« September 2004 | Main | November 2004 »

October 31, 2004

My Election Prediction

In November 1980, I was 17 years old, a couple of months shy of my 18th birthday, and so couldn't yet vote. But I very much wanted Ronald Reagan to win.

(I can't remember exactly why I supported Reagan -- I just know that I didn't want another four years of President Carter. In retrospect, I've come to see Carter as the most honest man to become President in decades, while at the same time hopelessly ineffectual, and often think that in this day and age, perhaps it's impossible for a truly honest person to be an effective president.)

I was sad while the polls were open on election day that year, because I was convinced Reagan was going to lose. "Carter has done a good job of scaring voters," I thought to myself. "They're going to get in the booth and forget what they said to the pollsters and they're going to vote for Carter because they're scared of what Reagan will do."

Of course I got it completely wrong. The defining moment of the campaign was Reagan asking voters, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" When they got in the voting booths, they thought about that and voted economics. It was a rout, Reagan winning the popular vote 50.7 to 41 percent, and winning the Electoral College 489-49.

With all the theories floating around about bounces and breaks, surges and surprises, I try to keep this simple rule in mind: in presidential elections, all other things being equal, Americans vote with their pocketbooks. In 1980, they didn't feel better off, so the incumbent lost. 1984? Better off, so incumbent won. 1988? Better off, so incumbent's vice-president won. 1992? Not better off, so incumbent lost. 1996? Better off, so incumbent won. 2000 was the exception to the rule: people most definitely felt better off, but the incumbent's vice-president ran away from his boss, presumably to establish distance from the moral taint associated with him (oh, for the days when our issue with the President was whether he lied about have sex with an intern). Even still, the incumbent's vice-president won the popular vote -- just not the electoral vote.

Now it's 2004. It would be easy to argue that all other things are not, in fact, equal. In fact, it's obvious that they're not. Foreign policy in general -- and Iraq and the War on Terror specifically -- are on the minds of us all. But outside of economics, many factors that could tilt things one way or the other seem to have balancing opposites. People are generally happy that we went into Afghanistan, but disappointed that we haven't captured Osama bin Laden. Half the country thinks the President made the right decision to go into Iraq, but the other half thinks it was a grave mistake. And so on.

My hunch is that all of that washes out, and that in the end, when they get to the voting booths, when it comes to that moment of truth, undecided voters will once again vote with their pocketbooks, just as they always do. And the last four years have been fairly awful economically -- there's just no other way to look at it. If Kerry had repeated Reagan's line in the debates (and I wish he had) and asked people, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" the answer would have as resounding a "no" as it was in 1980.

Were I a Bush supporter, I would argue that he inherited a recession and has done his best to fight it. I would argue that he had to spend money to fight the War on Terror. I would argue that he had to spend money to disarm Saddam Hussein. I would argue that the economy has been jittery since the 9/11 attacks, which caught us all by surprise and certainly weren't Bush's fault. I would argue that the current state of the economy isn't his fault. (I don't agree with these points, but I could make the arguments.) But none of this matters. Voters don't vote based on fairness. They don't vote for good intentions. They don't give As for effort. They vote on results. And from an economic standpoint, there's simply no way to argue that Bush has delivered.

With all this in mind, this is how I see things breaking down.

  • Popular vote
    • Bush: 49 percent
    • Kerry: 51 percent
  • Electoral votes
    • Bush: 232
    • Kerry: 306
  • Battleground states
    • For Bush: Colorado, New Mexico
    • For Kerry: Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin

October 29, 2004

Freedom Is on the March?

President Bush loves to say that "freedom is on the march." From the second presidential debate this year:

President Bush: Freedom is on the march. Tomorrow, Afghanistan will be voting for a president. In Iraq, we'll be having free elections, and a free society will make this world more peaceful.
Of course, as was pointed out in the first debate:
Senator Kerry: As George Will said the other day, "Freedom on the march; not in Russia right now."
Yes, it's true that 146 million Russians are substantially less free than they were four years ago. But we need a strong ally in the War on Terror, so we barely say a word about President Putin. Besides, 25 million Iraqis are more free than they were four years ago. Well, as long as they stay indoors. And bolt the doors. But I'm picking nits here.

