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Michael Ubaldi, July 27, 2004.
Roll Call editor and right-leaning Democrat Mort Kondracke notes a steady trend in presidential polling:
In the latest ABC poll, 83 percent of Bush supporters say they are voting primarily because they favor Bush, and 16 percent say they are motivated by opposition to Kerry.
Michael Ubaldi, July 26, 2004.
I've just tuned into the Democratic Convention — I'll be watching with some conservative brethren. Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe just finished. He was measured; tame, almost, and looked like a corvette on a straightaway going 25 MPH. Observation: when Democrats can't relate their dislike of President Bush, they say "health care" a lot. An awful lot. They care about the health of the care of health care, they do.
GORENOGRAPHY: Former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson — who always seemed to be sweating bullets about the next whopper he'd have to sell — is master of ceremonies. He's just introduced Al Gore, describing him as, essentially, the surrogate voice for your dreams — because, of course, you can't reach them yourself.
Al Gore's on. First fifteen words out of his mouth are about Florida. And the thirty after that. His accent wasn't as strong when he was Vice President, was it?
MORE GORE: Finish Gore's sentence: "The second lesson of the 2000 Election is this —"
a. Learn how to use a butterfly ballot.
WOMEN SENATORS: It's near midnight; I took notes, so from here I use past tense. The way Glenn Close went on, Danny O'Brien put it, you'd think the only definition of justice is 51 women in the Senate, at least one transgender. Barbara Mikulski reminds me of a noonaide I once had.
CARTERACT: The AWOL thing? So now red meat canards about sitting presidents aren't beneath former presidents? Could be worse: Jimmy could have run and lost a last-minute Senate bid in his own state. The Georgian also created a new corruption of the word nuclear: "nukier." Nukie, nukier, nukiest? Towards the end of his speech, Carter delivered a cautionary about the leadership that won the Cold War. Whether or not Jimmy meant it, I'm sure the Gipper appreciates the eulogy.
TUBBS: Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs-Jones is from Ohio's 11th Congressional District, right next door to my 10th. We currently have Dennis Kucinich. Judging by Ms. Tubbs-Jones' speech, Dennis briefly seemed...normal.
JOHNNY B. GOOD: Inevitably, it played between speakers. And Chuck Berry turned in his grave.
TAMMY BALDWIN: Health care reappeared. Health care, according to Ms. Baldwin, will "secure" our nation. Contact the Army, cancel funding. She also reminded us that George Bush is "holding stem cells...hostage."
WELCOME TO THE DNC, HERE'S YOUR RACIAL BRAND: Does Bob Menendez deserve praise and a place on the stage because he's an intelligent, successful United States Representative, or because he's the "highest ranking Hispanic in Congressional history"? And Martin Luther King, Jr., with Chuck Berry, turned in his grave.
CLOSE, SO FAR: I remember Glenn Close speaking at an event shortly after September 11th. She approached the dreaded thing and paused before carefully using the word "tragedy" to describe the premeditated slaughter of 3,000 innocent people. Tonight, she won the award for Most Time Spent Describing the World Trade Center Terrorist Attacks without Once Saying the Word "Attack" or "Terrorist."
NEWSPEAK: For the Kerry campaign, health care is now "healthcare." Doubleplusgood. And Orwell — with Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Chuck Berry — turned in his grave.
CREDIT WHERE IT'S DUE: As Danny said, minor props to Hillary Clinton for being the first Democrat of the night to use the word "attacked" and "terrorist" in the same breath as "September 11th." Somebody's preparing for a national campaign, methinks.
NO CREDIT, BAD LOAN: Former President Bill Clinton's speech reminded me why I so distrust the man. It was aimless, endless, full of minutiae and, bizarrely, over 70% devoted to ridiculing tax cuts. Hopelessly anachronistic. A line on gun control brought the most visceral reaction from the audience. Terrorists? War? Oh, don't be so divisive. Let's talk "healthcare." Unintentionally, Clinton defined the Democratic Party as no other could: the party with no comprehension of that terrible stroke of change it trivializes as "the tragedy."
And with a soul-inspired musical finale, the first night of the Democratic National Convention ended and I was left with two impressions: first, for those of you who imbibe, never, ever play a drinking game that calls for shots every time a Democrat refers to health care. Second, the Democratic Party succeeded in keeping their hatred of the president and his supporters out of the show — by displacing it with hot air.
