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9/24/2004

GOP Implosion in Kentucky

GOP Gov. Ernie Fletcher's approval rating is down to 29%. 29%!

A statewide WHAS11 News Poll shows Fletcher’s job approval rating at 29 percent, lower than former governor Paul Patton fared in a Courier-Journal poll following the disclosure of his affair.
Survey here. His brief tenure as Governor has already built a shocking record of incompetence, dishonesty, and sordid backdoor dealing - Kentucky is operating without a state budget - but what has really knocked Fletcher over the edge is his recent, drastic, reduction in benefits for Kentucky teachers and state employees.

In early September, Fletcher unveiled a new health insurance contract for Kentucky's 171,000 state employees. The worst version of the new coverage is estimated to cost an average government employee $952 more per year, school employees $890, and retirees $1,132. The higher price buys less choice, due to a new regional single insurer scheme.

The plan was met with a firestorm of criticism. Kentucky teachers plan a one day work stoppage on Sept. 27, and an open ended strike on Oct. 27. Kentucky voters are are following these developments closely, as teachers are protesting across the state, and schools are debating changing their schedules to give teachers a chance to get their voices heard (it looks like only Northern KY - mostly KY4 - will close for the day, but public protests are being held everywhere). Even Fletcher supporters are fleeing like rats from his sinking ship.
One woman asked [Republican Sen. Damon] Thayer why the Fletcher administration spent more than $2,000 on a mattress as part of sprucing up the governor's mansion in Frankfort.

"You know what? You should go to his house and ask him," Thayer said. [Herald Leader]
So Gov. Fletcher called for a special session to give the legislature a chance to fix his egregious mess. Democrats in the House and Senate responded with a good faith call for a bipartisan effort to take care of Kentucky's teachers. Fletcher's aides responded by calling the special session purely symbolic, arguing that Fletcher had tied the government's hands and the legislature wouldn't be able to do anything. Why call a special session at all then? The costly session is a crass partisan effort to teach the House Democrats a lesson with taxpayer dollars. Even GOP Sen. President David Williams (Dick Cheney:George W. Bush::David Williams:Ernie Fletcher) was upset by the maneuver.

Paul Patton's sexual peccadilloes submarined the KY Democrats in 2003; it looks like Fletcher's abominable incompetence will hurt the KY GOP in 2004.

More at the KEA homepage.

Choice Quotes:
Fletcher told an audience of about 500 people at the Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park that he inherited a flawed insurance structure that would have plunged the state deep in debt had it remained in place. [AP]
On Sept. 7, the Kentucky Education Association stated that our administration "inherited" the unsustainable mess relating to the health insurance plan for teachers and public employees. KEA is right--the health insurance problems of Kentucky did not arise overnight and will not be solved immediately. They stem not only from the cost of new technology, but also from years of neglect, medical lawsuit abuse, overregulation and the lack of health, disease and pharmaceutical drug management. [Ernie Fletcher]
"I can totally relate to what you're saying, you say you inherited this problem, you've been in office nine months," said Veda Stewart, a library media specialist at Ashland Elementary. "We come into teaching and we inherit the problems of the world. These kids come to us lacking so many things and we're supposed to fill them up. ... 'No more excuses. Just get the job done,' that's what we're being told. And we're looking to you to get the job done." [Herald Leader]
"I feel like right now you're blowing smoke at us," said Ron Moore, a teacher and coach at Jessie Clark Middle School. "And please be aware that there's a smoking ban here in Fayette County." [Herald Leader]
Days later, a state worker rally at the Capitol ended on a political note after Democratic state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo of Hazard showed up. Mongiardo, challenging incumbent U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, turned the event into a makeshift campaign rally after moderators called on him to address the crowd. [Herald Leader 2]
Gov. Ernie Fletcher's attempt to cloud the problems his administration has created for teachers and public employees regarding their health insurance is nothing new. Yet the basic issue is not hard to understand.

If the commonwealth is to attract and retain qualified, hard-working educators and public employees, whether they work for the general government or a school system, we need to provide competitive salaries and benefits. One of the biggest factors is health insurance. [Rep. Jody Richards]


PS. Some may want to look into Mr. Birdwhistell, whose ties to one of the contracting insurance providera are a bit unseemly.

