Defining an advantage
An "outside adviser to the White House" is quoted by the New York Times
"If we're going to have a discussion about W.M.D. and intelligence failures and Osama bin Laden, that's not an election George W. Bush wins. If it's about who keeps you safer, that's the ground we want to be on."
In other words, Bush's performance on national security is a loser. But his ... what? ... on national security is a winner. His what. Attitude? Elan? Sparkiness? His ability to run ads regarding Democrats' traitorous weakness? Somehow I'm betting it's the last.
"Curveball" and spring madness
That's the best name for a news subject since "Monkey Business," the boat Hart visited during his affair with Donna Rice. Putting the intell revelations, including Clarke's, together with campaign news, I'd say the Republican Party has been reduced to doing just one thing competently: shredding Democratic candidates. They seem helpless at anything else, such as handling intelligence or even smearing people who aren't Democratic senators. It's depressing. The Bush administration crumbles from week to week, but they can still swat down the man we send up against them. Instead we've been relying on McCain (when he said something nice about Kerry) and a McCain voter (that is, Clarke).
Now Friedman is pushing McCain as Kerry's VP. Can't see how McCain can do it -- he's been categorical about saying Bush provides the leadership we need now. But it's a lovely dream. Being a turncoat, a conservative, etc., pales next to sense he's a real person, not the zombie Kerry turns into when he's fighting the GOP.
Stuff I'd like to know
Who vets books by White House employees, and are they obliged not to tell the administration about what the books say? Apparently, Clarke's book got held up for three months or so as White House officials went over it, but the book's contents still came as a surprise to Rove & Co. when Clarke went on Sixty Minutes
. Is this a case of deliberate defiance toward the Bush p.r. team, with resulting decapitations to be expected?
Also, Clarke says Tenet was his ally in trying to make the Bush White House al Qaeda-conscious, most notably in the stuffing of the president's briefings with alerts about possible AQ activity. But in Newsweek
, Isikoff and Hosenball say maybe 9-11 could have been foiled if the CIA hadn't sat on the news that two attendees at an al Qaeda summit had proceeded to the U.S. (these particular two attendees would take part in the 9-11 hijackings). So if Tenet was clued in to the al Qaeda threat, why wasn't he shaking loose such information without prompting from the president? Was he just shining Clarke on by pretending to be an ally, or did chasing after the president's priorities keep him too busy? I ask because I don't know and because nobody else seems to see a discrepancy.
Finally, the Isikoff-Hosenball article does seem to show Clarke with what Bush would call a "swatting flies" mentality. Apparently, Clarke's dream is that the administration might have scared off the 9-11 attempt by launching a public manhunt for the two al Qaeda summit attendees. The principle is the same as a burglar alarm going off and scaring away the burglars. The difference is that burglars will move on to the next neighborhood, but the U.S. is the target the AQ cares about most. Scare them away once and they'll be back, probably not after too long.
Who would Reagan like? If the old man shook off his Alzheimer's and turned on the TV, how would he react to the 9-11 hearings and the attendant flap? Well, there've been movies about lone citizens who got ganged up on by the politicians, but never about a politician who directed the ganging up on a lone citizen. So I'm guessing Reagan would have been on Clarke's side unless Nancy or some other shrewd operator could persuade him wisdom lay with the officials fanning out to promote the administration line. No wonder the Bush gang is so rattled by Clarke. He has all the makings of a Readers Digest
Now there are two things Bush said that I like
Slate quoted the premier bits
from Richard Clarke's book, which is I how came across this: "I don't care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass."
That was on Sept. 11 and he was talking about al-Qaeda, not Iraq. The caviler bringing up legal objections was Donald Rumsfeld, of all people.
The other thing Bush said that I like was, of course, "We want Osama bin-Laden dead or alive," or words to that effect. It's conceivable that at some point Bush said, "I'm going to get that hairy mofo," again referring to bin-Laden. In that case there would be three things.
The strange world of Democrats
Jim Jordan holds an important position with America Coming Together, a new coalition that intends to supplement the electoral efforts of the Democratic Party. The group's name indicates that our country is still more clean-minded than I thought. But that's not the point of this post.
Last fall John Kerry fired Jordan as his campaign manager because, according to campaign coverage, decisions tended not to get made while Jordan was running things. So what's Jordan's job with ACT? He's in charge of rapid response.
