Why Kerry's flip-flops matter.

Why Kerry's flip-flops matter.

Why Kerry's flip-flops matter.

A mostly political Weblog.
March 8 2004 4:59 AM

Unified Kerry Theory II

Why his waffles aren't chopped liver!

Let Me Be Your Gide: TNR's Noam Scheiber says I didn't bury the lede but rather missed it entirely in 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 says:

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 (unjustified) 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! ... 7:37 P.M.

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 says--Boom!--time 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.


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.

Wednesday, March 3, 2004 

Real Simple Politics: I don't understand why Democrats are optimistic about John Kerry's chances of defeating Bush.  Bush is currently essentially tied with Kerry in most polls. The two big issues are the economy and Iraq. The economy is almost certainly going to get better and Iraq is reasonably likely to get better. That should, on balance, help Bush. So why does it look good for Kerry, again? [But Kerry was for Iraq--ed Right. I forgot! The primary's over.] ... Update: I tend to agree with Dick Morris--always a dangerous position to be in--that "Democrats will be stuck with the flawed Kerry candidacy for months as he slowly twists in the wind." But our culture doesn't allow a candidate to twist in the wind for months, so something will have to give, no? ... But Morris thinks Kerry is vulnerable because he's "left wing." I suspect Bush's attack will actually be more subtle and accurate. ... 3:05 A.M.

I don't usually agree with Howard Husock--he seems to think the poor should live in lousy, dangerous neighborhoods because that gives them an incentive to move up. But this piece on Section 8 housing vouchers makes a powerful prima facie case against them. ... If you were a Democratic presidential candidate looking to see if there were any nonsensical welfare programs left to "Souljah"--i.e. end as we know them--wouldn't various HUD initiatives loom large? ... 2:59 A.M.

Tim Russert's Exit Poll Garbage: How many times last night did NBC's Tim Russert reveal, with punditary flourish, that

Looking at the exit polls from Tuesday, 24 percent of the people who voted in Iowa are independents.  They decided to vote in the Democratic primary. And of those independents, 78 percent said they are angry or dissatisfied with George W. Bush. That's a big deal.

I think he means "Ohio," not "Iowa," but never mind. Isn't this statistic not a "big deal" but in fact relatively meaningless? You'd expect those independents who had "decided to vote in the Democratic primary" to be relatively dissatisfied with Bush, no? It's a self-selected group. To figure out if the number means anything significant you'd need to also know how many independents didn't decide to vote in the Democratic primary, and what they thought about Bush.  ... Russert's precious nugget had all the earmarks of the pre-packaged exit poll story line. The exit poll designers clearly know the story they want before they take the poll--in this case, they want 'POLARIZED COUNTRY ANGRY AT BUSH.' They ask a question about anger and whatever group or sub-group turns up high on the anger scale--well, that's the story, whether it makes any sense or not. ...

P.S.: 'POLARIZED COUNTRY' is one of those Neutral Story Lines that gives analysts something to say that sounds intelligent without favoring one candidate or the other--the way, say, "Kerry's victory speech was deadly" would. ...

P.P.S.: I answered the L.A. Times exit poll after I voted. The categories that sounded so precise and informative on the news turned out to make no sense as a description of my not especially atypical or sophisticated decision. Did I vote for Edwards because he "cares about people like me"? Well, no! I don't know if Edwards cares about anyone, actually, and if he does care about the people he says he cares about they are not people like me (or the other affluent, steadily-employed yuppies who form his actual base of support). True, I did vote for Edwards in part because I thought that other people think he cares about people like them. ... Did I vote on "jobs" or "Iraq"? That one was hard to answer too. I voted because I guessed Edwards could be an effective president tackling issues in the future that we don't know about and hence don't talk about and can't put on pre-packaged exit polls!  Unfortunately that wasn't a choice they offered. ... And if I had checked "jobs" or "trade," it seems just as likely that I'd have checked those boxes because a) I like Edwards (and "jobs" and "trade" are what he talks about) as that b) I care about jobs and trade and decided that Edwards was the man addressing those concerns. Yet the networks puffing their exit polls (Bill Schneider, this means you) invariably present the causal route as (b)--from issue to candidate--rather than (a)--from candidate to issue. ... Applying Kaus' First Rule of Journalism ("Always Generalize Wildly from Your Own Experience Because You're Not That Special") I conclude that exit polls are at least half garbage. ...

