Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The times, they do change

It's funny, but I wasn't expecting Kerry to be the pretty much de-facto leader, if not candidate. Clark, Edwards, Dean, sure, but not Kerry. He was so down in the polls and so relatively unknown that the only plus he had, "electability", was pretty much out the window.

Two elections later, and provided he doesn't screw up badly, he's got it in the bag. Clark's hyper-focus on New Hampshire went nowhere, Edwards looks more and more like a prospective VP instead of a president, Dean is trapped in second place with the "unelectable" problem hanging around his neck like a millstone, and Lieberman is circling the drain. Kerry's problem was that he had no momentum or money, and it looks like neither are an issue at this point. (For the latter, look here). It seems like everybody is closing around him- Dems and media both. Is he as electable as he seems? Guess we'll find out in the General.

(Unless, of course, the aforementioned screwup happens, or Edwards really does come roaring out of the South.)

So, if he isn't going to get a chance to be the candidate, then what did the Dean campaign accomplish? I'm of the same opinion that a lot of commentators have been (over at Kos, for example) that he lit a fire under the Democrats and changed the terms of the debate. Any smart Democrat is going to be acutely aware that even if Kerry is the candidate, the message that Dean brought to bear isn't going anywhere- that the base is really ticked off and isn't going to stand for another 2002. He may, I think, be the Democrats' Goldwater, where the sort of realization of collective identity that conservatives went through after that campaign will come to pass again I still think he could have been their Reagan, too, but Democrats don't appear to be ready for fiercely partisan candidates.

In any case, the task now is to figure out how to ensure that Kerry doesn't get pigeonholed as another Gore, and to make sure that the activist base doesn't give up and go home because their favorite candidate probably isn't going to be the nominee. If the base stays home, Bush stays too.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

The Importance of Organization

Very interesting piece on Kos about the Iowa caucuses, and the problems that the Dean people were having there. The most interesting bit was about the difference between the Edwards and Dean organizers:

I watched with amazement as a more-motivated, more-mature Edwards captain named Susan Voss (sans T-shirt, sans sideline coaches) went over to the Gephardt folks in Precinct 63, who at that point had only seven members but needed nine for viability. Susan sat down at their table, looked them in the eye, appealed to them about how Edwards is an "articulate, bright, caring person." You can tell not only that she meant it, but that she could personalize it. She didn't have any training, and it showed - it showed as authentic, that is.

Then, with grace and aplomb, she got up and said she would make room so a guy named Arturo, from the Kucinich group (also non-viable, and hoping to move Gephardt's people to them to achieve viability), could have his turn.

Meanwhile, the Deanies are sitting with their hands folded. They are not even talking to each other. No comity, no motivation. The precinct captain eventually comes over, unsure of what precisely to do with himself or how to speak to people. The Geppies are still sitting at the school library's tables at the far end of the room.

The Dean captain meanders over, stands over the Geppies, providing physical distance that is conveyed in a non-verbally and dismissive way. Worse, his main message is little more than, "C'mon, don't you want to join us?" or "Are there any questions or issues you have about the Governor?" The Geppies are literally staring at his navel, because it's hard to make eye contact with somebody whose head is three feet over your own with craning your neck.

There were six delegates to be assigned by the 60+ people who turned out at Precinct 63. Dean had 16 of the caucus-goers at the start, and ended up with 14. Kerry didn't budge much, but Edwards gained strength. Gephardt managed to cobble together the two defections from Kucinich he needed, and got one delegate, as did Dean and Kerry. But Edwards left with two, and he can thank the dynamism, assertiveness and tact of Susan Voss for that second delegate.
This may be the key problem with an insurgent campaign that is designed to attract those who aren't already involved in politics. While a lot of politicking may be somewhat farcical, there's the core reality there that focuses on how to connect with people and get them to agree with you. This can be a very difficult skill to learn; it's one of the key reasons why politics has gone so professional over the past few decades.

