Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Saturday, July 31, 2004  


Newsweek has the first post-convention poll and it reflects--surprise--a small bounce. Now who would have guessed that?

Coming out of the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Sen. John Kerry now holds a seven-point lead over President George W. Bush (49 percent to 42 percent) in a three-way race with independent Ralph Nader (3 percent), according to the latest NEWSWEEK poll The poll was taken over two nights, both before and after Kerry's acceptance speech. Respondents who were queried after Kerry's Thursday night speech gave the Democrat a ten-point lead over Bush. Three weeks ago, Kerry’s lead was three points.

Kerry’s four-point "bounce" is the smallest in the history of the NEWSWEEK poll.

Now Ed Gillespie, having argued for two weeks that the Dems would get a 10-point bounce, will claim victory. The convention a catastrophic failure. Kerry's campaign in tatters. The question is--will the press bite? Stay tuned.

[Update. According to a USA Today/Gallup Poll, Kerry actually lost ground, falling four points behind Bush. It's the first time in Gallup's 32-year history that a candidate got a reverse bounce. Polling was done Friday and Saturday and is continuing today.

The Rasmussen tracking poll puts Kerry up by four--after he'd been tracking about 2 points ahead for the past week. In other words, a tiny bounce--and possibly nothing more than an outlier.]

posted by Jeff | 5:13 PM |

Friday, July 30, 2004  

The Crazies Start Spinning

It's been twelve hours--are you ready for the slime backlash? Here it comes. I listened to a few of the famous slime mongers as I drove around this morning. O'Reilly had a fill-in who was forwarding the thesis that Kerry was not a hero--he only served for four months in Vietnam. Limbaugh spent a lot of time ridiculing the hamster CPR anecdote (now that's solid political analysis) before breaking off on a rant about how "confused" the Democrats are.

Both of these hint at the talking points the right thinks it can exploit. I don't know what Rhodes scholar came up with the "he ain't no stinkin' hero" line, but I'm glad he's on their team. Veterans, who are an incredibly important demographic to the right, sure as hell aren't going to appreciate it. Swing voters, who know Bush dodged the draft and then vamped in cod-piece camo when he inappropriately declared an end to major operations, will think the right have gone barking mad. the only group I can see who will cotton to such a theory are the already-converted true believers for whom dodging service and putting in zero months in Vietnam is more manly than four months of service, three purple hearts, and a bronze and silver star. I guess it's an attempt to ensure that the insane right don't wander. You've got to worry when you're in danger of losing the insane right.

As for the "confused" argument, this will be the real weapon of choice. Here's how the Washington Times puts it (in their defense of clarity, right or wrong):

One of the central foreign-policy issues of the presidential campaign is sure to be the issue of pre-emption. Specifically, under what circumstances it is appropriate for the United States to use force against a foe that has yet to attack this country directly. The contrast between John Kerry and President Bush on this question could hardly be more stark.

This argument has the appearance of greater sanity, but only marginally so--and it's a testament to the deeply delusional nature of the right that they don't see this. The argument is twofold: Kerry's a waffler and you just can't trust him not to "Carter" a foreign policy problem. (Okay, so far so good--factually and verifiably wrong, but we haven't violated any laws of sanity.) The second argument is that you can trust Bush. And now we fall into a psychotic break.
To be fair, a good many of the Bush team realize that you have to play the cards you're dealt, and they've been dealt very bad cards. They obviously can't stand on Bush's record, so they have to make Kerry's look worse. But the loony right actually believe that Bush has the winning hand on this one. They believe 1) the justification to invade Iraq was valid, 2) the invasion and occupation have been a marvelous success, and 3) Iraq is now well on the road to functioning democracy. Clearly, with people like that, there's no arguing.

And from the left's perspective, it little matters. A ball of slime, whether it is hurled by a lunatic or a cynical plutocrat, is still a ball of slime.

posted by Jeff | 9:57 AM |

Thursday, July 29, 2004  

First reactions from around the blogosphere...

Kerry: energetic, optimistic and persuasive ... And our next president. (Atrios)

Not a stem-winder -- and Kerry would have been foolish to try. But a solid speech. And I thought he hit all the right points -- with the right emotional tenor. In a way, sitting in the hall and watching the back of Kerry's head most of the time is no way to judge how it appeared on TV. But that's my snap judgment.   (Josh)

But after watching the section on Kerry's tour of duty in Vietnam, and listening to the testimony of the man whose life he saved under fire, I'm wondering if the conservative attack dogs will still have the stones to speak of Kerry's "so-called" heroics in Vietnam. (Billmon)

Update: Stunning. He did it. I didn't think he could, not after Obama and Clinton and Edwards and Cleland. But he did it. He gave the perfect speech for this moment, for this race, for this crowd. He couldn't rely on his charisma and so he instead told the country where it needed to go. He couldn't do flash so he did substance...and he did it. There's nothing I can say beyond that...I'm sorry...I just don't have the words for it.  I'm inspired. I'd forgot what this felt like. (Ezra, Pandagon)

My take: not bad, but not a slam dunk killer either. Some of the notes it hit were pretty good, a few were oddly off key, and the second half had a bit of a laundry list quality to it. Overall, though, it was at the high end of workmanlike and did what it had to do.  (Kevin Drum)

I think he absolutely nailed it. If you didn't know John Kerry before tonight, the impression you got was of a tough, fighting Democrat who is taking the battle right to George W. Bush. He pulled no punches and he gave no quarter. And I think he tapped into something that people of all political persuasion are experiencing --- the deeply felt need to feel a sense of pride in this country again.  And it sure sounded to me like he told everybody to play nice all week so that he could go for the jugular. (Digby)

What's the over/under on the number of wingnut pundits that will compare Kerry snatching Vanessa's hamster from a watery grave to his saving the life of his comrade in Vietnam? (eRobin)

Kerry is here. He's pumped. He's happy. Check out his face. The crowd is wild. Everyone is on their feet shouting "Kerry, Kerry, Kerry." The bloggers are all typing fast and furious now. (TalkLeft)

posted by Jeff | 9:01 PM |

"I will be a commander-in-chief who will never mislead us into war. I will have a vice president who will not conduct secret meetings with polluters to rewrite our environmental laws. And I will appoint an attorney-general who actually upholds the constitution of the United States."

--John Kerry, acceptance speech at the Democratic convention

Holy crap.  Who saw that coming?  The convention has been so on-message, the speakers so well chosen, that I was hoping Kerry would come in and deliver a serviceable speech.  A speech that would be remembered in the context of the unity and optimism of an energized party.  No one's going to remember any of that--they're going to remember Kerry and his stunning speech.

Throughout the convention, the Kerry camp made sure everyone kept their gloves on.  Who guessed that was because he intended to take them off?  He went through Bush's attacks and one by one he answered them directly.  The signature event from his biography was in turning a gunboat straight into fire and charging the attacker.  With this speech, he turned the boat--the one we're all in--and charged Bush.  Remarkable.

I flipped around and Tom Brokaw declared it an amazing speech.  On CBS, Bob Shieffer called it a success.  On PBS, even David Brooks felt it put the GOP behind the eight-ball.  "They might not be able to go on the attack," he said (to paraphrase).  The only whingers were Air America, whom I'm listening to now, who are giving tepid praise at best.  It's not clear that they didn't expect Howard Dean to actually make the acceptance.

If John Kerry can't win now--when he is in the majority on every policy and is facing draft-dodging layabout whose life and presidency is with corruption, incompetence, and failure--I'm moving to Canada.

posted by Jeff | 8:26 PM |

I promise I'll continue to exercise restraint on things like this, but I couldn't pass up this headline (give that writer a raise!):

Bush's search for clean Cuban hookers goes awry

(Thanks IR/SM, et al)

posted by Jeff | 4:19 PM |

The Kerry Capsules: Foreign Policy

Given that there has been more coverage, through more media, of John Kerry than any presidential candidate in history, it's odd that everyone says they don't "know him." Perhaps this is another effect of the right wing spin machine: "That John Kerry, he's said he agrees with everyone. Who knows what he believes." But in fact, his positions are very clear and his record is well-established. I thought I'd collect together the main points from his platform for handy reference. I've cleverly called them the Kerry Capsules.

Kerry fought in Vietnam, winning three purple hearts, a bronze star, and a silver star. Following his stint in Asia, he became disenchanted with the war and became one of its most outspoken critics. However, he's not a peacenik. Although he voted against the first Gulf War, he supported other military actions: Bosnia, Kosovo, Panama, Haiti. He voted to authorize the current Iraq war, but has been critical of the way the White House has executed it.

General Philosophy
The Economist: "In trying to strike a balance between multilateralism on the one hand and continued assertiveness on the other, Mr Kerry is returning to the hard-headed "progressive internationalism" of Roosevelt and Truman, which dominated American foreign policy throughout the cold war."

