Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Importance Of Being Bouncy

O, that post-Convention bounce. Every candidate wants it. Most get it; Kerry-Edwards didn't get much, maybe none, maybe negative.

The mainstream media - sometimes speaking through the avatar of Larry Sabato - is eager to tell us that the reason Kerry-Edwards got no meaningful bounce is that infamous dearth of persuadable voters, that consequence of the almost completely early-polarized electorate in which almost every voter has already made up his or her mind. And that's that. See, the media says, there are just no voters left for anyone to bounce off - and that means you, too, Mr. Bush. So don't get any ideas. And, of course, much of the media is also eager to tell us that post-Convention bounce all goes away, anyway. So it really doesn't matter that Kerry-Edwards got little ... or none .. or negative. Nor will the media let us forget that most undecided voters swing against the incumbent, since the first thing a voter does is to decide if he or she likes the incumbent, with whom the voter is already familiar, anyway.

Except that what the media is saying is all wrong. Worse for the Kerry-Edwards prospects, much of the media optimism for the Democratic ticket is based on exactly such errors.

Yes, post-convention bounce always goes away, except when it doesn't - as happened with Bill Clinton's 1992 huge and mostly permanent bounce. But even in election years less exceptional than 1992, bounce matters a lot. The importance of bounce is that it demonstrates how (or whether) a candidate can move voters under the best conditions, when almost all media attention is focused on one candidate and that candidate's message. If a candidate can't move more voters under such conditions, that's very bad news for that candidate's chances of moving voters under the less favorable conditions of the general campaign. Kerry-Edwards is there.

And, yes, most undecided voters swing against the incumbent - if they are still undecided towards the end of the campaign. But this campaign is just beginning - not ending - so the "swing voter" rule is simply not applicable at this point in the campaign.

To get an idea of how badly deluded the media coverage has been, consider Hispanic voters - arguably the most generally misunderstood group of voters in the country, if they can even be meaningfully called a "group." For example, the Washington Post recently reported on a poll that found that Kerry claimed support from 60 percent of all Latino registered voters in the 11 states surveyed while Bush had 30 percent. The Post chipped in this bit of analysis:

The findings suggest that, at this point in the campaign, Bush is falling short of his goal of notably improving on the 35 percent share of the Hispanic vote he received four years ago, although his advisers said they believe he is still on track to do so.

Are the President's advisers really this out of touch? Do the Post's findings suggest that the President really falling short on his goal of notably improving on his share of the Hispanic vote? Well, no - on all counts. One might start by pointing out that the Post is using the old "registered/likely" voter trick. The Post poll is among registered voters - and Hispanic voters have historically had a turnout rate of about 40%. And, historically, Hispanic voters who do vote tend to vote a good deal more Republican than what is seen in polls of registered Hispanic voters. The Post knows all that - but doesn't mention any of it.

But it gets worse. The Post article doesn't even mention post-Convention bounce, but the analysis implicitly assumes that Mr. Bush will receive much less post Convention bounce among Hispanic voters than he did in 2000. That's because the Post is comparing pre-Convention 2004 poll numbers with actual 2000 election results.

The picture changes quite a bit if we compare pre-2004-Convention poll numbers with pre-2000-Convention poll numbers. This Hispanic Trends Polling Report examined the effect of the 2000 Republican Convention on Hispanic voters. Hispanic Trends found that Mr. Bush entered his 2000 Convention with the support of just 24% of registered Hispanic voters and came out of it with a modest bounce among such voters to 28%. In other words, Mr. Bush enters his 2004 convention with six percentage points more support in the Post poll from registered Hispanic voters than what was recorded in 2000 Hispanic Trends poll. Even keeping in mind possibly differing poll methodologies, in light of the Hispanic Trends data, the Post survey suggests that the President has made lots of headway towards his goal of notably improving on his share of the Hispanic vote since 2000.

But the Hispanic story gets even worse for the Democrats: Al Gore's support fell 12% - from 58% to 46% - during the 2000 Republican convention. Here are some other effects Hispanic Trends found that the 2000 Republican Convention had on Hispanic voters:

The GOP's Convention succeeded in convincing a significant percentage of Hispanic registered voters nationally to give its presidential nominee, George W. Bush, a second look. 24% of all Latino voters told our interviewers that they are now undecided about the upcoming election. In contrast - 13% and 16% were undecided in our May and July (pre-convention) polls respectively. The large majority of Hispanic voters that moved from the Gore column to the undecided column are Mexican-Americans.

* The positive impact of the Philadelphia event on Hispanic voters becomes even more evident when we analyze those voters that watched at least some of the Republican Convention (65% of all Latino voters). Gore's lead over Bush among this group is only 8 points (41%-33%). In contrast, the Democratic nominee leads his Republican counterpart by 34 points (53%-19%) among those that did not watch the convention at all. There is little doubt that the Republican strategy of communicating messages of "compassionate conservatism" and of "minority inclusion" worked extremely well with the Latino electorate.

* George W. Bush made important gains among foreign-born Hispanics who became citizens and voters before 1995. The Republican nominee now leads among these voters - most of whom became politically active during the Reagan-Bush years- by 42% to 38%. Bush trailed among these voters in our May poll by 12 points. He also is continuing to increase his support among Cuban-American voters, among whom he leads 75% - 7% .

* Al Gore's most loyal constituencies in the Latino electorate are now Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Central Americans and South Americans. He leads among these voters by over 40 points (61%-18%). But the Republican Convention hurt him significantly with the group that up until now had been his most loyal Hispanic constituency - "new immigrants". These voters - who became citizens in the aftermath of former California Governor Pete Wilson's anti-immigrant campaign - are one of the most important reasons why California was considered "not-in-play" before Philadelphia. In our pre-convention survey, Gore led among this group by 46 points (67%-21%). Our post-convention study indicates that his lead among "new immigrants" has been cut in more than half to 17 points (45%-28%). Is California "back-in-play"?

Do you think maybe the 2000 Convention effects are part of the reason why the President's advisers aren't agreeing with the Post? But, see, the media is telling us that none of that 2000 stuff matters now - because there are just no voters left for anyone to bounce off - and that means you, too, Mr. Bush. So don't get any ideas. And, of course, that post-Convention bounce all goes away, anyway. Except that Mr. Bush's 2000 Hispanic bounce didn't go away. It got bigger. In fact, Mr. Bush's support grew from 28% support among registered Hispanic voters right out of his 2000 Convention to 35% support among actual Hispanic voters on election day. The Post poll suggests that he will do considerably better than that in November.


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Monday, August 30, 2004

Now, Remind Me Exactly Who It Was That The Democrats Nominated In Boston

Click here to see the President duke it out with the Democrats' most significant spokesman!

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Thursday, August 26, 2004

Subject To Substantial Change Without Notice II: Three Altered States

More from the always-questionable Los Angeles Times poll:

Bush has opened small leads — within the surveys' margin of error — in Ohio and Wisconsin, states where the presidential race was closer in Times polls taken in June. The new Times survey also finds Bush ahead in Missouri, though by a narrower margin than in June.
Bush is moving up in most new national polls, except the Fox News poll:

FOX News: Kerry +1
CNN/USAT/Gallup: Bush +3
Rasmussen: Bush +1
LA Times: Bush +3
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Third Ad From The Swiftees

It's short and to the point. It's also something hard for Kerry-Edwards to refute, since the campaign has essentially admitted that there was no real 1968 Christmas In Cambodia Memory for John Kerry - seared, pan-fried, fricasseed or otherwise.
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"Bothersome" Media Behavior

All else being equal, every social scientist, bureaucrat and researcher would prefer to have data earlier rather than later, right? If one can have the same data earlier - with no change in the reliability of that data - one's better off, one can do more, one's job is made easier. Right? Apparently not to the people the Associated Press [UPDATE: See "update" note below] interviews today in connection with the Census Bureau's release of its annual report on Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States (2003). Those people are mostly concerned that the data has been released earlier than it was in previous years. In fact, the AP article is mostly concerned with presenting the timing of this release as a kind of "tortious infliction of social data:" Eleven out of the total of eighteen paragraphs in the AP article are devoted to unsubstantiated speculation about the Report's early release. This is supposedly important and timely data - but not a single word is quoted from anyone expressing satisfaction over having the data sooner rather than later. One interviewee actually says that he finds the early release "bothersome." But early release without reliability costs cannot be "bothersome" except to a political partisan mostly focused on a desired election result, and not focused on the value of the data. That rather obvious fact is not discussed by the AP.

