Did Kerry urge 'means-testing' of Social Security?

Did Kerry urge 'means-testing' of Social Security?

Did Kerry urge 'means-testing' of Social Security?

A mostly political Weblog.
April 18 2004 10:31 PM

Did Kerry Endorse 'Means-Testing'?

Smells like neolib heresy!

"Brandini" is Back! After getting it right on Meet the Press, Kerry resumes misstating U.N. envoy Brahimi's s name. ...[Thanks to reader T.M.] ... P.S.: Make the same mistake three times and you open yourself up to cheap psychoanalyzing! Is Kerry's repeat Brandini-ing: 1) A reflection of his frustration that Bush's last-minute delegation of government-organizing power to the U.N. envoy steals one of his themes? 2) A reflection of his frustration that Bush's last minute delegation of government-organizing power to the U.N. envoy might actually work? 3) A ham handed attempt to express general contempt for Bush's actions; 4) A ham-handed attempt to dumb himself down for his audience, or at least not appear too sophisticated; 5) All of the above. ... You, the reader, make the call! ...10:26 A.M.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Did John Kerry endorse means-testing Social Security--shaving the benefits of the affluent elderly--on Meet the Press today? I think he did! Let's go to the transcript. Kerry's just been asked how he's going to make Social Security solvent. At first Kerry says he's "rejected" a 1995 statement of his that called for raising the retirement age and means-testing. But then he says:

SEN. KERRY:  Tim, we're going to have a bigger economy.  We have more Americans who are working.  We have the ability to grow out of it.  Now, if we don't do that--let me give you an idea.  You and I earn a lot of money.  We're very lucky.  If you live to be 85, Tim, do you think it's right that somebody who earns $30,000 a year after you've gotten all your money out of Social Security, after you've gotten everything and more than you paid is paying you money?  I think there are plenty of ways to look at things.  We don't have to tell Americans it won't be there, because it will be there.  And we certainly don't have to cut benefits to pay for George Bush's unaffordable tax cut. [Emph. added]


Sounds like a modified version of means-testing that would only kick in after rich retirees had gotten their contributions back in the form of benefits. Traditionally, any sort of means-testing has been anathema both to senior pressure groups and to Democrats, mainly because they fear affluent voters won't support the system if they don't get full benefits.** (It's also often said that means-testing will turn Social Security into "welfare"--a weak argument because you still have to work to qualify for Social Security, unlike for welfare.) ... Good for Kerry that he dares to take such an impolitic position in the middle of a campaign. Will he be forced to pathetically backtrack? My money says yes--if AARP doesn't slam him for it, the Bush campaign will. (There aren't many retirees in, say, Florida, are there?) ... But maybe Kerry's deliberately taking a controversial stand to show there's at least one issue on which he won't flip flop under fire. Let's hope. ..

[** Most famously, in 1985 Democratic party chairman Paul Kirk advocated means-testing at a breakfast meeting with reporters, and was forced within hours to issue a groveling press release saying, "I should not have mentioned the subject of a means test." The same year, Sen. Ted Kennedy said means testing would "repeal the New Deal and the New Frontier." ]

P.S.: In 1985, a proposal like Kerry's would have brought in big bucks, because retirees were then getting back much, much more in Social Security benefits than they'd put in. (They'd paid in during years when Social Security taxes were much lower than they are today). But it's not clear to me that the rich baby boomer retirees of the near future, like Tim Russert, will get back that much more than they've contributed--in which case Kerry's plan to deny them the excess won't recapture that much money. This is especially true if Kerry plans to give the Russerts their contributions plus interest (as will inevitably be demanded). ... It might be simpler and more effective--and more honest--to just pay the rich half their benefits and not pretend they're "getting everything" that they put in "and more." But I don't know the numbers. Somebody call Robert Ball!...

Update: According to this helpful online game from the American Academy of Actuaries, a straight-up means test--to "reduce benefits for those whose total retirement income exceeds $45,000 per year"--almost fixes the Social Security solvency problem by itself. (It's not clear from the Actuaries' site how severely the benefits are "reduced" in this option.) ... [Thanks to reader J.G.]7:22 P.M.


On the Chris Matthews Show this weekend, Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria noted that the timing of President Bush's package of concessions to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was bad for U.S. troops in a tense and dangerous situation in Iraq:

As a result of this you're going to have rising anti-Americanism in Iraq. And American troops are going to pay the price.