P.P.P.S.: One e-mailer from Ohio says he's a registered Republican but was told when he got to the polls he was an "Independent" but could choose to vote in the Democratic or Republican primaries. He saw other voters confronting the same situation and suspects "there had been some unannounced reset in the election records and that previous partisan selections had been lost or erased." Something like that could be behind Russert's number--i.e. his "Independents" were in fact Democrats whose affiliation had been erased. And they were p----d off! ...

Update: And I thought Wonkette was my friend   ... 1:44 A.M.

Tuesday, March 2, 2004 

On Kerry's lack of political courage: Reader J.M. emails with an insight that might help resolve the contradiction between Senator Kerry's bravery in battle and timidity when it comes to taking potentially controversial political stands:

I don't think this is as much contradiction as it might appear. On the battlefield acts of bravery are often (usually?) motivated by a desire to maintain one's honor in the eyes of one's comrades. In politics courage usually entails taking a stand outside of the safe and conventional wisdom of one's group - and risking the opprobrium of one's friends and allies as a result.

So, in the former case courage entails seeking the affirmation of one's group, and in the latter it entails risking their opprobrium.

[What about his headline-making anti-war activisim in the early 1970s?-ed Exception that proves the rule! The surest way to receive the opprobrium of Kerry's peers in 1971 was to support the War. And the fast way to rise in politics seemed clear: Rise in the anti-war movement.] 1:36 P.M.

Georgia update: Zogby has detected one of his famous last-minute surges--in this case, by Edwards--that somehow just happens to bring his poll (which yesterday showed Edwards down 18 points) more into line with the likely result. .... As alert and knowledgeable kf reader "T" notes: "Edwards may claim to come on strong the final day, but nobody comes on strong the final day like Zogby!" ... 1:14 P.M.

Crack attack: Zogby has Kerry up by 18 points in Georgia. Survey USA  has Edwards within 4. Somebody is very wrong. ... Update: This local poll  tends to the Z end of the spectrum. ....5:12 P.M.

Monday, March 1, 2004 

One-stop anti-Kerry Shop: Many readers, friends and former friends have written to me asking what it is exactly that I have against John Kerry. Obviously, I've failed. My first thought, naturally, is to blame not myself but the blog format, in which arguments get thrown out in scattershot fashion. Here, then, in handy Super Tuesday printer-ready format, is an attempt to gather together in a sober and coherent form the serious considerations against the probable Democratic nominee. My target demographic niche is Democrats who may only now be entering the "don't tell me anything bad about Kerry, he's better than Bush" phase of self-deceptive doubt-suppression. It's about time I got this off my chest!

Note: This argument will in theory be amended and strengthened, after initial production, as another part of kf's Mercedes-like policy of "continuous improvement." So if it doesn't convince you, come back and read it in a day or two and maybe it will! ... 2:31 P.M.

kf has Balz! They laughed when kf said that Kerry's demeanor in the L.A. debate last week suggested he was at least "highly annoyed by" Edwards. Now that's the CW (which doesn't, of course, mean it's right). WaPo's Dan Balz reports:

Kerry allies say privately that the senator is not a particular fan of Edwards ....

This may not be the story Kerry wants out, of course, if he's trying to con Edwards into folding in the hope of getting picked as Kerry's #2. ... 3:33 A.M.