Still, I'm not about to declare Edwards or Kerry the nominee; Iowa's only one state, and it looks like Gephardt was largely responsible for Edwards' boost. He's out of the game, and Edwards has to run on his own merits now. His lacklustre performance during the "invisible primary" hasn't gone anywhere. While I have to admit to a certain interest in history recording that the Democratic nominee made his announcement on the Daily Show, I'm not about to call the local History Department just yet.

(Yes, I'm aware I was in the "Dean's inevitable" camp a while ago, like Matt Yglesias. I wasn't expecting the media to turn on him so savagely at the time, and I'm still stunned by it.)

So, What Now?

Kerry won Iowa, with the mysteriously revived Edwards following close behind, and Dean somehow behind the both of them. I agree with those (like Kos) that believe it's now a horserace, but I think much of this has to do with Dean simply having a bad week or so, media-wise. The money and organization are still there, but the momentum he enjoyed prior to the start of the primaries is pretty much gone, and now it's Kerry and Edwards that have it. Edwards isn't a player in NH, but this may be do-or-die for Kerry and Dean- if Dean has another bad showing he's in deep trouble, and if Kerry has a poor showing it could cause his Iowa momentum to evaporate.

Sunday, January 18, 2004


They're killing the Hubble.Why? Bush's "Moon mission alpha" stuff. They're also decommissioning the Shuttle, which is bizarre- you can't stop making shuttles when there is as of yet no alternative. Going to Apollo-style capsules would be a step backwards, not forwards.

Friday, January 16, 2004


Kerry is rising like a phoenix- he's now six points ahead of Dean in the latest Zogby poll. I'm still doubtful that this will mean that he'll be a serious contender- he lost the "unofficial primary" too badly to assume that- but it will likely mean that Dean will be far more vulnerable now than he was three weeks ago.

Of course, the timing of all these supposed revelations about Dean isn't accidental, but the growing media bias against him is still pretty striking. If this keeps up, by November they'll be wearing "Bush 2004" pins.

(Hat Tip: Marshall)

Welcome to the Campaign Desk

The announcement by Columbia Graduate School of Journalism that they'll be running a realtime press criticism website is excellent news.

One of the minor rituals of American presidential politics is the post-election self-examination (or perhaps I should say self-flagellation) by the press. Quadrennially, we regret having pursued some lines of inquiry while ignoring others, or having gotten caught up in momentary feeding frenzies over unimportant things, or having been too susceptible to spin -- and then we resolve to do a better job next time. But now we have a new tool. In 2004, the Web makes it possible to analyze and criticize press coverage in real time, so that suggestions for improved coverage might actually be heeded, and incorporated into campaign coverage, while the campaign is still under way.

Thanks to generous funding from foundations -- mainly the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Revson Foundation, and the Open Society Institute -- we have set up a campaign press criticism "war room" here at the Journalism School, with the beginnings of a full-time professional staff of seven that will monitor as much of the campaign coverage as possible, and write about it here. The managing editor of, Steve Lovelady, is already on board, and he and Mike Hoyt, the editor of CJR, are well into the hiring process. Steve is a veteran journalist who earlier served as a deputy page-one editor at the Wall Street Journal; then, as part of Gene Roberts's dream team at the Philadelphia Inquirer, helped supervise eleven Pulitzer Prize-winning works of journalism over twenty years; and, more recently, was an editor-at-large at Time Inc. Bryan Keefer, assistant managing editor, was one of the co-founders of the website will be updating the site several times daily, with particular emphasis on speed when the staff feels it can get inside the news cycle and try to improve coverage as it's being formed.