Michael Ubaldi, July 24, 2004.
Two polls describe the upcoming televised Democratic National Convention as a private party, to be ignored or nodded at by the majority of Americans and watched closely only by the faithful. A Pew Research Center survey released Wednesday shows one-third less interest in this year's nomination of a challenger than was exhibited for the party coronation of Bill Clinton in 1992, 36% as opposed to 53%; Rasmussen Research reports even less at 33%. At the same time, Rasmussen found that hardly any curious viewers — 2%, to be exact — are likely to be undecided voters: seven-tenths of those declaring interest were determined Kerry supporters and about one quarter Bush supporters, the latter probably tuning in to scope out their opponents and get fired up.
That's pretty good. Four of every five respondents in a third survey, from Harvard's Kennedy School, would have been surprised, turning on their televisions this week, to find John Kerry and the gang in Beantown.
Most voters, then, must be reached by newspapers, the internet and evening reports. Chances for a broad firsthand appeal are low, certainly lower than Bill Clinton's. For that, the party does has an ace: a sympathetic press corps. Democrats will enjoy journalists' flattery and discretion. We won't see cheap shots like the 2000 photograph of then-Governor Bush losing his balance on a platform, pre-convention, that received untoward circulation. Speeches and messages will be spit-shine polished; minor gaffes will be left as inconsequential or unreported altogether. But while Democrats need not be as careful with words and actions in coming days as Republicans must be this September, they face considerable trouble simply with drawing attention, let alone support, to this year's attraction.
President Bush rides on the cusp of positive approval ratings, watches over a heathily growing but effectively maligned economy and oversees two major and numerous minor military campaigns that, while still popular, strain the electorate as every war has since 1945. Despite a rock-solid base, his polling against John Kerry far more closely resembles Kennedy-Nixon than Reagan-Mondale, a persistent deadlock that has convinced many of a similarly exhausting, if not inconclusive election night in November — or even incumbent defeat. But Kerry, stepping up as the first Democratic challenge to a Republican White House in twelve years, faces difficulties of his own. Conventions are about show, pizazz, glitz and energy: that can't be argued when the big week in Boston briefly had its single purpose plucked out of the agenda by the Democratic Party itself. It's about face time. Slogans uttered here will resonate until November — and maybe decades. As is universally accepted, the Massachusetts Senator is not a Bill Clinton, and has shown neither the ability nor the inclination to markedly inspire or invigorate. His vice president comes the closest but is still miles away, and second fiddle at that. Though Kerry's dour temperament fits better with the seriousness of the war on terror than it would have with the post-Cold War Happy Hour of 1992, Kerry will miss the benefits of an electorate that pussyfooted about with three candidates before streaming for Clinton in a tie-dyed riot. Choosing candidates is not "fun" this time around, as many will remember 1992, were they adults or children, but a decision touching millions of lives.
The war is a dilemma for Kerry. Even though the Democratic candidate has been gaining in recent weeks on the president's command of national security, anecdotes and official platforms over the past year betray the Democratic Party's boredom with geopolitics, even today's. A friend of mine attended a closed, movie-star-studded Howard Dean fundraiser in Los Angeles over a year ago. During the half hour in which Dean spoke, the war was mentioned exactly once and even then in generic terms. He was only playing favorites. The base doesn't want to hear about the war, so the candidates don't waste time on it. Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt can attest to the boos and hisses that come with moving as right as Bush.
Here's where the dance between the faithful and the rest get complicated. Leftists are happy with isolationism, appeasement and American restraint, yes, but they only comprise one-fifth of the voters. Fringer Ralph Nader is doing his best to snap at the Democrats' left heel, keeping the party honest about who's really voting for them and why. Weigh the importance of national security to the general electorate against the convention's anticipated audience, and there are two characters the party can put on stage. We will probably see both, performed with the same hypocritical "nuance" that so typifies the Democratic Party today. Perhaps they'll even come out one right after the other, leapfrogged for days: John Kerry the hawkish veteran (in spite of twenty years of dovish civilian work), and John Kerry the Fellow Traveler (in spite of his purported "hawkish veteran" credentials). John Kerry the protector, or John Kerry the diplomatic prevaricator?
