Should Kerry take a dive in Colorado? Ron Brownstein notes that as Kerry becomes competitive in the state, Colorado Democrats are tempted to vote against the state initiative that would award Kerry a proportional share of Colorado's nine electoral votes even if he loses. After all, why should Dems settle for a proportional share if they can win all nine? But that's a risky calculation: If the initiative passes and is upheld, Kerry would almost certainly get four of the nine electoral votes even if he loses the state. If the initiative fails--in part because Dems think Kerry might win--and then Kerry loses the state by a hair, he winds up with zero. It could theoretically be smarter for him to settle for a sure 4 --losing to Bush in the state but winning the initiative--than to go for all 9. ... Of course, Kerry would have to factor in uncertainty about whether the initiative will be upheld in court. The "sure 4" wouldn't be all that sure. Prof. Hasen explains why here. ... 4:52 P.M.
Kerry puts on the strait-jacket: Kerry's no-tax-increase-for-people-making-less-than-$200,000 pledge on Friday was more significant, in terms of boxing Kerry in should he win, than has been reflected in the press coverage. USAT's Walter Shapiro points this out:
Now that the Democratic nominee is so locked in, every discussion of the budget deficit, tax reform, Social Security or Medicare in a Kerry White House will pivot around the pledge.
A prime example is that some projected reforms designed to assure the solvency of Social Security include significantly lifting the ceiling on earnings that are subject to the payroll tax, which is currently $87,900 and is only adjusted for inflation. That notion is now permanently off the table unless President Kerry wants to become the Democratic equivalent of George H.W. Bush, who violated his own "Read my lips: No new taxes" 1988 campaign promise.
If I weren't such an ardent Kerry supporter I might also note that Kerry's insta-pledge reflected a potentially disastrous instinctive willingness to pander now and waffle later. But it's getting too close to the election to say things like that. ... P.S.: How will Kerry get out of it? First, he could say he was only talking about income taxes (though the pledge was "I am not going to raise taxes" in response to a question about the entire "tax burden," not just income taxes). Then he could blame his staff! ... Update: Reader C.H. suggests President Kerry could lower some other under-$200,000 taxes to compensate for raising the payroll tax ceiling. I'm not sure that would work--it would be hard to offset the burden for every individual under-$200,000 taxpayer, as opposed to the "under $200,000" group as a whole. But it's a promising potential wriggle-hole. ...
Update: Only kf gives you Walter Shapiro's esprit de l'escalier today! Walter Shapiro emails with a key point:
What I didn't say (mostly because I was writing in a hotel room in
Florida worrying about catching planes, etc.) is that after this pledge, the real debate in a Kerry White House would be between abandoning any domestic spending agenda ... (the only way to make any progress on the defict given Kerry's tax strait-jacket) and abandoning [the] fig leaf of being better than the Republicans on fiscal sanity. [Emphasis added]
Kausfiles, Island of Calm ... Andrew Sullivan's a friend of mine, but he's too excitable! He was too quick to urge the U.S. to go to war with Iraq and too quick to declare that the war he'd urged on us was heading for disaster. Now he's too quick ("Kerry's Momentum: Can Bush Stop It?") to see a big Kerry win:
Presidential campaigns have issues; and they have candidates; and they have polls. But they also have something intangible called momentum. And that's what John Kerry has right now.
In the eight days since the first debate, you can feel the Democrat slowly gaining what the first president Bush called the "Big Mo."
I agree Kerry did well in both debates. I agree the Bremer admission on troop strength was damaging. I hope Kerry wins. I just don't see the supposed Big New Mo for Kerry showing up in actual polls. Take this one, for instance. It would seem to be going in the wrong direction. I fear Sullivan's British readers have been misinformed. 11:14 P.M.
After almost year on the job, New York Times ombudsman Dan Okrent has finally been pummeled by reader criticism into a useless, angry defensive institutional crouch. The left complains--but hey, the right complains too! "[E]very judgment, it appears, offends someone." So screw all of you! Okrent denies that "because charges of bias come from both liberals and conservatives, the paper must therefore be doing things right"--but that doesn't stop him from using complaints from left and right to balance each other out and conclude the Times isn't "systematically biased toward either candidate." Might there be other large systemic biases, or biases within various departments?** And if there are only specific screw-ups, what are they? Aren't some of them pretty big? Okrent says
There are plenty of press critics in print and on the Web, so I'll cede the general criticism to them.
Er, what was Okrent's job again? Defender of the Times against the Public? Something like that. ... What's the use of an ombudsman who doesn't think his paper ever screws up, who is shy about naming names when it comes to finding fault, and who seems to hate those who complain to him? ... P.S.: Okrent does criticize the Times for overuse of anonymous quotes. Now there's a bold stand! Decrying anonymous sources in news stories is the Neutral Story Line of press criticism. It offends nobody and seems substantive. But another definition of "anonymous quote" is "the only interesting part of the typical NYT political piece." Even Okrent seems to think they're OK if the piece is tagged "Political Memo.") ...
