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Michael Ubaldi, August 31, 2004.
Danny O'Brien, his friend Joe and I watched the Republican National Convention's first evening. I'm off to catch a few winks but hope to type up my legal pad scribblings tomorrow morning. Here's a hint: I liked it.
IT'S UP: Right here.
Michael Ubaldi, August 29, 2004.
No recent polls, it appears, gauge public interest in the Republican National Convention and President Bush's unabridged appeal to the nation for reelection as was done by the Pew Research Center and Rasmussen Reports for Democratic challenger John Kerry. Newsweek managed to ask a tiny sample of voters under thirty, a demographic not particularly known for its enthusiasm for politics, whose intention to watch the convention matched results Rasmussen's Democratic National Convention survey of the broader electorate.
So for the sake of argument, we'll assume that an incumbent president offering three popular, intriguing party speakers — a movie star-turned governor, an expatriate Democrat and "America's mayor" — will draw more viewers than his challenger stood to a month before. President Bush will also benefit from an incumbent's luxury of finding words from their administration or party on newspapers' front pages, though he may not appreciate some of the translations.
In hindsight John Kerry's convention-led, mid-to-late-summer push can be declared a substantial failure: hardly a bounce in some polls, a net loss according to the venerable Gallup. The war dominates all matters this election, and Kerry's elaborate attempt to reconcile twenty years of dovish foreign policy as a Senator — a record that appeals to but a fraction of the American electorate and only part of his own party — with the costumed appearance of a strong military leader resulted in his Senate career being left on the Democratic National Convention's cutting room floor. We saw John Kerry the Prevaricator, complete with a Carteresque foreign policy dossier, but much more strongly were we invited to vote for John Kerry the Vietnam Veteran, reporting for his post behind the Fleet Center podium.
Hoist by his own petard, the presidential candidate who claims insult to his military record whenever his civilian one is questioned has been under direct criticism from veterans for most of August. Seen by much of the public as superbly qualified to be unfriendly about a topic left alone by most, these men have leveled charges of dishonesty and embellishment against John Kerry — from his days on the USS Gridley to his command of swift boat PCF-94, to claims of illegal Cambodian sorties and tales of systemic inhumanity in Vietnam committed by American armed forces (including a largely overlooked admission to complicity in said atrocities). The Kerry campaign, flanked by Democratic Party faithful, has relied on a brick wall of outright dismissal, suggesting to at least part of the electorate that the Massachusetts senator has something to hide.
Whether a result of his inability to move public opinion and attract voters, unyielding public criticism from veterans or a combination of the two, John Kerry has lost any edge he enjoyed against President Bush. On the eve of the Republican National Convention, most polls show a tie or a slight edge for the president, with some consequences in the electoral college — deadly news for a challenger and the perfect opening for an embattled incumbent. President Bush's objective is obvious enough, recently articulated by his chief political advisor, Karl Rove, on Special Report with Brit Hume: measure his value to the nation through a chronicling of foreign and domestic policy triumphs, and draw a distinction from his opponent — indeed, distinguished superiority — in the fundamental aspects of leadership.
We will be introduced to the president's heralded "Ownership Society," a far-reaching collection of policy proposals and retrospectives founded on the principle of individual capitalization, risk and investment; from turning federal IOUs into saving accounts to maintaining the president's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. We should expect teleprompter text devoted to education, immigration, selected social programs and assorted nods to party-favorite civil liberties. But Republicans would be making the same mistake as their opponents if domestic issues took more than a modest share of the convention's Primetime billing. Even the economy deserves secondary status: Beltway-types snickered when a politically charged July payroll report fell far short of expectations and the president's numbers have steadily improved in spite of it. The war and the struggle to defend an infant democratic Iraq and Afghanistan against forces of terror and dictatorship trump all other public discussions.