Anyway, as long as we're watching nations slip from democracy to placate our supposed allies in the War on Terror, why not Taiwan? We need the help of the Chinese when it comes to North Korea, and Taiwan is a real thorn in China's side. Let's not let the fact that they're a vibrant democracy get in our way. After all, there are only 22 million people in Taiwan, but China has 1,286 million people. We have to look at the big picture here.

Oh, sorry, I forgot: the US apparently signaled a major shift on Taiwan this week while no one was looking. At least no one in the US. It would seem the Taiwanese and Chinese were looking. From an article in the Sydney Morning Herald:

US signals policy shift on Taiwan

The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has expressed support for the reunification of Taiwan with mainland China, in an apparent shift from the previously agnostic American policy on the island's future.

And in what could be a rebuttal of recent claims by Taiwan's independence-leaning President, Chen Shui-bian, Mr Powell said that Taiwan does not possess "sovereignty as a nation".

Bruce Jacobs, a leading Taiwan specialist at Monash University, said the remarks indicated a distinct change from the previous American position. "It may not be intentional, but it is a shift," Professor Jacobs said from Taipei. "If I were a leader here, I would be pretty concerned," he added.

And from an AP story:

Secretary of State Colin Powell has angered Taiwanese officials and lawmakers by making unusually strong comments denying that the island is an independent nation and suggesting Taiwan should unify with China...

According to a State Department transcript, Powell told Phoenix: "There is only one China. Taiwan is not independent. It does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation, and that remains our policy, our firm policy." ...

Rebuking Powell without mentioning him by name, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian told visiting former South Korean President Kim Young-sam on Tuesday that the island is a separate nation.

"Taiwan is absolutely a sovereign, independent nation. It's a great nation, and it absolutely does not belong to the People's Republic of China. That is the present situation, that is the reality," Chen said....

Taiwanese Premier Yu Shyi-kun made a terse response to Powell's comment. "Taiwan is a sovereign, independent nation. This is reality," Yu told reporters Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Mark Chen told lawmakers that Powell used "heavy language" that left "a deep impression" on Taiwan. He also complained Washington didn't warn Taiwan that Powell would depart from long-standing policy.

"They (America) hope that we'll try hard not to give them any surprises. They've really dropped an extremely big surprise on us," said Chen, adding that Taiwan had asked for explanations from U.S. officials in Washington and Taiwan.

Powell's statement seems both immoral and clumsy to me. It's immoral in that we're selling out a long-time ally simply to appease its larger neighbor in order to gain its continued help on other issues. It's clumsy in that it could easily worsen the situation. By driving Taiwan into an ever-smaller corner, we may well be fueling sentiment there for declaring independence.

Can the Bush team get anything right? Anything?

October 28, 2004

"He Does If He Has Rabies"

This wonderful anecdote was in an e-mail update from my friend Melissa:

And then there's Halloween... not my favorite holiday, but one Meghan has embraced with all her little three year old spirit can muster. She has planned for months now to trick or treat as Piglet. Recently, the plan has altered slightly to include a set of those lovely glow in the dark plastic fangs. I tried to explain to her that Piglet does not have fangs, and that the fangs would need to stay home. She contemplated her rebuttal carefully and replied with a shrug, "He does if he has rabies." And there you have it -- my daughter is going to dress as Piglet with rabies for Halloween.

October 27, 2004

"Beeks! Where in Hell is Beeks?"

(Spoiler alert if you haven't seen Trading Places.)

In the movie Trading Places, trading firm owners, brothers, and bad guys Randolph and Mortimer Duke (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) hire sleazy bad guy Clarence Beeks (Paul Gleason) to procure for them an advance copy of the orange harvest forecast, the idea being to make millions in the futures market. The good guys intercept Beeks and foil their plan. The Dukes are ruined financially, and Randolph collapses on the floor of the exchange. As he's being taken away on a stretcher, he cries out, "Beeks! Where in Hell is Beeks?"