9/23/2004

Effective Kerry-Ewards Press Operation

I have been critical of the Kerry-Edwards press operation in the past, primarily because they always seem to be a step slower than the GOP. I'm impressed with the effectiveness of this latest effort, though. Dick Cheney keeps insisting that President Kerry will get us killed by reverting to a pre-9/11 mindest. Kerry-Edwards noted:

Cheney Today: "Prior to 9-11, we were struck repeatedly, and never responded effectively." [Cheney Remarks, 9/22/04]

FACT Cheney in Feb 2001: Cheney Was Told Al Qaeda Had Hit the USS Cole - But Chose Not to Respond: "At least twice, Bush conveyed the message to the Taliban that the United States would hold the regime responsible for an al Qaeda attack. But after concluding that bin Laden's group had carried out the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole -- a conclusion stated without hedge in a Feb. 9 briefing for Vice President Cheney -- the new administration did not choose to order armed forces into action." [Washington Post, 1/20/02]
That's a data point I should have known, but didn't. Cheney really knows what the pre-9/11 mindset looks like. Here's how it played in today's Washington Post:
In Washington, Vice President Cheney amplified Bush's message on a visit to Capitol Hill. "John Kerry gives every indication that his repeated efforts to cast and recast and redefine the war on terror and our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- of someone who lacks the resolve, the determination and the conviction to prevail in this conflict," Cheney said.

The vice president did not respond to a question about the violence in Iraq.

Cheney said that under Kerry the country would "revert back to the pre-9/11 mind-set," a time when "we were struck repeatedly and never responded effectively." According to the commission that probed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Cheney was urged early in the administration to respond to the attack on the USS Cole, but no action was taken.
Nice.

Read This

The New York Review of Books has posted Jason Epstein's review of Tom Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas. It's a great review, essential reading.

Last night, about an hour before the review was posted online, I got into a fairly shrill argument with some of my compatriots at Madame's Organ. With bluegrass in the background, a friend criticized John Kerry as a "liberal elite." I responded, a bit harshly, and with perhaps a tad too much profanity, eventually exclaiming that "there is no liberal elite." We have simply internalized a particularly pernicious GOP frame, and repetition of it is folly. Epstein's views on the matter:

When the Soviet Union peacefully collapsed of its own colossal ineptitude, thanks in part to Ronald Reagan's happy choice in Iceland of a Frank Capra ending rather than the Armageddon foreshadowed by the term "Evil Empire," with which he and his party had for years Goeringed the voters, the right wing was left without an external enemy against whom to mobilize. So it turned to a domestic substitute by demonizing the latte-drinking, Volvo-driving, school-bussing, fetus-killing, tree-hugging, gun-fearing, morally relativist and secularly humanist so-called liberal elitists, whose elders had been "soft on communism" while they themselves coddle criminals, women, and same sexers, eat brie, drink chardonnay, support Darwin, and oppose capital punishment in defiance of the "moral values" of ordinary, god-fearing, flag-waving, assault gun–carrying Americans. Frank believes that the Republican right echoes the classic formulas of anti-Semitism by which Jews are held to be "affluent, alien, cosmopolitan, liberal and above all intellectual."

