Monday, June 28, 2004

Drippy Dick, Johnny Sunshine, and Labor's Pains

The two names we're hearing most often in the eternal vice-presidential mooting game are Dick Gephardt, zillion-term Congressman from Missouri and badly failed presidential candidate, and John Edwards, one-term Senator from North Carolina and admirably failed presidential candidate. Both have their institutional supporters: Gephardt is the choice of the Teamsters and various other old-line unions, while Edwards seems to be the preference of many Congressional Democrats, the executive board of the Service Employees International Union (90 percent picked Edwards in a straw poll, according to SEIU head Andy Stern) and, at least by the lights of some polls, the Democratic primary electorate.

I've set out the case against Gephardt again and again; for those who don't feel like scrolling down or exploring the recent archives, I'll kindly refer you to this Matt Yglesias piece about the severe problems with a Kerry-Gephardt ticket. (And Gephardt's home-state Kansas City Star picks up the theme, noting that there's no guarantee he'd even swing Missouri.) Today I'm more interested in looking at the role of the unions in this choice, and where organized labor in general is going.

The slow-motion decline of the labor movement over the last four decades or so has been well documented. As the workforce has grown, the percentage of unionized jobs has dropped, a result of both macroeconomic changes leading to job losses in highly unionized industries like automotive and other manufacturing fields, an increasingly hostile policy climate toward unionizing new industries, and corruption and plain old bad decisions on the part of union leaders themselves. Labor is commonly acknowledged to be "at a crossroads"; they went all-out to beat Bush in 2000 and failed. This time they seem to have pushed even more chips to the center of the table. And they unquestionably have John Kerry's ear.

But who are "they"? The schism between "old labor" and "new labor" seems to be playing out in the ongoing drama around Kerry's vice-presidential pick. The Teamsters, who want Gephardt, represent labor's past, for better and for worse: the great accomplishments of mid-century organizing and unprecedented gains for working people, and the ugly legacy of corruption, bigotry and cynicism that has tarred the efforts of organized labor to regain relevance in the new century. The SEIU, whose members apparently back Edwards, doesn't have immaculately clean hands either--my fellow New Yorkers might remember 1199/SEIU kingpin Dennis Rivera's deeply cynical endorsement of George Pataki in the gubernatorial race two years ago--but there's no question in my mind they're on "the right side of history." They've been high-profile in organizing, they've roughly doubled their membership over the last decade or so, and they've earned the respect of employers with a willingness to partner where mutually beneficial (1199 and the Greater New York Hospital Association co-run a training and education fund, to give just one example), matched by a willingness to go to the mattresses when necessary to defend members' interests. (This Harold Meyerson article offers a good summary of SEIU's achievements and challanges, and the historical moment for labor.)

SEIU leaders realize that the next great frontier for labor is organizing low-wage workers in the service economy. I went to a great event last week with Beth Shulman, author of The Betrayal of Work, and one of the points she made was that industrialized jobs weren't "good jobs" until they got organized... and then wages doubled, benefits surged, and a new road to the middle class was paved. We've seen how this can be done anew with janitorial and hotel jobs in Nevada and elsewhere; as Shulman put it, unions can change "bad jobs" into "good jobs."

Edwards seems to get this; Howard Dean surely did, and that's why SEIU is behind those two men. If Gephardt gets it, I haven't seen any evidence; his union ties are to the past, not the future. Kerry needs to look ahead.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Didja Hear Michael Moore Has a New Movie Out?

I saw "Fahrenheit 9/11" last night. As a regular Salon reader and a guy who generally consumes tales of right-wing chicanery the way other men devour pornography, it didn't really tell me a great deal that I hadn't heard already. But the presentation is the feature here, and there were two new things I'd never seen before:

1) The day in January 2001 when Al Gore, as outgoing President of the Senate, certified the election returns that robbed him of the White House, and had to turn away the complaints of multiple African-American members of Congress who had sworn out complaints, because no Senator would co-sign. Poignant stuff. (I have heard that it was Gore's own request that stayed the hands of Senators who might otherwise have certified the complaints; it did occur to me that the late Paul Wellstone probably wouldn't have backed down from this particular fight. If this is true, then Leo Durocher was right: Nice guys really do finish, if not last, then lecturing at NYU and sitting at home in Tennesee.)

2) all the footage from Iraq. I know Moore didn't get it himself--a point he should have made in the film--and again it's not really anything I hadn't read about. But it's very different reading about Iraqi women wailing in the remains of their destroyed homes, and then seeing it on-screen. Maybe this is my own thing; I just finished reading Daniel Ellsberg's memoir Secrets, about the Vietnam War and the release of the Pentagon Papers, and I couldn't stop thinking about the commonalities: the arrogance of "liberating" a people who don't want you there, the transparent dishonesty as to both motives and tactics, the ugly truth that those who fight and die are, overwhelmingly, those with the least stake in our society. Fifteen months ago when the war was just underway, I felt torn between my fundamental distrust of this administration and a feeling of sympathy with the arguments Paul Berman and others made that the U.S. should use its power to promote freedom in the world; with the benefit of hindsight, I am coming closer to the conclusion that we never, ever should have chosen this fight.

If you haven't yet seen it... well, you should. "F9/11" isn't the masterpiece Moore's most ardent fans are presenting it as, but it is a compelling and upsetting film, an effective piece of propaganda despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that Moore's editorial slant really couldn't be more pronounced: the musical choices, the shots of Bush administration figures applying makeup before the cameras go on and taking off their microphones after finishing their talking points; the selective images of Iraqis and U.S. soldiers at their most aggrieved and aggressive, respectively.

On the other hand, there are a lot of other points of evidence he could have included in his case here, but did not: you'll find nothing about torture in this film (the words "Abu Ghreib" are not mentioned); nothing about Ahmad Chalabi and the distorted intelligence of the "Office of Special Plans"; and virtually nothing about the tormented history of this collection of ethnic groups and tribes some drunken Englishman named "Iraq" about 85 years ago. In the place of these points (which, contrary to what you might think, were there to be made in early 2004 when he was finishing this film), he deploys fairly irrelevant and IMO ineffective antics like those he used to much better effect in "Roger and Me."

I don't think this film will change many minds, but I did leave the theater with an even stronger sense than usual that we must do everything, everything we can to throw these warmongers and shameless profiteers out of office this November. Of course, I was already onboard; maybe a bigger deal is that Sunday night, my mom--my very apolitical mother, who hasn't voted in years and who, despite her youthful left-ish idealism, found herself in broad agreement with reactionary Texas Senator Phil Gramm upon hearing him on TV eight years or so ago--called me in outrage after seeing the movie. If Moore has created something that can reach the politically disaffected, then he might come a lot closer to his stated goal of influencing this year's vote than I would have thought possible.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Houston, We Have a Hitter...

