How firm is the Iraq handover date? Not very.

How firm is the Iraq handover date? Not very.

How firm is the Iraq handover date? Not very.

A mostly political Weblog.
April 6 2004 4:46 AM

How Firm Is It?

Bush starts to hedge on the Iraq handover date.

Kerrry's "No Child" Panderflop: Ron Brownstein's Monday column is the beginning of wisdom, and maybe the end, on Kerry's No Child Left Behind position. It's, yes, a flip-flop--and not a pretty one. My colleague Will Saletan, in a very clever piece last week, suggested that Kerry's switch on NCLB was justified:

Kerry, Edwards and Gephardt ... supported Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education bill in 2001. Then the administration withheld money for it, and they decided they'd been conned.

Except, as Brownstein shows, Kerry does more than call for putting more money behind the new law. He has bought into the teachers' unions' self-serving desire to water down the law's standards by taking into account inputs as well as outputs.

Pressured by rival Howard Dean's denunciations of the act and the unwavering opposition from groups representing teachers and school administrators, Kerry retreated from his [own campaign] book's powerful demand for accountability.

Instead, he reversed himself to insist that schools be judged not only on outputs — their success in improving student performance — but inputs as well, such as whether teachers and students show up regularly.


Who cares if they learn anything when they do show up? ... Other factors Kerry wants considered, Brownstein reports, are "parental satisfaction" and graduation rates. (Who cares if the degree is worthless?)

Kerry wasn't betrayed by Bush. He was betrayed by his own opportunism. ... P.S.: Brownstein also notes that

The demand for loosening the accountability standard is based largely on the myth, now embraced by Kerry, that the law punishes schools designated as needing improvement.

The main consequence of "needing improvement" for three consecutive years is that low-income students get subsidized tutoring. ... P.P.S.: Maybe NCLB will fail because it's a heavy-handed (almost French!) attempt at centrally-directed bureaucratic perestroika. But Kerry doesn't seem to want to give it a chance. If NCLB does fail, the left should realize, the likely next alternative isn't a massive federal subsidy to the unionized status quo. It's vouchers. ... 1:35 A.M.


Monday, April 5, 2004

As "firm" as the day is long!

THE PRESIDENT: No, the intention is to make sure the deadline remains the same. I believe we can transfer authority by June 30th. We're working toward that day. We're, obviously, constantly in touch with Jerry Bremer on the transfer of sovereignty. The United Nations is over there now. The United Nations representative is there now to work on the -- on a -- on to whom we transfer sovereignty. I mean, in other words, it's one thing to decide to transfer. We're now in the process of deciding what the entity will look like to whom we will transfer sovereignty. But, no, the date remains firm. [Emph. added.]

That's what President Bush said today when asked about the June 30 Iraq handover date. Would you summarize this as "Transition Date Still Firm," the way WaPo did? Isn't it (like what Colin Powell said a few weeks ago) the opposite of firm--exactly the sort of thing a politician says when a commitment is weakening and he wants to leave himself room to change his mind? Maybe Bush's current "intention" won't be fulfilled despite his best efforts at "working toward" the goal. His 'belief' that "we can" meet the deadline could be disappointed! Indeed, the very admission that the deadline maybe can't be met--implicit in "I believe we can"--represents a backsliding of sorts. ... A more accurate headline would be: "Bush considering postponing transition." ...


P.S. The NYT joined in, reporting, "Mr. Bush reiterated today that he was standing firm on the June 30 transition date." Not! If Bush wanted to stand firm behind the date he would have said, "We will transfer sovereignty June 30. Period." ... (Imagine that Bush had been asked if he was going to dump Cheney from the ticket, and he'd responded, "No, my intention is to keep him. I believe we'll be able to run together. I'm working toward that goal," etc. Shockwaves would ripple! The lede wouldn't be "Bush reiterated today that he is standing firm on Cheney ... .")

P.P.S.: Note that the tried-and-true escape hatches come at the beginning of Bush's statement. They didn't just pop out accidentally  in some disorganized ramble. They were what he was planning to say.

P.P.P. S.: Why do papers like the NYT and WaPo misread the plainly vague meaning of Bush's words? Are they lazily falling into a familiar "question-rebut" groove? Or are they setting Bush up for a charge of flip-flopping when he ultimately puts off the Iraq handover (just as he's been charged with flip-flopping for inevitably agreeing to let Condoleezza Rice testify in public)?* ... Given the bylines on the WaPo story--including famed Bush critic Dana Milbank--I can't help but suspect the latter. Milbank's smart enough to know a weaselly fudge when he hears it. ... A third possibility, of course, is that White House aides told reporters on background that the president really intended to be firm. But isn't what he actually said more important? ... [*Is the flip-flop charge unfair in these cases?--ed. A bit. In both, sound negotiating strategy may require the President to say he won't do something before he finally agrees--after getting the best deal he can. But what's really going on with the Iraq handover may be the opposite: Bush trying to advertise his ability to renege on the deadline, which is a potentially powerful source of leverage. (It's why our man in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, is not quite a lame duck.) Too bad the papers didn't convey this implicit threat. ...

More: Alert reader J.M. notes that Milbank is one of the many prominent reporters who  fell for Richard Clarke's "registered as a Republican" con. ... 8:12 P.M.