**: For example, when I criticized Adam Nagourney for one of his egregious screwups in poll stories (all of which favored Democrats), I got back messages from friends of "Adam" saying it wasn't his fault, you had to understand the constraints Times reporters are under when they cover polls. Times readers might want to know about those constraints. What goes on in the polling department? If Okrent has written about this, I missed it. ... 4:26 P.M.
Saturday, October 9, 2004
Compare Ron Brownstein's L.A. Times "News Analysis" of Friday's debate with Todd Purdum's equivalent analysis in the New York Times. They're not in the same league. Purdum gives a reasonably well-written play-by-play that adds little for those who actually watched the debate. Brownstein gives viewers an analytic framework they may not have had, pointing out 1) the different styles of the two candidates reflect different strategies--with Kerry pursuing a "swing voter" strategy and Bush pursuing base-mobilization; 2) "Rather than immediately trying to shift the focus toward Kerry's record, as he often did last week, Bush moved more often to stand and fight;" and 3) "For Bush, the troubling trend is that in virtually all of these surveys since the first debate, he is attracting less than 50% of the vote." Possibilities:
a) The NYTthinks its readers are less sophisticated than the LAT thinks its readers are;
b) Brownstein has three more hours to work with, thanks to the time-zone difference;
c) The NYT, embarrassingly, has nobody covering the campaign who is anywhere near as good as Brownstein; or
d) all of the above.
P.S.: I strongly disagree with the expert quote Brownstein uses to close his piece, however--predicting that the rest of the campaign will be "more about policy direction and less about Kerry's personality or capability as a leader."
Update: OK, I agree with my many e-mailers that three hours is a long time in the writing-on-deadline-writing business. But I still think the NYT campaign line-up is weak--and often the paper tries to make up in (unreadable) quantity of stories what it lacks in quality of stories. They need a big outside hire. ... 9:14 P.M.
Friday, October 8, 2004
My line on Debate #2: 1) Kerry won the first half, then Bush relaxed and won the second half after Kerry's dreary default personality--i.e. what he's like when he hasn't taken that special Shrum Drug--began to make itself felt. But the first half of a debate like this is more important than the second half, so Kerry wins on points. Early on, he found the right distance from which to tower over Bush without seeming to be a stalker. Bush at first looked like he was being chased around the ring, and got that shrill tone he and his father get when they worry they're not connecting;
2) Bush may do better in the post-debate sound bite war where his higher energy level pays off.
4)The significant long term political development was Kerry's "look into the camera" pledge of no tax increases for those making less than $200,000. How is he going to weasel out of that?
5) Biggest whiff: Bush once again failed to pick apart Kerry's annoyingly opportunistic Iraq/Osama/Tora Bora attack. He could have argued a) Yes we made some mistakes but Kerry is letting a few of Zarqawi's bombs panic him--and trying to get them to panic the electorate. What kind of leader does that?; b) Kerry voted against the 1991 Gulf War, which began the inspection regime he says he wanted to continue! If we hadn't prosecuted that war, Saddam almost certainly would have developed a nuclear bomb, no? c) Bush did note that Kerry's plan for Iraq is basically the same as Bush's plan (plus a summit), but didn't flesh out the point in way that would be clear to the average viewer.
6) Honorable mention whiff: Bush's answer to the question about his mistakes was adequate, but Kerry could still have pounced and noted that Bush hadn't admitted to a single specific mistake (and would do well to remember the need for humility and flexibility, etc.). I watched the debate with six people of varying politics, and each of them had a better answer than Kerry's;
7) I worried I was being demagogic last week when I speculated that Kerry would sound like an interest-group liberal on domestic policy. Then he started talking about "special needs education" ...
8) The questioners were supposedly undecideds, but before the debate the Inter-Netz was awash with rumors of partisan "plants" who snuck past the screeners. I'd say that in the end about half the questioners sounded like they were plants--although there were plants from both sides.
9) This must be the first debate in a long time where one candidate talked about his desire for a "Palestinian state" and neither played to the pro-Israel vote (as far as I heard). [Idea from Maguire.]
10) Bush aced the closing statement, but how many people were still around to watch it?
11) Kerry's tortured, intellectually bogus answer on abortion--'I think it's murder but I would never base legislation on morality!'--suggests that one of my co-watchers was right to think the way to trip him up is on "smaller," discrete values questions like abortion and capital punishment. Update: Saletan has more detail on why Kerry's abortion answer was "awful" politicking.
[T]hey try to say I've changed position on are the Patriot Act; I haven't. I support it. I just don't like the way John Ashcroft has applied it, and we're going to change a few things ... [snip] ...They've got sneak-and-peek searches that are allowed. They've got people allowed to go into churches now and political meetings without any showing of potential criminal activity or otherwise.
Huh? Weren't "sneak and peek" searches explicitly and famously authorized by the Act itself? So Kerry's example is a clear case where the problem (if there is one) isn't the application of the Patriot Act, it's the Act. Kerry knew about it when he voted for it (before he campaigned against it). The application of the Act, meanwhile, has been relatively modest--the Department of Justice used the "sneak" provision 47 times as of last May, according to Slate. (Note:This was also the part of the debate in which Kerry most seemed to forget that he's no longer running in the Iowa caucuses.)