Perhaps to contrast George Bush, Kerry's multilateralist rhetoric gets the lion's share of air time, but the deep instinct to protect the country that led Kerry to authorize the war is a the balancing motivation in his view. Kerry would begin a process of engagement with the rest of the world--re-engaging our friends, and working diplomatically with trouble spots like Israel, North Korea, and Iran.

Marshall: "First he would expand and internationalize the security force by seeking the support of the UK, France, Russia, and China, and also NATO, which, he suggested, might take control of the borders and train Iraq's army. Second he would propose an international high commissioner to oversee elections, write a constitution, and organize the reconstruction efforts. Third he would launch a "massive training effort" to expand Iraqi security forces."

Kerry would continue the majority of actions put into place by Bush: disrupting terror networks and funds, preventing new terrorist havens from emerging, protecting the homeland. On three key issues he dissents.

A major initiative Kerry (and after the 9/11 Commission, most of America) advocates is improving our intelligence capacities. Unlike the neocons, he believes terrorism does not arrise in concert with state support. It emerges from poverty, isolation, and oppression. To combat these, he has an initiative of "public diplomacy and an international effort to improve education." Finally, he would expand the military: 40,000 new active duty forces, doubled special forces, and spending on equipment and technology.

If Kerry were running any other year, he'd be in trouble. The peacenik wing of the party would criticize him for being far too hawkish; the hawks would criticize him for being too unilateral.  I'm giving him a pass this time.  Even a peacenik can see that he's inherited some extraordinary debacles, and Rummy's lean-and-mean approach cleary ain't gettin' the job done.  We have almost arrived at the moment major foreign policy shakeup, but not quite.  First we must clean up some messes.

Critics charge that Kerry's living a utopian fantasy in thinking the world will pitch in on Iraq merely because he's elected.  In the short term, that's probably true, but I think the criticism is overblown for two reasons: 1) the world recognizes that Iraq is a breeding ground for terror and it's in each country's interest to stop it from festering, and 2) foreign leadership doesn't trust Bush to effectively contain Iraq, but they will consider Kerry.  As long as Kerry's Iraq looks like Bush's Iraq--a dangerous quagmire--the US will find little support.  But keep in mind that Bush has handled the reconstruction as incompetently as one can imagine.  A little bit of competence goes a long way.


John Kerry, official website
John Kerry, April 30 speech at Westminster College
Josh Marshall, Kerry Faces the World (Atlantic, July-August 2004)
The Economist, John Kerry's Foreign Policy

posted by Jeff | 10:34 AM |

Both Americas had the chance to watch the "two Americas" speech last night.  Did they tune in?  I can't find the numbers for Wednesday, but there's evidence that viewers are interested in the convention.  They tuned in to cable and PBS on Tuesday when the broadcast networks chose to run repeats of--what was it, Who Wants to Marry My Pig-Ugly Brother?

The Public Broadcasting Service pulled in an unexpected horde of viewers on Tuesday, about 3 million, up from 2.5 million for Monday night and about a million more than its normal audience, for three hours of prime-time convention coverage.

The viewing totals also increased at the three all-news cable channels on Tuesday night, most likely thanks to viewers who might have otherwise watched one of the network channels. For the night, CNN again had the most viewers, 2.362 million, just ahead of Fox News, which had 2.340 million. MSNBC also showed an impressive jump with 1.4 million.

Americans interested in politics--imagine. American democracy may not be dead yet.

posted by Jeff | 7:22 AM |

Wednesday, July 28, 2004  

Sorry, this appears to be another one of those inappropriately long-winded posts--my forte.

Finding Their Voice

There is a discontinuity in Bizarro World.  Not much of one, of course, emanating as it does from Boston.  Still, practitioners of the postmodern political arts have noticed a subtle change in the force.  Peering into their television screens, they watch the festivities at the convention, and all looks well.  They consult their instruments of threat detection, they consult each other, they check again.  Nothing.  And yet ... a disturbance.

Example.  Last night, after Teresa Heinz Kerry finished a speech that visibly moved an audience to tears, David Brooks, perplexed, told Jim Lehrer that it wasn't very personal.  She was his wife, why didn't she tell something personal about her husband?  Like Laura Bush would have done.  It started strong, but then sort of trailed off there.  I could see him tapping his Dean-o-meter for seismic activity: nothing.

Yet what we're observing is a bedrock change in the Democratic Party.  For the first time since Ronald Reagan snatched away their working class, the Dems have again found their voice.  For the past two days, literally every speech I've heard (I missed Al's due to a phone call from my dad) has been about the forgotten values of the Democratic Party: freedom, unity, diversity, well-being, hope.  The poor righties, who have dictated the terms of the debate for 24 years, don't know what the hell they're talking about.  It's like they're speaking Portugese.  (Okay, Teresa did speak a little Portugese.)

The Republicans pulled off an amazing Orwellian feat under Reagan--they appropriated the language and morality of liberalism and perverted it.  Now giving money to the rich helped the poor, removing civil liberties ensured citizens' rights, ensuring whites didn't lose their advantage was civil rights, and empowering corporations was good for workers and consumers.  They used the same objectives, but they argued that the moral way to achieve them wasn't bankrupt liberalism--that unholy devilchild of the enlightenment--but through proper, narrowly-interpreted Protestant doctrine. 

So for 24 years we've watched as the Dems cast about for a language that communicated actual liberal values but conformed to the ruling orthodoxy's moral code.  It led, unfortunately and improbably, to Clinton asserting that "the era of big government is over" and his dismantling of key provisions of the progressive great society reforms.  (Welfare, sure, but what about the deregulated FCC, the federal giveaways to corporations, the poorly-crafted NAFTA, the problems on Wall Street?) 

The language they're using is populist liberalism.  Not the doublespeak divisive populism of George Bush's "uniting not dividing" but an actual confidence in the power of the people.  It was the font of reform in the 1930s, when America was confronted by economic hardships and external threats, and the Dems seem to be unpacking it once again (with relish and delight).

Howard Dean: "America’s greatness rests on far more than the power of our arms. Our greatness is also measured by our goodness, it’s in the capacity of our minds and of our hearts, and it’s in the strength of our democracy. "

Barack Obama: "It is that fundamental belief, it is that fundamental belief, I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family. E pluribus unum. Out of many, one."

Teresa Heinz Kerry: "For many generations of people around this globe, that is what America has represented. A symbol of hope, a beacon brightly lit by the optimism of its people--people coming from all over the world. Americans believed that they could know all there is to know, build all there is to build, break down any barrier, tear down any wall. We sent men to the moon, and when that was not far enough, we sent Galileo to Jupiter, we sent Cassini to Saturn, and Hubble to touch the very edges of the universe in the very dawn of time. Americans showed the world what can happen when people believe in amazing possibilities."

For Democrats, it's a return to honest, direct politics.  This is what we've always believed, this has been the heart of the platform since Jefferson's era.  Al Gore couldn't spark the base because no one was really sure if he was commited to this vision of politics or, under pressure from the Orwellians, he'd turn to quasi-GOP Clintonian liberalism.  Now they're speaking directly, and the message is enormously effective.  So effective that they don't even have to mention Bush to indict him and his bankrupt policies.  The righties like David Brooks, whose instruments are calibrated to detect exploitable liberal policy or direct assaults on the President, have been left scratching their heads.  What's that crazy African going on about now?

Dems though, are starting to ignore the David Brooks.  If he can't see what's happening in front of him, it's because the confusion of Bizarro World still clouds his faculties.  His instruments are attuned to doublespeak, and so he can't hear the Democrats, who are speaking directly and guilelessly--truth to power, as Teresa said.  And anyway, they're not speaking to the David Brooks.  They're speaking to the country.  By the time he figures out how effective the truth is, it will be too late.

posted by Jeff | 8:58 AM |

Tuesday, July 27, 2004  

There Will Be No Bounce and Other Thoughts

Ed Gillespie is telling anyone who will listen that the Johns should enjoy an 8-12 point bounce after the convention.  Generous of him, no? 

Ah ... no. 

In fact, Kerry will be lucky to get much more than a few points.  As we know, every time pollsters ask voters how certain they are about their candidate, 80% say they're absolute in their support.  According to a USA Today poll out today, in three battleground states only about 15% of Bush voters would even entertain the idea of voting for Kerry (even fewer Kerry voters will consider Bush).  So where is Ed going to get his 12 points?  No, Generous Ed is actually trying to make whatever bounce does result look like like a dud. 

(There won't be much of a bump after the RNC convention either, but Terry McAuliffe will probably repay Ed's generosity nevertheless.)


Yesterday I argued that the Dems should seize and exploit the foreign-policy advantage.  I'll go ahead and assume that Bill, Hill, Al, and Jimmy all read this blog and took my advice.  (Andrew Sullivan has been arguing the same thing, but surely they're not reading his blog.) 