Sunday, April 4, 2004

Get Your Kerry Vision Right Here: In what looks to be a significant article, Washington Monthly's Paul Glastris attempts a recovery-proof vision implant into the Kerry campaign. Glastris' point: The lobbyists Kerry attacks as "powerful interests that stand in your way" actually do stand in the way of creating more jobs in two particular areas 1) broadband, and all the new industries universal broadband access could produce; 2) pharmaceuticals and biotech. A third element: Solving the health insurance problem would also presumably help the economy by ending "job lock" (workers afraid to quit for fear of losing their health insurance) and making labor more adaptable. A president willing to crack heads and beat down the lobbyists in these three areas could, Glastris argues, plausibly promise to create lots of new jobs, in addition to whatever jobs are now finally coming back after the recent recession. In short, "We can do better." It worked for JFK. (Not that Kerry would ever imitate him.) ....

This is a highly promising line of domestic attack, but

a)We want numbers: How many jobs might actually be created by breaking the lobby-jams in broadband, biotech, etc.? Are the numbers dwarfed by those employed or unemployed in the ordinary ups and downs that accompany shifts in the economy--so that Glastris' proposed policies pale in importance next to getting the macroeconomics right.

b) Speaking of macroeconomics, Glastris at first says Bush's recession-fighting theory ("put more money in people's pockets, so they'll spend it and create demand") is "dumb" and has "demonstrably failed." But the way he describes the strategy, it sounds like straight Keynesianism--and given the recovery, maybe it hasn't failed. A later, contradictory Glastris passage seems more fair and balanced.

President Bush and his defenders argue that the administration can't be blamed for the decline in employment and the slow pace of job creation over the last three years. And there's something to that. It was inevitable that the end of an historic boom should be marked by a contraction of the labor market. Presidents have only so many levers they can pull to stimulate growth and employment, and the Bush administration has pulled all the obvious ones. It has vastly increased government spending, largely in defense and homeland security, jawboned down the value of the dollar to help American exports, supported Alan Greenspan's low interest rates policy, and pushed through two massive rounds of tax cuts. Democratic critics point out that the tax and spending initiatives could have been enacted in such a way as to produce more jobs. Larger breaks for middle-class families rather than the wealthy might have been more stimulatory and less detrimental to the nation's long-term fiscal health. The billions spent in Iraq might have gone to keep state governments from purging their payrolls. These are valid points; had we followed the Democrats' advice, there's a good argument that we'd be in a substantially better economic position now. But, we'd probably still be facing a dearth of jobs. [Emphasis added.]

c) I've never understood the argument (which Glastris makes) that pharmaceutical companies haven't developed new drugs because the easing of advertising rules allowed them to make money by drumming up demand for existing drugs. If the advertising paid off in increased profits, how did it drain money from research? Shouldn't it have helped subsidize research?

d) Some of these new technologies--especially broadband--might create prosperity by boosting productivity. That's great in the long run. But in the short run, as we've learned (and Paul Krugman, among others, accurately predicted) greater productivity can mean corporations need fewer workers. Who needs hotel clerks and travel agents if executives are holding broadband videoconferences instead of meetings? And think of what those cheap, well-educated Indians could do with broadband from Bangalore!

e) OK, let's buy Glastris' case there are "powerful interests" that really do stand in the way of creating a more jobs. Glastris' vision still doesn't quite fit Shrum's 'you're-a-victim' version of the populist "powerful interests" spiel, which (as characterized by Glastris)

pointedly distinguishes who ... the bad guys are: not corporations or the rich per se, but "lobbyists," "the privileged," and others who "cut corners and break laws and get special benefits, while those who do what's right get the short end of the stick." [Emph. added]

Voters, in Glastris' version, aren't exactly getting the 'short end of the stick,' are they? i) Nobody's taking anything away from them. Lobbyists don't have to cheat or cut corners to create a logjam--they just (as Glastris notes) have to faithfully represent existing interests while potential new interests, including potential new corporate fatcats, go unrepresented because they don't exist yet. ii) Nor do the lobbyists blocking progress in, say, health care, only represent corporate or "privileged" elites. They also represent retirees, taxpayers, and hospital workers--in other words, they represent "us" as well as "them." iii) And the major vicissitudes in voters' lives (see (a) above) are still caused by large economic forces (trade, recession, war, general technological progress) and not lobbyists, whether they cheat or not.

Voters are just losing out on a prosperity bonus we think they could have if only we had a president who could take on some entrenched lobbies (which, explicitly, in Glastris' view, include Democratic interests like unions). The idea--interests naturally congeal around the status quo, blocking progress--is as much Mancur Olson and Jonathan Rauch as it is Bob Shrum.


Not that there's anything wrong with it! It's the best candidate for Kerry's Big Idea I've heard yet. Someone should tell Kerry. It just needs to be de-victimized before it's implanted in his brain. ... Then put Shrum to work making the threat of "'upstream' patent" proliferation vivid to the average voter. ... 7:08 P.M.

Kerry does look refreshed after that shoulder surgery, doesn't he? [via Drudge] 6:47 P.M.

Saturday, April 3, 2004

Kausfiles, voice for civility: Josh Marshall  charges I "misquote and misunderstand"  him. But he doesn't say how I misquote him. That's because I don't misquote him. I cut and pasted his paragraph without changes! Internet Explorer, as James Baker might say, is neither Democratic nor Republican. ...

P.S.: I also didn't "misunderstand" Marshall. He wrote, "It wasas obvious four years ago as it is today that the most potent threats to America are asymmetric threats ... ."  I claim the relative power of asymmetric threats was maybe just a wee bitmoreobvious after Al Qaeda killed 3,000 plus people on 9/11. You make the call! ...