A few assurances are in order: The Desk will be politically nonpartisan. While it will call attention to journalistic sins, both of omission and commission, it will by no means be exclusively a finger-wagging operation. It will have a lively, engaged tone, not a grim, censorious one. One of the Desk's important functions will be to praise work of high quality, and one of its most useful aspects will be its ability to bring distinguished work in the local press to national attention, instantly and (through links) in full.
So, essentially, it's a group blog. Fair enough, they're popular these days. The important thing here is that they have the imprimatur of the CJR. It'll ensure that its findings can't be easily dismissed and reporters can feel like they can rely on it as a source of information. Given the thirst for "campaign stories" and the media's love of navel-gazing, it could easily become a popular destination too, although I get the feeling that at this point the big blogs (like Calpundit, Atrios, Josh Marshall, Sully et al) already are.

Then again, its expressed non-partisanship could mean that it reaches for a nonexistent "balance" between deceit and truth, but let's be optimistic, hmm?

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Edwards Out of Nowhere?

Could be. According to Kos, Dean's frontrunner status has become a serious problem for him, and Edwards' unexpectedly strong Iowa numbers might give him some badly-needed momentum.

Who would have predicted this about 12 months ago?

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Odd Synchronicity

For those who don't know much about video games (or, specifically, the controversies over game violence), a recent hyperviolent game called "Manhunt" was recently banned in New Zealand and hysterically attacked elsewhere for being unacceptably and horrifically violent, especially considering that unlike most other "horror" games, it is entirely realistic. One of the more controversial aspects of the game is the weapons one uses to kill- the fact that the player can use something as innocuous as a plastic bag to harm the targets is disturbing, but seems rather outlandish.

Then again, apparently this sort of thing is has its real world counterparts.

The international news agency Reuters has made a formal complaint to the Pentagon following the "wrongful" arrest and apparent "brutalisation" of three of its staff this month by US troops in Iraq.
The complaint followed an incident in the town of Falluja when American soldiers fired at two Iraqi cameramen and a driver from the agency while they were filming the scene of a helicopter crash.

Although Reuters has not commented publicly, it is understood that the journalists were "brutalised and intimidated" by US soldiers, who put bags over their heads, told them they would be sent to Guantanamo Bay, and whispered: "Let's have sex."
There is a difference between putting a bag over someone's head and beating them to death as opposed to threatening to send them to be tortured and threatening forcible rape... but I'd argue that the latter case is just a little more important. Unlike the polygonal and fictional interactions in Manhunt, this actually happened, and was the responsibility of those whom Time magazine called "newsmakers of the year". One's derided as "killographic", the other lauded. Funny how things work out.

It wasn't just bags over the head, by the by. The Guardian article goes over a laundry list of brutalization, threats, torture, and press intimidation. Pity that the intimidation is so effective- I doubt that we'll see anything about this on CNN any time soon. It's not like the army is owning up to it:

A spokeswoman for the US military's coalition press and information centre in Baghdad hung up when the Guardian asked her to comment... The top US military spokesman in Iraq, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, later admitted that they had received a formal complaint and that there was an on-going investigation into the incident.
"On-going investigation". Right. For all that they're attacked, at least the Israelis actually arrest the soldiers who do this kind of thing.

Perhaps Joseph Lieberman should put as much effort into ending this sort of thing as he has attacking games like Manhunt. Not only would it make him a more effective candidate and made that TNR endorsement mean something- it would have accomplished something real.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Ailes Answers

I had been puzzling over the New Republic's endorsement of Lieberman, a candidate who stands almost no chance of election, but Ailes nailed it; it's a way of gently easing the way for supporting Bush in the fall. Ailes predicted a line saying "we didn't leave the Democratic Party, it left us"; he's not far off.

Well, with this and the full-court press against Dean, at least everybody knows now what's going to happen. Funny thing is, I still don't think the supposed "gaffs" are going to hurt Dean much, because the reaction will depend on which side of the polarized American electorate you sit on, and his army of volunteers (which present somewhat of a problem with the Iowa caucus issues) will start coming in handy for getting his spin out on the ground.

