Friday, February 13, 2004

Konop for Congress

Ben Konop (D), one of my good pals from law school, is running for the House seat in the 4th district of Ohio, another Midwestern district hurt by job losses. He now has a web site up. Another good buddy, Brent Smyth, left his high paying job (and the ceaseless wonders of the City by the Bay) to work as Ben's campaign manager in Ada, Ohio. Now that's commitment.

Ben Konop is in an uphill battle to unseat incumbent Republican bigwig Mike Oxley, a big tool of special interests. Ben's charismatic and savvy -- a natural retail politician -- and he'll have a shot because this guy Oxley is basically selling out his constituents to corporate interests. Konop's running unopposed in the primaries, and he's already lined up considerable support from traditional Democratic groups. He'll give Oxley a hell of a fight. And even if Konop doesn't win, a strong campaign will force Oxley to spend money that would otherwise be diverted to other races. More importantly, Konop might be able get out Democratic voters who might help make the difference in the presidential election in this crucial swing state. Remember, in 2000, Gore only lost by 4 points to Bush in Ohio, despite giving up on the state over the last two months of the campaign. A strong GOTV effort, coupled with anxiety over jobs, might help make the difference. If Kerry poaches one of either: Ohio *or* Florida or Arizona or (Arkansas + New Hampshire) and keep the Gore states, he'll win. Not easy, but definitely doable.

Contribute to the Konop campaign. That money will help the Democratic nominee more than donating to the DNC, you can be sure of that.

And if Ben Chandler can prevail in the much-watched Kentucky special election next week, as is likely, maybe the House isn't lost forever.

Pixies Reunited for Coachella

So their reunion is not exactly news, but the Pixies co-headlining of the Coachella Music Festival outside of Palm Springs will mark the official kickoff of the reunion tour. Last year, I only attended one day (saw: The Stooges reunited, Underworld, Sonic Youth, Jack Johnson, Thievery Corporation, Cafe Tacuba, etc.), cutting out the Beastie Boys, N.E.R.D., etc. This year, can either day be sacrificed?


Highlight: See subject header.
Must-see: Radiohead
Will check out: Stereolab, Deathcab for Cutie, Wilco, Kraftwerk, Kinky, Trail of the Dead
Curious about: Future Sound of London
Buzz band: The Rapture
Any dope on... Hieroglyphics, LCD Soundsystem, everyone else?

Number of acts playing on Saturday I've seen live: 4 (Radiohead, Stereolab, Wilco, Mark Farina).


Highlight: Flaming Lips.
Must-sees: Air, The Cure (for old time's sake)
Will check out: Basement Jaxx, Le Tigre, Bright Eyes, Belle & Sebastian, Crystal Method, Mogwai
Curious about: Ash, Laurent Garnier, Cursive
Buzz act: Dizzie Rascal
Any dope on... B.R.M.C., Atmosphere, everyone else?

Number of acts playing on Sunday I've seen live: 4 (The Cure, The Lips, B&S, Paul van Dyke).

Really wish they brought in a few more hip hop acts (Blackalicious? A Neptunes act?), though. Also, might've been nice if the rumored inclusion of the Shins (whose shows sold out last week) and/or The Postal Service took place. And why not The New Pornographers? Arab Strap? But really, very little to complain about.

If anyone have any tips about the acts playing at this festival, let me know. Bastards of Young, that means you.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Elegy for Wes

So Wes Clark has dropped out. Having watched various Clark appearances on C-SPAN, I couldn't help but think he still would be the strongest general election candidate, had he been given the chance. The reasons why I supported initially remained: He still has by far the most glowing resume and politically attractive biography of the contenders; he has a keen understanding of foreign policy and was a quick study on domestic issues; he's a good speaker who has improved markedly in stump speaking and debating in four months time; *and* he was against the Cheney/Wolfowitz War. Unlike Dean and Kerry, he remains the candidate most resistant to Republican smears. Unlike Dean and Edwards, he'll be credible on national security matters. Unlike everyone else, his history of political independence will actually help him in the general election with swing voters. And unlike Kerry (but like Edwards and Dean), he'll give people a reason to vote for him instead of merely against Bush.

But what Ryan Lizza says here is right on: Clark's candidacy hinged on being the electable anti-Dean, and once Dean self-destructed, Clark never really found his bearings.

Ironically, Clark suffered the same problems that Dean suffered: namely, in a primary season where the press and the voters are concentrating solely on "electability" and the horse race, harmless "gaffes" are magnified into headline events, to be dissected endlessly by the likes of Howard Fineman and Peggy Noonan. Unlike Edwards, Kerry and Gephardt, experienced pols who stick rigidly to talking points, Dean and Clark were repeatedly victimized by the press as "gaffe-proned" candidates used to soul-deadening repetition. Dean's "missteps" seem to be the result of an impulsive need to live dangerously, an impulse cheered by Deaniacs as a sign of authenticity. But it was refreshing, the way McCain's candor in 2000 was refreshing in a sea of campaign robots. Clark's problem isn't so much candor as inexperience, an inexperience that was highlighted in instances when he tried too hard to prove his Democratic party bona fides to primary voters. Clark over-corrected by being way too emphatic, such as guaranteeing no terrorist attacks or opposing any limits on abortion. And his notorious arrogance would flare up on occasion, like his "Kerry's a Lieutenant, I'm a general" remark.

