Reagan's Transit of Meanness!

Reagan's Transit of Meanness!

Reagan's Transit of Meanness!

A mostly political Weblog.
June 8 2004 2:15 AM

Transit of Meanness!

Was Reagan always so darn genial?

"And Now I Will Project a Cheery Optimism:" LAT's Gold and La Ganga outline Kerry's somewhat formulaic efforts to "cast his candidacy in sunny sheen." Here, for example, is what they call the "upbeat" ending to his recent speech on bioterrorism:

"But leadership is about telling the truth, and it is about talking about the real choices we face as Americans in order to be stronger. I know we can be stronger here at home."

Whoa there! Don't use up all the soaring rhetoric at once! ... How silly is the Kerry camp's attempt to fake it for 6 months by pretending that Kerry's an upbeat figure? Kerry's not even convincingly sunny for 10 seconds in his new "positive" 30 second spot, "Optimists."  Any warm, upbeat human incidents Kerry aide Tad Devine can gather will be overwhelmed in a war with the daily drone of Kerry's pompous default speaking voice. Face it--he's The Man from Mope! Isn't it better to lower expectations in the Cheering Optimism department and focus on a nuts-and-bolts, no-BS jockish competence? ... P.S. "Anybody who knows him says he can be very comfortable, charming, nice to be with," Devine tells the Times. "And if anyone questions his charm and niceness, then everything is on the table. Everything!" ... OK, maybe he didn't say that last bit. ...  P.P.S.: So far, Kerry's best "charm" witness is ... intern  Alexandra Polier! She says Kerry was "flirtatious and funny"! ...  3:41 A.M.


Monday, June 7, 2004

Transit of Meanness: Various valued kf readers agree that Ronald Reagan was a lot more genial in the 80s than the '60s, though there is some debate about the timing and a lot of debate about the causes. Some possible explanations: 1) The Sixties--you'd be feisty and defensive too if you were a conservative running in the Summer of Love, with the left visibly ascendant and hippies running amok, etc. 2) You almost have to maximize your likability* if you are running a national political campaign, as Reagan was from the mid-1970s on; 3)Everybody seems nastier and more Jack Webb-like in old TV and radio clips, including the reporters. Edward R. Murrow, what an a-----e! And that grumpy old Mr. Cronkite. People just presented themselves differently in public then. More Humphrey Bogartish and Gary Cooperesque. Today everyone you see on TV is coached to be "happy to be here" and nobody laughs at Washington Week'sJeff Birnbaum forcing himself to grin like a raver on Ecstasy. The median has shifted dramatically niceward--but Reagan was genial back then, by the standards of the day. ... P.S.: The one theory I don't think will fly is the liberals' favorite, that Reagan got nicer after he was shot. (Why is it the liberals' favorite? Because it can be implicitly spun as "he finally suffered and learned compassion.") The problem is that Reagan was plenty genial in the 1980 campaign, months before the assassination attempt.  ...

*--What about Kerry? The scary possibility is he may already be doing this!. ... 10:59 P.M. 

Kerry Suspends Campaigning: Shrewd move. Alert kf reader A.L. emails that Kerry'd be doing better in the polls if he'd also taken a week off when Tony Randall died. ... 3:02 P.M.


Bill Clinton Could Too Be Kerry's Running Mate: A few days ago, the Drudge Report highlighted a CNN Web page listing Bill Clinton as a possible vice-presidential candidate. CNN argued that

While federal law prohibits a person from seeking a third presidential term, the Constitution does not specify whether or not a former commander in chief can become vice president.

Drudge then effectively took it back by citing citing the text of the Twelfth Amendment, which says, in part, that "no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States."

Am I crazy, or did Drudge give up too soon? The text of the Constitution's two-term limit, the  22d Amendment, only says that

No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice ... [Emph. added]


But if Clinton were Kerry's running mate, and the Dem ticket won, Clinton wouldn't be elected to the office of the President for the third time. He'd be elected to the office of the Vice-President for the first time! Nothing in the 22d Amendment says he'd be ineligible to serve as President should Kerry be unable to fill the office--in other words, Clinton wouldn't be "constitutionally ineligible" to be President. Hence the Twelfth Amendment wouldn't knock him out either.