Here Frank may go too far, but the demonizing of liberals by the Republican right surely calls to mind similar attacks in the 1930s by Nazis and Bolsheviks as well as the Southern strategy of Goldwater and Nixon, in which Northern liberals were seen not only as "soft on communism" but hostile to traditional "values" of the fundamentalist South. "Our culture and our schools and our government...are controlled...," according to Frank's summary of these attacks,
by an overeducated ruling class that is contemptuous of the beliefs and practices of the masses of ordinary people. Those who run America...are despicable, self-important show-offs. They are effete...arrogant...snobs.
But it is the Republican right and its neoconservative allies that now dominate American politics, relying upon the strategy of culture war to maintain their power as previous tribal and religious orthodoxies have done throughout human history, most recently the jihadi movement and al-Qaeda, whose indictment of an arrogant, manipulative, materialist, and secular United States somewhat resembles the rhetoric of the Republican right.
Every other paragraph deserves to be blockquoted, but I'll limit myself to one more:
To remain tentative, to be content, as Keats wrote, "with half knowledge," which Spiro Agnew's speechwriter with Bolshevik disdain dismissed as "the nattering negativism" of those "nabobs" who questioned the simplistic, and in retrospect absurd, justifications for the Vietnam War, is an uncommon quality. It was restated in American terms by the late Learned Hand, who identified "the spirit of Liberty as [that which] is not too sure that it is right.... The spirit of Liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women." This is the skeptical and pragmatic spirit of checks and balances in response to unpredictable challenges by which American democracy has survived so far.
I agree. Epstein seemlessly segues from a discussion of Kansas populism to Delay's corruption to the rejection of Richard Clarke's proposals for fighting terrorism. It really is a good read.

Domino Theory

When Delay falls, all those standing behind him should follow. Hastert echoes Delay, calling the indictments "political," Blunt says they have increased support for Delay.

The Congressional Ethics Coalition, which includes batshit-crazy Judicial Watch, has been following the Delay case, including the indictments. In a rational world, the Delay indictments would lead to a Congressional ethics investigation, since "the money laundering allegation in a congressional ethics complaint filed against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay involves the same $190,000 in political contributions that led to indictments of the Texas congressman's aides on similar charges." [AP]

For background on the indictments, see the Houston Chronicle's coverage [recent articles in rough chronological order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5] and the Washington Post account. For background on Congressman's Chris Bell's ethics complaint against Delay, see here.

Common Cause asks for our help in holding Delay accountable.

We need your help to ensure that this complaint against Rep. DeLay is properly and thoroughly investigated. House leaders need to hear from us today. Ask them to urge the Ethics Committee to appoint an independent counsel to investigate the complaints against Rep. DeLay.

Dennis Hastert (R-IL)
Speaker of the House
202-225-2976

Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
House Minority Leader
202-225-4965

Joel Hefley (R-CO)
Chairman, House Ethics Committee
202-225-4422

Alan Mollohan (D-WV)
Ranking Member, House Ethics Committee
202-225-4172
Other possible actions: stop eating at Cracker Barrel, stop drinking Bacardi, rage impotently at Westar, don't shop at Sears.

Goss Honor Roll

The Senators that voted against Porter Goss:

Nays:

Bingaman (D-NM)
Byrd (D-WV)
Clinton (D-NY)
Conrad (D-ND)
Corzine (D-NJ)
Dodd (D-CT)
Durbin (D-IL)
Harkin (D-IA)
Kennedy (D-MA)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Reed (D-RI)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Sarbanes (D-MD)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Wyden (D-OR)

Not Voting

Akaka (D-HI)
Edwards (D-NC)
Jeffords (I-VT)
Kerry (D-MA)
Santorum (R-PA)
Specter (R-PA)

He passed the Senate yesterday bya 77-17 vote. The LA Times has a better substantive piece, if the Washington insider stuff doesn't amuse you. I would think this was a bigger deal if Kerry didn't have the ability to replace him. If Bush wins, we're fucked anyway. More Democratic opposition would have let Kerry make Goss a campaign issue, but that's not the nature of the Democratic Party. We were more concerned about Bush making it an issue - despite the fact that Goss is a moderately qualified partisan hack. Best case scenario, he's Woolsey redux.

Is it rational to be ambivalent about such an important position? Maybe it's outrage fatigue. Maybe the CIA will read the writing on the wall and increase its leak incidence.

Quotes from yesterday:

Durbin

"I sincerely hope that Mr. Goss will take my comments and the comments of those of us who vote against him as a challenge to him in his new role at the CIA," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. "I hope he proves me wrong. I hope that I can stand in front of this chamber in the future and say, 'He was nonpartisan. He was committed to reform. He was prepared to tell this administration and any administration he served the truth even though it was politically painful.' " [Capitol Hill Blue]
During confirmation hearings, Goss said the jobs of congressman and CIA director were very different, and he pledged to be nonpartisan. He said he regretted some of his public partisan remarks but didn't explain except to say, "The record is the record."

