B-minus OBL Analysis PDQ!

B-minus OBL Analysis PDQ!

B-minus OBL Analysis PDQ!

A mostly political Weblog.
Oct. 31 2004 2:51 PM

Bin There, Done That

B-minus OBL-Analysis PDQ!

Neutral Story Line Fizzles: Walter Shapiro's right--this ain't such a dirty campaign. ... New NSL: It's been a  clean, meaningful  campaign! ... Meanwhile, the hunt for Christopher Hitchens' real opinion goes into its final days! CIA experts are trying to verify the authenticity of the latest report from the field , which seems to show a slight but significant pro-Bush tilt. ... But it's still too close to call. ... Rumors persist that a videotape may soon surface in which the reclusive British commentator issues a coded message to his followers. ... 11:46 A.M.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Howard Fineman's problem as a Newsweek writer has been that he knows too much--he finds out inside angles that grow stale by the time the weekly's Saturday print deadline rolls around. The Web is his best friend. Fineman's excellent Web-only framework piece on the campaigns' competing gambles--Bush's semi-desperate Ohio workaround and Kerry's Al QaQaa plunge--is an example. 5:55 P.M.


Mystery Pollster defends the much-maligned Incumbent Rule and actually incorporates the previously unscientific Embarrassment Factor  into the theory. ... P.S.: Plus he maybe spots a little tiny bit of Kerry slo-mo-momentum in his preturnaturally placid poll of polls. .. Plus he has a son! ... 3:12 A.M.

Bin There, Done That: Alert reader S.S. asks

What does the "Feiler Faster Principle" say about the electoral impact of [OBL's] reemergence?

Answer: It says it will all blow over by Sunday evening! Bin Laden made his move too soon. (Similarly, the NYT moved too soon on Al Qaqaa if it really wanted to affect the election.) ... I mean, do you remember Teresa's "real job" gaffe? Wasn't that in the 2000 campaign? ... P.S.: Plus, if bin Laden really wanted to help Bush, do you think he'd threaten mass murder and destruction on a Friday? That's what you do when you want to bury a story! Everybody knows that! You don't think he knows that? [Of course he knows about the Feiler Faster Principle too--ed. Hey, that was a parody point, not a real point. The point about Friday, that is. The point about it blowing over is a real point! But maybe bin Laden's relying too much on the Zogby poll?-ed. You're mocking me. Don't think I can't tell.] ... 1:21 A.M.


Friday, October 29, 2004

Man Without Qualities flagsWaPo's insight into Zogby's polling "method" in South Dakota-- which seems to be what those of us who followed his numbers during the N.H. primary suspected all along. Apparently the Zogby poll shows

Republican Thune leading Daschle, 48.5 percent to 45.5 percent, just within the margin of error. At first, however, the poll had shown an even larger Thune lead, which seemed so improbable that the pollsters adjusted their voter turnout estimates and arrived at the narrower gap. [Emphasis added]


P.S.: This is one reason why the word "Zogby" is intrinsically funny! But mainly it's the "Z." ... P.P.S.: Doesn't Slate's Electoral Scorecard rely heavily on Zogby in awarding Wisconsin to Kerry? I think it does.  Will! Don't eat Zogby's toast! ... Update: The Rapid City Journal has Zogby's less-than-confidence-inspiring explanation. (Zogby calls the redo "one I could easily defend.")
11:42 P.M.

Insta-OBL: 1) At least judging from the Drudge transcript, it doesn't read like a pro-Kerry pitch. It's a straddle! 2) If it was a pro-Kerry pitch, OBL would of course know that would help Bush, so what would that say about which candidate he really wants to win? 3) Why should this have such a big effect on anything (unless Bush overreacts opportunistically by trying to play it as pro-Kerry, or Kerry overreacts opportunistically as he's done to virtually every big news story for the past two weeks)? 4) It mainly shows bin Laden is alive, which hurts Bush (OBL's still out there!) and helps Bush (OBL's still out there!). [Update: On the latter, see N.Z. Bear's brilliant Batman Effect.] 5) You might think it also shows Al Qaeda weakness--e.g. 'You said the streets would run red with blood, and all we got was this lousy video!' But, even assuming the video isn't itself the trigger for an attack, bin Laden might simply not want to attack because he thinks an attack would help Bush and he doesn't want to help Bush (or because he thinks it would help Kerry and he doesn't want to help Kerry); 6) Does he not want to help Bush because he just struck a deal with Zarqawi, or other Iraqi insurgents, who might prefer Kerry? Or did he strike a deal with Zarqawi and other pro-Kerry insurgents because he was unable to mount an attack anyway, which removed a sticking point? In any case, I still suspect the Zarqawi deal is a part of this somehow; 7) Josh Marshall writes:

