Kyle's Republic
Thursday, October 21, 2004
The Lord is highly specific, isn't He?

"I mean, the Lord told me it was going to be A, a disaster, and B, messy," Robertson said.

Pat Robertson, of course, with "it" being the invasion of Iraq.
Portrait of an age, vol. 3

Via Tapped and a new biography of Tom DeLay (The Hammer, Dubose and Reid), we catch one DeLay staffer e-mailing another during the Clinton impeachment hassle:

God Bless you Tony Rudy -- are we the only ones with political instincts -- This whole thing about not kicking someone when they are down is BS -- Not only do you kick him -- you kick him until he passes out -- then beat him over the head with the baseball bat -- then roll him up in an old rug -- and throw him off the cliff into the pounding surf.

Republicans seem addicted to this stuff, he-guy language, and they do it well ("off the cliff into the pounding surf"). But it does make you miss strong and silent, not to mention honest and magnanimous.
Saturday, October 16, 2004
Yeah, my man!

Jon Stewart has reached an apotheosis as a smart-guy heckler of the news industry. As everyone on the Internet knows, he went on Crossfire and told the guys there they are wasting the nation's time.

I've seen about 15 minutes of this by means of Windows Media Player (not sure if that's the whole appearance or highlights) and he handled himself well. Tucker Carlson hung in there slugging and Paul Begala squeaked out a couple of good lines, but Stewart dominated. He did the near-impossbile for television: busting up a show's fomat without creating an embarassing, car-wreck shambles. You not only had to look, you were glad you were looking. (Compare Madonna's 1994 piss-in-the-shower Letterman appearance.)

Of course what needs remarking here is that I'm appraising the segment in exactly the way Stewart despises -- as gladitorial combat. That is because I've only seen Crossfire three times (one of those times being in 1983) and can''t really say if his criticism is fair. I bet it is, but I don't know. The other reason is that the problem does not lie with Begala, Carlson, or CNN. It lies with people, and I am people. Combat is fun. Fun is the option we'll always choose unless a gun is put to our head. We'll keep on choosing fun until we throw up, and then we'll choose fun some more.

But, yes, I believe that our politics is choked with fraudulent ritual passed off as debate. Stewart's point about Spin Alley is well taken: right after any of the most important exchanges in our election, reporters go straight to a battery of campaign flunkies whose job is to forthrightly manipulate us. Why do it? What does it achieve that helps us, as opposed to the campaign-flunky industry?

(Subsidiary point: how new is any of this? As I recall from Mencken and biographies of Franklin Roosevelt, politicians have always lied and been known to be lying, with reporters taking a vinegary delight in recognizing the garbage for what it is while passing it on to us.)

But anyway. For an annotated transcript of the highlights, I have turned to a puckish character named Joe Gandelman. He is the man behind a blog called The Moderate Voice, which referees the news with the sort of aren't-I-evenhanded, divide-down-the-middle centrism that I instinctively hate. Unfortunately for my instincts, he is both intelligent and fair (except when assessing the benefits of our war in Iraq).

Just to keep things complicated, the post below is not from Gandelman's blog but from one where he makes guest appearances. That's called Dean's World and I know nothing about it.

Finally, the Stewart appearance. For clairty, I've put Gandelman's contributions in [ brackets and italics ].

[ It'll go down in media history as the day The Funny Guy went on Crossfire and — in comments that echoed what people on both the right and left that have mouthed without real public explosure — made the two hosts (particularly one of them) the subjects of ridicule on their own show. In the end, Stewart mercilessly stripped this kind of show's real meaning — and failings — to its basics. You can read the full CNN transcript here for yourself.But first let's give you the less serious but most widely quoted exchange from the program - one between Stewart and Carlson: ]

CARLSON: I do think you're more fun on your show. Just
my opinion....

STEWART: You know what's interesting, though? You're as big a
dick on your show as you are on any show.

[ Here are a few highlights from a show that will have clips from it played over and over in broadcast and journalism classes for many years: ]

STEWART: I think, oftentimes, the person that knows they can't win is allowed to speak the most freely, because, otherwise, shows with titles, such as CROSSFIRE.... Or "HARDBALL" or "I'm Going to Kick Your Ass"...In many ways, it's funny. And I made a special effort to come on the show today, because I have privately, amongst my friends and also in occasional newspapers and television shows, mentioned this show as being bad.

BEGALA: We have noticed.

STEWART: And I wanted to — I felt that that wasn't fair and I should come here and tell you that I don't — it's not so much that it's bad, as it's hurting America.

CARLSON: But in its defense...

STEWART: So I wanted to come here today and say... Here's just what I wanted to tell you guys.


STEWART: Stop. Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America.


STEWART: And come work for us, because we, as the people...

CARLSON: How do you pay?

STEWART: The people — not well.

BEGALA: Better than CNN, I'm sure.

STEWART: But you can sleep at night.

[ So did he leave it at that? No. Stewart zeroes in: ]

STEWART: See, the thing is, we need your help. Right now, you're helping the politicians and the corporations. And we're left out there to mow our lawns.

BEGALA: By beating up on them? You just said we're too rough on them when they make mistakes.

STEWART: No, no, no, you're not too rough on them. You're part of their strategies. You are partisan, what do you call it, hacks.

[ And, indeed. Over the years this kind of political show has shifted, just as the typical TV talk show shifted. Back in the 60s and even 70s, a typical daytime talk show discussed more mundane issues than My Husband Likes Sleeping With Our Sheep. Guests dressed casual, but often a bit "up" for TV. TV had a certain dignity and seriousness to them.

But TV titans soon realized that conflict, anger, rage and negativity is what gets ratings (why do most people stop and gawk at a car crash scene?). The Jerry Springerization of daytime TV — minus a few old-style holdovers — spread. TV political talk shows like Crossfire, The Capital Gang, The Beltway Boys, etc. put a premium on several things:

a)People yelling at and over each other and name calling.

b)People who were put on and the instant you saw them you knew exactly how they
would react to a given issue since they were knee-jerk partisans (with the
emphasis on the second word) of the right and the left. The days of Open Mind
are gone; the days of Open Mouth are here.