Just a week or so after prompting a lot of head-scratching with the trade that sent outfielder Richard Hidalgo to the Mets for mostly-harmless veteran relief pitcher David "Stormy" Weathers, Houston Astros GM Gerry Hunsicker silenced the doubters last night with a trade to bring in erstwhile Kansas City Royals centerfielder Carlos Beltran. In a three-team deal, the Astros sent closer Octavio Dotel to the Oakland A's and catcher John Buck to the Royals, who also got two good prospects from Oakland.

From Houston's perspective, I love this deal. Hunsicker dealt from a position of strength--he had a setup reliever, Brad Lidge, who probably will be as good as or better than Dotel in closing games--and brought in the best player on the market. Beltran should administer a shot in the arm to a very talented veteran team that has really underachieved (hmm... sounds familiar), trailing St. Louis in the NL Central by five games. Beltran adds power, speed and youth (he's just 27) to an Astros lineup that already featured Lance Berkman, Jeff Bagwell and Jeff Kent. Best of all from my perspective, the trade of Dotel probably thrusts Lidge into the bullpen ace role; anytime a "new" closer succeeds in the context of a pennant race, we make progress toward the blanket realization that this whole role is vastly overstated and it doesn't require a cold-eyed, bearded fella with ice water in his veins to do that job.

Also I've got Lidge on a fantasy team in a league where I'm trying to win money. So the saves will be catnip.

The Astros are going for it this year. They've got Roger Clemens with one foot in the retirement community, aging stars in Bagwell, Kent and Craig Biggio, and now Beltran four months from free agency. They're determined to give their fans, who have never seen a playoff series win, a good ride at the least.

"When you have a chance to get an All-Star like Beltran, you do it, then you worry about filling in holes. He significantly makes us better, he is an impact player and will have an effect on our ballclub," Hunsicker said.

Something to keep in mind the next time Phils GM Ed Wade hails the addition of some Roberto Hernandez/Mike Williams-caliber reliever, who can blow leads in style with mucho "veteran presence."

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Deconstructing Kerry

I have to admit that I'm feeling a little John Kerry fatigue this week. I like this campaign theme of "middle-class squeeze", because it speaks more directly to how voters perceive their economic status than cold citations of job losses or GDP growth or fluctuations in the Dow. And I don't really have a problem with him holding back on the ongoing debacles of Iraq, torture revelations and other foreign policy points. But the Gephardt VP rumors really have me discouraged (more on that tomorrow), and on issue after issue I'm reminded that this is just not a particularly admirable or inspiring politician. He still has a long way to go in persuading voters who don't detest right-wingers that he's someone to cast a vote for, rather than the mere beneficiary of a vote against someone else.

But maybe this will help: in Lee Iacocca's endorsement of Kerry Thursday afternoon, he pointed out that Kerry's website has a list of ten priorities for his term. Now, some of these are negatives ("End the Era of Ashcroft") and some are pretty vague ("A New Era of National Service," "Rejoin the Community of Nations") but at the least they present a coherent agenda and suggest a governing philosophy. Also included on the list are a couple specific goals ("Cut the Deficit in Half in Four Years") and legislative priorities ("First Major Legislative Plan: Affordable Health Care"). It's a start, and the site offers more detail on each point.

Last winter and spring, a lot of Democratic voters were remembering Bill Clinton's axiom that during the primaries you fall in love; for the general election, you fall in line. In a way, I'm glad the Republicans are more amenable to "falling in line" than we on the left side of the spectrum are. This list at least serves to remind us that while Kerry isn't offering a progressive wish list or good government fantasy agenda (hmm... another good idea for a future entry), the priorities he has announced are certainly worth fighting for.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

I Assassin Down the Avenue

This is pretty cool. Wilco, whose 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot might have been the best album I've heard in five years, is back with a new LP titled A Ghost is Born, and you can hear it streaming online at the band's website.

I saw Wilco in NYC late in 2002 and was less than blown away. The one new song I remember them playing was actually pretty lame, and I wasn't in love with their pre-YHF output (though I was, and remain, a big Uncle Tupelo fan), so I figured this was somewhat a case of a decent band producing a masterpiece half by accident. But I have to say, listening to this new record, it sounds pretty damned good. And I give them a lot of credit for putting it online to listen to, but not download. They've earned at least one extra sale.

The New York Times also recently reviewed Learning How to Die, a new book about the band and singer Jeff Tweedy's problems with substance abuse and anxiety attacks. (Actually, the noted political journalist Joe Klein, a longtime favorite of mine--and my mom's virtual god of pithy political insights--wrote the review. New Yorker financial columnist James Surowiecki once reviewed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot; maybe Wilco just has a special pull for nebbishy political/policy guys...) Rock journalism is a lot tougher than it probably sounds--at least, if you're talking about doing it right--but this one could be worth a read.

UPDATE: I've now listened to the whole thing and I'm ready to make it official: this album kicks ass. Go get it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The Boss vs. Bush?

Regular readers of this site have probably noticed that I’m a bit obsessive on the subject of the Republican Convention in New York City, scheduled from August 30 to September 1. Call me paranoid, but the combination of hot temperatures, a very contentious election, legitimate security concerns, official over-reaction as seen in other recent NYC protests, 50,000 Republicans, maybe ten times that many mostly young, very pissed-off protesters, and some unknown number of Secret Service and policefolks, and it just feels like trouble in the offing. I’m worried about political blowback a la Chicago 1968, and to some extent I’m worried about my personal safety. I’m disgusted that the Republicans are coming here, to a city that’s been hurt badly by their policies, basically to celebrate themselves on the bodies of our September 11 dead, and I’m planning to be out there—well-dressed, respectful, American flag in hand. I don't have any illusions about what this is likely to accomplish, though, and though I wouldn't miss it as either a concerned citizen or a historical voyeur, I'd just as soon not have the circus come this way at all. (For those interested, the always-informative Gotham Gazette has a good package of stories about convention and protest preparations this week.)

But I’m starting to hope I might have something better to do—something more affirmative—on September 1. As you’ve probably heard by now, a New York concert promoter is trying to "draft" Bruce Springsteen to play at Giants Stadium while Bush is re-coronated at MSG:

I have put Giants Stadium on hold on September 1 in the hope that you will lead the music industry in coming together and perform in a concert for change. Once it is known that you are involved, many other artists will want to perform with you. Together your collective voices and music will send a clear message to all Americans that our country needs their vote to create change. The event is called VoteAid: "Concert for Change" and we think that it has the potential to become the largest concert in history. We would like the money that this concert generates to go to support voter registration and participation throughout the country, but more importantly your decision to play at exactly the same time George Bush is being nominated will focus all Americans on the importance in this election for their future as well as the future of the world.

Could it work? Would Bruce—no fan of the Bushes or Republicans in general—accept the "draft"? I have no idea, and his web site isn’t saying (though the links regarding the election—to and ACT--aren’t exactly neutral). But the promoter, Andrew Rasiej, who stated that Springsteen’s online "message" praising Al Gore’s May speech at NYU inspired him to make the effort, claims that he’s already reached out to R.E.M. and Bon Jovi among others about joining Springsteen on stage, and both have indicated serious interest.