The New York Times' own article on the Report is better than the AP effort, and restricts itself to three reasonable paragraphs at the end respecting the relatively early release. But the Times does retail the Democratic criticism of the timing and includes not a single kind word from any user of the data praising its appearing sooner rather than later.

An aside: there is one howling inconsistency between this Times' article ("For campaign advisers to Senator Kerry, who have been striving to turn attention away from the bitter controversy over his Vietnam war record and toward economic issues, the new numbers were a welcome gift.") and another Times article on its front page ("The Kerry campaign continued to try to keep the [Swift boat] issue alive."). So many agendas, so many Timespersons trying in so many ways to spin the news in favor of Kerry-Edwards, that kind of thing is bound to happen. Unlike the Times, the New York Post pulls the two threads together:

[L]ike a senator scoring points in a debate, Kerry seems determined to try to have the last word, and right now, his team is crowing that it has successfully spun the story to blame the anti-Kerry ads as a sneaky Bush tactic. Republicans say they couldn't care less ? the media may be focused on that, but what real people see is that a shockingly large number of men who served with Kerry in Vietnam think he's unfit to be president. After all, 264 oppose him and just a few dozen back him.

Returning to today's Census Bureau report, here are some considerations (from the Senate Joint Economic Committee) not discussed by either the AP or the Times::

According to the Census Bureau, its poverty thresholds are not intended to be used as a complete description of what families need to live.

The poverty estimates shown in the Census report are based solely on money income before taxes and ?do not include the value of non-cash benefits such as food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, public housing, and employer-provided fringe benefits (p. 1) - and do not include many of the effects of recent tax relief, such as refundable tax credits.

Alternative and broader measures of poverty tell a different story than the more narrow headline data. In 2002, for example, the inclusion of capital gains and non-cash benefits reduced the poverty rate from 12.1 percent to 8.2 percent.

The new report from the Census Bureau confirms the cyclical nature of its poverty data. Poverty rates began to increase in 2000 as the economy began to fall into recession. In contrast, inflation-adjusted after-tax income actually increased in 2003 by more than 4 percent. It has increased by 8.6 percent since the end of the recession in 2001.

As a percentage of the total population, the number of people in the U.S. without health insurance in 2003 was not significantly different than data throughout the 1990s. It is interesting to note that the number of uninsured increased throughout the 1990s, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of total population.

The number of uninsured as a percentage of total population recently peaked in 1998 at 16.3 percent. The latest Census report shows that 15.6 percent of the population was without health insurance coverage in 2003. According to the Census Bureau, ?Health insurance coverage is likely to be underreported on the Current Population Survey (CPS). While underreporting affects most, if not all, surveys, underreporting of health insurance coverage on the Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) appears to be a larger problem than in other national surveys that ask about insurance (p. 52).

[For more information about health insurance coverage is in The Complex Challenge of the Uninsured. The full report can be found here. Chart: Percentage of Uninsured Below Recent Peaks;
Full Report: Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States (2003)]

Today the Times and especially the AP are concerned about the early release of the Census Bureau report, and neither of them locate a single user of this important report who actually gained anything from its early release. Of course, a few days ago the Times led the AP and much of the media in chastising the Education Department for failing to present an early report analyzing the first national comparison of test scores among children in charter schools and regular public schools. The Times naively and embarrassingly signed onto a tendentious, bad analysis by the American Federation of Teachers purporting to "show" charter school students doing worse than students in regular public schools. Kausfiles and Eduwonk thoroughly dismembered the AFT report and the Times' role. An article in OpinionJournal discrediting the AFT report by William G. Howell, Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard was more withering of the Times' role:

It is not unusual for interest groups to issue misleading reports that further their political agenda. And for this reason, newspapers generally ignore them, treat them with great skepticism, or make sure they vet the study with independent observers. Not so in the case of the recently released study of charter schools issued by the American Federation of Teachers, which, after receiving top billing in the right-hand corner of the front page of yesterday's New York Times, was picked up by news media across the country.

The AFT analysis was so bad that even the Times distanced itself from it in a later article:

Statistics culled by the American Federation of Teachers from a national examination and then published on the front page of The New York Times revealed that charter schools, one of the most ballyhooed reforms, actually trail conventional public schools in bringing children of various ages, races, and incomes to proficiency in math and reading. .... Now, however, is the time to let go of the guilty pleasures of payback. The instant polarization that followed the charter school report misrepresented the issue in dangerous ways. .... Charter schools also enroll a higher proportion of racial minorities than do public schools as a whole. ... Thus, even as trenchant a critic of charter schools as Gene V. Glass, a professor of education at Arizona State University, has found himself leery of seizing on the data released by the American Federation of Teachers.

So the Times and the AP had no trouble signing onto what the Times now admits was a transparent partisan criticism of the Education Department disseminating premature, bad data. And now the AP spends lots and lots of ink questioning the earlier release of supposedly important data whose reliability has not been impaired by that release, and neither the AP nor the Times note that early release of data is better or include important and available information in their articles.

Now that's "bothersome."

UPDATE: The progression of the AP version of this story is curious. What seems to have been the first AP version was headlined "Poverty, Health Insurance Stats Draw Fire" and concerned almost nothing but unsubstantiated accusations that the timing of the release of the Census Bureau data was "politically motivated." The story seems to have evolved under the name of the same author (Genaro C. Armas), eventually with a new headline "Ranks of Poverty, Uninsured Rose in 2003," where it started small and without reference to "political motivation" - concentrating on how this was a "a double dose of bad economic news during a tight re-election campaign for President Bush." Over the next several hours, the story repeatedly appeared under the same author's name and grew longer through several versions (here and here and here and here) - eventually merging the "double dose of bad for Bush" theme with the "political timing" theme, as in this version. Eventually, the AP may have decided that the unsubstantiated "politically motivated timing" accusations were not really "news," because the AP (or the Times) substituted the current version of the story under the old link. The newest version of the AP story - which is the version to which the first AP link in the main post above has been redirected by the AP (or the Times) - contains no references to the Democratic accusations whatsoever.

No version of the story includes any reference to any actual user of this important CB data being more satisfied to receive the data earlier than in past years.

Thanks to an astute reader who e-mailed to point out the deletion of the Democratic accusations.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Subject To Substantial Change Without Notice

Today, a few days before the Republican Convention begins, the Los Angeles Times is reporting on its new poll. It's not a good idea to take the Los Angeles Times opinion polls too seriously. The sampling methodology is often ridiculous and there are lots of other signs that the polling is largely result oriented. But there is one very interesting finding from the poll - a finding buried by the Times deep within its article and squeezed into just one sentence:

Those results suggested that a substantial part of the electorate remained open to change.

Gee, wasn't this supposed to be the election in which the electorate was completely polarized early? Isn't this the election in which there is a dearth of "persuadable voters" - a dearth that is supposed to account for the lack of a significant Kerry-Edwards post-Convention "bounce?"

But now the Times has a poll that suggests that a substantial part of the electorate remained open to change - and the finding gets buried way down deep.

My, my.

It's hard to know what to make of the rest of the poll or the article, since the Times' track record is as poor as its analysis of its polling results is pretentious. But here's the opening passage:

President Bush heads into next week's Republican National Convention with voters moving slightly in his direction since July amid signs that Sen. John F. Kerry has been nicked by attacks on his service in Vietnam, a Times poll has found. For the first time this year in a Times survey, Bush led Kerry in the presidential race, drawing 49% among registered voters, compared with 46% for the Democrat. In a Times poll just before the Democratic convention last month, Kerry held a 2-percentage-point advantage over Bush.

