Thursday, September 30, 2004

Bush/Christ '04
As this election season meanders toward a conclusion I'm increasingly worried will resemble that of the Phillies' season, a few truths seem to be suggesting themselves. One of the most profound and upsetting is that "we"--urban, secular, liberal Americans--really don't know or understand our own countrymen. A friend of mine recently wrote in an e-mail, "The fact that there is anyone who will vote for Bush is mindblowing"; it's a sentiment I've repeated to myself, and heard in conversation, probably more times than I could count.

I understand that this sort of insular mindset, taken to its logical conclusion, leads to sad sentiments like those of the late Pauline Kael after the 1972 election, when the critic reacted with bewilderment and disbelief to news of Nixon's landslide victory, saying "I don't know a single person who voted for Nixon."

Frank Rich has an article in this coming Sunday's New York Times that leaves me feeling much the same way. It's a review, of sorts, of a straight-to-DVD documentary titled "George W. Bush: Faith in the White House":

Though you can buy the DVD for $14.95, its makers told the right-wing news service that they plan to distribute 300,000 copies to America's churches. And no wonder. This movie aspires to be "The Passion of the Bush," and it succeeds.

More than any other campaign artifact, it clarifies the hard-knuckles rationale of the president's vote-for-me-or-face-Armageddon re-election message. It transforms the president that the Democrats deride as a "fortunate son" of privilege into a prodigal son with the "moral clarity of an old-fashioned biblical prophet." Its Bush is not merely a sincere man of faith but God's essential and irreplaceable warrior on Earth. The stations of his cross are burnished into cinematic fable: the misspent youth, the hard drinking (a thirst that came from "a throat full of Texas dust"), the fateful 40th-birthday hangover in Colorado Springs, the walk on the beach with Billy Graham. A towheaded child actor bathed in the golden light of an off-camera halo re-enacts the young George comforting his mom after the death of his sister; it's a parable anticipating the future president's miraculous ability to comfort us all after 9/11. An older Bush impersonator is seen rebuffing a sexual come-on from a fellow Bush-Quayle campaign worker hovering by a Xerox machine in 1988; it's an effort to imbue our born-again savior with retroactive chastity. As for the actual president, he is shown with a flag for a backdrop in a split-screen tableau with Jesus. The message isn't subtle: they were separated at birth.

"Faith in the White House" purports to be the product of "independent research," uncoordinated with the Bush-Cheney campaign. But many of its talking heads are official or unofficial administration associates or sycophants. They include the evangelical leader and presidential confidant Ted Haggard (who is also one of Mel Gibson's most fervent P.R. men) and Deal Hudson, an adviser to the Bush-Cheney campaign until August, when he resigned following The National Catholic Reporter's investigation of accusations that he sexually harassed an 18-year-old Fordham student in the 1990's. As for the documentary's "research," a film positioning itself as a scrupulously factual "alternative" to "Fahrenheit 9/11" should not inflate Mr. Bush's early business "success" with Arbusto Energy (an outright bust for most of its investors) or the number of children he's had vaccinated in Iraq ("more than 22 million," the movie claims, in a country whose total population is 25 million).

"Will George W. Bush be allowed to finish the battle against the forces of evil that threaten our very existence?" Such is the portentous question posed at the film's conclusion by its narrator, the religious broadcaster Janet Parshall, beloved by some for her ecumenical generosity in inviting Jews for Jesus onto her radio show during the High Holidays. Anyone who stands in the way of Mr. Bush completing his godly battle, of course, is a heretic. Facts on the ground in Iraq don't matter. Rational arguments mustered in presidential debates don't matter. Logic of any kind is a nonstarter. The president - who after 9/11 called the war on terrorism a "crusade," until protests forced the White House to backpedal - is divine.

I'm trying to put aside the stunning disconnections to reality--as well as the film's evident editorial shrug at trifles such as the record deficit, increasing poverty (a subject apparently addressed in the boring sections of the Bible) and record income disparities, growing lack of health insurance, record levels of personal debt, the increasing squeeze on the middle class, lying to Congress and the public as a matter of policy, ad nauseum--and focus on what's really scary here: the apparent truth that for millions of our fellow citizens, Bush's record and personal life story are both insignificant because he has cloaked himself in the raiments of Christian iconography.

The analogies of Bush to Hitler and neocon America to Nazi Germany have always struck me as overstated (and not just because, as Huey Freeman of "The Boondocks" once noted, Hitler really won the election that brought him to power). But the more I see of the vision these people seem to have for the country--no limits to corporate power, the elevation of militarism as the manifestation of national greatness, and above all the invocation of divine approval of the temporal rulers to stifle, or at least render irrelevant, public criticism--the more I'm reminded of Franco's Spain.

We're a long way from that today: our Constitution endures, and two hundred-plus years of tradition favoring personal freedoms and secular governance can't just be knocked aside. But we have a ruling clique that relentlessly pushes against the institutional structure safeguarding our liberties as well as the governmental forms designed to ensure some level of economic equity. Given enough time and force to push with, they'll knock it all over. That's what is at stake this year.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Thomas Jefferson, Meet Ed McMahon
Matt Miller is one of my favorite policy writers out there--a social liberal, fiscal moderate-to-conservative and "process fetishist" who's concerned, in terms of government policy, with the sausage-making as well as the finished product. Admirably, he tries to look at public problems through both the liberal and conservative frames to come up with more broadly acceptable solutions than those proposed by ideologues on either side.

He is an unapologetic Kerry supporter (or rather, Bush opponent), and he's kicked it up a notch in his weekly columns of late, providing solid (if unheeded) campaign advice to Kerry and trying to think through the Iraq muddle--a thankless task if ever there was one. Miller's latest column, however, applies a "Modest Proposal" mindset to an issue that has troubled goo-goos for years now: why voter turnout in the U.S. is so embarrassingly low compared to the rest of the major democracies:

If you think low voter turnout is killing American democracy, listen to our local rabbi's wife.

No kidding. Didi Carr Reuben's idea (which I may reprise every presidential season until Americans rise as one to demand its enactment) is simple and sure to work: Turn the election into a lottery. The stub that's proof you voted would be your ticket. Prizes could range from $10 million for the winner to $1 million for dozens of runners-up.

Does anyone doubt this would lift turnout from a pathetic 50 percent in presidential years (and one-third in non-presidential years) toward 100 percent? Say goodbye to old arguments over whether nonvoters feel powerless or pleased. It's all moot when everybody has to vote to win!

Imagine the excitement this Nov. 2 if this scheme were in place. Firms would make sure workers had time to vote. Families would coax all their cousins to the polls. As night fell, we'd huddle 'round the tube to see who would take office - and to learn who had really won! A rapt nation would hold its breath, marinating in the twin dramas of participatory democracy and randomly redistributed wealth.

