Saturday, October 30, 2004

Josh Marshall Slaps Me One Upside the Head
The State Department reportedly asked the government of Qatar, which finances the Al-Jazeera channel, not to release the Bin Laden tape yesterday. No reason is given as to why, which is pretty interesting. You might think that the administration would want the tape out if they thought it would help them politically, but remember that the State Department has been on the outs with the rest of the administration practically from the beginning. In that light, their request to Qatar, if it was an attempt to keep the tape from roiling the presidential election, is one of the more statesmanlike acts we've seen from the Bush Administration.

Many of the commentators who examined the tape yesterday cautioned against assuming it was automatically good for Bush and bad for Kerry. However: Billmon, making a rare appearance back in the blogosphere, is one who was not sowing caution.
By plastering his face over every TV in America for the next couple of days, [Osama has] given Bush a priceless gift--a boogeyman with which to frighten that last sliver of undecided voters into rejecting change. Al Qaeda, it seems, has evolved into one hell of an effective 527 organization.
I'm afraid that's what I think, too--but Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo would like to smack Billmon and me as follows:
Whether this OBL tape represents no-bump, a bump, or something more damaging than a bump, I don't know. But reactions can dictate and shape outcomes, especially in such a context as this where perception is the essence of the matter. . . .

The Bush campaign is trying to use the OBL tape to slap the Kerry campaign around, knock them off their stride, and argue that for Kerry now even to mention anything about the president's failure to bag bin Laden is the height of shamefullness. . . .

If the Kerry campaign falls for this it would be the height of foolishness. In itself the bin Laden video is not a matter of controversy. What the president's campaign is trying to do is either goad the Kerry campaign into three days of passivity in the run-up to the election or fuss up a debate about the supposed outrageousness of Kerry's faulting the president for allowing bin Laden to remain at large. The Kerry folks should not play into that trap. The answer is to keep to the game-plan and remain on the offensive.

The foreign policy focus of the Kerry campaign has long been the president's failure to maintain the focus on al Qaida, as evidenced by his failure to capture bin Laden and dismantle his network. To abandon that message now would be insanity.

If you're a Democrat and you notice your fellow Democrats dipping into these spasms of fecklessness and weak-kneedism, as I've described above, I strongly encourage you to slap them around a few times and tell them to get a hold of themselves. If you're experiencing such spasms, by all means, slap yourself a few times and tell yourself the same thing.

More than 95% of the electorate has already made up its mind. This is all about how those last few percentage points of the electorate break. And that will be determined by which campaign holds the initiative, stays on the offensive for the next three days and who can mobilize their forces to win this on the ground.

Kerry, the candidate, must be forward-looking in these final days. But his surrogates should be hammering the president for his failure to capture bin Laden at Tora Bora and pressing the factual case that his campaign has tried so hard to deny. On hitting the indisputable failures of the president there should be no let up.

At every turn, toughness and fight has been the subtext of this election. Who has it and who doesn't. The Bush message is that all of the president's mistakes pale in comparison to the fact of his toughness and steely resolve. The conceit of the Kerry campaign and the Democrats is that they're every bit as tough as the president and his party, and more.

Now's the time for them to show it.
Recommended Reading: Kos on vote trading, which some voters are doing in safe Kerry states to allow Nader voters to vote their consciences by proxy. His advice: Don't. To win the post-November 3 battle for legitimacy, we need every Kerry vote we can get. Friends don't let friends vote for Nader, anyplace.

Quote of the Day: Remarking on the wars his administration has fought so far, Dick Cheney says, "Afghanistan and Iraq will be studied for years for their brilliance." And they call Kerry an airchair general?

Friday, October 29, 2004

Dr. Evil Rides Again
Here's a sample of the current blogosphere thinking at the moment of this post on the return of the Wicked Osama. Let's begin with Juan Cole, who provides an extensive translation of what Bin Laden actually said. Cole comments: "On the one hand, it is a painful reminder that Bush dropped the ball, left the fight against al-Qaeda half-finished, and ran off to the Iraq quagmire, so that Bin Laden is still at large 3 years after he killed 3000 Americans and hit the Pentagon itself. That can't be good for Bush. On the other hand, because so many Americans confuse Bush's swagger and aggressive instincts with being 'strong on terrorism,' any big reminder that al-Qaeda is out there could actually help W. It shouldn't, but it may well."

The Guardian: "[T]he initial instinct is that it will be more helpful to George Bush than to John Kerry."

Josh Marshall: "I don't think the public's mind right now will react to bin Laden's reemergence in way people did in 2001, 2002 or even through much of 2003. Or in the way many in the press expect. A lot has changed. We'll know soon enough."

Electablog: "Resist the urge to predict what impact the new bin Laden remix will have on the U.S. presidential election. . . . If you are a sensible and reasonably intelligent supporter of either [Bush or Kerry], then this tape (or any other monologues from sociopathic mass murderers) will have no effect on your voting plans."

The Gadflyer's Fly Trap: "This of course has Kerry supporters worried...because apparently reminding people that terrorism exists makes it easier for FrankenCheney to tell us we'll all die . . .immediately . . . without Bush as our fearless leader brainstorming with 5 year olds while we are under attack. Yet, Kerry has made the argument quite effectively lately, as have many others like the famous "Jersey Girls," that we are in more danger right now because of the policies/failures of the mighty backflipping Andover Cheerleader-in-Chief."

My take is a bit less optimistic than my blogosphere buddies. I see it as a big gift for the Bush campaign which, after its warm-and-fuzzy final campaign ad was trashed by the Photoshop controversy, had already decided to return to all terror, all the time, even before the tape appeared. Given the laziness and pack mentality of the media, and the alluring way this new tape fits the "storyline" of the Bush presidency, I expect it to drown out everything else until Tuesday morning. Now I could be wrong. Perhaps it really will remind people more of Bush's failures than of his phony image as the only one who can save us. That's what many of the people I've quoted above are banking on, and as a result, they're counseling wait-and-see or maybe-it-won't-be-so-bad. All of them are smarter than I am. But I'm having a harder time with it than they are. Please share your impressions of the tape and its likely consequences by clicking "Comments."

Recommended Reading: Brad DeLong summarizes blogosphere reaction to something new that's surfaced at Bush rallies this week--"the Bush pledge," which is straight out of the 1933 Nuremberg playbook. To me, it's far creepier than anything Bin Laden said.

Is There a Song Called "Bite Me"?
"Still the One," a 1976 hit by Orleans, is one of my favorite songs. Bush has been using it at campaign rallies lately, but now songwriter John Hall has asked him to cut it out, and the campaign has complied. Turns out Hall, his co-writer and ex-wife Johanna, and the remaining members of Orleans are Kerry supporters, and the Bush campaign never received permission to use the song. Over at Daily Kos, they've been coming up with suggestions for other songs Bush could use. Here are a few possibilities I like:

Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye/Steam
Hit the Road Jack/Ray Charles
The End/Doors

The Kos thread is an idea too good not to steal. Therefore, your theme-song suggestions are welcome here.

Fair, Balanced, and Dim
So last night The Mrs. and I are flipping around to our various local channels to see how they covered the Kerry rally. The pictures were all pretty much the same--Bruce, Kerry, excited rally participants. But two of the three channels (and I have no reason to think that the third channel was any different) were very careful to include either pictures or comments from anti-Kerry people. One station showed protesters at the top of West Washington Avenue who appeared to be gibbering idiots in Halloween costumes; another interviewed a pro-Bush student petulantly complaining about the trouble she had getting into and out of her house, as if the Democrats had scheduled the rally to trouble her personally.

You can argue, as the stations would, that they were trying merely to show balance. I can argue that the decision is actually dreadfully unbalanced. With 100,000 pro-Kerry people in attendance, the stations give minutes of airtime to a dozen anti-Kerry people, or one bitchy coed? This isn't balance--it's the lazy indulgence of a poorly understood journalistic tenet. Such laziness is endemic in the media at this moment in history, and it contributes to the critical thinking troubles that plague the American electorate.

Smarter people than I are covering this better than I. Josh Marshall, who has been covering the story of the looted explosives better than anybody else on the Internet, examined CNN's coverage of the story last night. UN weapons inspector David Kay appeared with Aaron Brown and pretty much annihilated the concept, pushed by Bush, Cheney, and other Repug surrogates, that we don't really know what happened to these explosives. Kay's answers to Brown's questions left little doubt that the United States knew the explosives were there and the military failed to safeguard them. Period. But, as Marshall notes, the lead story on CNN's own website continued to run the "balanced" version of the story--which amounts to giving the administration's politically motivated denials and evasions equal weight with Kay's expert opinion and the evidence of our own eyes on the news video of the weapons site.