13) Did this one set off your Condescendometer the way it did mine?
"You know, Elizabeth, I really respect your -- the feeling that's in your question."--Kerry to a woman who asked if it would "be wise to use stem cells obtained without the destruction of an embryo?"
Kerry did this "respect" move at least twice. I know it's the official, Dick-Morris-approved Clintonian-empathy approach to town-hall questions. But when Kerry does it it sets my teeth on edge. (As Wonkette notes, it also set Kerry off on an embarrassing celebrity name-dropping binge. 'I respect the feelings of little people like you but Chris Reeve is a friend of mine,' he argued.) .. P.S.: And how did Kerry know "looking around here, at this group here" that nobody except the three people on stage made more than $200,000? Nobody else wearing imported wool? ... This is America! Lots of people make more than $200,000 and dress like schlubs. [Thanks to alert reader D.D.]
14) Worst-polling line of the night: "I'm a lawyer too"--Kerry. 9:28 P.M.
RCP has posted a useful Electoral College analysis, focusing on the consequences of an "Ohio/Wisconsin swap." ... 11:07 A.M.
Anti-Marxism: Finally, a club that will take me that I want to be a member of. ... 7:21 A.M.
Alert reader J.B. notes that if Cheney seems too-focused on state-sponsored terrorism, Kerry and Edwards at least seem too focused on what might be called the "Great Man Theory of Terrorism," placing much too much public emphasis on the capture of Osama bin Laden-- as if that would make the al Qaeda network (and its future imitators) wither away. ... P.S.: I don't think Kerry really buys this theory--he also said, in Debate #1
I believe that a fresh start, new credibility, a president who can understand what we have to do to reach out to the Muslim world to make it clear that this is not, you know -- Osama bin Laden uses the invasion of Iraq in order to go out to people and say that America has declared war on Islam.
We need to be smarter about now we wage a war on terror. We need to deny them the recruits.
That's why I'm for him. But the opportunistic public focus on bin Laden himself is off-putting. ... 2:11 A.M.
Kausfiles is Stupid! I don't understand things everyone else seems to understand! For example:
1) If a man says he has a gun, acts like he has a gun, and convinces everyone around him he has a gun, and starts waving it around and behaving recklessly, the police are justified in shooting him (even if it turns out later he just had a black bar of soap). Similarly, according to the Duelfer report, Saddam seems to have intentionally convinced other countries, and his own generals, that he had WMDs. He also convinced much of the U.S. government. If we reacted accordingly and he turns out not to have had WMDs, whose fault is that? Why doesn't Bush make that argument--talking about Saddam's actions in the years before the U.S. invasion instead of Saddam's "intent" to have WMDs at some point in the future? (It wouldn't necessarily make the Iraq war prudent, but it would make Americans feel more comfortable about it than what Bush has been telling them.)
2) Why was it either illegal or unethical for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to offer to endorse Rep. Nick Smith's son if Smith voted for the Bush Medicare drug bill? I understand why offering Smith $100,000 would be illegal. But an endorsement? Isn't that, you know, what happens in politics and what is supposed to happen? ("You back this bill I think is very important for the country and I'll be so grateful I'll endorse you or your designated heir.") It's about the most benign form of arm-twisting I can imagine, involving Rep. DeLay's exercise of his speech rights. ... What if Timothy Noah told John McCain "If you vote to abolish the electoral college I'll praise you in a Slate item!" Wouldn't that be offering "anything of value"? Slate ink is worth something. Would Noah be guilty of bribery? ... P.S.: Would it really be more ethical if DeLay had offered Smith the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee (which everyone seems to think would be perfectly OK)? ...
Is the news from Iraq better or worse than you anticipated a few months ago? I expected more explosions, and bigger explosions, from the anti-coalition terrorists in Iraq this close to the American election. That does not seem to be the CW, however. Howard Fineman's latest, slightly overexcited dispatch makes clear how much Kerry's currently-effective strategy depends on a) Zarqawi & Co. supplying a steady stream of attacks, etc. and b) the press reporting little but a crescendo of bombings, beheadings and other and bad news from Iraq for the next three and a half weeks. In short, Spain II. I want Kerry to win but not because we are that easily spooked. ... P.S.: War critic Gen. Zinni seems to have a level-headed picture of the situation. [Link via Lucianne] ... Update: More Zinni here. The administration seems to be taking his advice to move on insurgent-controlled towns quickly, before the U.S. election. ... 12:28 A.M.
Late-breaking news on the meaning of life. ... 12.11 A.M.
Thursday, October 7, 2004
Gerrymandering--drawing district lines to prevent competitive elections--is at least as serious a problem in our political system as campaign financing. Yet it's only the attempts to get the money out of politics that get the big media push. Worse, those attempts sometimes make the gerrymandering problem worse (as you might expect, given that campaign finance laws are by definition passed by incumbent legislators who have a bipartisan interest in stifling competition for their seats). Charlie Cook, in his "Off to the Races" e-mail of last week, reports something I haven't seen elsewhere:
Incumbents have become even more sheltered from defeat in recent years. In fact, since 1998 only 16 incumbents have lost.
