"Slarrow" refers to the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" from Hamlet's soliloquy. Here are the chronicles of such darts and whatever attempt there may be to take arms against such a sea of troubles.

Location: Ozarks, United States

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Bush Twins and Laura A Hit--Really

I see that the folks over at The Corner (THE blog, as far as I'm concerned) and the Kerry Spot are aghast at the performance of the Bush twins and ho-hum about Laura Bush's speech.

But the Bush family was a big hit tonight, and here's why.

Why has George Bush gone from a 70% approval rating several months ago to hovering around 50% now? Part of it, of course, is the harsh fallout from the realities on the ground: US lives lost in combat, ungrateful Iraqis, the constant drumbeat of negativity from Old Media (a la Rumsfeld), and the failure to trumpet good news on both the economic and international front.

But I submit it also has to do with a lost connection between the President and the American populace, and in the place of the real man people have unconsciously begun to believe in a caricature. Michael Moore's stupid movie made over $100 million, for crying out loud. That's not the hallmark of a society that has a grip on who George Bush really is.

Now the Bush twins come out and do their little thing. First of all, it was unexpected; I thought from things I saw earlier in the day that they'd stay out of the spotlight. So what did they do?

  • They embarrassed their grandmother with the "Sex in the City" reference
  • They invoked the "what did YOU do when you were my age?" defense
  • They revealed personally undignified information about their parents (Polaroid picture?)
  • They said, in the end, that they loved their parents and were proud of them anyway.

And across America, millions of Americans said, "That's just like my kids."

Now, to professional stagecraft observers, all the comments about the momentum and MTV music award approach are legit, but they miss the point entirely. After the left has spent months demonizing the President and letting that poison eke out into the mainstream, this little ridiculous intro is the antidote: George W. Bush is a decent man and a good father. (As a bonus, the two girls are beautiful, and men of all ages will have a difficult time sustaining bitterness or disdain against beautiful women. It's a hardware thing.)

As for Laura Bush, she just redefined women's issues away from abortion and glass ceilings and "gender" fetishes. No big deal, really.

What Can Kerry Do About The Swift Vets?

In a word, nothing. They will sink him.

After the Republican National Convention, there will be 60 days until the general election. What will the Swift Boat Vets For Truth do? All indications are that they will do more of the same: conduct interviews on websites and talk shows, produce television commercials and run them in battleground states, and generally be a thorn in the side of John Kerry.

What would stop them? I don't think it will be a lack of money; not only are donations rolling in, I suspect their success will attract big-money investors (Progress for America Voter Fund, maybe?) if coffers begin to run dry. A legal challenge? I don't see that happening; it only keeps them in the news while the suit progresses, and I don't believe action could happen fast enough to shut them down. A media lockout? Again, I don't think so; the hostile gatekeepers aren't powerful to shut them out, and independent stations not only like the money, they probably couldn't afford the stigma of "censoring" them (yes, the "censor" word would pop up even though they're private businesses.) Will they be intimidated? Um, these veterans? They're responding to assaults on their integrity in the first place; I don't think the threat of scandal or personal destruction will do anything but stiffen their spines. Will they lose their will or soften their hearts? It's not likely; their honor has been insulted, they're telling the truth, and they think John Kerry would be a dangerous president. (More on this below.)

What would their impact be in the final 60 days? Probably the same as now: they would drive Kerry's negatives up. The effect will be to dispirit the hardcore Bush-haters, depress the pure-Democrat vote, and push those who have been disappointed in Bush back into his column as the safer pick (independent of Bush's own prowess in making the case for his reelection.) The hoped-for backlash the Democrats are trying to manufacture will not materialize, I think, because backlash votes rely on the populace having some sympathy for the target and thinking he's being treated unfairly. But the content of the ads--especially the ones highlighting Kerry's treatment of his ribbons and his testimony before Congress--undercut making John Kerry a sympathetic figure. In addition, his whole Vietnam gambit was to make him appear strong enough to be commander-in-chief; he would need to play the victim card to garner the necessary sympathy to create a real backlash, and that destroys his major trust-me theme. (I mean, really: "I'm tough enough to beat back the terrorists but keep these mean-spirited veterans from picking on me?")

What can John Kerry do? Presume for the sake of argument that the Swift Vets just keep pouring on more of the same for the last 60 days. As I see it, Kerry has three options. He can ignore them and hope they go away and that people stop listening to them. While the MSM is eager to help him do that, the new bloodhound media won't let up until the charges have been satisfied. (An aside: some have criticized the Swift Vets for challenging Kerry's medals first instead of emphasizing his anti-war activities where the facts were not in contention. But by putting the Purple Heart controversies first, they caught the noses of the Bloodhound Media--with its many lawyers who are good at spotting inconsistencies--and created the momentum to carry the rest of the story through.) Furthermore, the ads will still be running, Unfit For Command will still be sold and discussed, and the unanswered questions will dog Kerry's trail, no matter how many times he avoids the questions.

The second option is for Kerry to continue attacking them directly, himself or through surrogates. This has been shown to be a political loser; not only does it disseminate the story far and wide, it keeps Kerry from talking about what he wants to talk about. The story dominates his campaign, and all the nasty things it's doing now continue to work against him. This approach isn't working now, and I don't know why it'd work then.

The third option is to mollify the Swift Boat Vets by apologizing for or recanting his behavior from when he returned from the war. First of all, I think it's too late for that; his initial attack in August will have burned that bridge, and they won't believe him now anyway. But the killer is that any apology sufficiently strong to mollify them would anger Kerry's left-wing, Howard Dean-loving base that coincidentally provides the most money for the Bush hit squad. Without their efforts and their votes, Kerry is a dead duck, and it cascades down the ticket.

