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Michael Ubaldi, July 10, 2004.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, the man who would rebuild American intelligence:
The Kerry campaign wants to criticize the Bush administration's handling of intelligence.
A new set of numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics actually shows solid growth in employment in relatively higher -paying occupations including construction workers, health-care professionals, business managers, and teachers, and virtually no growth at all in relatively lower-paying occupations including office clerks and assembly-line workers.
OUCH! AND AGAIN!: Indispensible as usual, Craig Brett racks up two more points on America's market boom. Unless it depends on the precise meaning of "the best economy we've seen in years."
Michael Ubaldi, July 8, 2004.
Before I began the board meeting for my local Republican organization last night, I talked about glancing at polls during the day and feeling the heartburn before catching a few minutes of television and watching clips from a stilted, forced and thoroughly unimpressive Kerry-Edwards rally in Cleveland.
President Bush had yesterday's — no, the week's — line when he answered the John Edwards-Dick Cheney comparison with "Dick Cheney can be president." As Juan Williams put it, "that's the kind of comeback you...think, 'Gee, I wish I'd said that!'" What was Kerry's response: a crack that drew its humor from the Democratic Party's fringe left, one about the Vice President running the White House. Dangerous for clear-headed independents tuning in, the remark fell flat on its intended audience. The applause was slow, brief, polite and quickly became funnier than the joke with Edwards' out-of-time strained smile and rehearsed head-thrown-back-to-laugh bit. Even the Massachusetts senator's rallying cry was trite, clunkily comparing Spider-Man's successful weekend to his and his new running mate's. What? They have silk glands in their wrists and fight crime at and above twelve stories, too? Instead of being cute, Kerry's yee-ha came across literally, in part thanks to his party's constant use of hyperbole for talking points. Maybe, if elected, they'll don matching red jumpsuits and catch terrorists with webs.
"What have you guys got up against Reagan in the fall?" asked a Democratic Convention-goer in the wrong building to Opus and Bill the Catt's Meadow Party, in a 1984 Bloom County strip. "A dead cat," answered Opus.
"Oh, what the hell," shrugged the Democrat, and stayed.
Democrats might be invigorated by anything this year, including dead cats and John Kerry, but I took a step back from the 2004 Democratic ticket and shook my head. I tried to put on another's shoes and imagine weighing weeks of anticipation of a killer executive team against what I just saw. Result: nagging sense of disappointment. Urge to put on a strained smile and throw my head back in laughter. Clap, nod. "Kerry's not going to get a bounce from this," I said at the meeting, "especially if he gets wall-to-wall coverage."
It looks, at the moment, like I was right.
INTERESTING: Craig Brett found a poll that shows Bush-Cheney taking a modest lead in spite of Edwards' entrance.
TO BE FAIR: Two days later, Kerry-Edwards has pulled four points ahead of Bush-Cheney on Rasmussen's board. It's a lift but not much, and we have yet to see if it lasts. Meanwhile, other polls show Kerry leads within the standard margin of error.
Michael Ubaldi, July 8, 2004.
Some are warning that Republicans' titling of Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate John Edwards in the derrogatory as "a trial lawyer" is unwise — maybe, but give them credit for trying to deflect the Democratic Party's attempt to introduce the North Carolina senator as a kind, smiling man who'll buy single, registered and likely female voters fancy presents and date them on weekends. Besides, the association with get-rich lawsuits is especially relevant when tort reform is yet again a possibility, facing a challenge from none other than Mssrs. Kerry's and Edwards' stomping grounds, the United States Senate. From the Wall Street Journal:
This is a debate worth watching, not least because the Senate is so close to a bipartisan breakthrough. The GOP has been rolling this stone up Capitol Hill since 1998, and the House has passed it no fewer than three times. But it has always rolled back down in the Senate, where Democrats and trial lawyers need only 40 votes to filibuster any tort reform.
RAIN CHECK: The bill is now comfortably preserved in the tarpit known as the United States Senate. No passage expected this year; both sides are already working to craft its failure as a campaign issue. I know which side will win my nod of approval.
Michael Ubaldi, July 8, 2004.
