Kyle's Republic
Saturday, August 28, 2004
 
Uh oh

From the Washington Post's Douglas Brinkely http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A40110-2004Aug27.html:

The Kerry campaign has refused to release Kerry's personal Vietnam archive,
including his journals and letters, saying that the senator is contractually
bound to grant Brinkley exclusive access to the material. But Brinkley said this
week the papers are the property of the senator and in his full control.

"I don't mind if John Kerry shows anybody anything," he said. "If he wants to let
anybody in, that's his business. Go bug John Kerry, and leave me alone." The
exclusivity agreement, he said, simply requires "that anybody quoting any of the
material needs to cite my book."

. . .

In "Tour of Duty," Brinkley does not place Kerry in Cambodia but, quoting from Kerry's journal, notes that Kerry's Swift boat was "patrolling near the Cambodian line." Later in the book, Brinkley writes that Kerry and his fellow Swift boat operators "went on dropping Navy SEALS off along the Cambodian border."

"I'm under the impression that they were near the Cambodian border," said Brinkley, in the interview. So Kerry's statement about being in Cambodia at Christmas "is obviously wrong," he said. "It's a mongrel phrase he should never have uttered. I stick to my story."


 
 
For my records: the Breakfast Club

Nothing remakable here. I just wanted to store some paragraphs from a New York Times article on how the Bush campaign is managed:



... aides say that the president's involvement and interest is far
deeper than is widely known, although Karl Rove continues to dominate the
campaign ...

Mixed in with the updates on national security by Condoleezza Rice, the
national security adviser, and Vice President Dick Cheney that Mr. Bush receives
in his daily Oval Office morning briefings is a quick campaign overview from Mr.
Rove.

...

aides say the strategy that has brought Mr. Bush to this point is quietly
being directed not from the Oval Office but by what his inner circle privately
calls the Breakfast Club - a small group of advisers who gather on weekends at
Mr. Rove's home in northwest Washington ... they measure the campaign's progress
against a detailed plan devised 18 months ago.

...

aides said, Mr. Bush has, along with Mr. Rove, been a driving force behind
the attacks that have come to define this campaign ...

... Mr. Bush was described by aides as intensely interested in building the
get-out-the-vote operation ... a front where he and Mr. Rove argue Al Gore
nearly won the presidency four years ago.

...

He calls Mr. Rove most mornings, sometimes as early as 6 a.m., for an
update on everything from the latest state polls to what Mr. Kerry said the
night before, aides said.
He regularly summons his media adviser, Mark
McKinnon, to the White House, where Mr. Bush and his wife, Laura, screen early
cuts of campaign advertisements in the Yellow Room ...

...

Through it all, he [Bush] has shown what his close aides describe as a
knowledge of and fascination with politics (though not necessarily the command)
reminiscent of Mr. Clinton.

As Mr. Bush was flying from Texas to New Mexico on Thursday, Rudolph W.
Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, turned to him on Air Force One and
suggested that Albuquerque was heavily Democratic, White House aides said. Mr.
Bush corrected him, saying the city was split politically, and he talked about
the importance of its suburban counties, noting that until recently, Albuquerque
had been governed by Republican mayors.

In an interview, Representative Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican,
recounted a campaign trip with Mr. Bush this month on Air Force One to Traverse
City. "We talked a lot about northern Michigan; I was amazed at how much he
knew,'' Mr. Camp said. "He's very strategic in the way he thinks. He had an
understanding of the makeup of the district, of the nature of the registration
and of the voting patterns.''

...

Some independent experts have questioned the wisdom of one of the
central gambles of Mr. Bush's campaign: going after Mr. Kerry the moment he won
the nomination, with the president himself leading the charge. Some of the
experts say he squandered the higher ground of the White House for little
return.
...

One aide said a common scene in the White House these days was Mr. Bush,
after reading the morning news accounts of the campaign, shouting, as he did a
few weeks ago, "Hit him - we need to hit back."

The Bush campaign is organized - at least most visibly - around two
central places, the White House and campaign headquarters in a nondescript
office building in Arlington, Va., run by Mr. Bush's campaign manager, Ken
Mehlman.

But many of the most significant decisions are made out of the
spotlight of either the White House or the headquarters. They are instead
reached by the Breakfast Club.

For nearly a year, that small group of senior aides from the White House
and campaign headquarters has assembled for what Mr. Rove calls "eggies"
- cholesterol-laden concoctions of eggs, butter, cream and bacon fat. He serves them with slabs of bacon
. There, they discuss a schedule of attacks on
Mr. Kerry, speeches by Mr. Bush, and forthcoming television advertisements and
strategic thrusts, according to several aides.

The group typically includes Mr. Rove; Mr. Mehlman; Mr. McKinnon; Mr. Dowd;
Ms. Devenish; Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director; Mary
Matalin, a senior adviser to Dick Cheney; Ed Gillespie, the national Republican
chairman; and Steve Schmidt, the campaign press spokesman.

... By holding them at his home, Mr. Rove keeps the inner circle tighter,
in keeping with the style of this campaign. Mr. Bush has yet to attend a meeting
of the Breakfast Club.

On weekdays, aides say, the campaign essentially begins in the White House
residence, where Mr. Bush rises at 5 a.m. to read the newspapers and check on
the political news, before calling Mr. Rove to compare notes on what took place
overnight and what will take place later.

By 7 a.m., when he is in the Oval Office, aides say, Mr. Bush will frequently tell them about an article they have not seen and tell them to call the reporter and complain. At about the same time, Mr. Rove and Mr. Mehlman speak by telephone, often as they drive to work.


 
Thursday, August 26, 2004
 
That was then

Garance Franke-Ruta at Tapped found this by way of America Coming Together. Back on March 5, 2000, George Bush was talking on Face the Nation about how he felt regarding non-candidates who run TV spots in a political campaign. He pretty much liked the idea:

There have been ads, independent expenditures, that are saying bad things about
me. I don't particularly care when they do, but that's what freedom of speech is
all about. . . . People have the right to run ads.They have the right to do
what they want to do, under the -- under the First Amendment in America.

