Nagourney buries the lede again.

Nagourney buries the lede again.

Nagourney buries the lede again.

A mostly political Weblog.
March 15 2004 3:18 PM

Nagourney Buries the Lede Again

This time it's in Paragraph #8.

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 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.

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.

Friday, March 12, 2004 

Update and correction: Now I understand why Newsweek's revelation about the Bush campaign using "paid actors" to play firefighters in its ads might not have gotten much play: It doesn't seem to be true! That can kill a good brouhaha. The online version of the Newsweek piece  now has a concluding note, which says in part:

Editor's Note: In our initial reporting for this story, we were told by a member of the Bush-Cheney campaign's media team that paid actors had been used to portray firefighters in its first election ads, which drew heavily on images from 9/11. After publication, the official told us that he had been mistaken. The Bush-Cheney campaign also provided NEWSWEEK with documents indicating that the people in the ads were authentic volunteer firefighters, not actors.

P.S.:Newsweek's correction "policy" doesn't work. They apparently removed the "paid actor" charge from the site (in violation of their policy). Then they actually restored it--but they don't flag the correction until the bottom of the page, a full screen down from the text in question. ... 6:21 P.M.

Bombs, Ballots: Isn't it quite likely that what just happened in Spain is a preview of what Al Qaeda has planned for the U.S. shortly before our elections? ... Unspeakable political angle: The immediate impact of a series of preelection bombings would be to help Bush, wouldn't it--just as yesterday's bombings may help the conservatives in the impending Spanish election? ... Actually, Bush would be a much clearer beneficiary--Spain's conservative Popular party could be blamed if, as a result of an allying with the U.S. on Iraq, Spain became an Al Qaeda targe t. That argument wouldn't apply with much force to the U.S., however, since Al Qaeda was attacking the U.S. long before the Iraq war and would have wanted to attack if there'd been no Iraq war.

If you were running John Kerry's campaign, then, wouldn't you be thinking about how you were going to counter the Bush-boosting effect of a last-minute attack? Actually, wouldn't you begin countering that phenomenon well before anything happens--say, in the next few weeks--by pre-defining another act of terrorism in the U.S. as somehow a Bush failure (perhaps by luring Bush into claiming to have 'kept America safe'). . ...

Update: "[D]o you think al Qaeda doesn't know this, or are [you]saying that al Qaeda wants Mr. Bush to be elected president?" asks Busy Busy Busy.  It's entirely possible that Al Qaeda wants Bush reelected, in order to "heighten the contradictions" that will supposedly lead to an apocalyptic East-West clash. ... "So the deal is that Bin Laden can tell the candidates apart, but Ralph Nader cannot?" asks reader S.K. ... No comment. ... P.S.: Gaming the U.S. is easy compared with figuring out the situation in Spain. Let's assume that the Basque separatist group, ETA, would like the conservative government (which has been cracking down on ETA) defeated. If the bombings are blamed on ETA, the conservatives will almost certainly win--so it's in ETA's interest to have the public think Al Qaeda did it. That's one reason ETA's denial of responsibility, and even the discovery of a van with detonaters and Islamic tapes, can't necessarily be trusted. ... Bin Laden would have ETA's problem in reverse--if you assume he'd like the conservative party to win for contradiction-heightening purposes. But you can't assume that. It would be a coup for Al Qaeda, after all, if its attack brought down a government in punishment for an alliance with the U.S.. And Bin Laden can achieve that end by taking credit. In Spain, then, both suspect terrorist groups may have an interest in having Al Qaeda fingered as the perpetrator. ...  2:29.A.M.

I don't understand why Newsweek's  "Periscope" revelation  that the Bush campaign used "paid actors" to play firefighters in its 9/11-themed ad didn't become a big brouhaha. That seems just the sort of thing the "punch back"-primed press would pick up on--and it's certainly a more troubling Bush gaffe than either a) the completely trivial story of Bush picking up an uncooked display turkey when he visited the troops in Iraq, and b) the only slightly less bogus complaints from 9/11 families about the exploitation of 9/11 images. Yet so far only Wonkette is exercised about the fake firefighters. ... The liberal media conspiracy clearly needs some sort of central clearinghouse to start giving badly-needed directions. I mean, who's in charge? Sid? ... Sid? ...  Correction:  Never mind  about the fake firefighters.... 1:47 A.M.