P.P.S.: I'm not disagreeing with Marshall (and Clarke, et al.) on the more significant question of whether Bush took non-state "asymmetric" threats generally--or Al Qaeda in particular--seriously enough. He didn't! I'm disagreeing with Marshall's exaggerated anti-Bush language. He shouldn't say things are as obvious now as they were before 9/11--as if only a moron would have had different priorities before--when they weren't. He shouldn't go around saying people "misquote" him when they've simply hit Control-C, Control-V. (What if Scott McLellan erroneously said Bush was "misquoted"? You think Marshall might get an item out of it?) ... I'd originally thought Marshall maybe just made a sloppy language mistake. Now I sense a pattern! ...

P.P.P.S.: TNR's Peter Beinart has a particularly clear (probably too-clear) formulation of the clash between a Clinton/Kerry view of terrorism as non-state-sponsored and Bush's focus on states. Beinart even incorporates the U.S. failure at Tora Bora into his framework, arguing that Bush relaxed once the Afghan state fell. (It's unclear that this charge is true--there were other reasons for the failure at Tora Bora, such as excessive faith in our previously-useful local proxy warriors. But Beinart's version is very elegant and would make for a powerful Kerry campaign speech.) ...

P4.S.: The Axis of Incomprehensibility Marshall is very impressed with the power of this murky pre-9/11 Pentagon chart. I can't figure out why. Who says the "probablility" arrow sweeps smoothly down to the right? And why does it matter that the arrows intersect where they do? Presumably terrorists and will try to get as high up on the "threat" arrow as they can. To figure out how serious a particular threat is, you'd have to do something like multiply the damage by the probability, yielding a curve that ain't on this graph, no?.

More: Marshall says that Condi Rice only acknowledged the (asymmetric) threats of "the suitcase bomb, the car bomb and the vial of sarin" in the "to be sure" paragraph of the speech she was scheduled to give on 9/11. To be sure.  But the "to be sure" paragraph, in my experience, is often where the truth is! It's where you make big concessions and put your argument in perspective. It's not usually a throwaway to be ignored. .... Maybe Rice's "to be sure" was insincere. But her 9/11 speech isn't itself evidence of that. Apart from the irony of it being scheduled for that day, I don't understand why it is a big deal meriting front page treatment in WaPo. It doesn't seem like a smoking gun that proves anything except that the Bushies were pushing for missile defense, which we already knew.

Update: Alert reader D.U. writes, "Mickey, Need Medication?" Oh, wait. That's spam. ...

Update II: Even WaPo's Colbert King can't defend the paper's story on Rice's speech. ("It was not the strongest story. ... I cannot with a straight face ... ") See also here. 9:18 P.M.

Friday, April 2, 2004

It's CW now:  WaPo's E.J. Dionne endorses the 'rebranding' theory. ... I'm rethinking! 2:32 P.M.

Late-breaking Kerry infighting:TNR's Ryan Lizza breaks the news that Kerry Cyrano Bob Shrum has apparently  consolidated his control over all of Kerry's campaign advertising. ... Does Shrum ever lose one of these internal battles? ... You don't want to be a powerful interest standing in his way ... P.S.: Is it an accident that this mildly embarrassing infighting news leaks out on a Friday too late to make The Note? ... P.P.S.: Buried by the big job-growth story too. Well done! ... Update: Noam Scheiber speculates gloomily and fills in details. The surface story is that the rival consultants couldn't agree on how to split the pie. So it was about money? Scheiber doesn't really believe it, and neither do I. ...  10:24 A.M.

Lynxx Pherrett of Assume the Position accepts and completes Tuesday's assignment to explain why we're still filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve:

The short answer to why the Strategic Petroleum Reserve isn't full is that filling was stopped mostly as a deficit reduction measure in 1994 when the SPR contained something less than 600 million barrels, leaving it a bit more than 100 million barrels short of the maximum capacity of 700 million barrels. Filling wasn't restarted until 1999-2000 to replace 28 million barrels sold in 1996 for further deficit reduction. The decision to completely fill the SPR was made in November 2001.

Pherrett takes a swipe at insidious Liberal Bias in Slate's Explainer in passing. ... Speaking of liberal bias, since Pherrett knows so much about oil, maybe he can explain why, if one of the benefits of the Iraq war was supposed to be greater influence over that nation's oil spigot, we are still being jerked around by the OPEC cartel. (Pithier query: Let's pretend this was a War for Oil. Where's the Oil?) ...Update: Here's Pherrett's answer. It's not exactly counterintuitive ("Iraq is currently incapable of producing enough oil to drive world market prices, so it provides no leverage with OPEC in the short term.") But he offers some useful numerical benchmarks. ... 10:14 A.M

Maybe the residents of Falluja overwhelmingly support the gruesome killing of four American contractors. But I haven't seen photos or descriptions of a "huge mob" (the NYT and NPR's description) conducting or celebrating the attack. I've seen photos of a small mob--no more than 100 people. ... 5:44 P.M.

Thursday, April 1, 2004

Perhaps it goes without saying, but let's say it: It was as obvious four years ago as it is today that the most potent threats to America are asymmetric threats, particularly forms of attack that cannot easily be tied back to particular states which we can punish with our conventional military superiority. [Emphasis added.]