Since nearly the entire country rallied around him in the days following September 11th, President Bush's approval ratings have responded barometrically to success — or perceived success — in war. During the long, confusing summer of 2003, the president's numbers slid until the capture of Saddam Hussein in December of the same year. That crest, near 60% in most polls, was chopped off in three swipes: first by David Kay's final Iraqi Survey Group report on WMDs, successfully spun by Democrats and journalists eager to report and politick with selective information; then by the back-to-back trials of unsuccessful Khomeinist and Ba'athist insurrections and prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib, the latter demonstrating timelessly that two dozen could tarnish millions in uniform. President Bush's approval has since hovered around fifty percent.
Although the liberalization of Afghanistan is as important — and a target of our enemies — as Iraq, Iraq suffers far more violent disruption from Ba'athists, homegrown criminals and despot neighbors like Iran and Syria. It represents for the left, who delight in painting it all black, something of a lost argument waiting to be reclaimed. Iraq as a prism of the war draws more news and greater poll swings. One consequence of that is a magnification of the tiniest events in a burdensome enterprise — often damaging to Bush. But another is helpful: executive civilian leadership is at a premium. A majority of voters understand that withdrawal is a euphemism for retreat, and a consistent number believe that 21st-Century democracy — not a 20th-Century balance of powers, whatever they may be — is the foundation for a peaceable world. And the American people have shown that they will follow, through uncertainty, men who inspire their faith and confidence.
The Republican National Convention should be a referendum on leadership in a time of war, acknowledging domestic issues only as lesser, softer matters of a civil society threatened from abroad; celebrating President Bush's fulfillment of that duty and promising an equally steadfast second term.
Following this, Republicans would reframe and recapture the debate on war, reminding nearly two-thirds of the electorate why they stood by President Bush for three years. Each night's speakers would build through consonant speeches a message to be completed by the president on Thursday night. Bush must reclaim moral and factual authority with a convention that revisits the past, appraises the present and plans for the future. As simple as that sounds, it's what Kerry did not do for his own last month. The Democrats were selective and revisionist on the last three years and Kerry's past; contradictory on current events and policy; and gave muddled, reactionary proposals. President Bush has little to answer to — an incredible opportunity.
The past would answer the question of why we are at war, obvious to some but long-forgotten by others. There are the last decades of the 20th Century when terrorism was ignored or, worse, granted victory. Glenn Close's man-versus-nature retelling of September 11th can be corrected. The twenty-five-year reign of Saddam Hussein, his crimes, his defeat in 1991 and bitter defiance over twelve years deserve clarity: was the liberation of Iraq a war of choice or an overdue action to prevent a frightening conjunction of oil money, weapons research, vengeance and Islamist terrorism — and end a clockwork brutality that ran smoothly along while we lived in relative paradise?
The present would confront everything that did not turn out as expected for good or ill; what America and her allies have accomplished amid fears, frustrations, betrayals, setbacks and mistakes. Al Qaeda, still in dedicated operation, has nevertheless been shredded and scattered. Terrorists no longer hide beneath the shadow of the Soviet Union; they are hunted. Afghanistan and Iraq have flipped like coins, transformed from the most barbaric police states to the freest in the region. Afghans are preparing for an election with greater involvement than most Western nations; while Iraqis stoicly build a new nation, brick by brick, in the face of intimidation and harm. Has this been worth American lives? Are we right in moving to reshape the Near East? It's up to the Republicans to say "yes," and explain why.
A gesture towards the future would show why American success is worth continuing to fight and sacrifice for, and what remains before the war is won. The Axis of Evil, the warning delivered to state sponsors of terror, President Bush's call to America to "seek the advance of freedom and the peace that freedom brings": these are charges whose work is unfinished. A second-term Bush White House should not leave in 2008 with the totalitarian regimes in Tehran and Pyongyang still in power. Iran is more pressing than North Korea, a topheavy sworn enemy whose pro-Western, pro-democratic population detests their country acting as grand hostess for Islamic terrorism as much as Americans do. It is Tehran's meddling that keeps the south of Iraq unsettled, its nuclear ambitions that keep the prescient up some nights. Geostrategically, Saddam Hussein fell so that Iran's mullahs could be cut down next. North Korea is part cautionary for wars left unfinished, part intrusion of Hell onto solid earth. Kim Jong Il is a madman, reckless, and a perpetual danger to the Pacific and the world. His abattoir of a country, dotted with concentration camps encasing millions in unending misery, is an indictment of the world's ambivalence to fellow man — waiting to be read aloud.