As you might guess, he was not being asked about ads critical of himself; he was being asked about ads (from nowhere, apparently) that had some very unflattering and dubious things to say about Sen. McCain and the environment.
 
 
Beautiful

Why Matthew Yglesias is my favorite blogger. From Tapped:

BACK TO BASICS. Two good articles out today, one from The New Republic and the other from Campaign Desk, look at the media's shameful role in promoting the smears about Kerry's Vietnam record. Fun as this meta-analysis is, though, it's important to keep some attention on the main culprit here -- the president.

The issue isn't whether or not George Bush has command and control influence over the Swift Boat Yadda Yaddas, the point is simply that he could have put a stop to
the "controversy" at the beginning by clearly stating that these allegations
were false and baseless and that he doesn't want his followers to have anything
to do with it. That would have instantly transformed the group from participants
in the political debate into marginal figures who, like this guy, would be roundly
ignored by the press.

But he didn't do it, because his campaign is desperate and he needs this kind of help to win. But he wouldn't stand up and say he agreed with the smears either, because he couldn't risk dragging his credibility down any further. So, instead, he's chosen to try and shift the debate to 527s in general, thus equating harsh, negative, and accurate advertisement with harsh, negative, and slanderous advertisement while demonstrating contempt for freedom of speech and association in the meantime. Apparently, to the president, a constitutional principle or two is a small thing to sacrifice in order to avoid drawing a distinction between truth and falsehood.
--Matthew Yglesias


 
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
 
The dirty secret of this election

We despise the votes we're chasing after. Because by this point, after the Kay report, Abu Ghraib, etc., anyone who is still undecided must be too dumb to have been paying attention.

 
 
New ground rules

It's okay to address an issue. It's not okay to lie about it. If the lies are calculated to make somebody look bad, then they are really not okay.

I state this in response to the many commentators who have noticed that John Kerry mentioned his Vietnam service before the Swifts did. Yes, if John Kerry said he was a good soldier and he was really a shitty one, then ads pointing up his shittiness would be very much in order. A parallel would be George Bush's claim that National Guard service taught him about being reliable; the evidence indicates he wasn't reliable, and it's fair to note that.

I feel the need to sum up for any stray politicians or media analysts who have happened upon this page. So here it is: Talking about someone's service record can be okay; lying about it cannot be.
 
 
The jerk's war; or, kakocracy


President Bush's moral cowardice -- not his physical cowardice or bravery, of
which we know little and which is simply a side issue -- is the essence of this
campaign.

Shorter Josh Marshall: Bush is a punk.

He's right, and to me that's the issue of this campaign. I've always believed the character question matters. It's just that 1) guessing any stranger's personality is pretty hard, 2) the info storm attending politics is a nightmare, 3) a personality profile can need a lot of details and caveats -- nuances -- before it's useful as a guide to judgment, and so 4) to sum up, putting together a clear idea of one of these characters can be like assembling a model airplane in a sandstorm.

But, to the extent that it can be done, it must be done. Our leaders don't just mail their ideas in; we're stuck with their personalities, and that can make a bigger difference than their any individual policy. As some self-help book or writing teacher must have said, we do what we are.

George Bush is a jerk, and he has given us a jerk's war.
 
 
The Democratic vacuum

There is a responsible, because accurate, case that Bush relied on fraud to get his war. The Democrats never made that case and instead left Michael Moore to present his travesty version. A damn shame. By the end of 2003 (Kay's report) our leaders should have crossed the psychological barrier and realized that being anti- this war is a centrist position. Maybe the center would need some persuading, but the tools were there -- the facts were there in abundance, and that's a fine start if you're willing to push things thru. Our side never is.
 
Monday, August 23, 2004
 
You go ahead. We'll let let you lead us from here.

Stay-aways from the GOP convention include Colin Powell, Nancy Reagan, and Norman Schwarzkopff. On a different but similar front, Tony Blair doesn't want to be accepting awards from George Bush anytime soon.
 
 
Tough guys

From U. S. News and World Report:

You might notice something missing from Hardball With Chris Matthews soon:
Republicans. " Hardball may seem more like badminton during the Republican
National Convention," threatens a GOP insider. What's up? The GOP thinks
Matthews has gone over to Sen. John Kerry 's side and is too critical of the
Bush campaign's editing of a Hardball interview with Kerry posted on the party's
negative site, www.kerryoniraq.com. As payback, they've stopped urging
Republicans to appear on the show. Hardball executive producer Tammy Haddad
dismisses charges Matthews is biased: "We beat everybody up." So far, nobody
from the White House has told her of the show's being blackballed.

 
 
The agony of the newswriter

Sometimes a public figure's words do not match her official position. And then a reporter must write something like this:

"Frankly, if the president wins walking away with this, maybe the country
is in a different place than where the moderate Republicans are,'' said Christie
Whitman, the former New Jersey governor and Bush administration official who is
writing a book titled "It's My Party Too." "If he loses, it is an absolute
validation of the fact that you cannot be a national party if you are excluding
people.''
Mrs. Whitman makes it clear that she does not want
President
Bush
, whom she served as administrator of the Environmental Protection
Agency, to lose.

 
 
Vote theft, GOP definition

It's not stealing an election, it's bolstering our national will.
 
 
A word from the co-chairman of Wisconsin veterans for Bush

"I think it's un-American to be attacking someone's service record. Period,"
Musser said in a Washington Post telephone interview. "The president has an
opportunity here to stand up and demand that the attacks be stopped."


That's state Rep. Terry M. Musser, a Vietnam veteran and, as Bush's state co-chair for vets, a Republican. From this article.
 
 
My Dole

There's Bob Dole the partisan hit-man and concocter of really dumbass campaign gimmicks (in '79 he tried and failed to get some excitement for his presidential try by making a fuss over some jewel-encrusted sword that had to go back to Hungary or something). And there's my Bob Dole, the guy who just opens his mouth and lets a thought fly out.