The reader can make of that what she likes. But I do note that it seems a little odd that right up front the Times is focused on comparing where Bush-Cheney stands now with the standing of Kerry-Edwards just before the Democratic Convention. It's as if the Times is just itching to compare the Kerry-Edwards non-Convention-bounce with whatever convention "bounce" may result from the Republican Convention - a "bounce" that would, of course, be reduced by the rise in the incumbent's standing in the poll now. Of course, Mr. Bush is rising in many national polls, including polls that don't seem to massage their findings for effect - a group that doesn't include the nutty Zogby poll, which is reporting that Mr. Bush continues to lose ground. But the Times sampling methodology and other polling and reporting irregularities often allow pro-Democratic results to be extracted even where better polls show something very different - a path the Times is declining to follow at the moment.

Is the Times reporting a rise in the President's standing in the hopes of facilitating a future story about the President's disappointing post-Convention "bounce?" Who knows. It says a lot about the Los Angeles Times that one just lets it all go with "Who knows."

But one certainly and easily finds signs that the phrasing of the poll questions has been designed to obscure the extent of the problems the Swiftees have caused for Kerry-Edwards. For example, consider this cheesey tidbit:

18% of those surveyed said they "believe that Kerry misrepresented his war record and does not deserve his war medals," while 58% said Kerry "fought honorably and does deserve" the medals.

That seems to be good news for Senator Kerry. But this dichotomy does not capture the threat posed by the Swiftee accusations to John Kerry. Voters don't have to conclude that John Kerry doesn't deserve his medals in order to believe that John Kerry has exaggerated and/or misrepresented his war record and injuries. Bob Dole, for example, has savagely criticised John Kerry with these well-reported comments:

One day he's saying that we were shooting civilians, cutting off their ears, cutting off their heads, throwing away his medals or his ribbons. The next day he's standing there, `I want to be president because I'm a Vietnam veteran.' Maybe he should apologize to all the other 2.5 million veterans who served. He wasn't the only one in Vietnam. .... And here's, you know, a good guy, a good friend. I respect his record. But three Purple Hearts and never bled that I know of. I mean, they're all superficial wounds. Three Purple Hearts and you're out.

Mr. Dole apparently does not believe "that Kerry misrepresented his war record and does not deserve his war medals" and does believe that Kerry "fought honorably and does deserve" the medals. But Mr. Dole also believes that John Kerry has been exaggerating the significance of his war record and of his injuries - and that John Kerry should apologise for some of his excessive anti-war comments.

In other words, the Times analysis implies that Kerry-Edwards would be in great shape if everyone were thinking like Bob Dole. But that's not right.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose

One of the particularly pathetic aspects of the Kerry-Edwards response to the Swiftees' assault on John Kerry's post-Vietnam anti-war record is that the assault, and even its finer structure, was easy to see coming, as was noted by the Man Without Qualities way back on February 22:

So far, the media have been very weak in discussing Kerry's post-Vietnam-return antiwar activities - or the rest of his past, for that matter. After all, many of the people now involved in the mainstream media of Kerry's age participated in many of the same activities. The nation has learned to forgive them. Even Jane Fonda has apologized for some of what she did in the depths of her Vietnam era insanity - and on this point Ms. Fonda is more responsible than Senator Kerry, who does not apologize but instead just misrepresents his past. But if Kerry keeps pushing Vietnam, the Bush campaign won't be so gentle -and, ultimately, the media won't remain gentle, either. At some point Senator Kerry is going to have to stop misrepresenting his antiwar statements and outright apologize for some of them - especially his assertions to Congress that American soldiers were routinely war criminals. Veterans on the campaign trail are going to demand that of him - to his face.

Isn't that exactly what's happening now?
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A Big, Bad Number For The Man From Massachusetts

Forty-six percent (46%) of those surveyed by the Rasmussen Reports Presidential Tracking Poll now believe John Kerry is either exaggerating the truth (31%) or lying (15%) about his experiences in Vietnam while only thirty-nine percent (39%) now believe Senator Kerry is telling the truth. And that's before the public has had a chance to digest Kerry-Edwards' new admission that John Kerry's first Purple Heart may have been improperly awarded for an unintentionally self-inflicted wound and that Senator Kerry's own journal records that his boat had not been fired upon at the time of the supposed "engagement" for which that Purple Heart was awarded. One should expect those developments will further erode the Senator's credibility and standing.


Senator John Kerry and President George W. Bush each attract 47% of the vote according to that Rasmussen poll - and the President is moving up in other polls, too. In my view, that 47% number is likely yet another disaster for Kerry-Edwards because the President and his campaign appear to be lying rather low at the moment - and are not making big efforts to get his poll numbers up. I believe they likely do not want to risk the grotesque mistake committed by the Democrats of peaking before the Convention - thereby destroying the post-Convention "bounce" and all sense of momentum. The Rassmussen Poll also confirms that the President hit a home run in proposing to bring home many American troops, with 59% of poll respondents approving the President's proposal. But John Kerry opposes that proposal.

Of course, the ever more preposterous Zogby Poll is always to be taken solely as comic relief - but then, its low numbers for the incumbent leave room for the bigger and MORE MEDIA ATTENTION GETTING post convention "bounce!"

Kerry-Edwards is now a prototype of a Presidential campaign adrift and without any momentum whatsoever at a time they should be in full throttle. Kerry-Edwards has become a campaign for the students at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government to study, the way students at the medical school across the river study donated cadavers.
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Unsubstantiated Accusations From The New York Times?

An astute reader e-mails an excellent observation:

Both Bumiller and Zernike and Alessandra Stanley's articles in today's New York Times contain a phrase revolve around the concept of "substantiated." The Bumiller and Zernike article calls the Swift Boat Veterans' charges "mostly unsubstantiated" while Stanley says the charges "have not been substantiated."

It was my understanding that in the newspaper business, "substantiated" simply meant independent sources who said the same thing. While there is a lot of dispute about the charges, there are numerous eyewitness sources unconnected with the two authors of Unfit for Command who have made these charges. Of course, to call the charges "disputed," as they should be, would cast the controversy in an entirely different light, because no one thinks it is wrong to air "disputed" charges; the name we have for that process is called an election.

Does the Times have a different meaning of "substantiated" than the one I understand?

The Times seems to be treating the testimony of everyone who endorses the Swiftee accusations - even the testimony of actual, live witnesses on the scene in South East Asia - as incapable of substantiating the "unsubstantiated" Swiftee accusations against John Kerry. If so, that would be more than odd. How would the Times apparent terminology work in other contexts? For example, is a murder conviction that is proved "only" by the testimony of accusing eyewitnesses really an "unsubstantiated" conviction or one that is "mostly unsubstantiated" or one that has "not been substantiated" - even where the courts find that the crime has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt by exactly that testimony, which often happens? By way of another example, the Constitution provides that no Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. Would the Times report that a conviction of "treason" on the testimony of two eye witnesses to an overt act was "unsubstantiated?" (Of course, just to be clear, no one is suggesting that John Kerry ever committed treason, although he did accuse himself of committing war crimes.) The Swiftees do seem to have many more than two witnesses testifying for many of their accusations.

The Times terminology would be especially odd in this case because at least some of John Kerry's exploits on which some of his honors were predicated seem to be documented only by his own word. In other words, those honors were documented not just by the testimony of only one witness, but of a highly interested witness with a big conflict of interest. In the curious apparent argot of the Times, that would seem to make at least some of those honors "mostly unsubstantiated" or lead to a conclusion that the honors "have not been substantiated." Is that the conclusion the Times or Kerry-Edwards wants the public - or the language - to accept?

Strange it was. Passing strange.

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Monday, August 23, 2004

Justice Stings

Injustice is relatively easy to bear: what stings is justice. --H.L. Mencken (1880-1956).

Senator John Forbes Kerry is discovering the sting of Menken's observation first hand. The second Swift Boat Veterans for Truth advertisement is unassailable on credibility grounds. Worse for kerry-Edwards, the second ad cuts to the core of what really angers this veterans group - and so many other veterans. There is no hidden agenda here. John Kerry is now up against the pure power of the truth.

The fact is that it is hugely unlikely that Kerry-Edwards can retain any of the modest sympathy from veterans that the phony patriotic act and speeches so dominating the Democratic convention cultivated at such great expense. This second ad makes that point with devastaing succinctness.