Huh? Clearly the Bush administration failed, as WaPo's Robin Wright puts it, to "take seriously enough the danger from al Qaeda." (Duh!) They should just admit it. But to say this sort of threat was as obvious four years ago as it was after the World Trade Center was destroyed is idiotic, and reflects a counterproductive, bloggish anti-Bush intellectual overstretch. I recommend the more balanced and responsible views of Fareed Zakaria! ... P.S.: Marshall says that Condoleezza Rice's undelivered 9/11 speech "contained little real discussion of terrorism. The only mentions were swipes at the Clinton administration's supposed over-emphasis on transnational terrorism at the expense of more important priorities like missile defense." Here's what Rice actually was going to say, according to WaPo:

We need to worry about the suitcase bomb, the car bomb and the vial of sarin released in the subway," according to excerpts of the speech provided to The Washington Post. "[But] why put deadbolt locks on your doors and stock up on cans of mace and then decide to leave your windows open?"

That's not exactly downplaying the threat of non-state terrorism, is it? ... The tendency of the what-did-Bush-do-before-9/11 argument to get bogged down in questions of emphasis leads me to suspect the Rice's 4/8 public testimony will serve to cap, rather than set off, what WaPo's Wright wishfully calls "a building political storm." Are there any hard pre-9/11 factual disputes--as opposed to questions of emphasis--left between Rice and Clarke? ... P.P.S.: The live issue, pressed by both Marshall and Zakaria, is whether the Bushies have the right paradigm--sufficiently emphasizing non-state terrorists and the risks of 'blowback'--after 9-11. I tend to agree they don't, yet. (Though if Andrew Sullivan can see the light ... .) But even if they did--and even if they could justify the Iraq war as way to promote contagious democracy, reducing non-state terrorism and anti-American 'blowback' in the long run--a "rebranding" of U.S. power might be helpful. ...  2:37 P.M.

Kerry Fever, Catch It! Do you remember the Kerry "wave of excitement"?   Those were the days! [More precise dates for "wave" pls--ed Hard to nail down since it took place inside Adam Nagourney's right lobe.] ... Yes, if only the dynamic Kerry were back on the campaign trail, that would solve his problems! ... [Link via ] ... P.S. Arianna's Blog  reports that movie producer (and Slate contributor) Lynda Obst was inspired by Kerry's use of the beyond-shopworn RFK "Some men see things as they are..." line at his recent Hollywood fundraiser. She's a cheap date!... P.P.S.: Alert reader D.C. points out that the "see things" line is really from a George Bernard Shaw play. ...1:04 P.M.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Anti-Kerry  faux-google in the familiar  "French military victories" format. 1:50 P.M.

Time for 'Rebranding'? Andrew Sullivan, shaken by the discovery of an explosive-heavy cell of angry British Islamic terrorists with no state sponsorship and no obvious ties to Al Qaeda, has belatedly discovered "blowback."  Sullivan even adopts what Bob Wright calls the "rebranding" rationale for John Kerry's candidacy--i.e. now that we've toppled Saddam, it's a good time for the U.S. to present a different face to the world (and thereby reduce the blowback):

CONCEDING A POINT: Here's where some war critics surely have a point. Fighting back aggressively can and will increase the numbers of alienated young men across the globe eager to kill in the name of anti-Western Islamism. The answer, of course, is not to give in or appease. (There were plenty of such alienated men around to do serious damage before we responded adequately.) But it is to fight back boldly with the military, create a democratic space in the Muslim Midle East, and work to foil terror quietly, subtly and powerfully behind the scenes. It's war, democratization and law enforcement. And Joe Nye is right (stopped clocks sometimes are). Soft power and hard power need not be self-canceling. They can aid each other. The strongest argument for Kerry is that we have already gained as much as we can for the time being with hard power and war; he won't pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan; he won't be able to duck a serious response to another terror attack; but he might help ease some of the hatred of the United States that this president has - undeservedly, in my view, but still undeniably - ratcheted to unseen levels. [Emphasis added.]

What's significant about the "rebranding" theory--also known as "good cop/bad cop" or "Pedro Martinez"--is that even people (like Sullivan) who supported Bush and the Iraq War can adopt it as a rationale for denying Bush a second term. ... Now if Sullivan can just drop the facile charges of "appeasement." ... 12:10 P.M.

Cheap But Revealing Headline Comparison of the Day:

Senate Backs $6 Billion Boost for Child Care

-- Washington Post, page A4,

Defying Bush, Senate Increases Child Care Funds for the Poor

-- New York Times, front page.

Gee, do you think it helps you get your story on the front page at the Times if you can include a "Defying Bush" angle?  ... Isn't welfare reform exciting enough in itself? ...11:24 A.M.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Clarke now claims he knew after September 11 it would be a colossal mistake to pursue Al Qaeda and attack Iraq simultaneously. ... Why didn't he say so at the time?Clarke left government about a month before the assault on Iraq began. This means he had plenty of time to speak out, as a private citizen, against the Iraq attack--and at that moment, an antiwar statement by the president's own counterterrorism advisor would have had tremendous impact worldwide. ..

As New Republic super-intern Anne O'Donnell points out, on resigning from the National Security Council in February 2003, one month prior to the attack on Iraq, Clarke quickly signed as an on-air consultant to ABC News. During the month before the war, Clarke made several appearances on national television. He spoke in great detail regarding Iraq, Saddam, terrorism intelligence, military tactics, even discussing by name individual Republican Guard divisions and U.S. plans for those divisions. So Clarke certainly wasn't holding his tongue, he was yakking nonstop. And yet by the most amazing and astonishing coincidence, Clarke apparently didn't mention any of the strongly-held antiwar views he has now suddenly remembered! [Emphasis added.]