What made John Kerry change from bold boat commander in Vietnam to consistently non-courageous politician in Washington? That's the central question for Kerry profilers. It baffles even the inventive rationalizers  at the New YorkTimes editorial page, as the Globe's Jeff Jacoby points out.  But Jacoby doesn't offer an explanation either. L.A.Weekly'sWilliam Bradley at least has a plausible theory, which is buried at the end of his recent Kerry situationer: Kerry's caution, he suggests, is the caution of the outsider trying to be an insider, which came into play when Kerry found himself on the outside after losing his first Congressional race in 1972:

... [W]hile always linked to elite circles through his mother's Brahmin family and his own talent, he has always been an outsider at the same time, grandson of Eastern European immigrants, his Forbes-side forebears having already dissipated most of the family fortune. The great houses of his youth belonged to others. Before he became the richest man in the Senate by marrying environmentalist philanthropist Teresa Heinz, Kerry was anything but rich. It's because Kerry lacked the true insider status that he climbed and compromised his way back on the road to power when his great Vietnam moment, as both war hero and anti-war leader, had passed.

I knew there'd be a Jewish ("Eastern European immigrants") angle! ... Maybe Bradley's explanation won't hold up. But it's better than nothing--and better than my own initial speculative theory, which is that maybe Kerry took so many risks in Vietnam he was determined not to take another risk again. (After all, Kerry still takes physical risks, e.g. when motorcycling, etc.) ... P.S.: Why was Bill Clinton, who arguably started off at least as much of an outsider as Kerry, and who also lost one big election, bold enough on some issues to at least annoy large groups of voters (e.g. Arkansas teacher testing, "end welfare as we know it," a hugely ambitious health care plan)? Possible answer: Clinton was more secure in his skills as a politican. ... 3:01 A.M.

Friday, February 27, 2004 

Mo' Straw: Edwards is ahead of Bush in at least one Southern state where Kerry isn't, according to Survey USA. Granted, it's Edwards' own state of North Carolina. But North Carolina's electoral votes--which Al Gore did not get--count too. ... P.S.: North Carolina in fact has 15 electoral votes. Not chopped liver! Only eight states have more. Democrats are currently saying they plan to break the 2000 Electoral College near-tie by holding their blue states and snatching Ohio  (with 20 votes). Snatching North Carolina (with Edwards) seems a plausible alternative strategy ...  6:00 P.M.

kf believes in 'just far enough:' How revealing was Michael Eisner's letter to Michael Ovitz telling him he "exaggerated the truth too far "? 5:49 P.M.

The CW in the press rooms at last night's debate was that Kerry either won or did well enough to preserve his lead. He certainly had some good moments (his discussion of Haiti, for example) and many of his answers avoided reflecting his appreciation that life is not simple. But he had some bad moments too--most obviously, Ron Brownstein reducing him to evasion on whether he'd vote for the Defense of Marriage Act. (Brownstein also nailed him for wanting to water down standards in the No Child Left Behind Act, but unless there are more Washington Monthly readers in the audience than I imagine it didn't cost Kerry many votes). ... My main impression was of how pissed Kerry still is that Edwards needled him for his long answer in that Wisconsin debate. In last night's discussion, Edwards had just done him the huge favor of essentially defending both of their pro-war votes when Kerry couldn't resist making fun of Edwards' non-brevity. ("Let me return a favor from the last debate to John ...") How small and thin-skinned was that? Kerry's body language and facial gestures suggested he loathes [loathes?-ed  Would you believe "is highly annoyed by"?] Edwards.

And Edwards has a way of doing well in debates he doesn't do well in--because voters discovering him for the first time like him. As L.A. Weekly'sMarc Cooper said, if you were a man from Mars who looked at the debate not knowing anything about the candidates or issues but just deciding who was most appealing, would you rank Kerry first? No. You'd rank him last. Kucinich and Sharpton might well be the Man from Mars winners, as performers--Kucinich was flush with that Hawaiian serotonin--with Edwards a close third. ...

The real winner, however, was Larry King. He's not such a wuss after all! ... P.S.: The LAT's Janet Clayton gets points for relentlessly ending Edwards' relative free ride on his pro-war vote. ... 2:35 A.M.

