Bush's dubious Dubai guilt-trip.

A mostly political Weblog.
Feb. 24 2006 3:28 PM

Bush Dubious Dubai Guilt-Trip

Are port-sale critics a bunch of bigots?

Dubai-bye: The momentary CW, as kf discerns it, is that Bush will probably salvage the Dubai ports deal after a delay--perhaps with some K-Street/Krauthammer fig leaf  amendments. That's what I thought too, until I saw the latest Rasmussen poll. Stunningly, the port controversy has, for the first time, given Democrats the edge on national security, previously the key to the GOP's election victories. The port deal is also disfavored by a margin of 64%-17%, about as decisive a verdict as you get these days. Yes, it's Rasmussen, and yes, it was taken at the ignorant height of the controversy. But RCP is appropriately un-skeptical:

There's no way Republicans in Congress - especially those up for reelection this November - are going to stand by and let this single deal (irrespective of the merits) erase a 10-20 point advantage over Democrats on national security. Ain't gonna happen.

Advertisement

Maybe Bush and Krauthammer (who agrees the "contract should have been stopped" for security reasons) should focus on how to "finesse" the effect the deal's inevitable demise will have on our relationship with friendly Arab nations like the UAE. ... Update: El Podito agrees. "The deal is dead." He suggests the White House can't afford to wait 45 days to find out for sure. ... Why not kill it today? It's a Friday. ... That would end the agony not just for the Republicans, but also for our relations with the Arabs. Better to take that diplomatic hit now (when there's plenty of distracting news) than have the controversy stay on boil for 45 more days of Arabic bad press and then have the UAE stiff-armed anyway in the end, no? ... But: Ledeen's finesse  of the deal seems better than Krauthammer's. ...  12:20 P.M.

All in the Family: Director/actor Rob Reiner has managed to get California voters to fund (through a 50 cent cigarette tax increase) what is in effect a huge taxpayer-financed political media slush fund for him and his liberal causes--and his consultants. The (improving) L.A. Times put the scandal on the front page, and L.A. Weekly's Bill Bradley has been dogging Reiner. ... [But Reiner's doing it for the "kids."  And the criticism is "the price of being a public figure"--ed. Well allright then.] ... 11:19 P.M.

Anti-Anti-Backlash Lash Lash: Whiners Unite! How annoying is it to be guilt-tripped as a racist by President Bush and his administration's suspiciously well-coordinated, 35%-convincing pushback on the Dubai ports deal? "I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company," insinuated the President on Tuesday. "The only whiners left by next week will be the registered bigots," declares GOP organizer Grover Norquist. Hmmm. Wasn't it the left's traditional strategy--e.g.,when people raised doubts about the welfare system and its effect on work and family structure--to charge that legitimate worries were really disguised bigotry? It worked well for the Democrats, didn't it Grover? Voters love being called racists when they have legitimate concerns! Too bad Bush couldn't have made his accusation from the stage at Bob Jones University. ...

If you want to feel like whining, I recommend Daniel Engber's Explainer on what a port operator actually does:

It gets cargo containers off of ships and puts them onto trucks or trains. A port operator also provides other services to the shipping industry: It does the paperwork to get incoming shipments through customs and uses its computer system to help connect the goods with potential recipients. ...

Most operators invest in a computerized yard management system to help each trucker connect with his payload.  ... The port operator also handles personnel issues.

If we're afraid of bad guys sneaking something dangerous into the U.S., it sure seems like there are lots of opportunities for mischief if you can infiltrate the firm that does the paperwork and runs the computer system and handles the "personnel issues"! Is it comforting matter that "security" at American ports will still be "controlled by U.S. federal agencies led by the Coast Guard and the U.S. Customs and Border Control Agency ... ." Not if what you're worried about is a small cell of people looking for a way to get around the Coast Guard's security. Just having a port operator that is more easily approached by people who speak Arabic vastly increases the risk, at least the risk from Arab jihadists, no? That's why it was absurd for Condoleezza Rice to declare on Wednesday:

We have to maintain a principle that it doesn't matter where in the world one of these purchases is coming from.

Really? So it's perfectly all right if Iran, say, decides to go into the port operating business? Don't tell President Ahmadinejad. What about Palestine, with its Hamas-controlled government? A good business opportunity for them! Or North Korea? No need to worry about those half-dozen nukes--we have the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard handling security. Procedures are in place!

I'm sure the fuss about the Dubai contract is overstated. How could it not be? But that doesn't mean there aren't legitimate worries underlying it. The Bushies should address them instead of explaining, "Shut up, hicks." Fortunately, when Republicans try that ethnic guilt-trip trick (as Bush did with Harriet Miers, and continually tries to do on immigration) it's seldom effective. ...

P.S.: The normally sensible Jonah Goldberg, denouncing as "batty" the ports controversy, declares

"Few politicians--or commentators--seem to care about the facts. So here are a few ...

[T]he same Dubai company bought CSX's American port business in 2005, and nobody seemed to care then.