That response wasn't good enough, several Democrats said Wednesday during a five-hour floor debate.

"He should have been open and candid about what he meant," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., in explaining why he voted against Goss. "I hope he proves me wrong." [Knight Ridder]
Rockefeller
"It's critical that the CIA director tell the truth and take pride in his independence," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, who opposed Goss. "I must vote on his record. I cannot vote on his promise."

Rockefeller cited Bush's comments Tuesday after his United Nations speech that senior intelligence officials were "just guessing" in their bleak assessment of the situation in Iraq.

"That is an outrageous statement and clearly an example of this president dismissing the validity of intelligence analysis that doesn't agree with his policies," Rockefeller said. "Never before has it been more important to have a CIA director who will stand up to the president." [Knight Ridder]
Mikulski
"We want to be sure that there are no more 9/11's and no more wars based on dated and dubious intelligence,'' said Senator Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, who was among Democrats favoring confirmation. [NYT]
Graham
Senator Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who is often a staunch critic of the White House, said of Mr. Goss's nomination, "This time, the president got it right.''[NYT]
Dorgan
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said he found it "unbelievable" that prior to preemptively attacking Iraq, "on major points delivered in top-secret briefings to members of this Congress, our intelligence community was just flat wrong." Although he also had reservations about partisan comments Goss has made in the past year, Dorgan said he found the national security concerns a compelling reason to endorse Goss' ascension to the post.

"We need to fix it, all of it," he said. "There is no Republican or Democratic way to deal with intelligence. We need to fix this system in the interest of this country."[Capitol Hill Blue]
Roberts
Senator Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who is chairman of the Intelligence Committee, praised Mr. Goss as "someone who has the integrity to look the president in the eye and say no.''...

On the Senate floor on Wednesday, Mr. Roberts, whose own reform proposal calls for dismantling the C.I.A., described Mr. Goss as "the next, and probably last, director of central intelligence.'' While it is not clear whether Mr. Goss might be nominated to a higher post, Mr. Roberts said that Mr. Goss "was ready to go to work, and he is needed.''[NYT]
Lott
Among those who spoke in favor of Mr. Goss's nomination was Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi, who compared Mr. Goss favorably with his predecessor, George J. Tenet, who stepped down in July after a seven-year tenure whose final months were marked by controversy over the recent intelligence failures. Mr. Goss, as an eight-term congressman, Mr. Lott said, "was one of us, and he won't try to fool us.'' [NYT]
Bush
"He is the right man to take on the essential mission of leading the CIA at this critical moment in our nation's history as we face the challenges and the dangerous threats of this century," Bush said in a statement. [LA Times]
I'm not sure how I feel about Kerry's lack of comment on the issue. Probably wise, as it's a distraction, but still unsatisfying.

Bush the Flip Flopper?

The Post has a moderately interesting meta-analysis of the travails of the "flip-flop" charge this election cycle. It notes that both Bush and Kerry change their positions, and then tries to figure out why these shifts are a liability for Kerry but not Bush.

The answer is relatively simple:

  1. Bush and the Republicans are more effective at interjecting their talking points into every conversation, regardless of relevance or accuracy.
  2. Bush and the Republicans take the extra step and explain why Kerry is a flip-flopper.
The Post piece, despite noting both Bush's many position shifts and his bizarre rationale shifts (tax cuts good when surpluses big; tax cuts good when deficits big, etc.), fails to fully extricate itself from the quagmire of GOP distortion. Consider the following:
Kerry's statements have compounded the damage. In September 2003, he said at a Democratic debate, "We should not send more American troops" to Iraq. "That would be the worst thing." In April, he said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that "if it requires more troops . . . that's what you have to do." In August, he told ABC's "This Week" that if elected, "I will have significant, enormous reduction in the level of troops." This week, he said that, as president, he would not have launched an invasion if he had known that there was not clear evidence of weapons of mass destruction or ties to al Qaeda, though last month he said, knowing these things, he still would have voted to give Bush congressional authority to wage the Iraq war.
Kerry's position on troop levels in Iraq may have changed, but the above quotes do not demonstrate it. Kerry's plan is to increase international involvement, bringing in foreign troops to replace American troops. So when he calls for no more American troops, or supports bringing some troops home, he is still able to endorse an increase in the overall number of troops. Bush will call this "nuance," and even some Kerry supporters will claim it is too complicated and too difficult to package in a concise talking point. But it also happens to be a consistent, defensible position.