At least Mickey Kaus is honest:
[W]e survived Carter and we'd survive Kerry (though it will be a long, hard slog!). I plan to vote for him because I think a) we need to take a time out from Bush's strident public global terror war in order to prevent it from becoming a damaging, lifelong West vs. Islam clash--in order to "rebrand" America and digest the hard-won gains we've made in Iraq and Afghanistan (if they even remain gains by next January). Plus, b) it would be nice to make some progress on national health care, even if it's only dialectical "try a solution and find out it doesn't work" progress. I could change my mind--if, for example, I thought Kerry would actually sell out an incipient Iraqi democracy in a fit of "realistic" Scowcroftian stability-seeking.
This is an argument Bush should relish, dangerous as the left's lethargy is, because the "time out" argument is an emotional and flimsy one; really nothing more than a relativist bid to drop out. Kaus' worry of a "damaging, life-long" clash is a peculiar aversion to what already is — Islamism can trace its roots to the early part of the last century, its hijackings and assassinations four decades back, its global designs as old as I am. That's Kaus' life-long clash, having killed thousands before September 11th. Think back to when the increasingly Islamist Saddam Hussein still ruled in Baghdad, when Iraqis shown on television mouthed Ba'athist propaganda and we assumed they were our enemies — while we heard reports of the thousands dying under Saddam's misuse of his stipends. That particular "clash" ended abruptly, and in less than two years the West has an increasingly confident ally, fighting alongside us in the first "clash." Remember Afghanistan, once Osama bin Laden's inherited backyard, now on the verge of its first free and fair elections. We should seek the same potential in Iranian and Syrian democrats — democrats of all nations.
Marking time won't help: the authoritarian threat we face now came about precisely because the free West spent three generations trying to "digest" its gains after the Second World War, and again after the Cold War, all the while ignoring the Near East's festering culture. As with the Soviets, the left incorrectly assumes that our enemies are as lackluster and unfocused as they; it doesn't seem to register that democracy is a topic of discussion in Arab circles not only because Saddam Hussein was deposed but that the Near East's dictators can't be certain the same won't befall them. The region's reaction to a "hands-off" message from Washington is predictable, the resulting squelching of nascent democratic dissidents unsettling to think about.
Kaus' condition on a vote is a little bit of a fib, since he himself noted John Kerry's indifference to another strongman in Iraq. He should know what the Massachusetts senator thinks about individual liberties. What Kaus has signaled is that he's ready for another Jimmy Carter, which is difficult not to translate by any standard as an admission of defeat — and four deleterious years under an ineffectual loser. Is this what the rest of Kerry's supporters want? Defending such an aspiration would defeat John Kerry's bid for the White House, a killing blow President Bush could easily deliver.
Michael Ubaldi, July 6, 2004.
Michael Ubaldi, July 6, 2004.
Reactions to John Kerry's choice of Senator John Edwards as his running mate for the White House are rolling in. As usual, IP's got a nice clutch of observations, slams and compliments.
You know what I think about the North Carolina senator's domestic message. But what about the man's strength on national security? As Glenn Reynolds notes, Edwards has been far more nimble than John Kerry and his dancing-bear-of-a-year on war issues — especially those supported before rejection (or vice versa). But we all got a peek into Edwards' mind when he and Brit Hume went toe-to-toe in a January Democratic debate. Few caught the significance of what Edwards said at the time, fewer remember it today. But it's worth another look. From my day-after review of the debate:
John Edwards made the most reasonable explanation for his vote against the $87 billion supplemental appropriation for the war. As with any debate, he believed his opposition could drive the majority into offering concessions. Edwards should have stopped there, looking collected, sagacious and statesmanlike. But he kept going, began boasting, and revealed a disturbing ruthlessness:EDWARDS: It was not a protest vote. I voted exactly the way I thought I should have voted.
Michael Ubaldi, July 6, 2004.
Scott Rasmussen reports that Americans are picking up on the economy's boom:
Thirty-nine percent of Americans now say that the economy is good or excellent. That's the highest level of 2004. Thirty-four percent (34%) rate the economy as fair, while 27% say poor.
HERE'S THE MONEY: In spite of some leveling off over the past few weeks, economists are forecasting a "banner year," an American economy that will only be surpassed by 1984's. Maybe there are two Americas: one that recognizes good news and one that's shutting it out.
Michael Ubaldi, July 6, 2004.
