Kyle's Republic
Friday, April 23, 2004
 
Further quotes for the 21st century

From a White House pool report on Wonkette:

AF1 landed at 11:07 and made a U-turn on the narrow runway. A Coast Guard officer with an expansive fruit salad on his chest came down the press aisle carrying the nuclear football. The throng parted. "We always let the football through," one photog said.
 
 
"Strong? Wrong!" -- another draft

OPEN: the distorted jerky footage of Bush in his flight-suit. A messed-up version of "Hail to the Chief" plays.

Then, striking down like lightining, a BLACK RECTANGLE with the diaognal word in white: "STRONG?" The flight-suit footage gets squeezed into the screen's right. Bush is even further distorted; his face bugs out at us, a little warped in Photoshop-style.

Then: "WRONG!" Another lateral word in white letters slamming down in place of the first.

And right then the black rectangle squeezes back to make room for VIDEO FOOTAGE OF BUSH SWALLOWING HIS GUM when asked anything difficult about the Iraq war or WMDs.

It can be one gum-swallowing incident per commercial, always with the flight-suit footage and the "STRONG? WRONG" introducing it.
 
 
Basically, it's this . . .

He's a fucking war hero and they don't give a shit. What do you have to do to win the GOP's respect? And why do we think they would ever give it? And why do we think it would be worth having?

They're punks.
 
 
The Kerry dilemma

Clinton they attacked for avoiding the draft. Kerry serves, but they attack him -- for what? He was too eager for medals, they say. Well, he was a young politician. That's the sort that grows up into an old candidate for president. So what? The right has said all along they wanted men who recognized the value of country and valor. Here they have one. But they prefer George W., the cheerleader.

Sometimes I feel every instinct in this country is twisted so far from its natural root that all is hopeless. Other times I don't think about the matter at all. But I never feel the people have matters in hand. In my view the people have no idea what they're doing. That's why I'm afraid George W. Bush will finish ahead in the race this fall.

The great advantage of the Republicans is that they are the natural allies of the stupid. And the stupid are always just a second away from being the majority.
 
 
I'll admit it

As a Democrat I feel doomed to lose and that I deserve to lose. No wonder the Republicans keep winning. I'm a disgrace. My life is over.
 
 
My public

Having a blog means being read the way walking across a Starbucks means being seen.
 
Thursday, April 22, 2004
 


The Washington Post gives us the investigators' report on the Jack Kelley scandal. My favorite item is highlighted:

"Among the new stories now discredited by USA Today are Kelley's reports 'that he found diaries alongside the corpses of Iraqi soldiers in 1991; traveled to a village in Somalia to interview an aid worker in 1992; discovered matches made from napalm that could burn through glass ashtrays in 1993; trekked into the mountains of Yugoslavia with the Kosovo Liberation Army in 1999; listened to a tape that captured the downing of a missionary flight over Peru in 2000; visited with Elian Gonzalez's father inside the father's house in Cuba in 2000; visited Osama bin Laden terrorist camps in Afghanistan in 2001; and spent time near the cave complexes of Tora Bora in 2001.'"

It took eleven years for everyone else to notice that there are no matches that can burn thru glass. Given what we've learned in recent months about the truthfulness of reporters and the judgment of editors at USA Today and the New York Times, about the judgment of top intelligence officials and the truthfulness and judgment of their superiors, about the degree of savvy and good sense found among political observers and career politicians (remember the "inevitable" Dean and his endorsements) -- well, we have to ask ourselves what percentage of the information and analysis we receive regarding the great world should be thrown away. And is the remainder worth the trouble of reading a newspaper? I say sure, but that's because I have nothing better to do. But the amount of skepticism needed to follow the news has mounted so high that the experience is now like an exercise in epistemology (ontology?).

The investigators, as quoted in the Post, go on to note what sounds like an especially filthy lie by USA Today's Christian reporter:

"In addition, there appears to be no basis for a 2002 Kelley story that said U.S. forces in Afghanistan found evidence linking two Chicago-based Islamic charities to al-Qaeda."
 
 
What is the last movie you'd guess Bush was watching?

"On AF1, the inflight movie selection was The Fog of War (2003) for the second time in a week." That's from a pool report for the White House press corps. "AF1", presumably, is Air Force One. Wonkette quoted the bit because of the anonymous writer's attempt at humor ("Your pooler did not necessarily see any symbolism in this but is aware that others might"). For my part I think the fact, not the joke, is what's interesting here. I think it's amazing Bush, or anyone on AF1, might see the movie once, let alone come back for more. For starters, it's a documentary and we're talking about Bush. Also, it's about failure at war -- and when did the Bush team ever admit they were failing? Finally, it's about self-deception -- and how could people so good at deceiving themselves ever admit that topic into their thoughts?