There are six days left until the US election. I'm still waiting for über-sleazemeister and electoral bag man Karl Rove to pull his much-anticipated October surprise on behalf of the President. Where is it? So far, the October surprises -- executed Iraqi soldiers and the Iraqi government blaming the US; 380 tons of high explosives apparently looted -- have all been bad ones for Bush. Surely Rove has something planned.

Karl Rove is the Clarence Beeks of the Republican Party. So I'll say it for Bush: Rove! Where in Hell is Rove?

How Behind Can I Get?

Last week I chaired a panel on the serious gaming movement in North Carolina. I haven't blogged about that.

The first week of December, I'm giving a talk on simulation learning at Online Educa 2004 in Berlin. I haven't blogged about that.

There are less than six days to go until the most important presidential election in modern history, and I haven't blogged about that in over a week and a half.

In fact, the only thing I can find the time to blog about is not blogging. How low have I sunk?

I promise to get back on track shortly. Cross my heart and... er... yeah, cross my heart.

October 19, 2004

"Team America: World Police"

Here's my one-sentence review of Team America: World Police, the latest from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone:

Team America: World Police makes South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut look like SpongeBob SquarePants.
At lunch today, I was telling a friend that I thought the movie was funny, but watching it made me distinctly uncomfortable:
Me: I wonder if, while watching lions devour Christians at the Colosseum, one Roman ever turned to another and said something like, "Hey, Flavius, do you think this is some sort of sign of the decline and fall of our civilization? And did you see the move that lion just made to devour that Christian?"

Friend: I don't think so. South Park is offensive but has always had clever insights. I'd say that Britney Spears is more of a sign of the decline and fall of Western civilization.

October 17, 2004

"They Don't Have an Army"

From an article in today's New York Times Magazine, "Without a Doubt," on what the author calls George W. Bush's "faith-based presidency."

In the Oval Office in December 2002, the president met with a few ranking senators and members of the House, both Republicans and Democrats. In those days, there were high hopes that the United States-sponsored "road map" for the Israelis and Palestinians would be a pathway to peace, and the discussion that wintry day was, in part, about countries providing peacekeeping forces in the region. The problem, everyone agreed, was that a number of European countries, like France and Germany, had armies that were not trusted by either the Israelis or Palestinians. One congressman -- the Hungarian-born Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California and the only Holocaust survivor in Congress -- mentioned that the Scandinavian countries were viewed more positively. Lantos went on to describe for the president how the Swedish Army might be an ideal candidate to anchor a small peacekeeping force on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Sweden has a well-trained force of about 25,000. The president looked at him appraisingly, several people in the room recall.

"I don't know why you're talking about Sweden," Bush said. "They're the neutral one. They don't have an army."

Lantos paused, a little shocked, and offered a gentlemanly reply: "Mr. President, you may have thought that I said Switzerland. They're the ones that are historically neutral, without an army." Then Lantos mentioned, in a gracious aside, that the Swiss do have a tough national guard to protect the country in the event of invasion.

Bush held to his view. "No, no, it's Sweden that has no army."

The room went silent, until someone changed the subject.

A few weeks later, members of Congress and their spouses gathered with administration officials and other dignitaries for the White House Christmas party. The president saw Lantos and grabbed him by the shoulder. "You were right," he said, with bonhomie. "Sweden does have an army."

In other words, Bush:

  1. Confused Sweden with Switzerland.
  2. Believed Sweden (i.e., Switzerland) not to have an army.
Keep in mind that the meeting was attended by both Republicans (including, presumably, one or more senior members of Bush's staff) and Democrats. In other words, there are senior Republicans in the House and Senate, and senior Bush administration officials, who have personally witnessed the President confuse Sweden with Switzerland, and further assume that one of them had no army, who have since gone on to argue that Bush should be reelected.

Am I making too much out of this? Is this a minor thing, a mistake anyone could make? Am I overreacting? Because from where I sit -- as a moderate driven to the left by what I perceive as the far-right policies and general incompetence of the current administration -- this is outrageous, grounds for disqualification as President all on its own.

What was it that Bush said in that first debate?

I know how these people [world leaders] think. I deal with them all the time. I sit down with the world leaders frequently and talk to them on the phone frequently.
I guess "these people" doesn't include the leaders of Sweden and Switzerland.

