Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Firehose
It's been said that finding information on the Internet is like trying to take a drink out of a firehose. In my experience, that's rarely been more true than it is today. There are so many worthwhile bits of commentary about tonight's presidential debate that nobody could possibly read them all, and if you're counting on me to winnow some of them out, I'm going to let you down. There's just too much, because this event is to politics what the World Series is to baseball. Too bad I'm going to miss it. I will be teaching a class tonight and will be fortunate to catch the last 15 minutes of it, so here's hoping for a C-SPAN rerun while I'm still awake.

The firehose will be going full blast again tomorrow with post-debate analysis--but would anyone like to lay odds on how the administration will manipulate the news to push the debate off the front burner? They do it all the time, swamping news that makes them look bad with Fear of Insensate Evil by running Ashcroft or Ridge out with another terror alert. Been there, done that, however, and people are starting to catch on to the tactic. So what else might they try? Your surmises on what to expect are welcome below, as well as anything else you'd care to throw in. Posts are going to be exceedingly thin here, if not nonexistent, until Monday or Tuesday of next week, so talk amongst yourselves.

(You know, it's possible that all this debate stuff and politics just might not matter anymore. We've got bigger problems: They're reducing the alcohol content in Jack Daniel's, and the Cubs are collapsing again.)

The first presidential debate is today--a day we eagerly envisioned during the high Deaniac days of last fall, but it’s not going to be what we hoped for, mostly because our guy is on a book tour selling his memoir instead of standing on the stage in Florida. (The debate is at the University of Miami, which has reportedly been locked down since the candidates arrived yesterday. If so, it’s the first time the campus has been truly safe from the various felons on the football team.) There’s lots of handicapping available on the Internet this morning, and most of it will be more intelligent than my own, but the view from here is that the debate is Kerry’s to lose. Nobody expects anything from Bush but squinty blinking and the same platitudes he’s been mouthing for years. But Kerry’s carefully nuanced position on Iraq, in contrast to Bush’s straightforward “central front in the war on terror”--which is utterly stupid and wrong, but easy to grasp conceptually--is going to be trouble, just as I predicted months ago. Nevertheless, we hope for the best. We hope that debate moderator Jim Lehrer won’t help Bush out when he gets in trouble (which I seem to remember him doing against Gore four years ago), and we hope that Kerry will get enough licks in to make a difference in the race.

We all want Kerry to win, of course. But just in the last 24 hours we’ve seen a breathtaking rush of reasons why the reelection of Bush would open a Baskin-Robbins of disaster. Ashcroft’s declaration that the Justice Department will fight a New York court ruling that the Patriot Act is unconstitutional is one. "We believe the act to be completely consistent with the Constitution," he said. (Blogger sighs heavily, beats head against desk.) The act hasn’t caught one damn terrorist, it’s done profound damage to the Constitution and made suspects of us all, and yet like much else we’ve seen from the House of Bush, we must not tamper with it because that would let the terrorists win, and in fact what we need are greater police powers to keep Insensate Evil at bay. The House of Representatives’ passage of a bill erasing all gun-control laws in the District of Columbia is another. Think about the logic of that--DC has one of the highest murder rates in the country, and the Repugs think the solution is more guns. (The Senate won’t take up the bill, so it’s unlikely to become law, but that wasn’t the point of the vote yesterday. The point was to put pressure on rural Democrats to take a high-profile gun control vote a month before the election.)

And there’s more. Stories have been surfacing in the last few days about some of what Bush is planning for a second term. There’s reportedly a great deal of bustle around the Pentagon lately regarding invasion plans for Syria (although as we used to say on the playground, “You and what army?”). And during a campaign appearance the other day, Bush raised the idea of the flat tax.

Remember the flat tax? This was Steve Forbes’ pet idea during his two runs for president. It’s often pushed as a great act of simplification--wouldn’t it be nice not to have to do all that paperwork, yes it would, just send in a postcard with your check and go back to your shopping and TV. But as former Clinton economic advisor Laura Tyson told Air America Radio yesterday, the flat tax, when it was first devised, was created precisely to protect the wealthy. So yeah, it will cut down on paperwork, but it will also continue to shift more of the tax burden away from the richest Americans and onto working people. So far, the wealthiest Americans--the top one percent—have gotten as much tax relief as the next 80 percent of Americans combined, and under a second Bush term, there’s more on the way.

If Americans had any sort of class consciousness, Bush and his economic advisors would have been swinging from lampposts years ago. But they aren’t because we don’t--mostly because we cling to the belief that someday, we’re going to be rich, too. And for a lot of Americans, that’s proven to be true, sort of. We forget that there are a lot of people walking around who are the first members of their families to attend college--and they’re not as old as you think. Lots of people have jumped class barriers--hell, even me. Going backward to time immemorial, I come from a long line of farmers--and it’s a fairly big leap from being a rough-skinned son of toil to a fully citified writer blogging on a laptop. Nevertheless, while the opportunities this country provides us are certainly admirable, we’ve got to understand what they truly represent. What most of us are doing is ascending to higher rungs of the middle class, and we’re not going to make the top one percent unless we win the lottery. And that means most of us are going to bear the burdens the top one percent will escape thanks to Bush. As long as we confuse our own economic successes with the successes of the American upper crust, we’ll be tempted to vote in ways directly opposite our most basic economic interests.

If there’s good news--good being a relative term--in any of this economic nonsense, it’s Stein’s Law, first formulated by Nixon economic advisor Herb Stein: “Things that can’t go on forever don’t.” Thus the radical, irresponsible economic policies of Bush and the Repugs are going to come to grief eventually, and someday, we’ll look back and wonder how we could have been so damn stupid not to see how ridiculous they were. Trouble is, it will probably take a depression that makes the 1930s look like the 1990s to sufficiently clear our heads.

Yah, You Betcha: I am in Plymouth, Minnesota, this morning--a prosperous suburb southwest of Minneapolis. This town appears to have named some of its major streets after famous battles, such as Dunkirk and Vicksburg. (And since Dunkirk was a famous defeat, I suppose that means it’s possible that one day our children or grandchildren might live on Fallujah Lane or Najaf Boulevard.) On the way here, you go past the headquarters of some of America’s most famous corporations, like 3M in Maplewood and General Mills in Minneapolis, which sits at the corner of General Mills Boulevard and Betty Crocker Drive. And once you hit the suburbs, it’s strip malls as far as the eye can see, and expensive houses sitting like beached battleships in bare fields.

I seem to be seeing more yard signs and bumper stickers for Bush than for Kerry, which is typical of prosperous suburbs. Minnesota has traditionally been strongly Democratic--up here, the Democratic Party is known as the DFL, for Democratic-Farmer-Labor. It's gone Democrat for president every year since 1976, and it was the home state of the late senator Paul Wellstone. But it also elected Republican Norm Coleman to the Senate in 2002, days after the unfortunate death of Wellstone, and its current governor, Tim Pawlenty, is a Republican. And of course, voters here elected Jesse Ventura governor in 1998, and it’s a critical battleground for president this year.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Dim Bulb
It looks as if the meme of the day today is "Al Qaeda wants to disrupt the elections." The Repugs keep pointing to the perfidious Spanish, who threw out their government after the train bombings, and surmise that Al Qaeda might hope to accomplish the same thing here--to get us to toss out our Resolute and Determined Fighter of Evil and replace him with the Flip-Flopper. But if you remember the phenomenon that made Bush approximately Lincoln in the wake of the September 11 attacks, there's little doubt that an Al Qaeda attack sometime in the next five weeks would be likely to produce the same sort of rally-round effect, thus keeping Bush in office. Which, as the Gadflyer observed yesterday, might be precisely what Al Qaeda wants. So yeah, maybe they do want to disrupt the elections--but not for the reasons the Repugs would like us to believe.

Still, making contingency plans for disrupted elections is a fine idea, even if the immediate impetus for it is dubious. New York City had to improvise on September 11, which was mayoral primary day. It's better to have a plan. NPR reported this morning on Utah's plans, which were created in the wake of a problem in 2000, when a city clerk's office had to be evacuated because of a bomb threat, which had a ripple effect on polling places throughout the region. And in the end, it's more likely that such contingency plans would have to be activated for natural disasters, such as blizzards or hurricanes, than for attacks by Insensate Evil.

Recommended Reading: Yesterday afternoon, Brad DeLong asked, "How does George W. Bush change a lightbulb?" His readers responded with some gems.
Bush puts Allawi's hand on the burned out bulb, then grabs Allawi and turns him until the bulb comes out. Then Bush buys a million-dollar light bulb from Halliburton and uses the same technique to have Allawi install it.

"Lightbulb, go screw yourself." --- Dick Cheney

The president has always supported the changing of the light bulb, as well as working with the light bulb changing commision's recomendations to change the light bulb that was set up after public outcry to the darkness problem.

Q: How does George W. Bush change a lightbulb?
A: President Bush's bold leadership and moral resolve has put the terrorists on the run after the tragedy of September 11. Next question?
Of course, any lightbulb that burns out on Bush's watch is Bill Clinton's fault.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Tipping Point
Autumn is truly here in Wisconsin--this morning is crisp and cool, the sunlight is gorgeous, and the trees are beginning to change colors. The weekend was magnificent, all except for the way the Packers took the gaspipe against Indianapolis yesterday. I should have stayed outside frolicking instead of wasting the afternoon on that.