Assuming -- assuming -- the report is accurate and not a joke, I'm surprised people who spend their thinking and writing about Bush haven't said anything about this.
 
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
 
Damn

Dick Morris says:

"Only Condeleezza Rice's testimony stopped the bleeding. By two to one, voters were favorably impressed by her testimony while they rated her antagonist Richard Clarke, negatively by 27 percent to 42 percent. So, by this past weekend Bush had again moved ahead of Kerry, this time by two points."

Damn, how could people have been impressed by "Bin-Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." being called merely "historical"? Another obvious rhetorical question: If you can't trust Dick Morris, whom can you trust? Still, the Washington Post has the latest bad polling numbers on public record. According to them, Bush is indeed ahead of Kerry and well ahead when it comes to Iraq. This counters another favorite theory, the kingsnake of my theories: that Bush has created a series of messes so big that no amount of political air freshener can keep them covered.

But wait, Morris offers hope: "Bush's lead over Kerry on the question of who would do better at handling the War on Terror dropped from 54-36 to only 51-40. Almost half of Americans now give Bush a negative rating on handling Iraq." Those findings are a bit more respectful of cause and effect. If anyone ever earned negative ratings on an issue, it's Bush on Iraq. Morris's sample should get in touch with the Post's sample and let them know.

Morris even offers an Iraq peace plan. Democracy in Iraq is hopeless, he says, but the war was still justified because Saddam was so bad. So we'll let Iraq go to hell but not back to Saddam or the Baaths, and we'll keep on doing that for God knows how long: "To make sure he remains out of power, we must keep a large garrison, safely ensconced at a secure base, in Iraq once we hand over power to the Iraqi Governing Council." Well, that arrangement turned out fine in Saudi Arabia -- people liked the idea of foreign soldiers camping out indefinitely in the region. They'll like the Morris Plan even better because he stipulates that Iraq's guests would keep the "freedom, flexibility and logistical ability to intervene again" if the U.S. doesn't like where events are heading. It would be sort of like playing the role of Turkey's military, except that body is modest enough to restrict its political domineering to its own country.

Guess what? I don't think there is a good answer to the Iraq problem. That's one reason the man who created it deserves to lose. But the Morris idea has the virtue of elegance, combining and offering up for view so much of what has made our Iraq adventure a disaster: ineffectuality combined with arrogance, and all of it rationalized by repeating what a bad man Saddam was. And people say Morris can't do big policy.




 
Saturday, April 17, 2004
 
For the record

No sign of a Clarke gay smear ever showed up. Wonkette said someone had told her the White House was planning a gay smear. Wolf Blitzer said administration officials had been talking about odd things in Clarke's personal life -- that turned out to be an interviewee's moronic reference to a passage in Clarke's book. (The passage says Bush's terrorism policy is so bad, Osama bin-Laden must be practicing mind control to produce it. The interviewee accused Clarke of thinking about crazy things.) And that is all in the way of evidence that the Bush people ever planned a gay smear -- a rumor and a misunderstanding.
 
 
Military presence, political influence

Bush hands the settlements issue to Sharon, hands the creating of an Iraqi government to Branhisi (sp?) and the UN. We're not influencing much on the ground in the Middle East. We're busy having our troops chase after a rebellion that wouldn't exist if our troops weren't there. Projecting our force right into the heart of the Middle East has handicapped us in dealing with the place.

Of course, in Cheney wish-thinking the projection of force would have ended a while back, to be replaced by the peaceful fucntioning of a society led by its returned elite. The idea seemed to be that Iraq was like Master Blaster, a big dumb body with the wrong dwarf riding atop and bossing it around. (See Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome). The U.S. would zap the dwarf and let the rightful boss climb aboard.

Of course, Ahmad Chalabi might still wind up bossing Iraq. He seems to have his ear a lot closer to the ground than any of the Americans over there. And he was never our boy -- we were always his. In fact, now I think about it, Master Blaster ... is us.
 
Thursday, April 15, 2004
 
A last thought on the turkey farm question

There must be some pop psychology term for this. The president is asked about his greatest mistake in all the time since 9-11. He says he can't think of one. And then he spends most of his fairly long answer talking about Iraq. Maybe the invasion wasn't a mistake, in his lights, but he knows it takes a lot of explaining.
 
 
Not quick on his feet

The president's infamous answer to the question about whether he'd made any mistakes. He starts: "Hmmm. I wish you'd have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it." A long while later, he finishes: "You know, I hope I don't want to sound like I've made no mistakes. I'm confident I have. I just haven't — you just put me under the spot here and maybe I'm not quick, as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one."