The same is true for Kerry's recent statement that, knowing what we now know, he would not have invaded Iraq, but he still would have voted to give the President authority to make that decision. The GOP is trying to make Kerry's entirely consistent (if unwise, given Bush's character) position look like a flip-flop by deceptively calling the vote for the use of force authorization a vote for the war itself - but it was manifestly not. The media is complicit in perpetuating these GOP promulgated distortions. [See Slate for some nice Kerry quotes from the force authorization vote.]

The second point is more important, but should have been more easy for the Democrats to tactically counter. When Kerry changes his position, the GOP provides a narrative explanation of why he did so: because he lacks character and won't stick with his decisions (tacking with the winds...) and because he is a political opportunist (he says whatever's popular). The "wind-surfing" charge should be countered by a strong reiteration of the real rationale for Kerry's positions, by heaping scorn on the negativity of the Republican charge, and by counterattacking Bush on being unable to make hard choices. Bush only supports positions that don't require him to explain the costs involved - every position he's ever advocated has been sold as win-win.

The political opportunism charge is the opening liberals should have (and should still) hit back on most forcefully - Bush is the archetypal political opportunist. We can talk til we're blue in the face of Bush's flip-flops, but without providing an explanation of his motive, we are letting him off the hook. He changes his positions for two reasons: because his original position was a bullshit effort to look moderate, and he reveals himself as a neanderthal at the first opportunity (environment, Parks, assault weapons ban); and because masking his true beliefs will let him attack Democrats (DHS, 9/11 Commission, trade). What he tells people about his positions is entirely poll-driven, entirely political, and entirely inauthentic. None of his positions are popular, so he lies about them, to one end - staying in power, keeping his job.

[Standard Disclaimer: I am not criticizing the Kerry campaign. Counterframing is the responsibility of every progressive, not just the Kerry campaign or the Party. It is our job to counter the Republican Noise Machine.]

9/22/2004

Woolsey Watch

"An absolutely superb book. Horowitz masterfully portrays the Hitler-Stalin Pact of our time. The totalitarian movements we defeated in the twentieth century have mutated. Now Islamist fanatics and today's far Left make common cause to the same end as their predecessors - the destruction of freedom."
Woolsey, dustjacket blurb for David Horowitz, Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left. How long ago did James Woolsey pass Ramsey Clark as the craziest former administration official?[Steve Clemons has Woolsey Watch as a running feature]

9/21/2004

Free Trade as a Taking

Steve Clemons has a post up on jobs & outsourcing, calling for a debate on the important things confronting the country. Here's my contribtion.

Free trade and the attendant economic dislocations should be viewed through the same prism as takings law. The just compensation clause of the 5th amendment to the constitution reads: "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." At its heart, it attempts to resolve some of the contradictions of liberal democracy: liberalism - the majority should not be able to trammel the rights of discrete minorities; democracy - small minorities should not be able to hold the majority's vision of the public good hostage. It's resolution to this tension is to allow the majority to act, provided that it indemnify the aggrieved minority.

The application of this principle to economic dislocations caused by changes in trade regimes seems simple. Trade produces a consumer surplus, a public good, but on the backs of workers who lose their livelihoods to new competition. Displaced workers pay the costs of increased trade, but the benefit accrues to all. The constitutional principle embodied by the just compensation clause demands that those workers be recompensed for their injuries.

There are three common objections to this argument. First, a person's interest in their employment is not a private property interest, so it doesn't deserve constitutional protection. Second, the increased value of a job dependent on current trade practices is not taken by the alteration of those trade practices - workers' reliance on those trade practices is unreasonable because they are a license, not an enforceable expectation. Third, we already compensate displaced workers.