Clearly, Kerry has to hit the ground with a tough and emphatic statement in response to this and gear up his team's operation to go head-to-head with what will no doubt be a desperate Bush campaign's effort to use this to connect Kerry and bin Laden to shift the pro-Kerry momentum of the race in the final days of the campaign. [Emphasis added]

I'm for gearing up and hitting the ground with tough and emphatic statements at all times! But is it so clear that's the recent direction of the momentum has been pro-Kerry? Not here. (But, yes, here.) ...


Major caveat: As Andrea Mitchell just pointed out on MSNBC, we are not seeing the entire tape. Some important parts may have been edited out in Qatar. ... 3:43 P.M.

Still looks like the seams on a bulletproof  vest to me. ... 2:59 P.M.

Is Kerry more pro-life than he seems? Beliefnet's Steven Waldman reports  the Kerry "stands by" his support of legislation that might stop "more than 10,000" late-term abortions each year. Waldman's high-quality analysis shows how a sensible centrist position (there's no evidence of flip-flopping) a) is also the opportunistic position (because most voters are sensible centrists) and b) lends itself to a typical Kerry straddle, in which he reveals only the half of his position the intended audience wants to hear. Kerry's nuanced view will certainly be news to millions of supporters who have heard his stentorian defense of the "right to choose." But this would be the vote-maximizing moment for Kerry to show his pro-life side:

Sean Casey, a professor at Wesley Theological Seminary, speculated that early in the campaign season, Democratic candidates highlight only their most-pro-choice positions because "there's so much early pro-choice money in the Democratic Party."

Now that the campaigns have progressed past the fundraising period and into the vote-gathering period, the calculus may have shifted for the Kerry campaign.


A centrist, non-opportunist approach--the approach, I'd argue, that Bill Clinton took--would have been to be open about both aspects for the whole campaign. But Kerry is not good enough at explaining and selling his positions to get away with that. ... Update: Could Kerry's confirmation of his anti-choice stand be related to this Deborah Orin report:

Sources claimed Bush's private polls show him 1 point behind in Pennsylvania, where the outcome could hinge on the ethnic Catholics once known as Reagan Democrats.

1:02 P.M.

A kf colleague who spends a lot of time in Miami worries about those lost-and-remailed Broward County absentee ballots:

Broward is Florida's #1 stronghold of elderly, Democratic mostly Jews who are used to having a month to send in their absentee ballots...  I ordered two of those ballots for my mother-in-law  and aunt - both too disabled to make it to the polls. So even if they find them, most of these folks will not be able to vote before Tuesday. And sending them out today  really doesn't work for most of the old folks that live in Broward- as half of them need help in filling out a ballot - because of infirmities etc. I think this is a huge deal - and could cost Kerry the state.

12:34 P.M.

Good Tora Bora second guess from last week's WaPo. ... The mistake (in hindsight) was allowing Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters to escape to Tora Bora as well as from Tora Bora. ...  What's lacking, again, is persuasive evidence Kerry wouldn't have made this (or some other) mistake. ... [Thanks to  T.M. ] 1:24 A.M.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

He Can Report to White House Chief of Staff John Sasso! You have to love the cruelty of the  headline on this Biden-to-State story. ... 9:35 P.M.

Columnist Jim DeFede sees trouble for Bush's Florida effort in the latest Miami Herald poll. Why? Non-Cuban Hispanics. He's got numbers. [But he requires registration] ....8:06 P.M.

Bush cousin John Ellis says the "President Bush I read about in the papers and the newsweeklies and the blogs bears almost no resemblance to the President Bush I know and visit with from time to time." Worth reading as a credible counterpoint to the slippery Suskind. ... 7:13 P.M.