Update: Alert reader L.A. comes up with this contemporaneous  evidence of Clarke's March, 2003 views on Iraq, from WaPo's Bart Gellman:

Among friends, Clarke is skeptical that the coming war with Iraq is integral to the war on terrorism, as the White House maintains. He describes it as a diversion of scarce resources and a wedge between Washington and critical allies in destroying al Qaeda. [Emphasis added]

Not exactly the strong public statement that would be commensurate with Clarke's current posture of outrage. ... P.S.: Gellman's article is worth reading in general as a well-done pre-kerfuffle profile that hints at Clarke's, yes, disgruntlement at not getting that big Homeland Security job. It also describes how his enemy-making-but-effective M.O. was curbed by the more hierarchical Bushies.

Clarke earned the confidence of Ridge and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice [heh], but neither encouraged him to break crockery if his proposals stalled.


Some Bush partisans suspected him as a Clinton holdover.

How paranoid of them!

Correction: An earlier version of this item had a paragraph piling on Clarke for not coming up with a potential  9/11 solving idea--the idea of going public with two terrorist suspects on "America's Most Wanted"--in time for his book. Empire Notes says the idea is in his book, on page 24. I've removed the paragraph.

More! A Richard Clarke sympathizer e-mails ...

ABC didn't want him as an opiner, it wanted him as a reporter/analyst, and his key resource, in that regard, was his unparallelled access to people in government. And, obviously, to the extent that he went on TV badmouthing Bush's policy, that access would be diminished

Isn't that the point? Clarke (we're told) thought the war was a disaster, yet he didn't impart this truth in public because it wasn't the role for which he was getting paid by ABC. But hey, now he's getting paid to bash Bush, so things have changed!  Old Chinese proverb: Man who shades truth for money and to fit his expected role once is likely to shade truth for money and to fit his expected role again! ... Clarke makes many powerful points-- here's Josh Marshall amplifying one of them--even if they don't amount to a plausible case that Al Gore or Bill Clinton would have prevented 9/11.  It's Clarke's theatrical, self-justifying, anti-Bush spin that pis ... that detracts from his credibility! 4:57 P.M.

50 Cent Rap:  WaPo's editorial page offers a useful rejoinder to the Bush/Cheney attack on Kerry's 1994 support for a 50 cent gas tax increase:

In fact, had 50 cents a gallon been added to the gas tax 10 years ago, when oil costs were lower, demand for gasoline today might well be less. U.S. automakers have fallen far behind their foreign counterparts in the development of hybrid cars and cars that consume very small amounts of fuel. Relatively low fuel prices have discouraged investment in public transportation and energy-efficiency standards.

Like the Republican  radio criticism of Kerry's support for the tax on Social Security benefits, the Republican gas tax attack gleefully tries to make Kerry pay for his rare moments of political courage. (In fact, Kerry seems to have chickened out on the 50-cent gas tax soon enough.) ... 4:31 P.M.

Assignment: Explainer, Please! John Kerry wants the Bush administration to stop filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in order to free up gasoline supplies for consumers and drive down pricesJeez--Isn't the damn Strategic Petroleum Reserve filled yet? It seems like we've been pumping oil into it since the 1970s. ... Update: Here's a background Explainer on the SPR, which doesn't answer the question. ..  4:22 P.M.

How can we be so sure welfare reform is working? We've got proof! Critics of the 1996 welfare reform claim it's a bad thing that caseloads haven't risen as predicted in the recent recession-welfare must not be acting as a safety net in hard times, they argue. Others say the failure of the caseload to rise is a sign reform is working--it means poor single mothers who'd left welfare for work tenaciously kept working (and if they lost their jobs, kept looking for work) even during the economic slump.

Aren't there some statistics that could help resolve this argument? Well, yes, there are! The Brookings Institution's Gary Burtless, a labor market expert, has gathered figures on the percentage of "never married" mothers, the group most likely to be on welfare, who were employed in any given year. Here's a page with the data through 2000. Note the stunning rise after the 1996 reform in the percentage of "never married" mothers working--up from 47.9 percent in 1996 to 65.8 percent by 2000. This would seem to be a big cultural, as well as economic, shift. (These are the "honeys who makin' money,"  as Destiny's Child put it.) If there's a chart that captures the success of the 1996 law, this is it.

But the late '90s were boom years. What happened in the 2001-2002 recession, and the subsequent sluggish job recovery? Burtless says reliable figures for 2003 aren't yet available, but he has the numbers for 2001 and 2002. "Astonishingly," he says, "divorced, separated and never married mothers seem to have maintained [labor market] participation rates all through the recession" and the follow up. For "never married" mothers, the percent working dipped to 64.4 in 2001 but was back up to 65.8 in 2002. Essentially, it stabilized near its all-time peak, at a level about 20 percentage points higher than before 1996. (Here's a page with the updated chart.) Burtless thinks this happened at least partly because the recent recession was relatively easy on those at the bottom of the labor market (and relatively hard on those with college degrees). Maybe a different kind of recession--one that hit unskilled jobs the hardest--would produce a big increase in welfare rolls. Maybe not.

