The Four Votes of Iowa

The Four Votes of Iowa

The Four Votes of Iowa

A mostly political Weblog.
Jan. 19 2004 3:48 AM

The Four Votes of Iowa

What Brokaw and Jennings won't tell you about the caucuses.

Will Edwards concede New Hampshire and let Kerry and Clark fight a death duel there while he waits in South Carolina? John Ellis raises the question, and has some other pithy thoughts. ...Update:  Howard Fineman says on Hardball that Edwards told him he will compete in New Hampshire. And if Kerry and Clark (or Kerry and Lehane!) go at each other, so much the better for the "positive" Edwards. Note: This is CW. Fineman said it! But why would Kerry go after Clark, unless he really has to? ... P.S.: Is there a worse person for the Clark campaign to put on TV to attack Kerry than Chris Lehane? a) He looks slightly crazed; b) He's become a widely-loathed figure; and c) A few months ago he worked for Kerry, so his attacks carry the additional baggage of betrayal. ... 8:58 P.M.

The Expectations of Expectations Game: Drezner detects a surge of media favoritism for Edwards and argues this means Edwards will be the story out of Iowa even if he comes in second:

If Kerry wins, he's going to get a bump, no doubt--and New Hampshire becomes an interesting question. But if Edwards performs better than either Gephardt or Dean at the caucus, reporters are going to lock in on him as the story of the week.


Wait, didn't Ryan Lizza just tell us that "All Kerry needs to do is come in second place and he will be the story Monday Night." But that was four days ago! As Lizza now acknowledges:

The cycle of expectations moves fast here.

He notes:

Within 48 hours, pundits have both blessed Edwards as the late-closing "it" candidate and dismissed the surge as too little too late


So Edwards is now set up to actually surprise people again. ... Someone should try to come up with a name for this faster cycle of expectations.

Maybe the race is so close that the winner will be the story! But I think Drezner is on to something. Reporters seem to like Edwards, not so much Kerry. If the order of finish is Kerry / Edwards / Dean / Gephardt, look for the press to twin Kerry and Edwards as the Come-From-Behind Kids, which would give Kerry his due but constitute a big favor for Edwards. If the order is Edwards / Kerry / Dean  etc., don't expect Kerry to receive any similar favors. ...

P.S.: Be sure to follow Drezner's link to this Daily Kos post with some pro-Dean hints you could only get in a bar in Des Moines. Then read the latest from Lizza, who has some similar pro-Edwards intuitions and a good, testy Trippi interview. ... Trippi is in the uncomfortable position of being unable to lower expectations, or even be modest, because any lowering of expectations by Dean will be taken as ... well, an actual lowering of expectations--i.e. a morale-sapping admission of impending defeat. ...

P.P.S.: Some emailers--not many!--have asked about my preferences. Right now,they are, in order: Edwards / Dean / Gephardt / Lieberman / a Bush-Clark tossup / the complete telephone books of all major American cities / Kerry. ...I'm a character voter, not an "issues" voter. Candidates will change their current "issues" positions after the election. New issues will crop up. The best handle we have to predict how a candidate will actually perform in office is character. ...


P.P.P.S: I'm either behind the curve or ahead, but Howard Dean has been wearing well these past few days. He wants to balance the budget and he has a wife! ... Still, Dean's only ahead of Gephardt on my list because Gephardt's health care plan reforms too little for what it costs. [Thought you weren't an "issues" voter-ed. His stand on this issue reflects a character trait! As TNR's Jonathan Cohn notes, Gephardt looked at the interests that defeated Clinton's health plan and rather than confront them "proposes to buy them off." ... 4:07 A.M.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

The Fraud of Iowa, 2004 Edition: My colleagues Will Saletan and Matt Schiller beat me to the punch in exposing the ugly truth behind the Iowa caucus results you will hear so confidently reported on the network news Monday night. It was Saletan's article on the 1988 caucuses that originally brought the ongoing joke of the caucuses home to me; that article remains a riveting tale of media incompetence and arrogance (chief villain: then-ABC director of political operations Stan Opotowsky).

Basically, the Iowa caucuses are so intricately and undemocratically structured  that there is not one clear count for the press to focus on. There aren't even two clear counts. Or three! There are four possible counts. In the chronological order they occur on caucus night, they are:

1) The entrance poll taken under the auspices of a six large news organizations--call them Big Press--and their group, the  National Election Pool. This completely unofficial count simply questions caucus-goers as they enter the caucuses at 6:30 in the evening.

2) The "pre-viability" count: Caucusers then sit through tedious minor issues and speeches before they finally divide up into groups supporting various candidates. If a candidate gets less than about 15 percent of the vote--or higher in some caucuses, as determined by to (needless to say) a complicated formula--that candidate's supporters are declared "non-viable" and must disperse. But for a brief, shining moment, before this "non-viability" is declared, the various groupings give a clear idea of the actual preferences of caucus-goers.

3) The "realigned" or post-viability count: Then the caucusers in non-viable groups go to their second choices, or to an "undecided" group. or to the "viable" candidate whose success will most screw the candidate they want to beat. Once all the non-viable candidates' votes have been vaporized and all the remaining groups are big enough to pass muster, you get another count--which is then immediately forgotten, because it is only used as the basis for calculating the delegate count.

4) The delegate count is derived from the realigned count --#3--but isn't necessarily an exact reflection thanks to yet more arcane rules--like the one requiring that every "viable" candidate get one delegate, or a rule penalizing precincts with low turnouts in previous years.


Actually, a fifth count would be possible--an unofficial exit poll--but nobody's conducting that count because by the time weary caucus-goers leave their meeting the media will in all likelihood have already reported results based largely on Count #1, the Big Press entrance poll.

The entire evening, in fact, will be a struggle between the Iowa Democratic Party, which pretends to try to get the press to report the official delegate count (#4) and the press, which recognize that the official count is a) usually too slow in coming, b) incomprehensible, and c) inexcusably undemocratic--in an actual election, is your vote's weight determined by the turnout in your precinct in the previous election? That's why the press is likely to go with its own count, especially the conveniently early Count #1,  What are the odds that the TV anchors will patiently explain to viewers that there are, in fact, two quite different counts and not one Iowa "result" to report? After all, as Saletan notes, one candidate--say, Edwards--could win the unofficial Count #1 and a rival candidate--say, Gephardt--could be declared the winner of Count #4 when it's too late for him to get much attention because everyone's gone to bed.  Indeed, with such a close 4-way race a different candidate could win each of the four separate counts.

Of course, the count you'd think we'd really be interested in is #2, the true multi-candidate vote taken in official circumstances (as opposed to by private press pollsters). But it's Count #2 that Opotowsky and his press partners attempted to record in 1988, with the disastrous results reported by Saletan. Why disastrous? For one thing, it "was really hard to count" the non-viable groups "before they switched" to other candidates, as a counter told Saletan.  But there were other screw-ups--caucuses that were simply left unattended by the media's badly-trained operatives. The press consortium actually abandoned Count #2 in 1988 with 30 percent of the caucuses left to be done (and you didn't hear much on-air mention of that embarrassing fact either). This year nobody is going to make Opotowsky's error by even trying to count the complete vote #2. [Update: The consortium will apparently send counters to a sampling of precincts--100 of the 1,993 caucuses--where they will attempt to record Count #2. (See Dan Balz's acccount.) Good luck!]  Hence the shift in likely press emphasis to the entrance poll (#1).