A last observation.  Are you starting to feel optimistic?  There's something in that New England air (no, I don't mean the black flies)--the mood issuing from Boston seems extremely positive.  The media, the bloggers, hell, even the righties all seem to sense we're getting a look at the winning team.  Partly this is the convention effect--all attention is on the Dems, so of course that feels positive.  But compared to the embalmed feeling of the 2000 election, this has a totally different vibe.  The Republicans keep saying they're the optimistic party, but who's telling people to screw themselves?  For once it feels like the Dems are all on the same page and really having a kick-ass time being there.  They're serving a higher purpose--outing Dubya--and it really shows in the mood.

I think that's the ground rumbling beneath our feet.  Big changes ahead.

posted by Jeff | 12:16 PM |

Duncan, aka Atrios (yeah, that one), via Talk Left

posted by Jeff | 11:37 AM |

Believe it or not, humans are actually alive outside Boston, eating, drinking, and in some cases, lawmaking.  Yesterday, the girlie men and women in Cali finally agreed on a budget.  Arnie now gets a photo-op and anther victory feather in his cap--the taunting notwithstanding.  Ah, but dig a little deeper, and it doesn't look like such a stunning victory after all.

First, as the LA Times drolly notes, "But in the end, it took the governor longer to reach an agreement on the budget than it did for his predecessor, former Gov. Gray Davis, last year — when voters cited their frustration with late budgets as a reason for recalling Davis."

More significantly for the Gropenator, getting the deal done cost a lot of political capital.  The central sticking point was a GOP effort to shield local governments from budget cuts for two years--shunting cuts off onto schools and universities, among other programs.  He ultimately caved in to Democrats on that one.  (Nyah, nyah, you got beat by girlie men.)  I suspect they'll remember the levels to which he stooped for future battles.

Probably good for Californians to get this out of the way.  Now everyone can live to fight again another day.

posted by Jeff | 11:14 AM |

I had planned to continue my unconventional posting (and that bad pun) this week, leaving the analysis to the insiders.  But whooeee, that was a rip-snorter last night!  I can't resist thumbing through the papers today to see how it went over with the mainstream press.  After all, they'll be the principal crafters of what the voters understand about the convention (presumably, the swing 10% didn't listen to last night's several hours of speeches).

Middle and Left-leaning
Mr. Clinton's prime-time speech instantly dominated a convention that featured two ex-presidents and an almost-president. And for all of Mr. Kerry's expressed desires that the convention downplay attacks on Mr. Bush, delegates by the end of the night had in the three speeches heard a full-throated case against Mr. Bush's policies - though one often leavened by unthreatening language and expressions of respect for a sitting president.  (NYT)

Eager to convey a positive tone, the speakers barely mentioned President Bush by name. But all of them drew sharp policy and personality distinctions, warning of growing security and economic dangers if Bush is reelected this fall, and portraying Kerry as the wiser -- and, they argued repeatedly, ''stronger" -- steward of American interests.  (Boston Globe)

If anyone had a right to be aggrieved over the last presidential election, it was former Vice President Al Gore. He won the popular vote nationwide, but a 5-4 Supreme Court decision stopped the counting of Florida's disputed ballots and effectively handed Bush the White House. But appearing Monday night to an affectionate ovation, Gore urged Democrats to channel their anger over the 2000 election into support for Kerry and Edwards. Without ever saying I-told-you-so or mentioning Bush by name, Gore made clear his sense of vindication in a speech laced with humor.  (LA Times)

While Gore leavened his remarks with humor, another voice from the Democratic past made no effort to soften his criticism of Bush. Former president Jimmy Carter, who on other occasions has made clear his contemptuous feelings for Bush, said that the president's policies represent an abrupt break from historical tradition. He recalled serving as a naval officer under Democrat Harry S. Truman and Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, when Americans were sure that the country's leaders "would not put our soldiers and sailors in harm's way by initiating wars of choice unless America's vital interests were in danger."  (Washington Post)

Right and Far Right

Selections from the National Review
Is Al Gore bitter? Yikes! ... His face and body looked grim and angry. They must have wished they could have omitted him entirely.... What a nasty piece of work Jimmy Carter is. ... Things have come to a pretty pass when Hillary Clinton is the first sober, sensible voice of the evening. ...  OK, I’ll admit it. That was a good speech [by Clinton].   (Frum)    

If Al Gore had matched his pitch to the moment as perfectly in 2000 as he did tonight, he would be running for reelection today.  (Ponnuru)

The speech itself was harsh, unreasonable, and pure Jimmy Carter. His themes were a) that Bush was a quasi-deserter, b) that he is an "extremist," c) that he is a warmonger, and d) that he is a liar. Mayor Koch wrote a book about Mayor Giuliani called "Nasty Man." I think of that phrase when studying Jimmy Carter.  (Nordlinger)

But when Carter wasn't being unintentionally self-satirical, he was being his old squalid self.  (Hayward)

Washington Times
Bill Clinton accused President Bush of wasting the advances of his eight years as president in a rousing opening-night speech to the Democratic National Convention yesterday, urging the election of Sen. John Kerry to restore his legacy....  The Kerry campaign said the theme was the "Kerry-Edwards plan for America's future," but yesterday's lineup was heavy on the party's elder statesmen, including former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Al Gore, who focused on the past.  (link)

posted by Jeff | 7:00 AM |

Monday, July 26, 2004  

The buzz over Fahrenheit 9/11 has died down a bit, but it's still plugging along nicely. It cracked $100 million on Saturday and is still in the top ten.

posted by Jeff | 5:19 PM |

Gaining the Foreign Policy Advantage

I'm going to be, ahem, unconventional this week. Half the blogosphere's in Boston, from which very little actual news will issue anyway. No reason for me to weigh in--you'll get better analysis elsewhere.

Instead, let me pick up on something eRobin notes in the comments. "Virginia? Don't you mean "veteran-rich Virginia?" That's what Wilgoren never fails to call it when she mentions that Kerry has designs on winning the state. Military people and veterans are his only hope to win there according to her."

There are a lot of issues on which the election may turn, but the credibility of Kerry's foreign policy may be the most potent. Since the cold war, Republicans have always held the foreign policy trump card. The Dems' rejection of foreign intervention after Vietnam--their general rejection, in fact, of foreign policy altogether--has meant that Republicans have had an unchallenged bloc of power within their platform for 35 years.

It's similar to the moral bloc the Dems had from FDR through Vietnam. Republicans could never challenge the Democrats directly on social and economic issues--Dems had essentially branded their politics as "moral" on these grounds. When the Republicans finally found a way to prise this ground from the Dems, it completely undermined Dems' strategy. The flip happened when the Dems pushed too far, when Americans watched young protesters hailing Mao and condemning US soliders. Republicans saw the opportunity and seized it: liberals care more about the rest of the world than the US, and will weaken our defenses if we follow their policies.

We may be at a similar turning point in foreign policy for the GOP. They've pushed too far. When the stakes got extremely high, they let ideology (neocons as Maoist protesters) run their foreign policy. The resulting failures of the war on terror and the catastrophic blunder of invading Iraq has, for the first time since the 60s, put the GOP on the defensive. Now Dems are attacking the GOP as dangerous extremists who weaken our defenses.

The GOP foreign-policy advantage won't completely collapse in this election. For the moment, GOP voters are mouthing support. But underneath the surface, a schism has already erupted. It's quite likely that nothing the GOP can do now will reverse the course. Neocon fanatics don't realize the war is lost--that their foreign policy is a disaster. How hard will they fight the realpolitik paleocons? Hard to say.

But the debate that has yet to surface may--and it's far from unlikely--give the foreign policy advantage back to the Dems for the next generation. eRobin identifies veterans as the critical demographic, and I think rightly. They were the group who turned the tide in the 60s, and if they abandon the GOP now, they will again dictate foreign-policy credibility. Kerry is in a position to snatch vets away from Bush and possibly re-establish Democratic foreign policy credibility.

posted by Jeff | 10:00 AM |

There's a passage from this week's New Yorker all Kerry supporters should have handy, in case they encounter a wavering Republican. It's absolutely amazing.

He also resists speaking publicly about the incident that won him the Silver Star, but his surviving crewmates have told how, when they were ambushed by a Vietcong guerrilla firing rockets from the riverbank, Kerry made an instantaneous decision that evasive action was impossible, turned his boat directly into the fire, beached it, and leaped ashore, to the astonishment of the man with the rocket launcher, who popped up from his spider hole and fled. Kerry chased him and killed him. Navy men were not supposed to leave their ships during combat, and before recommending Kerry for the medal his commanding officer quipped that he wasn’t sure whether he shouldn’t court-martial him instead.

Reading Brinkley’s book, one wonders why Kerry’s campaign does not make more of another occasion when Kerry was sharply reprimanded for having stepped ashore. On a narrow tributary of the Duong Keo River, he and his crew came upon what looked like a deserted village. Then someone thought he saw a man running away. There was no response to a call for surrender, and Kerry took his gun and went to have a look. As he approached, forty-two Vietnamese—women, children, and old men—appeared with empty hands raised. They were in desperate shape, hungry and sick, and although Kerry received radio instructions to leave them and get on with the business of killing enemy combatants, he herded the villagers onto boats and took them to the nearest American base to receive food and medical care. "For an afternoon," he told Brinkley, "it felt good to really be helping the Vietnamese instead of destroying their villages."