I was out for a while before the game yesterday, and I ran into Russ Feingold at the grocery store. Actually, I saw one of his staffers first, a woman from my hometown, and didn't notice Russ at all. While I was visiting with her, the Senator walked over to me, extended his hand, called me by name, and thanked me for the work I'm doing for his campaign. (A bit of volunteering, and not as much lately as I'd like to be doing.) Down the aisle I saw another staffer who'd clearly tipped Russ to me, but no matter what the genesis of the gesture, it was a nice thing for him to have done.

Yesterday I wrote about Bush's apparent strength here in Wisconsin. On the surface, that would seem to be bad news for Russ. But a poll taken earlier this month shows that about 30 percent of those favoring Feingold for reelection call themselves Bush supporters. That same poll shows Feingold leading his opponent, Tim Michels, 53-39 with nine percent undecided. Another poll has it closer, 51-45. Michels had just won the primary when the polls were taken, however, so they show the state of the race practically before it began, which means it's going to be razor-close before it's done.

So the weather is great and Feingold's out in front, but there's something else brightening my morning today. I actually miss Howard Dean a little bit less after John Kerry's fightin' words upon landing in Madison last night.
My friends, entire regions in Iraq are controlled by terrorists. American forces ceded to the terrorist areas of control, yet President Bush keeps insisting that the situation in improving, keeps insisting that freedom is the horizon, keeps insisting the country is going back and it unbelievable that just this morning that the President has said that he would do it all over again, and dress up in a flight suit and land on an aircraft and say "mission accomplished" again.

"My friends, when the President landed on that aircraft carrier, 150 of our sons and daughters had given their lives. Since then, tragically, since he said 'missions accomplished,' tragically, over 900 more have died. And, leading senators in his own party, Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican from Nebraska, has said, 'we’re in trouble there, this policy is trouble.' Senator John McCain and Senator Dick Lugar have said it, that the President continues to live in a fantasy land of spin. George Bush owes the American people the truth and he owes the troops the truth.
That's telling it like it is, but reading it on the page you don't get the forceful, no-nonsense tone with which he delivered it. It wasn't the speech of somebody soft on terror. It was not the Kerry of the pro-Bush ad running during the Packer game yesterday--the one that repeats the theme that Kerry is weak and a vote for him means you want the terrorists to kill us all. (Bush's defense, of course, is that he never actually spoke the words "mission accomplished," and you didn't really see that big banner he appeared in front of.)

Recommended Reading: It's been a big two months for political blogging. First there was the hype about the bloggers who got accredited to attend the conventions; then conservative bloggers got credit for uncovering the forged memos CBS used in its story about Bush's National Guard service. It seems as though political blogging is at a tipping point, where it's about to move from a niche to the mainstream. Billmon, of Billmon's Whiskey Bar, who went on hiatus shortly after I did back in June, came back a couple of weeks later, and disappeared again about a month ago, resurfaced yesterday in the Los Angeles Times with a column about the transformation of political blogging, and his fear that it's going to be co-opted by the same mainstream media for which it's acted as an antidote up til now. That sparked a response by Kevin Drum of Political Animal, in which he discusses different ways bloggers go bigtime. To me, none of them are especially problematical. Sure, getting famous, getting paid to blog, or getting sponsors for your blog, is likely to change the way you write--but the beautiful thing about the blogosphere is that--at least until AT&T, Comcast, or AOL figures out a way to make the Internet a wholly-owned subsidiary--anybody can do it. And if Kevin or Billmon or Kos or Atrios goes commercial and loses their edge, there'll be somebody else to take their place.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Going Red, Feeling Blue
The AP has an interesting analysis this morning of the race in this year's newest battleground--Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. We've been hip-deep in candidates all summer--Bush was in Janesville Friday (in the same hotel ballroom The Mrs. was in later that night for another function.) At the moment, Bush leads Kerry by double digits in the latest polling up here, although the Kerry campaign insists the state is still in play, and even the Bush people question the numbers. Polling is all over the place in Iowa, although most polls of the state show Bush with a slight lead. The most recent poll I can find for Minnesota shows Kerry leading, but Bush gaining.

Smarter people than I will have to explain why Bush is running so strongly in Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest this time. A public radio story a couple of weeks ago reported that manufacturing jobs have made a slight comeback in Wisconsin in recent months after years of losses, so maybe swing voters here are buying the idea that the economy is turning around. Apart from that, who knows? The numbers regarding Bush's ability to fight terrorism and handle Iraq are similar here to what they are nationwide--more people think Bush can do it better, yada yada yada. In the end, terrorism and Iraq will be what decides the election--here and nationwide.

(I have not lived in a "red" state since Illinois went for Reagan in 1984 and I cast my vote for the beleaguered Fritz Mondale. For the next several elections, I lived in Iowa, which went for the Duke in '88 and Bill Clinton twice. In 2000, I'd moved to Wisconsin, which Al Gore pulled out by less than 6,000 votes. So if I want to keep the streak intact, well, New England is lovely this time of year.)

Recommended Reading: Everyone's heard that some old Clinton hands--Joe Lockhart, Mike McCurry, and Paul Begala--have joined up with the Kerry campaign. What's been less reported is the fact that several Reagan handlers--Peggy Noonan, Michael Deaver, and Ken Duberstein--have recently begun advising the Bush campaign. Nina Burleigh analyzes Bush's attempts to cast himself as "The Son of Reagan." (He's been at it longer than you think.)

John Nichols writes that CBS did more than simply bring down opprobrium on itself for rushing to air with a story on Bush's National Guard service based on forged memos. It made sure the truth about Bush's service will probably never come out. The story about CBS became the story, and not the essential truths contained in the memos. According to a typist who worked for Bush's commander, the memos themselves may have been forged, but they accurately represented the sentiments of the commander.

And finally, for those of you who have been wondering what's become of John Edwards, well, we still don't know. But as for his wife, Elizabeth, we found her--reading the Daily Kos.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Fair and Balanced
This next is absolutely gorgeous, and not in a good way. The Associated Press has edited the story I referred to this morning ("Bush Twists Kerry's Words on Iraq"), moving the "but Kerry does the same thing" reference to the lead, and retitling the story, "Bush, Kerry, Twist Each Other's Words."

Tracking the revisions, so you can see the change for yourself, has been impossible. If you go to the link in the earlier post, it now refers you to the revised version of the story. I've been digging around to find the earlier version somewhere, but it's as if the thing has gone down the memory hole. You'll just have to take my word for it: Yhe change the AP made is subtle, but significant, because it goes even further to equate Kerry's spin with Bush's fantastical reimaginations--and it will likely be above the fold on countless Sunday front pages around the country tomorrow.

The Quinella
The New York Times is out this morning with an editorial on recent Repug attempts to suggest that a vote for Kerry is a vote for the terrorists. The paper criticizes the Bush team for the devastating effect such tactics have on the very thing Bush claims only he can do--keep our children from being incinerated in their beds by Insensate Evil.

We knew the Bush gang was going to do this, of course. This is the last bullet in the chamber, and it's one we knew they'd get down to sooner or later. But now that they've done it, what matters is how people react to it. And there's a tiny sense that maybe the press corps is finally beginning to stir--that they're finally getting just how off-the-charts ridiculous the Bush campaign's tactics really are. (There's lots of interesting analysis of the editorial and the tactics over at Daily Kos.)

Or maybe not. The first story I clicked on this morning was a Yahoo headline that said "Bush Twists Kerry's Words on Iraq". Finally, I thought, something breaks through into the mainstream about how disconnected from reality Bush's rhetoric is. Then I read the story, and saw it contained another one of those lazy observations, all in the name of balance: That Bush's astounding misstatement of Kerry's words yesterday in Racine, Wisconsin, was "not unlike the spin that Kerry and his forces sometimes place on Bush's words." This is, of course, total bull, and the AP reporter who wrote it, Jennifer Loven, has to be blind not to see it--or so immersed in the ideals of "journalistic objectivity" that it's made her unable to accurately report what happens in front of her own eyes and ears. Sure, Kerry spins Bush. But Bush assigns utterly new and entirely unsupportable meanings to Kerry's words, and the media seems unable or unwilling to differentiate one from the other.

As the Times observes, "The people running the government clearly regard keeping Mr. Bush in office as more important than maintaining a united front on the most important threat to the nation." That's what the whole war on terror has been about, from the moment it became clear that the planes that hit the World Trade Center were not just the work of really bad pilots--sowing fear to make people vote Bush in 2004. And it's working. Several major newspapers came out with stories this week about how the gender gap, which usually works in favor of Democrats, is actually closing. Bush is thought to be gaining support among women, whose fears of terrorism tend to be more concrete than those of men. Men tend to fear terrorist attacks in a general sense; women tend to fear more specific attacks on their city or their family. World O'Crap had an interesting analysis of the stories earlier this week, and although the website's trademark snark pointed out the inconsistencies of that shift, the post also illustrated the problem Kerry and the Democrats are having. And as long as polling data shows that fear works, Job One for the Repugs will be to make people afraid to vote for Kerry.