I read about the hit-man's Sunday show comments regarding Kerry's Purple Hearts. But, neglected at the end of a New York Times article, there's this lump of evidence signaling that the real Bob Dole is still around:


"I'd say right now Kerry has the edge," Mr. Dole said. "I'm looking at the
Electoral College in the battleground states. And even though they didn't get a
bounce in the convention, you know, people got to know John Kerry. I think most
people liked what they saw."

Nice to have a pro's assessment of the convention; and nice to know my Dole is still around.

UPDATE: Another Doleism, this one a professional's greeting to a fellow professional who's on the other side of the fence. It's typical of Dole that he would be friendly without perhaps understanding why the friendliness is a bit hollow, given the circumstances:

Dole yesterday went back on CNN, where he had made his critical remarks the
previous day, to say that he had received a call from Kerry. "I said, 'John, I
didn't mean to offend you,' " Dole said. "But I said, 'You know, when you
continue to attack George Bush . . . you know, George Bush is my guy.' . . . The
final words were 'John, I wish you good luck up to a point.' "


If Dole noticed the strangeness of those last four words, the joke is diminished. My picture of Dole is that his decades as one of the great Washington insider politicians have placed him in a mental world founded on vast and dubious compromises he is no longer aware of -- extended wheeler-dealing has left him off-plumb with the rest of the universe. And by that means we get one of the finer lines of dialogue God has written recently.
 
 
Pronoun trouble

"They have no plan for the future, and they are unwilling to defend their record
of the past 20 years, so therefore they want to talk about what happened 35
years ago."


That's Ken Mehlman, and oddly he claims to be talking about the Kerry campaign.
 
Sunday, August 22, 2004
 
Bring that on too

I gather that those on the right who have given up on Kerry-is-a-fake are now pinning their hopes to Kerry-spoke-against-the-war. Good luck with that.

Heroism in battle is good, but Vietnam was a disaster. I'm guessing most Americans would agree with those points. Not only that, but the right probably guesses the same thing -- consider how they complained about damage to troop morale when Kennedy called Iraq Bush's Vietnam.

There is some ammunition for the right in the anti-Vietnam issue: the feelings of the POWs in the second Swift ad count for something; Genghis Khan and the lopped-off ears might make good talking points. Maybe Bush can win a couple of news cycles this way. After that ... well, Kerry is on record as calling a disaster, a disaster. To most non-rightists, that is not much of a problem at all.
 
 
The creaking of a house of cards

I hear O'Reilly has been hanging back from the Swift boat charges. Michelle Malkin has backpedaled furiously on the Kerry-wounded-himself innuendo after Matthews landed on her. I've already discussed how William Kristol will only handle the Swift affair with a pair of tongs. And now, from the heart of the dark animal known as the American right, I bring forth some redolent but encouraging gobbets of prose. Three visitors to the comments section of BrothersJudd.com unloaded the thoughts below.

(Two asides really intrigue me: the mention of Kerry's picture being in the Victory Museum in Saigon -- that's both a decent talking point and a Richard Condon-like touch of bizarre color -- and the suggestion that Newt Gingrich, or "Gingwich," could be the point man in an assault on Kerry's supposed lack of scrupulous debate tactics.)

Now the fun:

Rood's piece seems to be dispositive. The Swift vets' didn't get their act
together and now they're a terrible embarassment to the GOP, as far as Vietnam goes.
Post-Vietnam is another story.
Cambodia is another story.
But it's the medal event that seems to have the interest, and that one's blown up.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 22, 2004 02:55 PM

Harry's right, the medal issue is dead whether you want it to be or not.
Any further B*t*hing on that subject is overkill. (bush should graciously say
that publicly)
Direct questions about demagoguery via lying by Kerry on his presence in Cambodia can be done by Republican Congressman. (perhaps Gingwich).
Henceforth the focus should be on Kerry's aid in constructing the so-called
Vietnam Syndrome over the last 30 years which Kerry as much as any other elected
politician is certainly an important part of. As a result of which America has
become a timid, self-hating, sitting-duck for evil Mullahs, terrorist, and
bloviating French politicians.
Posted by: h-man at August 22, 2004 04:18 PM

Once again, we must recall that Benedict Arnold had been a genuine American
war hero
.
It unnecessary to hypothecize that this man would place himself in
combat for 4.5 months to position himself for a career of service to Communist
masters. If we give this man ~~~~y benefit of the doubt for the quality of his
brief service, we must still face the reality of the subesquent conduct which
earned his picture a place of honor in the Victory Museum in Ho Chi Minh City.
Posted by: Lou Gots at August 22,
2004 04:38 PM


 
 
Don't we all? And, yes, isn't it?

"I admire their ruthless execution," said the veteran Republican independent of
the campaign, "but it's a scary way to win an election."

That's from a Los Angeles Times article on how the Bush campaign is spending a lot of money and time on base voters instead of focusing on the undecided. Bush's team is doing so, the article says, even though polls find Republicans don't need much persuasion to stick with Bush.

The idea isn't to make Republicans like Bush; God bless them, they do. The idea is to make Republicans vote in numbers that, for any group of voters, will be unusual. (Which makes the article's headline a clanger: "Bush Aims to Solidify His Base" implies that Republicans voters are wavering.) Going by the article, the campaign has pretty much given up on the undecided and is staking the election on turnout.

Of course, if turnout is your key, then you also do what you can to make sure the other side doesn't vote. So, while, the article doesn't draw this conclusion, it seems logical that the Bush team would want to help the undecideds become fed up with the whole contest. Luckily, the campaign can address both sides of the equation simply by painting Kerry as a lying, helpless cluck. This may explain why the Swift ads went on the air in three swing states.

Will the turnout approach pay off? Oddly, I don't know. The article says this was the winning formula in 2002 but cautions that was an off-year election, when turnout is normally low and an extra effort can make a difference. What the reporter overlooks is that, for a century and a half, the low off-year turnouts were an advantage for whatever party the president didn't belong to -- the outs were more motivated and wanted to be sure they were heard. Bush's team reversed that, so maybe they can do more magic with turnout this year. And hard-core Republicans always feel like outs; just the idea of someone running against their president strikes them as persecution. So they may surge out the same way Democrats did in 1998, the year Clinton was getting strung up. If that's the case, Bush's team will know how to encourage them.