Philip Gourevitch, 7/26 New Yorker

If their guy had either of these items on his bio, Bush supporters would fall down in ecstatic displays of rapture. Good to make them aware that our guy has both.

posted by Jeff | 7:30 AM |

Sunday, July 25, 2004  

The "L word" and other media absurdities

By inadvertent chance, I stumble across a national broadcast news show occasionally.  This morning that chance arose as I flipped to This Week, where, in separate interviews, Ted Kennedy and John Edwards were both grilled on their liberal politics.  (Reminding me why I should be a little more advertent in avoiding such chances henceforth.)  It's one of the many examples of the lazy incuriosity of the press that this rises like clockwork at every election.  Here's the blueprint for how the questioning goes, which played out more or less identically when Cokie "I haven't really been following politics for a decade" Roberts and George "Look, I'm a real journalist" Stephanopolous interviewed Edwards and Kennedy. 

The trap: "Senator X, the right wing smear machine has called you a commie rat bastard, which I will now uncritically, puppet-like pose to you.  Is it true that you are, in fact, a commie rat bastard, or are you rather a liar who tells his base he's a rat bastard commie only to appease them while you secretly support the sober and judicious policies of the patriotic fundamentalist far right?  Which is it?"

The response:  "Well [good-looking vacuous reporter's name here], I don't think you can reduce it to labels.  Those are the politics of division, and I am an optimistic candidate who looks for solutions, not divisions."

The follow-up:  "But you do oppose God and support ripping infants from their mother's wombs and also special rights for buggerers, isn't that correct?"

The second response: "Well [good-looking vacuous reporter's name here], I do support a woman's right to choose, and I think writing bigotry into the Constitution is a drastic and unnecessary step."

The final word: "So you are a rat bastard godless commie, as the patriotic right assert.

Moving on from there, Cokie and George joined Sam "I've been insane ever since Lewinsky" Donaldson and George "I've been insane ever since Dubya" Will in a discussion of the election.  Now, I don't mean to be cynical, but what they discussed and what's actually happening don't appear to have the vaguest coherence.  It appeared a lot more like the analysis you hear from NFL commentators who are in the early third quarter of a 31-6 blowout and are trying to convince you the thing's still competitive so you don't tune into Marry a Millionaire Dullard on FOX.  Could it be that a close election is far better for business than a blow out?

While they did mention that things could be looking better for Bush, it was Kerry whom they identified as being really in trouble.  You know, because he's just not "connecting" with voters--another talking point imported whole cloth from Karl Rove's script.   (According to recent polling, he's connecting well enough with Pennsylvania voters, who now give him a 10-point lead, 48%-38%, and Florida voters, who place him in a dead heat with their governor's brother.)  Oh, he's also, according to Cokie, in serious trouble with independents because of his ultra-liberal stance on social issues.

The whole thing is absurd.  Is this how it's been with the national media lately?

(Incidentally, the correct answer to the liberal question is: "That's a rigged question, [good-looking vacuous reporter's name here].  The GOP has spent 25 years demonizing the word "liberal" in order to create the situation I now find myself in, with a dim-witted reporter regurgitating conservative talking points and offering them as objective questions that will inform viewers.  Actually, what you should ask is, 'am I a liberal in the fake, absurdist sense of Ronald Reagan's Welfare Queen, or a liberal in the FDR, resurrected-America-from-the-depression-and-liberated-Europe-from-Hitler sense.'  I'm the latter, and thanks for asking.")

posted by Jeff | 11:35 AM |

Saturday, July 24, 2004  


We're in the third day of a three-day heat snap that has me cowering in air-con and begging for mercy. As my computer is located in a room lacking air conditioning, I shall go no where near it until the heat breaks--sometime tomorrow, probably.

Carry on.

posted by Jeff | 12:11 PM |

Thursday, July 22, 2004  

New Media

Blogs have been around at least five years (depending on how you calculate, you could go back to the birth of the internet), but they've only been relevant since December 2002, when Paul Krugman cited Josh Marshall in a column in the New York Times. They've experienced exponential growth in the past 18 months (both in numbers and readership) and there's reason to believe blogs may emerge as a new medium. You read blogs, so you're hip to that idea, right? Okay: so what is the medium?

Readers intuit their importance, but defining them isn't as easy as it looks. Are they news? Are they commentary? Are they something in between? What need do they serve? How do they from existing media? I've recently been working on launching a blog about local politics called BlueOregon, and the process has got me thinking about the place of blogs and their future. I believe they are an important element in the media landscape, but I wonder--have they finished evolving?

Let's start with a provisional definition. There are five elements I think characterize blogs--or anyway could characterize blogs if they evolve into something more than a massive chatroom. They are:

Immediacy The virtue of blogs is that they respond more quickly than any medium (other than TV--which only covers 2% of news).

Interconnectivity Blogs are also unique because, instead of working only with the network of their own reporters and bureaus, bloggers sift through the entire mediascape for news. Together, it forms a kind of "community brain" of information.

Interactivity Through this interconnectivity emerges a dialogue between bloggers; with comments, you include another dimension--now readers are joining the discussion with bloggers.

Individuality In a completely standardized, corporatized world, the human voice has been lost. Blogs restore that with their own brand of individuality.

Advocacy In the mainstream press, there's no place for advocacy. You've got advertisers to please on the one hand, and the (mostly outdated) notion of objectivity on the other. But blogs can be vibrant advocates for their interests. Taken together, a network of bloggers can have a profound organizing effect--witness the Howard Dean phenomenon.

In Oregon, we are blessed with an enormously rich blogging community. A site called ORblogs catalogues Oregon bloggers--currently there are 262 listed. More importantly, they've started to evolve. A blogger who goes by the modest handle "the one true B!x" is a full-time reporter for his site Portland Communique. He doesn't just comment on the news, he reports it and occasionally scoops the mainstream press. Over the past year, his site has become a must-read for Portland pols and reporters.

When we launched BlueOregon, we hoped it would become "the water cooler around which progressive Oregonians will gather to share news, commentary, and gossip." (Credit to co-founder Kari Chisholm for that fine langauge.) Although it's a group blog, we're really hoping to start a virtual community center. We've assembled bloggers, politicians, activists, and regular citizens (and even a poet!) to try to start a dialogue that maximizes the characteristics of the medium.

In the late 1970s, conservatives gathered around coffeepots in the basements of Baptist churches and started building connections. They were very far from the beltway, and their political stirrings were unsophisticated. They collected fives and tens and put people on school boards and county commissions. Four years ago they elected a President, and in 2002 they retained both houses of Congress. Depending on the election this year, conservatives may finally secure a rock-solid majority on the Supreme Court. All of this happened because of successful organization.

In the next couple years, the blog medium will begin to solidify. Either they will be yet another sorta interesting--but ultimately failed--internet application (remember how Rocket Books were going to change the world?), or they will emerge as something distinct and necessary. Given the current media landscape, here's one person who's really hoping for the latter.

posted by Jeff | 4:39 PM |

Lots in the to-do box this morning (and a meeting in Salem). I'll have a post up this afternoon, but probably not before--

posted by Jeff | 7:38 AM |

Wednesday, July 21, 2004  

Is Greenspan Credible?

A few months ago, Alan Greenspan encouraged Americans to start using adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) in one of his speeches. Along with the ritual language of dollar strength and employment gains that mark his periodic liturgical offerings, he muttered: "American consumers might benefit if lenders provided greater mortgage product alternatives to the traditional fixed-rate mortgage." Adjustable-rate mortgages offer an initial low rate--often more than a point below a 30-year fixed rate--and then follow the market. When interest rates go up or down, so does the ARM.

There are good times and bad times to encourage ARMs, and from the mortgage-holder's point of view, this is definitely a bad one. With interest rates at all-time lows, there's no way for ARMs to go down. Deficits and rising inflation guarantee that they'll actually go up--possibly very quickly. If anyone was in a position to know this, it was Al. So what the hell was he talking about?

Obviously, he was trying to keep the economy pumped, and housing sales were about the only bright spot. Having already sold out his commitment to fiscal sanity by endorsing the Bush tax cuts, the chairman had little recourse but to try to keep home-buying chugging along. Hey everybody, why not try an ARM?

Yesterday, the Chairman came out all smiles. He pronounced everything hunky dory, saying "economic developments have become quite favorable in 2004" and "expansion has become more broad-based and has produced notable gains in employment." Really? Employment seems to have stalled. Consumers aren't buying. The housing market may be at the wrong side of a bursting bubble. Wages are down against inflation.