The size and significance of the explosive loss at Al QaQaa may have been overplayed. But whether or they were removed before or after U.S. troops arrived, they are still Bush's responsibility, no? One of the obvious risks of the Iraq war--and one of the arguments against the war that was made at the time--was that, if we invaded, Saddam's weapons might be transferred to untrackable terrorist groups or other hostile powers before we could get to them. Even if it was Saddam who had them removed  in the weeks before the war, that's still one of the war's  costs. If we hadn't invaded, don't we think the explosives would still be at Al QaQaa and not in, say, Fallujah? ...7:02 P.M.

Will the Rehnquist illness really help Kerry by focusing attention on potential Supreme Court vacancies? Not according to this WaPo poll. ... 6:12 P.M.

How confident is the L.A. Times in their strangely divergent polling results (Bush way up in Fla., way down in Ohio, and tied in Penn.)? About as confident as they are in their circulation! The first quote in the Times' own press release is from the paper's write-up by star reporter Ron Brownstein:

Some experts said they would be surprised if the leads for Bush in Florida and Kerry in Ohio were as large as in The Times polls. "It is possible, but I don't think it's likely," said Jim Kane, executive director of the nonpartisan Florida Poll.

One of kf's emailin' pollsters--I forget if he's Mr. Y or Mr. Z, but he's not MP--sends a paragraph that demands posting:

It must be confusing to be a poll consumer these days.  The Washington Post can't agree with its partner, ABC News, about how to weight the sample.  The NYTimes can't agree with its partner, CBS News, about what should go in the lede.  And when it comes to identifying LV's, Harris can't agree with.....Harris.  Now the LA Times Poll is sending out a poll with a prominent disclaimer from the paper's premier elections expert:  Warning, our poll might be way wrong.

You could ask Gray Davis about that! ... P.S.: At least the LAT finally had the balls to endorse a presidential candidate. ... Oh, wait. ... 5:23 P.M.

Return to Noonancy: The pro-war Economist has picked up on the "return to normalcy" theme launched, against her own interest, by Bush supporter Peggy Noonan. From the magazine's Kerry profile/salvage job:

It is not, in some ways, a compelling vision, just as Mr Kerry himself is not a compelling candidate. But this year he offers a respite, a pause for reappraisal of what America stands for, after four years of heroic and sometimes hectic history-making.

And from the Economist Kerry endorsement:

 He has been forthright about the need to win in Iraq, rather than simply to get out, and will stand a chance of making a fresh start in the Israel-Palestine conflict and (though with even greater difficulty) with Iran. After three necessarily tumultuous and transformative years, this is a time for consolidation, for discipline and for repairing America's moral and practical authority. [Emphases added]

I approve of that message--though it's always a shaky moment in these non-peacenik endorsements when the writer tries to convince himself or herself that Kerry won't bail out on Iraq prematurely, isn't it? (Kerry has been "forthright about the need to win in Iraq," but do you trust him and if so why? Because Andrew Sullivan's blogging will keep him honest?) ... 2:09 P.M.

More on the I.R.: The Incumbent Rule, as Mystery Pollster notes, does not hold that undecided voters never gravitate toward an incumbent in the final month or final week of an election campaign. Sorry, Mr. Rasmussen  and Mr. Caddell.

The "incumbent rule" is about the "break" toward the challenger between the last poll and Election Day.

The rule holds that the incumbent will probably not get much more support than he or she got in that last poll. ... P.S.: Musil  tries to reconcile everybody. ... See also this energetic debunking, which nevertheless seems to show that the Rule, as defined above, applied in 4 of 6 incumbent campaigns since 1972 (and was defied only in 1992). 4:00 A.M.

Polarized Terrorists: Some evidence that, as predicted in this space, terrorists are split when it comes to Bush vs. Kerry:

Mowafaq Al-Tai, a London-educated architect and intellectual, said different types of resistance fighters have different views of the U.S. election.
    The most pro-Kerry, he said, are the former Saddam Hussein loyalists — Ba'ath Party members and others who think Washington might scale back its ambitions for Iraq if Mr. Kerry wins, allowing them to re-enter civic life.
    The most pro-Bush, he said, are the foreign extremists. "They prefer Bush, because he's a provocative figure, and the more they can push people to the extreme, the better for their case." [Emphasis added]

What do the majority of Iraqi terrorists think? Send Andrew Kohut over! ["Zogby" would be funnier than "Kohut"--ed. "Zogby" intrinsically funny! But he's an Arab-American, his brother heads the Arab American Institute, and he's apparently already done polls in Iraq. A call to send him to interview terrorists might be misinterpreted. Must be careful! kf has no editor, remember. What am I, then?-ed. We'll talk offline.] Update: Could the latest terror tape  represent some sort of compromise/straddle  between the two now-allied factions--intervening in the U.S. election in a way that doesn't really help Bush that much but that allows the terrorists to either a) take credit for a Kerry win or b) use a Bush win as a rhetorical excuse for more attacks? ... 1:56 A.M.

