Archives, 2004


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Andrew Clem archives

December 31, 2004 [LINK]

Tsunami: 9/11 times 50?

The scale of destruction and death around the rim of the Indian Ocean is simply incomprehensible. The death toll has risen to 117,000 and will probably climb much higher. Even if relief workers manage get a handle on the situation, it will probably be weeks before an accurate assessment of the damage to property is made. Whole islands have been obliterated. Writing a measly check seems so hopelessly inadequate in this situation, but like voting, it's the sort of tiny gesture that yields huge effects when done en masse.

American Red Cross
Disaster Relief Fund
P.O. Box 37243
Washington, D.C. 20013

It is times like these that the term international community has some real meaning. Sadly, however, it only took two days for this disaster to become politicized. U.N. official Jan Egeland accused the U.S. and some other Western countries of being "stingy," even before the magnitude of the calamity was fully grasped by most people. What was most annoying about his remarks was the suggestion that how much tax revenue a government collects is an indicator of the people's commitment to good causes. Well, of course, if you're a socialist. The Washington Post had virtually nothing on Mr. Egeland's words, but did print some stories that push the notion that Bush was not paying attention to the crisis for the first couple days. Daniel Drezner provides plenty of evidence to refute the "stingy" charg. The United States gives 2.34 cents per capita per day in relief aid, much less than the altruistic Scandinavian countries, but nosing out France and Canada by a whisker. In any event, the early pledges of money mean very little, as much more will be donated to South Asian countries in one form or another in coming months. Colin Powell spoke very effectively about the active role the United States is playing, and it makes me very sad that someone with his high stature and ability is leaving the State Department. Finally, Josh Marshall heaped scorn on President Bush for allegedly "badmouthing" Bill Clinton. What really happened was that a White House spokesman defended President Bush's low profile by making a tart reference to the previous president's compassion-mongering, with that ubiquitous four-word cliche.

December 31, 2004 [LINK]

Susan Sontag

One of the Left's leading voices passed away this week. Ms. Sontag offended many people by her sharp denunciations of U.S. policies, and for rejecting the notion that the 9/11 attacks were a barbarian atrocity. In her view, it is arrogant and erroneous to assume that we belong to the civilized world and those who attacked us are savages. Generally, speaking, there is some truth in such a relativistic view of global conflict, but she picked an inappropriate case to make the argument. It's like when Michael Dukakis reacted so coldly to the hypothetical question of what if his wife were raped and murdered in 1988. For an American not to get angry about 9/11 reflects a certain lack of humanity. The superb literary critic Henry Allen had a good piece on her in Wednesday's Washington Post:

Sontag, who died Tuesday at the age of 71, had the gift of fame, which is to say she possessed charisma, which may be why she ended up being called overrated, the fate of charismatic people. I had read more about her than by her.

Even so, she was always the center of attention, one of the world's most quoted figures. I remember well the uproar the followed a comment she made back in 1982, as quoted by Allen:

Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Reader's Digest between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only the Nation or the New Statesman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?

Indeed so. Ms. Sontag must be given credit for her intellectual honesty, if not for good judgment.

December 31, 2004 [LINK]

Radical utopians, here and there

Cathy Seipp, writing in the National Review notes that a group blog in Los Angeles called Martini Republic that the pro-democracy blog Iraq the Model is just a front operation of the CIA. It's not true, but such a belief typifies the conspiracy mongering on that side of the political spectrum these days. Which reminds me, many if not most Americans would probably say the religious fascists in the Muslim world have more in common with the Religous Right in the United States than with the Secular Left. So why does it so often seem that the Left is rationalizing atrocities committed by the Islamo-fascists? Anyway, Seipp goes on,

I did come across a good explanation in David Horowitz's new book Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left. Horowitz's theory is "the utopian future that embodies the idea of 'social justice'" connects radical Islam and its sympathizers with yesterday's Marxists: "It is this utopian vision that provides radicals with the standard of judgment that condemns the actually existing world, no matter how decent it may be." So therefore America and its friends, like Iraq the Model, are automatically suspect.

I like what Horowitz has to say, though he's often a bit too harsh. His previous book Radical Son exposes from a first-hand perspective the descent into hypocrisy and bitterness of the post-1960s American Left. My lifelong political journey has paralleled his in many ways.

December 31, 2004 [LINK]

More recounts!

As expected, Viktor was the victor in the recent "do-over" elections in Ukraine -- Viktor Yushchenko, that is. Oddly, however, Viktor was also the loser -- Viktor Yanukovych, that is. Perhaps inspired by Al Gore, the latter is pursuing a challenge to the election, and both sides are mobilizing for a possible mass confrontation in the streets. This would seem to be a humiliating setback in prestige for Vladimir Putin; might some other hardliner wannabe rulers in Moscow start contemplating pushing him aside?

In Washington state, the Democratic candidate Christine Gregoire won in the second recount after several hundred "missing" ballots were discovered in heavily Democratic King County. As the Church Lady would say, "How convenient!" Republican Dino Rossi asked for a new election, like they did in Ukraine, but it's not going to happen.

In Ohio, the recount narrowed President Bush's margin of victory slightly, but it's still a difference of over 112,000 votes, validating John Kerry's wise decision to accept reality and avoid a slow descent toward a second American civil war. Many of Kerry's more zealous supporters refuse to accept the election outcome, however, and are planning to disrupt the inauguration ceremonies on January 20.

Finally, in Puerto Rico, the pro-status quo (commonwealth) candidate Anibal Acevedo Vila defeated by a tiny fraction the pro-statehood candidate for governor, Pedro Rossello, who was governor from 1993-2001. The margin was about 3,600 votes, or 0.18 percent of all votes cast. The pro-independence candidate Ruben Berrios received only 2.74 percent of the votes.

Andrew Clem archives

December 22, 2004 [LINK]

Is conservatism unpopular?

In his typically incisive yet blunt fashion, Andrew Sullivan raises serious doubts about whether Bush can accomplish much in his second term, and indeed whether Bush is truly serving the interests of conservative philosophy.

[C]onservatism, understood loosely as an "ideology of self-reliance," has failed to make serious inroads since the mid-'90s. It's still nowhere near a popular majority. This is why conservative politicians are often forced to use deception to advance conservative policy proposals.
Predictably, the Bush administration is contemplating a series of half-assed "reforms" that are likely to make matters worse. In doing so, the administration will yet again discredit the "ideology of self-reliance." One wonders if Bush is a sleeper agent for the Socialist International.

I think he's overstating the case, no doubt bitter toward Bush for cozying up too much with social conservatives, but I too have such worries that the Bush-Rove team is too focused on winning elections to adopt a serious, comprehensive economic conservative agenda. If he fails to "spend his political capital" and take on the tough issues, this precious moment of opportunity will end up wasted. In that case, and the Republicans will be right back to where they started, probably splitting into recriminating factions much as the Democrats are doing. It is critical for the Republicans to realize that at least half of the American population still takes for granted the Federal entitlements spawned by the New Deal era. For many folks, unfortunately, talk about "freedom" and "personal responsibility" is nothing more than talk. They are the ones susceptible to the lure of another Clinton presidency (!) if the Bush does not make a much more serious attempt to explain the ramifications of conservative policy, and to persuade the comfortable, "ultra-entitled" middle class of the need for radical reform. As Rush Limbaugh said on his show today, the battle for Social Security reform is just the beginning.

Andrew Clem archives

December 13, 2004 [LINK]

Wiretapping, foreign and domestic

News that U.S. agents eavesdropped on International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohammed ElBaradei (specifically, his telephone conversations with officials in Iran) came as quite a shock. Not the fact itself so much, but the public announcement thereof. The Bush administration is putting pressure on him to resign, but this heavy-handed tactic may backfire unless the taped conversations reveal something very damaging about ElBaradei. Some in the Bush administration suspect that he is not seriously committed to ensuring that Iran halt its nuclear weapons program. The hardening U.S. position on Iran is probably in response to Iran's support for fundamentalist Shiite leaders who are running in the upcoming elections in Iraq. Unfortunately, France and other members of the U.N. Security Council may calculate that the risk of an Iranian bomb is outweighed by their priority of thwarting U.S. objectives in the Middle East. Donald Rumsfeld recently criticized NATO "partners" for failing to cooperate in training the reconstituted Iraqi military forces.

By coincidence, there was an update in the Post last Wednesday about the March 2002 case in which then-state GOP executive director Edmund Matricardi wiretapped Democratic officials who were conversing with Governor Mark Warner about their challenge to the Republicans' redistricting plan. Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, who is running for governor next year, alerted law enforcement officials as soon as this was brought to his attention, leading to arrests. This shows he is a principled official who puts the law above party loyalty, and he deserves credit for it. The wiretapping was a costly mistake for the Virginia GOP, however: "The state Republican Party has agreed to pay most of a $750,000 settlement in the federal lawsuit brought by the 33 Democratic lawmakers who were on the conference calls." Matricardi went to jail for it, and two others pled guilty to lesser offenses. How do people involved in politics think they're going to get away with such stupid dirty tricks? It's probably the intoxicating thrill of power.

December 13, 2004 [LINK]

Cabinet update

President Bush has nominated EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt (former governor of Utah) to serve as Health and Human Services secretary, replacing Tommy Thompson (former governor of Wisconsin). Nine of the 15 department heads have announced their departure, more than in any other presidential second term since 1972. Gary Trudeau ran several "Doonesbury" comic strips last week lampooning Bush's fondness for agreeable cabinet heads, with a "Department of Toady Affairs." Ha ha.

Bush is catching a lot of flak for the failure to properly vet Bernie Kerik, the erstwhile nominee to be Secretary of Homeland Security. The fact that many House Republicans initially opposed the intelligence reform bill (see below) because it lacked provisions for guarding against illegal immigration make this case especially ironic. The rumored other factors, such as Kerik's enrichment from serving on the board of a company that makes stun guns, raise further questions about White House management. Will anyone be reprimanded for this lapse, or lose their job?

December 13, 2004 [LINK]

Intelligence reform

The passage of the Intelligence reform bill by the House last week is considered a political victory for Bush, but he had to spend a lot of political capital, and the benefits are murky at best. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) insisted on the armed forces retaining control over battlefield reconnaissance, and his concerns were met. Some doubted Bush's commitment to the bill, and even now it is uncertain how much of a priority it was for him. This much is certain: the bill passed because of domestic political reasons, and not many people believe that centralizing control of intelligence will accomplish much if anything. Indeed, this change might even make intelligence gathering less efficient. But the families of the 9/11 victims, bless their heavy hearts, needed some concrete sign of government action so that the deaths of their relatives will not have been in vain. This is a classic case of "Politically compelling policies," as congressional scholar R. Douglas Arnold put it. (See the newly reformatted Arnold on Congress page, which summarizes Arnold's superb, succinct analysis of how the U.S. Congress works.) The immediate necessity of winning votes in the next election (or minimizing vote losses) outweighs doubts in the legislators' minds that the bill in question will achieve the stated ends.

Andrew Clem archives

December 11, 2004 [LINK]

"That's really gotta hurt!"

Doctors in Austria have confirmed what Ukrainian presidential candidate Victor Yushchenko has been saying: the hideous deterioration of his face since last summer is the result of poisoning, by dioxins to be precise. See cnn.com for a dramatic photographic contrast. If this poisoning incident was a political dirty trick engineered by the Kremlin, Russian politics are in even worse shape than most people thought. President Bush said last year that he could see into Mr. Putin's soul and saw a good man. Yikes. I hope this is not an accurate overall indication of "W" as a judge of character. Putin's recent fierce and obnoxious criticisms of the United States and the West are strange, given the fact that we both face a common enemy -- Islamo-fascist terrorism.

The burgeoning democracy movement in Ukraine is one of the most uplifting global political trends of recent months, and represents an opportunity for the U.S. and Europe to work together. I was a little annoyed that the huge crowds in downtown Kiev were "singing" a protest rap "song". Whatever happened to rock and roll as a symbol of Western freedom?? It would appear that the old-style blatantly despotic tendencies of incumbent President Kuchma and his hand-picked successor, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, may not work after all. The second (hopefully clean) election will be held on December 26.

December 11, 2004 [LINK]

Cabinet shakeups

Former NYPD top cop Bernard Kerik shocked everyone by withdrawing as nominee to be the next Secretary of Homeland Security because of the same kind of "nannygate" scandal that plagued Bill Clintons' second choice as Attorney General, Zoe Baird. (His first choice was Lani Guinier, remember?) Whether Kerik was well-suited for a national-level position, I don't know. He may have been picked for symbolic reasons, since he was in charge of New York police during the 9/11 attacks. I hope not.

What is more worrisome to me is the offhanded way Bush seems to have been deciding on the fate of his top officials. In the Chicago Sun Times, Robert Novak wrote:

For nearly two weeks, John Snow had been twisting in the wind. Snow had not heard one word on whether he should leave or stay as secretary of the Treasury until Wednesday, when President Bush asked him to remain at least temporarily.

Snow is a perfectly capable and politically loyal cabinet official. Why Bush would hesitate to ask him to stay on, especially when so many other cabinet secretaries are leaving, is a mystery to me. Maybe Karl Rove knows...

December 11, 2004 [LINK]


Last week Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) called attention to a report by House staffers that casts doubt on the effectiveness of school programs that encourage teens to abstain from sexual activity. He said the data and findings of Bush administration reports did not meet standard scientific criteria. A Heritage Foundation study written Melissa Pardue gives support to the abstinence approach, however. See www.heritage.org.

By coincidence, yesterday it was reported that American teenagers are now waiting longer to have sex than in the 1990s. Does this reflect the morali proselytizing of President Bush, the First Lady, and his administration? Probably not. Presidents have no more control over individual behavior than they do on the wheels of the economy, except in a very general, indirect way. It should be noted, nevertheless, that good examples by adults in positions of authority certainly can't hurt. Which leads us to baseball...

Andrew Clem archives

December 9, 2004 [LINK]

Krugman on Social Security

Donald Luskin (www.poorandstupid.com) and "justoneminute" are among the bloggers who have ripped into Paul Krugman for flip-flopping on Social Security in his Tuesday New York Times column. Back in 1996 when he was supporting President Clinton's initiatives, Krugman wrote with regard to Social Security, "Where is the crisis? Just over the horizon, that's where." (quote from Luskin) Now, however, he downplays a Congressional Budget Office report that the "trust fund" (a misleading accounting contrivance) will run out in 2052. He says,

But it's a problem of modest size. The report finds that extending the life of the trust fund into the 22nd century, with no change in benefits, would require additional revenues equal to only 0.54 percent of G.D.P. That's less than 3 percent of federal spending.

He goes on to sing the praises of the creaky old system as though it were a success story, and concludes, "And that's why the right wants to destroy it." No, they want to trim back the unsustainable giveaways and direct benefits toward those who need it the most. Krugman was among those on the Left who had to take a long rest after the traumatic defeat they suffered on November 2. Perhaps he needs more time.

I have long been skeptical of "privatizing" Social Security, if that means handing off responsibility for providing entitlements to some private financial entity. Those who argue that individuals could get a better rate or return from private investments than from Federal retirement benefits are missing the point. Social Security is NOT an "investment," it is an ongoing transfer of resources from the younger generation to the older generation. It will work as long as there exists a solid nationwide consensus and trust among political factions. Do those conditions exist any more? Absolutely not. It would be much better, I think, to simply scale current benefits back to the pre-1960s era, when Social Security was still understood as being a supplementary fund aimed primarily at widows, the disabled, and other people unable to provide for themselves. Unfortunately, the benefits were inflated by Democrat Congresses over the decades, to the point that middle class people began counting on Social Security to provide for a comfortable retirement. Big mistake, that. The cyncical doubts of the younger generations about ever getting back a fair share of their contriubtions is entirely appropriate, which is another reason why Krugman's newfound complacency about the solvency of the Social Security system is so utterly misplaced. The Concord Coalition drew attention to the looming catstrophe in the early 1990s, and even though the Bush administration has shaky credentials on fiscal responsibility, it is on the right overall track where this is concerned.

There remains, nevertheless, a sadly-neglected Big Picture, which is the way that Social Security, health care, tax reform, immigration, and the war on terrorism all fit together. President Bush has taken tentative steps by creating "medical savings accounts," but there really should be no distinction between savings accounts intended for health, education, or any purpose, including gambling at the casino. It's the individual's own business! A truly conservative economic policy would be aimed at forthrightly "smashing the bonds of statism" and freeing individuals to pursue happiness as they see fit. That is why I have consistently urged that the hideously complex maze of regulations on 401K plans, etc., etc. be abolished, in favor of simply exempting up to $5,000 of personal savings from Federal income taxes each year. What could be more fair or simple to understand? Such an approach is utterly alien to the mainstream of opinion in the United States, especially the left-liberals who look to the ultra-cushy European social democratic system as a model for our future. They fail to recognize, of course, that the European socio-economic system could not be sustained without many millions of exploited cheap immigrant workers who are not covered by the system. Hence the resentment of these "outsiders" toward the entitled Western citizens, which paves the way for terrorist subversion. Making the connection between entitlements affordability, immigration, and the terrorist threat could be the basis for a radical restoration of economic freedom that would make this a second "American century." Otherwise, China will steadily gain on us, as demonstrated by IBM's sale of its personal computer division to the Lenovo Corporation, headquartered in "Red" China...

Andrew Clem archives

December 7, 2004 [LINK]

U.N. scandals widen

Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman called on Kofi Annan to resign as U.N. Secretary General, but that doesn't appear to be likely any time soon. The State Department has disavowed such a position but leaves no doubt about the deep dissatisfaction with Mr. Annan. The fact that his son has been implicated in the U.N. "oil for food" scandal is further indication that his credibility is in tatters, probably beyond repair. As a further reminder that the opposition to U.S. foreign policy by both foreign and domestic political forces is based on corrupt self-interest, it was reported by ABC News that one of the key figures involved with the U.N. "oil for food" program was former American fugitive Marc Rich. Just one month after his pardon from President Clinton, he served as a middleman for several of Iraq's suspect oil deals in February 2001. Ver-r-ry interesting... (via badhairblog)

Andrew Clem archives

December 3, 2004 [LINK]

Sweet home Alabama

Alabama voters narrowly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have stricken provisions for racially-separate schools and an explicit non-guarantee of a right to a public education, which was enacted in an effort to neutralize the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in the 1950s. Opponents such as Alabama Christian Coalition President John Giles claimed they were focusing on the second part, on the grounds that it was needed to prevent activist judges from decreeing tax hikes to provide funding. See washingtonpost.com for more. I'm no fan of activist judges, but I can't see any legitimate grounds for such fears, certainly nothing that would justify making common cause with recalcitrant racists. How many of the opponents of the amendment fit that description? I would like to think they are but a small minority, but that may not be the case. I would hope the Republican Party can take a principled stand on this issue, even though it might cost a few votes in the short run.

Andrew Clem archives

December 1, 2004 [LINK]

"Anchors away!"

Tom Brokaw bid farewell as NBC News anchorman this evening, and thankfully refrained from any attempt to be profound. He also managed to avoid any tear-shedding, as happened on his appearance on the Today show, where he got his start. In all the historic vignettes that were replayed in his honor, I was surprised that nothing was said of his coverage of the 1972 McGovern campaign, when he first drew national attention. That assignment was natural, since Brokaw is from South Dakota. Of the three current network anchormen, he stands alone in terms of journalistic integrity and just plain decency. Rush Limbaugh ran several clips of past moments he shared on the air with Mr. Brokaw today, and had some surprisingly warm words for him.

By sheer coincidence, as I was cleaning up Princess and George's room this evening, I noticed how they paid selective "respects" to the other two news anchors, the shamefully partisan Dan Rather and Peter Jennings. This was from the November 24 Washington Post article about Dan Rather's departure next March, and the photo was of a panel forum held by the three anchors in October. I swear, this photograph was NOT doctored (!), and the bird "events" were not contrived or staged in any way.

Andrew Clem archives

November 26, 2004 [LINK]

"Reddest" county in a "red" state

Virginia election map 2004 Of all the counties in Virginia, Augusta and Rockingham scored the highest percentage vote for President Bush in the recent elections, with 74.4 percent. This is definitely part of the "Bible Belt," part of the vast U.S.A. Heartland, or as some leftists are now calling it, "Jesusland." I once shared such fears about the Religious Right, but virtually none of the conservative folks I've met who prioritize faith and values would qualify as "wackos" or zealots. By and large, they are simply sincere people who are deeply worried -- as am I -- about the direction our country has been heading. On the east side of the Blue Ridge, in contrast, is Democrat territory, including the "People's Republic of Charlottesville," home of the University of Virginia. (Click on the adjacent map I drew to see a full-size version in a pop-up window.)

