Slarrow

"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.

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Location: Ozarks, United States

Friday, July 30, 2004

Has Bush Just Been Keeping His Powder Dry?

I got the funniest feeling last night while I was making my lunch for today. Out of nowhere, I got the idea that President Bush has just sandbagged the Democrats.

Here's the reasoning. John Kerry and the Democrats have just had their biggest moment in the campaign. This was the chance to define and reassure the American people that the Democratic party is the best choice to lead the nation in this time of strife. But since the delegates were so hard-core anti-Bush and out of the mainstream, the convention couldn't reflect their views and expect to win. So we had the famous makeover with lots of "positive" speeches but very little offered in the way of vision for the country and actual differences in policy and direction from the President.

In short, in their one chance in the spotlight to make this a choice about governing philosophies and mission, the Democrats have chosen to make this a question about who's the better man, Bush or Kerry.

That's what it all boils down to once you read the speeches and see what the organizers were up to. They're pinning their hopes on convincing America that John Kerry is more truthful, smarter, braver, and more patriotic than George W. Bush. For all their talk of complexity, the Democratic message is, "We're the good guys, and they're the bad guys." Their one shot at setting the terms of the debate, and this is all they got?

A lot of professional pundits are going to be impressed by the convention, saying "it did what it needed to do," but I get the feeling that the Democrats will soon realize they're facing George W. Bush with an empty gun. Because the most revealing and least-noticed statement in Bush's long-ago interview with Tim Russert, to my mind, is his assertion that he's not going to lose. I begin to think he's once against played weak, gotten his opponents to overextend themselves and commit to a course of action, whereupon he'll pull the rug out from under them and leave them wondering how they got outsmarted by such a dumb guy. It's happened so many times before; why shouldn't it happen again?

I mean, this is what the Bush campaign can now do. They can pick apart Kerry's speech and play it against Democratic weaknesses. Kerry has committed himself and his party to saying that the economy is bad because of outsourcing and poor paying jobs; Bush can now hit back with all the good economic news. Kerry talks about the lack of respect in the world; now is the time to invite leaders from our allies to Rose Garden events and really play up the Oil-For-Food scandal. Truth and credibility? The GOP has an 11-minute video to handle that charge. Attacks on patriotism? Roll the clips of Teresa Heinz Kerry, Michael Moore, and Max Cleland calling Bush unpatriotic. Now is the time to get interviews from returning soldiers or military men currently in the field who are insulted when they're told "help is on the way." As far as they're concerned, help arrived when Bush replaced Clinton.

This is just the advertising campaign. The goal between now and the convention is to blunt all the weak criticisms that have been hurled at the President. Get rid of the albatrosses: Abu Ghraib, Enron, Niger, etc. Unleash the stunning counterattack. At the convention the GOP can basically take back the issues of strength, patriotism, and military pride because they do it so much better than the Democrats (because they actually believe in them.) I think they'll make the arguments the Democrats ran away from, thereby setting the terms of the debate and giving everyone down the ticket something to run on.

I just have this suspicion the past six months have been setting the Democrats up for a landslide loss. If Bush wins with a solid majority, what will it do to a party that's aligned itself around Bush-hatred and winning back power? I still think we're set for an election that will put the Democrats out of power for a generation and that pundits years from now will look back at this time, shake their heads, and wonder why they didn't see it coming.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Who You Calling Weak?

So John Kerry is supposed to lead us to a vision of America "Stronger At Home, Respected In The World."

So I suppose that means we're weak right now at home? Up yours, buddy! Our economy is roaring back, our pride and courage in our armed services is astounding, and at least half the country's determination hasn't wavered when it comes to foreign threats. What's this "weak" business?

And I guess we're also disrespected in the world? Tell it to Libya. Tell it to Eastern Europe (who love us because we liberated them.) Tell it to the African nations we're trying to save from the scourge of AIDS. Tell it to the people of Iraq who are trying to make a new life that never would have come without our soldiers and our political leaders. Tell it to Pakistan who have switched from harboring terrorists against us to catching terrorists for us. Tell it to Afghanistan where Karzai is running for another term instead of killing another rival to maintain his leadership.