President Bush would do best bold for these great dilemmas, if only to avoid the decline "status quo" gave to John Kerry. Most Americans recognize danger, acknowledge tremendous challenges and want answers. If the president makes Iran a central election issue by way of executive action, he deserves not suspicion for "changing the subject" but applause for returning public debate to winning the war.
The Republican Party will meet some or most of these obligations in its own way, its own order. The party stands its best chance to gain public approval through unity; Primetime speakers as five points on a star attendant to President Bush. Bush is most appealing as himself: a humble, tongue-tied, uncomplicated, earnest man whose place in human events has been to remind the world of simple truths and their pricelessness. If poll numbers are to be believed, each candidate boasts nearly two-fifths of the electorate in solid support, yet there is one-fifth or more fully committed to neither. Considering how President Bush once held the whole of that latter fraction, he can conceivably win some of them again. I predict a bounce as large as six to ten points, half of which could remain until election day.
Michael Ubaldi, August 27, 2004.
Last weekend the New York Times hinted at an unapologetic, confident and visionary Republican National Convention — much to the relief of many, I'm sure. A USA Today interview confirms that intention from the executive himself, George W. Bush:
"The real question is who's got a vision of peace and of freedom and liberty — liberty abroad and liberty at home, liberty at home being having the tools necessary to cope with a changing world. And that's really the question," he said.
Michael Ubaldi, August 27, 2004.
Gallup is reporting no change in its presidential polling from two weeks ago: President Bush still leads John Kerry by three points, 50%-47%. All else considered, the president is in an enviable position to take full advantage of his approaching spotlight. My convention overview and post-convention outlook — what I expect the party to present to the American public and how it might change voter sentiment — will be posted here tomorrow afternoon, so keep an eye out.
Michael Ubaldi, August 26, 2004.
Every poll you can think of has shown broad-based, unwavering Republican support for President Bush since January. If that's not good enough for you and you need anecdotes — sit down, I've got some for you. Tonight kicked off North Olmsted Homecoming, a four-day end-of-summer festival replete with rides, games, vendors and community organization booths; for the latter, my local Republican club is no exception. After swinging by briefly tonight to see our first shift off, I returned to close the tent, working from ten o'clock to eleven thirty. When I returned, my treasurer, Tom, was manning the tables and had good news: that Thursdays are always sparsely attended didn't make a difference to the waves of people descending on the tent to snatch up Bush-Cheney stickers, especially the famed White Oval. Unsure if our regional campaign chairman had side stocks, Tom hid the ovals to save at least a few for tomorrow.
The sheer determination of Bush supporters has been something to behold. I hardly stayed an hour earlier tonight but received a good number of affirmative nods from tough guys walking past. Solidarity, man, and a stylus to punch out the chad next to the Republican ticket. After ten, a couple playing in a jazz band, wandering about during intermission, saw our tent, whispered "Thank goodness" or some such — and walked towards us. We have a raffle going on, but the fellow simply handed Tom a five-dollar bill. "We — we want to donate." Did they want to enter the raffle to win one of our prizes? "All I want to win," said the man as his wife looked on, "is this election." As Tom put it, these two were among many for the evening.
And I don't recall seeing anything with the word "Kerry" on it at the Democratic tent.
Michael Ubaldi, August 26, 2004.
Rich discussion about a poor candidate: Glenn Reynolds sifts through e-mail, articles and weblog entries grappling with Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, his policies and the public face given to him by an intellectual establishment once celebrated as objective. One remark of the Instapundit's struck me as wayward — as it usually does, he's made it more than once. He notes that it's said out of fairness but for such a grave topic, fairness isn't appropriate:
The thing is, I agree with Andrew Sullivan that Kerry looks like he'd be bad on the war. But, to be fair, you never know. If in 2000 I had known what was to come, but had known only what I knew about George W. Bush back then, I probably would have supported Al Gore as a more experienced, capable wartime leader. That — as Gore's post-2000 behavior has shown — would likely have been a serious mistake. Bush rose to the challenge despite a not-especially-distinguished prior history.