And that was before the Israeli government assassinated another Hamas leader, Abdel Aziz Rantisi. .... Israel's earlier assassination of Hamas' founder, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, apparently did play a role in sparking the current anti-American uprising by both Moqtada al-Sadr's armed Shiite faction in Southern Iraq and Sunnis in Fallujah.  Rantisi's death will boil the Iraq pot some more. Whatever you think of Israel's policy of assassination (and the assassination of Rantisi  came after a Hamas co-sponsored suicide-bomb attack that killed an Israeli border policeman) the timing of this particular Israeli strike is especially bad for American soldiers in Iraq. If they were going to pay a price for the Sharon visit, they will pay a higher price now. ... In particular, it may now be easier for renegade cleric Sadr to drum up some popular support, which could be a very bad development. Is there a mechanism that forces the Israeli prime minister to take such factors into account before he acts?... 2:43 A.M.

Friday, April 16, 2004


Uh-oh, We've Nominated a Turkey, Part XXVII--Special Re-Brandini-ing Edition: The cosmopolitan, multilateralist Democratic nominee-elect calls U.N. representative Lakhdar Brahimi "Brandini." Here's Kerry, as quoted in WaPo:

"What you're seeing already is the administration is essentially trying to implement my strategy without admitting they're implementing my strategy," he said. "They've got Brandini over there, and he's negotiating. They've basically turned over the decision of what they're going to turn over the government to, to Brandini -- whatever he creates. . . . And they're desperately trying to avoid a visible public transfer of authority to the U.N., because that would be an admission of failure in the way they've approached it."

WaPo's Balz reports this is the "second day in a row" Kerry has gotten Brahimi's name wrong. ... P.S.: If the administration is implementing Kerry's strategy and it's working, isn't that a point in Bush's favor? "It was my idea first" is rarely a productive line of attack. ... [Link via RealClearPolitics2:01 P.M. 

Is Kerry "operative" Michael Whouley's reputation more like that of Boba Fett or Keyser Soze? Discuss. [What's this,The Note?-ed. Trust me. You won't believe the hits that will get.] 1:59 A.M.


Peggy Noonan notes that "Bush has turned garrulous."  It wasn't just his press conference, apparently--he's been giving mini-Castro speeches to busy GOP fundraisers! Noonan suspects he's been ill-advised. My guess is it's symptomatic of something deeper, though I don't know exactly what. Not ego. Bush doesn't seem like a guy who loves his own voice and thinks audience are eating up every word (e.g., Bill Clinton). Bush seems like a guy who thinks, "If I just keep saying this over and over maybe the 20th time I'll get it magically right and it will break through." ... 1:06 A.M.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

"Too Heroic:" Kerry's right, of course, when he says we would settle for a " stable Iraq ... whether or not that's a full democracy."  But it does seem dangerously early to be saying it out loud, given that we are in the middle of a process designed to lead to democracy unless it's somehow destabilized. And Kerry's declaration is practically an invitation to a coup, or some other power grab, in the coming months and years should he become president. Who's Kerry's foreign policy adviser--Henry Kissinger? Brent Scowcroft? James Baker? I knew the slow-seething Bush I advisers would crop up somewhere! ... [Isn't this a classic 'Kinsley gaffe'--a politician accidentally telling the truth?-ed Yes, but sometimes that's not a smart thing to do. So let me get this straight. Kerry finally came out with a clear, truthful position that had some real bite to it. And you think he should have muddied it up more?-ed. Yes! You don't throw away the idealism card--calling attempts at democracy "too heroic," as Kerry aide Rand Beers put it--while our troops in the field still have a decent shot at achieving a rough approximation of that ideal. Implanting democracy is also our only shot at salvaging a positive long-term anti-terrorist dynamic from an invasion that otherwise will have nasty blowback effects. ... P.S.: Matea Gold and Peter Wallsten's piece on Kerry's stability-over-democracy stand, where the above quotes were reported, was one of the most important stories in the L.A. Times in a while. Where'd the Times editors play it? Front page? Above the fold? No. Page 25.  That may be why it hasn't provoked a bigger reaction.* I predict a slow-building, blog-driven controversy! At some point, the Bush camp might be unable to resist jumping in and trying to use Kerry's "gaffe" against him. ... P.P.S.: I'm not saying Kerry's remarks will cost him votes. They certainly demonstrate a realism that contrasts with Bush's troubling idealistic certitude. That might play to Kerry's advantage, at least right now. I'm just saying Kerry shouldn't have said it. ...  [*It also may help explain why there is a large stack of L.A. Times', still in their plastic wrappers, outside my front door.] 11:47 P.M.