Crazy, man, crazy. Of course it doesn't make sense, and the Democrats are accusing the other side of their own flaws (divisive rhetoric, politics of personal destruction, "values" is just a word, trust and credibility, etc.) But it's pointless wringing one's hands over the latest height of chutzpah the Dems have displayed. Let's just stipulate they have no shame in their quest for power and leave it at that. Even so, in this convention they neither showed who they truly are nor effectively connected with the people they pretended to be like. There was a whole lot of "Message: I care" stuff in this convention, and it should hurt them in this fall campaign.

Good!

How Is John Kerry Nuanced?

John Kerry speaks tonight to accept his nomination, and much attention will be paid to how "nuanced" his speech will be. "Nuanced", of course, means that he's sophisticated and smart and judicious who won't fall into those simplistic traps of black-and-white thinking.

Problem is, if Kerry is nuanced, it's not a flattering description. Here's why.

There are two basic ways in which one may be nuanced. The first case occurs when one believes something that is clear and straightforward but must be communicated in opaque or misleading language due to the sensibilities of one's audience or the requirements of keeping that position secret. This is what diplomats do. The basic job of a diplomat is to present carrot-and-stick positions using tea-and-cake language.

This type of nuance, however, is not something in which candidates for President may indulge. Such misdirection is meant to mislead one's opposition and rivals, and the American people may never be treated as such. Furthermore, the idea or position back of all such verbal meandering is actually pretty clear and delineated. If such a clear position exists behind Kerry's tacking and quartering the wind, the only discernible candidate is, "I really, really, really want to be President."

The second sense in which one can be nuanced is to have a very complex position. Complex positions, however, should have very simply stated conclusions. A multitude of factors may go into the decision, but the decision should be laid out clearly. In addition, alternative results should be laid out clearly along with the changes in the conditions that would entail them. In other words, when the position really is complex, the presentation and explanation must be extraordinarily clear and concise.

Senator Kerry fails this test as well. Listening to him does not suggest that he's trying his best to communicate a complex position; it's that he either doesn't know precisely what his position is or doesn't want YOU to know it. That's not nuance. That's either muddleheadness or misdirection. Either way it's not impressive.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

AP's Will Lester defies parody

Well, it's been forever since I posted (not that anyone's reading--yet), but the middle of the Democratic National Committee is a fun time to start back up again.

The Republican National Committee did a very nice job in putting together an 11-minute video (which can be found at www.demsextrememakeover.com). The video makes a pretty effective case on the sheer opportunism of John Kerry regarding Iraq and Saddam Hussein. One might make the counterclaim that the remarks are taken out of context or that other contemporary remarks would make a clearer case, but that's for the opposition to make.

Well, the story popped up on the AP's radar and made the headlines page of Yahoo. Enter Will Lester. He writes the story describing the video, but here's how he describes it (emphases are mine):

"Using video clips of Kerry discussing Iraq on various talk shows, the Republican National Committee (news - web sites) has put together an 11-minute video that traces how Kerry struggled with the issue of Iraq through 2003 and early 2004 as he competed for — and finally won — the Democratic presidential nomination."

"In the video clips, Kerry gradually shifts from harsh anti-Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) rhetoric in 2001 and 2002 to more cautious comments about Iraq in late 2003 and then to anti-war comments by early 2004."

"Through 2003 and early 2004, Kerry became more cautious and talked against the war, as problems grew in Iraq and his primary campaign against anti-war candidate Howard Dean (news - web sites) became more intense."

"While the video clips are often brief and lack context, they do appear to show Kerry evolving from a harsh critic of Saddam to an anti-war candidate by early 2004 at the height of the campaign for the nomination."