I e-mailed this column around to a bunch of friends earlier today, and the first two responses I got back actually made excellent points. Frequent AIS commentor Batgirl (whose secret identity is safe here) notes that current non-voters aren't likely to put much thought into their choices, if they're pulling the lever (or pushing the screen, or punching the chad, or what have you) just for a shot at the big payout. True enough, but as this funny yet profoundly depressing story reveals, that doesn't really differentiate them from most other folks: an Annenberg study finds that on tax policy, prescription drug reimportation, privatizing Social Security and other issues of, I'd say, much more importance than windsurfing vs. brush clearing, most voters don't know who favors what.

The response to this, and I guess to Batgirl's point, is that in both cases people would probably turn to their friends, to media cues (uh-oh...), and maybe to that old fading standby of party identification to help cast their votes. The world shows us every day that the uninformed nevertheless can have strong opinions.

The second response was that a lottery would create new incentives to "vote early and vote often." It's true that adding a financial inducement would create all kinds of new incentives toward fraud and cheating (not to mention necessitate the creation of a new election bureaucracy, and if you want to get technical there's probably a Constitutional issue in there too). But then again, it's not like we're starting from a Platonic ideal of pristine elections: one could argue that anything prompting government to more closely monitor elections and guarantee their integrity is welcome on its face. Right?

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Bushonomics at Work
I suspect it will vanish with nary a ripple in the wider media world, but this Detroit News article from today reads like a devastating indictment of Bush economic policies--and opens up a new potential line of attack for the Democrats. As a workforce development researcher, this is a piece I've been waiting awhile to see anywhere:

Tax Cut Impact: Job training cuts shut some poor out of work

Some key points:
Michigan has lost 241,000 more jobs than it created since the country went into recession in March 2001 -- the worst job deficit of any state in the nation.
This year, it also lost $6.2 million in federal funding for centers that train and provide assistance to the unemployed. Among those affected by this cut are the state's poorest, many of whom lack the training and skills to compete in the workplace.

But cuts in job training programs within the Employment and Training Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor are not unique to Michigan.
Federal job training budgets have dropped $597 million during the Bush administration, making it more difficult for those living in poverty to find work and get off government assistance.
The funding cuts were made as Congress and the administration pushed through more than $600 billion in tax cuts that went primarily to those making more than $288,800. The money cut from job training is less than 1 percent of the tax breaks received this year by those earning an average of more than $1 million, according to an analysis of the Bush tax cuts by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, using data from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
To offset the loss of the tax revenue, the administration has amassed record federal deficits and trimmed social spending.
The job training programs are among those that have been cut, frozen or scaled back during the Bush administration. America's working poor have seen any benefits they received from the tax cuts eclipsed by the loss in services.[emphasis mine]

For example, the poor find it more difficult to obtain government help with affordable housing, child care or energy assistance. They are also more likely to experience hunger, homelessness and chronic need.
The decline in job training funds frustrates Sharon Parry, who operates a one-stop jobs center in Canton, Ohio.

"If I spend a dollar training somebody, I'm going to get $3 back from it," she said. That's because the programs reduce dependency on long-term government assistance and can make taxpayers out of the new workers, she said.

There's so much rich material in here for Kerry and other progressives to seize upon, I almost don't know where to start. You have the solid return-on-investment for focused job training, squandered in favor of a "de-distributive" transfer of wealth from public spending on training (which also helps the economy: a majority of employers surveyed consistently complain that even in slack job markets, they can't find sufficiently skilled workers) to tax cuts for millionaires; and the usual upraised middle finger in the face of American workers just trying to get jobs and take care of their families--the self-reliant dream upon which the Republican philosophy is supposedly based.

It's tough to frame the tax cut issue in a way that favors Democrats, but this could be how to do it. There's not much appeal to sentimentality here (a big no-no, they keep telling me, in trying to "sell" anti-poverty stories, and I tend to agree), just a level-headed argument that certain choices do much more for the common good than others--and the Bush administration and Republican absolutists in Congress are not making these choices.

A final point: job training has proven appeal to voters. The Workforce Alliance has done extensive polling in swing states and has actually found that even a large number of Republicans feel that helping unemployed and under-employed workers improve their earning power is a better use of public funds than tax cuts!

But I'm probably just naive in wishing for a campaign to be fought along lines like these, rather than 30 year-old memos, the definition of the Cambodian border and whose "body language" was better at the Potemkin debates.
Bo Knows No Accountability
After the Pirates pounded the last nail in the Phillies' 2004 coffin with a 6-1 win behind the probably-great pitcher Oliver Perez, Larry Bowa indulged in the most blatant act of dissembling cover-your-assery seen this side of Scott McClellan:

"[Kevin] Millwood's missed 34 games, [Randy] Wolf 47, [Vicente] Padilla 66, [Ryan] Madson 34, [Billy] Wagner 65, [Pat] Burrell 28, Polanco 28...I mean, what are you gonna do?" Bowa said. "And we're six [games] over .500? If somebody had told me this, I would have said, 'Man, you have got to be crazy.' "

I'm sure Braves manager Bobby Cox--who lost Marcus Giles, Chipper Jones and Paul Byrd for long stretches and Horacio Ramirez for most of the year, after seeing a virtual all-star team depart during the offseason--is crying his eyes out as he sips the annual division-clinching champagne. While the Braves dealt with injuries by slotting in serviceable fill-ins like Nick Green, Charles Thomas and the usual assortment of who-dat pitchers, the Phils ran human white flag Paul Abbott out there... and Bowa complained about the inadequate quality of his replacements.

Watching him get fired, hopefully as soon as next week, will be a rare moment of grim satisfaction in this rotten baseball year.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Meanwhile, in the Real World...
I went down to Philadelphia this weekend for the Yom Kippur holiday, my first time home in three or four months. Between fasting, sleeping (which greatly facilitated the fasting), and trading jokes with relatives, I had the chance to talk a little politics outside the circle of liberal-minded folks I speak with in my everyday life in New York, and the dedicated observers I so enjoy dialoguing (monologuing? the comment button is just a click away) with here in the big nowhere. Interesting stuff.

My dad was a Republican for most of his life but has thankfully figured some things out; I think he drifted away from the Dems around when JFK was killed, and came back sometime during Clinton's second term when he concluded that peace and prosperity were, on the whole, things to be desired. My uncle remains a Republican, but is far from an ideologue or absolutist; he voted for Clinton the first time, and supported Ed Rendell for governor in PA a couple years back. He's probably best described as a fiscal conservative with more or less libertarian tendencies (phrases I'd happily hear applied to myself). He gets most of his news from NPR. So it was interesting to hear them share their impressions of the campaign thus far.