What do these deep divisions in our nation portend? Will the secular "Brainland" (as Randy Paul calls it) secede and join Canada? (See politicalhumor for a hypothetical future map of North America.) Somehow I doubt it will come to that.

Full moon Speaking of Red vs. Blue, I took a photo of Earth's nearest neighbor as it was rising above the horizon earlier this evening, and noticed the very same polarizing effect!!! Just as in the United States, the blue fringe is is the north and the red fringe is in the south. (You may have to squint.) Perhaps what our country needs to overcome this high degree of polarity is a higher quality "lens."

November 26, 2004 [LINK]

Dems lose control of media

At the end of CNN's "Late Edition" program hosted by Wolf Blitzer, there was a roundtable featuring three Democratic Congresspersons -- Martin Frost (TX), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (IL), and Loretta Sanchez (CA) -- plus Air America talk-show host Al Franken. Ms. Sanchez let the cat out of the bag when she mentioned one of the reasons her party fared so poorly:

SANCHEZ: I agree with Jesse. I agree with my colleague. I believe that we made mistakes. The media certainly is not in our hands any longer, and, in particular, radio talk shows where that is completely in the opposition's hands, and they use it effectively against us.

BLITZER: But, Loretta, when you say the media -- when you say the media is not in your hands, are you saying that ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN are hostile to Democrats?

SANCHEZ: No, that's not what I said. I'm saying that -- if you would let me finish -- that the majority of people are now receiving a lot of their information out of radio. And the radio isn't in the hands of the Democrats anymore.

Does that mean she thinks TV still is under control of the Democrats? Again, it's one of those facts of life that is so obvious that there's no point in raising it. SOURCE: cnn.com WARNING: Turn off Java, Javascript, etc. in your browser program before clicking on that link. The Safari program on my iMac kept quitting until I did so. (via InstaPundit)

Which brings me to Dan Rather's exit: CBS denies it has anything to do with Rathergate, of course, but no one believes that. I'm a bit surprised, since I had expected him to take a brief vacation and then resume full-time duties as anchorman. What a lesson his life provides about the huge costs to be paid when personal vanity rages out of control. And what a contrast between him and the dignified professional Tom Brokaw, who has just retired as NBC anchor. I was in a small group chatting with him after he spoke at our mutual alma mater, the University of South Dakota, back in the late 1970s. He would be the last to claim that he was a role model, but he was quite an inspiration nonetheless.

November 26, 2004 [LINK]

Recount in Ohio?

It sounded like a joke at first, but Democrats in Ohio are now seriously calling for a recount. See the Washington Post. Secretary of State Ken Blackwell is under bitter criticism in the Buckeye State, the same fate as Katherine Harris suffered for her role in overseeing the Florida 2000 recount. The folks behind this movement even launched their own Web site, ohiorecount.org, but for some reason it now shows nothing but an article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer on voting machines. For leftist views on this, see washingtondispatch.com. John Kerry's gracious concession on the day after the election has apparently not earned him any credit or respect from the left wing of his party. Too bad... Meanwhile, the Republican candidate Dino Rossi is ahead by 42 votes in the Washington state governor's race won by after a recount, and there will probably be a second recount.

Speaking of close races, I was looking at a Washington Post article from October 25, focusing on "ten House races to watch." The Republicans won seven of those ten races, receiving from 54 to 61 percent of the votes. In contrast, none of three the Democrats who won got more than 52 percent of the votes. These were all supposed to be close races, and provides yet another indication of how broad and deep the Republican victory really was.

November 26, 2004 [LINK]

Recount in Ukraine?

President Bush and Secretary of State Powell have both declared that the recent elections in Ukraine were not legitimate, an unusually strong statement about the political system in another country. Vladimir Putin seems to have decided that Russian security interests necessitate an iron-fisted leadership, using force or fraud to regain influence and even control over the former Soviet republics. Moscow has also resorted blunt threats during the recent flareup in the intermittent civil war in Georgia. Interestingly, a group of Democratic former congressmen who were observing the first round of the election declared that it was basically free and fair, but as reported in the Washington Post:

What the congressional group did not say was that its members were recruited and paid $500 a day by a Washington-based lobbyist who is a registered representative of the pro-Russian candidate in the race, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. ... The delegation of former lawmakers was led by Robert M. Carr, an 18-year Democratic House veteran from Michigan who is returning with another delegation to observe the runoff.

In the first round, Carr brought former Wisconsin congressmen Peter Barca, Jay Johnson and Jim Moody, as well as Norman D'Amours of New Hampshire, Ronald Coleman of Texas and Mike Ward of Kentucky.

No word yet on what these Democrats said about the second round. Even the vigorously pro-democracy Carter Center has not issued any statement on this Ukrainian travesty, more than a week after the event. What does all this say about Democrats' commitment to democracy?

Andrew Clem archives

November 22, 2004 [LINK]

CIA upheaval update

Robert Novak wrote about Senator John McCain's role in the CIA controversy in the Chicago Sun Times last week:

McCain told Goss the CIA is "a dysfunctional organization. It has to be cleaned out." That is, the CIA does not perform its missions. McCain told Goss that as director, he must get rid of the old boys and bring in a new team at Langley. Moreover, McCain told me this week, "with CIA leaks intended to harm the re-election campaign of the president of the United States, it is not only dysfunctional but a rogue organization."

Senator McCain appeared on "Meet the Press" yesterday, giving strong support to new CIA Director Porter Goss. McCain's contention that there are "rogue elements" in the CIA is a very disturbing thought. It's quite ironic that the CIA careerist seem to be favoring the Democratic side. What's next: Will Michael Moore come out defending the CIA against Bush's attempted reforms? One of my professors at U.Va. once posed the problem in very stark terms: Can an agency with responsibility for extremely sensitive and secret matters of national security be considered truly accountable in a wide-open democracy such as ours? If not, are they above the law?

Ex-CIA analyst Michael Scheuer, the formerly anonymous author of Imperial Hubris, followed McCain on "Meet the Press," and frankly I was not very impressed. I've always been very attentive to serious arguments about U.S. foreign policy rooted in the idea that our ambitions must not exceed our resources, and I have therefore been planning on reading his book. To my surprise, however, his comments to Tim Russert were mostly formulaic criticisms of Bush, not particularly thougtful. It also struck me as a bit odd how many times he used the word sir, and from checking the transcript at MSNBC, I counted 21 times. He takes the grievances of Osama bin Laden at face value, apparently believing the threat will go away if we just pull our military forces and commercial interests out of the Middle East. He denies being an appeaser, however, and says he thinks operations like the one in Fallujah are necessary. Well! Perhaps the Sunday interview show format is not well suited for expositing his thesis.

Andrew Clem archives

November 19, 2004 [LINK]

Diplomacy: fantasy and reality

The Washington Post Magazine had an article on the classic board game Diplomacy, its zealous devotees, and its designer Allan Calhamer. (He eventually sold out to Avalon Hill, which now publishes it.) I learned from the article that Gideon Rose, managing editor at Foreign Affairs, is among those who have played it. The game is premised on a brutally Hobbesian view of the world, where lying and back-stabbing your allies are the keys to success. It's always been a favorite holiday pastime in the Clem household!

Speaking of diplomacy, here are some strong suggestions addressed "To the Next Secretary of State" at The Diplomad, a new blog by (mostly Republican) career U.S. Foreign Service officers. (via Daniel Drezner):

The single greatest step you could take to ensuring that merit is the basis for advancement is to do away with the Department's Affirmative Action program, i.e., quota system. It is a total fraud. It is just another white upper- and middle-class entitlement. The overwhelming beneficiaries of the program are white women from elite schools. ...

Put an end to the little ... empires established by bureaucrats who "homestead" themselves in the HR system. ...

Drastically reduce the layers of bureaucracy. ...

Finally, ignore the New York Times and CNN.

Andrew Clem archives

November 15, 2004 [LINK]

Even more post-election fallout

The resignation of Colin Powell as Secretary of State today was expected, so it probably doesn't mean too much for policy. When he writes his memoirs it will surely provide intense fascination. Condoleeza Rice has excellent credentials from the academic world, but is yet unproven in terms of administration and policy planning. The heads of the Agriculture, Education, and Energy Departments also tendered their resignations today, but the Pentagon is "staying the course." NBC reported that President Bush doesn't want to let Donald Rumsfeld go, because that would be seen as an admission of failure. On the contrary, the biggest sign of failure is when leaders make decisions aimed at avoiding the appearance of failure. Rumsfeld is old and his determined efforts at reforming the Pentagon have largely run out of steam, so I'm not there is any concrete reason to keep him into the second term.

Speaking of recalcitrant bureaucracies, the CIA seems to be on the verge of chaos as top-level spymasters have resigned in protest against the managerial style of newly appointed Director of Central Intelligence Porter Goss. Some view him as a political hack, since he had served for several years as a congressman from Florida, but before that he worked in the CIA and has professional experience. It's hard for outsiders to know what's really going on, but Senator John McCain, who is at least an independent voice, opined on Meet the Press yesterday that the main problem is the Agency is bogged down in bureaucratic inertia, and its managers refuse to make needed reforms called for by the 9/11 Commission.

In the Washington Post, David Broder emphatically refutes the leftist notion that Election 2004 signifies a step backward into reactionary, hate-mongering darkness. He mentions the hysterical piece cited below by Maureen Dowd, who sees the Republicans as hell-bent on exploiting the poor and punishing he weak. This is utter nonsense, Broder writes, as is all the commotion over the gay marriage issue. In fact, he notes, the decisive edge was moderate voters who decided that Bush was the safer choice, given the supreme importance of the terrorism issue and security matters in general. Whether the paranoid Secular Left or the zealous Religious Right like it or not, the Republican Party remains in the hands of sensible, non-extreme conservatives. Relax, folks: The nation is in good hands.

For an off-the-wall satirical take on the collective nervous breakdown suffered by millions on the Left, see "Blue State Blues as Coastal Parents Battle Invasion of Dollywood Values" at the Iowa Hawk blog.

The Democrats and Michael Moore

Matt Welch tries to belittle the significance of the "Michael Moore wing of the Democratic Party," specifically the assertion that John Kerry could have won the election by criticizing Moore just as Bill Clinton criticized "Sister Souljah" in 1992, thereby establishing his credentials as a "moderate." Welch notes that Moore endorsed Wesley Clark, while his biggest and zaniest fans gravitated toward Howard Dean or Dennis Kucinich.

I can look you in the eye and say these people do not have a significant voice within the modern Democratic Party.

Well! I beg to differ with Welch's conclusion, with which Randy Paul heartily concurs. Here in Staunton, the local Democratic Party sponsored a series of political films in October, two per night for one week, with Farenheit 9/11 being shown every night! Furthermore, the Democrats' Sixth District Web site continues (as of November 12) to highlight that film near the top of their home page, and this is rock-solid conservative territory where radical ideas are not exactly "kosher." Welch's after-the-fact attempt to disassociate the Democratic Party from guerrilla film maker simply does not square with the facts. Any politically conscious person was well aware that throughout the campaign John Kerry and the Democrats were recycling the same venomous rhetoric and the same lies about President Bush that Michael Moore was purveying. The revulsion of the moderate mainstream in this country toward such bile may have been just enough to tip the balance in Bush's favor. Welch tries to downplay Moore-ish fringe elements on the Democratic side by "point[ing] out that the Republicans' extremist fringe includes powerful senior elected politicians from their own party," such as Rick Santorum and Tom Coburn. If he considers these social conservatives "extremists," perhaps it is because he is further from the center of the political spectrum than he thinks.

Andrew Clem archives

November 12, 2004 [LINK]

Window of opportunity for reform?

George W. Bush is the first President since 1936 to be re-elected in a year when his party gained seats in the House and the Senate, and he is the first Republican President to be re-elected with House and Senate majorities since 1924. How weird is that? (Answer: almost as weird as the Red Sox winning the World Series.) Perhaps the mere fact that this situation is so unusual accounts for the bitter grumbling still heard from the Democratic side, which had been accustomed to holding at least some governmental power for the last several decades. Though his margin was too slim to be considered a clear mandate, he is finally in a position to get some real action. On the down side, the Republicans will now be held accountable for policy successes and errors for the next four years. (The GOP will hold onto Congress in 2006, barring some catastrophe; see below.) Most second-term "lame-duck" presidencies end up in frustration and/or scandal; indeed all of them since World War II have: Truman, Eisenhowever, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton. That may not apply this time, however, since this is the first term in which Bush can claim a majority of the popular vote.

So what now? At the top of my dream reform agenda is abolition of gerrymandering, of which both parties are guilty. Tom DeLay's intervention on behalf of redistricting in Texas is but the most recent and notorious example; Republicans in Virginia and Democrats in Maryland have done likewise on a lesser scale. In the Washington Post, David Broder fears that this pernicious habit is "... creating a U.S. House of Lords," a privileged body that is virtually immune from popular will.

Thanks to rigged boundaries and the incumbents' immense fundraising advantage, nearly 96 percent of the "races" were won by a margin of at least 10 percent.

For example, in the Sixth District of Virginia where I live, incumbent Bob Goodlatte received almost 97 percent of the vote, mainly because the Democrats didn't even bother to nominate a challenger. He is a fine representative and recently was named to the powerful position of chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and thus would have every reason to expect to be reelected. Yet even in a heavily Republican area such as the Shenandoah Valley there should be some degree of meaningful political competition. There was certainly a lot of organizing on behalf of the Kerry-Edwards ticket around here... Elsewhere in Virginia, in only one of the eleven congressional races did the winner have less than a 20-percent margin in the vote totals. BOR-ing! Such landslides are typical nationwide, reinforcing the alienation voters feel from their elected representatives in Washington. Remember, the House of Representatives is supposed to be the most direct expression of the popular will. Nowadays, incumbents have such a huge advantage that it calls in question the very democratic nature of our political system itself. What does this sad situation say about our fitness to preach democratic government in other countries?

The idea of Republicans as a reform party strikes many people as strange, but Newt Gingrich gave some good arguments for that in the Washington Post on Tuesday. For a perfect example of the hopelessly outmoded conventional thinking on such matters, read what George Silver wrote in yesterday's Post:

Today's dysfunctional health care system is a palpable example of the lessons that come from our national obsession with markets at all costs.

WRONG! Our health care "system" is the furthest thing from a pure market-driven system. It is, rather, a nightmarish publicly-subsidized monopoly in which the lack of accountability (thanks to non-market-based insurance policies) fuels an uncontrollable upward spiral of costs. I only wish enough Republicans were brave enough to actually say such a thing in public, but then they might not get reelected. (Such timidity is another sign of deep flaws in our democratic system.) Here are some other matters that I hope Bush will tackle:

  • Radically simplifying the U.S. tax code, perhaps replacing the corporate income tax with a luxury consumption tax.
  • Exempting virtually all personal savings from income tax, as part of new approach to Social Security, health insurance and loans for higher education.
  • Slashing U.S. contributions to the World Bank and IMF, which do more harm than good these days.
  • Getting serious about immigration, with more efficient processing of visa applicants, and huge fines on companies that employ undocumented workers.
  • Raising taxes on energy across the board, to discourage profligate waste and pollution. (I know, I'm dreaming about that.)

Peterson is guilty!

After two jurors were dismissed for misconduct, which almost caused a mistrial, Scott Peterson was just found guilty of murder in the first degree. After some of the other outrageous aquittals of recent years, it's nice to know our legal system works. In the television age, it's easy for average citizens to think they can render judgments in these high-profile cases, but we never get to see or hear all the evidence. That's why I usually refrain from weighing in. The lack of direct incriminating evidence was more than offset by the overwhelming circumstantial evidence that made it obvious he was guilty as sin. (And that's an understatement.) The jurors clearly needed plenty of time to seriously consider whether there was any other plausible scenario consistent with the known facts of the case. Clearly, no. Now, does Mr. Peterson deserve to get free room and board for the rest of his life and gloat over how close he came to getting away with his nauseatingly horrible, heinous crime, or does he deserve the Ultimate Punishment? Will European countries portray us Americans as savages if he is executed?

Andrew Clem archives

November 11, 2004 [LINK]


Few peace-loving people will mourn the death of Yasser Arafat, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, along with martyred Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Another Peace Prize recipient, Jimmy Carter, had this to say today:

While he provided indispensable leadership to a revolutionary movement and was instrumental in forging a peace agreement with Israel in 1993, he was excluded from the negotiating role in more recent years.

Huh? It must be pointed out that Arafat's "exclusion" was self-inflicted. Rather than accept the nearly ideal peace terms offered by Prime Minister Ehud Barak, he resumed the Intifada in 1999, stoking the hateful fires of the fascist movement of which Osama bin Laden was a part. When his moment of truth came, he just could not rise above his terrorist past and live up to the vain hopes of the Nobel Committee by transforming himself into an elder statesman. Instead, Arafat reverted to his comfortable old ways, thereby showing himself to be a complete coward -- much like all terrorists! I'm afraid that Jimmy Carter's judgment in recent years has deteriorated from questionable to simply abysmal. There is no need to spit on Arafat's grave, but Americans and Westerners in general need to remember that his broad popularity in the Arab-Muslim world is the heart of the problem! There is simply no point in trying to accommodate the nationalist sensibilities of people who revere such a shameful figure. Whether or not they mature and leave barbaric ways behind is up to them, not us.

Andrew Clem archives

November 10, 2004 [LINK]

More Post-Election Fallout

Reactions from Democrats to Bush's triumph are mixed, ranging from die-hard deniers to sober reflectors. Fringe investigative reporter Greg Palast, who gained fame by writing stories alleging systematic vote fraud in Florida in 2000, wrote "Kerry Won," claiming that "The election in Ohio was not decided by the voters but by something called 'spoilage.'" I just learned from Rush Limbaugh that Peter Jennings devoted time to this story on ABC News last night, so I guess we can't put it down as just another one of those wacko conspiracy theories. Among the sane but bitter Democrats, Josh Marshall and Maureen Dowd dismiss outright any thought of reconciliation with President Bush. Kevin Drum chastises Frank Pastore for an L.A. Times article with some sharp words about the cultural elite that I thought were pretty close to the mark. A few days after challenging those who were planning to vote for Bush by couching the issues in grotesquely slanted ways, Randy Paul presented a relatively restrained take on the election on his Beautiful Horizons blog. He suggests that states that voted for Kerry should be considered the "Brainland," as opposed to the Red "Heartland" states that backed Bush. So I replied,

Regarding Randy's thoughts: The exit of McAuliffe (and the rest of the duplicitous Clinton gang) is indeed long overdue. It would be nice to see a Democratic Party with its soul restored. "Brainland" is clever, but it would only reinforce the sense of resentment felt toward coastal elites in much of the Heartland. I count myself as only one of many of your opponents who does NOT want Democrats to become "morose," but rather that they get their bearings and pick fights on a rational basis, not rejecting everything that Republicans propose. I also take exception to the portrayal of us on the Right as being intolerant of dissent. I respect principled pacifism and criticism of the war based on strategic reasoning, but too much dissent these days is of the blind, knee-jerk variety, which is just not appropriate in these dangerous times.

(Thanks to a comment on that blog by Miguel Centellas, I came across a good piece by a Democrat who voted for Bush.) It also had a link to a New York Times article filled with laments of Gotham citizens who can't understand why the Heartland votes in a way that they see as quite hostile. Some of the comments are predictably condescending, unwittingly answering their own question. At a forum televised by C-SPAN, veteran ABC reporter Carole Simpson could barely contain her disgust with the election, equating the winning conservative "red states" coalition with a resurgence of the slave-owning Confederacy. The more sober Ron Brownstein, of the L.A. Times, emphasized how much broader President Bush's support was compared to Kerry: In only five of the 21 states he lost did he receive less than 43 percent of the vote, whereas Kerry failed to get that proportion in 21 of the 29 states he lost. Democratic Leadership Council co-founder David Frum touted the New Democrats Online Web site, which laid out a useful list of ten kinds of bipartisanship. Being center-oriented, their critical analysis of what Bush will be doing in his second term is thoughtful and worth reading.

And finally: You won't have John Ashcroft to kick around anymore! So the Attorney General has resigned, along with Secretary of Commerce Don Evans. I never had particularly strong feelings about Ashcroft one way or another, but the way the Left ripped him to shreds over the PATRIOT Act, etc. really mystified me. Is Ashcroft the "sacrificial lamb" on the altar of bipartisanship? Michael Moore ridiculed his musical aspirations in Farenheit 9/11. (I've been meaning to put in my two cents about that mockumentary flick, which I finally saw a few weeks ago at a local Democratic Party event; stay tuned.) Alberto Gonzalez, from Texas, was just named by President Bush to succeed Ashcroft.