Thursday, March 11, 2004 

The Blackberry Enema Solution: Peggy Noonan writes  that John Kerry's "structural weakness on the stump" could be at least partially cured by a new speechwriter. When Kerry delivers Bob Shrum's favorite golden oldies he not only sounds tired, he seems like he's trying to be a Kennedy, which will play into the soon-to-be-prevalent impression that Kerry is a mildly pathological JFK impersonator. (See last week's  Noonan column.)... P.S.: I'm less sure that Noonan's prescription--"Mr. Kerry needs a young speechwriter ... who speaks the language of America as it is now"-- will work. I don't think Kerryis capable of authentically speaking the language of America as it is now, and what he most desperately needs to convey is a sense that he's authentically something. Anything!  I say find a speechwriter who can tune in Kerry's most down-to-earth, authentic voice, whatever it is, even if it's not MTV-ready. My guess is this will involve some form of jock talk--the locker-room needling and joshing athletes engage in when getting up for a game. Or Kerry can talk to voters the way he'd actually talk to his crewmates during a war. That will not, I assume, mean basso cliches about not having "begun to fight." It will be more like the dialogue reported in yesterday's ABC Note, in which Kerry teases a staffer who is addicted to his Blackberry:

...a network news producer declared: "He needs a Blackberry intervention."

Kerry, however, disagreed, suggesting, "No, he needs a Blackberry enema."

The resulting presentation would be Schwarzeneggerian rather than Sorensonian, and if it works it will trigger the same reaction Schwarzenegger triggered in the minds of California voters: 'This guy is a leader.' ... P.P.S.: It will also turn off some women voters. So what. Kerry has plenty of women. He needs men. ... P.P.P.S.: Noonan's suggested Kerry answer to questions on his Gulf War II vote should be adopted by the Kerry campaign immediately. ... More: Noonan thinks Kerry's stumping "will get better as the campaign wears down his self consciousness and makes him too tired to act." That's an optimistic view, isn't it. What if the self-consciousness is all that's there, so when you wear it away there's, like, nothing? What if it's self-consciousness all the way down? It's not as if Kerry hasn't been tired these past few weeks. ... 11:05 P.M.

Secrets of the stars! Familiar D.C.-based TV prof Jonathan Turley bills Florida taxpayers $46,000 for two months work, including drafting a "Parental Rights Amendment" regarding abortion, and for research on that issue and on gay marriage, according to the Miami Herald. Turley's rate is $300/hour. The amendment did not pass. ... 2:09 P.M.

Don't avoid reading Alan Dershowitz's Tuesday Wall Street Journal piece [$$$] just because you assume that its basic underlying thesis is "If she'd hired me, I'd have gotten her off!" It is, of course. But Dershowitz also has a powerful charge to make, which he buries in his third-to-last graf:

... [V]irtually every action for which Ms. Stewart was convicted took place after she had consulted with highly experienced and expensive lawyers. As legal ethics expert Stephen Gillers wrote before the trial in The American Lawyer, "defendants ordinarily retain lawyers after they commit their alleged crimes. In contrast, all the crimes charged against Stewart were allegedly committed while she was receiving the advice of excellent defense lawyers at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz -- one of the nation's best law firms. ... " ...

The job of these lawyers was to keep their client out of any further legal difficulties. ...

Why didn't she just clam up or take the Fifth? That would have been embarrassing, but a better outcome than what she wound up with. [So he's saying "If she'd hired me, there wouldn't even have been a trial"?-ed Yes.The worst outcome of all!]

1:18 A.M.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004 

Stephen M. Gardner, the only Kerry boatmate who hadn't been heard from, has now surfaced. As suspected, his story does not fit the JFK2 legend. Gardner says Kerry was "chickensh-t," an "opportunist" and an "a--hole." Unfortunately, Time's story is written by Douglas Brinkley, about the last man you'd want to assess Gardner's credibility.  Brinkley, after all, has a whole lot invested in his Tour of Duty tale of Kerry heroism and leadership. He's also publicity-mad. ... The lines that will be used to discredit Gardner are fully deployed in Brinkley's piece. Gardner listens to Rush Limbaugh! He's a Republican! He hates Bill Clinton! Kerry once threatened him with a court-martial, he claims. ... Maybe Gardner's not to be trusted. But I don't trust Brinkley to be the one not to trust him. The Limbaugh angle is especially overplayed. (Gardner decided to come forward after listening to Limbaugh express suspicions about Kerry. Not irrelevant, but Brinkley tries his best to make it seem discrediting.) ... Brinkley also writes that Gardner

claims he works at Millennium Services (an insurance inspection company) ...