The presidency is not a job to be given to an unqualified candidate in the hopes that he will rise to the occasion upon hire — or else Americans could simply vote on a whim and wait for a suitable disaster to steel their Commander-in-Chief. On that, we can all agree that one disaster is quite enough. If September 11th can't wrest the Democratic candidate or most of his party from the past and failed ideologies, nothing short of political defeat will.
Michael Ubaldi, August 25, 2004.
Good economic news:
America's factories saw orders for costly manufactured goods in July post the biggest gain in four months, an encouraging sign that the economy is emerging from an early summer funk.
Michael Ubaldi, August 23, 2004.
As the blogosphere searches for an apt analogy to the ever-unraveling retailed soldier's story that is John Kerry's — an issue that has officially boiled over into matters of character — I may have found one from literature. What character can we say was also trapped in a moment from the past, acting as who they either once were or imagined they'd become, surrounded with the trappings of that lost life and forever seeing the world from its vantage? Give up? Charles Dickens' Miss Havisham: Vietnam as John Kerry's Satis House, 1968 when his timekeepers stopped, appeasement and military reticence his Estella. It's a start, at least partially explaining his deliberate erasure of three decades between now and then. Choose your own analogy for the faded wedding dress.
Michael Ubaldi, August 21, 2004.
When Danny O'Brien and I sat down to watch the first and last nights of the Democratic National Convention, we found the event to be as corny as it was obfuscatory, overwhelming in sheer volume of goofiness. Yes, everyone either over fifty-five or without fashion sense wears a silly hat; party faithful spend four days engaging in arcane rituals. But behind the salutes and parade drills for assorted bands of highly selective brothers, one could ask the Democrats if they wanted a sprinkle of straight-faced policy on that Nineties-style, triple-scoop vanilla sundae.
During a time of war, in a knock-down-drag-out presidential race, on the heels of Kerry's post-election poll stiff, would the Republican National Convention make the same mistake and act — in front of the whole world — with the same determined unseriousness? President Bush's strongest features, confirmed from all sides, are his set jaw and sense of direction. He and his party would be fools not to showcase their greatest strengths but settle for the patently inoffensive.
Danny fretted that the GOP might go soft. I was confident Republicans knew the score and would build up to the president's nomination with well-assigned, consistent speeches. According to this New York Times article, the party is planning to do just that. I'm pleased. My pre-convention commentary and bounce prediction will be here in a week.
Michael Ubaldi, August 21, 2004.
Two polls report disappointing news for John Kerry. Scott Rasmussen's firm shows President Bush's numbers on public preference for foreign and domestic leadership closing in, after a few weeks of rising, on their best levels of the year: 52%-42% over Kerry on national security, 48%-44% over Kerry on economic policy. A recent CBS News poll, one from a series that has provided John Kerry with his most flattering numbers over the past several months, indicates that the Democratic candidate has begun to hemorrhage independent voters and veterans — the latter find mirrored by Rasmussen Reports less than two weeks ago.
Are these numbers reflective of Kerry's choice to form a foreign policy platform exclusively on his four months service in Vietnam? Possibly; Democrats are not helping themselves by, after having essentially admitted that John Kerry's oft-repeated "Christmas in Cambodia" parable is not based in fact, making no effort to rebut the collection of rather extensive claims against the candidate's record, instead leveling unsupported accusations at anti-Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. With a new television spot coming on air, doing no less than former POWs confronting John Kerry with his own words in Congressional testimony, Democrats and Kerry seeking to eliminate critics are likely to only confirm the impression that the Massachusetts senator takes no responsibility for deeds or actions.
And then there is Kerry and his performance as Candidate Mxyzptlk. Deriding President Bush's proposal to lessen American troop presence in strategically obsolete continental positions today, John Kerry was in support of exactly the same at the beginning of August. As Bill Kristol exclaims, "the problem with being an opportunist is that you can easily forget what you've recently said." And that public confidence is difficult to earn or keep.