Man Without Qualities

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.
(0) comments

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.

(0) comments

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.

(0) comments

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?
(0) comments

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.


(0) comments

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.

(0) comments

Bill O'Reilly Finds That Peeling Off All The Spin From Herr Doktorprofessor ...

.... Paul Von Krugman to find the substance of his arguments is like peeling off all the skins to find the substance of an onion.

There's no there there.

Don Luskin was there and gives the amazing highlights with great commentary.

I do have one quibble. The Russert face off was somewhat asymmetrical. A symmetrical pairing would have been more like Krugman v. Hannity - not O'Reilly. Paul Krugman has made himself into something of a generic spokesman for a certain quarter of the loonier left, in the process tossing out almost all of the interesting economic substance from his writing. Herr Doktorprofessor may have made a good trade there, since even his most serious writings were never as interesting or as substantive as his admirers maintain. He is good at self promotion.

But while he is surely more conservative than Herr Doktorprofessor, O'Reilly is not a generic spokesman for any quarter of the right. He is more of a political eclectic a majority of whose views happen to tilt right. The views he presents on his show are not particularly conservative in any consistent manner. O'Reilly points that out all the time, and he's correct.

But in a face off with Herr Doktorprofessor O'Reilly will almost of necessity seem consistently conservative. Don notes that he hadn't seen Bill O'Reilly before this face off. So it's understandable that Don construes O'Reilly as more of a conservative than O'Reilly really seems to be.

A quibble.

UPDATE: Luskin thinks O'Reilly was all the more effective for not being Krugman's conservative mirror image. His point is well taken. Don also posts the transcript, which is hilarious and very telling. More from Luskin at NRO.

And Henry Hanks at Croooow Blog is on the case.

(1) comments

Sunday, August 08, 2004

An Equation

TIME magazine's article on its recent poll begins with this sentence, which ought to reflect an amazing equation in the TIME writer's mind, but is actually ridiculously predictable:

Just as the Democratic Party convention gave the Kerry campaign very little "bounce" in the polls, so have last week's elevated terror alerts had only limited impact on an electorate already largely decided, according to the latest TIME poll.

For TIME, equation of a major party's political convention with a terrorist alert seems perfectly natural. The Democratic convention was presented, of course, as a huge partisan rhetorical display arguing that John Kerry should be elected in the fall. There's nothing wrong with that - it's what a political convention is supposed to be.

But the administration has not presented the terror alert as reflecting badly on the Democratic contender, or as somehow supporting the re-election of the incumbent. Rather, the alert was presented by the administration as apolitical and as well-founded. That the terror alert is well-founded has apparently been borne out by reported facts so far notwithstanding irresponsible attempts by some of the loonier operatives on the Democratic side and in the media to cast the alert as a political scam (a position disavowed by Senator Kerry himself). If anything, the poll shows that the explicit arguments against the administration advanced by some Democrats and media representatives on the basis of the alert have not had the effect the people presenting those arguments desired.

Any supposed advantage the administration and Mr. Bush would gain from the terror alerts is therefore essentially implicit - based essentially entirely, as TIME puts it, on voters tendency to see Bush as the stronger candidate on dealing with terrorism. Why would an administration willing to abuse the nation's awareness of terrorist plots stop short of actually arguing explicitly for the same position that such loonier Democrats and media representatives explicitly argue against? Explicit aguments advanced by strong Bush partisans, such as Rush Limbaugh, reach only the Republican choir. Other media, Fox News for example, have not explicitly advanced any explicit argument against Senator Kerry on the basis of the alerts - either as news or commentary. And the Wall Street Journal editorial on the subject limited its critcism to those Democrats attempting to cast the alert as a scam but did not argue that the alerts (or underlying threats that were their subject) militate against Democrats generally or a President Kerry (except to the extent Senator Kerry hasn't told the loonier members of his party to quiet down in their irresponsible accusations):

Joe Lieberman has, as usual, been warning the Democrats away from the fever swamps here, saying nobody "in their right mind" would believe that President Bush would "scare people for political reasons." And John Kerry has at least been smart enough to stay above the fray. But the Democratic contender would probably be wise to actively rein in the likes of Howard Dean, who was still rambling conspiratorially as of Wednesday night. Speculation about the timing of arrests and the motives for terror warnings doesn't do anything to reassure voters that the Democratic Party is serious about protecting them. We're pretty sure most Americans see the latest blows to al Qaeda as unalloyed good news, even if some of the credit has to go to the Bush Administration.

