Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The Real McCondi

There is a growing chorus of those who believe or suspect that the entire fuss the White House has put up over Condi Rice's coming testimony was an exercise in Rope-A-Dope psychology.

But, in addition to enhancing the President's position by focusing public attention on terrorism and his hyper-competent National Security Advisor, there is another respect in which the Democrat-led kerfuffle over Ms. Rice is entirely counterproductive for them and, especially, John Kerry:

Ms. Rice is African-American, and this entire production must be drawing the attention of the African-American community to how central she, her thinking and her role have been to the Bush Administration.

The current assault on Bush administration terrorism policy has become ever more obviously an assault on Condi Rice, and, increasing, an obviously unfair assault on her by Democrats and their supporters (and the President's critics) in the media. That's got to be registering strongly with many African-American voters.

Indeed, it is testimony to what a truly extraordinary person Ms. Rice really is that the entire racial aspect of this affair seems to be passing without particualr notice in the media. But I don't think it will pass without notice in African-American voting.

It would be useful if some public pollster could try to measure the effect of her involvement, especially her coming testimony, on African-Americans. No Democrat can win without an large turnout of African Americans who overwhelming favor the Democrat. Is the Kerry campaign thinking that the turnout will be spurred by inviting African Americans to vote against Condi Rice, a genuine African-American icon? Who thinks this stuff up?

But, somehow, I'm guessing that the President's campaign people have already done their own private polling and focus groups.


An alert readers e-mails a warning in the form of a Jay Nordlinger anecdote from NRO:

A friend of mine from Arkansas writes the following: "Thought you'd appreciate this little anecdote. A co-worker of mine has a daughter in public elementary school, here in Pine Bluff. They're still doing Black History Month stuff, apparently, because the kids were told to come to class dressed as a famous (and presumably accomplished) African-American. My co-worker's kid was told to come as Tina Turner. My co-worker informed the teacher that her child would come as Condoleezza Rice instead. The teacher refused to allow it, on grounds that Rice 'is for white people.' Nice, huh?"

Disgusting — and, again, very American. Sadly so.

This really is an appalling story, and what it suggests is very possible. Consider Justice Thomas.

But this anecdote aside, I really haven't yet seen any serious signs that African-Americans don't identify with Condi - or that the Dems are even trying to drive a wedge here. By all appearances, Ms. Rice has an appealing personality (of course, I have a fondness for very smart, confident women). Any attempt to smear her personally (as opposed to her professional judgment) would, in my opinion, rapidly become very dangerous for the smearing party. In any event, even if my hopes and suspicions don't pan out, the ex-ante risk of adversely affecting African-American turnout and sentiment seems pretty large for the Dems.

And the same can be said for turnout and senitments of female voters of any race, at least to to the extent one believes in effects of identity politics.
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Setting The Record Straight!

At last, a complete listing of John Kerry's principled positions!
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Gender Gap Between The Lobes Of The Brain

Today the New York Times provides us with an unusually giddy report:

Sam Seder, a nighttime host on Air America Radio, the fledgling liberal talk-radio network, had a question about the clientele of his guest, who identified herself as a dominatrix. "More Republicans or more Democrats?" Mr. Seder asked. "Seventy-30," Lady Olivia said. Mr. Seder's broad grin suggested that that was precisely the answer he had hoped for. ... He soon inquired about the identities of those Republicans, displaying a particular interest in learning more about "Jon from Washington," who had written, "I enjoyed the corporal punishment more than I thought I would."

"Does his last name," Mr. Seder asked, "rhyme with Chriscroft?"

The exchange yielded no information about the attorney general of the United States. ... But it did provide some clues to how Air America, which makes its debut at noon today on five stations with Al Franken, the comedian and political satirist, at the microphone, intends to challenge the hegemony of conservatives on commercial talk radio.

"It needs to be entertaining, it needs to be compelling, it needs to be laugh-out-loud funny," said Jon Sinton, a veteran of radio who is a founder of Air America, a subsidiary of Progress Media. "It needs to foster water-cooler conversation. You need people to go to work and say, `Did you hear what Franken said yesterday?' "

"When people begin to say that," he added, "we will have arrived."

Whether this reported Interview With The Dominatrix is laugh-out-loud-funny, or funny at all, is for the listener to decide for herself (the Times reporter helpfully provides some explantion for the big joke). It seems one had to be there and be a certain kind of male in a certain substance-enhanced mood to get Mr. Seder's humor. Is Air America supposed to be the nation's second "Network for Men?"

But whether this is funny or not, one of the hi-priced Democratic political geniuses behind Air America might want to point out to Mr. Sinton that these days, as a result of laws favored especially by liberal activists just like them, people who go to work and make water-cooler conversation about a dominatrix and kinky sex can end up fired or disciplined or sued for creating a hostile work environment. I wonder if Mr. Sinton has a photo-calendar from Ms. Olivia's shop hanging in his office? The Times also describes Mr. Seder's broad grin ... [as] he shuffled through a sheaf of testimonials downloaded from Lady Olivia's Web site. Has either of Messrs. Seder or Sinton considered the likelihood that allowing access to such websites in the work environment itself constitutes creation of a "hostile work environment?"

One of those geniuses, Al Franken, says "My first priority is to get sued by a right-wing jerk in order to generate interest in my new show." But from the Times report it looks as though Mr. Franken's first lawsuit is likely to come from quite a different quarter.

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Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose XX: For Whom The Bellwether Tolls

California gets a lot of coverage as a "pathbreaking," trendsetting" or "bellwether" state, but it was plain old Pennsylvania that in 1991 elected Harris Wofford to the Senate over his seasoned Republican opponent, former Pennsylvania governor and former U.S. attorney general Richard Thornburgh, in a special election entirely dominated by one issue: affordable health care, thereby providing Bill Clinton with much of his edge in the 1992 presidential election. Indeed, in recent elections Pennsylvania has been much more of a "swing" or "battlefield" state than California has been. George W. Bush lost the state to Al Gore by only a handfull of votes in 2000.

Pennsylvania is a state that John Kerry almost certainly must carry this year. That should be a cinch for the Democrat: Pennsylvania is a Northeast state, close to John Kerry's Massachusetts, it has lost plenty of jobs in various waves of "outsourcing," and that same historical sensitivity to rising health care costs hasn't gone away.

So it really does matter that the Texan George W. Bush now leads Senator Kerry by 6% (46% to 40%) in the most recent Keystone Poll. Even worse for the Democrat: he is rapidly sinking (shedding 7% in a month) in what should be the easy state of Pennsylvania at exactly the time the President is supposedly having many "dreadful" days.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose XIX: Natural Fissioning Process Causes Candidate To Become Progressively Less Massive!

It's becoming one of the most studied questions of the still-young 2004 election season:

Is John Kerry committing political suicide or is he being politically done in by the President's ads?

We'll have to wait for November to see if this is a harbinger of what could become one of the most studied questions of the 2004 post-election post-mortem:

Exactly what kind of grease spot did John Kerry eventually become?

In any event, for the moment USA Today says it's the ads:

A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll shows a remarkable turnaround in 17 battleground states where polls and historic trends indicate the race will be close, and where the Bush campaign has aired TV ads. ... The ads have been one factor in wiping away an inflated lead Kerry held in those states. Most of them have had primaries or caucuses that allowed Democrats to dominate the news and Kerry to emerge as a victor. In a survey taken in mid-February, Kerry led Bush by 28 percentage points in those states, 63% to 35%. Now Bush leads Kerry in them by six points, 51% to 45%. In contrast, there has been much less volatility in states where the ads haven't aired. Kerry held a four-point lead in them in February; Bush holds a two-point lead now.

The Bush campaign also has begun defining Kerry before he has defined himself. In the states where the ads have run, Kerry's unfavorable rating has risen 16 points since mid-February. In the other states, it's up just five points. .... Some Democratic analysts say Kerry's decision to take a week of vacation, while hard to begrudge after a grueling primary campaign, meant that Bush's ads went largely unanswered. ....

The president's standing on handling terrorism has been dented by the testimony of former White House aide Richard Clarke and the scrutiny of the blue-ribbon commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks. That's important because the perception of Bush as a strong leader in the wake of Sept. 11 is his greatest political strength. ....