From the Los Angeles Times
"But most Republicans remain cautiously optimistic that this week's events won't significantly erode public approval of Bush's handling of the terrorist threat. They base their view largely on the belief that that confidence is rooted in real-world events — the toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan and of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and, above all, the absence of additional attacks inside the United States since that searing day in 2001."
That last point is the kicker. As long as al-Qaeda doesn't act up in the U.S., the public will feel safe enough to stick with the team already in place. It's a bit like the outlook one found during the Internet boom. Explanations about Ponzi schemes and so on didn't cut it as long as people's mututal funds were going up.
And here's the beauty part: if al-Qaeda does strike, people will decide this is no time to desert the president. You can't let the terrorists win by, for example, voting out a moron who also happens to be hated by Osama bin-Laden.
It's Catch-44. Bush cannot lose on the terrorism issue. Whether that's enough to keep him in office remains to be seen. But I bet it'll come damn close.
No blogging for a while
I have to type up some manuscript pages and time at the keyboard makes my arms hurt. So until further notice "Kyle's Republic" will have nothing to offer. I'll let you all know when I start again.
I wish to thank my readership, who at times comfortably reached into the mid-single digits. Here's someplace useful if you want to check out more blogs. It's called Memeorandum
and gives a running roundup of the issues being discussed and what various bloggers have to say about them.
And another time I was right
Looking back, I remember telling my parents last summer that in a sane world Dean would be the Democrats' warm-up act and someone like Kerry would be the nominee. Sometimes I astonish myself. Not that it was really a prediction, since I assumed Kerry was dead.
And an e-mail of mine in September said talking about Clark showed how desperate the Democrats were. No one cared about Kosovo, I said, and running for office is a lot harder than doing appearances on CNN. Pretty good shooting once again. Generals like Grant and Eisenhower had grateful publics; Clark just had a lot of people who liked the sound of his resume. Then his lack of experience at campaigning kept him from making the case for himself, and pretty soon he was over.
Personally, I hope Clark does stick around and run for the Senate or something. Not being a good presidential candidate in your first race for anything ever is like not being a good NBA center the first time you play basketball.
Further human speech from Kerry
The senator is still applying himself to talking normal. In discussing Aristide: "I would have been prepared to send troops immediately, period." That's direct. Then: "Look, Aristide was no picnic, and did a lot of things wrong." So the human speech patterns are continuing strong here. But he hits a glitch in the next sentence, the one on why we should have gone into Haiti. Kerry said the U.S. "had understandings in the region about the right of a democratic regime to ask for help." The clinker is "understandings in the region," and it takes the place of everything Kerry-the-human should be explaining: were these treaties or what? are people in the Caribbean really expecting us to invade whenever a democracy is in trouble? do they really need to have us do that?
In other words, avoiding sounding like a jerk is only one reason to talk like a human. The other is to say things in their purest, simplest form so they can be understood. The thoughts themselves may not be much -- Rumsfled and Cheney, even Bush sometimes, are very good at human speech -- but you never have to guess what the thoughts are. If we have a woolly, high-minded, liberal internationalist point-of-view that needs explaining, and it seems Kerry does in this case, the rendering into human speech is harder than normal but even more necessary. And it can be done; FDR did it. But tossing in "no picnic" doesn't get to the problem.
That said, I saw Kerry being interviewed on CNN a few weeks back and enjoyed the decisive chin jerk with which he challenged Judy Woodruff to fire some questions at him (gay marriage and other toughies). He made a show of mowing them down -- "Okay, another one," that sort of thing. Why not? I say good luck to him.
Some dry humor from the Washington Post
"Bush has frequently invoked the terrorist attacks in speeches and comments on a variety of topics. He cited it, for instance, last summer in arguing for his energy policy and in response to questions about tax cuts, fundraising and unemployment, the deficit, airport security, the war in Afghanistan and the length, cost and death toll in Iraq."