The Yahoo! article says that "Springsteen's publicist… told Reuters the music star does not plan to perform at any events tied to the Democratic or Republican conventions." Not encouraging, but not exactly a blanket denial, either. So stay tuned, sign the petition, and maybe we can all do something a lot more fun on Sept. 1 than just rage at the Republicans and tour the inside of NYCPD paddy wagons.
Abortion: Seeking Higher Ground

Yesterday I got into a little dustup on Daily Kos about how, or actually if, Kerry could try to appeal to moderate anti-abortion voters. This is something I've been thinking about off and on for a long while now; at this point, I describe himself as "uncomfortably pro-choice," which makes me believe that there must be a few "uncomfortably anti-choice" folks out there as well. So how can we peel away voters who are somewhat motivated by abortion politics but probably "reachable" on economic or other issues?

I think it can be done, and that Kerry--a Catholic who also comes across as "uncomfortably pro-choice"--could be the guy to do it. He should absolutely pledge to protect the legal right to abortion, but should also challenge the "pro-life" people to work with him on how to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. This strikes me as a salutary example of "third way" politics in the best Clinton tradition: government can help by providing more and better sex education and subsidized or free contraceptives, but we should call on individuals to be responsible as well for birth control.

Winning politics involves finding niches within issues where there's broad societal agreement. Even most of the religious pro-lifers I've run across are okay with birth control; the Catholic/fundamentalist position is a joke (remember "Every Sperm is Sacred"?), and Kerry's not going to reach those people anyway. But there are a lot of conflicted Catholics out there who might be with us on a lot of issues but don't want to associate with a party they see as much too casual about "abortion as birth control." I believe there's an opportunity here to close the breach a little bit, and at least work toward the good goal of "safe, legal and rare" abortions in the U.S. It's good politics and responsible public policy.

Of course, it would also help if we had better statistical information about the abortions performed in the U.S.--how many would have been preventable with birth control? What's the socioeconomic or racial breakdown of women who have abortions? How often was birth control used, but pregnancy resulted anyway? It's tough to do good public policy without good information. But this is such a contentious subject that I'd almost doubt most "sources" anyway; perhaps a less politicized presidential administration could do it.

Also wanted to mention an article that covers some of this same ground and impressed me pretty deeply. I've heard of Jim Wallis and Sojourner magazine for awhile now, but this was the first piece I've actually read. I was pretty impressed:

...Democrats, like Republicans, could still take a strong party stance (their official position being pro-choice) yet offer space for different positions. Such a respect for conscience on abortion would allow many pro-life and progressive Christians the "permission" they need to vote Democratic.

But if the Democrats were really smart they would do something more. And indeed, this is what candidate John Kerry should do. The Democrats could affirm that they are still the pro-choice party, but then also say what most Americans believe: that the abortion rate in America is much too high for a good, healthy society that respects both women and children. They could make a serious public commitment to actually do something about significantly reducing the abortion rate. Abortion is historically used as a symbolic issue in campaigns, and then forgotten when the election is over. Republicans win elections on the basis of their anti-abortion position, and then proceed to ignore the issue (and the nation's abortion rate, highest in the industrial world) by doing nothing to reduce the number of abortions.

Democrats could vow to change that by uniting both pro-choice and pro-life constituencies around goals that could become the basis for some new common ground, i.e. really targeting the problems of teen pregnancy and adoption reform--so critical to reducing abortion--while offering real support and meaningful alternatives for women at greater risk for unwanted pregnancies, especially low-income women.

John Kerry, while reasserting his pro-choice stance, could also credibly assert his Catholic faith as a motivator to save unborn lives by dramatically reducing the abortion rate. Given the bitter partisan division on the issue of abortion, it may be that the Democrats are the only ones who could initiate a common project to make abortion truly "rare" in America.

Wallis goes on to talk about a "a consistent ethic of life" that links a number of issues for progressive, religious voters, including abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, nuclear weapons, poverty, and racism. It's a compelling argument, even for someone like me who probably disagrees with Church teachings on half of these issues (the first three in this list, if you're curious). At the least, it's a far more nuanced and thoughtful take on religion and public life than the Republican position that "CEO Jesus" is Bush's real running-mate.

Monday, June 21, 2004

This Week(end) in Baseball

Well, the Phillies showed little sense of occasion for my first visit to Citizens Bank Park this past Friday night, getting waxed 10-4 by the abysmal Kansas City Royals. But they did win the other two games of the weekend set, and moved back into first place by percentage points as the Texas Rangers swept Florida. Jim Thome and Jimmy Rollins were the offensive heroes yesterday with two bombs and an inside-the-park homer respectively, and who-dat pitcher Brian Powell worked seven solid innings for the win.

There was bad news from Scranton, however, as Vicente Padilla was pulled from his minor-league rehab start with elbow pain after just 33 pitches. He could be done for the year, a contingency which would really test Ed Wade's appetite for risk-taking and creativity: will he keep trotting out the Powells and Paul Abbotts of the world, take a chance on top prospect Gavin Floyd (currently pitching very well at AA), let Ryan Madson return to the rotation (if he's not hurt, that is), or make a trade for a better-pedigreed veteran arm? I don't know, but I haven't redubbed Wade "Dead Weight" in recognition of his visionary personnel moves...

The ballpark, by the way, is stunning. It was almost dreamlike being there, despite the lousy outcome. Give the Phillies credit; they really did it right, and they took advantage of their late arrival at the new-park dance by appropriating choice elements from the parks in Baltimore ("Ashburn Alley" is akin to the Eutaw Street promenade at Camden Yards), Cleveland, Atlanta, and San Francisco--all wonderful places to watch a game. I do question the decision to leave the visiting bullpen exposed to Phils fans along the outfield concourse, where any angry jerk will be able to dump a beer on John Smoltz's head, try to goad Armando Benitez into a fight, or what have you. Eventually, I think the Phils will have to post security there full-time; it was bad enough with the Royals, not a rival team, in a non-competitive game, that I can't imagine how rough it could get with the Marlins in September. But I can tell my grandkids that I saw Rudy "Traction Action" Seanez in one of his rare, semi-mythical visits in from the Land of the Disabled Pitchers...

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Refighting "The Clinton Wars"

As I think I mentioned last week, I've been reading Sidney Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars and thinking a lot about how Bill Clinton, for all his faults and failures, really did yeoman work in transforming the Democratic Party from a splintered, almost tribalized amalgam of identity-politics fetishists, dogmatic pacifists and intellectually bankrupt careerists into an organization that could offer Americans viable solutions to all kinds of economic, cultural and military/diplomatic troubles. He didn't finish the job, but he probably got us 75 percent of the way there; if John Kerry wins this fall, I think it will be because he'll have covered most of the remaining distance by restoring the Democrats' credibility on national security (another post topic for another day; suffice it to say this is another reason why I'd love to see General Wesley Clark running with Kerry).