Senator Arlen Specter, in line to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was obliged to retract his November 3 warning to President Bush not to nominate anyone in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade to the Supreme Court. I would agree with his general point that there should be no specific "litmus test" on judicial appointees, and President Bush said exactly that in the third debate. The point is that judges should interpret the Constitution in the narrow terms intended by the original Framers and not stretch it to advance some reformist agenda. Specter is on very shaky ground when he declares that Roe v. Wade is as inviolable as Brown v. Board of Education. There is a vast difference between the two cases in terms of how many people accept the Court's rulings as legitimate. His original statement can be found at: American Family Association, a social conservative group. Since Chief Justice Rehnquist is being treated for thyroid cancer, which is one of the most dangerous forms, this question takes on great urgency.

Andrew Clem archives

November 5, 2004 [LINK]

Let the Honeymoon Begin! (Please?)

In keeping with the "New Era" occasioned by the historic Republican victory on Tuesday, I've begun some long-deferred format and organizational revisions of this Web site. Real permalinks and interactive comments should be largely finished by the end of the month.

Early indications are that the olive branch extended by President Bush to his opponents on Wednesday has not been widely accepted. Indeed, quite the contrary. So much for reconciliation! For example, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Reynolds (Mr. InstaPundit) called attention to what novelist Jane Smiley wrote yesterday in Slate:

The election results reflect the decision of the right wing to cultivate and exploit ignorance in the citizenry. ...
The reason the Democrats have lost five of the last seven presidential elections is simple: A generation ago, the big capitalists, who have no morals, as we know, decided to make use of the religious right in their class war against the middle class and against the regulations that were protecting those whom they considered to be their rightful prey -- workers and consumers.

Italics added to highlight inanity. Overgeneralizing, are we? That is the same basic line of presumptuous, bigoted thinking expressed by Thomas Frank in What's Wrong With Kansas?, reviewed below. E. J. Dionne is another of the Democrats who is terribly bitter about the election results, as you can hear for yourself on the NPR All Things Considered archives. (via InstaPundit) In today's Washington Post he writes in conclusion,

the burden for achieving national unity is on a president who could manage a narrow victory only by savagely trashing his opponent.

In other words, "It's all their fault! It's all their fault!" And this from an intellectual? It would help in the task of narrowing partisan differences if Dionne would either acknowledge that many of the criticisms of Kerry by the Swift Boat Veterans, et al. were well grounded, or that past criticisms of the president have been terribly unfair and destructive. As I have made clear many times, I am not thrilled with some of the hardball tactics devised by Karl Rove, and being on the winning side I have the duty to go the extra mile in de-escalating the "tit for tat" warfare. Therefore, I will continue to do my best to meet his challenge to moderate Republicans of holding to account the less temperate partisans on my side, even though Dionne doesn't give me much reason to hope it will do much good. Believe it or not, the reactions on the Left to Bush's reelection get worse. From the Daily Kos blog:

The big silver lining, and it's significant, is that Kerry won't be tarred for cleaning up Bush's mess. Had Kerry gotten us out of Iraq, he would've been blamed for "losing the war". Now Bush will ineptly lose it for himself. Kerry would've been forced to make sense of a mess of a budget. Now Bush will be responsible for his own half-trillion dollar deficits.

Losing a war and national insolvency are "silver linings"? If he's trying to raise suspicions that Leftists want to drag this country down, they are succeeding. Many of the comments on that page are even creepier, worthy of a Halloween horror flick. By comparison, Richard Nixon's famous 1962 retort "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore" sounds mature. And then there's the indisputably wacko far left: The photos posted on zombietime.com of a rally in San Francisco on the day after Bush's reelection will make you sit up and take notice.

Given the traumatic magnitude of their defeat, perhaps such "sour grapes" attitudes are to be expected. Nevertheless, those of us plaintive dialogue-seekers should not despair over the apparent communication breakdown among the main factions of the U.S. body politic. The only cure for such pain-induced vitriol is time. In the coming months and years, wiser folks on the Left will get over their bitterness, reflect on their side's crippling flaws, and come up with a more constructive alternative to Bushism. They'd sure better, since would be extremely unhealthy if the opposition party did not play such an active role in shaping national policy. Others will probably remain stuck in the mud of the past for the rest of their miserable lives. However things shake out in the end, the 2004 election is almost certain to signify the definitive end of New Deal political paradigm, which has been on its death bed for at least two decades already. What's next from the Left? If they're smart, they will abandon the pursuit of socialism on a nationwide scale and instead coopt the conservative agenda of decentralized government, and start from scratch building utopian communes in places like Berkeley, Boulder, Greenwich Village, and Charlottesville. Heck, some of them might even work!

Enough of bitter, hyper-opinionated polemics, already! Here's an interesting fact-based observation from Coyote Blog: (via InstaPundit)

Assuming Cheney does not want to run for president, which I think is a given, something will happen in 2008 for the first time since 1952: Neither of the two major-party presidential candidates will be incumbents of the President or Vice-President jobs.

I heartily agree with his subsequently-posted conclusion that that the wide-open primary election campaign will be chaotic and even more distorted than usual by the absurdly early Iowa caucuses. Can we reform the nomination process by then?

Election update: As the last of the vote tallies slowly trickle in, President Bush's lead in the nationwide popular vote has actually climbed. He now has 52.1 percent of the vote, nearly matching the 53 percent share of the electoral vote he won (286 to Kerry's 252). So my prediction wasn't quite right after all! I'm tempted to say that the 4.6 million vote margin (nearly 5 percent) is big enough to count as a mandate, E. J. Dionne notwithstanding.

Andrew Clem archives

November 3, 2004 [LINK]

Victory, Redemption, Reconciliaton

WOW! The past 48 hours have left me utterly exhausted, but the final results made it all worth it. Just as I predicted three days ago, Bush won 51 percent to Kerry's 48 percent, just enough of a margin to put aside all those asinine gripes we've been hearing for the last four years. It's hard to imagine a more decisive election, and we will all have vivid memories of it for the rest of our lives. It may be less than a full endorsement of Bush's agenda, but it will definitely give the President a huge psychological boost as he confronts foreign adversaries. (Imagine how distraught the French and Germans must be right now!) The "icing on the cake" was the increase in GOP strength in both houses of Congress, especially the defeat of Senator Tom Daschle -- "Mr. Obstructionist" -- by John Thune in South Dakota. Any chance Tom the Consummate Washington Insider is going back to retire in his "home state"? Zip, zero, nada. Senator Kerry deserves great praise for deciding not to contest the results in Ohio, where he was at least 130,000 votes behind, not including the "provisional" ballots. (What a risk-prone mechanism those are!) His concession speech was a bit late perhaps, but the tone was gracious and sincere, which will hopefully go a long way toward restoring public trust and repairing the damage to our body politic caused by the Florida 2000 fiasco. John Edwards came across as more defiant, in contrast, perhaps indicating that he'll run for the Number One spot in 2008 -- against Hillary??? President Bush made a fine victory speech, graciously reciprocating the peace offering from Kerry. Let us hope and pray that enough of Kerry's supporters take Bush's words to heart.

For more on what I've been up to with the local Republicans for the last few days, take a look at swacgop.org. It includes a video I took of the rally last October 28, the first time I've dabbled in Web video. Good old Apple iMovie and QuickTime come through reliably as ever, once again.

Andrew Clem archives

November 1, 2004 [LINK]

The Moment of Truth

O.K., here's what this pivotal moment in our nation's history really means: Do we have enough confidence in the values that bind us together as a nation to recognize the barbarian challenge for what it is, or will we simply shrug and shuffle away with our figurative tails between our legs? Because I am an unabashed believer in all the good that America stands for (though acknowledging our blemishes), I am sticking to my hunch that Bush will end up with a slight majority in the nationwide popular vote. Voting for Bush is an expression of resolve and solidarity, the vital psychological underpinning upon which our national security depends. I liken this moment to the early 1980s when there were huge protests against the deployment of U.S. cruise missiles and Pershing II missiles in Western Europe. Nevertheless, elections in several NATO countries in effect ratified President Reagan's buildup, which nullified the Soviet nuclear advantage and ultimately played a huge part in ending the Cold War. Senator Kerry, in case you don't recall, was a staunch opponent of the Reagan foreign policy, wrong as usual when it comes to security matters. He talks tough about "hunting down" Al Qaeda, but he acts as though he had a spine of rubber. Mortal danger has the healthy effect of focusing one's mind on how to survive, and I think enough American people are aware that we are close to that point. I will give Kerry my (conditional) support if he is elected, since we simply must stand together in this time of peril, but I will tremble for the fate of this great nation if and when his hands are on the wheel of the Ship of State.

Larry Sabato's last Crystal Ball before the election hints at a slight edge for Kerry, depending on the turnout, since no incumbent has ever won an election without a clear lead in the polls. He foresees a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College, in which case the GOP-controlled House would choose the president. How will the Democrats react in that case? Armies of lawyers are standing by.

Good news for Bush: Reds' Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench endorsed him at a huge rally last night at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, where I saw a game back in August. The estimated attendance was 40,000. (I would have guessed more like 30,000, given that most of the upper deck was empty.) Bush appeared calm and confident, and that kind of event might be enough to tip the Ohio vote into his column. Kerry, however, has seemed strained and nervous, and positively silly when he wears that Red Sox cap. By the way, where is Mrs. Heinz Kerry these days? Locked up in a luxury suite in BelAir, or Bermuda, perhaps?

Rush Limbaugh raised a good point today: the Redskins don't play in Washington any more (FedEx Field is actually in Landover, Maryland), so that old superstition about incumbent presidents losing elections no longer applies.

Given all the nice things I've said about him, this is probably a good moment to review Bush's major failures and shortcomings.

  • Not telling the American people how arduous the war would be, or asking them to make material sacrifices.
  • Not asking Congress for a formal declaration of war against Iraq, in lieu of U.N. authorization.
  • Not making enough gestures of respect for the Iraqi people, and Arabs in general.
  • Not listening to advisers who urged a more robust occupation force, thus losing the strategic initiative, temporarily.
  • Not articulating a clear enough vision of what freedom would mean for the Middle East and the Third World. (MTV?)
  • Not upholding true conservative principles in health and education policy, or in the budget in general.

George Will makes some of these points in his tepid endorsement of Bush in yesterday's Washington Post. In the end, he writes, the most important thing is pursuing a firm, steady course in defeating the Arab-Islamic terrorists -- and Bush knows it. I'm willing to bet that the Democrats would have been in a much better position to win this election if such fringe elements as MoveOn.org and ACT had been more restrained and reasonable in their criticisms of Bush.

Just what I was thinking: Osama bin Laden's surprise address to the American people sounded like it was written by Michael Moore or the Democratic National Committee. Guess what? A Democrat has frankly admitted as much. Will the implications of this striking rhetorical convergence sink in to enough heads by tomorrow? See Jeff Jarvis's buzzmachine. (via InstaPundit and Belmont Club)

The eerie thing about the bin Laden tape is how he remixes Michael Moore -- remixes as if in a Cuisinart. I swear the guy saw Fahrenheit 9/11 and picked up the themes for his latest wacky show -- even the fixation with that goat book. It's so nutty that if he weren't such an evil murdering slime, it would almost be funny. Or it would sound like another 527 ad.

What's also strange is that it's hard to see exactly how he wants to influence the election. Though it may seem he's trying to defeat the President, taunting Bush and America may only serve Bush. And that may be his goal: These cult nuts feed on having enemies and Bush is his ideal enemy.

I sharply dispute his last part, of course, since I think bin Laden is more sophisticated than that. Maybe I'm wrong. Anyway, all that made me think, what if Bush has been consciously downplaying the importance of Osama bin Laden in order to undermine his prestige among his supporters? Did Bush deliberatedly "take his eye off the ball" (as Kerry keeps whining) in order to rob bin Laden of the attention he needs to survive?? If so, it would a "psychological operation" of the highest order. Reactions from the Looney Left to the bin Laden videotape (see erictheunred, via InstaPundit) make you wonder if some of that stuff is coming from right-wing plants out to discredit them. Nah, that's too conspiratorial.

NOTE: The blog posts above this point (chronologically subsequent) are part of my upgraded archiving system; blog posts below (chronologically preceding) were done the old fashioned way, lacking permalinks.)

October 31, 2004

Bad news for Bush:

The Redskins just lost to the Packers at FedEx Field, 28-14, and every presidential election immediately following a Redskins home defeat since the Redskins moved to Washington in 1937 has been lost by the incumbent party, and vice versa. Today's loss was tainted by bad officiating, however: What would have been a go-ahead touchdown pass play for the Redskins was called back on an illegal backfield motion penalty that the instant replays showed was dubious at best. The Redskins' in-motion back may have paused for a less than a full second prior to the snap, as he was supposed to do. I demand a recount! Perhaps this is a job for Football Fans for Truth!

Even if I were superstitious, I would still hold out hope based on the fact that this season has seen two long-standing historical precedents smashed: Baseball is returning to Washington, and the Red Sox won the World Series. Who's to say whether yet another Iron Law in the sports world won't finally be broken this year? (Speaking of which, Maryland beat Florida State for the first time ever yesterday, and the Steelers are on their way to upsetting the Patriots' 17 (?)-game winning streak!) Seriously, I'm guessing that Bush will win the popular vote by a slim majority, enough to erase any doubt about his "legitimacy," but not enough to lay to rest all the silly challenges that are likely to erupt, however the results turn out: Bush 51%, Kerry 48%, Nader, et al. 1%. So many states are up for grabs, however, that the electoral vote could go either way. That's why I'm preparing myself for the possibility of a Kerry presidency, as made clear in my letter to the editor in today's Staunton News Leader. (There were twenty (20) others!) Alas, I had to trim nearly half of it away to fit within their 350-word limit.

It is hard to know what to make of all the letters attacking President Bush that have appeared in your newspaper. Sometimes they make reasonably valid criticisms, but more often they are filled with hatred and bitter closed-mindedness. It's a perfect example of how many Americans have become "unglued," as your editorial in July put it. Blind dissent is just as bad as blind patriotism, if not more so.

Some differences of opinion in the war against terrorism are to be expected, since terrorists, and the "rogue regimes" that harbor them, specialize in sowing confusion and doubt about their intentions. However, Bush critics who deny that Iraq had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks or claim that there never were any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq are missing a fundamental point: Rogue regimes derive their political power not so much from formal links to terrorists or the actual possession of WMDs as from their ability to raise foreign anxieties. Did U.N. inspections ease our anxieties? No. Did Saddam Hussein's defiant cheering of the 9/11 attacks serve to rally Arab-Islamic terrorists? Yes. As long as he was in power, we could never feel safe. Senator Kerry's alternative -- focusing on "hunting down" al-Qaida while ignoring the culture of violence in the Middle East -- would be futile. As President Bush has emphasized, making America safer depends on promoting freedom abroad. This task will not be quick or easy.

Likewise, there are terrible misunderstandings about the Bush foreign policy. Suffice it to say that the multilateral approach favored by Sen. Kerry was made impossible when French and German leaders decided to exploit anti-American sentiment for domestic political purposes in 2002. That was not President Bush's fault.

The growing polarization in the American electorate may be a sign that the terrorists are succeeding in dividing us from within. As long as we Americans stand together, we will withstand any attacks launched against us. Divided, however, we fall. I will support whoever is elected president, but I will have far more confidence in our nation's security if President Bush is re-elected.


October 30, 2004

As election day approaches, our collective anxiety about terrorism increases. Aside from proving he's really alive, Osama bin Laden's videotape had the healthy effect of getting Senator Kerry to call the enemy by their rightful name: "barbarians." The fact that he's worried [about] a mere media appearance by the Al Qaeda leader -- as opposed to an actual attack -- suggests that Kerry and perhaps many Democrats have been pinning their hopes on Al Qaeda remaining out of the picture. Bin Laden's message laid equal guilt at the hands of Bush and Kerry, and while he probably sees no significant difference between the two, the election will still make a big difference in how the war is fought, and terrorists can hardly be neutral. Besides, they need to show they have clout -- by influencing foreign decisions -- in order to recruit new members.

Missing explosives update: Senator Kerry has harped on the alleged stolen high explosives in the final days of the campaign, even though his aides admit that no one knows the full story yet. To me, that shows desperation, and it gave President Bush a great rhetorical opportunity:

This week Senator Kerry is again attacking the actions of our military in Iraq, with complete disregard for the facts. Senator Kerry will say anything to get elected. The Senator's willingness to trade principle for political convenience makes it clear that John Kerry is the wrong man for the wrong job, at the wrong time. (via www.georgewbush.com)

As expected, Daniel Drezner also endorsed Kerry, based on what he believes was the incompetent way the postwar pacification was handled. Interestingly, however, I've just learned that the newspaper in John Kerry's hometown -- the Lowell Sun -- has endorsed President Bush. The title says it all: "It's about national security." Christopher Hitchens gave a weak endorsement to Bush in The Nation, after a cryptic and equivocal rejection of Bush in Slate. Well, I can certainly understand ambivalent feelings about Bush.

October 30, 2004

Kansas blues.

I just finished a book that expresses in fine detail how the Left views the upsurge of the Right over the past 25 years. It's What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, by Thomas Frank. I saw him on C-SPAN2 a few weeks ago, and he seemed reasonable enough. I was immediately taken aback, however, by the razor-sharp rhetoric and comments such as the "borderline criminality of capitalism itself..." Hello, Comrade! The fact that poorer, rural areas have come to vote Republican on a habitual basis contrary to what he believes is in "their fundamental interests" is evidence of widespread "derangement" which "is the bedrock of our civic order..." (Gosh! I'll have to tell that to folks here in Staunton; I'm sure they'll be thrilled to know that.) Raised in Kansas but frustrated as a young adult, Frank seethes with resentment toward the economic elite, while denying the existence of a liberal cultural elite. He probably couldn't grasp the irony that his book is a perfect example of the arrogant presumptiveness of the liberal elite. I did learn some interesting details on conservatives from Kansas, such as Sen. Sam Brownback and the Koch family, and on the issue of abortion in the early 1990s. I would agree it was too bad Republican moderates were overtaken by fundamentalist zealots. I'm all too familiar with the dying small towns across the prairies which he decries, but he glosses over the fact that these changes began long before the Reagan Revolution. Why on earth can't he at least acknowledge the possibility that two generations of urban-driven Democratic labor-union machine politics created huge distortions in our economy that were prejudicial to agrarian interests? His epilogue betrays what I see as the fatal flaw of many in the Left today: bitter, fatalistic resignation to impending doom: "Kansas is ready to lead us singing into the apocalypse." The fact that radical ideologues such as Frank who pose as scholarly analysts are gaining credence in mainstream circles these days is sadly indicative of the recent tilt toward the Left on the American political landscape. It is also a sign of fierce political battles to come.

Sign survey:

I was driving around town a few days ago, and decided to keep a rough tally of the political yard signs. Staunton is solid "red" (conservative, not socialist) country, so I expected a majority of Bush-Cheney signs. To my surprise, there were more than twice as many Kerry-Edwards signs: 50 to 24. Does this portend an upset win for Kerry in the Old Dominion? More likely it's an indication that all those reports we've been getting of stolen Bush-Cheney signs being stolen are true. We'll see. Democrats' support seems much stronger in upper-income neighborhoods. Speaking of stolen signs, a Democratic activist from North Carolina was arrested for theft and trespassing after he was videotaped stealing Bush-Cheney sign from a location where there had been at least two previous thefts. What are the Democrats doing with all those stolen signs? I hope they are at least recycling them properly. smile

GOP rally in Staunton!

Congressman Bob Goodlatte and Attorney General Jerry Kilgore spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of well over 100 supporters at the Republican headquarters yesterday afternoon. For photos, see swacgop.org.

October 27, 2004

The latest "scandal" over 380 tons of missing high explosives in Iraq, as reported by the New York Times on Monday, may be another concocted brew of half-truths. NBC's Jim Milkaszewski reported that when U.S. troops arrived at the site during the ground offensive toward Baghdad in April 2003, the explosives were already gone. (See MSNBC for an update.) The fact that CBS News and Kerry's campaign picked up on it so quickly raises eyebrows (Where is Mary Mapes?), and Rush Limbaugh declared that this is the Democrats' "October surprise." (Speaking of which, I thought they were going to capture Osama bin Laden this week.) The polls seem to be tightening, and the Washington Post's daily tracking poll puts Kerry ahead slightly, but I'm not panicking just yet.

As expected, conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan announced he's voting for Kerry, as "the lesser of two risks..." The reasons for his disappointment in Bush are well put, if emotionally strained, but his defense of Kerry on national security issues sounds like wishful thinking: "Besides, the Democratic party needs to be forced to take responsibility for the security of the country that is as much theirs' as anyone's." How about Dennis Kucinich as Secretary of Defense!?