October 14, 2004

I Was Wrong About Italy

Two entries ago, I blogged about overseas attitudes towards the US election. I mentioned that a colleague of mine had just returned from Italy and that I suspected what he heard there would fit with what I've heard from people in Australia, Germany, Canada, and other nations.

In fact, it didn't fit. My colleague has family in Northern Italy, which is where he stayed, and Northern Italy is a conservative region of the country, with a long tradition of supporting the US militarily (a number of US bases are there).

Me: So you're saying that the average Northern Italian 'man in the street' supports Bush and what we're doing in Iraq?

Colleague: Yes. But our Australian friends whom we saw there -- that was different. They said, "You've got to do something about Bush."

Wrapping Up the Debates

The third and final US presidential debate was held last night, and now we have just under three weeks to go until the election.

As I watched the debate, the thing I kept saying was, "Someone coached Bush to smile." They coached him so much that he barely ever stopped smiling. Sometimes this made him seem upbeat and eager. At other times -- particularly when he was seen via split-screen reacting to something serious being said by Kerry -- it came off as a little creepy.

At the end of the debate, moderator Bob Schieffer threw a softball at Bush. To his credit -- and this is the ground where he's always the most comfortable -- he hit it out of the park:

Mr. Schieffer: We've come gentlemen, to our last question. And it occurred to me as I came to this debate tonight that the three of us share something. All three of us are surrounded by very strong women. We're all married to strong women. Each of us have two daughters that make us very proud. I'd like to ask each of you what is the most important thing you've learned from these strong women?

Mr. Bush: To listen to them. To stand up straight and not scowl. I love the strong women around me. I can't tell you how much I love my wife and our daughters. I am, you know, it's really interesting, I tell the people on the campaign trail when I asked Laura to marry me she said fine, just so long as I never have to give a speech. I said O.K., you've got a deal. Fortunately, she didn't hold me to that deal. And she's out campaigning along with our girls. And she speaks English a lot better than I do. I think people understand what she's saying. But they see a compassionate, strong, great first lady in Laura Bush. I can't tell you how luck I am when I met her in the backyard of Joe and Jan O'Neill in Midland, Tex. It was the classic backyard barbecue. O'Neil said come on over, I think you'll find somebody who might interest you. So I said all right, bopped over there. There's only four of us there. And not only did she interest me, I guess you could say it was love at first sight.

This was easily Bush's best moment of the debate -- talking about the woman he obviously loves.

As the debate ended, I thought to myself, "That was pretty much a draw." But I woke up feeling quite differently. In 2000, Al Gore was criticized for seeming to change personas, trying to be different things to different groups of people. In 2004, though Bush on the stump is remarkably consistent, in three debates, we saw three different Bushes:

  1. Coral Gables, FL: Sad Bush -- slumping, grimacing, scowling.
  2. St. Louis, MO: Angry Bush -- practically yelling, talking over the moderator.
  3. Tempe, AZ: Happy Bush -- a perpetual smile on his face.
Whatever thought of Kerry's positions on the issues, he was as consistent in his delivery throughout the debates as Bush has been on the campaign trail. In the debates, Bush has been as inconsistent in his delivery as he has accused Kerry of being on the issues.

I made up my mind a long time ago that I under no circumstances would I vote to re-elect Bush. I certainly don't fall in the undecided bloc of voters, struggling to make a choice with so little time left. I don't pretend that my opinions represent mainstream thinking. With that said, though, I can't help but wonder, if Bush is re-elected, which Bush will we get on any given day? Sad Bush? Angry Bush? Happy Bush? This is not something one wants to wonder about one's Commander-in-Chief. And I can't help but wonder if undecided voters are wondering the same thing today.