Scott Rasmussen has


 yesterday's daily robo-tracking poll numbers (Bush 46, Kerry 43)--which should allow irresponsible political junkie

 to deduce with more precision the volatile daily numbers from the more accurate, published three-day averages. ... [Won't the accuracy of those deductions deteriorate over time due to rounding errors?--ed You've been reading the

again, haven't you?] ... P.S.: I'm not saying Rasmussen's automated survey should be relied on to accurately predict the results of the election (were it held today). But his poll does seem useful for spotting trends and trendlets. He takes the same poll every day, after all. If a candidate goes steadily up (or down) over the course of a few days, that candidate is probably going up (or down), no? ... 1:22 P.M.

If this-- from Drudge--is one of Woodward's big scoops I may go back to reading that Hadassah Lieberman biography:

WOODWARD: Foreign dignitary was told of the plans to attack Iraq days before key Bush cabinet members were briefed...

12:51 P.M

Ann Louise Bardach makes a fool of Oliver Stone  on Cuba. ... 5:05 A.M.

The Democrats' Big Problem--Hint: It's not the Globe! Chatterbox's Tim Noah sure took a while--until the last paragraph of his Tuesday piece--to acknowledge that maybe the reason the Boston Globe doesn't like John Kerry is that he's ...well, not likable! I refer readers to the more robust and prominent to-be-sure paragraph in Chatterbox's earlier effort, published before Kerry became the sole, shaky vessel of Democrats' hopes and dreams:

By Chatterbox's rough estimate, at least three-quarters of Kerry's Globe problem is attributable to his own behavior. "He's a stiff and a phony," Globe columnist Alex Beam told Chatterbox. "Stuff sticks to him because it's true." Beam isn't wrong. The rap against Kerry—that he's a snob, that he's an opportunist, that he approaches facts with a Clintonesque slipperiness—is grounded in persuasive evidence.

Suggestion for Democrats: A long, slow, fact-finding trip around the world. Their nominee could be photographed smiling in a statesmanlike manner with various world leaders (who would not endorse him!) while his cause at home was taken up by more effective surrogates. ... 

This Just In: Kerry Still Unlikable! ... 12:54 A.M.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

David's Anger: I agree with the CW that Bush didn't do very well last night--what we (the public) needed wasn't a sense of his strong conviction and clear vision, which we already knew about, but a sense that he's aware of and on top of the recent troubling developments in Iraq that might disrupt that vision.  "No more administration pieties about democracy and terrorism, please,"  wrote WaPo's David Ignatius, who has been sympathetic to the Iraq war, in Tuesday morning's paper. No such luck. ....  It's bizarre that Bush has gotten worse at conveying a sense of mastery as his presidency has progressed. It's now pretty clear that he wasn't just having a bad day when he bombed on Meet the Press a few weeks ago. ...

That said, isn't the NYT's David Sanger getting a bit overexcited in his role as Bush-bashing rapid response analyst. Take his second paragraph:

"We're changing the world," Mr. Bush said halfway through a speech and news conference that was largely an hourlong justification for holding fast in Iraq, no matter how the casualties mount, no matter how chaotic the process of forming a new government. [Emph. added]

That's an extreme, Air-Americaish way of putting it, isn't it? Presumably, there is some level of casualties that would cause Bush to reconsider--it's just not anything like the current level of casualties. Or at least that's on open question. Sanger is extrapolating and mocking Bush's position here under the guise of describing it. ... Sanger also says of Bush

[C]haracteristically, he acknowledged no error, no change of course, and he gave no ground to critics who said he had more passion than plans. Chief among them is his Democratic opponent for the presidency, Senator John Kerry, who argues that Mr. Bush's strategy has been flawed since the day he decided to invade Iraq without the blessing of the United Nations. [Emph. added.]

Wait, that's a clear position! Could Kerry really have been that clear? Has he said we shouldn't have invaded "without the blessing of the United Nations"?  Hmmmm. Wouldn't Bush have blasted him if he had? Let's go to NEXIS. .... Kerry's said Bush should make the U.N. a "full partner"  in the post-war rebuilding of Iraq. He's complained that before the invasion  Bush reneged on a promise that he would "build a coalition, that he would respect the U.N. and go through the international inspection process ..." But "respect" is different from "blessing," just as "a coalition" is different from "a U.N. coalition." I don't think John Kerry's position is what Sanger says Kerry's position is (unless Kerry advisers have told Sanger something the rest of us haven't heard). It might be what David Sanger's position is, though. ... P.S.: That's the thing about news analysis from mainstream print journalists. They have to rush to publish in time to meet their deadline. All that emphasis on speed! Unlike the leisurely world of blogging, where we have time to rethink, revise, and savor the nuances. ...4:59 P.M.

Don't Editorialize. Clymerize! I sniped at the NYT's Adam Nagourney last night, but this very day he achieves a significant breakthrough, pioneering a solution to a problem that has plagued American journalism for decades. The dilemma is this: What do you do when you have a strong opinion about your subject? You can't just say what you think--not within the strictures of "objective" reporting, anyway.