Greenspan brushed recent bad numbers off as a "rough patch." Could be. Once upon a time, you could trust the chairman to at least offer actual analysis, not GOP spin. We wouldn't have to consider his words in the context of a floundering president in the midst of a failing re-election bid. Now we do.

Is Greenspan offering his true opinion, or feeding us another ARM-like red herring to bouy Bush?

posted by Jeff | 7:32 AM |

Tuesday, July 20, 2004  

Okay, I want to go on the record.  If you are a journalist for a major US newspaper--or a cool minor one--and you write a great article and send me the link, I'll probably mention it to the thirty-two people who read this blog.  (Of course, you could just send it to Atrios and you'd get my 32 plus his hundred k, but I don't want to dissuade anyone.)

I mention this because Rick Perlstein of the Village Voice sent me a link to his article, The Church of Bush.  (Why do some papers put their headlines in caps and others not?  Hmmm...)  Let's see: major newspaper (check), great article (check).  Oh, and the topic revolves around Oregonians.  A trifecta!

Actually, forget all that business--it really is a fascinating article.  Perlstein came to our fair state and spent some quality time with activist righties.  This is their story.

Ponytailed Larry, who wears the stripes of a former marine gunnery sergeant on his floppy hat, bursts into laughter; it's too obvious to take seriously. "Honesty. Truth. Integrity," he says upon recovering. "I don't think there's any difference between the governor of Texas and the president of the United States."

Gingerly, I offer one difference: The governor ran for president on a platform of balanced budgets, then ran the federal budget straight into the red.

Responds Larry (of the first president since James Garfield with a Congress compliant enough never to issue a single veto): "Well, it's interesting that we blame the person who happens to be president for the deficit. As if he has any control over thelegislature of the United States."

Larry's wife, Tami Mars, the Republican congressional nominee for Oregon's third district, proposes a Divine Right of Eight-Year Terms: "Let the man finish what he started. Instead of switching out his leadership—because that's what the terrorists are expecting."

Larry is asked what he thinks of Bush's budget cuts for troops in the field. He's not with Bush on everything: "I hope he reverses himself on that."

I note that he already has, due to Democratic pressure.

Faced with an existential impossibility—giving the Democrats credit for anything—he retreats into a retort I'll hear again and again tonight: Nobody's perfect. "I don't think we're going to find a situation in which we find a person with which we're 100 percent comfortable."

Perlstein chalks it up to a religious-like faith in Dubya certain righties have.  It's a filter that allows only the hagiographic to shine through.  I think he's partly right, but to play the behavior card, I'd go back to a book I was hot on about a year ago: The Authoritarian Specter, by Bob Altemeyer.  Based on studies he's conducted over 30 years, Altemeyer has defined a psychological behavior he calls "right-wing authoritarian."  Listen to see if you can find any resonances to what Perlstein describes.

Compared with others, authoritarians have not spent much time examining evidence, thinking critically, reaching independent conclusions, and seeing whether their conclusions mesh with the other things they believe. Instead, they have largely accepted what they were told by the authorities in their lives, which leaves them with time for other things, but which also leaves them underpracticed in thinking for themselves.

[T]hey usually learned which ideas are bad in the same way they learned which ones are good--from the authorities in their lives. [Authoritarians] therefore have more trouble identifying falsehoods on their own because they are not as preapared to think critically.

Blind faith and authoritarian behavior--a bad combo. 

posted by Jeff | 3:47 PM |

David Brooks makes an inadvertent discovery

In one of the more amusing David Brooks columns I've read in a long time, the thoughtful Bobo waxes rapt about a Yale professor, Charles Hill.

College students, even at Yale, live enveloped by uncertainty. What should I do with my life? What really matters? Hill seemed to them a man who in the course of years had figured it all out. He was an austere but commanding presence in their lives.

After he goes all tingly describing the affect the Great Man has had on the great young minds of the Ivy League, he poses this Very Serious Question: "Why aren't there more scholars, like Hill, Gaddis and Kennedy, who teach students to be generalists, to see the great connections?"

Psst, hey Dave, here's a hot tip. There are places where you can learn life's great connections. In fact, there's even a name for such a thing: the liberal arts

posted by Jeff | 9:51 AM |

Joe Wilson did not out Valerie Plame
All of a sudden, the righties are mighty fascinated by the Valerie Plame story (Safire, NRO, Tom Maguire, etc). Turns out Joe Wilson may be a charlatan and a self-promoter. (Apparently the only one in Washington.) There may be more truth to the Iraq-Niger connection than he suggested (there might not be, either--there's no proof either way), and there may be less truth to some of the other things he said. Okay, fair enough.

Someone in the White House outed his undercover wife, Valerie Plame, though, and as far as I can tell, this remains a felony. Once again, the righties are missing the real story.  No matter what Wilson's character may be, he didn't leak his wife's status to Bob Novak.  Someone in the White House did, and that's the real crime.
David Corn, The NationA White House Smear
Tim Rutten, LA Times: Fuel for the pro-war blogs
Mary Jacoby, Salon: Joseph Wilson vs. the right-wing conspiracy

and even more...
Josh Marshall, today.

posted by Jeff | 7:30 AM |

Monday, July 19, 2004  

The Polling Paradox

Kevin Drum points to a fascinating article on polling in the New Republic--but he misses the key info. Writing the Campaign Journal column, Ryan Lizza teases out the paradox(es) of current polling. "Why," he wonders, "is it that in many polls, Bush's job approval rating is higher than the percentage who say they will vote for him?" The answer lies in two categories of people within the undecided middle of the electorate. The first are those who actually self-identify as "undecided." Turns out that "undecideds" really aren't--as Dems have suspected, they're actualy covert Kerry supporters. Lizza quotes a memo from a Republican polling firm

They are more than twice as likely to see things headed down the wrong track as compared to voters overall.... They give President Bush a net NEGATIVE image rating.... John Kerry holds a slight net POSITIVE image rating.... Clearly, if these undecided voters were leaning any harder against the door of the Kerry camp, they would crash right through it.

That's the part Kevin catches, but he ignores the more interesting analysis--of what Lizza calls the "approval-gap voters."

Fabrizio [the GOP pollster] calls this difference the "approval gap." In his 19-state poll the percentage of people who approve of the job Bush is doing but say they will vote for Kerry is 8.6 percent.

Approval-gap voters, by contrast, are the true equivocators. They are both pro-Bush and pro-Kerry. They just happen to be a little more pro-Kerry. They have a net favorable opinion of Bush (48 percent favorable to 30 percent unfavorable), but an even higher net favorable opinion of Kerry (54 percent favorable to 15 percent unfavorable).

Based on the analysis of these two groups, Fabrizio's counter-intuitive advice to the Bush team is to forget about the undecided voters--who are really just future Kerry supporters--and to concetrate on the approval-gap voters, many of whom say they are voting for Kerry but are actually still open to Bush. "Focusing on 'approval gap' voters versus undecided voters," he argues, "will yield a better return on investment" because "'approval gap' voters aren't predisposed against the President personally"--as the undecided voters are--and they "are less pessimistic about the direction of the country."

Ah, it's all clear to me now.

posted by Jeff | 3:34 PM |

The "Girlie-Men" Gaffe

"They cannot have the guts to come out there in front of you and say, 'I don't want to represent you. I want to represent those special interests: the unions, the trial lawyers'…. I call them girlie men. They should get back to the table, and they should finish the budget."

--Arnold Schwarzenegger, Saturday

It's not possible for politicians to avoid saying stupid things from time to time, and here Arnold offers up a beaut.  Never mind the possible implications--homophobia, misogyny--the politics alone are idiotic.  A puerile assault on a person's manhood (even if a quarter of the targets aren't men)--not exactly a Kasparov-like move.  Now Arnold's going to be doing damage control for a week and has just handed the PR power back to the opposition. 

But what about the implications?  Dems are playing the homophobe and sexism card and demanding a retraction that the Governor says will not be forthcoming.  I have no doubt he's a sexist and a cultural homophobe (muscleheads must eschew the swishy), but this gaffe points to neither.  Rather, it's a peak into Arnold's hidden propensity toward autocracy that may just be coming out.  Arnold is a competitive guy, and he's competitive in the solo mode of bodybuilding.  His two previous careers both accentuated the cult of the individual.  From Mr. Universe, he went on to become the Terminator and Hollywood's best-paid man.  Although filmmaking is a team effort, Arnold didn't have to share the limelight.  The press described his movies as Arnold movies, and he got all the credit.

In Cali, things were looking good for six months or so.  Through the honeymoon period, Arnold was afforded a number of successes.  The legislature played along and the press wrote the same kind of stories they wrote about Arnie the actor--it was the Arnold show; he got all the credit. 

Of course, in a state where funding measures have to be passed by two-thirds votes, no one man is going to run the show.  The "girlie man" comment was a slip of the lip.  It didn't reveal an inner gay-basher or sexist, however. (Inner sexist?  Isn't he pretty much out of that closet?)  It revealed his inner autocrat.  Just what Californians wanted, right?