Overseas Interest in the US Election

A received this from an Australian friend currently traveling in Asia:

For the first time since I can remember, I think everyone outside the US is paying attention to this election, hoping for the sake of world peace that George W isn't re-elected. Not that I know everyone outside the US, but talking to people in Australia, Malaysia and here in Singapore, I think Bush's actions have truly shown people how much of an impact what the US does can have on the rest of the world. Not that we didn't know that before, but Bush putting world peace in jeopardy as he has done is truly bringing home to a lot of people exactly how scary a country you live in.
A colleague of mine just spent a couple of weeks on vacation in Italy -- I'm going to ask him if this fits with what he heard while he was there. I rather suspect it does. I know it fits with what I've heard from friends in Canada and Germany.

More on this subject of international attitudes toward the US soon...

October 08, 2004

Holy Crap

49 minutes into the second of three presidential debates, and I cannot believe how unpresidential George Bush appears. His debate coaches clearly told him to be more aggressive, but he's going far over the line. He's rude, loud -- and I can't believe I'm saying this of a sitting President -- yappy. Did he do this in his practice sessions? Did his coaches think it played well?

More to the point, does this play well? Are there Americans watching Bush's performance, thinking, "Good job, Mr. President"?

October 06, 2004

When Do "Accidents" Become Terrorism?

It's hard for me to imagine what it must be like to be an Israeli, wondering when the next terrorist attack will occur. A horrible strike took place last week:

Hamas has been bombarding areas just beyond Gaza with increasingly powerful rockets.

Last week one hit the town of Sderot. It blew the legs off a little boy, killing him and another child he was playing with.

Israel says no state could sit back and allow its most bitter enemies to rocket its homes and schools.

I want to be clear about this: of course it's terrorism when Hamas kills innocent Israeli children with rockets.

The same story, though, also describes Israel's response:

It sits on the east side of the Jabaliya refugee camp -- the side that the Israeli army punched into just over a week ago.

The wrecked neighbourhood echoes to the sound of machine gun fire.

A 16-year-old girl called Islam Dawidar was baking bread with her mother in a room in the Abed Rabbo Street house when one of those bursts of fire came in through the window.

"I heard shouting and I came in, and she was lying on the floor covered in blood," said her father, Maher Dawidar.

"We called an ambulance, and it came in 15 minutes, but she was already dead." ...

More than 70 Palestinians have died since the Israelis launched operation Days of Repentance.

The Israeli human rights organisation, B'tselem, says more than 30 of them were civilians -- like Islam Dawidar.

If the death of this teenage girl was an isolated incident -- if such deaths happened rarely, if they were properly investigated, if apologies and reparations were offered -- then it would be an accident, tragic yet not terrorism. But when such deaths happens repeatedly -- not dozens of times but hundreds and even thousands -- when do they cease to be accidents? When do they become a deliberate disregard for human life? When do they become terrorism -- not just state-sponsored, but state-executed?

While considering that last question, consider this passage from the same story:

The Israeli army has dropped leaflets on Jabaliya telling the people of the camp that groups like Hamas are making their already grim, often poverty-stricken lives worse.

They would not have the Israeli army on their doorstep, if it was not for the violent campaigns waged by the militants.

So let me see if I can put all this together and simplify the message of the Israeli government to the Palestinians:

We're sorry about your civilian deaths. But we wouldn't be accidentally killing your civilians if you'd stop your terrorists from deliberately killing our civilians.
This is a good time to remind ourselves of the definition of terrorism:
The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.
So would someone on the other side of this issue explain to me why they believe Israel's actions fail to qualify under this definition?

Cheney's Best Moment

As noted in my previous entry, I thought the vice presidential debate was roughly a draw, each candidate having some good moments. Here was what I thought to be the Vice President's best moment, which came in response to a two-question sequence on gay marriage:

Mr. Edwards: [L]et me say, first, that I think the vice president and his wife love their daughter. I think they love her very much. And and you can't have anything but respect for the fact that they're willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter, the fact that they embrace her. It's a wonderful thing. And there are millions of parents like that who love their children, who want their children to be happy.

And I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and so does John Kerry. I also believe there should be partnership benefits for gay and lesbian couples in long-term committed relationships. But we should not use the Constitution to divide this country. No state for the last 200 years has ever had to recognize another state's marriage. This is using the Constitution as a political tool and it's wrong.

Ms. Ifill: As the vice president mentioned, John Kerry comes from the state of Massachusetts, which has taken as big a step as any state in the union to legalize gay marriage. Yet both you and Senator Kerry say you oppose it. Are you trying to have it both ways?