Which will be good, because it looks like the media is going to be extremely hostile. Looks like it'll be 2000 all over again, with Bush getting a free pass as long as he doesn't screw up too badly. Watching CNN spin the jobs report as "not a big deal because jobs are a follower, not a leader" was pretty instructive.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Libel's In The Air Tonight

Y'know, I remember the days when conservatives would decry the tendency of liberals and leftists to cry "racism" whenever conservatives would question anything about identity politics. Turns out, the problem wasn't convenient identity politics, the problem was the specific identity involved. Given a different identity and a different cry, many self-proclaimed conservatives seem quite fond of the tactic.

To wit, I present David Brooks, who has brought the ludicrous "anybody who attacks neo-conservatives is an anti-semitic" to the New York Times, saying that since there's "no such thing as a neo-conservative", the only possible reason why people might use the label is because they're taking advantage of the fact that many neoconservatives are jewish to try to make veiled anti-semitic remarks. Don't believe me?

In truth, the people labeled neocons (con is short for "conservative" and neo is short for "Jewish")The ones outside government have almost no contact with President Bush. There have been hundreds of references, for example, to Richard Perle's insidious power over administration policy, but I've been told by senior administration officials that he has had no significant meetings with Bush or Cheney since they assumed office. If he's shaping their decisions, he must be microwaving his ideas into their fillings.
Ah, what a nice little dodge this is. First the libel gets slid in there in a little "joke" so that most people don't realize it's a deadly insult, then the argument that because one neoconservative doesn't have "significant meetings" (whatever that means) with the president and the vice president that there's no influence on the administration, despite the president being famous for his delegation and thus almost certainly influenced indirectly by meetings with those policymakers that surround him. Couple it with a nice little bit of deceit by omission in Brooks' failure to mention (hi Nedra!) that Perle was on the defense board until the astounding conflict of interest that that presented forced him to quit.

Still, there's a more important question at work here. The claim that anti-semitism drives criticism of neo-conservatism is monstrous. It not only diminishes the problem of real anti-semitism, it creates a perception that those who criticize neo-conservatism are, well, Nazis- and since Bush's foreign policy is essentially neo-conservative (in that it features the activist, militarist foreign policy that distinguishes neoconservative foreign policy from both neoliberalism and old-style realist conservatism) and that the Democrats have been criticizing Bush along those lines, it seriously implies that the only reason to oppose Bush is anti-semitism (read: Nazism). It is essentially Stalinist, and undermines the entire American political system.

It's ironic that Brooks spends most of the column railing against the cheapening of the debate. I honestly can't think of any line of argument that does so more effectively than the one he's peddling.

(Calpundit has a bit about the creation of the term "neoconservative" here, although keep in mind that the source was an interview with Irving Kristol- he has a vested interest in trying to represent his own view as that of all conservatives.)

Edit: Lots on this on the Daily Howler.

Also another point I hadn't considered. Every action has an equal and opposition reaction. If opposition to neo-conservatism and the Republicans is going to be cast as anti-semitism, it is almost certain that some will react by saying "you wanna know what? Screw it. Fine, I'm anti-semitic." It is likely that some of this has already taken place on the radical left due to the demonization of their opposition to Israeli foreign policy (although an order of magnitude less than "pro-Israeli" conservatives argue) but to have this happen to the general left would a very, very bad thing for both the left and for Jewish Americans.

Of course the right, not truly giving a crap about either of these groups, would no doubt eat it up.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Riffing on an earlier post

One of the commenters in an earlier thread, where I said that there should be sites dedicated to providing information for "fact-checking" reporters, suggested a "Wiki".

I'm not quite sure if a Wiki would work(although I browse Wikipedia all the time), because I'd suggest a mechanism for verifying accuracy. The most efficient means to do it would be to follow the open-source method of having "module owners" to verify the knowledge... anybody could submit, but it would only hit the actual site after verification. Without that verification mechanism, it'd be patently simple for anybody to mess up the entire site over the course of an afternoon, and the battle to keep things "clean" would be more work than any verification scheme. A Wiki works great for something like the Wikipedia, but as a political tool... I'm not so sure.