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Thursday, August 19, 2004

Art: The View From 43d Street

The New York Times reports on "Seurat and the Making of `La Grande Jatte' " at the Art Institute of Chicago, which traces the French artist's preparations for his major painting:

The painting (its full title is "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte — 1884") has been in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago since 1926. So great is its fame that to some visitors it is the Art Institute, the way "Las Meninas" is the Prado. They are, of course, mistaken. The museum, one of this country's best, has other attractions.

And the Prado doesn't?

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Tuesday, August 17, 2004

From The Reaction, A Surprise Home Run

It is not just the intensity of John Kerry's and the liberal media responses to the President's proposal to bring home many American troops from Europe and Asia that makes one think that he hit a political home run. What really suggests that result is that intensity coupled with the insubstantiality and incompleteness of the arguments against the President's proposal. The New York Times and Washington Post editorials are especially notable for their furious and unsupported rhetoric - but Senator Kerry's own response is also notable. The Times editorial, for example, leads with this grab-bag:

The troop redeployment plan announced yesterday by President Bush makes little long-term strategic sense. It is certain to strain crucial alliances, increase overall costs and dangerously weaken deterrence on the Korean peninsula at the worst possible moment.
As a preliminary matter, consider the Times assertion that the President's proposal makes little long-term strategic sense. The same Times editorial notes that it has been known for some time that the Pentagon wants to pull back perhaps half of the roughly 70,000 soldiers now in Germany and a third of the nearly 40,000 troops in South Korea, and nothing in the Times condemnation of the President's proposal turns on the size. Indeed, a prior Times editorial already second-guessed the Pentagon's request. Further, an Op-Ed item in the Times - whose tone and reasoning seems entirely of a piece with the Times' approach - disputed the Pentagon's related proposal to maintain new bases in Eastern Europe. In short, while the Times' current fulminations are directed at the President - those fulminations are actually corollaries of the Times' conviction that the Pentagon is itself already making a request that makes little long-term strategic sense. How likely is that? And how do the Times and Senator Kerry's rejections of the Pentagon proposal square with John Kerry's repeated pledge to listen to the advice of the military leaders?

Nor does the Times' sweeping but unsupported claim that the proposal is certain to increase overall costs seem to be correct, as the Post notes:

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in a report in May that greatly reducing the U.S. presence overseas could save more than $1 billion a year but could cost nearly $7 billion upfront. "Restationing Army forces would produce, at best, only small improvements in the United States' ability to respond to far-flung conflicts," the CBO said.
It seems more like the CBO essentially expects a wash on the overall cost front, with some allowances for timing of expenses, and with a small improvement in overall military effectiveness. As a matter of common sense, should it cost more to maintain American soldiers in (1) America or (2) bases thousands of miles away? The Times is "certain" that the answer is choice (2), perhaps because Germany pays some of the costs of military bases in Germany.

The criticisms now emanating from Senator Kerry, the Times, the Post and the rest do not seem to include arguments that the President's proposal would increase any risks faced by the affected American servicemen. The Times thinks that The most dangerous threat still comes from North Korea, which is now thought to be building nuclear weapons. That seems correct, but doesn't it then make sense to remove as many American soldiers from the nuclear threat as possible - just as the Pentagon and the President are proposing?

There are fewer than 40,000 troops in South Korea - that's not a number one would expect to actually hold off or even materially delay a conventional assault on the South by the North. Indeed, the entire current American presence is less than the 44,000 fatalities U.S. troops suffered during the Korean War. Instead of being a significant combat force, the 40,000 American soldiers now in Korea are a "trip wire" or "hostage" force - one established and maintained to guaranty that the United States will respond to a conventional attack on the South. That the main threat from the North is now from a possible nuclear strike appears to reduce the combat significance of the American presence while increasing the risk that they would experience high casualties in the event of a Northern nuclear strike. Such increased risk and decreased combat significance in the face of the new nuclear threat appears to argue in favor of maintaining a much smaller American force, since that would reduce the risk of high casualties with no material reduction in the already immaterial combat significance of the American force. South Korea would not reasonably feel imperiled by the reduction, since the smaller force could function as an adequate "trip wire" or "hostage:" the United States will not allow a significant threat to, say, a force of 10,000 soldiers, go unaddressed. The mirror image of these considerations is that while it is true (as the Times notes) that Pyongyang has long coveted a reduction in American troop levels in Korea, any such reduction that leaves the American presence of sufficient strength to serve as an adequate "trip wire" or "hostage" will be of no satisfaction to the North - and therefore the President's proposal gives away no significant bargaining chip to the North.

The President's critics also claim that the repatriations of American troops from Europe is intended to "punish" those Western European nations - especially Germany - that failed to support the recent Iraq war effort. The Administration is denying that motivation, which is certainly correct, because it is preposterous that the United States deploys its military forces out of petulance. Moreover, Germany would simply not be punished by such a move. There is no "punishing" cost to Germany from such a US move.

The roughly 70,000 American soldiers now in Germany are not even a "trip wire" or "hostage" force - which is consistent with the Pentagon's desire to pull back perhaps half of them. The Times and other critics of the President disingenuously carry on as if 70,000 American soldiers are stationed in Germany so that they can rush off - like Batman - on a moment's notice to trouble spots in Africa or Kosovo. That's not what has happened. US European bases are intermediate points from which military actions might be fought and supported by US soldiers mostly home-based in the United States in any event. The Pentagon's proposal for greater reliance on leanly staffed bases in cheaper locales to which men and material can be transported as needed makes good sense, and the President's critics haven't provided any good counterarguments.

Further, a military base that cannot be used more or less at the will of the United States because the host country will not permit such use is not much good at all. Neither the Pentagon nor the White House can ignore that fact, which means that they cannot ignore the fact that the current German government seriously considered totally prohibiting the use of United States bases in Germany and German air space for the Iraq war and did seriously restrict the American use of those bases. Indeed, arguments were made and taken seriously in Germany that such American use of those bases violated the German constitution. Further, the German government actually obstructed American efforts to provide assistance to Turkey in connection with the Iraq war, as noted in this New York Times article. It is simply disingenuous to pretend that such serious symptoms of unreliability of an ally can be ignored to the point of assuming - as the Times and the President's critics are doing - that reliability of the host country is not a major factor in determining where to locate a military base or the appropriate location of military forces. Germany just cannot be presumed to be reliable now.

Oddly, it is the President's critics who are undiplomatically publicly harping on the connection between the recalcitrance of some European countries (especially Germany) during the Iraq war and the troop repatriation proposals advanced by the Pentagon and the President. The unreliability of those countries cannot be ignored by Pentagon planners or any White House administration. But there is no need to fray the diplomatic ties with those countries with continuing public harping. It's strange that the Democrats who prattle on about how the current President has abraded diplomatic relations with such countries of old Europe are more than willing to needlessly abrade those relations by drawing attention to the recent unreliability of their governments.

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Monday, August 16, 2004

Why Do They Hate Us?

The Democrats and liberal media have passionately and endlessly explained that the current president has caused our old European allies - especially Germany - to hate us. So tragic.

And now the same Democrats and liberal media are explaining that the Germans are now so unhappy with the bullying, unilateralist, lawless, America of Mr. Bush that they're hopping mad that he doesn't want to keep more of our soldiers there in Germany.

So I guess that if the Germans really, really loved us - the way they would under a President Kerry, I suppose - they would be out by the millions in the Berlin streets chanting "Yankee Go Home!"

Has history shown us that those Germans are just full of that kind of nuance and love to play hard-to-get!?

Ah, the inscrutable occident!
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Senator Harkin Flips Out

The Associated Press reports:

Sen. Tom Harkin pushed the name-calling in the presidential race to a new level, calling Vice President Dick Cheney a coward for not serving in Vietnam and cowardly for his criticism of John Kerry.

The AP does not report what John Edwards (who did not do military service) had to say about the Iowa Senator's comments - and did not seek out any reaction from former president Bill Clinton (same).

Also, there seems to be a typographical error in the AP article. The phrase "Harkin pushed the name-calling in the presidential race to a new level" clarly should read "Harkin pushed the name-calling in the presidential race to a new low."

The word "shrill" does appear in the AP article.
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Rudolf, This Is Nicholas ...

... we seem to have mainstream media liftoff on the Christmas-In-Cambodia story. Over.