Saletan's biggest point is that, unlike in a real election, we have to take the press' word that Count #1 is accurate--there are no actual ballots to count to see if the entrance poll is right. But why accept as accurate the private Big Press tally, given the disasters of 1988 and the mistaken 2000 Florida exit poll conducted by the National Election Pool's predeccessor? [Update: The NEP's entrance poll is also apparently only a sampling of less than 10 percent of the caucuses. A veteran of network election-night polling emails kf to say "[T]he NEP sample is surprisingly small.  I'd have doubled the number of entry points. But I guess they didn't want to spend the money."]


There are other problems with publicizing Count #1 as "the Iowa result:"

a) It's premature: It measures voters' preferences before they listen to the speeches that precede the official voting--speeches that are designed to, and in many cases do, persaude them to change their choices. Some poll takers say this doesn't matter--the entrance poll, official or unofficial, is still a "voting event" that captures public opinion. But it captures those opinions before they are set--i.e. before the moment those who are holding those opinions plan to be be ready with their final choices.  It's like asking diners, as they are going into a restaurant, what item from the menu they think they're going to pick. How accurate a predictor is that of what they actually eat? 60%? 80%? 40% ? (In a normal election, everyone knows when the final decision has to be made, and sure enough it's that decision that gets counted. Strangely simple!)

b) It's unrepresentative: If any "voting event" will do, why doesn't the Big Press consortium record the preferences of shoppers at Iowa's thirty largest malls? That would be a bigger, more representative and more legitimate electorate than a sample of party activists willing to spend hours on a cold night bickering with their neighbors, etc. The only justification for going with the latter is that it's this self-selected group that picks the actual Democratic convention delegates. But then why doesn't the press highlight only the actual delegate count (#4)?

c) It's susceptible to non-illegal fraud: No campaign is going to sneak out-of-staters or other ineligible voters into caucuses to beef up their candidate's totals. The bad publicity if they got caught would overwhelm any benefit. But what about sending a few ringers to con the unofficial Big Press pollers at the entrances? An alert kf reader emails:

Seek out the poorly trained entrance poll interviewer and record yourself as a caucus participant planning to caucus for your favorite candidate.  Then disappear into the night.  Nothing illegal about lying to a representative of the media. ... And due to the magic leverage of sampling and extrapolation, you could wildly inflate your candidate's entrance poll number with just 10-20 false entrance poll votes per county.  By the time the state Democratic party convinces Big Media to come back to Des Moines and compare the actual vote with the screwed up entrance poll results, we'll be analyzing the South Carolina returns

My emailer thinks he's probably being paranoid, but I'm not so sure. ...

What's the answer: There is no correct, practical answer to the multiple choice question of which Iowa count the press should report. The count you want--#2--seems essentially unreportable as the caucuses are now run. Why don't Iowa officials take the time to record and report Count #2 in every precinct, the way any other state reports its elections results? Because that would turn the caucuses into a "primary"--and the Democratic party has guaranteed New Hampshire the first primary.

Iowa only gets its moment of cynosure, in other words, because its system is too f---ed up to be a primary. That's the root fraud and contradiction of the state's caucuses. We're left with the spectacle of the press' repeated, awkward, unofficial attempts to turn the Iowa event into a primary, and the official resistance to these press moves by state party leaders who know, unofficially, that the press's awkward attempt to turn Iowa into a primary is the reason everyone's paying so much attention to them.

Wouldn't it be better if the press just reported Count #4, left the anchors at home, consigned the caucuses to the semi-obscurity they deserve, and saved the mass press swarming for New Hampshire? ... P.S.: That's where I am, waiting in an empty motel for the clatter of bigfeet ... 8:33 P.M.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

"President Bush and Tony Blair should be proud of their resolve in the face of so much doubt." Here's General Clark in the London Times this past April, after the fall of Baghdad, striking a somewhat different tone  about the Iraq war and the Bush administration than we've seen over the past few months as he's campaigned for the Democratic primary vote. ... Psst.: Don't tell Krugman! He just praised Clark for his shrillness in calling Bush's White House "the most closed, imperialistic, nastiest administration in living memory." . ... It's possible to square Clark's Congressional testimony with opposition to the war as waged. But it's impossible to square this London Times article with Clark's current antiwar criticism. Not only is the tone the opposite of Bush-bashing, but Clark seems to have forgotten that it was "the wrong war at the wrong time," as his adviser Jamie Rubin characterizes  his current position. ...  [Is this reprint accurate? Is Lehane staying in practice by sliming his own campaign?--ed. It's on NEXIS! Clark was just pandering to a Murdoch paper--ed. Exactly! It troubles me more that he's a creepily ambitious chameleon than it would trouble me if he were pro-war. But this London Times column  isn't new news-ed. So?] 2:53 A.M.

Revenge of the Non-Haters: Jeff Jarvis has posted a very clean and powerful analysis of Iowa along Krugmanist lines--that is, he accepts Paul Krugman's categorization of the Democratic candidates, which is that

the real division in the race for the Democratic nomination is between those who are willing to question not just the policies but also the honesty and the motives of the people running our country, and those who aren't.

Jarvis is just on the other side of this divide from Krugman. Krugman thinks only someone who says that Bush is evil can raise grassroots hard money and "get out the message." But intense votes and non-intense votes count exactly the same. Even in the Iowa caucuses--which attract only the most intensely-committed 10 percent of the electorate--the non-haters are in the process of swamping the haters. That's Jarvis' point about Dean's decline. (It's the opposite of the conventional analysis, which is that Iowa Dems hate Bush so much they are turning to the milder candidates who can beat him.)  ... P.S.: I am using "Bush-hater" here as rough shorthand for "those who are willing to question .... the honesty and the motives" of the Bushies. I suppose it is technically possible to call someone a venal liar who's betraying the country and not hate them. ... P.P.S.: Jarvis' other point is that Clark (as Krugman notes) has now positioned himself on the wrong (i.e. Krugman's) side of Krugman's divide. But if that doesn't work for Clark I'm confident he'll change! (See, e.g., above item). .... P.P.S.: There's actually a matrix, of course, with boxes for Bush-hating left-wingers (Kucinich), Bush-hating centrists (Clark, at the moment), non-Bush-hating left-wingers (an empty box) and non-Bush-hating centrists. As a non-Bush-hating centrist, I'm suddenly worried that a candidate I like, John Edwards, will win Iowa and the nomination. Why worry? Because Edwards will probably still lose the election, which will enable the hating left-wingers to say "See, you ran another Clinton and he lost." If the Democrats are going to lose anyway, the might as well run a paleolib hater and let that wing of the party have nobody to blame. [You're going to get Hillary in 2008 whoever loses this time-ed. Good point.]...  2:04 A.M.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Hot Castro Rumors: There's much chatter on the network to the effect that Fidel Castro has departed the plane on which the dialectic of materialism plays out. Rumors like this have cropped up previously and have (obviously) always proven false. This one may well be false also. But there are reasons this one is more credible. My friend Ann Louise Bardach, a journalist who writes about Cuba, says "I never take these rumors seriously and I've heard them for 12 years. This is the first time I take it seriously." The mayor of Bogota, no Castro enemy, recently met with the Cuban dictator and later reported that Castro "seemed very sick." ... Bardach's book, Cuba Confidential, notes that Castro has a history of minor strokes. ... Update: Here, via Drudge, is the Miami Herald report. ... 3:58  P.M.

