The Landslide Faction
This year, it's rational to go with the winner.
Slate's Chris Suellentrop notes this non-trivial piece of heartening news for Kerry, buried in a WaPo article on the negative reaction to Kerry/Mary:
... Kerry continues to claim a large lead in key battleground states. In these 13 states, Kerry held a 53 percent to 43 percent advantage among likely voters.
It's hard to believe Kerry is doing that well in battlegrounds even while his national polling heads South. (Sorry, Andrew!) But if the WaPo nugget is accurate, it might be because the vulgar Shrumian us-against-them populism Kerry stressed in the last two debates plays well in one part of the country, the industrial Midwest--which happens to be the main battleground this year. Even Michael Dukakis started moving up in those states, if I remember right, when as a last resort in the waning days of the 1988 campaign he proclaimed himself a liberal and started giving I'm-on-your-side-y speeches. ... P.S.: Suellentrop also writes:
Despite winning all three debates according to opinion polls, Kerry hasn't taken the horse-race lead in a single [national] poll that's been released since the third debate, and he seems to be trending the wrong way.
Maybe that's because, for most of the country, Kerry didn't win the third debate! (Sorry, Will!) 8:56 P.M.
It Gets Worse When They Try to Be Maureen Dowd Dept: The NYT's Adam Nagourney writes, about the Kerry-Mary comment:
Mr. Kerry invoked Ms. Cheney at the debate in Arizona last Wednesday in arguing that homosexuality was not a choice. Mr. Bush dodged the same question ... [Emphasis added]
What Bush said was "I don't know." That's not dodging the question. It's answering the question. The answer was that Bush doesn't know. (When John McCain said he didn't know about something, during Q & A's in the 2000 race, wasn't that treated as a refreshing dose of candor?) ... Actually dodging the question might involve referring only to the views of others without ever really stating your own opinion. See, e.g., Kerry's answer. ... 8:42 P.M.
Up to a point: It looks as if the much-discussed 10/11 L.A. Times front page scoop reporting that
The Bush administration plans to delay major assaults on rebel-held cities in Iraq until after U.S. elections in November ...
was ... how to put it ... wrong. [Couldn't the administration have shifted course in response to the LAT story?-ed. Possibly, but the story was weak on its face. All the LAT's blind sources actually said was that the administration hadn't yet signed off on some offensives, not that they planned to delay them. If the Times story encouraged the Bushies to stop dithering--as opposed to reversing "plans" to "delay"--the story was still wrong. ... P.S.: And if you were Bush and were thinking politically, which course would you choose: a) sitting and waiting while the press reports a steady, dispiriting drip drip of casualties up until Election Day, or b) having coalition forces in action, taking the offensive against their adversaries? The LAT story never made much sense. ... 7:54 P.M.
Best case: Of the explanations of the Kerry-Mary debacle I've heard, this is the one that's most favorable to Kerry (from reader C.H.):
the Mary Cheney remark was just off the cuff, the REAL problem is that most of America didn't know that Dick Cheney's daughter was a lesbian. So instead of Kerry making a pretty decent point, many Americans thought he had OUTED her.
But do you really believe that 1) the remark was unplanned, even though Edwards had made a similar remark a week earlier; 2) Kerry didn't know that many Americans didn't know Dick Cheney had a daughter who was gay (i.e.; that he'd be informing them she was gay, out of the closet or not); 3) Kerry didn't know that many Americans would not like that she was gay even if they knew she was out of the closet; and 4) viewers would have thought Kerry's remark appropriate if they knew Mary Cheney was out of the closet? If Kerry had informed them in the same breath that she was out of the closet? That seems like a lot to swallow. ...
More: Suppose that--as C.H. and others contend--Kerry innocently made what he thought was a generous and supportive point about the Cheneys. Wouldn't he then, on finding out he had offended, have said, "Oh, I didn't mean to be hurtful or innapropriate, my apologies"? Heck, that's what he should have said even if it was a cynical, non-innocent comment. ... [Thanks to reader M.] 12:40 A.M.
Saturday, October 16, 2004
Goodbye "permanent Republican majority:" If Karl Rove wins now it will be by the skin of his teeth--by turning out the base, not by nurturing new GOP constituences, argues WaPo's Mike Allen. That will become completely clear if Bush exploits the unpopularity of Kerry's "earned legalization" immigration proposal--which might win Bush the election while losing Republicans the always-emerging Hispanic vote. ... P.S.: I'm not completely convinced that Bush's presidency has been as base-pleasing (and non-bipartisan) as the press claims. It takes two to not tango! Nor is it clear a lasting party majority is even possibile in a fluid, 50-50 era. (If Rove did succeed in capturing, say, 55% of the vote, the Democrats would just change their positions to win some of those voters back.) But Allen's article is a good place to start thinking about these things. Another piece that's too smart for the New York Times! ... 11:16 P.M.
