Readers pick apart the first presidential debate.

Readers pick apart the first presidential debate.

Readers pick apart the first presidential debate.

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Oct. 1 2004 11:10 AM

Inside the Fray's Spin Room

Readers pick apart the first presidential debate.

The Analysis: From The_Bell here  (frame courtesy of John Heywood and Henry V):

Who won? I know it is a copout but I honestly think it was a tie for all practical purposes. If there was a winner it was only by the slightest of margins and who that winner was depends on whom you believed the greatest burden lay going in. Bush hit Kerry on the topic of inconsistency both less often and less aggressively than I thought he might. Kerry did okay in deflecting these doubts about him in voters' minds and put his position on Iraq out clearly and succinctly. However, if he hoped to create doubts about Bush by questioning his Iraq policies as intransigent and wrong-headed, he also failed to carry that argument far enough, in my opinion.

Given that Bush is the incumbent and leading in many polls, that would seem to suggest that he won a slight advantage. On the other hand, homeland security and the war on terror are supposed to be his bread and butter. His failure to cut Kerry to ribbons tonight might well turn out to be a slight advantage for Kerry, especially depending on how subsequent debates on domestic policy turn out. I would welcome any shifting in the polls as a result of this first exchange as instructive but am doubtful that anything significant will transpire.

Best moments for each candidate?

Bush's best moment may have come when he was asked by moderator Jim Lehrer if he felt the invasion of Iraq was worth the cost of over one thousand lives of American soldiers. Bush talked again – as he did as his convention – about the difficulty of making such decisions and spoke emotionally about meeting and talking with the widow of one particular slain soldier. Given that he is often criticized by Democrats and some analysts as divorced from reality and unfeeling about the plight of those serving overseas, Bush came across as connected, real, and sincere. When asked if he would consider preemptive invasion as a means to fight threats elsewhere in the world, Bush gave probably the only possible acceptable answer – "I would hope I never have to."

… Kerry's best moment probably came when, answering Bush about the consistency of his position regarding Iraq, he made this self-effacing argument – "When I talked about my $87 billion vote, I made a mistake in how I spoke but [President Bush] made a mistake invading Iraq . . . which is worse?" That was the long-missing zinger to suggest that Bush's Iraq policies were inconsistent not with themselves over time but with reality over time. Kerry also repeated his position on Iraq was consistent and did so in short, simple terms – saying that Saddam was a threat and needed to be removed but that Bush did so too quickly and as a result lacked sufficient international support and a plan to win the peace. His hammering of "ninety percent of the casualties and ninety percent of the costs" was simple but effective.

Kerry and The Base: From GeoffsPneuma in BOTF here:

I thought Kerry did a really great job tonight. Not with reference to the elusive "swing voter" that will decide this election. But with me. Kerry already has my vote locked up just by virtue of being an alternative to George W. Bush. But I have often felt that he doesn't "get it." Of course there were still answers which seemed less perfect than I would have given... but isn't that always the way with us pathologically self-righteous folks?... but on balance, Kerry made me feel much better about supporting his candidacy. I do have reservations and qualms, but Kerry's arguments struck me as clear, forceful and (most importantly) correct. He already had my vote, but Kerry won my esteem this evening.

The Spin: Why did Kerry win the debate? According to TheAList here:

Because everyone after the debate said he did. The reaction was as universal as these things get. On NBC, Ron Allen interviewed 6 Ohio undecided voters. ALL thought Kerry won handily. On MSNBC, Joe Scarborough was out early saying Kerry won big, noting the looks of despair on the faces of the Bush team. On CNN (it helps to have a itchy remote finger), Aaron Brown was saying Bush's body language was all wrong. The CNN Gallup poll had Kerry with a huge victory. The CNN and MSNBC online polls (unscientific) showing a huge Kerry victory.

Fraywatch notes that even the McLaughlin castaways and William Kristol called the debate in Kerry's favor on Fox. 

On War Presidencies: Here's Keifus:

On the question of whether Kerry could ask "the last person to die for a mistake," he really seemed to wax sincere as he got into the speech. I believed, for the first time, that his experience fighting in a wrong war will inform, for the better, his leading of another wrong one. This is a man that does not want to repeat the mistakes of Viet Nam (whether this belief will win out over his natural political expediency...let's just say it still seems like a tight race). His best bit, however, was excoriating nuclear proliferation—it seemed to come from the heart, and is, without doubt, a far more frightening threat right now than other so-called weapons of mass destruction.