Update:  From today's Sacramento Bee:

Arnold Schwarzenegger's fierce desire not only to succeed but to dominate made him the globe's most renowned bodybuilder and action movie star, and that same obsession with winning also placed him in California's governorship.

California's seriously unbalanced state budget, however, is rapidly becoming an indelible black mark on Schwarzenegger's winning record. The man who believed that he could overcome any obstacle by sheer force of will has collided with the issue that was the most important factor in the recall of predecessor Gray Davis.

posted by Jeff | 11:11 AM |

Time for the Knock-Out

Yesterday on Meet the Press, there were three discussions.  The first was a discussion with Senator Robert Byrd about whether George W. Bush a despot? The second was whether Bush left the US unsafe?  And the third was campaign analysis that led with ... whether John Kerry is a flip-flopper. 

It's fairly typical.  Nearly everything's going wrong for the White House, so after reporting the news, the media, beholden to its own bizarre definition of "objective," goes the the "negative" story about Kerry--Bush's talking point that he's wishy-washy.  Bush's administration has become a PR campaign to steer the press away from the signature policies of his administration.  We get gay marriage, not Iraq.  We get identity theft, not jobs.  Hell, things are so bad the press has indulged in speculation, to the White House's great annoyance, that Bush is going to dump Cheney from the ticket. 

The problem is, Kerry's playing into his hand.  Clearly, he needs to have a full slate of policy initiatives.  But his message should be this: Bush always talks priorities.  Fine.  Here's his priorities.  In economics, he favors the wealthy over the poor.  He favors big business over small business.  In the war on terror, he favors invasion over security.  In foreign policy, he favors unilateralism over collaboration. 

But Kerry, instead of going Rove on the White House, is batting back Bush's feeble thrusts.  He defends himself on flip-flopping, he argues values, he changes the subject when Bush brings up gay marriage.  Why on earth is Bush setting the discussion?  Forget values for a month or two.  Start hammering Bush where it really hurts--his supposed "successes."  That's the most vicious attack of all.

posted by Jeff | 7:22 AM |

Sunday, July 18, 2004  

R. I. P.

The Oregon Blog
January 16, 2003 - July 18, 2004

Read the eulogy.

posted by Jeff | 2:03 PM |

Saturday, July 17, 2004  

Blue Oregon, Blue Oregon...

Blue Oregon

posted by Jeff | 12:29 PM |

Friday, July 16, 2004  

The Politics of Race

Another election year, another opportunity to kick the race football around.  Yesterday John Kerry spent the afternoon telling Bush--via the NAACP--neener, neener: "I will be a president who truly is a uniter, not one who seeks to divide our nation by race, riches or any other label. I will be a president who shares the values of people of all colors who get up and go to work every day, try to raise their families in dignity and want to leave this world a better place for their children. I will be a president who when he is invited into your home, will always say yes." Bush, never one to let a blow go unreturned, called the venerable civil rights organization "incivil" and "intolerant." 

Politicians have long understood that race is a whole lot easier to exploit than address. 

This year, Dems get a pass.  Bush received an all-time low of just 9% of the black vote in 2000, and he's been alienating that 9% ever since.  As the NAACP speech yesterday showed, all Kerry has to do is show up.  He won't be forced to talk race overtly, and the divisions that have split the country (particularly the South) since the civil rights era will be put aside this year.  Of course, that means he won't have to address race, either.

Even Bush, who in another year might be looking down the barrel of a "race problem," gets a pass.  For the past month he's been feeding the base nothing but red meat, and his rebuke of the NAACP can be seen as a backhanded way of playing to the "states' rights" crowd.  Who knows what Bush's personal views on race are--politically it's a clear choice.  For a guy teetering on the brink of elective catastrophe, the last thing he needs to do is cozy up to a black constituency whom he's spent four years screwing.  Better to give a wink and a nod to the good ol' boys down south.

But if race is politically clear-cut this year, it conceals an intractable problem at the heart of politics.  There is, of course, the ostensible conflict--racism itself.  But more subtle conflicts, often commingled with distal conflicts like economics and education, are the where the real trouble lies.

Overt racism is no longer the central problem.  We've come a long way from the time when a majority of Americans thought the races were biologically distinct, when brutal racism was justified by the belief in superior genes.  What exists now is the residue of that old hatred, a kind of belligerent racism to spite the facts.  Where race is used as a justification for policy, it's more likely to be a cultural rather than biological argument.  When blacks perform more poorly than whites in schools, for example, this is evidence of a lazy culture, not inferior genes. 

Things get really hairy when race forms a subsidiary issue to a larger problem--education, say.  Both parties co-opt race to bolster their own ideological stand on the issue.  In the new millennium, the GOP has suddenly (though not quite admirably) become color-blind.  They don't consider race when discussing education and then call it a virtue--never mind that black and Latino children lag behind whites in k-12 education, score lower on college boards, and attend college in smaller percentages.  The Democrats, meanwhile, use these same statistics to argue for stronger support of public schools--never mind that many public schools are a disaster and black interest in school vouchers is growing.  It's an example of how politicians use race as a football--which has the perverse effect of avoiding dealing with race directly. 

2004 is shaping up to be another year of race football.  With the war, terrorism, and the economy, it just won't move to the front burner.  It will get discussed, if at all, in support for other arguments.  Kerry, for example, might point out that not only are most of the people fighting Bush's war poor, they're disproportionately black.  But that argument, while true, is exactly the kind of argument that ignores the larger issues in American society.  America's white population is steadily declining--it is projected to be only 53% at midcentury--which means that issues of race aren't going to go away, they'll get more pronounced.  At some point, we're actually going to have to actually talk about it.  Directly.

posted by Jeff | 9:03 AM |

Thursday, July 15, 2004  

Out of the Gap

Yesterday I began discussing Thomas Barnett's The Pentagon's New Map, wherein he described a model for interpreting global security threat. In the post-9/11 world, as people cast around for theories about what the threats are, where they're coming from, and what to do about them, Barnett is the first person to come up with a credible suggestion to the first two questions.

He believes that the world can be divided between a "functioning core" and a "non-integrated gap" (Gap and Core). What characterizes the Core is implicit agreement about the free flow of goods and information, even though these will challenge cultural, religious, and economic norms. The Gap, by contrast, does not accept this rule set. Instead, volatile leadership enforces a rigid cultural rule set, cutting off the free flow of information and goods, plunging the country into poverty, violence, and disease. It matters little if the rule set is defined by the ruthless secular beliefs of Kim Jong-il or the theocratic dictates of Iranian Ayatollahs. It's not the dogma that distinguishes the Gap, but the disconnection.

As far as diagnoses go, I think Barnett's is the most useful I've encountered. But even if we accept it on the face, then the third question of foreign policy becomes paramount: what do we do about the threats? And here a successful diagnosis of the problem isn't sufficient. In his book, Barnett praised the Iraqi invasion, arguing that it would successfully bring Iraq out of the darkness of Hussein and into the Core. Oops.

In order to begin to bring the Gap into the functioning core, we need to look at things on three levels: broad policy toward the Gap; political institutions to confront states and terrorists in the Gap; and political strategies for specific conflicts within the Gap.

Broad Policy
If the larger issue is not country-specific but a disconnection from the functioning core, the remedy is integration into the world community--using Barnett's language, slowly shifting the rule sets of countries within the Gap. The current approach is a patchwork of NGOs and the UN, operating under the old rule sets of Gap countries as they try to provide basic services to the masses. While this may alleviate suffering individually, it's not going to bring countries out of the Gap. Instead, we need a more radical solution.

What Barnett essentially describes with his "functioning core" rule set is a crude democracy. In democracies, we agree to give up some control to secure other control. We agree to allow non-malicious behavior, no matter whether we agree with it or not, in order to 1) secure the freedom to conduct our own activities, and 2) make larger flows of goods and ideas available. The notion of the UN was a good first effort, but there's neither carrot nor stick there. A more interesting way of providing a stick is an EU-style body. In order to join, you must agree to certain rule sets--and actually, the EU is a great example. But once you join, there are many benefits--the carrot. Such a body could create funds that member nations could access for education, infrastructure, start-up money and so on. The US would spend far less in the long run and accomplish far, far more with these funds than it would building up a massive invasion force.

Political Institutions
Of course, it wouldn't address the North Koreas of the world. The Core, in whatever configuration it chooses, must have a multilateral approach to the most incorrigible states. As we've seen, the UN is an ineffective way of managing these problems. But if the UN is too broad to be useful, US unilateralism is too narrow. To use the language of Barnett, neither one has the credibility to enforce rule sets. The US has no credibility because it appears to be acting in an effort to benefit itself, or at least acting arbitrarily. (Never mind what the intentions of the US actually are--they could be perfectly guileless, but most of the world thinks otherwise. Rule sets depend on agreement.) The UN also lacks credibility because it supports no rule sets--witness the selection of Sierra Leone and the Sudan to the Human Rights Commission. Instead, a credible coalition from the Core must form that can handle the worst abusers. NATO was once a comparable organization, but it's function as a counter to the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact makes it nearly obsolete in the al Qaida age. It's time for a new institution.