Ironically, the new campaign finance law, which prevents parties from pouring soft money into campaigns, has served to help incumbents even more. Neither party was able to go up with ads this summer to "soften" some of these marginal incumbents, leaving challengers, who always are outspent, to do it themselves.
Maybe the press will pick up on the gerrymandering/noncompetition issue when the incumbents' advantage prevents Democrats from making more than tiny inroads into the Republican majority in the House this year. ... 11:43 A.M.
Someone tell Andrew Sullivan:
"The president and I have the same position, fundamentally, on gay marriage. We do. Same position."--John Kerry, in today's NYT
Actually, of course, Kerry is trying to pull off a straddle here-- he hints to gay rights audiences that he'll support gay marriage down the road. The problem, as with most of Kerry's straddles, is that he doesn't let both sides know both faces of his position. In the above quote, he's trying to con conservatives into thinking--well, that he has the same position as the president. [Isn't it a little late for these petty anti-Kerry snipes? We're in home stretch. Get with program and put these in the 'Nov. 3 file'--Moscow. Sorry! It won't happen again.] ... Via Insta and Althouse 11:24 A.M.
Hooray for the AMT? Taxpayers have to either pay their regular income tax or the "Alternative Minimum Tax" (AMT)--whichever is higher. The AMT was designed to catch rich people who use loopholes and deductions to escape taxation. But because the AMT isn't indexed for inflation, more and more middle class taxpayers will have to pay it. Conventional wisdom holds that Congress will have to step in and correct this situation before middle class taxpayers revolt. Indeed, the need to do something about the horrible AMT is considered the driving political engine behind proposals for overhauling the regular tax code, according to the NYT's Edmund Andrews. ... But why isn't the unindexed AMT a feature rather than a bug? That is, why isn't it a good vehicle for gradually introducing tax reform and simplification? How? Keep all the deductions and credits in the tax code, but simplify the AMT so it's the tax code reformers really want. And keep it unindexed. Then, as the AMT hits further and further down the income scale, more and more taxpayers will have to shift to the reformed AMT system--until most Americans don't even bother with their old regular tax calculations. They just pay the simplified tax, which is maybe a little bit higher than the old complicated tax. (You want simplicity, you pay a bit more!) Presto--the old tax code has been gradually put out of its misery like the proverbial frog in slowly heated water. ...Don't fight the AMT--surrender to it! ... What am I missing here? 1:17 A.M. link
The Snobway Series: 'Do You Know Who I Am?' vs. 'Do I Know You?': The main problem with Cheney's "The-first-time-I-ever-met-you-was-when-you-walked-on-the-stage-tonight" debate crack isn't that it wasn't, er, true. It's that it sounds snobby. 'How can you be a player if I've never met you?' ... Wasn't it Cheney's job, as president of the Senate, to seek out Edwards as much as it was Edwards' job to seek out Cheney? ... Now, with the post-debate fact-checking dispute, they'll be playing this snobby sound bite over and over. ... P.S.: Am I crazy to see a connection with Cheney's similarly solipsistic approach to terrorism, with its focus on existing big-time terrorist states as opposed to millions of unknown radicalized individuals. 'How can you be a threat if I've never met you?' ... 12:48 A.M.
Wednesday, October 6, 2004
More debate folo: Alert reader S.H. clues me in on the obvious purpose of Edwards' creepy 'congratulations on your gay daughter' ploy: it was "a very thinly disguised way of letting Reagan Democrats (and other conservative-leaning members of the electorate) know that Cheney has a lesbian daughter." In other words, a cynical, premeditated appeal to prejudice. You can say it's an appeal to prejudice that's justly deserved, because it turns the Republicans' bigotry against them. But that assumes opposition to gay marriage is now the same thing as general prejudice against gays. Edwards was playing to the latter, uglier sentiment. It's still creepy. ... Just his cold confidence that he could pull the trick off without seeming evil (indeed, while pretending to be friendly) is creepy. ...
Also: Reader S.S., who works in a radio station and should know, says:
[M]uch of Cheney's muffled mumbling was matter of mic placement -- did you notice that when he put his hands up to his mouth, he blocked his voice from the mic. And, frequently toward the end, his jacket covered the mic (which was placed on his tie).
Tuesday, October 5, 2004
We have closure on 'subways': From Wednesday's NYT "Corrections" column--
Because of an editing error, a front-page article on Saturday that examined statements by
President Bush and Senator John Kerry in their first debate gave partial support erroneously to Mr. Kerry's assertion that New York "had to close down the subway" during the Republican National Convention. Although several subway entrances near Madison Square Garden were closed for security, the stations themselves were not, and service continued.
Also: Even if Kerry hadn't been BS-ing, so what if the subway--or a line, or some stations--had been shut down for a couple of days? Sometimes it will make more sense to shut down a subway or highway for a special event than to spend billions to bomb-proof a facility that isn't under serious threat 99% of the time. Doesn't Kerry want to balance the budget? ... 11:00 P.M.