My uncle is likely but not quite certain to vote for Bush. He admits without prompting that he disagrees with the president on a bunch of issues, including the irresponsible spending and the execution--though not the basic concept or justification--of the war in Iraq. If we'd gone in with half a million men and just occupied the place, then held elections as quickly as feasible, we might have achieved our objectives; he believes the administration was actually too concerned with not coming off as overbearing, and this more than the neocon utopianism I believe to be at fault was the reason the U.S. didn't go in with sufficient force to really secure the country.

Despite these fairly substantial differences with the Republicans--and his ready admission that what he dislikes most about that party is their seemingly complete unwillingness or inability to admit mistakes--he probably will pull the lever for Bush. The main reason why seems to be his confusion about what, if anything, Kerry stands for and what he would do in power. He thought the Democratic convention was utterly without substance and did nothing to define the candidate (reminding me, though I didn't tell him at the time, that for awhile I thought Kerry should just change his name to "Not-Bush"); in general, he argues, the Democrats seem to seek the ill-defined middle on every issue, and are counting on the country to reject Bush rather than affirmatively choose Kerry, if you get my drift. I'm afraid he's absolutely right in this strategic analysis... though, as discussed ad nauseum on this site, the press doesn't help with its mostly substance-free coverage of the campaign.

My dad is pretty certain to vote for Kerry, but he also doesn't really get what the Democrat is trying to sell; he's more like me, I think, in that he just wants Bush out and figures that, at worst, Kerry will take us toward hell at a slower pace. He kept talking about how the Democrats have mismanaged the campaign (a theme of my uncle's as well; he singled out Mary Beth Cahill for particular scorn) and should just be pushing a message of comprehensive change: on Iraq, on the anti-terror effort, on the economy. Clear differences with Bush are the key. I also asked him how most of his friends--largely Jewish middle-aged professionals like himself--are likely to vote; he thinks most will support Kerry, but also believes that Bush's absolutist pro-Israel line might win some of his friends over. (I wonder if Kerry, who seems about as pro-Israel as Bush is, will make a point of this in Thursday's debate; this is one issue where he doesn't really gain by politically differentiating himself from the president, except perhaps with the Arab vote in Michigan which seems poised to swing toward him in a big way.)

Interestingly, we saw a Kerry ad during the Eagles game, which I watched with him before coming back to the City. The ad flashed headlines about the NIE, the worsening violence in Iraq, and general predictions of things getting worse while Bush silently speaks in the corner. Then it cuts to Kerry, speaking outside, smiling broadly, and outlines his (very insubstantial, I'll admit) plan for Iraq. But it worked for my dad: "That's it! That's what they need to do."

I will say that in the suburb where my mom lives, which was a strongly Republican community when I was growing up in the '80s, Kerry/Edwards signs seemed to outnumber Bush/Cheney signs about four to one. Those Philadelphia suburbs will be crucial to the state, and hence the election, so I was a bit heartened by this admittedly super-unscientific data point. Even so, these two (also pretty unscientific) conversations convinced me that Kerry both still has an opportunity, and still has a very long way to go to win folks over. Thursday's debate will be hugely important.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Quality Time, on the Mound
With the pressure entirely off and elimination just a day or two away, the Phillies played another fine series--in Florida, of all places, finishing off a three-game sweep with last night's 9-8 win in 10 innings. The game featured home runs from Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, giving me further hope that years from now, when we look back on this bitterly disappointing 2004 season, we'll at least be able to say that this was the year our superb middle-infield combo came together. J-Roll and C-Ut are both just 25.

Vicente Padilla was hit around last night, but the first two wins in Miami featured strong starts by Cory Lidle and Eric Milton, both weeks from free agency. Unfortunately, as Rich Hofmann pointed out in a Philadelphia Daily News column yesterday, this has been the exception rather than the rule this season:

Sixty-seven quality starts in 150 games is abominable for a team with aspirations. I mean, the Braves have 91 quality starts, and that's what the Phillies are chasing, and they aren't in the same time zone right now.

Which brings us to the Eric Milton question. Specifically, whether to re-sign Milton (and his 18 quality starts, counting last night's) after this season.

...when you look at the guys who are presumably coming back next season, Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla and Brett Myers each have 10 quality starts this year. Let's be generous and say they all revert back to their 2003 form (54 combined quality starts), which is a very, very dubious presumption. But let's go with it.

Even then, the Phils need about 35 more quality starts if they are serious about dethroning the Braves and winning the NL East. Let's say Gavin Floyd has a really nice rookie season and gives you a dozen. You still need 20-something more - and that's if everything else goes perfectly.

Given that, you're going to let [Eric] Milton walk away?

If you do, it had better be for something pretty special.

Because we're not talking about run support here, or hitting with runners in scoring position, or the manager, or perceived tension in the clubhouse. We're talking about good, solid, professional innings thrown by your starting staff, night after night, regardless of the score or the circumstances. This should be the Phillies' clear, No. 1 concern in the offseason, because it is the clear, No. 1 reason they flopped this year.

I'm more optimistic than Hofmann about Wolf, Padilla and Myers getting back to what they did in 2003, or even improving upon it: they're all young, all talented, and at least in the cases of Wolf and Padilla should be back to full health next year. As to Milton, I just can't believe he'll be worth what the market will bear for "the best lefty starter available"; his 14-4 record is largely a function of run support, and his fly-ball proclivities are really ill-suited for Citizens' Bank Park. Add in his injury history--I think he's playing on a bionic knee--and the risk is unacceptably high. Finally, 18 quality starts is nice... but really it's about what Wolf, Padilla and Myers each did last year. Is that worth the $8-11 million per that Milton will cost?

I'd rather see the Phils pocket that money and go after a devalued asset like Matt Clement, who has pitched with little run support and through injuries this season but sure looks to me like an ace in the becoming. Failing that, they could keep loading the bullpen, look to add another big bat at CF or third base, and fill out the rotation around Wolf, Padilla and Myers with some combination of Ryan Madson, Gavin Floyd, and the aforementioned Lidle... who himself has 14 quality starts this season, if his ESPN game log is to be believed. At maybe a third of Milton's likely price, that sounds pretty okay from a fifth starter.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

See How They Run
What a difference a couple news cycles makes: between Kerry's newly aggressive approach on Iraq and various seedlings of bad news for the Republicans (did Roger Stone plant the CBS memos? Can Dan Bartlett answer a simple question?), the whole storyline of the race seems to have turned in the last 48 hours, and a new Economist poll has Kerry back in the lead--albeit by a single, statistically insignificant point--and the NBC/WSJ poll to be released this evening is expected to find something similar. Other recent polling from ARG and Zogby among others seem to give Kerry a slight Electoral College lead.