Well, does he work there or doesn't he? Couldn't Brinkley or TIME have checked? If he does, why is that word "claims" doing there? What's Brinkley writing, a blog?... P.S.: One controversy I don't understand: Gardner's charge that at night Kerry would park his boat "away from the action and hide" to avoid getting shot at.  Brinkley seems to accept that this would be a bad thing for Kerry to have done--but why? Wasn't the idea to avoid getting killed so you could fight during the day? Was Kerry supposed to make his boat a sitting duck? The unspoken possibility: Maybe Kerry was extra-cautious, playing it safe instead of taking gung-ho risks in a doomed cause. And maybe that's why his crewmen like him and feel they owe him. Who wants to be the last man to die for a mistake, as it were?. ...  7:38 P.M.

Attention, reporters:Polipundit has put all the Kerry campaign expenses on a handy spreadsheet. See if you can find Bob Shrum's bill. (I couldn't.) ... 1:40 A.M.

But, Hey, We Beat Mercedes! The big news in the new  Consumer Reports reliability ratings  seems to be that the sweet-driving mass-market Ford Focus, which had a terrible repair record, improved to "average" for the 2003 model year. That's major progress for Ford. ... P.S.: Note that many Focuses are currently built in Hermosillo, Mexico. I don't know if the Mexifocuses are better than the ones made in Wayne, Michigan, though that has been true in my experience. But they'll all be made in Michigan  by 2006. (They're being "insourced.")  ... P.P.S.: U.S. brand cars in general have improved, but they still have roughly twice as many problems after three years as Asian-brand cars, so the mainstream press' chosen patriotic take ("American cars gain praise"--USA Today) is a bit misleading. Cadillac's rock-bottom reliability rating after three years is especially embarrassing. ... Best spin: BMW's Mini spokesman tells USAT the Mini had a worse-than-average reliability rating "because Mini owners are more passionate about their vehicles and, therefore, more likely to report problems." Also, Minis can quote Andre Gide and have an appreciation that life is not simple. ... Oh wait.That's John Kerry. ... Just don't try to understand them too much!  12:41 A.M.

Tuesday, March 9, 2004 

Bush is Behind: When I wrote last week that Bush was essentially tied with Kerry, several pro-Kerry emailers argued that Kerry was doing a bit better than that. A new round of polls suggests they were right.  Without Nader, Kerry is up 9 among registered voters in the most recent  ABC poll, 5 in the Gallup Poll. ... Bonesman Milbank gloats. ... Last week Bush was tied in the Fox/Opinion Dynamics poll and up by a point in the AP/Ipsos poll--but the latter included Nader, who drew 6 percent. ... P.S.:  Nader's showing, though, is a bit of a question mark for Kerry. (Nader draws 3% in ABC and 5% in Gallup when he's included.) Shouldn't Kerry, in the week of his Super Tuesday victory, have locked down more of the anti-incumbent vote? Beats me--but one neutral kf-friendly expert sees this as a sign of Kerry weakness. ("[H]e failed to fully mobilize the anti-Bush vote.") ... On the other hand, the two recent polls may indicate Bush's first positive ads were ineffective, blunted by the (to me, absurd) complaints of 9/11 victims' relatives. ... P.P.S.: Taranto also  plays up the Nader threat, although a protest vote for Nader will never "make sense" for this Kerry skeptic. ... 11:24 P.M.

We Vet the Vetters: Here's a good Matt Cooper Slate piece on Jim Johnson, Kerry's "likable" veep-vetter, from a few years ago when Johnson waspulling down $5 million running the gravy train for out-of-office political aides, Fannie Mae, and protecting its unjustified subsidy. ... P.S.: Johnson called Cooper's piece "unbelievable trash" and complained in a letter to Microsoft's general counsel, according to a subtly-sniping Lloyd Grove WaPo profile of Johnson that's worth looking up. (It ran on 3/27/98, says NEXIS.) ... P.P.S.: At the time, Johnson was not only head of Fannie Mae, but also head of the Kennedy Center and of the Brookings Institution, where he mainly pushed a misguided '70s era focus on urban redevelopment. [Why misguided?-ed Because culture (as subsidized by welfare and changed by welfare reform) not construction is what makes urban areas prosper or decline.] 8:31 P.M.