Political Strategies for Specific Conflicts
I'm constantly amazed that when a Rwanda or a Sudan disaster unfolds, the world has no plan to address it. Nations seem insensitive to the danger such disasters represent to their own well-being, never mind the moral imperatives. In bi-or multi-state conflicts like Iraq generally a single country drives the process for its own purposes, not in the interest of the larger Core. The Afghani invasion is a case in point. While the US put together a respectable coalition for the invasion, it was essentially a US project. There was no thought of integration into a larger community, and the larger community abandoned Afghanistan after the invasion as a US reconstruction. Now it has fallen mostly back to the warlords and its danger as a threat to the Core has spiked back up again.

While I would suggest strategies for particular conflicts, the work of creating these strategies needs to be multilateral from the start. Is there any person alive who doesn't comprehend the danger the Israeli-Palestinian conflict represents to the Core? This kind of instability is a global problem as much as it is a national problem. It is clear that the Israelis and Palestinians are incapable of resolving the problem. The US shouldn't be the only country to try to arbitrate--mainly because we've already lost our credibility there. Our intervention isn't designed to enforce a rule set, but the result of confused national politics going back a century.

A new NATO of Core counties needs to develop specific strategies for how it will handle emergent hot spots. In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, it may make more sense to establish interim Core governments to conduct Germany and Japan-style reconstructions. (I don't want to get to focused on the details--the point here is that rule sets should be the foundation of predictable interventions by such a body.)


Current US foreign policy is a confused stew of competing agendas. If Bush is re-elected, that confusion will deepen, as neocons and cold war dead-enders battle it out--neither one able to see that the enemies aren't arrayed against us because "they hate our freedom." John Kerry's election may be a step in the right direction. He appears to understand that the global security situation does not hinge on ideology (an "axis of evil"), but arises from instability. He's had the courage to suggest that "America to engage diplomatically in creating alliances that enhance collective security." Working with the Core is a great start. Building supports for long-term projects to integrate countries in the Gap is the next step.


Thomas Barnett's web page and blog.

posted by Jeff | 11:11 AM |

Wednesday, July 14, 2004  

Into the Gap

In the documentary Fog of War, Errol Morris' discussion with former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, McNamara makes an observation about perspective. "The Vietnamese saw us as replacements for the French. They thought we were fighting a colonial war, which was absurd. We saw the Vietnam conflict as an aspect of the Cold War, but they saw it as a civil war." If we had understood the motivation of the enemy, the war might have followed a radically different script. The lesson is that accurately diagnosing the situation is critical to understanding how to address it.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, US foreign policy has been in disarray, in large part because we have failed to diagnose the world situation. This failure is all the more serious following 9/11. In the past 15 years, two models have tried, and both have proven disastrous. Cold-war dead-enders dominated Pentagon strategy following the Soviet collapse, arguing that the emergent threat would be a Soviet analogue--an enormously powerful state; China, for example. Not recognizing the threat of non-state terrorists, this left us blind to the approach of al Qaida. The shift in policy to the neocon interventionist model, wherein cancer is cut out before it spreads, has proven--if possible--a greater failure.

These failures are the result of faulty diagnosis. What is the threat? What are the intentions of those who threaten us? Thomas Barnett, currently a professor at the Naval War College, may have the answers. This April, he published The Pentagon's New Map (Putnam, $26.95), wherein he describes two worlds the "functioning core," and the "non-integrated gap." As with many astute theories, it's clean and simple. It's a theory he worked on for years, and a rough draft was published in Esquire .

I'll spend the rest of this post describing the diagnosis. Of course, he also has theories about what we should do with the diagnosis, and here I think he's off the mark. I'll discuss that tomorrow.

Rule Sets
Rather than describe the world through ideology or alliances, while working on his theory, Barnett enlarged his field of vision and took a look at globalism. He saw an interesting pattern.

If we map out U.S. military responses since the end of the cold war, we find an overwhelming concentration of activity in the regions of the world that are excluded from globalization’s growing Core--namely the Caribbean Rim, virtually all of Africa, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East and Southwest Asia, and much of Southeast Asia.

--Esquire, March 2003

The resulting map contains countries with absolutely nothing in common with each other. So what about the other half, the part where violence is rare?

Once again, these countries look quite different politically. What they had in common was a de facto "rule set." They all accepted the freedoms and limitations that come with interconnectivity--economic and otherwise. India is a democracy, but it has a caste system that offends equality-minded Americans. Likewise, our loose morals and libertine ways offend Indians. But a larger rule set is in place that allows us to interact. We accept that the interconnectivity of markets, the effects of satellite broadcasts, the internet and so on will bring us challenges to our cultural norm. The rule set allows us to interact even if we don't perfectly agree. (And the result is we both become more like the other--another consequence we're willing to accept.)

But in the violent regions of the world, countries reject these rule sets. They function by different rules and demand that any integration is done on the terms of their own rule set.

The Non-Integrating Gap
According to Barnett, the principal characteristic of the non-integrating Gap (hereafter Gap) is not religion or politics, but disconnectedness.

To be disconnected in this world is to be kept isolated, deprived, repressed, and uneducated. For young women, it means being kept--quite literally in many instances--barefoot and pregnant. For young men, it means being kept ignorant and bored and malleable. For the masses, being disconnected means a lack of choice and scarce access to ideas, capital, travel, entertainment, and love ones overseas.

--The Pentagon's New Map

As a result of this disconnectivity, life in the Gap is characterized by a number of conditions. Poverty - of 118 countries with incomes less than $3,000, 109 are in the Gap. Poor leadership and oppression - of 48 countries listed by Freedom House as "not free," 45 are in the Gap. Only one in ten Gap states has a stable rotation of leaders. Violence and disease - all of the countries with median ages of less than 20 are located in the Gap; all countries with median ages of 35 or more are in the functioning Core. Life expectancy is low, and crime and war high. Disconnection - communications within the Gap (independent media, internet) are far lower than in the Core.

I think Barnett has hit on a killer app here. It doesn't address individual conflicts or offer guidance on a case-by-case level. Viewing the Israel-Palestine conflict through the lens of the Gap doesn't suggest a course of action. But it is useful in pulling it out of the quagmire of culture, history, and religion--the blinders that have prevented solutions for 50 years. In fact, looking around the globe, using this lens has the same effect of changing the discussion from explosive political rhetoric and directing it toward larger and less volitile possibilities.

The real test is, having diagnosed the problem, can we come up with effective, long-term solutions? Tune in tomorrow for a discussion.

posted by Jeff | 9:44 AM |

Monday, July 12, 2004  


The pivotal moment in Spider-Man 2 isn't at the climax, during the final battle with the nefarious Doc Ock. It's earlier in the penultimate battle. Spidey has just been fighting the bad doctor, and is trying to prevent a hurtling train from rocketing off the tracks. Doc Ock has damaged the controls and left Spidey to save the passengers. His first effort at webbing is broken. He tries again and the webbing holds, but it appears that Spidey, hanging onto the webs, might break. His mask had been torn off earlier in the battle, and now he's revealed to the world. It gives us the rare opportunity to watch as his face contorts to hang onto the webbing, to see his fragility and humanity.

Hold that thought.

Yesterday, the United States Senate took up the latest far-right values sortee and debated the constitutional ban on gay marriage. Everyone, including a large majority of senators, who didn't even bother to show up for the debate, knows that this isn't about gay marriage, it's about getting Bush's base out for this year's election. The stunt is effective to this extent, though--it's forcing the world to talk, again, about values.

This word "values" is an invention of the Christian conservatives, not a time-honored element of conservatism. It is coded language to communicate to a secret society about very specific agendas. It says "your way of life is threatened, and you must eliminate the enemy." Call it the "just say no" agenda. Beginning with Reagan, this faction of the GOP decided that it was their business to enforce a code of conduct. Though they used the language of universalism, they were actually trying to make laws that legally excluded people and behavior, the latest example of which is this preposterous gay-marriage ban. In fact, if you were going to describe this value in a single word (and you were an uncharitable partisan like me), you might use the word "distrust."

Until the late 60s, liberals owned values. They were so deeply ingrained that they didn't even know it. They were the moral party, the party of compassion, the party that stood against the predators of industry and oppression. They defeated the JP Morgans, the Nazis, and the segregationists--a hell of a trifecta.

Liberalism is essentially a doctrine of trust. Democracy, the liberal experiment, is the political model of trust. In order for the system to remain a true democracy, citizens must trust those who hold values with which they deeply disagree. That's why the momentum of a healthy democracy is always against power--whether it's the JP Morgan variety or the mob variety.