Where's that opposition research on Kerry? Why, here it is!  ... In general, the next three days in Iowa will be a good test of the Feiler Faster Thesis. In previous decadess, would there be enough time between now and election day to open up the Kerry opposition file, leak it to the press, and get it out to the voters in time for it to actually influence the results? My guess is no. A come-from-behind candidate like Kerry could sneak up at the last minute without attracting effective "scrutiny" (of the sort that has damaged Dean). But in 2004 the anti-Kerry job may be done by Sunday! ...  P.S.: At least it's not as if the most loathed Democratic hit man in the campaign recently quit Kerry's staff and presumably knows where his bodies are buried! ... Oh wait! ... P.P.S.: Noam Scheiber detects a disturbing sexual undercurrent in Kerry's current stump spiel. I don't know. I guess you had to be there--but neither of us were. ... 1:30 P.M.

Who Smeared Dean? Was a certain counterproductive overspinner behind the shameful ABC "affidavit" smear story  against Howard Dean? I don't know, and neither does the New York Times, though today's edition does contain this sentence:

With General Clark rising in the polls in New Hampshire and Howard Dean facing a spate of negative news reports, from stories about stock he sold as Vermont's governor to remarks maligning the Iowa caucuses, many Democrats are convinced they see the invisible hand of Chris Lehane.

If the "affidavit" story was fed to the press by an aide at a rival Democrat's campaign--Lehane or anyone else--shouldn't that aide be, you know, fired? I remember in 1988 when Michael Dukakis was forced by wimpy anti-negativity Democrats to get rid of his right hand man, John Sasso, because Sasso was implicated in the perfectly legitimate leak of a tape  in which rival candidate Joe Biden was seen plagiarizing Neil Kinnock's life story. That was League of Women Voters stuff compared with the anti-Dean ABC hit job. ... Let the witchhunt begin! ... 2:51 A.M.

Ryan Lizza of TNR, a very smart reporter uninhibited by the need for any sort of neutrality, now has a blog, and not a moment too soon. Lizza currently has, gulp, strategic praise for Kerry's Iowa effort (he's building the worker-student alliance!) and copies of the anti-tax literature Kerry is distributing under the radar. ...P.S.: Is Kerry really going to be able to balance the budget, fight terrorism and provide health care without raising "middle class taxes?" Bill Clinton's example suggests Kerry's demagoguing. This analysis by TNR's Jonathan Cohn reinforces that conclusion. [Why didn't you mind it when Schwarzenegger made the same anti-tax promise?--ed. California's spending seems to have been even more out of control than federal spending, and the state wasn't planning to add a huge new health care expense.] ... P.P.S.: Lizza also says: "All Kerry needs to do is come in second place and he will be the story Monday night." Are we sure of that? Doesn't it depend who comes in first? If it's Gephardt (Dean in third!) or Edwards, isn't that a story too? Even if it's Dean--at this point a clear-cut Dean victory is starting to seem a bit Comeback-Kiddish, no? ...[Backfill: Noonan had the Comeback Kid point yesterday.] ... Update: At this point, Zogby's been in effect promoting a Kerry victory for two days. If Kerry's touted as the leader for five straight days and then falls short, isn't "the story" whoever beats him? ...  12:10 A.M.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Crack for the Week:   The Curse of Zog! Kf received the following, highly relevant email from its Mystery Pollster, a principal in a Democratic polling form not aligned with any of the presidential candidates:

As a pollster, I'm amazed at the way the Zogby's numbers seem to be driving national coverage of Iowa for the last few days.  It makes me wonder how many reporters appreciate the basic math of caucus turnout and the incredibly challenging task it creates for pollsters.

Consider the first set of numbers:  The previous record for Democratic caucus turnout was 125,000 in 1988. "Democratic leaders" seem to believe it will be higher this time (or so says the oracle).   Iowa has a voting age population of 2.2 million--125K is about 6% of that.  So even if turnout doubles over 1988, doing a random digit dial (RDD) survey precisely means hanging up on roughly nine of ten otherwise cooperative respondents. [I assume he means you hang up on nine of ten if you accurately filter out those who won't turn out.--mk]

So a pollster doing an RDD poll in Iowa can either spend a lot of time and money screening or cut corners and interview anyone who says they are "likely to vote."  The latter approach yelds a considerably higher percentage than 6-12% (you'll have to trust me on that one, although Mark Mellman agrees). 

Your friends at the LA Times poll took the responsible approach, interviewing 3629 adults to get 640 likely Democratic caucus goers.  Yes, that's still 17%, higher than the likely turnout but at least in the ballpark.  Given them credit for the expense involved and for disclosing the details, something no other public pollster in Iowa has matched. 

There is another way –sampling from a list of past caucus goers – which brings me to a second set of numbers:  The Caucuses turnout was only 60,000 four years ago, and far less in '96 and '92 when they were uncontested.  If turnout this time is 120K or more, then a survey of past caucus goers could miss 50% or more of those who actually show up on Caucus night.  Odds are, those newcomers will be different than the hard-core voters on the lists.

So what is Zogby doing?  Who knows?  He won't say.  His web page release provides no hint at how he samples caucus goers or how many voters he screens.

Upon learning that Zogby told National Journal he makes 3,000 calls per night, the Mystery Pollster sent a second message:

... the answer is incomplete.  Given the number of calls, he seems to be using either RDD or a telephone directory sample to start with a "sample frame" of all adults in Iowa. So far so good. 

Unfortunately, he's still not saying whether that's 3000 calls (or what we call attempts) or whether he contacted 3000 otherwise cooperative respondents who he screened down to 165 or so.   If it's the latter, the numbers are right. 

If it's the former, his answer is a clever dodge.  It is not at all uncommon for a pollster doing a one night RDD sample to have to make several thousand  attempts to complete a few hundred interviews.  It's very plausible that 3000 RDD calls made on a single night would result in....
    1000 no answers
    200 busy signals
    600 non-working numbers
    300 answering machines
    400 refusals to be interviewed, and...

    500 cooperative respondents, of whom he takes 165, which would be 33% of
Iowa and waaaay too big...

Musil has some anti-Zoggish thoughts as well, and this Josh Marshall article notes some races in which he zogged when he should have zigged.  ... The upshot seems to be that you would be foolish to rely on Zogby's tracking polll to predict the actual caucus results (in the two completely different counts that will be taken--more on that later!). In particular, Zogby may miss differentials in whether various candidates' supporters will actually leave their houses on the cold Monday night, etc. But it's hard to believe that Zogby isn't accurately capturing the direction of the trend, assuming he uses a consistent method every day. That trend--Kerry and Edwards surging, from wherever they are, with Dean sinking slowly and Gephardt flat--is also supported by anecdotal evidence. (Update: And by this non-Zogby poll.) Pass the pipe!... Of course, trends can change overnight--faster now, yes, than in previous elections. It's only Thursday. The official kf Wishful Thinking position is that Kerry has peaked too soon! (And where's the opposition research on him, anyway?) ... The fallback Wishful Thinking position is that he still won't do well in New Hampshire because they know him. ...[If he wins N.H., you'll ... ?--ed. Come up with something!] ... P.S.: Of course the "larger question," as we pundits like to call it, is why we are giving candidate selection to a process that attracts only 6% of a state's voting age population? ... 3:41 P.M.

