Clarke caught spinning.

Clarke caught spinning.

Clarke caught spinning.

A mostly political Weblog.
March 29 2004 5:11 AM

kf Struggles to Regain Momentum!

Kerry reappears, ending rise in polls.

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.

Monday, March 22, 2004 

Kerry Aides Increasingly Confident! Don't miss Matea "Spun" Gold's Kerry excuse-fest in Sunday's LAT:

1) He was "'exhausted'" ...

2) "Kerry aides acknowledged that the speed of the Bush assault was startling to them" [Huh? Wasn't Bush's negative punch telegraphed for weeks, if not months?]

3) "Kerry's campaign was in the middle of a move ... ."

4) "E-mail was down for two days, and the staff changed phone numbers."

5) He was "tired."

Yet, Gold reports, "despite the logistical complications [a Kerry aide] argued that the campaign adapted quickly ...'We've proven to be very nimble [in] responding to Bush's charges and focusing on delivering our message of the day.'" As Noam Scheiber points out, to be effective the rapid-response 'message of the day' also has to be persuasive. ... P.S.: Gold has performed this beat-sweetening. excuse-making role before, for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante in the California recall campaign. ... 10:28 P.M.

It's win-win for the opponents of welfare reform. If welfare rolls had gone up during the last three years, they would have said, "See, the caseload drop that reformers have bragged about was all due to the economy." But, contrary to their predictions, rolls haven't gone up despite the recession and slow economy. No problem! They instead complain that the failure of the caseload to rise shows that welfare isn't helping those in need.

[S]hawn Fremstad, a policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research and advocacy group, said, "Falling caseloads amid rising poverty should be a cause for concern."

Wendell E. Primus, a welfare official in the Clinton administration who resigned to protest signing of the 1996 law, amplified that concern: "It's an indictment of the welfare law, the welfare system, that it has not been more responsive to economic conditions."

It's certainly possible that poor people are suffering because in some states "the application process is so difficult or complex" that it discourages them from applying. But it's also possible that, as the reformers and officials cited in Robert Pear's article claim, once poor single mothers were in the workforce they stayed in the workforce and thus weathered the recession (which hit hardest farther up in the labor market) fairly well, without resorting to welfare.

In order to make the anti-reform case, Primus and Fremstad need to show, not just that welfare rolls haven't risen, but that people are actually suffering more than in previous recessions--something that's hard to show by just pointing at charts with numbers in Washington, even child poverty numbers (which in fact have not risen as much as in prior recessions). Surely the Center on Budget and Policy priorities doesn't consider rising welfare caseloads in themselves an inherently good thing! But in effect, Fremstad and Primus' argument treats them as a good thing.

They're not. American society is much better off today--and not just in economistic terms--because millions of mothers who used to be isolated in the welfare culture are now integrated into the labor market.  We've only begun to see the positive long term effects--on the number of African-American children raised by married parents, for example. As one former Clinton welfare official, Wendell E. Primus, told the New York Times back in 2001, after noting the favorable marriage trends: "The sky isn't falling anymore. Whatever we have been doing over the last five years, we ought to keep going." That Wendell Primus makes sense. ...

Links:  For recent data on poverty, try here. For a Fremstad paper with a sidebar that gives raw numbers, but not rates, to try to make it look as if poverty has increased sharply, go here. 12:18 A.M.

Saturday, March 20, 2004 

WaPo's Jim Hoagland in effect applies the Feiler Faster Thesis to international politics, noting the rapid flow of information in the short time between the Madrid bombing and the Spanish election:

In a matter of hours, Spain's conservative government had mishandled the presentation of its investigation into the terror bombings and helped turn an expected Socialist defeat into a clear victory for the leftists. The startling velocity and savagery of the media-induced back-and-forth in Spain is textbook material for the new volatility -- and vulnerability -- of democratic politics in the 21st century.

Very true. The same thing--not necessarily the bombing, but the startling velocity and savagery of the back-and-forth--could characterize the end-hours of the U.S. election. ...P.S.: I've always assumed the Faster Principle, when it pertains, is essentially benign. So voters comfortably process information more quickly? All we need to do is adjust (i.e. shorten) campaigns and terms in office to reflect this new processing capability. But Hoagland adds the worry that, in the hours right before an election, voters might comfortably process information in a way they later conclude is wrong. ... Of course, that's all the more reason to shorten terms in office, and to add second-guessing mechanisms (like California's recall provisions). Who wants to be stuck with a mistake for years (which now, thanks to the Faster Principle, seem like decades). ... [Thanks to M. P., a.k.a. Scrutineer11:07 P.M.