When you're trying to sail along with a leg on two boats and the boats start to drift apart, you are in bad shape. Soon Kerry will need someone to come along and fish him out of the river.

UPDATE: The Swift Vets have published a letter stating what must be done to mollify them. If Kerry were to do what they ask, it would establish him in his own words as an opportunist who pumped himself up and illicitly caught an early plane out. It undermines his credibility, his strength, and his "principled" position as he basically would have to admit every attack he's made over the past three weeks has been dishonest. The price is too high, I think, and he can't pay it now. (Hat tip to Palooka)

Monday, August 30, 2004

Why The Swift Boat Vets Won't Go Away

Some interesting developments happened in the Swift Boat Vets saga over the weekend, so I'll throw out a few thoughts.

First of all, the Swift Boat Vets will continue to be a (well-deserved) thorn in John Kerry's side until Election Day for three reasons:

  • They've got money now
  • They've got their man on the run
  • They're telling the truth about who they are and what they're doing

Small donations are rolling in to fund more commercials, and the blogosphere is abound with delight about John Kerry's reaction to the ads. But the third factor is the most relevant and something I've become more and more convinced about.

The more I see these veterans opposing Kerry on TV, the more I'm convinced these guys are telling the truth. A number of things ring true with me. Exhibit A is the pressing of Swift Boat Vets, both on the infamous Michelle Malkin Hardball episode and the 8/22 Fox News Sunday, for documentary evidence showing that John Kerry wrote all his after-action reports putting himself in for medals. It seemed extraordinarily important to the questioners that government documents supported Kerry and that his challengers could only speculate he wrote them instead of offering proof he did.

Now, the charge against these guys is that they're out to "smear" Kerry (see the fight between the Power Line guys and Jim Boyd.) But it seems to me that if you were out to smear Kerry, you'd be media savvy enough to anticipate this question or at least be alarmed when you couldn't offer proof or a diversionary question. I mean, if Karl Rove types are supposed to be behind this whole thing, they already know about the media's document fetish (how they treat legal documents, especially governmental documents, practically as holy writ; it's almost cute how excited they get). Not to have documentation or be hinting darkly at "secret" documents seems to me a rookie mistake if you're trying to manipulate the media in smearing your opponent.

But if you're just a veteran who's telling the world what he remembers, he doesn't particularly care that there's no paper trail. Normal people (as opposed to journalists) hate paperwork and don't often trust what's in it.

More significantly, lawyers are used to rebutting claims made in official documents (while seizing on those claims when they support their side). One of the significant elements of this story is that John O'Neill is a lawyer, as are many of the bloggers who've done such a great job of examining the case. I think one of the reasons that this story continues to thrive in the blogosphere is because the big-time bloggers' brains don't turn off when they discover there's an "official" account. That's part of the charge: John Kerry gamed the system, and consequently outputs from that gamed system do not trump the eyewitness accounts. Journalists just don't think like this.

(For a timely essay that makes this point in passing, see Instapundit's essay on media meltdown on TechCentral Station.)

Exhibit B is Lisa Myers' interview with Admiral William Schachte. (Incidentally, I have been quite impressed with the Lisa Myers pieces I've seen lately on the controversy. She's among the fairest I've seen.) Some excerpts:

Myers: …What proof do you have that you were actually in that boat that night?

Schachte: Well, my report back to the division commander, the fact that we had officers in those boats, the fact that I was in the boat for those that we did up to and including that evening. And what I saw.

Myers: But, there's no documentation. [slarrow: again the documentation thing]

Schachte: No, listen, we're in a wartime environment. We didn't write up doctrines and stuff. We made the necessary reports – if you had a Casualty Report, After-Action Report, Operational Status of the Boats [Report], whether they were combat ready or not. I was responsible for all that as the operations officer. But, those are the kinds of things that we kept record of, records of.

Myers: And there would not have been any damage report on that...

Schachte: Correct, there was none-- yeah.

This rings true to me: we're in the middle of a war, and we don't have time for unnecessary paperwork. In fact, if he DID have documentary proof, I would be suspicious. It's too pat.

Myers: You think the two enlisted men are just making it up?

Schachte: I don’t-- I can't tell you anything about their motives. The only thing I can tell you is what I know, who I talked to about it – after the incident and-- and that's all I can say…

Myers: Admiral, how can you be certain that John Kerry did not deserve that first Purple Heart?

Schachte: Well, other than the fact that I was in the boat with him when he fired this M-79 round too close to the boat and got nicked by it, I can't give you much more than that…

What convinces me here is Schachte's steadfast insistence on telling only the truth he can verify and keep from taking a cheap shot at those who dispute his account. To date I've yet to see a Swift Boat Vet take a potshot at a Kerry supporter. (I have, however, seen it work the other way.) It bolsters his and others' claim that this is a matter of personal honor.

Myers: …So you're not calling John Kerry a liar?

Schachte: All I'm telling you is what I know happened that night and who I told about it and what- not… I'm not into name-calling. I just want to tell you what I knew that happened that night.

Myers: In your mind, John Kerry showed courage just going out on the mission.

Schachte: Sure.....

Myers: So you're not saying that John Kerry was, quote, ‘unfit for command?’

Schachte: Listen, who is fit for command in the context of Commander-in-Chief is up to the American people to decide…

Myers: You said you are not a member of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Schachte: I admire them, but I'm not a member.

Myers: Okay. But you do support their cause.

Schachte: I support men that are willing to stand up and put up with what they've been putting up with just to tell the truth – of what they know to be the truth. And this is America. I mean that's what we do here.