The Landslide Faction: Might the normal tendency of voters to 'go with the winner' be magnified this year because many voters who don't feel strongly about the candidates do feel strongly that they don't want it to be a close election with all the attendant Florida style recount madness. They will cast their vote to try to give the front-runner a 5 percent win instead of a 1 percent win. ... This makes the pre-election polls, and the media spin on the polls, more significant than ever, of course. (At some point, a lead by either Bush or Kerry might reach a tipping point at which it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.) It also militates against fancy incumbents-lose-the-undecided and Democrats-win-on-turnout theories that say Kerry is in good shape if he's less than 3 down going into Election Day. That might have put him in good shape in previous elections. But in this election, it could cost him the Landslide Voters, who (unaware of fancy theories) will look at Bush's 3 percent lead and decide to help the president win big. That may be one reason why the Kerry camp is working so hard to combat the sense that Bush is even slightly ahead in the polls. ...
Of course, if Kerry is three points ahead in the polls on Election Day, he should get both the traditional anti-incumbent skew and the new Landslide faction. That would explain why some commentators on the left are so intent on discrediting polls altogether--an 'I don't believe polls" sentiment is win-win for Kerry. If voters disbelieve polls showing Bush is ahead, it might save Kerry by confusing the Landlsiders. But ifKerry's ahead in the polls on election day, he probably has it won anyway even if nobody believes those polls (and hence there is no landslide vote). ...
P.S.: Note that while the traditional go-with-the-winner impulse is mindless, the new don't-make-it-close impulse is completely rational. A voter could quite plausibly think that the Florida fight contributed to the poisoning of American politics, and that a repeat would be disastrous. The difference between how Bush and Kerry would actually govern for the next four years, the argument would go, isn't as big as the difference between a country with calmer politics and a country even more polarized than it is now, with another not-100%-legitimate president picked by lawyers and the courts. I'm not saying voters consciously run through this complicated thought process. But they may intuitively think, "It looks like X is the guy," and decide to vote for him and feel comfortable about it, where in previous years they might have reacted against the prospect of an X victory (pre-purchase buyer's remorse). ...
P.P.S.: Of course, to be completely rational Landlsiders would have to vote for the likely winner in their states. But I'm not sure voters pay that much attention to state polls. ... It's also possible that the voters' sense of the likely winner is largely divorced from the ongoing polls--which would make the ABC finding that voters by a 56-33 margin expect Bush to win especially troubling to the Kerry campaign. 10:14 P.M.
WaPo tracking: The 'fastest growing' segment of the electorate? ... Nader voters! Yikes. ... 2:59 P.M.
Newsweek plays down its likely-voter results ** (showing a 6-pt Bush lead) and finds:
Bush has a clear advantage with women, who prefer him 49 percent to 43 percent. Kerry has a slight edge with men, 50 percent to 46 percent.
Which country did they poll again? ... If this Newsweek poll is accurate, something more than Security Momming would seem to be required to explain the 10 point reverse gender gap. (The poll followed a debate on domestic policy, after all.) Maybe something about how Kerry reminds women .... not of their first husband so much as of a guy who never got to be their first husband because he bored them on their first date so he never got a second one. Meanwhile, for men, Kerry actually out-machos Bush in debate if you turn off the sound (and maybe even if you don't). ... Backfill: Alert reader J.G. notes that in this CBS poll--conducted between debates 2 and 3--Kerry also led among men and trailed among women, though the reverse gender gap was not quite as large. ... But the ABC-WaPo tracking poll released the very next day showed a gender gap in the traditional direction, with Kerry leading by 12 percent among women (in a poll that was tied overall). [Why do we care which way the gender gap goes?-ed Because if it's wacky maybe the whole poll is wacky. If all the polls contradict each other on this issue, maybe-- as the Kerryites contend--we shouldn't trust any of them.]
**: "Too Close to Call" is another reliable newsweekly Neutral Story Line. ... But if Kerry seemed to be nosing ahead among likely voters, would they still have run with that hed? PatioPundit says no! As does Cubs Now! (which also gagged on the reverse gender gap). ... 1:41 P.M.
Just one more Kerry/Mary theory please please please? Baseball Crank and Pat Caddell, who I think are different people, both speculate that Kerry's gratuitous Mary Cheney mention wasn't a cynical ploy aimed at conservative Republicans but rather a cynical ploy aimed at Democratic,church-going, gay-marriage-opposing African-Americans, whom Kerry desperately needs but who have been troubled by Bush's stronger stand against same-sex unions. Johnny Dollar picks up the Caddell quotes. ... 12:54 A.M.