What you get is the philosophy on display during the sleepy August of 2001: he wants his challenges pre-labeled and bite-sized, and if they aren't he has no idea what to do. People keep talking about thinking outside the box; here we have thinking inside the box and it's far from inspiring.

 
 
"Strong? Wrong!" and "Can You Believe George Bush?"

Everyone gives ad advice, here's mine.

1) "Strong? Wrong!" Ads about how Bush talks tough but isn't. With footage of him swallowing his gum at news conferences and in the Russert interview, etc. -- apparently he's looked pretty forlorn and confused in public on several occasions (the victory speech he gave in 2000 after the post-election ended). Include some of the flightsuit footage. He's a little guy who has to act big, and now he's out of his depth.
Update. Well, duh -- intercut the flightsuit footage (digitally grainified, in jerky slow-motion) with the candid, swallowing-his-gum footage. Use footage where he's getting asked tough questions about Iraq and not coming up with coherent answers; maybe use one such exchange per commercial, with the intercutting to liven it up. Open with "Strong?" scrawled on a black screen, then the flightsuit, the gum swallowing, close with another black screen and "Wrong" scrawled there. All right, back to the original post:

2) "Can You Believe George Bush?" Clips of what Bush and his team had to say about Iraq (WMDs, welcomed as liberators), intercut with recent news footage of fighting and disaster over there. Use the disaster to establish his lack of credibility.

Also, do a series with a Bush look-alike as a fast-talking, hapless car mechanic. Young couple stands by while he looks after their car; he's babbling all the while to reassure them. One disaster after another, car's falling apart, it finally explodes. Meanwhile he's talking faster and faster about how he knows just what he's doing -- automotive gobbledygook but with Iraq references in place of car parts ("just have to hook up the Sunnis with the left Shiite," etc.) You could do a few of these, Bush as a different Mr. Fix-It (plumber, whatever) for different issues. Bush as a surgeon, the extra joke being that he's even more dangerous in his real job.

Update 2. What these ideas all lack is simplicity, which probably means they would never work. An amateur's dreamings.
 
 
'I have so much anger'

That's what the brother of a dead serviceman said at the funeral, which was in Minnesota. The brother's anger was for "the politicians in Washington." His brother had served his tour, then had to do another because the situation still wasn't calming down. It's a horrible story, and by now my point seems insultingly trivial. But here it is: the brother, instead of voicing anger at the government ("those lying, head-in-the-ground, incompetent," etc.), he indicates the presence of the anger within his system, as if it were a foreign element that had introduced itself there: "I have so much anger," as if he were retaining water. The person changes from agent to container. (This form of speech started with therapy and the personal-growth industry. Maybe we are so emotionally constipated in North America that the approach makes sense: we need to simply label our feelings for ourselves and flag people around us to their existence.)
 
 
Further quotes for the 21st century

From an ABC.com story on Bush's misspeaking on Libyan mustard gas:

**
"They could still be there," Bush said Tuesday of the Iraq weapons. "They could be hidden, like the 50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm."
**

"They" means Saddam's WMDs. The "50 tons of mustard gas" turns out to be 23.6 tons. Scott McClellan sought out reporters the next day and corrected the figure.

Bush had used it twice in his news conference, each time in conjunction with the turkey farm. Maybe his ear got the better of him: "fifty tons, turkey" sounds better than "23 tons, turkey," not to mention being more impressive because of the amount. It becomes quite a talking point that way, potent and reassuring. Bush reputedly falls back on incantations for reassurance (the Russert interview where he kept recycling "dangerous madman" for Saddam). Maybe this is an example. If so, it looks like a stress sign. Consider also this is the answer where he said he couldn't think of any mistakes just then because there was too much pressure at the news conference.


 
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
 
Stridently oblique

The Aug. 6 PBD. Was it clear or what? It couldn't have been more pointed, but it did not say straight out what we're being told it said. From Slate, the opinion of Larry Johnson (Bush 1's State Dept. man for terrorism):

***
In his CIA days, Johnson wrote "about 40" PDBs. They're usually dispassionate in tone, a mere paragraph or two. The PDB of Aug. 6 was a page and a half. "That's the intelligence-community equivalent of writing War and Peace," Johnson said. And the title—"Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US"—was clearly designed to set off alarm bells. Johnson told his interviewer that when he read the declassified document, "I said 'Holy smoke!' This is such a dead-on 'Mr. President, you've got to do something!' " (By the way, Johnson claimed he's a Republican who voted for Bush in 2000.)
***

The problem is the PBD doesn't say, "you've got to do something." It lays out a lot of reasons for concluding action is necessary, but it does not draw that conclusion. What was going on here? Why did the CIA director have to fall back on this passive-aggressive, Jane Austen style of communication? Why couldn't he draft a memo saying "Go On Red Alert Against Al-Qaeda"?