Again, this has the ring of truth to me. The admiral will stand only on what he knows to be true, will not brand Kerry as a liar even though that is the logical consequence of the statements, and does not impugn Kerry's character even though the basis of the disagreement gives him ample cause to do so. That sounds to me like the behavior of an honorable man.

And people like Jim Boyd call this a "political smear"? If so, it's the most straightforward, honest, and accountable smear I've ever seen.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

President Bush Must Be President Bush

I'll go ahead and jump the gun and set the expectations for President Bush's Thursday night speech. I know, I know, the convention hasn't even started yet, but as far as electing the President is concerned, it really has only this one job:

President Bush must be President Bush.

Ok, very clever, you say; now what in the world does that mean? Simply this: the President enjoyed approval ratings in the 70s for an unprecendented amount of time. Yet now he's hovering around 50. What has the President done since to lose that much support?

Well, really, he's done nothing--in two senses. On the one hand, he has largely ceased selling his accomplishments and successes on a national stage. People have been complaining how none of the good economic news or good news from Iraq ever seems to get reported by the we-take-no-sides press. They're right in fact since it does reveal the Achilles heel of the "mainstream" press, but they miss the larger point in that it's the President' job to communicate all that if he wants the credit. (This activity, incidentally, seemed to be what Clinton thought the Presidency was. That and fringe benefits, of course.) Again, I think some of this is deliberate from the President. Be that as it may, President Bush can regain some ground simply by pointing out how good things are compared to where we could be and by doing so in a national spotlight.

The second sense, however, is the more important one and cuts to the heart of my observation. Bush is taking the hit for a lot of things that aren't his fault because the opposition has spent months and months tying bad news directly to the President. But in the course of that political activity, they've overreached and tarred Bush with one too many feathers (to use an awkward metaphor.) Bush did this for Big Oil, he did it for the Saudis, he's a sniveler out to avenge his daddy, he's Hitler, he's Big Brother, he wants to poison people with arsenic, he's a liar, he wanted a war to make himself look good, yada yada yada. The Left has built up this monstrous caricature of George W. Bush and have used it to sell their version of why everything bad that's happened in the past 18 months is Bush's Fault. And for most of the folks who aren't as keen on the President as they think they should be, this is the reason why: all this hectoring has gotten into people's heads under their cognitive radar and given them a negative impression of the President even though they can't tie it to anything in particular.

So what does it mean, then, that President Bush must be President Bush? It mostly means that he must be himself and that the subtext of his speech must scream it out: this is a hardworking, decent, honest man who's making the best decisions he possibly can for the security of this country. Bush really hasn't made himself center stage yet in this campaign; in fact, he really hasn't spoken to the nation as a unit for months, and the only snippets that get out are the usual sound bite cuts. In a peculiar way, for all the news he makes and all the print (and vitriol) he receives, President Bush himself has been out of the limelight. Now is the time for him to step back into it and let the truth of who he is burn away the scurrilous mockery that's seeped into the collective unconsciousness of so many unsuspecting voters.

He must of course lay out a new vision and new goals for a second term, which I fully expect he will. He also has to point out all the good news. He will, and he'll give the credit to the American people and the American soldier, but people will make the connection that his role in all the good news is significant. (That's why the formulation isn't "Let Bush be Bush"; he's got to remind people that he's provided the leadership, not merely rely on biography and strength of character.)

Pundits will tie his convention speech success to particular issues and rhetorical ability and all kinds of inside-the-Beltway criteria. But his major job is to get people who unconsciously believe he's responsible for all human evil to wonder why it is they don't approve of this guy after all. Once he starts them thinking about that, the ground is laid for him to win them back over to his side.

Never forget: the more the public sees President Bush being himself, the more they like him. The more the public sees John Kerry being himself, the less they like him.

For what it's worth, I think the President will do exactly what he needs to and have a 10-12 point within two-three weeks after the convention. (As I've said before, if I'm going to be wrong, I might as well be spectacularly wrong.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

A Hypothetical

What might have been...

Analysis and Commentary

NEW YORK—An embattled President Bush returns to New York this week for the Republican National Convention in an effort to recapture the high approval he once had after September 11, 2001. But the president, hobbled by charges of being weak on terrorism, has a long way to climb.

With an approval rating of 34%--four points below that of his father at a comparable point in his presidency—Bush has to pull off a political miracle to avoid his father’s fate. He arrives in New York trailing Senator John F. Kerry by 12 points in a head-to-head matchup and by 15 points in a 3-way race between Bush, Kerry, and Senator John McCain who is running as an independent.

Bush’s political support has been eroding since May 2003 when he finally ordered redeployment of the troops stationed in and around the Persian Gulf in an effort to enforce U.N. resolutions against President Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Bush's decision to follow international pressure and let inspections continue required the move as the temperature and costs continued to rise. The short-term burst of euphoria upon the avoidance of war has dwindled after a series of setbacks on the international front and the war on terrorism.

In late June, Hans Blix stepped down as chief weapons inspector, saying, “there’s nothing to find.” Although the inspections were authorized for another three months, they actually ceased about five weeks later. No known connection, but in mid-August 2003, the infamous Days of Crimson Death began as Hezbollah guerrillas began an unprecedented three-week suicide bombing campaign against Israel. In a bitter fight amongst the members of the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. pressed for a formal condemnation of such tactics by the U.N. They were, however, forced to withdraw it as French representatives quietly informed the U.S. Ambassador that they would veto such a measure. Desperate for allies and to avoid public defeat, President Bush let the resolution die.