Does Kerry really Have "a Plan" to get European countries to share the burden in Iraq? Sebastian Mallaby writes in the Washington Post:

If neither foreign nor Iraqi troops come to the rescue, a President Kerry might face a choice: Take back his election talk of bringing soldiers home, or take back his election talk of winning. Kerry is a responsible leader surrounded by a tough foreign policy team, and in the past few days I've edged closer to the view that he would not abandon Iraq prematurely. But if his team really did present the Europeans with a [Senator Joe] Biden-style ultimatum -- you get into Iraq or we get out -- it would risk creating a dynamic that would lead to a U.S. withdrawal and terrifying anarchy.

Which leads me to make a point that has been percolating in my mind for many months: Maybe Kerry and/or some of his top supporters actually want the United States to lose? It sounds insane, but the bitter spitefulness many on the Democratic side have showed in the last few years make you wonder. "See, we told you so!" Would Kerry as president be willing to jeopardize American interests down just to prove a partisan point? After reflecting, I will put that option past him, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility.

Perhaps such thinking is what gives rise to the hostile reactions faced by Republicans. Just out of curiousity, a journalist in Southern California decided to don a Kerry-Edwards shirt and strolled through conservative communities such as Bakersfield; then he put on a Bush-Cheney shirt and walked into the hip and posh neighborhoods of Venice, where counterculture Bohemians and the Hollywood set hang out. Guess what kind of reaction he got in each place?? See "Political Poseur: Pretending to be a Republican in Blue California" by Richard Rushfield in slate.com. (via InstaPundit)

World Series and Decision 2004:

Many people have concluded that the Red Sox ALCS triumph is a harbinger for a Kerry victory, since the team from Bush's home state lost in the NLCS. Here's another possibility: The fact that both teams in the World Series have red colors means that the candidate favored by the (GOP) "red states" will win the election!

October 24, 2004

Will John Kerry show up at Fenway Park for Game 2 of the World Series tonight? I'm sure "Manny Ortez" would be happy to see him. Massachusetts is safely in his column, so it's more likely he would be campaigning in Wisconsin, perhaps seeing a game in Green Bay's "Lambert Field." Kerry showed that he's a real manly man by going hunting in a crisp new camouflage outfit last week. Wind-surfing, anyone?

Most of the polls show a close race, with a slight lead for Bush. There's a lot of uncertainty because polls depend on telephone directories, but many young folks rely exclusively on cell phones these days, and are thus excluded from the sampling universe. Which reminds me, I've gotten into the habit of ignoring incoming phone calls unless the Caller ID tells me who it is, so any pollster trying to reach me this year didn't. That's another reason for the big uncertainty as we head for the finish line. A few months ago it was conventional wisdom that incumbents either win by a comfortable margin or lose decisively; this year may break that pattern. My hunch is that most of the undecideds will opt for Bush at the last minute, not being convinced that Kerry has anything better to offer, and perhaps a little spooked by his tactless wife. (Laura Bush never had a "real" job? How appalling. Imagine the wars that she might start by an offhand remark at an official reception.)

Meanwhile, Larry Sabato compares this election to that of 1916, in terms of the dynamic between foreign and domestic issues. See his Crystal Ball. It really shouldn't have come as such a surprise that Bush did better in the later debates which focused more on domestic policy, since that was his the heart of his original agenda during the 2000 campaign. 9/11 changed all that.

In spite of some misgivings, I strongly favor Bush over Kerry, mainly because of the war on terrorism. Here is my brutally honest, scrupulously impartial assessment:

Decision 2004: A Fair and Balanced Assessment
Issue / aspect Bush Kerry
War on terrorism B D
Other foreign policy B C
Trade and immigration B B
Economy C C
Civil rights & judicial issues B C
Social issues B C
Health care C F
Environment C B
Character B C
Intellect C A
Likeability A D

As I've made clear recently, nothing Kerry has said gives me any confidence that he really understands the nature of the conflict being waged against the West by the Arab-Islamic fascists. Note that Bush's "C" grade for economic issues is not based on any blame for the recent slow economy, but rather his apparent lack of concern for long-term fiscal soundness. Kerry is slightly better in terms of rhetoric, but is basically an old-fashioned tax-and-spend Keynesian Democrat. Bush's "C" for health care reflects his pandering to AARP on the prescription medicine coverage under Medicare. Kerry's "F" grade in that category reflects his pandering to trial lawyers (the biggest single source of health care inflation) and his fatuous promise of universal insurance coverage while denying any intention to impose government controls. That is simply impossible; as Bush said, Kerry's proposals would take us a huge step toward a European state-run system. Many people think we are inexorably headed that way in any case; not me!

October 22, 2004

In today's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer digs beneath the multilateralist foreign policy rhetoric of John Kerry and asks what he can possibly do to deliver on such a dubious promise. What is the one issue on which Europe and Mideast Muslim countries stand in agreement? Opposition to Israel. Krauthammer thinks Kerry intends to pressure Israel into major concessions and/or dramatically scale back U.S. security guarantees toward the Jewish state.

October 21, 2004

Is John Kerry disqualified?

Legal blogger Eugene Volokh addresses the question of whether section 3 of the 14th Amendment would bar the junior senator from Massachusetts from serving as this nation's Chief Executive (or indeed in Congress itself), by virtue of having met with North Vietnamese officials during the Vietnam War and having slandered American armed forces. Here is the relevant text:

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

(italics added for emphasis) Volokh ultimately concludes that this clause does not apply as one might think it does, but it is an intriguing thought, nonetheless. In more recent years, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) is at the top of this list of those who have come perilously close to giving aid or comfort to our enemies. (link via InstaPundit)

October 20, 2004

You're a Republican???

Why, yes, that is What I Am. For a heartfelt manifesto from a guy (George J. Esseff, Sr.) who is sick and tired of all the insults and bigoted stereotypes that have been hurled at members of the Party of Lincoln in recent years, take a look at whatiam.net. This appeared as a full-page "open letter" ad in this morning's Washington Post.

October 20, 2004

Based on the third debates last week, Daniel Drezner raised his probability of voting for Kerry from 60% to 80%. After reconsidering foreign policy comments submitted by his readers, he has since lowered the probability back down to 70%. His explanation is thorough and thoughtful, if not entirely convincing. I do fault Bush for not making it clearer from the outset that we had no desire to stay in Iraq any longer than is necessary, and for not seizing the opportunity to pay respect to the wounded pride of Iraqi people immediately after Saddam Hussein was toppled. I'm not convinced that a bigger occupation force would have made much difference in pacifying Iraq, and I'm definitely not convinced by Kerry's bemoaning Bush's alleged lack of a "plan to win the peace." We're not imperialists, so we can't presume to script the final outcome via a "plan." In a sense, the awkward handling of the transition by U.S. authorities is a reassuring sign that we don't mean to make this a routine course of action. Back to Drezner's main points, his complaints about the lack of coordination between the State Department professionals and administration Neoconservatives such as Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz are valid, in my view. The problem is that this focus makes Drezner quite oblivious to Senator Kerry's policy incoherence, failure to grasp the nature of the conflict, and his lack of commitment to winning the war.

October 19, 2004

So what about the flap over John Kerry "outing" Mary Cheney during the last debate? I thought it was tacky and crassly opportunistic, but not much to get excited about. Like President Bush, I'm basically "agnostic" on the nature-vs.-nurture question of "gaity" -- I just don't know how much choice is involved for most people. But that's just not good enough for some people such as Richard Cohen, who lambastes Bush's "intellectual obtuseness, the fervid confession of ignorance" in today's Washington Post. Though granting that homosexuality may not be 100% predetermined, he rants on, "Deep in his heart -- which too often functions as his brain -- Bush knows he has pandered to ignorance and homophobia." Just how does Cohen knows what is in the President's heart or mind? I sharply disagree with his proposed "Defense of Marriage Amendment," but at least Bush came across as sincere and thoughtful on the subject.

After seeing those big grinning teeth on one of the Sunday morning political shows, I thought of a good question to ask Jimmy Carter:

President Carter, please compare the recent referendum in Venezuela to the 2000 elections in Florida by ranking each on a scale of 1 (filthy, rigged) to 10 (pristine).

Would he dare answer candidly? He often gives the impression that there's not much difference, a disgraceful slur on our political system. Perhaps President-for-Life Hugo Chavez will build a statue to Jimmy Carter to replace the one of Christopher Columbus that was torn down.

October 18, 2004

In a fit of hyperbole, John Edwards said last week that if he and Kerry win the election, "people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again." Oh really? In the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer (who is wheelchair-bound) wrote,

In my 25 years in Washington, I have never seen a more loathsome display of demagoguery. Hope is good. False hope is bad. Deliberately, for personal gain, raising false hope in the catastrophically afflicted is despicable.

Mr. Reeve was a great inspiration for disabled people, but the tragedy of his horse-riding accident was compounded when his life ended up being exploited for political purposes. I'll never forget his dramatic appearance at the 1996 Democratic convention, which laid the sentimental groundwork for Bill Clinton's reelection triumph against the sensible but dour Senator Dole. Reeve asked what was meant by all this talk of "family values," and said, "I think it means we are all family. And we all have value." Like Plato (in his Republic) and like the 19th Century Socialist utopians, he saw no harm in seeking to forge a mass-scale community of sharing and equality. Never mind that such a vision clashes so directly with our own political culture!

What about the sexual harrassment allegedly committed by Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly? It's way too soon to know with any degree of confidence. Just because he fits the stereotype of a "mean-spirited Republican" does not mean he is necessarily guilty, and the same goes for Tom DeLay. As for the latter's troubles, I would hope one side-effect of the recent criticism of him would be to undermine the blatantly partisan redistricting schemes of the kind that he hatched in Texas. Can we hope to reverse the nationwide trend as exemplified by Colorado, Maryland, and Virginia? Both parties share guilt for this.

As a "public service," here are the links to the Web sites cited in last week's "Doonesbury" comic strips. Most of them aim to undermine President Bush's credentials as a conservative. Some of them are up front, making points that I think have validity, while others have a certain aroma of disingenuity, like the "seminar callers" that Rush Limbaugh complains about. To me, the grievances stem from the fundamental liberal-conservative conundrum associated with war that Bruce Porter (1994) called attention to. Even if Garry Trudeau doesn't buy the conservative premises to begin with, thus casting doubt on the sincerity of this bit of campaigning, they are worth reading for open-minded people.

October 13, 2004

UPDATE: Bush continued to improve both stylistically and in command of the issues tonight. Even liberal stalwart Mort Kondracke gave Bush the win. There were a couple solid points made by Kerry that Bush either didn't answer or didn't have a chance to answer, but otherwise he kept Kerry on the defensive the whole time. Also, Kerry repeatedly strayed away from the questions that were asked, feeling like he needed to make one more point about the previous issue, a bad sign. Bush handled with sincere ease the final question about the role of his wife and daughters, whereas it was almost too painful to watch Kerry do likewise. I felt a little sorry for him.

Just in time for the third presidential debate, I've written another big essay on "Understanding the War on Terrorism," posted on the SWACGOP Web site. Yet another plaintive appeal to fair-minded skeptics of the war, interspersed with a few sharp political barbs. (HINT: Your vote this year counts more than you could ever imagine.) Revisions are likely, in which case I'll post an updated version on this Web site. Back to the debates, the first two were pleasantly substantive, rising above the low standards we have come to expect in recent years. Too bad it interrupts tonight's ball game in The Bronx.

October 11, 2004

Glenn Reynolds writes in unusual detail about Kerry's comments in a New York Times Magazine article about wanting to reduce terrorism to the level of a "nuisance." Bush and his campaign organization jumped all over Kerry for that one, and there is a big irony in that Bush himself had caught some flak in early September for saying that we should not expect a clearcut military victory over the terrorists. That's just common sense, but Kerry has an extra burden of proof to surmount, by virtue of his own mealy-mouthed past statements that cast doubt on his commitment to prevail in the war on terrorism. Furthermore, the Bush ads mocking Kerry contain a very valid fundamental criticism: Over three years after 9/11, Kerry still shows no indication of grasping the nature of the Arab-Islamic fascist movement, or the political agenda behind it. He really does seem to think of terrorism as just an extreme form of juvenile delinquency that we just have to live with. On that point, he is dead wrong.

The networks and major newspapers all focused on the part of the report by U.S. chief weapons inspector Robert Duelfer that concluded that Saddam Hussein's capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction had been seriously degraded during the 1990s. Hardly any of them picked up on the part that found large-scale bribery of U.N. officials via the hopelessly corrupt "oil for food" program, rendering the economic sanctions against Iraq and the whole idea of "containing" Saddam a pathetic joke. (See Washington Post.) No surprise there. Another bit of good news for the Bush administration that got lost in the shuffle was the electoral victory of Australian Prime Minister John Howard's conservative coalition. He is almost as important an ally of the United States as Britain's Tony Blair.

In South Dakota, John Thune seems to have a narrow lead against incumbent Senator Tom "Mr. Obstruction" Daschle. The Washington Post reports that both candidates are pandering to West River ranchers who regard prairie dogs as destructive pests. Mainly for political reasons, environmental regulations on prairie dogs were recently loosened, so thousands of those burrowing rodents will probably be poisoned in coming months. To think that such peripheral issues might tip the balance of power in the U.S. Senate...

October 10, 2004

The local Republicans (hardly any of whom fit the "country club" stereotype) held a successful golf tournament at the Ingleside Resort in Staunton on Friday, followed by a prime rib dinner at the Mill Street Grill downtown. I didn't hit any double eagles this time, but I suppose I played alright, especially given my lack of practice. The weather was just spectacular, as you can see at Golf 2004. This was all timed to coincide with the second presidential debate, which definitely went better for President Bush than the first debate. The Bush Web site lists 19 inaccuracies by Kerry during the debate.

October 6, 2004

For me the Yankees-Twins game took precedence over the vice presidential debate last night. I cringe at smiley-faced huckster John Edwards the way many people cringe at the curmudgeonly Dick Cheney. His gruff style doesn't bother me, and in fact it is often very appropriate. I'm puzzled what he could have been thinking, however, when he declared that last night was the first time he had ever met Mr. Edwards when there is proof that the two had been in the same place on at least one previous occasion. I assume it was a mental lapse, but I'm afraid it will just end up giving more ammunition for those who complain about Bush-Cheney "lies."

new Wondering what the effect will be if New Jersey or Ohio votes differently than in the 2000 presidential race? Try the Electoral College Simulation, created by yours truly for the local Republican Party Web site. Many thanks to my younger brother Dan for trouble-shooting the JavaScript.

October 4, 2004

It seemed pretty clear to me that President Bush did better than Senator Kerry in the first 30 or so minutes of the first debate last week, effectively underlining the key arguments, such as: Terrorism is the end result of hatred deliberately sowed by dictatorial regimes in the Middle East. Therefore, our security depends on changing their regimes. It's a simple, fundamental point that folks on Kerry's side tend to ignore. Bush also pointed out that if Kerry really believed in U.N.-sponsored international security, he would have voted to authorize U.S. military action in Iraq in January 1991 -- after the U.N. Security Council had already passed the necessary resolution. Bush also made fun of Kerry for saying he would meet a "global test" in deciding on foreign intervention, but failed to go for the jugular when he had the chance. (See Just One Minute (Tom Maguire) and Juan Cole for thoughts on what the "global test" might mean.)

It was just as clear that Bush got fatigued as the debate wore on and let his irritation at Kerry show, a major stylistic boo-boo. Both Kerry and Bush got very repetitive toward the end, but Kerry did much better in regaining his composure. Upon this very non-substantive basis, most people (at least those in the polls and in the media) picked Kerry as the winner. So, it's going to be a "horse race," after all. Video tape of the first debate shows that John Kerry pulled something from his coat pocket as he stepped up to the podium, a possible violation of the lengthy debate rules, which specified no cheat sheets, among other things. See www.boston.com, via Drudge Report.

Finally, just for fun, here are some recent ScrappleFace headlines:

  • Kerry Battles Bush Without Plan to Win Peace
  • Rev. Jackson Brings Black Windsurfers Into Kerry Camp
  • Kerry Musters Coalition to Debate Bush
  • Kerry: I'll Kill Bin Laden with My Bare Hands

Ex-President Jimmy Carter bitterly complained about elections in Florida in last Monday's Washington Post. He has become an expert in overseeing elections around the world, most recently in Venezuela. (Hugo Chavez owes him a big favor.) I thought the tone of Carter's piece was unfortunately partisan, another sign of the sad times we live in. Libertarian blogger Asymmetrical Information, "Jane Galt" (pseudonym referring to Atlas Shrugged character) offers a much sharper retort to Carter's insinuation that our electoral process has descended to Third World status.

September 28, 2004

President Bush wryly lamented how difficult it has been to prepare for a debate with an opponent who takes so many different positions on major issues. Kerry's recent harsh attacks on Bush's Iraq policy seem to be a desperate attempt to shore up his dispirited political base on the left. He complains that Bush failed to "do it the right way," meaning that the U.S. should have sought the support of allies before going into Iraq. Not bloody likely, that. In fact, chances that our European "allies" might join in the battle against terrorists in Iraq have dwindled to nil, as seen in this Financial Times article. France and Germany have indicated they have absolutely no intention of sending troops to Iraq even if Kerry is elected, thus nullifying one of the major rationales for voting for him. Kerry's tailspin into negativism is not only politically risky, it approaches moral cowardice in the face of a common threat against which we desperately need to stand united. As the stalwart honest (former?) leftist Christopher Hitchens wrote in Slate yesterday,

The unfortunately necessary corollary of this -- that bad news for the American cause in wartime would be good for Kerry -- is that good news would be bad for him. Thus, in Mrs. Kerry's brainless and witless offhand yet pregnant remark, we hear the sick thud of the other shoe dropping. How can the Democrats possibly have gotten themselves into a position where they even suspect that a victory for the Zarqawi or Bin Laden forces would in some way be welcome to them? Or that the capture or killing of Bin Laden would not be something to celebrate with a whole heart?

In any event, Kerry's lame talk about how he would have relied on prolonged sanctions and multilateral diplomacy directly contradicts what he said back in 1997, as explained by realclearpolitics.com (link via Rush Limbaugh):

On November 9, 1997 Kerry gave a speech of his own free will on the floor of the United States Senate that was entered into the Congressional Record with the title, " We Must Be Firm With Saddam Hussein."

In the speech Kerry not only laid out the case for aggressive military action against Saddam Hussein, he cited Saddam's pursuit of WMD as the main rationale for action

In my never-ending quest to Engage in Meaningful Dialogue and look at issues from the other side's perspective, I browsed some leftist Web sites today. It was almost a complete waste of time. Nevertheless, if you have a really strong stomach and are curious about what they are saying about the Florida 2000 controversy these days, take a look at katherineharrissucks.com, www.ericblumrich.com, or www.gregpalast.com. Also, here are some of the more deranged recent entries from democrats.com:

  • Chilling Image of Bush
    Now tell us this photo doesn't evoke images of Nazi Germany in the 1930s! Here's Bush apparently giving an unabashed "Seig Heil!", while in the background a US flag hangs vertically suspended, as the Nazi flag was displayed.. news.yahoo.com
    (NOTE to paranoid lefties: Bush was just waving to a crowd. Get a grip.)
  • Bush's Biggest Rally - a White Supremacist Triumph?
  • Jeb's Gestapo Intimidates Black Voters in Orlando

Truly frightening, those domestic enemies of freedom. Remember how Terry McAuliffe blamed the White House for the "Rathergate" fake memos fiasco? Well, perhaps the above pieces are just something that Karl Rove concocted to make the Democrats look bad. Otherwise, I'm at a loss as to how to explain such extreme self-defeating hatred.

September 26, 2004

Loose cannon.

While campaigning at a rally at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Teresa Heinz Kerry weighed in on one of the most complex, weighty issues facing the American electorate:

"Terrorism is not Saddam Hussein. Terrorism is Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan," Heinz Kerry said. "Afghanistan is one thing; Iraq is another.

(SOURCE: www.coloradoan.com, via Donald Luskin) WRONG! Iraq and Afghanistan are both classic examples of tortured societies in which the former regime justified the brutalization of its own citizens by whipping up xenophobic hatred toward the West. Anyone who denies that Saddam Hussein's regime was not terrorist to its very core does not deserve to be taken seriously. Though it's repeated ad ininitum, that standard line from the Democrats (that Iraq and Afghanistan/Al Qaeda are unrelated) is looking sillier all the time. As Gen. John Abizaid explained this morning on Meet the Press, the enemy we face is not a specific individual, organization, or country, but rather a broad, amorphous fascist-inspired movement that draws upon nationalist as well as religious passions. It cannot be defined in a nice, neat way, which is precisely why it cannot be either "contained" or decisively defeated in a conventional sense. The threat of Arab-Islamic fascism can only be reduced gradually by a combination of military, diplomatic, economic, and political means, over a period of many years. As long as dictatorships persist in the Middle East, elements of this movement will enjoy safe havens. Does this mean U.S. forces will have to invade Syria and Iran? No. How we go about deposing such pathological regimes depends on the circumstances.