There's a ground rule involved here that I don't get. Maybe any report but the PBD would have had to go thru Rice. Damned if I know.
 
 
How Rice did

As Salon points out, a few days after Rice's testimony and Bush has to go "out to the East Room tonight in damage control mode for a rare press conference." Evidence that her "triumphal" appearance, as Kerrey called it, proved underwhelming when it came to convincing the public.
 
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
 
What happens on Saturday?

A slip of Ashcroft's lip today when asked by reporters why he stopped flying commercial a little before 9-11:

"I never ceased to use commercial aircraft for my personal travel. ... My wife and I traveled to Washington, D.C., on the 3rd of September before the 17th -- before the 11th attack on commercial aircraft."

Why was he thinking of the 17th? What could cause him to mess up one of the best-known dates in our history?

Today's the 14th. What is John Ashcroft hatching for three days from now?
 
 
A favorite post

This is from Brad DeLong, back on March 25. I'm going to reprint the whole thing. Basically, DeLong wondered what Rice would say if she testified on 9-11 and made the defense she really believed in. Here is his post:

OPENING STATEMENT OF CONDOLEEZZA RICE, ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR NATIONAL SECURITY

On January 21, the newly-inaugurated George W. Bush named me his assistant for national security, and chair of his national security council. It thus became my job to manage the making of policy on the huge range of issues that affect America's national security: relations with Russia, China, Europe, Israel. The rogue states of Iran, North Korea, and Iraq. The problems of asymmetric threats generated by present and future adversaries that know they cannot match our military power, and seek to change the rules of engagement. Terrorism. Of these, terrorism is an important issue but not the only important issue.

When I took office on January 21, I was immediately confronted by a profound bureaucratic anomaly: Richard Clarke. Typically, NSC senior directors take their instructions in day-to-day matters from my deputy, Steven Hadley. When they have policy proposals, they first seek consensus on what the policy options should be from a staff-level interdepartmental working group that they chair, and then take that consensus (and whatever limited points of disagreement on what the live options are remain) to the NSC deputies committee. After the NSC deputies committee has properly framed the issues, the matter is then discussed by the NSC principals committee--made up of cabinet members--that I chair, which decides what decisions the president needs to make and how the options on those decisions are to be presented to him.

But the Clinton administration was not a normal administration. And Richard Clarke did not have a normal place in it. Rather than reporting to the NSC deputies committee, Richard Clarke chaired the NSC principals committee when it met on terrorism issues. Rather than have the policy options discussed and framed by the deputies, the policy options were framed by Clarke himself, with the departmental staffs of the cabinet members then having to play catch-up. And because Clarke held this special position--deputy president for terrorism affairs, more or less--he could command the appearance of people like the head of the FBI or the CIA at the White House in short notice more-or-less on his own whim.

I took a look at this situation, and I thought about the great foreign-policy disasters of the past. I thought about the Bay of Pigs, where Eisenhower administration holdovers had bullied President Kennedy into approving a hair-brained invasion plan that had not been properly reviewed by Kenney's own people. I thought about Oliver North, where a hairbrained NSC staffer had warped U.S. foreign policy in destructive ways for years. I thought: "Nothing like this is going to happen on my watch. Whatever ideas Richard Clarke has are going to be properly assessed and reviewed."

So I decided, when Richard Clarke asked me for an "urgent" NSC principals meeting to approve his ideas on what to do about Al Qaeda and the Taliban, that he was not going to get one. Had he thought about the broader picture of South Asian and Middle Eastern diplomacy? What effect would his initiatives have on our ability to manage and contain the India-Pakistan conflict? The Taliban were clients of Pakistan's ISI: if we armed the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, would the ISI react by giving nuclear technology to Iran? It seemed to me that Clarke's plans needed to be tested: he needed to convince the security department staffs and the members of the NSC deputies committee that he had thought these issues through, and if he hadn't then his plans needed to be improved by their input.

So I directed my deputy Steven Hadley to treat the problem of Al Qaeda and its Taliban-granted sanctuary in its proper context as part of South Asian/Middle Eastern policy, and to put the comprehensive review of South Asian/Middle Eastern policy in its proper place in the queue of issues: high, but not the highest.

In May, however, I discovered that my subordinate Richard Clarke was undermining my assessment of policy priorities. He and George Tenet had agreed to stuff George W. Bush's daily intelligence briefing--the PDB--with lots of material on Al Qaeda. And so in May George W. Bush asked for a plan to destroy Al Qaeda, and I assured him that such a plan was being worked on--and it was, at the deputies level, as part of the overall South Asian/Middle Eastern policy review.