Thus weakened, the president was caught totally off guard by the Labor Day Massacre as terrorist groups simultaneously destroyed government buildings in Israel and set off a bomb at the Minnesota Twins-Chicago White Sox game in Chicago, IL. The blast killed 75 and wounded over 400 at the baseball game. In Israel, the unexpected attack in the most heavily guarded part of town sent shock waves through the country. The Sharon government fell three days later.

Although Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the U.S. blast, CIA analysts believed that the Syrian-backed Hezbollah had in fact instigated the attack, possibly at the behest of Saddam Hussein. CIA analysts presented a number of connections, primarily financial, between Iraq and Syria, but President Bush failed to act on the evidence. Already stung by the failure to find WMDs in Iraq, Bush was reluctant to act against any culprit without ironclad proof.

Polls showed strong support for a retaliatory strike against those behind the Labor Day Massacre, but Bush’s indecisiveness led him to look for a scapegoat instead of pursuing swift action. On November 8, 2003, he fired CIA Director George Tenet in an effort to shift blame to bad intelligence.

An impact was seen in the public perception of how Bush was handling the War on Terror. In April 2003, the public had approved of Bush’s decision not to go to war in Iraq by a margin of 63%-31% and his overall handling of the war on terrorism by similar margins. By the mid-October, however, those positions had reversed as 59% disapproved of Bush’s decision on Iraq with only 38% still approved. Bush’s position on the larger question was a complete turnaround: 67% said he was performing poorly while only 31% said he was doing a good job. The firing of Tenet caused a positive swing of about 10 points in the perception of the President, but that would last only until mid-December.

It was at the December 13 meeting of the U.N. that the Security Council voted to lift sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The U.S. had threatened to veto the resolution but ended up abstaining in an attempt to mollify allies who were balking about cooperating in the War on Terror. The measure passed 12-0 with three abstentions.

Over the next few months, a number of factors converged to create one of the most fascinating developments in recent politics. His poll numbers in free fall, especially after reports that showed the economy growing at a dismal 1.1% annual rate over the last six months of 2003, President Bush tried to revive his failed tax plan only to be stopped by moderate Senate Republicans led by Senator John McCain, noted for his fiscal conservatism. McCain had also developed into one of Bush’s harshest critics over his handling of the War on Terror, but it seemed that McCain had waited too late to challenge the President in the Republican primaries.

On the Democratic side, heated primaries continued between Senators John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman. Both were promoting traditional Democratic economic solutions to help those most afflicted by the Bush Slowdown, and both were criticizing Bush for backing away from the showdown with Iraq in 2003.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Senator Kerry expressed disgust with the President. “We had everything ready to go, and the President just couldn’t pull the trigger. Well, I’ve fought for my country. I will do what it takes to defend the United States against our enemies, and I will support our allies instead of leaving them hung out to dry like this president did.” The weakened relations with allies particularly angered Kerry. “We had actually built this wonderful coalition with dozens of countries, risked the prestige of the United States upon working together with our allies, and then we backed down. It’s made us less effective in the War on Terror because our allies just can’t trust this president to do what he says he’ll do. That’s why we need a change in leadership: to rebuild international trust and restore our military’s faith in their civilian leadership. I happen to know how important that is,” Kerry remarked, a quiet reference to his service in Vietnam and his role in protesting the war upon his return.

The situation came to a head in the first two weeks of March. Kerry won big in primaries in the south and midwest as many conservative and moderate Democrats, including many veterans, seemed swayed by his tough talk and war hero status. Mounting problems in the Department of Defense also percolated upwards; military recruitments were down 23% from desired levels, and reenlistments were down 48% from desired levels. One soldier expressed his disgust this way: “Why re-up when the politicians are just going to yank our chain? We were right there, we were ready, and they got cold feet and ran. That don’t scare nobody in this neighborhood.” Declining morale led to a number of early retirements, but the bombshell came on March 19 when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld resigned, citing “the inexplicable lack of will” that he termed “an infection” in the civilian side of the government.

Politically weakened yet again, President Bush made possibly the boldest and riskiest move available to him: he offered the job of Secretary of Defense to his rival, John McCain. Initially sympathetic, McCain began to cool on the idea and asked for a week to think it over. Reports indicate that McCain spent that week in consultation with pollsters, media consultants, and financiers such as George Soros who had been funding so-called 527 groups in order to defeat Bush.

On April 2, McCain called a stunning press conference. Not only did he decline the offer to join Bush’s Cabinet, he announced his intention to run for President as an independent. He announced the formation of a new political party, the Defenders party, and began making arrangements to create organizations in each state. Surprisingly, McCain was very successful in raising hard money, particularly from tech-savvy young people over the Internet. In an ironic twist, McCain had to rely on the good will of 527 groups to begin political advertising for him as he built his organization. McCain-Feingold, of course, had limited what people could give to parties, and McCain found himself frustrated as he ran into legal obstacles in building the Defenders party that he himself had written into law.

That set the stage for a frantic round of fundraising and reorganization over the next few months as Bush, McCain, and Kerry (who clinched his nomination in late March) scrambled for resources. With the party establishment behind him, Bush was still a formidable opponent, and his war chest swelled to $125 million, although well short of the $200 million he once had coveted. Kerry, too, struggled to raise funds as several of his wealthiest backers began splitting their cash between him and Senator McCain. (A minor scandal about coordination between McCain and Soros was settled when it was pointed out that consultation came prior to McCain's announcement as a candidate.) Polls taken in early June showed Kerry and Bush essentially tied and Kerry with a 6-point lead in the three-way matchups.