One more finding: TV ads are powerful. A majority echoed the Bush ads' themes about the Massachusetts senator: 57% say Kerry has changed positions for political reasons, and 58% say their federal taxes will go up if he's elected. And the percentage who say he's "too liberal" has jumped from 29% in February to 41% now.

I mostly don't agree with this analysis, at least if its main point is taken to be that if John Kerry had rebutted the Bush ads the results would have been a good deal different. The fact is that Senator Kerry's record is well to the left of what a substantial majority of American voters generally prefer. The Bush ads are important because they point that out, generally and with specifics. Kerry ads and favorable media coverage of Senator Kerry could dispute the claims of the Bush ads, but people do eventually make up their own minds. It's just wishful thinking on the left (and in USA Today) that the Bush ads could be ultimately refuted. There really aren't that many ways Senator Kerry can be "defined" - although the timing of that public definition can to some extent be affected by the Bush ads.

For example, consider the Bush ad that pointed out that Senator Kerry had voted against the special $87 Billion Iraq-Afghanistan appropriation. The Senator's hilarious response that he had voted for the appropriation before voting against it wasn't - as much of the main stream media insists - some slip of the tongue brought on by exhaustion. It was a deliberate expression of Senator Kerry's formal campaign strategy, which can be seen by noting that his campaign aides used exactly the same argument in Florida only days before the West Virginia disaster:

[R]eaching back eight years to one of the more significant efforts to toughen sanctions on the communist island, Kerry volunteered: "And I voted for the Helms-Burton legislation to be tough on companies that deal with him.'' .... There is only one problem: Kerry voted against it. ...

Kerry aides said the senator cast one of the 22 nays that day in 1996 because he disagreed with some of the final technical aspects. But, said spokesman David Wade, Kerry supported the legislation in its purer form -- and voted for it months earlier.

Did Senator Kerry take that ill-timed "ski vacation" that USA Today says allowed his poll ratings to collapse because he was "exhausted?" Probably not. He probably took that "vacation" because his formal, official campaign strategy to rebutting questions raised by his Senate votes by the Bush ads or anyone else was tried quite deliberately in Florida and then in West Virginia - and after causing some problems in Florida proved to be a complete national disaster in West Virginia. So a "vacation" was probably needed to come up with a new approach after the old "I voted for it and against it" approach cratered. Until a new approach was invented, Senator Kerry couldn't respond to the Bush ads - or to anyone else, such as those Cuban Americans, raising the same kind of questions.

But vacation time is over, and Senator Kerry is still not really responding to the Bush ads - in his own ads or otherwise. Perhaps the Senator's premature and foolhardy endorsement of Richard Clarke was a consequence of having nothing else to say. The Bush ad technology may accelerate the fissioning process whereby the Senator is becoming ever and progressively less massive through the internal decay of his political nucleus, but that decay is showing all the signs of being a spontaneous, natural, inevitable process.

The CNN take on the same CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll contains this bit of drollery:

Part of the reason for the shift is that a more equal number of Democrats and Republicans now say they are likely to vote this year. In earlier polls taken in the heat of the primary season, Democrats had expressed more enthusiasm about voting than Republicans, which buoyed Kerry's numbers among likely voters.

In other words, the Gallup organization couldn't figure out how to compensate for the fact that the Democratic primaries got all the attention while President Bush was running unopposed in crafting the Gallup definition of "likely voter." So "likely voter" for Gallup means the poll respondent says "yeah, I'm planning to vote?" What happened to all the other factors that might have adjusted for the problem: did you vote last time, how old are you, are you registered in a party, blah, blah, blah?

Even more humorous is the coy CNN phrasing: a more equal number of Democrats and Republicans now say they are likely to vote this year. That makes it sound as if the number of "likely" Republican voters went up, while the number of "likely" Democratic voters stayed the same. But the phrase Democrats had expressed more enthusiasm about voting than Republicans, which buoyed Kerry's numbers among likely voters strongly suggests that it's the number of Democratic likely voters going down that makes the difference. In which case, isn't it just as likely that Democrats are getting a good dose of the "buyer's remorse" for their candidate that many people have been expecting? Why is that possibility not explored? Wouldn't a decreasing Democratic enthusiasm for their candidate be the biggest part of this story?
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The Continuing Implosion Of Richard Clarke

From the New York Times:

A senior national security official who worked alongside Richard A. Clarke on Sept. 11, 2001, is disputing central elements of Mr. Clarke's account of events in the White House Situation Room that day, declaring that it "is a much better screenplay than reality was." The official, Franklin C. Miller, who acknowledges that he was often a bureaucratic rival of Mr. Clarke, said in an interview on Monday that almost none of the conversations that Mr. Clarke, who was the counterterrorism chief, recounts in the first chapter of his book, "Against All Enemies," match Mr. Miller's recollection of events. ... Mr. Miller and other White House officials said they were not accusing Mr. Clarke of fabricating events. Events were moving so quickly, they said, and memories have since blurred, that it is little surprise that accounts differ. But Mr. Miller, a senior aide to Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, suggested that Mr. Clarke's version, while it would "make a great movie," was more melodramatic than the events he recalled.

This is even before Condi gets a whack at him in her testimony that the Democrats have absolutely insisted be public - and, of course, before his own prior Congressional testimony is released.

Link from Henry Hanks.

MORE drippings from the Clarke meltdown.

STILL MORE: Kausfiles collects some particularly damning evidence of Richard Calrke's disingenuous recollection of his "nuanced" positions.
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The Christian Science Monitor reports:

The projected costs, as well as the likely loss of economic competitiveness with the United States, has the EU wondering if it can virtually go it alone in implementing the Kyoto Protocols on climate change. The protocol has yet to take effect as a binding treaty since the US and Russia won't sign on, and China and India were given a pass for now.

This news is slow in reaching the American media. The F.A.Z. reported back in the middle of February:

Industry representatives boycotted negotiations on upcoming emissions trading legislation ... The dispute revolves around a plan, spearheaded by German Environment Minister J?rgen Trittin, to use emissions certificates to force companies to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions years ahead of the European Union's 2012 deadline...

.... Germany has chosen to develop a formula for dividing the certificates up among existing plants rather than putting them up for auction. This route, however, has opened the door for all sorts of special exemptions. With just weeks to go, industry lobbyists are fighting for special privileges. .... Increased demand for natural gas from Germany would probably cause Russia to burn coal in its own plants to fill demand from Germany, since there are no taxes or other levies on coal in that country.

Affected industries may also move production to other countries. Experts say that emissions trading only makes sense if most producing countries are involved and if the trading includes all six greenhouse gases. It is unclear why the EU Commission has limited trading to CO2.

The steel industry, which in 2001 was responsible for 51.4 million tons of the 504.5 million tons of CO2 emitted by German industrial companies and power generators, fears that it will be the loser. Steel association VDEH said emissions trading could weaken Germany's steel industry, since it cannot reduce its CO2 emissions. .... The steel industry has the potential to reduce its emissions by 1 to 2 percent in the medium term, [a steel spokesman] said. Trittin is demanding a reduction of 1.5 percent by 2007 and another 6 percent by 2012. This could increase the price of steel by as much as 20 percent. ... In the past decade, Germany has reduced its emissions more than any other country in the EU. Since Germany signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, it has reduced its emissions of the six greenhouse gases by 19 percent. The target for Germany, set as part of a package with other EU countries, is 21 percent by 2012.

The bulk of that past German reduction was possible simply by closing unproductive, outdated Eastern German inductrial plants - most of which would have been closed on profitability grounds, anyway.

The German Kyoto problem is even worse than the above passages suggest, because the German (and, increasingly, European) instinct for economic suicide in the service of hi-sounding principles that any sensible person would know could not be reconciled doesn't end with Kyoto - but extends to elimination of nuclear power, too. As the F.A.Z. noted last November:

[L]ast Friday ... the first of Germany's 18 nuclear power plants due for closure in the next 20 years, was taken off line. That may be an appealing prospect to many, but we should not forget that atomic power is responsible for the generation of nearly half of Germany's electricity, a volume that cannot be easily replaced if both economic and ecological standards are applied. Even under the most optimistic assumptions, renewable energy sources will never replace nuclear energy in terms of their economic viability and reliability. Only gas and coal-fired power plants have the potential to replace nuclear power, but they produce greenhouse gas emissions that could easily push Germany over its emissions targets under the Kyoto accord. An exit from the "nuclear consensus" is thus inevitable.