But I was damned if any NSC senior director who worked for me was going to overturn my judgment on policy priorities by end-running. Richard Clarke was going to wait his turn while the NSC principals dealt with other more important and more urgent issue areas. Richard Clarke stayed in his place in the policy-development queue.

While the NSC deputies were debating what the changes in our counterterrorism strategy should be, the government was not on hold and inactive. In late June the interagency counterterrorism security group--which Clarke chaired--warned the rest of the government of an upcoming "spectacular" al Qaeda attack. In early July federal law enforcement agencies were warned "that we thought a spectacular al Qaeda terrorist attack was coming in the near future," and asked to take special measures to increase security and surveillance. The FBI, the FAA, and the Coast Guard were warned to be on special watch.

On September 4, 2001, we held our first NSC principals meeting on Clarke's proposals. And on September 10, 2001, we held our fifth NSC deputies meeting on his issues. The policy-development process was far along, although not yet complete.

Then came September 11, 2001, and the world changed.

Thank you.

 
 
Big thinking

The world has a problem and it's called the Middle East.

The Bush people say at least they're trying to fix the Middle East. They say the rest of us just want to catch the bad guys. We have no idea as to tackling the place that produces the bad guys.

A right-wing blogger made a good point: Sharon is doing just what the Democrats say they would do if they ran the war on terror. That is, he takes the law-enforcement approach and sticks with going after the bosses of the terrorists, trying to cripple their organizations. Obviously, that can't work in the long run because there will always be more terrorists. We can see Sharon's in a dead end. Do we want to put ourselves in there too?

No, but we have more time than he does. America is not an outpost . It's not sitting on land that has four million rival claimants standing close by. The amazing thing about 9-11 was that the enemy managed to touch us at home; in Israel that's weekly. We also have a population that's 60 or so times bigger than Israel's. And we have a giant economy. So we have time.

The job ahead will probably last decades, as the Cold War did. The feeling-out period could take up a few presidential terms. That doesn't mean we're slipping up. A feeling-out period makes sense when you're undertaking a project that is sui generis. I'm a sucker for "global" and big-scale international thinking. That's my weakness. But I can't be the only one who thinks the scale of this job pushes it out of ordinary historical experience. To remake an entire region of the earth -- you'd better count on some new sorts of problems along the way.

So it's fine if the Democrats have no idea what to do with the Middle East. Deal with the most pressing needs now (which are all law enforcement), see what we learn, and start testing ideas. Right now the only big-picture thinking that counts is the realization that we need a big picture. It's way premature to start filling in its details.

Some closers. This is a new kind of project. As people have pointed out, the war on terror is not really a war because there's no country to defeat. It also has its differences with the Cold War, which centered on great-power chessboard maneuvering. Now countries are only the abettors and aggravaters of our problems. We're coming to grips with a population: the Muslims of the Third World. When we talk about tackling the Middle East, we're talking about a counterinsurgency campaign stretched over continents. If so, this doesn't sound too likely to succeed. Also, the scale of the job suggests huge consequences, intended and unintended, from our efforts in the conflict. For instance, it's a truism that counterinsurgency requires a stick and a carrot. You go after the terrorists, but you also give the population reasons not to become terrorists. So what kind of global economic readjustment would the carrot be in this case?

 
 
More about the dreadul parallel

Richard Cohen puts it well: "In almost every way but one, Iraq is not Vietnam. Here's the one: We don't know what the hell we're doing."

 
Sunday, April 11, 2004
 
Bush's Vietnam

My understanding of "Vietnam" is "America's big, bloody mess in the Third World that we started for ourselves and that will end in humiliation." This is not a political science definition -- there's nothing about supply lines with other countries. But it is the definition I find most useful when thinking about America's foreign policy experience. The Iraq war fits the definition, something we can say even if Sen. Kennedy can't. How the hell do we get out of this without more city fighting -- and civilians killed -- and with the country still holding together? By "the country" I mean Iraq, but of course we have problems back here too.

The theory goes that Watergate was the aftershock of the social convulsion brought on by Vietnam. (Supposedly, Nixon's war footing against domestic insurgents encouraged his instincts for going on a war footing against the opposition party.) Now consider that American rules of political behavior have frayed a bit since then, given Borking, war rooms, gerrymandering, legal persecution of the president, and the use of national enemies in TV ads directed against opponents. What with the 9-11 panel and the Kay fallout, Bush right now is undergoing a mini-Watergate before his first term is over. So if that's the state of play now, imagine what happens after Iraq falls apart, when the political system has to absorb the shock from the failure.
 