So fear is working, and because it's so primal and as such, not subject to rational persuasion, we're going to get more of it from the Bush campaign, which is as amoral a bunch as has ever called itself American. But the fact that a large number of American voters are on a continuum from ill-informed to flat stupid also helps the Bush campaign. As polemicist Ted Rall (can't really call him a columnist anymore) wrote this week:
We're all equal at birth, but what we do later determines whether or not our opinions are worthwhile.

At this writing, the world's greatest nation flails under the rule of buffoons and madmen, bogged down in two optional wars we're actually losing. The world's richest economy is shedding jobs, running up debts and building nothing for the future. Voters, offered an election year alternative to the subliterate idiot who single-handedly created this mess, spurn him for a leader even dumber than they are. America has become a stultocracy: government by morons, for morons.
Rall illustrates his thesis with painful quotes (like the voter in Ohio who says of Iraq, "We shouldn't be over there building them back up because they didn't build our towers back up") and painful statistics (one in five Americans thinks Iraq used weapons of mass destruction on us during the 2003 invasion).

So another week has gone by, and John Kerry still has a mountain to climb. The speech on Iraq helped greatly this week. Next week is the first debate. (Kerry is preparing for the debates here in Wisconsin starting tomorrow.) Former Texas governor Ann Richards, who lost her job to Bush in 1994, was in Madison this week stumping for Kerry, and she told the Capital Times that Bush's advantage in the debates is his simplistic style. He dismisses complexity with simple platitudes that sound good but mean nothing--which will be quite a contrast if Kerry goes off on one of his nuanced and footnoted discursions, and not in a good way, given the typical American distaste for people who seem too smart, or to lord their knowledge over more average folk. So Richards advises Kerry, "Be direct." But she also says, "I think George Bush can be confronted, and he hasn't yet." That's what we've been salivating for all these months--that moment when Bush is on the stage with a question in the air and, finally, the unclothed emperor has nowhere to hide. But Kerry has to have the courage to be tough, and the panelists have to have the integrity to let the chips fall wherever, and the media has to have the brains to report what really happens, and the voters have to have the brains to see it for what it is--but in this year, that seems like a quinella that's tough to hit.

If we have a debate at all, of course. I'll believe it when I see it.

Note: I will no longer be linking here to posts on my other blog, The Hits Just Keep On Comin'. If you want to know when that blog is updated, go over there and sign up for the mailing list.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Dishonesty as Policy
Last night Congress passed a fabulously dishonest bill extending $146 billion in middle-class tax cuts. Because the bill included no program cuts or revenue enhancements, what the bill does, in essence, is add another $146 billion to some future tab that somebody someday is going to have to pay. (It's as if Congress said, "But screw them, whoever they are. If they don't like it, let them get in a time machine and come back to kick our asses.") The reason the extension needed to be passed at all is that in order to get the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts passed in the first place, the Republican majority in Congress agreed to let some of them expire relatively quickly. The action kept the bottom-line number from being too high at the time of passage, thus bringing Republican moderates and Democrats on board. The leadership did this knowing full well they'd go for a renewal of the cuts at some future point--and the future point happened to be with less than 40 days to go until an election. Thus the package passed by wide, bipartisan margins, even though there's not a red cent in the till to pay for them, because no Democrat wanted to go home and campaign for reelection having failed to "protect the middle class."

Some country we got here. But we're working on it. You might want to head over to Howard Dean's organization, Democracy for America, and throw a vote to your favorite progressive candidate for the Senate. The candidate receiving the most votes will be the beneficiary of a special e-mail campaign by the DFA organization--and perhaps a bit of the ol' Deaniac fundraising magic. It can be somebody in your state, or somebody else if you like them better.

Happy Days: Ask a woman to name the happiest day of her life and she can generally do it--especially if she's married. Ask a guy and he's likely to shrug his shoulders and say he would have to think about it. Not me. Today is the 20th anniversary of the happiest day of my life. On this night in 1984, the Chicago Cubs won their first pennant since 1945 by beating the Pittsburgh Pirates and wrapping up the National League Eastern Division championship. Yeah, they would lose in painful fashion later on in the playoffs to the San Diego Padres, but on this night, that was yet to come. The Cubs weren't supposed to be contenders in 1984, but a late March trade brought veterans Gary Matthews and Bob Dernier to the team, and a summer deal brought in pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, who was as dominant for the Cubs in 84--going 16-and-1 after coming to town--as any athlete has ever been in any sport. Ryne Sandberg had an MVP year, Harry Caray was in top form in the broadcast booth, and the result was the best summer ever to be a Cubs fan. The Cubs have been back to the playoffs, my beloved Packers have won a Super Bowl, and my Wisconsin football Badgers have won three Rose Bowls since the '84 Cubs shocked the world, but the day they did it remains the happiest day of my life.

New on The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Sheena Is a Girl We Never Met.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Road Warriors
I am all about the 21st Century, baby. Greetings from the road, Kalamazoo, Michigan, this time, where my wireless-enabled, battery-powered laptop and I are having lunch at a bagel shop. (I am trying to keep the crumbs out of the keyboard.) And here are some things I think I think:

I think Kerry's Iraq speech this week has really rattled the Bush team. Their instantaneous response, in the form of an attack ad showing Kerry windsurfing, has been criticized as trivializing the war and the service of those in harm's way (not to mention the Iraqi dead). And you gotta wonder if maybe a light went on somewhere, perhaps in Karl Rove's brain, that a week from tonight Bush and Kerry are going to stand on the debate stage together, and Bush is going to have to justify the mess yet again, in a forum that may not permit him to weasel away as easily as he's been able to before.

Assuming that the debate actually happens--that there is no sudden crisis that makes it unseemly for the Leader of the Free World to stoop to mere partisan politics--whether Bush is finally held to account on Iraq depends on a couple of things. First, on how effectively Kerry presses him. I have worried since last fall about whether he will be able to bring himself to drop the hammer when the moment arrives, or whether he'll waver. And second, how much holding-to-account the debate moderators and panelists will permit. (Yesterday, Atrios imagined a 2004 version of Bernard Shaw's famous 1988 debate question, about whether Mike Dukakis would favor the death penalty for his own wife's murderer, that I am praying someone will ask--and I'm an atheist.) Bob Schieffer of CBS was set to moderate at least one of the debates--and while Schieffer's an experienced reporter, you have to wonder how tough a CBS guy will let the panelists be on Bush, given the recent perception that they set out to sandbag him with the faked National Guard memos.

I think that we're still debating Vietnam after all this time is both weird and not. Not, because both candidates served, or didn't. Weird, because despite what you've been hearing since the Swift Boat Liars story broke last month, America is not divided over the Vietnam Era. There is widespread agreement that the war was unjust--and by margins that have changed only, well, marginally since Gallup first started asking about the war in 1965. This week, Michael Tomasky of The American Prospect analyzed the fake divisions and the reason we've been hearing about them--much of the modern conservative movement is predicated on keeping the divisions of the 1960s alive. He also says that the Swift Boat ads worked, truthful or not--they did what they were intended to do, considering that the tactic is a time-tested Rovian technique that's worked for 20 years.

Recommended Reading: It's been a newspaper joke for years that a typical headline in an American paper is something like, "No Americans dead in Chinese earthquake that kills 100,000." If it happens on the other side of the world, we don't really care all that much unless Americans are involved. Even in Iraq. If a day goes by with no casualties in Iraq, we tend to think nothing bad happened over there that day. That's not true, of course--it's never true. So Juan Cole tried to put it in terms we can understand.

New on The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Can't Keep It In.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

All the Crap in the World
I confess I haven't paid a great deal of attention to the controversy over CBS getting snookered by fake memos about Bush's National Guard service, except to note that controversy aside, enough questions have already been raised about Bush's service. If similar questions had been raised about any other candidate in our lifetimes, they would have rendered him unelectable, but by some alchemy Bush gets a pass. (And Kerry is taking Repug heat because one of his advisors talked one time to one of the parties who gave CBS the memos--this being approximately equal in Bizarro World to complicity in the Lincoln Assassination, while a Bush lawyer's coordination with the Swift Boat Liars is merely regrettable.) One of the best analyses of what the memo controversy means comes from Salon's Scott Rosenberg, who points out that this pretty much finishes CBS as the House of Murrow and Cronkite, and makes them just another bunch of story-chasers tacking shit together.

I've been reading Rosenberg a bit more often lately, along with another Salon blog, World O'Crap, which is far better than its title. World O'Crap is very good at explaining the deeper political meanings behind various cultural icons, such as the comic strip Family Circus and the Bush Twins. Its frequent takedowns of the wingnut columns at Townhall.com are a riot, and a bit from over the weekend, in which readers were invited to guess which letters from teens to a Christian sex advice columnist were real and which were fake is classic.

Yeah, I like it.

I Got Some Mad Skillz, Beeyotch: Even though you are, for example, a fortysomething white boy of Norwegian ancestry who lives in a condo in Wisconsin, that doesn't mean you have to live your life without a pimp name. Thanks to PlayerAppreciate.com, you can get pimpified. Type in your first and last name, and the site generates your very own pimp name. I decided to get four of them and let you vote on which one I should pick, so consult the Useless Web Poll and vote now. Then use the "Comments" link to share your own pimp names.


Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Screw Up, Excuse, Repeat
If you are a swing voter concerned about Iraq (and not an idiot), John Kerry's NYU speech should swing you firmly into line behind him, because it did a fine job, and largely in one-syllable words at that, of explaining how badly fucked up Iraq is, and how Bush is responsible. If there's a single soundbite that should be repeated over and over again between now and November 2, it's this one:
The president's insistence that he would do the same thing all over again in Iraq is a clear warning for the future. And it makes the choice in this election clear: more of the same with President Bush or a new direction that makes our troops and America safer. . . . If George W. Bush is reelected, he will cling to the same failed policies in Iraq--and he will repeat, somewhere else, the same reckless mistakes that have made America less secure than we can or should be.
The administration's dismissals of the speech seem weirdly disconnected from reality--the rhetorical equivalent of sticking their tongues out and saying "nanny nanny boo-boo." (Which makes me think Kerry's hit pretty close to the bone.) Bush did accuse Kerry of preferring dictatorships to democracy, which makes a nice soundbite of its own, although it's ridiculous. As Juan Cole observed this morning, Iraq is no democracy, and furthermore, if we hate dictatorships so much, how come we haven't gone to war with, say, China or Russia? Cole worries that Bush's position--wave the flag, stay the course, never look back--may resonate better with voters than Kerry's because it doesn't require us to admit we were wrong. "And, maybe they have to vote for Bush to cover the embarrassment of having elected him in the first place."


Recommended Reading: The Mighty Krugman. Again. If this guy isn't the best columnist in America, who is?

Also, Lean Left has a funny bit titled "GOP: Being an Asshole Is a Campaign Strategy," which assembles some of the best bits of Repug stupidity in recent years. I was pleased to be reminded that it was Oklahoma U.S. Senate candidate Tom Coburn who blasted NBC a few years back for "polluting the minds of our children"--by showing Schindler's List. Yep, nobody does ignorant like the GOP.

Monday, September 20, 2004

A Carafe of Whup-ass
One of the defining characteristics of our age is the way the off-the-charts-loony so swiftly becomes acceptable. Imagine how we might have reacted five years ago to the idea that the Supreme Court might settle a disputed presidential election by ignoring law and precedent to install the candidate more to the liking of the majority. Or that half-a-dozen of the amendments in the Bill of Rights might be altered by the Justice Department with the happy compliance of 99 senators and millions of Americans. We would have considered it all absurd, and the circumstances by which it could happen would have seemed the stuff of fiction.

So it is with internment. Before 9/11, internment was considered a great American shame—how we locked up Japanese-Americans in the West after Pearl Harbor on suspicion of nothing, entirely out of fear. Immediately after 9/11, the only people talking about internment were spittle-dripping wingnuts. But this summer, internment has morphed from unmentionable to thinkable—and given the way the impossible has become real in recent years, there’s no way to rule out its becoming policy eventually. Michelle Malkin, a genuinely unpleasant B-list pundit, made her bid for the A-list with In Defense of Internment, a book arguing that FDR was right and that internment may be necessary again with the country in such grave danger. Over the weekend, columnist John Leo picked up her thesis. Leo’s in a distinctly bigger league than Malkin—his work appears in the Wall Street Journal and is widely syndicated elsewhere. And for him to take internment seriously represents, according to blogger Eric Muller, another instance of the incremental creeping of an off-the-wall idea toward acceptability.

So much nightmare fuel and so few nights to actually sleep.

Recommended Reading: Blogger Iowahawk has some slogan ideas for John Kerry. My favorites:
Projecting American Strength Through Infinitely Complex Nuance

Fear Not America, I Have Deigned to Lead You

The Next Time America is Attacked, I Promise To Open Up a Carafe of Whupass

I Have Five More Words For George Bush--Call Off Your On-Bringers
Iowahawk is conservative, but he's a rare bird (insert rimshot here)--he's legitimately funny, and not in the usual pulling-wings-off-flies-is-funny conservative way.

Train Wreck
A couple of weeks ago, I declared that John Kerry is finished--that we'd be spending the next two months watching the Repugs pour water on somebody that's already drowning--and I have seen not a damn thing in the last two weeks to make me change my mind. Sure, I had a brief flash of hope when Kerry hired some members of the Clinton team, but the hope was swept away when the memos on Bush's National Guard service degenerated into arcane discussions over the typefaces of IBM Selectric typewriters (no matter whether the documents are real or copies, the questions already raised, if they were about any candidate other than Bush, would have made him him unelectable), and when the Kitty Kelley book on the Bushes turned out to be a two-day wonder. My Republican friends don't seem bothered by anything Bush says, does, or is said to have done or not done. They're ready to pull the lever again no matter what. The poll data, despite the attempts of lefty bloggers and journalists to whistle past the graveyard, is grim. Swing states are gradually swinging in line with Bush, and it seems likely that Bush could roll up 350 electoral votes, making it unnecessary for his people to steal either Ohio or Florida to win. (Just to be safe, however, the government is launching a major anti-terror initiative in October, which will undoubtedly ferret out and stop evildoer plotting, doubtless in critical states.) And everybody is looking toward the debates as Kerry's last stand--which is too bad, because all Bush has to do is not drool on himself to win. No matter how deferential and careful Kerry is, he will be criticized in the end for coming on too strong, for being disrespectful, and for acting all smart and stuff. It will be Al Gore 2000 all over again, and I'd bet my house on it. (If, as I am compelled to note, there are debates at all. Even though the first one is supposed to be next week, don't believe it until you see it.)

But I am beginning to think that Kerry may not want to win this thing, because the next four years are going to be riven with disaster. The intelligence estimate that came out last week with dire scenarios for Iraq's future is just one example--and if Kerry wins, it becomes his problem, and whatever erupts over there will become his fault, as if the whole damn thing was the Democrats' idea to begin with. The likelihood that the draft will have to be reinstated to cover America's military manpower needs is another example of the disaster that awaits the next president. See the Forest suggested last week that bloggers need to start talking about the reinstatement of the draft during a second Bush presidency as if it's a foregone conclusion of his reelection--which it is. But I think it's probably a foregone conclusion if Kerry is elected, too. And the law of averages dictates there's going to be another major terrorist attack on American soil at some point, so every year that passes without one increases exponentially the likelihood that there's going to be one. And if it happens on Kerry's watch, even if it can be proven that Bush's criminal neglect of useful homeland security provisions in favor of cosmetic roundups of Muslim men is to blame, it won't matter. Dick Cheney will have been proven right--a vote for Kerry was a vote for more terrorism. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to imagine Kerry's approval ratings down around Nixon territory come his reelection time four years from now. For Kerry personally, it'd be better to be watching the mess safely from the Senate.

While Kerry watches, the country will be taking a screwing that will make the last four years look like sweet tender love, of course: wingnuts on the courts, pillage of the environment, ballooning of the deficit, the end of Social Security and Medicare, more secrecy, more repression, more religion in government--but there's an argument, and not just from the Nader nutjobs, that the screwing is necessary. Over the last century, American politics has swung like a pendulum from progressive enlightenment to repressive reaction and back again. Maybe, if we want to break the cycle, we need the post-Clinton swing to the right to reach the full, grim potential the first term of Bush has only hinted at.

We don't live our lives in historical cycles, of course, we live them in individual moments governed by the circumstances of the moment. And that means we are in for some very bad moments indeed over the next four years. But perhaps we're headed for them regardless. And so, if we can't stop the train, perhaps it's better that one of our guys isn't the engineer.

Recommended Reading: Bill Moyers on journalism's promise, its failings, and its future. Sounds pontificating and dull, I know, and it's really long. But read it anyhow.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Permanent Revolution
"Love the sinner, hate the sin." Conservative Christians often hold this up as a guiding bit of philosophy. "We oppose your sinful act, but we have no problem with you personally. In fact, we love you, and because we don't want you to burn in Hell for all eternity, we want to make it so you can't commit that sin anymore." In this way, conservative Christians can make war on stuff they don't like without feeling as though they are singling out individuals personally. But get a load of this: Lean Left reports that while the Supreme Court of California annulled all the same-sex marriages performed last spring after San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome permitted licenses to be issued, a state judge in New York refused to do the same after the mayor of New Paltz, New York, permitted same-sex marriages there. The judge said the marriages themselves can't be annulled by judicial fiat because the couples involved weren't party to the lawsuit filed against the mayor by a conservative group. So guess what--said conservative group is now planning to go after the individual couples themselves. "Vile" is too weak a word to describe this cruel and hateful action. As Kevin at Lean Left puts it, "Remember, the war's not over until you hunt down each and every one of the enemy and hurt them as badly as you can. Plenty of hatin' still left to do."

Lean Left also has an amusing list of other things conservatives are boycotting, in addition to the Procter and Gamble boycott announced this week. (Haven't the wingnuts been boycotting Procter and Gamble for a while now? There have been rumors since the early 80s that the company's old moon-and-stars logo meant it was run by Satanists.) We're adding Lean Left to the blogroll.