The traditional response to find someone--an "expert"--to spout what you think back to you. Then you can quote this expert, citing their expert credentials (while ignoring other experts you disagree with). But this approach--call it the Norm Ornstein Solution--comes with its own set of problems. The necessary expert might not be available for spouting at a moment's notice. Worse, experts like Ornstein soon become public figures, featured on talk shows, subject to the pundit's distressing imperative to be entertainingly contrarian. If you only have time on deadline to make one phone call, do you want to call someone who might have something interesting to say? The question answers itself!

Nagourney's alternative solution debuts quietly in the 14th paragraph of his ' comes-at-a-time-when' stage-setter on Bush's press conference. Nagourney wants to debunk the (admittedly silly) GOP spin that says Bush benefits even from bad Iraq and 9/11 news because it keeps voters' attenion on national security. But Nagourney can't just come out and write "What crap!" (Even if that were "objective," it might offend his source, Rep. Roy Blunt.) At this point, an ordinary reporter would call pollster Geoff Garin. But Nagourney makes a more ingenious move--he gets a quote from Adam Clymer. Why is Clymer an expert? Because until nine months ago, he was a veteran ... reporter for the New York Times.  A reporter who had to find outside experts because he couldn't quote himself! (Clymer now works for something called the National Annenberg Election Survey.)

Think of the advantages of this approach--Clymerizing, let's call it. For one, the unpredictability problem is solved. Clymer's views are well-known to Nagourney--they were colleagues for years. And if Clymer wasn't reliably anti-Bush before the current president called him a "major league assh-le" over an open mike in 2000, he should be now! Another advantage: Clymer obviously knows with some precision exactly the sentence a Timesman like Nagourney needs on deadline.

This was a phone call with a roughly 100% chance of success. Clymer delivers:

"I would be surprised if television coverage of American servicemen getting shot or killed in Iraq, or of people questioning what the Bush campaign did in response to 9/11, is good for the president's re-election," said Adam Clymer, a former political reporter for The New York Times ..

Clymerizing has a bright potential future, as reporters learn that it's more cost-efficient to simply cite each others views rather than venture into the uncharted waters of expertise beyond the Times bubble. It's not as if Clymer and other ex-reporters aren't real experts--Times readers have been accepting their opinions (laundered through the mouths of others) for years. With all the buyouts in journalism, there should be plenty of recent retirees available to quote. Johnny Apple might soon become available! If not, a few strategic out-placements could put the necessary experts in place to meet any impending requirements.

Between ex-Times reporters, and wives of current Times reporters (like Hollywood's Amy Pascal, quoted by her husband's L.A. bureau co-worker last week), and ex-Times reporters who are also buddies of publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. (i.e., Democratic investment banker Steve Rattner) the Times could rapidly develop a veritable orchestra of in-house "trained seals" ready to supply congenial opinions on every subject. And they said the paper's drive for efficiency ended with the departure of Howell Raines ...

The only thing more efficient, you'd think, would be for the reporters to completely eliminate the middleman and actually state their opinions themselves. But you'd be wrong. If reporters stated their own opinions they'd have to back them up. That could get messy. ...

Update: Alert reader H.H. sees additional Clymer applications--

The Times might also use former colleagues (or current ones, what the heck) for "man in the street" reaction pieces, too.  No more having to take notes while conversing with a cab driver.  Eventually Times reporters can avoid all contact with anyone outside of the family. 

Bad news for Greg Packer! ... 12:11 A.M.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Ron Brownstein confirms that the voters have more sense than the press and the Bushophobes--and than  Ron Brownstein, for that matter. According to Brownstein, voters care about the soundness of Bush's reaction to 9/11, not the current festival of hindsight that would blame him for failing to anticipate 9/11. ABC's Note  rightly highlights the following Brownstein grafs:

One leading Democratic interest group recently asked a focus group in Florida to respond to a potential television ad accusing Bush of negligence in failing to stop the attacks. The result was volcanic — against the ad.

"They were so angry I thought they were going to turn the tables over," said a Democratic operative who watched the session.

P.S.: Does NYT editor Bill Keller realize that Brownstein is cleaning his man Adam Nagourney's clock in this campaign? ... Don't believe me? Think of it this way: If they switched employers, and Brownstein wrote for the New YorkTimes while Nagourney wrote for the Los Angeles Times, would anybody have paid attention to anything Nagourney's written this year? Nagourney's important because of his position. Brownstein's important because he's good. [Sources also leak to Nagourney precisely because he's at the #1 paper. So a pithier version would be: "Nagourney's good because he's important, Brownstein's important because he's good."--ed. Parallelism! That's why they pay you the big bucks.]... Update: Noam Scheiber  snipes responsibly  at Brownstein's 9/11 argument. ... 11:24 P.M.