"Inevitable" is the right word. I wish it were hard to understand why so many Europeans think that signing up for principles that they do not reasonably intend to respect amounts to a political virtue. That kind of posturing is not a virtue. It's juvenile. It's even politically senile.

As the German economy inevitably implodes in accordance with loopy pseudo-principles, the last refuge of the political scoundrel, pseudo-patriotism, is always available in Germany to Chancellor Gerhard Schröder as much as John Kerry in the US to criticise those who prefer not to join the implosion:

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder called the transfer of jobs to cheaper foreign locations “unpatriotic“ .... Germany's chief business lobbyist, BDI industry association president Michael Rogowski, added that companies were fleeing not only from Germany's high labor costs and taxes, but also the environmental policies pursued by Schröder's junior coalition partner, the Greens, that imposed unnecessary additional costs on companies, most recently, for example, through planned emissions trading regulations. Indeed many big German companies have shifted large parts of their assembly abroad in recent years. .... On Tuesday, the chairman of automotive supplier Leoni said at the company's financial press conference that he fears “it will be difficult to sustain the number of jobs in Germany.“ .... But not only jobs in production are at stake. Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement said on Wednesday at an OECD conference in Berlin that Germany will also not escape the “trend toward exports of qualified jobs.“ According to the head of IBM Germany, Walter Raizner, that trend is already under way. Raizner told the Financial Times Deutschland this week that 70,000 jobs in the information technology sector alone were lost in Germany over the past year. Although the industry association Bitkom has called that figure exaggerated, its own projections still assume a loss of 8,000 jobs in the German telecommunications and information technology sector this year. ... A DIHK study, however, last year put the number of jobs lost to cheaper foreign locations at about 50,000 a year. And according to a recent survey by DIHK, the export-based economic recovery this year will prompt German companies to invest more abroad than at home.

One might keep in mind that a good deal of German "outsourcing" comes to the United States.

In a certain sense it's interesting to see how so many disparate developments interact: global greenhouse gassy politics, nuclear energy hysteria, outsourcing madness. Too bad the interaction in this case may end up marking the grave of the German economy. But, heck, nobody expected those principles to last, anyway.
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Daschle Descending VI: Bad Lands For Tom Daschle

In a prior post the Man Without Qualities noted that Tom Daschle's relationship with South Dakota's native Americans has become increasingly frayed. Native Americans have often been a bulwark of South Dakota Democratic support - a handful of their votes cost Mr. Thune, Senator Daschle's current challenger, a Senate seat in 2002. But things have changed, and some Lakota are now coming for South Dakota's cloutless, straddling, disingenuous senior Senator with things in mind other than support:

The race for the U.S. Senate will be a little more crowded come the November election. Editor and publisher of the Lakota Journal, Tim Giago, will run as an independent against presumably Senator Tom Daschle and Republican John Thune for the U.S. Senate.

Giago says Indian counties have suffered financially under Daschle's watch, and it's time to talk about all the issues like the Black Hills settlement, and what Giago calls this state's Achilles heel, racism. Giago says, "There's some issues that he keeps ducking, that Senator Tim Johnson keeps ducking, and I'm sure that John Thune is going to keep ducking. And I think some of these issues are important enough to the nine tribes in this state that we've got to get them on the table. We've got to talk about them. We can't pretend they aren't there."

Giago says he was going to run as a Democrat against Daschle in the primaries, but [Giago] says [running as an independent in the general election] could be more damaging to Daschle if [Giago] gets a lot of the Indian vote.

Looks like Senator Daschle might do better for himself by spending a bit less time protecting the squirrelly Richard Clarke and a bit more time home on the range.

Thanks to Daschle v. Thune for the tip.

MORE: Here and here and here.

UPDATE: Lot's more fallout chronicled on South Dakato Politics - just keep scrolling.

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Monday, March 29, 2004

Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose XVIII: Lead Balloon From The Bay State

Two CNN/USA Today/Gallup Polls:

..........................................George W. Bush..........................................John Kerry

March 5-7, 2004.............................44%.....................................................52%

March 26-28, 2004...........................51%.....................................................47%

Let's see. In this poll Bush was down by 8 points, but now he's up by four - for a net gain by Bush of 12 percentage points at a time when the liberal media, Richard Clarke and the Democrats are all giving it their best shot. As the New York Times might explain: This is all nuance!

Close election? Well, stranger things have happened. Somebody might blow up the Capitol, for example. But, barring that, I wouldn't advise any Democratic office seekers to quit their day jobs.


Some astute e-mailers have pointed out that this only a poll, it has a small sample, it's early and the poll has an UNBELIEVABLE result: Nader drawing equally from Bush and Kerry.

I agree with all of that - and I didn't intend this post to suggest that the race is over. However, the past few weeks have seen a huge outpouring of anti-Bush material: Spain, the Democratic and international take on Spain, Clarke, the 9-11 Commission hearings generally, lots of leftish hooey on outsourcing and the Administration's "failure" to cause job creation.

That was all supposed to show up in the polls - and in a lasting fashion. But that's really not happening. What seems to be happening is (1) Kerry's afterglow from the Democratic primaries is fading, and (2) voters are coming to know, distrust and dislike Senator Kerry both personally and politically with greater intensity with each passing day.

As for Nader, it is important to remember that his entire poll-detected support lies within the bounds of statistical error - so weird things like a "finding" that he's drawing as much from Bush as from Kerry are bound to happen. It doesn't mean anything - and it doesn't mean the poll is off.

A poll is just a poll. Right now the Man Without Qualities thinks the polls are especially off because people are back to living their own lives - and aren't really paying that much attention, even if they say they are. Moreover, at this point any effort to evaluate who is a "likely voter" is a fool's errand - and "registered voter" surveys are pretty crude.

That means polls are probably more interesting in tracking dynamic shifts - not actual levels of support. But that's still very bad news for Senator Kerry.

But lots can happen before election day. Gas prices, for example, are a real wild card. If prices continue to rise, that could cut either for or against Mr. Bush - since John Kerry is a well-documented advocate of higher gas prices and fuel taxes. But, of course, it could be very bad for Mr. Bush, since the rise would happen "on his watch" and, more importantly, cold trigger a more general downturn. Gas prices might also be a harbinger of a possible coming surge in general inflation.

The problem here is two-fold for Senator Kerry: (1) as demonstrated over the past few weeks, predictable things and things Senator Kerry might be able to affect don't seem to be enough to put him over the top, and (2) Mr. Bush can affect a lot more things than Senator Kerry can (such as welcoming lots of new NATO members who are mostly pro-Bush). Add to all that Senator Kerry's almost inconceivable incompetence as a national politician - supporting Richard Clarke well before that was appropriate, for example - and one sees a good likelihood, but not a certainty, of a Kerry wipe-out in November.

UPDATE: Jim Miller argues that Nader does take about the same number of votes from Republicans and Democrats. In other words, it's not a poll fluke, it's a fact.

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Sunday, March 28, 2004

Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose XVII: Fresh, Rested And Tan From The Slopes

Fresh from having called one of his Secret Service protectors a "son-of-a-bitch" for making the Honorable Senator fall in the snow, John Kerry has been heard loudly on the side of Richard Clarke, decrying his "character assassination" by the administration. How astute is that, where Mr. Clarke is viewed with suspicion by most of the electorate? Where's the pay off for Kerry in doing that? Only 17 percent of poll respondents said Clarke's testimony made their view of Mr. Bush less favorable and 10 percent said Clarke's testimony made their view of Mr. Bush more favorable.

More favorable?

In any event, on Clarke, Kerry said: "Every time somebody comes up and says something that this White House doesn't like, they don't answer the questions about it or show you the truth about it. They go into character assassination mode." ... "It is entirely inappropriate and almost hysterical of the White House to engage in this massive character assassination," Kerry said later in an interview with Kansas City television station KMBC.