Constitutional experts, tell me where I'm wrong on this! (I remember that last time I looked at the 22d Amendment, I reached the opposite conclusion, but now I can't for the life of me see why.) ... If the drafters of the 22d amendment had wanted to prevent someone from serving more than two terms, after all--in effect banning them from the presidency for life--they could easily have said so. They knew the English language. And they said "elected." ... P.S.: I doubt very much that this issue has ever been adjudicated--no former ex-president has been nominated for vice-president since the 22d Amendment passed. .... P.P.S.: Not that Kerry would ever actually pick Clinton. ...P.P.P.S.: But just speculating about the possibility could drive Hillary bats! ...

Update and Backfill: NYU law prof Stephen Gillers argued Clinton could run in a March NYT op-ed, but didn't address the alleged 12th Amendment bar. He effectively swats it away in a colloquy with UCLA's Eugene Volokh--who thinks Clinton is barred because "eligible" in the 12th Amendment means "electable" as defined in the later 22d Amendment. I'm with Gillers. ... A 2000 Slate "Explainer"  by David Newman reached the same conclusion as Gillers, as did Jack Shafer  after consulting with a few profs. ...   David Tenner reports that the issue cropped up in 1964 with talk of a Goldwater/Eisenhower ticket. Apparently the Congress considered language for the 22d Amendment that would have clearly banned VP candidates like Clinton, but rejected it. ... Extra Credit: Volokh's entry also cites a 1999 Minnesota Law Review article that backs the Clinton-can-run thesis. ... Note: I apologize if the Volokh link takes you to the bottom of his page. If that happens, search upwards for "Clinton." 1:45 A.M.

NYT to Kerry Camp: Spin Us! We're Dumb for You! If Kerry's wise, all-powerful inner circle was dead set against his delayed nomination idea, then why (as is widely believed) was he actually planning to do it, until it leaked? Or is the New York Times once again playing the gullible spinnee, suspending normal journalistic skepticism to retell a story in a way highly convenient to the Kerry campaign? Last week it was prestigious National Spinnee Adam Nagourney swallowing the line that the Kerryites didn't really want John McCain as VP candidate. This week, it's David Halbfinger spreading the notion that the unpopular delayed nomination idea really wasn't the idea of anybody in Kerry's circle after all. ... 1:03 A.M.


Reagan Catch-up: Some scattered points about Ronald Reagan that maybe haven't been made yet (though that's hard to believe):

1. Were you as startled as I was by the old Meet the Press clip of Reagan they played Sunday? He was much tougher and less genial in the mid-1960s. It wasn't just that the perception of him (by chastened Democrats, especially) changed. He changed. Even his smile was harder back then.

2. In the late 1970s-early1980s, when the liberal enterprise had become a comic-book version of interest-group politics, I went back and read for the first time Reagan's famous speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater in 1964--the speech that put Reagan on the map. I was more of a loyal Democrat then than I am now, but I remember that there wasn't a single sentence of Reagan's rabble-rousing right-wing address that I really disagreed with. In part that's because Reagan was right about the liberalism of the '70s. In part it's because he had an FDR-like way of avoiding words or examples that would trigger a gag-reflex in his opponents.