Was it really this easy? Did Kerry just have to grow a pair and force the debate back onto the issues and Bush's indefensible record, rather than he said/he said about the early 1970s? Who knows. But next Thursday's debate on foreign policy--as stilted and silly as the format might be--should be the next real milestone. If Kerry looks and sounds sufficiently presidential, and Bush lapses into either peevishness or incoherence, he could come close to sealing the deal. On the other hand, if Bush stays sharp and focused (and he's more than capable of that) and Kerry meanders and vacilates (ditto), then he'll undo whatever progress he's made.

Beyond the horse race, though, there are new depressing signs of how the parties and candidates continue to "game" the democratic process:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Millions of U.S. citizens, including a disproportionate number of black voters, will be blocked from voting in the Nov. 2 presidential election because of legal barriers, faulty procedures or dirty tricks, according to civil rights and legal experts.

The largest category of those legally disenfranchised consists of almost 5 million former felons who have served prison sentences and been deprived of the right to vote under laws that have roots in the post-Civil War 19th century and were aimed at preventing black Americans from voting.

But millions of other votes in the 2000 presidential election were lost due to clerical and administrative errors while civil rights organizations have cataloged numerous tactics aimed at suppressing black voter turnout. Polls consistently find that black Americans overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.

"There are individuals and officials who are actively trying to stop people from voting who they think will vote against their party and that nearly always means stopping black people from voting Democratic," said Mary Frances Berry, head of the U.S. Commission on Human Rights...
In a mayoral election in Philadelphia last year, people pretending to be plainclothes police officers stood outside some polling stations asking people to identify themselves. There have also been reports of mysterious people videotaping people waiting in line to vote in black neighborhoods.

Minority voters may be deterred from voting simply by election officials demanding to see drivers' licenses before handing them a ballot, according to Spencer Overton, who teaches law at George Washington University. The federal government does not require people to produce a photo identification unless they are first-time voters who registered by mail.

"African Americans are four to five times less likely than whites to have a photo ID," Overton said at a recent briefing on minority disenfranchisement.

Courtenay Strickland of the Americans Civil Liberties Union testified to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights last week that at a primary election in Florida last month, many people were wrongly turned away when they could not produce identification.

I was reading a article about this last night and was a little suspicious: the piece seemed a lot of smoke but not much fire. This second one makes me wonder, however. Is there a way to address legitimate concerns about vote fraud while making sure the power of government isn't used to suppress voting? The question could be much more than theoretical in six weeks' time.

Monday, September 20, 2004

The "Talented Asshole" Theory
I confess to a certain level of moralizing in my sports-fandom. I want my favorite teams to be comprised of men of strong will and generous nature, fierce on the field but humble everywhere else, pillars of their communities who live righteously and do honor both to their professions and the city they represent. For instance, it bothered me to hear, a few years ago, that the 1993 Phillies were less a bunch of throwbacks who "played the game right" than a collection of mean-spirited whoremongers and goons (aside from Mickey Morandini, gentleman and family man, or so went the story). For the most part, the Philadelphia teams of the last 20 years have lived up to this standard.

Enter Terrell Owens, already a candidate for deification after just one game in Eagles green with his three touchdown receptions last week. This guy is, to put it mildly, an asshole. There might be no "I" in "Terrell", but after publicly attacking his former coordinator and quarterback in San Francisco, any letters in common with "team" are probably strictly coincidence. True, he hasn't broken the law, gotten into fights with fans or otherwise transgressed off the field--unless you count his disgusting homophobic comments directed at that same ex-teammate, quarterback Jeff Garcia--but between the lines, and on the sidelines, he's about as charming as herpes. Whether he'll break out the Sharpie or pom-poms again evidently remains to be seen, but his sideline strutting and endzone mugging left a bad enough taste in my mouth.

Maybe this is a good sign. The generally admirable Philadelphia teams of the last twenty-plus years haven't exactly piled up championship trophies.

And just maybe, talented assholes like Owens can help in the collection of such things. I got to thinking about all the teams I've really hated over the years, the smirking villains who've knocked out the Eagles and their city brethren, and it seems like as many of those rivals as not had an Owens analogue among their ranks. Whether it was the 1990s Dallas Cowboys of felons Michael Irvin and Leon Lett, the New Jersey Devils of Claude Lemieux, or the New York Mets teams led by Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Gary Carter, the guys with the black hats and twirly mustaches have beaten up on feckless Philadelphia teams, crushing dreams and breaking hearts, for a long time now.

With Owens leading the way, I'm ready to accept a trip to the dark side for a parade down Broad Street. And I gotta admit... it was pretty cool when he spiked the ball on the Dallas Cowboys star after scoring at Texas Stadium a few years back. Sometimes you have to fight asshole with asshole.
Turning the Boat Around?
Another beautiful day in New York City--and some interesting rumblings in the presidential race. John Kerry gave what sounds like a pretty kick-ass speech at NYU earlier today, directly taking on Bush's Iraq disaster a day after Republican Senators Lugar, McCain and Hagel did the same on the Sunday morning talk shows. Judging from the reaction of the folks at Daily Kos, the left blogosphere is beside itself: finally it feels like someone is speaking some truth.

At the same time, CBS has conceded that it shouldn't have run those memos about Bush's National Guard tenure--even though the content of the memos apparently remains unchallenged. It will be very interesting to see which of these stories--pertaining to this war, or the last one--gets more press play tonight and tomorrow morning.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

A Case of the Sunday Night Heavies
So I come back from a great weekend down the Jersey shore of drinking, cardplaying, advanced insultery and other unhealthy activities with a detachment of the full Squadron of Idiots, and find the world in more or less the same state of sad bemusement I left it in on Friday, with the Phillies three games closer to being put out of their misery and John Kerry evidently having squandered two more days in his effort to get a plurality or majority of voters to dislike him a little less.

I'm not a huge Kerry fan myself, but when he became the clear nominee I contented myself by thinking, at least this guy's a mean sonuvabitch who won't let himself get pushed around, unfairly defined or otherwise Gored. That's turned out to be half-true, mostly because he made the critical mistake of hiring a number of the same geniuses who "strategized" for Gore four years ago. (Why every national Democrat doesn't get court orders keeping Bob Shrum back 500 feet at all times is completely beyond me. Do they chalk up those seven presidential campaigns and seven losses to "beginner's luck"?) Whether they have noodles for spines or mush for brains doesn't matter; the result is that they blunted Kerry's instinct to fight back when the Swift Boat liars smeared him in August, and now evidently he has chosen to throw the deep ball and go after Bush on the stunning mismanagement of the Iraq war. That's fine, except that I don't think Kerry has a real alternative to offer, which kind of renders the criticism a little less effective. (Personally, I'm becoming more convinced that the least-bad solution would be to push a federated Iraq in which at least we could work toward stable, sorta-democratic mini-states in the Kurd and Shi'a regions, but I can't imagine Kerry would publicly embrace such a controversial approach.)

