Taking dog-wagging paranoia to the extreme. ...

Taking dog-wagging paranoia to the extreme. ...

Taking dog-wagging paranoia to the extreme. ...

A mostly political Weblog.
Sept. 30 2002 3:59 AM

Let's Get Cynical!

What we can learn by taking the Dems dog-wag paranoia to the extreme. ...

Speaking of tails overpowering dogs, please note the additions, amendments and backsliding caveats that have been appended to Friday's campaign finance item, below. ... 3:18 P.M.

Suppose you thought President Bush were orchestrating the Iraq crisis for purely political reasons. ... As Al Gore would say, I have not raised those doubts, but many have! They include columnist Matthew Miller. But Miller's recent column  has the virtue of taking the cynical, dog-wagging view of Bush to an out-of-the box extreme. In Miller's view, the long-term political trends -- i.e. for the next few presidencies, not just the next few weeks -- favor the Democrats, mainly for demographic reasons (e.g. Latinos):

Many Republicans think these trends favor Democrats, too. That's why George W. Bush, learning the lesson of Newt Gingrich, has always pretended to have a "compassionate" agenda. But Republican political consultants privately know the surest way to stem the Democratic drift is for the war on terror to become the master narrative of American politics. [Emphasis added.]


What's interesting are the implications of this super-cynical view (which I do not necessarily share!) for the Iraq question.. Specifically, if Bush wants to use the terrorism issue to help his own reelection in 2004 (and not just to win the mid-term elections this November) will he invade Iraq in January, as many conservative commentators hope and expect? The answer is no. If a January Iraq invasion were successful, it would probably be over too soon to help Bush in 2004 -- and Saddam Hussein's fall would open up the dangerous possibility that the nation's attention would quickly shift back to domestic issues on which Democrats have the edge. .... No, unless Bush is planning to invade Korea and Iran after Iraq, the optimal cynical strategy for maintaining anti-terrorism as the "master narrative of American politics" would seem to require Bush, once the midterms were safely over, to keep delaying the Iraq invasion for a year or two, so that the real military crisis comes closer to the next presidential election. (Miller has in fact  said this.).... In other words, to the extent that Bush is the purely cynical, self-interested dog-wagger that some Democrats (not me!) charge, he can't also be the irresponsible cowboy who is going to rush into war in January. It's not in his political interest. ...  12:55 A.M.


Friday, September 27, 2002  

Scientists Discover New McCain-Feingold Black Hole: Hmmm. The Federal Election Commission has exempted 501 (c)(3) charitable organizations from the McCain-Feingold restrictions on "issue ads," arguing that the I.R.S. can police them to ensure they don't become conduits for political money. But, as RiShawn Biddle notes, the I.R.S. has just allowed a 501 (c)(3) charity to pour money into the campaign that opposes Ron Unz's anti-bilingual "English" initiative in Massachusetts. ... Campaign finance laws are complex, and it's usually a mistake ( case in point) to jump to conclusions on the basis of a few news accounts. But isn't this now a big, big, loophole? You get to funnel unlimited amounts of money into political campaigns and take a charitable tax deduction too! Will the net effect of McCain/Feingold be tax breaks for political fatcats? ....

Update -- further study required: Veteran kf reader R emails to say I've overstated the importance of the 501(c)(3) loophole:

501(c)(3)'s are (have always been) permitted by law to participate in "legislative" matters to a limited extent, and referenda are treated as "legislative" for this purpose, since they do result in laws.  But 501(c)(3)'s remain absolutely prohibited from participating in electoral campaigns for or against candidates, and the IRS actually polices that rule pretty carefully.

Let's assume that R (who has always know what he's talking about in the past) is right, and charitable groups can give to referenda campaigns but not to candidates or parties. There would still seem to be lots of loophole potential if these groups -- unlike other, non-"charitable" 501(c)(4) corporations -- are allowed to mention a candidate's name in the final 60 days before an election. The friends of a candidate could associate him with a popular initiative -- look at the way the ads for Arnold Schwarzenegger's after-school-activity initiative in California promote Schwarzenegger himself. Or a candidate's backers could trash his rival by naming the rival as an opponent of a popular referendum ("Tell Congressman x to stop opposing the safe schools initiative.")  You say there are no similar referenda at the federal level? What about campaigns for particular legislation ("Tell X to stop defending the death tax") or constitutional amendments ("Help Congressman DeLay protect our flag from desecration.")? ... These indirect means of de facto campaigning will become important if the McCain-Feingold law cuts off more direct means. It won't, of course -- but the other loopholes, while much simpler (because they don't need a referendum or issue to use as a pretext) don't offer the advantage of tax-deductibility and anonymity. ... Again, I'm probably missing something. I will try to find out what it is.... P.S.: For a useful, very general, non-technical overview of potential McCain-Feingold loopholes, try this  article. ..