'Where are the weapons of mass electability?' Part II. While the Times' Adam Nagourney conspired with The Note'sMark Halperin during a sinister Media Elite gathering at 'Cesca in New York, his eighth paragraph--the one in which he buried the big, unwanted news that Bush had gotten traction against Kerry-was predictably blossoming into the lead story in Saturday's paper. ... Jim Rutenberg's article limns the debate over whether Bush's effective early advertising will beat Kerry aide Bob Shrum's post-June campaigning. Note that this debate replays the post-1996 dispute over whether Dick Morris' early ads for Clinton won the election against Bob Dole--or whether, as Shrum contended at the time, they had little effect. ... TNR's Noam Scheiber complicates and comes close to deciding the current version of the early-ad debate by pointing out the structural weaknesses in Kerry's campaign. There are four of 'em and they're all weaknesses Dole didn't have. They may mean Kerry's fallen and he can't get up. ... Scheiber's especially dubious of Kerry's vaunted, Lehanish "rapid response" machinery. ... The most persuasive piece of evidence--Kerry's rapid favorability reversal in the NYT poll--is a bit of data Nagourney didn't even see fit to put in Paragraph Eight, choosing instead to leave it out of his piece entirely! Scheiber argues:

This week, a New York Times/CBS poll showed Kerry suffering a 10-point net reversal in his favorable/unfavorable ratings since that time. Maybe that's the kind of thing that happens even to fundamentally strong candidates when they suffer a couple of bad days. But, given the speed and size of the turnaround, the numbers seem far more likely to suggest that Kerry is settling into his natural equilibrium. Unfortunately for Democrats, that's not the one that has him winning in November. [Emphasis added]

1:25 A.M.

Friday, March 19, 2004 

You think you're more 'electable' than John Kerry? Prove it or get out of the way, you S.O.B.! The American Candidate website is up. It looks complicated and fun--the California recall in a laptop. And there's still time to declare your candidacy. ... P.S.: But you'll have to beat this guy. ... 5:25 P.M.

Small-but-damning Kerry incident of the day: From today's NYT--

On his first full day off, though, Mr. Kerry awoke determined to hit the slopes of Mount Baldy.

The image-conscious candidate and his aides prevailed upon reporters and photographers to let him have a first run down the mountain solo, except for two agents and Marvin Nicholson, his omnipresent right-hand man.

His next trip down, a reporter and a camera crew were allowed to follow along on skis — just in time to see Mr. Kerry taken out by one of the Secret Service men, who had inadvertently moved into his path, sending him into the snow.

When asked about the mishap a moment later, he said sharply, "I don't fall down," then used an expletive to describe the agent who "knocked me over."

Suggested Kerry camp spin: Kerry was joking, in his macho, towel-snapping manner! Richard Holbrooke phones reporters to question the NYT's use of the adverb "sharply." ... Note to Maureen Dowd: You're only allowed to get two columns out of this, OK? ... Update:  Kf's suggested spin won't work, since ABC'S  O'Keefe   bascially confirms the NYT's account (key word: "glared"). But if the skier whom Kerry cursed wasn't a Secret Service agent who was there to protect him, Kerry's annoyance seems less objectionable. ... O'Keefe replaces the lost obnoxiousness, however, with an extra helping of vain, obsessive image-consciousness:

As Senator John Kerry carved his Burton snowboard down a green rated Upper College run, another skier interrupted his stride, colliding with the presumptive Democratic nominee at 9,010 feet.

The slope-cade of two Ski Patrollers, several Secret Service agents, two journalists, one camera and one Kerry aide suddenly came to a halt. The Massachusetts Senator lay on the ground, removed his Smith sunglasses, and surveyed the damage.

Assured that the ABC News camera accompanying the entourage had not captured Kerry's fall, the Senator glared at your sloping Noter and assured, "I don't fall down. That son of a bitch ran into me."  [Emphasis added.]