On the other hand, in 2002 the GOP had the Iraq war, which then existed in its ideal state; that is, not as a war, but as an opportunity for chest-thumping and loyalty tests. Now it is a war, and it's depressing as hell. It may depress Republican turnout; even more, it may encourage swing voters to get to the polls in numbers that are unusual for them.

On the Democratic side, as I have said before, the Bush administration has done yeoman's work for four years and guaranteed turnout like we'll never have seen before. Now that I think of it, there is a downside for the GOP in smearing Kerry, since the Democrats get one more hot, throbbing reason to get to the polls.

So, at this point and (please God) barring a terrorist attack, I see Kerry finishing just ahead of Bush, after which the GOP will scream like hell and God knows what happens next. Like the guy at the top said, it makes for a scary election. He meant that the Republicans might lose; I mean what the Republicans will get up to if they do lose. This country has reached the point where the winning candidate needs a decisive margin just for the sake of our political stability. We've run thru a lot of the reserves of good will that keep a system going, and the Republicans have done most of the squandering. But that's an occasion for a long post at some future time after I've done a lot of reading.
 
 
My aphorism

Our president has Nixon’s honesty, Carter’s competence, Reagan’s brains, and his father’s syntax.
 
 
A testimonial

From Sports Illustrated:

"My problems are not with the American people," says Iraqi soccer coach
Adnan Hamad. "They are with what America has done in Iraq: destroy everything.
The American army has killed so many people in Iraq. What is freedom when I go
to the [national] stadium and there are shootings on the road?"

 
 
What more could you ask for?

Pat Runyon, not a Democrat but a guy who was on Kerry's boat for a mission, is quoted in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

"I saw a nice, quiet guy who knew he was in command and didn't flaunt it. He
could make a decision, and he made the right one because we got out of there
alive. That's all I can tell you."


 
Saturday, August 21, 2004
 
Yeah, this kind of thing


"This is a moment of truth for George W. Bush," Edwards said at a Democratic
rally. "We're going to see what kind of man he is and what kind
of leader he is.... We want to hear three words: 'Stop these ads."'

Maybe more like "Those ads are lying." Because, as I understand it, legally
no member of the Bush campaign can tell an independent political advertiser
what to do because that would be collusion. Why give the right a legal dodge to
hide behind?

UPDATE: Now Josh Marshall says this is exactly what we don't want. He calls it "whining. Begging. ... it sounds weak. This is about hitting back, not flaunting high-mindedness." Huh. I thought the earlier disavowal pleas came off that way. This is more like "put up or shut up." If the Democrats started using words like "decent," then Marshall would have a point. But talking about manhood and demanding a statement ("We want to hear three words") -- that's different.

 
 
I wish I had TV

Josh Marshall lays out the Kerry campaign's new ad. It sounds very tasty, especially the frightened, poleaxed look Marshall describes on Bush's face. (This is a theme I've sounded before: Bush comes on tough, but he has a habit of panicking in public. That evidence is in plain view and any television watcher can understand it.)

Too bad the ad has to be pegged to McCain, since the Democrats have a habit of running behind his skirts. Still, it's news footage of an event, and somehow I imagine that lessens the "gonna tell" factor. And having McCain, a Republican, get into the conspiratorial stuff about his evidence for collusion -- so hard to prove these connections -- saves the Kerry campaign from sounding wide-eyed and frantic.

A problem: McCain might say he's thought it over and now doesn't believe Bush was behind the attack. We'll see.

Mr. Marshall's description:

... the entire ad is a brief exchange from a debate from February 15th 2000
... in which John McCain -- then in the thick of Bush's smears -- told Bush to his face to stop getting others to smear him over his war record. He ends by telling him he should be ashamed. The camera focuses on Bush and catches him not knowing how to respond, with what I think even his supporters would have to agree is a callow, trapped look on his face.

UPDATE: About the title of this post ... turns out the ad in question is for the Internet, not TV. All right, then I wish I had DSL. And I wish the Kerry campaign would get this footage on TV.



 
 
How neocons say "We're full of it"

William Kristol on the Lehrer NewsHour:

I mean, some of these things ... many of these things will remain forever
disputed and my personal judgment having actually read the book, Mark, and
looked at this in some detail is that it's a mixed bag but that John Kerry's
service in Vietnam remains impressive in many ways, though the swift vets have
some legitimate criticisms.

UPDATE: I checked out the Weekly Standard to see if Kristol has a more polished presentation of his views. His brief piece, "Kerry's Band of Brothers," is not good for those of us who like to imagine honest conservative writers are out there someplace.

As I read it, Kristol doesn't much believe anything the Swift Vets have to say about Kerry's actions in Vietnam. To him this isn't a moral dilemma, it's a technical challenge. How do you peg an anti-Kerry editorial to anti-Kerry charges you don't believe in?

His answer is to get the subject onto the vets' apparent motive for badmouthing Kerry: back home he became an activist against the Vietnam War. This segues into the standard conservative critique that as senator Kerry sometimes voted for defense and intelligence cuts. Kristol calls him a "McGovernite" (the kind that votes to give a Republican president war authority) but gives no evidence for this line of attack. No doubt his audience doesn't need any, since they have heard the argument and its talking points many times before. But then why write the editorial?

The rhetorical link between the piece's ostensible subject (Swift vets) and real subject (Kerry as McGovernite) is the phrase "band of brothers." Kerry's real band of brothers, Kristol says, isn't the men he served with, it's the anti-war activists back home. Kristol doesn't try to show Kerry actually cares more about the activists than about his fellow soldiers; that would be literal-minded. The charge is just something to say in order to change the subject.

The best part is Kristol's opener, where he flourishes the Swift vet charges as if those guys actually had the goods on Kerry's war conduct:

A substantial number of Kerry's band of brothers--those who served in close
quarters with him in Coastal Division 11 and Coastal Division 14 from late
November 1968 to March 1969--oppose his candidacy for the presidency. What they "learned as soldiers" has led them to distrust--in many cases,
deeply to distrust--John Kerry.

