Friday, June 27, 2003

Distorting the news

For some time now there has been a consistent theme in reporting on fundraising for the 2004 campaign: Bush is leaving the Democrats in the dust. Bush is expected to raise between $200-$250 million for the 2004 campaign. Meanwhile the highest Q1 numbers for any of the Democratic candidates was a little over $7 million for John Edwards. Sounds pathetic doesn't it? Well, consider the following story, which again tries to make it sound like the Dems are eating Bush's dust (link courtesy Ezra Klein):
Bush May Raise $30M in Campaign Blitz WASHINGTON - President Bush expects to raise as much as $30 million this fund-raising period, a stunning figure compared to the efforts of his nine Democratic rivals. "Thanks to the energy and enthusiasm of our supporters around the country, we expect to be able to report between $27 million and $30 million for the current filing period" which ends June 30, said Bush-Cheney campaign spokeswoman Nicolle Devenish. By contrast, the entire nine-person Democratic field may manage to raise $30 million combined in the same filing period.
The Democrats are going to raise as much money as Bush individually. That makes it sounds like the Democrats are pathetic right? Well, read it again: The Democrats are going to raise as much money as the Republicans. In other words: the Democrats are quite competitive with the Republicans when it comes to fundraising for the Presidential election. Also consider this: if the Democrats spend the great majority of their money bashing Bush more than each other then they will be hitting him with a +$100 million political campaign this year alone. And all of that money will be focused on one candidate. Bush, on the other hand, will have to spend his money attacking either an amorphous "unnamed Democrat" or spread it around to attacks on each of the leading candidates. Still think the Democrat's fundraising abilities are pathetic? Well, let's hope the Republican's continue to think so as well.

Howard, meet Paul. Paul, Howard.

Howard Dean: Karl Rove and others have talked about going back to the McKinley era before there was any kind of social safety net in this country. Really that’s what the campaign’s about. It’s to undo what I consider radical Republicanism. Paul Krugman: Mr. Confessore suggests that we may be heading for a replay of the McKinley era, in which the nation was governed by and for big business. I think he's actually understating his case: like Mr. DeLay, Republican leaders often talk of "revolution," and we should take them at their word. These two really should get together and chat.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Why I believe Dean is the most electable candidate

There is something to I would like you to consider when it comes to the question of how the war in Iraq will play as an issue in the upcoming election. Consider what will happen if Dean gets the nomination. His anti-war stance will become a major factor in the general election campaign. For good or for bad I think there are few who would dispute this. What this means is that the whole question of whether we should or should not have gone into Iraq will be a major topic of conversation for the four months leading up to the general election. Considering how WMD questions continue to haunt this administration and how the situation in Iraq is falling apart, it is reasonable to believe that the last thing Bush/Rove will want is an extended debate about the merits of the whole endeavor. Now consider what will happen if any of the other major candidates get the nomination. All of them (Kerry, Gephrdt, Edwards, Lieberman) supported the war (Graham and Kucinich did not, but I think they are long-shots, at best, for getting the nomination). If any of them get the nod then there will be no discussion on the advisability of going into Iraq. The entire discussion will become moot in the eyes of the campaigns, the media and the American people. The assumption will continue to be that it was the right thing to do, that Bush did it, so he is the right man to lead the country. Put simply: if the public verdict on Iraq is that it was a good thing overall then Bush will win. Dean is the only major candidate who can make a reasoned and consistent argument against this position. He is the only one who can attack Bush on this point. The other candidates will, at best, have to settle for grudging "me to but I would have done it differently" positions. That will not sell. I will support the Democratic nominee if it is not Dean. But I am much less optimistic about their chances precisely because they will have to cede to Bush such a vitally important part of the political dialog. And that is why I continue to believe that Dean is the most electable candidate for the Democrats.