Goldberg has this wrong, I think. The Dubai company appears to have  bought CSX's international port operations (including China, Australia, Germany and Venezuela) not any American port business. Facts! But then, Goldberg's fighting  vicious American Know-Nothing bigotry, so maybe we should cut him some slack. ... Update: Goldberg corrects. ... 1:21 A.M. link

The New Road to Riches: Public radio! ...Minnesota Public Radio is resisting a state law requiring that it disclose salaries over $100,000 if it wants to keep getting state subsidies:

[State Rep. Marty] Seifert said MPR would rather skip the state money than list its salaries. MPR had received state money in the past, and Seifert said the $500,000 salary of MPR's chief executive officer William Kling was one of the motivations for his legislation. [Emph. added]

Keep those pledges coming. ... Randy Newman was so wrong. ...Note to Mr. Kling: No Enzos, please! That would be rubbing it in. ... [Thanks to alert reader J.] 11:22 A.M.

David Corn tries to explain to me why I shouldn't still think Saddam might have sent WMDs to Syria. ... P.S.: Corn also makes a good point--so obvious I completely missed it--about why, if Cheney and his "troubleshooter" Mary Matalin were being manipulative, they might have delayed getting out a statement on his hunting accident (and then chosen to put it out through a small Texas paper): So the news wouldn't get into Time and Newsweek, which both go to press on on Sundays. Duh! After Saturday evening, every hour counts in terms of whether those magazines can hold the presses to cram in a last-minute story. ... P.S.: In retrospect, of course, it might have been good for Cheney if the story had made that Sunday print run--then Time and Newsweek wouldn't have felt as much of a need to play catch up with Cheney cover stories this week. It would have been "last week's news"--and not just for newsweekly reporters. ... 12:59 P.M.

Does the mysterious "Dietrich" have a website yet? 12:51 P.M.

Robots, on the march! Mystery Pollster claims to have detected "a sleazy, unethical program of unusual scope." Robotic calls spread information and canvass thousands of voters under the guise of taking a "poll." ... I'm somewhat less outraged by the practice than MP--assuming the information being spread is accurate (which MP suggests may be the case with some of the calls). And if voters freely state their preferences to a machine without getting a promise of confidentiality, don't they know they might be talking to somebody's campaign? Why is conducting an anonymous poll so much worse than, say, writing an anonymous blog? ... In any case, it seems like a significant new technique. ... P.S.: If the robo-faux-polls make "real" polling more difficult and less accurate, is that such a bad thing? ... P.P.S.: It's not "sugging"--"selling under the guise"--either! Nobody's "selling" anything, as far as I can see. ... 2:49 A.M.

"Troubleshooter" Shoots Troubled Shooter: Cheney "troubleshooter" Mary Matalin really knows how to keep herself out of the story, huh? Anything to selflessly make her boss look good:

She also described a vice president, who, she said, was in no condition in the hours after the shooting to speak out himself. ... [snip]  "And I said, O.K., this guy is going to be worthless about getting me what I need to help him here,' " ...

No wonder President Bush likes her so much!  ... P.S.: If Cheney's initial draft of a "brief statement" was so "bad" that Matalin told them not to put it out, wasn't it her job to draft a better one? ... P.P.S.: Or was something else going on? (Imus to Matalin: "The point is that's insane to tell me and anybody else that it made sense for this friend of his ... to call the Corpus Christi paper.") ... Pure speculation: Cheney hates the regular White House MSM press corps so much he couldn't bring himself to give them this horribly embarrassing story. ... 1:09 A.M.

Free Speech minus ...

A few Western countries have stupid laws, erratically enforced, against denying the Holocaust ... -- M. Kinsley, Slate, two weeks ago.

Not that erratically, it turns out. Austrian prosecutors are asking to increase the three year sentence  meted out to (despicable, creepy, infamous etc.) British writer David Irving for violating a criminal statute that penalizes anyone who "denies, grossly plays down, approves or tries to excuse" the Holocaust in print "or other media." ... Denying the Holocaust may or may not be the same thing as merely depicting the Prophet, but jailing someone for denying the Holocaust seems like the same thing as jailing someone for depicting the Prophet. The New York Post, shamefully, ran the story of the sentencing under a  nyah-nyah headline of "Deny This!"   We'll see how the Post'scrack editorial writers reconcile this glee at Irving's imprisonment with their criticism of the administration ("Bushies betray free speech") for having failed to defend in stronger terms the "freedoms that Americans hold dear" in the case of the Danish cartoonists. ... The Anti-Defamation League, also shamefully, limits its criticism to "acknowledging that America's constitutional system bars prosecution for hate speech" before rushing to congratulate the Austrian court for having "sent an unmistakable and important message." I'm afraid it did. ... P.S.: See also Sullivan. ... 10:35 P.M. link

The Times' Sacred Rattner and his "Chinese Wall": Any mention of investment banker Steven Rattner in the New York Times has to be read with intense suspicion--he's a longtime friend and adviser to NYT publisher Pinch Sulzberger and gets featured in the Times with unfailing, gratuitous deference. Even if Sulzberger didn't want Rattner to be treated like a sacred cow he'd still be treated like a sacred cow by editors and reporters who aren't sure what Sulzberger wants. ...