My favorite tie: Here's a plausible, riveting 269-269 scenario in which John McCain gets to be president! The Twelfth Amendment turns out to have some useful little wrinkles, too--like the one giving the tie-breaking House a choice of the top 3 electoral vote-getters. Who wants to be Mr. 3? ... [Thanks to reader J. LeB.] ... See also. ... 1:01 A.M.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Kerry Rallies His Base! Kerry Haters for Kerry  is holding election-eve "morale-fabricating" meet-ups in Washington, D.C. and New York. ... The KH4Kers offer some suggestions for opening conversational gambits. ...  3:38 P.M.

Is it an ugly tie? WaPo's Dana Milbank writes:

Under the 12th Amendment, if one candidate does not get 270 votes, the decision goes to the House, where each state gets a vote -- a formula that would guarantee a Bush victory (the Senate picks the vice president). A House-decided election could produce even more protests than the 2000 election did. That, writes Ryan Lizza of the New Republic, who spelled out 17 scenarios under which the election could end in an electoral tie, is perhaps the only way "for a second Bush term to seem more illegitimate in the eyes of Democrats than his first term." [Link and emphasis added]

Huh? Why would a tie broken by the House be seen illegitimate? It seems like the most legitimate possible way to break a tie short of using the popular vote--let the elected legislature decide. That's surely more legitimate than having Bush put in office by five unelected and unaccountable judges.  ... Assuming (as I think is true) that the newly-elected House and not the lame duck House breaks the tie, then having the House decide the president would in effect be picking the president in the same way national leaders are routinely chosen in parliamentary systems. Is Tony Blair illegitimate? If we elect a GOP Congress we get a GOP President. Simple. Something to think about when you vote for your House rep. ... The only truly evil wrinkle is the wacky one state/one-vote tie-breaker system written into the Constitution. If the Democrats manage to retake the House, but the House picks Bush because the Constitution gives small Republican states like Wyoming the same votes as huge Democratic states like New York and California--then, I agree, Bush's re-election would (and should) be seen as lacking democratic legitimacy. Blame the Framers! At the moment this seems like a remote possibility, however. ...

P.S.: But somebody should maybe calculate what the state-by-state breakdown would be in the likeliest Democrats-win-the-House scenario. Is it true that the Republicans would still win the majority of states? I'm assuming yes--but wouldn't a lot of states have deadlocked delegations? Is it possible, conversely, that the Republicans could retain the House but that Kerry would control a majority of state delegations because the Republican majority will be heavily concentrated in Texas while some swing Electoral states that go for Bush would return a mainly-Democratic House delegation? I'm assuming no.  ...

P.P.S.: Of course, any time a close election is thrown to the House it's also possible individual House members might be lured to defect and throw their states to the opposing party's candidate. That's another unlikely potential nightmare. But a straight tie Electoral vote that's clearly and cleanly decided for Bush by a GOP-majority House doesn't seem like such a nightmare at all. ... 

Update: Several readers have sent emails with the following scenario [this one is from P.A. of Va.]--

This is most likely the one that Dana Milbank was thinking of: If the electoral vote is tied BUT Kerry wins the popular vote and then the House votes for Bush, THAT would be ugly.

Maybe. But would it be "more illegitimate" than last time? Last time the popular vote loser was chosen because the Supreme Court stopped the recount in a hotly-disputed state. In the new scenario, there'd be a fair and square tie, but the final choice would be made by representatives chosen by the voters, in accordance with the prearranged procedure. I don't think that's anywhere near as infuriating. Democrats surely knew, this time around, that winning the popular vote wasn't going to be enough. 1:21 P.M.