Never Forget

From the comment's section of the official Dean blog comes the following letter, reproduced here in full because it shouldn't be lost to the internet bit-bucket. We must never forget that there are real people dying as we speak. Some would rather we not notice.
Dear Dr. Dean: I know this isn't exactly on topic, but I need a place to put this. My friend died today. My best friend, Lance Corporal Gregory MacDonald of the United States Marine Corp died in Iraq when his vehicle overturned while rushing to aid a group of fellow Marines who were being ambushed. I met Greg when we were both in graduate school at American University. He was studying Arabic and Near East affairs with a focus on the Palestian-Israeli conflict and Iraq. During the entire build-up to the war in Iraq, Greg argued forcefully and logically that the case being outlined was false and not consistent with any expert opinion on the subject. He was also a man in the finest tradition the USMC has ever produced, and when called to serve with his Recon unit (one of the most dangerous positions, even for the USMC), he did not hesitate to answer the call of duty. As a final act defiance before setting out to fight a war he knew was wrong, Greg was interviewed on the radio explaining why the President had not made his case for war. He did the interview on condition of anonymity because he did not want his fellow Marines to think he wasn't 100 percent committed to their mission. Dr. Dean, we need you more than ever. Something is wrong with this country when our best warrior-philosophers are thrown into the cauldren of Iraq by a President who went AWOL from national guard duty. Something is wrong with this country when an actual expert on the subject of Iraq is sent to war by a cynical, unscupulous Vice President who had "other priorities" when it came his turn to serve. I'm tired of the chickenhawks who lie while our best men pay the consequences. Greg told me many times that he would support any candidate who stood up forcefully against this war because it was wrong and was not sold on evidence, but lies and ideology. Greg would have supported you, Dr. Dean. And I support you Dr. Dean, because I can think of no other way to better honor the memory of a man ten times greater than our President, even when he plays dress-up in a flight suit - unintentially mocking those who fought and died in uniform. Thank you SZ
Update: Here's a brief story on MacDonald's death (credit to Adam in MA for locating this information). Update 2: A much more detailed article on Lance Cpl. Gregory MacDonald.

Winning the post-game analysis

I present for your elucidation two posts from Salon's Table Talk that present an interesting perspective on how to deal with negative media coverage:
Nancy Richardson - 11:32 am Pacific Time - Jun 26, 2003 Writing letters to the editor is fine. I really think it is a great thing to do... But I am getting to a stage now where I am getting to think it doesn't matter that the media is unfair. I am thinking we should start learning how to manipulate the media...and stay on message and bypassing the usual suspects, and rendering them irrelevant. After all, a lot of the stuff we are interested in is of limited to concern to all but the most hopeless political addict. The people who watch Cable and the Gasbag shows amount to maybe Five million of our population...many of them dittoheads. And it is just of no interest to people who don't live and breathe this stuff. And that most people don't get their news from Newspapers or cable.... I think we are spinning our wheels...and that scolding the media for just following their nature isn't going to make them change. And I think we would be a lot happier if we got into our heads that until we find ways to lead and make opinion in new and creative ways, we appear to be whiners who bitch and moan and do nothing else. I don't exactly know what that is that should be done, but what we are doing isn't working...we are educating each other...and we have to find new models for action. I want to spend more time thinking about how change truly comes about and how the left get get back into the game...playing by our own rules. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - JJ Conley - 12:24 pm Pacific Time - Jun 26, 2003 Trying to move Nancy's ball down the field a little, I suggest that we sell Dean as a "hot" candidate to whoever it is that wants to be up front with whatever's hot. Our increasing numbers do that in and of themselves, and also our increasing visibility. A strategy would be to represent the Washington insiders as the "old guard," dropping lots of hints as to who owns them and whose water they carry. Remind people of how worked up they were about impeachment and how the public saw through them. Our tone should be dismissive rather than aggrieved towards the presstitutes. Letters to the editor should be matter-of-fact--"you got it wrong again, try to do better" rather than "you filthy fascist bastards." But I think Nancy's onto something in suggesting we should be focusing on who to sell to instead of who we're pissed off at. I think it's John Dunagin who's been saying we need to work the youth demographic, and that suggestion works for me too. While we're working on this, the main thing is to keep on keeping on.
It's an unfortunate reality that a lot of people act primarily on a herd mentality when it comes to living their day-to-day lives. We could take advantage of this fact by, as JJ suggests, presenting Dean as the "hot" new thing out there that everyone should look into. There's really no point in getting pissed off at people who consistently get it wrong (i.e., much of the establishment media). Far more productive would be for us to encourage the idea that their opinions just aren't all that important. Russert et. al are square. Dean is hip (or whatever this generation's version of hip is). Recall the Adam "Major League Asshole" Clymer incident from campaign 2000. At the time this happened the conventional wisdom was that it would hurt Bush because he would be perceived as being a petulant loudmouth who can't take criticism. The opposite proved to be the case. The fact that Bush could so openly insult a member of the elite media was seen as a positive by the electorate. Most of them didn't know Adam Clymer from a hole in the ground. Nor did they understand what he did to piss off Bush. But they held the media in pretty low esteem to begin with (even lower than politicians) so being seen as disdainful of media criticism endeared Bush to them. Also remember the interview of Poppy Bush by Dan Rather in which Bush got into a shouting match with Mr. Rather and, by doing so, dispelled the "wimp factor". Consider this in the context of the Tim Russert's grilling of Dean on Meet The Press. Dean, again according to conventional wisdom, should be mortally wounded from his alleged weak performance on the show. But Dean didn't bat an eye afterward, didn't skulk off and lick his wounds. He just continued fighting on as if what happened was irrelevant. And by doing so, he is making it irrelevant. The old saying goes that there is no such thing as bad publicity. This is true, just so long as you know how to spin the publicity after the fact. Politics may be the only game in which the winner is often decided in the post-game analysis (2000 was just an extreme example of that).