We have the mightiest military machine in the world. Our opponents have the mightiest self-deceptive propaganda machine  in the world. We'll be lucky if it's a close contest. ... P.S.: But note WaPo's photo of a Baghdad food-for-Fallujah collection point--presumably the most alarming shot the paper's photographer could find. That's not an impressive collection of flour, is it? ...11:00 P.M.

As Bill Clinton seeks to finish his memoirs, leading Democrats are voicing concern that the book could overshadow Senator John Kerry's presidential campaign ... .

Hello? John Kerry does best when he's exposed to the voters least! His optimal approach is to let Bush stew in the Iraq mess while he remains offstage, an attractive unknown.  Any other strategy is a triumph of vanity over recent experience.  If I were a Democrat--oh wait, I am a Democrat--if I could keep Kerry in a sealed steel shipping container until November 1, I would. ... 10:55 P.M.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

I'd been meaning to do an item on Sistani.org, but fellow Kerryphobe Marc Cooper got to it first, and does a fine, preemptive job. (Where was Wonkette? Asleep at the wheel?) ...  I contend, though, that Cooper gravely overstates the severity of the Grand Ayatollah's prominently-discussed rule against masturbation. Remember, a law is only as strong as the penalties for violating it! ...  ....  Cooper also has more serious things to say about Iraq, including a link to this useful Micah Sifry post that places him in the mini-tsunami of pundits floating the idea of quick elections. ... Backfill: Hesiod blogged some of the other 'Ask-Sistani' entriesweeks ago. ... 11:36 P.M.

Too fast ... or too slow? The press is acting as if the key question in Iraq is "why turn over sovereignty so soon?" But isn't the question that begs to be answered "Why hold elections so late?" Why does it take sixlongmonths after June 30 to have a vote? Why not, like, two months? ... We're now desperately looking for a "legitimate interim government" to hand over power to. But Americans should know that the only legitimate government is going to be an elected government.So why not get on with it? Hand over power to some (U.N.-led?) caretaker group that doesn't have to be perfect because its only goal will be to hold elections in a matter of weeks. Or delay the American handover until August 15, at which point sovereignty will be transferred to the winner of elections held the week before. ...

Morton Abramowitz raises this possibility in the most provocative of today's "What To Do?" pieces, though even he seems to feel it would entail huge risks. But if elections were held quickly, wouldn't the Sistani faction win? Isn't that the best we can hope for? (Fareed Zakaria, in his what-is-to-be-doner, advocates doing virtually anything to win Sistani's blessing for the unelected interim government. If we're sucking up to him, why not just have an election to produce a government he controls?) ...

An early election would make it clear to all Iraqis that any disruptive violence was not designed to drive out the occupying infidels but rather to disrupt the election campaign and prevent Iraqis from determining their own fate. An early election would give voice and power to the so-called "silent majority" of pro-moderation Iraqis that polls show exists, before continued occupation erodes more of their moderation. ...

I'm not an Iraq expert (though I have played one on TV!), but I don't completely understand the U.S. reluctance to hold quick elections, unless the Bush administration still entertains the fantasy of turning over power to Ahmad Chalabi. (Was the purpose of Bremer's June 30 transition to an unelected government designed precisely to avoid elections for another half year and give people we picked--i.e. non-legitimated people--a leg up?) And the "delay the transition/stick it out" position of Hillary and Gen. McCaffrey seems completely ill-conceived. Delay until what? Until we turn the whole population against us? ...

Obvious objections: 1) It takes time to negotiate a constitution. More time than it takes to negotiate the alchemical "legitimate" unelected interim government and a constitution? Anyway, a process could be established that would allow the constitution to be changed later. 2) A civil war might break out: True. But our troops are still in the vicinity. We could always go back in if the situation degenerates. A civil war might break out under the slow-election" scenario too. Indeed, it woould have more time to break out before the formation of a legitimate (elected) government. ....

Unthinkable thought: Keep this between us, but would a violent-but-short Shiite vs. Sunni civil war (in which the U.S. was not involved) be the worst thing that could happen? Just askin'! It might be the essential predicate to a rough ethnic and religious balance of power. Or it might produce a stable, de facto partition. ... 10:32 P.M.