"What they learned as soldiers" -- that would be combat experience, right? But, two paragraphs down:

... upon returning from Vietnam, Kerry did say that he and his fellow soldiers
had routinely committed war crimes. And it is this that chiefly explains his
fellow veterans' disdain for Kerry. Their contempt does not rest
primarily on what Kerry did or did not do in 1968 or 1969.
I agree with that last sentence and, drawing on public evidence, take it a step further: they're pissed about Kerry's antiwar activities and have responded by making shit up. To an honest conservative, the "making shit up" part would be salient and the "who could blame them" part would be subsidiary. Kristol not only reverses those proportions, he eliminates the bit where he'd have to acknowledge that, well, these particular guys on his side are full of it.

Without that bit, and unwilling to go out on a limb for disintegrating charges, Kristol is left to weld a hunk of right-wing filler to a mismatched topic paragraph. And he's supposed to be the smart conservative.

 
 
Kerry's next move

Matthew Yglesias says on Tapped that "when you're under fire the only choice is to shoot back, and Kerry shouldn't simply limit himself to calling on the president to disavow the Swiftvets." I hate to disagree with my favorite blogger, but I think that's exactly what Kerry should do. So it doesn't surprise me that the campaign is indeed doing a lot more. They're filing with the FEC to claim a link between the Swifts and the Bush campaign. And they're also dropping hints of a reprisal raid into George Bush's National Guard service. (Come to think of it, Kerry himself dropped a large hint to that effect in his declaration of war on Thursday.)

I think this is marching into a morass. What are the odds that they have knockout proof of the Bush campaign's directing the Swifts? So the FEC won't do anything, which will hand a talking point to the right. And uncommitted voters will have had their patience tried by more angry charges swirling around without a clear resolution. Maybe the National Guard issue could generate some effective commercials, but maybe Bush was inoculated on this with the spring press frenzy.

The service scandals, on both sides, are confusing and depressing to anyone who hasn't already picked a candidate. Kerry should position himself as the guy who's going to call an end to the crap, and he should do it by putting Bush on the defensive.

Kerry should force Bush to give up either the Swifts campaign or his straight-shooter reputation -- he can't have both.

A layman's proposed statement for the candidate:

"The president has said I performed 'noble' service in Vietnam. He can't believe that and also believe the ads that his friends and supporters are running against me. Their charges have been dissected, examined, and debunked on front pages across the country. He knows what they are. So what does he have to say?

"If my opponent cannot step forward and declare outright that he thinks the ads are a lie, then common sense tells us he's playing politics. He's happy to lie back and let his friends lob false accusations while he gets the benefit. My opponent can stop this line of attack that he himself does not believe. And he can do it simply by telling the public what he thinks.

"No trying to change the subject, no hiding behind words. He says my service was 'noble.' His friends say my service was a lie. Which does he believe?"

The idea is to make disavowal into a manhood issue instead of a playing-nice issue. It can be done; Kerry made a good start of doing so in his declaration of war. He should go with that and forget the collusion gambit. Don't try to prove the unprovable; hammer at the obvious.
 
Friday, August 20, 2004
 
He speaks for me, I think

Brad DeLong gives his thoughts on Marxism. He starts out with a definition I'm keeping for my records because it sums up so well my own layman's understanding of the term:

... in the process of going about the business of making, using, and
consuming the things people need and want to continue their daily lives, humans
enter into social and economic arrangements of production, association,
exploitation, and exchange that form patterns and have consequences that none of
them have willed ... these arrangements of production, association,
exploitation, and exchange--these "modes of production, as it were"--form the
base, the soil in which the rest of society is rooted and out of which it grows.


From there he lays out what he thinks of where Marx heads with this premise. I can't claim to pass judgment on the specific critques (what the Orleanists represented, etc.), but overall I feel in tune with what he's saying:

The "dictatorship of the proletariat" stuff is the worst political idea in human
history save for perhaps Naziism. All the stuff about the labor theory of value
and the transformation problem is unhelpful. The claim that any price system in
which land earns rents and capital earns quasi-rents is ipso facto exploitative
and unfair is simply completely wrong. The stuff about the Asiatic mode of
production is wrong. The claim that the Orleanists represented commercial
capital and that the Legitimists represented landed capital is wrong. The claim
that the transition from the Roman Empire to medieval feudalism can be
well-understood as some Hegelian dialectical thesis-antithesis-synthesis process
is profoundly unhelpful, as is the claim that the transition from feudalism to
modernity can be well-understood in Hegelian terms.

The writing of western European history as the rise, fall, and succession of ancient, feudal, and bourgeois modes of production is a fascinating project, but the only person to try it seriously soon throws the Marxist apparatus over the side, where it
splashes and sinks to the bottom of the sea. Perry Anderson's Passages from
Antiquity to Feudalism
and Lineages of the Absolutist State are great and
fascinating books, but they are not Marxist. They are Weberian. The key
processes in Anderson's books concern not modes of production but modes of
domination.


 
 
Political theory

I think in the Blue States nice people get involved in public life and mean people don't; in the Red States, the nice people don't get into public life, but the mean ones do.

This theory is to explain why the Southwesterners I've met (not many) have seemed so nice.
 
 
The Diulio Pattern

The oddest thing about the Swifts case is how the most high-profile accusers were also Kerry's high-profile defenders just a few years back. Most notably there's O'Neill (UPDATE: sorry, I meant Elliott), who switched from defender to accuser to (in the space of a few days) non-accuser to sort-of accuser. But God knows he's not the only one in that crowd. A lot of the Swifts hate what Kerry said when he got back home, but these particular guys didn't hate him so much in 1996. So what's up?

Their fluctuations remind me of how people like Norman Schwarzkopff, Paul O'Neill, and John Diulio would step off the Bush reservation and then get hauled back in. Diulio, in fact, crawled back with a written statement recanting all he had said against the leader. Since he was the one who came up with "Mayberry Machiavellis," this display actually bolstered his charges -- his capitulation was so abject you had to think he'd been muscled.