You want to spend four years with this man? Representative reader e-mail: "What is the matter with you?  GWB and the congressional Republican leadership have set this country on a mathematically certain course to fiscal disaster ..."-- P.C. Let me rephrase it then: If it's so important to defeat Bush, do you want to rely on a nominee whom voters will want to spend four years with as much as they will want to spend them with this man? Where are the weapons of mass electability? ... Bonus press-crit question:  A presidential candidate says "son of a bitch" in public, and  the NYT can't print it? In this case, the omission hurt Kerry--readers of the Times probably assumed he'd said something much worse.

Update: Reader S.W. emails with a Kerry  Secret Service code name suggestion: Weebles. They "wobble but they don't fall down"! 11:12 A.M.

Thursday, March 18, 2004 

Yesterday, kf, tomorrow, CW: The Note and Rasmussen's cracking poll  pick up on the Kerry crumple. ...Representative e-mail: "I think all these hype given to one- and two- and three-point swings in tracking polls, IN MARCH of all times, is a little overdone."-J.B. You'd think. But it's different when the drop is comes at the same time as a) a candidate whom no large group is enthusiastic about and b) whom Democratic voters in a truncated and unconstitutionally inhibited* primary process haven't bothered to find out much about c) is first exposed to the general electorate. Then the voters may simply be discovering they don't like him! By July 26 it could be clear to everyone except about 3,000 delegates to the Democratic convention that Kerry is not cutting it against Bush (even though Bush is  very beatable). ... That's my story and I'm sticking to it!  ... *'Unconstitutionally inhibited?-ed. By the state-mandated speech of the "stand by your ad" law, which effectively discouraged highly informative negative ads in the Democratic primary. 1:47 P.M.

Georgia Democrat Hardcore Chris on the real reasons Max Cleland lost his Senate seat. 2:12 A.M.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004 

Dick Morris is a bit of a cheap date when it comes to appreciating the genius of the Bush "defense" attack ads:

And Bush cleverly avoids the issue of weapons of mass destruction ...

One of those subtle insider tricks--don't bring up an issue on which you've been humiliatingly wrong! Are the Bush people good at their jobs or what? 7:21 P.M.

The Republican attack machine has now gone so far as to have Senator Kerry say memorably mockable things like:

They will stop at nothing, I tell you. At least the Democrats have a candidate smart enough to avoid playing into the public's just-forming impression of him as a straddler and positioner. That's why he's so electable! ... P.S.: The Kerry quote, which is in this morning's NYT, is already all over the web, e.g.  here  and here.  [You don't really think Kerry was against funding the troops, do you?-ed  No. Kerry says he would stay in Iraq and try to make the transition to self-rule work. He claims he simplywanted to finance the $87 billion by repealing some of Bush's tax cuts, and he cosponsored an amendment to that effect. But

a) when that amendment failed, should he have voted against the overall bill?  A legislator can always defend a vote against a bill by saying "Well, if the bill had failed they would have had to come back to us and we would have made these three improvements." That's one reason Washington votes are Kabuki theater. But Bush's tax cuts could always be repealed later to close the deficit the $87 billion would enlarge. In the meantime, the tax cuts weren't going to be repealed, the troops were in the field, and Bush was finally stepping up to the plate and asking for money to fund his war. It seems to me the logical vote would be to support the $87 billion and figure out how to pay for it later--unless you were a Democratic candidate running for president in anti-war Iowa and trying desperately to seem anti-Bush to make up for your vote to authorize the Iraq war in the first place. If the $87 billion vote had come during the general election, and Kerry needed to appeal to moderates and conservatives, would he have voted for or against it? The question more or less answers itself;

b) Even if the vote was an expression of high principle and not pure positioning, Kerry explained it very badly, revealing his ongoing weaknes as a candidate. I associate myself with the prestigious Note:

Besides turning off the press corps and the rest of the Gang of 500, these types of statements keep Kerry from clearing another bar he must clear to win: the Do-Americans-Want-This-Guy-In-Their-Living-Rooms-For-Four-Years? bar. ... John Kerry's meandering, on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand-on-the-other-other-hand justifications often do have some intellectual and policy justifications — but even some of Mr. Kerry's own advisers recognize that they sure as heck don't win the rat-tat-tat sound bite wars of a presidential campaign.