The emphasis then is on anger issues, rage, personalities — but serious policy discussion is generally not done (you can't get ratings from it).

This is confirmed by Carlson putting Crossfire — a supposedly serious show — on the same playing field as The Daily Show. Here Stewart lowers the boom: ]

STEWART: If you want to compare your show to a comedy show, you're more than welcome to....

CARLSON: Kerry won't come on this show. He will come on your show.


CARLSON: Let me suggest why he wants to come on your show.

STEWART: Well, we have civilized discourse.

CARLSON: Well, here's an example of the civilized discourse. Here are three of the questions you asked John Kerry.


CARLSON: You have a chance to interview the Democratic nominee. You asked him questions such as — quote — "How are you holding up? Is it hard not to take the attacks personally?"


CARLSON: "Have you ever flip-flopped?" et cetera, et cetera.


CARLSON: Didn't you feel like — you got the chance to interview the guy. Why not ask him a real question, instead of just suck up to him?

STEWART: Yes. "How are you holding up?" is a real suck-up. And I actually giving him a hot stone massage as we were doing it.

CARLSON: It sounded that way. It did.

STEWART: You know, it's interesting to hear you talk about my responsibility.

CARLSON: I felt the sparks between you.

STEWART: I didn't realize that — and maybe this explains quite a bit.

CARLSON: No, the opportunity to...

STEWART: ... is that the news organizations look to Comedy Central for their cues on integrity.... So what I would suggest is, when you talk about you're holding politicians' feet to fire, I think that's disingenuous. I think you're.. But my point is this. If your idea of confronting me is that I don't ask hard-hitting enough news questions, we're in bad shape, fellows.

CARLSON: We're here to love you, not confront you. ... We're here to be nice.

STEWART: No, no, no, but what I'm saying is this. I'm not. I'm here to confront you, because we need help from the media and they're hurting us. And it's — the idea is...

BEGALA: Let me get this straight. If the indictment is — if the indictment is — and I have seen you say this — that...


BEGALA: And that CROSSFIRE reduces everything, as I said in the intro, to left, right, black, white.


BEGALA: Well, it's because, see, we're a debate show.

STEWART: No, no, no, no, that would be great.

BEGALA: It's like saying The Weather Channel reduces everything to a storm front.

STEWART: I would love to see a debate show.

BEGALA: We're 30 minutes in a 24-hour day where we have each side on, as best we can get them, and have them fight it out.

STEWART: No, no, no, no, that would be great. To do a debate would be great. But that's like saying pro wrestling is a show about athletic competition.

[They must have thought: why did we BOOK this guy??? But Stewart was not through — and Carlson was about to get the ultimate "diss": ]

CARLSON: Jon, Jon, Jon, I'm sorry. I think you're a good comedian. I think your lectures are boring.


CARLSON: Let me ask you a question on the news.

STEWART: Now, this is theater. It's obvious. How old are you?

CARLSON: Thirty-five.

STEWART: And you wear a bow tie.

CARLSON: Yes, I do. I do.

STEWART: So this is...

CARLSON: I know. I know. I know. You're a...

STEWART: So this is theater.

CARLSON: Now, let me just..Now, come on.

STEWART: Now, listen, I'm not suggesting that you're not a smart guy,
because those are not easy to tie.

CARLSON: They're difficult.

STEWART: But the thing is that this — you're doing theater, when you should
be doing debate, which would be great.

BEGALA: We do, do...

STEWART: It's not honest. What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan hackery. And I will tell you why I know it.

CARLSON: You had John Kerry on your show and you sniff his throne and you're accusing us of partisan hackery?

STEWART: Absolutely.

CARLSON: You've got to be kidding me. He comes on and you...

STEWART: You're on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank
phone calls... What is wrong with you?And it gets worse:

CARLSON: Well, I'm just saying, there's no reason for you — when you have this marvelous opportunity not to be the guy's butt boy, to go ahead and be his butt boy. Come on. It's embarrassing.

STEWART: I was absolutely his butt boy. I was so far — you would not believe what he ate two weeks ago... You know, the interesting thing I have is, you have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.

[ And WORSE: ]

CARLSON: You need to get a job at a journalism school, I think.

STEWART: You need to go to one...The thing that I want to say is,
when you have people on for just knee-jerk, reactionary talk...

CARLSON: Wait. I thought you were going to be funny. Come on. Be funny.

STEWART: No. No. I'm not going to be your monkey....I watch your show every day. And it kills me.

CARLSON: I can tell you love it.

STEWART: It's so — oh, it's so painful to watch.

STEWART: You know, because we need what you do. This is such a great pportunity you have here to actually get politicians off of their marketing and strategy.

[ THAT'S THE POINT: Crossfire and shows of its ilk have become the Winking Spin Zones. Haven't you noticed that obnoxious little wink from the newscasters and political yell shows, the half smile that says: "We know this is all B.S. but we and they have to say certain things — and this is the way our game works. Why we'll all go out for a nice dinner and drinks after the show and forget all about this..."

More: ]

CARLSON: Is this really Jon Stewart? What is this, anyway?

STEWART: Yes, it's someone who watches your show and cannot take it anymore....I just can't.

CARLSON: What's it like to have dinner with you? It must be excruciating. Do you like lecture people like this or do you come over to their house and sit and lecture
them; they're not doing the right thing, that they're missing their opportunities, evading their responsibilities?

STEWART: If I think they are.

[ And when they come back from a break? ]

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We're talking to Jon Stewart, who was just lecturing us on our moral inferiority. Jon, you're bumming us out. Tell us, what do you think about the Bill O'Reilly vibrator story?

STEWART: I'm sorry. I don't.

[ And later on Stewart takes up SPIN: ]

STEWART: But let me ask you guys, again, a question, because we talked a little bit about, you're actually doing honest debate and all that. But, after the debates, where do you guys head to right afterwards?

CARLSON: The men's room.