What has proven true is that the guy is a stiff; people just don't like him. I can't help but think that if Edwards or perhaps even Bill Richardson were the nominee, the focus would be on Bush's atrocious record and the Democrat would be up by 15 points.

A couple good articles this evening that probably better articulate this: James Wolcott, whose new blog is almost like everything I wish this one were (well, except that I don't think he's a big baseball fan). Check out his little note on the passing of Johnny Ramone last week, as well. Then there's the inimitable Frank Rich, who like Wolcott seems to have alchemized a near-perfect synthesis of culture and politics in his writing. This one--on the accelerating demise of CNN and the likely triumph of the Fox model of cable news--is really not to be missed.

At least we've got an Iggles game tomorrow night to hopefully enjoy, and the meeting of two exceptionally skilled yet rather unpleasant wide receivers in Philly's Terrell Owens and the Vikings' Randy Moss. What better time to bust out my Theory of the Talented Asshole, which came to me in a burst of inspiration during last week's win over the Giants.

Friday, September 17, 2004

About four and a half years ago, while I was still in graduate school myself, I became hugely tickled with the idea that young George W. Bush had attended Harvard Business School in the mid-1970s. I had a hope that Tom Tomorrow or Ruben Bolling or one of those lefty cartoonists capable of wit and subtlety--that rules out Ted Rall--would seize upon this target-rich area and produce a series of strips showing young Bush's misadventures along the banks of the Charles. In my imaginings, it would be a sort of funhouse "Revenge of the Nerds," with Bush the mean-spirited slacker king leading other former frat dudes and various drunks and misfits in a series of prankish attacks on the smarty-pants, uptight, geeky, and otherwise mockable in the nosebleed zone of academe.

I mention this now because one of Bush's grad school professors has come forward with his recollections from Dubya's Harvard years, and they aren't pretty:
"I don't remember all the students in detail unless I'm prompted by something," Tsurumi said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "But I always remember two types of students. One is the very excellent student, the type as a professor you feel honored to be working with. Someone with strong social values, compassion and intellect -- the very rare person you never forget. And then you remember students like George Bush, those who are totally the opposite."
"[Bush] showed pathological lying habits and was in denial when challenged on his prejudices and biases. He would even deny saying something he just said 30 seconds ago. He was famous for that. Students jumped on him; I challenged him." When asked to explain a particular comment, said Tsurumi, Bush would respond, "Oh, I never said that."
"He denounced labor unions, the Securities and Exchange Commission, Medicare, Social Security, you name it. He denounced the civil rights movement as socialism. To him, socialism and communism were the same thing. And when challenged to explain his prejudice, he could not defend his argument, either ideologically, polemically or academically."

Students who challenged and embarrassed Bush in class would then become the subject of a whispering campaign by him, Tsurumi said. "In class, he couldn't challenge them. But after class, he sometimes came up to me in the hallway and started bad-mouthing those students who had challenged him. He would complain that someone was drinking too much. It was innuendo and lies. So that's how I knew, behind his smile and his smirk, that he was a very insecure, cunning and vengeful guy."

...Bush sometimes came late to class and often sat in the back row of the theater-like classroom, wearing a bomber jacket from the Texas Air National Guard and spitting chewing tobacco into a cup.

"At first, I wondered, 'Who is this George Bush?' It's a very common name and I didn't know his background. And he was such a bad student that I asked him once how he got in. He said, 'My dad has good friends.'" Bush scored in the lowest 10 percent of the class.
"I used to chat up a number of students when we were walking back to class," Tsurumi said. "Here was Bush, wearing a Texas Guard bomber jacket, and the draft was the No. 1 topic in those days. And I said, 'George, what did you do with the draft?' He said, 'Well, I got into the Texas Air National Guard.' And I said, 'Lucky you. I understand there is a long waiting list for it. How'd you get in?' When he told me, he didn't seem ashamed or embarrassed. He thought he was entitled to all kinds of privileges and special deals. He was not the only one trying to twist all their connections to avoid Vietnam. But then, he was fanatically for the war."

Tsurumi told Bush that someone who avoided a draft while supporting a war in which others were dying was a hypocrite. "He realized he was caught, showed his famous smirk and huffed off."

Tsurumi's conclusion: Bush is not as dumb as his detractors allege. "He was just badly brought up, with no discipline, and no compassion," he said.

Yeah, that's about what I imagined. A little rich prick, mean and shallow, not stupid but profoundly uncurious and unwilling to examine his own preconceived notions.

People change over 30 years, of course. I doubt Bush would be as transparently contemptuous of those he disagrees with now--at least in public--and I'm sure he's gotten better about watching his statements and maintaining some (just some) logical consistency in argument. But mostly he now seems less honest--witness the recent statements about pulling no strings to get into the Guard--and, of course, more sanctimonious, having been "saved" and all.

More and more, I think Kerry needs to think about ways to draw out these unattractive aspects of Bush's personality in the debates.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

It Tolls for Thee, Ed Wade
I was recently alerted to two websites expressly dedicated to the great work of dislodging Phillies General Manager Ed Wade--a/k/a Dead Weight--from the spot in which he's so signally failed my favorite baseball team: and WadeMustGo. The first site has the classic graphic intro page, but is a little weak on the analysis; the second, developed by John Skilton of fame, has a better rundown of this man's reign of error (not to mention LOB, HR allowed, and veteran relievers fetishized).

Still, there's a gap--and I plan to fill it, as soon as this big project at work gets finished. Wade's track record is bad, but it's hardly an unmixed list of disastrously bad moves. He got Robert Person for Paul Spoljaric back in 1999, and... well, okay. I can't think of many other really good moves, aside from ones in which he took on major salary. But to be fair, even some of the bad moves--like the Andy Ashby trade during the 1999-2000 offseason--made sense at the time.

Like most GMs, Wade can "win" a deal on talent when he adds salary in the trade: even with his various injuries, the Phils were helped this season by the BIlly Wagner deal more than Houston was. (Of course, the Astros ditched salary to add Clemens, and I'm sure they're banking on pitching prospects Taylor Buchholz and Zeke Astacio to justify the move in future years.) You could probably say the same about the Eric Milton for Nick Punto/Carlos Silva trade, except that the Twins probably don't have as high hopes for the three guys they got in that deal.

But the bottom line is this: If you're going to slam Wade, you have to take aim at a philosophy that's yielded repeated failures, but which he's evidently unwilling to re-examine: overvaluing veteran relievers, putting way too much stock in "character guys" from Rex Hudler to Doug Glanville, disdaining the acquisition of prospects as throw-ins, totally failing to know when to pull the trigger, inability to manage the 40-man and the Rule V...