It's especially dumb to sound like a straddler during the very week when you're being attacked for being a straddler! John Edwards cast the same misguided anti-$87B vote, but at least his defense of it was much more effective.] 1:19 P.M. 

Has Al Qaeda already helped Bush? Even if Al Qaeda does not launch Madrid-style attacks in the U.S. right before the November election, isn't it now likely that widespread worry about the possibility of attacks--with constant alerts and an intense police presence in the days before the election--will itself have an effect on the results?  It's hard to believe that this effect won't be to help Bush, by putting terrorism (and not jobs or health care) in the forefront of voters' minds. ... 3:57 A.M.

It looks as if a historic, exciting and substantive race is going to take place--in Illinois, for Senate. RealClearPolitics sets the table. ... P.S.: CubsNow!  tried to tip me off to this yesterday, but did I listen?3:24 A.M.

Tomorrow's Panic Today! Sometimes the readers are ahead of you. P.L. emails:

So say that the latest CBS-NY Times poll is the beginning of a long downward spiral for Kerry. ...Is it possible that the Republican attacks on Kerry will be SO successful that Democrats are ready to abandon Kerry at the convention? Could there be a delegate revolt on a wide enough scale that John Edwards would end up receiving the nomination? Or could the discontent with Kerry be so irrepressible that Kerry is pressured to withdraw from the race, again with Edwards being nominated in his place? Is such a scenario even possible?

Don't look at me! I didn't write that! And we all know from ABC's "Note" that, until September,  only external events can change the grim outlook for Bush! But with polls showing Kerry sinking slowly-but-perceptibly under Bush's character criticism, it's not inconceivable that 'electability'-obsessed Democrats will soon be asking each other such forbidden questions in private (perhaps in that same off-the-record place foreign leaders go to when they want to endorse Kerry). It's not as if Kerry has a large, fervent constituency that will support him even if they think he's a near-certain loser. If Democrats are focused on beating Bush, and if Kerry can't do the job ...

I don't know the answer to P.L.'s questions. I assume it's unheard of for a candidate to fail to get the nomination once he's amassed the magic number of presumably loyal delegates. It's an especially unlikely scenario if the only alternative is a failed primary entrant such as Edwards. (Kf recommendation: Find another white knight. And not her.) On the other hand, the late substitution of a more palatable candidate for a sure loser--even after formal nomination--worked well enough for the Democrats of New Jersey in the 2002 Senate race.  Possible future intraparty slogan: Torch Kerry! ...   P.S.: There's certainly enough time before the convention for panic to set in among Democrats. There's time for panic to set in, subside, and set in again. We'll be hearing more on this topic, I predict. ... P.P.S.: Of course, they wanted to Dump Clinton too, in 1992. (Thanks to alert reader T.M.) ....3:16 P.M.

It's not just the NYT:RCP's Tom Bevan notes that NBC also gagged on its own poll--indeed, sniped at its own poll--when it failed to show Kerry leading Bush. The poll, taken last week, had Bush up 47 to 45. NBC actually wrote:

It was difficult to gauge the importance of the result, which was notably at odds with those of other polls in the past week, which have found Kerry with a statistically significant lead in a head-to-head matchup. Kerry led Bush by 9 points in the latest Washington Post/ABC News survey and by 8 points in the latest USA Today/CNN poll.

Translation: We don't like our results. Don't believe us! (Bevan notes that another contemporary poll NBC could have cited also showed a tie rather than a Kerry lead.) ... It's worth reading the entire NBC report, which is written with the manifest intent of downplaying good news for Bush.1) Instead of the relatively pro-Bush horse-race result, NBC leads with "Public's faith in economy plummets;" 2) NBC actually says Nader's candidacy could "swing the election either way." Huh? 3) In a particularly strenuous bit of spin, NBC reports

the overwhelming opposition to same-sex weddings did not translate into proportional support for a proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban them.