 
Active and passive

As yet no one has talked about the mirror-image bureaucratic behavior Bush displayed in the 2 intelligence failures now plaguing him. He was passive regarding 9-11; he was autocratic regarding Iraq and WMDs. At neither point did he have an exchange with the bureaucracy. Either he nodded off what they had to say -- the "duly noted" approach -- or he dragged out of them the intelligence results he wanted.

The obvious reason is that he cared about Iraq and didn't care about al-Qaeda. The main link, the trait that marks this as Bush, is that he didn't listen and he didn't want to learn anything new. Okay, that's not really a surprise.
 
 
Rice as a black woman

People seem so agreed that she did well, but they don’t seem convinced by what she said. We’re all happy to see a black woman perform with such poise and command — sorry, but that’s the case. And I don’t even know she showed such poise and command, it’s only what people tell me. But her testimony will be remembered as a triumph and as the moment the White House went permanently on the defensive regarding 9-11. That’s because of the notorious memo title (tricked out of her by Richard Ben-Veniste) and because she couldn’t come up with a good explanation for the title.

“Bin-Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” dated Aug. 6, is going to stick with the public. People will just be able to accept, in passing, that Bush slipped up before 9-11, and there won't be any messy public scene to associate with the idea. Instead they’ll associate it with a poised black woman who plays the piano.

(Post heavily influenced by a Jim Pinkerton column in Newsday.)
 
 
A responsible voice

All right, I'll say this. Oliphant has drawn Antonin Scalia wearing dark pinstripes and a fedora. Roger Ailes (the liberal blogger, not the GOP TV boss) has referred to Scalia as "Fat Tony," which sounds like a Mafia sobriquet. Oliphant and Ailes aren't stupid men, but they are doing a stupid thing. Put simply: Could we stay away from treating our Italian-American political foes as potential Mafia figures? It's the kind of thing that used to drive Mario Cuomo crazy.

At least Condi Rice hasn't been given the Aunt Jemima treatment, or Alan Greenspan the Shylock-Goldberg treatment -- we've come that far at least. So get off of the Italians already.
 
 
Back of the classroom, feet on the desk

From Tapped, a meditation on how inert and reactive Rice's testimony shows the White House to be:

"All of which makes me wonder about that Bush management style. Remember how we used to hear so much about how the first M.B.A. president was going to run America like a business?"

Instead he's running it like a business student.

 
Friday, April 09, 2004
 
Yes

Matthew Yglesias, one of the best-known liberal bloggers, is just out of Harvard and can't spell. He's also got a smart mouth. But he's good at lumbering his way thru a logical sequence to lay out points that have to be made as plainly as possible, more plainly than most people bother to make them. For example:

"Initially, the administration assured us that if they just charged ahead and made no compromises, they could get support for a UN resolution. They couldn't. Then they assured us that they could charge ahead into war without a UN resolution and still get significant allied help after the war. They couldn't. Now we see they thought that if they charged ahead against the Sadrists that the mainstream clergy would line up behind them. They didn't. And American soldiers and Marines keep paying the price."
 
 
T'Prinns

A teenager at a local college I visited is named T'Prinn. That's the name of Spock's fiancee in "Amok Time," which is why her parents chose the name. It's the most messed-up thing I've personally come across this week.
 
 
Kerrey is just pissed

Interesting to see how the bloggers react to Kerrey. Back when he was wrangling with the Clinton hands over why they hadn't invaded Afghanistan -- an impossible project before 9-11 -- he drew fire from liberal bloggers for supposedly carrying the Republicans' water. Now, of course, the right-wing blogs are claiming he wants to be Kerry's VP because of how he laid into Rice.

From what I've read of Kerrey during the old Clinton days, he doesn't do that much positioning and is more a creature of impulse and emotion. For instance, back in 1993 he coould have held up the Clinton team when they needed his vote for the deficit package. But he found it more fun to let them dangle, letting them know he'd go to the movies and take his sweet time deciding while they dashed around looking for votes. That's not your typical politician's behavior. So maybe right now he isn't playing for the customary personal and partisan advantages. Maybe he's just really pissed about 9-11 and al-Qaeda.

Update. As for example, look at the way Kerrey speaks of his party's man in the al-Qaeda mess, Bill Clinton (also, of course, the man who kept Kerrey from becoming president). Asked if Clinton had stepped up and accepted responsibility, Kerrey did some thinking aloud: "Oh, God, would I go as far as to say that? I think he took the criticism well . . . He indicated he didn't feel that he had quite enough proof to take action. I think he did have enough proof to take action. That's a difference of opinion." In other words, he says his party's man didn't do enough either.
 
 
Synchronicity

"I don't look like Dick Clarke." That, pretty much, is what Rice said when Kerrey slipped up and addressed her as "Dr. Clarke." Oddly, very oddly, a movie line I have quoted for years is "That ain't Dick Clark." The Clark there is Dick Clark of TV, but the joke is still about the absurdity of mistaking someone black for someone white.