Mr. Edwards: No. I think we've both said the same thing all along. We both believe that, this goes to the end of what I just talked about, we both believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. But we also believe that gay and lesbians and gay and lesbian couples, those who have been in long-term relationships deserve to be treated respectfully. They deserve to have benefits. For example, a gay couple now has a very difficult time one visiting the other when they're in the hospital. Or, for example, if heaven forbid one of them were to pass away they have trouble even arranging the funeral. Those are not the kinds of things that John Kerry and I believe in. I suspect the vice president himself does not believe in that. But we do believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

And I want to go back if I can to the question you just asked, which is this constitutional amendment. I want to make sure people understand that the president is proposing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage that is completely unnecessary. Under the law of this country for the last 200 years no state has been required to recognize another state's marriage. Let me just be simple about this. My state of North Carolina would not be required to recognize a marriage from Massachusetts, which you just asked about.

There is absolutely no purpose in the law and in reality for this amendment. It's nothing but a political tool. And it’s being used in an effort to divide this country on an issue that we should not be dividing America on. We ought to be talking about issues like health care and jobs and what's happening in Iraq. Not using an issue that divides this country in a way that’s solely for political purposes. It's wrong.

Ms. Ifill: Mr. Vice President, you have 90 seconds.

Mr. Cheney: Well, Gwen, let me simply thank the senator for the kind words he said about my family and our daughter. I appreciate that very much.

Mr. Edwards: You're welcome.

Ms. Ifill: That's it?

Mr. Cheney: That's it.

I can't think of a more effective response that Cheney could have given. Most people generally understand that he has a personal and emotional reason for disagreeing with the President on this matter. So he thanked Edwards for his kind words and refused to contradict his boss in public.

In our sound bite, short attention span culture, it's easy to forget that sometimes silence can speak far more effectively than words.

Scoring the VP Debate

Last week's presidential debate seemed instantly to be a Kerry win. Tonight's vice-presidential version? I watched it with the same people with whom I watched the debate last week and we agreed: a draw for John Edwards and Dick Cheney, but a miserable failure for host Gwen Ifill. Her questions were at times ridiculously specific:

Vice President Cheney, there have been new developments in Iraq, especially having to do with the administration’s handling. Paul Bremer, the former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority gave a speech in which he said that we have never had enough troops on the ground or we never had enough troops on the ground. Donald Rumsfeld said he has not seen any hard evidence of a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Was this the fruit of a report that you requested that you received a week ago that showed there was no connection between Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Saddam Hussein?
Yet at other times her questions were mushy and pointless:
[Y]ou both just sang the praises of the tops of your ticket. Without mentioning them by name at all explain to us why you are different from your opponent.
Ifill misspoke on multiple occasions and at one point had to be corrected by Edwards about whose turn it was to respond. Surely we can do better than this when it comes to debate moderation.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The good: I've finally upgraded to the newest version of Movable Type, version 3.11. This means that comments are once again functional, after I disabled them months ago in response to severe levels of comment spam (and an inability on my part to get MT-Blacklist working).

The bad: It wasn't easy to get done. I couldn't get the upgrade version to install, and so I ended up having to learn a bit of MySQL -- enough to delete my database contents so that they could be rebuilt from my backup data.

The ugly: In the process of rebuilding from my backup data, all my entry URLs were changed. All of them. That means work for me to correct intra-blog links, and it means that pre-existing links from external sites into individual entries are now broken.

October 04, 2004

The Return of Thomas Friedman

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is back from leave to write a new book, and to say he's angry about how the Bush administration has conducted operations in Iraq -- and pessimistic about the prospects for a decent outcome there -- would be an understatement of the highest order:

This war has been hugely mismanaged by this administration, in the face of clear advice to the contrary at every stage, and as a result the range of decent outcomes in Iraq has been narrowed and the tools we have to bring even those about are more limited than ever...