Nuance vs. That Other Thing:  From Demosthenes2 here:

Complex problems have simple, easy to understand, wrong answers.
-- H.L. Mencken


It's what we really want. The simpler the truth the better. Kerry argues for nuance and Bush responds there's nothing complicated about supporting our troops. Except, of course, that the truth is rarely simple. Most profound truths are complex.

It's this love of simplicity that is guiding this campaign. The US was attacked, thus the response must be to lash out—regardless of where we do that and to whom we do it (and as Kerry pointed out who attacked us), we must make 'them' (the amorphous generic them) pay. That's simple. It's easy. A bad guy goes away. Simple.

An Independent in Ballot Box Fray: From bordhead here:

As a registered Independent I've always been rather sceptical of politics and the spin machines of both major parties. Going into this debate I knew that Bush's was a failed presidency and he was not leading this country in the right direction. At the same time I had serious reservations with John Kerry. My comfort level with him as our next leader was still wanting. After this first debate I must admit that he has alleviated some of those doubts … I think Kerry made points when he admitted that he misspoke on his support (or lack thereof)of the $87B Iraq budget. I believe when given the chance to set the record straight on his position on the Iraq war in front of a national audience he stated his position reasonably clear. He must be applauded for having the integrity to admit his mistakes. That definitely got some points with me.

The thing I find most disturbing about Bush is that when given the chance to tell the American people that mistakes have been made in Iraq … and that he intends to rectify these mistakes and change course, he cannot do this. He is the President of the United States for god's sake, and he doesn't have the moral integrity to admit he is wrong and that he wants to correct the situation. In my mind, that immediately disqualifies him to lead this country.

G.W. Bush has had his chance to prove his mettle. He has missed the mark. It is time for a fresh start with the American people and the world community. I wasn't sure if John Kerry was the right man for the job before, but now I feel he is.

The Real World: Here, Fritz_Gerlich reminds junkies that…

The real debate wasn't that American Idol bullshit you watched on television tonight. It was in Baghdad.

These killers targeted the children. That was the intent: to slaughter children. And the message of such an attack is unmistakable. They are telling all Iraqis: if you side with the Americans, your children will die.

This is the other side of political terrorism. The first, more obvious, side is to delegitimize the existing power structure by demonstrating its impotence to safeguard citizens and/or by provoking it into violent overreaction. The second side is to terrify large, uncommitted masses of people into silence and inaction. If you don't know who's going to win in the end, the safe thing is not to take sides. Maybe an American paycheck will lure you for a while, but when you get a message that your children will get their throats cut, even that paycheck won't be very tempting…

In response, GeoffsPneuma begins to measure moral equivalency to functional equivalency. Discuss here.

Watch this space. More from the Fray's Spin Room throughout the day … KA8:05 a.m. 

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Monday, September 27, 2004

Aid and Comfort? Though it may sound syrupy and Sorkin-ish, but Fraywatch contends that for a couple of months every four years, the opposition party has not only the right to challenge the vision and performance of the sitting administration, but the obligation. In that spirit — just in time for the first presidential debate — gthomson rolls out "Thomson's Law":

In a given foreign policy that involves conflict with America's enemies, it is only permissible to criticize that policy in retrospect, NOT WHILE THE CONFLICT IS ONGOING. Doing so only offers aid and comfort to the enemies and discourages our troops on the ground. The conflict will eventually end of its own volition anyway, absent criticism. SO SHUT UP ALREADY!

Don't miss the whole of gt's post here.

WWOD? For those who missed it in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, gary1 pulls up Slate founder and current LAT Editorial and Opinion Editor Michael Kinsley's wily send-up of the silly "Who Would Osama Vote For" rhubarb. Fraywatch notes that the North-West Frontier Province holds early balloting, though mail service to mountainous locales can be pokey. Fraywatch reports that Kerry has urban Peshawar locked up, though Bush is making serious inroads among the pivotal "burka babe" vote. To discuss Kinsley's piece with gary, click here.

Che it Ain't So: According to ShriekingViolet, it isn't that Paul Berman ("The Cult of Che: Don't Applaud The Motorcycle Diaries") doesn't grasp that Che was "a totalitarian killer," it's that…

Berman completely fails to understand the role of iconography in art, particularly in Catholic cultures. Che is a hero to many because he resisted a truly ugly system, remained true to his ideals, and conveniently died before the Revolution's slow, pathetic demise became apparent to nearly everyone. He is therefore associated in the public mind with what was right about the Revolution, rather than what was very, very wrong about it…

The humans underlying the icons are just stand-ins for the values they emphasize. Che has come to symbolize the values of resisting injustice and rejecting worldly excess. He's St. Francis in the secular host of angels. It mattered a great deal to his victims that he was really no such thing in life. But you aren't going to deflate that myth merely by pointing out that it doesn't match the man. If the film glorified the real Che Guevara, that would be highly offensive. But it's glorifying a person with decent values who never existed. If Che HAD BEEN a thoughtful opponent of injustice, it wouldn't be wrong to make a movie that praised him.