Roger, Nicholas. This is Rudolf. Watch your tail, New York Times and Washiington Post remain UFO's. Over.

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Sunday, August 15, 2004

More Conventional Wisdom

The New York Times today publishes a rather panicky interview by Deborah ("This Can't Be True! Nobody I Know Is Voting For Bush!") Solomon of Yale Professor Ray C. Fair - creator of the "Fair Model" for predicting presidential races - a model that Professor Fair updated as of July 31st to show a coming Bush landslide of 57.48 percent of the two-party vote that has Ms. Solomon so worried. Unlike Ms. Solomon's questions, Professor Fair's answers are themselves models of professional restraint:

Ms. Solomon: The polls are suggesting a much closer race.

Professor Fair: Polls are notoriously flaky this far ahead of the election, and there is a limit to how much you want to trust polls.

S: Why should we trust your equation, which seems unusually reductive?

F: It has done well historically. The average mistake of the equation is about 2.5 percentage points.

S: In your book "Predicting Presidential Elections and Other Things," you claim that economic growth and inflation are the only variables that matter in a presidential race. Are you saying that the war in Iraq will have no influence on the election?

F: Historically, issues like war haven't swamped the economics. If the equation is correctly specified, then the chances that Bush loses are very small.

S: But the country hasn't been this polarized since the 60's, and voters seem genuinely engaged by social issues like gay marriage and the overall question of a more just society.

F: We throw all those into what we call the error term. In the past, all that stuff that you think should count averages about 2.5 percent, and that is pretty small.

S: It saddens me that you teach this to students at Yale, who could be thinking about society in complex and meaningful ways.

F: I will be teaching econometrics next year to undergraduates. Econometrics is a huge deal, because it is applied to all kinds of things. ....

S: Are you a Republican?

F: I can't credibly answer that question. Using game theory in economics, you are not going to believe me when I tell you my political affiliation because I know that you know that I could be behaving strategically. If I tell you I am a Kerry supporter, how do you know that I am not lying or behaving strategically to try to put more weight on the predictions and help the Republicans?

S: I don't want to do game theory. I just want to know if you are a Kerry supporter.

F: Backing away from game theory, which is kind of cute, I am a Kerry supporter.

S: I believe you entirely, although I'm a little surprised, because your predictions implicitly lend support to Bush.

F: I am not attempting to be an advocate for one party or another. I am attempting to be a social scientist trying to explain voting behavior.

S: But in the process you are shaping opinion. Predictions can be self-confirming, because wishy-washy voters might go with the candidate who is perceived to be more successful.

F: It could work the other way. If Kerry supporters see that I have made this big prediction for Bush, more of them could turn out just to prove an economist wrong.

S: Perhaps you could create an equation that would calculate how important the forecasts of economists are.

F: There are so many polls and predictions, and I am not sure the net effect of any one of them is much.

S: Yes, everyone in America is a forecaster. We all think we know how things will turn out.

F: So in that case, no one has much influence, including me.

The interview casts some interesting light on why the prevailing Conventional Wisdom is leaning fairly strongly towards Kerry-Edwards with little in the way of conventional support. As Kausfiles delicately and diplomatically and, I believe, correctly, puts it:

I just think Halperin's "Gang" is still influenced--if only subconsciously--by sympathy for the Democrats and (more important) for those Democratic operatives who are their sources. Correct for that and it's probably not Kerry's contest to lose after all.

Ms. Solomon is herself a more rampant case than those who merely favor Kerry-Edwards "subconsciously." Here she interviews a scientist at a major research university - and terms herself surprised that he hasn't distorted the results of his scientific research to favor his pre-existing political view. One easily imagines her internal dialogue: "Gee," she seems to be saying to herself, "I think nothing of distorting the results of my journalistic investigations to favor my pre-existing political view. What's the matter with this guy? I'll bet he's a closet Republican!" And what to make of Ms. Solomon's stunned quiet at the end of the interview after the Professor observes that what he writes won't influence the election much because lots of people are writing. Can there be a more direct challenge to the write-it-and-they-will-come approach of so many mainstream liberal journalists? More internal Solomon dialogue: "I always assume I'm going to influence the outcome of what I write about substantially - that's why I distort what I write!"

Of course, Ms. Solomon shouldn't worry so much about what she does with her own distortions. Her profession has a lot more in common on this point with the work of trial lawyers than with that of scientists. Who cares much if the analysis proves to be wrong after the jury has made it's award and appeals have expired - or her newsprint has yellowed? That's yesterday's news! Judging from her questioning, her likely first choice for the Democratic nominee was John Edwards - as was the case with so many of her colleagues.

She deplores what she calls Professor Fair's unusually reductive equation - but she thinks nothing of attempting to reduce him to a political label "Republican" or "Kerry supporter." She's surprised when her labeling approach doesn't yield a good prediction as to what the Professor is up to. Then there is her "sadness" at hearing that a professor of economics has been teaching his students that economics has a lot of influence on how people actually operate. So much better to learn to think in complex and meaningful ways that give inaccurate predictions.

Even after Professor Fair does his best to disabuse her of her prejudices, it never seems to occur to Ms. Solomon that the only reason anyone pays special attention to Professor Fair is that very reputation for predictive accuracy. It also never seems to occur to Ms. Solomon that the day after the election Professor Fair will still have that reputation to maintain - and whether he predicted the actual outcome of the election will matter to his reputation, but whether "his" guy Kerry won won't. Perhaps Ms. Solomon bases her view of how Ivy League economists operate on Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman - to whom a reputation for predictive inaccuracy now clings and who long ago traded in whatever economic credibility he may have had for the cheap, fleeting pleasures of a hack journalist: "Compare me… compare me, uh, with anyone else, and I think you'll see that my forecasting record is not great."

People like Mark Halperin and Charlie Cook really are non-hacks who do know more than the rest of us. Which is a good thing, because they and their like provide the input that makes the Conventional Wisdom worth reading - even if they are not always right. If every member of Halperin's Gang of 500 were equivalent to Ms. Solomon, and their input to the Conventional Wisdom equivalent to her contribution to this column, the Conventional Wisdom would be nothing more than a demonstration of the arithmetic fact that zero multiplied by five hundred is still zero.

MORE: From Betsy's Page. I'll be keeping an eye out for Stephen Green's Techcentral item, if Nick let's it through.

STILL MORE: From Don Luskin.

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Friday, August 13, 2004

Conventional Wisdom Goes Around The Bend

Kausfiles is right: The Note does constitute the Conventional Wisdom - and that's no compliment to the Note.

And the Conventional Wisdom is murmuring low, but ever louder, that, as announced yesterday by The Note, "this is now John Kerry's contest to lose:"

[R]emember the poisonous job approval, re-elect, and wrong track numbers that hang around the president's neck to this day and then consider the very smart, mustest-of-read essay by Charlie Cook, in which the Zen Master surveys the troubling (and consistently so ? ) poll numbers of the incumbent and renders this spot on verdict: LINK

...."President Bush must have a change in the dynamics and the fundamentals of this race if he is to win a second term. The sluggishly recovering economy and renewed violence in Iraq don't seem likely to positively affect this race, but something needs to happen. It is extremely unlikely that President Bush will get much more than one-fourth of the undecided vote, and if that is the case, he will need to be walking into Election Day with a clear lead of perhaps three percentage points."

"This election is certainly not over, but for me, it will be a matter of watching for events or circumstances that will fundamentally change the existing equation ? one that for now favors a challenger over an incumbent."

It is difficult to know whether it is more embarrassing for the "very smart" Charlie Cook to write this stuff or for the Note to have picked up Mr. Cook's musings with so much enthusiasm. I'm not going to rebut the rather scattered Note arguments because I don't think they amount to anything coherent. But I will cite just one report and submit to the reader that it shows the makers and distributors of the current Conventional Wisdom are seriously off track:
The share of Americans who say they approve of the job Bush is doing inched over the 50% mark to 51%. No president who was at or above 50% at this point in an election year has lost.

History is not destiny. But the Conventional Wisdom is supposed to be, well, conventional - and the historical fact recounted in this one news article indicates that by conventional calculations Mr. Bush is doing pretty well right now. That may not be right, but it should be the Conventional Wisdom. That it isn't the Conventional Wisdom says something about the current media mind - and that's not a compliment to the current media mind.