But most voters seem to think that Mr. Clarke has already assassinated his own character - and this before the real response to his testimony has been presented, including release of his prior. alegedly inconsistent, Congressional testimony. As Newsweek reports:

[O]nly a quarter of those who have been following the story say they see Clarke as a selfless public servant. Fifty percent suspect Clarke has some personal or political agenda, while another 25 percent don’t know what to make of his accusations. By a margin of 61 percent to 34 percent, Americans feel that, overall, the Bush administration has taken the terror threat seriously. The numbers are the reverse for Bush’s predecessor: 65 percent are critical of how seriously they believe the Clinton administration took the threat.

This is a bandwagon Senator Kerry wants to hop on?

Senator Kerry has hitched his wagon to a book=selling star apparently set to make over One Million Dollars from his "whistleblowing" - more if he can keep it on the best seller list, and who is now being criticized by the families of 9-11 victims as "divisive and mean-spirited" and a "profiteer" from the terror that killed their relatives. As the New York Post reports:

Retired FDNY firefighter Jim Boyle, who lent his name to the letter, ripped into Clarke, who served as a counterterrorism adviser to the past four presidents. "Richard Clarke is doing all of this to sell his book," said Boyle, whose Bravest son, Michael Boyle, died in the WTC. "What he's doing isn't right. He's trying to make money off our pain. This was all orchestrated to benefit him," Boyle told The Post. Retired FDNY Capt. John Vigiano Sr. said he's "incensed" with Clarke. "He's all about promoting his book, plain and simple," said Vigiano Sr., whose sons John, a firefighter, and Joseph, a police officer, died in the WTC attacks. "It's all about greed. He shouldn't be doing this. He's showing a lack of loyalty to the president. It's awful." The blistering letter, signed by more than 36 people who lost loved ones in the WTC, came a day after the Senate's top Republican, Bill Frist, accused Clark of an "appalling act of profiteering." Meanwhile, a Newsweek poll released yesterday found that 65 percent of Americans say Clarke's testimony hasn't affected their opinion of the president.

Senator Kerry complains of the Administration's "character assassination" of Mr. Clarke. But it's beginning to look as though the NYFD is more than willing to throttle Mr. Clarke's character right through to the election.

Couldn't the Senator have waited until things shook out a bit? Who told the Senator to do that now? Mr. Schrum? Did the Senator think this up on his own? Don't any of this people remember the "booing" at Hillary Clinton's pretentions?
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If I'm Wrong, I'm Right, Where I Belong I'm Right

Could it be that Democrats and the media hurt John Kerry by moving the public's mind away from the economy by making a broo-hah-hah over terrorism - including much criticism of Bush? Could it be that the public still rates Mr. Bush better on terrorism than it does Kerry (whether or not there has been slippage for Bush on this issue) - and the Clarke hearings just focused voters more on terrorism and less on the economy? Last week was supposedly a "dreadful" one for Mr. Bush.

But the Kerry-skewed Rassmussen tracking poll says Bush gained four points on Kerry during the relevant period:

Date Bush Kerry
Mar 28 45 45
Mar 27 45 46
Mar 26 44 47
Mar 25 44 48

The Newsweek poll taken over Mar 25-26 detects no change at all in the President's overall approval ratings or the relative Kerry-Bush standings, but does purport to find a slipping of public approval of Bush's handling of the War on Terror over the last month or so. Newsweek ascribes this slippage to Clarke - but produces no evidence whatsoever to support that causal mechanism. The article just compares current readings with month-old readings - not just-pre-Clarke readings. There's not even an attempt to separate Clarke's effect from any effect caused by the rest of the televised Commission hearings. Are Albright, Berger and the rest really that insignificant? Of course, there have been lots of other developments in the War on Terror over the last few weeks that might have frustrated voters: failure to capture al Qaida kingpins in Pakistan and, obviously, the disasters in Spain. For the mainstream media, that's all beyond living memory - now it's Clarke, Clarke, Clarke! But it's hard to see how those other developments favor Senator Kerry.

Most strikingly, only 17% of poll respondents said the Clarke testimony has made them "feel less favorable" towards the president. What proportion of those people were already committed to voting against Mr. Bush? Newsweek doesn't say - and apparently didn't try to determine. A great majority of poll respondents don't trust Clarke - despite much media effort to canonize him as a sacred "whistle blower."

The Newsweek poll also "finds" that the public's approval of Mr. Bush on the economic front continues to be soft. So where is Mr. Bush's support coming from?

Maybe from the focus on terrorism?

On the economic/budget front the Rassmussen poll also detects a very interesting development:

Most dramatically, 64% of American voters say that they would prefer a federal budget that has a deficit at lower levels of taxes and spending rather than a balanced budget with higher levels of taxes and spending. Given this choice, just 25% opt for the balanced budget.

These findings are very similar to an earlier survey which found that 64% of Americans prefer smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes.

The Man Without Qualities is deeply skeptical of Rassmussen Poll methodology. But at least as a starting point, these economic findings raise the question of whether Mr. Bush could out flank Mr. Kerry on the economic front by proposing to cut federal spending. Even the usual quasi-fake election year fashion of proposing such things, where few specifcs are provided for hostile special interests to precipitate around, might have substantial effect.

A fiscal crisis is an ugly thing. Is it just about time that we had one?


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Friday, March 26, 2004

Daschle Descending V: Serving Up Richard Clarke's Baloney Really, Really Thin In South Dakota

A prior post noted that much of the usual Washington crowd has had a say on Richard Clarke's performance - with Tom Daschle being a very large exception, even though Senator Daschle was very active in the Democrat's prior "what-did-the-President-know-and-when-did-he-know-it" effort.

Now Senator Daschle has crept out of his election year bunker - but just a bit. Yesterday he criticized the Administration's counter to Mr. Clarke's testimony, saying that instead of "dealing with it factually, they've [the Administration] launched a shrill attack to destroy Mr. Clarke's credibility." As the New York Times reports:

The Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, called on the White House to cease "character attacks'' on Richard A. Clarke, the former senior Bush aide who disparaged Mr. Bush's handling of the Qaeda threat in his testimony before the commission and in a new book. "I have a simple request for the president today: Please ask the people around you to stop the character attacks they are waging against Richard Clarke,'' Mr. Daschle said. "Ask them to stop their attempts to conceal information and confuse facts. Ask them to stop the long effort that has made the 9/11 commission's work more difficult than it should be.''

Yes, the Administration has taken the approach that what Mr. Clarke is saying is not true or factually correct, and that his financial interest in selling books and his ties to the Kerry campaign are fairly obvious reasons to discount his credibility as a witness. And, for example, the release of footage of a background session one gave a year or so ago that squarely contradicts one's current sworn statements and book will have a certain nasty erosive effect on the public's assessment of one's character and value as a witness. On the other hand, Mr. Clarke brings nothing new to the discussion except as a witness - since his criticisms are all warmed-over stuff first served months ago, including by Senator Daschle, but with few takers.

Relatively speaking, South Dakota had even fewer takers of the old stuff than the country as a whole. Hence, many of Senator Daschle's re-election problems. His statements yesterday seem an effort by Tom Daschle as $3,000-suit-beltway-sharpie to comply with his Senate Democratic leadership role without infuriating the South Dakota constituency of just-plain-Tom who's having a lot of trouble running for re-election. One imagines that his opponent, Mr. Thune, will find some way to point that out.


STILL MORE: As the election gets nearer and more troubling, Senator Daschle is serving up other thinly sliced baloney, too. In this case he's voting against a bill (the "Laci Peterson Bill") before voting for it. He did the same thing on the gun manufacturer immunity bill. Isn't that cute? Just like John Kerry, who is finding out that somehow that strategy doesn't work as well in a national political race. But it doesn't work every time, even in the Senate. But old habits are hard to change.
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Fair And Balanced

E-mailed from a friend:

The Pope is visiting Washington, D.C., and President Bush takes him out for an afternoon on the Potomac, sailing on a yacht. They're admiring the sights when, all of a sudden, the Pope's hat (zucchetto) blows off his head and out into the water. Secret Service guys start to launch a boat, but president Bush waves them off, saying, "Wait, wait. I'll take care of this. Don't worry."

Bush then steps off the yacht onto the surface of the water and walks out to the Holy Father's little hat, bends over and picks it up, then walks back to the yacht and climbs aboard.

He hands the hat to the Pope amid stunned silence.