The first objection is true to an extent, but it is overly formalist to simply assume that the compensation principle doesn't apply because workers' expectations aren't "private property." Moreover, conservatives led by Richard Epstein have radically reconfigured the conception of the interest protected by the clause, moving it further and further away from any recognizable understanding of "private property." Is removing from the person's bundle of property interests the right to fill in wetlands more or less an injury to a property interest than creating incentives that move someone's job overseas? Is a "temporary taking" that results from a development moratorium more or less of a violation of a property interest than changing rules that result in temporary unemployment? If one is going to radically revise the conception of property at the heart of the compensation clause, there has to be an actual argument for excluding the seizure of the human and social capital at the heart of good employment.

The second argument is equally problematic. There is again the reinjection of formalism, in the determination that one regulatory change is gratuitous, uncompensable (damnun absque injuria), while another is serious, and a violation of rights. In an area where conservatives have wholeheartedly embraced functionalism and realism, the kneejerk reversion to formalism to deny compensation to a particular tribe is unseemely and unsupportable. The moral case for the protection of property is primarily based on the reliance interest, a fact embedded in takings law in the form of the "investment backed expectations" prong of the legal analysis. The reliance interest is more visible and reasonable in the case of employment than in, say, the case of a developer purchasing a land interest on the assumption that no easement of access to waterfront will be needed. If the argument is that one should try to foresee changes in regulatory regimes, the entire edifice of modern takings jurisprudence crumbles. Is it more reasonable to assume that unfettered development will be allowed to continue in wetlands than that particular legal trade regimes will remain in place? Not obviously. If the argument is that the removal of trade barriers is the elimination of government subsidy, a return to a natural economic state, rather than a change in policy (i.e., no policy rather than a different policy), then whoever's making it is simply putting the rabbit into the hat. There is no legally cognizable natural regime of interstate economic relations, just as there is no natural state of environmental regulations.

The final argument is also true, to an extent. We do compensate some people displaced by changes in trade policy. There are two problems with these compensation regimes, though: 1. they are viewed as a gift, rather than a constitutional entitlement; 2. they are woefully inadequate. We don't view compensation to those who have their houses seized as a gift, but as them being indemnified for injuries. This might seem like a semantic difference, but it has enormous political and moral implications. As for the adequacy of the compensation, it is as though the government compensated someone who had their house seized by hooking them up with a realtor. Job training and minimal income support is fine, but there is no compensation for the human and social capital destroyed by the altered regulatory structure. [Update, 9/22: The GAO produced a report today on the impact of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Reform Act. It provides a timely look at the programs to aid displaced workers.]

I am a free trader - the increased consumer surplus and new job development created by a shift to a more fluid trade environment is worth the costs born by displaced workers. It is not a morally easy position to take, though, and it is not one that should be blithely assumed to be obviously correct. The costs born by displaced workers are real, and deserve compensation.

As a potential policy suggestion, each significant shift toward liberalization of trade laws should be accompanied by a tax on the increased consumer surplus. Whether it's a sales tax, a value-added tax, or an income tax, a portion of the consumer surplus should be given to those that paid the price for it (maybe a social security-like trust fund?).

* In the course of googling for this post, I came across this interesting Am. L. Rev. article by Kaimipono David Wenger, Slavery as a Takings Clause Violation.

9/20/2004

Uninformed and Unwilling to Learn

A casual reader of newspaper headlines has a better grasp on the situation in Iraq than the President of the United States. That is the only logical conclusion based on Bush's reaction to Kerry's speech. Bush clearly has developed a set of talking points that he thinks are effective and that are broad enough to be used no matter what Kerry says, and he isn't going to muddle his message with facts or reality.

Bush seized on a comment by Kerry that the United States had traded a dictator for chaos that has left America less secure. He said that in December, in the heat of his primary battle against anti-war candidate Howard Dean, Kerry had said those who did not believe Saddam's removal had made the country safer did not have the credibility to be elected.