Either way, Burtless' statistics suggest that welfare rolls didn't fail to rise in 2001-2 because jobless single mothers were heartlessly denied their benefits and left with nothing. The rolls didn't rise in the recession because single mothers kept on working. That's a good thing. Advantage: Reformers!

Update: Brookings has now posted a  one-pager by Burtless explaining the statistics. ... 2:02 A.M.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Has Chris Lehane joined the Bush campaign?  The Bushies can do mindless, counterproductive "rapid response" too! On Sunday, Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt denounced Sen. Kerry for going "beyond the bounds of acceptable discourse" and engaging in "a sad exploitation of scripture for political attack." Kerry's sin? He'd visited a black church and given a speech that cited the Bible!

"The scriptures say, 'What does it profit my brethren if some say he has faith but does not have works?' " Kerry said, roughly quoting James 2:14.

Isn't this standard, by-the-numbers Democratic church politicking? Every Democratic candidate of the past five decades has given this sort of speech, no? ... Schmidt's Lehanism almost certainly helped Kerry by a) making Kerry seem religious and willing to inject God into "the public square;" and b) focusing press attention on a line of anti-Bush attack--'Whatever happened to compassionate conservatism?'--that has some bite. ...  10:38 A.M.

Yes, I'm from California and I'm Stupid! I was in Washington last week and was again convinced, as I always am, that a) I can't live there, because I can't breathe there (I'm not being metaphorical. It's a swamp. The pollen and mold trigger some sort of heavy, pre-asthmatic allergic reaction); and  b)Unless you live there you miss out on at least one layer of complication that underlies what the rest of the world--even the attentive googling world--perceives as going on there. Did you know that Dick Cheney doesn't like Condi Rice? I didn't! That could explain the uncoordinated, discordant nature of their attacks on Richard Clarke last week. ... [But the distance gives you perspective-ed. Perspective. Yeah! That's the ticket. People on the moon have perspective.] 1:57 A.M.

Senator Kerry's campaign got a boost yesterday with the news that the candidate would undergo elective shoulder surgery and be unable to campaign for four days while he recovers. ... Is it just a coincidence that Kerry's return to the campaign trail last Thursday corresponded precisely to the sharp reversal of his previously rising fortunes in the Rassmussen robo-tracking poll? ... Democrats demand more elective surgery for Kerry and more ambitious elective surgery for Kerry, with longer recuperation periods! .. . We wouldn't want him to assume the presidency in anything less than perfect shape. ... 1:36 A.M.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

'I'm non-partisan. I vote for Bush's opponents in both parties': Richard Clarke was asked by Tim Russert today whether he voted for Bush in the last election:

MR. RUSSERT:  Did you vote for George Bush in 2000?

MR. CLARKE:  No, I did not.

MR. RUSSERT:  You voted for Al Gore.

MR. CLARKE:  Yes, I did.

MR. RUSSERT:  In 2004 you'll vote for John Kerry?

MR. CLARKE:  I'm not going to endorse John Kerry.  That's what the White House wants me to do.  And they want to say I'm part of the Kerry campaign. I've already pledged I'm not part of the Kerry campaign and I will not serve in the Kerry administration.

MR. RUSSERT:  Will you vote for him?

MR. CLARKE:  That's my business.

Alert reader T.B. emails, "My ears nearly fell off when I heard Dick Clarke say he voted for Al Gore on Meet the Press today, since I thought I heard him say he voted for Bush on Thursday. Turns out I was wrong."  What Clarke actually said to the 9/11 commission was:

CLARKE: Last time I had to declare my party loyalty, it was to vote in the Virginia primary for president of the United States in the year 2000. And I asked for a Republican ballot.

There's no direct contradiction--just a clear willingness to mislead. This doesn't encourage trust in Clarke when it comes to his bigger points. ...  P.S.: Contrast Clarke's combative spinning with the more forthright demeanor of, say, David Kay.... P.P.S.: Clarke obviously voted against Bush in the general election and the primary! ... Update: Reader M.P. says he's seen Clarke say in interviews  that he in fact did vote for McCain in the primary. So why try to con the Commission (or, more precisely, the Commission's TV audience)? ... Update: Clarke's scenario of 'asking for a Republican ballot' is a bit spun itself.  It's not as if he was offered a choice of two ballots on primary day and picked the Republican one. As alert Virginia-based kf reader J.R. notes, there was no Democratic primary election in Virginia in 2000.  Virginia Democrats held caucuses later in the year, in April--and by the time of the GOP primary in late February it was clear the Democratic nominating contest would be over by April.  The Bush vs. McCain primary was the only game in town when Clarke "asked for" his ballot. Most of the Democrats I know would have done the same thing. (But then, most Democrats I know would happily vote for McCain in any election.)

More:The Ombudsgod has a devastating post documenting how Clarke's I-voted-in-the-2000-GOP-primary schtick was translated by the mainstream press into flat and apparently untrue statements that Clarke, e.g., "registered as a Republican" (Dana Milbank of WaPo) or was a  "registered Republican" (Todd Purdum of the NYT). This misreporting reflects badly on the mainstream press, but it's also the predictable result of Clarke's spin. ... See also Bevan's post ("The fact that he proffered one vote as evidence and kept the other one to himself until asked directly tells you just about everything you need to know."). ..   10:58 P.M.

Friday, March 26, 2004 

Sure, the media generally love John McCain. ...

