelievable news in coming weeks" about "attacks in the near future" were "[t]roubling, yes," but because "they don't tell us when; they don't tell us where; they don't tell us who; and they don't tell us how" they were not quite troubling enough for her to task herself to notify the FBI director and the field offices about them.

No, of all the many bizarre comments Rice made yesterday, the loopiest, in my opinion— and anyway the most starkly factually inaccurate—was her incessant claim that because of "structural" and legal prohibitions, the CIA director couldn't tell the FBI director that there were certain known al Qaeda operatives who had entered the country.

Is she claiming that at the "battle stations" shake-the-trees meetings that Clarke and others say occurred in late 1999 among the various national security "principals" including the CIA director and the FBI director didn't really occur because of structural problems? Or that those meetings occurred but that the CIA director didn't tell the FBI director any valuable information he had because it would have been illegal to do so? Or that the CIA director did pass along to the FBI director the information he had, and that his doing so violated the law?

Good heavens. What law, pray tell, is she talking about? What law would have prevented George Tenet from giving to the FBI director the pertinent information he had—about the contents of the al Qaeda intercepts and about the few al Qaeda operatives the CIA knew already had entered the country?

"Every day now in the Oval Office in the morning," Rice said in answer to a question about whether the structural problems that hampered communications between the CIA and the FBI had been resolved, "the FBI director and the CIA director sit with the president, sharing information in ways that they would have been prohibited to share that information before." Indeed. And that's precisely what Clarke said transpired during the Clinton administration in the weeks before the millennium, in order to try to thwart any planned terrorist attacks then. And it's exactly what Clarke says he tried to communicate with Bush, via Rice, that he, Bush should do.

Perhaps the most revealing answer Rice gave yesterday was in answer to a question inquiring about the steps, if any, Bush took in response to the information in the Aug. 6 security briefing that said [according to Bob Kerrey and Ben-Veniste] "that the FBI indicates patterns of suspicious activity in the United States consistent with preparations for hijacking." Rice said Bush met every day with the CIA director.

Not with the CIA director and the FBI director. Just with the CIA director. The structural problem that kept the FBI director and the CIA director from communicating the most critical information to each other during the months preceding 9/11 was, in other words, a structural problem of the Bush administration's own making.

That structural problem was, in turn, created by a truly profound one, a thoroughly stunning one—even to me. It's a structural problem revealed most starkly by Bush's failure, upon being told on Aug 6, 2001 that "that the FBI indicates patterns of suspicious activity in the United States consistent with preparations for hijacking" especially in light of George Tenet's warnings to him throughout that summer that al Qaeda intercepts were speaking of a very, very, very big event.

The structural problem is simply this: Bush was the president in name only, a genuine figurehead, with no intellectual decisionmaking capability whatsoever, and that Cheney was the actual president at least with respect to national security matters. The information in the Aug. 6 "PDB"—the presidential daily briefing—wasn't given to the actual president. Nor were Tenet's daily oral and written reports. They were given only to the figurehead president, and not transmitted to the real one, who already had determined the administration's national security agenda and therefore wasn't interested in them.

Thus Rice's constant references to policy rather than to responding to—acting in light of—information being received. Rice wasn't tasked to attempt to learn of the nature and locale of the impending very, very, very big event al Qaeda was planning because the policy regarding invading Afghanistan, and what they thought was the requisite of getting Pakistan on board, wasn't yet in place.

Among the more annoying euphemisms in currently in vogue among the punditry is the one they use to acknowledge that Bush is very seriously lacking in intellectual capacity: they say he is "incurious." But stupid as I recognize him to be, even I wouldn't have suspected that, handed information that the FBI indicates patterns of suspicious activity in the United States consistent with preparations for hijacking, and handed information that al Qaeda was planning an attack it thought would cause a huge uproar, George W. Bush would be so incurious as to not phone the FBI director and ask what exactly were those patterns of suspicious activity in the United States consistent with preparations for hijacking.

But now, thanks to Rice's testimony yesterday, I and all the world know that that wasn't tasked to Bush. It was tasked to Cheney—or rather it would have been, had Cheney rather than Bush been the one to receive the Aug. 6 PDB, and had he been the one to meet daily with Tenet.