And that ain't all. At Tapped, Matthew Yglesias compares the New York Times' two stories on the explosives--one on the discovery itself and one on the impact the discovery has on the campaign. Once again, the campaign story pushes the "we don't know" frame established by the Repugs, even though the other story in the same paper shows that "we don't know" is bullshit. The result--"balanced" reporting that's just plain wrong.
On John Kerry's side are witnesses, television footage, and officials from the U.S. Army and Iraqi Interim Government. On George W. Bush's side are Bush, Bush's political appointees, and the press aides to Bush's political appointees. It doesn't take a psychic to figure out who's wrong and who's right here. And yet people reading campaign stories--especially people out there in the swing states where their media is filled with wire copy--aren't getting any sense of the facts. Instead, day after day, they're reading transcriptions of each campaign's best quips.
It's no wonder that out in the provinces, people throw up their hands at the prospect of understanding complicated stories and fall back on easy-to-grasp memes like Bush the Resolute or Kerry the Liberal to make their electoral decisions. Or worse, throw up their hands and claim that because all politicians are full of it, nothing a politician does has any relevance to real life, and thus, voting is pointless. (I have people of just that opinion in my extended family.) Reporting of the type Marshall and Yglesias describe leads directly to the phenomenon I first observed during the anthrax freakout of October 2001--contrary to what you'd expect, the longer you watch, the less you know. Equal weighting of conflicting claims, each one impossible to measure because there's no context for any of it, makes a person more confused about a given issue, not less.

No American journalist would admit to having the goal of confusing rather than enlightening, but you wouldn't know it to watch many of 'em at work. The Gadflyer said it best several months ago, and I've mentioned it here a couple of times already: The media's ideal of objectivity falls apart in the face of official mendacity. Baldfaced lies can't be called baldfaced lies even if the reporter knows they are baldfaced lies, because to call them baldfaced lies would be considered unfair and unbalanced. So CNN and the Times leave the decision up to their readers--who won't reach an accurate opinion if they think all the information on which they are deciding is credible.

But even when the subject at hand isn't a baldfaced lie, our media solons often seem unable to call a spade a spade. They're afraid of being criticized by people who would prefer to call a spade a diamond, or, of what some reporters appear to fear even more than that--of appearing to be actual thinking beings instead of impartial conduits of information. I got into an e-mail exchange a couple of years ago with the news director of Wisconsin Public Radio regarding a story the network did on the release of Senator Joseph McCarthy's papers. The network reported on how most scholars agreed that McCarthy's charges of communists under the bed were even more ludicrous than previously believed. Then, however, they dug up some goober from the John Birch Society and gave him two minutes of airtime to suggest that the papers in fact proved that everything McCarthy ever said was true. I criticized WPR for giving equal weight to such nonsense, asking whether they would feel it necessary to interview a member of the Flat Earth Society as part of a story about space travel. I got an aggrieved e-mail from the news director, in which she defended the McCarthy story and said, "Surely you don't want us engaging in advocacy journalism." Well, frankly, I think this country needs more advocacy journalism, not less--but at the very least, I think you ought to be able to tell chicken shit from chicken salad. So often today, reporters who are supposedly trained to know the difference act like they don't.

Recommended Reading: The Mighty Krugman talks with Texas Monthly about President Kerry's first months in office, and has some advice for JFK and the Democrats.
Do not be magnanimous in victory. I hope the people around him understand that this is not politics as we know it. It's not, "OK, well, we won an election. After the election we'll get together and work in a bipartisan way to help the country." They [Repugs] didn’t work in a bipartisan way when the United States was attacked. They immediately saw it as a way to achieve political dominance. Kerry has got to understand that he has a window of opportunity to expose what's going on and to rock these people back to the point where we can try to reclaim the normal workings of democracy. Unless there's a true miracle and the Democrats take the House--which is extremely unlikely--it’s going to be very bitter political civil war from Day One. The House leadership will try to undermine Kerry. I'm sure they'll try to impeach him almost immediately. On anything.
Over at Orcinus, David Neiwert also sees ugliness ahead, but in more than just a political sense.

Still, we'll risk it. Harold Meyerson describes the incredible convergence of Democratic groups to get out the vote on Election Day. And a Daily Kos diarist has more pictures from Kerry's Madison rally yesterday.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Ride the Tempest
I am still coming down from this most extraordinary day, and I think I'm almost there. I will be communing with my pillow in a minute. Salon's report from the Madison rally quotes Bruce Springsteen's remarks extensively and captures the flavor of the event. (Quote of the day, from Salon's Joan Walsh, reminiscing about her own Madison days and tipping War Room readers to the more extensive report in the magazine: "[Springsteen] likely swung Wisconsin, too smart to be a swing state anyway, into the Kerry column permanently."

Tonight I went to canvasser training for America Coming Together, which expects 1200 volunteers to be on the ground here in Dane County on Election Day, and 40,000 canvassers nationwide. ACT is actually paying people to do this, which I didn't realize until long after I signed up. This means they attract people who are doing it primarily for the money--like the college-age stoners sitting behind me tonight, or the aged hippie, either drunk or addled, sitting in the next section over, who kept up a running commentary on the trainer's words and frequently interrupted her with irrelevant questions he'd already asked. Nevertheless, ACT is making it pretty easy for even the most reticent door-knocker, such as I, to do some good on Election Day. That I will have something like $81 for my trouble at the end of the day on Tuesday is extra--and will end up going to the local food bank or something, although I may save out a few bucks to buy a bottle of celebratory champagne for Election Night.

After I got home, a friend of nearly 25 years called. He's never been all that interested in politics before this election cycle, but he's into it now, and where we used to talk intensely about football, we now talk as intensely about issues. Many of us have poured a lot of our fears into this election, and we've used them to motivate ourselves. But there's hope, too, precisely because people who have never cared much about politics beyond exercising their simple right to vote care passionately now, passionately enough to make phone calls and ring doorbells. Win or lose on Tuesday, those of us on the progressive side have a challenge to capture and redirect the energy that's so evident as we head into this weekend to either the business of governing or the building of a progressive juggernaut, not just to stand against but to fight back against the forces of repression and reaction represented by Bush and the Repugs.

The last word belongs to my pal Karen, a good friend of this blog and of its blogger, who's doing her part in Iowa, another swing state where it's all on the line. She sends a poem by Trieu Thi Trinh:
My wish is to ride the tempest
tame the waves
kill the sharks.
I will not resign myself.
Four days, people. Never give up. Hope is on the way.

Rallying the Promised Land
Today The Mrs. and I volunteered to help out at John Kerry’s Madison rally. It’s a tradition for the Democratic presidential candidate to appear here the week before the election, and with Wisconsin so critical this year, it’s doubly important. Bill Clinton reportedly set the attendance record with 40,000 during one of his appearances, and Al Gore packed ’em in on the Capitol Square in 2000. This rally has been moved, however, so the stage is four blocks from the square at the intersection of West Washington Avenue and Bassett Street, and the throng will assemble back up Wash to the Square. Bassett is a street steeped in history; along with Mifflin Street, which intersects it a couple of blocks away, Bassett was the beating heart of the counterculture 1960s in Madison. To this day, the Union Cab drivers still call Bassett “the Ho Chi Minh Trail.”

8:00AM: We arrive at the volunteer rendezvous area at West Washington and Henry. Most of the volunteers seem to be between the ages of 35 and 70, and we wait in knots for the campaign staffers in charge of the particular areas to which each of us was assigned last night. When they arrive, they are all between the ages of 21 and 22.

8:15AM: The Mrs. and I, assigned to sign distribution, learn the identity of the staffer in charge of sign distribution. She calls her group over to another part of the staging area, where we wait.

8:30AM: “Sign people, follow me!” We take off down West Washington Avenue toward the main stage. We are herded through the security checkpoint, where we must remove all campaign buttons and the contents of our pockets. The Secret Service confiscates the apples The Mrs. was carrying, presumably because unauthorized fruit presents a security concern.

8:35AM: After going through security, we spy a line of portable toilets. It occurs to me that thanks to the Secret Service, these are the most secure toilets I will ever have the opportunity to use, so I partake.

8:40AM: We follow our leader to a spot just behind the main stage, where we begin waiting anew.

8:50AM: A guy in a Boston Red Sox hat comes toward us. “There’s a happy Red Sox fan,” I say aloud. “I’m still inebriated,” he says, and I believe he could be telling the truth. It turns out he’s part of the national advance team.

9:15AM: “Sign people, follow me!” We take off back up West Washington Avenue about one-half block to a spot behind the media risers and next to the portable toilets. Upon arrival, we wait some more.

9:30AM: Finally, we get a job to do. We are sent back down West Washington Avenue to get boxes of signs. There are approximately 12 or 15 sign volunteers and 8,000 signs, which we will distribute later on. As we’re returning to our spot behind the risers, a blues band takes the stage. We wait yet again.

9:40AM: It occurs to me that the spot we’re in is a pretty good one. There are three levels of ticketing for the event: red and blue, which require a trip through security and get you down front, and white, which does not require security screening but puts you farther back. Next to the media risers, we are on the edge of the red area, maybe 150 feet from the stage.

9:45AM: The Mrs. strikes up a conversation with a guy in an Ohio State University baseball cap and sweatshirt. It turns out he is in charge of the giant video screen positioned halfway back up West Washington Avenue for the convenience of the attendees at the back of the crowd. The Mrs., still pissed off at the woman who cut in front of her in line last night for the last spot with the press volunteers, ends up being asked to run the camera for the giant video screen. This gets her not only a seat on the media risers but a spot where she can sit down.

9:50AM: We were told last night at the volunteer meeting that there were no bad jobs, but I’m not so sure after I notice there is a volunteer whose job it is to staff the portable toilets. There seems to be some distinction between the two toilets on the left and the three on the right, and he is directing people into one or the other, but I can’t figure out what the distinction is.