"Today my opponent continued his pattern of twisting in the wind, with new contradictions of his old positions on Iraq," Bush said at an "Ask President Bush" event before an enthusiastic crowd in New Hampshire.
Back in December, the administration was telling everyone that the insurgency was led by "dead enders" from Saddam's Baathist regime, and that Saddam's capture would effectively end the resistance. Kerry repeated his unforgivable habit of believing George W. Bush, and criticized Dean for doubting the President. Kerry has learned from his mistakes, Bush has not. The capture of Hussein has made no one safer. It has freed Shiites to oppose U.S. forces, given free reign to AQ and its affiliates, and done nothing to slow down the insurgency. Only an ostrich, head in the sand since March, could believe otherwise. Bush apparently likes the cool, sandy environment (is Crawford sandy?).
"We must show resolve and determination. Mixed signals are the wrong signals to send to the enemy, mixed signals are the wrong signals to send to the people of Iraq. Mixed signals are the wrong signals to send to our allies. And mixed signals are the wrong signals to send to our troops in combat," he said.
For more on mixed signals, please see Bob Novak [from Drum]:
Inside the Bush administration policymaking apparatus, there is strong feeling that U.S. troops must leave Iraq next year. This determination is not predicated on success in implanting Iraqi democracy and internal stability. Rather, the officials are saying: Ready or not, here we go.
Bush's "resolve and determination" plumage are clever talking points, but again betray his complete detachment from reality. He doesn't realize that his resolution is leading to devastation.

More pernicious in this talking point, of course, is its anti-democratic implications. Saletan put this well, back during the GOP convention: "the GOP is trying to quash criticism of the president simply because it's criticism of the president. The election is becoming a referendum on democracy." Nothing Kerry does will damage the nation nearly as much as anything Bush has done.
"Can you imagine what Iraq would be like today if Saddam Hussein were in power? It'd be terrible for them and we'd be dealing with a guy who just totally ignored the demands of the free world," Bush said.
As opposed to now, when Iraq is living through its version of the Clinton administration, full of peace and prosperity? Luckily, Bush's Hussein obsession will result in the defeat of another man who habitually spits on the demands of the free world.

If you had a crazy uncle that made arguments like Bush's, would you listen to him? If you emailed him cites and articles pointing out his numerous errors, but he continued making the same arguments, would he deserve your confidence? My aunts and uncles are all sane and intelligent, but I would think the guy was a nut. I sure as hell wouldn't think he should be President. Even my Republican uncles (both of them) are opposing Bush - Iraq is too big of a mess.

Shoddy

I quickly grow tired of the dissection of major media. They repeat the same mistakes over and over again, and every close observer knows this. Of course, Rove/Atwater strategists know these faults as well as anyone, and consciously exploit them.

The latest Ron Fournier/AP piece on Kerry's speech commits most of the major sins.

Sin #1: reporting exchanges by politicians without context or comment:

"Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell," [Kerry] added. "But that was not, in itself, a reason to go to war. The satisfaction we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure."

Bush hit back from a campaign rally in New Hampshire, interpreting Kerry's comment to mean the Democrat believes U.S. security would be better with Saddam still in power. "He's saying he prefers the stability of a dictatorship to the hope and security of democracy," the Republican incumbent said.

"Today, my opponent continued his pattern of twisting in the wind," Bush said. "He apparently woke up this morning and has now decided, No, we should not have invaded Iraq, after just last month saying he would have voted for force even knowing everything we know today."
Perhaps Mr. Fournier simply assumed that the ridiculousness of Bush's response was apparent on its face. It is, but it still shouldn't just be assumed. Where is the "democracy" in Iraq? Where is the "security?" Bush's argument is dangerously out of touch with reality - and that was the whole point of Kerry's speech. What's more, Bush apparently is unable to distinguish between a Senator voting to let Bush make the decision, and Bush actually making a bad decision. It's disconcerting that our President isn't aware of the meaning of legislation his Party ushered through Congress.

Kerry's vote for war was like a husband letting his wife pick out the new family car. When she brings home a lemon, he has the right to be critical. When she brings home a pile of magic beans, he has an obligation to be critical.