But those infractions hardly doomed him, because they didn't get much play in the media. There was seemingly a blackout of Clark soon after Iowa through no fault of his own. Clark was written off after he began to fade in New Hampshire after the Iowa surprise. Quite simply, General Clark was the wrong man at the wrong time. His candidacy didn't offer that contrast with Kerry that the reporters craved, and it was lost in the stories of Dean's collapse. Clark might've been able to kickstart his stalled campaign by a strong debate performance, which has proven to be the last key event of the Democratic primary season. But in that crappily moderated debate, the General was inundated with ridiculous "gotcha" questions ("Michael Moore said the President was a deserter. Why have you not denounced this slander on the President?") while Kerry was lobbed softballs. That faltering performance, unfair or not, doomed the General's candidacy in NH. Afterwards, the media saddled him with the "not ready for prime time" tag by the pundits, a charge he couldn't shake even though he was often terrific in town hall venues and in the South Carolina debate.

After NH, there were three main storylines: Kerry's emergence as frontrunner, Dean's collapse, and the Kerry v. Edwards showdown in South Carolina. Lost amongst this was Clark, who was tabbed as an also-ran after "finishing a distant third in NH despite campaigning unopposed for two weeks." Funny thing is, if the media spun his finish another way, "Clark finished third despite entering the race late, catching up to candidates who've spent a year in the Granite State. Now the campaign moves to the South where Clark, as the most organized and well-funded Southern candidate, may emerge as Kerry's strongest threat. " But the Clark stories had run its course, and the Edwards stories were fresher, as was his candidacy.

After NH, Kerry became the "strongest candidate" in the minds of primary voters who barely got a look at him. And Clark managed only to damage Edwards by beating him in Oklahoma and splitting the vote in Tennessee. Now the race is pretty much called. Now Clark will return to Arkansas, wondering what might've been had he:

- decided to contest Iowa. Given his money and publicity at the time, he might've finished where Edwards did.
- did better in the NH debate. Had Clark finished at 18% or so, he might've emerged as Kerry's primary challenger.

Too bad. The CW after Iowa was that the results hurt Dean and Clark most. It's one time that the CW was right on the money. And the Democratic Party, I think, will suffer as a result.

Kerry v. Bush

With the Tennessee and Virginia results in, it looks like Clark will drop out and Edwards is on life support. Too bad. I think Kerry's a tolerable general election candidate, but I'm adamant in my belief that both Clark (less gaffe-proned as the compaign wore on) and Edwards are *much* better general election candidates. Not that Kerry doesn't have a good shot given Bush's weaknesses. And I'm not that fearful that Rove's "Massachusetts liberal" tact will fatally wound JFK.

But Kerry's got three serious problems:

(1) An inconsistent, problematic record that raises a lot of questions and can be easily distorted. (See TNR two weeks ago for more.)

(2) A biography and voting record that contradict the themes of his campaign. He voted for all the bills Dems are worked up about: the Iraq resolution, Patriot Act, Leave No Child Behind. He takes money from special interests. He's a Boston Brahmin married to the Heinz heiress who's fighting for the little people. Jesus.

(3) He wears badly. He's tiresome to listen to with a pompous voice and an antiquated speaking manner. And everytime they play his long-winded, prepositional-clause riddled sound bites on NPR ("I know aircraft carriers for real...And if George Bush and Karl Rove...want to make national security the central issue in this presidential campaign...I have but three words for them...that I am sure they understand..."Bring it On.") I shudder. In a bad way. Jesus.

Just added! Links to some terrific rebuttals of the Kerry is Electable meme, by three of the best observers of the presidential horse race, Will Saletan, Noam Scheiber and Jon Chait. Both make the good case that Kerry just isn't all that electable, or if he is, he certainly hasn't proved it. Kerry may well win. But he should've been held to the fire the way Dean was. Because of the backlash in Iowa to Dean and Gephardt's negative tactics, Kerry was never tested -- questioned about a host of inconsistencies. And this short campaign season, where voters beyond Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina don't really get a good, sustained look at these candidates, it's very likely buyer's remorse will set in on Kerry. Hell, I haven't even bought his bill of goods and I'm dejected.

If Kerry flames out against Bush, the blame will rest with Terry McAuliffe, the chair of the DNC who devised this accelerated primary schedule where January momentum becomes destiny. Had the primary season stretched out like it did in 1992, I think Edwards would have a good shot at overtaking Kerry. Now, primary season is just a coronation, and we're in danger of annointing the Democratic equivalent of Bob Dole as our champion.


I wonder if the antipathy to Kerry isn't just a blogosphere echo chamber phenomenon, much like Dean's support turned out to be. Kerry has very few fans in the blogosphere. He's hated almost as much as Dubya on The Daily Kos, ground central of left-leaning election junkies. And I wonder if that isn't partly because, besides his personality problems, he's old news, part of the national political scenery for as long as I can remember.

One explanation of Kerry antipathy is that the new and fresh are the lifeblood of journalists and internet junkies. We crave new info. Who wants to eat at Black Angus when the new Argentine-Thai fusion restaurant has been written up? Is my bias against the stalwart Kerry, reinforced by blogs and pundits, a product of this bias for the new? Why did political junkies overwhelmingly favor Edwards and Clark, fresh faces and largely unknown quantities? I'm inclined to think it's a partial explanation, though I still think Kerry's numerous deficiencies extend beyond his staleness.