Two more significant events, of course, have set the stage for the President as he prepares his hail Mary Republican convention. On July 4, 2004, Iran shocked the world with a successful atomic weapons test. The Bush administration was caught completely off guard by the action. Preliminary reports indicate that certain CIA analysts had been studying the outlines of a shadowy network connecting Pakistan (fundamentally lawless since Musharraf’s assassination in January 2004), Libya, and Syria (which, it was speculated, had actually received nuclear technology from Iraq during the inspections regime and had sold it on the sly to Iran.) The scramble in leadership at CIA, however, prevented such reports from ever making it up the bureaucratic ladder to the President.

The other event, of course, is the multiple bombings that took place on the first night of the Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. The Games were already sparsely attended both by spectators and by athletes (Israel, for the first time in its history, actually sent no athletes), and the waterside explosions during the Parade of Nations caused a massive panic. The torch-lighting ceremony was postponed until the following night as the athletes and spectators were hurriedly (forcibly in some cases) evacuated. The death toll from the blasts was estimated at 45 with another 58 killed in the stampeding during evacuation. Citing security concerns, the Games were limited to a mere week as countries departed quickly hoping for the safety of home. (China finished with the most medals.) The economic impact on the country of Greece, while still precisely unknown, is estimated in the hundreds of millions.

Finally, the activist group has compiled a Bush Body Count which they claim represents those killed because of the way the President has prosecuted the War on Terror. According to the group’s website, the total should exceed 3,000 sometime during the Republican National Convention: a number higher than the casualty count on September 11, 2001.

Against this grim backdrop, can President Bush pull out another miracle and exceed expectations once again to keep his job? This week should begin to tell us the answer to that question.

There They Go Again

Apparently some Hollywood types have joined some music types in campaigning openly and harshly against the President of the United States. As Laura Ingraham says, shut up and sing!

I, too, have my own little thought on this. To that end, a poem I wrote (also found at Poets For The War.)

All The Plastic People

All the plastic people
Are strutting on parade.
Now they smile, now they chant,
Now they pitch their flags and
Proudly pin their ribbons.

All the plastic people
Pour their people slogans
Into their plastic ears
And sit back and revel
In the tinny echoes.

All the plastic people
Are droll and mock on cue.
Behind their words they say
The same thing, “Look at me!”
“Look at me! Look at me!”

"Professional" Media, Eh?

Instapundit points out that Jon Stewart of the Daily Show was the first person to ask John Kerry if he was ever in Cambodia.

Instapundit highlights the inability (or lack of desire) of the press to get the answers directly from Kerry on the issue. He says, "But I thought these guys were supposed to be able to get the story, not just take what was handed out." After all, the professionals obviously know how to do this so much better than us hacks.

The Question for Oliphant and his ilk is this, then: Mark Twain said, ""The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." Isn't it true, then, that the reporter who does not get the facts has no advantage over the person who cannot get the facts?

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Most Succinct Kerry Biography I've Seen

Jonah Goldberg nails it.

Kerry's Cocoon

The charge against John Kerry's Purple Hearts #1 and #3 is, in part, that they were self-inflicted. So, too, is the present kerfuffle.

Ann Althouse asks the question: "How could the Kerry people have blinded themselves to the risks they were taking?" She thinks it's a matter of groupthink; Instapundit and agree with her.

I disagree a little bit. Rather, I think they didn't see the risks because they'd played this same game before and nothing like this had happened. They'd used the same game plan time and time again, but this was the first time resistance like this had been encountered. For all John Kerry's rhetoric about being an international man of mystery, the Swift Vets episode proves just how sheltered he really is. This incapacity has brought on this present chaos.

Michelle Malkin really hit the nail on the head when she had the "boy in a bubble" exchange with Willie Brown on Hardball. John Kerry had relied on his Vietnam service and "band of brothers" in his campaigns in a liberal state with a sympathetic media. The Democratic primaries were no different; it was the same script: band of brothers and no journalistic digging.

But this time it really was different. He's not back home in cozy Massachusetts, and bloggers on the whole are smarter than journalists. (At least bloggers seem to know the difference between "refute" and "rebut".) He's taken his slanders of Vietnam veterans to the national stage, and he's off his game because they'd had enough and were ready to take action since the election would finally affect them firsthand.

John Kerry has been a sheltered man, and it makes him a dangerous candidate. The fawning treatment began before Congress in 1971, and it hasn't changed until now. Reality has never corrected him nor put limits on his vanity. Now he's hoist on his own petard, and we're discovering that Kerry does not react well to surprises beyond his imagination.

The ironic symmetry is beautiful. He accuses Bush of misleading us into war; the discrediting of the Winter Soldier basis of his Congressional testimony shows he was misleading us out of war. (Bush won his war.) His side accuses Republicans of wishful thinking about the Iraqis greeting us with flowers and parades, but his own aides essentially thought that "as a war hero that he would be greeted with candy and flowers." He will build cooperating international coalitions, but among the men he served with he's outnumbered about 9 to 1.

John Kerry really thinks he's smarter, better, and more capable than anyone else, and apparently he has thought that for a long time. That enormous vanity ("I don't fall") crept into his after-action reports, and it's leaking now with his bluster and outrage over the need to deal with the Swift Boat Vets. In a post-9/11 world in which reality must be dealt with, such blindness cannot be countenanced in a commander-in-chief. God save us that such an event never come to pass, in this election or any until the war is won.

Monday, August 23, 2004

The Trash Generation

I've had it with being called Generation X. We need a new name. Call us the Trash Generation.

There are two primary associations with trash I've got in mind. The first is that of refuse, garbage, swill, rubbish, filth, slime, muck, putrescence. Let's get it out of the way: that generation born between approximately 1965 and 1985 certainly have lots of that. This generation bought the records that created gangsta rap; it provided much of the fodder for Jerry Springer; it gobbled up sex and violence and foul language from movies and TV and music and demanded more. Some of my generation are trashy people and make the headlines for the same reasons ancient Romans flocked to bread and circuses: the fundamental base nature of humanity.