Translation: Voters favored the constitutional ban by a 54-42 margin. ... More: Alert reader T.W. points out that NBC's opening graf says "…Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, had pulled into a statistical tie with President Bush," implying without supporting evidence that Kerry's trajectory was up. (The previous NBC poll was way back in January, before the Iowa caucuses. But other recent polls, as NBC notes, had shown Kerry ahead, suggesting the distinct possibility that he'd fallen into his NBC-poll tie.)   3:14 A.M.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004 

Nagourney buries the lede again: Isn't the news in the latest CBS/New York Times poll that it shows Bush inching ahead-- that the current (pre-Spanish election) campaign dynamic, including Bush's advertising launch, has been working at least slightly in the President's favor? A month ago CBS had Kerry over Bush by five percent, but in the new poll Bush leads Kerry 46 to 43 even without Nader. The NYT's Nagourney and Elder comically don't get around to imparting this information until paragraph #8, choosing instead to emphasize the anti-incumbent suggestion that "Bush and Kerry enter the general election at a time of growing concern among Americans that the nation is veering in the wrong direction."  That puts the lede two paragraphs lower down than readers found it in the days before the 2002 midterms, when Nagourney buried the big news (that the Republicans were surging) in paragraph 6. Who's going in the wrong direction? ... Note: Rasmussen's tracking crack shows no pro-Bush trend. But Nagourney wasn't reporting on the Rasmussen poll. ... Hah! The headline on the NYT piece is:

"Nation's Direction Prompts Voters' Concern, Poll Finds." 

CBS chose a different headline for its report on the exact same poll. What was it?

"Poll: Bush Moves Ahead of Kerry."

Prosecution rests! ... Update: Captain Ed  agrees, adds some v.p. angles. ... P.S.: Since late February, Kerry's favorability rating has dropped ten points, from 37/28 favorable/unfavorable to 28/29. Matthew Dowd, Bush's pollster, is pointing this out in an email "slated to be sent to campaign leaders," according to The Note. Nagourney and Elder don't bother to even mention those Kerry numbers. If Bush had dropped ten points ... Mr. 'Electability': Isn't the synthesized lesson of this poll: Voters are unhappy. The incumbent is vulnerable. But the Democrats have nominated Kerry. Just a stray thought. 6:36 A.M.

Monday, March 15, 2004 

Kerry vs. Feiler, the Recount: Gabriel Snyder, who reports on politics for the journal of opinion, Variety, emails with a useful framework that saves the Feiler Faster Thesis:

I've been puzzling over your note today that the Feiler Faster Principle didn't apply in the primaries and "voters didn't process much information about John Kerry at all."

That may be true, but I don't think the FFP is in danger. The lesson learned is that FFP applies to news cycles and not simply information.

The main reason voters didn't process much negative info about Kerry between Iowa and Super Tuesday is because no one was telling them. [I'm not counting the daily negative press releases from the GOP. ...Both the media and voters are reluctant to let Republicans set the agenda for the Democratic primary ...] Under the FFP, voters are no more likely to go out and seek information, they still need to be fed. The speed in which that information, once presented, can be digested has increased. More information may ultimately be consumed, but that's more a factor of news media feeling pressed to move on to the next story, not necessarily an increased demand for information from the public.

If John Edwards, or any of the other candidates, attempted to define the daily news cycle by hammering at Kerry (which journos were practically begging Edwards to do), you would have seen that information processed very quickly indeed. Once the attack/response wheel starts spinning, we could have started on the Sunday morning shows debating whether Kerry had flip-flopped on Iraq and ended the week on Inside Politics with news analysis of whether throwing someone else's ribbons was being pereceived as a character issue.

For whatever reason (stand by your ad requirements, or -- my personal fave theory -- the lesson of the murder-suicide by Dean and Gephardt), the Democratic primary was tediously not negative after Iowa. So, negative information was not processed.

I'd argue that the demand side--whether voters want to learn about the candidates--plays at least as big a role as the candidate-driven and press-driven supply of stories. Either engine can drive the machine. If Democratic primary voters had hungered for information about Kerry, wouldn't the press have found a way to get it to them, even without negative ads? But the Democrats were incurious--as incurious, in their way, as George W. Bush is said to be. I suspect they will pay a high price for nominating someone they know so little about (other than that he's supposedly "electable"). ... 10:19 P.M.