Thursday, February 26, 2004 

Edwards is also now very close to catching Kerry in Maryland, according to this ARG poll. Kerry's lead is only 7 points. ... 2:45 P.M.

Here's an example of a distinction I was trying to draw earlier, between a pander that respects its target audience and a pander that treats the audience as morons. Edwards and Kerry were both asked by the NYT editorial board  about "the politically risky step of eliminating protections for the American sugar and cotton industry." Neither of them wanted to offend the sugar and cotton growers, but both would like to appeal to the anti-protectionist Times editors.

Edwards' response: "I think I'll stick where I am on that."

Kerry's response: "That is one of those issues that will be under review [in the first 120 days of his presidency]."

Edwards gives a straightforward answer that acknowledges the political calculation involved and forthrightly stiffs the Times ed board.  Kerry seems to expect the NYT editors and free-trading voters--as well as the opposing growers--to somehow be fooled an ambiguous promise of "review." [It's because he  appreciates that life is not simple-ed. Sorry, I forgot!] ... 2:23 P.M.

He's not a straddling positioner, he's just deep! Gail Collins'  soon-to-be-infamous sentence--

What his critics see as an inability to take strong, clear positions seems to us to reflect his appreciation that life is not simple.

is ridiculed here  and here . ... P.S.: I accept that Kerry's smarter in private--I once interviewed him as part of a small group of reporters and don't remember coming away thinking "This guy's a phony." Unfortunately the public only gets to see the pompous pandescender. And a president needs the ability to move the public.  ... P.P.S.: I don't remember thinking "This guy's really smart" either. ... P.P.P.S.: Byron York halfway succeeds in depicting Kerry as creepily stuck in 1969. But I give Kerry points for toking on an imaginary joint at a campaign event. Edgy! ... It's certainly the riskiest thing I've heard of him doing. ...  11:17 A.M.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004 

1) See Straw; 2) Grasp:  Am I wrong or is Edwards gaining very fast on Kerry in Georgia, if you read a lot into the two polls on this page?   ... A week ago, Edwards was 31 points behind. Now, a second poll says he's only 8 points behind (45/37) with another week to go. ... Maybe Kerry's how-dare-you-criticize-me debate with Sen. Chambliss didn't go over very well . ... Where's Georgia's Hardcore Chris when we need him? Update: He's here. Excerpt:

It's sad to say but everyone's eyes are on the AJC to see who they endorse. Key newspaper endorsements in Wisconsin helped Edwards turn a 30 point gap into a strong second place showing. In Georgia he's already within striking distance and if things go his way I think he'll be able to win on Tuesday ...

More-Kerry "hemorrhaged support over the two days the poll was conducted": Zogby confirms Edwards' Georgia surge--if anyone still believes Zogby. ... 3:54 P.M.

The Kucinich Tsunami! 981 votes  in Hawaii got him 6 delegates and second place. The Nation's John Nichols (voice of "progressives [who] get up in the morning and go about the work of fighting racism and homophobia") is quite excited and all over the story. ... 3:41 P.M.

Kerry Electrifies Ohio Crowd: "Polite Applause at Points!" From the Boston Globe:

Later, Kerry led a question-and-answer forum with workers at a Youngstown manufacturing plant, where the senator drew polite applause at points but also some lengthy silences. He answered seven questions over 27 minutes; three of his answers lasted more than five minutes apiece. [Emphasis added.]

[Link via Viking Pundit] 1:09 P.M.

Where's Gardner? How hard could it be for someone to find former Gunner's Mate Stephen M. Gardner, the one member of John Kerry's swift boat crew  who isn't part of Kerry's band of supporters and "has lost touch with the others," according to the NYT? If he's alive he might have an interesting perspective to offer. ... 20 seconds on Google: How about this guy? He quotes Joni Mitchell! Puts him in the right generation. ... Buried lede: The NYT's John Kifner reports that

Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., who devised the swift boat operation, said officers on the boats had a 75 percent chance of being killed by enemy fire.