Not surprisingly, SV's post generates some superb responses, including one from MarkEHaag here.

Strong Enough for a Man but Made for a Woman: GratuitousPython comes at Seth Stevenson's Ad Report Card on Old Spice's new body spray ("Smells Like Teen Spirit") with a new angle. GP's theory:

A significant amount of male grooming products is actually purchased by women for their husbands and boyfriends.

They don't want their men to turn into stud muffins. They're looking for romantic and reasonably domesticated partners who will stop acting like dorks.

That's why the women in these spots are always more appealing than the men. Yeah, the men want to think product usage will help them bag some bodacious babes. But mostly, the women who make or motivate the purchase are expected to identify with the spokes-actress.

As for the guys in the spots being losers, well, they are, most likely. And their women are well aware of it.

Call it added verisimilitude.

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Talk personal hygiene in ARC Fray hereKA 4:35 p.m.  Thursday, September 23, 2004

Cradle to Grave: Addressing Daniel Gross' Moneybox column ("Goodbye, Pensions. Goodbye, Health Insurance. Goodbye, Vacations: Welfare capitalism is dying. We're going to miss it"), modicum points out that the old Dad's-been-with-Honeywell-for-37-years economy is outmoded. So how do we address employee benefits going forward?

If our economy as a whole grows, the money is there to pay those health care, pension, and other benefits. The real long-term questions are how much to guarantee and what mechanism to use to distribute benefits. Employers aren't a sound mechanism. The real debate over mechanisms is between completely federalized approaches and legislatively sponsored but partially privatized providers. We're already seeing those debates on Social Security and, in fits and starts, health care.

Favoring a compassionate conservatism with some substance, modicum concludes that:

Our system of government guarantees that change must occur. As happened with the industrial tycoons in pre-union days, if those deriving wealth from the changes do not proactively share it with those impacted, our democratic (Congress) and capitalist (unions, consumer boycotts) systems will eventually force them to. Free-market Republicans would be wise to get ahead of this issue and make "compassionate conservatism" mean something, and Democrats would be well-advised to look to structural change rather than wagging fingers at individual companies going bankrupt or, worse, the bogey-man of globalization.

Join the conversation on the new economy here.

Free Advice: In what appears to be the first in a series, ShriekingViolet offers to John Kerry a treatise titled, "How to beat George W. Bush (Vol. 1)." Prepping Kerry for the upcoming debate in Coral Gables, SV writes:

In the debates, when the President claims to have stood firm on Iraq and refused to show weakness, the appropriate Kerry response needs to be something along these lines ...

For SV's 30-second reply, you'll have to click here.

I Got Your Ancient Celtic Wedding Ritual Right Here! Here, JimmytheCelt responds to Michael Kress' Faith-Based piece, "Mixed Blessings: Are secular life ceremonies the wave of the future?" In the article, Kress refers to a bevy of traditional practices—such as Celtic "handfasting"—that are incorporated into more secular ceremonies:

I can't tell you—well, maybe I can—how much mystic balderdash is attributed to the "ancient Celts" without any scholarly substantiation. I realize it is handy for white people to think they can draw on a kinda-like-us spiritual tradition as deep as Hinduism and as colorfully ritualistic as the Balinese, but you know, it's tough to find the documentation. By the time of Jesus, those "ancient Celts" had morphed into about a dozen warring cultures, whose common cultural thread was an obsession with rank, lineage, and feats of arms. Yeah, sure, they were lively, threw great parties, and had a uniform reputation among the Greeks and Romans for drinking too much. And yeah, they had some marvelous artistans, especially in metalworking. But there is a stark dearth of evidence that the religions of the Celtic cultures featured the sweet-hearted, nature-loving, Ur Transcendentalism that shows up at today's weddings. ...

The REALLY cool Celtic stuff is when the old artisitc patterns were entwined among the artifacts and literature of the new religion. But that's another story, to be told at undue length when The Fray finally gets around to serving drinks.