Quote of the Day: In an interview with Salon regarding his new book Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib, Seymour Hersh reminds us that for all the talk about the liars in the White House, we should remember one thing--the people in charge of Iraq policy, at least, aren't technically lying, because they believe everything they ever said, and they still do.
Wouldn't it be great if the reality was that they were lying about WMD, and they really didn't believe that democracy would come when they invaded Iraq, and you could go to war with 5,000 troops, a few special forces, a few bombs and a lot of American flags, and Iraq would fold, Saddam would be driven out, a new Baath Party would emerge that's moderate? Democracy would flow like water out of a fountain. These guys believe it. They believe WMD. There's no fallback with these guys. These guys are utopians. They're like Trotskyites. They believe in permanent revolution.
New at The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Old School.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

And Now Let's Give a Big Daily Aneurysm Welcome to The Mrs., With a Report on the Kerry Rally in Madison Yesterday, Sitting in for Her Husband the Blogger, Missing and Presumed Still in Oklahoma
The speech is over, the confetti swept up, the press has filed their stories and the booming PA has been turned off. The Kerry Rally (featuring Sheryl Crow) went off without a hitch yesterday. A reported 10,000 people caused traffic jams all around the Alliant Energy Exhibition Hall that didn't break up until we had all gone home (it just changed directions after a while).

My job as a volunteer was as a "ticket splitter". No, you didn't need a ticket to get in, but if you had a red or blue ticket, you got to be in the VIP area, right in front of the stage. If you had any other ticket, or no ticket at all, you had "general admission" access, toward the back of the hall.

The "VIPs" included many area union members (laborers, teaching as in matching shirts. The volunteers, when done with their jobs, also had VIP access.

Of course to get to the VIP area, you had to go thru the gauntlet of airport-style security and metal detectors, with Secret Service manning the lines. They had the sensativity level set to maximum, such that a very small pair of gold earrings in my pocket set it off. Everyone had to remove all their buttons and pins, too, which for some people was a 10 minute exercise.

Senator Kerry spoke on all the things that he's been talking about during the campaign: W stands for Wrong, Dubya has made wrong decisions; Medicare & prescription drug/health care costs; loss of jobs & jobs moving overseas; fighting terror in a "smarter" way; tax cuts should be limted to the people who are really hurting, not for the upper class.

A few of his proposals: To allow Medicare to negotiate with drug companies for lower prescription drug costs for seniors; a $4000 per year tax credit for people paying college tution; every child under 18 covered by basic health care coverage and to close the tax loophole for companies to move jobs overseas and give the tax advatage to those companies that keep their jobs right here in the US.

Some final random thoughts:

Kerry is a very good speaker. He's no Bill Clinton, but he can string multiple thoughts together in a cohesive manner [Nice zinger--I'm so proud. Ed.] that gets the crowd jumping, cheering and making lots of noise.

There were people of all age groups, but I was surprised at how "white" the audience was. I don't know why, but it bothered me. We need all the "minority" votes to get Kerry into the White House. What can we do to attract those voters?

How close is the vote in Wisconsin? The local "Victory Wisconsin" campaign headquarters did some canvassing in the suburb of Sun Prairie last Sunday. The results:
102 for Kerry
6 leaning toward Kerry
10 undecided
8 leaning toward Dubya
102 for Dubya
In my opinion, that's too close for comfort. [Actually, given that the Madison burbs tend to be pretty Republican, that's probably not so bad. Heard about the latest Wisconsin poll on NPR this morning though that shows Bush ahead by eight points now, after the race had been dead even all summer. Ed.]

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

. . . But I Know What I Like
One of the things I think I know about art is that art is supposed to tell us things about ourselves that we might not be able to realize without it. The simplest example of this phenomenon is when we hear a song that makes us think, "Yes--that's exactly how I feel." But there are more sophisticated examples, too. It's what makes Michelangelo or Picasso Michelangelo or Picasso--you know when you look at their work that there's more to it than what your eyes take in.

Sometimes art tells us things we'd rather not know, or rather not look at. Alternet had an interesting piece today on the rise of monstrous, even Satanic images used to depict conservatives in art. For a while this summer, there was a website (now taken down, as the proprietor unconvincingly claims, because the joke had run its course) that promoted a presidential ticket of Bush and Zombie Reagan ("Still less evil than Cheney."). Other forms of popular art, from comic books to the theater, have used similarly monstrous images to comment on the right wingers among us.

Along the same lines--attempting to tell us things we'd rather not know, or rather not look at--Salon's inestimable Michelle Goldberg reported today on the first film festival featuring conservative filmmakers. The right, which already has its own below-the-radar film industry (the Tribulation Force movies based on the wildly popular Left Behind novels), is branching out into documentary, trying to out-Moore Michael Moore. Goldberg found they've got a long way to go before much of their output is even watchable, let alone capable of becoming influential outside the right's own echo chamber.

I'm not sure this is a left-right issue, though. Maybe it's in-out. After all, the Soviets were as left-wing as it got, but their government-sanctioned art was as drab and dull as any art ever could be. Those underground who opposed Soviet rule created works of art that were often more truthful about what was really going on, more cutting and incisive. Here, it's the culturally in who are producing the art worth experiencing, while the culturally out seem clueless.

Why do right-wingers have so much trouble being cool? As there will be no more new posts here until sometime late Friday, talk amongst yourselves about that, or anything else you like, by clicking "Comments."

Quote of the Day: Goldberg, describing one of the groups making a film shown at the right-wing film festival: "In many ways, they're the distillate of the Bush-era right--paragons of smugness who confuse martial iconography with physical courage. They're hot to do battle with America's foes--not by actually fighting them abroad, but by patrolling the borders of acceptable rhetoric here at home."

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Fee Fi Mo Mave--Dave
And now, guest posts culled from my e-mail. First, from Karen, who wonders if this is too racy for my blog. Surely you jest. What would Wonkette do?
Looks like Nader has made it onto Florida's ballot.

There's been all sorts of speculation as to why he is doing this, from a gargantuan ego trip to a desperate plea for attention. My theory is that the man just needs to get laid. So, let's solve this problem by having some patriotic woman step up the the plate. C'mon girls, surely someone out there would be willing to give it up for the future of the country! What is one night in bed with a pinheaded little troll
compared to another 1460 nights of being screwed by the Bush administration?
Well, it's not exactly "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," but her heart's in the right place--even if it's ultimately not the heart she's talking about using. What's more annoying to me about this story is the fairly obvious fiddling Jeb Bush is doing to assist his brother in one of the most critical states. Fuck that.

And from Shark, who reports a close encounter with the would-like-to-be-famous:
Couldn't help but look at the website for Dave Magnum and the background information saying that his real name is Dave Weiss, but changed to "Magnum" for a "snappier" radio name.

Just before I saw Marquette, Michigan in my rear view mirror [leaving a broadcasting gig there in 1987], the radio station hired a young DJ named Dave Magnum. Friends of mine still at the station told me about him at the time...and the fact that he legally changed his name from "Weiss" so that people woudn't think that he was Jewish!

It's all in the NAME of the GAME!
Now THAT'S funny. "Magnum" is his radio name? I can just imagine it--young radio man embarking on a career in the middle of nowhere, looking for a snappier name than the one his parents gave him. "Let's see. Dave Michaels? Nah, too obvious. Dave St. John? Nah, not snappy enough." (It's a law of radio that any announcer using "saint" as part of his last name wasn't born with it.) "OK, think snappy. How about Dave Triumph? Dave Cougar? Dave Cougar Mellencamp? Nah, think porn star. Dave Studd? Dave Power? Wait--I've got it! Magnum! Dave Magnum!" Well, at least he didn't change it to Sonny Day, Marvin Gardens, or Bubba the Love Sponge. And the whole thing about not wanting people to think he was Jewish--what's up with that?

As expected, Magnum won the Repug primary tonight, winning the right to face Tammy Baldwin for Congress in November. The surprise back home tonight is that Tim Michels won the Repug nomination to face Russ Feingold for U.S. Senate. Although I figured all along that Michels would win, every poll I saw all summer showed Russ Darrow in the lead--although I am not entirely sure I ever saw a poll that wasn't taken by the Darrow campaign itself. Michels is a reservist who swallows whole the Bush position on Iraq--and because that's largely indefensible, we can expect lots of indictments of Feingold's patriotism. This race is gonna be u-u-u-u-ugly.

Coming Tomorrow: The Mrs. volunteers at John Kerry's Madison rally. Watch this space (and perhaps the Comments link) for a report.

Somewhere Else
Greetings from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I find myself on business, and where summer, which never actually came to Wisconsin, is still in full swing down here. (It occurred to me this afternoon that now that I can buy an assault rifle if I want one, it would probably be easier to get one here than at home in Wisconsin. I don't know what makes me say that, except maybe distasteful Yankee prejudice.) I'll be here all week--and here are some random observations on the trip so far.

I didn't fly on an airplane until I was 30 years old--so I think that's why flying doesn't really seem like traveling to me. I don't get the sense of having made a journey that I get from driving. Traveling by air is not that much different from going to the dentist's office, really--you endure a period in an uncomfortable chair doing something you wish would get over. The only difference is that when you're done flying, you get out of the chair and you're somewhere else.