STEWART: Right after that?


STEWART: Spin alley.


STEWART: No, spin alley.

BEGALA: What are you talking about? You mean at these debates?

STEWART: Yes. You go to spin alley, the place called spin alley. Now, don't you think that, for people watching at home, that's kind of a drag, that you're literally walking to a place called deception lane? Like, it's spin alley. It's — don't you see, that's the issue I'm trying to talk to you guys...

BEGALA: No, I actually believe — I have a lot of friends who work for President Bush. I went to college with some of them.

CARLSON: Neither of us was ever in the spin room, actually.

BEGALA: No, I did — I went to do the Larry King show. They actually believe what they're saying. They want to persuade you. That's what they're trying to do by spinning. But I don't doubt for a minute these people who work for President Bush, who I disagree with on everything, they believe that stuff, Jon. This is not a lie or a deception at all. They believe in him, just like I believe in my guy.

STEWART: I think they believe President Bush would do a better job. And I believe the Kerry guys believe President Kerry would do a better job. But what I believe is, they're not making honest arguments. So what they're doing is, in their mind, the ends justify the means.

[ Afterwards there was this from MTV: "In what could well be the
strangest and most refreshing media moment of the election season, 'The Daily
Show' host Jon Stewart turned up on a live broadcast of CNN's 'Crossfire' Friday
and accused the mainstream media — and his hosts in particular — of being soft
and failing to do their duty as journalists to keep politicians and the
political process honest."

And TVNewser had this item:

CNN Crossfire host Tucker Carlson was taken aback by Jon Stewart's rant on the debate show today. "I've never seen a more sanctimonious comedian," he says in an e-mail to TVNewser. "What a boor." I asked Carlson if Stewart had "slammed" the two hosts. "Slammed us? The transcript may read that way," he said. "But I think the tape makes it clear he humiliated himself."

Dear Tucker: Humiliation is in the eye of the bolder...
Posted by Joe Gandelman ]

You've a lovely daughter, Ms. Bilitis

Oliver Willis presents an interesting quote by Pat Buchanan, one where the master slanging artist takes us into his workshop for a moment. In Buchanan's view, Kerry is especially culpable for choosing "the cold, hard word 'lesbian,' which really is offensive . . ." To many of us, this would not, excuse the phrase, be a matter of choice. Remember that the term's most famous synonym is also cold and hard; and the others, though more playful, are equally unwelcome on network television.

What I like about the quote, though, is that Buchanan uses sensuous, emotive terms to describe vocabulary. This mode of thinking is as far beyond most TV pundits as color coordination is beyond dogs. Conservatives have an aesthetic sense, and the farther right they are, the stronger the sense grows. (In fact I think it explains their politics, though I would have to do more research before posting on that.) Liberal writers, even highly proficient ones like Paul Krugman, don't understand that getting across meaning is only part of a word's existence. Words also have a powerful shadow life in which they shiver and reverberate inside the head, setting off vibrations thst the host feels without being aware of. You have to write with your fingertips to use them properly. Most CNN/MSNBC types write with their elbows, or more likely the elbows of someone a few years out of Columbia Journalism School.

This leaves us with the Kerry Dilemma: how to say a woman prefers sex with other women, and to say it without offending or exciting Pat Buchanan? All that comes to mind is "Daughter of Bilitis," and viewers might think he was pretending to be on friendly terms with Lynne Cheney by using an intimates' nickname (when she is really known to her circle as the Cobra of Sanctimony). Which leaves simply shutting up on the matter. That would have made more sense electorally, and it is certainly what the Pat Buchanans of the world think we should all do. There's the aesthetic sense again -- if you don't like something, erase it.
Friday, October 15, 2004
There's something about headlines that say "There's something about Mary"

It's true: lesbians are more interesting than anything else on earth. That's why our priceless Bush-Osama gaffe (on tape! with the evidence on tape!) has disappeared and the muddled business of Kerry's well-meaning/underhanded attempt at a compliment/dig has become the country's official souvenir of Debate 3. Nothing can disrupt the magnetic power of lesbianism to fascinate the mind, not even the unpleasant association of Dick Cheney with a topic that could be considered sexual.

Another lesson, one I could have rushed to the Kerry camp beforehand: do not ever give neoconservatives a chance to fly into high dudgeon. They live for that state, and once the portal has been opened they cannot be pulled out. My personal theory of Cheney-ism holds that Dick and Lynne are honestly affronted . . . for whatever reason. It is hard to pin down Kerry's sin here, given that Ms. Cheney the younger has made her living as a professional gay (the Coors job), is a high-up political operative, has been the subject of her father's own campaign trail comments with regard to gayness, etc. But the neocon monopoly on hard-minded moralism allows subscribers to slop the stuff around at will. They can draw on moral umbrage endlessly, and something tells me the elder Cheneys plan to do just that. If the Republicans win, we may hear the end of this, but on the other hand probably not.

Now for the other side. Because, watching that moment of the debate, it did seem Kerry was trying to pull something. Maybe he wasn't and the prospect of an across-the-aisle gesture on a touchy issue simply made him a bit hangdog. But either way his manner did not seem forthright and manly, and I'm sure it seems even less so each time the clip is replayed following comments by the outraged mother and father. The whole thing is a canker and a blot, not to mention one more bucket on Kerry's already crowded feet. When and if we lose by 0.5 of a percentage point . . . well, you know.

He should have just quoted Cheney: "The vice president said something on this matter that I admire: 'Freedom means freedom for everyone.' We have to remember that all Americans deserve, etc." It would have been simple.

Thursday, October 14, 2004
Kerry's smile, Bush's beans

I've been reading blog reaction and Tom Shales. No one mentions a demeanour point that stuck out for me: Kerry's grin when listening to some of Bush's accusations. To me it looked relaxed and even charming. And since this was the first time I had ever seen Kerry, it came as a welcome surprise.