Will cell phones save the Democrats? Or, rather, will the young cell-phone users that telephone pollsters miss show up on Nov. 2 and make the final outcome much more Kerry-friendly than the current polls indicate? Arianna says yes. Mystery Pollster (who also seems to be a bit of a Mystery Speller) says not this year. ... Update: Kerry skeptic Robert Musil enters the fray and sides with ... Arianna, speculating on the growing importance not of cell-only voters but of "five factor households." I'm one of them and (following Kaus' First Rule of Journalism) suspect Musil has a powerful point. It's all about Caller ID. Do you answer your phone? ... See Celinda Lake's comments in this CNN piece. ... 12:16 A.M.
Friday, October 15, 2004
Yet another theory of Kerry's Mary Cheney comment (from the hot, hot Impleader): Kerry wasn't trying to tar Bush and Cheney. He was just trying to straddle the question! ... (After all, why couldn't he have said, "I don't think homosexuality is a matter of choice?" That would be too straightforward! Too exposed. So he instinctively looked around for someone else to whom he could attribute this view so he wouldn't have to explicitly embrace it himself. Fatefully, he hit on ... [Why not Governor McGreevey?-ed Mary Cheney is more popular in New Jersey!] ) ... P.S.: I don't actually think Impleader's theory is what explains the comment. I think it was a clumsy little shiv job. But Kerry also was perhaps reflexively avoiding saying what he himself thought. ... 4:51 P.M.
Flail Watch: When Bush and his adviser Karl Rove take the unusual step of making themselves accessible to reporters, it's a sign of "anxiety" and "jitters." But when Kerry adviser Bob Shrum takes the unusual step of making himself accessible to reporters, it's a sign of confidence--a "victory lap"! ... Those two things could both be true, of course. But you'd want more evidence than the LAT's forced quote from Newt Gingrich that
"If you don't have some anxiety you are not in touch with reality."
[But the Times also had a "senior Republican strategist not affiliated with the campaign" saying he thinks "the Bush camp might be nervous"!-ed Well there you go! Case closed! You don't think the LAT could have gotten an "unaffiliated senior Democratic strategist" to say the Kerry camp might be nervous? Why are Bush's sharpened attacks "flailing" but Kerry's sharpened attacks--e.g., reviving himself formerly-semi-unrespectable fears of a military draft--not flailing?] 2:02 P.M.
Special MSM Professional Standards Edition: Impleaderbusts ABC's The Note (or, rather, its Noted Now spinoff) for turning a mildly anti-Kerry quote from Gov. Schwarzenegger into a pro-Kerry quote. Schwarzenegger criticized Kerry for evasiveness, but through skillful (or jarringly incompetent) use of ellipses Noted Now falsely makes it sound as if Schwarzenegger was praising Kerry for his straightforward answers! ... P.S.: On NBC Nightly News last night, Tom Brokaw said that N.M. Gov. Bill Richardson was "born in Mexico." No he wasn't. [An ad lib mistake?-ed No. Brokaw's piece was taped.] ... Update: Impleader Gets Results!Noted Now has now posted a prominent correction. Update: Not so prominent three hours later. But it's still there. ...1:42 A.M.
Thursday, October 14, 2004
Wonder how this line of attack will focus group ...
"He's worse than Nixon in his vulgarity. He looks like he shops at Wal-Mart. That's not what the president is supposed to be."-- Oliver Stone, in Playboy, on George W. Bush.
And some ideologues say Hollywood is out of touch! [At least Stone knows what Wal-Mart is-ed. OK. He's in touch. But he has some "class issues."]3:44 A.M.
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Debate #3: 'Did I mention that Dick Cheney has a lesbian daughter?'
1) kf's line: A technical draw that helps Bush more than Kerry. Why? a) The trend was against Bush going in to the debate; b) It's two hours after the event. I don't remember many specifics. I do remember that Bush was personable, upbeat, human and articulate (he seemed to have gained about 20 IQ points since debate #1) while Kerry was near-funereal. He even looked like a mortician. Where's the Man Tan when you need it? c) The CW going in had Kerry's campaign appealing to swing voters while Bush mobilized his base. But in the debate both moved to the center--Bush just did a better job of getting there, talking about education for minorities while Kerry was stuck defending racial set-asides. Ron Brownstein speculated , pre-debate, that Kerry's biggest task was "untying himself from big government." Will Marshall of the DLC said he needed to "belie the claim that he is some kind of pre-Clinton liberal." If Kerry did either of these things, I missed it. d) My gut tells me that, contrary to voluminous polling data, many voters are looking for reassurance that it's OK to reelect Bush. If so, I think he gave them that reassurance.
