January 23, 2004

Real-life philosopher (but definitely not a straussian) David Johnson has kicked off his blog with a bang, taking on the Sinclair Broadcasting empire, the nation's most prolific owner of television stations.
The man who uncovered Saddam's "weapons-of-mass-destruction-related-program-activities" has stepped down, perhaps out of embarrassment that his good name will forever by entwined with the aforementioned Bushism. Sayeth Mr. Kay: "I don't think they existed. What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last Gulf War, and I don't think there was a large-scale production program in the nineties."
Sure fire cure for "road rage": slip Fought Down into your CD player, and play track No. 5.
Last night's debate was the first I've had the pleasure to watch from the comfort of my own living room. Like most of my more conservative brethren, the candidate I was most impressed with was Lieberman. He stuck to his guns, and made a valiant effort to justify his position on the war while still building an anti-Bush case on other issues. The candidate I'm currently leaning toward, Edwards, was unimpressive; as with Clinton and Reagan, I don't feel debates are the format best-suited to their strengths on the hustings, but with time, I hope that Edwards will be able to improve enough so that it won't hurt him, either.

Kerry is as dull as clay-court tennis, but is an acceptable face at the top of the ticket if it appears that Bush is going to win anyway. In that sense, he's the Democratic version of Bob Dole, or a modern version of Walter Mondale, a candidate that doesn't hurt the party down the ticket (btw, is there such a thing as a "French" look, or is that simply a rather subtle way of making reference to Kerry's religious background?). And I actually like the fact that he is so disliked by insiders; it was one of Clinton's great strengths, the fact that the Beltway Establishment, from Sally Quinn to Mr. Samgrass, all hated him.

One way you can tell whether someone has their pulse on what moves Democratic primary voters was how they felt about Dean and Clark. Dean has already been written off following his mediocre performance in Iowa, and his Whitmanian yawp afterwards, but he's still the candidate with the most in the bank, and in the best situation organizationally [link via Atrios]. He can afford to lose a couple early primaries and keep going (unlike, say, Edwards, who is pretty much done unless he wins South Carolina in two weeks), racking up delegates and praying for a momentum shift, in much the same way Mondale got his ass kicked by Gary Hart for a couple of months in 1984 before turning the tide after Super Tuesday.

General Clark didn't do anything last night to either help or hurt himself, to the chagrin of his legion of haters in the blogosphere. The bizarre notion that he would be hurt by not repudiating Michael Moore's description of the President as a "deserter" is one that could only be held by Bush's more sycophantic admirers (and I say that as perhaps the only left-of-center, blindly-partisan, Bush-hating blogger who thinks the President has received a bum rap on that issue), akin to believing that Republican voters were turned off in the last decade by references to Bill Clinton as a "draft dodger" or "rapist". The typical Democratic primary voter does not listen to Rush Limbaugh, and is impressed, not discouraged, by the fact that Clark has a nuanced, non-ideological opinion about the war in Iraq.

In any event, the highlight of the evening had to have been the question asked of Rev. Al about who he would pick to be the next Federal Reserve chairman. It was clear that he was thinking about the issue for the first time as he was answering, and it may have been a reminder to him that his campaign is not supposed to be a serious one for the White House.

January 21, 2004

Daily Kos interrupts its usual review of inside political perspective to bring this update on George Bush's new best friend in the Middle East.
Why do I have the impression that "weapons of mass destruction-related-program activities" is about to become the "I didn't inhale" of 2004?

January 20, 2004

Like most polls, the first survey to come out since last night's Iowa caucus is showing a mixed bag for the President. The race is basically tied between Bush and "generic Democrat", which is what Edwards and Kerry are, for all intents and purposes. Bush is clearly favored on matters dealing with the "war on terrorism", but his handling of the economy (and other domestic issues) gets mediocre grades from the public.

I remain unconvinced that any Democrat will be able to defeat Bush if the principal issue before the voters is foreign affairs. If there is one hard and fast rule in elections, it is that the more hawkish position is generally going to be the more popular. As long as Bush can find an adversary to vilify, whether it be Iran, Syria, North Korea, or Monaco, a large segment of the public will back him, no questions asked. After September 11th, the appetite for any foreign adventure increased dramatically, and as the high percentage of people who still believe that Saddam was behind that attack and had ties to Al Qaeda attests, Red State voters aren't particularly discriminating.