This is almost certainly wrong, as Thomas Maguire notes. (Kerry was brave, "not suicidal.") The factlet Kifner botched seems to be:

"Zumwalt, who died in 2000, calculated in his autobiography that these men under his command had a 75 percent chance of being killed or wounded during a typical year." (Boston Globe, June 16, 2003) [Emphasis added.]

More:Musil has some useful thoughts on the touchy subject of what Kerry's military records might or might not reveal. ... 1:56 A.M.

Do not leave your dogma in the karma unattended! Can Bush and Kerry get around the (unconstitutional!) 'Stand By Your Ad' requirement simply by having their running mates appear and utter the required approval? Polipundit speculates. ... S.B.Y.A. might be a problem for Bush, no? It could discourage the sort of traditionally nasty anti-flip-flop spot that would be expected to really damage Kerry. But I don't quite see where it helps Bush to have Cheney utter the magic words of approval. a) Cheney's not very popular--why remind voters about him while making him even less popular? b) Cheney would probably look meaner doing it than Bush; and c) it would seem weird to have the #2 guy take responsibility, as if he was running the show!. ... But here's a plan: Have Cheney appear in a really vicious set of negative ads. Then (once Kerry's eviscerated) have Cheney leave the ticket! Away goes all the bad karma. Replace Cheney with a sunny optimist! ...

Update: Alert reader J.G. suggests that, since voters are technically picking "electors" who are pledged to vote for Bush or his opponent, perhaps one of these little-known electors (chosen for his or her tv-friendly voice) could do the S.B.Y.A. "approval" honors. ... Finding loopholes in unconstitutional laws is no vice! Will this work, Prof. Hasen? ...

More: Hasen doesn't think the "elector" trick will fly because the law "requires that the 'candidate' whose committee is paying for the ad must make the statement."  Hmmm. What if you set up a separate committe for each elector? ... Polipundit is confident Cheney could pull it off, and writes a script for him that seems to solve some of the obvious problems (such as (c) above). ... 1:36 A.M.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004 

Next: 50 Cent is Nat King Cole! Do you think Janet Jackson was "a perfect match" with Lena Horne? ... 8:32 P.M.

Kerry on the Fence: Has Kerry actually flip-flopped on the issue of Israel's security barrier? Or is it just a straddle? Here's the Jerusalem Post story. You make the call.

Summary: In October, Kerry told the Arab American Institute:

We don't need another barrier to peace. Provocative and counterproductive measures only harm Israelis' security over the long term, increase the hardships to the Palestinian people, and make the process of negotiating an eventual settlement that much harder.

Now, with the New York primary coming up, Kerry proclaims  "Israel's security fence is a legitimate act of self defense, No nation can stand by ..." etc. etc.--though Kerry says "President Bush is rightly discussing with Israel the exact route of the fence to minimize the hardship."

The J. Post story has some pro-Kerry spin about how these statements are perfectly consistent. (Who knew that when Kerry said "We don' t need another barrier to peace" he was actually approving the security barrier!)  But even if the positions are logically compatible, wouldn't it be more admirable and constructive to tell the Arabs that a barrier is legitimate  and tell the Jews that the route of the fence is wrong? Or tell both audiences both parts?

The predictability of Kerry's flip-flopping gives him an odd sort of meta-consistency. You could set your watch by this guy! And I do think Kerry'spandering flips, of which this is an example, are comparatively benign. In an all out panderflip, after all, a politician is telling a group of voters "You're the boss." He's treating them with respect. Too often Kerry practices a different, more fraudulent, kind of pander--e.g. ostentatiously declining limited PAC contributions while loading up on unlimited "soft" money--that treats voters as imbeciles who are easily fooled. ... 8:02 P.M.