I actually left my copy of Blumenthal's book in Philadelphia this afternoon, so more ruminations on this will have to wait till I get it back. But with Clinton's "60 Minutes" appearance tonight and early reaction from many of the same media outlets who showed so much less wisdom than the electorate in pushing for him to resign in 1998, it's depressingly clear that we're about to revisit some contested ground:

In the buildup to the release of "My Life," the talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, another villain of Mr. Clinton's narrative, has begun calling the book "My Lie." And a column in the American Spectator, once the leading journal of Clinton-bashing and another target in his book, pronounced "a long hot Clinton summer is upon us" and derided Mr. Clinton's expressions of contrition for his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

"Yes, it's terrible to be caught," the Spectator wrote, "though rather delightful to commit moral error when no one is looking."

In the conservative Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes, the executive editor, called Mr. Clinton "Calvin Coolidge without the ethics and self-restraint."


To drive home the point, Bush campaign allies are reviving talk about the honor and dignity of the Oval Office in thinly veiled references to the Clinton years.

"I have found that the best way to get a rousing response from a crowd is to say that whatever disagreements you may have with President Bush on one issue or another, nobody can argue that he hasn't restored honor to the White house," said Gary L. Bauer, chairman of the organization American Values.

I read stuff like this and wonder what planet these guys are on. Aside from the question of whether Paul O'Neill, Richard Clarke, John DiIulio, Richard Foster, Rand Beers and lord only knows who else would agree with this assessment, there's...

Valerie Plame?
Medicare drug benefit?
Abu friggin' Ghraib?

A bit ironically, it's Maureen Dowd--whose catty potshots at Clinton through the late '90s at least rendered her a fellow traveler of the right-wingers she claimed to deplore--who got it right today: Dowd points out that the same sort of executive arrogance that led Clinton to accept hummers from sad, slutty Monica guided Bush into lying the country into war (among other misdeeds).

I can't dig too deeply into this Clinton scandal stuff anymore. I was furious when it all came out in January 1998, and more than six years later I'm still angry at how this self-indulgent sensualist almost destroyed himself and surely set back progressive causes for years to come... not to mention helped pave the way for Bush's election and arguably made it impossible to take the steps that would have been necessary to prevent September 11.

But as has always been the case, Clinton never looks better than in contrast with his enemies. This applies not only to the Limbaughs and Starrs and DeLays of this world, but to the credulous mediots who urged him to resign during Blowgate and thus validate the extralegal, open-ended "government by investigation" Newt Gingrich called for when he got his House majority. He was right to fight it, and the American people did themselves credit by voting against the Republicans in the 1998 midterm elections... thus freeing up Newt to write more reviews (see below).

All that said, I did read a somewhat haunting commentary in the Philadelphia Inquirer today that, for the first time, makes a compelling argument about how the nation might have benefitted from a Clinton resignation. The author of the piece--who admits to urging the president to resign twice over the course of the scandal in 1998, doesn't go so far as to claim he had any of this in mind at the time, but the hindsight perspective doesn't diminish the power of the case: editor Chris Satullo basically argues that if Gore had succeeded Clinton in 1998, the resultant wave of revulsion at Republican excess, as well as the benefits of two years of incumbency, might have swept Gore into a full term two years later--and without the distraction of the president's sexcapades and the incessant "Wag the Dog" accusations every time he tried to do something on foreign policy, perhaps 9/11 could have been avoided.

Now, I'm not sure I buy this; just as they did anyway, the Republicans would have tried to tar Gore by association with Clinton, and I'm not sure we wouldn't have seen the Gore of later caricature--the exaggerator, the shady fund-raiser, the man in search of himself--anyway. Perhaps the election wouldn't even have been as close as it was. I guess the key point is whether the backlash against Republican inquisitorial excess would have been even worse if they'd succeeded in driving Clinton from office. This seems like just enough of a Nader-like "things must get worse to get better" scenario that I have trouble crediting it, but it is not impossible to imagine.

Friday, June 18, 2004


The Senate votes to deploy the untested missile defense system, at a price tag of $9 billion for this year alone...I also would have accepted "disgusting":

The Senate rejected today, 57-42, an amendment, introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), to the 2005 Defense Authorization bill that would have allowed deployment of the President's proposed missile defense system only after the mission related capabilities have been confirmed by realistic operational testing. Republican Olympia Snowe (ME) joined Democrats in voting for the amendment. Democrats Bayh (IN), Clinton (NY), Landreiu (LA), Lieberman (CT), Miller (GA), Nelson (FL), Nelson (NE). Not voting was John Kerry (D-MA).

Hillary Clinton's votes in the Senate are a source of never-ending amazement to me. You'd expect chuckleheads like Miller and Holy Joe Lieberman to suck down this right-wing swill, but for the supposed Great Liberal Hope to do so is just disgusting. This follows her support for a variant of the Bush administration's draconian revision of welfare reform (2002) and of course her non-stop cheerleading for the war in Iraq. To paraphrase a friend of mine, why does the Hillary I would actually like only exist in the nightmares of the right-wingers?

The Phillies damn well better win tonight, to make up both for this and the pain they put me through Thursday night... technically, Friday AM.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Newt Gingrich, Amazon Warrior

In these troubled times for our beloved country, it's worth keeping in mind that at least once in awhile, history does provide us with happy endings. Consider the case of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who in his post-political life has ascended to the heights of...'s top 500 online book reviewers:

NEWT GINGRICH has been leading a secret life. Night after night for years he's been slipping out of the headquarters of the vast right-wing conspiracy, wolfing down spy novels and then reviewing them for So prolific and proficient has he been at this pursuit that he has attained the coveted title Amazon Top 500 Reviewer. Newt is number 488.

To earn this honor, Gingrich wrote 137 reviews, which were deemed "helpful" by 2,002 people. "Newt Gingrich," we learn from his extensive About Me page, "is an avid reader. He does not review all of the books he reads. You will not find any bad reviews here, just the books he thinks you might enjoy."

This is a guy who, frankly, terrified me when I was 21 years old and watching the tidal wave of Republican gains crest in 1994. A friend and I once semi-seriously discussed whether it would be worth it to give up our lives to stop a man whose destructive ideas, we thought, could bring the country to ruin. (Hey, we were 21. You probably said some stupid, melodramatic crap when you were that age too.) I'm currently reading Sidney Blumenthal's excellent memoir/history The Clinton Wars, and seeing again just grandiose, almost messianic, was Gingrich's view of himself: "Definer of civilization... Teacher of the Rules of Civilization... Leader (possibly) of the civilizing forces." This was the guy who blamed Susan Smith's drowning her children on sick Democratic morality (never mind that Smith's family had been Republicans for generations) and counseled his caucus to use words like sick, pathetic, decay, corrupt, waste, and traitor in all public pronouncements about Democrats and liberals.