Anyway, Mrs. Kerry then got totally carried away with herself, unleashing another whopper to explain what her husband's "enlightened" vision of security would entail:

"Day One of his presidency, every child in America will have health care. Period," Heinz Kerry said of her husband. His plan also calls for the creation of a $25 billion federal account to protect people in case of catastrophic illness.

So Congress will be completely sidestepped as would-be President Kerry extends a huge new entitlement to a vast segment of the populace? Is he running for emperor or what? Andrew Sullivan believes that Mrs. Kerry may be the biggest factor in the crumbling of John Kerry's reputation as a political leader.

September 24, 2004

Thune vs. Daschle.

Tim Russert featured the candidates from the U.S. Senate race in South Dakota on last Sunday's "Meet the Press," and challenger John Thune did fairly well, sticking by his guns even when Tom Daschle (a.k.a. "Mr. Obstruction") practically wept -- wept! -- at the insinuation that his ill-timed bitter criticism of President Bush on the eve of the war in Iraq was less than patriotic. I often wonder whether Daschle's breathtakingly disingenuous affectation of being a plain-spoken country boy gets taken at face value by the folks back in his home state. Probably not, but enough South Dakotans probably like the extra attention and pork barrel money that he brings to the Prairie State that they don't mind his lack of sincerity. Daschle has the edge, according to UVa's Larry Sabato, but Thune is leading by a 50% to 47% margin according to a recent poll cited on his Web site In any case, it's very close.

Gore loser!

I keep wondering whether the apparent implosion of the Kerry campaign is real or whether the Democrats are just trying to lull the Republicans into complacency. Josh Marshall provides evidence for the former hypothesis, that the Dems are indeed in full-fledged despair mode, the way he sarcastically invokes the Florida 2000 controversy:

Don Rumsfeld said yesterday that elections in "three-quarters or four-fifths of" Iraq might be good enough.

In other words, run the place on Florida rules.

Only a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat could see any humor in that. They can keep wallowing in past frustrations, as far as I'm concerned. Doing so will only alienate them further from open-minded undecided voters. As for Rumsfeld's comment, I expressed the same relative equanimity about the less-than-optimal prospects for the Iraqi elections on September 15, by the way.

As far as Democratic strategizing, the Rathergate scandal may be taken as a hint of the hardball underhanded tactics to come. Don't forget how the baseless accusations about "W"'s alleged drunk driving record pushed the election in Gore's direction in the final days of the 2000 campaign. Expect more last-minute hijinks this year.

Not that the Republicans are entirely innocent of political nastiness, however. According to the 365Gay.com Web site, the Republican National Committee sent mass mailings to voters in West Virginia warning that the Democrats will legalize gay marriage and ban the Bible if they win the election. If true, it's deplorable, as is any such use of scare tactics. Also, the mean-spirited GOP Whip Tom DeLay and some of his aides are in legal trouble over questionable fund raising in Texas.

September 21, 2004

Rather comes (half) clean!

CBS announced yesterday that it regrets having aired the "60 Minutes" piece on Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard in the first place, and Dan Rather told his viewers "I'm sorry." However, his apology only applied to his role in putting out the story, not to his fierce defense of it after the evidence was shown to be false. The Washington Post provides details about the strange connections between CBS, the fraudulent memos, and the Democratic Party. "[Rather's producer, Mary] Mapes also put [retired Texas National Guard officer Bill] Burkett in touch with a senior official in John F. Kerry's presidential campaign..." Huh?? Recall that Joe Lockhart joined Kerry's team just before the bogus "60 Minutes" story aired on September 8. Lockhart has admitted having met with the source of the memos, Burkett, who faxed them to CBS from Kinko's in Abilene, Texas at about the same time. For a full chronology, see Baseball Crank.

Like Pete Rose and Bill Clinton, Dan Rather realized that cutting his losses was preferable to spending the rest of his life denying the obvious. Like them, his superinflated ego simply refused to make a fully sincere gesture of contrition, merely admitting to poor judgment without acknowledging deeper flaws. Rather is exactly the kind of overpaid pompous fool that was lampooned so well in Broadcast News, starring William Hurt, Albert Brooks, and Holly Hunter. (Remember the staged tearful interview video clip?) Frankly, I'm surprised the folks at CBS were able to stonewall as long as they did; if they had kept it up much longer, Rather would have had to utter a Nixonian "I am not a crook" line. The parallel with Watergate is deliciously ironic: The coverup of Rathergate (and Watergate) turned out to be a bigger crime than the original "cheap forgery" ("third-rate burglary"). Until Rather apologizes for dragging this matter out, for downplaying the seriousness of fraud, and for impugning the motives of those who brought this journalistic travesty to light, the matter will not be closed. If Rather were to be fired, many partisan CBS viewers would probably feel betrayed, so I'm guessing Dan will just take a week-long "vacation" to reflect on his errors, returning in plenty of time for the November showdown.

Not to be pushing conspiracy theories, but it cannot be entirely coincidental that the Democratic National Committee began running those "Fortunate Son" ads at about the same time as the "60 Minutes" report, seeking to exploit Bush's "chicken-hawk" vulnerability. On September 10, Glenn Reynolds made a good point about the writer of the song, "Fortunate Son." Before Creedence Clearwater Revival made the big time, band leader John Fogerty was himself a member of the Army Reserves, thereby avoiding service in Vietnam.

On a humorous note, Drew Carey, who has been filling in as host of the CBS "Late Late Show" since Craig Kilborne left, presented tearful mock "apologies" from CBS employees, including a janitor, a technician, and a cafeteria worker.

Good grief! Leftists, I mean "progressives," have come up with a clever scheme so that radical sentiment can be voiced in such a way that it won't cost the mainstream liberal candidate, John Kerry, any electoral votes. Remember Nader in 2000? VotePair.org is trying to get voters in swing states who are inclined to vote with their radical hearts to use their heads instead. Radical voter "A" in swing state "X" would agree to vote for Kerry in exchange for Democratic voter "B" in non-swing state "Y" voting for A's preferred radical fringe candidate. What would Gus Hall have thought of this? Such "pragmatism" in the exercise of democracy strikes me as very troubling, the idea that elections might be decided on the basis of insincerely-cast ballots. It's not only a transparent attempt to thwart the principle of federalism underlying the U.S. Constitution (setting up presidential races on a state by state basis, not nationwide), it's a wide-open invitation to fraud. (via www.mudvillegazette.com)

September 20, 2004

I happened to see a snippet of a speech made by controversial author (and blogger) Michelle Malkin at Berkeley on September 8 on C-SPAN2 last night. Her book In Defense of Internment: The Case for "Racial Profiling" in World War II and the War On Terror is a blatant violation of the cardinal sin in the P.C. world: the mere suggestion that discrimination of any kind might be justified in some circumstances. For dogmatic lefties, such views are intolerable heresies. Hence it was no surprise that she was rudely interrupted by screaming hecklers several times, a sad reflection of what's become of the "Free Speech Movement" pioneered in Berkeley. As I wrote on July 17, in light of the peril of mass-scale terrorism we now face, there is little choice but to apply scrutiny at airports and other key locations in an efficient manner, targeting the most likely threats. "Let common sense prevail."

September 19, 2004

Mistaken identity!

Robert A. Strong, a professor I know at Washington and Lee University (about 40 miles south of here), wrote a letter to the Miami Herald complaining he has been inundated with hateful e-mail from people whose ire was misdirected. It was reported that a professor named Robert Strong was weighing in on the anti-Bush side of the recent Texas Air National Guard / "RatherGate" scandal, but it was a different Prof. Strong. (Via Beautiful Horizons) Moral: Be careful before you "flame"! Personally, I'm astounded by the gutter language many people use toward each other in issues-oriented message boards, which I see as yet another symptom of a decaying civic culture. Where is Mr. Rogers when you need him?

September 15, 2004

Yesterday's posting included a link to the wrong story about the "RatherGate" scandal, so I corrected it below. I had inadvertently linked to this Washington Post story by Howard Kurtz, who reported that CBS News ignored the advance warnings about probable forgery made by two document experts it had retained. Dan Rather and CBS bigwig Andrew Heyward are sticking to their guns for now, relying on the deceased Lt. Col. Killian's secretary, who says that the general thrust of those alleged memos was accurate, even though she agrees with nearly all the experts who say the documents were fake. For Rather, the main point is that the underlying "60 Minutes" story about Bush is true, implying that the veracity of the evidence used to prepare that story doesn't really matter. Yikes. That reminds me of the kinds of things Molotov and Goebbels used to say. CBS has pledged to investigate its sources, reminding me of O.J. Simpson's pledge to search for "the real killer."

Whereas much of the "blogosphere" is in an uproar, some of the more highbrow types have an aloof or complacent attitude. One example is Daniel Drezner, an academic whose judgment is normally quite sound. I just posted the following comment on his blog:

Prof. Drezner asks: My one and only political response to all of this stuff is very simple: does anyone seriously believe that this election should be decided by what either candidate did more than thirty years ago?
The huge irony embodied in this question was touched on by Al (above), but it cries out for amplification. Not only did Kerry himself make what he did thirty years ago the centerpiece of his entire campaign, but Drezner apparently remains inclined to cast his vote for that same candidate! I share some of Drezner's misgivings about Bush's strategic miscalculations in Iraq, but I cannot fathom how the flip-flopping Kerry would do any better. Like it or not, a Kerry win would be interpreted by Islamo-fascists as a sign of U.S. retreat. As for the subject of the scandalous 60 Minutes report, the follies of youth and/or young adulthood are for me a marginal but not negligible mark of character. But as others have pointed out, Drezner misses the big point, seemingly unaware of the significance of the collapse of journalistic integrity at CBS.

September 14, 2004

Today's Washington Post lays out very damaging evidence casting severe doubt on the authenticity of those alleged Texas Air National Guard memos on President Bush. Incredibly (!), CBS News remains defiant in its defense of the 60 Minutes story and their sources. They cite two experts to back up the authenticity of those documents, but many more experts have unequivocally declared them bogus. Many wonder how a forgery could have slipped by, and most people assume it was simple arrogance on the part of Dan Rather and his CBS editors. Many bloggers -- perhaps prematurely triumphant -- are already proclaiming that this "RatherGate" scandal signifies the irrevocable decline of mainstream (liberal-slanted) television news. I can understand how the superscripted "th" happened; it's one of those annoying "features" of Microsoft Word that is very difficult to turn off. Uncle Bill Gates knows what's best!

Another fascinating (but far-fetched) possibility is raised by Rich Hailey (via InstaPundit): It may have been a conspiracy by the Clintonistas who recently arrived with the mission of trying to "save" Kerry's nosediving campaign, but who instead decided to dump Kerry from the Democratic ticket by means of this easily traceable scandal that will likely incriminate him and his inner circle, and then replace him with ... Hillary! Remember how the Democrats replaced Bob Torricelli just a few weeks before the 2002 election, after the filing deadline? One of the Clintonistas, Susan Estrich, practically boasted about the dirty tricks about to be unleashed, so extreme scenarios cannot be discounted entirely. Seriously, this whole campaign is turning very creepy.

September 12, 2004

The third anniversary of the 9/11 attacks passed without incident, thank God. Will we start to let our guard down? Will our security enhancement measures recommended by the 9/11 Commission degenerate into petty bureaucratic reshuffling, or will the human beings who guard our air and sea ports get the motivation to maintain a high state of vigilance? An even greater holocaust than the one in 2001 is by no means out of the question...

I try to refrain from jumping on the latest scandals before there are enough facts to warrant commentary, but it seems like "RatherGate" (thanks to InstaPundit for the clever typography) has reached critical mass. CBS has had enough time to reconsider its original "60 Minutes" report accusing President Bush of having failed to report for duty on multiple occasions while in the Texas Air National Guard, but has failed to do so, even as the evidence upon which that report was based becomes increasingly discredited. It now appears very likely that the documents were nothing more than cheap forgeries, while the few living witnesses in a position to corroborate the charges have weighed in against the CBS story. From what I can tell, the blogger who is most on top of this case, citing a number of solid typographical experts, is Hugh Hewitt. Dan Rather, who stubbornly stands by his original report, is apparently willing to drag his network down with him. Rather biased, I'd say!

September 9, 2004

In Tuesday's Washington Post, David Ignatius lamented the self-centered "Ptolemaic" foreign policy of the Bush administration, alluding the Medieval cosmology which held the Earth to be the center of the Universe. He worries about the growing "disconnect" between (most) Americans' self-image as the bastion of liberty with a duty to save the rest of the world and the widespread foreign perception that we have become more of a menace.

The Ptolemaist in me wants to tell the rest of the world to go to hell. ... But we should consider the need for a Copernican revolution in the way we think about America and the world.

Such a "Copernican" worldview would indeed be a healthy dose of reality for the isolation-prone American masses, but the way he credits John Kerry for holding such a view raises questions. For one thing, resenting concentrated power is a universal human trait, whatever the merits of the issue at hand. The U.S. happens to be on top of the global heap right now, and we are thus the "natural" target for people in countries lacking in opportunity, especially the Third World. Furthermore, as Hans Morgenthau wrote, "world public opinion" is one of those nebulous chimeras that do more to distract diplomacy than enhance it. Even if it were a desirable goal, it is highly uncertain whether a Kerry administration could do much to improve U.S. popularity around the world without sacrificing important national interests.

September 8, 2004

Smarting from recent reversals, John Kerry has shaken up his campaign staff, adding the supremely disingenuous Joe Lockhart, who served as Bill Clinton's spokesman during the latter years. Yesterday Kerry went on the rhetorical offensive, declaring that Iraq was "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time." (For you history buffs, that was the same phrase used by retired General Omar Bradley in testifying to Congress about the Korean War back in 1951.) In other words, Kerry apparently thinks we would be better off if we had not gone to war and Saddam Hussein were still in power. Oh yeah? Look at what he said during a campaign event last December:

Those who doubted whether Iraq or the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein, and those who believe today that we are not safer with his capture, don't have the judgment to be president or the credibility to be elected president.

(This was taken from William Kristol in the Weekly Standard, via InstaPundit) Kerry has excused past flip-flops on the grounds that he had been misled by the Bush administration. As late as last December?? Does he really want us to believe he was that much of an innocent dupe? I was listening to that hyper-patriot Ollie North on Sean Hannity's radio program this afternoon, and I think he just may have a point: He thinks that Kerry's mercurial stance, pathological flip-flopping, and sullen diffidence on his own past record are evidence that he is suffering from deep guilt over what he said and did during and after the Vietnam War.

September 7, 2004

For some reason, many Democrats are furious at the ad campaign launched by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, even though it was Kerry himself who made his Vietnam service the centerpiece of his campaign. ("I'm John Kerry, reporting for duty!") First, few people would doubt that, compared to President Bush, Kerry has more to be proud of for his military service. Bush himself said as much. But the ferocity of this latest flap does suggest a serious double-standard at play, as Benjamin Ginsberg argued in the Washington Post on September 1. He was recently obliged to resign as counsel for the Bush campaign after it was reported that he also did legal work for the Swift Boat Vets, because some people charged that this "proved" that there was illegal coordination between that "527" group and the Bush-Cheney campaign. Meanwhile, top Democrats such as Harold Ickes, Bill Richardson hold prominent positions in both "527" groups such as the Media Fund or MoveOn.org and the Democratic Party. Ginsberg lamented the failure of journalists to scrutinize the much stronger ties between the Democrats and various non-party political organizations:

When the Bush-Cheney campaign filed a detailed, 70-page complaint detailing illegal coordination by Democrats, the move produced 14 news articles, with no follow-up. When the Kerry campaign filed an unsupportable charge of coordination about the Swift boat ads, there were 74 articles, and the pack swarmed.

Liberal media bias? Whatever! Sadly, some facts of political life are just so obvious that no one gets worked up about it anymore.


With regard to that atrocious mistaken AP story mentioned yesterday, the hyper-partisan blogger Josh Marshall first reported the story almost as soon as it hit the wires, later mentioned that it had been retracted, then curtly acknowledged it was not true, and finally ridiculed Bush aide Karen Hughes for screaming at the AP reporter who got it wrong. (I probably would have screamed, too!) If he really thinks it was not important enough to get so upset about, then why in the world did he bother to call attention to the AP story in the first place??

September 6, 2004

Former President Clinton is "recovering normally" from his quadruple heart bypass surgery. I join the vast majority of Americans who wish him well and pray for his health. This being campaign season, however, there is a sad footnote to report: The Associated Press filed a story on Friday erroneously claiming that when President Bush broke the news about Clinton's hospitalization during a campaign rally, the crowd booed. This was totally false! The AP eventually retracted the story, but not before it had spread around the world and become accepted by many as fact. For a full story on this journalistic travesty, including links to an audio clip of the Bush rally, see spinswimming blog. (Via Donald Luskin's Poor and stupid blog.)

Sebastian Mallaby wrote a fair-minded piece on President Bush in today's Washington Post. He praised Bush's admission during the interview with Matt Lauer that the war on terrorism cannot be "won" in the conventional sense of military victory. All sensible people would agree with that, which is why the Democrats were unable to capitalize on Bush's alleged "flip flop." But Bush has yet to face up to his domestic agenda's likely effect on the budget. Mallaby writes:

If Bush offers more sober honesty, complementing the soaring paeans to liberty of his convention speech, he may present voters with the best of both worlds: a glorious belief in American power and a reassuring understanding of its limits. ... But the small signs of foreign policy sobriety are in stark contrast to Bush's domestic-policy thinking. Here, the bluster blares at full volume. There's no evidence of honesty or reconsideration.

As long as Karl Rove remains in charge, I'm afraid there's very little chance Bush will do or say anything differently. If he is reelected, he will then have the painful choice of either continuing the risky current economic policy course or else seeking to reduce the deficit, thereby infuriating millions of voters. Given the hardball campaign tactics he has adopted, he will not be able to expect any help from Congressional Democrats.

September 4, 2004

I just posted the following remark in reponse to a flood of derogatory comments about the phrase "God's country" on Randy Paul's Beautiful Horizons blog, a left-liberal take on events in Latin America. What prompted it was a Republican convention delegate from Iowa who invoked said term in scolding the protesters in New York about their "lack of patriotism."

Thank God (!) for Miguel's comment to balance all the rest. There was probably a tinge of bigotry in the Iowa delegate's remarks, but Randy and others totally misconstrue the expression "God's country." It means any place with endless verdant pastures and forests unspoiled by human hands (and machines). I'd be tempted to call the Yungas of Bolivia "God's country." True, the chemical-saturated mega-farms in the Midwest today are becoming less of a pristine Eden all the time, but if you'd ever been to the Field of Dreams you might understand from whence such sentiments derive. It doesn't mean that The Bronx (for example) is hell. Likewise, you would have to have lived in both rural and urban settings to see how much people really "love thy neighbor as thyself" in each environment. There are certain similarities between NYC and Iowa in terms of community spirit, but there are also huge differences. Perhaps the touchy feelings about patriotism, faith, and community on both the urban and rural sides of the Great Divide have their origins in the dual meaning of "country." Lighten up, y'all!

Overall, I was quite pleased by the Republican Convention, though some speeches were too harsh, especially Zell Miller's. President Bush's speech was among his finest, which is to say "good," though he got bogged down in policy details. That's the price he had to pay for having been vague about his plans for a second term up till then. The concluding part was appropriately humble and almost contrite about his personal shortcomings and past mistakes. It probably won't change very many voters' minds, but it at least served to reassure those (like me) who sometimes worry that he is too deaf to critics. He got the expected bounce in the polls, but that is probably only temporary. It is too late for him to come out with the kind of brutally frank assessment of our situation in the war on terrorism that might convince fence-sitters. As a result, I expect the campaign to be bitter and the election to be close.

Gay conservative Andrew Sullivan has given up on Bush and the Republican Party, and not just because of the exclusion of gays from the convention stage. (Dick Cheney's daughter was apparently nowhere to be seen.) Sullivan interprets the convention platform and speeches as indicating that Bush has definitively forfeited his credentials as an economic conservative:

The whole package was, I think, best summed up as a mixture of Bismarck and Wilson. Germany's Bismarck fused a profound social conservatism with a nascent welfare state. It was a political philosophy based on a strong alliance with military and corporate interests, and bound itself in a paternalist Protestant ethic. Bush Republicanism is not as authoritarian, but its impulses are similar ... the only difference between Republicans and Democrats now is that the Bush Republicans believe in Big Insolvent Government and the Kerry Democrats believe in Big Solvent Government. By any measure, that makes Kerry - especially as he has endorsed the critical pay-as-you-go rule on domestic spending - easily the choice for fiscal conservatives.