More update: Further study has revealed that a) You apparently need an actual initiative or referendum to justify charitable spending. Mere pending legislation won't do, although the logic behind this rule isn't very clear (since intervening in an initiative vote seems more like meddling in politics than just promoting pending legislation). Still, because initiatives exist at the state level, but not the federal level, the rule complicates the ability to use charitable organizations to promote federal candidates. b) Only "public" charities, not private foundations (e.g., Ford, MacArthur, Gates)  may undertake spending on referenda, and even then it must not be a "substantial" part of their activities; c) If a charity mentions a candidate's name too often, the I.R.S. is still likely to come down on them for intervening in an election. ... [So is anything at all left of your overheated little item?--ed All these I.R.S. rules and powers seem quite vague, and give a lot of highly-abusable discretion to the tax agency (e.g. if Congressman X heads a charity and is spokesman for a state initiative it supports, why can't he appear in its ads?). The rules seem ripe for court challenge and legislative revision. If other routes for funneling unlimited donations into politics are closed or made more difficult, the advantages of deductibility and anonymity are likely to encourage donors, consultants and lawyers to push to expand the range of charitable activities.  It's a small loophole now, but the night is young!.... ]  4:18 P.M.

Can I suggest again that any Bush war bandwagon that doesn't quite have Peggy Noonan on board  yet is not a war bandwagon that's ready to roll? ... 1:53 P.M.

In today's NYT, House minority leader Richard Gephardt criticizes Vice President Dick Cheney  for

"saying that our nation's security efforts would be stronger if a Republican candidate for Congress were elected."


Gephardt claims this is part of the irresponsible Republican plan to politicize the war -- but, as Gephardt describes it, it's about as anodyne a statement of the traditional Republican pro-defense argument as I can imagine. (The equally civil Democratic equivalent would be saying "our national safety net for the poor will be stronger if a Democratic candidate is elected.") Some of President Bush's anti-Democratic statements, parsed literally, have gone over the line, as even Andrew Sullivan concedes. But Gephardt's hair-trigger outrage to every civil GOP criticism on the foreign policy front.reinforces the impression that the Democrats are looking for reasons to take umbrage as a pre-emptive strike against possible future attacks on the war issue. This is a point  Walter Shapiro  makes. (He's also more indulgent of Bush's overstated rhetoric than Sullivan)....N.B.: Bush used exactly the same language ("the Senate shows they're ... not interested in the security of the American people") back on Sept. 6, as ABC's The Note has pointed out, yet it didn't prompt an objection from either Gephardt or Daschle. .. The Note also notes that these two Bush overstatements are the exceptions -- usually Bush uses a much fairer formulation when attacking the Democrats' position on the "homeland security" agency ("cares more about protecting the bureaucracy than about security"). .... I'd say Gephardt's current Dudgeon Strategy confirms that the  "Iraq" focus so far is working  for GOP House candidates, although if I were a strategist for the Republicans I certainly wouldn't put all my eggs in the war basket (as they seem to be doing). ...P.S. Why can Al Gore suggest that the long-term national security is weaker under Bush's policies, while Bush and Cheney can't suggest the obverse without "politicizing" the war? 4:27 A.M.

I'm surprised that I haven't seen anyone pounce on Gore for what to me was the second most obvious factual distortion in his San Francisco piece. (The first was his statement that "those who attacked us on September 11th" have "thus far gotten away with it." Michael Kelly  did that one.)

Gore said:

Now, the timing of this sudden burst of urgency to immediately take up this new cause as America's new top priority, displacing our former top priority, the war against Osama bin Laden, was explained by – innocently, I believe – by the White House chief of staff in his now well-known statement, and I quote, "From an advertising point of view, you don't launch a new product line until after Labor Day," end quote. [Emphasis added.]


This, of course, gets Card's well-known statement wrong. What Card actually said, to Elisabeth Bumiller of the NYT, was:

"From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."