So here was Rattner getting a nice little bit of launch publicity in the Sunday Business section for his new hedge fund. Nothing unusual there! (How do they get these scoops?) What I didn't understand was the part about the "Chinese Wall" Rattner has pledged to erect within his firm. I'm no expert--I barely understand what investment banking is, let alone what constitutes "due diligence,"  but here's what I think is going on (something that's explained only in the most abstract and unhelpful way by the NYT's Andrew Ross Sorkin):

Rattner's new hedge fund will specialize in the same industry sector--media and communications--in which Rattner's Quadrangle Group also runs a private equity fund. Now suppose, hypothetically, that the Quadrangle private equity fund is thinking of buying a part of media firm Knight-Ridder, currently on the block. In the course of its "due diligence" as a potential purchaser, Quadrangle gets to look at everything within the company--five years of financial reports, projections, special projects, etc. Let's speculate, again hypothetically, that the results aren't that promising--the billions of potential cost savings Quadrangle thought they would find aren't there. There's no fat to cut! The equity fund concludes buying Knight Ridder isn't a good deal.

Now let's say that Quadrangle's hedge fund is "long" in Knight-Ridder stock. (Again, this is hypothetical, especially since the hedge fund isn't even established). The hedge fund is betting that private equity funds are going to buy Knight Ridder at a 20% premium above the current trading price. Of course, the hedge fund execs aren't supposed to be privy to Knight Ridder's books. But senior Quadrangle managers (e.g. Rattner) now know the meaning of every last detail of KR's business because of the diligent investigations of Quadrangle's private equity fund.  Are they really going to allow their hedge fund to make a "long" bet on Knight-Ridder stock if they know Knight Ridder isn't worth the money? Can any business like Knight-Ridder (or Time Warner) really trust the Quadrangle's private equity side not to share information with the hedge fund side?  More subtly, can they--with many millions at stake--trust that Rattner (also with many millions at stake) won't sigh, roll his eyes, or cough, or otherwise telegraph doubts when he (hypothetically!) hears his hedge fund guys explain why they think Knight-Ridder stock is a terrific buy and worth a whole lot of money? Yes, says Rattner! "[T]he two funds," Sorkin dutifully reports, are to be "separated by a so-called Chinese Wall. "

But wait. Rattner also tells Sorkin that the two sides will "share ideas about industry trends", and that he

hoped that investment managers who specialized in public market media companies would "offer a window into the other side of the house."

What kind of Chinese Wall is that? It lets "ideas" through but not ...er, what? (What if you see a "trend" that "there's no more fat to cut at big media firms"?) Isn't Rattner's promise of semi-porous purity the sort of claim of which the New York Times would ordinarily be a tad skeptical? (Substitute the name "Frist" or "Marvin Bush" for "Rattner" to see what I mean.)

Assignment Desk: This is clearly a job for one of the Times' excellent, fearless business columnists--say Floyd Norris or Joe Nocera. Nocera would be especially well-suited, since unlike Sorkin he's good at explaining things like hedge funds and conflicts of interest in language ordinary readers can understand. Is Pinch's workout buddy blowing smoke or not? If not, nail him to the wall! It's not as if Nocera has kids to put through college. ... Oh wait. [ Better not recommend any interns for jobs at the Times--ed  I knew there was a high-minded reason I don't have interns.]

P.S.: Of course, it's not clear that any media company really wants to get tough on Rattner. He might be buying up their stock one day. ... 1:19 A.M.

Stix Nix Crix Pix: It's a post-nomination heartland breakout runaway red state frenzy! Brokeback Mountain'sdomestic box office take has ... "collapsed," according to Andrew Sullivan. ... But hey, "less so than the other [eggheady, leftish and New Yorkerish] Oscar contenders." ... [You only wrote this so you could use that hed--ed True. I should have used it earlier. But it could be better. Remember the French word for "prize" ... ] ... See also J. Leo. ... Update: It's not just me! BoxOffice Mojo'sBrandon Gray, writing for the LAT,   confirms the bumpless box office fizzle:

If you thought box office results were low for best picture contenders on the first weekend after nominations were announced, take a look at what happened in their second week basking in Oscar's glow.

As a group, this year's best picture nominees dropped an average of 43% last weekend from the previous weekend's already dismal results.

How bad does it look? Last year's best picture candidates — the least profitable group of nominees on record — fell just 17% in the same frame.

"Brokeback Mountain" fared the best among this year's crop, and it was down 33%. It's the only best picture nominee that rates more than a blip on the box office radar, with a $4 million weekend and a $66.5 million tally in 66 days.

"Capote" crumbled 45%, "Good Night, and Good Luck" slumped 43% and "Munich" sank 53% from already pitiful grosses the weekend before. ...

"Brokeback Mountain" ads, for instance, trumpet the picture's legion of awards and nominations, essentially telling filmgoers they must see the picture because it's important and revelatory.

The message that "Brokeback Mountain" happens to be a universally resonant love story is buried underneath all the trophies. The result? The picture seems to have lost momentum since receiving all those Academy Award nominations. [Emph. added]

Beating Capote doesn't mean you've moved the red states on gay rights! ... [Tks. to alert reader M.C.] 9:50 P.M.