ABC News' The Note vs. ABC News:  The people who write ABC News' The Notemust have thought the anti-Dean "affidavit" story by their own networks' "Investigative Unit" was as sleazy a piece of junk as everyone else did. They gave it about as little play as they could without courting dismissal--burying a one sentence link on page 8 of a 13 page report. ... The upshot of this Pravda-like reading:The Note'sMark Halperin, the network's Political Director, thinks someone else in his organization has very bad judgment. He's right! ... 12:30 P.M.

Jeez, maybe John Kerry actually is the frontrunner. ... 12:22 A.M.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Take that bus and shove it! I can't quite believe ABC ran with that Dean "affidavit" story  (as Drudge tactfully calls it). There's no evidence presented that Dean knew of the actions of the former employee involved, certainly not before he filed his affidavit. Nor is it even really clear exactly what those actions were. Read it yourself. ABC (Mark Halperin, you too) should be ashamed. The network doesn't just report the story--it hypes the story (in the attempt to make it a story).  If I were Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi, I'd have tried to kick ABC off the plane too. ... Hypocrisy Watch: And if Democrats had tried this sort of last-minute smear on, say Arnold Schwarzenegger, you can bet Republicans like Lucianne Goldberg would have immediately denounced it. Yet when the late hit is on Howard Dean, Lucianne Goldberg ... well, actually her site  immediately denounced it. ("ABC falls for ... lame hit job.") This is one reason I like Lucianne Goldberg.  ... 11:34 A.M.

Crock of tick-tock? This isn't of utmost importance, but NBC Nightly News reported this evening that U.S. troops "were led directly to the spider hole" in which Saddam Hussein was hiding. Is this confirmation of the possibility, widely-credited abroad, that the Kurds were behind Saddam's capture? And what about those reports, immediately after the event, that it was only an alert U.S. soldier who noticed the rug covering the spider hole? Was the Pentagon counterproductively overspinning the event? Have they hired Chris Lehane or something?  ...Backfill: For example, here is Time magazine's account of the capture:

At first, the searches of a rural farmhouse, however, turned up little that was suspicious. But after all these years of deception, all these months of hunting, given Saddam's reputation for tunnels and safe rooms and secrets, the soldiers knew to scrape the paint off the walls in the event he was hiding behind them. So they cordoned off the area and took out their tweezers, searching every corner. On the premises there was a small, walled compound with a mud hut and a metal lean-to. There they found the entrance to the hole, camouflaged with dirt and bricks, with just enough space to lie down, a fan and an air vent.

Here's Newsweek:

According to U.S. officials, the Americans had an informant working with them, a family member "close to Saddam." The tipster said, in effect, "He's there. Trust me. Keep looking." A more thorough search of every building and field commenced, and at 8:26 p.m., a soldier noticed a crack in the earth under a lean-to adjoining a mud hut on a small sheep farm. ... The crack revealed a hidden door. The soldiers carefully shoved aside some bricks and dirt and opened up a Styrofoam hatch covered with a rug.

Were these dramatic accounts 45% B.S.?...7:04 P.M.

Beloved comrade Robert Kuttner is one of the first to make the case for, yes, a brokered convention--and it's highly persuasive! ... I say "one of the first" because surely Walter Shapiro has already written this piece. (Update: Well, he wrote this, which presciently supplements Kuttner's arguments.) ... And why not a brokered convention? Every other wacky thing has happened. Those who don't ignore history are condemned to think it will be repeated! ... Maybe the rush to anoint Dean by Gore and Harkin happened because somebody read the proportional delegate rules and realized that front-loading wouldn't result in an early pick in a five-contender field in which at least one contender (Dean) has an inextinguishable source of money ... Update: Thomas Maguire's JustOneMinute adds the point that once a brokered convention becomes a lively possibility, candidates have very little reason to drop out--as opposed to maintaining a token campaign and amassing whatever bargaining chips they can. A brokered convention then becomes ... a self-fulfilling prophecy! .. P.S.: Musil broached brokering last week. .. P.P.S.: Maguire predicts that now the "brokered convention meme will go from longshot to CW in about twelve hours." But self-fulfillment will still take six months. ... A very long six months. ... More: The last two grafs of this LAT "Opinion" piece from 2002 are also eerily prescient, or may become prescient soon. [pdf file] ... 6:03 P.M.

kf's Finger on the Pulse of Iowa! From the actual hustings to your active matrix screen without mediation by either Adam Nagourney or Sean Penn! Today: A seemingly honest Deanie doorknocker speaks 'against interest' and reports an Edwards (and Kerry) surge. .. Of course, he reports that "Gephardt seems flat," so it's not totally 'against interest.'  ... [link via Instapundit ] 3:41 P.M.

Robert Reich, caught making a factual error? Well, I suppose anything's possible! ... 12:27 P.M.

John Kerry, Frontrunner! Minnesota DFL-er Greg Abbott makes another promising entry in the Kerry Mystery Contest, noting the senator's "unique ability to both pander and condescend at the same time." ... Abbott's earlier contribution pegged Kerry as "both impulsive and opportunistic." Add a certain robot-needing-repairs quality, and I think we may have it. ... But, alas, the "Kerry Death Spiral" anticipated by Abbott and kf appears to be temporarily on hold, thanks to the poor judgment of the impressionable, well-meaning [you almost said "cow-like"-ed But I didn't!] Iowa Democrats who get to make this decision for us. (They liked Dukakis too!) Kerry actually won yesterday's segment of the Zogby three-day Iowa tracking poll. Doesn't that raise the possibility--no, the expectation, that Kerry will win Iowa? I think it does! Anything less than an outright Kerry victory in Iowa just has to be considered a worse-than-expected performance, don't you think? ... [But just a month ago you were staging a "Kerry Withdrawal Contest"-ed. Just shows you how quickly expectations change in this fast-paced Internet-driven world!] 11:04.A.M.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

What does George Soros have against John Edwards? ... 1:35 A.M.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Classic Nagourney NYT piece--a seemingly arbitrary, CW-gusting, I-want-to-be-a-player lede ("Howard Dean has slipped into turbulent territory") followed by several inches of to-be-sure paragraphs that undercut the showcased thesis (e.g., Dean's likely to win N.H. because it's now Clark who's under attack there, etc.) ... If Dean has hit turbulence, he hit turbulence a week ago, when the polls started showing it, not yesterday. Maybe I didn't watch the same Brown and Black debate everyone else did. I missed "what many described as [Dean's] faltering performance."  I thought Dean did OK. He seemed relatively responsible and grown-up (e.g. on balancing the budget, and not cutting the Pentagon). As Saletan notes, Dean managed to stand up to Sharpton without being angry or condescending. ... I associate myself with Musil's comments. ... P.S.: Sure enough, after his "faltering performance" in the debate Dean was in such turbulent territory that he moved up in Zogby's tracking poll. Update: On Tuesday, however, he plunged. An authentic voter reaction to Dean, or a reaction to the wave of Nagourneyesque aura-of-inevitability-bursting CW of the day before? We'll never know! ... P.S.: ABC's The Note says Zogby's tracking numbers are "crack for the weak." to which I say "offer something better!" In a strategic multi-candidate primary like this one, where voters may honorably switch their decisions depending on who is ahead--and whether the person they really want to beat is a threat--accurate tracking polling is not media-driven entertainment filler. It is a precondition for the intelligent exercise of the franchise. So there.  ... Update: Peggy Noonan  voices the whispered question regarding the press'--especially the NYT's--seeming anti-Dean turn:

I wonder if mainstream media aren't trying to save the Democratic Party from Mr. Dean. They know he's not a likely winner down the road.

