Saturday, January 24, 2004

Some items and stuff

Some debate-related items, and other miscellaneous stuff:

  • Michael Moore has a nice, calm, rebuttal to Peter Jennings "gotcha" question to Wesley Clark about Moore's endorsement of the General and the (largely ignored by people like Jennings) Bush AWOL story. He includes a round-up of links to articles about Bush's missing year of non-service in the Texas Air National Guard. [Link changed 1/27/04 to point to Moore's reasonable original entry, and not his overly hyerbolic later one]

  • CJR Campaign Desk continues to live up to its promise with two entries about the debate. One questions why media panel seemed more interested in "gotcha" questions then in helping the audience to understand what the candidates stand for, and the other points out that some of those interlocutors actually uttered more words than some of the candidates (Jennings being the worst of them). Another post looks into that "guarantee" of security that Clark supposedly issued to Americans. Also, there's an informative entry about how the National Election Pool (the organization which replaced the failed Voter News Service) worked in Iowa.

  • Josh Marshall points out that the media panel assembled for the debate wasn't exactly unskewed in its politics:
    You had one questioner who is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, another who is the head political writer for a fiercely conservative newspaper, another who was a soft-soap local anchor man, and Peter Jennings. That tilt gave the questioning an unmistakable skew. Next time there’s a Republican primary debate I’m hoping they’ll take the same approach and have the questioners be, maybe, Tom Oliphant, Molly Ivins, Matt Lauer and Tom Brokaw.

    (I wish I could say that this accounts for all the "gotcha" stuff, but I'm afraid the answer is probably more complicated than that.)

  • Mark Kleiman looks into the question of whether Clark showed Kerry disrespect with his remarks about junior officers.

  • In his Wes Clark Watch roundup, Clark-supporter Kevin Drum says that Clark did indeed contradict himself about his support for the Iraq use-of-force resolution.

  • Let me be the 278th person to suggest that you check out Wonkette, the new DC gossip blog edited by Ana Marie Cox (of The Antic Muse).

  • I watched part of Newsnight on CNN tonight, something I don't usually do, and, somehow, Aaron Brown looked different to me. Did he put on weight or change his hairstyle or did he used to wear glasses or what? From some angles he was almost unrecognizable to me, although the voice was as I remembered. What gives?

  • And with the same degree of irrelevance, why is it that when Paula Zahn speaks about a serious topic, her mouth always seems to be trying to break into a smile? When she's reporting fun stuff and fluff and she can let the smile come out, her face looks natural, but when she has to get serious, it almost looks as if she has to continually think about not smiling.

  • When did people start referring to reporters assigned to a particular candidate's campaign as being "embedded"? Obviously, it's an Iraq-war holdover, and I guess it's not inappropriate, but I do wonder why I noticed it twice tonight in surfing, and hadn't noticed it before. Was I just missing it, or is this new?

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/24/2004 02:48:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, January 23, 2004

Dean's comeback?

Kos thinks that the Diane Sawyer interview with the Deans may stop his freefall in New Hampshire and stabilize him for a second-place finish:

Dean's biggest problem right now is his high negatives. Those stem in large part from his Rebel Yell, but also from his reluctance to show his private side. In modern politics, people need to peek behind the veil to make the necessary emotional connection with their candidate. And meeting the spouse is a critical component of making that connection.

The Sawyer interview humanized him in a way he had previously avoided. It was political gold. And those "tough" questions allowed Dean to try and put to rest most of the most potent arguments against him. And if that adorable Judy thinks Howard is swell, well, so much the better.

He also says he wouldn't be surprised to see "Comeback Kid" references popping up, which is something I was wondering about. The political media seems to be comfortable with only a limited number of templates for their candidate coverage, and the "Comeback Kid" archetype is one they really haven't had the opportunity to use for a while now. If Dean can manage to get that moniker applied to him, then every disappointing showing from here on out will be seen not as a failure, but as a challenge for the Kid to overcome.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/23/2004 12:02:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


We're sorry, really!

In The American Prospect, Tony Hendra (he of the early days of National Lampoon, when it was actually funny), has got us covered, doing our obeisance for us in this "heartfelt -- no -- abject -- no -- craven apology to the right":

We confess. It's all true. Everything you say. We trafficked in hate. We did it in anger. Just as you said, Mr. Kristol, Mr. Krauthammer, Mr. Brooks: We poisoned the airwaves and befouled the sheets of our nation's most august publications. We attacked a sitting president, impugned his integrity, smeared his family, invaded his privacy, tried desperately to drag him down to our own filthy, rock-bottom, sewer-dwelling level.

Worth taking a moment to read all the way through.

[Thanks to Shirley for the link]

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/23/2004 11:34:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Some preliminary thoughts on reason, emotions and politics

[R]eason may not be as pure as most of us think it is or wish it were... emotions and feelings may not be intruders in the bastion of reason at all: they may be enmeshed in its networks, for worse and for better. The strategies of human reason probably did not develop, in either evolution or any single individual, without the guiding force of the mechanisms of biological regulation, of which emotions and feeling are notable expressions. Moreover, even after reasoning strategies become established in the formative years, their effective deployment probably depends, to a considerable extent, on a continued ability to experience feelings.

This is not to deny that emotions and feelings can cause havoc in the processes of reasoning under certain circumstances. Traditional wisdom has told us that they can, and recent investigations of the normal human reasoning process also reveal the potentially harmful influence of emotional biases. It is thus even more surprising and novel that the absence of emotion and feeling is no less damaging, no less capable of of compromising the rationality that makes us distinctly human and allows us to decide in consonance with a sense of personal future, social convention, and moral principle. Nor is this to say that when feelings have a positive action they do the deciding for us; or that we are not rational beings. I suggest only that certain aspects of the process of emotion and feeling are indispensable for rationality. At their best, feelings point us in the proper direction, take us to the appropriate place in a decision-making space, where we may put the instruments of logic to good use. We are faced by uncertainty when we have to make a moral judgment, decide on the course of a personal relationship, choose some means to prevent being penniless in old age, or plan for the life that lies ahead. Emotion and felling, along with the covert physiological machinery underlying them, assists us with the daunting task of predicting an uncertain future and planning our actions accordingly. ...

There has never been any doubt that under certain circumstances, emotion disrupts reasoning. The evidence is abundant and constitutes the source for the sound advice with which we have been brought up. Keep a cool head, hold emotions at bay! Do not let your passions interfere with your judgment. As a result, we usually conceive of emotion as a supernumerary mental faculty, an unsolicited, nature-ordained accompaniment to our rational thinking. If emotion is pleasurable, we enjoy it as a luxury; if it is painful, we suffer it as an unwelcome intrusion. In either case, the sage will advise us, we should experience emotion and feeling in only judicious amounts. We should be reasonable.

There is much wisdom in this widely held belief, and I will not deny that uncontrollable or misdirected emotion can be a major source of irrational behavior. Nor will I deny that seemingly normal reason by be disturbed but subtle biases rooted in emotion. ... Nonetheless, what the traditional account leaves out is a notion that emerged from the study of patients [with frontal lobe damage who are incapable of emotional responses] ...: Reduction in emotions may constitute and equally important source of irrational behavior. The counterintuitive connection between absent emotion and warped behavior may tell us something about the biological machinery of reason.