Its results will be mixed. The dichotemy, the trademark John Kerry muddle, will keep a number of voters — who prefer the White House's known quantity — at a distance. The kind of patriotic choreography required for such a show might not annoy the base too much but if it does, Kerry's numbers of positive support — an abstract of his voters' interest in voting rather than simply answering pollsters — could stay at their currently disappointing levels. Great polling on November 1st won't be worth a damn if people don't show up the next day.
And then there's the Democratic Party and with whom it surrounds itself. Who's been making headlines from hateful gales against President Bush, America or the right in general? Celebrities. Who will grace the Boston convention from start to finish? Celebrities. Americans enjoy spirited debate. Mockery they despise. Fan walkouts, protests and earnest expressions of outrage over the months have been merciful warnings to Democrats: Hollywood cannot stray from the script. That a supportive television audience is expected only increases the temptation for one of those "inside jokes" to be told. If the red, white and blue mask slips long enough, or often enough, not even the New York Times will be able to bury it.
This is the Democratic Party's chance to give their candidate a powerful July crest to ride into November — it's their only chance, as the fall debates will only slightly contour the running. With little more than a base watching, and one that's difficult to please, chances of fulfilling Bush-Cheney strategist Matthew Dowd's prediction of a 15-point lead are slim. There is simply far too much that is cherished by the modern Democratic Party that offends the rest of America, and this year the Democrats are too angry to keep up normal appearances. I predict equal chances of a tiny, four-to-six point lead that dwindles within ten days, or a drop of five or more.
STANDARD TIME: Fred Barnes has more.
Michael Ubaldi, July 22, 2004.
Given from one hand what the other takes away: it looks like normalcy as defined by this presidential campaign is back. John Kerry has a nice showing in the presidential tracking poll to match President Bush's last three days; Bush's approval rating is down while his job performance numbers are on an incline. For the third time, we look to the convention.
Michael Ubaldi, July 22, 2004.
This morning's Washington Post story on the Sandy Berger snatch-and-stuff adds another layer to the brewing controversy. But it also reveals a large rift between stories, that of Sandy Berger's attorneys and of government sources, that may only widen before more facts sew it shut. One conflict is, as the Post notes, fundamental to the case: when the former National Security Advisor was made aware of his selective reductions to the Archives and whether he knew what he'd done before being confonted by Archives staff. Here are the current dueling answers to that question, side by side:
Berger's attorneys: When Sandy Berger made his second visit to the National Archives on October 2, 2003, he did not know that classified documents and information had been found missing after his September visit. It was not until October 4, 2003, two days after a second visit, that Berger was finally contacted by Archives staff.
Government sources: Clinton legal interlocuter Bruce Lindsey was immediately contacted by National Archives staff after Sandy Berger's visit in September and documents were returned from Berger's office to the Archives. Drafts for the so-called "millenium memo" were not included.
A wider discrepancy in the case can hardly be found. What's more, the government's account holds up particulars that can be confirmed as true or false. Inclusion of Bruce Lindsey adds the strength of a hostile witness: either Bruce Lindsey was told of the removal or he wasn't, with no apparent personal gain in corroborating the government's claim. Presumably records from the Archives would indicate the arrival of wayward documents after being retrieved from Berger's office; if so, the transaction is indelible. That would (at least, should) be an easy mystery to solve. Finally, how exactly are documents whisked away from somebody's office without their knowing? Physically it can be done — but the principle of notifying a man that his office will be canvassed and then relieved of some of its contents is pretty common in practice. Why not enlist the man whose office it was, who took the contraband in the first place, Sandy Berger?
Three major points made by government sources, all of them practically yes-no, any one of them damning enough to the entire account. This sets a tall hurdle for Sandy Berger's attorneys' plea, more or less Dammit, we must not have gotten that phone message.
Michael Ubaldi, July 21, 2004.
A few minutes ago I offered a less-than-agreeable observation on a speech made yesterday by President Bush in Iowa. The press has been smirking at the president's use of the word "peace," admittedly indulgent. I found some excerpts a bit contradictory to the White House's otherwise solid platform — not impressive.