Reading about the Bush TV ads and the displeasure they've aroused
, I'm put in a bind. It's good to see more evidence Bush is vulnerable, and he certainly has been trying to exploit 9-11 with his convention scheduling. But newspaper descriptions of the TV ads sound pretty innocuous. The Ground Zero shots appear to be used the way footage of breadlines is used in documentaries about Roosevelt -- here's what the President had to deal with. Bush did have to deal with 9-11, well or badly. It is the overriding issue of the past three years and his only claim to reelection. Any president who dealt with that crisis would bring it up in advertising; in fact not doing so would seem bizarre. The question is how to bring it up, and going by the newspapers it sounds like the ads' approach is fairly un-egregious.
The best appointment he ever made, says the president jokingly
Is that really a good sign for a president, when the best thing his ads do is establish his connection with the first lady?
From a Los Angeles Times article
on the Bush ads:
"'Two images I thought were effective,' said Kenneth Goldstein, a political ad expert at the University of Wisconsin. 'The shot of him sitting next to Laura Bush — those are very helpful. With Laura Bush sitting there, it's sort of hard to hate him, right?'"
Two Canadians (their family is Egyptian-born) spent some time at Osama bin-Laden's base in Afghanistan before the events of 2001. They knew him and have just told CBC interviewers what he was like. Warning: the whole thing freaks me out.
Zaynab Khadr, a young woman, says: "He loved playing volleyball and he loved horse-riding ... kids played around him. Kids would go shake his hand ... When they'd go shooting, he'd go with them, and if he missed they'd laugh at him."
Zaynab says Osama liked to read history and poetry to his children. "It was very important for him to sit with his kids every day at least for two hours in the morning."
Her brother, Abdurahman, says: "But I would say he's a normal human being. He has issues with his wife, he has issues with his kids. Financial issues, you know, the kids aren't listening . . . and this and that. So it comes right down to he's a father and he's a person."
Abdurahman didn't get on with his own father, now dead because of a run-in with Pakistan's security forces. Five times his dad sent him to train in Afghanistan. The kid studied explosives, sniper work, and handling assault rifles, but it did no good. His dad, in Abdurahman's words, would say to him "'Why do you not act like the rest of the kids, so Osama can always mention you, and you could be the commander of a training camp?'"
The Globe and Mail
's account is here
Speculations about campaign rhythm
The newspapers say this election year is different because Bush and Kerry have already started their campaigns against each other. If we are skipping the sort of long lull seen, for example, in '88 and 2000 -- the big empty stretch normally found between wrapping up the nominations and getting to the conventions -- then we face the awful prospect of an autumn campaign that lasts eight months. Does this mean Kerry's momentum might peak before the finish line shows up, as happened with Dean? Well, it might. The ground rules for elections are wiggling around and who knows how they'll end up. In the meantime I'm curious as to how active Bush and Kerry will actually remain. Bush can spend on ads, Kerry can't, so that much is a given. But how much personal campaigning will they do before September?
More human speech from Kerry
On his money plans: "We're going to raise as much as we can as fast as we can." I can't think of any other candidate who has been quite this plain when discussing financing. Possibly Democrats have heard so much about Bush's planned-for $170 million that they don't require their nominee to put up any show of bashfulness about hunting funds.
Fred Kaplan at Slate
goes into the many ways that scoring 8% in the N.Y. primary is a disaster for Rev. Al.
In doing so he cites a factoid, one that, for my own reasons, I find reassuring. Here it is: "Each time Sharpton has run for political office in the past—once for U.S. senator, twice for New York City mayor—he has won about 150,000 votes. ... In yesterday's New York primary, Sharpton won a little more than 50,000 votes."
I see this as another straw in the wind regarding the Bush effect. Here we have a particular group of Democrats -- black New Yorkers -- who had the chance to vote for a hometown hero, an institution, and instead preferred the shortest route to defeating Bush. Of course, Southerners had a similar choice when they sided with Kerry over Edwards, but Edwards is a new face. New York provided more of a test because Sharpton isn't just the day's flavor here. He's someone who commands loyalties -- in a normal year, 150,000 votes' worth.
It could be Sharpton's sell date went by and he didn't know it. Or, and I prefer this reading, it could be Sharpton ran into a force that's bigger than he is. And that would be the dislike George W. Bush has managed to whip up for himself. In gathering votes for John Kerry, this force has proven bigger than the Internet and Kerry's own disabilities in inspiring followers. Now it's wiped out a racial-political chieftain on his home ground.