Antonio R. Damasio
Descartes' Error (1994)

If I understand Damasio's thesis correctly (and although I have a copy, I haven't read his more recent work The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotions in the Making of Consciousness), we think of emotion and reason as forming a dichotomy in opposition to each other. Emotions, we think, prevent us from reasoning rationally, and when we do perform rational evaluation, we put emotions aside and deal with facts and their analysis. Certainly that's the naive psychology underlying this second piece, written by me during the height of the O.J. Simpson trial:

All the various theatrical devices -- the writing, the scenery, sound, lights and costumes, the physical positioning of the actors on the stage and, most of all, the performances of the actors themselves -- have a single goal: to reach the emotions of the audience, to make them feel for the characters, to create a sympathetic or, even better, empathetic bonding between the people portrayed on the stage and the viewer sitting in the seats. The performance exists not to make the audience think about the issues or events of the drama -- there are other, better, ways to bring about thoughtful consideration -- but to provoke emotions and feelings. Catharthis is the ultimate goal, rarely achieved, but no performance can be considered successful if the audience hasn't laughed or cried or at least felt something.

A courtroom is a different place, with a different purpose. Despite the structural similarities (the jury is somewhat like an audience, the well of the court something like a stage), the purpose of the court proceeding is entirely different. The trial does not take place to provoke emotions or provide catharthis. Although an observer could very well feel strongly about the participants or the issues or the result of the trial, its purpose is to resolve issues of law and facts.

At its core, the trial is intended to be a event centered around rationality and thought, in which the jury is charged to determine "beyond a reasonable (i.e. rational) doubt" whether the charges brought by the state have been proven. To reach their conclusion, the jury is told by the judge that they shouldn't be swayed by emotion, that they should consider only the evidence and testimony they've seen in the courtroom when they deliberate, that it is their job to be the "judge of the facts."

Anything that occurs in the course of the trial which has the tendency to appeal to the emotions of the jury (base or otherwise) acts counter to the purpose of the trial. Every time a lawyer asks a question which he or she knows is improper, just to get an idea in front of the jury which would never come up otherwise, the action subverts the purpose of the trial. Every opening statement or closing argument which suggests that a jury ignore the law and the facts and vote with their hearts or their prejudices is fundamentally destructive to the process. Every sneer or suggestion of innuendo slid into the record over the objection of the opposing counsel or the admonition of the judge serves a purpose antithetical to that of the trial itself. Each hypothetical question posed without a good faith basis for its possible applicability is a step towards confusion and obfuscation and away from rational exploration of the facts. ...

The jury is a fundamental part of our democratic system, but it can only be effective if jurors are allowed to use their uniquely human capability of rational thought to reason their way to a decision. They should not be encouraged (even subliminally) to vote with their guts instead of their brains. Barry Scheck, and other lawyers like him, both prosecutors and defense attorneys, do not deserve our respect or admiration, whatever their technical capabilities. Their actions undermine the system.

Ed Fitzgerald
Posted on the O.J. Simpson discussion boards on AOL (10/10/97)

So rational reasoning is (obviously) not possible without consciousness, and, according to Damasio, consciousness is not possible without emotions, but emotions can, if overly provoked, get in the way of rational reasoning. We can possibly draw two conclusions from this:

  1. Like the hoary "nature vs. nurture" debate, where it appears that in reality environment and heredity are not opposites, but work in tandem in complex interaction with each other, the traditional "emotions vs. reason" dichotomy is also most probably a drastic oversimplification, with those two elements of consciousness interacting in an intricate fashion that's difficult to unravel.

  2. Nevertheless, we perceive emotions and reason (naively understood) as standing in tension with each other, as our innate folk psychology understands that emotionality can reduce or deflect our ability to reason.

This leads me to a third piece of writing, this one prompted by Dave Johnson's essay about Message and Dean and Branding on The American Street, which I blogged about a few days ago.

The Oversimplified Message

The best approach to take in our overcommunicated society is the oversimplified message.

In communication, as in architecture, less is more. You have to sharpen your message to cut into the mind. You have to jettison the amiguities, simplify the message, and then simplify it some more if you want to make a long-lasting impression.

People who depend on communication for their livlihood know the necessity of oversimplification.

Let's say you are meeting with a politician whom you are trying to get elected. In the first five minutes, you'll learn more about your political product than the average joe is going to learn in the next five years.

Since so little material about your candidate is ever going to get into the mind of the voter, your job is really not a "communication" project in the ordinary meaning of the word.

It's a selection project. You have to select the material that has the best chance of getting through.

The enemy that is keeping your messages from hitting pay dirt is the volume of communication. Only when you appreciate the nature of the problem can you understand the solution.

When you want to communicate the advantages of a poltical candidate or a product or even yourself, youmust turn things inside out.

You look for the solution to your problem not inside the product, not even inside your own mind.

You look for the solution to you product inside the prospect's mind.

In other words, since so little of your message is going to get through anyway, you ignore the sending side and concentrate on the receiving end. You concentrate onthe perceptions of the prospect. Not the reality of the product.

"In politics," says John Lindsay, "the perception is the reality." So, too, inadvertising. in business and in life.

Al Ries and Jack Trout
Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind (1981)

As their language makes clear, what Ries and Trout are advocating (quite correctly, I would imagine, from the viewpoint of the efficacy of advertising) is bypassing rational evaluation by appealling directly to the emotions. Putting aside the practical power of branding and positioning (and I have no reason to dispute Johnson's points about Dean's mistakes in Iowa), it's surely a matter of concern that by accepting and using these tecniques, we are essentially advocating a political process which ignores (or at least radically de-emphasises) rationality in favor of direct emotional appeal.

And yet, who can really deny that this is how the majority of people make their decisions about who to vote for? They are swayed not on the basis of careful comparison of programs and policies, but on a visceral level, in response to the output of a much more primitive engine of information analysis. (To call emotional responses "primitive" is not to denigrate them but merely to indicate that they predate rationality in the evolution of human psychology.)

As always, the answer to the apparent paradox before us here is that dusty old cliche about the need for balance. We work best, I imagine, where our emotions guide us through the gross pitfalls which could betray us, but we then use our rational facilities to narrow our range of options.

It's perfectly reasonable (in my opinion) that I and many of my liberal friends have a strong, visceral dislike of George W. Bush which predates his stealing the Presidency and which is so intense that we cannot abide to watch him on TV or listen to his voice on the radio. This "liberal hatred" that right-wing commentators are so incensed about isn't really hatred, per se, it's simply our emotional apparatus responding to cues that we perceive to exist underneath Bush's apparently pleasant folksy exterior. We see there a hard, grim, joyless, unenlightened man, and those impressions are reinforced by what we know about his personal history. Our emotions warn us against trusting him, and our rationality, examining the effects of three years of his misadministration, finds plenty of evidence to support that mistrust. Emotions and reason thus work in tandem to reach the self-same conclusion.

We can see the same interplay between two different kinds of value-systems in my friend Roger Keeling's idea that liberalism is essentially the scientific method turned to the social and political world, not ideologically-driven or dogmatic, but based on trial and error and experience and underpinned by rational evaluation of the results. But, he goes on, in liberalism, reason does not stand on its own, because our humanistic values mediate the purely rational through empathy and compassion, emotions that I find sorely lacking in the programs and policies of the right-wing, even in those who label themselves "compassionate."

So in liberalism, we find the tension between reason and emotions harnessed for its value as a creative engine in a way we do not see in other systems of political thought.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/23/2004 02:40:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, January 22, 2004


Truth Laid Bear Weblog Traffic Rankings

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/22/2004 11:37:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The Debate

Sittin' on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon
Goin' to the candidates' debate.
Laugh about it,
Shout about it,
When you've got to choose,
Everyway you look at it you lose.

Paul Simon
Mrs. Robinson (1968)

That may have been true in 1968, and the same attitude may have hung over to Ralph Nader and the Green voters, who saw no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, and thereby helped George W. Bush maneuvre his way into the White House, but three wretched years of Bushonomics, neo-con foreign policy and the evisceration of many of the social gains this country made since the Great Depression, have convinced most thinking people that the only way we're going to get ourselves on the road to recovery is by getting rid of the guy currently running things.

And the guys who want to help us do that had a debate tonight.

Is there any really compelling reason why there needs to be a panel of questioners at these Democratic Presidential debates? The local reporters didn't do too bad tonight (although the repeated apology for "digging deep into my e-mail bag" was annoying) but both Brit Hume and Peter Jennings were clearly trying to do nothing more than provoke "Gotcha" moments. Still, the questions in general didn't do a very good job at letting us assess the ideas and personalities of these men.

A straight-forward format which provided 6 or 7 minutes of time for each candidate to say whatever he wanted to say (more time would be available if anyone had the balls to exclude Sharpton, Kucinich and Lieberman, who have no chance of getting the nomination), then once they had all finished, another 3 or 4 minutes for each candidate to respond, without cross-talk. If another 30 minutes was made available, use this for open debate.

It would probably be boring, I guess (except perhaps for the open debate period), but it might have the advantage of letting these folks present their message in a straightforward manner, instead of being forced to slip it in sneakily by ignoring or twisting questions. And it would make the positive statement to media stars like Jennings and Hume that is it not about them or the headlines they can generate, something they seem mightily confused about.

I watched this debate (or most of it -- I still have a low tolerance for idiocy, whether from politicians or journalists, and therefore made frequent use of the "mute" button) because I could (I was working during most of the others, and usually too tired to watch the repeats on C-SPAN), and because I really wanted to get a better feeling for Dean, Clark, Kerry and Edwards, all of whom I could happily support, but one of whom (logically), must be a better candidate than the other three. Dean's been my guy for a while now, but, apparently like many other Democrats, my support is fundamentally based on the practical consideration of who has the best chance of beating Bush. None of these four guys precisely mirror my views, and none are so far off that I would be uncomfortable with them, so I just want the one who's going to send Bush packing, which means I was watching not so much to check up on policies, but to take in all the intangibles I could: demeanor, presentation, ability to communicate, persona and so on -- you know, all that touchy-feely stuff that (let's face it) really determines who gets elected in this country.

Dean seemed subdued, but a little speedy at the same time, pressing a little too hard, but not with any real vigor. Clark was comfortable, for the most part, but really showed his inexperience as a politician -- for one thing, his answers were almost always shorter than the alloted time! I still like him, but his odor continues to be that he's not really ready for prime time. Edwards seems more and more to me like a Clinton type, a natural politician with easy Southern-ish charm and the ability to communicate with people, and as a result, I'm not sure I trusted him any more at the end than I did at the beginning.

(Not that I distrusted him, necessarily, but I when I see a personality like his I immediately withdraw a bit and get, if not suspicious, at least reserved. Clinton was so very, very good at it, the best natural politician of our time, that he broke through my reserve, but I'm not sure Edwards is quite that good.)

Kerry ... well, if all I had to go on was this debate, I wouldn't have much of an impression of him at all. That stuff about the people with two kids who live by a polluted lake is a style of campaigning that's really annoying to me. Gore used it frequently and couldn't pull it off, and Kerry can't do it either. (Clinton could, but it takes a master to do it right.) The rest of the his responses were utterly forgettable and deeply unexciting, which is pretty much what I think of Kerry overall. I don't distrust him, I don't dislike him, I'll happily support him if he's the candidate, I think he's smart and experienced and qualified enough to be President, but I have a real hard time convincing myself that he'd be able to beat Bush.

I can't see, for instance, Joe Swingvoter watching Kerry and thinking "Hey, I'd like that guy to come over Sunday and watch the game, that'd be fun," and I think that's just the kind of criteria by which Presidential candidates are selected by many people.

Still, Kerry's riding high in the polls, and Dean is dropping, so the only reasonable thing to do is to hang in and see what develops.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/22/2004 10:56:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Mountains and molehills

Reuters is carrying a story by Alan Elsner, headlined Howard Dean's Campaign Scream -- Is It Fatal?, with this lede:

Howard Dean may have achieved political immortality, forever writing himself into the annals of U.S. presidential campaign lore with his primal scream on Monday night.

The question is, did the former Vermont governor also deal a fatal, self-inflicted blow to his White House hopes?

Now, I found Dean's post-caucus speech to be a little unsettling, but not because I thought he was out of control or angry -- it just seemed a bit out of place and a bad choice of demeanor. That made me wonder a bit about him, but it certainly didn't send me into a paroxysm of criticism such as we've seen from the media, nor is that response warranted.

The whole thing reminds me of the Wellstone memorial to-do a couple of years ago. When I watched it live on C-SPAN, I commented to my e-mail discussion group that I thought Rick Kahn's speech was mostly very moving, but inappropriate and ungracious when he exhorted the Republicans present to cross the aisle and become Democrats. Well, the reaction of the Republican right (sorry for the redundancy) to Kahn's remarks made it appear as if he had tried to turn a solemn liturgical moment into a crass rootin' tootin' partisan political bazaar. That wasn't the case, it was a slip, a minor error of judgment from a person in extremis and entirely understandable, if regrettable, but the Right and their captive media went on and on and on about it and blew it all out of proportion. The same can be said of the attention being put on Dean's speech: it wasn't the best possible thing he could have done, but it certainly doesn't take him out of the running to be President. Mountains are being made out of relative molehills, as is usually the case lately, it seems.

[Thanks to Romaine for the link]

Update: CJR Campaign Desk critiques the media coverage of Dean's "outburst", especially a story which appeared in the LA Times, and on Tapped, Garance Franke-Rutka says that it was very loud in the ballroom where Dean was speaking, so much so that he could hardly be heard from the back of the room.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/22/2004 05:27:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



So "Weapons of mass destruction" morphed into "Weapons of mass destruction programs," then "Weapons of mass destruction-related programs," and, for the State of the Union address, into "Weapons of mass destruction-related program activities."

No doubt in a couple of months the Bush administration will begin to refer to Saddam Hussein's myriad "Weapons of mass destruction-related program activity plans," and maybe some time after that we'll hear about his evil “Weapons of mass destruction-related program activity plan intentions." By the time Election Day rolls around, and Bush prepares to drink the cup of hemlock served up to him by the voters of America (returned to their sanity by a heaping helping of Bushonomic hospitality and nattering neo-con nastiness), we'll probably be told of all those Iraqi “Weapons of mass destruction-related program activity plan intention tendencies" that made it necessary to invade that country and overthrow Saddam.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/22/2004 03:50:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Another kind of media bias?

According to an AP report on Salon:

A former pharmaceutical researcher has been accused of killing his wife by smashing her head into the garage floor of their mansion after learning she was having an affair.

The name of the ex-CEO of EpiGenesis Pharmaceuticals is Jonathan Nyce.

OK, that's really just a cheap joke at the expense of a real personal tragedy, but I was attracted to this story for another reason altogether: why is Nyce identified as an "ex-CEO" in the headline, but as "former asthma researcher" in the lede? Surely the former is the more captivating description, and the more accurate as well, since Nyce was a CEO more recently than he was an asthma researcher. Does that mean that AP has some bias against reporting bad things done by CEOs, or ex-CEOs? (I thought at first that Salon might have written the headline, but the same story as carried by Yahoo News was titled the same.) The article didn't get around to mentioning Nyce's status as former head of EpiGenesis until the penultimate paragraph, which seems rather late to me -- especially considering that when newspapers run these stories, they generally cut them to fit the space available, and do so, as I understand it, by eliminating paragraphs starting at the end of the piece.

Odd, really.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/22/2004 02:03:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Who would they go for?

Given the emphasis on the Democrats needing to win over swing voters, I've been wondering: does anyone do any polling to find out which Democratic candidate Bush voters express a preference for if they are forced to consider not voting for Bush? I think the assumption might be that Leiberman would be the one, because his DLC-associated policies seem to liberal Democrats to be closest to Bush's, especially considering Lieberman's commitment to the war in Iraq, but I rather doubt that he would poll high with Bush's people.

If I had to guess who they would go for, I'd rather think either Clark or Edwards, with Edwards having the edge because he's relatively a tabla rasa that people can fill in any way they want.

Any thoughts on this? Who would Bush voters voter for if they had to vote for one of the Democrats?

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/22/2004 12:47:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Atlantic: In Search of the Elusive Swing Voter

In the January issue of The Atlantic there's a very interesting article by Joshua Green about the lengths both parties are going to in trying to identify and capture the votes of the Elusive Swing Voter:

There is a widespread misperception that the course of a presidential campaign flows directly from the candidate's persona. Naturally, a Howard Dean campaign would differ in style and atmospherics from one featuring Wesley Clark or John Kerry or Richard Gephardt. But with so little room to maneuver, the Democratic formula for victory will depend less than ever on the identity of the nominee. Instead it will be dictated by geographic and demographic necessity?how best to cobble together the necessary 270 electoral votes. The candidate must carry a sufficient number of swing states, and success in each one will depend on highly specific combinations of constituencies and issues?many of which can already be identified. In other words, just as the genetic blueprint for human beings and chimpanzees is 95 percent identical, the campaign blueprint for the Democratic candidates will be nearly the same, regardless of which becomes the party's nominee.


All told, twelve states in the previous presidential election were decided by fewer than five percentage points. Along with two or three other states where demographic changes portend a similar closeness, they make up the battleground this year. The most significant states are scattered across the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Washington), the Southwest (Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico), and the Rust Belt (Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia), with outliers on the East Coast (Florida and New Hampshire) and others along a lengthy stretch of the Mississippi River, from Minnesota and Wisconsin down to Arkansas and Missouri. The next Democratic campaign will closely follow this map.


If the 2000 election supplied the road map for the next campaign, the 2002 midterm elections gave both parties an urgent mandate to reach swing voters. Democratic campaigns mostly outperformed their Republican counterparts in the elections of 1996, 1998, and 2000. (Gore did, after all, win more votes than any U.S. President except Reagan.) This was thanks largely to Election Day voter-turnout efforts, which got Democrats to the polls and often proved decisive. But in 2002 the Republicans shocked the Democrats by besting them on this front, nullifying an important edge. This has set off a pitched battle to capture the narrowing sliver of what pollsters call "persuadables"?the undecided voters who will make the difference in any close election.

In fact, it has sparked a kind of demographic arms race. For the first time, both parties are embracing sophisticated and costly demographic technology that until recently was the province of consumer market-research companies. The Democratic National Committee has acquired a database of 158 million voters it has dubbed the "DataMart." Appended to every name are as many as 306 "lifestyle variables" gleaned from voter files, consumer databases, and other sources. From these, candidates can find out a citizen's voting record, number of children, kind of car, favorite television shows and magazines, and even number of pets. Not to be outdone, the Republican National Committee has its own Orwellian construct, called the "Voter Vault," which contains records on 165 million people.

By drawing samples from the DataMart, the thinking goes, Democratic pollsters and interest groups can create intricate predictive models of where the most sought-after voters will be found. "In a crowded marketplace," the pollster Geoff Garin explains, "it's about being able to know the architecture of the people most likely to be supportive of you and seeking them out."


The New Democrat Network, a centrist political organization, was among the first in this election cycle to use polling to sketch out a profile of the latest generation of swing voters. Data shared with each of the Democratic candidates (and provided to The Atlantic) describes them as mainly white and also younger, less likely to vote, and more likely than self-identified Democrats or Republicans to characterize themselves as "workaholics." They are most heavily concentrated in suburbs and small cities, and though they disapprove of many Bush Administration policies, they tend to be more religious and to admire military service more than most Democrats do. "On many issues their attitudes correspond strongly with the Democratic Party even though demographically they are closer to Republican voters," says Peter Brodnitz, of the firm Penn, Schoen and Berland, which conducted the poll. The New Democrat Network identified civil liberties and the environment as the two issues on which independents and Republicans most strongly disagree?and, indeed, many of the Democratic candidates have sounded precisely these themes. (Buried in the report's "tactical recommendations" is information that both sides in the next campaign may find useful: independents listen to a disproportionate amount of country radio, and they watch SportsCenter more often than other Americans?a taste, the poll reveals, that corresponds more closely with Democrats' than Republicans'.)

Other organizations, including Emily's List, have conducted broader studies to sort independents into smaller "lifestyle clusters," the better to target them in the fall. Emily's List has identified four basic groups: disengaged "Bystanders," who when motivated to vote lean Democratic; "Senior Health Care" voters, whose gender (predominantly female) suggests an inclination to support Democrats; "Education First" voters, 64 percent female and 66 percent pro-choice but currently more supportive of Bush and the Iraq War than the typical Democrat; and the "Young Economically Pressured," many of whom work more than forty hours a week and may care for an elderly parent. Though this last group tends to support the Democratic position on funding public schools and other issues, its members live predominantly in small towns or rural areas and are culturally conservative.

The challenge for the next Democratic candidate will be reaching all these independents, many of whom live in small cities and suburbs that are gradually abandoning the Democratic Party.

[Link via Digby]

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/21/2004 09:34:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


TPM interview with George Soros

In a previous post I mentioned in passing Josh Marshall's interview with George Soros on Talking Points Memo. Here are some excerpts:

[T]his administration has no compunction in misleading the people. It has no respect for the truth. This, I think, is a real danger. It is the danger of an Orwellian world. It's not new, because obviously, Orwell wrote about this fifty years ago. But what he wrote in 1984, you know, the Ministry of Truth being the Propaganda Ministry, the use of words meaning the opposite of what they are meant to mean. The Fox News, "Fair and Balanced," the "Clear Skies" Act for permitting pollution, the "Leave No Child Behind" [that] provides no money for the legislation. All these things I think pose a real danger to our democracy if they succeed in misleading the electorate. And there is only one remedy: an intelligent and enlightened electorate that sees through it.

Now, I find myself in a peculiar position, because having grown up or been exposed to the Nazi regime and the communist regime, I am very sensitive to this kind of propaganda. And the American people, not having been exposed to quite the same extent, seem to be more easily misguided. And that is something that I have been trying to say. And, as a result, I have been accused of calling Bush a Nazi. And that, to me, is itself a demonstration of how this propaganda machine works. That is a real danger, and I think that we really have to somehow become more sensitive to it, and reject it. So, I focused on rejecting the Bush Doctrine. But really behind it is this conviction that we must reject Orwellian Doublespeak. And that, in a sense, was why Dean had such great appeal because, he said, ?what I say is what you get.? He's losing some of that now that he's the front runner. But this is what people are really hankering after. [The interview took place last Friday, before the Iowa caucuses. -- Ed]


[A]fter September 11, the Bush administration very cleverly used the terrorist attacks and the war on terror as a patriotic rallying cry, when it became totally unacceptable to be critical of anything that the administration did. You have the quote from Ashcroft, "Anybody who opposes the USA Patriot Act is giving aid and comfort to the terrorists." You have Bush saying, "Those who are not with us are with the terrorists."

And that, temporarily, stilled any kind of criticism of the president. It was practically impossible for a politician to be critical. Then, in the absence of critical process, the administration abused its mandate by attacking Iraq. And that became obvious. And that sort of led to a breakdown of the taboo. It became legitimate to criticize, because the deception was just too obvious. And there was a rising criticism. And that's when Bush started sinking. But the propaganda machine is fabulously well-functioning. It's really very successful. And Karl Rove is a superior strategist. And so the Bush administration has regrouped and is now again, I think, managing to deceive the people. And that's what's happening.


[O]pen society is always endangered. But the dangers are different in character. So, it was endangered by Nazism, it was by fascism, it was endangered by Communism. And now it is endangered in a very unusual, in a very unexpected way, from a very unexpected quarter, which is the United States. I have never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would be standing up to defend the principles of open society, which are in the core of American history and tradition, in America. But, it doesn't mean that the threat that is present today is identical with the threat that came from Nazism or Communism. By saying what I'm saying, I'm not comparing Bush to a Nazi. I'm not calling Bush a Nazi. I want to make it very, very explicit that I'm not. And I don't think that the comparison is helpful. In fact, I think it's harmful.

It's a different threat. And it's actually a very strange, unexpected [threat]. If you go back to this Doublespeak and the threat of deception, the Goebbels propaganda machine had a total monopoly of the media. The Soviets had such control that they could actually erase people from history, airbrush out leaders who fell, who were disgraced. The deception in America is practiced while you do have pluralistic media. You do have, you know, different channels that are available. Nevertheless, something is going on in the way of managing the interpretation of reality that is actually successful and poses a danger to open society. And it has been spearheaded by the conservative movement. But, it's not confined to the conservative movement. In other words, it's a cultural phenomenon. And it permeates, let's say, the Democratic primaries as much as it does the propaganda of the Bush administration.

TPM: Can you expand on that? Are we talking about demagogy?

SOROS: There is a cultural phenomenon --- an unscrupulous pursuit of your cause with disregard to truth. And because of that ? I mean, you always had adversarial relations, and, you know, it's not a new phenomenon. But it has lost its anchor because of the disregard of the truth.


TPM: Final quick question: are you optimistic about this election coming up?

SOROS: I'm hopeful. And I think that right now, right this minute, things don't look so good, because you don't have a Democratic candidate. But I think that will change once you have a candidate, and you have a real debate between two sides.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/21/2004 09:03:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


That Dean post-caucus speech

On Monday, when Dean came in third in Iowa, he gave a rallying-the-troops exhortation to his staff and volunteers that was covered by CNN and C-SPAN (and I assume other media outlets as well). The tone of it was aggressive and confrontational and not at all reassuring to me (a Dean supporter) about his temperment. Several people have expressed disappointment and concern about that speech, and what it indicates about Dean's personality and the appropriateness of electing him President.

One of my correspondants, a mental health professional, expressed her thoughts this way:

I think his presentation last night rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. But in defense of Dean on the personal level ... what we saw there was nothing but a very human defensive reaction designed to help cope with overwhelming stress and/or unacceptable feelings. This, what seemed to me like a 'reaction formation,' generally results in the person reacting in an exaggerated manner in direct opposition to how they really want to behave.

Very human, very understandable, but definitely not a response the average person would want to see exhibited in someone who will be exposed to chronic stressors and could have his finger on 'The Button' before too long.

I'm still, for the moment, a Dean supporter (or, more precisely, I think that Dean/Clark would be an ideal Democratic ticket which would mop up the floor with Bush/Cheney), but I'm watching him closely this week to see how he rebounds from his disappointment, and what approach he takes to fending off Kerry and Clark (and Edwards!) in New Hampshire.

Update: Susan Madrak on Suburban Guerilla (link via Rittenhouse Review) says about Dean's behavior:

To me, he just looks like a wired, tired man trying to have a little fun and shake off his defeat by rousing the troops. ... Wee Georgie with his finger on the nuclear trigger. Now, that's scary.

In a related subject, on Counterspin Central, Hesiod analyzes GWB's State of the Union address and concludes that he doesn't have the temperment to be President:

I don't have a psychology degree, but if I did, I would clearly diagnose some serious anger management issues. There was also a touch of paranoia, and [t]he hint of a messianic complex displayed.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/21/2004 08:26:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The Gadflyer

On Daily Kos, Tom Schaller provided on-the-ground coverage of the Iowa caucuses which was interesting, informative and entertaining. Now, he posts there an appeal for people to sign-up to receive information about a new webzine scheduled to be launched in March, The Gadflyer, of which he will be the managing editor (and Kos will be a contributor).

The Gadflyer is a new progressive Internet magazine. As the name implies, The Gadflyer will be provocative, critical, and iconoclastic. It will cover politics and public affairs from a fresh perspective, offering journalism, analysis, and commentary from a new generation of writers. The Gadflyer will bring together the brightest young progressive voices to provide unique and compelling stories that can be found nowhere else.

The Gadflyer will be unabashedly progressive, but not doctrinaire; pugnacious, but not shrill; lively and entertaining, but substantive.

If the quality of The Gadflyer is anything like as good as Schaller's dispatches for dKos, it's well worth looking into.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/21/2004 08:10:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



The six or seven people (if that) who check in here regularly might be interested to know that, as a trial, I've installed HaloSan comments. We'll see how it works out.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/21/2004 07:53:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Appealing to swing voters

I think the arguments about Dean not being able to sway enough swing voters to win the election possibly apply more strongly to Kerry than they do to Dean. Kerry is, after all, part of the Washington Democratic establishment (as much as a Democratic establishment can be said to exist at all) and a fairly well-known name, and I don't think that carries much of a positive weight with the kind of voters we're talking about. Dean is, at least, perceived as an insurgent, a rebel, which could easily register with them.

Dean is also fiery and strong -- too much so, has been the criticism -- but if Dean is Dionysian in aspect, Kerry is positively Apollonian, cool and withdrawn, not very good at making contact with people. (In his column in The Hill, Josh Marshall points out the disturbing similarities between Kerry's campaign and Gore's in 2000 -- both candidiates only come out of their shell and start punching when their backs are to the wall, but between those moments of in extremis battling, they return to a more reserved condition.) It's certainly possible that swing voters will mistrust the coolness and formality of Kerry and prefer the (apparently) outgoing (if combative) Dean.

And what about the "Can I invite this guy over to watch the ball game?" factor? Here, again, I think Kerry is at a disadvantage, for the same reasons. Gore, I always felt (despite what I read about the warmth of his private persona) would tend to lecture you instead of getting down and getting into the game, and Kerry has a lot of this same feeling about him. Dean, it appears to me, would whoop and holler along with the fans.

What does all this mean? Not much, I guess. Trying to understand why swing voters go one way or the other is a difficult proposition. It's my contention that, given the state of the economy (the *real* economy which effects the personal lives of voters, not the theoretical economy of leading indicators) and the state of the war in Iraq, voters will be predisposed to make a change away from Bush if they're offered a candidate they feel they can take a chance on. Just looking at the factors I listed above, I'd say that Dean has a better possibility of wrangling them in then does Kerry, but that doesn't speak to Edwards and Clark, both of whom might have a *better* chance than the other two, I think. (They have two different sets of problems.)

Still, my point is that if we're supposed to eliminate Dean because he's "unelectable", and that's the case because he supposedly won't attract swing voters, then that argument is perhaps more rightfully directed towards Kerry. I'm not about to declare myself an advocate of ABK (Anyone But Kerry), but then I think it's detrimental to the campaign and the prospects of winning in 2004 to go overboard in denigrating any one of the Democratic candidates during the primaries. If, for instance, I were to state unequivocally that Kerry sucks and I hope he takes a swan dive, because if he's the nominee we're all gonna drown in the tidal wave of votes for Bush, then I'd be pretty much up Shit Creek without a paddle if Kerry was to take the nomination. I'd've already declared him to be unelectable and undesirable, so how could I possibly do a 180 and suddenly be behind him all the way?

Better, I think, as I wrote some days ago, to moderate our responses instead of slamming the people we don't prefer.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/21/2004 05:49:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


More on progressive infrastructure

In a post I missed the first time around (I was pointed to it by Digby on Hullabaloo), Dave Johnson also deals in great detail with the need for Democratic/liberal/progressive infrastructure to counter that of the right in an essay on The American Street.

"Progressives needs a Scaife," he writes.

Progressives need core funders who understand the desperate need to start building such an infrastructure! Progressives must find funders willing to fund a network of organizations, some dedicated to research, some to framing, some to translation, some to communication, ALL to advocacy, and ALL funded with general operating support! AND they need to fund hundreds of gadflies (like me) to write the books, opinion pieces, appear on talk shows, write columns, do the research, etc.

I believe that some of the initial money should be used to start a PR effort to explain this "infrastructure" problem to other potential funders AND TO "OUR SIDE" IN GENERAL.

One possibly candidate for the position of progressive political "angel" is, of course, George Soros, and Josh Marshall has this interview with him on Talking Points Memo

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/21/2004 04:32:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



Fact-checking on Bush's State of the Union address is available from USA Today and the Associated Press, and a rebuttal comes from the Center for American Progress.

I'd be lying if I said that I watched the speech. As with many like-minded people, I really cannot stand to watch or listen to Bush.

Update: More from and LiberalOasis

Update: 1/26/04 James Fallows annotates the speech in Atlantic. [via Follow Me Here]

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/21/2004 03:16:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Billmon: Eyes on the Prize

On Whiskey Bar, Billmon looks beyond the immediate ramifications of the Iowa results, and past the effect on the Dean candidacy to the long-term problem that faces progressives, which is how to build the political infrastructure necessary to counterbalance the one which supports the right-wing in this country.

(This is a topic dear to the heart of MyFriendRoger -- he and I have had extensive discussions about it for years.)

Here's part of what Billmon says:

The important thing, I think, is for progressives to build on the achievements of the Dean campaign, irrespective of happens to the candidate himself.

I think there's a real danger of getting too hung up on this year's presidential election, and investing too much emotional capital in the success of a particular candidate -- whether that candidate is Howard Dean or one of his Democratic rivals.

The task of building a progressive coalition that can turn America in a fundamentally different direction is a vast undertaking -- so vast as to seem almost impossible: as impossible, perhaps, as ending segregation must have seemed to the early civil rights activists of the 1920s and '30s. Under the most favorable conditions imaginable (conditions which we are extremely unlikely to see) the process will take years, if not decades.

The Dean campaign has proven it's possible to mobilize grassroots support for a political candidate by combining modern technology with old fashioned organizing techniques. But the real challenge is to take those same methods and use them to build not just an alternative political movement, but an alternative political culture -- one that can eventually become the most powerful faction within the Democratic Party, then take control of the party, then challenge the Republicans for majority party status. And it will have to be created one building block at a time, drawing on the energy and talents and commitment of thousands, and then tens of thousands, and then hundreds of thousands of activists all across the country.

Ironically, this is exactly what the right did in the wake of Barry Goldwater's landslide defeat in 1964. Conservatives spent the next 16 years building on the foundation they laid in the Goldwater campaign -- exploiting new fundraising techniques (direct mail) establishing new organizations (the Heritage Foundation, the Committee on the Present Danger) creating new media (Human Events, Conservative Digest) and building a parallel political establishment affiliated with, but outside of, the Republican Party. When the time came to reach for power -- in 1980 and again in 1994 -- the right was ready.

The left will never be able to match the financial resources and corporate patronage that helped make the conservative renaissance possible. But it must try to match the patience and dedication with which that movement was built -- despite the many setbacks it experienced along the way.

There is no other way. Even if Dean somehow survives and wins the Democratic nomination, he'll still have to contend with a political system and media establishment that is almost completely dominated by the Republicans and their conservative clones in the Democratic Party. Even if he defeats Bush this fall, he would still -- in all likelihood -- have to deal with a GOP-controlled Congress, bent on destroying his presidency. For progressives -- as for conservatives in 1964 -- the long road is the only road to power.

Whether progressives have sufficient discipline and staying power to finish the journey is another story.

I note that many of Billmon's commenters think that he is overreacting to the Iowa results, that things aren't are dire as he paints, and it's possible that they are right, in one sense, but that they entirely miss the real point of what he's saying.

Whether or not Dean can come back from Iowa and go all the way, and regardless of the furtunes of any of the other progressive candidates, the problem which Billmon is addressing (at least in the part of the entry that I quoted above), is a systemic one, created over the course of the last 30 years or more by the concerted and directed work of conservative activists, and that is not going to change even if the Democrats take back the White House in 2004. That, to me, is an extremely important point, and that is the nub of Billmon's post.