The grimmest lesson of Fallujah? Will any democratic government we could conceivably leave behind in Iraq be strong enough to stop Sunni towns like Fallujah--filled with well-armed, well-trained America-hating young men--from becoming ongoing hotbeds of terrorist plotting? The lesson of recent events in Iraq would seem to be a pessimistic one in this regard.  (You'd need a strong, non-American military force able to thoroughly police Fallujah and Tikrit. But the Iraqi national forces haven't exactly proven to be a mighty hammer. And the Sunnis, in a loose federal system, seem unlikely to want to crack down on their own.) ... That's true even if the Marines are able to completely clean out the current Fallujah "vipers' nest"--something that also looks increasingly unlikely, given the political pressure for a cease-fire. ... It means that the Iraq War--even if we basically succeed in nation-building--could result in the creation of a new series of towns that --like the towns on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border--are a terrorist Petri dish.  If that's the outcome, then in one respect at least we will have succeeded in replacing one terror threat (Saddam) with another, no? .... 12:42 P.M.

The scariest thing in the just-released Aug. 6 presidential briefing isn't the too-vague-to-freak-Bush-out warning of suspicious activities ("consistent with" hijackings "or other types of attacks"). It's the suggestion that Ahmed Ressam, convicted of plotting to blow up LAX, may have been only loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda:

Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself, but that Bin Ladin lieutenant Abu Zubaydah encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation.

This reinforces the theory that mass-destructive terrorism in the near future won't even come from Al Qaeda, much less from nation states--but rather from small groups of highly motivated causists or even from loners. The latter threat, of course, is much harder to stamp out (even if individual unaffiliated terrorists are less well-trained and hence sometimes--like Ressam--get caught). ... P.S.: Alert reader E.H. notes that the first paragraph suggests that Al Qaeda wasn't behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing either. .. P.P.S.: Note that the memo raises the possibilities of hijackings, and of "explosions," but it doesn't explicitly connect the two. If you were President Bush reading it on August 6, 2001 you'd think, well,  they a) might hijack a plane and hold it hostage, or b) they might blow up a building. You wouldn't connect the two threats. In the grim calculus we all go through, youd think that at worst, it would be an Oklahoma City-scale disaster. That would reflect a failure of imagination, and of intelligence-gathering--but this failure (to connect the threats) is more the memo's than it is Bush's. .....3:01 A.M.

It's just the Web! The editors (or edit-bots) at the NYT Web site appear to have cut something from Bob Kerrey's Sunday op-ed. Like his main point! Let's go to the text:

My second conclusion about the president's terrorism strategy has three parts. First, I believe President Bush's overall vision for the war on terrorism is wrong. — military and civilian alike.

Second, the importance of this distinction is that it forces us to face the Muslim world squarely and to make an effort to understand it.

Er, what distinction? How is President Bush's overall vision for the war on terrorism wrong? Kerrey's core claim is hiding somewhere in the space between the two paragraphs. ... P.S.: The screwed-up punctuation after the word "wrong" suggests there was some sort of keystroke glitch. Maybe it's in the print edition. .... P.P.S.: I suspect the missing point is a Bob Wrightish argument--terrorists don't need states because "in the modern world, intense hatred is self-organizing and self-empowering."... Update: I was close! Kerrey's point, which is in the print edition, is that terrorism is just a "tactic" chosen by a specific group of people, radical Islamists. But if it's a tactic available to that group, operating outside of the structure of nation-states, it's available to other groups as well. ...  P.P.P.S.: Kerrey's defensive opening sentences suggest he knows he made a bad impression in his televised Rice grilling. ... 1:43 A.M.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

More kf-approved, sensible-but-pointed takes on Clarke and the 9/11 hearings from National Journal's Stuart Taylor--

Mr. Clarke credits the Clinton administration with worrying more about Al Qaeda than we did. But worrying is not a policy.

and Robert Wright  --

[A]ttention has centered on a pseudo-scandal: could 9/11 have been prevented? Probably not. Even a quite vigilant administration would have needed some luck to catch wind of Al Qaeda's plans. Moreover, President Bush was hardly alone in the central confusion that kept him from being quite vigilant: the idea that "rogue states" are a bigger threat than terrorism per se, and indeed that terrorists can't do much damage without a state's help.

More scandalous, as some have noted, is that the administration didn't change this view after 9/11 ...

And the last two paragraphs of this six-month old Zakaria column (linked by Josh Marshall) are looking extremely prescient at the moment. ... 12:22 A.M.