Spinning the Cocoon: Doesn't the NYT's David Halbfinger know any Republican political strategists? Or even any Democratic strategists willing to offer anything other than new variations of hopeful spin?(Sample: "He's tough, he fights back, he stands up, he doesn't apologize," says Tony Coelho.)  Here are all the people Halbfinger quotes on Kerry's recent efforts:

Kerry aides. ...Mr. Kerry's advisers .... many Democrats ... Mr. Kerry's advisers ... Mr. Kerrry's aides. consultant to the campaign... Stephanie Cutter, Mr. Kerry's communications director ... one senior Kerry adviser ... The Kerry [campaign] officials ... a Kerry official ... Geoffrey Garin, a pollster for Gen Wesley K. Clark's campaign ... Mr. Garin and other Democratic strategists ... Tony Coelho, who was Al Gore's campaign chairman in 2000 ... Kerry advisers ... Mr. Coelho ... Mr. Kerry's aides ...A senior campaign official ...Mr. Kerry's aides ... the official ...

Who needs a VNR  when you've got the NYT? ... 9:54 P.M.

The Dancing of Politics: The normally sound ABC Note writes:

But looking at the calendar, it is perfectly likely that the President will not be able to change the direction of his political vector until he gives his acceptance speech in the World's Most Famous Arena at the Republican National Convention in September.

This seems wrong. I know the Feiler Faster Principle didn't apply in the primaries--voters didn't process much information about John Kerry at all, much less at a record pace. But September is a long way away. It's hard to believe that nothing in the perception of Kerry or Bush will change for six months that isn't the result of external events (e.g., capturing Bin Laden).

Newtonian mechanics hardly seems the best metaphor for a presidential campaign. Isn't it more a dialectic--various institutions and individuals have already packed within them their own internal contradictions and dynamics that will work themselves out over the next few months. For example ...

The press isn't going to sit still just because nothing has happened. Reporters need new things to write about and will come up with them one way or another. If there aren't major external events they'll seize on minor external events (e.g. Bush's manufacturing czar, Kerry's 'foreign leader' endorsements, war records, wives' interviews, etc.). There are also purely internal, intellectual dynamics--e.g., having given Kerry a favorable ride for weeks, some reporters will feel guilty and start to take a harsher look. Then they'll react against that reaction. Or there could be some pent-up desire to pay back the Bushies for their attempts to control information. And there's the whole concept of 'flip-flops' to be unpacked [can't wait-ed] : Is that really what Kerry does? Doesn't Bush do it too? Didn't Clinton do it? How is what Kerry does different? Is that confirmed or contradicted on the campaign trail? etc. ...

Voters, even if they don't get Buyer's Remorse about Kerry, may inevitably discover that the new is wearing off the Democratic nominee--or, conversely (and, I admit, unexpectedly) that he really is like a fine wine that ages well over time! If getting to know a candidate is like a relationship, I'd say the larger electorate and Kerry are about on their second date. More will be demanded as time goes on. This is a dynamic that is baked into the cake, whether Osama's caught or not.

Nor will the candidates stay static. If Bush continues to trail in the polls, he may panic over the next few months and try some new initiative or makeover which may sink him deeper or improve his ratings. If Kerry falls behind by five or six points he could flail in a similar way. (I would rate the latter scenario as one of the likelier possibilities--certainly as likely as the possibility that Bush will remain where he is until September. But I've peeked at the new CBS poll.)

I'm not saying the campaign is highly unstable--that a butterfly flapping its wings or Mark Halperin getting out of bed in a bad mood will change everything. I'm saying that in September we are much more apt to look back and say that Bush's political vector has darted this way and that rather than followed a stately ballistic course.

And if the right investigative reporter (say, Michael Isikoff)  gets out of bed in a bad mood ...  11;54 A.M.

Sunday, March 14, 2004 

Premature Defenestration: Robert Novak is among the many journalists impressed ("Kerry's Coup") with the successful torpedoing by the Democratic camp of Anthony Raimondo. Raimondo was supposed to be Bush's "manufacturing czar" but withdrew when reporters were told he'd committed the sin of opening a factory in China.

Republican insiders were less impressed by the Kerry campaign team's learning about Raimondo than by its rapid distribution of details about his China connection.

