Thursday, October 14, 2004

Win some, lose some

Give John Kerry his due. During the primaries, I thought he was maybe the third or fourth best candidate to run against Bush. And during the mid-September suicide watch, Deaniac fervor returned with a vengeance as Dems watched helplessly while Kerry was tarred and feathered by a ruthless Bush campaign.

Smartly, Kerry changed his strategy and focused on Iraq, bringing in Clintonistas who revamped his floundering communications operation. Then came the debates, where Kerry really reversed the momentum of this race. If Kerry wins -- and I'm confident he will -- observers will largely focus on Bush's inadequacies, his scowls and twitches, and his repetitive, wacky, and largely unpresidential demeanor. In the three debates, Bush conspicuously wore three faces: Bitchy George, Furious George, and Smiley George. As some one put it on the Daily Kos, it seemed as if the Prez were on Ny-Quil the first time, cocaine the second, and prozac the third.

But I have to give big props to Kerry himself. He didn't strike out the side, but he came in and got the three outs he needed by remaining consistent. He made no gaffes and showed himself as a man ready to assume power. In doing so, he evinced a self-confidence in himself that both Bush and Gore (both of whom shifted their styles to mollify criticism of their previous appearances) lacked. In the final debate, he was again authoritative, upright, articulate, with a strong command of facts and policy. The Insta-polls declared Kerry the winner again, and I agree.

Despite the spittle on the side of his mouth, and the "Thank you Sir, may I have another" frat pledge smile pasted on his face the whole night, I did think Bush did pretty well. It was his best debate. He sounded sincere when talking about education and tolerance, and I think the left should lay off the "Bush sez poor people are dumb" line of attack. He's fundamentally correct that worker retraining and adult education are the most effective ways to salve the harsh effects of outsourcing -- a phenomenon that both candidates (to their credit) stated can't be completely reversed.

But Kerry was unflappable, consistent, and forceful. He was at his best when delivering unambiguous, concise answers in support of popular Democratic policies, like a raise in the minimum wage and the assault weapons ban. In those answers, he'll identify the problem in stark terms, say clearly what he'll do about it, and indict Bush's inaction on that issue as symptomatic of his wrong policy preferences. They're clean left jabs to the head. And he doesn't need to pander.

Bob Schieffer helped Kerry, if only because he presented some facts and figures in the question. And Bush's real opponent is not John Kerry but facts. Any question about "the rising cost of health care" or "the increased budget deficit" or "how to stem job losses" implicitly hurt the incumbent. Kerry needed only to amplify the failed record and present a credible plan. The only questions that play to Bush's advantage are the "character" questions, but even then, Kerry showed that, yes, Lurch could be warm and fuzzy, too.

In every debate, Kerry says something that the Bushies seize on for post-debate spin, like his "global test" remark. In this one, it turned out to be a poorly judged reference to Mary Cheney's lesbianism (not-so-subliminal message: "The Vice President has a LEZZZ-BIAN daughter!") On MSNBC's post-debate jab session, Buchanan and Scarborough ran with the Republican talking points, acting indignant that Kerry would deliver such a low blow. It seemed desperate until I saw this piece in the NY Times on folks in a focus group turned off by Kerry's reference. Expect the GOoPers to run with this one for a while, but I can't see it having much traction beyond a day or two of Faux News outrage.

Kerry remains in strong position with 19 days to go. And frankly, I'm beginning to actually want to help elect Kerry rather than just defeat Bush.

The Boston Brahmin was good in the clutch. He seized the moment. The same can't be said for the Boston Red Sox. Maybe it's better that way. If this year brings both a Bush loss and a Sox World Series win, I'd wake up on November 3rd with nothing to live for.

Best to pour your heart out for the Democrats. At least they win from time to time.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Item! North Koreans Hate Bush!

Can't wait until Friday (when Team America opens) to find out what Kim Jong-il thinks of the good ol' U.S. of A? You're in luck! Here's a gut-busting anti-Bush rock video made in North Korea. For lovers of communist kitsch. (Thanks to Angie for the link.)

Btw, everyone knows that our favorite yellowcake proliferatin' dictator has a blog, right? (Hit & miss, but worth a look.)

Back to responding to e-mail backlog.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Trip plans -- Konop, Kerry, etc.

It's been pretty amazing to see how energized folks are getting about the election. Last couple of weeks, I must've gone to three or four Dem fundraising events. Folks like Dan Sallitt screened his (strong, demanding) picture All the Ships at Sea for the Democratic party. A friend of Jo's organized something called KerryVan to register voters in Western swing states. I've donated what I can to America Coming Together, the Democratic National Committee, and MoveOn.

If the registration numbers are any indication, the Democrats have an edge at the grass roots. If Kerry and Bush remain close at the finish, it's likely the ground game in Ohio and Florida that will make the difference. Though I'm usually one of those guys who rail about injustices and stupidity on the front porch in my wifebeaters, this year the stakes are so high that nobody can sit on their ass. I'll be heading out to Ohio on pre-election weekend, with a social stop in NY.

The plan is this:

Fly to New York on October 22. Visits with various law school friends and movie nerds. Possibly catch a few flicks and catch a few of the Sox v. Cards (1946/1967 redux!) World Series games in a NY bar somewhere.

Fly from NY to Columbus on October 28. Plan is to rent a hotel room with a couple of law school friends and spend the weekend canvassing for our pal Ben Konop, who's running a very strong race in OH-4. He's recently picked up a ringing endorsement from the Toledo Blade and has been added to the Kos Dozen candidates that the Daily Kos is doing fundraising for. The Big Mo is with Ben. [Just added: Ben will be appearing on Janeane Garafalo's Majority Report on Air America tonight at 7:30 p.m. ] Wish I had flown out sooner, guys, but I'll do what everything I can that weekend. Also, I want to see if I can do something with ACT, who is helping volunteers with costs.