The Fray's liquor license is still pending. … KA5:25 p.m.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Fray On Rathergate: On the general fallacy of broadcast news from Publius here; Logdog on the public airwaves here:

what's frustrating about this is that it shouldn't be a right/left thing. as a journalist, rather enjoys the explicit protection of the constitution, but there's a responsibility implicit in that. he's totally flouted that responsibility, either out of malice towards the president or—best case scenario—gross incompetence.

as a big-three network anchorman, rather has an even greater obligation to the public good. the people, not CBS, owns the airwaves he broadcasts over. the networks are permitted to use them by the government on the condition that they will be using them to further the public good. so this goes beyond the standard jason blair type abuse.

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On the "proportionality of outrage," zinya here:

I'm not here to defend Rather. I actually resent terribly that his apparent sloppiness has instead been an overreach that a) was unnecessary to the story in question and b) has obviously caused the actual substance of the story to get lost in the shuffle of focus—importantly—on form but—wrongly—as being more important than substance. ...

When did outrage over Powell's much more serious abuse of public trust on Bush's behalf EVER generate a TENTH of this chest-thumping? Is it just the glee of stabbing a competitor in the back that makes BOTH the rest of the media ready to overkill CBS/Rather as well as the same among GOP ready to overkill—and even try to pin this on Kerry or the DNC?? Is that what feeds this frenzy? Was it calculated (by Bush/Rove) to have Powell voicing all of that much-more-significant false document use so that, when the shit hit the fan (and Powell had to acknowledge the wrongness of his UN document-vouching), the pre-existing 'teflon' of Powell himself as once-upon-a-shining-knight-of-bipartisan-goodwill would soften any media outrage?

Press Box breaks down the aftermath at CBS here. Is Shafer on the money? Log into Press Box Fray and sound off.

The Keystone Cop: Curblog takes issue with Bill Gifford's glib characterization of central Pennsylvanians in his Swingers feature on the Keystone State. A native of Pottsville, Curblog responds:

We drink Yuengling Premium (we export the Lager). We go to watch our high school athletes play football on a Friday night. We drive pick-up trucks. We drive LeSabres. We worry about each other. We go to church. We send our young men and women to fight in Iraq. We pay taxes. We had not been visited by a presidential candidate or his running mate since 1960. We had not heard Dick Cheney's stump speech as many times as Mr. Gifford. We do not all agree with Dick Cheney. We do not all agree with John Kerry. We are Muslim, we are Catholic, we are Protestant. We are Jewish, we are black, we are white, we are young, we are old, we are veterans. We are teachers and doctors and lawyers and bartenders. We are college graduates. We are high school dropouts.

We are not "sad."

We are Americans.

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Personae Non Grata: Is the gig up for Da Ali G stateside? Not if he hires Thrasymachus as his new creative consultant. T. has a bunch of new characters cooked up for Da Ali G.'s third season.  Among them:

1. He's a young Islamic secularist, most likely from Palestine or Iran, with a popular show that's distributed underground on videocasettes or digital media to the legions of kids who are disaffected with the intolerant anti-Americanism of their fundamentalist and/or dictatorial rulers. This involves interviews with American leaders, on subjects like "America: WOW!", "American Values", and "Our Unique Republican System of Government"

2. He's a Christian Rock musician, who runs a ministry that takes over where the parole system leaves off, doing not-for-profit concerts for people who have recently been released from prison and rehab (and their families) and putting a strongly Christian message into modern idiom, for today's world. This includes videos of prominent leaders (religious and governmental) talking about the moral issues of our time.

3. He's one of those entrepreneurial young campaign donors we keep hearing about, who coordinate huge groups of people to make massive contributions. (A couple of hundred grand in contributions could buy a TON of access (perhaps very high up in the food chain), and matching (less ostentatious) contributions to these peoples' opponents would preserve his journalistic objectivity, such as it is. The money would be a drop in the bucket for HBO, and probably wouldn't make a dent in the amount the show has budgeted. Of course, "Tad Scharfstein" would want to make tapes of the lucky recipients, to take back to the "Rush Room" at the local steak house where he lunches with all his friends. ... the more "red meat" the better.

Got others? Respond in T.'s thread hereKA12:40 p.m.

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Sunday, September 19, 2004

The week's best from the Fray ...

Celebrities of all sorts, including political leaders, obtain/retain power by sedulously cultivating images pleasing to the public. Long after they are dead serious biographers usually reveal something closer to the reality. But why should falsehood work for these people during their heyday? Hence the need for somebody like Kelley, to demonstrate how the illusion is created. This could be dismissed as unimportant, but for the fact that the public livesof most recent presidents of the United States have been studied exercises in deception.