This is the sort of question best answered, even in the Internet era, from the bar in Campaignland, which is currently located at the Hotel Ft. Des Moines. ...  10:38 P.M.

All Souljahs Left Standing: Andrew Sullivan suggests that yesterday's "Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum" marks the Democrats' regression to a pre-Clintonian liberal posture in which "all whites are at fault and all blacks are victims." That's true as far as it goes: not one of the candidates questioned party orthodoxy on affirmative action, for example. Iowa frontrunners Gephardt and Dean explicilty endorsed race-based contracting 'set asides.' Nobody mentioned out-of-wedlock births, the troubled black family, or even crime. Rev. Sharpton semi-successfully demagogued Dean on the number of minorities in his Vermont cabinet. Plus there was a whole new issue to Hispander on: illegal immigration. At the end, all the Souljahs were still standing.

To some extent, Clinton's welfare reform--and the (not unrelated!) slow-but-perceptible improvement in inner-city crime and the black family structure have had the perverse effect of freeing Democrats to be paleoliberals on race again.  They don't have to talk about welfare and crime--the issues that made previous Brown and Black debates, always embarrassing suck-up sessions, a little tense, since confronting welfare and crime at least meant contemplating what had gone wrong with the decades-long Democratic effort to produce "community development" (not to mention worrying about the reaction of non-liberals and worried suburbanites who might be listening in). Welfare and crime aren't on voters' radar screens anymore, and Democrats can once more go ahead and grovel to the liberal ethnic lobbies without too much complication.

But something is missing when you compare this year's humiliating panderfest with previous humiliating panderfests: There's no more talk of sinking vast sums of money into Model Cities and UDAGs and CDBGs and all the other sinkholes and mayoral slush funds of the Democratic antipoverty apparatus. Even relatively non-left Democrats like Carter and Dukakis eagerly embraced such programs, but they don't get defended anymore, even by self-proclaimed let's-go-on-offense types such as Dean. It may be cause, or it may be effect, that Sharpton's limited, legalistic New York City-style issues--"racial profiling, police brutality, racial discrimination in the private sector"--lend themselves easily to headline-grabbing and community organizing but less easily to expensive programmatic solutions. Sharpton's a "race man," but he doesn't seem primarily  a big-government "race man." ...

P.S.:  Like Sullivan, I'm baffled that Joe Lieberman doesn't try to distinguish himself from the pack in forums like this by going out of his way to tell his audience something it doesn't want to hear--doubts about affirmative action, for example, or about the prospects for complete immigrant 'legalization."  Lieberman could actually appeal to many blacks, while creating a huge ruckus, if he endorsed inner-city choice experiments as his colleague Dianne Feinstein has done.

But he wouldn't even have to deviate on a particular policy. All he'd have to say to grab the next day's headline is something like: "Let's face it. We've made progress. For the vast majority of Americans--black, brown and white--the most important determination in any individual's success or failure isn't racism, and it isn't what the government does or doesn't do. It's what the individual does." He'd soon get the media attention he desperately needs, and if all the people who agreed with him voted for him and all the people who disagreed with him split their votes among the other seven candidates, he'd win!You'd think Lieberman would do it on strategic grounds alone, even if he didn't (as many suspect) secretly think it was also right. Instead he toes the line with the others--"We're all for affirmative action"--hiding even his disagreements under phony agreement (on the reparations issue, for example,where he showily endorsed a study of the subject). ...

I encountered similar mysterious behavior when working on Ernest Hollings' presidential campaign in 1984.  Hollings could have distinguished himself from the pack, and gotten some New Hampshire traction, if he'd either a) criticized the National Education Association or b) supported the invasion of Grenada. He did neither. Why? I came up with two theories:

1) Learned instincts: Politicians like Hollings and Lieberman don't get where they are by distinguishing themselves in crowded fields through attacks on Democratic interest groups. They've achieved their success by winning two-candidate or three-candidate primaries and then putting alll the Democratic interest groups into one big coaliton that beats the other side's coaliton.  

2) Earned ego:  Apparently Hollings actually thought he might wrest the 1984 NEA endorsement from Walter Mondale! That seems like delusional egomania to outsiders, but I suspect that in the process of getting to where he is Hollings has actually pulled off such a longshot feat once or twice. Similarly, it seems crazy for Lieberman to even think he has a shot at doing well among blacks. But ...

(A third factor, obviously, is that senators need to worry about getting reelected to the Senate if they lose in the presidential primary.) ... 

[Thanks to alert kf reader B.H. for pointing out Dean's endorsement of 'set-asides,' which came in a post-debate Hardball interview.] 9:30 P.M.

Gut Prediction: Wesley Clark is to 2004 as Gary Hart was to 1984--a candidate who's appealing on first look and who makes a big move in New Hampshire, but who the voters ultimately decide is just too weird. .. 3:25 P.M.

Robert Rector, you will want to read this article:Britain has a relatively liberal welfare system for single mothers and a relatively permissive sex education program that teaches "'how to do it'" while trying to prevent pregnancy. And it has "failed utterly to reduce the numbers of gymslip mothers," according to the U.K. Telegraph. ... With only a trace of the traditional British journalist's "look at those rednecks" smirking, Olga Craig compares and contrasts the more American combination of tougher welfare work requirements and "abstinence education," which seems to be working. (Teenage pregancies are down 30 percent in a decade, she reports.) ... But what's the cause of the pregnancy drop--welfare reform or abstinence programs? The two cases (U.K. and U.S.) don't make for a good experiment, which would require a country with tough welfare and permissive sex ed (or vice versa).  But a) didn't the drop in teen pregnancy in the U.S. start in the early 90's, preceding by many years institutions like the "Silver Ring Thing, part of a growing movement of chastity organisations that have swept America's Bible belt"? (The drop also precedes the 1996 welfare reform--but not, the Telegraph notes, loud talk of welfare reform at the national level and actual reforms at the state level); b) Is the chastity movement and "abstinence education" all that widespread--especially outside the South? c) Isn't it possible that the chastity movement is itself an effect of welfare reform? When teens can't rely on AFDC to survive as single moms, movements that protect them from unsubsidized, marriageless motherhood crop up and find a receptive audience. ... 3:18 P.M.