3. Reagan tends to get too little credit for welfare reform. a) In California his "workfare" program, while not as extensive as it was cracked up to be, embodied a clear attempt to substitute work (in the public sector if necessary) for no-strings cash assistance. Reagan brought to Washington a group of well-informed aides determined to extend that idea; b) In his first term, he insisted on allowing the state experiments that started the reform ball rolling; c) Even before he took office, Reagan had already laid much of the modern rhetorical basis for later changes in the system. When Richard Nixon proposed a guaranteed income--in effect extending the idea of welfare-without-work to everyone, not just single parents--Reagan opposed it as a "super-dole." Reagan's anti-welfare speeches didn't just rail against welfare mothers who drove Cadillacs. (That's the liberal version of Reagan's anti-welfare speeches). He also attacked more concrete welfare state reductio-ad-absurdums like Taino Towers--a housing project that attempted, on the island of Manhattan, to enable able-bodied people who didn't work to live as well as the rich (in high-ceiling luxury buildings complete with "an indoor swimming pool, a theatre, a greenhouse, rooftop play areas and an underground garage with 24-hour parking attendants," according to contemporary Economist account). The welfare Cadillac business may have been a myth, but Taino Towers was something you could see every day from the Triboro Bridge. If you were a low-wage, taxpaying breadwinner heading to your job from a cramped, unsubsidized flat in Queens, it might understandably tick you off.

4. At the much-maligned 1992 Republican convention, Reagan also uttered what to my knowledge is the clearest presidential expression of the American form of equality--not the "equality of opportunity" championed (in America) by conservatives and in England by Labor Party leader Tony Blair, but something more substantial:

Whether we come from poverty or wealth; whether we are Afro-American or Irish-American; Christian or Jewish, from big cities or small towns, we are all equal in the eyes of God. But as Americans that is not enough - we must be equal in the eyes of each other.

5. I don't defend Reagan's tax cuts, but his 1986 tax reform--cutting rates while closing loopholes--probably played an underestimated role in enabling the prosperity of the '90s by ending the waste of talent and money in unproductive tax shelters that was common in the '70s and early '80s. Too bad Bill Clinton had no feel for the virtues of loophole-closing, preferring to create loopholes (by calling them "targeted" tax cuts).

6. Reagan's 1981 breaking of the air traffic controllers' strike also seems a crucial part of the late-twentieth century boom. Union power was the mainspring of the 1970s wage-price spiral, as unions leapfrogged each other trying to stay a step ahead of the rising prices their hefty wage hikes then helped ensure. The air controllers provided the cautionary example of a labor organization that went on an ill-advised strike, was defeated, and ceased to exist. With the public's support! Big Labor hasn't been the same since--and, not coincidentally, neither has inflation.

12:22 A.M.

Friday, June 4, 2004


When it comes to understanding why CIA director George Tenet resigned, both the NYT and WaPo might have saved their readers some time by just writing "We don't know!" instead of duelling, in-the-dark news "analyses." ... P.S.: If the big dailies don't know the real story, they could at least engage in irresponsible speculation. The choreography of the Tenet business was odd and abrupt-seeming. My own completely uninformed hunch is that if there's a hidden backstory it has more to do with the Plame investigation (where the CIA and the White House could well be at odds over enforcing the law against disclosure of agents' identities) than the Chalabi business. (Update: Fred Kaplan seems to agree, and raises the other interesting possibility that Tenet was somehow caught playing footsie with Kerry. ButHillary Clinton is promoting the Chalabi's Revenge explanation.) ... Of course, Bush could also see a benefit in placating Chalabi's neocon backers by giving them the satisfaction of seeing Chalabi's in-house enemy gone.. ...Update: Isikoff and Hosenball don't know the real story either, but add useful details (e.g., on the abruptness of the departure) and the thought that, with the ascension of CIA favorite Ayad Alawi in Iraq, Tenet might tell himself his work was done. ... Assignment: Someone call Bobby Inman. ...  1:51 A.M.

Thursday, June 3, 2004

I hope blog-entrepreneur Nick "Hey, I have no malice so I'm safe" Denton saw this story. ... 2:11 P.M.

If state law doesn't let President Bush on the ballot in Illinois, isn't it Bush's fault for scheduling the GOP convention too late in the year (just as it was the Democrats' fault that they put themselves at a financial disadvantage by scheduling their convention so early in the year)? The Illinois law was clear. It's not unreasonable. I don't quite see why the federal courts should step in and save Bush from the GOP's own mistake. ... P.S.: Maybe Bush could try to pull a reverse-Kerry and officially arrange to accept the nomination before the convention. After the fuss over Kerry's now-abandoned delayed-nomination plan, though, that solution almost certainly won't fly. ... 1:18 P.M.