As I said, the day of reckoning is coming. Look for it here!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Why the Discourse Favors the Dumb
I couldn't bring myself to read it, but one of the great dark comedic headlines I've seen in awhile was this wire service story: Bush Calls Kerry Health Care Plan Bureaucratic Nightmare

Now, I think the current system is a "bureaucratic nightmare" (and I'm insured). My biggest argument for the single-payer approach is that at least it would standardize the paperwork. But with five million more uninsured since Bush took office and the costs of coverage arguably acting as a constraint upon new hiring, we've got bigger problems than filling out pain-in-the-ass forms.

Here's the Center for American Progress on the Bush charges:

On the campaign trail yesterday, President Bush and Vice President Cheney seized on what they called an "independent study" that found Kerry's health care plan would cost $1.5 trillion over 10 years – about three times the cost of previous estimates. The study was conducted by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative organization that employs Cheney's wife, Lynne, and Cheney's daughter, Liz. White House aides "were crowing about the study in conversations with reporters before it appeared on the conservative group's Web site."

BUSH GROSSLY DISTORTS KERRY PLAN: Bush described John Kerry's health plan as "a government takeover of healthcare." It is unclear exactly what Bush is talking about. Kerry proposes: making it easier for employers to offer health insurance and reducing premiums by setting up a pool for catastrophic costs, providing incentives for administrative efficiency and expanding existing government programs to cover children and the poor.

So Kerry comes up with a smart, thoughtful, very moderate plan to expand coverage based on existing programs. Bush calls it a bureaucratic nightmare (which I guess makes his plan to set up tax-sheltered health savings accounts--which will help the already-insured to ease their tax burdens, but basically won't do squat to cover anyone without--a bureaucratic wet dream). Guess which "story" the press picks up on?

This is why we have yet to see a national election really contested on "the issues"; the media isn't selling that, and few outside the sound of Bill Moyers' voice are demanding to buy it.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

More Moral Clarity from Bush Inc.: Some Terrorists are OK
Sometimes it seems like this presidency is the result of an ill-starred karmic affair between Orwell and the Keystone Kops. While continuing to demagogue the "War on Terror" and keep public attention away from his atrocious record in office, the pResident's men welcome politically correct killers of innocents to woo a key swing constituency in Florida:

WASHINGTON — A little-noticed but chilling scene at Opa-locka Airport outside Miami last month demonstrates that the Bush administration's commitment to fighting international terrorism can be overtaken by presidential politics — even if that means admitting known terrorists onto U.S. soil.

That's what happened when outgoing Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso inexplicably pardoned four Cuban exiles convicted of "endangering public safety" for their role in an assassination plot against Fidel Castro during a 2000 international summit in Panama.

After their release, three of the four immediately flew via private jet to Miami, where they were greeted with a cheering fiesta organized by the hard-line anti-Castro community. Federal officials briefly interviewed the pardoned men — all holders of U.S. passports — and then let them go their way.

The fourth man, Luis Posada Carriles, was the most notorious member of this anti-Castro cell. He is an escapee from a prison in Venezuela, where he was incarcerated for blowing up an Air Cubana passenger plane in 1976, killing 73. He also admitted plotting six hotel bombings in Havana that killed one tourist and injured 11 others in 1997. Posada has gone into hiding in Honduras while seeking a Central American country that will harbor him, prompting Honduran President Ricardo Maduro to demand an explanation from the Bush administration on how a renowned terrorist could enter his country using a false U.S. passport...

But Florida is crucial to Bush's reelection strategy. Currying favor with anti-Castro constituents in Miami appears to trump the president's anti-terrorism principles. So far, not a single White House, State Department or Homeland Security official has expressed outrage at Panama's decision to put terrorists back on the world's streets. The FBI appears to have no plans to lead a search for Posada so he can be returned to Venezuela, where he is a wanted fugitive. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which has rounded up and expelled hundreds of foreigners on the mere suspicion of a terrorist link, has indicated no intention to detain and deport Novo, Jimenez and Remon.

So there you have it. A guy who killed 73 Cuban plane passengers--just everyday folks, not military or known loyalists--is slyly winked at, if not presented as a hero. A guy who attempts to do the same to Americans, of course, is an "evildoer." In other words, it's not terror and the murder of innocents we really find intolerable, just attacks against us. What unimaginable hypocrisy.

In case you're wondering why Bush would need to offer special pleading to the Cuban community, who are reliably Repubican voters most years, here's your answer:

In June, the White House seemed to have maxed out on pandering to hard-line Cuban exiles when it virtually eliminated family visits and remittances to Cuba as part of a new initiative to undermine Castro's rule. But that policy has upset anti-Castro moderates in both parties because it criminalizes efforts to build family ties across the Straits of Florida, something a family-values president should support. In response, Bush's decision to accept the repatriation of the Cuban exile terrorists seems calculated to shore up support in the Cuban American community.

These people are rotten and hollow at their core. I'm sure conservatives would say the same about Democrats, but at the moment they're not making a sick joke of our national ideals. These guys use despicable means to accomplish ends that sound desireable in theory--from lower taxes to taking out a ruthless dictator--but, up close, turn out to be something else (increasing concentration of wealth, economic inequality and poverty; installing a different, more pliable autocratic thug in the dictator's place).
I Want to Believe
A couple months ago, I lucked into attending the best baseball game of the season: that classic Red Sox-Yankees game at the Stadium in which the Sox got two home runs from Manny Ramirez, great pitching from Pedro and Keith Foulke, and a heroic extra-inning rally after several near-miss Yankee scoring opportunities, only to lose in extras when Derek Jeter face-planted in the field boxes down the left-field line and the last guys on the New York bench--Miguel Cairo, Enrique Wilson, John Flaherty--strung together big hits with two outs in the 12th to pull out the win.

Yesterday, I could have gone to what turned out to be the second-best game of the year, the Phils' thrilling 11-9 win over the New York Mets at Shea, but decided I didn't want to sit through another Steve Trachsel marathon start. So I missed Ryan Howard's first big-league home run, David Bell's career day, Billy Wagner's toxic freakout (though I actually think Dana Demuth saved the Phils by ejecting Wagner before he could finish the implosion), four hits from David "Baby Rolen" Wright, and, after 13 innings, the Phils finally reaching five straight wins, to stay 4.5 back in their longest-of-longshots wildcard pursuit.