On the VP Debate: 1) Cheney isn't as sunny as Shrek! A friend wandered in after about half an hour, having listened to the debate in the car, took one look and fell into a funk. "He was winning on the radio," he lamented. The funny and tolerant Cheney of 2000 mostly didn't show up; 2) Andrew Sullivan thinks this tired-old-man factor translated into a big win for Edwards; I'm with the CW in thinking the debate a draw. For one thing, Cheney's stand-up-to-Howard-Dean line was justly damaging. Plus, Edwards at times looked like a yapping ankle-biter, albeit a well-briefed one. At other times he seemed condescending--e.g. "They want to know that their president and their vice president will keep them safe." I got the heebie jeebies when he smarmily praised Cheney for having a gay daughter. Why was that Edwards' business (if he didn't have the guts to then accuse Cheney of abandoning his own child)? 3) Edwards' great failure: To effectively make the case that Bush's pursuit of the global war on terrror, as opposed to the specific war in Iraq, is a dangerous disaster-in-the-making--not because we haven't caught Osama, but because we are creating the 'clash of civilizations' where there doesn't have to be one. Instead Edwards seemed to be overreacting to the day's headlines about car bombings in Baghdad, which left the impression that it really would be easy to drive him from Iraq. (As a result, even Edwards' Iraq-specific attack was ineffective.) 4)Cheney's missed opportunities: There were a lot of them--
a) Edwards got peeved when Cheney talked about education in an answer about the economy. How about: "Mr. Edwards, in the 21st century education is essential to the economy, to getting good jobs that pay well. Don't you know that?" Human capital! Take it away Bill Clinton. Edwards' own closing statement talked about his father educating himself in order to make more money.
b) Cheney failed to hammer home the ongoing embarrassment of now-hawkish Kerry's 1991 vote against the Gulf War. It would have been a point worth pausing for: Kerry wouldn't take on Saddam even when he'd invaded a sovereign neighboring nation;
c) If Kerry (according to Edwards) would have waited for the inspections to work, and if as Edwards himself argued the inspections would have showed that Saddam had no WMD, then there would have been no invasion and Saddam would still be in power, working to lift sanctions, etc. Right? Amazingly, Cheney didn't point this out. ...
5)Edwards' weakest moment: He seemed to want experienced-world-leader points just because he was in Israel a few hours before a suicide bomb attack (plus he knew the brand name of the restaurant that was attacked); 6) Never mind Bremer--Cheney still didn't have an answer on Tora Bora! How about: "We tried to work with local forces instead of going it alone like an occupying power. We didn't know that mountainous border area well. They did. In retrospect, it was a mistake. We make mistakes all the time; it always happens in a war. We try to learn from them." I suspect Cheney would have won hands down if he'd have candidly admitted to some screw-ups. That's how real CEOs talk. It's OK to be a grouch if you're a straight-talking grouch. ... More Trump, less Grump! ...
Biggest Softball Question That Only Confirmed Suspicions of PBS Bias: Gwen Ifill's question to Edwards:
Flip-flopping has become a recurring theme in this campaign, you may have noticed.
Senator Kerry changed his mind about whether to vote to authorize the president to go to war. President Bush changed his mind about whether a homeland security department was a good idea or a 9/11 Commission was a good idea.
What's wrong with a little flip-flop every now and then?
"Arent those charges against you bogus? I hear you have some bullet points you'd like to recite." OK, she didn't say that last part. She didn't need to.
Update: Will Saletan is living in a dream world! I'm with "Publius." ... 8:58 P.M.
Desperate Housewives: Mark Penn makes the badly-needed point that there are too plenty of swing voters, but he thinks the way to get them is to pivot to domestic issues in an appeal to "modern moms." I tend to be pro-swing, anti-pivot, mainly for the reason given below by Noam Scheiber. And if Kerry beats Bush on national security it's all over, no? Plus, I fear Kerry will be most ... er, Kerryesque talking about domestic concerns, where his tendency to pander will be maximized (given his historically insecure relationship with the Democratic base--especially African Americans). Penn says voters want "ideas," but Kerry doesn't dare bring up his ballsiest "ideas," like means-testing Social Security or questioning affirmative action and teacher tenure. ... P.S.: Penn accidentally stabs his own "pivot" argument to death in paragraph #9, declaring
We might all learn a lesson from Bill Clinton in 1992. He won by making the Persian Gulf War irrelevant to the election.
Right. The Gulf War was long over by the 1992 election. Iraq isn't. The larger fight against terrror isn't. Kerry isn't going to 'make them irrelevant.' ... Update: Dan Straight argues, contra Penn, that what appears to be the "swing" vote is mainly energized Democrats in electorally-undecisive pro-Kerry coastal states:
It's not (so much) the people in the middle who are switching between Kerry and Bush (pace Mark Penn) - it's the people on the far left switching between Kerry and none of the above.