On Election Day, I'll most likely be volunteering as an election monitor with the Election Protection Volunteer program. Though it helps to have some legal training, anyone can be an election monitor. As the NY Times editorialized yesterday, few programs are more worthy. And best of all, it's nonpartisan -- you're simply doing your part as a citizen to safeguard the democratic process. It's worth looking into.

Those of you in NY and/or Ohio who want to meet up, let me know. In closing, I have a plan. My opponent's plan is more of the same. Thank you.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Sox v. Yankees

The Yankees are not to be underestimated. They've come from behind to win more often than any other team in major league history. Ask the Twins about late-inning pinstripe heroics.

But if the Sox don't beat the Yankees this year, they never will. They're just a better team, with more offensive depth and firepower (Sox led all of baseball in runs, OBP and Slugging), better starting pitching, and a much deeper bench. Three key improvements for the Sox from last year's heartbreakers:

(1) Curt Schilling. A warrior and big-game horse, he more than makes up for Pedro's down year.

(2) The defense. Improved at short and 2nd, and with a gold glover as your late inning replacement at first base. Since the Nomar trade, the Sox haven't beat themselves. Cabrera has been especially impressive.

(3) Depth. Dave Roberts is one of the best pinch-runners in baseball. Mankiewicz is a terrific backup, and Pokey Reese and Gabe Kapler could start for a lot of clubs.

This series will come down to Keith Foulke. Will he be able to withstand the Spanks' late inning charge? If he can shut 'em down, the Sox should dominate.

Sox in 6.

* Astros v. Braves tonight. I still expect the 'Stros to prevail, but Garner blew it by panicking and starting the Rocket on three days rest.

* Minnesota blew it when closer Joe Nathan was asked to go 3 innings in Game 2 after the Twins took the lead in the top of the 11th. Nathan had nothing left and ended up putting the winning runs on base. The question to ask: How often have teams lost to the Yankees because the manager asked a guy with nothing left to get a few outs? And how often have the Yankees lost because Joe Torre left a guy out there too long?

* Ken Caminiti, one of my favorite players during the mid 90s, died of a heart attack today at 41. The man laid it all on the line during the games, and evidently he lived life just as hard off the field. He became a poster child for steriod abuse, but the juiced up or not, the dude played his heart out.

Everything you wanted to know about Bush...

Forget Michael Moore. There's no evidence that Bush is in the game for self-enrichment. And forget that line of argument I espoused earlier, which suggested that Bush is a zealot who filters the world through ideology rather than reality. Well, the diagnosis of the symptoms were correct -- it's true Bush is completely blind to reality, but his blinders aren't ideological. He's not much of a true believer, more opportunistic and cynical in his governance than stridently ideological the way Gingrich was. He's not really an ideologue. But if that's the case, what's the explanation for the Chimp's deluded decisionmaking?

The answer can be found in Noam Scheiber's piece in The New Republic (the third part of TNR's winning "Case Against Bush" series -- they can almost be forgiven for endorsing Joe-mentum). Relying on both Woodward's Plan of Attack and Suskind's The Price of Loyalty, the two great insider accounts of the Bush regime, Scheiber examines Bush's decision-making process to conclude that for Dubya, it's really all about self-mythology.

The other piece, even better, comes from The Atlantic Monthly. It's James Fallows' third part of a series that analyzes the Iraq War, called "Bush's Lost Year." Unfortunately, the online version is for subscribers only, but you can find an extremely condensed version here. Fallows runs with what has always been the most compelling anti-Iraq war argument -- that we've botched a major opportunity by devoting our resources and credibility towards a marginal threat rather than serious and immediate ones like al Qaeda, Iran, North Korea, etc. -- and makes it just about airtight. Along with Sy Hersh's Abu Ghraib investigation, Fallows' three-parter is the single most important piece of political journalism in the mainstream this year.

Short debate thoughts: I only caught the debate on radio. But I thought Kerry mauled Bush for the first hour, slicing and dicing him with crisp, short answers delivered with authority. Too bad he lapsed into incoherence towards the end, when the topic turned towards social issues. Electorally, Kerry's strategy of playing to the swing voters is probably smarter than Bush's get-out-the-base rhetoric. However, that strategy leads to the kind of feckless pandering on economic and social issues that, let's face it, fits right into everyone's worst conception of Kerry the political opportunist. As for Bush, the guy should stop shouting. And he shouldn't make it so obvious he has no answers for Kerry's attacks on his record. I thought Kerry won decisively, except for the few opportunities he missed to deal a knockout blow, especially in response to Bush's refusal to admit mistakes.

The pundits had called it a draw, but now the latest poll showing that voters, by a decent margin, thought Kerry won. And Kerry's now up 50-48 among likely voters over Bush in this notoriously GOP-friendly poll. (Ruy Teixeira has a good post explaining why registered voters, rather than likely voters, serves as a better model.) Kerry's back in control, and it goes without saying that I wasn't worried for even a minute. Why just yesterday, I put my Nov. 3 one-way ticket to Vancouver on hold.

On another note: went to see the Cal-USC thriller on Saturday, a game where my beloved Bears were one short catch away from vaulting to being No. 2 in the nation. Scary sight at the game: thousands of University of Spoiled Children students with Bush/Cheney 04 stickers pasted on their menstrual red football t's.