Another reason the Iowa caucuses are a bad joke: Their tradition of reporting inaccurate or incomplete results, detailed by John McCormick of the Chicago Tribune. An alert kf reader submits this prediction:

... at least one of the candidates will announce that whatever is reported as the results of the Iowa Caucuses is wrong and they actually did better. And because of improved communications within campaigns ... they will provide plausible evidence of this.

Of course, after Iowa there is no opportunity for reporters to assess such claims in leisurely Florida fashion--there's usually time for only one "take" on the caucuses before the media focus shifts entirely to New Hampshire.  I don't think even the Feiler Faster principle will greatly alter this reality. That means a claim of "they got it wrong" is a plausible strategy for, say, a former front-runner who embarrassingly finishes fourth in Iowa and wants to go on to New England. ... Iowa's lack of accuracy transfers power to the press--which either gives credibility to claims of error or doesn't. In what other state does this sort of Uncertainty Principle--in which the result that counts is often indeterminate--operate? ... Hey, in McCormick's story they're still arguing over who won in '88! (More precisely,they're still arguing over the highly-publicized, botched News Election Service count.) ... 10:42 A.M.

Kerry Surge Watch! In New Hampshire, he's caught ... Lieberman!   10:05 A.M.

Nope, nope: A number of sites, including Wes-slagging Web-logger  Polipundit, have noted General Clark's embarrassing lack of nuance when discussing abortion with the Manchester Union Leader. Here's the transcript:

McQuaid: Let's take an issue. Abortion. Are there any limits on it in your mind?

Clark: I don't think you should get the law involved in abortion—

McQuaid: At all?

Clark: Nope.

McQuaid: At all?

Clark: It's between a woman, her doctor, her friends and her family.

McQuaid: Late term abortion? No limits?

Clark: Nope.

McQuaid: Anything up to delivery?

Clark: Nope, nope.

McQuaid: Anything up to the head coming out of the womb?

Clark: I say that it's up to the woman and her doctor, her conscience, and law — not the law. You don't put the law in there. ...

So Clark would allow a doctor and mother to kill a baby hours away from being born even if neither the physical or mental health of the mother was at stake? Because, say, the mother wanted a boy and the baby was a girl? ... The idea that Clark is the candidate who will avoid Dean's abject pandering and amateurish oversimplifications  is becoming increasingly untenable.  ... 1:54 A.M.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Howard Dean vs. the special interests!  Vermont's teachers' union had "suspicions about [Dean's] views on school choice" and refused to endorse him in 1996 and 1998. Did AP's Ross Sneyd bury his lede? ... Is Dean's public centrism so boring only because he doesn't dare say what he really thinks? How un-McCainish. ... Meanwhile, what about the acclaimed  Kerry Surge? His third-place  support is soft in Iowa, according to the (admittedly tarnished-by-its-Davis-performance) L.A. Times poll. And he's a digit away from single digits in Neighboring New Hampshire! ... 12:39 P.M.

Friday, January 9, 2004

Here's one obvious idea for how Howard Dean could solve his "Bad or Bland" dilemma. Dean's challenge, remember--now that it no longer helps him to get livid--is to make the essentially moderate, un-self-critical and uninteresting substance of his politics exciting. On the stump, he occasionally does this by discussing decisions he made as governor--for example, how he told the head of the state prison department that the prisons could forget about a budget increase, but wound up giving them one because they needed the money. This story serves three purposes: it shows Dean can be tough, it shows he can be self-deprecating and it shows he can go against conventional liberal instincts. Dean needs more such stories, lots of them, and one way to get a steady stream is to go post-modern and turn his campaign into a reality TV show! Let the cameras wander the halls, recording policy meetings, fights, staff tantrums. Let's see the 2004 equivalent of the prisons chief in Dean's office begging for money. (They could bleep out Trippi like Ozzie Osbourne!) It could be riveting and might help Dean break the standard presidential dominance of the news. And if a lot of it had to be staged ... well, it's a reality show! Most of them are staged. ...  Eventually enough voters might become addicted and come to like Dean. ... Hey, it worked for Paris Hilton! [But she had that sex tape.-ed You don't think .... nah.] ... P.S.: R.J. Cutler, who made "The War Room," is just the man to do this show, although he has another, not dissimilar project. ... P.P.S.: There could be a carefully-calibrated substantive component too--the candidate visiting people who don't have health insurance, following them as they get wildly expensive emergency room care, etc. (as long as this was followed by more fights and tantrums!). ... P.P.P.S.: Would the Dean campaign be giving away campaign secrets to the opposition? Not necessarily. Like most reality shows, this one could be edited and released after the secrets were no longer so secret--e.g. a show on debate prep would be shown after the debate in question. ... 3:03 P.M.

The Iowa Caucuses--Excrescence on the Body Politic: A four-year old videotape shows Howard Dean perceptively maligning the sacred Iowa caucuses as "dominated by special interests" and "the extremes." Rep. Richard Gephardt seized the moment:

"The remarks he made about the Iowa caucuses to me are unbelievable. I guess I'd ask him a question: Who are the special interests dominating this caucus? Is it the farmers? Is it organized labor? Is it senior citizens?"

Um ... how about "yes", "yes" ... and "yes!" ... [Thanks to colleague W.S.] 2:31 P.M.

Thursday, January 8, 2004

Kerry's N.H. tracking poll number asymptotically approaches zero, or Lieberman, whichever comes first ... But Fineman thinks the vaunted "Kerry surge" in Iowa is not just prop-him-up Deanie spin. He reports Kerry is in "a strong second place position." Not in these polls, though (where he's a strong and close third).  ... P.S.: Usually New Hampshire voters react to the Iowa results. But what if the Iowans read the New Hampshire tracking polls and conclude Kerry's a goner? ... 8:59 P.M.

How Now Mad How? Why did Howard Dean persist in "having a little fun" by sneering at Bill Clinton and the moderate Democratic Leadership Council at the very moment when he was supposed to be making his long-awaited pivot to the center? My tentative theory, which may be blindingly obvious, is this:

1) The essential triumph of Dean's campaign has been making a relatively moderate, conventional Democratic agenda seem radical, rebellious and exciting. He's done this, as everyone knows, by being really angry. But when he has attempted to lose the pose of leftish insurgent and move to the center, he's tended to replace angry populism with ... blandness and banality. Read, for example, Dean's recent big domestic policy speech, "Keeping the Promise of America." It's Dukakis with a head cold!  Dean tries to hype his platform--saying it's nothing less than "a fundamental renegotiation of the rights and responsibilities of the critical actors in the American economy: families, corporations and government." Why, it's a "new Social Contract for America's families" to supplant the New Deal!  But it's not. It's the New Deal plus health care and day care and tuition grants--just like all the other New Social Contracts moderate Democrats have put out over the years.

Nothing wrong with that. (Do you really want to 'fundamentally renegotiate the rights and responsibilities of families, corporations and the government'? I don't.) But it's not very exciting. The jibe that Clintonism was a damage control operation was the only interesting thing in the speech, which is why I suspect it was in there--just as the reckless line "the capture of Saddam has not made America safer" was the most interesting thing in Dean's big, responsible, 'is-this-tedious-enough-for-you?' foreign policy address

2) What Dean isn't able to do--but Clinton was able to do--is to express fresh centrist thoughts, exciting centrist thoughts, thoughts with some bite. Clinton did this largely through a willingness to take on his own party. "End Welfare as We Know It." There was something new! Democrats hadn't said that before (and indeed it pissed a lot of them off). Or "Abortion should be safe, legal and rare." 