Spidey manages to stop the train, of course, but it costs him consciousness and possibly more. The passengers pass his prone body mosh-pit style back to a safe clearing, and they lay him out. He eventually snaps out of it and realizes his mask is gone. He's terrified: now that they know who he is, all his loved ones are in jeopardy. But here comes the liberal-minded values. The New Yorkers return the mask, and everyone swears secrecy. Spidey has learned trust runs both ways. The themes of the movie version of Spider-Man are taken whole cloth from Stan Lee's liberal-era comic. The movie looks like the new millenium, but it feels mid-century. Spidey is a superhero of trust. This moment in the movie is a deeply subversive one, because we all long for that kind of democratic value, that JFK-era trust. We want to ask what we can do for our country, not what our country can do to gays and lesbians. It's a moment of spaciousness when one experiences what we've traded away with this new era of politics.

The talk of "values" will go on, and it will go on under the GOP's terms. It's their creation, and their issue. But let's at least call it what it is--the value of mistrust. Then, at least, we can decide if that's really the value we want.


EJ Dionne, Washington Post: Who's Got the Wrong Values Now?

USA Today: Democrats' convention lineup emphasizes 'America's values'

NPR: The Politics of Values

posted by Jeff | 9:23 PM |

Bush: No Lessons From Iraq

In addition to the canceled election news, there are three big stories today. The Washington Post has one piece on Joe Wilson and the Plame affair and another on Tom DeLay's emerging legal problems. Aside from the news, I have little to add. You may consult your fave blog luminary for analysis.

The third story involves remarks Dubya made today in Tennessee on Iraq and terrorism. That one's more interesting. In the speech, Bush outlines (in a single sentence, no less) what appears to be the White House's new posture on Iraq: "Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq."

This is the emerging storyline the press has seized on, and fairly enough. It's a pretty tortured argument. Listen to the language he's forced to use to defend the decision:

We removed a declared enemy of America, who had the capability of producing weapons of mass murder, and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them. In the world after September the 11th, that was a risk we could not afford to take.

To translate: in a screeching panic we bombed the hell out a a guy we didn't like because he might have eventually tried to find weapons that he might have considered using against us--or conceivably giving them to other guys we don't like who presumably also wanted weapons...which they might have also been interested in using against us. It's the new definition of "imminent threat."

However, while this is indeed a nice storyline to report, I don't think it's the central one. The more important passage came earlier in the speech, where Bush reaffirmed the neocon doctrine of foreign policy:

To overcome the dangers of our time, America is also taking a new approach in the world. We're determined to challenge new threats, not ignore them, or simply wait for future tragedy. We're helping to build a hopeful future in hopeless places, instead of allowing troubled regions to remain in despair and explode in violence. Our goal is a lasting, democratic peace, in which free nations are free from the threat of sudden terror.... First, we are defending the peace by taking the fight to the enemy.

The ill-fated neocon dream that the US can enforce an (admittedly perverse) "freedom" on all nations (the freedom to buy McDonald's burgers and shop at Wal-Mart) that led to the debacle of Iraq is still firmly in place. While all serious adults (Nader left to Kissinger right) have looked at the situation and realized the gross naivete of this line of thinking, it is still Bush's policy. It allows Bush to continue to trumpet the fictional "peace" and "democracy" the US brought Iraq. It allows him to read these lines with blissful lack of irony: "The ideals we stand for have a power of their own. The appeal of justice and liberty, in the end, is greater than the appeal of hatred and tyranny in any form." Who knows, maybe he's keeping the policy just so he won't lose this particular line of rhetoric.

I don't know if the media's going to pick up on this or not. Surely we won't see the headline I used for this post. I'd settle for "Bush to Continue Neocon Agenda of Intervention." Seems unlikely though, doesn't it? I guess that's why God invented blogs.


Dan Froomkin has a long article reviewing the media reaction to Bush's speech. I was wrong. Two articles had critical headlines: "Bush again tries to link Saddam, al-Qaida" from Knight-Ridder and "Bush asserts pre-emptive strikes policy" from the Financial Times.

posted by Jeff | 2:53 PM |

Navel Gazing, the final installment

As you may have noticed, I'm taking your advice and slowing down on the posting. Also thanks to your advice, I have a plan about where I'm going from here, blogwise. I will unveil it soon, no doubt to mild fanfare and some catcalls. Never mind, I'm resolved on the point. More when it's underway.

Now back to the regularly-scheduled blogging...

posted by Jeff | 12:26 PM |

In which case the terrorists will have, literally, won

Bush, the master magician, is distracting America with his right hand (gay marriage, the evil of trial lawyers) while his left is busy with more sinister activities:

American counterterrorism officials, citing what they call "alarming" intelligence about a possible Qaeda strike inside the United States this fall, are reviewing a proposal that could allow for the postponement of the November presidential election in the event of such an attack, NEWSWEEK has learned.

The Bushies are apparently sufficiently alarmed by a Madrid-like October Surprise that they're considering scrapping democracy, apparently, to save it. Fortunately, no such provision for unilaterally establishing a dictatorship currently exists in US law (fancy that). Congress must therefore create it, which will no doubt scare the crap out of GOP legislators.

I think we're a long way from having this become a serious possibility, but it's an instructive lesson in what the White House means by "values." Whatever they may be--traditional, conservative, laissez-faire, monarchal--they are definitely not democratic.

[Update: Everyone in the blogosphere's talking about this one. A sampling.

Tom Maguire says it's a decent idea, then changes his mind: "However, a commenter has a much better point - we are expecting Iraqis to stand up to terror and vote, Americans can darn well do the same."

Jesse says it doesn't matter when we vote, but how: "Of course, it would also help if various parties, such as those expunging felons in Florida and those helping Nader get on ballots in swing states, actually cared about democracy per se rather than how it can be twisted and manipulated to get Bush in office at any cost."

Billmon starts down the same line of thought as Tom, but takes a left turn and ends up at the Constitution: "[T]he history of the U.S. Constitution can be divided into three periods, each of precisely 72 years. The first began with the Philadelphia convention and ended with the firing on Ft. Sumter, which rung down the curtain on the aristocratic republic the founders had created. The second period stretched from Ft. Sumter to FDR's Hundred Days, and the peaceful revolution that created the modern welfare state. The third will take us to 2005, and the inauguration of the next president - assuming there's an election to be followed by that inauguration."]

posted by Jeff | 8:07 AM |

Thursday, July 08, 2004  

Navel Gazing, Day 2

Today Barbara Ehrenreich has her third article in a fortnight in the New York Times (filling in for Friedman?), provoking me to wonder if they're giving her a tryout. If you asked me to identify the person I most admire in the media (lucky for you I'll pose it rhetorically), it wouldn't be close: Barbara Ehrenreich. We live in weird times. The media manages to be outrageously partisan and shiftless and incurious. Thanks to the internet, "content" is essentially free. The means of production and consumption cost nothing--it's the advertising that's expensive. Ironically, this means we despise the news, even though it's possible to pick up a copy of the Times (LA and NY) for free. Americans, to complete the painful ironies, are the most educated in history, and have access to the most news in history, and yet they are the worst-informed population the country has had in at least a century.

So Barbara Ehrenreich, the anti-pundit. She's a partisan, but she's also something we've forgotten about--an investigative journalist who follows stories of her own interest, not the interest of the slack-jawed public (Britney!) or a media empire (Laci!). She's a journalist who spent a year in wage-slave jobs just because she wanted to see what it was like to try to live on minimum wage and then tell the story. (And if you haven't read Nickel and Dimed, the resulting work, you have cheated yourself.) She could have written a polemic, but she didn't. She told it straight: what happens month by month and day by day, when you're trying to pay rent by working at Wal-Mart. Who does that kind of stuff?

I don't kid myself about the value of my own blog. But I'm of the opinion (haute, now, thank God) that the blogosphere is serving a critical role in our national discussion about politics. When Air America debuted, the hosts tapped the blogosphere exactly because this is where the light of liberalism burned the past three years (of course, they also got their own blogs). When I listen to a pundit on NPR, more often than not, he'll drop an argument into conversation that I just read at Josh's site (or Atrios's or Kevin Drum's or...). Maybe together we do the lifting of Barbara Ehrenreich alone (but we have comments!).

Speaking of which, I was surprised to get 19 comments about my little outburst yesterday. Most of you just said keep writing, and I didn't expect that--it was quite heartening. The blogosphere feels complete as is; with a handy 10-pack of your faves, you can pretty much be assured of touching all the bases. So often I'll write something and then find the same sentiment somewhere else. The blogosphere breeds redundancy, and I suspect every blogger feels like a fifth wheel from time to time.

I think I'll still look to shake things up at this blog--possibly even moving it off blogspot and giving it a snappy new name. I'm going to try to figure out how to give it a little more intention, as well. Maybe that will help shake off the redundancy. I may even take some time off, as you all suggest. Not a bad idea, probably.

Anyway, thanks for the thoughts.

posted by Jeff | 2:47 PM |
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