And all this time, his ultimate destiny was to sit up at night, probably eating potato chips and drinking Cokes, reading boilerplate spy novels and then spewing out his thoughts online for fellow fans of the genre. If that doesn't give you hope, nothing will.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Dear God, Not Dick

I've been arguing for months that Dick Gephardt would be a disastrous vice-presidential pick for John Kerry. Polls great and small, from AP to diary entries on Daily Kos and elsewhere, show minimal support for the Gepper. Even the Democrats he formerly led in the House all but concede the caucus is far stronger under Nancy Pelosi than it was under Gephardt. And yet some union leaders--particularly the less than always savory Teamsters--both have pushed Dick relentlessly and even claim he's locked up the nod for VP.

In today's American Prospect online, Matthew Yglesias lays the bigtime smackdown on Gephardt as running mate:

Indeed, electability is the order of the day. So would picking Dick Gephardt help Kerry win the election? The short answer is "no." The long answer is "no way."

One useful asset a VP pick might possess is the ability to carry his state into the Democratic fold; since Gephardt's Missouri is a perennial bellwether there's a superficially compelling case here. The main problem here, as Chris Suellentrop recently noted is that Missouri voters don't seem to like Gephardt. He's never run statewide. His actual constituents are limited to one congressional district that Gore won without him in 2000 and that will doubtless go for Kerry again. The Missouri voters with whom Kerry needs some help live in the rural and exurban parts of the state and positively hate St. Louis and Kansas City politicians, such as Gephardt. They know the guy, and they don't like him. Why would you pick a guy who's all-but-guaranteed to lose his potentially crucial home state? For the sake of Ohio, goes the theory, where Gephardt's working-class cred will provide a needed boost to the aristocratic Kerry. And perhaps it would, but couldn't Edwards do the job just as well, while also doing better in next-door Missouri and maybe even North Carolina (where things are surprisingly close)?


What's important is that Gephardt's record -- or rather, his many records -- will be putty in the hands of the Bush campaign, reinforcing their main line of critique against Kerry while adding nothing of value. Arguably, this would be a reasonable price to pay if we were talking about some kind of paragon of political virtue, but we aren't. We're talking about a man who helped drive the country to war in pursuit of transient electoral advantage and didn't even managed to derive any electoral advantage from it.

The whole thing is worth a read. I just hope that Kerry and his key staff people are among those who see this piece. I've said it before and I'll say it again: if Kerry picks Gephardt, he deserves to lose, and we progressives deserve a better party to champion our politics.

Philly Pride

At least for today, the Philadelphia Daily News is my favorite hometown paper.

No, it's not because they've finally fired clueless-but-combative Phillies beat writer Marcus Hayes (after all, how can you ask more from a scribbler than you get from the team's manager?); they didn't. But the PDN did make a presidential endorsement today--the first in the nation, in fact:

...this newspaper, the first in the nation, endorses John Kerry for president. Unlike the current White House occupant, Kerry can lead America to a brighter, better future. He has shown the personal courage, compassion, intellect and skill to lead this country in a time of war abroad and economic troubles at home. He is a serious man for a serious time.

Better yet, the News lays out the rationale for their early call: Pennsylvania's pivotal importance in this year's election:

Because this race promises to be close and Pennsylvania is one of 18 swing states that can go to either candidate. For Kerry supporters to prevail they must do more than just vote, they must bring a ringer into this contest: the more than a million people in the region who did not vote in the last presidential election. We believe these non-voters - who will have to be mobilized over the next few months - are the key to victory...

The goal is to find among those 4 million non-voters new Kerry supporters and get them to register by Oct. 4 and then vote on Nov. 2. In this goal, the Philadelphia region is crucial.

While the rest of the state tilts heavily Republican, Philadelphia has a rich vein of Democratic votes, which has not always been mined. It's because of Philadelphia voters that Clinton and Gore have won the state in the past.

I can't think of too many times I've been prouder to be a Philadelphian. Now if only they would just put Bill Conlin out to pasture...

Monday, June 14, 2004

The Last Word on Reagan; New Words from Bob Mould
Well, Ronald Reagan is in the ground, and I'm content to leave him there for now: the final verdict on his place in history is way, way off, and we have a couple other political issues to hash out this year. But I do want to point out one aspect of Reagan's legacy that has not yet been explored, with big props to the New Republic for correcting this oversight: the punk rock inspired by Reagan and his administration:

If Reagan embodied everything sunny and inspiring about the United States to his supporters, to the preternaturally angry punk rockers of the early '80s, he represented anomie, arbitrary authority, and an ignorance that was socially acceptable, even valued. At the dawn of the Reagan era, pioneering singer and guitarist Bob Mould was a student at St. Paul's Macalaster College. "I remember watching these kids getting up in the morning on my dorm floor, putting on a suit and tie and a briefcase, talking about this guy from California named Ronald Reagan and how he was going to be the next president," Mould told journalist Michael Azerrad. "And I'd be sitting there arguing with those fucks in speech class and poli sci and just hating that, thinking 'This is not acceptable behavior. This is not what we're supposed to be doing with our late teens.'"

Speaking of Mould, the legendary guitarist and songwriter has a blog.

And I find myself with mixed feelings about it. This guy was one of the great heroes of my youth, and Husker Du remains my all-time favorite band. The first real show I ever saw was Husker Du at Temple University when I was 13; we got there hours early and ran into Bob Mould and Grant Hart in the stairwell and were too awestruck to speak. About four years later my friend Rob and I waited outside a 21-and-up Mould solo show on South Street in Philadelphia, following him into a deli at one point to ask if he could get us in (he was very nice but couldn't help; eventually the doorman took a $10 from each of us and we caught most of the set). All through college I caught Bob solo and with his post-Huskers band Sugar, and a lot of those memories are inextricably bound up with great and terrible times. His later solo output wasn't so much my cup of tea, but I still went to see him perform about two years ago at the waterfront by the East River, with my girlfriend; she loved his songs too.

So here's this guy who was just short of a god to me, and here's his blog filled with minutiae about going to the gym, meeting friends for coffee, and what have you. He's a fine writer and a very interesting guy, but it's almost too much; sometimes you don't want your heroes brought down to human size. I remember reading an interview years ago with Michael Stipe, back before R.E.M. became a multinational band, where he told an adoring fan, "Hey, I shit too." Sometimes you don't wanna know.

Sunday, June 13, 2004


Former big-league pitcher Joaquin Andujar was really onto something with this profound comment about the game of baseball. Paul Abbott, condemned on this page and elsewhere as a Who-Dat scrubeenie not good enough to stick with the bottom-feeding Devil Rays, tossed five scoreless innings today and kept the Phils close enough to steal one late from the Twins and take two of three in Minnesota with a 2-1 win. Billy Wagner officially announced his return from the DL, stranding the tying run at second by striking out the Twins first baseman, Doug Minky (I'm not trying that last name), and finally the tough Matt LeCroy after an epic 13-pitch at-bat. Doesn't seem like the pitchers win too many of those... generally I think the more foul balls a hitter generates within a long at-bat, the more likely it is that he'll eventually connect. But Wagner, as we've seen, is not your normal pitcher.