Dean, in contrast, wants Democrats to stop being so defensive but doesn't want to confront the reasons why they might have been put on the defensive in the first place. We've forgotten about that--it was so long ago! But was it just a Washingtonian lack of fighting spirit that rocked the party back into minority status--or was it excessive, dogmatic loyalty to the very Democratic interest groups Dean has spent the past year sucking up to? Teachers' unions whose elaborate job protections for the semi-competent have turned suburban schools into swamps of mediocrity and inner city schools into nightmares. Industrial unions such as the UAW--whose detailed local work rules help guarantee that Detroit now builds essentially no cars that Howard Dean's Honda/Volvo/VW-driving supporters might actually want to buy. Affirmative action pressure groups whose efforts guarantee that competent professionals of color must carry around for life the stigma of having received special preferences. Bilingual educators promoting what is by now a proven means of holding Latino students back. Housing lobbyists who push "house the poorest first" rules that turn HUD projects into community-destroying hellholes. A senior lobby that has prevented adjustment of Social Security benefits--including "means-testing" the benefits of the rich--until it may be too late.

Dean campaigns to "Defeat the Special Interests," but as far as I can tell he has nothing to say to these special interests that they don't want to hear. He's even dropped Clinton's main positive-yet-biting theme: a constant rhetorical emphasis on work, which implicitly excludes people who don't work (and rejects antipoverty welfare programs that undermine the value of work). Dean doesn't talk much about work; he talks blandly about "America's families." His vision of the "new Social Contract" is long on benefits and short on responsibilities,  The main responsibility Dean cites is a vague "responsibility to particpate in our country's civic life," which seems to include a "voluntary," unenforceable, thousand-points-of-lightish "ethic of service."  Hey, I can go along with that! But if it's voluntary then it's not really part of a contract, is it? Clinton's work requirement, in contrast, had some consequences. If you didn't work you were only going to get two years of welfare, and you weren't going to get the Earned Income Tax Credit that became the government's main anti-poverty program (and you don't get most of the New Deal's other benefits, like Social Security). Is Howard Dean going to take away your day care if you don't start "helping neighbors when newborns come home from the hospital"? I don't think so.

3) I suppose it would be possible to be an exciting centrist Democrat without being a self-critical Democrat--for example, along 'we-have-seen-the-problem-and-it-is-us' lines touted by Will Saletan  and, most famously,  Pogo. But Dean hasn't found a way to do that either.

Peggy Noonan writes that "Mr. Dean's problem in the future will not be so much credibly pivoting right on major issues as attempting to pivot into something like the normal range in terms of temperament, personality and the interpretation of things he's already said when he's popping off." But Noonan (by her own admission) doesn't want Dean to win, only to put up a noble fight. If Dean's going to actually win he'll have to do both--move to the center and start acting more normal.

Dean's certainly comfortable as a moderate--check out his old pundit tapes. His dilemma--the real Dean Dilemma, it seems to me--is that unless he keeps popping off, unless he maintains the mischievous posture of slightly irresponsible anger, when he moves to the center he threatens to bore everyone to death.

I have a couple of half-baked ideas for how Dean might solve this problem, but will leave them for later. 7:38 P.M.

BLOG HOGS HED CRED: Why didn't anyone besides Austin Bay--say, someone at the New York Post--think of "Mad How"?  With those six letters, the next month should be a headline writers' party! ... Sample: What's the hed after Howard Dean wins Iowa and New Hampshire and switches to a sunnier, tax-cutting message?


It practically writes itself! Congrats to Bay. ...P.S.: A controversy involving Dean's feisty TV spots?


2:30 P.M.

Three (3) Questions:

1. Isn't Dick Morris jumping the gun a bit by more or less declaring the Edwards candidacy dead? ("Edwards' campaign never really got going.") Where was Gary Hart in the Iowa and New Hampshire polls 11 days before the Iowa caucuses in 1984? At 5 percent? Six percent? Yet Hart went on to do well enough in Iowa (16.5%) to set the stage for a huge win in New Hampshire. The night is young.

2. Keith Kelly reports that New York media columnist Michael Wolff has "teamed up with Nora Ephron to do a remake" of the "1950s hit movie ... 'The Solid Gold Cadillac.'"

"I always thought it would be a great movie to be remade," said Ephron, who said Wolff demonstrated that he could write business dialogue both in his columns and his first book, "Burn Rate." [Emphasis added.]

Um, wasn't Burn Rate supposed to be a work of, like, non-fiction? ... Oh, I forgot! Wolff is a bullshi ....I mean, he believes "literalism" is the "refuge of the non-brilliant" and "smartness in a soft-news world involves a certain quality of plasticity"! ... P.S.: Jack Shafer  had his suspicions about the "wealth of verbatim quotations" in Burn Rate back when it was published. ...

3. Why shouldn't CBS pay Michael Jackson for an interview? Does it change your assessment of Jackson's veracity one bit if he was paid $X million for his music special plus the interview or only $X-1 million? If Ed Bradley personally paid him a million cash upfront on the barrelhead right before asking the first question, it was worth every penny! .... In general, as long as any payments are disclosed, why not pay for interviews and let readers and viewers and listeners take that into account along with all the other biases--like the overwhelmingly more powerful need in Jackson's case to exculpate himself--that might affect a story's credibility? Why is it absolutely forbidden to pay a source for a scoop or juicy gossip in a newspaper or TV interview but perfectly OK to pay the same person millions for a book that sells solely on the basis of the very same scoop or juicy gossip? ... I've always suspected the hard "ethical" rule against checkbook journalism is actually an elaborate restraint of trade by news organizations that don't want to pay for information simply because ... well, paying for information costs money! And it would leave less for the book publishers to pay for. ... P.S.: This is the not-unusual case where the story about the journalists doing the reporting is more important than the story they are reporting. Did Sharon Waxman, the New York Time's big new Hollywood hire, get her first major story right or wrong? Now, that's an interesting question. What she got right or wrong is far less important. It's a McGuffin to set up the Waxman saga. ... P.P.S.: Judging from this lengthy New York Observer account, and the weaselly, Clintonian CBS denials contained therein, Waxman's work is holding up well. ... 12:51 A.M.

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Call for a Moratorium: Cathy Seipp attacks the L.A. Times for quoting lefty journalism professor Robert Jensen. Didn't bother me--Jensen's argument was extreme and wrong (I think) but relevant. My own recommendation for the LAT regarding expert quotes: No More Marty Kaplan! ... The "director of the Norman Lear Center at USC's Annenberg School of Communication" isn't kooky--he's smart!--but he's a trained seal, specializing in telling reporters what they want to hear, whether it's bleeding obvious ("A careful politician knows how to count, and Eisner seems to have the supporters he needs on the board") or a Left Stretch (arguing that what the Times called "Schwarzenegger's string of political wins" might actually harm him because the "news has cast him as such a victor that many people may think the problems are now solved.") Kaplan has been quoted in the LAT 13 times in the past 6 months, according to NEXIS--which seems like a lot for a "journalism expert." It's more than usual press faves Lynda Obst (2) and Joe Roth (6) put together! And Roth made actual news (his studio produced Gigli!). ... 9:40 P.M.