Bush skeptics have adduced exactly zero evidence of political motivation for the alert other than the paranoid-flavored, all purpose "suspicious timing" riff and the assertion (since discredited) that the alert was based totally on "old information." And the timing is not suspicious. Why choose the August news doldrums for a phony or abusive terror alert, a time of year when few voters even connect with explicit political arguments and many fewer are going to be sitting around performing the political algebra necessary to make an implicit connection. Why not wait until, say, September or even October - and really martial all of the justifications for presentation to the public right off? After all, a political scam can be prepared at the scammer's leisure - there was no need to leave that "old information" argument that some skeptics at first seized on lying around for skeptics to use. Why not bring out the new stuff right away? A later and more serious alert would give skeptics less time to check out and argue against the basis of the alert.

Surely an administration as corrupt as the skeptics insinuate would be happy to present whatever evidence exists supporting the alert, and not trouble themselves with fear of compromising national security or confidential sources by revealing sensitive intelligence. In sum, neither the timing nor basis for the alerts is at all "suspicious." To the extent people are paying attention, I think they know that - which is why Mr. Bush has not been harmed by the irresponsible media/Democratic arguments.

TIME finds its equation completely natural, not even warranting an explanation: [Democratic Convention consisting entirely of explicitly partisan arguments] = [non-partisan, apparently factually supported, terror alert unaccompanied by partisan rhetoric]. The TIME article reveals a lot more about what goes on at TIME than what's going on in the electorate.

The TIME poll shows Kerry-Edwards leading among likely voters by a margin of 48% to 43%, with Ralph Nader running at 4%. Kerry's lead in this poll immediately before the Democratic Convention was slightly smaller: 46% - 43%, with Nader at 5%.

There are some additional points to note in connection with this poll and TIME article. It is a "likely voter" poll. That might increase or decrease its accuracy. The good thing about "likely voter" calculations is that if the methodology for screening "likely voters" from "registered voters" is sound, the poll's accuracy goes up. But an unsound methodology has the reverse effect. For example, the pre-California-governor-recall polls taken for the Los Angeles Times were apparently rendered much less accurate than the data collected could have produced because the pollsters inaccurately (and unjustifiably) decided certain groups would or would not turn out heavily. TIME's polls frequently have symptoms of such poor massaging. This poll was conducted by Schulman, Ronca, & Bucuvalas Public Affairs - an respectable shop. But essentially nothing about the poll methodology has been revealed.

This TIME poll is not wildly out of sync with some others, but it is worth noting that the Rasmussen tracking poll shows President Bush obtaining a 1% national lead today, with Kerry-Edwards holding a lead of 1% in Pennsylvania - down from a 5% lead a month ago. Similarly, the President is leading by increasing margins in most polls in Ohio - a state subject to forces (economic, of course) similar to those at play in Pennsylvania. To my eye, the striking inconsistency among many polls suggests that there are lots of voters open to persuasion. But TIME resorts to what seems to me to be the increasingly silly argument that there is a dearth of persuadable voters, even though its own poll is saying otherwise:

Most voters this year appear to have chosen early, and are unmoved by events - at least for now. Only 3% of likely voters currently report being undecided, but there's still some wiggle room - a further 17% of "decideds" say that they could change their mind before election day.