I had thought throughout the Clarke controversy, until yesterday, that the real political damage to Bush from would come from the recognition by a majority of the public, finally, that it makes us less rather than more safe—both physically and economically—to have a strong-'n-decisive leader whose strength-'n-decisive leadership amounts to determining policy based purely on ideology and patronage rather than on the actual needs of the county and on facts, and who forces through these polices irrespective of circumstances and evidence about their actual effects on the country.

But I think now that that, even more than that, the political damage Bush will suffer will come from the ultimate epiphany that the most damning caricature of this president is true: He's jaw-droppingly stupid, and so Dick Cheney is the actual president. Cheney isn't obsessively secretive for nothing.

Troubling, yes. Very.

Condi Rice was asked to fall on her sword in order to try to keep this secret from escaping. She obliged and destroyed herself, but didn't succeed in her mission.

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Can't score a marriage certificate from the county? Just step inside the Temple of Elemental Evil or—if you're able to hold out a few more months—The Sims 2, reports Clive Thompson ("The Game of Wife: Gay marriage comes to video games"). Sim veteran BML attests that while the first Sims may not have extended full-on marriage rights to gays and lesbians, it showed a striking resemblance to Burlington, Vt.—with less fleece:

You could fall in love with another man in the first Sims. Marriage was off the table, but if you asked a friend of the same sex to move in, flirted and then kissed him, a wonderful Bert and Ernie situation developed.

And if you played your cards right, you could even adopt. Though I don't think you could get the couples into the heart-shaped bed.

Thompson jumps into the Fray to comment, remarking that

I've talked to some people who tried an interesting experiment with the Hot Date expansion pack to The Sims. They set up a game with only men—no women—then set it running. Sure enough, all the guys paired up and starting making out.

Thompson goes on to suggest that such possibilities are made more plausible by a less linear, less formulaic game:

It's sort of amazing that Will Wright had the wherewithal to design the game so open-ended, actually. One of the reasons so many games have purely "straight" plotlines is that they have, well, *plotlines*; for all their pretensions to allowing tons of freedom and variety for the player, they are essentially just TV shows with a few dozen scripted endings, in an attempt to make it seem "interactive."

Fray lurker extraordinaire, Chiastic, wonders, "why waste time picking apart the 'latent' (homo)sexuality of cartoons?" For Chiastic, discussions like Thompson's are symptomatic of something larger:

Our cultural obsession with ferreting out all things male and queer is truly a wonder to behold. Too feminine? Gay. Too masculine? Gay. Well-groomed? Gay. Let that stubble grow a few days between shaves? Gay. Don't show enough interest in women? Gay. Hit on anything with breasts? Gay. Close friends with another guy? Gay. Close friends with a woman? Gay. Flamboyant? Gay. Reserved? Gay.

But for fulminous here, ("I've been a hardcore gamer, (tabletop AND video, I must admit) for probably 15 years now. Yes, I'm gay.")

I think the gay-marriage option is pretty damned funny—and it's incredibly refreshing ...

can I tell you how many times I've played an RPG and had to deal with the (sigh) straight male main character hero having to woo the white mage/healer/whatever female character? And then have some probably FMV scene of the two of them making out? Not that I MIND, really, because in general the stories are well-told enough that I can go along with it, and I'm pretty comfortable with the idea of opposite-sex couples (ewww!).

Chango finds it "interesting that coming out as a hardcore gamer has more shame factor (i.e. the 'I must admit' comment), than being gay."

And, finally, game maven MsZilla wonders if the potential of woman-on-woman flirtation in Knights of the Old Republic isn't a little overstated:

I have two friends who have finished KOTOR as females (one light side, one dark side). Neither of them ever ran into this lady. ...

It sounds to me much like the hookers in GTA [Grand Theft Auto]. The media made a great hue and cry about it. Most gamers' reactions were, "Hunh?!" Until someone pointed out that you could do that, very few people had even considered it.