But this is probably a valedictory, rather than a rallying point. Right now at least, they aren't getting anything close to the level of starting pitching needed to sustain the .800 or so ball they'll need to play to really make it interesting. In fact, the bullpen has picked up the victories in all five games, which I imagine is pretty rare for streaks of such duration. The Phils have just one quality start during the run, and the short outings from the starters have put a tremendous strain on the 'pen even with the expanded rosters. Consider the starters' performances:

9/8, game one: Padilla, 6 IP, 2 ER (Madson wins)
9/8, game two: Floyd, 4 IP, 1 ER (Jones wins)
9/9, Lidle, 5 IP, 4 ER (Madson wins)
9/10, Myers, 4 IP, 5 ER (Jones wins)
9/11, Milton, 5 IP, 6 ER (Hernandez wins)

The 28-inning scoreless streak was pretty impressive, especially considering that Geoff "White Flag" Geary and Roberto "Roblowto" Hernandez were involved; even yesterday, when Closer 1 and Closer 1A both gave up runs to end it, the 'pen overall performed very well with 8 IP and 3 runs allowed.

But that won't continue, nor will the heroic offensive output: 29 runs in the last three games, with Jason Michaels and David Bell turning in arguably the best single-game performances of their careers. Unless the starters suddenly step it up--starting today with Vicente Padilla on three days' rest--the Phils just can't sustain this fun run of good play.

On the other hand, if Jim Thome suddenly gets super-hot... well, as I said, I want to believe.
Bizarro World
With less than two months remaining and polls still showing a Bush lead, I have to admit that I'm getting thoroughly disgusted with this election.

We're looking at a basic failure of democracy here, the great triumph of smart campaign strategy over, well, reality itself.

Try to imagine if Al Gore had taken office and he had:

--racked up the biggest deficits in history

--seen poverty and the number of health care uninsured rise dramatically on his watch

--become the first president to preside over a net loss of jobs for the first time since Herbert Hoover more than 70 years ago

--gone into Iraq on the premise of WMD only to find NONE... and then mismanaged the occupation such that 1,000 Americans were KIA and most experts agreed that "victory" was a near-impossibility

--lied to Congress to pass a budget-busting and ineffective entitlement expansion, the Medicare prescription drug bill

--failed to protect the U.S. on 9/11, then failed to capture Osama bin Laden... and then tried to exploit the tragedy, and his failure, every day for the next three years?

He would be 40 points down in the polls, and the media would be (correctly) remorseless in attacking his dishonesty and ineptitude.

And I promise you that all the Bush apologists, who minimize the problems and praise the man's "godliness" and "character", would be howling for his blood.

Instead, there's a good chance that we're about to reward the worst presidential performance in American history with a second term in office, in which to dig the national hole even deeper. And yet the Kerry campaign, which is looking more and more like its Massachusetts predecessor from 1988, seems unable to redirect and sustain the focus on Bush's abysmal record. The press, meanwhile, happily regurgitates releases from both sides on Vietnam-era service and other silly "gotcha" items that do nothing to address the great national problems.

Keep all this in mind the next time you hear some chucklehead regurgitate the "liberal media" line.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

The Migrating Middle
Something that always surprises me is seeing modern right-wingers express admiration for Democratic stalwarts of the past like John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman or even Hubert Humphrey. Typically, they'll offer praise for these past public figures accompanied by a lament that "the Democrats don't have leaders of that caliber anymore" or something along those lines.

What I've never understood about this is that on the issues, all three of those guys were clearly more "liberal" than contemporary Democrats like Clinton, Gore or Kerry. While Truman and JFK pushed universal health coverage, very high marginal rates of taxation and a generally activist public sector, their successors offer incremental solutions (if any) to the growing healthcare crisis, try to portray themselves as tax cutters, and trip over themselves to praise the private sector while seeming almost apologetic for any expansion of public authority.

So why do so many right-wingers at least rhetorically and retroactively embrace the liberal lions of old? I don't think it has to do so much with their positions, or even their personalities, as how the world has changed since they dominated the stage.

In some respects, JFK, Truman and Humphrey were all admirably progressive on social issues, particularly race questions. And all but the most reactionary conservatives of today concede the moral justice of the civil rights movement. But none of them ever had much to say about homosexual rights, feminism, abortion, or any of the other hot-button social issues that play such a large role in our politics today. (It's also worth noting that all three of those past Dems were active during the time of the great post-war foreign policy consensus, when partisan differences meant little.) Without those issues on the table, Democrats arguably had it a lot easier. While the country probably has moved somewhat to the right on economics--the tax rates of the 1960s will never be seen again--we have also moved to the left on those social issues, with pluralities now saying that they can accept the notion of civil unions if not gay marriages.

This is a puzzle with a lot of moving pieces, one of which is the changing constituency of the Democratic Party. With the outmigration of southern and working-class whites and the surge in urban professionals, minorities and single women into the Democratic ranks, the issues most important to the rank and file changed. Add in the role of big-money donors, which blunted the Democrats' traditional economic populism, and the party faces an uphill climb in explaining their "elitist" social positions and stressing the increasingly small differences on pocketbook issues between themselves and the Republicans.

All this helps explain the basic forfeiture of "heartland" voters Thomas Frank describes in What's the Matter With Kansas?, but it also makes me wonder if there isn't room in our politics for a more economically liberal, socially moderate to conservative political force. Hard to imagine how such an entity would arise, however.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Lookit These Yahoo!s
Two from the web-wire:
Kerry Tells Bush to 'Get Real' on Assault Weapons

This is a fairly good piece and I find it encouraging that Kerry is willing to take the fight to Bush on a question that will not play well with swing voters. But I guess Nedra Pickler isn't the only wire-service reporter prone to a little editorializing:

Kerry, a New England blueblood who served 20 years in the Senate after two decorated tours in the Vietnam War, has tried to appeal to the more conservative voters in important battleground states by presenting himself as a lifelong outdoorsman.

Pardon my "Che-neyse," but what the fuck does this woman think Bush is? The guy is related to the Queen of England, whose blood, I understand, is as blue as Redd Foxx's old standup act.

Here's the other story: Edwards Criticizes Cheney on Issues

"Dick Cheney said at the Republican convention with a straight face that they've made health care more affordable and more accessible for the American people," Edwards said during his first trip to New Hampshire since the Jan. 27 primary. "I don't know what America or American people he's talking about, but it hasn't happened in New Hampshire where health insurance premiums are up more than $4,000."

Edwards pointed to a new report that said employer-sponsored family health care premiums grew 11.2 percent for the year ending last spring.

"Your paycheck's going down and your health insurance premiums are going up" he said. Edwards, who is trying to help Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (news - web sites) win the presidency, said of President Bush (news - web sites), "Why in the world would you rehire this guy to be your president? They don't have any kind of plan that's going to solve this health care problem."

That's Edwards doing what he does best. It's becoming clear to me that the Democrats have to fight Bush to a draw on the foreign policy/security stuff--which they can do just by trumpeting the myriad failures of administration policy here--and then just hammer the pocketbook issues.