MORE The liberal media seem to swing between their convictions that President Bush is (1) a dope and (2) an evil genius (sometimes evil "idiot savant"). Choice (2) is likely to be vetted pretty widely in September because the President - or somebody - has succeeded in setting his expectations very low while there are considerable grounds to believe that the President will receive a rather large bounce from his convention, for reasons set out in prior posts. And then there's the increasingly bizarre Democratic confidence in those Florida and Ohio polls and their obsession with one month of ambiguous employment numbers ... and so much more.
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A Little Bit Of Cambodia In My Life IV

According to DRUDGE:

TOUR OF DUTY author and John Kerry historian Doug Brinkley is rushing a piece for the NEW YORKER... [which] will now say that Kerry was not in Cambodia during Christmas, but rather in January.
One certainly can't fault the junior senator from Massachusetts and his supporters, such as Mr. Brinkley, for want of imagination. It's interesting that Senator Kerry is not reported to be planning to personally refute his Christmas-in-Cambodia critics with this revised story, but is running it through Mr. Brinkley. All the better if the story requires further supplementing!

The Telegraph provides additional indications that Kerry-Edwards is moving towards the expected story: "we were so close to Cambodia that we didn't know if we were there or not." [Link via Instapundit.] If DRUDGE is right, then presumably this Telegraph story will complement the New Yorker article to form a new generalized claim that young John Kerry moved from near Cambodia in late December to a position in Cambodia within a few weeks.

How will the Senator back up this new claim? - especially given the rather emphatic and general denials of his Cambodia activities that have been issued by people who were also in Southeast Asia at the time. Will the Senator call on his "band of brothers" for their further testimony? If so, why did they not say anything until now? Perhaps the new version will have Senator Kerry dispatched to Cambodia in the company of that hat-wielding CIA operative and out of the company of his brothers? If so, will the Senator pull that CIA operative out of his briefcase, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of his hat? We'll have to wait and buy that New Yorker!

Having this new story transmitted or corroborated in part or whole by the band of brothers (if that is the Kerry plan) - might be very expensive if, as Instapundit suggests, other evidence (a map!) definitively shows that all or part of the story is absurd. And if Kerry's Swift-boat crew mates are mustered to defend the Senator from "Christmas-in-Cambodia" criticisms, and if their testimony on that point can be cleanly shown to be knowingly false or so absurd as to demonstrate willful indifference to the truth, the general credibility of those brothers might be seriously and generally discredited. Such a clean showing of knowing falsehood or deliberate indifference to the truth has not yet been accomplished. But the credibility of Kerry's brothers has not been previously explicitly questioned, at least not widely - even on the right by many who view Senator Kerry's own credibility with increasing skepticism. The consequences of a loss of brotherly credibility would be a serious blow to Kerry-Edwards. Consider, for example, the Washington Post's editorial:

[A] new assault on Mr. Kerry -- in an ad by a group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and in a new book -- crosses the line in branding Mr. Kerry a coward and a liar. This smear is contradicted by Mr. Kerry's crew mates, undercut by the previous statements of some of those now making the charges and tainted by the chief source of its funding: Republican activists dedicated to defeating Mr. Kerry in November.
If brotherly credibility is reduced, the Post's other two factors don't vanish - but they have pretty limited persuasive effect. More generally, if the credibility of the band of brothers is thought to be somewhat questionable, voters will have further grounds to ignore the four month long Southeast Asian bit of John Kerry's life.

And that would be a good thing.

MORE: Of course, any undermining of brotherly credibility would just be in addition to all the other "squirrelly and unsettling and not quite right" aspects of Senator Kerry's autobiography, as Tom Maguire ably summarises.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2004

A Little Bit Of Cambodia In My Life III

[T]oday, on Fox News' "Fox and Friends," Kerry Campaign Advisor Jeh Johnson had this to say to the show's co-host Brian Kilmeade:

JOHNSON: John Kerry has said on the record that he had a mistaken recollection earlier. He talked about a combat situation on Christmas Eve 1968 which at one point he said occurred in Cambodia. He has since corrected the recorded to say it was some place on a river near Cambodia and he is certain that at some point subsequent to that he was in Cambodia. My understanding is that he is not certain about that date.

KILMEADE: I think the term was he had a searing memory of spending Christmas - back in 1986 in the senate floor in Cambodia.

JOHNSON: I believe he has corrected the record to say it was some place near Cambodia he is not certain whether it was in Cambodia but he is certain there was some point subsequent to that that he was in Cambodia.

[Link via Instapundit]

Well, Mr. Johnson can say he believes whatever he wants us to believe he believes - he's paid by Senator Kerry to do that and not laugh while he does it. But the Man Without Qualities believes that Mr. Johnson acknowledges that Senator Kerry is heading for a story very similar to the one that he was expected to craft:

So I wasn't actually in Cambodia at the time I said I was. That's a nice "gotcha" my opponents have come up with.

No, I was where I was ordered to go: Right at the border of Cambodia as part of the then-secret and now-well-known, illegal American incursion into Cambodia. ... In fact, at the time seared - seared, I tell you - into my memory I was personally intensely concerned that my unit had in the confusion accidentally crossed over into Cambodia, through the very national boundary to which my President had determined to show his utmost deliberate contempt. I later determined that had not been the case. ... But make no mistake about it: Even this minor point is one reason why the sacred bonds of trust I have always maintained and cherished with the American people have caused me not to bring up the matter up for more than 12 years. Yes, I may have stretched a minor point years ago to accomplish a larger good - and I ask your forgiveness if I did that. Many combat veterans get carried away on details in service to their country. ... And blah, BLAH, BLAH!

And, if I'm reading Mr. York right, he sees where the good Senator is headed, too, and is pretty concerned that it may be a fairly safe haven for the worst (although not all) of the "Christmas-in-Cambodia" storm:

On other occasions, Kerry has said he was not actually in Cambodia but rather "near" the country. In an interview with the Providence Journal-Bulletin that appeared in April, 1994, Kerry said "Christmas Eve I was up getting shot at somewhere near Cambodia." The account of Kerry's service in Douglas Brinkley's Tour of Duty says Kerry was on patrol near Cambodia, but does not mention him being in the country. "Because they were only an hour away from that neighboring country," Brinkley writes, "Kerry began reading up on Cambodia's history...." Brinkley also quotes from Kerry's Vietnam journal, in which Kerry wrote that he was "patrolling near the Cambodian line." .... Finally, another member of Kerry's crew, Jim Wasser, who supports Kerry in the presidential race, told the Dallas Observer last month that he wasn't sure where PCF-44 was at the time in question. "On Christmas in 1968, we were close [to Cambodia]," Wasser said. "I don't know exactly where we were. I didn't have the chart. It was easy to get turned around with all the rivers around there. But I'll say this: We were the farthest inland that night. I know that for sure."

Wasser's recollection introduces the idea that Kerry and some members of his crew might simply have been confused about where they were. While that conflicts with Gardner's recollection, it might still seem plausible if Kerry had, over the years, said only that he was in Cambodia at one time. Given today's questions, Kerry might now say that he simply believed he was there, but in retrospect sees that he might not have known his precise position at the time.
Yes, indeed, he might say just that. Now if only the perceptive Mr. York would control his urge to rely on the Senator's likely bad "pow/hat" joke to meet this line of argument.

Some of the Senator's most dramatic statements on this topic do assert that he was in Cambodia for Christmas - and he probably wasn't. In other words, the Senator has probably told some whoppers to obtain effects he desired at the time of the tellings. His inconsistent "near Cambodia" statements probably best indicate that he knew his "in Cambodia" assertions were whoppers, at least a long time ago (although he didn't expressly acknowledge the error then) and maybe at the time he told the whoppers. That may be enough to do some real damage to the Senator's image and story with a voters who are still focusing on his Vietnam heroism as a material reason for choosing him. All politics is ultimately intimate. The "Christmas-in-Cambodia" mess may help some office, poolside, dinner and cocktail party Kerry-Edwards advocates to acknowledge that the Senator's Vietnam service record is just not that important to the election, anyway. Those office, poolside, dinner and cocktail party effects can be as substantial as the effect Al Gore's whoppers had on transforming what he wanted to be taken as reasons for seeing him as a straight-talking, visionary renaissance man for the 21st century into mere anecdotes ("war stories", one might say) unimportant to the election - and into pretensions that tended to make him look insubstantial and less sound. The mess also may erode Kerry's image as reliable and a straight shooter. That would constitute a nice synergy with the Bush-Cheney "flip-flopper/no core beliefs" ads and arguments that have been working hard to work exactly such an erosion, but from entirely different facts.