Gawker founding editor Elizabeth Spiers-- blogging on her own in the three hours between her old New York magazine gig and her new Mediabistro job--blasts former obsession-object Christopher "Sybil" Hitchens for being "comically disingenuous" and worse. ... [Thanks to reader K.E.] 12:35 A.M.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Pollster Pat Caddell dissents from the so-called Incumbent Rule (which holds that undecided voters never go to the incumbent). I'm not convinced. But you, the reader, make the call! ... P.S.: They do ask Caddell why, if incumbents can get the undecideds, his man Jimmy Carter got creamed. If you guessed that Caddell answers that it was because Carter didn't listen to Pat Caddell, you may already have some idea of the ego at work here. ... 11:01 P.M.

Inconvenient Anecdotes: Ron Suskind's October 17 NYT Magazine article, "Without a Doubt"--part of that magazine's impressive final-month anti-Bush assault--portrays the President as a man whose Christian faith gives him a certainty that leads him to ignore or block out "'inconvenient facts.'" That may be true. But it doesn't inspire confidence when Suskind, for all his proud, self-proclaimed "enlightenment principles and empiricism," ignores the obvious meaning of two of his central anecdotes in order to force them into his own strongly-held world view:

Anecdote #1: Bush insists to Rep. Tom Lantos, at an Oval Office meeting, that Sweden doesn't have an army. "[Y]ou may have thought I said Switzerland," says Lantos. "No, no, it's Sweden that has no army," insists Bush. Silence ensues. A few weeks later, Bush runs into Lantos at a party. "You were right," he says. "Sweden does have an army."

Does this show Bush is so arrogantly certain he ignores inconvenient facts? It would seem to show that Bush is arrogantly certain but then acknowledges inconvenient facts when he learns he's got them wrong.

Anecdote #2: A "senior adviser to Bush," Suskind reports, says to him that "guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'

Suskind then proudly associates himself with the "reality-based community," which he says includes "many of the other elected officials in Washington, it would seem."

The problem with this now-famous anecdote is that it has nothing to do with certainty based on religious faith or with the tension "between fact and faith" that Suskind claims to find in the Bush White House. The aide isn't talking about ignoring reality and living in some spiritual dream world, he's talking about changing reality through worldly action (e.g. war). His point is less Christian than Marxist, a vulgar Bush corrolary to Marx's famous Theses on Feuerbach, the last of which is carved into his tombstone: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it." The press and much of Washington studies the existing world in various ways, the "senior advisor" seems to be saying. "Meanwhile we're changing the world in ways that make your studies obsolete."

As a macho pledge to create new facts on the ground, this boast may be arrogant (there are obvious Sharonist overtones).  As a commentary on the reification at the core of the Washington world view--on the tendency of "many ... elected officials" to assume that the way the world is is the way it will stay and must stay--there's a certain amount of revolutionary wisdom in it. But it ain't about religion. The faith it exhibits isn't a faith in a higher power but faith in earthly political power. (I'd say it was Nietzschian, if I knew what that meant!)

If Suskind misreads his own facts wrong in order to (willfully? subconsciously?) pander to New York Times readers' fear of Christian fundamentalism, what other facts has he misread? And what kind of 'empiricist' is he? 10:23 P.M.

City of Lakes' Greg Abbott applies the "Incumbent Rule" to the state polls. The result: It's not close, at least in the Electoral College. ... 5:13 P.M.

Our Most Reliable Allies Dept: In Slate, Christopher Hitchens says he'sfor Kerry. ... But wait, didn't he write in The Nation that he's for Bush? He did! ... He's a one-man Florida! ... Maybe Harper's can break the tie. Don't rush him! ... [Thanks to alert reader M.O.P.] P.S.: At least we can look to the imperturbable Andrew Sullivan for certainty.

Sullivan in the  November Reason: "I'm not supporting anyone in this election ..."

Sullivan in today's New Republic Online: "I cannot say I have perfect confidence in [Kerry], or that I support him without reservations. But not to support anyone in this dangerous time is a cop-out."

Bonus punditry: Is it something British? I think it is! In part, anyway--a national talent for theatricality and the short-order authoritative voice, plus the premium Brit expat journalists place on making themselves interesting.  4:34 P.M.

Instructions  on how you can send a "Get Well, Fidel!" message! No editorializing, now ... 3:06 P.M.