Gore's error isn't trivial (sorry, Somerby) since it distorts Card's statement in at least two ways that benefit Gore: 1) It makes the Bush administration's attempt to convince Americans about the war seem shallow and superficial, a case of mere "advertising." 2) Since "after Labor Day" is the traditional campaign season, Gore's mistatement makes Card seem more election-focused than his actual statement did. It's not as if Gore didn't have plenty of time to get this short quote right, especially if he was going to boast of his accuracy with his pompous "and I quote" and "end quote." ... Card's statement, of course, doesn't quite support Gore's insinuation that the Bushies timed the Iraq talk for political reasons. It does imply the Bushies timed the Iraq talk for September, but Card's point is that this timing was designed to best galvanize support for the war (by avoiding the August doldrums when nobody's paying attention) rather than to, say, squelch unexpected internecine Republican squabbling or win the mid-term election. It's a benign answer to the question, 'Why the Iraq fuss now, in September, rather than in August?' Maybe that's why Gore felt Card's words needed a little tweaking. ...

The major irresponsibility in Gore's speech isn't factual, though. It's that he never really said what he'd do. If Gore had laid out an alternative course of action -- inspections and containment, perhaps, backed by an implicit military threat -- and explained why this course wouldn't have a substantial chance of ending with a biological or nuclear attack on Americans, Gore would have performed a patriotic service even if he lost the debate. And he might have won the debate. (I know I'm more than ready to be convinced, and I assume I'm not special.) Instead, he sniped at the President without presenting a plan of his own, a self-protective tactic that may be appropriate in a debate on, say, how to revive the economy, but that in the middle of a war verges on the unpatriotic. ... P.S. The New Republic makes this point and more in an excellent editorial. But if Gore's behavior has been so wanting, doesn't that cast an embarrassing retrospective light on all those previous, insistent TNR defenses of Gore's character? Shouldn't the editorial have been accompanied by something like an apology? ....3:20 A.M.


Wednesday, September 26, 2002  

Black Child Poverty Decreases? The economy went into a recession, poverty went up. That usually happens. But at least two things happened in this recession that don't usually happen. (1) Welfare caseloads continued to fall (contradicting liberal claims that the only reason they were falling was the good economy). And, (2) even though there were fewer people on welfare, child poverty was unchanged -- and the child poverty rate for blacks  actually continued to fall a bit. ... It seems to me (as it does to Isabel Sawhill) that this is fairly strong evidence of the success of the 1996 welfare reform. Liberals like Wendell Primus rightly said the real test of the reform would only come when we'd been through a complete business cycle. Well? ....[The full PDF Census report is here.]3:55 A.M.

OK, we'll fire half the civil servants. Then Bush will be happy and the unions will be happy! Kausfiles solves the Homeland Security impasse. ....  It's actually not a joke. 3:24 A.M..


Monday, September 23, 2002  

Alex Star's new Boston Globe "Ideas" section actually has them. It's only two weeks old and already you could enjoyably waste half your Sunday reading it --- it's sort of what Arts & Letters Dailywould be if Arts & Letters Daily were a magazine. ... Meanwhile, The New Republic has started a blog, reportedly edited by Noam Scheiber, about whom it's often said, "You'll be working for him someday." (Yeah, right! That's what they used to say about TNR writer Jacob Weisberg -- and did it happen, I ask you? ... Er, yes.) ...11:17 P.M.

Here's a Washington Monthly article  that, unlike party-pooper Peter Schrag's column, says nice things about Arnold Schwarzenegger's Prop. 49 (matching grants to fund after-school programs). ... Author Karen Kornbluh of the New America Foundation also offers this intriguing and appealing vignette, which California conservatives might want to read carefully before they put their eggs in Arnold's basket:

When asked about whether his initiative would put the government in the position of replacing mom, [Schwarzenegger] responds, "Do we want philosophy or action? I want action."


In her non-Schwarzenegger passages, though, Kornbluh makes the whole panoply of "parent" issues sound drearier than the education issue, which is saying something. And here's Point Three of her five-point "work/family" platform:

[E]xpand the child-care credit so that it covers a greater portion of the cost of child care. Make it refundable and make stay-at-home parents eligible.

Hmmm -- pay parents, presumably including single mothers, to stay at home and take care of their children? Didn't we have a program recently that did that? It was called Aid to Families with Dependent Children -- i.e. welfare. Why wouldn't Kornbluh's proposal restore the old welfare system as we knew it, this time repackaged as "work/family" policy? (Another new idea from the New America Foundation!)10:20 P.M.




Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--Escapee from American Prospect. Salon--Better click fast! Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! Washington Monthly--Includes "Tilting at Windmills" Lucianne.com--Stirs the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. The Liberal Death Star--Registration required.  NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare!  Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog.  Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko's MediaNews--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. Overlawyered.com--Daily horror stories. Eugene Volokh --Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman -- Always annoying, occasionally right. Joe Conason -- Bush-bashing, free most days.  Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk.]