It turns out Joe Lockhart is not universally beloved in the Kerry campaign. One knowledgeable Democratic insider recently described ithe campaign to me in familiar Hollywood terms: "Mary Beth Cahill is the producer; Shrum is the director, Kerry is the star, and Lockhart is the publicist and hem-straightener." ... Update: Wonkette spreads the meme. ... 12:30 A.M.
Monday, October 4, 2004
Michael Massing consults George Orwell and decides he can be "more effective" if he hides from readers that he strongly supports Bush in this "absolutely critical election." Did I get that right? ... P.S.: I do think there are steps a journalist (even an opinion journalist) can take that invest his ego in a political cause in a way that discourages honest reporting--the classic case is when you write a speech for a candidate. Or when you publicly predict a particular candidate will win or lose. But just stating your preference, or giving a candidate money, isn't all that compromising, in my experience--it doesn't in itself discourage you from acknowledging new facts that might cause you to change your mind (the way, say, publicly anticipating a humiliating Kerry defeat might discourage you from recognizing new pro-Kerry facts). ... After all, if you endorse a candidate and then change your mind you can get another column out of it! ... 3:29 P.M.
Now I Bore You With Democratic Interest-Group BS Again, Yes? Noam Scheiber articulates what was kf's half-formed thought--why, exactly, should Kerry "pivot" to domestic issues when he's effectively beating Bush up on Iraq and the war on terror?
The point isn't that Kerry had to establish credibility on Iraq. The point is that Bush is much more vulnerable on Iraq than the economy--particularly since the current economic data just aren't that bad.
Or is Kerry's heavily-telegraphed "pivot" misdirection by his camp designed to throw Bush's strategy off? ... 2:50 P.M.
Sunday, October 3, 2004
Faced with a large drop in unwed births in New York state, the NYT doesn't even try very hard to defend the previous liberal party line, which is that welfare reform couldn't possibly be the cause. Instead, Leslie Kaufman gives Pataki aide Robert Doar (a secret member of James Wolcott's Hair Club for Men!) top billing, and Doar credits the end of welfare's "nonproductive incentives there were to have children out of wedlock." It falls to Dr. Allan Rosenfield of Columbia to put forward the traditional non-welfare explanation:
[T]he most powerful force responsible for declining out-of-wedlock births in the city was a "significant increase in contraceptive use among teenagers, particularly the increased availability of emergency contraception."
Of course, Rosenfield's account begs the question of why teenagers are increasingly using contraception. Is it all the convenience of the new birth-control technology (Norplant, injections, etc)? That view is at odds with the detailed picture of ghetto-poor life offered by Jason DeParle's new book, American Dream. DeParle drives home a point I first saw made by journalist Leon Dash: Many teenagers have out-of-wedlock babies because they want to have the babies, not because they do not have access to or knowledge of contraception. You only have to get to page 11 of DeParle's book to read:
Like lots of girls who have a baby in high school, Jewell had gotten pregnant on purpose, thinking a child would bring her something to love.
Welfare reform holds out the hope of changing the minds of future Jewells. ... DeParle, remember, was only recently the star Newt-bashing welfare reporter for the New York Times. His book will be hard for the left to dismiss. ...
P.S.: The NYT's Kaufman quotes an expert to the effect that
if everything else stayed the same and married couples had greater numbers of children, that might be enough to explain the change.
Huh? According to Kaufman's story, there was a drop in the absolute number of out-of-wedlock births. More births to married couples would not affect that number. ...
P.P.S.: Kaufman also snipes at the Bush administration for wanting to end the $25 million "illegitimacy bonus" New York won for reducing its out-of-wedlock births. The administration argues that it's hard to figure out what causes declines in a single state--and indeed, a few weeks ago the Washington Post was sniping at the welfare law precisely because the District of Columbia won a $25 million bonus it probably didn't deserve (because its reduction in illegitimacy was mainly caused by people leaving the District, not by its anti-illegitimacy campaign). In other words, when the Bushies try to fix the problem noticed by the Post, they get whacked in the Times. ...
Update: Reader M.F. notes that Kaufman reports "the state's decrease came as births to unwed mothers had actually begun to climb again nationally." I will try to find out more about whatever national stats Kaufman is talking about. In the meantime, here's a chart, showing the dramatic positive change in the '90s, to offer some perspective. More: Here's a chart showing a small national increase in the ratio of unmarried/married births from 2000-2001 compared with 1998-1999. It would be interesting to see what the national figure is for the lower-income population most affected by welfare (whose life opportunities are also most likely to be radically restricted by an out-of-wedlock birth). In other words, is the national increase being driven by an increase in illegitimacy among the Murphy Browns--relatively affluent women....