Kerry's War Records II: Byron York notes that Kerry has already shared a good chunk of those records with favored sources (e.g., Douglas Brinkley). York also smells a trap--the press and GOP demands Kerry's records, thinking there is something embarrassing there. When Kerry reluctantly complies, it turns out there's nothing embarrassing, and Kerry gets yet another dose of good publicity about his 'Nam service. ... Still, if I were a Republican, or John Edwards, I'd take that chance. It's not as if by the end of February, much less October, anyone in America won't have heard the positive side of Kerry's service. At some point an extra dose of good publicity will have declining marginal benefits for Kerry. ... 12:52 P.M.

Bush Boosts Kerry II: Bush's headline-making endorsement of a constitutional amendment against gay marriage is, of course, another way to boost Kerry (Bush's preferred opponent) by keeping John Edwards out of the news for one more crucial day. ... Why did Bush have to make his gay marriage announcement today, as opposed to next Wednesday? ... If he wanted to run against Edwards, don't you think he'd have waited and given Edwards the space to make his pitch?  ... 12:41 P.M.

Kerry's past support for policies he now condemns is complicating his run for the White House, strategists from both parties say, and could prove problematic ....

Ya think? ... P.S.: It looks as if Bush is smart enough to try to define Kerry as a flip-flopping opportunist rather than as Dukakis II. This is very bad news for the Democrats (because Kerry ... er ... is a flip-flopping opportunist). [But he was in Vietnam-ed. Well allright then!] ... 2:39 A.M.

E-mailer Marathon Dave has a good suggestion for the Edwards campaign: Instead of essentially admitting that they are "cherry-picking" states that might be receptive  to Edwards' economic message ...

[w]hy are they not saying something like "We are campaigning hard all over the country, in every state except Sen. Kerry's home state of Massachusetts, and its New England neighbors that are dominated by Boston media."  This has the ... advantage of  reminding everyone that Kerry is from Massachusetts, in New England, home of Boston, and thus unelectable ...

It's probably too late to switch rationales. Maybe Dave should email Edwards' campaign directly next time! ... 1:21 A.M.

Kerry Has Only One Weapons System: When I worked at The New Republic, Joshua Muravchik was known as 'Josh Apparatchik' because his articles so reliably promoted the neocon party line. But his Sunday Washington Post piece does give Kerry a rather formidable gauntlet to run:

The litany of weapons systems that Kerry opposed included conventional as well as nuclear equipment: the B-1 bomber, the B-2, the F-15, the F-14A, the F-14D, the AH-64 Apache helicopter, the AV-8B Harrier jet, the Patriot missile, the Aegis air-defense cruiser and the Trident missile. And he sought to reduce procurement of the M1 Abrams tank, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, the Tomahawk cruise missile and the F-16 jet.

Many of those are flawed or cost-ineffective weapons. But all of them? [Update: See Fred Kaplan's discussion the highly suspect Republican use of Kerrry's votes on across-the-board defense spending bills to imply opposition to individual weapons systems. It's not clear if those GOP talking points are Muravchik's only source. Even Kaplan concedes there are "probably" Kerry defense votes that are "embarrassing in retrospect."] ... Meanwhile, RealClearPolitics' T. Bevan notes that Kerry's annoyingly early deployment of what Ellis calls his "Vietnam heat shield" (to counter Muravchik-like attacks) may be more than simply the reflexive reaction of a man who has only one play in his playbook. As with the earlier Bush AWOL story, Kerry's move may have been as much a primary election maneuver (i.e. to beat Edwards) as a general election maneuver (i.e. to beat Bush).

Edwards only has eight days left to find a way to win somewhere and Kerry sucked up much of the media oxygen this past weekend with his public tête à tête with Bush.

Note to Bevan: Oxygen-sucking was 2000's cliche! [And 'playbook'?-ed. Timeless.] ... P.S.: Note also that by engaging Kerry  on defense and other issues, the Republicans are effectively shutting out Edwards and guaranteeing that they will face the candidate they are less scared of. ... Update: Here's what happened  when Kerry attempted to actually rebut the substance of the GOP weapons-system charges, according to WaPo:

 "I never voted for one of those, I don't think, so I very quickly came to that conclusion when I was in the United States Senate in 1985 and 1986."