It's the Gide, Stupid! TNR's Noam Scheiber says I didn't bury the lede but rather missed it entirely  when discussing that Saturday NYT Kerry flip-flop story, the one in which Kerry's defenders did much more damage than his attackers. Scheiber draws attention to the final Times paragraphs:

Mr. Winer, the former aide, who worked with Mr. Kerry on terrorism and many other issues, described Mr. Kerry's complexity as right for the times.

"Between the moral clarity, black and white, good and evil of George Bush that distorts and gets reality wrong," he said, "and someone who quotes a French philosopher, André Gide, saying, `Don't try to understand me too much,' I'd let Americans decide which in the end is closer to what they need in a president, in a complex world where if you get it really wrong there are enormous consequences."

Scheiber concludes:

Isn't that basically Kerry in a nutshell? He'll never be too wrong--and, oh yeah, he can quote André Gide! They should put this on a bumper sticker ...

Note also the (not entirely justified) intellectual vanity of the man. a) He's so complex, we shouldn't really try to understand him! b) He's actually proud of that deer poem! ... P.S.: Didn't Gide also say "It is better to be hated for what you are than loved for what you are not"?  [How is Kerry loved for what he is not?-ed He is not Bush!] ... Thanks to reader J.E.  7:37 P.M.

Monday, March 8, 2004 

He Came. He Flipped. He Flopped: It's the Battle to Define Kerry's Flip-flopping! WaPo's Laura Blumenfeld puts the best face on it, the NYT offers a tour de spin. But WaPo's Marjorie Williams ("Win One for the Flipper")  isn't having any of it. There are about three "money grafs" in Williams' damning piece. Here are two of them crunched together:

... I've labored to turn my eyes from his career-long opportunism, the knowledge that Bay State political junkies trade their favorite Kerry flip-flops like baseball cards. Bush is already having fun with Kerry's zigzags of the past three years alone: Kerry voted for so many of Bush's major initiatives that in order to disown them now he can only argue that they were wrongly or dishonestly "implemented." This amounts to a confession that his opponent made a chump of him for the past three years. ... It's been especially difficult, but I work to achieve a kind of amnesia about Kerry's incoherent and changing explanation of his position -- no, his positions -- concerning the crucial issue of Bush's war in Iraq.

Okay, so he's kicked away both a grand political opportunity and -- much more importantly -- any sense of confidence that he would lead the war on terrorism more wisely than Bush. But surely it's a coincidence that all of his war-related votes, going back to his vote against Bush pere's 1991 resolution for the Persian Gulf War, found him on the side of short-term political expedience?

Williams makes a key point I've been failing to articulate--that Kerry's positioning is often so transparently and short-sightedly self-interested that it's actually not in his long term self-interest. (Wouldn't he like to have that 1991 Gulf War vote back today?)

Some of the Kerry camp's rationalizations actually go a long way toward explaining the seemingly impulsive opportunism that produces such embarrassing flips. Former Kerry aide Jonathan Winer in the NYT:

There's indoor John and outdoor John ... Indoor John is thoughtful, works all this through, is nuanced, and so deeply into the process that you can get impatient," Mr. Winer said. "Outdoor John is a man of action. There'd be a point where, Boom! and go. Once it happened, the dialogue was over, and you wouldn't always know which way he was going to go."

I think we are approaching another plausible Unified Kerry Theory here, one that could solve a key mystery about the man. Many Kerry profilers, after all, have wondered how the daring Navy skipper who defied normal doctrine and unexpectedly turned his boat to chase down the VC could seem so cautious in his political life. William Bradley talks about the "two John Kerrys," the one who will "nuance things to death as with his position on the Iraq War," and the other who "will beach the boat and dash ashore as he did in the Mekong."