So what's behind this Swift vets nonsense? The obvious guess is Karl Rove and strongarm tactics. But I don't think you could find so many infallible pressure points to work on people who have been private citizens for quite some time. So probably they're being paid a lot of money. One thing about being a Texas Republican (or any high-level Republican) is that you know rich people who don't mind bending the rules to stay rich.

This is speculation, of course, but at least it's common-sense speculation.
 
 
The other side

The right-wing bloggers, resourcefully, perceive the bad news for the Swift vets merely as evidence of the media's overwhelming bias. They're missing a big point -- because that's some pretty damning stuff about Thurlow, et al. -- but their hobbyhorse does deserve serious consideration.

For the week or so that this has been building up, the Washington Post and the New York Times had nothing to say about the Swifts; and, of course, neither did Kerry. The day Kerry finally pushes back, the Post brings out its Thurlow piece. The day after, the Times deploys its big takeout on the allegations' holes and the Swift group's Texas GOP connections.

Kerry concentrates on bringing the fight to Bush and accusing him, more or less, of complicity in the smear. The country's two top papers handle the point-by-point rebuttal of allegations. If not teamwork, it is a very fortuitous division of labor.

Is there something behind this? I couldn't begin to guess. But those looking for collusion have the material to work with.
 
Thursday, August 19, 2004
 
Not bad

Except for the use of "front." That implies the Bush campaign is controlling the Swifts, which is more than we'll ever be able to prove.

Sen. Kerry's remarks:

... more than thirty years ago, I learned an important lesson—when you’re
under attack, the best thing to do is turn your boat into the attacker. That’s
what I intend to do today.

Over the last week or so, a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth
has been attacking me. Of course, this group isn’t interested in the truth – and
they’re not telling the truth. They didn’t even exist until I won the nomination
for president.

But here’s what you really need to know about them. They’re
funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Republican contributor out of
Texas. They’re a front for the Bush campaign. And the fact that the President
won’t denounce what they’re up to tells you everything you need to know—he wants
them to do his dirty work.

Thirty years ago, official Navy reports documented my service in
Vietnam and awarded me the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.
Thirty years ago, this was the plain truth. It still is. And I still carry the
shrapnel in my leg from a wound in Vietnam.

As firefighters you risk your lives everyday. You know what it’s like
to see the truth in the moment. You’re proud of what you’ve done—and so am
I.

Of course, the President keeps telling people he would never question
my service to our country. Instead, he watches as a Republican-funded attack
group does just that. Well, if he wants to have a debate about our service in
Vietnam, here is my answer: “Bring it on.”

I’m not going to let anyone question my commitment to defending
America—then, now, or ever. And I’m not going to let anyone attack the
sacrifice and courage of the men who saw battle with me.

And let me make this commitment today: their lies about my record
will not stop me from fighting for jobs, health care, and our security – the
issues that really matter to the American people.

 
 
Bush lies

This is for my record-keeping more than anything else. A commenter on Matthew Yglesias's blog has provided an index card version of Bush's worst liberties with the truth. Thanks, man.

1) “You can't distinguish between al-Qaeda and Saddam.”
2) "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought
significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
3) "The budget I submitted earlier this year commits an additional $400
billion over 10 years to implement this vision of a stronger Medicare system.
This is enough to meet our commitments to the seniors today and to future
generations of Americans.
4)Tim Russert – "Would you authorize the release of everything to settle
this?" Bush – "Yes, absolutely. We did so in 2000 by the way."
5)"And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let
them in."
Posted by: Mike August 19,
2004 07:05 AM


Personally, I think 4) and 5) count as panicked babbling, not conscious lies, but they were plainly untrue statements that he handed out for public consumption.
 
 
Heroes

The single biggest charge in the Swift Vets' campaign has just been torpedoed by an inconvenient document. (No pun intended with "torpedoed," since that wouldn't even work for references to brown-water duty). And I'm happy, but an aspect of this does make you think.

Larry Thurlow says there was no enemy fire when Kerry fished Rassmann out of the water. The document giving him the lie is his own Bronze Star citation. Just like Kerry, Rassmann saved somebody that day, and he did it with the enemy shooting at him and everyone else in sight.

"Everyone else in sight" includes Kerry and Rassmann, which is the inconvenient bit for Thurlow. What's inconvenient for us is that, going by documented war activities, Thurlow was in the same league as Kerry when it came to being a hero. Yet I wouldn't trust him to describe a traffic accident, let alone run the country. So how much do Kerry's own heroics count in sizing him up as president?

This is not a political problem, since I guarantee no voter will decide that being brave under fire doesn't matter. But it is an annoying reminder of our life inside an echo chamber.
 
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
 
His mother is Barbara Bush

Mark A. R. Kleiman linked to this article on Hurricane Charley solely for the quote by Gov. Jeb Bush:


"God doesn't follow the linear projections of computer models," Bush said
outside the emergency management center, whose roof caved in during the
hurricane. "This is God's way of telling us that he's almighty and we're
mortal."
The second part of the quote is what the blogger reproduced for his readers. He wondered how anyone could believe God would destroy a whole lot of people just to show off his power. It's the kind of thought I haven't had since I was a preteen atheist, but one gathers that President Bush, at least, is the religious equivalent of my preteen atheist self, so maybe his brother is the same.

To be fair, the full quote indicates that Jeb doesn't believe God sent the hurricane just to show off. Instead, he seems to say that the show-off element was God's causing the hurricane to veer from its projected course. So the implication would be not that God takes a certain grim satisfaction in smashing us up, but instead that he takes pride in the occasional feint.

But the first interpretation works better with my joke (see title), which is intended as an answer to the blogger's rhetorical question.
 
 
Come home, America

I remember when you heard about the "McGovern isolationists" supposedly crowded into the Democratic party. Now it seems like the isolationists are back where they belong, on the right. Only there's more of them than I would have thought after Pat Buchanan's 2000 flameout.

Or, to put it another way, looking at a right-wing blog's comments section, I saw that the posters all assumed that Bush's troop deployment reconfiguration was purely a case of taking your ball and going home because people haven't been nice to you. And they applauded it for that reason. Mark Steyn, a glamour columnist (he writes the way all the amateur fulminators wish they could write), expanded on the same sentiments in his weekly appearance at the Telegraph. So I guess the policy-by-snit crowd is more than a few.