Kerry immediately amended that statement, saying he had opposed former president Ronald Reagan's missile defense system, anti-satellite weaponry and the MX missile. "I think I've tried to do things that made sense for the long-term defense of our country," he said.

That touched off a flurry of documents from the Republican National Committee and the Bush campaign citing votes Kerry made against a number of those weapons systems, and a response from the Kerry campaign asserting that he had sought to cut fat from the Pentagon budget but had supported a strong defense throughout out his career.

Maybe Kerry should stick to "HowdareyouIwasinVietnam." 12:58 A.M.

The ground is shifting under fatally conflicted L.A-based NYT correspondent Bernard Weinraub (he's married to Amy Pascal, who runs Sony Pictures). Los Angeles Magazine's RJ Smith captures  his mealy-mouthed explanations of the situation:

"I haven't been covering the Industry since I got married," Weinraub told me. But that's not true. A Nexis search shows numerous Industry pieces in the years immediately following his marriage; he has written profiles of actors and directors, aggressively covered the talent agencies, and reported on the studios competing for Oscars. (In the last six months there have been pieces on the MPAA's new screener policy, a Jack Valenti feature, and a story on Wesley Clark's courtship of Hollywood.)

Weinraub's other, bigger problem is new NYT hire Sharon Waxman, who is showing what an energetic and unconflicted reporter can do on the Hollywood beat, and making Weinraub look very weak by comparison.  ... When Weinraub moves on that will leave Howie Kurtz--who works for and reports on CNN and its competitors--as probably the most conspicuous unaddressed walking conflict in Big Journalism. The Post makes  exception-riddled, Weinraub-like excuses for him too! ... [Link via Romenesko] 12:24 A.M. 

Monday, February 23, 2004 

How did the Bush campaign already spend $39 million? Part II: Prof. Hasen has some partial answers. Other plausible suggestions from kf readers: pre-bought media time, "infrastructure in 50 states," "the mother of all fundraising expenses.  These would include the fundraising consultants, travel, catering and most of all, direct mail prospecting that raised the $150 million." ... I'm still hoping for some washrooms with gold-leaf faucets. ... P.S.: The kf Mystery Pollster suggests that any reader or reporter with enough time and energy can get a rough answer by copying and pasting about 200 pages from opensecrets.org, starting here. ... Take it away, anybody. ... Update: Less than two hours later, Polipundit has already done the work, or his macro has.  ... 11:38 P.M.

Chatter in the network: Texas Gov. Rick Perry ... a man to watch! ... You could google and find out more. Or go ahead, be responsible! ... Update: But see this. ... 10:57 P.M.

Who is George Meagher? He's an independent! He's a Republican! He's the new Greg Packer  , the indispensable, universal New York Times man-on-the-street source for this political season. (Why is he so useful? He's newly anti- Bush!) ... If only Meagher had lost his job to outsourcing, Elisabeth Rosenthal would never have to do another interview again! ...  See Instapundit, though the 'wingers at Free Republic  started it. ... Update: A NYT correction treats the symptom, ignores the underlying disease. ... 8:32 P.M.

'We're geniuses to have gotten the turkey this far!' Adam Nagourney reports a view of Kerry's "electability" from some very well-informed sources:

This turn in the campaign has given some Kerry advisers pause, they said, both because they have long viewed Mr. Edwards as their strongest barrier to the nomination and because of what several described as Mr. Kerry's own limitations as a candidate, underlined by the memory of the near-collapse of his campaign last fall. [Emphasis added.]

Some evidence to back up John Ellis' claim that Kerry's own aides "think he's a stiff!" 2:54 A.M.