And push turnout. Lots and lots of Democratic turnout. The election is still a jump ball.
A Tale of Two Bullpens

In taking three of four from the Braves this week at Turner Field, the Phils relievers threw 16 scoreless innings--including eight in Wednesday's double-header sweep and four more in last night's 9-4 win. Perhaps most impressive is that Billy Wagner threw just one of those 12.

But while the game was still in some doubt in the 8th inning, the TBS announcers noted that the Phils have lost 11 games this year in which they led during the 6th inning or later. They're currently "just" 5.5 games back for the wild-card lead, which means that if they had only held on in half those lost games, they would control their own destiny. Todd "Homophobe" Jones, FiFi Rodriguez, Blowberto Horrendez, I'm looking in your collective direction. As well as at the trainer's office, where Wagner and Ryan Madson spent all too much time, and above all at the GM's suite.

Still, it's nice--even if probably meaningless--to finally see them play some good ball: they've won six of their last seven. The fear of course is that, just like the early-August west coast swing, this run of good play will serve to save Bowa's job and just perpetuate the underlying problems. I guess we'll see.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Phils Too Late; Cassandras Too Early
The Phils just completed their seventh straight series (counting the one-game makup loss against the White Sox from last Monday) to end in a sweep. Three up, four down, but because two of the lost series were one- and two-gamers respectively, the team is at 9-9 overall during the span. After getting great starts from someone new (Gavin Floyd), someone borrowed (Corey Lidle) and someone, well, not old but increasingly seasoned (Brett Myers), the team is at 68-68, back at breakeven.

The cavalry finally showed up this weekend: in addition to the promoted Floyd and slugging first baseman Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, Billy Wagner and Ryan Madson all came off the disabled list. Of course, this is kind of analogous to a couple mounted companies showing up at Little Big Horn two weeks after the massacre, but it's still nice to see these guys at least trying to earn their ridiculous contracts.

In other real-world news, the elephants have left New York, leaving behind the steaming pile of crap you'd expect from such a passing through. And while both Time and Newsweek quickly released polls showing Bush out to a double-digit lead, methodological problems in both and more reliable temperature-taking have left the two campaigns united in a belief that Bush is really more like four points up, not ten or eleven.

So the panic that most of my fellow anti-Republicans are feeling is probably overstated and at the least premature. The election is still manifestly too close to call, and I don't think many of the normal "rules" apply this year. The most historically reliable predictors of who will win--GDP growth, approval rating--are all exactly between the figures typically seen in an incumbent victory, and an incumbent defeat. And second-level polling questions like "Does Bush deserve re-election, or is it time for someone new?" continue to suggest that voters aren't thrilled with the president's job performance, but have not been "sold" on Kerry.

Kerry does have some catching up to do, mostly I'd say in the "showing balls" department. As of Friday, he's started to hit back a lot harder, and he just made a big TV advertising buy in the battleground states. Remember, after receiving the nomination both candidates are "limited" to the $75 million or so in public funds. Kerry, accepting his nomination a month earlier than did Bush, basically went dark in August so he could have financial parity for the post-Labor Day stretch run. Was this a good idea? Bad idea? It doesn't look good now, but most elections aren't won in August. (1988 was an exception, and this year does bear some resemblance to that one--but Bush has the albatross of his record, which his dad did not in '88.)

It's probably more important now to convince wavering voters in the middle of his resolve (and of Bush's failures) than to make a detailed policy argument (though that helps too, in terms of winning endorsements and, you'd hope, favorable media coverage.) As this fascinating if troubling recent New Yorker article explains, most voters don't really have a consistent political philosophy anyway, which is why polling constantly reveals "findings" such as large support for new federal benefit programs and wide agreement that taxes are too high--but perceptions of personality, empathy and character. Kerry IMO has a better story to tell here than Bush, but he hasn't yet told it well. His history suggests he gets better at this down the stretch of campaigns, but that's not really something on which Democrats should rest their main hopes. Also, Bush's endgame this year will be better than in 2000, when he screwed around in California over the last week or so and watched his margin evaporate--though it's worth noting that the Democrats should enjoy near financial parity at the end this time, so Kerry probably won't have to give up on uphill-but-winnable states the way Gore (stupidly) did in Ohio four years ago.

Add in the general trend of undecideds to break against the incumbent and it really is up for grabs right now. The debates might have a slight impact, but external events--particularly the economy and Iraq--and field operations will decide it. Both sides have invested millions, and are going all out to register new voters and make sure the reliables turn out on election day. It will be very, very close--I doubt the winner gets more than 51 percent or 320 EVs. So we have to keep pushing, all of us.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Long Way Down

Not much blogging this week--I've been slammed at work, the two most loyal readers I'm aware of are both on vacation (and every performer, after all, needs an audience), and honestly I've been pushed into despair by the Theoligarchy Convention currently befouling this city I live in.

I think it was California Treasurer Phil Angelides who described it as "the Potemkin Convention," and that sounds about right: moderates put on a show, while the "extra-chromosome crowd" continues to call the shots and resist anything like good utilitarian policy proposals. Which means that thoughtful pieces like what David Brooks wrote in this past Sunday's New York Times magazine, about how Republicans could embrace "progressive conservatism" (though you might agree it sure looks like a New Democrat agenda) is right on the line between tragedy and farce. I could say the same about John McCain, who bellows his support for the pampered rich boy who slimed him to the throngs while admitting his disgust at seeing those same tactics out the corner of his mouth.

What really upsets me, though, is the media, which in its total non-discriminating coverage of this travesty is in the process of failing us like never before. Case in point: last night I saw Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao on, I think NY1, our local news station which is doing a lot of convention coverage this week. Chao talked about Bush's robust support for job training, how he envisions the economy of tomorrow and has put federal dollars behind that vision, and so on. Now, I'm a public policy analyst, and workforce development is my field. So I happen to know that every year since the SCOTUS installed him, Bush has asked Congress to cut funding for job training by tens of millions (and usually, a few responsible Republicans in Congress, like Buck McKeon of California and the two Maine Senators, have stopped the cuts).

But the blow-dried anchor "questioning" Chao didn't raise this point--nor did he ask why, if job training is so important to the administration, they're closing DOL offices that oversee those grants in New York, Seattle and three other cities, and laying off hundreds of experienced administrators. If you're going to have a guest like that on, shouldn't you at least familiarize yourself with the issues rather than just provide a platform for them to spout whatever propaganda is on the talking points?

There was also this hard-to-believe factoid from The Carpetbagger. Priorities? We don't need no stinkin' priorities.

At least they're gone after tomorrow, though with Citizen Dick and the pResident still to speak, the worst is probably yet to come.