Five Minutes That Should Live In Infamy

Thanks to Bob Harris for bringing to our attention this page at The Memory Hole dedicated to what should be the most infamous five minutes in American history. Take it away Bob:
In the first few seconds of the video, Bush is informed by Chief of Staff Andrew Card that "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack." And the guy just sits there. For five... solid... freaking... minutes. The White House admits that Bush fully understood what was happening. So keep this in mind while watching: in New York, as these long, precious minutes slowly tick by, people are burning horribly, people are jumping 100 stories to their deaths, and more planes are very likely headed for other targets (the Pentagon, for example, as it turned out). Bush sits complacently, doing nothing. Fighter planes desperately need scrambling. The Pentagon not yet been hit. This is a grave national emergency. Five. Solid. Freaking. Minutes. Watch the video. Watch it. Watch the damn thing. And while you do, remember that morning. Remember where you were, how instantly you wanted to help, and how desperately you would have leapt to action given any opportunity to defend this country. When the footage ends, he's still not moving, although we can hear the press being told the photo-op is over. Eyewitness accounts indicate that he continued to do virtually nothing for at least another several minutes. This man is still fighting tooth-and-nail to suppress a full public disclosure of exactly what happened that day.
Here's a challenge for those of you have some experience with video editing. Find a copy of footage of the two towers that matches up with the five minutes of video presented here. Then put them side-by-side with no commentary, just the sounds of sirens wailing in the left speaker and children reciting in the right speaker. Then distribute it far and wide. Then ask people what they think of their great President now? Here's a suggested script:
OPEN with black screen, CAPTION with white letters, each caption appearing on the screen one on top of the other with about a 1-2 second gap between them. Caption #1: On the morning of September 11th, 2001, President George W. Bush sat down in a Florida classroom to hear a group of school children practice their reading lessons. Caption #2: At the same moment, the 2nd of two planes crashed into the 2nd of two towers in lower Manhattan. Caption #3: The President was informed of this 2nd event almost immediately. Caption #4: What follows are the most infamous five minutes in American history. CUT TO split screen shot. On the left is video footage of the two towers burning. On the right is video footage of Bush sitting in the Florida classroom, listening to the children beginning their reading lesson. On the left speaker we can hear the sound of distant screaming and sirens blaring. On the right screen can be heard the sounds of the children reading. Andrew Card comes in from off screen left and whispers in the President's ear (CAPTION: "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack.") CONTINUE with footage on both sides for the next five minutes. A woman comes into the picture from off screen left and announces that the photo-op is over. Bush continues to sit in his chair. CUT TO black CAPTION: What would you have done?
Take it away folks!

Rebates For Dean!