10:00AM: I notice one of the other sign distributors eating an apple. “How’d you get that projectile in here?” I ask. “The Secret Service said it was OK,” he says. I decide that the agent who screened The Mrs. must not have had time for breakfast.

10:15AM: We are told to begin unboxing the signs--Firefighters for Kerry/Edwards, Teachers for Kerry/Edwards, Environmentalists for Kerry/Edwards (which look homemade), Women for Kerry/Edwards, and so on. At the bottom of one box, we find a stack of Women for Kerry T-shirts, which some of the women in the group begin to put on. A campaign staffer we haven’t seen before comes blazing over and, in a tone that skates the ragged edge between brisk and rude, orders the women to remove the T-shirts. We never see the staffer again.

10:30AM: I notice the national advance man in charge of the entire event, who spoke to us at the volunteer meeting last night, as he walks through the crowd talking on a headset phone. From the half-smile on his face, I can tell that one of two things is true: he is either extremely happy about the way things are going, or he’s so sleepy he can’t remember which city he’s in.

10:35AM: All tickets to the event say “no signs,” but I notice that an exception has been made for a guy carrying a sign that says “I Have 2 Sons in Iraq--Please Help.” He looks a little like a guy I went to high school with, but I can’t tell for sure. He soon attracts a horde of reporters.

10:45AM: The blues band wraps up and Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz takes the stage. He speaks briefly, then introduces a woman just back from Iraq to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Cieslewicz is the first in a parade of dignitaries of ever-increasing importance. He introduces Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who introduces three female statewide officeholders and our representative in Congress, Tammy Baldwin. Tammy introduces Senator Herb Kohl, who introduces Senator Russ Feingold.

11:00AM: While Kohl is speaking, we get the go-ahead to begin distributing our signs. One sign is very light. A whole stack of them is pretty heavy, and my stack of outsized Firefighters for Kerry signs is the heaviest of all. People are reluctant to take my signs, and they keep telling me, “I’m not a firefighter.” I think to myself, “I know, just take the damn thing, these are heavy.” I drop the stack at least twice.

11:15AM: Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters comes on. He’s decorously acoustic, but I don’t see much of him, as I am continuing to schlep signs through the throng. Everybody in the front section who wants a sign has one by this point, but the Secret Service won’t let us cross the barricade to reach the signless people behind it. I walk the perimeter, trying to find people without signs, and drop my stack at least two more times.

11:30AM: Grohl concludes his between-song remarks about Kerry by saying, “That’s my stump speech. I can’t run for office because I did inhale.”

11:55AM: I return to a spot at the end of the press risers, figuring that I have handed out enough signs.

12:05PM: Grohl finishes. For over an hour, the program has moved along swiftly, but now it stops dead. After a while, Bruce Springsteen’s roadie comes out and begins setting up the Boss’s microphone. What follows is 20 minutes of classically excruciating pre-concert “check, one-two, check, one-two.”

12:15PM: The woman standing next to me notices sharpshooters atop the high-rise condo building halfway back up West Wash.

12:20PM: John Nichols, editorial page editor of the Capitol Times and columnist for The Nation, squeezes by me on his way to a spot on the risers. I am tempted to ask him how come he never responds to my story pitches, but I desist.

12:30PM: Wisconsin Public Radio reporter Shamane Mills squeezes by me on her way to the portable toilets. I know it’s her because I read her name tag. Her identity comes as a minor surprise to me. Although she sounds on the air like a large black woman, she is in fact a petite white woman.

12:45PM: West Washington Avenue is lined with old houses, once the home to Madison’s elite, now divided and subdivided into student apartments. The balconies are crowded, all except for one that is curiously empty. “Maybe the people who live there are Bush supporters,” the woman next to me has said. Sure enough, a Bush/Cheney sign appears on the empty balcony. A guy climbs up from the balcony below and removes it to general cheers.

12:50PM: The throng is restless, as nothing has been happening for a very long time. Then suddenly, “Ladies and gentlemen, Governor Jim Doyle and Bruce Springsteen!” and the place goes up for grabs. We can’t see anything for a moment because of all the signs waving in front of us. Doyle quiets the crowd and announces that there are 80,000 people at the rally, which astounds everyone. He then begins his introduction, in which he attempts to work in as many Springsteen song titles as possible. Springsteen, standing next to him in black shirt and jeans, harmonica around his neck and guitar in hand, seems to wince at each one. Finally Doyle is done and Bruce steps forward. “I think this is the last time Governor Doyle is going to be my opening act,” he says quietly, and kicks into “The Promised Land.” I start calling friends on my cell phone to give them a taste of the show, and I am not alone.

12:55PM: Springsteen speaks, again very softly, about the reponsibility of citizens in a democracy and why he’s appearing for Kerry. The crowd is dead quiet, as quiet as 80,000 people can be. For years I have heard of Springsteen’s charisma, but today I understand it. You can’t take your eyes off of him. He starts playing “No Surrender,” the Kerry campaign’s theme song.

1:00PM: When he’s finished with “No Surrender,” Springsteen says simply, “And now, the next president of the United States, John Kerry.” Although we’ve just heard the acoustic version of “No Surrender,” the full E-Street Band version blasts over the PA as Kerry comes to the stage. Bedlam ensues.

1:05PM: Kerry begins to speak. He says that in addition to the 80,000 who can see him, 20,000 more people are listening from side streets. He mentions the 8-and-0 Badgers and the World Series-winning Red Sox, and reminds us that getting out the vote will be critical. He lands on each of the themes we’ve heard him talk about in the debates and in other speeches. It occurs to me that he’s improved drastically as a campaigner in the last six weeks or so, having learned how to play the crowd, how to sell a line, how to be passionate and dignified at the same time. Although he has notes and occasionally refers to them, most of the time he walks the stage like a guy just talking.

1:40PM: “Thank you, and God bless you all!” “No Surrender” erupts from the PA again, and cannons on either side of the street begin blasting red, white, and blue confetti over the scene in front of the stage. As I wonder where you go to rent something like that, Kerry jumps off the stage and begins working the crowd.

1:50PM: The Mrs. finishes up her camera-operator responsibilities and we’re done. We head back up West Washington Avenue, which has cleared surprisingly quickly given the size of the crowd. At the top of West Wash near the Capitol Square, four Nader supporters try to get noticed, but largely fail.

2:45PM: The Mrs. and I sit in a bar on State Street waiting for our lunch order. After a long silence she says, “I’m nervous about this one,” and she’s not talking about lunch. “So am I,” I say. Kerry says this is the most important election of our lifetimes, but I’d go further and say it’s the most important one since the Civil War era, and there are less than five days to go. No one knows if this appearance will make a difference in Wisconsin--the 100,000 in attendance are most likely already converted (although certainly a few thousand came to hear Bruce). The spectacle was staged largely for the benefit of those watching on television both here and in the other 10 swing states, in case those undecided voters we keep hearing about are still out there. I have decided they’re mythical, like unicorns. What we have to do now is make sure the whole 100,000 casts a ballot on Tuesday, and brings their friends.

Note: This is the 600th post on the Daily Aneurysm since I went on Blogspot just over a year ago. (I really should get a second hobby.) Thanks to all who have read them.

(Edited to add link to Salon story summarizing Springsteen's comments.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Kerry On
No more posts here until late Thursday afternoon or evening, when I'll have a full report on John Kerry's Madison rally featuring Bruce Springsteen and (to appease the woman standing next to me at the volunteer meeting tonight who kept reminding those around her about it) Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters. Kerry is supposed to speak around 12:15, with the entertainment presumably going on before that. The weather is going to cooperate, so watch for us on CNN, et. al., during the midday.

This Coward We Have Empowered
Weaned as I was on CCRs, "Who'll Stop the Rain" and "Fortunate Son," CSNY's "Ohio," and Edwin Starr's "War," the lack of dissenting voices in popular music at the start of the Iraq war disturbed me. It didn't surprise me, given that contemporary celebrities often seem to be interested in little apart from protecting their celebrity, but it was disturbing that people who call themselves artists--and who, by one definition of "artist" are supposed to reveal to us things we can't necessarily see on our own--saw fit to say so little about something so important. That silence has continued, mostly. While artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Dave Matthews joined the Vote for Change tour to speak out against Bush, it's possible to argue that a significant percentage of these performers' audiences are already politically aware. What we need are voices with the power to reach the disengaged and put issues in terms they can understand, and then hammer home those terms so they become like a hit song that gets stuck in your head and won't go away.