The Embarrassment Factor: Why might an automated poll (conducted by a machine with a pre-recorded voice asking the questions) yield a more pro-Kerry result than a poll conducted by human beings? One oft-cited reason is that voters might be willing to say things to a machine that they'd be mildly embarrassed to say to an actual person--for example, that they are planning to vote for a piggish foreign-born ex-bodybuilder for governor. This year, arguably, voters might be embarrassed to admit to a fellow citizen that they were going to abandon a likeable, steadfast, patriotic wartime leader and vote for a dull, equivocating, aristocratic former anti-war activist. But they'll tell a machine. ... That would mean the robo-polls showing Kerry doing relatively well are more accurate than regular polls showing him doing less well. Just a theory. ... [So this is a pro-Kerry item?-ed Yes. You're still way behind-ed] ... Update: Mystery Pollster has a more mundane explanation. ...  12:36 P.M.

John Kerry, book author,  has a Stephen Ambrose problem. Kf is shocked. .. P.S.: Plagiarism pundit Thomas Mallon idiotically argues that "authors" like Kerry should be held to a looser standard because nobody actually expects them to be honest.

"If you want to live in the real world, a politician has to be cut a bit of slack," said Mr. Mallon, who wrote an oft-cited book on plagiarism, "Stolen Words." He said one reason to be more lenient is that everyone assumes that most words uttered by politicians or published under their names were actually written by speechwriters or ghostwriters.'

But can't you find someone to write your books for you these days who won't plagiarize? Good help is hard to find! [Kerry's like a mash-up DJ. It's a separate art form-ed There you go.]11:55 A.M.

USAT's estimable Walter Shapiro e-mails to kf after returning from Columbus, Ohio, where he watched the presidential campaign ads "in their natural environment."

In other words, I had to endure the likes of "Judge Judy" to get to the ads. What I saw were the presidential ads that were vying not with the other party, but with an avalanche of 30-second spots for judges, county commissioners, state senators, and the ever thrilling George Voinovich. Now that the local candidates are grabbing a big share of the airwaves [snip] it is virtually impossible for a speak-to-camera ad by either Kerry or Bush to break through the clutter. (Although, while it is far too defensive, the second Kerry ad about not giving the French and Germans veto power over our security is so forcefully delivered that you have to remember it). What I am saying about the ads is, in essence, the same thing that you said about the TV coverage--it's impossible for candidate statements and speech snippets to be noticed this late in the game. About the only thing that might register a bit in the closing 8 days of the campaign are truly extraneous events, like Rehnquist's cancer and the missing Iraqi explosives. Not sure that any of this brings us closer to insight, but I just wanted to stress the deceptive dangers of viewing TV ads on campaign websites.

1:41 A.M.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Mora Bora: Reader D.P. notes that the Kerry Edwards Web site, responding to Bush's charge of Monday morning quaterbacking on Tora Bora, has posted the following citation  to a November 16, 2001 television interview Kerry gave to John McLaughlin:

3) KERRY CALLED FOR MORE BOOTS ON THE GROUND TO GO AFTER BIN LADEN. In an appearance on John McLaughlin's One on One on November 16, 2001, Kerry said that "we need to put some ground people in there in order to do the very things that I've just talked about, and ultimately, to do what we're doing now, which is ... chasing Osama bin Laden and moving the process forward. ... They have moved to the hills, moved to caves, to isolated areas. We have, I think, an extraordinary ability to isolate them there." MR. MCLAUGHLIN: "You're talking air attack." SEN. KERRY: "Not just air attack. No, no. I'm talking about people on the ground, the very people I talked about earlier, the level of engagement here with either rangers or Special Forces…" [John McLaughlin's One on One, 11/16/01]

I'm not sure this does the trick. First, it's a deceptively truncated quote. Kerry is defending his previous criticism of insufficient U.S. boots on the ground--during the "first couple of weeks" when the Northern Alliance wasn't making much progress. But he gives the impression, at least, that his criticisms have been addressed and he's now satisfied. ("Once the decision was made that they wanted the Northern Alliance to begin to move ... we began to see the prosecution of a different war. We put people on the ground in order to manage them.") Here's the non-truncated quote:

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, why did you criticize the administration for failing to put in expeditionary forces earlier?