The next morning, the headlines in New York Times, Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Buffalo News, Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal, Minneapolis Tribune, Denver Post, Albuquerque Journal, Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle proclaim:

"Bush Can't Swim."
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Who Thinks They Can Win This Way? III: The Passion Of The Apologists

Yes, Bob Kerrey's visage was priceless as he argued that the "background" footage of Richard Clarke flatly contradicting the critical elements of his book and his sworn testimony shouldn't have been released to the public. Perjury, anyone? For political reasons I don't think it will happen, but not because the perjury didn't happen. Poor Martha Stewart: she just supposedly wanted $50,000. Mr. Kerrey's pain as he offered this wan apology in the face of Mr. Clarke's disgrace was all the more exquisite because the former Senator has on many issues before the Commission taken his job seriously, unlike some of the other Democrats sitting near him.

The image of Kerrey Agonisties seems destined to be reproduced on the faces of many on the liberal/Democratic side. Consider Fed Kaplan's tortured effort in Slate. A helpful e-mailer provided this screed in the morning mail. I was just emerging from the paroxysm of laughter it induced when (via Henry Hanks) I noticed Rich Lowry's handy short-form fish-in-a-barrel fusillade at Kaplan that - despite its brevity - even includes a restatement of Kaplan's fish (er, I mean, "arguments"):

At least according to Fred Kaplan ... Clarke has been caught contradicting himself... [H]ow Kaplan would explain the discrepancy[?] ... He doesn't. Kaplan makes two points.

1) ... Clarke's prior testimony to the 9/11 commission ... didn't focus on the Iraq War. His book sounds different because it does focus on the war. ... This won't wash. Yes, there is a lot of Iraq in the book, but there is also a lot of argument about how Bush did, as Clarke has put it, "virtually nothing" about al Qaeda prior to 9/11. ...

2) Kaplan explains that Clarke had limited choices when he was asked to give that 2002 briefing. ... [I]t is theoretically possible for Clarke to give a generous version of the facts in 2002, then write a more complete and critical account once he becomes a private citizen. But this is manifestly not what Clarke has done. He has written a book arguing that Bush did virtually nothing, when we know from Clarke's briefing that it was the Bush team that began to change counterterrorism policy and move it in a more aggressive direction after it had been frozen in place since late 1998. Clarke defenders like Kaplan have to square the book with the briefing and none of them that I have seen have done it--and in my opinion, it can't be done.

Rich is transparently correct, as the obvious pain on Bob Kerrey's face manifested. One can almost pity Clarke apologists like Fred Kaplan for the agony they must feel when they write as he did in Slate.

Almost ... but then not.

MORE: No perjury prosecution? Perhaps I spoke too soon:

In a highly unusual move, key Republicans in Congress are seeking to declassify testimony that former White House terrorism adviser Richard Clarke gave in 2002 about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Friday.

Frist said the intent was to determine whether Clarke lied under oath — either in 2002 or this week — when he appeared before a bipartisan Sept. 11 commission and sharply criticized President Bush's handling of the war on terror.

"Until you have him under oath both times you don't know," Frist said.

One Republican aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the request had come from House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Rep. Porter Goss, the chairman of the House intelligence committee.

Actually, while an oath is always nice to concentrate the witness's mind, Senator Frist may be quite wrong. The federal False Statements Act should already apply to Mr. Clarke's statements to the Commission - under oath or not. The False Statement Act applies to every matter within the jurisdiction of every executive, legislative and judicial agency of the U.S. government. Is the Commission an "agency?" A quibble. Under the Act, it is a crime for any person:

* To knowingly and willfully falsify, conceal or cover up by any trick, scheme or device any material fact.

* To make any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation.

* To make or use any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or entry.

Punishment for a violation may include fines and imprisonment for up to five years.

That the Republicans alone want to release Mr. Clarke's testimony suggests that they believe it will do neither Mr. Clarke nor the Democrats any good. Release it and let the voters decide. But charging Mr. Clarke with formal perjury or violation of the False Statements Act would probably be a big political mistake. It would look vindictive, especially if brought by the Department of Justice.

On the other hand, perhaps this is a good case for appointing one of those Special Counsels that the Democrats generally love so much - to investigate and, if necessary, indict, Mr. Clarke. That would only be fair to Martha.


"My challenge to the Bush administration would be, if (Clarke) is not believable and they have reason to show it, then prosecute him for perjury because he is under oath, Kerry told CBS's MarketWatch. "They have a perfect right to do that," said Kerry.

Perhaps Senator Kerry will next ask for appointment of a Special Prosecutor, thereby completing his effort to give the Administration complete cover in attacking every iota of Mr. Clarke's credibility. Sheesh.

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Thursday, March 25, 2004

Fox News Poll

After several days of the Bush administration being harshly criticized by a former staffer, as well as two weeks of heavy and hard-hitting advertising by both campaigns, this weekÂ’s Fox News poll shows no movement in the vote for president. Bush and Kerry each capture the support of 44 percent of voters in a head-to-head matchup, if the presidential election were held today. Earlier in the month the race was also tied at 44 percent each.

When independent candidate Ralph Nader is included he receives three percent, Bush 43 percent and Kerry 42 percent.

And what we've seen over the last few days was pretty much the Democrat's best shot.

POSTSCIPT: One might note that the Fox News Poll is conducted among registered voters, where the Rassmussen tracking poll - which most recently showed Bush trailing Kerry by 4% - is conducted among likely voters. It is worth asking how much faith one has in a pollster's determination of who is a "likely voter" eight months before an election, and it is more than strange that shifting from registered voters to likely voters in this case would favor John Kerry, whose "hard support" numbers are a lot lower by many counts than are Bush's. In the delicate phrasing of the Los Angeles Times article on the subject: Kerry's Task Now Is to Win Enthusiasm of Democrats:

[E]ven as he sets his sights on the fall contest against President Bush, Kerry faces a challenge within his own party, rallying Democrats who seem more passionate at this point about beating the Republican incumbent than backing the party's apparent nominee-to-be. "The early Kerry people are certainly enthusiastic about their guy," said David Rosen, a Democratic fundraiser in Chicago. "But the rest of the folks, the folks coming over and jumping on the bandwagon, I don't think they have this great enthusiasm yet for Kerry." Rosen is convinced that will change as the senator becomes better known. But for now, Rosen and others say Kerry is still a mystery to many fellow Democrats, who know little beyond the fact that he once served in Vietnam and won a succession of primaries to clinch the party's nomination in record time.

John Kerry's personal history is not, to my knowledge, full of evidence suggesting that he receives greater enthusiasm the better he is known - quite the contrary. But Mr. Rosen is entitled to his own enthusiams. For the moment, it is odd, to say the least, that a candidate who is not even known in his own party would be doing better among likely voters that he is among registered voters. That stronglysuggestss that Rassmussen tracking poll definition of likely voter is, shall we say, eccentric.
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Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose XVI: ClarkeKerry?

An astute reader e-mails:

Richard Clarke is deeply wired into the Kerry campaign, and not just through Rand Beers. His main contact is his good friend Jonathan Winer, who's been Kerry's chief political operative and investigator through Iran-Contra, BCCI, and all the way back to his days as Lt. Gov of Massachusetts. Jonathan's been identified publically as one of a handful of people running Kerry's "shadow state department" along with Beers. The LA Times yesterday had a story quoting Winer as saying he was talking regularly with Clarke while Clarke was still in the White House, and that Clarke was expressing his disgust with the Bushies. Oddly (or maybe not) Winer is described as a nonpartisan public servant, and isn't identified as a Kerry operative; indeed, he's been used by several publications as a character reference, so to speak, for stories lauding Clarke. Google "Jonathan Winer" and you'll find all sorts of interesting stuff. My own experience here is that Winer is such a useful and promiscuous source that most of the reporters in DC aren't inclined to embarass him by connecting him to Clarke, and mess up what's obviously a Kerry-inspired phony scandal.

Googling Jonathan Winer Kerry is also an interesting exercise.

MORE: Winermentions. Again, no mention of WinerKerry.

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Deliberation Day

Someone at OpinionJournal thinks that Deliberation Day is a bad idea, and I agree. I started composing a post outlining why I think it is such a bad idea and how the ideas that lead to it's proposal are intertwined with lots of other really bad ideas, and then I realized that Richard Posner had already done a lot of the work and said a lot of the things I would have said, only better:

The proposal by Professors Ackerman and Fishkin for a Deliberation Day, on which citizens lured by federal financial incentives would engage in collective deliberation over issues and candidates in the forthcoming national election, seems to me to misunderstand what modern political democracy is and should be. ... It was a genuine and in many respects progressive and attractive system of self-rule, but one utterly irrelevant to a vast and complex modern polity such as the United States or, for that matter, a small and complex polity such as Belgium.