But let's think about that Mekong decision again. According to Blumenfeld's account, it was a previously-discussed-but-sudden decision --Outdoor John taking over, "Boom! and go"--that Kerry's crew credits with saving his life and theirs.  Isn't it plausible that Kerry sees his seemingly sudden decisions to flip-flop and pander to this or that constituency as quite similar to his Swift Boat surprise? They're both unexpected reversals of field that save Kerry's hide.  When Kerry suddenly abandons the heretical affirmative action initiative on which he's been working for months, for example, maybe he doesn't think he's failing to "beach his boat and dash ashore." Maybe he thinks he is beaching his boat and dashing ashore! Indoor John has thought and anticipated and nuanced and studied and planned. Then Outdoor John takes over and--Boom!--decides to reverse course and pander, fast! Before those interest groups can launch their rockets!

Outdoor John, as Williams notes, may not always be making the best decision in the long run--for either Kerry or the country--which is why the "flip flop" issue is a more legitimate line of Bush attack than it might seem to be at first. It's true that accusations of "flip-flopping" are routinely lodged against any politician who changes his mind--think of the "flip-flop" attacks on Richard Gephardt in 1988 for switching positions on abortion, for example. But with Kerry the charge isn't that he's inconstant. It's that in his inconstancy he flips wrong--the far more serious charge of bad judgment.

Had Kerry been a consistent, committed opponent of American military intervention abroad and voted against the first Gulf War, for example, it would be one thing--even if he later changed his outlook.  But that's not the argument. The argument is that Kerry was a torn, nuanced, ambivalent and indecisive positioner on the war who in the end--Boom!-- jumped the wrong way, from a long-run standpoint. He flopped when he should have flipped! Impulsive panderflipping led him to make the wrong decision in 1991--and arguably again, on another question of war, in 2003.

"I felt as if I ought to make that decision as if I were president," Kerry tells Blumenfeld. That's what's so troubling about it!

P.S.: Blumenfeld argues Kerry tries to get advice from outside the bubble--"beyond his colleagues and the influential men who write columns." She then describes who Kerry consulted on his Iraq II vote. Let's see: Richard Holbrooke, Sandy Berger, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Kofi Annan, "representatives of the U.N. Security Council," his campaign manager, his brother, his driver. That's breaking out of the bubble? Seems like the usual suspects to me, including the driver. Talking to your driver is the classic Washington hack's way of thinking you are connecting with "the very roots of the country." ...  1:04 A.M.

Sunday, March 7, 2004 

TimesenfreudeThe NYT, for all its vast resources and beloved copy editors, misspells Steven Spielberg's name. ... [Isn't misspelling a celeb's name the key to a high Google ranking?-ed  Of course! It's Pinch's cunning new business plan. Next they'll include a gratuitous reference to Brittany Spears.]  11:47 P.M.

Friday, March 5, 2004 

The NY Post'sPage Six gossip column recently had an item noting that the wife of NYT executive editor Bill Keller--back when she was single--once went out with Senator John Kerry (who was then between wives). ... I trust Keller, unlike his predecessor, to play it straight when it comes to the Times' Kerry coverage. But NYT readers are certainly entitled to know about the connection. [Which way would that cut, were it to cut at all?--ed If Keller is a normal human being there would be a spectrum of possible biases ...

'He was a jerk, Bill'--against Kerry

'He was a nice guy'--for Kerry

'He was the greatest guy'--against Kerry!

P.S.:  The response of the Kerry campaign was:

"Americans care about jobs, health care and national security, not gossip," declared Kerry spokesmanDavid Wade. "John Kerry's coverage in the New York Times will be determined by his vision for the country and the fights he wages and nothing more."

Please! Wouldn't a less pompous and on-message--in a word, a less Lehanish--response, be more effective? Something like: "Yes, they went out when they were both single. So what?" ... Or are the Kerry flaks flexing their sound bites in preparation for actual potentially damaging "gossip" down the road?] ... 5:08 P.M.

If a triumphant Arnold Schwarzenegger  really wants to transform California politics, he could sponsor a referendum ending the gerrymandering of state legislative districts. Instead of safe Republican seats and safe Democratic seats, he'd get lots of competitive seats--meaning more centrists and moderates. His kind of legislators. ... [Idea suggested by something Warren Olney said on KCRW's "Which Way L.A."] .. Backfill: Turns out that during the campaign Schwarzenegger in fact pledged to do exactly this  (scroll to bottom):

"As Governor, I will:

  • Propose a constitutional amendment to have three retired appellate judges selected by lottery to serve as Special Masters for reapportioning electoral districts for the state. The reapportionment plan becomes law when adopted by the Special Masters "

Thanks to alert reader S.K. ... 1:50 P.M.