Sin 2: treating all comments from candidates as being equally credible:
Kerry called on Bush to do a much better job rallying allies, training Iraqi security forces, hastening reconstruction plans and ensuring that elections are conducted on time. But his speech was thin on details, with Kerry saying Bush's miscalculations had made solutions harder to come by.

Bush cited Kerry's four-point plan and dismissed it as proposing "exactly what we're currently doing."
Again, Bush is out of touch. He doesn't realize that the elections are probably not going to happen in Iraq, and that current US policy is decreasing the probability of their occurrence. We spent $1 billion on reconstruction in the first year of the occupation, around 5% of the allocated amount, according to Republican Sen. Lugar. Iraqi security forces are working with the insurgents as often as us. Even Britain is reducing its troop commitment to Iraq, and around $1 billion out of $13 billion pledged by our allies has been given. Bush is unconcerned about these facts, denying them for the sake of his electoral prospects.

Sin 3: Reverting to horse race analysis rather than dealing with issues.
With more than 1,000 U.S. troops killed in Iraq, including nearly 900 since Bush declared an end to major combat, with free elections in doubt, reconstruction efforts stalled and violence and kidnappings on the rise, Iraq could be Bush's biggest political liability. Even some Republican senators have begun to publicly second-guess the president's policies.

But Kerry has failed to capitalize thus far, struggling for months to find a clear, consistent way to differentiate his views from those of his Democratic rivals during the primary season and, since the spring, his general election foe in the White House.
This is almost completely irrelevant. Focusing on the political implications of a policy speech is a crutch for lazy or overworked reporters - political strategists are much more willing to offer quotes than actual analysts. Giving spinsters their say reduces the overall informative value of a piece of reporting.

Facts are stubborn things, but they aren't partisan. Bush should bother to acquaint himself with some. The AP should bother to report some.

Kerry Speech

Kerry gave a great speech at NYU today [other blog comments: Kos, Atrios, Drum; newspaper coverage: Washington Post, NYT LA Times, AP, Reuters, AFP; CSPAN video] . He hits Bush on all of the facts. Unfortunately, he doesn't go the next step, the step that is the entirety of the GOP strategy: personalizing the message, moving it from questions of fact to questions of character.

Kerry calls for an "honest debate" on Iraq, then argues that Iraq is a distraction from AQ and the war on terror. 1000 American deaths, an "American burden." Troops good, sacrificing, "owe them the truth." Bush panglossian despite facts he should know. Facts on ground are bad. Traded dictator for chaos that has left us less secure. Bush's "lack of candor" wrecked trust in America at home and abroad. "failure to tell the truth to us before the war has been exceeded by fundamental errors of judgment during and after the war," "colossal failures of judgment," "This President was in denial," "long litany of misjudgments with terrible consequences," "over-promised and under-performed," "plagued by a lack of planning, an absence of candor, arrogance and outright incompetence," "held no one accountable, including himself," "stubborn incompetence," "President’s policy in Iraq has not strengthened our national security. It has weakened it."

The speech is great. The last ten paragraphs or so sum it up incredibly well. It is hard hitting, honest, and focused on the important questions. "Fact" shows up seven times in Kerry's speech. "Truth" shows up twelve times.

Unfortunately, it is not going to be particularly effective. Bush's blithe accusations of pessimism will work, undecideds won't bother to inform themselves, and partisans won't change their minds. Why? Because Kerry never linked it to Bush the person. I like "out of touch, irresponsible, and unconcerned," but somehow, Bush's serial incompetence, dishonesty, and malice needs to be tied to his character. The real question is WHY Bush is such a goddamned bumbling liar - what about him personally makes it impossible to believe he can do a good job? That he has lied and misled in the past is an important data point, but inadequate without a prospective argument.

Kerry doesn't need to do this, and I'm not criticizing his campaign. He shouldn't necessarily be the person to spearhead the effort to hold Bush personally accountable - it could come off as mean and unduly negative. It should happen through proxies and allies, television pundits, Party officials, op-ed writers and bloggers.

 

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