Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The Fire Within III: This Time It's Personal

Kausfiles points out that Donkey Rising's Ruy Teixeira and Slate's William Saletan have been busy, busy, busy cobbling up yet more ad hoc special purpose arguments explaining why Kerry-Edwards really did get that bounce most other observors missed and why the Democrats really scored big on those now-to-be-construed-as-all-important poll "internals" and "issues." Kausfiles signals agreement with detecting an "issues and internals" bounce, and with the importance of that bounce - but thinks the problem is mostly that John Kerry is personally an unattractive candidate and that trends favor of Bush on the big issues - Iraq and the economy.

But it's worse than that for the Democrats. While Senator Kerry is personally very unappealing and the trends on the big issues (the biggest by far being the domestic economy - never to be taken for granted) are in Mr. Bush's favor and by most indications will continue in that direction until the election, Kerry-Edwards has more problems than those even within the context of these new ad hoc arguments.

There is the basic problem that neither Messrs. Saletan nor Teixeira offers up any historical or other justification for considering an "issues and internals" bounce to be of electoral significance - especially where such an ad hoc bounce fails to correspond to a significant bounce in net support. It's all very nice to pick out some poll question on which one thinks one's candidate has done well, call it an "issue" and proclaim it's significance (Kerry's favorable rating ...! ability to handle an international crisis ...! clear plan for the country ...! personality and leadership qualities a president should have ...! etc), and in other contexts such matters are valuable to campaign professionals. But would one of these worthy pundits care to come forward with an example of a ticket who got as little overall bounce as Kerry-Edwards, also received an "issues and internals" bounce like Kerry-Edwards is alleged to have received - and then won the White House? How about any argument that an "issues and internals" bounce has ever meant anything?

One big problem with "issues and internals" is that there are so many of them, and they deploy themselves like guests at a cocktail party at which the pundit speaks only to his friends. For example, does any sensible person think Kerry-Edwards would score well on an "issues and internals" poll question that probes who would best keep the nation's courts from imposing gay marriage a la Massachusetts? Of course, that question is not driving this election - yet over 70% of voters in the "battlefield state" of Missouri just voted for a constitutional amendment to keep that from happening. Why don't Messrs. Saletan and Teixeira spend time chatting up that issue at their "issues and internals" cocktail parties posing as pundit columns?

Worse for Kerry-Edwards, the particular "issues and internals" on which these two pundits choose to focus are arguably unlikely to have staying power (in the sense that they can be used pointedly in the future campaign, not in the sense that they will linger - all convention bounces tend to fade quickly), as I noted in a prior post. Senator Kerry appeals to veterans, for example? Neither the New York Times Magazine article on the subject (" Will Kerry's support from veterans be significant enough to matter in November? In terms of pure numbers, probably not") nor the Wall Street Journal editorial pages seem to think so - and it's inherently implausible that the "internal" will actually help Kerry-Edwards. Another example: "Clear plan?" Kerry-Edwards assumes that the election is about dissatisfaction with the incumbent, so the challengers don't need a "clear plan," and Kerry-Edwards offers a "clear plan" on neither the domestic economy nor Iraq, the "big issues."

One could pick apart each item on the carefully edited "issues and internals" lists that Messrs. Saletan and Teixeira have made and checked twice, apparently in the hope that some form of Santa Claus will bring them the White House in November. But the White House is not awarded on the basis of ad hoc special pleading and self-indulgent lists. One must have the fire in the belly to try for a more universal perspective. In fact, the White House quest requires one to struggle to imitate God, as best one can and with all of one's failings, knowing one is bound to fail in the imitation effort even if one succeeds in the election. P.J. O'Rourke observed God is a Republican and Santa Claus is a Democrat. Santa Claus is preferable to God in every way but one: There is no such thing as Santa Claus.

The Man Without Qualities has a list today, too, one borrowed from the Joint Economic Committee. It's a list of some headlines about the economy over the past week that may help Messrs. Saletan and Teixeira to concentrate their minds in their quest for a more divine perspective:

Factory Orders Rise, Services Buoyed (Reuters – August 4, 2004)

“WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New orders at U.S. factories rose by more than expected in June and May's fall was revised to show a gain, government data showed on Wednesday, while a jump in a key service sector poll added to the upbeat outlook.”

U.S. Auto Sales Heat Up Again in July (Reuters – August 3, 2004)

“DETROIT (Reuters) - U.S. auto sales heated up again in July, after a surprising slowdown a month earlier, even as Detroit's traditional Big Three automakers had mixed results.”

U.S. Factories Enter Longest Stretch of Rapid Growth in 30 Years (Agence France-Presse – August 2, 2004)

“WASHINGTON (AFP) - The American manufacturing sector sped up activity in July, cementing the longest stretch of rapid growth in more than 30 years, a survey showed.”

U.S Factory Growth, Hiring Stay Strong (Reuters – August 2, 2004)

“CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. manufacturing expanded in July for a 14th straight month and employment in the factory sector was still on the increase, a report released on Monday showed.”

Consumer Confidence Edges Higher (CNN/Reuters – July 30, 2004)

“NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. consumer sentiment improved marginally in July as Americans' outlook on the future of the economy brightened, according to a survey released Friday.”

Wages, Benefits Rise Moderately in 2Q (Washington Post/Associated Press – July 29, 2004)

“Wages and benefits for U.S. workers rose a moderate 0.9 percent in the April-June quarter this year, down slightly from the previous quarter's increase, as price pressures for benefits like health insurance eased significantly.”

Home Sales Still Sizzle (Washington Post – July 28, 2004)

“Ron Rush knows the housing market could cool someday, but the Fairfax County real estate agent hasn't seen it happening yet. National statistics released this week show the market is still cooking despite some predictions that rising interest rates and unsustainable prices could bring the years-long climb to an end.”

European Economies: German Unemployment Rises to 11-Month High (Bloomberg – August 4, 2004)

“Aug. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Germany's unemployment rate rose to an 11-month high in July, reducing the chances that consumer spending in Europe's biggest economy will recover from two years of stagnation. The unemployment rate rose to 10.6 percent from 10.5 percent in June, the Nuremberg-based Federal Labor Agency said. The number of jobseekers rose a seasonally adjusted 11,000 to 4.39 million, the sixth straight monthly increase.”

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