A theme of the comments I saw) is that our (eventual) pulling home of troops is evidence that the U.S. has no imperialist ambitions, even though Bush's plan calls for a string of forward bases conveniently near our terror enemies (or, as leftists would say, our oil interests) in Central Asia and the Middle East.

Here's a sample:

We've protected and coddled you little snot-nosed brats for 50 years, dealt
with all the problems you couldn't or wouldn't handle, while you spent the month
of August in the South of France. Your life of nit-picking from the peanut
gallery while you have no actual responsibilities is over.



 
Monday, August 16, 2004
 
I'll put it another way, Mr. Kerry

If you have to stick with the distinction between granting authority and declaring war, say this:

"It's like you give your kid the keys to the car, he wraps it around a tree, and then he says you wanted him to drive into the tree because you gave him the keys."

You could also say that when a legislator votes for having a war, as opposed to giving the president just-in-case authority, it's because the president has asked Congress to declare war and congress holds a vote on the request -- you know, like with FDR and World War II. Bush never asked for a delcaration of war, and it's bogus for him to treat the war-authority vote as a substitute.

But really, the big thing is to find a public occasion where Bush said he did not look on the war authority vote as a vote for fighting a war. I could have sworn I saw a quote to that effect drawn from his Oct. 8, 2002, speech, but it was in an old New York Review of Books that I have since thrown away.

 
Saturday, August 14, 2004
 
Cherry-picking reality


Here's another theory: the more you cherry-pick reality, the less flavor the cherries have. Excuse the Est-style metaphor speak. I just mean that the more we rig things to get exactly what we want, the less we enjoy them. Up to a certain point that tradeoff makes sense, and determining when you've reached the point is a subjective matter. But I find an example of what I mean in Kevin Drum's compliants about Olympic coverage on U.S. TV:

I have to say that the galactically slick TV packaging of the Olympics we get
these days has pretty much turned me off from watching it at all. There's really
no sense of genuine sport anymore; it's like watching a highlight reel. What's
worse, since they often only show heats in which Americans have done well, it's
a highlight reel where you frequently have a pretty good idea how it's going to
turn out.


He's right again. Part of the point of competition is that you can lose. It seems weak and also pointless to rig coverage so that we only see our victories (not to mention all the moments that aren't victory or defeat, but just people engaged in sport). It's like requiring the pitcher to send you slow, easy ones when you're at bat -- which is the behavior of six-year-olds.

I'd guess America is one of the few countries that indulges itself this way as regards Olympic coverage. Of course, most don't have the chance, since they don't combine an immense population with decent living standards. But it's like with kids. Most have the capacity to be spoiled, but first circumstances have to cooperate.
 
 
Exactly!

Kevin Drum sums up a lot in a little right here:

Bush ... is so convinced of the righteousness of his strategy that he
considers it a positive virtue not to judge it against reality.

So true. The problem is that in his contest with Bush, Kerry is the one looks immobile and out of synch, the one who can't keep up as circumstances keep shifting. He's Margaret Dumont here, and that's no good.

I have a theory that taking control in a social situation is not the same as taking control in a real situation -- a crisis, say, where people are shooting at you or your country has just come under attack. But most of us lead peaceful lies where the main risk factors aren't physical but social. So when we think of leadership, we don't think of somebody getting something done, we think of somebody getting the best of the other people in a room.

Bush has always been good at that, inasmuch as he's good at anything. Kerry has always been bad at that. So Kerry, by this theory, will most likely lose to Bush in the contest for who seems like a leader. And that contest is bound to be the crucial element of the election because we're at war. Even though Bush has shown no skill at conducting the war and the war-related criticisms of Kerry (yes, he gave the president authority to fight a war; no, he doesn't like the way the president used the authority) don't really amount to much.
 
Friday, August 13, 2004
 
The Jim McGreevey Award for Delayed Candor

For public figures who tell us now what they should have told us long ago. Though, really, in McGreevey's case that thing wouldn't be his gayness but the status of his wife and daughters as campaign props of a sort.
 
 
'Ridicule and derision'

A couple of weeks ago a White House aide (believed to be Rove) said the re-elect campaign would use August to make Kerry "an object of ridicule and derision." (And if that wasn't the phrase, close enough.) Now they're doing it, and it really is like watching the kids in 7th grade homeroom. They grab something out of the air and make it a mark of shame -- using the word "sensitive," for example. And the victim appeals to logic, but it's just scrabbling for air. (Bush used "sensitive" too!)

If you can grab a couple of news cycles by pointing out your opponent once said "sensitive," either the news rules are stacked in your favor or your opponent has got something wrong with him. It takes a certain self-possession to laugh an assault to scorn; that self-possession passes in the popular mind as strength of character, and strength of character passes as the sine qua non requirement for a leader. I'm agnostic about those connections, but they are the prevailing standards and they're not absurd on their face. If you can't pass this test you can't be president, so if Kerry does have a deficit in the domain of self-possession (not a very good word for whatever I have in mind), then it will probably be a fatal deficit.

Which is too bad, since George Bush fails along so many applicable dimensions when it comes to sizing up a preident, strong character not least among them.
 
 
Whistle!

There's a New Yorker cartoon from 30 years back showing a city scene of proles sitting out front on the stoop. A knockout babe is walking past; a gangly young dork is gawking at her. Two old grannies sit further up on the stoop. And one says to the young man, "Whistle, you dumb bastard!"

That's the relation between a Democratic supporter and the characters we nominate for president: you keep trying to will normal reflexes into them. It's heartbreaking work.

(The scene and language sound pretty gritty for The New Yorker, but this was the 1970s.)
 
 
Well, all right

Kevin Drum relays a bit of relief regarding one issue, Christmas in Cambodia. The source is the Telegraph, which is unfriendly enough to Democrats for its account to have a lead full-on giving the lie to Kerry. But a couple of paragraphs down we get to the fiddly details where it turns out, according to Kerry's biographer, that the guy was telling the truth about everything important in his account: yes to clandestine missions in Cambodia, yes to CIA involvement, yes to the lucky cap, no to Christmas (instead the missons were in January and February).