Ouch! As election day approaches I will be taking a good hard look at what Bush says and does to see whether Sullivan was right. If he was, then it may be time to start supporting the Concord Coalition once again.

The death toll in Beslan stands at 324, and will probably climb much further. Ralph Peters, in the New York Post, draws the appropriate trenchant conclusions from the slaughter of innocent children in southern Russia:

If Muslim religious leaders around the world will not publicly condemn the taking of children as hostages and their subsequent slaughter -- if those "men of faith" will not issue a condemnation without reservations or caveats -- then no one need pretend any longer that all religions are equally sound and moral.

When I praised Bush for "taking the high road" by distancing himself from the Swift Boat Vet ads on August 23, I should have acknowledged a bit of disingenuity on his part: he never believed that the McCain-Feingold bill would end fund-raising sleaze in the first place. But on the very next day, E.J. Dionne escalated the disingenuity race in the Washington Post when he called on Bush to:

tell the inappropriately named Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to stop smearing Kerry's service record and urge his big money contributors to stop bankrolling the distortions.

It's too bad he can't even hint at acknowledging that the negative ads from "527" groups like MoveOn.org are far worse in terms of accuracy and questionable funding. I'm still reserving judgment about the Swift Boat Vets, though I did take a look at the book by John O'Neil, Unfit For Duty, and it appears convincing at first glance. It claims Kerry was an antiwar activist in college as early as 1966, whereas in the interview he did with WRC-TV in 1971, he said he didn't change his mind about Vietnam until he went there in 1968. He used to claim that he served on two tours in Vietnam, but in the first tour he was on a destroyer in the South China Sea. If you want the true facts, here are links to Kerry's 1971 testimony to Congress and an apparently impartial chronology of Kerry's career. If you are interested in how Kerry has flip-flopped on Saddam Hussein, WMDs, and all that, take a look at: Kerry on Iraq.

More leftist merriment: Banana Republicans, "How the Right Wing Is Turning America Into a One-Party State." A Project of the Center for Media and Democracy." So we are a "one-party state" now?? Last I checked, the election was still up for grabs; I guess that reveals the mentality of folks who used to have perennial control of Congress and came to feel they were entitled to permanent majority status. It IS true that the country has become more polarized since "W" took office, but the reasons for that are less clear. Bush's critics consistently fail to point out specific examples of what he has done to cause this. The President is rated as likable by an overwhelming majority of American.

But wait, there's more, from the CyberCast News Service (via InstaPundit):

U.S. Rep. Major Owens, a New York Democrat, warned a crowd of feminist protesters that the Bush administration is taking America "into a snake pit of fascism."

I don't know about the CyberCast News Service, but you can find similar extremist language on Rep. Owens' Web site. Oh yeah, well take THIS: Communists for Kerry (via Donald Luskin's Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid blog.)

On a more serious note, Larry Diamond, a political scientist with the Hoover Institution who served as adviser to the Coalition Provisional Governing Authority in Iraq, wrote a sharply critical analysis of the U.S. pacification strategy. As I've written before, democracy has been oversold by the Bush administration -- and by virtually every U.S. administration since Woodrow Wilson. Democracies per se are not necessarily more peaceful, liberal republics with limited governments and divided powers are. (For more, read Rummel.) I've seen him at an APSA conference or two, and he is definitely in the top tier prestige-wise -- and he knows it. I missed the Chicago meeting this year, but Daniel Drezner was there, and led a panel on political blogging. (Andrew Sullivan was absent, however.)

Finally, John Thune has recently taken a small lead in the polls and just may just beat Tom Daschle, according to this story from gopusa.com. DUMP DASCHLE!

September 1, 2004

This week's speeches a the GOP Convention have been consistently rousing, and it seems that the rank and file party members are getting fired up and, for now, setting aside differences. On Monday Rudy Giuliani frankly acknowledged some differences over policy but left no doubt about his degree of support for the president, a very good sign that the "big tent" is holding firm. Arnold Schwarzenegger's speech last night was surprisingly effective, taunting the nay-sayers who lament this country's supposed poverty: "Don't be an economic girlie-man."

Senator John McCain and Former Senator Zell Miller sure gave John Kerry hell tonight. McCain showed class by criticizing the Swift Boat Veteran ads on general principles (he did not challenge their factual accuracy, however), and has at the same time restored his standing in the Republican Party after occasionally straying from its core principles in recent years. Miller has long been regarded as a moderate-to-conservative Democrat, but he has flip-flopped on policies, and his criticism of Bush policies in recent years is worth a raised eyebrow or two. Vice President Dick Cheney followed up, scorning Kerry's "sensitive, multilateralist" approach to national security: "George W. Bush will never seek a permission slip to defend the American people."

The local Republican Party headquarters in Staunton opened its doors on Monday, and I took a couple photos of it for the swacgop.org Web site. Local members are enthusiastic and confident, especially given all of Kerry's recent contradictory statements on his Vietnam service and his policy flip-flops, but no one is taking anything for granted, not even in the "safe" territory of Virginia.

August 28, 2004

I was right!

Back on July 17 I predicted that the restorehonesty.com Web site, which featured anti-Bush diatribes from former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, would soon be "gone and conveniently forgotten." In it, Wilson bitterly denounced what he called the Bush administration's "deceptive" arguments for going to war against Iraq, but that was before more of the detailed facts about the 2002 intelligence reports on uranium from Africa came out in July. Now, all you will find at that Web address is a bland portal to John Kerry's campaign Web site, with no mention of Joseph Wilson anywhere. Ha! Are the Kerry folks trying to hide something? I say, "Restore 'restorehonesty.com' to its original form" so that everyone can see the bogus propaganda Kerry has relied on. That's one way he can repair his shaken credibility and live up to the standards of honesty...

August 23, 2004

An August 22 Washington Post story by Michael Dobbs sifted through the evidence regarding the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth charges against John F. Kerry's military record. So far, the truth seems somewhere in between. My sense is that Kerry probably served honorably, but flagrantly hustled superiors ("Ouch!") to get an extra Purple Heart and thus a quick exit from Vietnam. There is little doubt that from the very beginning he was self-consciously capitalizing on his Vietnam service for a possible future career in politics. His callous disrespect for his comrades in uniform and his too-pious Congressional testimony are examples of utter shameless gall. Kerry's most dubious claim of having been in Cambodia on Christmas Eve 1968 is not corroborated by any official documents, and his campaign organization has beat a steady retreat from his past definitive declarations of how that experience was "seared ... seared" in his memory. It is possible, however, that he was on a "black" secret mission. If so, he never should have divulged it to the public, and anyone with so little regard for confidentiality sensitive national security matters is unfit to serve as commander in chief.

Why would Kerry put so much emphasis on his military service if he had so blatantly inflated his record? My guess is that he wanted to divert the public's attention from the fact that, like Nixon in 1968, he really doesn't have any better ideas on how to win the war on terrorism. If that is the case, why in the world should we "change horses in the middle of the stream"? In any case, all that gung-ho, off-color bravado (I'm John Kerry, reporting for duty!") is likely to wear thin as more people realize that there is very little correlation between presidential greatness and past military service. Abe Lincoln vs. Ulysses Grant?

To me, the biggest lesson to be learned from this is the futility of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which inadvertently created the massive pernicious loophole. Only in a world of political saints could the "527" organizations such as MoveOn.org and the Swift Boat Vets be regarded as fully independent of the respective parties and presidential campaigns. Why pretend? Well, there's a good reason: Both sides are straining to appeal to the small but vital undecided bloc of voters, who are by and large clueless about the facts and/or innocent of such Washington political games. To his credit, President Bush today distanced himself from any and all such unauthorized quasi-campaigns, calling on the Democrats to do the same. Way to take the high road, "W"! Meanwhile, esteemed WWII veteran (and political hard-baller) Bob Dole endorsed the Swift Boat Veterans' charges, in a well-choreographed "good-cop, bad-cop" routine. John Kerry is shocked -- shocked! -- that the usually slow-witted Republicans have learned to play his party's game.

August 18, 2004

Thanks to Phil Faranda for the link to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group of former sailors who served with John Kerry in the Vietnam War. Why didn't more of those Navy vets speak out before? If what they are saying is true, Kerry will have been exposed as a complete fraud, and the whole "chicken hawk" line of criticism toward President Bush collapses. If not, it shouldn't be hard for Kerry to rebut them and lay the issue to rest, in which case his election would become a near certainty. I'm not surprised by the escalating tit-for-tat negative ads by organizations that are not affiliated with the official presidential campaigns, given that the Democrats have turned this election into a virtual holy war, but such a high-stakes challenge is unusual. Hang on, folks, it's going to be a rough ride for the next two and a half months!

August 4, 2004

I hope Daniel Drezner read Robert Kagan's sharp critique of "The Kerry Doctrine" in the Washington Post's "Outlook" section on Sunday. Kagan ridicules Kerry's pious pledge to

bring back this nation's time-honored tradition: The United States of America never goes to war because we want to; we only go to war because we have to. That is the standard of our nation.

In fact, as Kagan points out:

The United States has sent forces into combat dozens of times over the past century and a half, and only twice, in World War II and in Afghanistan, has it arguably done so because it "had to."

The point is that Kerry panders to the illusion of innocence that underlies the persistent isolationist tendency in American politics, which is a dangerous impediment to effective diplomacy. What does Kerry himself really believe? Does he even know?

Investigative blogger Michelle Malkin reports that Grover Norquist has been defending a Saudi financial supporter who has proclaimed sympathy with the cause of the terrorists. Norquist is a heavyweight tax-cutting advocate who has made a number of enemies in Washington, but is close to President Bush's adviser Karl Rove. Just what Bush needs: links to the enemy. I had hoped that Bush might shake up the White House staff after the setbacks of recent months, possibly even putting former staffer Karen Hughes back in a prominent spot and demoting Karl Rove. His father tried a similar fourth-quarter staff shakeup in mid-1992, but it was all for nought. Perhaps that's why Bush Junior prefers to Stay The Course.

In any case, Kerry got little if any benefit from the Democratic Convention in Boston, and his wife is once again in hot water for a caustic retort to hecklers at a campaign rally. This may be the first election in which the choice for First Lady ended up being the decisive factor.

July 31, 2004

John Kerry's acceptance speech on Thursday night was mostly mainstream consensus views, leavened with lame platitudes. His delivery was just rousing enough to keep us awake, though it was painful to watch him struggle so hard to crack a smile. Charisma is not a prerequisite for the nation's highest office, and we sure as heck don't need another "talk show host" like Bill Clinton. His daughters tried to shed light on his less-uptight private personality the day before, and his regal wife Teresa likewise defended him for just being the way he is, and that's fine. (She has been criticized as self-centered, but I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt for the moment.)

As for the substance, Kerry was a little harsher on Bush than I expected, given the highly-disciplined restraint on show at the convention. The Democrats know very well that hatred of Bush is a two-edged sword that they must wield with great care. Kerry ably followed up Clinton's earlier criticism of the growing U.S. indebtedness to creditors in China and Japan, one consequence of Bush's tax cut fever. What struck me was Kerry's absence of specific proposals on domestic policy (are they planning a surprise?) and his emphasis on national strength and fighting terrorism. The shift in emphasis from the economy (which has been improving) to security (which is as uncertain as ever) represents a bold attempt to take the campaign fight to Bush's "home court," but it may backfire. Granted, building up the size of the regular Army is certainly overdue, but Kerry shouldn't have pandered to the Left by saying the additional troops would not be deployed to Iraq. Since military assets are "fungible," such a declaration really doesn't mean anything anyway. More generally, Kerry's proposed "multilateral" alternative approach to foreign policy is nothing more than wishful thinking. The idea that being nice to France or Russia or Germany is going to get them to take a more active role in fighting the Islamic terrorist menace in its heartland is simply not credible.

Among cyber-pundit reactions, I was a little surprised by Daniel Drezner's surprisingly positive take of Kerry's "liberal hawk" foreign policy platform. Lke me, Drezner regards himself as a moderate conservative, and I wonder whether he might be leaning toward Kerry in order to garner credibility from those in the center or on the left. To his credit, Drezner upbraided Kerry for simplistic pandering on the outsourcing issue. I'm disappointed in Glenn Reynolds for indulging in so much cheap derision of Kerry, such as poking fun over that NASA clean-room suit flap.

July 28, 2004

Blogger Dean Esmay poses a hard question to conservatives: Will they support Kerry as national leader should he win the election in November, and will they express dissent in a respectful way? Even though I find Kerry irritatingly condescending and wrong on most key issues, I have no hestitation in answering that question in the affirmative. Unlike many on the left, I take the peril our nation faces dead seriously: United we stand; divided we fall. Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link.

Military blogger Sgt. Stryker has some scathing words for partisans on both sides:

Three years into this current war, we've invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. We've created a new Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. We created a "Transportation Security Administration". The nation and the government, however, are still on a peacetime footing. No sacrifice has been asked of the general populace. People are apparently still scared to fly and have no faith in the security apparatus meant to protect them. A sizeable portion of the public honestly believes that we're not at war. Three years into this thing and we're about as screwed-up a nation as we can be. If you want someone to blame for the state of things, then each of you needs to take a long, hard look into the mirror.

Indeed, another big attack on American soil this fall will render partisan debates utterly beside the point and even childish. I agree with Sgt. Stryker that President Bush has failed to ask Americans to sacrifice for the sake of victory, and that much of the homeland security initiatives since 9/11 have been little more than bureaucratic chair-shuffling. (Much of what the 9/11 Commission recommends falls into the same category.) Sgt. Stryker fails to recognize, however, that there is a huge difference between the parties in terms of facing up to the terrorist threat.

Rising Democratic star Barack Obama came across pretty well last night, but his political identity seems hard to pin down. The Dems will need a lot more than upbeat rhetoric if they are too win and/or govern. So far the conventioneers in Boston have been very well behaved, and even Michael Moore zipped his lip for the sake of propriety. Josh Marshall has a good explanation for the Democrats' curious refraining from the expected hateful venting toward Bush at their convention:

Among Democrats, the rejection of this president is so total, exists on so many different levels, and is so fused into their understanding of all the major issues facing the country, that it doesn't even need to be explicitly evoked.

July 27, 2004

Thanks to C-SPAN, I was able to watch a rerun of last night's speeches at the Democratic Convention. I had missed Hillary's introduction of Bill and the early part of Bill's remarks. They kept accusing Republicans of trying to divide the country, and then indulged in good old fashioned class warfare rhetoric. Quite a paradox, no? Republicans, of course, would rather not emphasize the inevitable differences in income levels that exist in every society, especially in dynamic ones like ours that attract so many immigrants from abroad. One wishes it would dawn on more people that the redistributional impulse of making "keeping up with the Joneses" the centerpiece of public policy is the very essence of social divisiveness. Such an agenda only serves to retard economic progress and exacerbate bitterness among the less fortunate. In terms of substance, oddly enough, I had a hard time figuring out what the Big Differences on foreign and economic policy are, except for raising taxes on the wealthy investor class (like Bill is now!) and pushing for incremental socialization of health care. It leaves me wondering what possible reason there could be for all that Bush hatred; apparently there is no there there. Ever-upbeat Bill still dreams of global harmony via multilateralism, not realizing that 9/11 signified the ascendancy of the power of negative thinking.

July 26, 2004

The Democratic Convention just got underway, and Bill Clinton reminded us what a great orator he is. "Strength and wisdom are not opposing values." Well put; I'm glad "W" won't have to face Clinton in a debate. But if Kerry wins, Hillary will have to wait eight more years to run for the Big Job! Much is being made of Terry McAuliffe's fund-raising successes and all the posh exclusive events staged for top donors. One would have to be a deeply devoted believer to overlook all the clashes between principle and practice. The big question is whether they can stoke the fires of Bush hatred -- the only thing that really keeps them together these days -- without letting such passions get out of control. Is any Democratic candidate big enough to say that he or she doesn't want the votes of whoever wrote "We hate Bush" on the fence I saw at Ground Zero?

Thanks to my sister Connie for a link to the famous Bush vs. Kerry lampoon animation, where they sing "This Land Is Your Land." Like Fox News, it's "fair and balanced" (!), and is of better technical quality than the Osama bin Laden animation that was created back in September 2001.

July 21, 2004

Democratic blogger Josh Marshall strains to uphold Joe Wilson's version of the whole Iraq-Niger-uranium-CIA-Novak mess, and does about as good a job as anyone could in that awkward position. He is truly a world-class spin doctor. In particular, he rebuts some key points in Susan Schmidt's previously-cited Washington Post article from July 9. I would grant that not all the facts are in, so we should reserve judgment on certain key issues. Do Marshall's blog posts show any such fair-minded reserve on controversial issues? No. Meanwhile, Michael Barone contrasts the hysterical charges that Bush is a "liar" with the scant coverage of the revelations about Wilson's disinformation crusade by the establishment media. Barone makes it plain, as if there were any doubt by now, that journalistic elites are engaged in an orchestrated campaign to discredit President Bush and whitewash his critics.

And if the web of deceit and intrigue that surround Joe Wilson wasn't enough, Clinton's national security adviser Sandy Berger is being investigated for having unlawfully removed highly sensitive documents relating to Clinton administration policies on terrorism from the National Archives. Given the deep partisan divide that exists right now, I would rather not wallow too much in the mistakes of the past, but it certainly does appear that they must have something to hide.

July 17, 2004

Last week Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge warned that Al Qaeda may be planning to launch a major attack aimed at disrupting the November elections. Given their success in Spain, that certainly wouldn't be a surprise. Nevertheless, according to the Washington Post, Rep. Jim Turner (D-Tex.) said he doubts such a thing is likely. Frankly, expressing any opinion on this delicate question runs big risks, of either the "chicken little" or the "head in the sand" variety.

The former risk may be why we haven't heard about the extremely spooky incident aboard a U.S. airliner in late June, as reported by Annie Jacobsen in womenswallstreet.com. She noticed a group of a dozen Middle Eastern men (who turned out to be musicians from Syria) repeatedly opening carry-on luggage and using the lavatory, in careful sequence, as if they were rehearsing a hijacking. Since no major news organizations have reported on this yet, it may be just a hoax. Even if it was not a dry run for another 9/11-style attack, it could have been part of a long-term campaign to intimidate or unnerve us, or to probe airport security screeners who have been wary of singling out Arab-appearing people. One preliminary lesson to draw is that those who make political hay out of denouncing the U.S. government for curtailing civil liberties may be doing us grave harm. Another is that this country needs to move beyond the civil rights sensibilities of the 1960s and recognize that in some situations there is a place for discrimination. Let common sense prevail.

Here's a good one: restorehonesty.com, a Web site featuring pious ponderings by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, sponsored by John Kerry's campaign. In light of recent revelations (barely noted in the mainstream press) that Wilson not only lied about the African uranium connection but did grave damage to U.S. foreign policy, I'm wagering that that Web site will be gone and conveniently forgotten very soon.

July 13, 2004

Well, well, well! Based on the Senate's recent scathing report on intelligence, it turns out that Joseph Wilson, the center of last year's scandal over the leak of his wife's identity as a CIA analyst by Robert Novak, was not telling the truth about a number of key points. His previous denials notwithstanding, Wilson in fact was recommended for the special mission to Niger by his wife, Valerie Plame. Furthermore, as reported in the Washington Post:

The panel found that Wilson's report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts. And contrary to Wilson's assertions and even the government's previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence that made its way into 16 fateful words in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address.

As they say, read the whole article. It's good. (Why are so many of the loudest critics of Bush, the ones who call him a "liar," liars themselves?)

John Kerry, the ultra-cautious candidate who wants to be on both sides of every major issue, stubbornly evaded a key question put to him by Leslie Stahl in Sunday's CBS 60 Minutes. Was he for the war in Iraq or was he against it? He kept saying "the president made a mistake in the way he took us to war," meaning that Bush should have tried harder to get other countries to join us, but he left unclear what his position on the war itself. To her credit, Stahl pressed him more than once to get him to say whether he opposed the war, but he just said he thought he had answered her question. Unfortunately, the CBS Web site did not include a complete transcript.

I've written before that the idea of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage is almost as silly as the idea of gay "marriage" itself. It ought to be self-evident that marriage is by definition a heterosexual union, and I think legislating social norms would probably backfire. Alas, we live in strange times in which such norms carry no weight. I heard several congresspersons and political figures such as Walter Fauntleroy making impassioned pleas on behalf of the Federal Marriage Amendment yesterday, and I was almost convinced.