So there's reason for hope. We'll see.
Jesus, what a beating
The flogging scene does go on a long while, and right after it a young woman in the row ahead of me fainted. Her friends conferred over her, an usher arrived, and finally she was carried out with her arms over one person's shoulders and her feet over another's, and there was a third person who also had some of her weight somehow. The girl never moved once that I could see; it was like her off-switch had been flipped. The bearers hauled her a good twenty feet, up the steps to the main exit (the theater was laid out arena-style). A few people ahead of me and behind me glanced after her as she went, but the film had everyone's attention. In fact people stayed focused on the movie pretty steadily throughout its running time, with fatigue showing up only around the crucifixion and pieta -- that is, the last fifteen minutes. Once the film ended, maybe half the audience stayed in their seats and thought things over. The rest of us trailed out. The theater was not completely full, but it was crowded, especially for a Tuesday evening.
I saw the film for the anti-Semitism. I only know a storybook version of the New Testament, which is a handicap here. Anyway, articles singled out the movie's reference to the blood libel, a line where the crowd, in calling for Jesus's death, says it will accept guilt for his death over all generations to come. The line does not appear in the French version of the movie's subtitles, the version I saw. This matters a small amount because the line could cause trouble if it appears in, say, the Ukrainian version. That's what some journalists have warned against, anyway. Gibson announced dropping the line from the English subtitles, but apparently hasn't said anything about the foreign-language versions. Now, at least, French can be crossed off the list.
The movie didn't have the cartoonish, misshapen-Yid propaganda I'd been expecting. Here I just mean how the actors looked, the types chosen to represent Jews. Caiaphas and the other priests didn't look like Shylock; they looked like stately, august men doing a low thing. That is, everything bad about them lay in the actions they performed as part of the story. But visually I didn't have the cues I'd been expecting. Maybe stuff got by me in the crowd scenes.
I'd been especially alerted to a nose-to-nose editing cut . That is, there are a couple of actors in the movie with hook-nosed, "semitic" profiles, and I'd read that their profiles were used to end one scene and begin the one right after it. That is, a profile shot of one is replaced a second later by a profile shot of the other, facing in the same direction, to begin the new scene -- what's called a matched cut. That sounded pretty damning, but it turns out the first Jew is one of the apostles (Peter, I think). This muddies things, since an apostle is unlikely to be a hate object for gentiles. I'm left with the possibility the editor was matching profile shots and didn't think much about what sort of profiles they were. This idea strikes me as feeble, but who knows.
Visually, in the ways I'm used to seeing movies convey stereotypes, the Italians have more to complain about than the Jews do. Most of the Roman soldiers look like Mussolini -- they're bulb-headed thugs with heavy jaws and five o'clock shadow. They do the whipping and crucifying, and they like it (red-faced chortling). The Sanhedrin even get a few troubled reaction shots while this is going on.
On a more textual note, Pontius Pilate is not glorified. Maybe the movie's longest exposition is where he explains he's caught between two factions and knows only that if fighting breaks out he's dead with the emperor. In other words, he was the equivocator I'd heard about as a kid. The movie doesn't show Pilate as blatantly squirmy, but the absolute best you could say for him was that he was better than his behavior. He knew he was doing wrong, but he let himself down and did the easy thing.
The violence wasn't hard for me to take. I'd already heard about it, and I could entertain myself by making up jokes about the steak sauce Jesus -- a whole lot of fake blood, even if it's realistic looking, starts to seem fake just because of the quantity. Some people have suggested that audiences wouldn't tolerate so much violence for any other story, with the implication being that the violence is the point and the story is an excuse (like with dancing girls' cleavage in the DeMille epics about Bible times). But I expect a lot of people who care about this movie wouldn't be interested in the violence if it were attached to a different story. The passion is about someone who takes on all the suffering of mankind; pain gives the story its point. I'm not a Christian and feel put off by this stuff, but I don't see where Mel Gibson was indulging some kink by filming the story the way he did. Or if he was, doing so was a more honest pursuit than downplaying the pain and ugliness would have been.
The Passion of the Christ
was not the bizarre Hollywood ego trip I was hoping for. More than anything, it struck me the same way as The Lord of the Rings
did: a capable, foursquare adaptation of a weird white elephant of a text.