Is Bush smarter than a fourth-grader?

Notes from the political sidelines.
May 17 2007 3:58 PM

Is Bush Smarter Than a Fourth-Grader?

Maybe he's failing on purpose, to help our young people make gains in civics and history.

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Sali's colleagues recognize his potential. They already elected him president of the House Republican freshman class. But it would be a shame to let Sali's florid conservatism wither on the vine in Congress. Already, the poor fellow has found himself apologizing for the administration—pointing out that "cost overruns during a time of war are as old as the Republic" and defending Bush's record on climate change, rather than asking whether climate change is worth the hype.

Republicans are so used to winning Idaho that they have forgotten Idaho's ability to help them lose everywhere else. If conservatives are so mad they want to throw the Republican Party out the window, Bill Sali could be just the ticket. ... 12:42 P.M. (link)

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Saturday, Feb. 3, 2007

Profit of Doom: Punxsutawney Phil says we're in for a short winter but a long campaign. Although the nominations won't be decided until this time next year, candidates in both parties are already at full sprint. If a day is a lifetime in politics, then the campaign ahead is as long as all of human history since the last Ice Age—and will end just in time for the next one. (In the ultimate product tie-in, the gloomy new U.N. report on climate change came out the same week Fox announced it's going forward with Ice Age 3.)

The reason a long campaign feels like an eternity is not that we tire of the candidates. The frontrunners are still, in Sen. Clinton's phrase, famous but little-known; the long shots are just little-known. This is the getting-to-know-you phase, and for the most part, a friendly, curious country enjoys getting to know them all.

The real agony of the long windup is the endless, intense speculation about aspects of the campaign that don't much matter or aren't that interesting if they do. The next several months will be to politics what the last two weeks have been to football—flood-the-zone coverage of the game before the players even finish warming up.

Of course, we devour every detail anyway, and talk it to death around the water cooler and in our blogs. But in our hearts, we know that victory will depend on the quarterback, not the long snapper. As the Washington Post says in its profile of Chicago Bears center Patrick Mannelly, "There is no glory in bending over ..."

At this stage in the cycle, the three most closely watched measures of campaign progress are money, organization, and endorsements. The first two are important (you can't win without them) but overrated (you'll lose if you think they're enough). The last measure is unimportant and overrated. And let's face it—all three are pretty boring. The long snapper's job begins to sound interesting compared to its political counterpart, the numbing and thankless task of raising and spending $100 million.

But at least in the end, money and organization matter. Endorsements only matter when they backfire. They should carry a disclaimer that says, "Warning: Endorsing can be hazardous to a campaign's health."

Most endorsements make no difference whatsoever. Michael Jordan is one of the greatest pitchmen on the planet and has made a fabulous living on product endorsements. Yet in the 2000 campaign, his much-ballyhooed entrée into politics to endorse Bill Bradley didn't boost sales whatsoever.

Some of the most highly sought endorsements have turned out to be political fiascoes. When I worked on Al Gore's 1988 campaign, his legendary political consultant David Garth considered it a coup to win Mayor Ed Koch's endorsement in the New York primary. But every time Koch opened his mouth, he'd say something Gore would have to disavow. The Gore campaign spent its final days scheduling events at take-out counters in Little Italy and elsewhere, on the apparent theory that Hizzoner would have more trouble sounding off if we kept stuffing his mouth full of cannoli.

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