SEN. KERRY: I didn't criticize them for failing to put expeditionary forces in, John. I said we need to put some ground people in there in order to do the very things that I've just talked about, and ultimately, to do what we're doing now, which is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you are --

SEN. KERRY: -- which is chasing Osama bin Laden and moving the process forward. [Emphasis on artfully edited-out section added]

Second, are "rangers" and "Special Forces" what you would use to block escape routes in a large mountainous area? Don't you need lots of troops for that--hence the need for Afghan proxies? [Update: U.S. Special Forces were in fact used at Tora Bora. But the Christian Science Monitor's account suggests a small number of additional U.S. troops might have been helpful, if not sufficient: "Pir Baksh Bardiwal, the intelligence chief for the Eastern Shura, which controls eastern Afghanistan, says he was astounded that Pentagon planners didn't consider the most obvious exit routes and put down light US infantry to block them."]

Finally, the Kerry camp may regret calling attention to that McLaughlin transcript.  Earlier in the interview--which, remember, took place two months after 9/11, in the middle of our Afghan campaign against the Taliban--McLaughlin asks Kerry "What do we have to worry about [in Afghanistan]?" Here's the last part of Kerry's answer:

I have no doubt, I've never had any doubt -- and I've said this publicly -- about our ability to be successful in Afghanistan. We are and we will be. The larger issue, John, is what happens afterwards. How do we now turn attention ultimately to Saddam Hussein? How do we deal with the larger Muslim world? What is our foreign policy going to be to drain the swamp of terrorism on a global basis? [Emphasis added]

Wait--I thought shifting the focus to Saddam was a "diversion" and distraction from the fight against Al Qaeda! Not, apparently, when Kerry saw an opportunity to score political points by advocating it.

[But would he have rushed to war in Iraq without a plan to win the peace!-ed. Maybe not. But, given Kerry's recent he-took-his-eye-off-the-ball rhetoric, it's embarrassing that he brought up pivoting to Iraq "now" long before the Afghan campaign was over--indeed, when the Tora Bora battle against bin Laden's men had barely begun. ... See also this anti-Kerry post, which seems to confirm that he had in mind a multilateral focus on Iraq.

But he wouldn't have had to divert military resources to Iraq-ed. Not true. The official Kerry position is that he voted for the Iraq war resolution because the president had to be able to threaten Saddam with military force if were were going to get him to agree to inspections, etc.. In order to credibly make that threat, Kerry would have had to deploy at least some substantial military resources to the Persian Gulf, a "diversion" of men, material, and attention away from the hunt for Osama.]

P.S.: It doesn't look as if Kerry was at Game 6 of the 1986 World Series (the Bill Buckner game) either. [But you're for Kerry--ed. Yes. But just between us he's such a pathetic bull------r.] Correction/Update: The Kerry campaign says he put in an appearance at a dinner in Boston and then  took the shuttle to N.Y. to catch the end of the Buckner game. [Well?-ed. Sounds plausibleBarring further developments, I assume Kerry was right (and kf wrong) on the Game 6 issue. ... P.P.S.: Let's go to the videotape! This was not an un-recorded moment. Kerry says he was "30 yards away." He shouldn't be hard to spot. ... ] 7:47 P.M.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Chris Suellentrop suggests Kerry should be worried if he pulls ahead, because under Ron Brownstein's "spotlight" theory that's the kiss of death. Why? The polite way to phrase the Spotlight thesis is, as Suellentrop writes:

Given that a slight majority of the electorate doesn't want Bush, and that a different but similarly slight majority doesn't want Kerry, the winning candidate will be the one who manages to keep the spotlight on his opponent's flaws, rather than his own.

The less polite way to phrase it is:

When voters see a lot of either one of these candidates, they don't like that candidate. They don't like Bush because they don't like the results of his policies. They don't like Kerry because they don't like Kerry.

I think Kerry might hold on to any new lead, however, because the Spotlight Theory may no longer operate in the final two weeks of the campaign. The reason: there's too much news for either of the candidates to really break through and alienate the electorate the way they did earlier. In the cacophony and clutter of battleground scene-setting and electoral vote gaming and Florida nightmare scenarios and prepackaged Neutral Story Line take-outs on new voters or Hispanics or local issues, each candidate now gets only a few seconds every day to deliver some iconic, cartoonish statement about how he is guided by faith or is going to kill terrorists or lower taxes or protect moms, etc. Voters can't possibly get to know these men in these brief snapshots. That should be good news for Kerry. He's the candidate with the least appealing personality. How off-putting can he be in four seconds, even if he dresses up in camouflage? ... In other words, just when he may be poised to blow his final lead of the year, the end-of-race crowding-out effect should start working to prevent him from self-destructing. ...