One should not try to collapse this choice of a president to this one incident, or argue that this campaign is or should be essentially now over - or argue that "Christmas-in-Cambodia" is a huge issue for Kerry-Edwards. It's not huge. It's substantial. That's enough! Bush's supporters should get that message out, keep it out there and get on with the rest of the campaign.

And, by the way, Jim Wasser's comments to the Dallas Observer last month were made well after the SBVFT had served public notice of their intent to nail the good Senator on his Vietnam record. Doesn't the reader think it was a nice, professional touch on the part of Kerry-Edwards to have the "we weren't sure where we were" argument come from a Swift-boat brother a month ago and in a Dallas newspaper, instead of just having the Senator "clarify" his own prior faux-crystal-clear Senate-floor gobbledygook in an interview with some lapdog Boston Globe reporter after the crème-de-merde hit the fan? See, maybe that kind of thing is why they pay Mr. Shrum - or somebody at Kerry-Edwards - the big bucks.

So nice.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Not Too Brite Wannabee

Since James Taranto is on vacation, his regular Not Too Brite feature has been stilled. A real loss. So here goes. Reuters, the "news" agency reports:

A man and his two sons have been arrested on suspicion of murdering a neighbor and then eating parts of his body after he tripped over a woman relative at a dance, Philippine police said on Tuesday. The three men are suspected of stabbing neighbor Benjie Ganoy to death last month in a remote village in the southwestern island of Palawan. They ate his ears, tongue and arms after roasting the body over a fire, provincial police chief Michael Garraez said.

Oddly enough!

There, did I do that right, James?
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A Little Bit Of Cambodia In My Life II

The post immediately below has drawn substantial commentary, both in the blogosphere and by e-mail - and the commentary seen by the Man Without Qualities has been remarkably good.

For openers, a necessary but not sufficient condition for the Cambodia whopper (inevitably to be called "Cambodiagate?" - or has that already been taken?) to reach Monicagate stature is that it gets enough media coverage. That hasn't happened yet - but, for the reasons discussed below, it probably will get a lot more coverage soon. The second necessary condition is that "the right" or "Bush supporters" widely overstate the case and the significance of the scandal. Unfortunately, that has already begun to happen.

The take that this controversy will be one of the many things continuing to drive up Kerry's negatives, playing into people's existing tendency to think the guy's a pompous phony (or as I call them in the post immediately below, one of Kerry's many "embarrassments") is a best-case scenario. The scandal may also cause a substantial number of people to come to their senses and stop focusing on Vietnam-era doings at all - which, of course, would disadvantage Kerry-Edwards.

Comparison of the Cambodia whopper with Gore's whoppers and distortions - including whatever partially baked version of the "internet-invention" whopper one wants to entertain - is good (if approximate) on several counts. The mainstream media has not given the Cambodia story the coverage it deserves, and is probably resisting putting out a story that substantially disadvantages their guy - the Nightline non-effort was further evidence of that if any were needed. The mainstream media also resisted putting out the Gore whopper stories - but eventually they had to relent enough so that the stories and the issue cut pretty deep. In the Cambodia case, those media have a colorable excuse at the moment: The book hasn't been released, yet. Yes, some people have received advanced copies. But once the book is released the mainstream media will have a harder time not addressing the points it raises - and the arguments that they should be covering those points will have more bite. Not that the mainstream liberal media won't try, mind you. The story is already migrating out, as Instapundit puts it with a link to this Chicago Sun Times column. An important thing to remember here is that it is only necessary that enough media actually report on the story to get it out - not that every, or even most, mainstream media outlets provide good coverage. Don't expect Dan Rather and Peter Jennings or Nightline ever to give appropriate coverage to this story - but don't think that they have too for the story to get out and cut, either. That's why outfits like Fox News are now eating the mainstream ratings lunch every day.

An astute reader e-mailed the question: Why would SBVFT have an impeachment-like backlash when the President and the Republicans aren't trying to do anything with this information? Well, "the Republicans" - or some Republicans - are trying to do things with the information. Of course, they have every right to do that. But John Kerry's defenders are already on that point with their focus on the Republican Bush-supporting contributors to SBVFT. Yes, the President and his campaign have been wise to avoid the SBVFT, and I do not think he should expressly disavow them either. But if enough of his supporters start overstating the case (or perhaps one prefers the other cliche: overplaying the hand) this scandal allows them to reasonably make, a Monica-like backlash is a very real possibility.

We are not at the backlash stage, yet. If the matter is handled correctly - like the many Gore distortions and whoppers were handled by the Bush campaign and his sympathizers in 2000 - the effect of this scandal could be very positive for Mr. Bush. But if Bush supporters widely overstate the case things can get a lot dicier.

To paraphrase an old economics maxim: More reasonable is better!

One of Bill Quick's commenters also thinks I just missed the point (which, of course, wouldn't be a first for me):

Sorry, but Musil misses the point on this one. True vets shade the truth, or invent out of wholecloth, daring episodes of their service... but that isn't what Kerry did. Kerry, as he did in his anti-war testimony, claimed to be doing immoral and illegal things at the behest of his superior officers (to include the President of the United States, in his Cambodia claims). To claim that I had wild orgiastic sex with the cheerleading squad in high school is an understandable lie.... to claim I raped the cheerleading squad and ate their bodies is rather less reasonable.

That the voting public will construe the Kerry whopper as of overwhelming severity is premature, to say the least. I certainly don't expect Kerry-Edwards to admit to that severity, even if they believe it. Indeed, Lanny Davis appeared on Hannity & Colmes last night all tricked out in his highest dudgeon over the mendacity of the SBVFT accusations - so filled with unfelt "outrage" that his face seemed blank above the lips. I expect John Kerry to adopt a similar approach and argue something like this:

So I wasn't actually in Cambodia at the time I said I was. That's a nice "gotcha" my opponents have come up with.

No, I was where I was ordered to go: Right at the border of Cambodia as part of the then-secret and now-well-known, illegal American incursion into Cambodia. I spread no significant falsehood about my commanding officers or the President. Sure, I may have got a little carried away when I described myself as being in Cambodia. In fact, at the time seared - seared, I tell you - into my memory I was personally intensely concerned that my unit had in the confusion accidentally crossed over into Cambodia, through the very national boundary to which my President had determined to show his utmost deliberate contempt. I later determined that had not been the case. Maybe I still later stretched a point or got confused during my efforts to right those serious wrongs. But, if so, my error concerned an insignificant point in the larger scheme of the monstrous errors and wrongs committed in Southeast Asia I was attempting to right.

But make no mistake about it: Even this minor point is one reason why the sacred bonds of trust I have always maintained and cherished with the American people have caused me not to bring up the matter up for more than 12 years. Yes, I may have stretched a minor point years ago to accomplish a larger good - and I ask your forgiveness if I did that. Many combat veterans get carried away on details in service to their country. But the material facts here are that American soldiers had been illegally sent into Cambodia as part of the same incursion that placed me as a witness - a kind of martyr - at the very threshold of that travesty committed by an American president who lied about it to the American people. As president, I will never lie to you. ... And blah, BLAH, BLAH!

Perhaps Senator Kerry can be shown to have updated his Cambodia story, but this Washington Post article found by Powerline - while intriguing and interesting (especially since it's also posted on the Kerry-Edwards website) - is not that:

A close associate hints: There's a secret compartment in Kerry's briefcase. He carries the black attaché everywhere. Asked about it on several occasions, Kerry brushed it aside. Finally, trapped in an interview, he exhaled and clicked open his case.

"Who told you?" he demanded as he reached inside. "My friends don't know about this."

The hat was a little mildewy. The green camouflage was fading, the seams fraying.