Enter Eminem. His new video, "Mosh," actually made it onto MTV's teenybopper-oriented TRL yesterday afternoon. But it ain't kid stuff; neither does it rely on the cliches that pass for creativity elsewhere in the rap world. Neither is it the sort of thing that falls lightly on the ears of fortysomething Upper Midwestern white guys of Norwegian extraction such as I. It's pretty harsh--musically, and in its criticism of you-know-who:
Imagine it pouring, it's raining down on us
Mosh pits outside the oval office
Someone's trying to tell us something, maybe this is God just saying
We're responsible for this monster, this coward, that we have empowered...
Let the President answer on high anarchy
Strap him with AK-47, let him go
Fight his own war, let him impress daddy that way...
Look in his eyes, it's all lies, the stars and stripes
They've been swiped, washed out and wiped...
If they should argue, let us beg to differ, as we set aside our differences, and assemble our own army, to disarm this weapon of mass destruction that we call our president
Like Springsteen, Matthews, Pearl Jam, REM, and the other artists who've spoken out against Bush this fall, Eminem is rich enough and powerful enough not to fear being Dixie Chicked. Nevertheless, that he's dared to drop a bomb like "Mosh" is a great and patriotic thing (especially given his history of antisocial behavior). It's likely that Eminem can reach more young voters faster than all the Vote for Change artists put together. Whether he's done it in time to get them to the voting booth . . . well, we'll find out.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

November 3 and After
So we've established that nobody knows what's going to happen on November 2, and those who say they do, don't. So let's try answering this one: What's going to happen on November 3, once the polls are closed and a few states are ultra-close? Nick Confessore over at Tapped says the morning-after posturing has already begun: the Republican National Committee is laying the groundwork for allegations of massive vote fraud on the part of Democrats in various states--even as they engage in activities aimed at suppressing the vote as much as possible.
Having done as much as possible to create the conditions for a confusing election, the GOP is getting ready to cast the inevitable results of that confusion--people turning up in the wrong precincts, people who've moved from the neighborhood they originally registered and are trying to vote wherever they live now, and so forth--as symptoms of outright election fraud.
Legal analyst John Dean (yes, that one) looks into his crystal ball and finds lawsuits from here, to, well Christmas--at least.
[G]iven the Republican control of the government, if Karl Rove is on the losing side, it could be years: He will take every issue (if he is losing) to its ultimate appeal in every state he can.

The cost of such litigation will be great--with the capital of citizens' trust in their government, and its election processes, sinking along with the nation's (if not the world's) financial markets, which loathe uncertainty. After Bush v. Gore, is there any doubt how the high Court would resolve another round? This time, though, the Court, too, will pay more dearly. With persuasive power as its only source of authority, the Court's power will diminish as the American people's cynicism skyrockets.
But the lawsuits are only one part of the morning-after strategy. In boxing, the presumption in a championship fight is that if the challenger is going to win, he has to knock out the champ. Victory on points, even if fairly clear-cut, is not generally good enough for a challenger to be declared champion. The champion, however, can retain the title on points. We can guess that the electoral numbers themselves will not provide a knockout for Kerry--if that punch is to come, it will come in the post-Election Day arena of public opinion. The Democrats have a distinct disadvantage in their ability to seize the initiative in opinion-shaping--so barring a major transformation, whatever battling is done after Election Day will likely take place in an arena where the presumption is that Bush has already retained the title on points and Kerry, like Gore in 2000, is gaming the refs and the rules to stay in the fight. In the days and weeks following Election Day, Kerry will need some enormous victory, both legal and perceptual, to seize the advantage. In the end, he will have to win by far more than Bush would have to win by in order to claim the mantle of legitimacy, if not the presidency itself.

How big a margin would Kerry require? Well, how big have you got? Confessore says, "I have a feeling there is almost no permutation of a close Kerry victory the GOP will be willing to accept as legitimate." Indeed, just as there was no Gore victory scenario that the Repugs would abide in 2000, the same will probably be true this time, too. In exactly the same scenario as last time--Kerry winning on points in the legal system--the Republicans' move-along, nothing-more-to-see-here approach of 2000 will be transformed into a kicking, screaming, scorched-earth jihad against Kerry and the Democrats, at who-knows-what cost to the Republic.

What can we citizens do if we wake up on November 3 and fear that the election has been stolen? One group is already organizing vigils and protests. The impact of public protest is still a wild card in most post-Election Day scenarios. Last time, the only groups rioting in the streets were paid Repug operatives in Florida. This time, if the election is perceived to be stolen, the street play will be far more intense and widespread.

We are living in dangerously weird times now. Smart people just shrug and admit they're dazed and confused. The only ones left with any confidence at all are the New Dumb. It is the beginning of the end of our world as we knew it. Doom is the operative ethic.... Guaranteed Fear and Loathing. Abandon all hope. Prepare for the Weirdness....

The Mrs., who volunteered for John Kerry's last rally in Madison, got asked to volunteer for the one scheduled for Thursday. I was going to go anyhow, so she volunteered me as well. Seeing a presidential candidate in the last week of the campaign is exciting enough, but this makes it even better. And I ain't talkin' about Bon Jovi.

Recommended Reading: The polls will make you crazy if you read them every day, but we read them every day anyhow. In his Guardian column, Kos says the head-to-head figures are meaningless--watch Bush's number and whether it's at 50 percent. If it isn't, he's in trouble. It isn't. Paul Glastris observes at Political Animal that voter intensity--"Which group of voters will brave hailstorms and locust swarms to vote for their man, and which side is so disgusted with their's that they'll stay home?"--is key to any election, and that this year, despite the legions we think will turn out to vote for Bush and Jesus, the greater intensity might be on Kerry's side.

As Springsteen puts it, "No retreat, baby, no surrender."

And at Best of the Blogs: What George W. Bush and Ashlee Simpson have in common. I didn't write it, but I wish I had.

Kill 'Em All, Let God Sort 'Em Out
This week over at Antiwar.com, Dr. Teresa Whitehurst tries to figure out "Why Are Some American Christians So Bloodthirsty?" She makes the excellent point that many conservative Christians have redefined "morality" to cover only sex and nothing else.
By restricting any discussion of morality to sexual behavior, right-wing politicians have obliterated the once-central Christian teaching that the way we teach others is of paramount importance to God. Cleverly "working the room," pro-war politicians have infiltrated churches to such a degree that killings and torture are no longer within the province of morality. When morality is only about sex, no aspect of war--even the killing of entire families--can arouse criticism, much less condemnation.
In other words, if you're not playing slap-and-tickle with White House interns, you are therefore "moral," and anything else you do is not worth evaluating for its moral content.

Along the same lines, albeit a bit more purple, Adam Nicolson of The Age (in Australia) suggests that one group of American Christians finds in the chaos of the Middle East precisely what they've waited all their lives to see:
Violence is feeding violence. The Abu Ghraib pictures, the rounding up and detaining of thousands of civilians and the cockpit-shot film of an American pilot firing missiles into the streets of Fallujah: all of that has fuelled and will fuel decades of future rage and resentment.

The Americans have effectively created a second Palestine, in which they are now playing the part of the Israelis themselves.

But for any Christian who is driven by an apocalyptic and millennial vision, these events are exactly what should be happening. Terrible and desperate violence, blood and grief are all, for them, mile posts on the road to God's dominion. The more there are, the better it is.
And millions of them are determined to keep in office the president who will continue the violence, which is reason enough to be apprehensive about the election. How apprehensive are you? Be sure to vote in the new Useless Web Poll.

Recommended Reading: With one week to go, I am meeting more and more people who are saying they wish the election would just come and go already. Well, it's already begun, and it won't be over a week from today, either. Andrew Gumbel of Britain's Independent newspaper reported over the weekend on the voting irregularities that have already appeared across the United States, and the likely meltdown to come. Gumbel reminds readers that there's a limited window for the post-election chaos to play out--until the scheduled meeting of the Electoral College in December. If legal controversies remain unresolved at that point, state legislatures could simply appoint slates of electors, disregarding the popular vote. Florida threatened to do this in 2000, and I'm betting some state legislature somewhere will actually do it this year.

There's more on the campaign in Salon from Iowa, on the ground in Davenport, where The Mrs. and I lived for 10 years.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Lightweight Fight
Madison's alternative weekly, Isthmus, published an article last week analyzing the Russ Feingold-Tim Michels U.S. Senate race. It's unavailable online, so I'll attempt to summarize it here, because it's a case study in just how far we've come from the days when political candidates had to have experience, maturity, gravitas, and knowledge of the issues. Michels' primary qualification for the Republican nomination is that he had money enough to put into it, and most of his talking points come straight from the Repug playbook. If he wasn't a 12-year military veteran running for office in wartime, it's likely no one would have taken him seriously. He's as complete a lightweight as I've ever seen running for office up close, and specific examples of just how lightweight he is are pretty shocking.

There must have been a meeting where the Repugs all agreed to pull numbes out of their asses regarding tax votes, because everybody from Bush on down has been using the gambit. Michels has been bashing Feingold for voting for higher taxes 245 times. Asked where he got the figure, Michels told Isthmus's Bill Lueders, "I don't know. I know it's a fact."

Michels claims he's in favor of stem-cell research, but not embryonic stem-cell research, which he says doesn't work anyhow. "You even have some medical professionals--and I think it's the AMA, the American Medical Association--have said that the research that comes from embryonic stems may be very flawed." The AMA has said no such thing, and in fact hails the promise of such research. "In other words," Lueders writes, "when Michels says, 'I'm for stem-cell research,' what he means is that he's against the kind that's seen as the most promising. . . . And this, mind you, is an issue on which he's trying not to be 'fuzzy.'"