"Kaus disappears entirely": The question isn't why kf does so badly among women. It's why kf does so well among men![Yes, why is that?--ed. Subtle earth tones!] 3:36 A.M.

Cannes Job: Am I the only one who was amazed that the NBC Nightly News ran what seemed like a minute of what was in effect a trailer for Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11, now to be distributed by the Weinstein brothers of Miramax? There was no identifying line on the screen--if you tuned in you'd think you were watching an NBC report. ... Q.: What was the news peg that justified the exteneded showing of footage from the Weinsteins' film? A.: The peg was that the Weinsteins had released footage from their film! .. Either they have the best PR person in the world or there is a backstory here, waiting to be told. ... 12:22 A.M.

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Balance of Anger: A year ago Rich Lowry of National Review wrote that Bush-hating on the left was roughly as vehement as Clinton-hating on the right. At the time, ABC News' estimable Mark Halperin called Lowry's claim "insane" and "uncalibrated." But yesterday, Halperin's The Note threw in the towel, conceding that Kerry enjoys an

energized base which (we are now ready to say) viscerally dislikes President Bush as much as the right disliked Clinton.

So it's official! ... What's changed in the past year to change Halperin's mind? Nothing, I'd argue. If anything, it seems to me that Bush hatred on the left has become somewhat less intense as the prospect of actually replacing Bush has become more plausible. ... Of course, there are still things like this. ... Update: Defenders of the ad I just linked to argue that it's a "parody" of MoveOn's ads. But it's clearly a parody designed to have it both ways, tapping into anti-Bush sentiments much more than it mocks those sentiments. The creator of the ad says "everything in it is absolutely, irrefutably true" and ends his extremely self-satisfied Salon defense by saying "I hereby promise to be more thoughtful and considerate when I next call the president a d---head." A wit! ... P.S.: Andrew Sullivan, as so often happens, got over-excited about the ad and then  went all wobbly too soon!. ...  6:14 P.M.

Zinni Fever Spreads! The prospect of Zinni on the Democratic ticket  drives them wild at the Council on Foreign Relations. ... If only he would stop saying he's going to vote for Bush. ... Update:Kf hears this is Neil Kinnock's big week on Kerry's VP charts. Note to Kerry: I like Biden too. He'd be a better candidate than, say, you. And he has that moving story about his coal mining ancestors! But he's still a loose cannon, no? ... And I suspect that to this day he still doesn't know how much of his 1988 stump speech was lifted from Bobby Kennedy. ... 11:42 A.M.

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Who's Kissinger Now? Human rights organizations and the foreign press have been paying close attention to Kerry's WaPo interview downplaying the pursuit of democracy abroad in favor of other strategic interests, according to the N.Y. Sun'sJosh Gerstein. ... 4:49 A.M.

The Cadge Report: The New Republic's Noam Scheiber thinks Alex Polier's no-kiss-and-teller raises as many questions as it answers!  He seems to be arguing that Polier unintentionally portrays Kerry as a lech, even if Kerry only flirts and has a few too many coffees with her to discuss her career. As male behavior goes, though, this seems pretty mild. I know plenty of New Republic editors who've done worse (present company included). And I assure Scheiber that people who are running for president normally try to recruit anyone, man or woman, attractive or un-, to work in their campaigns. (Kerry doesn't ask Polier for her number, instead saying she should call his campaign. I suspect he was inhibited by fear of seeming lecherous. If Polier had been a man he'd have gotten the number.)

Still, as long as Polier's bringing it up, there are some questions:

1. Just how had she "cadged a ticket to the World Economic Forum in Davos" in 2001, where she forumed with Vicente Fox, Thabo Mbeki and Naomi Campbell? My impression is that Davos tickets are not that easy to cadge.