Leave it to Harvard's Kennedy School to produce a 25-page paper  on the role of bloggers in the Trent Lott affair that ignores the key part played by Sidney Blumenthal's e-mails. ... 1:02 P.M.

Thursday, March 4, 2004 

Bad Spin Alert: On the PBS NewsHour, historian (and famous JFK Jr. "necropublicist")  Douglas Brinkley sympathetically explained John Kerry's habit of letting his campaign drift and then finally focusing when the problems reach a crisis level. Kerry, Brinkley explained, is a "well-rounded" man with a life apart from politics. He plays guitar! He writes poetry! ... Er, so he coasts in his actual main job until things boil over? Is that how he plans to run the country too? .... [Point generously donated by BoiFromTroy] ... P.S.: I think I buried the lede. Kerry writes poetry! Maybe instead of demanding to see his complete military records the Republicans should demand that Kerry release his complete poems. It could end the campaign right there! ...P.P.S.: Who wants to bet that Kerry apes the Kennedys in his poems too? "Aeschylus and Outsourcing"--that sort of thing. ... Update: The poem he  read to WaPo's Laura Blumenfeld seemed more to ape Robert Frost. Same deal!

I had a talk with a deer today/we met upon the road some way . . . between his frequent snorts/He asked me if I sought his pelt/cause if I did he said he felt/quite out of sorts!

11:57 P.M.

Does the DLC really want syrup on all these waffles?  Michael Grunwald catalogs Kerry's most conspicuous flip-flops. There are nine of them. I count three non-earthshaking moves away from conventional liberalism, and four major abandonments of centrist Democratic ideas (on affirmative action, means-testing, teacher protections and trade). ... I'm not categorizing the abandonment of a gas tax--a general wimp-out--or the abandonment of a dividend tax cut, which appears to have been a purely opportunistic, temporary move after President Bush made a similar proposal. ... How happy with Kerry is the centrist Democratic Leadership Council ("If this is a waffle, bring on the syrup!")  again? Either way, it's going to take a whole lot of syrup. .... P.S.: Needless to say, all the waffles, the leftward ones and the rightward ones, move in the direction of poll-tested popularity. ... P.P.S.: Steve Smith  dissents, noting that politicians are often rewarded in general elections for flip-flopping, as long as they flop to where the voters want them to be.  ... 7:08 P.M.

Blackmun Fever! Has there been a more riveting media event than the reverential, non-stop NPR/PBS/NYT coverage of Justice Harry Blackmun, a nice, very dull man who wrote what may be the least convincing major Supreme Court decision since the Civil War? ... I know I can't get enough of this guy! ...Did President Bush anticipate that the round-the-clock excitement over Blackmun would suck all the oxygen out of the room during his campaign kickoff? ... 6:48 P.M.

The Case Against Editors, Part XVII: Here's one problem blogs have solved. [via Instapundit] ... 11:27 A.M.

NYT columnists' corrections: Well-done dopple. (Via Luskin). 3:42 P.M.

Kerry/Shrum '04: Eliminate the Middleman!  Ryan Lizza has some solid insider speculation  on the thrilling Kerry veepstakes--and the role played by consultant/Cyrano Bob Shrum. ... Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida is mentioned. ... As Lizza notes, Jim Johnson, reputed to be Kerry's veep-vetter, is a Shrum buddy. He also ran Fannie Mae. No problems there!  ... ['Eliminate the Middleman'--wouldn't that be Shrum/Kerry '04?-ed Good point.] 2:22 P.M.

Kf Fights Back Against the Bush/Cheney/Halliburton Propaganda Machine: With all the fuss about the National Journal rankings showing Kerry as the Senate's "most liberal" member,  MinuteMan points to Dr. Keith Poole's rating system, in which Kerry is "roughly in the middle of the Democratic herd," right near John Edwards. ... Update: The DLC agrees and falls into line: "If this is a waffle, bring on the syrup."  Okey dokey! That's a little more loyalty than I can take right now. ... 1:17 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