Abortion in cases of rape and incest? He'd feel bad, Lueders writes, then "He would want the woman to have the baby, then give it to 'one of the 25 couples' that's eager to adopt." To save the life of the mother? Michels says, "It's a hypothetical which just doesn't exist." That might fly in wingnut world, but here in the reality-based community, a statement like that is an invitation for a reporter to make Michels look stupid, which Lueders did by finding a Madison woman who faced just such a crisis.

The Patriot Act? It's helped to break up eight Al-Qaeda cells, Michels says. He also claims the ACLU has said there have been no civil liberties violations because of the act, and it's more difficult to obtain library records now than it used to be. The ACLU of Wisconsin is baffled by the Al-Qaeda reference, and calls Michels' library-records statement "ludicrous." And as for knowing how many civil liberties violations there have been thanks to the act--no one knows, because of the act's secrecy provisions.

You want more? Even though Michels has criticized outsourcing on the campaign trail, he has his kids' trust funds tied up in Chinese companies, so his children profit from outsourcing of American jobs. In a recent debate (not mentioned in the Isthmus article), he criticized those who discriminate against gays and lesbians, and then went into an incomprehensible riff on "the gay agenda."

But here's the worst of it. Feingold holds listening sessions in all 72 of Wisconsin's counties each year, connecting with the voters and hearing their concerns. Michels says he won't. Just another political gimmick, he calls them. In other words, fuck you, Wisconsin--I know what's best for you, and it's whatever Bush, Frist, and DeLay want.

The latest poll numbers look good for Feingold, but nobody's relaxing. When, like Michels, you have a lot of money, and when you are willing to say anything regardless of the truth of it, or even the sense of it, you're a dangerous opponent. And with Bush running strong here, Michels can't be written off, even if he deserves to be.

You Can't Rule Anything Out
Paranoia, part I: Journalist Wayne Madsen reported last week that the October Surprise is going to be an attack on Iran. I dunno. I think the window is probably closed for something as blatant as that, but you can't rule anything out. The story about John Kerry's meeting with members of the U.N. Security Council before voting on the Iraq war in 2002 was touted by the wingnuts as a potential race-breaker, but there's nothing to it. Much bigger is the story of hundreds of tons of high explosives that went missing in Iraq following the invasion. Whether it gets the play it deserves--as evidence of the utter failure of postwar planning and evidence of the bankruptcy of Bush's claims to have made the world safer--remains to be seen. But I doubt it. (The Surprise that gets traction, if there's to be one at all, will probably be a juicy personal scandal, something easy for the lazy, gullible media to flog and for half-tuned-in voters to grasp. But if it doesn't break in the next 72 hours, it will be too late.)

Paranoia, part II: On the subject of Christian Reconstruction, which came up in this space last week, ICH News relinked to piece written last spring in the wake of the introduction of the Constitution Restoration Act of 2004 in Congress. This might be the most Orwellian bill title yet out of the GOP-led Congress, given what it would actually do if it became law. It "would acknowledge God as the sovereign source of law, liberty [and] government' in the United States. What's more, it would forbid all legal challenges to government officials who use the power of the state to enforce their own view of 'God's sovereign authority.' Any judge who dared even hear such a challenge could be removed from office." Nobody is entirely sure whether a Republican-dominated Congress in a second Bush term would be likely to pass it. The House would do so eagerly. The Senate would be less likely to pass it even with a GOP majority, but you can't rule anything out.

Paranoia, part III: The Associated Press is the largest provider of news content in the world. Even the tiniest radio station in West Podunk can generally afford AP wire service, and its stories are published everywhere, from one-sheet newspapers to the New York Times. Because of the AP's size and reach, there's a perception that it's utterly evenhanded and generically fair, but like many other perceptions we have, it ain't necessarily true. During the Democratic primary campaign, reporters Nedra Pickler and Calvin Woodward occasionally put baldfaced editorializing into the leads of their stories. Several high AP officials have connections to conservative newspapers, so journalist Lynn Landes wonders, with the AP serving as the sole source of raw vote totals on Election Night: Can we trust the AP's accuracy? Her story seems a little bit thin, but you can't rule anything out.

Recommended Reading: The Gadflyer imagines what it would be like if John Kerry dissed Texas the way Bush has been bashing Massachusetts.

Recommended Viewing: Triumph the Insult Comic Dog from Late Night With Conan O'Brien covered the third presidential debate in his inimitable style. You'll need a fast connection for the video, but it's worth it. Click here and scroll down to "Triumph: Poop Valhalla."

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Seventeen Flavors
For a country nine days from apocalypse (one way or the other), it sure seems quiet this weekend. Oh, yeah, Dick Cheney reached new heights of drooling gooberhood by suggesting that if John Kerry had been president in recent years, the Soviet Union might still exist. (And also instant replay might not be used in the NFL, the Wonderbra might never have been invented, and Baskin-Robbins might have only 17 flavors.) And we have had the inevitable report of arrests reinforcing fears of terrorist attacks to disrupt the election. Plus, there's still a sense that the big October Surprise is yet to come, any day (or possibly any minute) now.

But up here in Madison, the Wisconsin Badger football team is 8-and-0 and we're all a bit giddy, so my first thought was that maybe we're distracted. Except it's not just here where things seem quiet. Even Kevin Drum of Washington Monthly took a break from politics last night to blog about proper behavior in public. The comments on the post sparked some discussion of the concept of a public square--a place, often metaphorical, that we all share in common, and that requires a certain standard of behavior respectful of the rights of all who come into it. That concept is sadly in decline. We have been conditioned, through advertising and through our religious adoration of "self esteem," to believe our lives are exclusively private spaces to be fixed up precisely the way we want them, and that it's the job of other people to adjust to us, and not vice versa. And so, many of us take the ornaments of our private spaces--loud cell-phone conversations, monster SUVs--into the public square with the attitude that if anyone has a problem with them, that's an infringement on our personal freedom. While we can't rightly blame George W. Bush for this, we can, to a certain degree, blame his party--it's only within the last generation, since the rise of Reagan, that "I'll get mine and it's up to everyone else to get theirs" has become the driving engine of American life. Except it was the driving engine of the Clinton years, too. The difference was that Democrats don't possess the active dislike of the have-nots that characterizes Republican politics. In the Clinton era, you could get yours--but it was assumed there was enough for everybody to get some. Today, it's a zero-sum proposition: If you get yours, that means there's less for me to call mine, and I want as much as I can get. So I'll vote Republican to make sure I get all of mine--and plenty of yours.

As a satire of the Bushian ethos, one comment on Kevin's post is worth reading in its entirety. If you have to ask what's happened to civility, well, you're in a pre-9/11 mindset.

Recommended Reading: There was one development that should have knocked the Earth off its axis over the weekend but did not: Sinclair's Friday-night "documentary" was actually--dare we say it?--fair and balanced. That the program wasn't a complete hatchet job on Kerry--which is what Sinclair thought they could get away with, their protestations to the contrary--is a flat-out victory for those of us who put pressure on advertisers and local stations, and to the stock market and stockholders for hitting the company where it hurts.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 2004
Sentient readers of this bilge will remember that from its inception until just last weekend, this blog was headed by a quote from Hunter S. Thompson's book Kingdom of Fear: "We are living in dangerously weird times now.... Doom is the operative ethic.... Guaranteed Fear and Loathing. Abandon all hope. Prepare for the Weirdness...." Nobody does a better job of recognizing cultural rot when he sees it, and so when Dr. Thompson speaks, we listen. This week, he speaks in Rolling Stone this week about Campaign 2004.

Thompson, of course, wrote one of the greatest works of campaign reportage in history, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, which is not just a must-read for political junkies, but an important work of American literature, gonzo-style--even if it is sometimes hard to tell what's truthful and what's fiction. While on the trail in the early 1970s, Thompson says he met John Kerry for the first time. ("He was yelling into a bullhorn and I was trying to throw a dead, bleeding rat over a black-spike fence and onto the president's lawn.") Thompson claims Kerry told him earlier this year that he'd make a good running mate. He's a bit less photogenic than John Edwards these days, but he does have political experience--a famous run for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, on the Freak Power ticket in 1970, described in great detail in Kingdom of Fear.

All you really need to know of Thompson's take on 2004 is this: He wrote the most vicious obituary of all time for Richard Nixon in 1994, but he now says that if Nixon were running against Bush, he'd get the Doctor's vote. But Nixon remains safely dead, and Kerry is Thompson's dog in this fight.
Your neighbor's grandchildren will be fighting this stupid, greed-crazed Bush-family "war" against the whole Islamic world for the rest of their lives, if John Kerry is not elected to be the new President of the United States in November.

The question this year is not whether President Bush is acting more and more like the head of a fascist government but if the American people want it that way. That is what this election is all about. We are down to nut-cutting time, and millions of people are angry. They want a Regime Change.

Some people say that George Bush should be run down and sacrificed to the Rat gods. But not me. No. I say it would be a lot easier to just vote the bastard out of office on November 2nd.
Yes. Then we sacrifice him to the Rat gods.

Be sure to notice my spiffy new countdown clock to Election Day, courtesy of the folks at ACT, America Coming Together. ACT for Victory is just one of the many, many efforts aimed at getting out the Democratic vote, or, as we call it in the activist game, GOTV. There are so many different organizations planning to canvass and phone-bank likely voters that if you live in a swing state, like I do, you are likely to spend much of Election Day answering the door and the phone. These same organizations are also planning to send armies of poll-watchers to polling places--to the point at which there's likely to be near-gridlock. (Between the poll-watchers and the supposedly ramped-up security, it'll be a wonder if actual voters can get in--another fine reason to vote absentee if you can.)