The source of this line is a forgotten Patrick Dempsey comedy (Can't Buy Me Love, 1987). Explaining the joke means narrating the first half of the film, so I never have explained it. Neither have I met anyone who has seen the movie. Really, the line is my private property, quoted by me for me. But now the universe echoes it back to me thru the lips of Condoleezza Rice. I'm happy to hear it from her, she's a smart woman, but I can't figure out whether the universe's joke makes me feel less alone or more alone.

And there is the chance that this was not pure coincidence, that Rice saw the movie and, like me, was quoting the line as a joke to herself. But somehow I don't think I'll ever know.
 
 
Evenhandedness kills the brain

Fairness is one thing; trying to look fair is something else. The Los Angeles Times says Rice did a good job answering charges that the White House ignored warnings of an attack. On the other hand, the paper says, she did not do a good job of showing that the White House had done anything in response to the warnings. There's the ghost of a distinction in there someplace, but it's as thin as Kleenex and doesn't deserve having the lead of a news stories built around it.
 
 
The deferred revolution

Someone I know who's into terrorism, espionage, the Middle East, etc., told me before the invasion that the Iraqi people needed to rise up against Saddam themselves, the way the Rumanians did against Ceausescu. He said that was the only way they could push out all the humiliation and fear they'd taken in during the Saddam years. Of course, they didn't get a chance because we pulled the man down instead. But maybe what we have now is the revolution deferred, with the Americans getting what the Iraqis would like to have given Saddam.
 
 
A Rice smear

To do what the Republicans do, we'd take Rice's boilerplate about democracies never being ready in time, lift it ouf her testimony, and turn it into an attack ad saying she was blaming democracy itself for 9-11. Is that worth it? I feel like a moron even running the idea thru my head.
 
 
Hillary's reflex

Remember Bernard Nussbaum? He was, I think, White House counsel 10 years ago and conducted Hillary's side of the struggle over the Rose Law Firm papers. Pundits said then what they're saying about Bush's gang now -- that the White House made everything worse by digging in and fighting over everything the investigators wanted, then turning around after a few weeks' bad publicity. The same reflex.

Possibly Nussbaum and Hillary have the same mindset as the Bush gang. Another theory would be that we live in an age where cooperation with opponents is dangerous. Another, which I favor, is that Hillary does have some of the GOP no-compromises mindset, but that the reason cooperation has become so dangerous is that the GOP has so very much more of this mindset than any Democrat does. When out of office, they make the president's life miserable by whipping up investigations over chickenshit. In office, they get themselves (and us) into a real mess and then try strongarming their way out of responsibility.
 
 
Clinton's hand

Here's some mind reading, or the point where Kremlinology merges into letting the imagination play. Edwards wound up in the middle of the Dem lineup at the unity dinner a few weeks ago. Everyone remarked on that, how he managed to look like the candidate instead of Kerry. But there's another way of putting it.

The lineup had locked fists for a victory lift of the hands. Edwards got to lock fists with Clinton while Kerry was stuck with Gore. So Edwards was shown favor by the king. In other words, how much did Clinton help Edwards maneuver to the center?
 
 
Flight-Suit Day

The Democrats are crazy if they're not planning some pointed commemoration for May 1, the anniversary of Bush's fantasy-camp outing on the battleship. Admittedly, how you do this is tricky, since the war is going so badly and it's easy to look cheap. But find a way. Mail him a flightsuit? I don't know.
 
Thursday, April 08, 2004
 
Making fun

Have Democrats ever run commcercials just making fun of the opposition? Treating them as not only wrong but ridiculous? Somehow it seems a GOP strength, not one of ours. We've seen it lately in the campaign against Kerry, where everything about him gets turned into a joke, like he was the kid in 7th grade whom nobody likes.
 
 
Rice's testimony

I'm terrible at picking out significant quotes. I miss the things that get the reporters excited. The nuances that strike me as telling don't hit anybody else. So it's just as well I didn't see Rice's testimony and instead have the newspaper stories to pick through. Here's what I take away from CNN.com's article:

First, an addition to the Bush team's repertoire of uh-duh statements: "In hindsight, if anything might have helped stop 9/11, it would have been better information about threats inside the United States . . ." Note that I have dropped the rest of the sentence, which has to do with barriers to sharing intelligence among agencies. That point may be valid, though it comes back to Clarke's very easy to understand motif of shaking the trees so the necessary intelligence falls out. In other words, it reminds us the president didn't care enough to get the agencies moving.