To hue and cry about the demise of the institution of gaming, click hereKA10:50 a.m.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2004

In assessing former Georgia senator, Max Cleland, Michael Crowley insists that Cleland's presence front-and-center in the John Kerry campaign is neither a healthy symbol nor a logical rallying point. Why? For one, Cleland doesn't personify steely patriotism so much as political incompetence at repelling Republican attacks on the issue. In addition, Crowley conveys the unsettling irony that Cleland was precisely the kind of "Vichy Democrat" that Howard Dean attacked in empowering the Democratic base that Cleland now energizes with his fist pumping. 

The_Bell believes that the fact that Cleland was a conservative Democratic who voted with President Bush on many crucial votes makes the 2002 campaign against Cleland all the more revolting:

Cleland is a fairly conservative Democrat and as a Senator he was one among the crowd who in fact showed the political courage and judgment—for which he was later attacked by Republicans as lacking—by siding with the President against his Party as to what was best for the country. He voted for tax cuts and he voted for the Iraqi war resolution. He was the type of conservative Democrat that the Bush Administration would have been wise to court. Instead, he was targeted for character assassination for failing to vote the President's line on the Department of Homeland Security.

But Zathras points out that Cleland's principled outrage was notably missing from his responses during the heated campaign:

when Cleland himself had the opportunity to make the claim now being made on his behalf—that he was being victimized by ruthless Republicans—he didn't do it. In televised debates he was asked directly about the Republican ads with the now-famous images. He responded with his scripted, rehearsed talking points about how Bush's DHS bill lacked labor protections, following the instructions of a labor constituency that helped fund his campaign but that does not command many votes in Georgia…

Atlanta Journal-Constitution polling after the election did not reveal large numbers of Georgians who thought he was weak or unpatriotic, but did suggest many thought he was too close to special interests—essentially the charge the Chambliss ads had made.

The_Bell suggests an extra-political motivation for having Cleland up on stage ...

Kerry wants him there because he knows that being there gives Cleland purpose. And for a man whose Senate re-election loss left him "humiliated and mired in deep depression"—by his own admission—and apparently doomed to fade into obscurity after a lifetime of public service, that is a very big deal.

Though The_Bell ultimately concludes that:

Cleland's disabling qualities serve Kerry and the Democrats best are in the latter two senses of that word. Cleland is not going after Bush because he is suddenly some born-again liberal or because he wants the world to pity him as a Bush victim. His motivation is anger, not victimization. Cleland is angry at Bush and the GOP for what they did to him as a Senator and he is angry, in my opinion, at himself for letting them do it to him.

In this sense, The_Bell doesn't altogether disagree with Zathras—Cleland was bettered politically in the 2002 campaign; he didn't respond with an appropriate indignation. For Cleland—and most Democrats not named Dean who were paralyzed under such attacks on the eve of the invasion of Iraq—the 2004 Presidential campaign presents the final opportunity to combat the administration on the issue of patriotism before the issue's political statute of limitations expires. 

But RANGER82 finds the Democrats' "revenge platform" loathsome:

The modern Democratic party is all about revenge.

You were born poor? Vote for us we will get you what you deserve, whether or mot you earned it. Are you a minority? That fact itself makes you a victim. Vote for us and get revenge on your oppressors. Do you need abortion as a birth control method? Vote for us and we will guarantee revenge on those who would deny your rights.

On the tactical front, FreitagsPyramid thinks the "lovable loser" strategy suspect:

Had Cleland the requisite Senatorial complement of intellect, character, and gumption, the post-9/11 atmosphere would simply have served to give Cleland a closer call for reelection than expected. There is indeed an odor of bathos, and pathos, in the re-warmed prominence of the (somewhat) lovable loser Cleland on the Democrat campaign trail. Perhaps he can make joint appearances in New England with Grady Little, Scott Norwood, and Bill Buckner ...

And on the sticky matter of whether Cleland's near-fatal, friendly-fire wounds warrant heroism, Joan weighs in:

I don't know about the rest of you, but I never come into contact with people with 'live grenades.' That's because I'm not in combat. What would motivate the author to toss the line into his article like his own little verbal live grenade, implicitly making the event seem, for all the world, as if he were depicting a scene form the Boys in Company C as they goofed around with explosives? what complete nonsense!

Is Cleland a vaunted vet or a Vaudeville victimologist? You make the call in Assessment FrayKA11:00 a.m.