"My good luck hat," Kerry said, happy to see it. "Given to me by a CIA guy as we went in for a special mission in Cambodia."

Kerry put on the hat, pulling the brim over his forehead. His blue button-down shirt and tie clashed with the camouflage. He pointed his finger and raised his thumb, creating an imaginary gun. He looked silly, yet suddenly his campaign message was clear: Citizen-soldier. Linking patriotism to public service. It wasn't complex after all; it was Kerry.

He smiled and aimed his finger: "Pow."

Heck, people, the man was making a joke.


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Monday, August 09, 2004

A Little Bit Of Cambodia In My Life

Is it Hugh Hewitt correct in writing that the Cambodia whopper is the weakest spot in Kerry's Vietnam narrative? Is he likely correct in writing:

[A]t some point a print editor or television producer with integrity has to surface who is willing to acknowledge that Kerry's lying about an illegal mission to Cambodia --on the floor of a Senate in order to advance a political agenda-- raises a huge question about all of his Vietnam narrative that depends solely on his testimony, and on his credibility generally. Boldly inventing episodes that didn't happen to pad your resume doesn't detract from Kerry's courage, or his rescue of one of his crewmates under fire, but Christmas-Eve-in-Cambodia is a window on Kerry's trustworthiness.
What about all the excitement John Kerry's "Christmas-Eve-In-Cambodia" story is generating in the blogosphere, including posts by Bill Quick, Instapundit, Ipse Dixit, LittleGreenFootballs, Roger L. Simon, and Speed of Thought, and a particularly excellent effort at JustOneMinute? Novak is also on the case - and says he has actually read the whole book.

The situation is developing rapidly and partial answers are already available. As far as the mainstream media is concerned, we don't know if any "integrity" is involved, but Nightline is getting active. Much of the work done by bloggers, especially Tom Maguire, is extraordinary.

But the growing excitement about young John Kerry's prevarications may begin to smell like a little bit of Monica Lewinski - and that would not be good. Not good at all.

Let's take some time out for a reality check. Yes, there is considerable evidence - and always has been - that John Kerry has exaggerated certain aspects of his military record but so have a great many very brave and noble combat veterans throughout history - and it has always been that way, in and after every war. To get a sense of how this is integrated into American culture, one might spend a few nights cozied up with some vintage movies from, say, the 1930's and 1950's, in which actors playing family members of veterans recount affectionately how the veteran's frequently retold war stories have him personally prevailing in the battle of, say, Chickamauga, Ypres or Guadalcanal. Or perhaps the reader has personal experience with such a cherished veteran - many people do. And it's not just ordinary servicemen who stretch the truth. General Douglas MacArthur, for example, was widely considered to have taken far too much credit for military successes in which he was involved - but that doesn't change the fact that MacArthur was a great general worthy of great respect:

Among Navy officers ... MacArthur was viewed as a pompous windbag and an incurable ham, always playing to the galleries. ... They felt certain that MacArthur's massive ego would never allow him to ... give the Navy proper credit for its vital contribution to that effort.

MacArthur also distorted reasons why he hadn't accomplished more than the considerable amount did accomplish:

"At times it had looked as though it was intended that I should be defeated ... My isolation, indeed, is complete. This area is not only the forgotten one but is the one of lost opportunities. Time and again, had I had the support, the opportunity was present for a decisive stroke. I do not know who is responsible but it is a story of national shame." ... The statistics refuted MacArthur's sweeping indictment.

I do not wish to equate the tiny military career of John Kerry with the huge accomplishments of Douglas MacArthur. But is it wrong for veterans and even the most senior officers in the service to exaggerate the obstacles they overcome or the extent or importance of their participation? Of course it's wrong. But not every such distortion or exaggeration is "a window on [the veteran's] trustworthiness." And it strikes me as much overblown to suggest that "Kerry's lying about an illegal mission to Cambodia --on the floor of a Senate in order to advance a political agenda-- raises a huge question about all of his Vietnam narrative that depends solely on his testimony, and on his credibility generally."

Does lying about one's military record by itself disqualify one from the Presidency? Teddy Roosevelt's presentation of his role at San Juan Hill was not limited to "just the facts" - and not without serious distortion and exaggeration of their, and his, significance:

Roosevelt promoted himself as a hero to his media contacts, who obligingly reported his boasts as truth in their newspaper dispatches. In reality, Roosevelt's charge was foolhardy; it wasn't even up San Juan Hill.

Is anybody out there going to argue that Teddy Roosevelt wasn't a good president?

Even if John Kerry told a whopper about Cambodia (which seems likely), it simply does not raise a huge issue for him politically unless this particular whopper is highly material - in fact, central - to today's ongoing presidential race. And it isn't any of that. In fact, John Kerry has not used this particular whopper for more than 12 years. He seems to have been trying to hide it - one consequence being the need for all that good blogger investigative work. Senator Kerry is not running on it now. And nobody is arguing that John Kerry obtained a medal or other accolade because of anything he did or didn't do in Cambodia.

Was it wrong of John Kerry to tell this whopper (assuming it is a whopper)? Of course it was wrong. But is telling such a whopper so serious a sin that we should distrust everything else John Kerry says about his war record to the point of demanding independent verification - as Mr. Hewitt suggests. I submit that arguing that position will simply lose the very swing voters one is trying to persuade. Worse, such an argument merely confirms the misplaced significance of those four months in Vietnam - at the expense of all of John Kerry's years in the Senate, which is where attention should be focused.

And it really doesn't add much weight to any wrong John Kerry may have committed if he told his Cambodia whopper on the Senate floor in order to advance a political agenda. How can one determine the days on which the Senate is probably going to be served a whopper from its floor in order to advance the political agenda of the whopper-server? Easy, just check the calendar for any day the Senate is going to be in session. If, say, someone like Ted Kennedy speaks, the odds rise to almost 100%. You can see and hear it happen from the visitors' gallery. It's always been that way.

Was it wrong for Bill Clinton to perjure himself in the Monica mess? Of course it was. But the Lewinski imbroglio demonstrated that most of the electorate is simply not easily sympathetic to an attempt to use what it sees as legal niceties (perjury, sanctity of the Senate floor) to elevate a mere lie to a sweeping assault on someone's fitness for the Presidency. This means that the essence of the charge against John Kerry must be found in the whopper itself - not in its appurtenances, such as having been said at one time or the other under oath or on in some sacred space. Worse for the Kerry critics, each time Kerry has used the Cambodia whopper was a long time ago. And it will likely be not much of an answer to argue that the old whopper is relevant because John Kerry has made his Vietnam service a central credential. That is generally true, and people who believe such things are silly - but as noted above John Kerry is not making his Cambodia whopper an issue in this campaign.

Other charges against John Kerry's Vietnam service are much more substantial than the Cambodia whopper. Pulling down a medal for shooting a fleeing man in the back - a charge made and unmade and remade by Mr. Elliot, for example - might be quite a different matter, if it can be proved. Senator Kerry has made an issue of that medal. In this sense Novak gets it right: "Unfit for Command" sends a devastating message, unless effectively refuted. Perhaps most disturbing are allegations that Kerry's combat decorations are unjustified. But even on this count, challenging events in combat after thirty years - with all the invitation to error and unsettling closure that invites - might very justifiably send shivers down the spines of many decorated veterans.

Unlike Mr. Novak, I have not yet read "Unfit for Command," so I will reserve judgment. But from what I have seen, the most valid use of its accusations may be to argue that nobody should be voting in America in 2004 very much on the basis of what happened to a junior officer in Southeast Asia in 1968. Yes, that result was slyly contemplated by Messrs. Morris and O'Reilly - and would very much please the Bush campaign. Sometimes partisan desires are right desires for the country, too.

But attempts to go beyond that use of "Unfit for Command" seem more likely to alienate swing voters than persuade them. John Kerry is a personally loathsome selfish man with bad judgment, a snob with a highly undistinguished Senate career and devoid of good ideas. There's plenty to run against here. His Cambodia whopper is yet another of his many embarrassments. But carrying on as if it were more than that is likely just to make one seem like a fugitive from the fever swamps. The voters showed what they think of such fugitives in the Monica mess.


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