The biographer is Douglas Brinkley, who is well-known for being friendly to Democrats, and I gather his Kerry book is no exception. One also wonders why he didn't include the Cambodian episode in the biography. So one would like to see the journal entries Brinkley cites in supporting Kerry's story. But what the hell -- after all, Brinkley wouldn't be making the claim if its disproof were that easy. So if attacks on Kerry were capable of being killed by facts, this one would be an inch away from going into the great hereafter.
 
 
Smart-mouthed little bastard

By now Bush has stopped being celebrated for his supposed leadership instincts or his on-again, off-again skills as administration frontman. But he does have one undeniable gift and that is razzing people. Kerry, on the other hand, is a bit like Principal Skinner and a bit like a matinee idol and therefore made to be razzed. To the wiseass, a stuffed shirt deserves to suffer because he is a stuffed shirt. The fact that you can get under his skin shows by itself that you are the better man. Bush needs that sense to feed his confidence; Kerry looks like he'll cooperate in providing it.

The public gets what this kind of exchange is about, so they'll see Kerry's particular weakness broad and plain. Unfortunately, what points up that weakness isn't a particular strength on Bush's part, since being a smart-mouthed little bastard has nothing to do with picking the right policies or implementing them well. Even aside from that, it's just uncomfortable and depressing to reflect that the president is a snot.

But it is really hard to take a stuffed shirt seriously. I hope Kerry gets his act together on the war-sans-WMDs issue (and also Christmas in Cambodia, the Swifts, etc.). Partly because I want this election to go Democratic, partly because I'd like to respect the candidate I'm rooting for.

I never felt this need before and am not sure why I do now. I suppose because we're in such a dire situation that anything less seems frivolous; but also because by now (after Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, and to a lesser extent Gore) I feel like a fool saying someone should be president when he can't handle himself in a campaign.


 
Thursday, August 12, 2004
 
And another thing

Bush should be a national laughingstock for using this phrase:

"I know what I'm doing when it comes to winning this war, and I'm not going to
be sending mixed signals."


Not the "mixed signals" part -- the "I know what I'm doing when it comes to winning this war" part. I mean, Jesus. You can see how he might have said it; it's called brazening things out. But why isn't everyone laughing?

 
 
Skewed categories

More on the Kerry "Yes, I would have" disaster. The New York Times state-of-play piece contains this phrasing:

He has to portray himself as tough and competent enough to be commander in
chief, yet appeal to the faction of Democrats that hates the war and eggs
him on to call Mr. Bush a liar.

That is what I call a false opposition, and it bothers me very much that Kerry seems to have bought this skewed premise. And that Joe Biden, judging by the article, falls for it too. And the New York Times, to judge by the lack of hedging and attribution in the above sentence. All the responsible people in suits seem to have dropped into the same state of hypnosis.

The logical response to Bush's hypothetical question would seem to be this: If we had known Saddam didn't have WMDs, why would you have been asking for a war vote? No article I've seen has raised that point, but it's by way of being the key. Bush might possibly answer that question by saying, "In order to get started on remaking the Middle East in order to dry up the sources of terrorism endemic to Muslim civilization." Then we could have a debate about something important, namely whether Bush's aims (givign the Middle East a new civilization) and his chosen means (send over very few troops) make sense either separately or together. But we're not going to have that debate.

To state the obvious: Declaring war is not, in itself, being "tough and competent." The war in question has to make sense; if it doesn't, then starting the war is not a sign of competence and possibly doesn't indicate toughness either. Violent, senseless actions resorted to while under stress aren't usually taken as signs of a strong personality.

Any average person would say that starting a war is pointless if the war itself is pointless. This isn't just common sense -- it's tautology. Of course Bush defies that logic, but it's his war so he has to.

But Kerry ... If he considers Bush's "yes-no" question such a trap, it's because he accepts that refusing to fight a war is always a sign of weakness. Given that he's over 15, I don't think he believes that. Which leaves the probability that he automatically flinches and ducks his head whenever Bush raises the war-and-manhood issue. Which seems like pretty weak behavior.

Before Bush's trap and after, the Kerry line regarding his war vote has been to argue over what the vote signified -- to say it didn't mean "yes, let's start a war" but instead "okay, Mr. President, we'll back you in public so you have the strength to achieve peace." Maybe Kerry did mean his vote that way. But that isn't going to help unless he is willing to argue, with evidence, that Bush himself presented the vote as not being a vote for war. If he can make that case, he'd better start.

And, at any rate, if there were no WMDs, then there was no need to have a showdown and therefore no need to strengthen the president for that showdown.

It seems pretty simple. But sometimes I get the feeling that elite Democrats play by different ruels than the rest of us and that the rules were designed by Republicans.


 
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
 
Support our pointless disaster

All right, there's something here I haven't kept up with. Bush "challenges" Kerry to say whether he'd still have supported the war without the WMDs issue. And Kerry takes the challenge by saying yes, like a fool.

It's baffling. First, why should this be a point of strength for Bush? The country wouldn't have backed the war except for the WMDs issue -- an issue that Bush relentlessly flogged into being from a few caveat-studded pages of CIA speculation.

As I said last December, Kerry only has to say this: "I believe that in matters of war and peace, the president deserves the benefit of the doubt. In this case we discovered that the current president did not deserve that benefit. We are now going to have to clean up his mess."

Going to war with Iraq as a test of manhood or as a test of political integrity -- I'm not sure how it's being used here, but either application is ridiculous. The past year and a half have served only one good purpose, which is to prove that riduclousness. So why is Kerry surrendering the advantage of being able to publicly recognize that lesson and demonstrate his superior acumen? (That last word is a subsitute for whatever word means "grounding in the universe as it exists." Even "realism" falls short of what I mean.)

It's some kind of Democratic zombie reflex. They fall into a game of Simon Says where the magic phrase is "Only wimps don't," as in "Only wimps don't support the war no matter what."

That's my theory; maybe I'll run into some information and get more context. It's really depressing, though.

 
Everything the others don't get

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