So what to do, if you're a blindly partisan Democrat, who is as concerned with such mundane things as the maldistribution of income, budget deficits, gay rights, racial intolerance, and all those other things that tend to get clumped together under the label "domestic policy", and who wants to see his party capture at least one branch of government in the next election? As I said, we can't do much about foreign policy except try to be constructively critical, and perhaps shame the Administration into occasionally telling the truth. But on domestic issues, I have a modest proposal.

The Democrats need a slogan that encapsulates their domestic policy positions (also, they need some policy positions, but lets take care of the easy things first). They already have the backing of the public. What they need is to turn that support into actual votes, to make their positions the compelling reason people vote in the upcoming election. The "war on terrorism" is catchy, and allows Bush to sere into the psyche of the electorate his entire foreign policy (which the public largely supports) and his domestic policy (which the public doesn't), even though it is not technically a "war" under Article I of the Constitution, and even though his policies that directly deal with terrorism (eg., the by-now comical color-coded threat system) are a mixed bag. To counter that, we can't simply come up with our own "wars" (eg., a "war" on deficit spending), because to do so would sound derivative, and would smack of defensiveness, a no-no in game theory.

So I humbly suggest the term, "let's put the grown-ups back in charge". First, it reminds the public that the Democrats are generally the more responsible party when it comes to the public trough. Clinton raised taxes on the rich and ran a public surplus, and the economy averaged a quarter million new jobs a month; Bush cut taxes on the rich, ran a record deficit, and the economy has suffered a net job drop since he took over. One party knows how to manage a global economy, and the other believes that "Reagan showed that deficits don't matter", and relies on a superstitious belief in tax cuts as the panacea for everything.

Second, it tweaks the GOP, which used that slogan in 2000, and boasted during the early days of the Bush Administration that after eight years of bitter partisan division under Clinton, there was a new sheriff in town, one who was a "uniter, not a divider". Suddenly, the public doesn't find the petty "scandals" of the Clinton years to be so bad, not when the State Department has basically become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Halliburton, and when our foreign policy has been taken over by an ideological cult. When the President is so myopic that he doesn't know the difference between the existence of weapons of mass destruction, and the potential for same, when his explanation for telling a whopper in the last State of the Union was that the ever-reliable MI-6 believed it to be true, when he refuses to even read newspapers, and when his judicial nominees tend to belong to the same bund as Ann Coulter, the fact that Clinton defined the word "is" to mean the third-person singular of "to be" isn't such a big deal anymore.

And lastly, it is a pointed criticism at the one area of Bush's handling of foreign policy that does concern the public, his inability to get along with others. Much has been made of French and German intransigence at our efforts to develop an international front against Saddam Hussein before the United Nations last year. His apologists, of course, blame Chirac for undercutting our efforts to build a coalition to deal with WMD's, never bothering to explain what exactly was wrong with that; since no WMD's were subsequently found, it's kinda hard to use Saddam's alleged violation of Security Council resolutions as a causus belli. At some point, a certain amount of humility is called for when the reasons we used to hector other countries into fighting along side us have been discredited. Instead, we have the type of international relations one would expect where you have a "leader" who behaves in the manner of a petulent child, unable to understand or acknowledge the possibility that he may be wrong about something.

But if any of you have a better idea for a slogan, fire away....
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The absence of any WMDs in any usable form in Iraq is, to my mind, staggering. I'm still passionately pro-war, but you cannot sugar-coat this intelligence debacle. The pre-emption doctrine is practically speaking dead."--Andrew Sullivan

January 19, 2004

Kerry has apparently won. With about 90% of the precincts reporting, he has a six percentage point lead over John Edwards, and is currently beating Howard Dean by about 20 points. CNN is reporting that Gephardt will drop out; it will be interesting to see what the Teamsters, who put much of their prestige on the line for him, will do now. Edwards surprising showing will be "the story", but he will have to contend with General Clark in New Hampshire, and I don't know if he has the money and organization to contend with the others after South Carolina. That Kerry was able to win after almost a year of inept campaigning is impressive; Dean's collapse in the last few days does not bode well, and those questions about his appeal to the electorate will be front and center (for an inside-the-caucus look at went wrong, check here). We might actually have an important primary in California coming up in six weeks, something that hasn't been true for a generation.
The caucuses have been open for 45 minutes, and the early "entrance polls" show a two-man race between Kerry and Edwards. Dean and Gephardt are trailing badly; Gephardt cannot possibly survive such a performance.
Those interested in inside dope on the Iowa Caucuses (for real-time results, here) can do one-stop shopping at the Howard Dean blog, where even anti-Dean sites are included. Also, Mickey Kaus usefully warns us to take any result tonight with a grain of salt.