On the other hand, I did get a kick out of Bush, especially his line about his wife and daughters. He delivered it well and I laughed out loud. Very often he seemed off and overly jumpy, just as Kerry sometimes seemed a bit jumbled in his wording and inclined to an unfortunate list of the head (especially when confronted with those social issue questions). But Bush's two greats moments of eccentricity -- "ex-a-a-ge-ra-a-a-tion" and the "never mind" allusion to Fontgate -- perked the debate up for me. Again, I haven't seen much footage of the president, and I must say he comes across as an odd and refreshing character. He didn't seem presidential, true, but he didn't seem like a politician either. You didn't know what he was about to do, and a little of that can be a tonic when watching TV, especially if the channel is CNN.

But really, most of the debate was a snooze, as presidential debates almost always are. All that fuss, and then what you get are two men throwing bits of op-ed pieces at each other. With the deadly scripted jokes and jabs -- Tony Soprano, the left bank -- that make you feel like you're back in 1988. Jesus, the way we suffer for our democracy.

Poll results as seen on the blogs indicate Kerry won, and I hear confident predictions that the morning shows will replay ad nauseam the footage giving the lie to Bush's claim he never dismissed Osama bin-Laden. Good, since the dumb schmuck said it. Still, it's a shame two men can spend 90 minutes together without saying anything interesting. And there's the rest of us, watching them.
John Kerry and Cheney's daughter

Not to offend anyone, but Mary Cheney is probably a detestable person. Consider her parents and her employer.

Anyway, why did John Kerry insist on hauling her name into the debate? The betting seems to be that he wanted to air, in however clumsy a way, a fact that voters would find distasteful about the opposing ticket. "Hey, his daughter's a dyke" is the favored translation of his remark, but I dissent. Liberals need to feel tolerant the way conservatives need to feel tough-minded. A liberal's psyche would come unpinned before the words could get out; the sentence would dissolve into stuttering.

Instead, I think the idea was to expose just how cold-blooded Bush's amendment con is. The president is willing to stigmatize and persecute his own running mate's daughter -- that's the notion here. The Cheneys no doubt dislike getting dragged into their opponent's talking points, both for political reasons and because they'd like to have their privacy. But America's gays probably didn't want to get dragged into the president's reelection strategy. And, if it comes to that, Bush could have skipped the whole degrading exercise if Cheney had passed up the temptation of pulling him and us into the Iraq war.
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Yglesias the aphorist

My favorite blogger
sums up the administrative Bush:

. . . nothing he tries to do in a big way will be done in a sound way.

Portrait of an age, cont.

By way of Brad DeLong, Drudge quoting the New York Times Magazine quoting our president:


The "throat" phrasing echoes a quote by a second-rank Republican consultant that I posted here last week or so. GOP tough guys have only so many tropes to fall back on when signaling their toughness.

As it turns out, Bush was wrong and that isthe important thing.
The O'Reilly Whacker

Who wants to read the sex fantasies of somebody ugly? (Also, the pun in my headline doesn't really work.)
God knows why I'm laughing at this

The Onion presents a typical John Edwards stump speech with the filter off. My favorite line:

John Kerry and I support a nice, big, fat, fucking tax cut for you, because let's face it, nothing good can ever come from taxes. They're a big pain in the ass! We'll do fine without 'em! There! I'm feeling so cheery, I wouldn't be surprised if a friggin' unicorn stepped out on stage and started humpin' my leg!

But read the rest.

UPDATE: Oh man, there's another one: "Cheney Vows to Attack U.S. if Kerry Elected." It includes one of the best made-up book titles to be seen in a while:

"There is no question that Cheney has the financial assets and intelligence needed to pose a threat to our nation," said Peter Bergen, terrorism researcher and author of Threats And Balances: Former Executive Branch Officials And The Danger To America. "After all, this fanatic can call upon the resources of both the Republican Party and Halliburton to aid him in his assault. America would be foolish not to take his warning seriously."

The imperial PB&J

Jon Chait in the New Republic quotes the following from a November 2000 Newsweek. I never heard it before, and it's a small beauty:

Aboard Bush's plane, [John] McCain's chief strategist, John Weaver, had--without thinking--pulled a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich off the snack cart and eaten it. Bush came aboard the plane and asked the flight attendant for his PB&J. She had to tell him it was gone. "It's gone?" Bush said, disbelieving and suddenly angry. "Who ate my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich?" After a minute Weaver impishly raised his hand. "I did," he said. "Fine," said Bush. "Don't eat any more of his food," McCain cracked, sotto voce. A few people chuckled, and Bush returned to his seat to pout.

Sunday, October 10, 2004
The senator is right again

Evian is glop. In your throat it doesn't even feel like water. Kerry's choice, Saratoga Springs, is one of many superior domestic brands.

That being said, it is interesting to see how Kerry puts himself on the spot regarding such trivia. He might have made a joke out of the situation or simply acknowledged that a presidential campaign magnifies the trivial into the huge. Instead he acted harassed.

Then again, joking and musing are dangerous activities for the senator; better to submit to the rules and fume. But it's an example of how some people are naturals at campaigning and others stay hardworking journeymen.

(I'm referring to Matt Bai's Kerry profile in the New York Times Magazine today.)
Saturday, October 09, 2004
The missing comeback

Mike McCurry was predicting that simply for the sake of drama reporters would play any halfway decent performance by Bush as a comeback. It looks like that's not happening, and no doubt McCurry's claim was meant as nothing but inoculatory spin. But it does raise a favorite point of mine.

In 1984, I saw Mondale give Reagan a bloody nose in their first debate. For a week the country buzzed with speculation that Reagan was past it; Mondale rose in the polls. Then came the second debate, and Reagan did seem past it. He made a weak joke about the age issue, and in his closing statement wandered hither and yon with a discussion about a man searching for a time capsule (or something; it was weird).

But with the ceremony concluded, the press and public duly acclaimed Reagan the winner.
People wanted to vote for Reagan, and the evidence of their eyes just had to be made to fit.
The debates were just an opportunity for talking themselves into doing something they had already decided to do.