Oh, I don't know. Tennessee representative Harold Ford?
SO PREDICTABLE YOU'D NEVER GUESS: It's North Carolina Senator John Edwards.
Michael Ubaldi, July 5, 2004.
Michael Ubaldi, July 2, 2004.
In March of this year I shared a brief e-mail exchange with National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru when the magazine senior editor noted Andrew Sullivan pulling another turnaround. As my letter suggested, "Sullivan's loyalty — intellectual or otherwise — seems to be on an uncomfortable knife's edge. At best, he's overemotional and, ironically, often unreliable on the subjects on which he's among the most authoritative. At worst, the pundit is in waiting to resume the general position he held before September 11th."
Which is one of the disgusted independent. But Andrew Sullivan has been inconsistent in his disgust. When it became clear in the spring of 2003 that Bush would stand firmly against Sullivan's social agenda, the writer flipped like a coin, ridiculing the early aftermath of a war he'd put all his energy into defending. Andrew Sullivan alternates between praise and scorn but in recent months his justifications for opposing the Republican Party have become more and more strained. He likes to tell a story of popping champagne for the president whose deficits make Bush's look like pocket change — and yet Bush's budgets are unforgivable. Democrats are weak on national security but the veteran dove, John Kerry, is somehow okay. Karl Rove catches heat for connecting to churches while the Democratic Party continues to co-opt the NEA, AFL-CIO, NAACP and ABA without much protest. And the rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger connects with Sullivan's nearly two-year-old vision of the "Eagle," in his own words:
[P]eople [who] are not comfortable with the Republicans' flirtation with the religious right, or their prosecution of the drug war or mixing of church and state; and they're not impressed by the Democrats' lack of seriousness in foreign policy or enmeshment with public sector interest groups.
Bush has proven himself unable to unite a party that includes Tom DeLay as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger, John McCain and Bill Frist. Whether the coming civil war is about who lost the election, or who will exploit the victory, it's going to be nasty and enduring. No single party can be both for individual liberty and for theologically-based social policy; both for fiscal balance and drunken-sailor spending; both for interventionism abroad and against moralism in foreign policy. The incoherence is just too deep, the tensions too strained. And with the war on terror itself a point of contention among conservatives, geo-politics will not be able to keep the coalition in one piece.
Enough about Sullivan: intentionally or not, the man generates more buzz from the left and right than Hillary Clinton. He'll retire satisfied. But the idea of the GOP's collapse is one that found an audience earlier in the year; and Governor Schwarzenegger's molding as a Democrat in elephant's clothing, most ably by the New York Times, has become something of a distant hope for the left after loss of the White House in 2000 and a poor showing in the 2002 midterm elections. Both are flawed, the former a practical diversion from a real case of party disintegration.
When Schwarzenegger entered the California running, the rightist Weekly Standard was mercilessly critical of the actor-turned-politician. I disagreed with them at the time when I first wrote about Schwarzenegger's candidacy:
We’re talking about Arnold, for goodness’ sake. A political ice cream sundae, cherry on top. Whichever flavor you like – really, that’s the point. If he can find his way in now and keeps the state from burning to the ground, he could kick up his feet and govern California for the rest of his life. They’d throw out executive term limits just for him.
Perhaps the Standard was just a little bit right and no one listened. An honest look at Schwarzenegger's first year in office reveals that a good part of his personal popularity is drawn from his mimicry — or to compliment the California Governor, translation — of the same values endearing movie stars to hundreds of millions of fans for decades. He's looking out to avoid goring anybody's ox, a model activist for the "to each his own" credo with which the house of pop culture is wallpapered. Schwarzenegger has taken and held the most sensible of fiscal positions, that of state solvency without taxation, and has a rightfully enormous amount of blame to toss from years of California's Democratic mismanagement. Unsurprisingly, his approval ratings are stratospheric. Of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected to help California's bookkeeping — not take the front in a great debate on humanity, morality and the national interest. To transmogrify the man's legitimate state-level success into the icon of a mass movement is to overlook a very important quality of leadership.