To Drudge: The newsweeklies are the caboose on a story more often than they're  the locomotive, no? ...  12:18 A.M.

Hill-won't-run contrarianism: Right on schedule. ... 2:36 P.M.

Harmonic convergence of right-wing isssues:  Gay marriage becomes immigration loophole in UK. ... "Immigrants face less rigorous tests if they seek to gain British citizenship through a civil partnership," notes the Sunday Times--though I doubt the additional "consummation" requirement for heteros is rigorously enforced. ... Isn't the problem simply that a gay-union loophole multiplies the number of possibilities for sham marriages (and probably by more than a factor of 2, because it's less of a psychological effort for heteros to room with a same-sex pal for two years than to feign marriage with an opposite-sex pal)? ... [via Lucianne12:23 P.M.

RTN408:   A couple of obvious points in defense of "return to normalcy" as an overarching theme** for Democrats, against criticisms from Roger Simon and his commenters:

To Roger's commenters: RTN can be a statement of strength, not a proposal for retreat to a pre-9/11 mindset. The struggle against Al Qaeda is now up to speed, the argument goes. It can now become--or, rather, we are now strong enough to have it become--one of the normal jobs of government, as standing off against the Communists was for four decades during which Americans managed to pay attention to other issues and lead normal lives that were only occasionally punctured by a sense of crisis (e.g. Cuban missiles).

To Roger: We even elected Democrats during those decades, yet somehow Communism was still contained and then defeated. Even accepting your assertion that Al Qaeda is an enemy that's less "normal" than Russian Bolsheviks, it's not our enemies I'd have the Dems "normalize," but the fight against them (including all sorts of additional eavesdropping, provisions of the Patriot Act, etc., if necessary). Do you plan on keeping the country in a permanent state of forget-all-else crisis until Al Qaeda (and its inevitable imitators) are completely defeated? Then the terrorists will have ...

Nor do Dems have to use the actual phrase "return to normalcy," of course. Preferably not, in fact. But that's the gist. ... Bonus: The theme is one of the few that might be effective against John McCain, whose highly advertised flaw is that he's a hothead, who will probably have a tumult-inducing domestic reform agenda, and whose less highly advertised flaw may be that he's  "never seen a war he didn't want to start." [v] ... 1:01 A.M. link

Abandoning Democracy--Shibley's Choice: An unsatisfying op-ed by Shibley Telhami  argues that U.S. Middle East policy has a choice to make:

1) Continue to pursue democracy, knowing the elections will be won by Islamists, but expecting that through a policy of "partial engagement and patience" that "their aims once they are in power" can be moderated; or

2) "[R]ethink the policy of accelerated electoral democracy and focus on a more incremental approach of institutional and economic reforms of existing [i.e. non-democratic] governments."

There's no third way, Telhami says--specifically, no hope that elections will bring to power secular reformers anytime soon. ... So far, so good. ... But then it becomes clear Telhami himself favors Choice 2, without giving much of a reason for it. "[E]conomic, educational and judicial development, coupled with a strong human rights policy, have a far greater chance to make a difference," he asserts. Why? When has Mideast "development" ever worked in the past? Haven't we been pursuing "development" in Egypt for decades? Choice 1, as described by Telhami himself, seems quite appealing. In Palestine, as he concedes--and Iraq, as David Ignatius argues--it still might work. There may be reasons it's a bad choice,** but Telhami doesn't bother to give them. ...

P.S.: Why doesn't this statement, made by U.S. Ambassador Khalilzad about the dickering Iraqi factions, reflect the proper, adult, non-bullying/non-enabling attitude that might also be taken with respect to Hamas? 

"They will make their choices. We will make our choices, based on their choices."

**--You could argue, for example (as does my colleague Robert Wright [ search for "meme" ]), that modern info technology will produce democracy anyway, with or without aggressive promotion by the U.S..  That may render Choice #1 unnecessary. But it also complicates choice #2, no? Will pursuing an "incremental" approach ensure that when democracy does come there will be a vibrant civil middle to throw its electoral weight around? Telhami's own skepticism seems to argue against any hope that the mosques will quickly fade into the background. Isn't it just as likely that our support of "existing governments" will guarantee that when democracy comes we're seen as full enemies and not half-allies by the victorious Islamists? [You say that like it's a bad thing not to be everybody's friend-ed. Good point. Yes, my Telhami-like assumption is that it's easier to get elected Islamist governments to moderate if we avoid 100% enmity.] ... 11:04 P.M.

Klein and petard w/5 hoist: In yet another big, inexplicably-timed story on Jon Klein's epic boastful flailing and water-treading at CNN--he's now "savoring small victories"!-- the NYT's Jacques Steinberg notes that CNN's viewership fell by 37,000 in prime time between 2004 and 2005, while Fox's viewership rose by 49,000. Ah, but "Mr. Klein discerned a silver lining"--among viewers 25-54 years old, those most "attractive to advertisers," it seems CNN "was up 9,000." ...That's 9 with three zeroes! ...  But if it's 25-54 year olds who count, Steinberg eventually notes, MSNBC "has lately been gaining on CNN." Actually,  reports TVnewser, in recent days MSNBC has been regularly beating Klein's network at 7 and 8 P.M. in this allegedly crucial demographic  ... P.S.: Has any news executive ever achieved as high a ratio of media face time/results as Jon Klein? ... P.P.S.: Maybe he deserves it. Any old suit could figure out how to get beaten by ideologically-driven Fox. But it took a visionary genius to figure out how to also get beaten by MSNBC! ... 1:17 A.M.

