Wednesday, May 26, 2004

This Time We Mean It, Really
A year ago, during the famous orange alert duct tape freakout, Secretary of Doom Tom Ridge stood in front of the TV cameras and predicted something like an eight in 10 chance that there would be a major attack within the next few weeks. Today, he said the intelligence leading to today's advisory was as ominous as any he's seen. Never mind that it wasn't specific. Never mind that officials in New York and Los Angeles hadn't been briefed yet. Go about your business normally, Mr. and Mrs. America, but prepare to die.

Could terrorists hit the political conventions, the World War II Memorial dedication, or the July 4 fireworks in Newburgh, Indiana? Sure they could. Do they want to? Sure they do. Will they? Who the hell knows? I don't, you don't, and Ridge, Ashcroft, and FBI director Mueller don't know, either.

It didn't take long for experts to suggest that the administration is covering its ass just in case, or trying to wag the dog after their disastrous month of May. (And if there's going to be a major terrorist attack anywhere in the world this summer, it'll be at the Olympic Games in Athens, because it draws a worldwide audience, and because "Greek security" is an oxymoron on the order of "jumbo shrimp.") It's interesting that Ashcroft said terrorists might want to do the same thing in the U.S. that they are credited with doing in Spain: timing the attack to influence the elections so a party favoring a pullout from Iraq might win. Nobody thinks that would happen here--first of all, nobody favoring an immediate pullout, a la Spain, is a viable candidate. And second, the more likely scenario is that an attack would clinch a close election for Bush. It would be the same phenomenon we saw after 9/11, which caused Americans to transform an over-his-head doofus into approximately Lincoln. And the administration knows it, which is why this announcement today is effectively an admission that they've got nothing left in the tank. Hard to believe they played their last card so early.

Also on the political front, John Kerry said today that yes, he'll accept the Democratic Party's nomination in Boston in July and abandon that weird plan to hold off for a month. Sure, there's a compelling reason to hold off, but the extra dollars his campaign could raise and spend in that month probably wouldn't offset the PR damage the move would cause.

The Democratic Party bosses thought that front-loading the nomination process was a good idea--remember that in years past, the Iowa caucuses were in late February and the California primary wasn't contested until June. But this year's mid-March denouement gave Bush two or three additional months to frame Kerry, and stretched Kerry's own finances. As the date for turning over federal funds to the candidate, the convention date is entirely arbitrary--federal funds could be released to candidates on September 1, which is the traditional start of the fall campaign anyhow.

If anything good has come of the delay-or-not-delay conundrum, it might be the way it makes conventions look more like the relics they are. It's been 50 years since a convention needed more than one ballot to pick a nominee; the party platforms are meaningless; the only people who benefit are the delegates, who get invited to a four-day party, and various hotels, restaurants, and bars in the convention cities. But the idea of getting a free four-day campaign commercial from the cable news channels is too good to give up, so neither party ever will.

Quote of the Day: From a guy at Tammy Baldwin's listening session last night, criticizing the Bush Administration for, among other things, bombing a wedding party: "I thought the Republicans were in favor of marriage."

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