But the reason that McCain got so much coverage for denying that John Kerry was weak on defense was not because left-leaning journalists were secretly delighted that Bush's old foe was coming to the Democrat's rescue.

It's because he did something that's all too rare in Washington these days--he passed up a chance to demonize the other side. [Emphasis added.]

Isn't Kurtz's theory transparently BS? It's civilized, goo-goo sounding BS, it's BS we might wish weren't BS, but still BS. If a Democrat--say, Tom Daschle--had "passed up a chance to demonize" Bush as having failed to prevent 9/11, would it get any coverage at all? (Answer: It would get buried in a  little-noticed AP story.) Doesn't Joe Lieberman pass up a chance to demonize the other side on Iraq practically every day without drawing a camera? ... 2:41 A.M.

Whether you buy the "Bush could have prevented 9/11" argument or not (I'm skeptical) think how effectively John Edwards could present it. Isn't that essentially the job of a plaintiff's lawyer--to convince a jury something bad and seemingly unpredictable could in fact have been prevented if only the defendant had been on the ball? Edwards was obviously very good at doing this. ... P.S.: Why doesn't Kerry appoint Edwards a sort of Democratic special prosecutor to make the Clarke case around the country? It would give Edwards something useful to do but keep him in a box. ... P.P.S.: On the need to place blame, see, generally, The Sweet Hereafter. ... 12:44 A.M.

The Case for Crack: I've been getting a lot of email guff for citing the Rasmussen daily tracking poll. But hasn't it been fairly accurately reflecting the actual trends in the campaign--last week, Kerry down, this week Bush down? And it's been catching them before the CW does. ... [OK, as long as Hardcore Chris doesn't try to figure out the numbers from each day in the three day rolling average again--ed March 24 must have been wild!]12:01 A.M.

Thursday, March 25, 2004 

Please Go Back on Vacation, Part I: Kerry's back from Idaho, and his campaign's crack "rapid response" team has produced a 100% posturing condemnation of Bush's joke  about failing to find WMD's, which Bush made at last night's black-tie broadcast correspondents' dinner. ("'This cheapens the sacrifice that American soldiers and their families are dealing with every single day'" says Kerry's release, quoting an Iraq veteran.)

I was at the dinner last night as a guest of, yes, FOX News, and I thought Bush's jokes were funny and self-mocking--maybe the closest he's come to actually admitting upfront that he was simply wrong in thinking the WMD's were there. But even the normally well-balanced David Corn seems to have lost his sense of perspective, writing a pious column attacking Bush's joke as "callous and arrogant":

Even if Bush does not believe he lied to or misled the public, how can he make fun of the rationale for a war that has killed and maimed thousands? Imagine if Lyndon Johnson had joked about the trumped-up Gulf of Tonkin incident that he deceitfully used as a rationale for U.S. military action in Vietnam: "Who knew that fish had torpedoes?" Or if Ronald Reagan appeared at a correspondents event following the truck-bombing at the Marines barracks in Beirut--which killed over 200 American servicemen--and said, "Guess we forgot to put in a stop light."

The difference, of course, is that the war Johnson fought using the Gulf of Tonkin incident produced very little except massive carnage and a Communist government in South Vietnam. The Beirut attack was a total loss. But American soldiers in Iraq--whether or not there were WMDs--are in the process of freeing a nation from a dictator. This accomplishment survives the Kay report. It doesn't "cheapen the sacrifice" American soldiers made achieving this goal to admit the truth about the WMDs. Does Kerry think the troops haven't achieved this? [You're for the Iraq War?--ed I have grave doubts about whether it will prove prudent in the long run, but they mainly have to do with the question of blowback--whether it will create more terrorists than it prevents. There's little question that on the whole it's a good thing for the Iraqis.] ...

P.S.: I was seated next to two soldiers who'd returned injured from Iraq and were being treated at Walter Reed hospital. If I'd known Bush's joke was going to be a major object of puffed-up outrage, I would have monitored their reactions closely. But I didn't. They certainly didn't register any audible displeasure. ...

P.P.S.: The soldier sitting closest to me clearly liked Bush, perhaps because he had just seen the president, in person, for the third time. Apparently, Bush pays regular visits to wounded soldiers at Walter Reed. Did you know that? I didn't. Admittedly, it's easier to visit the wounded than to go to funerals, which Bush has been accused of not doing enough of. Still ...

P.P.P.S.: The PR solution for Bush seems obvious: He should go to the memorial for a soldier killed in Iraq, take the pulpit and deliver a eulogy about why this was a sacrifice worth making. ... Elegies are easy! Bush's doesn't have to be the Gettysburg Address or touch the face of God. If it's memorable at all it will help Bush immeasurably and put an end to the Kerry camp's latest victimhood play. (First the 9/11 families get painted as Bush victims, now G.I.s.) ... And if the eulogy's not memorable ... well, it won't be remembered! A can't-lose proposition. ... Update: Reader H.F. says, "[I]f he did that you'd hear howls about how he was 'converting the funeral of soldiers into a political event.'"  But there's an answer to that too: Don't publicize the event. Maybe let the press pool reporters cover it, but don't alert the TV networks. The text of the speech will get out. How many cameras were there at Gettysburg? ...  8:36 P.M.