So one fifth of voters respond that they are open to changing their minds or have not made up their minds. That's a lot of persuadable voters. How many does one need? Nor am I convinced that the media's now-standard presentation of the election as dependent on certain "battlefield states" is based on sound surmise. Ohio and Pennsylvania are supposed to be key battlefield, even leaning to Kerry-Edwards as the result mostly of adverse developments in manufacturing employment. But consider this:

Workers in the [San Francisco] Bay Area are the most pessimistic in the nation, with 27 percent worried about losing their job, according to a July survey by staffing firm Hudson Highland Group. Only 18 percent of workers nationwide share that fear. Santa Clara County ? which comprises San Jose and the corporate hubs of Cupertino and Palo Alto ? has lost 231,000 jobs since the peak of the dot-com bubble in December 2000, according to a recent report from San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales. By contrast, the entire state of Ohio has lost about 200,000 jobs in the same period. .... Seattle, Boston, Denver and Austin, Texas — all of which attracted technology companies during the boom — also are facing longer and sharper busts than cities with more diversified economies, said Creighton University professor Ernie Goss. "Cutting-edge tech hubs have to reinvent themselves every cycle," said Goss, a scholar-in-residence at the Congressional Budget Office studying the economic impact of technology.

That kind of effect might help to explain why the incumbent is doing better in "old economy" places such as Ohio and Pennsylvania than the media-favored model would predict.

Every year since taking office, Mr. Bush has followed a curious pattern: During July and August he has allowed the media to spread the message that he is in trouble and/or out of touch. Sometimes he takes what the media is allowed to present as an "overly long vacation" at Crawford. Administration responses to the news cycle seem to become more sluggish. His polls soften. And his critics lose sight of the fact that it's all happening in the late-July-August news doldrums. This year, the entire "softening-sluggish" effect is intensified by the President's personal ongoing campaigning and reports that he intends to spend a lot of money on August political ads - which may be running somewhere by are definitely not visible in Southern California.

Then comes September - and each year Mr. Bush suddenly seems to have been in control all along. Will that happen this time around? If the economy softens, it will be a lot harder for him. But the administration's critics have been allowed to make much more of those July employment numbers than is warranted. The August employment numbers will be coming out right after the Republican Convention. With the polls where they are - even the Fox News poll interestingly shows Mr. Bush down more than he was - there is lots of room for post-Convention "bounce" - and, as Kerry-Edwards discovered, with "bounce" comes that all-important "momentum." Of course, we don't know that the August numbers will revise that 32,000 new-payroll-jobs number (even though the household survey showed a whopping 639,000 new jobs in July). And we don't know that the August numbers will be good.

But we do know that there will be lots of opportunity for Mr. Bush to present lots of positive new information and proposals in the New York shee-bang. And while the domestic economy will continue to dominate the election (TIME even notes that in its poll), it is also important the texture of news from Iraq has changed. For example, it is now interim Prime Minister Aida Allawiwho who tells the Shiite militants to lay down their weapons in the war-shattered city of Najaf - not an American (although the American military is still fighting). The effect of the turn-over in Iraq has been to make the news - even the bad news - from Iraq more remote, more like (but, with US soldiers still in Iraq, not completely like) reports of what is happening in the Sudan, for example. Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman noted the effect, applying his customary alarmist, unprofessional paranoia:

[A]fter June 28. Iraq stories moved to the inside pages of newspapers, and largely off TV screens. Many people got the impression that things had improved.

Of course, things have improved in Iraq, and they are continuing to improve. But Herr Doktorprofessor is right to be alarmed about the erosive political consequences of the shift. Even when things kick up in Iraq (as with the most recent Najaf fighting) there just isn't the same kind of negative media coverage directed at the administration, in large part because the Iraq interim government is doing the talking. Iraq is receding as an election issue. That will likely to continue right up to election day.

And even at the end of this month there probably won't be a nimbus of prominent Iraq-fussing stories directed at the administration that the Democrats had hoped for. That should leave even more room for post-Convention "bounce." Of course, Mr. Bush still has to perform well at that Convention and get the right messages out. But at this point it sure looks like he's making a fine job of preparing to do just that. In the past September has been his month.

(0) comments