Friday, April 9, 2004

Bad Timing? How did we end up fighting both Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites at the same time--if, as David Ignatius claims, the decision to "break [radical Shiite cleric] Sadr's power" was essentially our choice? The simultaneous two-front battles surely maximize the chance that the two major Islamic groupings in the country will begin to join together to throw us out. ... Could the answer be that the Sunni insurgents in Fallujah intentionally produced the two-front battleground by killing four American contractors three days after the U.S. had set the anti-Sadr campaign in motion by shuttering Sadr's newspaper (on 3/28)?  The timing wasn't necessarily in our hands--though it does seem particularly foolish to have started the Sadr fight by suppressing a paper and ceding Sadr a large chunk of moral high ground. ... P.S.: On the whole, Ignatius' column is a valuable, calmly panicked what-to-do-now piece. Note that he does not advocate abandoning what Bush's opponents, in what has become almost an article of faith, condemn as the "arbitrary" "artificial" June 30 deadline set for American political reasonsHe thinks the arbitrariness (like that of most deadlines) serves a purpose:

At this point the handover is largely a fiction: Iraq doesn't yet have clear plans for a transitional authority, let alone maintaining security. But it's a useful fiction. The deadline will force Iraqis to make decisions and compromises -- even as they depend on U.S. troops to keep order. [Emph. added.]

4:39 P.M.

Not even the WSJ editorial page  points out how loose-cannonish Sen. Bob Kerrey's rantlet about "swatting flies" during Rice's testimony was. Here's what he said:

KERREY: You've used the phrase a number of times, and I'm hoping with my question to disabuse you of using it in the future. You said the president was tired of swatting flies. Can you tell me one example where the president swatted a fly when it came to al Qaeda prior to 9/11?

RICE: I think what the president was speaking to was...

KERREY: No, no. What fly had he swatted?

RICE: Well, the disruptions abroad was what he was really focusing on...

KERREY: No, no...

RICE: ... when the CIA would go after Abu Zubaydah...

KERREY: He hadn't swatted...

RICE: ... or go after this guy...

KERREY: Dr. Rice, we didn't...

RICE: That was what was meant.

KERREY: We only swatted a fly once on the 20th of August 1998. We didn't swat any flies afterwards. How the hell could he be tired?

Why couldn't Bush have rationally concluded that non-fatal retaliatory strikes, such as those undertaken by Clinton in 1998, only had the effect of making bin Laden a bigger, more powerful figure?  Can't Bush identify with, and be "tired" of, American actions taken under previous administrations? Even Democratic ones. It's the same country! ... P.S.: Why Bush didn't respond forcefully, in a non-flyswatting way, to the Cole attack in the 8 months before 9/11 is a different, more legitimate (if answerable) question, and what Kerrey was ultimately driving at. His inability to frame his question clearly--the erratic emotionalism that led him to instead latch onto on a side non-issue--is one reason we should be grateful when John Kerry fails to take Al Hunt's hack advice  to put Kerrey on the ticket. ... 1:48 P.M.

The kausfiles "Compassion" Challenge: A common complaint among Democrats is that Bush hasn't governed in the bipartisan fashion they expected. Often this is phrased as, "Whatever happened to compassionate conservatism." The latter formulation, at least, seems misleading. You disagree? Then name one significant new "compassionate conservative" policy initiative you expected Bush to launch that he didn't. Don't say faith-based social services--that one was trivial to begin with. Social Security? Bush has advocated exactly what he said he was going to advocate (e.g., substituting individual accounts for some fixed benefits). It's not his fault that the idea isn't very appealing. ... I can think of only two examples that fit the bill: 1) Educational vouchers for poor children who are trapped in bad urban schools--an idea that was largely preempted by Bush's push for No-Child-Left-Behind testing and accountability for those schools; and 2) Job training, which Bush has in fact  belatedly started to emphasize. ...

P.S.: True, there are laudable unexplored bipartisan initiatives (tougher environmental regulations and corporate accounting rules) that aren't really "compassionate." There are dramatic new "compassionate" initiatives Bush did push forward (immigration "reform").  And I can think of areas where Democrats maybe thought Bush would just cave in to old-style compassionate non-conservatism (Medicare's drug benefit; the shape and size of the tax cuts, watering down welfare work requirements). But those things don't meet the relevant challenge--"compassionate conservatism" wasn't supposed to be a general promise to act more like a Democrat. ...

Maybe my Democratic friends can help me out....

P.P.S.: I guess I also expected more symbolic actions that fit in with the social egalitarian underpinnings of Bush's moving 2000 convention speech. He hasn't done a whole lot, even at the photo-op level, to emphasize to those struggling to escape the underclass that "We are their country, too." The obvious exceptions are his visits with soldiers. ...

P.P.P.S.: I'm not saying that the unreasonableness of expecting any more significant "compassionate conservative" initiatives from Bush is a reason to support him. Quite the opposite. But we should be accurate: It's not that didn't follow through and give us all the C.C. goodies he could have--thus governing in a different way than we'd been led to expect. It's that his "compassion" closet was always mainly--visibly--empty. The few initiatives that were arguably part of the "compassionate conservative" agenda, he's pushed. ... 3:24 A.M.