I mention all this because I have signed up to be one of the ACT canvassers on Election Day here in Wisconsin. Now, I am not the sort of person who likes to go around knocking on the doors of people I don't know. (It's possibly the only thing I hate more than making phone calls to people I don't know.) But I'm swallowing my natural reticence about this because, in the words of many an activist, I don't want to wake up sorry after Election Day because I didn't do all I could to defeat Bush. Or any sorrier than I'm going to be, at any rate, because I'm afraid that no matter what I do on Election Day, I won't have done enough.

You should think about getting involved, too, somehow. ACT for Victory is a good choice; so is People for the American Way Foundation's Election Protection 2004 project. Votewatch also has a couple of extremely simple, not-time-intensive ways to get involved. All of these groups will be happy to take your money if they can't have your time. Contributions to the PFAW effort are even tax-deductible.

I know what you're thinking: Well, jb, you're some kind of freelance writer guy who makes his own schedule, while I am a corporate drone who would have to take a vacation day to volunteer. To which I respond: C'mon, stick it to the Man and take the day off. Unless you're a staffer on the Kerry campaign, this is more important than anything happening at your job. Seriously.

I'm challenging everybody who reads this bilge to do something--give time on Election Day or send money to one of the organizations I've mentioned above. If you don't live in Wisconsin but you want to come here to work on Election Day, you can even sleep in my damn guest room.

Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood
Although I took the day off from blogging yesterday on this site, you may have noticed that I blogged about a new report from the Program on International Policy Attitudes over at Best of the Blogs. I'm surprised that more bloggers haven't picked up on this report (although Kevin Drum did). The gist of it is that Bush supporters badly misunderstand where Bush stands on foreign policy issues, but what's worse is that they badly misunderstand what the rest of the world thinks of Bush and the United States. In the eyes of a majority of Bush supporters, the rest of the world favored the war in Iraq and supports Bush for reelection--neither of which is true, or even remotely close to being true. This sort of happy, childlike, know-nothing politics might be OK for the happy, childlike, know-nothing citizens of Bushworld, but here in the reality-based community, it makes our heads hurt, because we understand that it matters what the rest of the world thinks of us. And it matters if we don't know what the rest of the world thinks of us, or if we don't care.

Despite all the depradations of the Bush years, Americans themselves have continued to enjoy a free pass from the rest of the world. Although some cases of anti-American hostility are reported now and then, citizens of other countries tend to differentiate between the American people and the American government. But Mark Hertsgaard wonders in Salon today whether the rest of the world will continue to do this if we reelect Bush.
If Americans give Bush another four years as president, the popular global backlash could be intense, including not just rhetorical denunciations of American stupidity but perhaps boycotts of American products and worse. And for the first time, overseas anger may come not only from fanatical militants but ordinary citizens, and it may be directed not only at George W. Bush but also toward the ordinary Americans who put him back in office for another four years.

In that unhappy event, we Americans will have no one to blame but ourselves.
The election of John Kerry, however, might say to the world that we understand what's been done in our names since January 20, 2001, and that it doesn't represent what we believe in. The rest of the world will applaud.

The quote of the day comes from an anonymous commenter to my BotB post, who says simply, "For the rest of my life, I'll be judging someone by who they voted for in this election."

Recommended Reading: New York Press has been running "Wimblehack," a tournament designed to crown the worst journalist of the 2004 campaign. Matt Taibbi provides the play-by-play on the quarterfinals, with one hilarious section commenting on the press-room "gasping" at Kerry's mention of Mary Cheney during the last debate.
I can report that the campaign press will gasp at a lot of things: empty buffet trays, poor hotel accommodations (the cut-rate motel choices of the Dean campaign elicited astonishment among some regulars), the face of Dennis Kucinich, the presence of alternative media, the platform of Ralph Nader.

About the only time the national political press doesn't gasp is when the illiterate president of the United States stands up and for two fucking consecutive years says that we have to invade Iraq to prevent Saddam Hussein from attacking us with "weapons of mass destruction."

Then, they don't gasp. Then they stiffen up in their seats like altar boys and say, "Really? No shit, Mr. President? Call on me, Mr. President! I'll ask you how your faith guides you in this difficult time! How long should we let the inspections drag on, Mr. President? What about those goddamned French, Mr. President?"

The press room gasps at things like the Kerry lesbian-baiting ploy because it's the kind of vicious celebrity twaddle they're sensitive to, twaddle they consider themselves experts and authorities on. If someone makes what they consider a "mistake" on that turf, they dive on it like pigs converging on a watermelon rind. But if a politician drives the country off a cliff, they sit on their hands, waiting for Zogby and the Brookings Institution to give them their gasping cues. A gasp in the press room is as meaningless as a standing ovation at an Amway convention.
And over at Informed Comment, Juan Cole cranks up Eminem.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Firehose Blasts On Unabated
Your blogger is taking the day off. Back tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Counterfeit Christianity
All across the country, people who disagree with George W. Bush on issues like the environment and education are getting ready to pull the lever for him anyhow because they perceive he's a godly man. And in some places, the Bush/Kerry contest is being painted as one between the forces of Jesus and the forces of darkness. So over at The American Prospect this afternoon, Ayelish McGarvey examined the big question: Is George W. Bush a true Christian, or not? McGarvey's answer: No.
Ironically for a man who once famously named Jesus as his favorite political philosopher during a campaign debate, it is remarkably difficult to pinpoint a single instance wherein Christian teaching has won out over partisan politics in the Bush White House. Though Bush easily weaves Christian language and themes into his political communication, empty religious jargon is no substitute for a bedrock faith. Even little children in Sunday school know that Jesus taught his disciples to live according to his commandments, not simply to talk about them a lot. In Bush’s case, faith without works is not just dead faith--it’s evangelical agitprop.
As McGarvey and other commentators have noted, Bush can talk the talk like a True Christian--although as McGarvey points out, the rich theological language that zooms over the heads of secular Americans but hits his religious base right in the wheelhouse is actually the language of his speechwriters. What Bush doesn't do, however, is walk the walk.
But sin is crucial to Christianity. To be born again, a seeker must painfully acknowledge his or her innate sinfulness, and then turn away from it completely. And though today Bush is sober, he does not live and govern like a man who "walks" with God, using the Bible as a moral compass for his decision making. Twice in the past year--once during an April press conference and most recently at a presidential debate--the president was unable to name any mistake he has made during his term. His steadfast unwillingness to fess up to a single error betrays a strikingly un-Christian lack of attention to the importance of self-criticism, the pervasiveness of sin, and the centrality of humility, repentance, and redemption. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine George W. Bush delivering an address like Jimmy Carter’s legendary "malaise" speech (in which he did not actually say the word "malaise") in 1979. Carter sermonized to a dispirited nation in the language of confession, sacrifice, and spiritual restoration. Though it didn’t do him a lick of good politically, it was consonant with a Christian theology of atonement: Carter admitted his mistakes to make right with God and the American people, politics be damned. Bush, for whom politics is everything, can’t even admit that he’s done anything wrong.
Amy Sullivan, who's mentioned a couple of times in McGarvey's article, blogged about it for Washington Monthly, and it sparked a raucous online discussion. Thanks to some strident religious know-it-alls, the discussion gets tedious after a while, but one of the posters says very succinctly something that I've believed myself for quite a while: If you are born-again, and you believe that Jesus has forgiven your past sins and will forgive any sins you may commit in the future if you just ask him, it actually opens the door for you to do any damn thing you want anytime you want to.
My brushes with fundamentalists leads me to believe that being born again is all it takes to get to heaven, because then they go on live their lives under the ends justifies the means. They use manipulation, guilt, fear, sex, money whatever is handy in our flawed "worldly" society to save all us sinners. Then they can go home and pray at the end of the day, ask forgiveness and call it night. Rise the next day and repeat.
The convenience of it is astounding. The theory is that your faith in God will keep you from sinning in the first place. But many people who know in advance that they'll be forgiven no matter what they do don't bother holding back their basest impulses, because they believe their hearts are ultimately in the right place. But their "Christianity" is a counterfeit that looks and sounds like the real thing, but isn't.

And now we're back where we started.

No Casualties, No Mistakes, No Problem
This morning, I visited some precincts of the Internet I'd never been to before. A new magazine called n + 1 features some interesting political e-mails on its front page, including a suggestion that it's time for the United States to break up into seven different nations based on political affinities. The Northeast and Great Lakes states would be part of something called "Red Sox Nation" and governed by Howard Dean. For that, I can almost forgive the Northeastern myopia that makes people think the rest of the country is as compelled by the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry as they are.

(Digression: Hype aside, what the Red Sox have done against the Yankees this week is remarkable. They have come from a 3-games-to-none deficit in games to tie a series at 3 apiece, which has never happened in 100 years of baseball playoffs. The winner of tonight's game 7 advances to the World Series. The Sox haven't won a World Series since 1918, when a pitcher named Babe Ruth was the ace of their staff. In 1920, the Sox sold Ruth to the Yankees, where he became the greatest player in the history of the game. They call the Sox' failures since then "the curse of the Bambino," and it's why the Yankees will win game 7 tonight. Various writers on the Internet have been arguing that for John Kerry to win, the Red Sox must lose, because it would be too much good fortune for New England to have both of them win.)