Kerry seems to be finally trying to get to Bush's right on an issue, according to  a Miami Herald article posted (presumably approvingly) on Kerry's Web site. The article--"Kerry Says Bush is Soft on Chavez"--cites an obscure Kerry Web posting that accuses Bush of sending "mixed signals by supporting undemocratic processes in our own hemisphere." ... The main signal Kerry cites, however, is the administration's embarrassing support for a failed anti-Chavez coup. That's hardly a sign of being "soft on Chavez"--on a pro-Chavez/anti-Chavez spectrum, it doesn't seem like a very mixed signal at all. And it's difficult to believe Bush doesn't now back efforts to get rid of Chavez legitimately, through a referendum. ... Kerry's aides may have encouraged the Herald's seemingly unjustified "soft on Chavez" reading of Kerry's statement, with its high Cuban-American suck-up potential. But the  statement itself appears merely to be a (reasonable) attempt by Kerry to be as anti-Chavez as possible without endorsing an undemocratic coup. ... P.S.: Why might Kerry feel the need to suck up to anti-Castro Cuban-Americans right now? Because he's in deep trouble with them in Miami because of his dissembling about his Helms-Burton vote. ...7:43 P.M.

The Axis of Ex-es Strikes: It's a good sign when your ex-girlfriends like you, no? Well, if you go to and punch in the name of the actress Morgan Fairchild, who once dated John Kerry, you'll discover she gave money to ... Dean! .. Gephardt! ... Edwards! ... everyone except Kerry! ... [Thanks to reader M.V.10:16 A.M.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004 

Uh-0h: Dick Morris agrees with me. Bad sign! He's always persuasively wrong. (Ask Senator Lazio.) And sure enough, Kerry's back ahead in the latest Rasmussen tracking poll. ... Hmm. During Kerry's last week of public campaigning, his numbers sank. After a few days holed up in Ketchum, Idaho, with the Clarke anti-Bush allegations getting huge play, he's back up. ... Kerry's future campaign strategy seems clear: Stay on vacation until November! Let the media do his work for him. The less people see him the better he looks. ... [You mean Kerry's his own worst enemy?--ed Not while John Ellis is alive. Or Jeff Jacoby. Or Jon Keller. Or Marc Cooper. Or ex-Sen. Bill Bradley. Or ...] 1:56 P.M.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004 

Headline in today's WaPo:

Kerry Gets Boost From Surprising Sources

Ex-Bush Aide Criticizes President, and GOP Lawmakers Come to Senator's Defense

McCain and Hagel sniping at Bush? That's so unlike them! ... P.S.: I also hear that even the liberal New Republic says many Democrats are weak on defense. Strange days! ... 6:52 A.M.

Is Bin Laden for Bush? Robert Novak cites a private intelligence expert, George Friedman, for the proposition that the election-changing Madrid bombing shows Al Qaeda wants to defeat Bush.

But Friedman believes the ultimate target is Bush himself, predicting an attempted use of terror to defeat him in November.

... The foreigner whose approbation Kerry surely disdains is Osama bin Laden, but counterterrorism experts say the U.S. election has become an al-Qaida priority. ...

A new al-Qaida strategy twist was hinted last Thursday when the group that claimed responsibility for the Madrid bombings offered a cease-fire if Spanish troops actually leave Iraq as promised by Zapatero. That first known possible al-Qaida offer to negotiate with the West pressures weak European governments who might prefer appeasement to the fate of Spain.

However, in Friedman's opinion, al-Qaida's big target will be the United States. He sees an attack earlier (in the summer) rather than later (in the autumn), when it might boost Bush's re-election chances. ''The grand prize,'' said a Stratfor report, ''would be triggering an election defeat for Bush."

Hmm. Doesn't it seem likely that Novak's take is 180 degrees wrong, an attempt to avoid the uncomfortable possibility that Al Qaeda and its allies may actually prefer Bush's reelection? For one thing, that's what the "group that claimed responsibility for the bombings" appears to have explicitly said:

"The Spanish people ... chose peace by choosing the party that was against the alliance with America," said a statement attributed to the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, which says it is affiliated with al-Qaida.

The statement said it supported Bush in his re-election campaign, saying it is not possible to find a leader "more foolish than you (Bush), who deals with matters by force rather than with wisdom.

"Kerry will kill our nation while it sleeps because he and the Democrats have the cunning to embellish blasphemy and present it to the Arab and Muslim nation as civilization." [Seattle Times, March 20]

Perhaps the alleged Al-Masri Brigades statement is bogus. But it's Novak himself who treats it as authoritative. If one part of the statement is to be believed, why not the other part? And the underlying theory--that Bush's reelection will 'heighten the contradictions' and create more terrorists, ultimately producing an apocalyptic East-West clash--is an entirely plausible rendition of Al-Qaeda-ish ideology, no? Bin Laden, in this reading, would intend to use terror to split dovish Europe from hawkish America rather than to replace America's hawks.

Could Republicans still support Bush if Al Qaeda supports him too? Of course. Al Qaeda could be miscalculating. On the other hand, American voters might also rationally decide that, with Saddam toppled and democracy implanted in the Middle East, now is an auspicious time to bring in a 'good cop' with (in the radical Islamists' terms) "the cunning to embellish blasphemy and present it to the Arab and Muslim nation as civilization." ... P.S.: Do they really think Kerry's that skillful? They might change their minds after a few more weeks like the last one. ... Update: Greg Abbott is staking claim to the "good cop/bad cop" rationale. ... 1:07 A.M.



Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--He reports! And decides!  Wonkette--Makes Jack Shafer feel guilty.  Salon--Better click fast! Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! David Corn--Trustworthy reporting from the left.  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