Modern democracy, for reasons of efficiency and feasibility, is representative democracy, which involves a division between rulers and ruled. The rulers are officials who are drawn from—to be realistic—a governing class consisting of ambitious, determined, and charismatic seekers of power, and the role of the citizenry is to vote candidates for officialdom in and out of office on the basis of their perceived leadership qualities and policy preferences. The system exploits the division of labor and resembles the economic market, in which sellers and consumers constitute distinct classes. In the marketplace, the slogan “consumer sovereignty” signifies that the essentially negative power of the consumer—the power not to buy a particular product, a power to choose though not to create—constrains the behavior of sellers despite the vast gulf of knowledge and incentives that separates sellers and consumers. The same relationship exists between politicians and voters.

There is no Deliberation Day on which consumers engage in collective deliberation over competing brands of toasters or about whether to use microwave ovens instead. Consumers economize on their time by responding to alternative sales pitches and using their experience of particular sellers and products to guide their evaluation of the pitches. It is the same in the political marketplace. Voters are guided by their reactions to the presentation of issues and candidates in political campaigns and by their experience of living under particular officials and particular policies.

Arthur Lupia also has good observations.

One might also note that Judge Posner's thinking can be extended to explain why many (perhaps most) people simply should not vote at all, just as many investors should be satisfied with being "free riders" on an efficient securities market. The parallel is not perfect, of course, because the political market ("marketplace of ideas") is not nearly as transparent or efficient as the American public securities markets. But there is a lot of efficiency, and, to the extent the market place of ideas is inefficient, that can in some circumstances be reason to leave the voting (pricing) to the relative experts.

Something for many (but, obviously, not all) people to remember when the Goo-Goos come a-calling near election day: Support Democracy. Don't Vote. Fortunately, lots of them do remember. [MINOR UPDATE: These two last paragraphs are, obviously, not criticisms of Deliberation Day itself, and it is quite irrelevant to what is said here that A&F are well aware that political activity has low utility for most citizens. Further, the problem identified and addressed by classical portfolio theory is not that investing in public stocks is of low utility for most investors. The problem is that most investors cannot and should not try to make individualized investment decisions because other investor know so much more - so most investors should simply buy a market-weighted basket of securities and hold them. One cannot "solve" the portfolio creation problem by holding an "Investors Deliberation Day" and having everyone talk about stock investment issues. The stock markets are never-ending "Investors Deliberation Day" in which the people who are best at picking stocks do most of the talking - and everyone else just listens and takes the market price. To some (highly imperfect) extent the "marketplace of ideas" is like the stock market - and that suggests that many voters should do something other than trying to make personal individualized decisions about individual candidates. Staying home and letting more knowledgeable people vote is one possibility. Voting a straight party line is another. Following the advice of a trusted political analyst or friend is a third.]

I'm sure Jim Fishkin is well intentioned. But, actually, I think his (ex-?) wife, Shelley Fisher Fishkin, one of the world's great champions of Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn, in particular, is more likely to leave the world a better place.

MORE: From Robert Prather, and, through his post, Steven Taylor and Chris Lawrence.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose XV: Fast Forward With Another Berger Whopper

Although I did, it wasn't necessary to read the article to know which of Clinton aide's comments would be reported under the headline Aide: Clinton Approved Killing Bin Laden. It virtually had to be Sandy Berger, the same prevaricator who briefly surfaced to tender a bizarre assertion that the Clinton Administration had left an extensive "plan" to terminate al Qaida with the incoming Bushites. After making fools of TIME magazine and other naifs, Mr. Berger withdrew that assertion under oath before Congress. But now Mr. Berger is baaaaaaaack, in characteristic "say anything" mode, to squarely contradict George Tenet by asserting that Bill Clinton gave the CIA "every inch of authorization that it asked for" to carry out plans to kill Osama bin Laden.

Of course, Mr. Berger said nothing previously about any President Clinton's secret exception to the famous (and, to most of the left, sacred, post-Church commission) Ford presidential order barring assassination of foreign leaders, such as bin Laden. Mr. Berger was mute on the topic following 9-11 itself and its huge flare up of accusation of Clinton-administration intelligence failures. He said nothing about such an exception when he made his disgraced public claim that the Clintonites had left a "plan" to dispose of bin Laden or when President Bush expressly carved out a big exception to the Ford order. Nor has Bill Clinton made such an assertion, although he presumably consented to bin Laden being killed when Mr. Clinton had a few missiles launched at him at the height of the Lewinski scandal. In short, it looks like another Berger whopper.

All the signs are that this particular whopper will have a very short shelf-life. And that likely life span seems representative of the likely life span of the entire Democratic effort to re-write the history of 9-11, and in my opinion is indicative of why the Democratic strategy - including their reliance on the Richard Clarke performance - is most likely a very serious miscalculation. In short, it seems to me that the Democratic attempt to re-write the history of 9-11 will force all interested members of the public to reconstruct and review for themselves in fast-forward the history of this country's response to terrorism in recent years. That should mostly have the effect of reviving and focusing public recollections of, and respect for, the Bush administration and the President in particular. The dust kicked up by the efforts and testimony of Mr. Clarke and various Clinton administration functionaries - including the bizarre Sandy Berger - may take a little while to settle, but it will settle well before the election.

Already Democrats on the 9-11 Commission are having to contend with footage (helpfully provided by Fox News) of a previously non-public briefing by Mr. Clarke completely and essentially contradicting the most important to the assertions in his book and testimony. Does former Senator Kerrey understand how preposterous he sounds when he responds to this footage with a protest that it should have been kept from the public? Already Mr. Clarke's preposterous assertions that Ms. Rice was unaware of even the meaning of "al Qaida" or that she failed to grasp the need to address al Qaida have been conclusively demonstrated as false simply by her many public statements to the contrary and Mr. Clarke's own previously unreleased e-mail to her. Then there is the Clarke resignation letter praising the President's actions against terrorism. Already George Tenet has contradicted Mr. Clarke. All signs point to the current Democratic efforts as having a half life about as long as their prior, disastrous "what-did-the-President-know-and-when-did-he-know-it" effort.

My guess is that net result of the 9-11 Commission will be no particular shift in the public perception of Mr. Bush's handling of the war on terror, but with a considerably increased focus of the presidential campaign on national security and the war on terrorism.

Nothing could be worse for John Kerry's presidential prospects than that.

John Kerry is not alone. Much of the usual Washington crowd has paraded across the nation's television screens on this matter - with one, very large exception: Tom Daschle. Senator Daschle was very active in the Democrat's prior "what-did-the-President-know-and-when-did-he-know-it" effort, but he has been curiously quiet over the last few days. Perhaps Senator Daschle is being quiet because his prior efforts seem to be a major reason why he has moved very close to not being re-elected.

Is that good news for Democrats generally?

Dick Morris is generally correct in predicting a likely Bush blow-out - except he unsurprisingly gives too much credit to the campaign professionals and political ads. I believe the main reason for John Kerry's fall in the polls is John Kerry - and I think the current September 11 dust-up threatens to have the larger Congressional Democratic Party exposed to the same risk. Kausfiles' concern over the latest Rassmussen Poll showing Kerry with a slight lead is unwarranted. The later Quinnipiac Poll finds:

President Bush leads Democrat John Kerry 46 ? 40 percent among all voters, with 6 percent for independent candidate Ralph Nader. ... With Nader out of the race, Bush leads Kerry 46 ? 43 percent among all voters ....

MORE: Why Richard Clarke Is Good For Bush.

UPDATE: Mr. Clarke's reaction to questions about his 2002 briefing footage of which has now been released, as mentioned above is interesting:

Asked at the commission hearing Wednesday whether he intended to mislead journalists and their readers in 2002, Clarke said no.

"When you are special assistant to the president and you're asked to explain something that is potentially embarrassing to the administration, because the administration didn't do enough or didn't do it in a timely manner and is taking political heat for it, as was the case there, you have a choice," he said. One "choice that one has is to put the best face you can for the administration on the facts as they were, and that is what I did."