Caveat: There is, however, one way to cut through end-of-race clutter--paid media. In what appears to be a desperate, last ditch attempt to lose the election, Kerry's genius strategists have chosen to end their campaign with three official paid ads featuring the flawed, unappealing standard-bearer himself, talking directly to the audience!  Nothing less, apparently, would do the job. In one of these spots Kerry is actually pretty good. But the other two (here and here) show the more familiar stiff, unlikeable Kerry. If the Spotlight theory holds, they could go a long way toward taking the Senator's momentum and turning it around! ... 1:55 A.M.

The Hunt for Tora Bora Criticism: Alert kf critic J.H. emails that:

At an event my organization (NJDC) cosponsored at the DNC, Hillary stated, for what it's worth, that Kerry gave her contemporaneous criticism in the Senate cloak room. 

Hillary is not exactly an unbiased source when it comes to Kerry [Which way?-ed]. But it would at least be some evidence. If anybody has a transcript of this event, please send it. Thanks. ... Update: A second earwitness confirms that Hillary said this. But no transcript yet. ...  12:12 A.M.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Prof. Hasen suggests that Sixth Circuit reversal on Ohio's provisional ballots averts chaos, rather than creates it, because the state Dems have decided not to appeal it--a seemingly public-spirited move that maybe will set some sort of positive precedent. [Public spirited? The Dems have already gotten their base-motivating mileage out of the suit--accusing GOP state officials of trying to hold down the vote, etc.--ed. At least they recognize the bad PR of unrestrained disruptive litigation.] 11:31 P.M.

Hit Parade: I'm generally biased in favor of late-in-the-game press hits--not on the day before election day, maybe, but certainly as late as the weekend before. The closing days is when the truth often comes out (e.g., the LAT's Schwarzengroping story, the DUI charge that Bush had foolishly hoped would not surface in 2000). Voters have shown an ability to put these things in perspective, and the Feiler Faster Principle--now available in  academic form!--suggests they're getting better at it as the info cycle speeds up.  This late-inning anti-Bush story seems worth following up on--why, exactly, was Bush doing what looked an awful lot like some mandatory sort of community service in 1973? I'm not saying voters should be that concerned with the possibly-whitewashed resume of a four-year incumbent, as opposed to a pig-in-the-pokish challenger. And Bush appears to have been good at the charity work--see the closing quotes. (e.g.: "`43' did more good being in trouble than a lot of people not in trouble. The guy knew he needed to change his life, and he did.") One day maybe it will all make for a moving film starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx. But right now it's worth following up on. ... [via TalkLeft ] .. Update: Here's an extremely vague hint about a possible final-week anti-Kerry hit. But:  "It's not huge ... " 1:07 P.M. 

Update: In Nevada yesterday, Kerry said, of the Tora Bora bust:

"Can you imagine trusting them when you have your 10th Mountain Division, the United States Marine Corps, when you had all the power and ability of the best-trained military in the world? ... I would have used our military and we would have gone after and captured or killed Osama bin Laden. That's tough."

Hmmm. As noted earlier, here's what Kerry said at the time, and I haven't seen any contrary evidence indicating he had contemporaneous qualms about Gen. Franks' reliance on Afghan proxies. ... Good Closing, or Opportunistic Hindsight? You make the call! ... [ Tora Bora was a mistake, right?  Presidents are responsible for their mistakes. It's not so unfair to subject them to opportunistic second-guessing--ed. Why can't Kerry accurately say "Bush should have ...," instead of implausbily claiming "I would have"? When do you shift into pro-Kerry mode?-ed. Soon, soon.] ... Update 2: There's also the lively possibility that Osama's dead, of course, whether or not we killed him at Tora Bora. See this seemingly not uninformed post  on Roger Simon's blog. ...  12:20 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--Survives! kf gloating on hold. 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--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. Eduwonk--You'll never have to read another mind-numbing education story again. Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk