Saturday, February 21, 2004

Clearing it up about Kerry

A few days ago, when the results from Wisconsin were coming in, my wife and I were discussing what we should do in the upcoming New York primary -- should we support Kerry or Edwards? (I was already predicting that Dean would drop out.) The question is unresolved at this time, but I think we did settle on the fact that we would have no real problems voting for either of them.

I've long ago given up the idea that a serious Presidential candidate (i.e. someone with a realistic chance of being elected) would reflect a majority of my own political opinions, because, in general, what I believe in is much too leftish for mainstream American politics. (Why this country has become so conservative and so out-of-alignment with the rest of the Western world is a question I'll leave to another time, except to say that it was certainly part of the mini-depression that prevented me from posting yesterday.) This being the case, selecting a candidate to support isn't so much a matter of checking off points of agreement as it is assessing the general tone of the candidate's platform, programs, record, positioning, advertising, demeanor and personality (or, at least, persona) and guessing on that basis how often the candidate is likely to piss me off in the future.

("Oh my golly gosh, you mean you choose the lesser of two evils!!!"

No, I choose the best of the available viable possibilities offered to me -- and grow up, why don't you, all of life is about selecting the best choice available under a particular set of circumstances, and if everyone actually did it, instead of fantasizing about what could be in the best of all possible worlds, things would be better all around.)

When I look at John Kerry and John Edwards and compare both of them to George W. Bush on that basis, one-on-one, they are both clearly so much better that it's off the scale, but that's mostly because Bush is so execrably bad that he's playing in another, decidedly minor, league. Comparing the two of them to each other is more difficult, and I'm not yet prepared to pick one over the other (even though I will have to do so in the next 10 days), but I do know that I don't have any real problem with either of them.

I write this to clear up any ambiguity or confusion I may have inadvertantly caused by writing so often about Kerry's "electability bubble". I do believe that's the case, that people may well be deciding on Kerry on the basis of an illusion generated by a feedback loop, but that doesn't mean that I have anything serious against Kerry. If he turns out to be the nominee, I'll happily and enthusiastically support him, and the same is true of Edwards (and was true of Clark and Dean and Gephardt -- I'd've had problems with Lieberman, but I'd've voted for him anyway).

I do have some serious concerns about the number of "affordances" that Kerry's personality and record provide for Rove to conduct a negative campaign against him, but I have similar (although different) concerns about Edwards.

So, just to be clear, I don't think that Kerry is a disaster and that he cannot beat Bush. (In that respect I was incorrect when I wrote that I "entirely" agree with Publius -- I intended to indicate that I agreed with his analysis of the "electability" illusion.) I still don't know who I will vote for a week from Tuesday, and certainly ability to beat Bush will play a part in that decision, but voting for Kerry is still very much an option.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/21/2004 11:52:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Bush/AWOL coverage taking last, gasping breaths?

The Bush/AWOL coverage does indeed seem to be dying. From an update to an earlier post, here are my most recent comments. (The graphs referred to are here.)

So I'm ready to throw in the towel and say that we're seeing the death-throes of the coverage of this story. On the 19th, "National Guard" adds fell from 233 to 72, the lowest amount since the 7th (on the 8th the "NG" adds went from 23 to 593). This precipitous dip was masked a little by a small surge in "AWOL" adds on the 19th (they went from 34 to 132, their highest since Friday 13th), but there's no hiding the fact that, baring something to kick up the amount of coverage once more, all the count lines are flattenting out and the adds lines trending towards zero.

I very much hope that the fact that there's been nothing from the Democrats on this for over a week now is an indication of a positive strategy on their part (i.e. that they feel they need to wait a bit and not appear over-eager to smear Bush, or something like that) and not simply due to the fact that they aren't paying any attention to nurturing this story along. As I wrote yesterday, perhaps they think they've gotten out of it everything they could, but the White House document dump doesn't answer all the outstanding questions, and indeed raises some new ones (check Calpundit), so it would be a shame to allow them to get away with quelling the public interest in this issue by simply throwing paper at it. No trial attorney worth his salt would allow an adversary to do that, and the Democrats needs to be the advocate for this story, pushing it forward until it is resolved one way or the other. That seems, now, unlikely to happen unless something new breaks and the opportunity to comment again appears unbidden.

I think that not being pro-active about this is a big mistake, but what do I know?

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/21/2004 03:59:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, February 20, 2004

Answer hazy, ask again later

Too tired, and a little depressed, to post today. We'll see about tomorrow.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/20/2004 11:04:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Getting an inkling before the fact

Before the results were in in Wisconsin, Wonkette wrote:

We love it when TV talking heads pretend they haven't seen exit polls. Chris Matthews and company keep referring to what might happen after Wisconsin ends up a "close two-man race," and then backpedaling, "I mean, if that's what happens."

As I've written before, you can pretty much tell what the exit polls have told the networks by how they frame their coverage, which is why withholding the data from the public for their own good is something of a crock. I mean, it's only human that if I have information that says that candidate X is going to cream candidate Y, but I can't talk about it, I'm not going to precede the release of that information with teasers suggesting that candidate Y is going to win in an upset, because doing sowould make me look ridiculous when the real stuff comes out. Instead, I'm going to frame my coverage in the way that makes me look as smart and as knowledgeable as possible without actually giving anything away. That's just human nature, and smart business sense.

It's a little like old-style Kremlinology, determining who is in favor and who's on the outs by who's standing next to whom at the May Day parade, but watching the news channels in the hours before the polls close can definitely give you a strong inkling about what's going to happen. (Given what Wonkette wrote about Chris Matthews' inability to hold it in, I guess I'll have to hold my nose and watch some more of MSNBC the next time.)

Postscript: Of course, the exit polls have been available in various places, Slate and National Review Online, and then reposted on the blogs, but usually they only give percentages and not analysis of the whys and wherefores, which you can sniff out by watching how the news channels are setting up to report the results.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/19/2004 01:29:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


More about "electability"

Publius disputes Kerry's actual electability:

[T]he logic behind Kerry's appeal goes something like this: Even though Democrats aren't particularly excited about Kerry, they're voting for him because they think he could beat Bush. So, they're voting for him because of the perception of electability. Thus, Kerry's only appeal is the perception that he can beat Bush. Period. Here's the problem with that logic: The Democrats' strategy - picking someone with no real appeal only because they think he can beat someone they hate - is a great strategy for selecting a candidate who can win 45% of the vote. It's a horrible strategy for picking someone who can win 51%.

What Democrats fail to grasp is that not everyone hates Bush. Let me say it again - not everyone hates Bush
. One more time - NOT EVERYONE HATES BUSH. Perhaps 45% do, but not 51%. And to get to 51%, a candidate must have some appeal other than "I can beat Bush." That's the flaw in Kerry's "electability" logic. It pre-assumes Bush hatred. Kerry gets a free pass from Democrats who don't really like him just because they have succumbed to the herd mentality that he's the most electable. But to beat Bush, a Democrat has to win independents and some Republicans. And these latter groups will not vote for someone who lacks appeal just because he could possibly beat Bush. And why not? BECAUSE NOT EVERYONE HATES BUSH. And that, in a nutshell, is why Kerry cannot beat Bush. He has no appeal other than the perception that he can beat Bush - and that's an insufficient justification for being President. It might get him 45% of the vote, but not 51%. Look, I live in the South - I read conservative blogs and magazines. And I actually talk to real Republicans every single day. And as hard as it is for liberals to get their fat heads around it, not everyone hates Bush.

The Democratic voters - so historically savvy in picking nominees - are making a tragic error by assuming that 51% of Americans hate Bush. It's flawed logic. People won't vote for a candidate who has no appeal. And independents and Reagan Democrats will not abandon Bush for a candidate whose only appeal is the perception that he can beat Bush. That won't be enough to convince them because they don't hate Bush. Independents and moderate Republicans must be given a reason to leave Bush - they need to be inspired. They need to hear a compelling meta-theme that speaks to them.

Candidates need themes - meta-themes. What's Kerry's? Right now, it's "People Think I Can Beat Bush - Have you seen my polls?" Candidates need to be inspiring. [Emphasis in original. -- Ed]

Obviously, I post this because I agree with it entirely and it's been something I've been saying for a while now. The Democrats voting for Kerry (or Edwards for that matter) because they believe he's more "electable" than the other candidates have been sucked into the downward spiral of a feedback loop, and it's one in which the noise has already begun to drown out the signal. The initial idea is a good one, that the Democratic candidate should be able to defeat Bush, but instead of using actual real-world information to decide which one of the candidates has a better chance of doing that, the whole concept gets reified into something called "electability." Then, once Kerry has been annointed as the candidate with the most amount of this new attribute, voters latch on to him, so Kerry wins primaries, which means that voters in the next state are even more convinced that he's got more "electability" mojo and they vote for him and so on and so on to create a mass illusion about Kerry's "electability".

I also want the Democratic candidate to be the person who has the greatest chance of beating Bush, because beating Bush is the paramount consideration in this election, but I want to make that decision based, as I said, on some real-world information. In the real-world, Presidential elections aren't decided by the popular vote (and usually not by corrupt decisions byt e Supreme Court), they're decided in the Electoral College.

The hard fact is that demographics and voting patterns being what they are, many states will be next to impossible to move from one party's column into the others: New York and Massachusetts aren't all of a sudden going to vote for a Republican presidential candidate, and Montana and Kansas aren't going Democratic. The states in which the election will be decided are those in which either party has a chance of moving the vote to their advantage. This means that what we need to base our decision on is "How well will this particular candidate do in the swing states?" and not "Does this candidate outpoll Bush in national match-ups?" and certainly not "Do I and other Democrats think this candidate is 'electable'?"

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/19/2004 11:52:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


What's right is right

San Francisco Chronical columnist Mark Morford:

What, really, is so wrong about [gay marriage]? What is the horrible threat about two adults who love each other so intensely, so purely, that they're willing to commit to a lifetime of being together and sleeping together and arguing over who controls the remote? And what government body dares to claim a right to legislate against it?

It is a question no group, no homophobic senator, no piece of antigay legislation, no BushCo stump speech, no Bible-humping pastor has been able to answer with any clarity or conviction.

They can only mumble about immorality and quote some vague Scripture about sodomy that makes them all tingly, as wary biblical scholars all over the world roll their eyes and point to a thousand proofs that demonstrate, over and over again, how the Bible is basically a reinterpreted regurgitated piece of classic patriarchal misogynistic mythmaking that says exactly what the church rewrote it to say.

But I might have part of an answer. From what I can glean from some of my hate mail and the general conservative outcry, here is what the homophobes fear about same-sex marriage: bestiality.

That is, they are utterly terrified that same-sex marriage is a slippery slope of permissive debauchery that will lead to the utter breakdown of social rules and sexual mores, to people being allowed to marry their dogs, or their own dead grandmothers, or chairs, or three hairy men from Miami Beach.

In short, to the neocon Right, a nation that allows gays to marry is a nation with no boundaries and no condoms and where all sorts of illicit disgusting behaviors will soon be legal and be forced upon them, a horrific tribal wasteland full of leeches and flying bugs and scary sex acts they only read about in chat rooms and their beloved "Left Behind" series of cute apocalypse-porn books.

You know, just like how giving blacks the right to own their own land meant we had to give the same rights to house plants and power tools, or how granting women the right to vote meant it was a slippery slope until we gave suffrage to feral cats and sea slugs and rusty hubcaps.

It seems so clear and obvious to me, so matter-of-fact, it's always a wonder that everyone doesn't see it that way.

The link to the Morford column came from Eschaton, where Atrios also makes the very telling point that prior to the Supreme Court decision that ruled anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional, 94% of whites opposed interracial marriages.

This really one of those cases of what's right, is just right, and no amount of popular opposition will change that.

(Which is not to say that purely as a matter of strategy it might not be better to try to get civil unions more widely legitimatized before tackling the thornier problem of same-sex marriages, but that doesn't change the fact that the end result should be equality for gay couples who wish to marry.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/19/2004 11:17:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A baby step forward to real information

OK, this is a start, a tiny baby step, to getting the kind of information we actually need about how Kerry (or Edwards) will do against Bush:

A new poll conducted by Zogby International for The O’Leary Report and Southern Methodist University’s John Tower Center from February 12-15, 2004 of 1,209 likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points found that if the election for president were held today, Democrat John Kerry would edge George W. Bush 46% to 45% in the “blue states” – or states won by Al Gore in the 2000 election. In the “red states,” or states won by George W. Bush in 2000, however, Bush wins handily by a 51% to 39% margin.

This is better than the head-to-head national beauty contest match-ups, which are basically irrelevant because of the Electoral College, but it's still too general. We need to take those states that are projected to be "in play" (i.e. states in which the percentage spread between the candidates was in single digits, or states which went to one party's candidate despite a history of voting for the other party, or states in which demographic changes might be expected to move it one way or the other) and get polling data from those states. Then we'd have a little better idea of who can actually beat Bush in the real world, as opposed to the fantasy world we like to live in where the national popular vote means something.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/19/2004 10:34:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

About that honorable discharge...

Bush and his people keep throwing around the fact that Bush got an honorable discharge from the Texas Air National Guard as if it proved something, as if it were the gold standard for indicating exemplary service. I never thought that was the case, and now Phillip Carter in the Chicago Tribune confirms what I thought:

Bush did receive an honorable discharge, but such a document is the lowest common denominator of military performance--it takes a lot of bad behavior to earn anything other than an honorable discharge. [Emphasis added -- Ed]

[via Tapped]

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/18/2004 11:52:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Tapped: Dean to quit

Tara McKelvey on Tapped reports that Dean will announce today at 1pm that he's quitting. I don't disbelieve it, but the problem is that the CNN report she references doesn't seem to say that explicitly.

Guess I'll have to wait and see.

As she writes, if Dean is quitting, how he does so could be vitally important to the Democratic party, who very much need to make sure that the Deaniacs stay in the fold, and that the party and the eventual candidate (whether Kerry or Edwards or someone else) get the benefit of their energy, enthusiasm and funding capabilty.

Update (7pm): I watched Dean's speech this afternoon, but haven't had time to write about it. (Being a full-time daddy -- or "primary care-giver," as we're called nowadays -- for a 4 1/2 year old is, well, a full-time job, and there was laundry to do.)

I think Dean did as well as could be expected. I didn't think he would endorse another candidate, nor will he until the convention itself. He made the ongoing status of his organization seem as palatable and plausible as he could, despite some snipes at the "Washington establishment." Even though he said he would not run as a third party candidate and would work fo the nominee and do all he can to defeat Bush, I wish he had been more specifically direct about urging his supporters to follow his lead and support whoever is the Democratic nominee. (That was there in the subtext of what he was saying, but it would have been nice if it had been more up front.) He did urge them to stay involved, but didn't directly state that the Democratic nominee, whoever that should end up being, needs every single vote they can get, especially (or primarily) in swing states, and that all his followers should support the nominee and vote for him.

Still, overall, I found it surprisingly moving, heartfelt and well within the limits of what the party should have expected from him. As many people have said, and will continue to say, that fact that we have a real chance to beat Bush in November is due in large part to the backbone which Dean was instrumental in forcing the party to develop. Without that, we'd probably still be DLCing ourselves into defeat.

It's good he was in, and now it's good that's he's out. I still don't understand what about the man turned people off so badly, but when I realized that many people had that same reaction, a visceral dislike of the guy, and it wasn't going to go away, that's when I was sure that he couldn't win. (Actually, the turning point for me was when somebody on The Gadflyer reported that Dean's embedded press contingent didn't like him.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/18/2004 11:14:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Found it!: Bush/AWOL Google News tracking continues [updated 2/28]

I've been tracking the number of hits I get on Google News for a number of different search terms (here, here, and here), and then graphing the result, in order to get a sense of what the trajectory of the coverage of the Bush/AWOL story is. Up until a few days ago, everything was going along fine, but lately the number of added stories had begun to fall, and the curves were all flattening out. My interpretation of this was the the story was dying and needed to be resuscitated by another hard-hitting outburst by a high-ranking Democrat.

That may still be true, the story may still need to be goosed to move it along, but I've found out now that things aren't nearly as flat as I thought they were. It seems that I may have missed out on an obvious search term, and it is that term which is now driving the coverage.

To recap: At the beginning the story was being driven by "deserter" as a result of Moore's charge and Peter Jennings referring to it in a debate. Soon after, though, Max Cleland and Terry McAuliffe and others started to push the "AWOL" aspect of it, and it was this that began to drive the story, accounting for most of the hits, while "deserter" basically fell to nothing. When recently the number of "AWOL" adds starting dropping, the totals started to drop as well, and thus there was the flattening out of the curve we saw.

I was also monitoring "service record" as a way to check out more neutral terms than "deserter" and "AWOL", but the hits for this never amounted to much. It seems now that this was the case because I chose the wrong neutral term to search on. When you look for unique hits for "National Guard" ("unique" meaning that the stories returned do not contain any of the other search terms) an entirely different story emerges.

"National Guard" started off with no hits around the middle of January, but gradually grew to 20-60 hits a day by the end of the month and into the beginning of February. On February 8th, though, it jumped up a tremendous amount, to 577 hits, then went to 329, then 725 and then started falling off a little, still staying fairly high. (The latest count was 165. In a sense, then, the White House press corps' grilling of the press guy about the economic report is a result of a new attitude created, in part, by the reporting of the AWOL story.)

So, overall, the coverage is falling off, as it appeared to be from the old data, but it's not going away nearly as fast as it seemed. That's the good news -- the bad news is that the emphasis in the media is clearly on an "objective" and neutral description, rather than on the charge that Bush was AWOL. But the good news outweighs the bad, because if interest in the story is still relatively high in the media, it can still be goosed up with the right kind of intervention. It just doesn't have to happen as quickly as I thought it did to prevent the story from dying. The story isn't dying, it's slacking off, and needs to be re-spun to move it in the right direction.

Once again, the graphs are here, and now reflect the data for "National Guard". Counts of stories are on the top graph and daily adds on the bottom. Once again, I'll use the space below this for daily updates.


2/28: Flatlined.

2/26: Status quo.

2/25: Flat, flat, flat -- AWOL, RIP.

2/24: I've corrected the "National Guard" adds for the governors story. Everything else is pretty much status quo: declining adds & flattening counts.

2/23: An upward blip, but I don't think it will hold up. Also "National Guard" adds are being contaminated by a story about state governors being concerned about the overuse of their states' National Guard units.

2/22: Nothing much to report, except that the spike in "AWOL" adds on the 19th that I reported yesterday seems to have been an anomaly caused by the Google News search engine. It has been corrected away, and the Total Adds curve now declines more gracefully. (At time, Google News will return variant numbers to the same search inquiry, and these numbers will sometimes return upon multiple inquiries. I wonder if this might be caused by being linked to one particular Google computer? In any event, when it happens, I do the same search multiple times and take the values which comes up most oftern.)

2/21: So I'm ready to throw in the towel and say that we're seeing the death-throes of the coverage of this story. On the 19th, "National Guard" adds fell from 233 to 72, the lowest amount since the 7th (on the 8th the "NG" adds went from 23 to 593). This precipitous dip was masked a little by a small surge in "AWOL" adds on the 19th (they went from 34 to 132, their highest since Friday 13th), but there's no hiding the fact that, baring something to kick up the amount of coverage once more, all the count lines are flattenting out and the adds lines trending towards zero.

I very much hope that the fact that there's been nothing from the Democrats on this for over a week now is an indication of a positive strategy on their part (i.e. that they feel they need to wait a bit and not appear over-eager to smear Bush, or something like that) and not simply due to the fact that they aren't paying any attention to nurturing this story along. As I wrote yesterday, perhaps they think they've gotten out of it everything they could, but the White House document dump doesn't answer all the outstanding questions, and indeed raises some new ones (check Calpundit), so it would be a shame to allow them to get away with quelling the public interest in this issue by simply throwing paper at it. No trial attorney worth his salt would allow an adversary to do that, and the Democrats needs to be the advocate for this story, pushing it forward until it is resolved one way or the other. That seems, now, unlikely to happen unless something new breaks and the opportunity to comment again appears unbidden.

I think that not being pro-active about this is a big mistake, but what do I know?

2/20: Flattening out continues. If the Democrats have any intention of really capitalizing in this (which appears not to be the case), they're running out of time. (Of course, one can argue that the damage has been done, that the point was never to "prove" that Bush was technically AWOL, but to put some more chinks into Bush's credibility which will make it easier for people to believe the truth about the other, more important, things that Bush and his administration have lied about.)

2/19: No change in the trends. "Deserter" is all but dead, with adds in the single digits, and "AWOL" hangs on by a thread with adds in the 50s fading down to the 20s. "National guard" continues strong, with adds on the 13th being adjusted upward from the 200s to the 400s as Google News completes its catalog. I'd expect the "National Guard" numbers on the 14th and 15th to go up as well in the next two days. This level of activity is still far lower than just a week ago, but the story's not dead yet.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/18/2004 04:27:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Koufax Awards

The Koufax Awards for liberal/left blogs are in, and Atrios won Best Blog for Eschaton for the second year in a row. (Digby has called Atrios "the Beatles of blogging.")

All the winners in other categories (congratulations to them all!) are listed on Wampum, but I especilly want to note:

(I do wish that Kevin Drum had won something for Calpundit, though.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/18/2004 12:21:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, February 17, 2004


This is from via Making Light. I've tried it, and it works -- and it's really weird that it does.

While sitting at your desk, lift your right foot slightly off the floor and make clockwise circles with your foot. Now, while doing this, draw the number "6" in the air with your right hand. Your foot will change direction..... counter clockwise...

You can't help it!

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/17/2004 11:25:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Interesting in Wisconsin

You can tell that an election's going to be interesting when the networks don't call a winner 2.5 seconds after the polls close. CNN would only say that their exit polls show Edwards result as "surprisingly strong" and that Dean will finish a "distant, distant third". Fox was more specific, showing exit polling with Kerry getting 39%, Edwards 34% and Dean 18%, which is indeed much tighter than was expected after the last polls.

So as far as we know right now, at around 9:15pm, there's not going to be anything for Dean to cling to in Wisconsin. He should shut it down, now, and not risk alienating the rest of the party.

CNN is now showing 1% of the vote counted Edwards 40 / Kerry 39 / Dean 16 -- that seems unlikely to hold up.

9:53 CNN and MSNBC projecting Kerry as the winner, but the counted votes (23%) have both Kerry and Edwards at 38%, with Edwards ahead by a hundred votes or so.

BTW, Wolfie keeps saying it's "almost a third of the vote" -- apparently he doesn't know that 1/3 is 33%.

11:30 With 85% in, Kerry 39% / Edwards 35% / Dean 18%. CNN is reporting signs that Dean is preparing to shut things down. This puts us pretty much where I hoped we'd be, and it's a win-win situation. Kerry gets to claim a win, while Edwards gets momentum from a suprisingly strong finish. Dean will drop out (or fall away, which is pretty much the same thing), leaving lots of media attention on Kerry v. Edwards for the next two weeks. That's two more weeks of two candidates slamming George Bush, two more weeks of talking about Democratic policies and programs, two more weeks to remind people how bad things are right now, two more weeks in which Kerry gets field tested as a candidate. Edwards seems, from what I've seen tonight, to be commited to running against Kerry without slagging him off,which means he won't be doing Karl Rove's work for him, and he preserves the possibility of Kerry/Edwards.

This, it seems to me, really is the best of all possible worlds right now.

11;50 BTW, I realized in the middle of an e-mail discussion this afternoon with Kevin Hayden (of The American Street) that's there's really no reason for Kerry to announce his vice presidential preference early. Presumably, one selects a running mate for what that person brings to the ticket. Geographical balance is often cited, or the ability to win particular "battleground" states for their votes in the Electoral College, but they also provide additional ammunition to fight a particular battle. Clark, for instance, would give Kerry even more juice to argue national security issues against Bush, whereas Edwards provides more on economic issues. So, if the choice was just between these two guys (and we know that it isn't, nor should it be), which one you pick rather commits the campaign to focus on that issue.

Problem is what if the economy starts taking off, and Kerry has announced Edwards as his choice for v.p.? What if, miracle of miracle, the situation in Iraq starts getting better, and Bush can pull out troops and hand over the country without starting a civil war, but Kerry has commited to Clark? In either situation, Kerry is screwed. He's set the course of the campaign too early and can't react to events as swiftly as he should be able to. So either Kerry should name someone who doesn't commit the campaign in quite the same way, or he should just wait and ignore the nabobs of the media who salivate at getting an early v.p. choice.

(To be fair, I was an early proponent of Dean/Clark, and of Dean announcing that pairing early, because I felt the strategic and tactical advantages it would provide were too great to lose. But that was an entirely different situation, and my feeling is Kerry really has nothing to gain by waiting until the convention and making his choice based on the situation that prevails closer to Election Day.)

(Kevin, incidentally, cites a good reason why Kerry is unlikely to pick Edwards: choosing a guy who's younger, more handsome, and a better speaker only accentuates that Kerry is older, odd looking and a boring speaker, and people start to wonder if the ticket shouldn't be the other way around.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/17/2004 09:17:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A lesson to be learned

Dave Johnson on The American Street lays out an important truth that can be difficult to learn, which is that MARKETING WORKS. You can sell people something using sleazy and obvious techniques, and this is something we have to learn, because the opposition has made full and effective use of it:

How many of you think you are too smart to fall for ads and blatant sales pitches? You probably are, and that is the problem that I am trying to write about today. The very fact that you are reading this means that you get your information online, and that you seek out alternative sources of deeper information than you get from your newspapers and TV. I am trying to say that you and I are informed and that blinds us to some realities. The very fact of OUR awareness can mislead us about most voters because most voters are NOT particularly informed at all. And they are busy or have other reasons that they are not likely to ever become highly informed about what is going on. Our state of informedness causes us to lose sight of what it is like to only hear what I call the “surface” messages that circulate – messages like “Dean angry” and “Edwards nice.” I think THIS is the reason that 50% of Americas STILL believe that Iraq was responsible for the 9/11 attack – because what news they DO hear has the President using 9/11 and Iraq in the same sentence repeatedly. Things like that. It isn't going to change. We need to learn to hear what THEY are hearing, and understand how those things are going to affect them.

This truth ties into the needs for liberal infrastructure on a par with that built by the right-wing over the last 30 years, the Heritage Foundations and Weekly Standards. It is from these places that policy ideas are born, scrubbed, refined, and finally packaged in ways that are consumer-friendly and effective for selling. It is there that the Estate Tax becomes the Death Tax, and we need an equivalent that will counter and turn the Death Tax into the Billionaire's Tax.

Through our emphasis on rational policy making we have allowed a deadly Political Marketing Gap to develop, and to a large extent that's what killed us recently. You can take "Compassionate Conservatism" and riddle it with holes by use of rational analysis and reasonable argument, but it won't kill it because once it's out there it's out there, it's in people's minds and can't be erased. (Lawyers would say that you can't unring the bell once it's rung.) The only thing you can do when a meme gets stuck like that is to override it with another meme that is catchier, stickier and altogther more powerful, and that's what we've been missing and are still missing to a large extent.

Edwards gets it -- "Two Americas" is a powerful idea, but more than that, it's catchy, it simple to understand and easy to regurgitate, it come packaged with powerful images which stick in the memory and can be recalled without even willing it. Where's the equivalent meme for Kerry? "Bring it on" is a slogan, a battlecry for the faithful, it's not meaningful unless you're already on Kerry's wavelength, and it won't win over any voters wondering who to vote for.

If Kerry's going to be the guy, Kerry desperately needs a meme.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/17/2004 11:53:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, February 16, 2004

Graphic Bush

Uggabugga has one of Quiddity's patented diagrams (which are vaguely reminiscent of a good Rube Goldberg contraption) which lays out the Bush Family Tree, based in part on information Kevin Phillip used in his new book about the Bushes, American Dynasty

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/16/2004 09:41:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


How does Bush know what he knows?

That's the question that Publius asks on Legal Fiction:

[L]et's assume that Bush and Cheney are not consciously making decisions that they think are bad for America. In other words, let's assume they're not evil, as many of my friends seem to think. The truly interesting question is epistemological - how does Bush come to know what he thinks is good for America. Upon what evidence does Bush come to a conclusion that a given policy will either hurt or help working class families? These questions form the heart of my critique of this administration. It's not that they are consciously making bad decisions, it's that they are incapable of knowing what's good. The world of Bush and Cheney is a bubble world - a privileged existence in which they are never forced to interact with ordinary Americans.

Let's take Bush - and let's assume that Bush sits down in the Oval Office and says to himself, "How will this policy affect working class Americans." So here's the problem - because Bush has never interacted with ordinary Americans, how can he possibly know? He was born into one of Connecticut's most presitigious families. He attended East Coast prep schools. He went to Yale and Harvard Business School. Then, he worked for big business and for the Texas Rangers. As both Governor and President, he spends his time around rich businessmen and lobbyists. He crisscrosses the country attending $2,000-a-plate dinners. He doesn't go out and interact with voters. In part because of legitimate security concerns, protestors are blocked from his fundraising trips. And when he does give a speech, it's usually a very controlled environment where his views will not be challenged. So I'll ask again - how does he know a thing about the needs of ordinary Americans? I'm not saying this as a campaign talking point and I'm not arguing that Bush is bad or doesn't care - I'm asking how Bush comes to know, in an epistemological sense, what Americans need. What's his evidence and where does he get it?

He told Brit Hume he doesn't read the papers. O'Neill portrays him as a man who depends upon the political wing (i.e. Rove and Co.) for all his information. So, if Bush gets everything secondhand, the secondhand sources must be trusted to convey the needs and fears and concerns of ordinary Americans. I'm not sure Rove can do this. Again, even if I concede that Bush is a "good guy," I question whether his bubble-world of privilege can provide him with the raw data points that are necessary to determine what will help people. It's for this reason that he can satisfy himself that free trade is good for people - because it looks good on the Wall Street Journal front page. It's for this same reason that Cheney can say that deficits don't matter - because higher interests rates don't affect anything other than his stock portfolio. If you had to mortgage a house or finance college, then deficits would sure as hell matter. But Cheney, like Bush, now lives in a world of fund-raising and lobbying where he only interacts with people who are disproportionately wealthy and favor pro-business policies. This isolation skews the data he uses to make judgments.

That reminds me of this, from Michael Tomasky's New York Times review of Ron Suskind's book The Price of Loyalty, about Paul O'Neill's time in the Bush administration:

When O'Neill worked in the Nixon and Ford White Houses, Suskind writes, he served presidents whom he respected as policy makers, whatever their other faults, for two reasons: first, they were knowledgeable about the details of policy; and second, they made it a point to have their aides present them with different, and sometimes starkly warring, points of view. Nixon called on the Office of Management and Budget (where O'Neill worked) to prepare so-called Brandeis briefs, named after Justice Louis Brandeis of the Supreme Court, that presented thorough analyses of opposing arguments and made everyone ''really think deeply about the ideal of good government and how to get there,'' in O'Neill's words. The people in the room may have all been from one political party or shared a general world view. But they understood that when spending the people's money and acting on behalf of the entire country, including that segment that did not vote for their president, their obligation to fact-based inquiry and rigorous testing of hypotheses was self-evident.

This book serves as that standard's obituary notice. First, Bush himself is portrayed as disturbingly unengaged. From O'Neill's first meeting with him through his last, Bush asked some questions here and there about politics and perception, but he rarely asked a specific question on a policy matter. The weekend after the Sept. 11 attacks, when O'Neill was among the group invited to Camp David to discuss responses, he espied a large stack of intelligence briefings brought by the director of central intelligence, George Tenet, and found himself thinking, ''I hope the president really reads this carefully. It's kind of his job.''

Second, O'Neill smelled at many high-level meetings the odor of a conversation set up in advance to drive the discussion toward the conclusion that Rove and the political team had already settled upon. One example: At a meeting on steel tariffs, which the administration put in place in 2002 against all free-market principle, O'Neill could tell where things were going when the United States trade representative, Robert Zoellick, ''made several oblique references to 'political realities.' '' The pattern repeated itself over and over, on tax cuts and the economy and energy policy and Iraq. In time, O'Neill grew aghast, and went to his old friend Cheney to suggest that the administration try Brandeis briefs. But Cheney -- the book's chief villain and, if Suskind and O'Neill are to be believed, our functional president -- just sat passively. ''He thanked Paul, as always, 'for his sharp insights,' '' Suskind writes. And that was the end of it.

"Brandeis briefs" are one kind of mechanism that a president (or any executive in danger of being isolated by virtue of the necessities and perquisites of office) can use to make sure they get as rounded and complete a view of things as possible, and the rejection of those mechanisms, in favor of more incestuous sources of data, typifies all that is wrong with this administration.

To further compound the problem, even if the president's advisors wanted to give him honest and frank appraisals from various viewpoints, they are incapable of doing so by the nature of who they are and how they were selected, since they administration insists on both intense loyalty (or, actually, fealty) and on lockstep adherence to accepted ideology with only a small amount of variation permitted. Those are hardly conditons which lend themselves to frank and open discussion, such as a president more secure in his intellect and manhood would not only allow, but actively encourage.

I don't necessarily think that Bush is evil. Weak, yes. Intellectually stunted, yes. Uncertain about his virility, yes. But not necessarily evil per se. (About Cheney I have some reservations, but let's say for the sake of argument that he's not inherently evil either.)

Still, it hardly matters, because it does not require evil people in order that evil things be done. History is rife with evil that resulted from the actions of people who carried with them nothing but the very best of intentions, or who acted as best as they could under the circumstances, by the standards of their time and with the information available to them. So if evil can be done by good men, then certainly it can also be done by ethically- and morally- challenged men like Bush and Cheney, whether or not they intend it.

Which is to say that we should judge their administration by what it does and the results that come about from their actions or failures to act, and by this standard one could certainly make a case that evil has resulted from the works of Bush & Cheney, regardless of their intentions. We will likely be digging our way out of the various economic, political and international morasses they've gotten us into for many, many years to come.

The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid "dens of crime" that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern.
C.S. Lewis
The Screwtape Letters (1943)

"A thoroughly nasty business concern" is as good a short description of the Bush administration as I've seen for quite a while.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/16/2004 09:21:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A straight-forward denial

Statement from woman and parents about rumors linking her to Sen. John Kerry

The Associated Press
Monday, February 16, 2004

(02-16) 10:00 PST (AP) --

A statement released Monday by Alexandra Polier, who has been the subject of rumors linking her to Sen. John Kerry:

"For the last several days I have seen Internet and tabloid rumors relating to me and Senator John Kerry. Because these stories were false, I assumed the media would ignore them. It seems that efforts to peddle these lies continue, so I feel compelled to address them. I have never had a relationship with Senator Kerry, and the rumors in the press are completely false. Whoever is spreading these rumors and allegations does not know me, but should know the pain they have caused me and my family. I am in Kenya with my fiance visiting his family, and we ask that the press respect our privacy and leave all of us alone."

A statement by Terry and Donna Polier, the parents of Alexandra Polier:

"We have spoken to our daughter and the allegations that have been made regarding her are completely false and unsubstantiated. We love and support her 100 percent and these unfounded rumors are hurtful to our entire family. We appreciate the way Senator Kerry has handled the situation, and intend on voting for him for president of the United States."

You can't get a more straight-forward full-denial denial than that, but somehow I have a feeling that it'll take more than blanket denials from all the principals involved to put a stake through the heart of this rumor. If nothing else, the Freeper community will believe to their dying days that Kerry paid her off or blackmailed her into it.

[Thanks to Polly for the link]

Postscript: Don't miss Hesiod's demonstration of how unfounded and unscrupulous speculation can re-spin this story to the aid of the right.

I hope that Polier will leave things just as they are. Releasing a statement to AP was an excellent way to get her story out, but there's going to be a fantastic amount of pressure on her right now to appear on Larry King, the Today Show and every other half-baked media outlet. I hope she resists them all, because every time she makes a media appearance it will give more ammunition to those who will say that she's somehow in this thing for publicity or personal aggrandizement.

In this instance, discretion is indeed the better part of valor.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/16/2004 02:22:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



On the vice presidential front, via Political Wire, according to the New York Post, Bill Clinton's been lobbying for Kerry to take on Clark as his running mate:

FORMER President Bill Clinton, stung by how poor a presidential contender Wesley Clark turned out to be, worked aggressively behind the scenes late last week to pressure John Kerry to pick the retired general as his running mate.

"The former president has been calling people, including elected officials in New York, saying that Clark would make a great vice-presidential candidate," a well-known Democratic activist told The Post.

"He's pushing hard because this is a credibility issue for Clinton since everybody knows Clark was the guy he created, but yet Clark did so poorly when he ran."

Look at the source of this before giving it any great due.

Personally, I've been going back and forth in trying to decide who I think would be the better choice for Kerry's v.p., Clark or Edwards (ignoring the strong possibility that it won't be either of them), and I'm not ready yet to come out in favor of one over the other. Clark would obviously make for the strongest national security team that the Democrats have fielded in my lifetime, but he's such a poor campaigner (not due to anything but lack of experience) that he might well be a detriment overall. Edwards is, clearly, a great campaigner, and could bring with him his neo-populist "Two Americas" message, which perhaps makes him the strongest contender, assuming that he isn't tempted to go after Kerry in the next couple of weeks.

Probably the best scenario would be to have Edwards as veep, but keep Clark signed on and campaigning by announcing Kerry's intention to have him in his cabinet as secretary of defense or state, using him as this year's Colin Powell. (I've seen it suggested that Clark be made Ambassador to the U.N., but that's such an inside baseball position that I don't think it would have any great impact on the race. But if that's what Clark wants to sign on -- despite my feeling that he's not really qualified for the job -- Kerry could certainly afford to promise it.)

Postscript: Political Oddsmaker is listing Edwards as 4 to 1 (20%) and Clark as 10 to 1 (9.1%). He rates Bill Richardson (governor of New Mexico, at 9 to 2, or 18%) and Ed Rendell (governor of Pennsylvania, at 9 to 1, or 10%) as having better odds than Clark.

Also in his "Top Tier" of potential v.p.'s are Senators Bob Graham (Florida, 10 to 1, 9.1%), Evan Bayh (Indiana, 12 to 1, 7.7%) and Bill Nelson (Florida, 15 to 1, 6.3%) and Dick Gephardt (20 to 1, 4.8%).

Notable "Long Shots" include Diane Feinstein (30 to 1); Sam Nunn, Max Cleland, Lieberman, Hillary, Dick Durbin, ex-Treasury Secretary Ron Rubin, and Joe Biden (100 to 1 each); as well as Howard Dean, Eliot Spitzer (crusading Attorney General here in NY), Arizona Senator Blanche Lincoln, John Breaux (NO!) and Al Gore (200 to 1 each).

He also rates the possibility of someone not on his list being chosen at a fairly high 30 to 1.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/16/2004 12:08:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



It doesn't even seem worth the effort to make predictions about Wisconsin. Kerry will win, and afterwards Dean will either drop out or put his campaign into neutral until Super Tuesday. I guess the only question is whether Edwards will beat out Dean for second place or not, but I have a feeling it won't take a second place win to keep Edwards in it for a couple of weeks.

Via Daily Kos, here's the latest released Zogby poll:

Kerry 47
Dean 23
Edwards 20
Kucinich 2
Sharpton 1

I have a feeling Edwards will surge and Dean will fall, if only because that's what Dean's been doing all along.

Update: Jerome Armstrong has more analysis of Wisconsin on Daily Kos.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/16/2004 12:05:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


An egomanical asshole

This news isn't good:

Former Green Party candidate Ralph Nader is poised to declare that he will seek the presidency again this year, this time as an independent and despite a vigorous effort by the left to dissuade him, according to friends and associates. "I think there's very little doubt," said Micah Sifry, author of a book on third-party politics and a longtime Nader watcher. "I think he's going to run."

[via Taegan Goddard's Political Wire]

The title of this entry says all that I want to say about a man who once worked diligently for the common good, but now...

At least he won't have the Green Party infrastructure (such as it is) to help him, so maybe be his candidacy will die on the vine. (In how many states will he be able to even get on the ballot without an organization to help?) And maybe people who voted for him in 2000 have had enough of the administration they helped to put into place and won't be tempted to make the same mistake again.

And maybe we need to take a closer look at Nader's early career to determine how much of what he did was in aid of helping society and how much was pure ego aggrandizement.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/16/2004 11:23:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Partch and me (a little bit)

For obvious reasons I've liked this section of Harry Partch's Barstow: Eight Hitchhiker Inscriptions from a Highway Railing at Barstow, California since I first heard it 30 years ago:

[spoken] It's January twenty-six. I'm freezing. Ed Fitzgerald, Age nineteen. five feet ten inches, black hair, brown eyes. Going home to Boston Massachusetts, It's four p.m., and I'm hungry and broke. I wish I was dead. But today I am a man.

[sung] Going home to Boston, yuh-huh, Massachusetts. It's four p.m., and I'm hungry and broke. I wish I was dead. But today I am a man -- Oh-- O, I'm going home-- to Boston, yuh-huh, Massachusetts.

This came to mind because someone, I don't know who, got here to unfutz by doing an MSN search on my name, Ed Fitzgerald, and when I checked on it, I was surprised to find that "edfitzgerald's unfutz" was the first hit returned. So, being curious, I Googled myself and was disappointed to find that I was only sixth (my Playbill bio).

So, having had a mild hit of egoboo, I looked over the other returns to the Google search and came across a reference to the Patch lyrics. I like Partch's music quite a bit, and, for some time, I tracked down most of the limited number of available recordings, including LPs put out by Partch on his own Gate 5 label, but lately I've lost track of some of the new stuff that's been released on CD, a situation I really should correct. I should also find the time to read the Gillmore biography of Partch, which sits neglected on a shelf with many other books on various topics, all waiting to be read. (Belated New Year's resolution: Less Internet, more books.)

Favorite Partch pieces: "Daphne of the Dunes" and "Castor & Pollux"

Favorite Partch memory: I never saw Partch perform or conduct his music, but when I was (briefly) in college, I spoke on the phone with Danlee Mitchell, Partch's protege about Partch in order to do an exercise for acting class based on him. (I'd also read his amazing book, Genesis of a Music, in which his irascible and idiosyncratic character comes through quite clearly. I especially loved that Partch destroyed all his juvenalia by burning them in a pot-bellied stove in what he called an artistic auto-da-fe. This enabled him to start writing the unique music he's now known for.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/16/2004 05:20:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Kevin Drum: Journalist

Yep, in his pursuit of various aspects of the Bush/AWOL story, Calpundit's Kevin Drum has most definitily crossed that hazy line between blogging (which generally means opinion mongering -- albeit in Kevin's case very thoughtful and intelligent opinions) and journalism, and I think we're better off for it.

I won't link to a specific story, just go over there and read whatever he's got up at the moment.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/16/2004 02:56:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Jay Rosen: Voices from the [Dean] Crash Site

In another essay worth examining, Jay Rosen, professor of journalism at NYU, provides an analysis of the role of the press in creating Dean the putative frontrunner:

The self-satisfaction [of the press] begins in the [its] claim to have mastered presidential campaigns, in the sense of knowing how the system works, "what it takes" to get elected. Journalists see themselves as political realists who don't have a horse in the race. They tend to identify with those who have a disciplined, professional interest in campaigning-- and lots of inside knowledge to share. Psychologically, this puts them closer to the professionals they write about than the public, whose bombardment by message the professionals are busy planning.

That's how political consultants became media stars. When you look at elections and see a horse race, you also see a consultant, handler, manager, or pollster as rich in the sort of knowledge you need to understand what's going in this election cycle. But it is only professionals who live elections as "cycles."

Common experience isn't like that. By absorbing, broadcasting and recycling the political insider's take on things, journalists have taught themselves to look at the public as a semi-predictable mass of potentially swayable voters, who will respond to the right message. Drip by drip, drop by drop, this acidic way of understanding people begins to influence the journalism you give them.

Strange information loops result. The public is told how the candidates plan to position themselves ("He's running as...") News stories appear about candidates trying to influence news stories about candidates because newsy expectations in Iowa are themselves making news in Iowa. Things like that.

Insiders can explain this (sometimes absurd) world best because they make their living from trying to win in it. Journalists, who are making a living at this too, have to report the race. The two groups understand each other, need each other, and see each other on the campaign trail. They know how to work together to glamorize inside knowledge without conspiring to do so. Maybe it's simpler. They have drinks together, and talk politics. It has an effect.

The national press has claimed mastery of the presidential campaign, not because it knows all, but because it knows--and it quotes--the people who really do know politics, from the inside. These are the pros. The rest of its knowledge comes from trooping to New Hampshire and Iowa and other places the candidates are found to see them live and watch them interact. Inside Baseball and Boys on the Bus: the self-satisfaction [...] is partly a complacency about these two knowledge streams.


The national press lives in a bubble of expectations [...], and it did in Iowa. It has its own aging "software"--the horse race, inside baseball, the boys and girls on the bus, spin alley, polls upon tracking polls, the money race, the endorsement derby, the Russert primary, the expectations game, the gotcha question, "he's running as..."--all designed to take the mystery out of campaign politics, to smooth it out, make it more predictable and thus reportable with existing tools. And with ideas carried over from previous campaigns going back at least to 1976 and Jimmy Carter's surprise in Iowa.

But the journalist's software (I also call it press think) sent all the wrong signals, and this led to system failure. The master narrative flunked its Iowa test. Everything you heard and read from us was wrong, said Howard Kurtz on January 19. ("The Pundits Blow It.") [Clay] Shirky wrote of the Deaniacs: "The way the campaign was organized helped inflate and sustain that bubble of belief, right up to the moment that the voters arrived." And the way campaign coverage was organized helped inflate and sustain a news bubble that lasted the same length of time. Clearly, the two bubbles influenced each other.

This came from Rosen's weblog, PressThink, which was unfamiliar to me, but which I'll be visiting again, soon. (In fact, I'm heading back right now to read "Why Are You Such a Loser, Dennis Kucinich?".)

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/16/2004 02:07:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Clay Shirky: Exiting Deanspace

In "Exiting Deanspace," Clary Shirky has what is, I think, a pretty good analysis of why the Dean campaign failed to live up to its supposed potential:

[T]he hard thing to explain is not how the Dean campaign blew such a huge lead, but rather why we ever thought that lead actually existed. Dean's campaign didn't just fail, it dissolved on contact with reality.

The answer, I think, is that we talked ourselves, but not the voters, into believing. And I think the way the campaign was organized helped inflate and sustain that bubble of belief, right up to the moment that the voters arrived.


Howard Dean had the best-funded, best-publicized bid to be the Democratic nominee; he was so widely understood to be in the lead that the inevitability of his victory was a broad topic of discussion. (Google "Howard Dean"+inevitable if you need independent confirmation.) Even the people disputing the posited inevitability burnished the idea; no one bother debunking the idea of, say, Kucinich's inevitability.

I've had a hard time processing his Iowa and New Hampshire losses because I'd spent months hearing about how well he was going to do. It has taken me two weeks to decide that my mental model - how could such a successful campaign suddenly do so badly? - was the problem.

Dean's campaign was never actually successful. It did many of the things successful campaigns do, of course - got press and raised money and excited people and even got potential voters to aver to campaign workers and pollsters that they would vote for him when the time came. When the time came, however, they didn't. The campaign never succeeded at making Howard Dean the first choice of any group of voters he faced, and it seems unlikely to do so today. [UPDATE: Dean did no better than third place in any of the 7 states voting on February 3rd; his added delegate count was closer to Al Sharpton's than to Kerry, Edwards, or Clark's.]

If this thesis - call it the 'mirage' thesis - is too strong for you, consider its cousin, where the campaign was doing well until the last few days. In this version, one New Hampshire voter in three dumped Dean after no event more momentous than a third-place showing in Iowa (rarely known to track to New Hampshire elections) and a little hootin' and hollerin' in the concession speech (to use Sharpton's memorable phrase). Not one Dean supporter in three, mind, one voter in three.

In this view, Dean's support was real, but so thin and vulnerable that a mere political pin-prick was enough to cause the whole thing to collapse. Call this the 'soap bubble' thesis; the only difference between it and the mirage thesis is that in some other version of the election, if Dean had done everything perfectly, he could have performed well. I leave the likelihood of a primary race going perfectly as an exercise for the reader, but neither model suggests a campaign prepared for the real world.


Prior to January, "Howard Dean" was pronounced "Anybody but Bush." The thing Dean did spectacularly right was to pick a fight with the President, a hugely polarizing and therefore energizing figure, on the issue most Democrats wanted to keep quiet about. Even if you'd been only been following politics casually, you would have known that Dean was the person who had most directly challenged Bush. For any Democrat whose primary motivation was not a bundle of particular policy proposals but the chance to send the current President home, Dean was the man of the hour.

In this view, the change in the poll numbers in January reflected not a transfer of votes from Dean to Kerry but rather from the general to the specific. Voter's polled as to their choices last year were not bound by their answers, and nor had most of them bothered to sort out the candidates positions from one another. (My wife and I, both deeply interested in the primaries, couldn't always remember all of their names.) A couple of weeks before the primaries, though, voters in those states started to have to make some real decisions, transferring their sense of "Anybody but Bush" to a specific Democratic candidate. And sometimes that candidate was Howard Dean. But mostly not.


The easy thing to explain is why Dean lost - the voters didn't like him. The hard thing to explain is why we (and why Dean himself) thought he'd win, and easily at that. The bubble of belief, which collapsed so quickly and so completely, was inflated by tools that made formerly hard things easy, tricking us into thinking that getting votes had become easy as well - we were all in Deanspace for a while there.

Shirky's got a lot more, including some pitfalls to be avoided to help keep future Internet-based campaigns from imploding (or dissolving, as the case may be). He lists of a number of things which aren't votes, and cannot substitute for them: support, effort, fervor, money, and sometimes even voters (when the right criteria isn't used to categorize and count them). For anyone interested in the potentially far-reaching effect of the Internet-based techniques introduced by Dean and Trippi, it's worth a close read.

It's been a shock, but it doesn't have to be a fatal one. Lowering coordination costs and making it easier for citizens to create media and distributing fundraising to the masses are all good things. This year, however, to the surprise of many of us, pasting those things on to relatively traditional campaigns has worked better than the Dean campaign's organic strategy did. The biggest difficulty for whatever version of next time comes around will be remembering not to believe our own PR.

[Link via PressThink]

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/16/2004 01:40:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, February 15, 2004

No suffrage here, please

I don't have anything in particular to say about this

Suffrage doesn't please female Kansas state senator

By FINN BULLERS - The Kansas City Star
Date: 09/27/01 22:15

A prominent female state senator has said that she does not support the 19th Amendment, which guarantees women the right to vote, and that if it were being considered today she would vote against it.

Sen. Kay O'Connor recently told the co-presidents of the Johnson County League of Women Voters that the amendment was the first step in a decades-long erosion of traditional family values.

The Olathe Republican was in the audience at a public affairs forum on juvenile justice at Johnson County Community College on Sept. 19, when league co-president Delores Furtado asked her if she was planning to attend the league's "Celebrate the Right to Vote" luncheon.

"You probably wouldn't want me there because of what I would have to say," O'Connor told Furtado after the forum had ended.

"Wasn't it in the best interest of our country to give women the right to vote?" Furtado asked the senator.

"Not necessarily so," O'Connor said.

Although she does vote, O'Connor said in two subsequent interviews with The Kansas City Star that if men had been protecting the best interests of women, then women would not be forced to cast ballots and serve in the state legislature. Instead, they could stay home, raise families and tend to domestic duties, she said.

O'Connor, the Senate's vice chairman of the elections and local government committee, said she could not help celebrate the 81-year-old piece of legislation, even though it gave her a statewide soapbox to share her views on everything from tax policy to school vouchers.

Asked if she supports the 19th Amendment, the Republican lawmaker responded: "I'm an old-fashioned woman. Men should take care of women, and if men were taking care of women (today) we wouldn't have to vote.

"I'm sorry women have not been taken more care of," she said. "We have gotten the short end of the stick."

If the measure were up for ratification today, she said, she would not support it.

Furtado said she was dumbfounded by those views.

There's more, but that's about the gist of it.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/15/2004 06:07:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Parsing the dislike of Dean

In an earlier post, I asked why people have such a strong negative response to Dean. Workingdog1 (whose self-description is "a former Dean fan, who turned to Clark and now to Kerry since he's apparently it") has a thought -- in some ways Dean is similar to Bush:

They both come from upper-class, privileged backgrounds and they both project a sense of entitlement. Like Bush, Dean seems to get pissed-off when he doesn't get his way, which is not attractive to people. People like nobless oblige not petulance from the privilaged and powerful. Different in all other ways from Bush - intelligent vs dumb, constructive vs destructive, I think this is the personality component in Dean which like Bush, makes a lot of people not like him.