Still more: Highly-informed grad student S.W. emails to point out that a) the ratio of unmarried to married births might have risen (what the chart shows) even though the birth rate of unmarried women continued to decline, for the simple reason that many fewer women are now married (as more women delay or forego marriage entirely). It also seems to be true that b) while the overall ratio has indeed been getting a bit worse lately--with the percentage of total births that are out-of-wedlock nudging up into the mid-30s--the ratio for blacks is still actually moving in the right direction after 50 years of moving in the wrong direction. It's just that the increase among whites swamps the decrease among blacks. Similarly, c) "marriage became less common among white women post welfare reform but not among black women, even though marriage had been in decline for both groups for decades." ... The obvious point is that welfare reform disproportionately affects blacks, and sure enough that's where the positive trends are showing up. ... 11:42 P.M.
Smells Like Victory: New Republic'sPeter Beinart seems to feel that if
a) we manage to make Iraq safe enough to have a fair election in January; and
b) duly elected Iraqi politicians then ask our troops to leave; and
c) we bring our troops home
that's a defeat. Huh? Wouldn't that be a major success? Beinart must have some definition of victory (and democracy) he hasn't fully explained. .... 11:05 P.M.
Baker's Revenge? Let's see: Acting on behalf of the Bush campaign, James Baker negotiated to have timing lights on the podiums, which worked to Kerry's advantage by forcing him to keep his answers short. Baker negotiated to make the first debate entirely about a single topic, foreign policy, which worked to Kerry's advantage because (as an alert kf reader suggests) Kerry, as the more "verbose, fluid" speaker, was better able to fill the time; Baker demanded no split-screen coverage, a provision that was immediately disregarded by the TV networks, to Kerry's advantage; and Baker insisted on equally-high podiums, which absolutely killed Bush in the visual department, virtually handing the "look at it with the sound off" victory to Kerry. Was Baker simply taken to the cleaners by the old P-man, Vernon Jordan? Or is there some more complicated plot possibility? ... It's not as if Baker might be bitter because he had put in years of loyal service to the Bush family, including sacrificing much of his elder statesmen rep to salvage the Florida ballot fight in 2000, only to be dissed by George W. and left festering in academic exile in Texas except when he was called on to perform like a loyal janitor when the administration had a particularly unpleasant job to do, like the task of traveling the world trying to talk alienated allies into forgiving Iraq's debt following a war that Baker opposed! Nah. ... 8:40 P.M.
Saturday, October 2, 2004
The Case Against Editors, Part 104: Several readers have pointed to this Allahpundit post criticizing Newsweek's Hosenball and Isikoff for calling Qatar-based Egyptian cleric Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi a "moderate." It now seems the word was the product of "an editing change"--Newsweek has appended a correction. ... P.S.: I'm not at all convinced (even by Dana Priest and Tom Ricks) that the war in Iraq isn't winnable. But it doesn't seem like a good thing if clerics--even immoderate clerics--who once refrained from supporting the Iraqi "insurgency" now endorse it. ... 7:03 P.M.
Bizarrely, the estimable Charlie Cook thought Kerry's debate performance was "awful." Give him points for being completely out of synch with the CW. ... 5:52 P.M.
Friday, October 1, 2004
If I were a paranoid, I might engage in the following too-obvious-to-mention line of reasoning: 1)If Al Qaeda wants Bush to win--because it seeks a high-profile violent confrontation with the U.S. and 2)if it realizes that a terrorist attack on the U.S. will almost certainly help Bush; and 3)if whoever pays attention at Al Qaeda HQ either watched the debate last night or read the coverage and concluded that Bush might now lose; and 4) if Al Qaeda uses the tapes it releases to Al Jazeera to send signals triggering attacks--then the release of a tape this morning containing phrases like "We can't wait" and "Let us start resisting now" should prompt intense official and unofficial worry about an imminent attempted attack. ... That's a lot of "ifs," but I'd say each is a better than 50/50 proposition, no? ...P.S.: Wouldn't Kerry be more likely to pull out of Iraq than Bush would? Probably--which is why there might be a Zawahiri/Zarqawi split on thie issue of which candidate terrorists should back. But Zarqawi, while capable of causing destruction and fear in Iraq, presumably doesn't command a terror network with the ability to hit the U.S. mainland. Zawahiri does. ... 2:38 P.M.