But even among our celebrity trash, there is another connotation which packs the real punch. A perfectly good item will often be thrown out simply because it is regarded as disposable. Sometimes it's sheer overabundance; my family used to keep butter dishes to keep food and other things in, but after a while one gets enough butter dishes and new ones must be thrown out. Other times, the perfectly good item has but a temporary purpose: glitter, party favors, a one-roll camera and some decorative crepe paper. Gather it up at the end of the night and throw it away; the blush of novelty is gone, and it's cheap to replace. And so while I often feel disgust at the antics of a Brittany Spears or a Christina Aguilera, I also feel pity as they desperately try to keep from being thrown away.

The Trash Generation label, however, is much deeper than the celebrity skin on this age group. The notion of ornamentation and disposability is embedded in our collective self-image. That's what happens to the children of a self-centered generation. The Baby Boomers, categorically speaking, have narcissism as their defining trait. Hence the term "Generation X"; it is the label used by a generation so self-absorbed that they never really knew their children. What should have been self-evident became a mystery to them, and why plumb the mystery of other people when there's a handy self-referential label to use instead?

Too often members of the Baby Boom generation treated their children like afterthoughts, products of a whimsical shopping spree that must be dealt with now that the new has worn off. The term "latchkey children" was invented during my generation. Divorce and broken homes became rampant as adults decided that their inability to solve their problems was more important to accomodate than the needs of vulnerable children. And midway through the Trash Generation, it became legal for a woman to literally dispose of the person inside her if that was her desire.

Great party, man! But now it's time to clean up: throw away the beer bottles, seal up the weed for next time, flush away the child you created.... There! All done!

So there are the first two prongs of why we are the Trash Generation. Some of us are trash, in both the filthy and disposable senses. We have also been treated like trash. But the third and most important prong is our generational task: we're here to take out the trash.

To be a bit less pithy about it, ours is a restorative generation. It will be our job to fix things and put them back right. Not only is it our job, we are uniquely suited for it due to our primary flaw which contains within it the seeds of its own redemption.

First, the problems we have to solve. Primarily, it is up to us to do the fighting and winning in the War on Terror (or World War IV, as Norman Podhoretz so aptly puts it.) The soldiers just coming in are from the tail end of the Trash Generation, and the lieutenants and captains and colonels are from the heart of the generation. Multiple accounts from the military show the same no-nonsense attitude that recognizes the evil of the enemy we face, our capacity to defeat it, and our determination to do so. The reports on the ground are so cheering; our soldiers do such awesome and dangerous work with no hint of self-pity and no confusion about what has to be done. The task is set, and those assigned to the duty are perfectly suited for the job.

This is a job that could have already been done. It started with Carter's weakness and fecklessness. Reagan was ineffective in this war (largely because he was winning another one), and Bush the Elder failed to pursue the enemy after winning a battle. Clinton was, of course, a disaster, kicking the can down the road every chance he got. Well, our generation doesn't kick the can down the road. Enough is enough.

Why are we like this? Why are we so well suited for the challenges we face? I submit it is because our primary flaw is our capacity for self-indulgence. As a rule, each of us has a long stretch in his life (or her life, if you insist, although I tend to follow the old rule that the masculine embraces the feminine) in which self-control fails as he gets too much of a good thing. But it's a funny thing about the vice of self-indulgence; it has consequences, and those real hard-hitting consequences help teach the virtue of self-control. I can indeed eat all the candy I want, but I will get a stomachache if I do so. Soon I will learn not to eat all the candy I want and will look with either pity or contempt at those who do not control themselves.

The cure to our disease, then, is a dose of reality that cannot be denied. Just try denying a stomachache. (The same cure, incidentally, doesn't work on the baby boomers, as narcissism admits no outside reality. All is interpreted in the light of one's own glamour.) That shapes us into the perfect people to handle the problems that can no longer be waved away or punted. We deal with reality.

This is enormously important because the problems don't stop after we win the war on terrorism (which we will win; this war may drag on, but it will also give this generation time to move up in the ranks and start making the decisions that will keep us going.) This generation holds within it the seeds of the next great tax revolt. Our government spends too much money and puts off the day of reckoning again and again, but a generation burned by self-indulgence knows the bill must come due. The options boil down to three: refuse to pay it, pay it without a word, or pay it while speaking up against it. I suspect we will take option #3: we will honor the obligations but demand that things change NOW.

Social Security is the prime example. It's a terrible system: it generates long-term obligation to people that must be met with the sweat of their grandchildren. Not only is this more than a little immoral, it's going to run into a mathematical wall. My generation, I think, will not bug out on the obligation; a debt's a debt, even if we weren't the ones who incurred it. But we'll be damned if we let this thing keep on doing the same thing. Mark my words: privatizing and individual accounts are coming, and it will be this generation who pushes it.

There are lots of other problems that must get fixed: immigration and unsealed borders, permanent growth of bureaucracies that don't fix problems, the scourge of abortion (which will be a BIG deal politically, as the abortion escapees come of political age) and its effect on our demographics as well as our moral fiber. (Sometimes we're referred to as a "baby bust." Our problem wasn't a baby bust; it was a baby flush.) But we've got the job, and it's got to get done, and it might as well be us to do it since we've got better plans for our kids than fixing the problems we didn't want to face.

That's us. The Trash Generation. And it's time to start our rounds.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Chris Matthews Is A Partisan Hack

Michelle Malkin went on Chris Matthews' Hardball show last night. She wrote about her experience here. I read the transcript here, and wrote the following letter to the Hardball show.