As for the Twins, my favorite AL team, it was almost like all the Phils' bugaboos migrated into the other dugout to beset them: a great pitching performance by Brad Radke wasted (evidently not for the first time this season... I have this image of Rad and Randy Wolf sitting at the bar somewhere in Dinkytown, throwing back shots and complaining about never getting run support), scads of guys left on base (I think they stranded 11 on the day), bedevilment by a pitcher with less than sterling credentials (though they did smack Abbott around just two weeks ago, in his final appearance with Tampa Bay). Torii Hunter did rob Jim Thome of a three-run homer that would have likely iced the game and given Big Jim his 400th for his career, though Thome is probably just as happy to get the chance to reach the milestone in front of the home fans at CBP.

On the whole, I'll take the 3-2 swing through the exotic venues of Comiskey and the HumphreyDome. Phils come home trailing the Marlins by just 1.5 games, with Wolf and Padilla hopefully due to return to action within a week or so.
Interleague Play and the Prime Directive

There's been a fair amount of concern, justified in my opinion, that a disparity in interleague matchups could wind up being determinative as far as who makes the playoffs. For example, the Mets get the Yankees six times while the Marlins face the Devil Rays as their "rival." More relevant for my concerns, the Marlins get the Indians while the Phils have this now-concluding series against the Twins as their non-common opponents... and those games where they face the Devil Dogs, we have three against the Orioles and three against the Red Sox.

But so far this doesn't look like it's been a problem. Put aside the weird tendency of the NL East teams to march in near-lockstep--for the last two weeks or so, it's seemed like the Phils and Marlins win or lose in tandem almost every single day--it also looks like we're all pretty much treading water in these series. The Phils thus far are 2-2 in interleague; I think the Marlins are 2-3, as are the Braves. I don't think this has had much impact in the Twins-White Sox race either. It's almost enough to make me think MLB has secretly implemented a Prime Directive of non-intervention in the other league's races... which, really, would be both more fair and more interesting.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Spinning the Spin (or, What's Wrong With This Picture?)

Adam Nagourney has an interesting article in today's New York Times about the small but crucial percentage of the electorate that remains undecided between Bush and Kerry. Here's Ken Mehlman--whom you can always count on to "deliver" a big steaming pile of crap--on how he sees the dynamic:

And Mr. Mehlman argued that Mr. Kerry's wavering supporters were much more likely to drop away once they got to know Mr. Kerry and his record, or at least got to know him the way Mr. Bush is trying to portray him.

"The common theme among undecided voters is that they are not typically motivated," Mr. Mehlman said.

"We're talking about winning the war on terror and making the economy stronger. Our base voters care about that, and the swing voters care about. He's talking about why Bush is bad. His appeal is to his base, but undecided voters are motivated by different ideas and different issues."

Okay. Except that, as the Washington Post detailed in a May 31 story, the Bush campaign has been the most negative by an incumbent in American history:

Scholars and political strategists say the ferocious Bush assault on Kerry this spring has been extraordinary, both for the volume of attacks and for the liberties the president and his campaign have taken with the facts. Though stretching the truth is hardly new in a political campaign, they say the volume of negative charges is unprecedented -- both in speeches and in advertising.

Three-quarters of the ads aired by Bush's campaign have been attacks on Kerry. Bush so far has aired 49,050 negative ads in the top 100 markets, or 75 percent of his advertising. Kerry has run 13,336 negative ads -- or 27 percent of his total. The figures were compiled by The Washington Post using data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group of the top 100 U.S. markets. Both campaigns said the figures are accurate.

The assault on Kerry is multi-tiered: It involves television ads, news releases, Web sites and e-mail, and statements by Bush spokesmen and surrogates -- all coordinated to drive home the message that Kerry has equivocated and "flip-flopped" on Iraq, support for the military, taxes, education and other matters.

"There is more attack now on the Bush side against Kerry than you've historically had in the general-election period against either candidate," said University of Pennsylvania professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an authority on political communication. "This is a very high level of attack, particularly for an incumbent."

Bush-Cheney '04: Don't Let the Facts Distract You!
Meet the Twins

Here's a preview of the Phils' competition this weekend from devoted Twins blogger Batgirl:

Dear Dave,

The Twins have had a strange year. We were freakish in April, carrying the best record in the AL for a long time. Our pitching was unsteady, but we hit like crazy—we were averaging nine runs a game for awhile.

Well, when you're a small market team, you have to pay for that kind of month, and pay we did. We were 11-16 in May, and—oh it pains me to say this—2-5 against the freakin' Devil Rays. That's right, I said the Devil Rays. Oh, and the Chicago Bitch Sox pretty much walked all over us in a four game series at home, causing much distress among Twins fans, and bumping us out of first.

The bright spots of the month—and believe me, there were few—were the reemergence of Brad "Rad" Radke as a force to be reckoned with, and the performance of our new closer, Joe Nathan. You may remember that Nathan was a set-up man for the Giants; we got him in the A.J. Pierzynski trade and when we lost Everyday Eddie, he become our closer. Not that there were many save situations for us in May, but when he did come in, it was pretty much lights out.

Of course, most of our team spent time on the DL in May, and only now are we returning to health (physical and mental). I think the slump might be over—thanks to the Miracle Mets. Our hitting still isn't where it should be—everyone who's supposed to be hitting .300 is at .250. Doug Mientkiewicz couldn't hit a whiffle ball right now, and Jacque Jones is only now remembering how that whole bat-on-ball thing works. Watch for a couple of rookies; outfielder Lew Ford started the season in Triple AAA then was called up when Torii Hunter pulled his hammy the first week of the season and has never looked back. He's been on the leaderboard in average and OBP and is playing left now while Shannon Stewart recovers from a foot problem. Also, he's kind of adorable, and has become kind of a folk hero in these parts. (You know how Midwesterners like their folkheroes). Then there's catcher Joe Mauer, who's barely 21. He tore his meniscus the second game of the season, and is just finding his swing again. But it is a very, very, very nice swing.

If my calculations are correct (and they rarely are), former Phil Carlos Silva will open the series. You should have seen him in April; he was just awesome, and we began to call him "Carlos the Jackal." Well, now he's doing a Jackal-and-Hyde thing; but we've had three great starts in a row from our pitching staff and we can't help but hope it brings out the Jekyll in him.

[NOTE: Silva will not get the call in tonight's series opener. The Phils will face onetime stud prospect-turned-journeyman Seth Greisinger, whom I met years ago when he was pitching for the U.S. Olympic team. Nice guy. Hopefully he'll serve up a delicious meatball platter this evening.--DJF]

Anyway, like I said, we're just recovering from a terrible slump, and we really need to win this series. Do you mind?