Thursday, September 30, 2004
Kerry Takes the A Train: I didn't folllow the pre-debate commentary, and haven't read other blogs, so these comments are made in a state of laboratory-like purity: 1) Kerry won. I assume everyone is saying this. He not only was shockingly succinct and sharp ("Certainty sometimes can get ya' in trouble") he managed to gloss over all his problems--finessing his prior votes, avoiding the trap of seeming to argue that 1,000 American soldiers died in a vain or inglorious cause, keeping his left in line while saying he wanted to win in Iraq. O.K., maybe he lost a few people on the left. Still ... 2) A skilled debater might have picked Kerry apart; Bush is not that kind of debater; 3) Bush was badly hurt by, yes, the podium height, which made him seem smaller, in comparison to Kerry, than he actually is. He looked--as a friend of mine put it--a bit like a gargoyle, or someone who needed the podium for protection; 3) Did they really shut down the N.Y. subways during the GOP convention, as Kerry claimed? I think I took the subway during the GOP convention. 4) Bush wasn't that bad--he looked like a plausible president too! His North Korea answer was effective and he's obviously learned a lot in four years. But he was off--too relaxed and smug and contemptuous; 5) Why did Bush say Kerry's Iraq plan wouldn't work, as opposed to saying that Kerry's plan was the same as his plan? 6) By arguing we need a "fresh start" and "new credibility" in the world, Kerry at least flicked at the "rebranding" idea, key to a Pedro Martinez strategy that doesn't vilify Bush so much as thank him and retire him; 7) Why didn't Bush have an answer to Kerry's Tora Bora shot, which he had to know was coming? 8) After an hour I'd had enough of Kerry's humorlessness. But I no longer had such a problem with him being humorless in the Oval Office. If he doesn't get a one or two point boost in the polls, I'll be very surprised. ... Update: PoliPundit reached the same conclusion after five minutes. ... P.S.: Was that James Lee Witt I saw on the IRT? Assuming Kerry was wrong about the N.Y. subway, it shouldn't damage him the way Gore's erroneous comment about going to Texas with James Lee Witt damaged the Democratic nominee in the first debate of 2000. Why? Gore was being heavily criticized, before the first debate, for his tendency to fib and embellish. If you had given Gore one bit of advice before the debate, it would have been "Don't embellish!" When he went ahead and embellished, it seemed to reveal some sort of uncontrollable urge born of deep insecurity. (That's why Adam Clymer was wrong in his goo-goo criticism of the fuss made about Gore's Witt misstatement.) Kerry's misstatement, in contrast, appears to be just a free-floating bit of B.S. ... More: In the NYT of Sept 4, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is quoted boasting about the convention that had just ended:
''I'm proud to say by any standard, we passed this one with flying colors,'' Mr. Bloomberg said. ''Crime remained at record lows throughout the entire city. Parks were open and safe. There was no change in subway service, and no major disruption to commuters.:
[Thanks to alert reader J.B.] 9:04 P.M.
The Note says that at tonight's debate Kerry needs to present a version of himself who "organically projects intensity and pacific calm at the same time." Sounds like he needs yoga, not botox. Is there time to squeeze in a session? ... 3:17 P.M.
Matt Klam was very kind to kf in his recent NYT mag piece on blogging. Comments: 1) I don't think Klam was trying to discredit the left-wing bloggers he wrote about or to pump them up. I think he was trying to find some novelistic truths. He does. But I think he's off when he implies that blogging largely involves creating an artificial "online writing persona." All life involves creating personas, I guess, but Andrew Sullivan's persona on his blog and Josh Marshall's on his blog are close to the Sullivan and Marshall I know--closer than their respective personas in print. 2) I'm not sure non-Webby readers of Klam's piece got a very good idea what these people do, as opposed to what they eat. Needed: More quotes from actual blogs; 3) Am I a "Larry David basket case of self-doubt and indignation," harrassed by a fake "editor"? [yes-ed. So you're the leaker!] 4) No way "left wing politics are thriving on blogs the way Rush Limbaugh has dominated talk radio." Ask Dan Rather! Left-wing blogs have surged in the past year and Klam is right to highlight the trend. But nobody "dominates" the blogosphere, which is one virtue it has over talk radio. 5) Klam buried the lede!
Since February, with the explosion of blog traffic and the invention of blog ads as a revenue source, a few elite bloggers have found themselves on the receiving end of a Howitzer of money, as much as $10,000 a month.
If blog ads continue to work at this level, it would represent a big shift in the ecology of blogging (i.e.: you can make a living at it).
P.S.: Kausfiles--Big Enough to Serve, Small Enough to Care! Klam says my traffic "has flat-lined recently." I think I told him that, and it was probably true when I told him. But not now. The truth is my traffic rises and falls with the election cycle. It peaked at Sullivanesque levels during the primaries, then fell. But it's been rising since June as the general election gets closer. The overall trend is upward, although not steeply upward. [Didn't the NYT Mag fact checker check this fact when he called?--ed No. Another case of shoddy blog standards infiltrating the mainstream media!]
P.P.S.: Another fact-check point that matters mainly to me: Klam writes that "in 1999" I "began a political blog on Slate." Actually, kausfiles was an independent site, blog included, from 1999 to 2002--and may be again one day. There's all that Blogads money to chase! 2:15 P.M.
Mystery Pollster defends Gallup and makes a good point about MoveOn's cocoonish conspiratorialism:
I have admired MoveOn's efforts, but I have to ask, is it now so flush with cash that it can afford to buy a full page ad in the New York Times a few weeks before "the most important election of our lifetimes" attacking a polling company? Do swing or less-than-likely voters really care? Wouldn't it be better to spend that money, say, making a case against George Bush or just turning out the vote?
It's not just that the cocoon filters out the bad news. The cocooners are now wasting their ammo attacking the would-be bearers of that bad news. ... MoveOn's obsession might be OK if it were an in-house discussion of Kerry supporters. But this was the New York Times. ... Oh wait. ... [Cheap-ed. First shoot the fish in the barrel.] 1:33 P.M.
Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--He reports! And decides! Wonkette--Makes Jack Shafer feel guilty. Salon--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