In other words, Mr. Clarke candidly admits that he lies - shifts the very essence of what he says to the public - to accord with his personal position and agenda at the moment of the telling. He even suggests that he considers that kind of lying (and that's exactly what it is) to be routine when you are special assistant to the president and you're asked to explain something that is potentially embarrassing to the administration. Richard Clarke's admission of casual, situation-driven prevarication, his book and his performance before this Commission, compared with his prior statements and records of his history, make him seem increasingly like Jayson Blair, the notorious New York Times liar. Indeed, much of Jack Shafer's review of Mr. Blair's opus could apply equally well to Mr. Clarke's opus with only minor adjustments for context:

Should you believe anything written by a serial liar? ... For a liar, Blair begins his book in honest fashion...: ''I told more than my share of lies and became as adept as anyone at getting away with it unquestioned and unscathed.'' ... But contrition is a dish served not at all in this memoir. From the heights of confession, Blair rappels down Mount Excuse, blaming everybody but himself for his offenses. ... Other villains appear, disappear and reappear like changing weather. ... He describes some of his Times colleagues as corrupt hacks and fabricators and asks, in so many words, is he much worse than they are? But the only Times reporter whose ethics Blair directly criticizes is Rick Bragg, the former Times star who was disciplined by the paper for claiming a solo dateline he didn't deserve. (So much for burning his masters' house down.) ... Other times, the source of Blair's troubles is found in whatever heartless Times editor he thinks is riding him ... And on a few occasions, Blair, an African-American, plays the race card ... Far from solving the Jayson Blair enigma, this sloppy, padded and dishonest work only adds to his growing word count of lies.

Richard Clarke is not African-American, although the woman he is attempting to diminish is. What card like that race card could Mr. Clarke still try to play?

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Under God? No, Under "God."

Is it true, as Linda Greenhouse claimed yesterday, that before the justices [of the United States Supreme Court] can decide whether those two words render the pledge unconstitutional, they have to answer a factual question that is inextricably entwined with the legal one: what exactly does it mean to pledge allegiance to "one nation under God"?

Of course not. In fact, that is one question the Court should - and, in my view, under the Constitution, must - entirely avoid unless the Court is planning on stepping into some Article III equivalent of the Shoes of the Fisherman. To answer what exactly does it mean to pledge allegiance to "one nation under God" in any meaningful sense would require the Court - or anyone else so bold - to explicitly or implicity answer the question: "what is God?" If the Court has any lingering survival instincts, the justices will wholly decline Ms. Greenhouse's invitation to the ontological dance.

"God" means many things to many people, and Congress did not adopt any one of those meanings in inserting "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance. "God" can, of course, refer to some powerful anthropromorphic entity or an old man in the clouds or something that would be more at home in a modern church, synagogue or mosque.

But "God" doesn't have to mean any of those things. Albert Einstein said "I believe in Spinoza's God, who reveals Himself in the harmony of all being." It is not quite clear what Einstein meant by this, but whatever else he may have intended Einstein was clearly refuting the idea of a "personal" God, in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition.

But Einstein still said he believed in "God." In fact, in Spinoza's "God." But Einstein may have been more of a theist than Spinoza was himself.

It is sometimes said that to Spinoza, "God" was quite simply the integrated sum of all natural law. Of course, any such formulation must do his thinking great violence, but for present purposes one need only note it would be possible for someone asked to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to adopt this pseudo-Spinoza definition of "God," in which case this part of the Pledge is nothing more an assertion that the pledgor is affirming allegiance to a nation formed in harmony with all natural law.

The phrase also serves as a reminder that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution both rest historically on presumptions of natural law and their ultimate integration into something called "God" or "the Creator."

Did Spinoza's views make him an "atheist?" Well, the spiritual leaders of his 17th Century jewish community thought so, and told him so, and made it hurt. So what? No doubt those leaders would have viewed most of the 18th Century deists who had a hand in the creation of this country as "atheists" because they denied the ongoing interference of the Creator with the laws of the universe - including Thomas Jefferson, he of that felicitous "endowed by their Creator" phrasing.

This is not a hard case. It is amazing that this case has had to go to the Supreme Court, and it is surprising that the Court has even held oral arguments. It is amazing that the sorry lot comprising the 9th Circuit has been allowed to continue to create such juvenile messes. But it will be even more amazing if Justice Scalia's absence makes any difference in this case's resolution. So far, only Justice Souter seems to be enough of a partisan nincompoop to consider accepting Ms. Greenhouse's silly invitation. [Minor Update: And, of course, there is always Justice Stevens, The Eternal Fruitcake of the Narcissistic Mind. I can't wait to see what Justice Bowtie has to say on this one!]


"If you look at the logic of the cases writ large, take their logical principles and try to apply them in the abstract, then Newdow wins, because the pledge seems to endorse religion in some measure," said Eugene Volokh, a professor of constitutional law at the University of California at Los Angeles. "The rationale [for the pledge] is pretty clear -- it's the 'no extirpation' rationale. . . . But the question is, how do you translate that into a legal rule? And the answer is, it'll be quite a challenge for the court to do."

But Eugene Volokh, a professor of constitutional law at the University of California at Los Angeles, couldn't be more off track. As noted above, the rationale for the Constitutionality of the Pledge phrase "under God" does not have to be the "no extirpation" rationale. The Court could observe that Congress has not adopted any meaning of "God" - and therefore has made no religious endorsement with the amended Pledge. In effect, the ambiguity of "God" makes the Pledge phrase like the "winter festival" displays in city parks that the Court has held withstand Constitutional scrutiny - with the more traditional meaning of "God" playing the role of the creche side by side with the secular "natural law" elf-displays. And there are other justifications, too. Curious. Very curious. He was way off track on intelligent design, and the 9th Cir. Davis recall case, and the Eldred copyright case, too - although nothing in those cases was hard, either. Something odd going on here? Maybe it has something to do with the differences between looking at the logic of the cases writ large, tak[ing] their logical principles and try[ing] to apply them in the abstract - which seems to be what Prof. Volokh likes to do, whatever that means - and applying the Court's existing fairly contrued case law in the light of history and good sense.

In my experience, legal academics advocating activities such as "looking at the logic of the cases writ large" are generally just expressing in a hi-falutin manner the fact that they're mostly just doing their own thing - and trying to get as far away as possible from existing fairly contrued case law, history and good sense.


Justice Stephen G. Breyer ventured that the phrase may refer to a "supreme being," not a particular god. "It's generic [and] comprehensive," he suggested, not directly affirming one religious view or one god.

Newdow would not budge. "I don't think you can say 'under God' means no God," he responded.

But, of course, Justice Breyer is quite right - and Mr. Newdow is wrong. As Spinoza demonstrated.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Who Knew?

Question: "Is it OK to pee in my wetsuit?"

Answer: "Urinating in your wetsuit is just about the best way to get eaten by a shark. Sharks, as we all know, cannot resist the aroma of human urine."

This advice would seem to have application outside of wetsuit use.
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Little Vacation Lies

John Kerry almost certainly implicitly lied when he said last Sunday that he has asked to be sent copies of Richard Clarke's book that accuses the Bush administration of manipulating America into war with Iraq with dangerous consequences, among other nasty election-year things. It was almost certainly a lie because Senator Kerry has almost certainly had access to that book for a very long time - and the media should be asking the Senator, his advisors, Mr. Clarke and the book's publisher about that.

The matter is significant because Mr. Clarke's making his book available to Senator Kerry or his advisors in advance would be further evidence of Mr. Clarke's bias, unreliability as a witness and election-year motivations, which are all fairly apparent anyway.

Clarke is a close friend of former counterterrorism official Rand Beers, a key adviser to Sen. John F. Kerry, and now teaches a course with Beers at Harvard.

So we are implicitly asked by Senator Kerry to believe that Mr. Clarke gave no advance copies of his book to his good friend and current co-teacher Mr. Beers, or that Mr. Beers did not pass on a copy of the book to the Senator.

Could any sophisticated person believe that without asking the obvious people, including the Senator, his advisors, Mr. Clarke and the book's publisher? I don't think so.

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Monday, March 22, 2004

What Different Public Explanation?