Swoon, dammit! Gay Patriot agrees with the alternate-Tuesday Andrew Sullivan: Brokeback, the film, is only "just 'okay.'"... 9:34 P.M.

Greenspan vs. the Gravy Train: David Smith wittily translates into understandable English Alan Greenspan's sharp parting critique of Fannie Mae--the famous taxpayer-subsidized gravy train for ex-pols--and its counterpart, Freddie Mac. ... As I understand it, Greenspan's point is that Fannie Mae does a fine job of creating a secondary market for mortgages, which helps everyone. (Mortgage lenders can then re-lend the money to additional homebuyers). But then Fannie Mae also uses its implicit federal bailout guarantee to simply trade assets on its own account, which is not only a) an easy way to profit from the taxpayer's de facto assumption of bailout risk (which lets Fannie Mae borrow money more cheaply than other investors can), thus helping Fannie Mae pay ridiculous multi-millon-dollar salaries to ex-pols who can lobby Congress to maintain the subsidy; but also b) actually turns out to create instability and the chance of a big crash. ... Recommendation: We should rein in this second activity, which a Senate bill does but the House bill doesn't. ... P.S.: But can't we also get some of those millions back from Jim Johnson? ... 7:09 P.M.

Veepswapping--Solving Bush's Heir Quality Problem: The possibility that Cheney would resign--allowing Bush to appoint and anoint a successor--seemed plausible before Cheney's hunting accident. It's probably less likely now, because Bush wouldn't want to be seen as having given in to the press mob. Still--as Peggy Noonan points out, drawing a stern CW rebuke from ABC's The Note--if Bush sees his legacy as Iraq he has to be thinking about how to guarantee he's followed by someone "who will continue his policy, and not pull the plug, and burrow through."  ... You might say that if Bush hasn't at least considered the possibility of having Cheney resign--and if Cheney hasn't considered it too--then they should probably both quit immediately on the grounds that they lack the imagination necessary to govern. (He could become editor of The Note!) ... P.S.: The problem, in addition to those outlined by Noonan (e.g., 'nine enemies and one ingrate') is that anointment by Bush doesn't currently seem like such an advantage in the general election. Especially if you are semi-front-runner John McCain. Why would McCain want to be appointed Bush's VP? Right now, McCain is effectively separated from most of Bush's failures and mistakes. He can suggest he'd do things differently and propose dramatic reforms that aren't Bush's reforms--yet he can still be as conservative as he wants to be and cozy up to the Bushies as needed. It's the best of both worlds. ... It follows thatBush would only want to anoint a successor if he wanted to anoint someone other than McCain--if, for example, he deemed McCain an undesirable successor. ...

Backfill: Anti-Bush conservative Bruce Bartlett called for appointing and anointing a new VP back in 2004. He notes that Cheney wouldn't even have to lose influence--Bush could keep him on as a White House counselor. ("I'll get to spend more time with the president!") ... Update:NRO's Jim Geraghty floats some truly horrifying names, including Newt Gingrich and ("intriguingly"!) Alberto Gonazales. ... 4:55 P.M.

The Health Paranoid Report: As someone who, like many, filters his drinking water to eliminate the slightest trace of lead, I've wondered if Harry Whittington is really out of the woods if doctors leave bird shot in his body--assuming that the shot contains lead. This Slate Explainer  is not very encouraging.

Still, numerous case reports and several studies have demonstrated that gunshot injury can cause lead toxicity. A recent survey of about 500 shooting victims in South Central Los Angeles found a significant and consistent increase in blood lead levels over the months following an injury.

The chance of getting lead poisoning increases with the number of bullet fragments or pellets you have lodged inside of you. A large number of very small lead pellets—perhaps like those lodged in Whittington's head, neck, and chest—would be the most dangerous on account of their large surface area.

Has the press determined yet whether the pellets had lead in them? ... P.S.: It's those "subtle but serious changes in cognition and concentration" that worry the most! ... Film at 11  [v]. ... 1:40 P.M.

Ford Nose: Harold Ford Jr., running appealing to the right in the Tennessee Senate race, isn't scared of departing from Democratic orthodoxy on Social Security:

It was in the area of entitlements that Ford made his boldest statements. He says we need to notify people 40 and under right now that they won't be getting Social Security until they are 70. Increased life expectancy is threatening the solvency of the program. He also favors means testing so that those making over $300,000 a year would not receive a Social Security check. He is opposed to private accounts.