Frtiz_Gerlich, here, on Kitty Kelley's latest release


Liberals ought to be upset with the media over the way the story of George Bush's service in the
Texas Air National Guard has been handled. The specific thing they ought to be upset about is that the media did not examine it in depth four years ago, when it had the potential to really damage Bush.

It's too late now. Presidents, for better or worse, do get passes on their pre-Inauguration lives as far as most voters are concerned. Voters were not going to hold the Vorhees campaign against Nixon in 1972. In 1984 they didn't care if "Bedtime for Bonzo" was any good. In 1996 Bill Clinton's lurid past didn't get even get Bob Dole close, and if he'd kept to the straight and narrow throughout his time in the White House no one would have cared about it after 1996 either.

Is that unfair? Stupid question. Anyone in the White House has a vastly more vivid profile in the eyes of the public than anyone else in public life; it's a President's performance in office that voters base their decision on. Anyone not in the White House has to start creating a profile for themselves from scratch. Of course there is a double standard; there always has been.

The fact is that President Bush's 20-plus years of (shall we say) marginally productive life before he ran for Governor of
Texas in 1994, including his Guard service, could have been made a potent issue against him in 2000. John McCain didn't want to do it; the Democrats, coming off eight years of a President who had dodged the draft outright and with a candidate uninterested in national security policy, decided not to do it. And the media just do not do election year stories that one of the campaigns isn't badgering them to do.

Now of the three, I have most reason to be upset with McCain. The issue of Bush's slacking off would have worked best for him, and of the men running in 2000 he would have made by far the best President. But if I were a liberal Democrat I would recognize when a train has left the station…

Zathras, here, on the National Guard flap.


The second amendment prevents the federal government from infringing on the right to bear arms, but has no impact on state regulation. The Founding Fathers neven intended to prevent state regulation of arms within the borders of a state. Strict constructionists should recognize that if you want to rely on what the founder's intended, individual states can disarm their populations ...

The proper place for the assault weapons ban is at the state house. Though many states have state constitutions that protect gun ownership as well, those constitutions can be changed much more readily than the federal one. Those who want gun bans should concentrate their efforts where it will matter and can occur, not at the federal level where it is impractical and should require a constitutional amendment.

JRudkis, here, on the expiration of the federal assault-weapons ban


Pregnant women have simply allowed themselves to be browbeaten by the farcical concept of a "zero-risk" life, an obsessive fixation on a narrow selection of risks to the exclusion of balance or moderation.

Presumably they should all choose bedrest for the last six months because violating any one of these dietary requirements is less likely to lead to problems than getting in a car and exposing themselves and their babies to the risk of a car accident. How much longer before pregnant women are put on oxygen at four months and encased in a nutritive gel at six months? I mean it's just getting preposterous.

Brian-1, here, on the culinary dos and don'ts for pregnant women


I know that John Sayles has a lot to say as a filmmaker, but has he forgotten that people actually want to "enjoy" the movies they fork over their money for? Lone Star might have had a ton of preachy speeches, but man, the movie had style and drive.
SunshineState, Men With Guns, and Casa de Las Babys all were flatter than pancakes.

Ah well ... not every indie director has a continuous hot streak...

TheMaxFischerPlayers, here,  on John Sayles' new release, Silver City


Tim Noah made what so far as I can tell is his New York Times debut over the weekend in the Sunday Books section, reviewing a handful of books written about the alleged president of the US.

So, that's Jacob Weisberg, Dahlia Lithwick, Daniel Gross, Fred Kaplan (a previous contributor to the
Times) and Tim Noah who have written for the paper during the past few months, along with a couple of quotes from Jack Shafer. Emily Yoffe, although she doesn't seem to have shown up recently, has been a contributor to the Arts and Leisure desk in the past.

Meghan O'Rourke, who has been an infrequent contributor to the
Times, did a book review at the end of June. David Plotz got a somewhat inexplicable mention from Maureen Dowd in her May 20 column. Bill Saletan made what seems to be his first appearance in the paper with a book review in July.

That makes nine Slate staffers who have either written for the
Times in recent months, most of them for the first time, or have been quoted, and one, Yoffe, who hasn't appeared lately but is not unknown to the paper.

I like Tim Noah for the most part, but his appearance has the
Times veering dangerously close to Kaus Kountry.

Rumor has it that Kevin Arnovitz will be making his Times debut soon as well. It's my rumor, but I think it might be true.

Betty_the_Crow's semi-regular Slatewatch feature