President Bush's public approval was adamantine until he stepped beyond the near-universal conviction that Afghanistan be rid of Taliban and al Qaeda dominance, and into the ring as challenger of Cold War non-interventionism and pre-Cold War isolationism (not to mention relativism and Lilliputian anti-Americanism), bringing on the deposition of Saddam Hussein. Set aside the nature of the argument of post-Cold War America itself; it's a necessary one that was largely avoided by all parties until September 11th. Bill Clinton, never one to rock the boat after the tumultuous first half of his first term, played it safe by skipping Rwanda, showing all talk and no trousers with Saddam Hussein and putting a foot down to stop the post-Soviet Balkan wars almost ten years after they'd started. Of Clinton's Republican opposition, some were dedicated America-firsters, most others understandably suspicious of 1990s "nation-building" they'd seen (especially of that run by the United Nations). But the GOP too took a pass, letting Clinton off the hook for his hollow resolve against Hussein and paining him for Bosnia; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich himself submitting in 1995 that "You have to be fairly juvenile to think we could stop Rwanda." I myself beamed when Governor Bush spoke in 2000 about the need to withdraw from United Nations missions across the globe; that the United States could not be all things to all people.
That's a time when I would have agreed with the idea that "we can't take down every despot." That was before terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. taught me and millions of others that there is no "live and let live" with dictatorship, and the concepts that "have always been" applicably date back only to the latter-18th Century, and are easily corrected with public will.
So what if the Governor of California were to, say, challenge Saddam Hussein's violation of seventeen resolutions from a position where a qualifier of "but hey, that's just my opinion" would be neither helpful to his supporters nor accepted in good faith by his opponents? Kim Jong Il and Jean-Bertrande Aristide took the Clinton-Carter diplomacy team as a couple of time-serving suckers who wouldn't bust chops; the two despots were right. Hard to accept, maybe, but true: bad guys don't give up when really nice guys deliver their arrest warrants. If Statesman Schwarzenegger sacrificed his coyness, a lot of smiles would vanish, today's political capital and the future we're told political moderation is supposed to bring with it. Whomever we paraphrase when we say that bonds are tested under strain wasn't a genius; he simply wrote down what he lived through. We learn soon enough that the friendships kept through the years aren't because of easy going but resilience. Not speaking of Schwarzenegger specifically, it's hard to believe that someone who holds no standards in one regard will hold them elsewhere; and serious things will scatter the crowd drawn inside that big tent.
Daniel Henninger wrote, right after California's gubernatorial recall, a fascinating article about a Big Tent, dogs and cats living together under Arnold Schwarzenegger's California, and that this brand of Generation X+ moderate — right on defense and left on society — might come under the wings of the Republican Party. I noted one of my acquaintances as a candidate and received an affirmative e-mail from a good friend who lives in Los Angeles.
The latter fellow is now nearly set to vote for John Kerry. While I haven't talked to the former in months, he — a putative Iowa Democrat with the guts to critically document the party's foreign policy drift — may very well be inclined to do the same. Not entirely certain just yet, I'm approaching the conclusion that "Schwarzenegger Republican" means the same thing as "Miller Democrat." Party definition requires a degree of exclusion, and membership in turn involves a good deal of accommodation. So why the loneliness, the reluctance to associate? All the damned superlatives without much evidence? Maybe Sullivan's just projecting, and it's he, not Schwarzenegger or DeLay or McCain, who can't abide the Republican Party.
While all of these plates are shifting, is the ground shaking? Where is this burgeoning rebellion? Sullivan's vision of a Republican schism — like his incessant, compound-codeword namecalling — is largely unfounded. It appears that Americans drawn to the impressions of Schwarzenegger, McCain and Kerry are simply part of the current minority of unaffiliated voters who won't vote for Bush. Every observation of polls and primary returns up till now shows a Republican Party remarkably united behind such an embattled incumbent.
What does Bush's party have to show for a president apparently splitting most general electorate polls down the middle? Earlier this year, they let him pass the first test of reelection and laying to rest rumors of mutiny, refusing to grant challenger status to lurking and potential rivals like John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, and awarding Bush a solid 85% of the New Hampshire primary vote. (Frowning at the thought of the Arizona senator or the New York mayor actually trying to sandbag Bush? You've made my point.) Poll after poll shows anywhere from 73% to 94% of Republican respondents approving of the president, and large majorities of support behind Bush's performance with every major issue — hardly the sound of a divided chorus.