Thursday, June 10, 2004

Quite Possibly the Best "Onion" Ever

First, there's this:

And then there's this: Suicide Letter Filled With Simpsons References

Not to mention this: Kerry Names 1969 Version of Himself as Running Mate

And finally... ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Jim Anchower.

Not to mention a bunch of vicious and funny shorts re: Reagan.

Oh, yes: killer Simpsons and The Prisoner allusions, Cruise Captain Jim, and good political laffs. It's all enough to make even a Bitterman smile. Or at least grimace.
Republican Survivor

Mean-spirited? Yes. Infantile? Check. Fun? Alas, it is.

Go forth, friends, and play "Republican Survivor."

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Who Are These Guys?

Breaking news is that the Phils have placed P Amaury Telemaco on the disabled list (the dreaded "arm tightness"), recalled journeyman P Brian Powell from AAA or activated him off the DL--I honestly can't keep track anymore, but I assume there's a volume discount for all routes running between Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Philly--and claimed uber-journeyman P Paul Abbott... who had been cut by the Devil Rays.

Ugh. These two jokers apparently will be starting Saturday and Sunday. It's as if some vengeful baseball god heard all the bitching about Padilla and Millwood and decided to Teach Us a Lesson...
Bad Moons Rising?

A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine (from whom we'll probably be hearing more when the Phillies head to Minnesota this weekend) wrote that she was "done" with the war and all things Iraq. At the time, I told her that we didn't have that option, that these times required commitment and that we should even feel happy about living in a crucial period of American history.

But the truth is, I've been feeling pretty fatigued myself. During Watergate, the meme was that it wasn't the crime, it was the coverup. Regarding Abu Ghraib, it hasn't been the crime, or the coverup, but the collective national yawn in response to allegations that we have become everything we claim to despise that left me despairing.

That said, here's the government memo in which torture is more or less embraced as American policy in Iraq. Try to get mad. More to the point, try to get even.

Meanwhile, Kos reports that the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is going to bring suit on behalf of the Guantanamo detainees against the contractor firms that did the actual torturing. Again, don't expect much sympathy for the "evildoers" who were on the receiving end of the pain and humiliation. But under the RICO law, who knows what might come out in the trial.

And then there's this. I have no idea what it means, as my financial literacy never got past the junior high level. But the analysis holds that there's a "high" likelihood of market decline, and a "very high" chance of "substantial decline" in the next 12 weeks. And a statement like this one tends to jump out at you:

Let me just say from the outset that the Federal Reserve has confirmed our Stock Market Crash forecast by raising the Money Supply (M-3) by crisis proportions, up another 46.8 billion this past week. What awful calamity do they see? Something is up. This is unprecedented, unheard-of pre-catastrophe M-3 expansion. M-3 is up an amount that we've never seen before without a crisis - $155 billion over the past 4 weeks, a $2.0 trillion annualized pace, a 22.2 percent annualized rate of growth!!! There must be a crisis of historic proportions coming, and the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States is making sure that there is enough liquidity in place to protect our nation's fragile financial system. The amazing thing is, the Fed's actions mean they know what is about to happen. They are aware of a terrible, horrific imminent event. What could it be?

One can draw no other conclusion except that the Fed is acting irresponsibly in its managing the money supply, in fulfilling its duty to "maintain a stable currency." I reject the notion that the Fed is acting irresponsibly. No, something is up, bigger than we have ever seen in the history of the United States. Let me ramble. Perhaps they simply see the ominous technical landscape we have been warning about in recent issues, and are attempting to pull out all the stops to avert the predicted crash. The recent rally in just about everything is similar to 2003's market behavior when the Fed pumped massive amounts of liquidity into the system during the first half of the year. This time seems different. The amount of liquidity is too large. The Fed is deflating the value of the monetary base by a fifth! Why are they willing to do this? Wisdom says something bad is up--big time.

Mr. Bitterman

Phillies score 11 runs and still lose by a field goal.

The Tampa Bay ^=@*&# Lightning claim the Stanley Cup.

Two basketball teams I despise--the Lakers and the Larry Brown-coached Pistons--square off for the NBA title.

Still can't watch TV because of all the Reagan treacle. (Though at least there are decent correctives here, here and here.)

Report from the sideline: Everything sucks.

Monday, June 07, 2004

The Revolution Will Be Digitized
Program note: I have added a new permanent link on this page, to Groov-on, and strongly encourage all and sundry to give it a salutary check-out.

At the least, it's probably safe to say that the creator of this site is the diabolical mixmaster par excellence within New York's Department of City Planning.
All Reagan, All the Time

I'm avoiding the TV this week. Just seeing the CNN coverage on mute at the gym was more than enough... though the few minutes of Reagan's speech at the 1992 "Culture War" Republican convention in Houston on C-SPAN last night was pretty interesting. I felt like I've seen Reagan's face caricatured and cartooned so many times that it was almost difficult for me to process seeing the real thing.

Anyway, the best assessment of the man's life and legacy I've yet seen is this piece by William Rivers Pitt. A taste:

Reagan was able, by virtue of his towering talents in this arena, to sell to the American people a flood of poisonous policies. He made Americans feel good about acting against their own best interests. He sold the American people a lemon, and they drive it to this day as if it was a Cadillac. It isn't the lies that kill us, but the myths, and Ronald Reagan was the greatest myth-maker we are ever likely to see.

It's a devastating piece of rhetoric: Pitt starts with a well-deserved salute to Reagan's farewell from public life, the 1994 letter in which he revealed he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Then he adds a personal note about a relative who similarly saw her life eroded by that disease. Then he unloads with a critique far more effective for the kind words he preceded it with.

(Another Reagan song worth giving a listen: "If Reagan Played Disco," by the late, great Minutemen.)

Meanwhile, with the campaign suspended for the week and the Phillies too phrustrating for me to really say anything coherent or useful about them, not sure what will show up on the blog this week. This might temporarily turn into Dave's Movie Moot-a-thon, as I've seen more films than Phillies wins over the last couple weeks (admittedly, that's not saying much).

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Ronald W. Reagan, 1911-2004

So it has finally come to pass. And the inevitable orgy of fulsome, posthumous praise has begun. Hey, if they did it for Nixon, you knew it was coming for this guy. Watching Fox News this afternoon brought to mind how Pravda must have initially played it when Stalin finally died. And at this very moment, whoever does the scheduling for the Republican Convention is feverishly revising things. (Then again, they're pretty well-organized; somebody must have guessed this might be coming.) Over/under on how many times the conventioneers will be asked to "win one more for the Gipper": six. Ladies and gents, place your bets.

Everyone knows about the endgame of the Cold War; most know about the deficits and the scandals. I'm thinking about something else: if there's any cosmic justice, the afterlife will afford Reagan an opportunity to interact with at least a few of the thousands of innocents killed in his proxy wars in Central America and elsewhere. Those on the right are fond of telling us that ideas have consequences. One consequence of Reagan's "ideas" was an almost unimaginable river of blood.