People don't especially want to vote for Bush, so his debate performance won't get graded on a curve. Therefore, no comeback.
Bush's second bulge

The first one was on Flight-Suit Day, when admirers and skeptics speculated about what Gordon Liddy called the president's "manly package." The second bulge made its appearance during the lead-off Bush-Kerry debate and took up a position below Bush's shoulder blades. Cynics believe Bush was wired for sound and had aides feeding him talking points thru an earpiece not visible to the camera.

As usual with Bush conspiracy theories, the only thing that makes me give this one any credence is the Bush team's response. Brad DeLong sums up the state of play:

First the Bush administration says that it believes that photographs like this that show a rectangular bulge in Bush's jacket have been doctored and faked:

The New York Times > Washington > Campaign 2004 > The Mystery of the Bulge in the Jacket: What was that bulge in the back of President Bush's suit jacket at the presidential debate in Miami last week? According to rumors racing across the Internet this week, the rectangular bulge visible between Mr. Bush's shoulder blades was a radio receiver, getting answers from an offstage counselor into a hidden presidential earpiece.... First [the White House] said that pictures showing the bulge might have been doctored...

But that didn't work:

...the bulge turned out to be clearly visible in the television footage of the evening...

So the White House switched to Plan B:


"There was nothing under his suit jacket," said Nicolle Devenish, a campaign spokeswoman. "It was most likely a rumpling of that portion of his suit jacket, or a wrinkle in the fabric." Ms. Devenish could not say why the "rumpling" was rectangular. Nor was the bulge from a bulletproof vest, according to campaign and White House officials; they said Mr. Bush was not wearing one...

But to say "pay no attention to the bulge under his jacket!" is hardly satisfactory to anyone not on the payroll of the Wizard of Oz.

Wonkette makes a good point:

Wonkette: ...theory that Bush wore an earpiece during last week's debate. Yes, we've seen the pictures. But we also watched the debate. If Bush was listening to some kind of radio signal, it was between stations.

In any case, Salon has seen fit to pick up the story and the Media Channel even got poor Mark McKinnon to go through the trouble making a statement about it:

I love this. Am tempted to say, 'I cannot confirm or deny,' and let the story get some legs. Or, how about, 'Since we put the metal plate in his head, we have had some measure of success with audio transmissions to the President.' Or, 'Yeah, but it clearly broke down during the debate.' Unfortunately, the truth is not nearly as interesting. The answer is, 'The President has never been assisted by any audio signal.'

My instant reaction is that this is another non-denial denial: of course the audio signal did not "assist" Bush: nothing could have helped Bush in that debate. The first interesting question is whether they tried--albeit unsuccessfully--to assist Bush with an audio signal. And the second interesting question is: If it is not a radio, what is it?

I bet it's part of a back brace. Bush's posture was terrible.

Always them, never him

William Saletan convinces me that Kerry whiffed some big opportunities in the second debate (which I didn't see). Of course, after seeing Cheney-Edwards battle to a standoff, I read Saletan and learned how Edwards had actually demolished the guy. Saletan tends to focus on points made rather than demeanour, which is appropriate to an intelligent man like himself. But the approach is not the one most viewers take, including myself.

Anyway, Saletan does bring out a damning point about Bush's troop-strength defense. (The defense summed up: The generals never said they wanted more soldiers, and Bush doesn't like to meddle.) The line has always been all but certainly false, given that Rumsfeld was willing to overrule the generals before the invasion and insist on a small force. But, as Saletan points out, it is also feeble. It's handing away responsibility, which is half a step away from simply pinning
blame. To my mind the defense is like Condi Rice's famous "if something had to be done, somebody would have told me" line from the 9-11 hearings.

The point Saletan makes does strike me as potentially devastating. Most people read demeanour to get an idea of a person's character, which is important topic to anyone who has any idea of how human affairs are conducted. Saletan's point is one of the few arguments that has the potential to do the same. The Bush defense lays bare Bush's character, the very same character that produced the current disaster.

Saletan suggests Kerry should have tried shaming Bush for being ungrateful to the soldiers. I don't think that would work, if only because most people can distinguish between soldiers and generals. But something like this would be good: "We need a president who's interested in taking responsibility, not just credit. Because look where we are now. We've gone from 'Mission Accomplished' to 'It was the generals' fault.' "
Friday, October 08, 2004
A final note on Cheney-Edwards

As I recall, the two got into the Iraqi casualties argument because Cheney said Bush's coalition of allies was comparable to that of the first gulf war. Edwards totted up relative U.S. and allied sacrifices as a way of showing that it wasn't.

Bringing in Iraqi casualties is pointless here. In effect Cheney is arguing that Bush did such a good job of coalition building that now a lot of Iraqis are dying. Which is like saying your medical insurance policy is so good that now you're dying of cancer. The two points are not related, and the second is destructive to any sort of claim that matters are now satisfactory.

(Of course Cheney did not realize he was arguing this. He had dropped the central point of contention and migrated to a politically hotter point, that is whether the U.S. is suffering unduly in the war it started.)
Cheney's truth problem is more of a reality problem

That's my understanding of him. Over at Tapped, Garance Franke-Ruta states the theory well, though with jumbled sentence structure:

Some have attributed Cheney's misstatements to malice, but I suspect pervasive
sloppiness coupled with tremendous arrogance, resulting in a completely skewed
understanding of the world, are likely more to blame. For example, I can't
believe Cheney would have claimed he never met John Edwards if he'd actually
remembered meeting him, but he was so confident of his memory that no one
apparently bothered to vet his claim before he made it, and he wound up with egg
all over his face. The same essential dynamic has been at work over and over
with this administration. . . . They rely too much on what they
already think they know, rather than what they can learn. In short, they're
sloppy -- and, consequently, highly error-prone.

On a different note, seeing Cheney debate I now know the true definition of "neocon." The word doesn't mean a Jewish conservative; it means a conservative who reminds you of that asshole professor you once had, as opposed to an asshole used-car salesman.
Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The Washington Post tells us:

Despite growing misgivings about the violence in Iraq, Bush has held a
commanding lead on whether he would better protect the country from terrorists.