2. Why didn't she just deny immediately that she'd had an affair with Kerry? Isn't that what most people would do? She says she "should have asked more clearly for advice" from Kerry aide Stephanie Cutter. But wasn't this a no-brainer? Why didn't Cutter ask her to issue an immediate denial?

3. "We shook the tree," a reporter for The Hill tells Polier. "A bunch of names fell out, and yours had the most flesh to it."  A bunch of names? Hmmm. Had Polier heard such names? Doe she think the hopes for a good Kerry sex scandal are completely unfounded? She's remarkably reticent about Kerry's behavior with others. ...

4. How clueless is Polier to have--until the end of March-- "assumed that the story was part of a Republican dirty-tricks campaign to break Kerry's momentum" when there were plenty of Democrats who wanted to do Kerry in, and Drudge himself had cited General Clark? ("As I continued to dig, it occured to me that Bush wasn't the only one with a motive." Duh!) And is Polier credulous or cynical when she says that Kerry "seemed to be under the impression that he was a victim of the right," as opposed to seeming to want to give the impression that he was a victim of the right.

5. And, OK, why did Senator Kerry call her right back when she called his office?

That said, Polier embarrasses humiliated-but-still-hated Democratic overspinner Chris Lehane, something that can't be done enough. .... She also refers to "sites like Wonkette, which no political reporter can ignore," demonstrating she knows how to suck up to people who could do her damage. ... I prefer to think of Wonkette as "The inflight blog of Air Force One." ... [It's not sucking up if you don't link!--ed Right.] 4:18 A.M.

The Antidatabasificationist Menace: In the amazing June issue of Reason--the one with the cover showing an aerial photo of the individual subscriber's house-- Declan McCullagh puncturesoverblown, panicky privacy concerns about database-mining by private companies. But when it comes to government data mining, he gets a bit panicky and overblown himself, conjuring up fears of a "police state" and engaging in some scare-mongering about the "massive Total Information Awareness project that John Poindexter tried to put together" as well as a Justice department plan to obtain a database of "Americans' names, addresses, previous addreses, places of employment, spouses' names, and Social Security numbers." I don't understand why I should be so complacent about having Microsoft connect my name, address, etc. with other available private data but so terrified of the Homeland Security Agency doing the same thing.  With all due respect, what the Homeland Security Agency is trying to stop (Al Qaeda) is rather more threatening than what Microsoft is trying to stop (Linux).

Heather Mac Donald's Monday WaPo op-ed begins to inject some sanity into the government side of the data-privacy issue. She lambastes as "nonsensical" the conclusion of a usual-suspectish blue-ribbon advisory panel, which recently called for the Defense department to get court permission before searching databases for "personally identifiable information concerning U.S. persons"--the process known to 9/11 second-guessers as "connecting the dots." Mac Donald:

It would be acceptable, according to the panel, for a human agent to pore over millions of intelligence records looking for al Qaeda suspects who share phone numbers, say, and have traveled to terror haunts in South America. But program a computer to make that same search, declares the advisory committee, and judicial approval is needed, because computer analysis of intelligence databanks allegedly violates "privacy."

Persuasive!  Quibbles:

a) Sure computers just do more quickly what ordinary people could do slowly. But sometimes this seemingly irrelevant technical speeding up does justify changing the rules. The Web, for example, doesn't do what a human being couldn't do--if he had enough time to deliver his writing in every mailbox on the planet (which is, after all, a finite amount of time). But I still think the advent of  the Web requires changing the laws of libel.  Similarly, really fast data mining by computers may raise fears that inherently limited human dot-connecting doesn't.

b) There's also something to McCullagh's point that information obtained by the state through its coercive powers should be specially regulated. ...