Sounds tough and sensible. The obvious problem is that if you cut off benefits only to those "making over $300,000 a year" you don't save the system very much money--especially if the over-$300,000 test applies to income earned at the time the benefits are received, when many affluent seniors are retired and living off investment income. If it applies to peak-earning years, it would cut off more people, of course, though I'd guess not more than the top one or two percent. (The top five percent of all households began down at $150,499 in 2001.) But it's a camel's nose. ... [via Instapundit] 1:05 P.M.

Return to 'Return to Normalcy' II: Bob Wright doesn't think much  of my** suggestion that the Democrats adopt some variation of "Return to Normalcy" as their overarching 2006-2008 theme. He notes it's not exactly a clarion call of passionate idealism. That may be true. But here are some advantages:

1) It covers a lot: The essential premise is that Bush has stretched the military, the Constitution and the civility of our politics to the limit in reaction to the threat of future 9/11s. All this fevered straining and leveraging  may have been appropriate at the time, but there's no real need to keep running in hyperdrive. We can routinize the anti-terror struggle the way we routinized the Cold War, when just as much was at stake. We don't have to make an end run around the Constitution or a duly-passed statute (wiretapping). We don't have to torture prisoners or hold them forever without hearings. We don't have to slight disaster relief (Katrina) because the Department of Homeland Security worries only about terrorists. We don't have to unmask CIA agents in a desperate effort to build a case for war. ** We don't have to alienate our allies. We don't have to run giant deficits to finance our armed forces, as if the "Global War on Terror" were a temporary crisis that will be over in three years. It's not. It's a semi-permanent part of the landscape. Democrats can contain the terrorist threat the way, for four decades, they helped contain the Russians--while (as during the Cold War) we allow ourselves to turn our attention to domestic problems such as health care and Social Security.

2) It not only changes the focus from foreign policy (on which Dems tend to lose) to domestic policy (where Dems are poised to win)--it does this a) without minimizing the importance of the anti-terror effort but also b) without requiring the public to decide that Democrats are actually better equipped to fight Al Qaeda.  All they have to decide is that the Dems are right to say, "We can handle it." Wright wants a full-blooded campaign that tells voters the Bush approach to the terror, including the Iraq War, is "completely wrongheaded." But Iraq has already been invaded--whoever is president is going to have to deal with the reality that exists now. The abnormal--an experiment in Iraqi democracy--is now the normal. Or, rather, it needs to be the normal. Isn't it easier to simply convince the public that a Dem approach will be just as effective at making the best of that situation, at a tolerable casualty level?  Democrats, after all, already have the votes of Americans who think Bush's approach is "completely wrongheaded." And the mere goal of "returning to normalcy" will by itself do a lot to decathect the terror war abroad, without suggesting a reversal or retreat.

3) It bridges over the rift within the Democratic Party without seeming to be a vague compromise. The idea that Bush has gone a bit crazy trying to remake history after 9/11 incorporates a fairly severe critique of his presidency, all the more powerful because it is accurate. At the same time, "normalcy"--or whatever synonym you prefer--rhetorically counters the idea that Dems are the wacky, fringe, cultural boundary-pushing party of drugs, gay marriage, euthanasia, etc. Mudcat Saunders will be happy.  (Or else it implies that gay unions, tolerance, self-medication, etc. now are the normal American institutions--so Frank Rich  will be happy too. Win-win!)

RTN isn't the message for which I'd cheer the loudest. It's not a reform message, in itself. It's a centrist message (base-based politics, as opposed to compromise-based politics, is one of the Bush practices that's been straining our normal political civility). But it's not a "radical centrist" message. I'd prefer a presidential candidate who takes on both the business lobby on the Republican side and the union and racial preference lobbies on the Democratic side. But then I'll probably be voting for John McCain, rather than a Democrat, in 2008.

P.S.: Wright  doesn't think much of McCain  either.

**  Actually, the suggestion was first made by Peggy Noonan during the 2004 campaign.

*** Have I missed any of the day's scandals? OK, Abramoff. Abramoff doesn't fit. But 4 out of 5 isn't bad.

Update: RTN certainly beats the Dem's latest syncretic effort, which amalgamates the Bushies' various sins (Katrina, Iraq, Plame, Cheney's hunting accident) as the product of a "secretive administration" (Sen. Reid) that refuses to "level with the American people" (Sen. Clinton). For one thing, unlike Reid's theme, RTN isn't entirely negative, or process-oriented. It says at least something about where a non-secretive, leveling Dem government would want to take the nation. ... RTN also subsumes Reid's theme--a "normal" administration would not be so secretive!  2:43 A.M. link

Tony Snow's advice to G.M. Roper will be very useful to many people who have cancer--or who don't. .... [Thanks to Instapundit]  8:20 P.M.