According to The Note and  ABC reporter Ed O'Keefe, the Kerry campaign is spinnning that the Dean campaign is spinning that the Kerry campaign is doing well because the Dean campaign wants to sabotage the Kerry campaign by raising expectations which the Kerry campaign then will fail to meet. ... To which kf says, "Dream On!" Kerry wishes that the Deanies took him seriously enough to viciously say nice things about him!  In fact--objectively, as we Marxists say--it's in Dean's interest for Kerry to do relatively well in Iowa, fragmenting the anti-Dean opposition and increasing the chances that Dean will face at least two major opponents in New Hampshire (where Kerry has been nose-diving) instead of just General Clark. ... And because Dean wants Kerry to do unexpectedly well Dean's campaign would be badmouthing Kerry's campaign at this stage. ... It's so, like, obvious! ... Update:  Howard Fineman says  the Dean campaign was saying Kerry was doing well because they want him to do well! How cunning is that! ... 8:10 P.M.

Kf Readers respond!

Mickey, Brooks is overstating his case (and to be sure, he's got a dog in this fight), but it is very definitely true that "neoconservative" is used by many as a racist, anti-semitic slur.  (Especially in Europe and the Middle East.) -- W.J.A.

True, but Brooks doesn't just attack European anti-Semites' use of "neoconservative." He attacks Gen. Wesley Clark's use of "neoconservative" by lumping him with the European bigots. That's what is sleazy about Brooks' column. Clark may be unhinged, paranoid and pandering with his talk of a "list of countries" (including "Syria and maybe Lebanon") that he thinks there is a neoconservative "inclination" to invade. Or he may be right. I don't know. But he's not anti-Semitic.

You ask why it isn't it legitimate to note that "many neo-cons (e.g. Paul
Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith) occupy important positions in the Administration."  The reason why is that AFAIK, Wolfowitz and Feith don't call themselves "neo-cons."  Other people call them neo-cons, presumably because they're Jewish. 
It's true that Irving Kristol called himself "neoconservative", but that's because he was new to conservatism.  Today, the term "neo-conservative" is generally used as a poorly defined slur and it's generally applied to politically conservative Jews.-- D.S. [Emphasis added]

Hmm. Maybe D.S. is right. Irving Kristol abandoned the term years ago. Nobody uses "neoconservative" any more except bigots! In fact, I hold in my hand a particularly egregious recent example of this current usage.  The author of this screed doesn't acknowledge that "neoconservatives" are just conservatives who happen to be Jewish. He explicity rejects that idea, portraying "neoconservatism" as a distinct "persuasion" whose goal is nothing less than "to convert the Republican party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills." (Wow!) He implicitly refutes Brooks by arguing that to achieve these goals, neoconservatives need not have a conventional "movement" in which members all know each other and attend meetings. He notes how the neocons have cunningly used their alliance with the more numerous "religious traditionalists"--e.g. Christian fundamentalists--to attain "a certain influence and even power" within the Republican party  He generalizes broadly, describing a set of "neoconservative attitudes" on foreign policy--including a willingness to use U.S. "military superiority" to promote "democracy"--that clearly encompasses both Wolfowitz and Feith. And he explicitly identifies as a core "thesis" of this "neoconservative" foreign policy the need "to defend Israel" without any "complicated geopolitical calculations of national interest."

This astonishing encyclopedia of libelous myths about "neoconservatives"--if I can repeat that poorly defined slur--was only published last August. Naturally, it's still floating around the Web. To read it in full, click here. 5:44 P.M.

Update: Clark is now three points ahead of Kerry in New Hampshire, according to the much-watched ARG tracking poll. ... But Clark is making this progress by sounding increasingly demagogic. Does he really think we can turn Iraq over to the Iraqis "long before this July 1 date"? Isn't Hillary Clinton complaining that July 1 is already too rushed? If Clark is a Clinton stalking horse, they should get their stories straight. ... Meanwhile, irresponsible populist Howard Dean is saying things like

"We cannot keep telling people we're going to give them all the programs they want and then there's not going to be any sacrifice of any kind."

11:00 A.M.

Syria's Assad wants to talk with Israel--he said so in a speech a month ago that was largely ignored here. Is it so smart for the U.S. to let this possible opportunity go unexplored? Maybe he's had a Qaddafi-like epiphany. ... 1:48 A.M.

Tuesday, January 6, 2004

Now David Brooks is implying--mostly jokingly, I think, but I am not quite sure and don't think he is either--that the very term "neoconservative" is somehow anti-Semitic. (I'd thought the forbidden term was "Likudnik.") By the end of his column, Brooks merges this argument into the more sensible and obvious complaint that any "collective name" lets you rob your opponents of "their individual humanity" and makes it easier to demonize them--like, say, when you easily brand as "anti-Semitism" reasonable attempts to make generalizations about various schools of public policy. (Brooks also  played the "anti-Semitism" card back in February). ...

Would Brooks really deny there is a loose-knit group of writers and thinkers who see themseles as "neoconservative"? Tell it to Irving Kristol! And why isn't it legitimate to a) note that many neocons (e.g. Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith) occupy important positions in the Administration; b) note that for many of these people Judaism and/or support for the state of Israel has a lot to do with their self-image and world view--and c) argue that their support for the Iraq war was wrong and, consciously or subconsciously, influenced by factor (b)? I don't necessarily agree with this argument but I don't see how it amounts to anti-Semitism. It's a pretty standard, non-crazy form of criticism (e.g., "Kaus, you like the Republicans too much because you're fixated on welfare reform"). ...

As Brooks notes, there are significant differences within the neocon camp, even among the neocons inside the administration (i.e., Wolfowitz is reportedly much, much less supportive of the current Israeli government's pro-settlement policies). But Brooks also notes--generalizing wildly!--that neoconservatives generally agreed on the need to remove Saddam.

Besides, if he wanted to follow the neocon line, Bush wouldn't know where to turn because while the neocons agree on Saddam, they disagree vituperatively on just about everything else. [Emphasis added.]

How exactly does it refute allegations of the neocons' influence that Bush has done the one thing Brooks says they all agree on? ...

P.S.: See Joshua Micah Marshall's more extensive response.

P.P.S.: I don't think Brooks' column is a calculated--or, heaven forbid, coordinated!--attempt to squelch criticism of the neocons in the Bush administration. I think Brooks needed a quick column and this was a handy "evergreen" theme.

P.P.P.S.: The parallel between conservatives who cry "anti-Semitism" at legitimate criticism from the left (in part by lumping it together with real anti-Semitism) and liberals who cry "racism" at legitimate criticism from the right (in part by lumping it together with real racism) is itself almost too obvious to mention. But not quite! ... 10:58 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 Charlie Peters' proto-blog. 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. Calmer Times--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. 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--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna--A hybrid vehicle. populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog.  B-Log--Blog of spirituality!  Hit & Run--Reason gone wild! Daniel Weintraub--Beeblogger and Davis Recall Central. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk.]