Still ...  if the government's terror-hunters can't efficiently use that information, it's hard to see why it's even collected. I'm prepared to cede quite a bit of my (usually overvalued) privacy in the fight against terror. This may one day call for difficult tradeoffs--letting the government know in real time my location would be a difficult concession to make, for example. But letting U.S. terror-hunters mine my data when my bank already does much the same thing doesn't seem like a close call (even if Lloyd Cutler, Floyd Abrams, Zoe Baird and other blue-ribbon advisory panelers can agonize about it).

Update:Reason editor Nick Gillespie responds, and manages to work in a reference to Arthur Lee. ...1:52 A.M.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Today's Buried Lede: Deep within a refreshingly bitchy LAT piece  about the possible departure of the "Queen of E!," Mindy Herman, is this paragraph about on-air entertainment reporter Steve Kmetko, who was fired by E!:

Kmetko later filed a discrimination complaint with the California Office of Fair Employment, according to his lawyer, Martin Singer. In the complaint Kmetko, who sources said was having difficulty collecting from E! for the time remaining on his contract, accused the channel of giving preferential treatment to friends of top management who worked at the channel.

Wait a minute! It's illegal in California to give "preferential treatment to friends of top management"? ... Obvious points:a) It's rational for efficient managers to promote their friends, whom they probably trust more (and who may owe them a greater loyalty) than other employees; b) Business--indeed, virtually all organized human activity--might not grind to a halt if this rule were imposed, but it would grind to a half-halt. ... Less obvious point: So the idea is that all treatment is to be meted out according to what? Merit? Isn't that the argument made by the anti-affirmative-action Bakke crowd--that college admissions should be done strictly by grades and test scores, etc? Isn't the smart, liberal pro-preference position that you can't really rank everyone by an objective "merit" scale--that all sorts of arbitrary factors are at play so race might as well be another one? ... Two prongs of legal liberalism would seem to be at war here: a) the anti "wrongful termination" prong, which tends toward saying all employments decisions must be exquisitely rule-bound and defensible in court on neutral grounds of inherent individual merit; and b) the "race preference" prong, which sees the obsession (among, say, people like the late Richard Hernnstein) with neutral measures of "merit" as an inegalitarian smokescreen designed to perpetuate a reified class structure!  Is the liberal position really that you can't refuse to promote a white employee because you don't know and trust him, but you can refuse to promote him because he's white? ... I suppose others have already made these points.

P.S: Speaking of race prefences and liberals twisting themselve into knots, here's a piece from the UCLA paper  on the latest attempt to get around Prop. 209, California's anti-preference constitutional amendment.  It's a bill that:

would allow the University of California and California State University to consider factors such as race and gender in undergraduate and graduate admissions as long as no preference is given based on those factors. [Emphasis added.]

If "no preference is given," what would the bill accomplish (other than to encourage a general atmosphere of race-consciousness in higher education)? The official "bill analysis"  is not helpful on this score, suggesting that the U.S. Supreme Court's recent interpretation of the U.S. Constitution in the University of Michigan case somehow changed the meaning of California's stricterconstitution. ... Or is the new bill--which passed the state Assembly--really a smokescreen designed to perpetuate a reified ideology! ...Or to set up a lawsuit challenging Prop. 209 that might embarrass Gov. Schwarzenegger? ...  10:05 P.M.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Back in the Straddle: A response to Matthew Yglesias  on the issue of Kerry's "amazing consistency" has been added below. 3:34 P.M.

kausfiles Gets Results, Unexpectedly! ABC News appears to have actually taken kf's advice and rejiggered its valuable "Evening News Wrap" feature to provide a complete story-by-story rundown. I like the change, of course. It reads quickly and you feel like you've covered all three broadcasts. ... A little heavier on the knowing Note-style characterizations at the beginning (i.e. whether a story twists knife against Bush, or Kerry, with quotes as proof) and they'll be there, I think. ['there' is...?-ed Where they should be!]... 1:50 A.M.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Juan Cole has an explanation for why the U.S. and U.N. might have picked an ex-exile without much domestic support to be the caretaker Iraqi P.M.:

[U.N. special envoy Lakhdar] Brahimi does not want the PM to come from a party with grass roots, lest he use the advantages of incumbency to stay in power.