Matt Volk sees signs that the long -waitedToyota hybird SUV Highlander isn't selling.. He suggests it's overpriced.  ($43,600, with nav--yikes.) The alternative explanation, of course, is that it doesn't look different from a regular Highlander. Unlike the weird Prius, it's not a rolling advertisement of your eco-credentials. ... I know people who have traded in sexy Audi A4 sedans for Priuses because--in concerned-about-the-planet Hollywood--Priuses are sexier. The trick doesn't work if you drive up in what looks like an ordinary family SUV and have to explain that it's really a hybrid. ... Maybe Toyota could solve the problem with some wacky, nerdy hybrid-only wheels. ... Update: Ford may or may not have a competing "hybrid" hydraulic propulsion system that could be superior to Toyota's. Will Arianna Huffington soon be driving an F-150 pickup? See the lively discussion in the comments section of this Autoblog post. ... 12:11 P.M. link

Dick Morris is usually smart and wrong. But this column  seems right. ... It was especially clever of Ken Mehlman to stigmatize Hillary's "angry" quality, since being vacuously angry at Bush is the one obvious way she has of appealing to the Democrats' left base while sticking with her support for the Iraq war. ... Left on affect, Right on effect! ... She was presumably planning to be angry a lot over the next couple of years. ... 11:50 A.M. link

Buried lede of the day? Deep in a piece on new Republican House Majority Leader John Boehne r, former Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey admits he opposes both the Iraq War and No Child Left Behind:

Armey said Boehner will have to temper his views to reflect the conference's. He cited his own votes for President Bush's No Child Left Behind education law and the authorization to go to war in Iraq as positions he never would have taken if he was not majority leader.

Armey joins Chuck Hagel and Newt Gingrich as the Democrats' last, best hopes for getting out their anti-Bush message. [But there are still entire large institutions dedicated to effectively battling the Bush administration's bellicose right-wing policies!--ed  You mean the FBI and CIA.] 11:07 A.M. link

kf Touches the Heart of the Heartland! I hadn't realized, until someone tipped me off, that Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 had exactly the same marketing strategy as Brokeback Mountain, the gist of which was "Hey, a film sticks it to the conservatives but it's playing in the red states!" This is the now-familiar  Heartland Breakout meme. Moore boasted that his movie was big "in every single red state in America. ... It sold out in Fayetteville, North Carolina."  As with   Brokeback, the press bought into the story. In 2004, Time magazine wrote:

You would have expected Moore's movie to play well in the liberal big cities, and it is doing so. But the film is also touching the heart of the heartland. In Bartlett, Tenn., a Memphis subuurb, the rooms at Stage Road Cinema showing Fahrenheit 9/11 have been packed ...

I've gotten lots of email asking why I've written so many items about Brokeback. Forty-two items on the subject would be one thing. But forty-three?I must be an anti-homosexual bigot, or a closeted self-hater, or just generally hateful, etc. Here's why I thinkI've written so much on it:

1. The Heartland Breakout Meme seems like B.S.: Fahrenheit wound up reaching about the same number of theaters--approximately 2,000 at its widest distribution--as Brokeback. But Byron York, for his book The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy, got hold of confidential movie-industry data showing that, contrary to the Heartland Breakout scenario, Fahrenheit had done the vast bulk of its business in the usual blue state urban centers (and in ... Canada). It had almost uniformly underperformed in red state cities--including Time's Memphis, where the audience was more than 50% lower than you'd expect given Memphis' share of moviegoers. Some enterprising reporter should get hold of similar data for Brokeback, once its run is over. Do you want to bet they show the same insular, blue-state dominance? The only difference would be that Fahrenheit 9/11 (at  $119 million) was much more popular than Brokeback, measured in box office.

2. The Heartland Breakout Meme seems like B.S. of the sort that consistently hurts Democrats (and others who believe it): B.S. is B.S.. Bloggers are allowed to point it out (he says defensively)--especially if it's B.S. the mainstream press has no particular interest in pointing out (because it kills the story, or because they'll seem homophobic).** But this B.S. falls into a special category: the sort of gratifying myth that in the past has helped lull liberals (and gay rights activists who may or may not be liberals) into wild overconfidence. Remember when Democrats actually believed that Fahrenheit would help push Bush out of office? It didn't work out that way.  Moore's film didn't change many minds in part because, as York puts it, it "never reached audiences that had the power to defeat the president at the polls." Despite all the "heartland" hype, it was a blue-state movie. York notes that Mel Gibson's Passion of Christ--a mirror-image "red state" movie that did well where Fahrenheit did badly, badly where Fahrenheit did well--prefigured the 2004 results, in that it attracted an audience roughly three times the size of Fahrenheit's (or four times Brokeback's!).

Much of Democratic politics seems to now consist of embracing and fanning similarly comforting, but ultimately deceptive, liberal memes. Enron has fatally damaged Bush, Abu Ghraib has fatally damaged Bush, Katrina has fatally damaged Bush, Abramoff has fatally damaged Bush, the Plame investigation will fatally damage Bush--you can catch the latest allegedly devastating issue every day on Huffington Post or Daily Kos (and frequently in the NYT). If you believe the hype--if you don't compare Michael Moore's box office with Mel Gibson's box office, in effect--you'll believe that Democrats don't need to change to win. They just need to push all these hot memes forcefully. If you don't believe the hype--if you think that netroots Dems are too often like the Iraqi Sunnis who think they're a majority--you'll look for a Bill Clinton-like alternative with greater red-state appeal.