No Bias Left Behind! Compare the New York Times' account of a Utah meeting in which federal officials sought to calm fears about the No Child Left Behind Act ("Bush Education Officials Find New Law a Tough Sell") to the account in the local paper  ("No Child Left Behind Comes Into Focus"). Predictably, the Times missed this part of the story:

Afterwards, some parents and minority advocates said they didn't want things to change too much. The law forces schools to confront weaknesses, said Karen Duffy, a University of Utah researcher who studies education issues for American Indians.
    American Indians have long lagged behind their classmates, she said, and the school system has failed to solve the problem.
    "This law is about the only hope they have," she said.

12:42 A.M.

Sunday, February 22, 2004 

From the London  Sunday Times:

Kerry has not authorised the release of his war records - a strange omission, say his political foes, given the ferocity with which his supporters have demanded to see every last document of Bush's military service in the Texas Air National Guard.

I give Kerry points for his Vietnam service. But since it (along with some plug-n-play Shrum rhetoric) is almost the entirety of his campaign for president, can it really be true that he hasn't authorized release of his military records? Does he think this is a defensible position? ... Hello, Edwards! Get somebody to demand the release, like tomorrow, before Kerry wises up and realizes he can't say "no" (i.e. while there's still a chance he'll initially stonewall, thus dragging out the story in the days before the March 2 primaries.) ... Update: The full Sunday Times story, which costs money, contains the following paragraph that the Australian's free version, linked to above, does not:

Kerry declined a request from The Boston Globe to authorise the release of military records that could reveal more about his injuries and treatment. The Sunday Times submitted a similar request and was told the records might be released in future.

Still, worth a shot for Edwards. Kerry could hesitate. ... 9:43 P.M.

From the N.Y. Daily News:

President Bush's reelection campaign began February with $104 million in the bank after raising $12.9 million last month.

Including money already spent, Bush had reached his $150 million fund-raising goal.

Forget Howard Dean.Can the Bush campaign really have already spent $46 million? What on earth have they spent it on? ... And will potential futures donors be confident their money will be spent wisely? ... Update:kf reader M.W. argues that much of the $150 million probably reflects pledges that have yet to be fulfilled, rather then money already spent. He says, "Some accounting lessons are in order here." ... How dare he challenge me. I was in Vietnam! [No you weren't--ed.] We'll have to resort to the Web, then.  According to this useful and seemingly authoritative chart, the Bush campaign has already spent $39 million, not $46 million. Still. That seems like a lot to have already blown, given that it's February and Bush hasn't been fighting an active primary battle.  Are the Bushies running a gold-plated operation?...  9:27 P.M.

From Slate's "In Other Magazines":

Some stats from SI's 40th anniversary swimsuit issue: 36 shots of women in swimsuits; 15 of women wearing only part of their suits and positioned strategically next to inner tubes, barns, etc.; ... 11 interviews with members of the "swimsuit hall of fame" ... and one cover model, Veronica Varekova, who says the person she'd most like to meet is Charlie Rose.

That can be arranged! ... Update: They move fast. She was on Friday's show. ... 9:21 P.M.

'How dare you question me. I was in Vietnam!':

1) GOP Senator Saxby Chambliss criticizes  Sen. Kerry's "32-year history of voting to cut defense programs and cut defense systems."

2)  Kerry responds:``I don't know what it is about what these Republicans who didn't serve in any war have against those of us who are Democrats who did."

If Kerry's response to every substantive GOP charge about his record as a Senator is going to be 'I served in Vietnam,' it'll be a long campaign. [You mean "long"="tedious" or "long"="losing"?-ed Both! Expand pls--ed.a) It will get old very quickly; b) It's not a rational response to a question about his defense voting record. "I support a robust defense but not wasted spending that leads to crippling GOP budget deficits" would be a rational response.]... 9:13 A.M.



Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--Escapee from American Prospect. Salon--Better click fast! Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! David Corn--Trustworthy reporting from the left.  Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. Lucianne.com--Stirs the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. 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. Overlawyered.com--Daily horror stories. Eugene Volokh--Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna--A hybrid vehicle. TomPaine.com--Web-lib 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.]