His unpopularity's not a bug, it's a feature! ... P.S.: Aside from that, I know I'm not alone in failing to completely understand the  odd, decidedly un-transparent procedure by which Dr. Allawi was named. Wasn't the idea to ditch the unpopular U.S. appointed Governing Council and have the non-American U.N. choose the caretaker government? Instead, it at least looks as if the Governing Council has forced the U.N. to perpetuate its influence. (But if Sistani's happy, I guess we should be happy. ... Update: The BBC describes the selection as a revolt against Brahimi by the Governing Council. The NYT agrees. This is not necessarily incompatible with Cole's perverse logic, since a) Allawi was apparently on Brahimi's short list and b) Allawi seems to have been a compromise acceptable (i.e. unthreatening) to two Shiite parties that actually have grassroots support. ....  5:27 P.M.

Today's Papers for the Tube: According to ABC's The Note

Despite sweeping changes in the political media landscape over the last several decades, some rules have remained the same since time began. ...[snip]

TV news coverage drives the rhythms and outcomes of elections, and TV news decision makers (executives, executive producers, anchors, reporters, producers, and, now, Googling monkeys) have their days shaped by reading the morning papers and listening to the radio (which also keys off of the morning papers).

I have some doubts whether this Standard Model of the News Cycle still holds--how many of your friends still get their main political info from the evening news? (That means you in the Heartland too!) ... But even if the mass of the citizenry doesn't get its info from the evening news, the evening news is still important if the commentariat thinks it's important (and gears its commentary to what the evening news shows show). ... In other words, if people that matter still think people that matter watch it, I better try to watch it too. But often I miss it--and I've always thought that one valuable, easy-to-produce Web resource would be a page that simply told you, every day, what stories Brokaw, Jennings, and Rather did. .... It turns out such a page exists. It's produced by ABC, it's called "Evening News Wrap," and though they don't do a very good job of advertising it, you can find it here. ... ABC's page would be better, I think, if its opinionated "Today's Papers"-like summary were supplemented by a rudimentary shorthand list of every story run by the nets and the order in which they ran. (There can't be more than 15 stories on every newscast.) .... Sample: "NBC: 1. Iraq (Najaf); 2. Iraq (Ambush--Mitchell); 3. Kerry (Patriot Act--O'Donnell) ....  CBS: 1. U.S. Terror Threat (Orr); 2. Iraq (Najaf)... etc. ... If the ABC people ever perfect "Evening Newscast Wrap," there'll be no more need for anyone to actually watch the evening news shows at all. Of course, that won't make them any less important. ... 2:13 A.M.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Another Kerry Surrogate Embarrassed: Clinton National Security Advisor Sandy Berger says, "John Kerry has been amazingly consistent from the beginning on Iraq and he has been consistently right on the need for troops ..."  MSNBC's Tom Curryimmediately busts Berger:

In an April 30 Fulton, Mo., speech Kerry said that if U.S. commanders in Iraq need more troops then "they should get them."

Yet last September in a debate with other Democratic contenders in Albuquerque, N.M, Kerry emphatically opposed sending more American troops to Iraq. "We should not send more American troops," he said on Sept 4. "That would be the worst thing. We do not want to have more Americanization, we do not want a greater sense of American occupation." [Emphasis added]

Maybe Berger meant "amazingly consistent for John Kerry." ...Note to pro-withdrawal left: You'll always have Albuquerque! ...

Update: Matthew Yglesias attempts to make sense of Kerry's statements, arguing that Kerry's position last September was that we needed more foreign troops, not American troops. "Back then, [it] looked like it would be possible to secure significant contributions of foreign troops to the operation if the United States was willing to cede control of the political process to the United Nations," Yglesias says. " Kerry's full Albquerque statement suggests Yglesias is right about Kerry's desire for foreign troops. After the bit quoted above about halting "Americanization," Kerry went on:

And the way to do that is do everything possible, including sharing the power, to bring other countries in to take the burden.