A front page Wall Street Journal article on 9-11 leads with the following:

Shortly after a passenger jet crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers raced back to the military headquarters from a meeting on Capitol Hill. The four-star general, acting head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that day, went directly to the Pentagon's command center. With smoke spreading into the cavernous room, he ordered the officer in charge, Maj. Gen. W. Montague Winfield, to raise the military's alert status to Defcon III, the highest state of readiness since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

That account is based on interviews with Gen. Winfield and a former White House official. In the months after Sept. 11, President Bush had a different public explanation about who put the military on high alert. The president said publicly at least twice that he gave the order. During a town-hall meeting in Orlando on Dec. 4, 2001, Mr. Bush said that after the attacks, "one of the first acts I did was to put our military on alert." ....

Regarding Mr. Bush's statements that he had ordered troops to a higher alert status himself, Mr. Bartlett said the president provided a "description that the public could understand" and spoke in "broad strokes." Gen. Myers and the Pentagon declined to comment.

Contrary to the Journal's spin, there seems to be absolutely no inconsistency whatsoever between these two accounts. Wouldn't one expect the President and the acting head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to independently give orders putting the military on high alert on the facts of September 11? Wouldn't it be strange if they had not?

Why is it in the least surprising to the Journal that both the President and the acting head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would - perhaps quite independently of each other - have given orders putting the military on high alert? Why would it be surprising that the President's order might have been delayed in reaching General Myers - or that the President's order might have been met with a response that the military had already been put on high alert?

The President was in Florida on 9-11, General Myers was in Washington, D.C. at a Capitol Hill meeting. If the President gave such orders, as he surely did, he may well have told someone in Florida to place the military on high alert, and the orders would have been normally sent to someone at the Pentagon, where things were at the time more than a bit confused following the attack on that very building. In any event, General Myers wasn't then located at the Pentagon. When General Myers got back from his Capitol Hill meeting there was no need for him to wait to give orders putting the military on high alert, which he surely did, even if the President's orders hadn't yet reached him. Maybe he did that and was told a few moments later that the President had ordered the same thing. So what? What the heck is the problem supposed to be here? And many of the other "inconsistencies" that the article identifies as the focus of September 11 Commission efforts have the same loopy qualities as the Journal's lead non-issue.

If this is the kind of silly thing the September 11 Commission is wasting its time investigating, it should be shut down immediately.

What's especially bizarre about this Journal account is that nobody is quoted as denying that either or both of the President and the General gave such orders. Indeed, the Journal's account seems quite consistent with the President personally calling the General in his Capitol Hill meeting and ordering the General to order the high alert, whereupon the General returned to the Pentagon and issued such orders. I'm not suggesting that there is evidence that was the course of detailed events, but the Journal's account is fully consistent with such a course.

Maybe there is more to the story. Maybe the inconsistency was in some other paragraph that the Journal somehow dropped. But what appears in this article makes no sense at all.

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Thursday, March 18, 2004


Until tonight I had thought fairly well of Larry Sabato. But tonight I actually saw and heard him on Fox News state with a completely straight face and in apparent sincerity that the President could help his re-election chances by returning some of his campaign contributions to the donors with the stipulation that the donor use the returned money to create a few new jobs.

I repeat: With a completely straight face and in apparent sincerity.

And everything else he had to say - which wasn't that much - reached about that depth.

MORE: Jim Thomason has further evidence of Larry Sabato's descent into partisan self-parody. Jim is absolutely right. Sabato has gone completely over some partisan edge.

During the 2002 campaign I kept getting the gnawing feeling that Sabato just couldn't see that the Congress was swinging deeply Republican - especially in the last few days of the campaign. It was as if his objective data kept saying that - but he just couldn't allow himself to believe it. That troubled me for someone who holds himself out as independent, disinterested and professional - which was exactly how he was introduced on Fox News. Boy, did they get a surprise.

Sabato seems to have given up. His entire performance on Fox News - his demeanor, his comments, the tone of his voice - seriously suggested someone who has had some kind of breakdown. The reaction look on the face of O'Reilly after Sabato's "give-back-the-money-for-jobs" comments was priceless - and O'Reilly gave Sabato virtually no more time. You could almost hear the thought percolating through O'Reilly's brain after Sabato spoke: "Keep calm, Bill. Must think. Who let this guy in here? Get name. Is this one of those spots where we bring in some loon - like a psychic or Terry McAuliffe - to spice things up? No, no - I just introduced this guy as a no-spin-independent-analyst. O-my-God. Must keep calm."

Maybe all these recent years of political frustration have got to Sabato, who seems to be a serious Democratic partisan under all his posturing - destroying his mind, or at least his analytic political abilities. That is, maybe Larry's political crystal balls are blue. Maybe Larry needs a drink.

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Senator Kerry Listens To Mahathir

John Kerry has, of course, now affirmed several times his boast that foreign leaders have in private conversations and meetings with him endorsed his candidacy - but Kerry foreign policy adviser Rand Beers is telling the media:

“This election will be decided by the American people, and the American people alone. It is simply not appropriate for any foreign leader to endorse a candidate in America’s presidential election. John Kerry does not seek, and will not accept, any such endorsements.”

I completely agree that it is not appropriate for any foreign leader to endorse a candidate in America’s presidential election - so why hasn't John Kerry publicly instructed all foreign leaders to lay off the endorsements - and why has he been bragging about the endorsements he received in confidential meetings and conversations? Senator Kerry's bragging and refusal to renounce foreign potentates has now led Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to chime in with an endorsement. The Senator through his spokesman Beers says he now "rejects any association" with Mahathir, "an avowed anti-Semite whose views are totally deplorable."

Well, Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman is happy to associate with Mahathir, even take his money for conferences. Herr Doktorprofessor intones that Mahathir is not "ignorant" or "foolish" - and that this maker of a good many admittedly anti-Semitic comments is in many ways about as forward-looking a Muslim leader as we're likely to find.

So why is Senator Kerry being so picky all of a sudden? Could it be the all-too-obvious implication that the cagey but odious Mahathir knows full well that President Kerry would serve the purpose of advancing Mahathir causes - and the causes of those like him - far better than the inconvenient Mr. Bush?

Fox News link via Croooow Blog.
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Plus Ca Change, Plus C'est La Meme Chose

Vice President Dick Cheney: "We have a right to know what [Senator Kerry] is saying to foreign leaders that makes them so supportive of his candidacy. American voters are the ones charged with determining the outcome of this election, not unnamed foreign leaders."

OpinionJournal, March 15, 2004: A year ago John Kerry described the nations that would liberate Iraq as a "coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought and the extorted." It turns out that may be a better description of his own antiwar camp. From Jacques Chirac's and Vladimir Putin's political cronies to Tony Blair's own Labour Party, many of the most vocal opponents of enforcing U.N. resolutions turn out to have been on the take. Were some of the most vehement and prominent American critics of the war similarly bought and paid for? There's no hard evidence to support such a conclusion, but it's a possibility worthy of investigation following the appearance of a politically connected Detroit-area businessman on a recently published list of individuals receiving oil money from Saddam Hussein. Shakir al-Khafaji's close ties to Iraqi Baathists and Michigan Democrats are a matter of public record.

OpinionJournal, February 9, 2004: [T]he Iraqi daily Al Mada published a partial list of names, compiled by Iraq's oil ministry, of those whom Saddam Hussein rewarded with allocations of Iraqi oil. ... The list reads like an official registry of Friends of Saddam across some 50 countries. It's clear where his best, best friends were. There are 11 entries under France (totaling 150.8 million barrels of crude). ... Patrick Maugein, a close friend of Jacques Chirac and head of Soco International oil company, says his dealings were all within "the framework of the oil-for-food program and there was nothing illegal about it."

XYZ Affair: is the name usually given to an incident (1797-98) in Franco-American diplomatic relations. ... [A] three-man [American] commission was immediately confronted by the refusal of French foreign minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand to receive it officially. ... The proposal that the Americans pay Talleyrand about $250,000 before the French government would even deal with them created an uproar when it was released in the United States. ... The XYZ Affair contributed to American patriotic legend in the reply Pinckney is supposed to have made to a French request for money, “Millions for defense, sir, but not one cent for tribute.” This reply was certainly not made, but a better case can be made for the alternate version, “No, no, not a sixpence.”

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