Not that the GOP has rallied 'round every one of their men in the White House. Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush faced serious challenges from high-profile members, broadcasting Republican disaffection. Ronald Reagan nearly won against Ford in the bellwether New Hampshire primary in 1976 and, after a contentious primary season, practically split the convention vote at 1187 to 1070. Pat Buchanan took a chunk out of Bush in New Hampshire sixteen years later, chasing the president all the way to the convention.
A candidate's troubles, you'd think, would begin with his persona, extend to his platform and end with his party. Problems would be visible and documented. He would run into problems with character and credibility straight away, criticized less for his definitive policy positions but for his lack thereof. The candidate's record would show a radical bent but he would present an image of moderation, constantly tripping over discrepancies between the two — all the while trying to shush outrageous tantrums from senior members of his party. His ability to inspire and lead might be doubted; voter attraction might not be because of him at all. The story of his party's own misgivings might run a thread through dozens of reports and articles over several news cycles, culminating in the rumor that his own top billing was tentative; that his worst enemy was himself and that he'd be more popular by not showing up. Top it off with a media "veepstakes" that always ends with pondering whether or not the candidate's second fiddle would make him disappear like trick ink.
Ladies and gentlemen, you would have John Kerry.
Never mind that the party without the White House must endure a bit of pugilism for its own good. And forget Andrew Sullivan's election-year talk, the "theocrats" and "theoconservatives": those paranoid Van Gogh visions of the slack-jawed spawn of Fred Phelps, burning black churches, bathhouses and the MOMA; forcing girls into petticoats and blasting Pat Buchanan's sneer into Mount Rushmore.
Consider the silent-but-deadly power struggle in the Democratic Party, of which we all got a glimpse before the blinds were slammed down and everybody started shaking hands, bloody knuckles and all. (Just how long was it after Dean had slighted Bill Clinton that the spiked ceiling dropped?) Weigh the invitation of Al Sharpton and Michael Moore into the Democratic mainstream, through Wesley Clark in the primaries and today with the filmmaker's latest feature. Revisit Howard Dean's flirt with sociopathy, when he dismissed the liberation of Iraq ("I guess it's a good thing") and the capture of Saddam Hussein. This from the man who now claps John Kerry on the back. Count up the times Democrat voters and supporters of the left let slip that Allied casualties help their cause, that mass murderers are less dangerous to the world than an American risking his presidency to militarily remove two tyrant governments. Let's not even start on poor Al Gore. [Or Ted Kennedy.]
Okay? Now swing back to John Kerry, madly trying to portray himself as straight-laced, red-blooded and all-American. Consider that his campaign tried to pin lunatic outrage against Bush on Bush. Give a nod to Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt, mocked by party faithful for supporting the liberation of Iraq unwaveringly and with few reservations along the way, always expected to apologize for their views. Say a prayer for D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, who supports school vouchers, an issue with American affirmation in a minority equal to that for same-sex marriage, but is chastised rather than embraced — like Schwarzenegger is embraced by the GOP — for his views. Brent Scowcroft got it from righty pundits for his opposition to Operation Iraqi Freedom, but when was he booed by Republicans? Who lambasted Chuck Hagel when he revealed that part of being a veteran for him is lording it over civilians with whom he disagrees? Where's the story on Dick Armey, orphaned for his similar dissent?
I've written before on the plight of the modern Democratic Party; its hollow messages used for bids to gain power, its candidates' necessity to hide most of what they say within the party from the general electorate, relying on old glories and misperceptions. The national party has slogged on for thirty years as a scarecrow, held together by a patchwork of interest groups — far more "irreconcilable" than what the Republican Party currently has to offer. False refuge as it may be, there's a difference between a Big Tent and a Big Mess. The Democrats will probably keep slogging on for some time, but I hesitate to say indefinitely.
As for a Republican reformation, don't count on it. Not until years after the Democrats' left finally bolts for a fringe party, perhaps leaving a benign middle for Schwarzenegger Republicans and "Eagles." For one, the party is showing just the opposite. And two, find a candidate who agrees with you on everything and you've got yourself a panderer. I undervoted once because the Republican gubernatorial candidate didn't impress me, even though he was light years closer to me than his Democratic opponent. Of course, you certainly can't work with "nobody." So that will probably be the last time I get fickle.