That's because it's scary for people to think they're not being protected. If the president has failed on that, you're in trouble. Unless of course you can get a new president fairly quick.

The nearer we get to the election, the less people will cling to Bush.
The reports come home to roost

I've seen high-spirited talk on the blogs that CIA analysts are scalping Bush by letting loose ugly stuff about Iraq just before the election. Maybe. But why did Duelfer schedule his report for now? He's a Bush appointee, and talk about a coup de grace. Why did Bremer speak up now? I read someplace he was hoping for a big post in the second term, so it's not like he'd be out to sabotage Bush. And Rumsfeld spoke up too.

I keep dreaming that a logjam of lies has broken up and the truth is spreading itself like a flood. Please God.
The way I see it

The race, as a race, is heading in Kerry's direction. The country knows Bush has been a failure; they just need to nerve themselves for the jump to Kerry.

But if there's an assassination, a terrorist attack, or an international crisis, then that decision gets interrupted. Days or a week are lost, and maybe Bush holds on.

So what I'm predicting is that any Kerry gaffes or pseudo-gaffes won't be enough. Something big and scary has to happen outside the campaign. Otherwise Bush has lost. Even if he finds Osama bin-Laden.
Cheney's slip

His "com," "org" substitution is a product of his aesthetic sense. Comedians know that words with the "k" sound get a response -- they bite in harder. The sound also has an incisive, capable feel to it. Cheney's homing instinct is set for cues like that.
The summer soldier

Where I stopped posting: Fontgate. Where I restarted: Kerry's debate win. Because I am such a typical Democrat.
The brawny liberal

One reason I like Kevin Drum is that he writes sentences like this:

It's easy to get cynical about politicians lying, but last night's debate
was remarkable for the number of times Dick Cheney told flat-out fibs.

Cheney as performance artist

Realize I now see Cheney as somehow embodying male competence without his being all that competent. It's like he can mime the role perfectly, and his performance just gets better the closer you are to him. It's only results that interfere.

Following the Rolling Stone profile, you could say Cheney has spent decades delighting powerful men by playing their ideal of a powerful man. But here I'm getting a bit French and paradoxical.
"Reason for war
Blown to Pieces"

That's how AOL headlines an account of the Duelfer report, the site's lead story. The article is by AP and starts off:

Contradicting the main argument for a war that has cost more than 1,000 American
lives, the top U.S. arms inspector reported Wednesday that, etc.

If AOL is ready for that headline (and lead), I'm betting middle America is ready to write off the Iraq war as a botch.
Tora Bora

Kerry brought up Osama's getaway and rightwing bloggers acted like he had exposed a flank. Apparently it's not accepted by all that Osama was actually present to be captured at Tora Bora.

But Edwards hit hard on the point and Cheney said nothing about a non-present Osama. The blog reaction I've seen has no protests along those lines.

Weird. I had an issue sighting, the way old-time mariners had mermaid sightings. For a moment the issue was there, then it was gone; but I'll always remember the sight.
Gwen Ifill

I sympathized with her attempt at tampering with the atmosphere at this kind of thing. But a little thought should have warned her off of trying.

For example, the "describe him without using his name" question could have led to an interesting moment -- Cheney describing the way the slacks hang on Bush's legs, or Edwards linking Kerry's many moods to a weather metaphor. Instead all it produced was some verbal milling-about and the sight of Edwards dipping forward in a fit of artificial laughter. Because the mood of the encounter was set long before Ifill arrived on the scene; a few oddball questions couldn't change that.

Cheney and Edwards saw themselves as contestants and nothing else. Ifill's goofball approach just made it harder for them to contest, which wrongfooted them and created pointless confusion. And Ifill should have thought of that, really -- people are interested in these debates as stages in a very close and very important contest.
Edwards did fine

The country (I imagine) saw someone who knew his stuff and argued hard, especially regarding the big gashes in the administration's hide: no 911 link, no capture of Osama, no jobs, not too much official truthfulness. The morning TV photos regarding the Cheney-Edwards prayer meeting (was Atta in Prague then?) convert the debate from a useful standoff to a clear gain. Cheney is more impressive than Edwards, but ony if you suspend disbelief regarding what Cheney says. Given that the administration's credibility has become a hot issue, my bet is a significant plurality will not accept what he says at face value.

At the same time . . . having finally seen Edwards, I can't believe William Saletan and others still puff him up as a peerless speaker. Edwards strikes me as a highly competent pitchman but not remarkably compelling. Cheney is compelling. That man has presence and a unique delivery, one that can be very effective indeed.

John Edwards is like the special demigod of infomercial hosts. I must make these points:

* Edwards's complexion is like a terracotta pot. Given the fuss over Kerry's supposed mantan use, I can't believe how this point has gone unremarked.

* In moments of repose Edwards looks like a midget actor smoking his cigar between takes as Skippy the all-American boy. To me Edwards looks 50; it's his hair and demeanour that seem young, or at least divorced from normal human stages of development.

* Edwards does not look like he has had a lot of plastic surgery. But he does look like the target that people who get a lot of plastic surgery are aiming for. To be specific, his natural face reminds me of the faces that David Duke and John Denver wound up with after paying surgeons a good deal of money.

* Edwards has a "Bawbwa Wawa" problem.

* Edwards's mouth and eyes clench for an excruciating moment each time he bloops on a word and has to rewind the mechanism.

My idea of a good line

During the Iraq portion, Edwards said something like this: "Remember shock and awe? Now look where we're at." That lines up the before and after, the administration's early brave talk with the present reality.

UPDATE: Another one, Cheney's. This is atmospheric rather than a thrust, but it works on me quite powerfully. Discussing the Iraq-911 non-connection, Cheney leads off: "But let's look at what we know about Mr. Zarqawi." Anything that follows will feel true to me. I don't know why, though there are some components to the illusion: the professorial humor of using "Mr." for a foreign terrorist; the desk-clearing, down-to-brass-tacks feel of "Let's look at what we know."