Now, what's wrong with this approach? Well, it just doesn't accurately portray what the Republican-made video is trying to say. The video doesn't try to show Kerry as "struggling" with the issues and "gradually" becoming "more cautious" or "evolving." It tries to show that Kerry is an opportunist willing to take contradictory strong positions based on what's popular at the time. You can agree or disagree how successful the video is at convincing the viewer of that or whether it's accurate, but there's no doubt that's what it's trying to do.

But Will Lester totally gets it wrong. He misrepresents the video's purpose, coincidentally interpreting it in the vein of Kerry the nuanced sophisticate, and includes the "lack context" point that a Kerry advocate makes in the piece as part of a purportedly dispassionate analysis. He also describes as an objective reality that the flow of statements from Kerry is a smooth curve, but Jim Geraghty from National Review Online's Kerry Spot points this out:

"What’s perhaps most damning about the video is the degree to which Kerry doesn’t seem to be straddling when he takes either the pro or anti-war position. When he is talking about the need to take action in 1998, 2001 or 2003, Kerry is forceful, decisive, aggressive. He indicates that an aggressive military stance is the only logical policy, and that those who disagree with him just don’t understand the seriousness of the threat.

And then, in 1991 or 2004, Kerry is every bit as forceful, decisive, and aggressive, in the opposite direction. Anyone who would disagree with his call for more diplomacy and a slower approach must be a crazed warmonger."


This is a far more accurate description of the actual contents of the video from the admitted partisan than we get from the purportedly objective journalist. And they wonder why people think they're biased?

Saturday, July 10, 2004

The Great Edwards Miscalculation

In seeing the news reports on John Edwards, I've noticed a consistent theme. He is
sunny, fresh-faced, upbeat, and optimistic. He is supposed to be charming,
smooth, and in touch with the common man. Juxtaposed with the rhetoric of a
month ago, it strikes me that Democrats think that John Edwards is their Ronald
Reagan.

This signals the fundamental misunderstanding the Democrats have of Reagan,
stemming from their reliance on personality instead of character (as
exemplified by their surrender to Bill Clinton.) In the grudging tributes to
Reagan, the other side would readily acknowledge his optimism, but they mistook
it for personality optimism. It was not.

Personality optimism is the empty calorie of the dinner party. It is the charm
for charm's sake that is designed to leave people feeling better without
knowing quite why except that YOU are responsible for it. This is Bill
Clinton. This is what people mean when they compare John Edwards' "optimism" to
Kerry's dour sonorous tones. If Kerry's the type one is terrifying of being
backed into a corner and hearing out, then Edwards is the swooping savior who
will rescue you with a smile and a platitude and the bum's rush to the next
mark.

Reagan's optimism, on the other hand, is character optimism. Character optimism
believes that events will improve because of the effort and good will of
people, even if it does not immediately improve attitudes or fortunes.
Expounders of character optimism leave their audience with greater confidence
in themselves and knowing the reason why; people respond with gratitude, not
glamorization, of the prophets of character optimism. This is Ronald Reagan. He
believed the American people were capable of great things and that they would
do them, and he told the American people this. (George W. Bush has it, too.)

This is the Democrats' great miscalculation. They think they will tap into the
desire for optimism that they think defined the response to Reagan's passing by
putting a John Edwards on the ticket. But they think that charm will do the
trick. It will not. Ideas drive character optimism, and the Democrats are fresh
out of those.

John Edwards' trademark speech says it all. His claim is that there are two
Americas, a rich and a poor one. Like you, he says, I was born in the poor one.
But if the two Americas Edwards speaks of were real, he could never have moved
from the lower to the higher. Since the reality claims are false, he depends on
charm to win his audience over, and that will not work in the general election.
(Heck, it didn't even work in the primaries.) Ronald Reagan talked of one
America, the true America, and it is that vision that inspires.

At the end of the day, personality optimists sing, "The sun'll come out
tomorrow." Character optimists assert, "I decline to accept the end of man." In
this post-9/11 world where Western civilization is under attack, only one type
is acceptable. It is the task of George W. Bush and the Republicans to frame
the debate in those terms. I think the American people will respond to that
kind of choice.