More specifically, if you believe Brokeback Mountain is sweeping the heartland, you won't hesitate before presenting gay marriage as the obvious next step in the evolution of civil right--a step that's already been taken, really, according to Frank Rich. After all, they swooned over Ennis and Jack in Plano, Texas! If you don't buy the Heartland Breakout spin, you'll press the gay marriage issue much more cautiously (and will especially avoid the moralistic, guilt-tripping attitude that allows Republicans to pull off the Democrats-are-the-real-elitists act that Tom Frank writes about in What's the Matter with Kansas.)

Misjudging the depth of cultural antipathy to homosexuality can be costly for political groups aside from Democrats. Did gay activists realize, when they pressed the incoming Clinton administration to allow homosexuals to serve openly in the military, that the result would be to formalize an often-oppressive "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy? Why, wondered Andrew Sullivan in 2001, do "we seem to be going in reverse"? Which brings us to 3.

3. If the Heartland Breakout Meme is B.S. with respect to Brokeback, it's B.S. for a reason:  A big reason gay rights advocates might underestimate the difficulty of their campaigns is that they accept a facile analogy of civil rights for gays with civil rights for racial minorities. Didn't Harry Truman integrate the armed forces by decree? Well, why couldn't Clinton do the same? Answer: Because integrating by sexual orientation isn't the same thing as integrating by race. Sexual orientation involves actual differences in behavior (at least a strong tendency--orientation!--toward such behavioral differences). The military might well have difficulty openly assimilating male soldiers who want to have sex with other men--the culture of many military institutions runs on sublimated hetero impulses (something dramatized effectively in the movie Jarhead, among other places). Marines use the idea of "Jody," the mythical civilian back home who is screwing your girlfriend/wife, to get soldiers committed to battle. The trick might not work so effectively on Marines who are less hot for the women back home than the men in their own units. No doubt other tricks could be developed to motivate gay Marines. The point isn't that gays shouldn't be able to openly serve, but that it's not a simple adjustment to make. Less simple than opening the Marine Corps to all races.

The Brokeback Breakout idea is both a symptom of this oversimplification--after all, why shouldn't the red states embrace the benign modern counterpart of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?"--and a cause. If you think the visceral straight male reaction against male homosexual sex has effectively disappeared--look at Plano, etc.--you won't spend a lot of time trying to figure out the possible deep-seated, even innate, sources of resistance to liberalization, and you'll tend to be surprised and baffled by their persistence. At worst, you'll pass them off as sheer redneck bigotry--a proven way to lose the red states for good. 

Maybe the truth won't set you free. But B.S. seems even less likely.

**--The Brokeback Heartland Breakout story is similar in this respect to the hardy perennial "Seniors Are the New Peace Corps Workers" story that my old boss, Charles Peters, used to talk about. According to Peters, a former Peace Corps official, reporters are unable to resist the idea that kindly Americans in their sunset years would give something back to the less fortunate overseas. They're probably still writing this story even today. The only problem, Peters says, is that the story isn't true--seniors, by and large, make terrible Peace Corps volunteers. But do you want to be the schmuck who points that out?

Update: Sullivan responds, distinguishes himself from Frank Rich, and makes a good point about "putting love at the core of gay identity, rather than merely sex." ... He's also right, I think, that the movie's not that good!  (That doesn't stop him, of course, from condemning as sadly homophobic anyone else  who doesn't appreciate the "classic tale of star-crossed lovers.") ... Reader E., echoing another Sullivan argument, says I

underestimate the difficulties in integrating the races back in the day. Racial riots in the military were not uncommon in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. I remember being trained as a junior officer back in the 1990s how to deal with and respond to racial riots, should one occur.

I seriously doubt there would be nearly as many anti-homosexual riots in today's military, should it be openly integrated (remember it is de facto integrated in many units already). To that extent, integrating homosexuals would actually be easier than integrating the races in the military.

1:31 A.M. link

Attention, Mr. Soros: The owner of the domain name Impeachbush.com, who bought it as an investment back in May, 1999, has decided that this is the time to put it on the market, which must mean something... It will be interesting to see, not just what such a URL is worth, but whether it's worth more to an anti-Bush group or to  Karl Rove. ... 10:41 P.M.

Bill Bradley on how the Democratic Party in California is gearing up to serve its "anchor tenant,"  the teachers' union. ... In passing, Bradley summarizes the current, depressing state of California politics: The transportation lobby has plotted a big bond issue "to stop the education lobby from taking money from the gas tax which is supposed to be allocated for roads and highways and other transportation." So the education lobby is plotting with its underlings (the Democrats) to take money away from the transportation lobby's bond issue and divert it to the school bureaucracy. Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez declares education must be the "first priority" for funds "until every child in this state receives a decent education and a fair chance to succeed." Conveniently, there's no danger of that happening any time soon, at least as long as the California Teachers Association is in charge. 12:38 P.M.

82_horizontal_rule

Bloggingheads--Bob Wright's videoblog project. Gearbox--Searching for the Semi-Orgasmic Lock-in. 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. Keller's 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's Huffosphere--Now a whole fleet of hybrid vehicles. 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. John Leo--If you've got political correctness, he's got a column ... [More tk]