2) The CW held that a debate on domestic issues played to Kerry's strengths. Wrong! A debate on domestic issues helps Bush because it excludes the subject of Iraq, Bush's bleeding wound. Duh! Kerry's best line of the night, to my ears, was his pledge to "calm the waters of a troubled world." He should have said that about ten times--but in a domestic debate he was lucky to get it in once.
3) When I criticized John Edwards for gratuitously mentioning Dick Cheney's gay daughter, I got lots of email suggesting that Edwards was simply being nice. Sorry, that won't fly after Kerry bizarrely, needlessly and explicitly raised the subject again ("I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, ....") There must be some Machiavellian strategy behind the Democratic urge to keep bringing this up--most likely it's a poll-tested attempt to cost Bush and Cheney the votes of demographic groups (like Reagan Dems, or fundamentalists) who are hostile to homosexuality or gay culture or who just don't want to have to think about it. Or maybe Kerry was just trying to throw Bush off stride. In either case, the fake embrace was even creepier coming from Kerry than it was coming from Edwards--Edwards had at least been debating Cheney at the time. After the debate, Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill said Cheney's daughter was "fair game." Fair game? Who was being attacked? (It was supposed to be a discussion of whether homosexuality is a "choice" or innate. Bush had said he didn't know.) ... P.S.: If Kerry was being Machiavellian, he went way too far in the culturally liberal direction by talking about friends who "finally sort of broke out"--e.g. came out. (With the support of their wives!) Why "finally"? Is liberation from sexual repression a priority item for Kerry's first term? Of course not, but Kerry's language can't have made socially conservative voters comfortable--negating the effect of the Cheney mention, if that was supposed to make them uncomfortable with Bush. ... Update: Here's some evidence (in a NYT "undecided" panel) of Kerry's Mary Cheney mention backfiring ("a low blow"). ... More: Kerry was puncturing the "hypocrisy" of Bush's position, as some Kerry defenders claim, only if the sole reason to oppose gay marriage is homophobia. I support the idea of experimenting with gay marriage, but surely it's possible to be a non-bigot and be reluctant to immediately tinker with such a venerable social institution (even if modern monogamous marriage is itself a tinkering with the much longer-standing human tradition of polygyny). Once you admit this possibility of non-bigoted reluctance, then Kerry's move looks less like hypocrisy-puncturing and more like a straight appeal to homophobia. As such, it does no credit to Kerry. ... Perilous race analogy: What if Kerry were debating a conservative on affirmative action, and that conservative had a black wife, and Kerry gratuitously brought that up in an attempt to cost his opponent the racist vote? Would Andrew Sullivan approve? I don't think so. ...
4) Finally, a Pedro Martinez moment: Excellent Kerry move to thank Bush for his leadership "in those days after 9/11." Good job, George. I'll take the ball now. ... P.S.: Of course, Kerry had to be prodded into this cunning graciousness by moderator Bob Schieffer's set-up. ... Note: As alert, channel-surfing reader E.C. notes, Martinez himself was re-dramatizing the point on Fox even as Kerry spoke. ..
5) Schieffer's next question (about being "surrounded by very strong women") was another set-up for Kerry, allowing him some desperately needed self-humanization. When Kerry talked about his mother, he suddenly became a person again! Maybe he should think about his mother, like a method actor, before every debate. ... Too bad his mother anecdote was lame, and the debate was already almost over. ... P.S.: At least his (also human) Teresa joke will make it into the sound-bite rotation. Theresa didn't look too pleased--but then, she rarely does. ...
6) While Bush tried to be moderate in general, he wisely posed as a conservative on immigration, casting his own plan in the toughest possible light. He said he opposed an "amnesty" because he doesn't want to "reward illegal behavior," but missed a huge opportunity by failing to cast Kerry's plan for "earned legalization" (of illegal aliens already here) as just such a de facto amnesty. ...
7) Kerry's missed opportunity came on Social Security I thought. He scored by characterizing Bush's plan as an "invitation to disaster." If he'd hit Bush even harder--arguing that $2 trillion in added transition costs would kill the program, "end Social Security as we know it"--he might have gotten a debate-dominating, Johnson-vs- Goldwater moment out of it. (Bush, meanwhile, missed a demagogic moment by failing to jump on Kerry's lingering support for partially means-testing benefits. If Kerry gets through the whole campaign without this position becoming a liability, it will be a new day for us means-testers.)