As soon as you get out of the airport, many of the same signs that tell you you're home tell you you're not. Like exit signs on the interstate that point to places like Muskogee and Broken Arrow. Like billboards for private investigators or something called "Painless Divorce." And storefront or strip-mall churches every three blocks.

Speaking of signs (stuck in yards and otherwise), they're having a U.S. Senate race down here, which I hadn't paid much attention to before now. So I set a challenge for myself to try and figure out which candidate was which, just based on evidence I saw--and I was completely wrong. The telegenic one who's got the big fundraising advantage, Brad Carson, is actually the Democrat, while the guy running as a compassionate physician, Tom Coburn, is the Republican. Which makes the "Republicans for Carson" yard sign I saw this afternoon kind of interesting--although I learned from the web this afternoon that Coburn is also courting Democratic votes and claims to have gotten them in the past. Carson is currently serving in Congress; Coburn came in with the Contract on America Class of 1994, and honored his pledge (not honored by his entire class) to step down after three terms. While I've been running through airports, Salon has been reporting on Coburn, who espouses, as the Daily Kos put it, pure wingnuttery. Carson has reportedly caught Coburn in the polls within the last week for the first time all summer. As Kos says, with Bush's ridiculous lead here in Oklahoma, it's a miracle that the race is even competitive. To take away a seat from the Repugs here (currently held by the retiring Don Nickles) would go a long way toward helping the Democrats reclaim the Senate--and that could be helpful in saving the Republic if Bush gets reelected.

Continue to talk amongst yourselves . . . .

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Talk Amongst Yourselves
I will be traveling again this coming week, getting out of town just as the campaigners descend on us like locusts. Laura Bush will be looking sedated tomorrow at a hotel less than a mile from my house; John Kerry will hold a rally on the Capitol lawn on Wednesday, with special guest Sheryl Crow. (The Mrs. is planning to attend; she saw Clinton in 1992 and he won, but didn't see Gore in 2000, and he lost. Honey, you better get there--it's all up to you.) Elizabeth Edwards and Ralph Nader will be appearing here this week, too--not on the same stage, although wouldn't that be entertaining.

We finally have our primary election up here on Tuesday. Today, the Wisconsin State Journal endorsed State Senator Bob Welch for the Republican nom to oppose Russ Feingold and small-town radio mogul Dave Magnum for the Republican nom to face Tammy Baldwin. (The paper did note, however, that Magnum is more slick than substantive, and that one of the things that makes him attractive as a candidate is that his opponent, Ron Greer, is completely batshit. I have frequently wanted to throw heavy objects at my TV during Magnum's ads, which lament rising deficits and wasteful government spending. How any Republican running in the Bush era can say that without his tongue snapping off its roller I cannot imagine.)

I have already cast my absentee ballot in my State Assembly district, where Sondy Pope-Roberts, the only Democrat to defeat an incumbent Republican for Assembly in 2002, has a primary challenge from a guy who's running against her for no clear purpose. He's critical of the Assembly for wasting time on same-sex marriage, a concealed-carry bill, and a Constitutional amendment to limit taxes--none of which is Pope-Roberts' fault. My theory is that she failed to return one of his phone calls, so he decided to run against her.

Like last week, I intend to post from the road when possible; like last week, I may not live up to my best intentions. So it's time once for you to carry on with what we in the blog biz call an open thread. Talk about whatever you like. The sorry spectacle of Colin Powell, North Korea's nukes, John Kerry's newfound fighting spirit, how it is that Bush's National Guard service is less important to the media than a hurricane in Florida, or any other damn thing that interests you. Just talk. You know you want to.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

I Bet He Can't Do That and Pat His Head at the Same Time
I am not a fan of James Lileks' political opinions. They're standard-issue wingnut nonsense, and they usually leave me fuming whenever I accidentally read them. (Our local Republican rag features him prominently on its editorial page.) But his website, the Institute of Official Cheer, is a riot, especially the Gallery of Regrettable Food. During the 50s and 60s, food fashion involved dressing up the most pedestrian fare by cooking it with or serving it with other food items seemingly plucked at random from store shelves. This resulted in some appalling combinations, such as corned beef salad loaf, made with Jell-O. Don't click the Gallery on an empty stomach, but do click it, if only for the snarky wonders of Lileks' prose. No matter who you are, the phrase "sundered bunny" is funny.

Speaking of appalling, how could any voter be dumb enough to still be having trouble deciding between Bush and Kerry? Mark Morford maintains that these voters, and the polls that chart their nonsensical swings back and forth, are better off ignored.

If you want to read just one meditation on 9/11 three years later, you could do worse than the one at Political Animal. Kevin Drum quotes extensively from a longer Juan Cole analysis of the war on terror and then offers his own perspective: "[T]he bottom line is pretty simple: if we stay in Iraq and fight a long, grinding, unwinnable guerrilla war against Islamic militants, bin Laden is delighted. If we give up and leave Iraq, bin Laden is delighted." Nice work, George.

And speaking of 9/11, Atrios asks the question for all of us: WTF? Perhaps the way to a man's heart really is through his stomach.

Lemonade Tycoons For Cheney
George Lakoff's name has been invoked on this blog a time or two previously--he's the one who has written that conservatives advocate a strict-father model of politics while liberals espouse a nurturing parent model. Now Lakoff is a hot topic in the blogosphere again, with the release of his new book Don't Think of an Elephant. Alternet has an excerpt, and it's worth reading. Lakoff is a linguist, and he's studied how framing--the way we talk about certain concepts--determines how we think about them, and not necessarily vice versa.

One of the frames the Bush Administration has tried hardest to impose since 9/11 is the one that insists only it can save us from terrorism, and that we'd better vote Republican or die. Indeed, Bush has co-opted 9/11 wholesale as a campaign device, as surely as if the 3,000 who died three years ago today were paid campaign workers. Judd Legum and David Sirota of the Progress Report examine how he's done it in The Nation. The overwhelming impression the article leaves is one of anger and shame at how the Republicans continue to use 9/11 and other terrorist deaths in such dishonest ways and for such ignoble purposes.

Quotes of the Day: Yesterday, John Kerry suggested that Bush's stance on assault weapons actually assists Al Qaeda by making such weapons easier to get, which prompted a Bush campaign mouthpiece to launch one of the most ridiculous bon mots of the year: "For John Kerry to infer that the president is helping terrorists is a clear example of a desperate candidate that prefers the politics of personal destruction over a substantive debate on the issues." I trust the Repugs will let us know when they're starting the substantive debate. Of course, if it's on the level of Cheney's Cincinnati appearance on Thursday, we might as well not bother. In addition to trying to weasel off the hook for his "vote Bush or die" remark earlier this week, he also noted that typical economic indicators miss some Americans who are doing just fine, specifically "Four hundred thousand people [who] make some money trading on eBay.'" To which John Edwards responded: "If we only included bake sales and how much money kids make at lemonade stands, this economy would really be cooking."

New at The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Why Time Begins in September.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Often Smarter, Always Better-Lookin'
And now, a guest post from my pal Karen, to whom I should just give a key to this blog and let her go, about criticism of the newly released memos regarding Bush's service (or non-service) in the National Guard.
Asked about Killian's statement in a memo about the military's investment in Bush, [Bush spokesman Dan] Bartlett told CBS: "For anybody to try to interpret or presume they know what somebody who is now dead was thinking in any of these memos, I think is very difficult to do."

these are the same people who use the intentional fallacy to argue for strict constructionist interpretations of the constitution and who believe in fundamentalist interpretations of christian scripture. if we can know what st. paul was thinking 2000 years ago and what the framers were thinking 200 years ago, why can't we understand the plain english written by this commander in the 1970s? help me here, somebody!
Any ideas?

They Hate Us Because We Hate Them
If you're going to read just one thing on the Web today, read the introduction to Boston Globe columnist James Carroll's book Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War, which is posted at Alternet. It's as insanely great an essay as you're ever likely to see. Taking Bush's post-September 11 reference to "this crusade, this war on terrorism" as his departure point, Carroll observes:

Here is the deeper significance of Bush's inadvertent reference to the Crusades: Instead of being a last recourse or a necessary evil, violence was established then as the perfectly appropriate, even chivalrous, first response to what is wrong in the world.
And also:
Religious war is the danger here, and it is a graver one than Americans think. Despite our much-vaunted separation of church and state, America has always had a quasi-religious understanding of itself, reflected in the messianism of Puritan founder John Winthrop, the Deist optimism of Thomas Jefferson, the embrace of redemptive suffering that marked Abraham Lincoln and, for that matter, the conviction of Eisenhower's Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, that Communism had to be opposed on a global scale if only because of its atheism. But never before has America been brought deeper into a dynamite-wired holy of holies than in our President's war on terrorism. Despite the post-Iraq toning down of Washington's rhetoric of empire, and the rejection of further crusader references--although Secretary of State Colin Powell used the word this past March--Bush's war openly remains a cosmic battle between nothing less than the transcendent forces of good and evil. Such a battle is necessarily unlimited and open-ended, and so justifies radical actions--the abandonment, for example, of established notions of civic justice at home and of traditional alliances abroad.