Bob Harris, who's had a varied media career, including blogging for Tom Tomorrow's website and doing the voice of Tomorrow's Sparky the Penguin character in animated features, has set up a website of his own, and on it he imagines what it would be like if Karl Rove managed Charles Manson's campaign:
If Karl Rove was managing Charles Manson, there would be GOP members of Congress on MSNBC right this minute, accusing John Kerry of murdering Sharon Tate in a drug-addled orgy of death.

Plus, they'd say he played a lousy guitar, couldn't get the Beach Boys to listen to him, and once carved a swastika into his own forehead.

The Democrats would be able to disprove a few of the allegations -- pointing to the obvious lack of a scar in Kerry's forehead, for example. After a series of notes from Kerry's doctor and discussions of how the epidermis heals, it would still take Wolf Blitzer a freakin' month to stop asking why John Kerry carved the swastika. But eventually, most of the allegations would die down.

Still, in the aftermath, you'd have millions of people vaguely certain that Charles Manson and John Kerry both thought they were the Fifth Beatle.
Quote of the Day: Dear reader, I give you George W. Bush, as reported by Pat Robertson, in response to Robertson's prewar concerns about American casualties in Iraq: "Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties."

OK, that's not just the quote of the day--it's the what-the-fuck quote of the year.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Cosmo Kramer, Call Your Office
I am not sure it's accurate to say Sinclair blinked . . . but I believe it is accurate to say that their explanation of the nature of their anti-Kerry special is hilarious.
"A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media" . . . . The news special will focus in part on the use of documentaries and other media to influence voting, which emerged during the 2004 political campaigns, as well as on the content of certain of these documentaries. The program will also examine the role of the media in filtering the information contained in these documentaries, allegations of media bias by media organizations that ignore or filter legitimate news and the attempts by candidates and other organizations to influence media coverage.
A documentary about documentaries? Well, Kramer wrote a coffee-table book about coffee tables, so I suppose anything's possible. The press release Sinclair put out this afternoon about the program is fairly funny, too, with a couple of paragraphs of classic wingnut ranting from CEO David Smith about vile personal attacks and trampling on the First Amendment. Takes one to know one, Dave.

Quote of the Day: From the crawl on CNN Headline News this afternoon: "Public split on whether Bush is a divider." You'd be tempted to think it was a wry bit of commentary, but this is Headline News were talking about, which looks for all the world like it's programmed by the bottom 10 percent of an Ivy League journalism class. More than likely it was the work of some junior flunky who's damn proud of his ability to say nothing in 10 words or less.

Another Blog Better Than Mine: Researching the Sinclair follies today, I came across a new blog by Frederick Clarkson, whose name I quite nearly invoked yesterday when talking about Christian Reconstructionism. If you spend any time studying CR, or poking around in the more bizarre precincts of the Far Right, you'll come across his work. Clarkson tells me his blog is going to evolve into a full-blown professional website over time, which will serve as an archive of his work. Good thing, too, as I've admired his work for years. Fred, welcome to the blogosphere.

They're Desperate! They're Unscrupulous! They're . . . Kamikaze Republicans!
Sinclair Broadcasting's stock price has lost $90 million in shareholder value since they announced their intention to show their anti-Kerry film. Shareholders and others are preparing lawsuits against the company. One group wants to force the company to provide equal time to the Kerry campaign; another claims group officials profited unfairly by taking profits before the announcement of the film. They fired their Washington bureau chief for denouncing the film. Eighty advertisers have pulled their advertising from the chain's stations. Although Sinclair denies that they have made a final decision about the program, it's beginning to appear in TV listings across the country. And that seems to me to make it harder for them to back out of airing it, even if they decide they want to, at least until they think of a way to spin backing out as some kind of victory.

Could Sinclair officials be willing to sink their own company for the chance that they might influence the election? It's hard to see any other explanation. As one of my readers noted this morning, the Sinclair film may be the vehicle by which the Bush campaign intends to launch its October Surprise, a final devastating smear attack on Kerry. So I'll bet Sinclair will go ahead with the program, consequences be damned, and deal with the fallout later.

Recommended Reading: Slate's latest electoral college projection has Kerry winning 282-254. Say it with me, everybody: "Your mouth to God's ear."

Bush Lands Plane on a Carnival Cruise Liner, Makes Sweet Love to Kathie Lee Gifford, Hits the Buffet
Fascinating conversation over at Eschaton regarding precisely what sort of October Surprise the Bush campaign may have in store in the next two weeks. Lots of funny suggestions from readers (including the title of this post, and many variations on "Bush walks and chews gum at the same time, without tripping over a rake or anything"), but some others with varying degrees of plausibility. Some highlights:

--Bush makes another in-uniform trip to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Probability: high. Probably not Iraq, given the lack of security in the Green Zone; but a photo op with Karzai, freedom on the march, and all that? Irresistable pictures for gullible TV networks.

--A brief red alert, followed by a speech suggesting that Syrian or Iranian agents were ready to nuke Detroit, Philadelphia, Cleveland (who knows, but in a swing state, naturally), but we caught 'em.
Probability of this specific scenario: medium; probability that ominous rumors will be spread by the Justice Department and Homeland Security at some point in the next two weeks: mortal fucking lock.

--Attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, either by us or by Israel--if they do it, we have to support/defend them.
Probability: of us doing it, low; of Israel doing it, high. This attack has been rumored to be imminent for months; Ariel Sharon knows Bush will roll over on whatever he wants to do, but he can't be so sure about Kerry; ergo, if he can help Bush, he will.

--Some sort of health crisis involving a member of the Bush family, but not Bush himself.
Probability: low. Yes, the gullible TV channels would fall all over themselves to show concern, and would spend lots of time talking to doctors and not talking about the campaign, but the whole idea seems to lack panache.

--Osama captured/Osama's body found/Osama thought to be blown to unidentifiable bits.
Probability: medium. This is the one we've all been expecting, which of itself means it's less likely to be the actual ruse. Still, as somebody observed at Eschaton, if Rumsfeld held a press conference saying we think we got him somewhere in Afghanistan, lots of people would be likely to buy it. Never mind that we'll probably get a Christmas card from Osama six weeks from now--by then, he will have served his purpose.

--Fake assassination attempt.
Probability: low, because the Secret Service wouldn't permit it. Probability of somebody going nuts at a rally and trying to get to the stage only to be tackled by agents after getting in front of the TV cameras but before getting anywhere near the president: high.

--Mary Cheney, distraught, attempts suicide.
Probability: low. This scenario assumes she was in the closet before Kerry mentioned her in the debate, which she was not, although only a tiny percentage of the electorate probably knows that. Nevertheless, this ruse doesn't seem like something Dick and Lynne would sign on to.

--Zarqawi captured in Iraq.
Probability: high. Yesterday's story about Zarqawi announcing he's an ally of Bin Laden got a lot of headlines, but it shouldn't have surprised anyone. He's been a useful surrogate for Bin Laden for many months, and we have a better idea where he is.

--Bush admits mistakes in Iraq, begs forgiveness, promises new start.
Probability: low. Actual usefulness in clinching the election: high. This would bring swing voters over by the thousands. Think outside of the box, Karl.

--Some Kerry scandal is revealed, first by wingnut websites, which "legitimize" it for the national media.
Rumors are flying among the Free Republic crowd that there are photos or video of Kerry burning an American flag sometime in the early 1970s, but it doesn't have to be that. Whatever it is, it doesn't even have to be true. Something utterly wild and fraudulent could be released over Halloween weekend, and given the irresponsibility of the media, be the top story for three days, and sway enough votes to decide the election. Probability: high.

--Kerry gets excommunicated by the Catholic Church.
Probability: low. The church can't move that fast.

--Something involving Fidel Castro, in hopes of locking up Florida.
Probability: low. The time to do Fidel was over the summer.

Some of those commenting in the Eschaton discussion suggest that Kerry may have a surprise for Bush involving intelligence, thanks to the many, many agents who feel as though they've been screwed by the administration. Others feel that the Repugs may not need a major surprise to short-circuit the news cycles leading up to the vote. Their plans to suppress the vote and challenge results coast to coast may have them feeling confident enough already. But Rove has said something is coming, and so we wait. Look for a lot more on this topic in the blogosphere over the next couple of days, so when it happens we can say, "I told you so."

Monday, October 18, 2004

Undecided Voters Really Exist
I have taken a bit of a break from drinking out of the firehose today, partly because I've had other work to do and partly because I have got to conserve some energy. The next two weeks are going to be as exhausting as they will be exhilarating for we political junkies, and I ain't as young as I used to be.