8) Kerry's summary of his health care plan was very appealing:
We take over Medicaid children from the states so that every child in America is covered. And in exchange, if the states want to -- they're not forced to, they can choose to -- they cover individuals up to 300 percent of poverty. It's their choice.
I think they'll choose it, because it's a net plus of $5 billion to them.
We allow you -- if you choose to, you don't have to -- but we give you broader competition to allow you to buy into the same health care plan that senators and congressmen give themselves. If it's good enough for us, it's good enough for every American. I believe that your health care is just as important as any politician in Washington, D.C.
You want to buy into it, you can. We give you broader competition. That helps lower prices.
In addition to that, we're going to allow people 55 to 64 to buy into Medicare early.
More: Polipundit gets a little carried away. ... The quickie polls give Kerry an edge. (Gallup, CBS, ABC). Mystery Pollster doesn't find much fault with them, except to note that the "independent" voters who tune in may be disproportionately Kerry-leaning. ... 9:31 P.M.
A surprising number of Democrats I meet don't like John Edwards after having been exposed to his TV presence during the campaign. ... 3:07 A.M.
Ruy Vey! Why are ABC's results from the ABC/WaPo tracking poll slightly different from WaPo's results from the ABC/WaPo tracking poll? Mystery Pollster explains why--and catches Ruy Teixeira in another gruesome cocooner's hypocrisy:
For the last month, Ruy Teixeira and his correspondent, Alan Abramowitz have been loudly urging pollsters to weight by party identification to correct arguably flaws they perceive in likely voter models. I am sympathetic to some of their critiques of likely voter screening. However, they are now attacking the "silly" ABC/Washington Post likely voter model and suggesting that their "registered voter results are probably a better indicator of the actual standing of the race." Perhaps. But, as we now know, ABC weights its likely voter numbers by party, but not its samples of registered voters. So is the problem about the lack of weighting or the result?
A couple of decades ago I read an article--by Norman Podhoretz, I think--that clued me in to the overriding importance of broken families when it came to explaining poverty statistics. Years later, Podhoretz's thesis became conventional wisdom. Now Robert Samuelson has written a similar column explaining that "the increase in poverty in recent decades stems mainly from immigration." Key paragraph:
[F]or 2003, the Census Bureau estimated that 35.9 million Americans had incomes below the poverty line; that was about $12,000 for a two-person household and $19,000 for a four-person household. Since 2000, poverty has risen among most racial and ethnic groups. Again, that's the recession and its after-math. But over longer periods, Hispanics account for most of the increase in poverty. Compared with 1990, there were actually 700,000 fewer non-Hispanic whites in poverty last year. Among blacks, the drop since 1990 is between 700,000 and 1 million, and the poverty rate—though still appallingly high—has declined from 32 percent to 24 percent. ... Meanwhile, the number of poor Hispanics is up by 3 million since 1990. [Emphasis added]
Don't expect the left--which likes to cite with horror rising poverty numbers--to explain that the rise is largely due to the continuing influx of poor Hispanics from abroad. Don't expect the Bush administration to point this out either, at least while it's engaged in Karl Rove's Great Hispander Project. But at some point after November 3 this truth will become the new CW--faster than the truth about broken homes, I predict. ... P.S.: Samuelson is also good debunking the idea that incomes have been stagnant:
Mostly, the middle class is getting richer. Consider: in 2003, 44 percent of U.S. households had before-tax incomes exceeding $50,000; about 15 percent had incomes of more than $100,000 (they're also included in the 44 percent). In 1990 the comparable figures were 40 percent and 10 percent. In 1980 they were 35 percent and 6 percent. All comparisons are adjusted for inflation.
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
Here comes ... : Tomorrow's N.Y. Sun supposedly has a big Kerry/honorable discharge story. ...Update: Here's the article. ... Polipundit, of all people, comes to Kerry's defense. Beldar does not. ... Isn't it clear that if Kerry got a less than honorable discharge, it was for his post-Nam anti-war activities, which everyone already knows about. So how is this story damaging? [The coverup-ed. But it can't be worse than the crime itself!] 9:59 P.M.
Monday, October 11, 2004
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--but 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 and here. ... Update: Vodkapundit says the initiative is now going down, and this poll seems to support him. ... P.S.: They don't like it much over at Daily KOS. ... [Thanks to alert reader P.M.] 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]
Sunday, October 10, 2004
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 down the tubes. 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. Brownstein is the obvious guy. ... 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.
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.
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
Photograph of Howard Dean on the Slate home page by Jim Bourg/Reuters.