A cosmic moral-religious battle justifies, equally, risks of world-historic proportioned disaster, since the ultimate outcome of such a conflict is to be measured not by actual consequences on this earth but by the earth-transcending will of God. Our war on terrorism, before it is anything else, is thus an imagined conflict, taking place primarily in a mythic realm beyond history
I often lament the way we learn nothing from history. Carroll laments it also.
The problem [our abandonment of international cooperation to stop nuclear proliferation] has its roots in a long-term American forgetfulness, going back to the acid fog in which the United States ended World War II. There was never a complete moral reckoning with the harsh momentum of that conflict's denouement--how American leaders embraced a strategy of terror bombing, slaughtering whole urban populations, and how, finally, they ushered in the atomic age with the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Scholars have debated those questions, but politicians have avoided them, and most citizens have pretended they aren't really questions at all. America's enduring assumptions about its own moral supremacy, its own altruism, its own exceptionalism, have hardly been punctured by consideration of the possibility that we, too, are capable of grave mistakes, terrible crimes. Such awareness, drawn from a fuller reckoning with days gone by--with August 6 and 9, 1945, above all--would inhibit America's present claim to moral grandeur, which is simultaneously a claim, of course, to economic and political grandiosity. The indispensable nation must dispense with what went before.

"The past is never dead," William Faulkner said. "It isn't even past." How Americans remember their country's use of terror bombing affects how they think of terrorism; how they remember the first use of nuclear weapons has profound relevance for how the United States behaves in relation to nuclear weapons today. If the long American embrace of nuclear "mutual assured destruction" is unexamined; if the Pentagon's treaty-violating rejection of the ideal of eventual nuclear abolition is unquestioned--then the Bush Administration's embrace of nukes as normal, usable weapons will not seem offensive.

Memory is a political act. Forgetfulness is the handmaiden of tyranny.
The consequences of the 200-year epoch of the Crusades altered civilization in ways uncalculable for more than 800 years to come. "The Crusades, one could argue, established basic structures of Western civilization, while undermining the possibility that their grandest ideals would ever be realized."

For well over a year, I've been referring to the 2004 election as the most important the country has faced since 1860, because in no election since has the choice between possible futures been so stark. But maybe this isn't 1860 we are reliving. Maybe it's 1096.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Snorts of Various Sorts
The explosive allegation in Kitty Kelley's tell-all biography of the Bushes--that Dubya snorted cocaine at Camp David while his father was president--is beginning to roll though the blogosphere, and speculation abounds about how it might affect the campaign. Is it a legit story? Some in a position to know say not. Does it have to be legit to have an effect? It does not. After all, the Swift Boat Liars' accusations weren't true, either. The next few days leading up to the publication of Kelley's book are critical. Will the national media report the story? Will they pursue it? Will they require Bush to respond in the same way Kerry was forced to respond to the Liars? Stay tuned.

In other news today, Dick Cheney came right out and said that a vote for Kerry is a vote for another 9/11. Outrageous as that is, think about it for a second: The tank is empty now. This is the nuclear weapon in their campaign arsenal, and they've fired it eight weeks before the election. If this doesn't work, what's next? A vote for Kerry is a vote for giving the country back to the Indians? Worst Vice President Ever. And also, Jimmy Carter tore Zell Miller a new one over his speech at the convention last week, calling it "unprecedented disloyalty." Best Ex-President Ever.

Recommended Reading: Matthew Yglesias wonders why the "low-tax, low-wage, no-union, no-regulation formula that's brought such a lack of economic success to the Deep South" is something the Republicans want to push on the whole country.

Quote of the Day: A commenter on Daily Kos provides a new campaign slogan for Bush in the wake of the coke rumors--"I may not have lined up to go to Vietnam, but at least I lined up for something."

Note: I'll be on the road again tomorrow through the rest of the week, so the posting will be light here until about Sunday. I will try to check in when possible, though, however briefly.

He Was a Midwestern Boy on His Own
This morning a friend sent me the latest column from the Mighty Krugman (which, if his thesis is correct, is more bad news for John Kerry) and asked if I thought Krugman was married. I said I didn't know, and a brief e-mail colloquy regarding the hotness of liberals ensued. So this afternoon I was driving around and I flipped to our new Air America affiliate and started listening to Randi Rhodes, who holds down the 2-6PM slot (afternoon drive, as we call it in the biz), and suddenly the hotness of liberals took on an entirely new meaning. I have always been attracted to smart and funny women. Now, you have to understand that because Midwestern boys such as myself automatically assign additional hotness points to women with New York accents, smart and funny women with New York accents rank mighty high on the hotness meter almost by default. And I am here to tell you that smart and funny liberal women with New York accents go off the scale.

I mentioned this morning that WXXM (the Air America affiliate) and one of our other local news/talk stations, WTDY, are both intending to use "Madison's Progressive Radio" as a tagline. According to the Capital Times, lawyers are already involved. WTDY program director John Sylvester, extensively quoted in the story, is a guy I knew in college--he's one of the last of us still in the business, and one of the most successful.

Recommended Reading: If John Kerry were to take Tom Schaller's advice on how to fight the next eight weeks, I'd take back what I said yesterday about the race being over. Key quote: "The presidency is not won on esoteric arguments about this or that economic report; sadly, it's won by convincing Americans--70 percent of whom cannot identify their member of Congress--with schoolyard political tactics." In other words, fight, dammit--fight.

If you have not had your minimum daily requirement of Weird Shit yet, click here. Because it's from a conspiracist website, this sordid tale of child sex in the White House goes into far more detail than you are probably willing to wade through--but, as Atrios noted today, "Of all the stories thrown down the memory hole from the era of Poppy, this one was always the weirdest."

New at The Hits Just Keep On Comin': From Memphis to L.A.

Show Biz Then and Now
Did you see any of the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon yesterday? No? I'm not surprised. What was once a major event in which average people took a sense of ownership is now just another cultural icon gone to seed. Remember? In the 1960s and 70s, "backyard carnivals" for muscular dystrophy were all the rage among preteens, but no more. (MDA discontinued official support of the carnival program for a while, but has recently resurrected it.) As recently as the 1980s, MDA-themed ads for major consumer products were everywhere in the summer months leading up to the telethon, but no more. Part of the reason for the telethon's decline is the fragmentation of the TV audience, thanks to cable and satellite. When there were only four stations in Madison, the telethon sucked up a lot more air than it can possibly do now, and when you multiply the effect nationwide, it's easy to see why it's no longer the big deal it used to be.

One way the telethon remains notable as is the last bastion of old-time showbiz as she was practiced into the 70s, where everyone's a beautiful cat doing a beautiful thing for the people. All you need to know about the telethon's demographic appeal was summed up in a teaser I heard announcer Ed McMahon deliver just before a local telethon break yesterday afternoon: "Coming up next . . . Jack Jones. Stay tuned." Jack Jones hasn't been hip since the Johnson Administration, and the only people likely to be convinced to stay tuned by the news of his upcoming appearance were those too old to push the button on the remote anyhow. (I am guessing I am one of the few people under the age of 65 who knows who Jack Jones is.) Yet in spite of the scent of Ben Gay in the air, the telethon raises multiple millions of dollars for muscular dystrophy research each year ($59.4 million in pledges yesterday), and for that, Lewis is one of the greatest philanthropists showbiz has ever produced. But someday soon, Jerry Lewis is going to pass from the scene. My suspicion is that the telethon may go on for a year or two after that, but will soon join him in TV history.

Air Time: Today is the day Madison's Air America affiliate goes on the air. So far, it's been broadcasting nothing but song parodies and other comedy bits, but I'm guessing that regular Air America programming will begin with Al Franken later this morning. On Saturday, I ran into the program director of one of the existing news/talk stations here in town, who confessed to having had a hell of a week since the news broke. "I've got Clear Channel on my ass," he said, and has had to reposition his station on the fly as "Madison's Progressive Talk" (which is the same tagline the Air America affiliate says it intends to use.) This meant, among other things, canceling Sean Hannity's show, which will raise Madison's average IQ by a couple of points. A conservative acquaintance of mine suspects the Madison Air America affiliate will exist through the election and then it will be gone--and he could be right. This will be the third different format on that signal in the past year, and given Clear Channel's record of changing formats like most people change socks, a lifespan of months isn't necessarily a sucker's bet. (A Madison Indymedia analysis of the changeover is here.)

Monday, September 06, 2004

Bits Not Fitting Elsewhere
I am apparently not the only one who's pretty much given up on John Kerry. Aaron McGruder has too. His Boondocks strips using stem cells as a takeoff point for various campaign riffs haven't been consistenly good, but today's gets at the ineptitude I lamented in this morning's post.

Also in the news today, Bill Clinton has come through his bypass surgery successfully. I confess--the thought crossed my mind in the last few days that if he were to die from this, the differences in coverage between his demise and Reagan's would expose the right-wing bias of the major media in clear and uncomfortable (for them) terms. However, all signs point to Bill's being with us for a good long time yet, although he'll be out of action for a couple of months, taking him off the campaign trail for Democrats this fall.

(Clinton's reportedly been doing the South Beach Diet. I read somewhere late last week that heart trouble like his--not to mention other attractive conditions such as bad breath and constipation--can be a consequence of low-carb, high-fat diets. Although I'd wager that in Bill's case, it's not so much the diet that put him in Columbia Presbyterian as it was the Big Macs that necessitated the diet in the first place.)