On that point, a sentence from the article: "She testified that she did not remember whether she discussed with Bush concerns about al Qaeda cells inside the United States." Followed by her own statement: "I don't remember the al Qaeda cells being something that we were told we needed to do something about." That's not an uh-duh statement; it's more of an occasion for slapping the speaker on the side of the head. Who needs to be told that terrorist cells inside your country need something done about them? Especially if you claim to be aware the particular terrorist group is a menace? And especially if the president has a memo whose title says the group's leader is determined to strike within the country?

Because here we have the nugget that will wipe out the rest of Rice's testimony when it comes to TV news coverage. The title of the August '01 memo to Bush has finally been declassified, and it turns out to be a direct statement: "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S. Hard to miss. And the White House, as a commission member pointed out, wanted to keep that secret. The title is the irreducible fact that will sum up the question of Bush's 9-11 preparedness whenever the public thinks about the subject. Rice's answer, from the quotes given, sounds hapless. She said the memo was "historical" (meaning what?) and not "a warning" (what else could it be?). Insulting common sense is a good way of making sure the public remembers a screw-up.

To sum up, Rice loses this round, and as a result Bush loses the duel with Clarke.

Compare and Contrast. So, checking Wonkette, I find the Kerrey exchange is her pick:

"Bob Kerrey's grilling of Condi is clearly the congressional hearing equivalent of a nipple shot: The most Tivo'd moment of the hearings, rebroadcast every 15 minutes or so, and it will probably get Tom Daschle hard."

I don't have the instinct.
 
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
 
More quotes for the 21st century

"President Bush, I'm a natural blonde."

It would have been better if she had said "Mr. President" -- more formal, and therefore stranger -- but c'est la vie. Anyway, Bush was joking around at an Arkansas appearance and told a lady "You and my mother go to the same hair-dye person." Bush's mother has white hair, so the joke makes no sense. But the lady in the audience wanted to be clear that she doesn't dye. So up she spoke, twice. Why not? Kind of a charming scene, if you're inclined that way. Bloggers have been wagging the exchange as a sign of Bush's obnoxiousness, but the material is way too sketchy for anyone but an eyewitness to make that judgment.

I will say that constant joking, apparently Bush's modus operandi with groups, lends itself easily to stripped gears. Just as Bush's blonde joke makes no sense, at least as rendered here, neither does his closer with a local dignitary at the gathering. The dignitary, early on, had introduced Bush as governor and then corrected himself, which brought a passable aside from Bush ("How quickly they forget"). But when the dignitary offered to shake his hand, Bush answered, "Just don't hug me." What? Of course, it may be the Associated Press isn't too good at reproducing the flavor of a scene as it was lived, which renders all humor and attempted humor about as explicable as pottery shards from an archeological site.
 
Tuesday, April 06, 2004
 
Thoughts about masculinity

Bush is the typical guy who wants to be a strong man but has no idea how to go about it. So he falls back on a pantomime version that his fellow dumb guys recognize as the closest to manhood they can aspire to. It's a substitute, but one they've all agreed on. We'll know it works if the Bush ads overwhelm the effects of his botched war in the Middle East. When it comes to the sine qua non of masculinity -- namely, effectiveness -- Bush is batting 1 for 2. That's a shaky record. On the other hand, he's good at making noise to overwhelm shortcomings like that.

I think for male America the prevailing sense is that Bush's views were not right but they should have been. This idea is still getting pieced together. Because really Bush has blown the men's trust in him, and he's saved only because for most men the world becomes incoherent if Kerry is right and Bush is wrong. Bush makes sense to them. The results of his actions don't, but he does.

Maybe we're going to have some other candidate sweeping in. If I remember right the '92 Perot talk didn't start until late spring. God knows what freak of the Internet and mail-order audio tapes we're going to come across now.
 
 
Funnier the second time around

Dan Froomkin does a column for the Washington Post that picks together snippets from coverage of the White House. He lets Bush dangle with an extended quote in which the president again says he'd have been against 9-11 if he'd known it was being planned:

"Let me just be very clear about this: Had we had the information that was necessary to stop an attack, I'd have stopped the attack. And I'm convinced any other government would have, too. I mean, make no mistake about it; if we'd had known that the enemy was going to fly airplanes into our buildings, we'd have done everything in our power to stop it."
 
 
No-cost media consulting

The Democrats' commercials against Bush should say this: He talks tough, but he isn't tough. He talks tough, but he isn't tough. He talks tough, but he isn't tough. Over and over.

And this: You're not safe. He says you're safe, but you're not.

Play up his buffoon-ishness, his need to get the crowd's approval. Everything, all the specific mistakes, are examples of this failing. The Iraq mess is because he's a kid who wants attention and doesn't know what he's doing.

Now there you've got a narrative, and it works because it's true.
 
Everything the others don't get

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