July 9, 2004

James Lileks rips into Michael Moore for his willful, malicious deceitfulness, and more broadly he condemns the Left's robotically monotonous sceeching about Bush's alleged "lies." Here's how his post from Thursday starts:

Believing in Bush's perfidy gives some people the same comfort and emotional nourishment others get from believing in Jesus. It validates them, cements their view of the world -- venal, conspiratorial, run by capering chimps who are somehow ten times less intelligent than Usenet posters but somehow able to yank strings on a global scale.

I think that pretty welll captures the extremely deep disdain leftist elites have for the Bushies. "Nucyular!" Many people regard Moore as filling the role of Rush Limbaugh for the Left. Well, there are strong similarities: They are both overweight, white, often-obnoxious, middle-aged males. Otherwise, they are as different as night and day. Say what you will, Rush does not come anywhere close to Moore's extremist hysteria. He's a forthright, inspirational, middle-American guy who routinely indulges in satrical hyperbole, but he certainly doesn't spread gloom, doom, and conspiracy tales. Only people with locked-tight closed minds could fail to recognize (if not appreciate) Rush's tongue-in-cheek humor. Some people blame Rush for hyping the Vince Foster suicide as a possible murder during the first year of Clinton, but those circumstances were suspicious. Likewise, his denunciations of Bill and Hillary often bordered on bad taste but stopped short of slander, which is what Moore specializes in.

Thanks to Carolyn Hoaster of the Staunton Republican Party for her letter to the Staunton Daily News Leader drawing attention to the book I Was Wrong by the Rev. by Ken Joseph, Jr. He was one of the pacifist "human shields" who went to Iraq in a vain attempt to forestall the U.S.-led liberation last year. After talking with the supporters of Saddam's regime who actually wanted war with the Americans, Rev. Joseph realized that the pursuit of peace was impossible in the old Iraq. For more details, see the Assyrian Christians Web site.

July 7, 2004

Edwards for Veep!?

John Kerry's choice of John "Keanu"* Edwards was no big surprise: regional balance, charisma, etc. Sean Hannity and others are jumping all over Edwards for not knowing who Leah Rabin or her martyred husband, former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin were. Indeed, Edwards lacks either the experience or knowledge to serve as president, quite the opposite of Dick Cheney, as President Bush tartly pointed out today. But since Bush himself was exposed for lacking knowledge of foreign leaders in an interview "ambush" back in 2000, that line of criticism won't go very far -- especially in our self-absorbed culture where ignorance is considered a virtue. Will the fact that Edwards is a trial lawyer who became fabulously wealthy by litigation against medical practitioners undermine his credentials as a populist? How many obstetricians have stopped delivering babies because of the liability crisis engendered by Edwards and his ilk?

* The nickname "Keanu" refers both to Edwards's boyish charm and to the hyper-ambitious, scruples-lacking lawyer played by Keanu Reeves in The Devil's Advocate. Quite a striking parallel...

Speaking of diabolical plots, Bush hatred is reaching new lows of depravity, as the President is depicted as "Satan Devouring His Children" (a painting by Goya) on the back cover of The Nation magazine. As B. Preston notes in his junkyardblog, when former Clinton aide Paul Begala appeared on a recent edition of CNN's "Capitol Gang," he declined Bob Novak's request to denounce this, and instead said that the Nation "shouldn't be censored by right wingers." Who mentioned censorship? Begala is one of the most shameless, vituperative hacks on the Left these days, but you can tell by his nervous half-grin that his conscience weighs heavily upon him.

July 5, 2004

Independence Day 2004:

Most Americans intinctively equate national (collective) liberation from foreign oppression with individual liberation from domestic oppression. That's a result of the somewhat unique circumstances of our relatively recent national origins stemming from English colonial roots. The land once known as Mesopotamia and now known as Iraq, in contrast, has been colonized by Arabs, Turks, and (briefly) by the British over the centuries. What would it take for future Iraqis to make a similar association between national liberation and individual freedom? Well, a reasonably broad national consensus on our long-range objectives in the Middle East would be a good place to start. Doubts the Iraqi people may have about the U.S.-led mission to stabilize and democratize their country can only be aggravated by hyperpartisan bickering here in the States. Michael Moore, John Kerry, and other nay-sayers certainly aren't doing the Iraqis any favors.

An article in the Washington Post last week played up divisions over fiscal policy in the Republican Party. It quoted former senator Warren B. Rudman, a co-founder of the bipartisan deficit-cutting Concord Coalition:

For a majority of Republicans in Congress, tax cuts are now more important than budget constraints, and they've gotten themselves between a rock and a hard place because you can't have both.

Since it was via the Concord Coalition that I gradually migrated toward the Republican side, I must confess that I have similar worries. Granted, tax cuts can be an effective means to restrain spending, but it depends on the circumstances. Republicans in Virginia recently let Governor Mark Warner score a big victory over the budget last month by exploiting divisions between those who prioritize tax cuts (mostly in the House of Delegates) versus those who prioritize fiscal responsibility (mostly in the state Senate). Most reasonable people in Virginia became convinced that very little "fat" remained in the state budget, and any further spending cuts would sacrifice "muscle tissue" in education, highways, and public safety. The Republican leaders' failure to work out a joint negotiating strategy in advance of this year's legislative session was simply inexcusable. As a statewide government shutdown loomed, many of the moderates succumbed to pressure and cut a deal, leaving the tax-cut champions out to dry. It was not unlike what happened to the Republican Revolution in 1995, when the Clinton spin machine prevailed in a high-stakes "game of chicken" with the Republicans in Congress. For over three decades the Democrats had built an entrenched empire in Washington by creating new voter blocs via ever-expanding entitlements, and when necessary, making budget compromises that systematically exploited the Reublicans' greater concerns about fiscal restraint. From the Democrats' perspective, having a permanent majority in Congress was perfectly natural. It was the perfect scam, and it probably explains much of their recent rage against the Republicans for having spoiled it all.

Now, however, the shoe is on the other foot, and it is the Republicans who are tempted with abusing the levers of state spending power to cling to majority status. On July 1 Andrew Sullivan cited the above Post article and predicted an "outright Republican civil war after this election," whether Bush wins or loses. Time for a huddle...

June 26, 2004

Our former First Rogue is back in the news again, plugging his autobiography My Life. Yes, I'm talking about good ol' Bill Clinton. Much of his huge book seems to be settling scores with his former tormenters such as Ken Starr, and I can't help but wonder if the title is based on Billy Joel's song:

"I don't care what you say anymore, this is My Life.
Go ahead with your own life, and leave me alone.

Much as I would rather let the modest Clinton legacy speak for itself, it is simply impossible to understand the bitter controversies of today without addressing The Meaning of Bill. First let me say that even though I favored impeachment and removal of Clinton from office on the grounds that he subverted basic judicial norms, I was never a Clinton hater. He did make me gnash my teeth, but I often gave him credit for some things he did, such as getting NAFTA ratified. Ironically, his biggest "achievement" was failing to fulfill his campaign promise to launch an economic stimulus program. Instead, he listened to Treasury Secretary Rubin and prioritized reducing the budget deficit. It wasn't pretty, but it restored invester confidence and set the stage for an economic boom. People forget what a rocky first year Clinton had.

In recent interviews, Clinton gave Bush faint praise by agreeing that military action against Iraq was necessary, though he quibbled over the timing of the war. Since Clinton himself had set the goal of regime change in Iraq when he was president, he really couldn't have said anything different. In Friday's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer heaps some faint praise on Clinton, acknowleding his accomplishments (mainly of a passive nature) while blaming him for squandering the fleeting strategic advantage the United States enjoyed in the first few years after the Cold War. He acidly scorns the narrow legalistic approach of Liberal Internationalists (Warren Christopher, Tony Lake) to such problems as international terrorism. Other countries became accustomed to the United States as a self-effacing do-gooder, which in the eyes of certain foreign groups with vengeance on their minds was worthy of nothing but contempt. No fair-minded person would accuse Clinton of paving the way for Al Qaeda, but historians may judge that Clinton's greatest failing was to sacrifice U.S. national security on behalf of a particular ideological vision. That's rather ironic, given the recent sharp criticisms of President Bush along those lines.

Likewise, I much would rather ignore the rank hatred toward President Bush contained in Michael Moore's new movie Farenheit 9/11 , and trust in the good sense of American people to judge for themselves. Unfortunately, I just can't let it slip by without a comment. Do I intend to see it? No. Every ad I have seen makes it clear that the movie is not intended to appeal to rational undecided people, but rather is aimed at hard core Leftists and uninformed folks who are susceptible to manipulaton via imagery. It's just a rockin' good time for Bush haters, who seem to be to a striking degree, the staunchest defenders of Clinton. If you want an informed dissection of the movie, I've come across several references to a long article in Slate by Christopher Hitchens, a recovering Leftist who used to write for The Nation. He exposes some of the worst inconsistencies in Moore's film and denounces him for moral cowardice in the face of a very real threat from the Islamofascist extremist movement.

As I've said before, there is certainly room for honest criticism of Bush as a leader, and of current U.S. foreign policy, without resorting to such blatantly twisted logic and distortion. I'm inclined to think that, at least among serious-thinking people, Moore's film will backfire, making Bush and the Republicans look good by comparison. The fact that Clinton puppet Terry McAuliffe was seen smiling alongside Moore at a recent promotional event would seem to put the Democratic National Committee's stamp of approval on the flick. So here's what it all comes down to: Who will prevail at the Democratic Convention in August: the deranged wing led by Howard Dean and Al Gore, or the responsible wing led by Joe Biden and Joe Lieberman? Can John Kerry keep those two factions together?

June 10, 2004

The Gipper's funeral:

Jacqueline and I are hoping to catch the tail end of the observances in honor of Ronald Reagan up in Washington tomorrow, but I managed to fracture one of my smaller toes a couple days ago, and my mobility is quite impaired. Arghh! In the mean time, I invite you to read what I wrote about Reagan on the Web site which I manage for the local Republican party. It's at swacgop.org.

June 5, 2004

Pres. Reagan Former President Reagan has passed away at a particularly critical moment for the conservative movement he fathered. Setbacks in Iraq have many on the right questioning the whole idea of internationalist foreign policy, of which Reagan was an enthusiastic champion. When I was young and left-leaning, I often disparaged him as dangerous and/or incompetent -- just as so many people are disparaging President Bush today -- even though I grudgingly admired his sincere devotion to core principles. Eventually I came to respect him for his leadership abilities and for being right about most of the major issues of foreign, social, and economic policy. During a study session with fellow grad students at U.Va. in the mid-1990s, I opined that Reagan might be as close as we would ever come in our lifetime to having a truly great president. Of course, that elicited hearty scoffs. As his biographer Lou Cannon wrote, Reagan was underestimated by many of his political opponents, and he capitalized on this over and over again.

Image courtesy of the
Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation,
all rights reserved.

For what should Reagan be remembered? Most obviously, for defying conventional wisdom and standing up to Soviet expansionism around the world, ultimately reversing and defeating it. When he took office in January 1981, no serious person could have imagined that the Soviet Union would peacefully dissolve eleven years hence. It was Reagan who went ahead with deploying Pershing II missiles and cruise missiles in Europe at the climax of the Cold War, it was Reagan who refused to make concessions to Gorbachev at Rejkyavik in 1987, and it was Reagan who called on Gorbachev to "tear down this wall" in Berlin later that year. These breathtakingly bold actions were called "reckless" by hysterical opponents at the time, but they were part of a strategic vision that paved the way for the West's unequivocal triumph in the Cold War. By neutralizing the fear wielded by Soviet imperialists which had much of the Western world paralyzed, he not only spawned a renaissance of investor confidence but undermined the authority of the Communist regimes of the Warsaw Pact, hastening their demise.

I must call attention, however, to one pernicious legacy of the Reagan years: the idea now popular among many anti-tax activists that budget deficits don't matter. Remember Arthur Laffer? Of course not. He and his wacko theory of "supply-side economics" (rightly scorned by then-candidate George H. W. Bush in 1980 as "voodoo economics") have been relegated to the dustbin of history. For many hard-core tax cutters, the fact that there is no longer any serious intellectual foundation for their beliefs does not seem to matter. True, the burgeoning deficits of the 1980s were not solely Reagan's fault, because the Democrats retained control of the House, and in a divided government policy responsibility is inherently hard to pin down. It would be hard to deny, however, that the deficits were to some extent deliberate, as part of a stimulative package not unlike the Keynesian "pump priming" of the 1930s. There were particular reasons why the United States managed to cope with and overcome those huge deficits -- mainly the massive credit inflows from Japan during the 1980s -- but those conditions no longer exist. Reagan's stewardship of the U.S. economy was on balance positive, but the Wall Street mini-crash of 1987 revealed the nation's shaky financial foundations that were not shored up until the Republican Revolution of 1995, when fundamental budget reforms were enacted.

June 4, 2004

The announced resignation of CIA chief George Tenet is probably a good thing, even though he was regarded as a fairly effective and dynamic manager. Is he just the "fall guy" for the Bushies? Among all the officials who testified to the 9/11 Commission, Tenet would seem to have the most to answer for. I remember vividly the terror warnings in the mid-summer of 2001. Tenet testified that he did not meet with Bush even once during the month of August, which seems absolutely incomprehensible in such a context. Of course, if Bush in fact brushed him off, that would be another matter, but there is no indication of that thus far. Tenet offered to resign a year ago, but Bush urged him to stay on. His public testimony struck me as less than forthright, but until the full truth is known, (which may not happen for years), it will be hard to make any definitive judgments.

Speaking of the 9/11 Commission, there has been some grumbling among Democrats about the role of its Executive Director, Philip Zelikow, because he worked in the first Bush administration and has ties to some current administration figures such as Condoleeza Rice. I happen to know Prof. Zelikow, who became Director of the White Burkett Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, where I worked as a graduate student during the 1990s. He has a stellar reputation in academic and policy-making circles, though his selection to replace Prof. Kenneth Thompson (my dissertation adviser) occasioned some hard feelings in the Department of Government and Foreign Affairs (now called the Department of Politics), since he had not attained tenure at his previous post (Harvard) and was therefore considered by some faculty members to be ineligible for the rank of full professor at U.Va. In any event, Zelikow's academic credentials, dedication, earnestness, and personal character are beyond reproach.

June 3, 2004

In South Dakota, the Democratic candidate, Stephanie Herseth, won by a 51-49 margin the special election to replace former Representative Bill Janklow, a mean-spirited Republican who was convicted of reckless driving after having killed a motorcyclist while running a red light last summer. I saw Ms. Herseth in a debate with Republican candidate Larry Diedrich on C-SPAN a week or so ago, and she lives up to her reputation for being poised and articulate. She is only 33 but comes from a political family; in fact, her grandfather was governor. Will she be the next Tom Daschle?

June 2, 2004

Donald Sensing's blog "One Hand Clapping" contains an even more upbeat assessment of Bush's handling of the transition in Iraq than I have offered recently. He quotes Canadian writer David Warren, who wrote:

No one else will say this, so I will. The Bush administration has handled the transfer of power in Iraq more cleverly than anyone expected, including me. The summoning of the U.N. envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, looked like very bad news (a poisonous old Arab League chauvinist who brokered the sell-out of Lebanon to Syria in 1982). In grim moments, I believed the Bush people were cynically using him to wash their hands of Iraq, and as it were, dump the quagmire back in the swamp of the U.N. Instead, they froze the ground beneath Brahimi's feet, and skated rings around him, haggling behind his back with Iraq's new political heavyweights to leave him endorsing a fait accompli. If it were not vulgar, I would say the Bushies suckered the U.N. into signing on to the New Iraq through Brahimi. A sovereign, free Iraq which will, incidentally, have a few things to say about the U.N.'s $100-billion "oil-for-food" scam, in due course.

It all makes you wonder if the President has been taking deliberate advantage of his modest intellectual reputation to catch his adversaries off balance, lowering expectations so that perceived successes are magnified. Strategy Page has a "report from the front lines" with far more balanced view of the situation in Iraq than you're likely to get from Dan Rather or Peter Jennings.

Has anyone noticed how expensive gasoline is getting? I sure have. It makes me nostalgic for the 70s: inflation, corruption, international crises, and disco. Seriously, the higher the price of gasoline goes, the happier I get. Americans will scream bloody murder, of course, and the tapes of Enron executives chuckling about screwing over California electricity consumers a few summers ago could not have come at a worse time. I detest all that stupid talk about Big Oil artifically jacking up prices, and I cringe at the thought of new laws forcing people to adopt silly "conservation" measures such as 55 mph. In a free market prices are supposed to reflect relative scarcity, and with the booming economies in China and, yes, here in the U.S.A., demand has been rising faster than production can be expanded. This is normal: Get used to it! Al Qaeda and Hugo Chavez are acutely aware of the political leverage they enjoy by virtue of Americans' addiction to cheap energy.

May 29, 2004

If I were a Republican partisan above all else, I would be gleefully cheered by Al Gore's hysterical speech condemning Bush administration policies. After all, how many fence-sitting Americans are going to be moved toward the Democratic side by such outrageous lunacy? But because I am not a 100% loyal partisan, my main reaction is to tremble at the thought that millions of Americans actually think like Gore. Once again, let me state that sincere dissent is not unpatriotic, even in war time. It's one thing to question motives and protest against the war, but it is quite another thing to call the entire operation in Iraq a deceptive sham. That comes perilously close to giving aid and comfort to the enemy, just when our nation ought to be uniting in the face of renewed threats of mass terrorism. Gore's demand that the entire national security team resign was likewise far too shrill to be taken seriously. Here's a scary thought: This man could have been our president! Perhaps he's just trying to make John Kerry look good by comparison.

Hysterical gestures aside, what about the legitimate points Gore was trying, so clumsily, to raise? Has Paul Wolfowitz lost what was left of his credibility? Probably. Should Don Rumsfeld take responsibility for the Abu Ghraib disgrace and go retire? Maybe. Is Condi Rice as effective in policy making as she was in the academic world? Probably not. What is virtually certain is that the situation in Iraq is far better than one would gather by listening to the mainstream news media. As President Bush's dead seriousness about the June 30 transfer of sovereignty becomes clear, the transition has shifted into high gear. Things will get increasingly chaotic in coming weeks, and the fact that the outcome is quite uncertain is actually a good thing, because it undercuts the suspicions of many that the U.S. government is just setting up a puppet government. Most Iraqi elites, both religious and secular, now realize that the ball is in their court, and if they don't get their act together soon, their country will be a mess for decades to come. President Bush is to be commended for persevering in the face of untoward criticism, and for creating the preconditions for a free -- and perhaps someday stable -- Iraq. It may not happen, but the potential rewards of a favorable outcome there would be truly enormous. Don't give up hope yet, O ye Americans of short attention span!

May 1, 2004

During the last week of classes at James Madison University, I took an opinion survey of the students in my Global Politics classes, with 62 total responses. (There should have been about 75 altogether; absentee rates seem to climb this time of year.) There was a distinct division of opinion regarding the U.S.-led war to root out terrorism in Iraq, but with a clear majority in support of it. Nevertheless, most students believed that the war will lead to MORE terrorism. They also reject the notions that the war is a hopeless quagmire or that the United States was in some way partly responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Finally, they do not believe that a halt to U.S. support for Israel would lead to diminished terrorist attacks against us, but they have a dim view of how well informed about the war the American people are. You can see the results at the War debate page of my JMU Web site, which also has a chronology and a lot of links to comments on the war, Iraqi blogs, etc. I avoid preaching to my classes and try hard to present a balanced perspective on controversial issues, so I'm fairly sure that the survey was accurate reflection of what students really think. Overall, the JMU students I've met are a very impressive bunch, and I'm sure many of those who are graduating will accomplish great things in their future careers.

Exhausted from work, I fell asleep before ABC's Nightline program last night, so I didn't see the controversial series of photographs of the American war dead. At first glance, the idea of using such images to commemorate the sacrifices made by our soldiers seemed perfectly appropriate. Indeed, I was thinking about displaying in class the pages occasionally published by the Washington Post showing the fallen soldier's faces, but wasn't sure if it would be received well. For ABC, home of the piously disdainful Peter Jennings, the problem is that Ted Koppel has a thinly veiled hidden agenda. I saw a piece from his recent interview of Richard Clarke, and the smug, self-congratulatory tone and presumptive comments made his anti-war bias perfectly clear.

Apr. 23, 2004

Even as President Bush gets hammered by scholars and pundits alike over the charges leveled at him by Richard Clarke and Bob Woodward, his poll numbers are as strong as ever. Why? Charles Krauthammer in today's Washington Post explains it thus:

The answer is simple: Americans are a serious people, war is a serious business, and what John Kerry is offering is simply not serious. Americans may be unsure whether Bush has a plan for success in Iraq. But they sure as hell know that going to U.N. headquarters, visiting foreign capitals and promising lots of jaw-jaw is no plan at all.