And Workingdog also thinks that the tone of the Dean campaign turns people off:

You don't really feel you have a choice when you talk to many Dean 'believers.' Instead they project the sense that you better like their guy or you're not a real democrat - accompanied by put-downs of Kerry. Too Messianic. He's not Jesus. People are very passionate about their right to choose a candidate, and quickly get turned off by coercion. Especially when the guy being pushed on them, created a lot of his own troubles.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/15/2004 12:53:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Transformation and plans (and themes)

The Decembrist's Mark Schmitt makes the case that Howard Dean is not the only candidate in this year's race who has changed the Democratic party:

Edwards is the first politician who, when he talks to a room full of middle-class people, doesn't necessarily seem to be promising something to them. Sure, he's a little vague about just where the line is between the "Two Americas" -- it's "the rich and powerful" and "everyone else." But when he gets specific, when he starts talking about the ten-year-old girl who goes to sleep hoping that it isn't as cold tomorrow as today because she doesn't have warm enough clothes -- it's got to be apparent to any audience that he's not talking about what he's going to do for them. He's making a moral claim about what our country owes to those who have the least, not promising something to everyone who "works hard and plays by the rules." And, shocking as it is, that's a big deal. And it matters that it comes from a candidate who is generally perceived as a moderate -- if only because he's a southerner -- rather than the leftmost candidate in the race. [...]


Dean's transformation of the Democratic party was largely procedural, though not unimportant. He helped the party see that enthusiasm could be as valuable as converting a swing voter at the 50th percentile. He showed that money could be raised from supporters of any age, income or background, that the only contributors were not those on the Democratic National Committees official list of proven contributors. And he showed how giving up control of a campaign, letting it be driven by its supporters, could generate tremendous enthusiasm. Edwards' campaign has been more conventional in procedure, and in the end, while doing "better than expected," he is still unlikely to be the Democratic nominee. But if Democrats hear his language, the willingness to make a moral claim about what our country should be like, not just what he will do for the middle of the middle [class], it will be a powerful voice.

I'd say it's still an open question how much of the tone of Edwards' campaign gets adopted for the general election -- perhaps it depends on whether Edwards is on the ticket or not -- but a campaign that provides both a strong practical rationale to vote against George W. Bush (based on his dismal record of massive disachievement, the mendacity of his administration and its general incompetence), and a strong moral reason to vote for the Democratic alternative could be very successful. It seems to me that what's driving Democrats right now is the former, hence the votes for Kerry on the dubious "electability" rationale (i.e. he can beat Bush). This is fine for the primaries when more of the voters will tend to be committed Democrats, but doesn't do anything to provide reasons for the voter in the general electorate to go for the Democrat. It's not going to be enough to knock down Bush, people have to be given a positive rationale as well.

(Paradoxically, Bush's "positive" rationale will be a highly negative FUDdy one: the world is a dangerous place, don't change horses in mid-stream. That's a strong argument to many people and one that has to be rebutted head-on. That might mean that Kerry, even Kerry the war hero, would prefer to have a vice president with good national security credentials, someone like Clark, rather than someone who "speaks to the people" like Edwards. After all, Edwards' neo-populist message can be taken up by the Kerry campaign without bringing on the salesman, whereas it's the specific person of Clark that would provide an advantage.

The best plan would be to integrate them both into the campaign, but that may be impossible unless Clark is willing to settle for something less than v.p.)

Postscript: On Daily Kos, Trapper John also considers, a lot more coherently than I did here, the need for Kerry and the Democrats to find an overarching theme for the campaign:

Instead of just shouting "AWOL! AWOL!," we need to begin tying the micro issue of Bush's military misadventures into a larger theme about privilege and, yes, [Edwards'] "Two Americas." We need to make the AWOL issue part of a seamless metanarrative about the fundamentally elitist vision of the GOP.

I think there's a danger here, however, of always returning to the negative, to the attack on Bush and the GOP. That's understandable, given their malfeasance and misdeeds, but it also holds the strong possibility that it will just turn people off entirely if something positive isn't provided at the same time.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/15/2004 12:40:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Two questions, pseudo-random

A couple of random thoughts/questions:

  • Why do people dislike Howard Dean so much? I have more than a little trouble understanding it, but obviously they do -- his "unfavorable" rating in a recent poll in Wisconsin was an extraordinary 54%. I have friends who have almost the same kind of negative visceral reaction to Dean that I do to Bush, and they can't really explain why. There's some talk about how he won't attract swing voters, but that's really the whole circular "electability" argument in another guise. There's talk about his temper, how angry he is, but there really isn't any public evidence to back up that bit of conventional wisdom, not that I know of, anyway, so it's hard to accept that as a reason for disliking Dean, especially when the feeling is so virulent.

    It's a mystery to me, I don't read him the way other people obviously do (people who agree with me on my reading of the anger and hardness that lies underneath Bush's faux exterior), so I really don't get it. I can't deny it, and it would be foolish for the Democratic party to put forth as a standard bearer a man who sizable numbers of people dislike and would vote for only because the alternative was so utterly objectionable (not that there's a chance in hell that Dean's going to be the nominee, something he'll be coming to grips with quite soon, I think.

    Anyone who has any good ideas on what it is about Dean that incites people against him, let me know via e-mail and I'll post them.

  • I worry a little that the media, in evaluating the service records that Bush & Co. dumped on them on Friday, is not going to notice if something that should be there is missing. I assume (and hope) that there are consultants out there consulting with the press, ex-military people familiar with what the file of a Texas Air National Guardsman from that period should look like, to help determine what's been held back (aside from the full medical records, and why weren't they part of the dump?).

    Maybe, to make things easier and provide a standard for comparison, some enterprising journalist should get one of the people who served at the same time as Bush, and in the same Texas unit, to waive their privacy rights and allow their entire file to be released to the press in response to an FOIA request. That would provide the exemplar (or exemplars if several men could be convinced to go along) against which Bush's record can be compared and contrasted.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/15/2004 03:52:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The con man

In his classic study of big-time confidence men, The Big Con (1940), David W. Maurer talks about what kind of people make good victims or "marks":

Most marks come from the upper strata of society which, in America, means that they have made, married, or inherited money. Because of this, they acquire status which in time they come to attribute to some inherent superiority, especially as regards matters of sound judgment in finance and investment. Friends and associates, themselves social climbers and sycophants, help to maintain this illusion of superiority. Eventually, the mark comes to regard himself as a person of vision, and even of genius. Thus a Babbit who has cleared half a million in a real-estate development easily forgets the part which luck and chicanery have played in his financial rise; he accepts his mantle of respectability without question; he naively attributes his success to sound business judgment.

You can see this psychology at work elsewhere, of course, like in the scion of a powerful political family who's been closely shepharded throughout his life, gotten out of jams, provided with unearned opportunities and windfalls, every step totally managed by handlers and keepers. Because he's been, in effect, kept, he never develops any humility or awareness of his own deficiencies and attributes his great good fortune to his own innate abilities, which are, in actual fact, substandard in almost every respect, except perhaps for his capacity for conning people into voting for him.

Once the emperor's lack of clothes has been pointed out, though, it's almost impossible to restore them.

The Big Con is good reading, well worth picking up used at Amazon or It supposedly inspired The Sting, and I kept seeing in it the mechanisms behind Jim Thompson's The Grifters (or the movie version) and David Mamet's House of Games and The Spanish Prisoner.

Update: Back to Bush, Bob Herbert says it well:

Mr. Bush's experience in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam years is especially relevant today because it throws a brighter spotlight on who he really is. He has walked a charmed road, with others paying the price of his journey, every step of the way.

[Via Suburban Guerilla]

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/15/2004 12:46:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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