Salon's War Room 2004 reports that the Bush Twins and their entourage spent Wednesday night running up a $4500 tab at a Manhattan club, for which they left a $48 tip. The apples, apparently, don't fall far from the tree. If Bush were as pro-family as his supporters claim he is, these vile little tarts would be in a convent now.

If those Chili's ads that ran during the Olympics, in which gold-medal-winning athletes found the source of their inspiration in barbecue sauce, seemed as monumentally stupid to you as they did to me, we aren't alone. Matt Taibbi explains that because advertisers have run out of physical locations on which to plaster ads, they are attempting to colonize abstract concepts such as "inspiration."

My Stuff, Other Places: New at The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Rockin' the Kitchen. At Best of the Blogs: Here We Go.

Winner by Forfeit
Labor Day is the traditional opening day of the fall campaign season, but from where I sit, this ballgame is already over. What we're going to watch in the next two months is the Republicans pouring buckets of water on somebody who's already drowning thanks to his own ineptitude as a swimmer. The Kerry campaign has proven to be everything I feared the Democrats would mount against Bush in 2004--weak in expressing itself, weak in defending itself, and wedded to the deadly DLC idea that the best way to win is to be as much like Bush as possible and hope that people pull the Democrats' lever by mistake.

It is possible to stomach defeat if you go down while standing up for something, remaining true to principles that will survive even if you don't. (Which is why I ended up voting for Howard Dean in Wisconsin's primary even after it was clear he had no shot.) But what's happening to Kerry isn't defeat, it's a forfeit. It's not even showing up. Kerry is not entirely to blame for this. Rank-and-file Democrats' desire to nominate a war hero, any war hero, made them blind to the very liabilities that are being exploited by the Republicans now: Kerry's ambiguous response to his own Vietnam service in the 30 years since he came home, his votes in favor of programs advocated by the very man he wants to unseat, and his ponderous style on the stump.

The more we see of Kerry on the campaign trail, the more I am convinced that we could be just as close with Dean, Edwards, or Clark, each of whom would have been a far better, less cautious candidate than Kerry has been. The very closeness of the race only adds to the frustration of watching Kerry lose it. I know that polling due this week will show Bush up by only four or five points nationally, and with a slim lead in the state-by-state polling translated to the Electoral College. None of that matters. We have seen what the Kerry campaign does when confronted by vicious Republican attacks (fumbling their response to the Swift Boat Liars) and when handed a golden opportunity to bash Bush (opting to talk about credit-card debt on the day new poverty numbers were released). We have seen it get its righteous indignation on too late (Kerry's midnight speech after the Republican Convention). I have seen nothing that makes me think the campaign is going to radically alter its playbook. We know that what we have seen so far is just a taste of what the Republicans will unleash on Kerry in September and October, and its effect will be devastating.

Whether Democrats should adopt Republican campaign tactics in fighting Bush was the topic of a long thread at Political Animal earlier this weekend. Opinions are, as you'd expect, divided. Democrats being Democrats, we argue over how to hold the firehose while the damn building burns down. Last week, Salon's Eric Boehlert examined the Swift Boat saga in a piece titled "They Know How to Win: Does John Kerry?" Written brightly between the lines was the answer to Boehlert's question: "No."

The last word of this grim forecast belongs to a Salon letter-writer, Conor Brennan, responding to Boehlert's story.
More and more, Kerry resembles not JFK so much as another Massachusetts politician, Michael Dukakis, who allowed the other side to define him and never fought back, believing points would one day be awarded for control of the moral high ground. Sad to say (and it's not because the media are in Republican overdrive with the convention) I believe Bush will win easily in November and Kerry will be consigned to political scrap heap of "should-have-beens."

I will end by noting that since Kerry emerged from the primaries, I have been meaning to contribute to his campaign. Still, I have not contributed and now I know why--instinctively, I find it hard to back a horse who leaves the starting gate gingerly, runs without purpose or plan and can't find its way to the winner's circle.
My thoughts exactly.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

We're Cool, Really, We Swear
Try as they might, Republicans just are not capable of hipness. Take for example the conservative bloggers working the Republican Convention. They looked down their noses at Democratic Convention bloggers and accused them of being starstruck and of reporting on parties they attended and celebrities they spotted rather than on substantive issues. Republican bloggers promised they wouldn't fall into the same trap at their convention, but they did--only it was worse for them, because the parties they attended were populated by B-listers, has-beens, and wannabes. The end result of their reportage was like nothing so much as the class nerd trying to convince people he got to second base with one of the cheerleaders.

One of the big stories of convention week was the political coming-out of Jenna and Barbara Bush, which served mostly to illustrate the political divide yet again by simple comparisons with the Kerry Daughters. The "W Stands for Women" event was part of an attempt by the GOP to woo female voters, although as James Ridgeway reported in a Village Voice piece leading up to the convention, women have little reason to vote Republican, because GOP policies have disastrous effects on women's lives. But the administration has a solution to the problems women face--stop reporting statistical data that illuminates them. Ridgeway mentioned the practice in his article, and the Daily Misleader had more detail late last week. It doesn't get much notice in the wider sea of political news, but as an abdication of the government's responsibility to look out for the welfare of the citizens, it's enormously important, incredibly dangerous--and about as useful a political tool for the Republicans as could be imagined. It reduces every debate about policy and responsibility for policy to he-said-she-said pissing matches, because there's no reliable data to back anyone's assertions. That in turn makes candidate personality more important than it already is. When choosing which unfounded assertion to back, the decision ultimately comes down to who seems more likely to be truthful. And appearance triumphs yet again.

The Republicans, of course, have ridden the absence of reliable data and he-said, she-said pissing matches to electoral glory before, they did it last week, and they'll keep doing it until the end of time. Rick Perlstein of the Voice came up with a word to describe "the kind of utterance that produces this uncanny frustration, this furious oscillating over whether to call something you swear you just heard a lie, a product of ignorance, or a side-effect of lamentable political self-hypnosis." He calls them "not-so's," and his post-convention wrapup is stuffed with examples.

Quotes of the Day: The Ridgeway piece, even though it's a week old, has some great lines in it. For example, "Bush can focus on women because he probably thinks he has a lock on the other gender. Young white men in the South are said to love him because of the president’s swaggering 'Fuck You' style." Up North, too. Politicians of all camps were handing out stickers yesterday at various events here in Madison, and I noticed that lots of thirtysomething men were wearing Bush/Cheney at the football game we attended yesterday. Listening to them talk and watching their body language, you can gather that these are people who admire Bush for his perceived toughness, and they couldn't let themselves be Democrats because that would betray an unmanly concern for things like the environment and the downtrodden. Bill Clinton is right--Americans will always prefer strong and wrong to weak and right. Therein lies Bush's appeal to male voters, and it's something John Kerry couldn't beat in a hundred years of trying.

A better quote from Ridgeway, however, is this one: "Bush's entire social policy is organized around sex roles, so that you qualify for things like welfare, tax breaks, unemployment insurance, and health care based on where you do it, how you do it, when you do it, and, of course, with whom you do it. To the Christian fundamentalists, fucking makes the world go 'round." Well, it does for everybody else, too--but most of us can think about something else now and then.

Friday, September 03, 2004

How Does It Feel to Be Back?
I am just back from a few days in Iowa--specifically Iowa City, where I attended college in the mid 90s, and where I lived and worked for a couple of years in the late 1990s. I have several regular stops when I visit: I always arrange to bend elbows with my favorite barroom companions; I drive by the house The Mrs. and I used to own; I eat at the Hamburg Inn; I troll for used CDs at Record Collector. And I made quite a find the other night--a three-disc best-of by Hall and Oates, a comprehensive career retrospective released only in Australia and unlike anything available in the United States. When I put it in the car CD player, one of the first songs I heard was H&O's minor 1980 hit "How Does It Feel to Be Back?"

Answer: Great. Iowa City is both precisely like and utterly different from the rest of Iowa. Although it's home to a major research university, it seems like a small town. Its hipness is a bit self-conscious--as if hipness is not entirely seemly. Its local government, despite the best efforts of the community's progressives, is dominated by Chamber-of-Commerce booster types. In one way, it holds its own with much larger cities, though--during the morning and evening rush, it has some of the worst traffic you'll ever see--anywhere. Having said all that, I love the place. I feel more at home in Iowa City than any place I've ever lived. Madison is like the glamorous cheerleader who'd never look your way, but Iowa City is the sweet-natured girl in the next row whose inner beauty makes her irresistable, and who loves you just because.

Recommended Reading: A friend sent me a link to the latest column from the Mighty Krugman, which she headed "Krugman takes the gloves off." And he does. That the Republicans get away with accusing Democrats of hate speech is one of the grandest outrages of the age, when it's the Republican Party that's made anger the centerpiece of its ruling philosophy. A good Republican has to be angry--in fact, he or she has to hate. And because of that, contrary to Bush's rhetoric about bright futures last night, another four years of Republican government is going to make American life smaller and uglier. It cannot do otherwise.

Tonight on The Hits Just Keep On Comin': Summer's End.

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