Being away has not changed my belief one iota in the importance of producing a decent outcome in Iraq, to help move the Arab-Muslim world off its steady slide toward increased authoritarianism, unemployment, overpopulation, suicidal terrorism and religious obscurantism. But my time off has clarified for me, even more, that this Bush team can't get us there, and may have so messed things up that no one can. Why? Because each time the Bush team had to choose between doing the right thing in the war on terrorism or siding with its political base and ideology, it chose its base and ideology. More troops or radically lower taxes? Lower taxes. Fire an evangelical Christian U.S. general who smears Islam in a speech while wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army or not fire him so as not to anger the Christian right? Don't fire him. Apologize to the U.N. for not finding the W.M.D., and then make the case for why our allies should still join us in Iraq to establish a decent government there? Don't apologize -- for anything -- because Karl Rove says the "base" won't like it. Impose a "Patriot Tax" of 50 cents a gallon on gasoline to help pay for the war, shrink the deficit and reduce the amount of oil we consume so we send less money to Saudi Arabia? Never. Just tell Americans to go on guzzling. Fire the secretary of defense for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, to show the world how seriously we take this outrage -- or do nothing? Do nothing. Firing Mr. Rumsfeld might upset conservatives. Listen to the C.I.A.? Only when it can confirm your ideology. When it disagrees -- impugn it or ignore it...

We have to immediately get the Democratic and Republican politics out of this policy and start honestly reassessing what is the maximum we can still achieve there and what every American is going to have to do to make it happen. If we do not, we'll end up not only with a fractured Iraq, but with a fractured America, at war with itself and isolated from the world.

Remember, this is someone who supported going to war in Iraq -- not over WMDs, or over terrorism, but to create an example of democracy in the Middle East.

October 02, 2004

The Daily Show on Lowered Expectations

Comedy Central's The Daily Show had a wonderful post-debate show the other night. I recommend watching the clips to be found there, but if you can't, the segment in which their Bush and Kerry campaign correspondents reportered on their respective camps' reactions to the debate was priceless:

Jon Stewart: Daily Show Bush campaigan correspondent Rob Corddry and of course his counterpart in the Kerry campaign, Ed Helms. Thanks for joining us, guys. Ed, let's begin with you. Um, talk to us. How are people in the Kerry camp feeling tonight?

Ed Helms: Ecstatic, Jon. Kerry's people couldn't be happier. Their candidate went up against a sitting war president who's never lost a debate and held his own.

Stewart: And Rob, what's the mood over there at the Bush camp?

Rob Corddry: Triumph, Jon, orgasmic triumph. Their man faced off against John Kerry, a golden-tongued virtuoso of words. Captain of the Yale debate team. He's been honing his oratorical skills since the age of three. The way they see it, by not allowing himself to be reduced to tears, the President was a big winner tonight.

Helms: If, if I could just interject here, Jon?

Stewart: Yes, Ed Helms?

Helms: The Kerry campaign would like to remind America the Senator was raised in France by a pack of homosexual billionaires, and going into this had little chance against a plain-speaking, hard-working man of the people like George Bush. So for Kerry to be even close in this debate, they say, is a huge victory.

Corddry: If I may, Jon, that's a bit of stretch. The Bush people would like to remind everyone their man held his own against what they call 'the smartest man in the history of the world'. An amazing accomplishment for a President who as the Bush team points out is by some standardized test results technically retarded. Jon, as RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie told me before we came on air, this is a President who was nearly killed by a pretzel.

Helms: John Kerry held his own against the man even he's going to vote for, George Bush. If that isn't a victory, I don't know what is.

Corddry: Jon, a retarded man held his own against a sitting senator. You gotta reelect him!

October 01, 2004

"These People"

I've talked with two citizens of foreign countries about the presidential debate -- one from Australia, the other from Germany -- and interestingly, both of them found the following statement by President Bush extremely offensive:

I know how these people [world leaders] think. I deal with them all the time. I sit down with the world leaders frequently and talk to them on the phone frequently.
I like to think I'm sensitive to international points of view, but honestly, I wouldn't have predicted that reaction. Apparently it's the phrase "these people". On reflection, I think I can see why someone from outside the US would find it condescending -- and misguided as well, since it seems to imply that "world leaders" all think similarly.