It turns out that the president has been misquoted, at least by the New York Post. An article by reporter Vincent Morris recorded the president as saying "four more years...and the world will be at peace." The president made no such claim. Here's what he said, from the official transcript (emphasis mine):
Four more years, and America will be safer and the world will be more peaceful.
And I'm going to tell you something, this is an historic moment. A free Iraq will change the world. A free Iraq will not only make America's short-term security interests better, it will make our long-term security interests better -- because the way to defeat the radicals who promote terrorist activity to frighten us and drive us out of the world is to spread freedom. Free societies are peaceful societies. (Applause.) Because we have led -- because we have led, 50 million people that once lived in tyranny are now free, and the world is better for it.
BONUS: In a question-and-answer period:
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Did Ambassador Wilson lie?
Michael Ubaldi, July 21, 2004.
Today's high-yield runup to the opening of Wall Street owes to positive earnings reports and a cash payout deal from Microsoft, but yesterday's Federal Reserve testimony must have factored in somewhere:
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan on Tuesday said the U.S. economy has entered a sustainable expansion that should weather a June slowdown and is under no serious threat from inflation.
I do not think that [outsourcing] is a critical issue. I'm really quite surprised myself at how big an issue this has become. I fully understand the real, serious problems that individuals have who lose their jobs in this process. And, indeed, we should do whatever is required to make their lives better. But shutting off international trade as a means of doing that is essentially I think very counterproductive to everybody's standard of living.
Michael Ubaldi, July 20, 2004.
We love Roll Call editor Mort Kondracke for his sentimentality but it ill-serves him on Sandy Berger. Mort, on Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, thinks the leak of Berger's criminal probe is dirty politics; that Sandy Berger is a good Washington man who wouldn't hurt a fly. Mort echoes Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's plea to give Sandy Berger "the benefit of the doubt."
Wasn't Berger given the benefit of the doubt the first time he was caught nicking classified information? Let's refresh:
[Berger attorney Lanny] Breuer said the Archives staff first raised concerns with Berger during an Oct. 2 review of documents that at least one copy of the post-millennium report he had reviewed earlier was missing. Berger was given a second copy that day, Breuer said.
FINALLY: I was wondering when someone would ask this question.
REMEMBER: This didn't happen last week, as treatment of the story might suggest. Sandy Berger has been the subject of a criminal probe since October. Former federal prosecutor Joe DiGenova notes that the length of this probe against the understanding that Berger has not yet been interviewed by the FBI indicates a potentially serious charge.
EVEN MORE: Byron York reports that Berger took multiple copies of 15-to-30-page reports on two occasions. Pants and socks. This has "premeditation" written all over it. We're back to the most important question: what is in those documents that Berger was after, and for whom was he working?
Michael Ubaldi, July 20, 2004.
President Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, is the focus of a Justice Department investigation after removing highly classified terrorism documents and handwritten notes from a secure reading room during preparations for the Sept. 11 commission hearings, the Associated Press has learned.
No, this isn't a mishandling of classified documents with dubious motivation. Mr. Berger simply committed papers to a semi-dehiscent, multifiber, bipodal travel envelope. The blogosphere has lit up like a switchboard, and IP has the best.
'REPORTING THE NEWS' AND ALL THAT: At 11:06 AM EDT, only Fox News' website is giving the Sandy Berger story top billing. ABC, CBS, MSNBC and CNN present it as a sub-headline, each agency with its own somewhat innocuous description. One out of three ain't bad.
MOTIVE FROM METHOD: According to Fox News, Berger also had documents stuffed in his socks. Repeat: his socks. That's not indicative of good intentions. And according to CNN, drafts of the classified memos were written by partisan missile Richard "One of my accounts is true" Clarke.
THERE'S NO NEED TO ARGYLE: Berger is denying the claim that some of the misbegotten documents were in his socks. Who made the announcement for Berger? Why, former Clinton White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart, who stated it "categorically." Doesn't it feel like the old days?
STAGE SEPARATION: The Kerry campaign has jettisoned Berger. Still, the question remains of what Berger was trying to squirrel away and who sent him to do it. Given the crossover of old Clintonite spin doctors like Lockhart and Chris Lehane, Berger's efforts might have had broader approval than we know.
Michael Ubaldi, July 19, 2004.