Songs of the Day: "The President," Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians (from the Element of Light LP, 1986);
"Sweethearts," Camper van Beethoven (from Key Lime Pie, 1989... " 'cos in the mind of Ronald Reagan/wheels they turn and gears they grind/buildings collapse in slow motion/and trains collide/everything is fine")

Suggested readings: "Sleepwalking Through History," Haynes Johnson; "Way Out There in the Blue," Frances FitzGerald.

Update: I'd be remiss if I didn't also recommend this incredible article that appeared in the Washington Monthly in February 2003, penned by Josh Green. It details another largely overlooked aspect of the Reagan legacy: great liberal achievements of his presidency.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Flights of Angels

Thirty-six years ago tonight, Robert F. Kennedy was fatally shot in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He had just won the California Democratic primary and seemed to be on his way to the party's nomination for president which his brother had won en route to the White House eight years earlier.

It takes time to really gauge and appreciate where different political leaders rest in the eyes of history. When I was 19 or so, I became obsessed with RFK and his last campaign. Two years later I wrote a senior honors thesis about it in college; around the same time, I started making notes for a novel called "Meditations on the Death of Robert F. Kennedy," which I still hope and plan to get back to at some point. (I decided to write another one first.)

Bobby Kennedy's words obviously still have the power to inspire us, and his story--particularly the political and personal growth he showed in the four and a half years between his brother's assassination and his own--remains incredibly compelling. The story might seem especially relevant today, with the United States as polarized and divided over a foreign war as we were when RFK made his run. But if we're really to consider the parallels to 1968, it's useful to consider how he might have seemed at the time.

After the Democrats took big losses in the 1966 Congressional elections, many on the left started thinking about how to mount a meaningful primary challenge to President Lyndon Johnson in hopes of either defeating him or forcing changes in policy. Kennedy, who had never liked Johnson and hadn't even wanted him to run on the ticket with John Kennedy in 1960, was the obvious first choice. But throughout 1967, he rebuffed every plea. He didn't want to divide the party... and his advisors, some of the smartest people in the business, had told him that he was a lock to win it all in 1972. In the fall of that year, Sen. Gene McCarthy of Minnesota entered the race, running primarily on a platform of opposition to the Vietnam War. McCarthy was in some ways the Howard Dean of his time--much more personally understated than Dean, but a similarly innovative campaigner whose eccentricities charmed a cadre of incredibly devoted volunteers, especially the young, and who turned the conventional wisdom on its head by nearly beating LBJ in the March 1968 New Hampshire primary.

About two weeks later, Bobby Kennedy entered the race. The McCarthy kids--whom Kennedy himself considered to be the best and brightest--generally condemned him as an interloper and an opportunist. He was riding Gene's wave, and working the traditional channels of power--trying to cut backroom deals with people like Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago and Democratic Party honcho Jesse Unruh of California. McCarthy, they said, was the real man of principle in the race. He beat RFK in Oregon and very nearly caught him in California.

Then Kennedy was killed, and all the fight seemed to go out of McCarthy as Hubert Humphrey moved to secure the nomination without winning a single primary. All these threads of political and social conflict culminated in the Democrats' self-destruction at their national convention in Chicago, and suddenly it became clear that RFK had been the last man who could have brought the country back together. Ethnic whites of the type later known as "Reagan Democrats" seemed to love him as much as African-American voters who would cram the streets just to touch his car. McCarthy was a crank (and later proved himself to be far more of an opportunist than RFK had appeared, running for president again and again, endorsing Reagan in 1980 and generally making a joke of himself); Robert Kennedy was a martyr. Even right-wingers try to claim his legacy today, as a crime-fighter and an idealist.

Just a reminder that the seemingly evident "truths" around us are subject to extreme revision in hindsight. But the comparison is useful in its larger point: we need Bobby Kennedy's courage, idealism and generosity of spirit today as much or more than we did thirty-six years ago. Rest in peace.
Fallow(s) Season
Let's face it: the presidential campaign is drifting into "blah" mode. Every poll out there indicates that the race has stabilized--the Rasmussen daily tracking poll seems to show a 45-45 tie more days than not--and whatever news comes out, from the relatively encouraging job growth numbers to reports of how badly overstretched the military really is, to unsubstantiated reports of bad candidate behavior, just seems to reinforce people's pre-existing notions about the two Yalies running for the highest office.

So I found this James Fallows piece in the Atlantic especially interesting. Fallows looks beyond this silly season to the fall presidential debates--and concludes that both Bush and Kerry can credibly claim to never have lost one of these things. Their styles and strengths are so different, he claims, that the matchup should present an intriguingly "assymetrical" contest:

The contrast in speaking styles is complete on nearly every axis, and it illustrates the larger contrasts of character and background that these men bring to this race. Bush is best when prepared and worst when surprised; Kerry is best when forced to react and worst when given too much time. Bush is best when insisting on his two or three main points, Kerry when recognizing the nuances of any particular issue. Two different concepts of leadership, in addition to two political views, are at stake in the campaign—and the clash of personalities will be more interesting than the differences over policy in the debates.

Interestingly, Mark Crispin Miller was on Air America's "Majority Report" last night, right after I read the Fallows piece, and he spoke about Bush's 1998 debate against Democratic gubernatorial "challenger"/sacrificial lamb Garry Mauro. While Fallows claims that Bush was at his most coherent and effective, debate-wise, against sharp-tongued Ann Richards in 1994, and came across four years later as somewhere between the well-spoken candidate of his first run and the sadly inarticulate caricature we often see now, Miller--who stands second to nobody in Bush-bashing--reported that the Bush of 1998 was perfectly articulate and quite effective against Mauro.

At any rate, here's hoping someone from the Kerry campaign reads the piece and that they don't "misunderestimate" this guy, as all his previous Democratic opponents seem to have done.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Satire Lives!
Matthew Yglesias at The American Prospect online has finally figured out why Bush pursues such destructive policies at home and abroad: he's an Iranian agent!

Suddenly it all makes sense, no?

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Machiavelli Was a Wuss
Like me, you've probably heard the name "Leo Strauss" brought up in relation to the guiding political philosophy of the Dick Cheney wing of the Bush administration. Strauss was a German Jewish philosopher who emigrated to the United States shortly before World War II and taught at the University of Chicago, where his pupils included Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz among others who later became prominent in neoconservative circles. But what was Strauss actually about?

This article has the goods--and it is some scary stuff indeed. Take a dollop of Marx (religion is "a pious fraud"), a helping of Franco (but it's a great way to keep the people loyal), a dab of Mussolini ("...governance can only be established, however, when men are united – and they can only be united against other people"), a handful of Goebbels ("perpetual deception" is necessary to retain power) and a bit of Trotsky (perpetual war is a state greatly to be desired), and you've basically got it.

Here we run again into the frustration of the thinking individual: no rational voter would want to empower individuals with such a baleful philosophy, but just as surely, most Americans don't know Leo Strauss from Levi Straus. What's really scary is that George W. Bush probably doesn't, either.