I meant to write about this next over the weekend--I met an actual Undecided Voter last week. UV is a young guy, maybe 30, professional, with a two-month-old baby at home, concerned about taxes, doesn't have a strong opinion about Kerry, likes Bush because "he sticks to what he believes in." UV isn't a news junkie, although he is interested in learning "both sides of the story" and watches cable news to find it (blogger inserts heavy sigh here), and watched a little of the debates. So I talked about the unequal distribution of the Bush tax cuts, and the fact, which is not mentioned often enough, that whatever most people got in cuts on their federal taxes has been more than swallowed up by state and local increases in taxes and fees necessitated by the tanking economy that the Bush tax cuts were intended to fix. And I also talked about whether it makes sense to stick to a policy in Iraq that keeps getting people killed day after day, when it doesn't seem to lead to any improvement in the situation. The rest of the conversation was gentle and polite give-and-take, in that careful way casual acquaintances have of trying not to offend one another. The two of us have a business relationship, and neither one of us wants to screw it up.

Did I change his mind? I have no idea. I wish I'd had better arguments at my fingertips. My excuse for not being fully loaded for this particular bear is that in this town, an Undecided Voter is the last thing you expect to run into. My suspicion, based on very little, is that UV was, as we spoke, leaning toward Bush. Maybe I pushed him back the other way--although I guess I'll never find out. If you've met any examples of this rare specimen, please share your sighting by clicking "Comments."

Recommended Reading: Remember shortly after his inauguration, when Bush claimed to have looked into Vladimir Putin's heart? Apparently Bush saw some stuff there that looked pretty good to him, because Putin's shadow seems to be afoot here in the United States. Matt Yglesias wrote over the weekend about "the creeping Putinization of American life."

God's Country
A friend weighs in on yesterday's post regarding George W. Bush and the search for certainty:
Yes, yes, yes. You are dead on about the whole search for certainty thing. Please, though, take notice of the quote from [Jim] Wallis about Bush turning into "a messianic American Calvinist." Wallis isn't choosing his words lightly. There are people out there who would embrace that description of themselves; they have money, power, organization, and a mission upon which they are hyper-focused. That mission, as one church website puts it, is to extend "the kingdom of Jesus Christ over all individual lives through all areas of society and in all nations and cultures." Notice the use of the word "kingdom." They don't say they want to extend the "love," "peace," or "grace," of God to all people. What they want to extend is CONTROL. And they are all about using politics to do it. They take the Jewish notion of societal responsibility and use it as an excuse to subordinate government to their definition of justice, holiness, and morality. It's a theocracy, baby. The New Canaan. Love it or leave it.
This particular definition of what these Calvinists have in mind largely captures the essence of Christian Reconstructionism, the idea that the state should be governed under Old Testament law. When I first started studying CR six or seven years ago, it was mostly for entertainment value--open-mouthed amazement at how ridiculous some hardcore fundies could be. Back then, even some of the movement's major advocates thought we might be a thousand years away from seeing it happen. My guess is that they would not be so pessimistic now.

If you're going to undertake your own study of the Christian Reconstruction movement, be prepared for some tough sledding. The damn vocabulary alone would daunt a student studying for the SATs: for example, antinomianism, which is salvation through faith, not works or living a moral life, a concept that Reconstructionists reject; presuppositionalism, the acceptance on faith that the Bible is true without the need for proof; and postmillenialism, the idea that Christ cannot return to Earth until much of the world has converted to Christianity--a critical difference between Reconstructionists and evangelicals, who, to throw out another term, are dispensational premillennialists. (They believe most of the conditions for the Second Coming have already been met and are waiting around, tapping their wristwatches, and wondering where he is.)

As postmillennialists, what the Reconstructionists want to do is impose Old Testament law on everyone to make it possible for Christ to return and set up the kingdom of God on Earth. He won't come back until they do. So you can see why they'd want to take control of the government and insinuate it into every aspect of citizens' lives. And they mean every aspect--in both public policy and private morality, everything must be subject to religious law.

(If you want to wade into this swamp, the folks at Political Research Associates do an excellent job of explaining Reconstructionism at their Christian Right and Theocracy page. ReligiousTolerance.Org also does a nice job of explaining the basics here.)

I am glad that my friend mentioned Jim Wallis, because I meant to do so yesterday, at least before my post blew up like Barry Bonds on steroids. I've quoted Wallis and linked to his stuff at Sojourners in the past--he's one of the most sensible voices we have on the role of religion in society and the relationship between church and state. It was a good thing for the country when Bush was listening to him, and very bad news that Bush isn't listening anymore.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Handling the Chaos
Kevin Drum says of the Ron Suskind piece in the Times Magazine: Whoa, everybody, maybe you've all misinterpreted the key paragraph. And collectively, more or less, Everybody responds, "No we didn't." From the comments to the post come two links from other blogs that are worthwhile reading:

Just a Bump in the Beltway says that far from proving that Bush is truly a man of faith, his actions show how little faith he has in himself, and how much fear, and how admitting doubt would cause his entire world to cave in: "This is a fearful man who went looking, not for 'faith,' which grounds reason in experience, but for certainty." There's something right-on-target here about that analysis, and I think it can be extended to the sometimes-impossible question of just why Bush inspires such passion among his followers. It started in the Moral Majority 80s and continues to this day: as the world moves faster and becomes more complex, more and more people are simply unable to handle the chaos, and as a result, they grab at anything that promises to manage the chaos. Religion offers that promise, particularly fundamentalism, which reduces everything to utter simplicity. And who better to lead a simple world than somebody who thinks it's just as simple as you do? After all, those of us who think the world is a complex and difficult problem to solve hate Bush precisely because he doesn't think it's complex or difficult problem to solve, and want a leader who sees it our way.

Over the years I've read several commentators who have tried to deal with the idea that Bush's theology is faulty--that the spiritual and moral assumptions on which he rests his governing philosophy don't square with the real meaning of Christianity. In that vein, the Recomomist reiterates a point he says he's made before--that Bush doesn't believe in God as much as he believes he is God.

I'd call that faulty theology, yeah.

The Reality-Based Community Hates America
The article everyone in the world will be talking about today is Ron Suskind's profile of Bush in the New York Times Magazine, "Without a Doubt." It paints a picture of a president, with an administration alongside him and millions of supporters behind him, convinced of their own rectitude and of their being chosen by God and history to act in this moment. As for those of who find this certainty disturbing, as Suskind writes, we'd best get with the program or be left behind:
In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend--but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore,"' he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality--judiciously, as you will--we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
Take note of that: Enlightenment, shlightenment. "That's not the way the world really works anymore." And if you don't buy this supposed new reality, and if, furthermore, you don't buy the idea that God himself has more-or-less ordained it by putting George W. Bush in the White House?
That was explained to me in late 2002 by Mark McKinnon, a longtime senior media adviser to Bush, who now runs his own consulting firm and helps the president. He started by challenging me. "You think he's an idiot, don't you?" I said, no, I didn't. "No, you do, all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don't care. You see, you're outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don't read the New York Times or Washington Post or the L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it's good for us. Because you know what those folks don't like? They don't like you!" In this instance, the final "you," of course, meant the entire reality-based community.
That Suskind's piece underlines yet again the absolute imperative that Bush be defeated in 16 days goes without saying. Alas, Suskind's piece also underlines the fact that Bush and his supporters will not go quietly even if the numbers go against them. With the Repugs starting to prepare the ground for another post-Election Day counting crisis that could last for weeks, those of us in the reality-based community had better summon all the political will and personal courage we can find. We may have to fight for John Kerry's right to take office against people who think he and we are agents of the devil trying to thwart the ordained progress of history.

You will be able to find increasing amounts of commentary on this piece around the blogosphere as people wake up, have coffee, and plunge in. Juan Cole's been at it already, suggesting that the adminstration's "reality is whatever we make it" approach is like nothing so much as the philosophy of Mao Tse-Tung--not exactly a popular model for American statesmanship.

Recommended Reading: If you hang around reporters for any length of time, you will learn that on every major story, they know stuff that they can't report or wouldn't dream of reporting if they could, and that they hold opinions that they would never put down in writing with their names attached. So you can bet that at least some American reporters covering the presidential campaign have had thoughts along the lines of those Andrew Stephen put in a recent Guardian column headlined "Has Bush lost his reason?" Bush's mental state is the great unmentionable, at least by the so-called "serious" news organizations in the United States, although we talk about it endlessly in BlogWorld. Nobody wants to be the one to stand up and say he thinks the president's elevator no longer reaches the top floor. Why, people wouldn't stand for it. We learn in civics class that the heirs to the seat of Washington and Lincoln are chosen by our great democratic process, and what transpires through the will of the people cannot be wrong. Thus we simply could not have elected a man who would whack out on us in the middle of the job. And so reporters dare not say it, even if they have a pretty good reason to believe it's true.

What I love about The Guardian in particular and foreign papers in general is the way they operate without the blinders our reporters apply to themselves. And what Stephen sees with his blinders off in this campaign is not complimentary to either candidate. What American journalist would dare write, "Kerry is a poor candidate who has only recently woken to the need to fight"? Criticism of Kerry's style hasn't been absent from the American press, but it's always softened, qualified, or issued with some sort of caveat--which is exactly what an American editor, conscious of his paper or channel's need to appear objective, would do to the sentence "Kerry is a poor candidate."

One More Thing: My bit on Best of the Blogs yesterday regarding the question of whether Kerry should accept Sinclair Broadcasting's invitation to appear as part of their hatchet-job documentary this week has generated a lot of comments. If you're interested, go here.

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