But the secret ingredient is delivery, I suppose. How could this guy not be telling the truth? (Quite easily, I suppose. For instance we know that Mr. Zarqawi was in the Kurd free-fly zone, not Baghdad. There's a big difference.)
Ali G.

I tried watching the DVD but managed only 10 minutes total, namely the interviews with Richard Thornburgh and Brent Scowcroft. This stuff is much funnier to read about than to sit thru. If the stooge doesn't get mad, what's the point? Thornburgh and Scowcroft seemed like intelligent men who are used to being patient with morons. God knows why anyone would put up with an existence where an Ali G interview would seem not that unusual. But they didn't come off as fools, just endlessly resilient in dealing with the tedious and unpredictable.

For a Quebecois perspective: "It's just bad language," observed my pal Michel. "There's no subtilities. It's not like Carson."
Fake but accurate; infallible but wrong

I expect Cheney had a fair point to make about Edwards's attendance -- a senator running for president in his first term won't have much time for floor votes. The mystery is why Cheney chose to drive home his point with a lie, especially one that could be disproven by photographs on morning television.

It's the sloppiness that comes from certainty. Cheney is convinced he has the big things right, a belief in which he is most often mistaken; but then he makes the further mistake of assuming the details will line up with his larger truths. That habit bit him hard in this case, where he actually did have the goods on Edwards. With Saddam, of course, the habit facilitated a disaster.

So what we have here is not a conscious decision to lie, just a breakdown in critical thinking. In general, watching Cheney I find it very hard to believe he would lie, just as I find it hard to believe John Edwards could ever be sincere (intelligent, sane, tough, but not sincere). I expect I'm right about Edwards and wrong about Cheney: he can and does lie consciously.

But more often, I think, Cheney simply believes what he has to in order to remain sure of himself. Playing with numbers about the casualties in Iraq, he actually gets indignant when Edwards catches him counting Iraqis as members of George Bush' s coalition. How many debaters can take the high ground when caught fudging categories? But Cheney places this argument over facts in a different world than the one Edwards, and probably most viewers, inhabit. They see a dispute over the contributions of the allies Bush brought into his coalition. Cheney sees carping by people -- soft-handed and oblivious, sheltered in the West's bosom -- who just don't get that brave men are putting their lives on the line, and who cares what uniform they're wearing? He adopts this view because the other choice is to recognize that, yes, he and Bush fell rather short in collecting allies. (Or that is my guess as to Cheney's underlying psychology.)

It's hard to believe anyone so direct is untruthful. It's even harder to believe someone so intelligent and hard-edged is incompetent. But the evidence indicates that Cheney, though false, is even more deluded than he is false. He carries it off because he has the rare but dangerous gift of an internal gyroscope that always leaves his psyche pointing true north toward his own infallibility. This works on George Bush and it works on me. I have an antidote in reading news coverage; Bush, of course, lacks that.
Tuesday, October 05, 2004
"It was like that when I got here"

Shorter Paul Bremer.
Michael Kelly summed up

A very good passage from the Nation by George Scialabba, in the article here. My favorite bit:

He often seemed to want to say something about the perils of liberal elitism and
social engineering. I wish he had; it would have been worth reading.
Unfortunately, it always came out sideways, as suspicion or resentment of
liberal elitists, personified by Bill, Hillary and friends.

I see Michael Kelly as the prime example for my argument that conservatives are better writers. From Scialabba it sounds like Kelly's preferences for domestic policy may not have been that far right; but his security views were, and his repertoire of love-objects and hate-targets certainly was. The columns and pieces I saw by him all seemed to be written in the same state of mind, early adolescent and aggrieved, that you find at the American Spectator. Like movement conservatives, Kelly seemed to see our society as being rigged by pompous high school principals and their like, stuffed shirts who kept themselves comfortable while numbing everyone else with cant about diversity and fairness -- the liberal conspiracy.

The only big difference I can see between Michael Kelly and Mark Steyn is that Steyn could never get a shot at being in the New Yorker or running the New Republic. Maybe I should read more Kelly before saying so, but looking back he seems like an entertainer and not someone serious. As Sciallaba says (citing Matthew Ygelesias), right now we're living the consequences of the preteen view of leadership pumped up by Kelly and the right during the rise of George W. Bush.

The view in question: Knowing information and thinking thru ideas don't count for anything -- you just have to look a problem straight in the eye. Anyone who doesn't agree with you on an issue lacks the strength to look at a problem full-on.

Today's conservative tends to see himself as a strong man surrounded by weakness. As self-flattery goes, I find that a lot more powerful than the supposed liberal belief that we come by our opinions by being smarter than other people. No doubt "we enlightened few" has its appeal, but the hardheade

He: The emperor has no clothes.

She: Clothes? We don't know if he has thumbs.
"He's still playing games"

What Kerry should say every time Bush tries getting him for "global test" or some other phrase.

To follow that up, Kerry has to somehow pose this rhetorical question: "How seriously can you take George Bush when he starts jumping up and down about something? We all took him seriously over Iraq. Look how that turned out."
Sunday, October 03, 2004
Shorter Tom Friedman

Matthew Yglesias provides this boiling down of the great man's column:

Before the Iraq War began I believed, without evidence and, indeed, contrary to all
available evidence, that George W. Bush was a man of deep integrity and
principle who would strongly prefer to lose the 2004 election rather than
implement bad policy.

That about says it.
A plain man's defense of John Kerry

We catch him in mid-argument:

Kerry and I have got something else in common: neither of us created the
mess. One man did that, and he has to wear it around his neck.

But let's focus on the positive. You now realize John Kerry did not vote to go to war. Perhaps you grasp the corollary of this, which is that it's pointless to accuse him of being a hypocrite on the issue. He wasn't.

But now you say Kerry "should have said no" to giving Bush war authority. Why?

Back in 2002 intelligence reports indicated that an unfriendly dictator had dangerous and forbidden weapons. The reports did not indicate that he had enough to make this a pressing, top-priority menace. But they did give grounds for thinking the weapons were there.