A couple of points, however:

1) Like many alleged Kerry flip-flops, this one appears to really be a straddle presented in a dissembling fashion. Kerry may have had a consistent underlying position--'I'll go for foreign troops first, and if that fails I guess I may have to send more U.S. troops'--somewhere between the competing camps. The problem is that he shows each camp the half of his position that he wants it to see, keeping the other half hidden. So he tells Democratic primary voters "we should not send more American troops" without telling them that he in fact would send more American troops if no foreign troops are forthcoming. Then when the second, hidden half of the policy comes out, it looks like Kerry's flip-flopping, when in fact he's just been hiding the ball. I don't know if that's better or worse than flip-flopping. Flip-flopping reflects indecision. Dissembling and straddling reflects a calculated , dishonest opportunism that isn't even smart in the long run (when both halves of the position are bound to come out--as they did in Florida when Kerry boasted of his support for the anti-Castro Helms-Burton bill while absurdly hiding the fact that he ultimately voted against it).

2) It's not clear to me that getting more foreign troops for Iraq (in exchange for power-sharing) really was a lively possibility last September. Keep in mind that the U.N. had just fled the country after its headquarters had been blown up. Were the U.N. and NATO (and France) really going to rush back in to take responsibility for cleaning up Bush's mess? In retrospect, Kerry's "foreign troops" position may have been a convenient mirage--it gave him something to say that wouldn't annoy the anti-escalation left, but it wasn't a realistic possibility. Backfill:NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof was skeptical of the "foreign troops" solution at the time. ("I've asked two Democratic presidential candidates, Richard Gephardt and another who spoke off the record, if it's really credible to offer the U.N. and NATO as a solution to Iraq. They harrumph a bit in a way that I interpret to mean: 'Maybe not, but it works in front of television cameras.'")

3) Of course the situation on the ground was different back in September--there was a battle going on! Specifically, Kerry was in a primary battle against Howard Dean. If Kerry'd been honest--saying "We need more troops. If I can't get foreign troops I'll have to send more American troops as my buddy John McCain wants to do"--he might have lost some votes! So he pandered and said that sending American troops was "the worst thing"--logically implying it was a step he'd never take. Today, what he said was the "worst thing" is the thing he wants to do. I suggest that this is not being "amazingly consistent from the beginning on Iraq." 

4) Berger's "amazingly consistent" quote reflects the natural tension that always exists with campaign surrogates who want to simultaneously a) sell the candidate to voters and b) suck up to the candidate so they'll get jobs in his administration. Imperative (b) often leads surrogates to gild the lily and exaggerate. But the perils of surrogate suckupmanship are particularly acute when the candidate is basically guilty of the charges (i.e. public inconsistency) you are defending him against--and when reporters like Tom Curry are ready to pounce on any evidence of this. .... Hey, at least Berger doesn't have to worry that Kerry's the sort to blame staffers and surrogates for his own mistakes! ...

Update Update: Clinton gave you the Whole Stradde! It turns out Weisberg and Saletan have addressed the flip-flop vs. straddle issue in the context of the Patriot Act and No Child Left Behind Act. They, too, decide that the correct answer is "straddle." Saletan:

Kerry isn't a flipper; he's a leaner. He's got a "yes" foot and a "but" foot. He leans on one foot, then the other, depending on which way the wind blows. But he keeps both feet on the ground.

Saletan says "I don't think it's dishonest." I do. Kerry's not just adjusting his policy to fit changing circumstances. He's adjusting how much of his policy he reveals to fit changing audiences. (P.S.: It's also condescending--as if Kerry's audiences aren't smart enough to find out the rest. Bill Clinton respected his audiences enough to let them in on both sides of his straddles--e.g. abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare.") ...

More:Sandwichboard has actually looked up the definition of "straddle," which hardly seems fair. ... 1:32 P.M.



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