The right-wing infrastructure of think-tanks, captive media, conservative punditocracy and so on -- all the things that we refer to when we speak of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy and the Mighty Wurlitzer -- will still exist, will still be incredibly well-funded and will still have extraordinary political and social power (despite very strong evidence that the American people, given the choice, do not essentially agree with the goals of that movement or of the policies with which they aim to achieve those goals), even after the Democrats take back the Executive branch.

It's not conceivable to me that anyone who lived through the attempted overthrow of an elected Democratic President via trumped up scandals and irrelevant charges, and the subsequent taking of the White House by an unelected Republican candidate, can have any doubt whatsoever of the power that the right-wing wields. The expectation that electing a Democrat to be President is going to turn things around is unsupported by the evidence of our recent history -- but that doesn't mean that it isn't vitally important!

Clearly, looking at the extensive damage to this country and its international reputation and relationships that Bush has managed to do in a mere three years must bring any reasonably intelligent and caring person to the conclusion that electing a Democrat is vitally necessary, if only to stem the tide, and, one would hope, start the process of reversing some of that damage.

But that can only be a beginning, and what Billmon is addressing is the long-term needs of the liberal or progressive movement to counter the rightward trend and move us back to some semblence of rationality and humanitarianism in this country's policies towards its own citizens and the citizens of the world.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/21/2004 04:44:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Laundry list

Here's a list, in no particular order and probably incomplete, of some of the reasons being given for Dean's failure to win the Iowa caucuses, put together from various sources. I'll add to it if I come across others. (Send any suggestions to me here and I'll put them up.)

  • Dean's campaign went off-message. It began as, and took flight because it was, essentially an insurgent campaign by an outsider, but that didn't mix well with all the endorsements from insiders like Gore, Harkin and others.

  • Dean's organization was not nearly as good as had been thought. There were a lot of volunteers, and precinct captains in every precinct, but they weren't well-trained on what needed to be done in the negotiation process which is part and parcel of caucusing.

  • The deal between Kucinich and Edwards to trade votes whenever one or the other wasn't viable in a particular precinct denied Dean a natural source of additional votes. Additionally, the bad blood between Dean and Gephardt meant that Gep's supporters froze out the Dean people in those precincts where Gephardt wasn't viable.

  • Dean, being the putative front runner, took at lot of hits from the media, and a lot of hits from the other candidates, especially Gephardt, whose anti-Dean campaign was the most pointed. The harsh focus on his "gaffes" and his supposed anger took a toll.

  • The question of Dean's "electability" played a part. Voters went with the candidates they thought had the best chance to beat Bush.

  • Dean's media campaign was very negative, and his ads weren't very good.

  • Dean's orange-hatted "Perfect Storm" volunteers were just a little too cultish for people's tastes. They were also cultural (and literal) outsiders in Iowa and didn't know how to relate to the voters there.

  • Dean was weak among seniors, non-college graduates and late deciders (who went for Edwards in big numbers -- Dean did well among voters who had decided on a candidate over a month ago.).

  • The capture of Saddam Hussein softened some people's positions on the war in Iraq, which enabled them to "forgive" Kerry's and Edward's vote for the war resolution and vote for them. Those people came from the Dean's base of anti-war voters.

  • Dean's marketing was wrong, and he allowed himself to be defined by others, instead of positively positioning himself.

  • The Dean campaign disrespected the voters of Iowa by projecting an aura of inevitability, so they turned away from him.

  • Dean's wife didn't campaign with him. People feel better about supporting a candidate when they know the candidate's family (or, rather, when they think they do).

  • And, of course, Dean is just too angry.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/21/2004 02:31:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


AmStreet: Message and Branding and Dean

The American Street is shaping up to be a very interesting webblog. Dave Johnson has this analysis in an entry titled Message and Branding and Dean

In marketing message is everything. If you want a message to sink in it can't be complicated. Short and simple, repeat it over and over again.


It works with candidates, as well. Republicans know how to do this. You decide the message of the candidate, and repeat it over and over, and IT DOES NOT MATTER if it is a truth, or consistent, it becomes what the person IS. Bush said, over and over, that he was going to bring "honor and integrity back to the White House" and said it again, and then again, and pretty soon he was the guy who was going to bring honor and integrity back to the White House. It DID NOT MATTER that Bush had no honor or integrity, because he had a clear message and repeated over and over that he had honor and integrity SO THAT BECAME WHAT HE WAS. And he was able to repeat over and over that Gore was a liar. This is how marketing and repetition works.

If this sounds simplistic, in marketing and mass communication you CAN'T oversimplify. The shorter the message the more effective it is.


I think the Iowa caucuses were all about beating Bush. The only question was, "How is he going to beat Bush?" I think a candidate's positions on jobs, national security, and other issues were relevant only so far as Iowans imagined most American voters responding to the positions, not their OWN response. [...]

Here are the simple messages, or "brands," that I think people went to the caucuses with:

Kerry = War hero
Edwards = From the South/Nice
Dean = Money & supporters/Fighter
Gephardt = Unions

But Dean allowed himself to be defined/branded by others as "angry," and that, of course, scared Iowa voters. (Previously they tried defining him as "extremist/McGovern," but that didn't stick, so along came "angry.")

Sun Tzu's Art of War says to beat a powerful enemy you must "find the weakness in his strength." If Dean's strength is being a fighter who is ready to get in Bush's face, then "angry" is the weakness in that strength. So Dean got branded as the "angry" candidate and this is Dean's fault. The reason it is Dean's fault is that if Dean is going to go up against Bush, and is ready to fight back, that means that he shouldn't be so easily defined by opponents -- because that is what Republicans DO. He should already have a team in place ready to counter that basic tactic -- defining your opponent!


Dean has a few days to turn this around. And it is up to HIM to do this. He can blame the press or "negative campaigning" but that's the playing field he is on. If he can turn it around, then maybe he does deserve to be the nominee. If he can't, than maybe we would do better sending someone else up against Bush -- IF we can find someone who is better. I think he's a smart guy, and I expect he will do a good job of this.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/21/2004 02:18:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



Calpundit reminds us of some conventional wisdom:

[E]xcept for Bill Clinton, no Democrat in the last 30 years has won the nomination without first winning either Iowa or New Hampshire. If that holds true this year, the race is now between Kerry and whoever wins New Hampshire.

Kevin also thinks that Clark wasn't as hurt by the results of the Iowa caucuses as current CW would have it.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/21/2004 12:59:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Mona Davis Eyes

I haven't seen it, so I can't really comment on it, but why is it that every time I read or hear the title of the recent film starring Julia Roberts, Mona Lisa Smile, what runs through my head is Bette Davis Eyes, the song from the 80's sung by Kim Carnes? Shouldn't I be hearing Mona Lisa, as sung by Nat King Cole? I don't even particularly like "Bette Davis Eyes"!

I simply cannot seem to clear up all the clutter in my head!

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/20/2004 10:59:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Broken rules

In her article, War and Never Having to Say You're Sorry, which appeared in the Sunday New York Times Arts & Leisure section on December 14th, prompted by Errol Morris' new documentary film The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, Samantha Power (author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide) writes:

[C]ompiling the lessons of history hardly guarantees that they will be applied. Soon after Donald Rumsfeld assumed the job of secretary of defense in 2000, he actually took the unusual step of circulating a handout that distilled his 40 years of service. Mr. Rumsfeld's lessons were not dissimilar from those Mr. Morris elicited from Mr. McNamara. They include:

"It is easier to get into something than to get out of it."

"Don't divide the world into `them' and `us.' "

"Visit with your predecessors from previous administrations. . . Try to make original mistakes, rather than needlessly repeating theirs."

The lessons, known as "Rumsfeld's Rules," were posted on the Pentagon Web site when Mr. Rumsfeld took office. They have since been removed.

(Actually, almost nothing actually disappears from the web entirely: the Rules can still be found at various sites, including this one.)

Of course, Power could easily have included others of Rummy's Rules which today read somewhat ironically, given our current situation in Iraq, the overall record of disachievement of the Bush administration and Rumsfeld's own part in it. Rules such as:

  • You will launch many projects but have time to finish only a few. So think, plan, develop, launch and tap good people to be responsible. Give them authority and hold them accountable. Trying to do too much yourself creates a bottleneck.

  • Think ahead. Don't let day-to-day operations drive out planning.

  • Plan backward as well as forward. Set objectives and trace back to see how to achieve them. You may find that no path can get you there. Plan forward to see where your steps will take you, which may not be clear or intuitive.

  • Beware when any idea is promoted primarily because it is "bold, exciting, innovative and new." There are many ideas that are "bold, exciting, innovative and new," but also foolish.

  • If in doubt, don't.

  • If still in doubt, do what's right.

  • "Try to analyze situations intelligently, anticipate problems and move swiftly to solve them. However, when you're up to your ears in alligators, it is difficult to remember that the reason you're there is to drain the swamp." -- Unknown

  • "Every government looking at the actions of another government and trying to explain them always exaggerates rationality and conspiracy, and underestimates incompetency and fortuity." -- Silberman's Law of Diplomacy, U.S. Circuit Court Judge Laurence Silberman

  • The secretary of defense is not a super general or admiral. His task is to exercise civilian control over the department for the commander in chief and the country.

Postscript:Phil Kline, one of New York's "downtown" composers, has released a new recording, Zippo Songs: Airs of War and Lunacy (Cantaloupe), which includes three songs which set the words of Donald Rumsfeld to music ("As We Know," "That Many Vases," and "Near-Perfect Clarity"), and also some settings of Vietnam-era poems written by G.I.'s:

We came because
We believe.
We leave because
We are disillusioned.
We came back because
We are lost.
We die because
We are committed.

We are the unwilling
Led by the unqualified
Doing the unnecessary
For the ungrateful.

(We Came Because)

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/20/2004 10:05:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Lessons from Iowa

On The American Street, Kevin Hayden's analysis of the fallout from the Iowa caucuses is one of the more interesting I have read.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/20/2004 06:41:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, January 18, 2004


Is there anything more annoying in everyday civil conversation than being blown off with "Whatever"? It's the wave of the hand, the shrug of the shoulders and the turning away, the denial of legitimacy, the non-specific put-down that's too bored to do any real work. Whether it comes from a teenager or an adult, an opponent or someone supposed to be a friend, I find it infuriating, and my response is to just shut down.

Anyone who thinks I merit a "whatever" doesn't merit my continued attention, at least not then and there. If the word is wielded with the purpose of shutting down the conversation, then it works, but the cost is perhaps greater then realized at the time, for "whatever" not only shuts it down now, it lingers on to squealch it for the immediate future as well.

And what are we without civil conversation to bind us together?


Ed Fitzgerald | 1/18/2004 04:16:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The American Street

There's a newish liberal group blog, The American Street, which is worth taking a look at. (I've added a link to it in the "some links" section in the right hand column.)

Here's a sample:

GOP To Reshuffle Swing States; Plan To Redistrict America

by Tom Burka

Texas, South Carolina Will Decide Election This Year, GOP Congress Declares

In a massive "redistricting" of the country, the Republican-controlled Congress has redrawn the boundaries of the states to favor Republicans.

"There's nothing wrong with it," said Rep. Tom Delay, mastermind of the scheme. "If Democrats were in power, this is what they'd be doing."

The boundaries of New York State now include only the relatively conservative upstate area and Staten Island, which is solidly Republican. Democratic New York City is now part of Rhode Island, which will have four electoral votes in November.

Florida now constitutes only those counties that solidly voted for Bush in 2000 and most of Louisiana, to form "Louisiorida," a "Super State" with, according to Delay, "a zillion" electoral votes.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/18/2004 04:08:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Coloring the media map and other thoughts

When I was but a wee lad, my bedroom wall was covered by a giant political map of the world. My parents must have bought it second-hand, or it was cheap because it was out of date, because even though this was 1962 or so, well past the height of European colonialism, the map was designed so that the colonial territories of each country were colored the same. One could look at the map and see the UK and all of its colonies (or perhaps by then they were ex-colonies but part of the Commonwealth) all colored pink, or France's colored purple and so on. Greenland was the same color as Denmark, and the Belgian Congo the same color as Belgium. I didn't know anything about colonialism or empires or anything, really, but the map gave me a good sense that these far-flung and disparate places were, in some mysterious way connected.

I'd really like someone to devise a similar way to make clear to people what the outposts of today's media empires are. If we could see at a glance that, for instance, CNN, Time, Warner Brothers, the WB, Turner Classic Movies, TNT, TBS, HBO, People magazine and Atlantic Records are all part of the AOL Time-Warner empire, or that CBS, Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central, Paramount and UPN are part of the empire of Viacom, wouldn't that get across to people the limits (and concomitant dangers) of what their media options are? If every time we turned on our TV's the channel identifier showed "CNN" in Time-Warner blue, "CBS" in Viacom red, or "ABC" in Disney green, would more people understand how limited our choices actually are?

Just an idle wish, of course, I don't expect anyone to do anything about it. But while I'm thinking about it, is it possible that conditions will change substantially enough that our current state of media imperialism will go the way of classic political imperialism (the kind where countries control territories around the globe, not the very indirect and amorphous forms of imperialism we favor today)? Will the media conglomerates at some point figure out that the "synergy" which was supposed to be unleashed by empire building is a chimera, a mere illusion, and that the resulting companies are too bloated and unwieldy to respond quickly and effectively to new conditions and opportunities, or will their easy access to large amounts of capital always trump their lumbering megalithicity?

Postscript: About that map of the world, I recall asking my mom about the odd way that the western edge of Africa seemed to be able to fit neatly into the coasts of the Americas, with the bulge of Africa nestling nicely in the Caribbean Sea, but my mom assured me that it was just a coincidence, that there was nothing to it. I don't blame her for that, since Alfred Wegener's ideas about continental drift, which eventually became the theory of plate tectonics, were only then receiving renewed and serious attention by scientists, and they were still some years away from being known by the general public.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/18/2004 03:55:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

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unfutz: toiling in almost complete obscurity for almost 1500 days
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