Subject: In The Tank For Kerry?

Chris Matthews amply displays what he is: a partisan hack for John Kerry. His treatment of Larry Thurlow and Michelle Malkin was disgraceful.

An example: Matthews pressed Thurlow repeatedly on whether he knew "for a fact" that the language involved in his citation came from Kerry's after-action report. He would not let up until he got the answer he wanted. But when the reporter--whose job it is to ferry out "facts"--said that "I think probably the after-action report could have been the work of several different people, each reporting on what their own boat did," and "But I think that not a single—not—both the citations and the after-action reports were probably the work of more than just one commander", Matthews let it slide. The eyewitness involved in the incident must provide incontrovertible evidence about the Naval procedures for medal awarding, but the "journalist" can speculate about sources for the report and get a free pass? Despicable.

As for Thurlow's belief that Kerry had a plan to get out of Vietnam with decorations, Matthew's demand for proof is staggeringly stupid. Exactly what evidence would he accept as proof, and how stupid would Kerry have been to provide it? But given that Kerry's citations came under questionable circumstances, he videotaped himself re-enacting events, he bugged out early, he went to a high-profile anti-war group and got himself a Congressional appearance, he ran for Congress in 1972, and has used his war record in all of his political campaigns (especially relying on it as a weapon when he's behind), Thurlow's belief is a pretty reasonable interpretation of the events.

Then of course Chris rolled over and let Max Cleland, a man with an obvious agenda and ax to grind, make his little speech without any pushback at all. Matthews, you wimp.

Oh, and Chris: you let Cleland say that George Bush was hiding behind this group. Hell, you set him up to say it. Such accusations require facts, Chris. I thought you thought facts were important.

As for George Bush calling the Swift Boat Vets and telling them to call off the dogs: Chris, that would be the campaign coordinating with a 527 group which would be illegal under the asinine McCain-Feingold law. Am I to understand, Mr. Matthews, that you advocate breaking the law in order to bury this story?

As for your badgering of Michelle Malkin on self-inflicted wounds, let me explain something to you in very small words so maybe you'll understand: you can accidentally wound yourself. You can peel a potato and slice your hand. You can step on a rock and twist your ankle. And you can shoot a grenade too close to you and be hit by the shrapnel from your own shot. That is the allegation made about John Kerry.

Instead, you demanded that Michelle Malkin accuse John Kerry of shooting himself. Either you are too stupid to follow the above chain of logic, or you are clearly in the tank for Kerry. You then said, "No irresponsible comments are going to be made on the show."

Too late, Chris. Too damn late.

Addendum: Oh, and now they're proud of what they did. Just how stupid do you think we are, boys?

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Aieee! Idiocy From Keyes!

Michelle Malkin points out that Alan Keyes has endorsed reparations in the form of exemption from taxation for blacks. How dumb. I give up.

And he joined federal exemption from taxation to slavery reparations! I'd love the notion of federal tax exemption yoked to other things, but now it's smeared by association for years to come. Sigh. Stupid.

Oh, well, what might have been in the best of all possible worlds....

The Coming Bush Landslide

Yeah, I know, nobody actually believes that Bush will win big, let alone win. Except maybe me.

There are a few things that make me think so. First, the economic models that have been used in the past to predict presidential winners are solidly for Bush. The numbers game in fact predicts a Bush landslide, so this claim isn't all that outrageous. (This guy even thinks so, much to his chagrin.) The counter to this is that attitudes have not come around to match reality yet; the economy may be good, but people don't believe that. I think that discrepancy will even out after Labor Day; the national media is largely responsible for the constant hints about an economy in turmoil, but actual scrutiny as people begin to think about their vote will turn the tide.

The second point is something I think the pundits just absolutely miss: President Bush hasn't started campaigning yet. Oh, he's done the low-level groundwork stuff for the past several months: fundraisers, commercials, campaign stops, and the like. But I don't think the switch has been flipped in his mind when he stops being President and starts being presidential candidate. He keeps saying, "I'm looking forward to a spirited campaign," which tells me he is indeed keeping his powder dry. It's his modus operandi: he lets expectations fly around, lets the other side overextend itself, makes sure not much is expected of him, and then comes out with both barrels blazing. He did it with tax cuts, he did it with the war with Iraq, and I think he's doing it with this election.

Why would the pundits miss this? Several reasons suggest themselves (one of which is that many really aren't that bright), but one in particular comes to mind. Bill Clinton introduced the never-ending campaign to political life, and the Democrats have continued that tradition with Bill out of office. (The Democrats started running for president in December 2002, for crying out loud.) Pundits have gotten used to that: politicians are campaigning all the time, and lack of success in keeping poll numbers high in May translates to the same difficulty in October.

But W. doesn't work like that. He stopped campaigning the day the votes were cast in 2000 (unlike Al Gore), and what he's been doing since is politicking. That's the standard arm-twisting and sweet-talking of getting things done as a chief executive and statesman and head of the party. It's using tactics as a means to particular ends: getting a tax cut, getting a U.N. resolution, getting more Republicans in Congress in 2002. But it's not a campaign which is designed to keep poll numbers high so that the politician looks as good as possible at any given time. That switch is yet to be thrown, and I expect people who think little surprising will come of the convention will be shocked at the bold new direction Bush takes. (Stupid prediction: I think that two weeks after the convention, Bush will be up 10-12 points in the polls, and he won't give up much of that lead as Election Day draws nearer.)