The president decided to force the issue and turn this matter into the number one
international agenda topic issue of the day. He declared a showdown was necessary to make Saddam come clean. For this showdown he said he needed the power to make war, if necessary.

The United States was in the standoff whether Kerry liked it or not. Should he have voted no and undermined the president in the middle of an international confrontation? Well, maybe -- Bush is not a trustworthy man, and he was clearly playing games with the evidence, hyping it to create a crisis.

On the other hand . . . let's say the president doesn't get his war authority. His
whole attempt at a showdown collapses and the world learns the U.S. will back
off in a crunch. That's not too useful the next time there's a dictator we need to straighten out.

So Kerry votes to give Bush the war authority. Bush deploys forces near Iraq. As a result Saddam lets in the weapons inspectors. The inspectors find out there are no weapons. We've won!

So then Bush invades anyway.

Somebody comes out of this looking very, very bad. And it's not John

When it comes to peace and war, most Americans believe a president deserves the benefit of a doubt. This president has shown he doesn't deserve it. That means he has to go.

You say you want answers. Well, good luck. The only one I've got is this: we have to stop pretending. Bush's games landed us in a mess, and he's still playing games now. Look at how he trots out Allawi to say things are going great (in a speech co-written by one of Bush's campaign officials).You can't deal with reality if you won't face it, and that's a test Bush has failed.

Tom Friedman learns from his betters:

The Bush team got its doctrines mixed up: it applied the Powell Doctrine to
the campaign against John Kerry - "overwhelming force" without mercy, based on a
strategy of shock and awe at the Republican convention, followed by a propaganda
blitz that got its message across in every possible way, including through
distortion. If only the Bush team had gone after the remnants of Saddam's army
in the Sunni Triangle with the brutal efficiency it has gone after Senator Kerry
in the Iowa-Ohio-Michigan triangle. If only the Bush team had spoken to Iraqis
and Arabs with as clear a message as it did to the Republican base. No, alas, while the Bush people etc., etc.

Basically, The Onion did this earlier and better, though I doubt Friedman saw it.

His column does have a snappy Rumsfeld Doctrine: "Just enough troops to lose." But he makes such a fuss about handing over his bon mot that the effect is lost.

Man, is Friedman pompous:

What I resent so much is that some of us actually put our personal politics
aside in thinking about this war and about why it is so important to produce a
different Iraq. This administration never did.

Or: Some of us who were congratulating ourselves now find no reason to congratulate ourselves. That's what really hurts.

To close, the complete original item from The Onion, Sept. 8:
Bush Campaign More Thought Out Than Iraq War

WASHINGTON, DC—Military and political strategists agreed Monday that
President Bush's re-election campaign has been executed with greater precision
than the war in Iraq.

"Judging from the initial misrepresentation of intelligence data and the
ongoing crisis in Najaf, I assumed the president didn't know his ass from his
elbow," said Col. Dale Henderson, a military advisor during the Reagan

"But on the campaign trail, he's proven himself a master of long-term
planning and unflinching determination. How else can you explain his strength in
the polls given this economy?"

Henderson said he regrets having characterized Bush's handling of the war
as "incompetent," now that he knows the president's mind was simply otherwise

Portrait of an age

A typical Republican consultant speaks:

"We had him down and we had our foot on his throat," Ron Kaufman, who served as
political adviser to Mr. Bush's father, said of Mr. Kerry. "He got up, but he's
still wounded."

From New York Times, Oct. 3.
Saturday, October 02, 2004
I feel happy

My thoughts in the early morning, after the first debate. I remind myself:

1) I didn’t see the debate, just highlights on the Daily Show.
2) Dukakis won the first debate in ’88. Mondale won the first debate in '84.
3) A brief impression has been made. It can be unmade. Because:
a) The Republicans can drown this out. They’ve got the government and can make noise about something or other.
b) The Republicans are good at what communicates on a personal level.

Still, I’m happy. Not desparing suddenly feels normal.

UPDATE: Posting these notes, I'd better add another pitfall: Kerry may read his reviews and decide he's quite grand, then fall back into his habit of getting tripped up by big-ass sentences. Thank God for the buzzers.
Since when does Business Week speak for me?

Since now, I suppose. By way of Catch:

When Kerry, methodically making his case like the prosecutor he once was,
said, "This President has made a colossal error of judgment" by invading Iraq,
Bush looked like a 1960s teenager called on the carpet for cracking up the
family Oldsmobile. At that moment, it was hard not to get the impression that
young George wanted to be anyplace but where he found himself.

The poignancy of a man ill-prepared for and overwhelmed by his job was never more apparent than when Bush said, "I never wanted to commit troops. When we were debating in 2000, I never dreamed I'd have to do that."

The message that Kerry hammered home was that, in fact, Bush did not have to "do that," did not have to send our soldiers -- at least not to Iraq.

But Bush, the onetime black sheep of his family, wanted to wipe away the "wimp factor" stain that his old man had left on the Bush clan. And so he rebelled against the family mantra of prudence in all things. Last night, he looked for all the world like a sputtering screwup -- again.

The cuticles quotes

Fox's main guy for covering John Kerry had fun by making up some dumb quotes to put in the senator's mouth. The quotes wound up on the Fox site's main page as the centerpiece of a supposed news article. (Rooftop Report gives the text here.) A liberal blogger noticed, the article came down, and Fox posted an apology saying it screwed up.

Bloggers have been drawing the evident conclusion that Fox's main Kerry correspondent is a foe of John Kerry and is surrounded at work by other foes of John Kerry, none of whom saw any reason to look hard at an article "quoting" the senator as saying he's a metrosexual, gives manicures, has nice cuticles, etc.

Of course everyone already knew Fox was biased. What gets me here is psychological: that we could care about one fake article when Fox, back in 2000, assigned oversight of election night coverage to a first cousin of one of the candidates.

In any reputable news organization, John Ellis would have been recused. And if the world's head were a bit clearer, the Ellis matter would be the first thing any news professional thought of when the subject of Fox came up.
Everything the others don't get

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