But didn't the Kerry crew actually misplay its hand by rapidly distributing these details? It would have been much more damaging, after all, if they'd let Raimondo be nominated, let his name become known--and then they'd sprung the outsourcing charge on him. If Raimondo had subsequently withdrawn, it would have been a much bigger deal. He might even have refused to withdraw, prolonging this utterly bogus (but damaging) story for days and days. ... Moral: Sometimes a rapid response is not the best response. The Kerryites may be so locked into the Lehane/Stephanopolous instant punch-back tough-guy mindset--it's an "essential party of their strategy," says the NYT--that they don't stop to think. ... Kerryphile Keith Berry agrees, and he's got some incomprehensible West Wing dialogue to back him up! ... [Why 'utterly bogus'?--ed Even if you assume there's something that can be done, at a reasonable price, to stop manufacturing jobs from moving abroad, isn't an executive who has actually moved jobs abroad the perfect person to understand what it would take to persuade other executives not to do it? Only when you accept the vulgar and unnuanced Democratic attitude that it's immoral to open a factory in China does Raimondo becomes a bad person--a "Benedict Arnold"!--who's somehow disqualified from the job. Even then, why not hire him on the same theory that makes computer firms hire hackers to fight hackers?] ... Update: Geitner Simmons has posted a more informed defense of Raimondo. a) His company is employee owned, and b) though I'd defend Raimondo's appointment even if his firm was 'outsourcing,' there's an argument the China plant isn't costing U.S. jobs at all. From the Omaha World-Herald: "Barry Kennedy, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce ... told the Columbus Telegram that 'there's probably about 100 [more] jobs in Columbus because Behlen is doing business in China.'" ... 10:15 P.M.

The Dog Ate My Handover? Here's Secretary of State Powell (on ABC's This Week) answering doubts about whether the U.S. will be able to turn over power to Iraqis by the June 30 deadline:

We are going to shoot for returning sovereignty, and I think we can make it, on the First of July.

Doesn't exactly sound 'set in concrete,' does it? It sounds more like what I tell my editors when they ask if I'm going to make my deadline. ...  P.S.: I'm not saying a delay in the July 1 handoff would necessarily be such a big deal. The possibility of slipping the date is one answer to those, like Hillary Clinton, who've denounced the deadline as "artificial." It's not so artificial--because it can be changed. ... 7:43 P.M.

Senator Kerry takes a stand on Cuba: From a news report in today's Miami Herald ...

''I'm pretty tough on Castro, because I think he's running one of the last vestiges of a Stalinist secret police government in the world,'' Kerry told WPLG-ABC 10 reporter Michael Putney in an interview to be aired at 11:30 this morning.

Then, reaching back eight years to one of the more significant efforts to toughen sanctions on the communist island, Kerry volunteered: ``And I voted for the Helms-Burton legislation to be tough on companies that deal with him.''

It seemed the correct answer in a year in which Democratic strategists think they can make a play for at least a portion of the important Cuban-American vote -- as they did in 1996 when more than three in 10 backed President Clinton's reelection after he signed the sanctions measure written by Sen. Jesse Helms and Rep. Dan Burton.

There is only one problem: Kerry voted against it.

Asked Friday to explain the discrepancy, Kerry aides said the senator cast one of the 22 nays that day in 1996 because he disagreed with some of the final technical aspects. But, said spokesman David Wade, Kerry supported the legislation in its purer form -- and voted for it months earlier. ...

But there are also constant reminders that Kerry struggles with the complexities of Cuba. Asked in the Herald interview last year about sending Elián back to Cuba, Kerry was blunt: ``I didn't agree with that.''

But when he was asked to elaborate, Kerry acknowledged that he agreed the boy should have been with his father.

So what didn't he agree with?

''I didn't like the way they did it. I thought the process was butchered,'' he said.

The Kerry campaign philosophy isn't "Bring it on!" so much as "That'll snow 'em!" But it won't! ... P.S.: Those are not really flip-flops, but rather half-disclosed straddles--presenting one face of a strategically ambiguous position to a target audience and hoping they won't notice the other, contradictory face. Straddles seem to be Kerry's specialty.  An actual flip flop would be, say, criticizing the overall Cuba embargo in 2000 and supporting it in 2003. ... Of course, Kerry did that too. .... 10:24 A.M.

Saturday, March 13, 2004 

Stop the Shrum Karaoke! James Wolcott fave Al Giordano's Big, Left, Outside blog is taking Peggy Noonan's advice  and sponsoring a John Kerry Speechwriting Tournament. ... P.S.: I think Giordano's wrong about Pat Buchanan having written "Reagan's best speeches." 1:08 P.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