The third element I think people are misinterpreting are the opinion polls that claim that people have their minds set in stone. Riiiight. That thinking comes from the fact that neither candidate can get out of the margin of error in those ridiculous if-the-election-were-today questions. But the poll internals had large percentages who didn't really know John Kerry and who couldn't put their finger on why they didn't like Bush any more. I don't think for a moment that 40% of the country is dead set on firing George W. Bush. Maybe it's as high as 20%, but that's about as high as I'd go on the diehards.

Why the mindset, then? I think it's because too many pundits have chanted the mantra, "It's a 50-50 country" for too long. Generals are often accused of fighting the last war. Well, pundits and pollsters handicap the last election. I think this erroneous belief has crept into their questions, and someone will have big time egg on his face come the first week of November.

Two more quick things and then I'll end this loooong post. First, I think the President will rebound higher than expected because he really hasn't blundered in the past three years in a way that will scare off voters permanently. His support has eroded because of facts on the ground that aren't all that significant in context: higher gas prices, Iraq not settling down immediately, perceptions of the economy not taking off. But most of that comes from noise from the opposition, and the actual case for saying it's Bush's fault is not strong. I have a saying: conservatives are easy to mock but hard to refute while liberals are hard to mock but easy to refute. Mocking season is almost over, and Bush's actual actions are going to be easier to defend than some think.

The final point is this: what will the Democrats and the Left do if there is a Republican landslide? Remember that only a year or so ago, pundits were pointing to this election as a generational seismic shift that could put the Democrats out of power for 20 years. From what I remember of those analyses, the facts on the ground haven't changed; only the poll numbers have, and counting on those and working from past trends just won't work this year. 2004 will be 2004, not a replay of 1992 or 1988 or 1976. 9/11 most definitely did not change everything, but it has changed this.

So what if the Democrats are resoundingly defeated? They're in bad shape, because the only thing that's keeping a lot of their coalitions in-house is the chance to wield power. Remove that, and constituencies will start to peel off. Blacks will fight teacher unions over school choice and fight gay/lesbian groups over morality. Greens will attack New Democrats, New Democrats will attack protectionists, and security hawks will bash pro-abortion zealots for thinking that the only women's issues have to do with sex instead of security. As a result, if 2004 is a Bush landslide, I think 2006 gets fought on social issues instead of the expected stuff, and the big one is abortion. Baby boomers may think it's a settled question, but those of us eligible for the procedure are coming of age politically and having children of our own, and I think we'd like to reopen the question of why it's so great to have the option of killing us if we're not wanted.

Well, I've got a lot to be wrong about here, but why not take a shot? If I'm gonna be wrong, I might as well be spectacularly wrong. Why just go halfway?

Monday, August 09, 2004

Key Question for Keyes

Unlike some, I'm actually pretty excited about Alan Keyes running for the Senate from Illinois. It's risky, but there's a large upside to it if handled right. The downside, I think, is not as large, since the deck is already stacked against the GOP nominee and IL really isn't in play for presidential politics.

The most important question Keyes has to answer is: Why are you running for Senate? There is a private answer and a public answer. The public answer has to be: I want Illinois voters to have a choice instead of a coronation. Humor is vital in selling this: If Chicago can have two major league baseball teams, surely Illinois can handle two Senate candidates. I heard you needed a Cubs fan since Hillary switched caps. Hey, Nomar came to town to make the race competitive; so did I. Didn't you know I was the candidate to be named later? But the important thing is to emphasize that he's giving the people of Illinois a clear, real choice (stealing that term from the abortion supporters.)

The private answer, however, is really the important one. Is he running to become Illinois' next Senator? Probably not; he must know his chances are slim, and he won't have the grasp of Illinois issues that will convince enough Illinois voters to choose him. He's too risky, and he doesn't have a history of winning elections. Is he running to fire up the GOP base and try to sneak a win for Bush (or at least make Kerry defend Illinois?) Again, not likely; that ability would piggyback his ability to get his own votes which I think is lacking.

Is he running to advance a cause or set of ideas? This may be closer to the truth, but Keyes, although a brilliant orator, has not shown the political savvy to actually convince people to join his side. Is he in it for the debates and the attention? Keyes is a great debater and will clearly define Barack Obama, but Obama will eat his lunch on local issues, and one can almost guarantee any sponsored debates will have plenty of Illinois-specific questions (as it probably should, but it may go overboard.)

Is he trying to rebuild the Illinois GOP? He may be useful here, either by rousing down-ticket candidates, inspiring new GOP members and possible candidates, or even so far as reinvigorating the ideological spine of the IL GOP. Whatever his faults, Keyes has integrity, and IL has had some problems lately; Keyes might get the party to hold its head up high again. Is he running to set the terms of the national debate? This might be what he'd like to do; again, Keyes is about philosophical ideas and would love this kind of role, I suspect.

Finally, I see two more motivations, possibly the most likely. Keyes may be running simply to bloody Obama's nose. Obama's race, biography, and decent rhetorical skills already have some people thinking about a high-profile role for him in 2008, and his race and bio will garner him softball status from many in the press who just can't bring themselves to ask hard questions of a black liberal with a made-for-TV history. Keyes, as a black orator, can knock down a couple of his advantages and make the press either treat him like any other politician or be shown to be blatantly taking sides. A couple of high-profile debates may allow Keyes to saddle the newest Democratic star with the dread "liberal" label, thereby creating a long-term advantage for the GOP.

Finally, though, Keyes may just be running for the attention and notoriety. There seems to be a large streak of vanity in the man; he seems to wish the spotlight for its own sake, hence his presidential campaign. If this is his private motivation, then this race really will be a farce, and the IL GOP will be in deep trouble for years to come.

The Keyes campaign and Keyes himself need to figure out the answer to this question, and fast.