Krauthammer goes on to credit Kerry for refusing to join those simpletons calling for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, as Spain's new Prime Minister Zapatero has done, and I agree. Foreign policy in practice embodies much more continuity than partisans would like to admit, and I wouldn't expect Kerry to actually do much different than Bush. The question is which candidate can better articulate a strategic vision to protect American interests and promote global security, and Kerry's habit of mealy-mouthed pandering to the European anti-American crowd would be far worse than Bush's often-shaky gestures of resolve.

Apr. 2, 2004

The fracas over the recent incendiary comments by former intelligence adviser Richard Clarke are a disquieting symptom of the breakdown in consensus over national security and foreign policy. This breakdown is another consequence of the terrorist campaign against the United States, a dismal reminder of how far we really are from victory. Clarke argued that the U.S. war to remove Saddam Hussein from power was not warranted and has made the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorism. He has (or had) a high reputation for his knowledge of terrorism, and he was one of those "super-bureaucrats" who knows all the intricacies of the Federal government in Washington. He knows where to pull the right strings and push the right levers to get something done fast. Indeed, he earned a reputation as a know-it-all maverick who sometimes ran roughshod over anyone who got in his way. What would cause a highly regarded expert to give up any pretense of neutrality over policy questions, squander his professional esteem, and jump into the partisan political fray? Perhaps it was years of built-up frustration over the Federal regulations on political activity of civil servants. (That's something I can relate to.)

In response, Condoleeza Rice pointed out an obvious fact that many critics refuse to face: The terrorist threat is not specific, but is instead very broad in nature. That is, the threat does not reside so much in the particular leaders, weapons caches, or safe havens, but rather in the sociopolitical pathology that has infected much of the Middle East. Indeed, terrorism -- or more accurately, Arab-Islamic fascism -- is not a tight-knit conspiracy but a broad movement whose strength lies in the realm of ideas and passions. Many people in Europe and in the Democratic Party regard terrorism as a form of international crime, for which the appropriate response is finding, arresting, and prosecuting the guilty parties. Adopting that approach -- the "multilateral" approach, you might say -- would lead to many years of fruitless searching. Indeed, even the Bush administration has at time fallen victim to treat terrorism as a crime against humanity. Fortunately, though, the strategic thinkers such as Condoleeza Rice, and even the neoconservative ideologues such as Paul Wolfowitz, are well aware of the true political nature of the war in which we find ourselves. Like all wars, the struggle is to a large extent a contest of willpower, which makes many people uncomfortable because it implies we might have to play tit for tat with barbarians. Nevertheless, the only way we Americans will ever be reasonably safe is by either systematically destroying terrorist bases and bringing about regime change in countries where governments are accustomed to garnering popular support by (tacitly) giving safe haven to terrorists, or else by building a "Fortress America" with constant land, sea, and air patrols all around North America. The former course may entail a long, hard struggle with no certainty of victory, but latter course is probably unthinkable.

Mar. 3, 2004

The inexorable John Kerry juggernaut passed its final hurdle yesterday, and as Larry Sabato says, "To tell the truth, the race has been over since Kerry proved in Virginia and Tennessee on February 10 that he could wallop Edwards in his own backyard." That leaves us with eight long months to go before the Final Showdown in November. Plenty of time for Karl Rove to dig up dirt on him, and indeed the Bush campaign marked the occasion by unleashing the first round of what promises to be a relentless, unabashedly patriotic media blitz. The way things are going with ever-earlier primary elections, perhaps by 2008 both parties' nominees will have been effectively chosen prior to the Super Bowl. Some of Kerry's broadsides at Bush are way below the belt, but I'm in a forgiving mood at the moment, and I figure he just needs to "lock in" his party's activist base. As the campaign rolls on, however, it will be interesting to see if Kerry can break out of his smug, presumptuous, elitist shell and connect to common people as effectively as President Bush has.

Feb. 29, 2004

Now that abrasive comedienne Rosie O'Donnell has tied the knot with her "significant same" (!), any further resistance to gay marriage is apparently futile. What would die-hard traditionalists have the courts do, hold a mass annulment hearing? This is just too weird... The Constitution requires each state to give "full faith and credit" to the legal instruments of other states, so you folks out in South Dakota better shape up and get with the 21st Century program! By the way, the argument that only through marriage can same-sex couples qualify for Social Security survivor benefits, etc. reinforces the point that the long-term trend toward ever-increasing government benefits (which President Bush recently endorsed) exercerbates political frictions by centralizing the locus of moral judgment. Ironically for the "progressives," this makes a truly pluralistic society almost impossible, and hastens the March Toward Collectivism. Conform or be cast out!

Feb. 25, 2004

President Bush has called for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, which would thereby forbid any marriages of homosexual couples. In my opinion, tampering with the Constitution for such a purpose is almost as absurd as the notion of homosexual marriage itself. Established social institutions are not any more subject to legislation than they are to judicial or executive fiat, and the proposed amendment would probably backfire. To his credit, Governor Schwarzenegger, who followed Ralph Nader on Meet the Press last Sunday, made clear his opposition to the illegal "marriages" taking place up in Frisco, but he didn't seem to know what he was going to do to stop them. It turns out that Vice President Cheney's daughter Mary is openly lesbian, and gay rights groups are trying to persuade her to stand up for their cause. It reminds me that it no longer seems to be enough for gays to be merely tolerated; many are apparently so insecure about their lifestyle that they crave an explicit affirmative endorsement by society. In my view, "Live and let live" does not mean that we are obliged to approve of how other folks live.

Feb. 22, 2004

Ralph Nader just announced on Meet the Press that he is going to run for president this year, as an independent. Frankly, I was a bit surprised by this, since I figured he was among those for whom defeating Bush is the Top Priority. I always used to give Nader credit for being an honest, if often misguided, policy activist (for example, see his League of Fans Web site), but I'm starting to wonder. After hearing his stale rants to Tim Russert today, I'm inclined to agree with those who think that Ralph is mostly on an ego trip, looking forward to playing the role of electoral spoiler once again. Even the Green Party has disowned him, apparently. True, as he says, John Kerry is more closely tied to entrenched financial interests than any other candidate today, but Nader's contention that American voters haven't been given an adequate range of choices in terms of presidential candidates this year is just absurd. Dennis Kucinich? Al Sharpton?? What more do you want? Vive la différence!

Feb. 21, 2004

Gay marriage rampage!

Thanks to judicial activism, the Left has got its foot in the door on yet another crucial and divisive issue, bypassing the legislative branch and creating a fait accompli. Hundreds of same-sex couples have already gotten "married" in San Francisco, while legal challenges go on. To me, the "right to marry" is just another one of those vacuous absurdities that gets taken seriously in modern America. "Why not? What harm could it do?" Well, I guess we'll see... For a thoughtful and very fair-minded take on the whole issue, read what Donald Sensing has to say.

So, is it any wonder that President Bush got fed up with months of stalling by Senate Democrats and made another bench appointment of a conservative judge? For the time being, William Pryor will serve on the Federal appeals court for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta. He is on record as being strongly opposed to abortion. Cultural warriors to the ramparts!

In yesterday's Washington Post (access to the Web pages of which now requires registration), Charles Krauthammer notes the irony that one of the leading Bush-bashers, presumptive Democratic nominee, John Kerry, is warning of a coming Republican "smear campaign." Krauthammer lists some of Kerry's biggest policy flip-flops:

  • Votes against the Persian Gulf War, which he now says he favored.
  • Votes for the Iraq war, which he now says he opposed.
  • Votes against the $87 billion for troop support and Iraqi reconstruction, while saying that he favors troop support and Iraqi reconstruction.
  • Votes for the No Child Left Behind Act, which he now attacks incessantly.
  • Votes for NAFTA; he now rails against the unfairness of free trade.
  • Votes for the Patriot Act; he now decries the assault on civil liberties.

As Krauthammer says, talk about chutzpah! As of now, Kerry looks very strong, and there is no doubt he will milk the "chicken hawk" argument for all it's worth, but he obviously has a lot to be defensive about.

JOKE (I forget the source): Captive ex-tyrant Saddam Hussein is reported to have declared that Howard Dean's withdrawal from the presidential race has not made America any more secure. Smile

Feb. 8, 2004

President Bush made a special appearance on Meet the Press today, and did a fairly good job of explaining the decision to go to war against Iraq. His tone was friendly and open, though he often strained to make his points. Tim Russert asked pointed questions but respectfully refrained from the tough grilling to which he usually subjects his guests. Those critics of Bush who are obsessed with wanting to know the "real" reason for going to war are likely to remain frustrated, however. Ironically, the main problem with trying to convince the skeptics is that there were just so many compelling reasons to get rid of Saddam once and for all that it's hard to focus on any single reason. I think emphasizing weapons of mass destruction was a big mistake, but that's in retrospect. In any case, there was no remaining peaceful alternative to accomplishing the goal of removing Saddam, to which leaders of both parties were already committed. I just wish the President would take the deficit more seriously; it might help to regain public trust.

Among the "wacko" wing of the war critics, I saw Noam Chomsky on CSPAN boldly predicting that Osama bin Laden would be captured right before the Democratic convention in August. He thinks the CIA already knows where bin Laden is, and we could capture him any time we wanted. Sheesh!

Feb. 3, 2004

John Edwards just won the South Carolina primary, so the race goes on, at least for the moment. Wesley Clark is in a dead heat with Edwards in Oklahoma, so he will stay in the race against Kerry as well. Meanwhile, Howard Dean is running a poor fourth in most races, and appears dead as a doornail. I remember the bitter disillusion of college kids who "went clean for Gene" McCarthy back in 1968, and I hope today's Generation Dean kids don't do likewise. Good old Joe Lieberman has bowed out of the race, which is a shame since he really represents the conscience of the Democratic Party these days. So, we've still got three viable candidates. The press has a deep vested interest in prolonging the Democratic primary season for as long as possible, which is fine with me. I don't mean to get nasty or anything, but I was reading in yesterday's Washington Post about Edwards' meteoric career rise as an aggressive overconfident trial lawyer in the Tarheel State,* and the image of the fresh-faced, hyper-ambitious character played by Keanu Reeves in Devil's Advocate came to mind. Nah, it couldn't be...

* Condolences to Carolina Panthers fans. Their team made a great showing against the Patriots on Sunday, beating the spread and almost winning outright. It occurred to me that the last two versions of Mac OS X (10.2 Jaguar and 10.3 Panther) have been named after feline predators who are also mascots of NFL expansion teams in the southeast. What is the meaning of this?

Jan. 31, 2004

The way things stand, it will take a minor miracle for Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, or John Edwards to pull off a big enough victory in Tuesday to stave off the effective confirmation of John Kerry as the Democratic nominee in this Tuesday's elections. Edwards denies contemplating it of course, but he would make a very attractive running mate. The fact that his wife let pass the opportunity to repeat the denial while being interviewed on The Today Show suggests that Edwards may just be thinking along those lines. Given his combat experience in Vietnam, Kerry would be a strong candidate against Bush. As today's Washington Post reports, however, he gets a lot of his funding from special interest lobbyists, in contrast to his reformist pretensions. Furthermore, his elitism would make it hard to mobilize a grass-roots populist challenge to Bush based on pocketbook issues, while his credentials in foreign policy are undermined by his opposition to war against Iraq in 1991. Very few people question the wisdom of that momentous decision any more. To win, Kerry would need a major infusion of charisma and political savvy.

The Bush administration has revised upward its estimate of how much the proposed Medicare prescription drug benefit will cost over the first ten years, from $400 million to $534 million. In my view, any such long-term estimates are nothing more than ballpark guesses. I wish budget debates would focus on single-year numbers, which are much less subject to myriad contingencies. As for this particular proposal, more publically-subsidized insurance will only feed the fires of health care inflation, which is already raging out of control. In political terms, this initiative has been heralded as another stroke of Karl Rove's genius, robbing the Democrats of an issue, but it could very well backfire if the White House doesn't face up to the implications for the deficit. A lot of Republicans have bought into the myth from the Reagan years that "deficits don't matter." Well, it depends. If you're borrowing trillions of dollars to provide the means for a decisive victory in a high-stakes contest such as the Cold War, mortgaging the future might indeed pay off. Few people expect such a clear-cut victory in the "war on terrorism," however. The end result of Bush's fiscal imprudence might be to hasten the rise of China as a rival superpower...

Jan. 24, 2004

ON TO NEW HAMPSHIRE: John Kerry has bounced back as the favorite, as he was widely considered as of a year ago. Meanwhile, the loud and mean Howard Dean has been transformed overnight into an object of pity or derision. What are all those Bush haters going to do now? Overall, I suppose Dean has served a purpose in letting Angry Democrats vent off steam. I could probably live with a President Kerry, Edwards, or Lieberman, but frankly, Dean and Wesley Clark really scare me. NOTE: I'm not a pundit, and I don't play one on TV. My understanding of political science, which is a distinctly minority view, places a low emphasis on predicting future events. (See Chaos theory.) If you want the real inside scope on the Meaning of Iowa, visit Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball Web site. (U.Va.!)

STATE OF THE UNION: For the most part, President Bush played it safe in his annual speech to Congress. He didn't bring up his proposed (very costly) missions to the Moon and Mars, and even talked about ways to cut the burgeoning budget deficit. (About time!) Speaking of which, I was listening to the Democratic candidates squabbling with each other during a debate budget policy the other day, and it was obvious that Karl Rove's strategy of putting the onus for deficit reduction on the Democrats is working -- at least in the short term. One cause for concern was Bush's rather defensive tone with regard to the antiwar movement. It seemed aimed at the Howard Dean crowd, who may be fading out of the picture. At the end of his speech, Bush surprised many people by sharply denouncing steroid doping in baseball. Apparently, his use of the "bully pulpit" for such a peripheral matter reflects the fact that the owners are in a weak bargaining position vis a vis the Players' Association on the issue of drug testing. (I just wish the President would put in a good word for baseball in the D.C. area. That just might prove to be decisive.)

Jan. 20, 2004

(After midnight) John Kerry won big time in the Iowa caucuses, trouncing the wily, thin-skinned Howard Dean and poor old Dick Gephardt, who banked everything on this contest. Gephardt's not that old in terms of physical age, but as I've said before, his ideas are just hopelessly out of date. John Edwards' recent upsurge is quite a surprise, and apparently reflects voters' longing for a nice guy. Too bad he's a trial lawyer. (What liability crisis?) Kerry is one of the few Democratic candidates with true presidential timber, but the problem is that he's all too aware of himself, and until recently seemed to regard the presidency as an entitlement to which he was due. Too bad he has too say so many silly things to get the Democratic nomination, which of course shows one of the biggest advantages of being an incumbent.

Five hundred American servicemen and women have now been killed in Iraq, including non-combat deaths. That terrorist bomb outside U.S. headquarters in Baghdad yesterday was one of the worst ones yet, killing over 30 innocent people. Hopefully it will serve to remind Iraqis of the truly despicable nature of the Old Regime. Meanwhile, there are mass protests by Shiites (the long-oppressed majority) who demand early elections so that they can dominate the New Iraq and get revenge on the Sunnis, who were privileged under Saddam. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the father of direct majoritarian democracy, would no doubt approve of such a move, but certainly not James Madison, the father of constitutional pluralism. Not so fast, Ayatollah Sistani! Paul Bremer is right to pursue an incremental, ground-up democratization program, but he may need better political advisers to navigate the tricky waters of reform before most Iraqis (or Americans) lose patience.

Jan. 16, 2004

So it's a real horse race, after all! John Kerry and Dick Gephardt have used sharp anti-Dean rhetoric (and pancake-flipping photo-ops) in recent weeks to claw their way near the top of the Iowa polls. Thus, we may have several more weeks of honest-to-goodness campaigning before the Democratic nominee is chosen. In that case, the upcoming primary in Virginia may assume importance for the first time ever. Tuesday's D.C. primary was ignored by most of the candidates, since it was a mere "beauty contest" that didn't affect delegate selection. One of the candidates who did participate in the D.C. race was veteran extremist fear monger Lyndon LaRouche.

Jan. 11, 2004

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, famed for his blunt, impolitic style of speaking, has written a book of memoirs in which he criticizes President Bush's detachment from policy making, describing Bush cabinet meetings as "a blind man speaking in a room full of deaf people." A bit overstated perhaps, but such a hands-off managerial approach is a well-known weakness of Bush II. It should be noted, however, that similar criticisms were often voiced of President Reagan, whose two terms in office were -- on the whole -- extremely successful. As reported in today's Washington Post, O'Neill also disclosed that Bush's team was intent on removing Saddam Hussein from the very beginning of his term, several months before 9/11. That's quite probable as well, and indeed that goal was established as official U.S. government policy during the Clinton administration (!) under the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998.

There was a lot of talk about blogs on NBC's "Meet the Press" this morning, especially as they are being used by some of the Democratic presidential candidates. In a roundtable, Tim Russert brought up the accusation that Wesley Clark has been ripping off the style, and even some of the content, of Howard Dean's Web site, which is credited with raking in millions of dollars in campaign donations.

Jan. 9, 2004

Howard Dean "got religion" this week, and many people have noted the political expediency of this shift. Others have joked about the fact that he left the Episcopal Church over a dispute over land to be used for a bicycle path. What really intrigued me was Dean's revealing comments about the religious aspect of the morality of gay lifestyles. He said,

The overwhelming evidence is that there is very significant, substantial gentic component to it. From a religious point of view, if God had thought homosexuality is a sin, he would not have created gay people.

Two observations: First, to me, "thought" implies "opinion," which is a subjective, often malleable mental state that is inherent in beings with finite intelligence. The idea that an omniscient Supreme Being could have an "opinion" about something or other thus seems rather absurd, and trivializes the unchanging and eternal Divine Purpose. Second, if there is indeed an inherited "component" to gayness (as opposed to such a trait being genetically determined), then there must be a learned "component" as well, which implies that there is an element of choice and therefore a moral dimension. Many people have genetically-related behavioral predilections, some of which are regarded as totally harmless (such as left-handedness), and others of which are regarded as sociopathic (such as being prone to violence). The idea that individuals should resist certain compulsions or temptations is at the center of nearly all traditional codes of moral conduct, and because of all the potential dire consequences associated with it, sexuality cannot be divorced from morality. To my way of thinking, there is simply no basis for making a flat-out assertion that homosexual activity is, generally speaking, right or wrong. It depends... By the way, am I the first to wonder if Dean might have had second thoughts on his change of religious affiliation if he had known that Episcopalians in his state would choose a gay bishop? Has the Rev. Gene Robinson endorsed Dean yet?

Wesley Clark seems to have rebounded in the polls lately, perhaps because many Democrats are getting nervous about letting Dean drag the party down to a crushing defeat. I'm not one of those overconfident Republicans who are giddily hoping for a Dean nomination, however. The war on terror could start to go very bad, and Dean (or Clark) might actually win the election. In fact, it's very hard (for me, at least) to pay serious attention to primary campaigns that start so far in advance of the general election campaign. It would sure be nice if the primary campaign remains a real contest at least until March. The presidential nomination process is desperately in need of reform, as the current system tends to favor hardliners who pander to party zealots. Bring back the smoke-filled rooms, I say!

Jan. 5, 2004

Great news from the Red Planet: The Spirit has landed! As the NASA Web site proudly proclaims, "We're back!" It must have been a pretty tough year for those guys at NASA, after the Columbia disaster. (That was almost exactly eleven months ago.) Will President Bush declare a Kennedyesque goal of landing a man on Mars in the next decade when he makes his State of the Union Address? It's about time we set our sights to a higher plane. Perhaps we should first seek authorization from the United Nations, however... Smiley face Speaking of space, I spotted the planet Mercury for the first time in my life as I was driving home from work on or about December 9. I had been reading about it in the Washington Post and sure enough there it was just above the horizon, a bit below and to the right of Venus, which returned to the evening skies last month. Mars itself is still visible, but it is much dimmer than it was back in November, since it is now in a waning crescent phase as it approaches the sun (from our terrestial perspective).

Jan. 2, 2004

Glenn Reynolds' InstaPundit blog called attention to some research on the finances of MoveOn.org by a professional fundraiser named Nathan Hamm. In his blog The Argus (which focuses on Central Asian affairs), Hamm reports that the folks at MoveOn.org are abusing their tax-exempt status:

MoveOn.org seems a lot more like a way to rope money in to their PAC and 527 activities, which are related to promoting and opposing specific candidates for office. As a 501(c)(4), MoveOn.org is specifically prohibited from intervening in elections. They are allowed lobby to promote social welfare...

He sent in a query to Move On, but their response didn't provide much information beyond confirming that online donations do get sent to the 501(c)(4) part of the organization. I suppose that wouldn't bother most of the people who donate, but still...