I'd still welcome more ideas, though. Not blogs- although blogs are handy, I don't think they're the proper tool for this aspect. Tracking reporters, yes, but not the knowledge concentration aspect.

A Quick Question for Joel Mowbray

If, as you claim, the term "neoconservative" is synonymous with "jewish", and if Paul Krugman is jewish....

...then doesn't that make him a neoconservative?

If so, shouldn't you conservatives be nicer to him? He's one of your own, after all.

"Even the neoconservative Paul Krugman." I like the sound of that.

As Per Your Request, Kevin:

Calpundit wanted comments on Glenn Reynolds latest call for jihad, or transfer, or war, or whatever against the Palestinians. At least one person already responded, and it was a good piece, but I think I'm going to take it in a different direction.

The question, to wit, is this: is Glenn Reynolds anti-Semetic?

No, he isn't, or at least he has never given any indication. He has taken a profoundly philo-Semetic position as of late, but I think that has more to do with his war hawkishness than anything else. Still, they are, in some respects two sides of the same thing, because when taken the wrong way, they point to one thing: collective guilt.

So, for that matter, does Glenn's post. Let's take a look.

THE UNITED STATES SHOULD NOT TRY to play a "neutral arbiter" in the Israeli/Palestinian dispute. We should, in fact, be doing our best to make the Palestinians suffer, because, to put it bluntly, they are our enemies. Just read this post and follow the links to see how they feel about America.

And read this piece by Amir Taheri on the Iraqi "resistance," which notes Palestinian terror connections by the Iraqi insurgents, and features a Palestinian "journalist" egging them on.

These folks are our enemies, and deserve to be treated as such. They don't deserve a state of their own. It's not clear that they even deserve to keep what they've's war, and the Palestinians...think it's a war not just against Israel, but against us. We should tailor our approach accordingly.
Notice something? He never refers to individual Palestinians, except when using them as examples of apparent collective beliefs. He did the same thing in the rants against the EU that I edited out (that's a whole 'nother topic), but here he's using it to call for war.

The problem, naturally, is that not all or even most Palestinians are suicide bombers, jihadists, or anything of the sort. Even if a majority are (which is by no means clear- the polls reveal general support, but for reasons which are far more diverse than Glenn would believe) that does not mean that there should be collective guilt assigned to the Palestinian people.

So why does it matter? Because collective guilt has a very, very bad history. Instapundit becomes totally apoplectic about this email:

You should be ashamed of yourself posting such intolerant hateful bullshit. You sound like Goebbles reincarnate.
... yet in many respects, it's substantially true. The propaganda of the Nazi party was built upon concepts of the collective- the collective might and nobility of the German people, and the collective guilt of the Jews for undermining those same people. The whole reason the Holocaust happened was because the Nazis believed (or pushed the belief) that because members of the Jewish collective were supposedly wealthy and dishonest, the entire collective needed to be punished for it.

Sound familiar?

The Islamic theocrats who rant about Israel and the evils of "the Jews" and "Americans" that Glenn linked to...

Sound familiar?

The Neo-Nazis today who rant about Jewish conspiracies and the evils of the Jewish people also push ideas of the collective might of the "white race" (whatever that is) and the collective stupidity of "Africans" (whatever that is) and the evils of "liberals". The terms are nebulous and constantly changing, but again, they're about collective guilt...

Sound familiar?

Again, Glenn isn't a Nazi. He's not even a fascist. He's not the libertarian he purports to be, but Goebbels he isn't. What he is is a man walking down the dangerous path of collective guilt, and while most of the WWII comparisons that we hear nowadays are weakly supported at best, this is one situation where they're entirely relevant. By attempting to call for a war against a people- not a state, a people- he echoes precisely the beliefs that turned WWII into the horror it was. It's not surprising, as the battle of "Our Group vs. The Other" is, I suspect, built into human behavior.

As thinking, rational beings, however, our job is to fight this notion, and not exploit that rationality to further its cause. That is what Glenn is doing. That is why Glenn is wrong.