Thursday, April 8, 2004

That's no fun: Mark Salter, A.A. to Sen. McCain, emails to clarify the Senator's recent remarks, as quoted in the Boston Herald and highlighted below:

the senator's reference to democrats was made in a discussion about intensified partisanship in washington.  his full answer was something like "i have differences with democrats, but i don't think they're evil . . . i think the Democratic Party is a fine party . . . we need a strong two party system," etc.

the herald story made it seem that the senator's comments about the democrats and his criticism of his own party were part of the same answer.  they were not.  later in the meeting with constituents of Rep. Meehan, he was asked why he wouldn't become a democrat and run with john kerry.  he reaffirmed his indentification with the republican party, and said that he was obviously more in agreement with republicans than democrats, but that he worried republicans had lost their way on spending, environment and other issues.  he went on to state that he would never leave the party, and that he would work to help the party return to its principles. 

Regarding the possibility McCain might nevertheless campaign for Kerry, Salter notes that his boss

has, indeed, endorsed bush.  he is co-chair of the bush-cheney relect in arizona, and campaigned for the president in new hampshire shortly before the primary.

Does this rule out any McCain-Kerry shenanigans? I say no (New Hampshire was a long time ago). ... But it would be a flip-flop!

P.S.: McCain was impressively emphatic ("I will not, under any circumstances" ..."I want President Bush re-elected") in his near-Shermanizing  on Hardball Monday. But McCain's earlier, flirtatious non-foreclosing of the possibility of being Kerry's running mate may--as alert reader S.K. notes--wind up hurting Kerry if McCain isn't on the ticket."Now, whoever Kerry does pick as VP will seem sort of disappointing." 11:12 A.M.

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Hardcore Chris is at it again, attempting to distill Rasmussen's 3-day tracking crack into dangerous daily super-crack. ... 1:20 P.M.

I guess the people at ABC's The Note were really put out about missing that Friday Kerry  shakeup. They've gone and started a 24/7 news page. Viable market niche! ( Drudge, its main competition, graciously links to it) ... But ABC already missed Kerry's controversial al-Sadr comments. The impolitic Kerry language trumpeted by right-wing NewsMax doesn't bother me that much--I want a president who recognizes the peril of getting sucked into an Aideed-like manhunt for a bad guy who nevertheless represents tens of thousands of Iraqis. What bothers me more is Kerry's easy use of left-agitprop phrases like "If all we do is make war against the Iraqi people ... ." Is that really a good description of what we are doing in Iraq? ... P.S.: Is any part of Kerry's recent rise in the polls the result of something he's been doing, as opposed to Bush's troubles in Iraq? (Suggested answer: No.) ... Hostage to Fortune (if not Business Week): The Note itself--the normal, regular one--still seems partial to its dubious "inertia" theory, writing:

This is a really close race and in part because so few voters are paying attention, nothing is likely to drive the polls in any significant direction until after the conventions.

As Bill Clinton would say, they could be right! ... 1:05 P.M.

A Democrat Who Can Win! Did John McCain really say this:

``I think the Democratic Party is a fine party, and I have no problems with it, in their views and their philosophy ..."

The dateline is 4/2, not 4/1. ... Of course, McCain ruled out running on Kerry's ticket. But he didn't rule out campaigning for him, did he? ... [Link buried deep within The Note3:29 A.M.

Tuesday, April 6, 2004

If Dick Morris is going to write columns based on the Rasmussen daily tracking poll--and who am I to say he can't!--he really needs a shorter lead time. In Tuesday New York Post Morris explained why "Kerry's Crash Continues," noting that

The latest daily tracking polls by Scott Rasmussen show that President Bush has moved up six points in the past week to take a three-point lead over Sen. John Kerry.

The only problem is that by the time Morris' column ran, Rasmussen had Kerry back up by three. The numbers Morris cited were four days old--an eternity in Rasmussen time! ... P.S.: Note Morris' deeply cynical consultant's advice to Bush on Iraq:

American voters care vastly more about the safety of our own troops than the restoration of peace and order in Iraq. Bush needs to get over his nation-building fixation and cut our losses after the transfer of sovereignty.

He should keep our troops on bases and end the patrols into the towns and villages. ... Even if Iraq remains a powder keg with constant bombings and attacks, they will make no political difference in our election unless Americans are killed.  [Emph. added]

2:39 A.M.

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

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

Except, as Brownstein shows, Kerry does more than call for putting more money behind the new law. He has switched positions on the core of the bill he voted for, buying into the teachers' unions' self-serving desire to water down the law's standards by taking into account 'inputs' as well as results:

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

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

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

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

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

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



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. 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