As we all know, George Bush recently signed a new tax cut bill into law. Part of this bill includes a provision for sending rebate checks to some of us (up to $400 as I understand it). Here's a great idea for demonstrating opposition to the tax cut AND support for Dr. Dean: contribute all or part of that rebate to the Dean campaign! In order to make this easier I've set up an event on the Dean For America house parties site. Apparently you can do this for "virtual" house parties that have no specific location or date (kudos to the web people at the campaign, this is a really cool tool!) I've set up this event for the Portland, OR area and set a goal of $5000 (at least initially). I challenge everyone else to set up similar events in their area. We can make a challenge of this: who can raise the most money for the Dean campaign! Go to to set up a similar event. Leave the date field undefined. I named my event "400 - Portland, OR" as a way of indicating that this is a REBATES FOR DEAN event (the 400 is key). You should probably name your event similarly (e.g., "400 - Austin, TX").

Save us from that devil Dean!

It seems like every week there is someone coming out with an article that attempts to disabuse Dean supporters of the notion that he is a lefty. What always surprises them is that they get inundated with letters from Dean supporters saying that they already know that. The truth of the matter is that the image of Dean as a lefty is a media created myth that Dean had nothing to do with. Dean was against the war, opposed the Bush tax cuts and is for universal health care, so the media immediately labeled him a lefty/wacko in the Nader vein. Dean supporters weren't fooled. But apparently several prominent left-leaning commentators have been fooled. Fooled enough to think that they have to, regrettably, tell us the "truth" about Dr. Dean. It makes you wonder if they give to much credence to the reportage of the establishment media. Please stop trying to save Dean supporters from themselves. We know what we are doing and we are going into this with our eyes wide open.

Amateur tax cut theorizing

Jerome Armstrong makes a very interesting proposal (based on an idea from Robert Reich) about payroll taxes that Governor Dean or any of the other Dem candidates might want to consider:
Dean's already argued for the tough medicine, in raising the cap on FICA wages. Why have a cap at all? Let me reiterate the post I made earlier, dumbing down Reich's idea. Make FICA applicable to all wages, and further, eliminate the first 15-20K from having to pay any FICA payments at all. That's right, a tax-cut. In essence, everyone making under ~$110k (and this is single wage earners, for married couples both working, it'd be ~$220k) would recieve a tax break, with those at ~$20k annually seeing their payroll taxes eliminated, and those individuals above ~$90k (effectively ~$110k, because the first ~$20k is eliminated) and couples above $220k seeing their taxes raised. This would stimulate the economy, as anyone's first $20K goes right into spending; and at the same time, ensure the long-term stability of social security, by raising the taxes of the top ~10% wage-earners. This economic agenda doesn't have to be that complicated: Candidate A, a Democrat, pledges to cut the payroll taxes of all individuals earning under $110k, and all married couples both working and earning under $220k. Candidate B, a Republican, claims that 90% of the people don't deserve a tax-cut, defends the elite, the rich, and... loses.
I am far from being an expert on these things, but it seems to me that this proposal would actually result in a substantial cut for everyone who pays payroll taxes (while that cut would obviously be offset by an increase for those above the current cap once it was removed). However, Jerome misses another interesting aspect of this proposal: the additional revenues generated by the elimination of the cap could be used to lower the overall FICA rate for everyone. If Dean, or any other Dem candidate, were to make this proposal, he wouldn't just be offering a 100% payroll tax cut on the first $20,000. He could also offer an X% cut for everyone on the next $65,000 (I'm not smart enough to do the math to figure out what X would be). In other words, a proposal like this could (1) offer a substantial tax cut to 80-90% of the electorate while (2) saving social security in perpetuity and (3) put Bush in the awkward position of having to oppose said substantial tax cut in order to protect the interests of that top 10% who would now have to pay FICA on their extra income. Am I crazy to think that this might just work? Or would the monied interest be so offended by the concept that they would kill it before it even saw the light of day? Why, exactly, IS there a cap on FICA in the first place?

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Who's arrogant Mr. Saletan?

William Saletan reviews Dean's speech today before the Council on Foreign Relations (speech here, review here).
I used to wonder why Dean’s confidence deserted him when it came to defense and foreign policy. Two months ago, at a forum hosted by the Children’s Defense Fund, Dean said of Saddam Hussein, “We’ve gotten rid of him, and I suppose that’s a good thing, but there’s going to be a long period where the United States is going to need to be maintained in Iraq, and that’s going to cost American taxpayers a lot of money that could be spent on schools and kids.” I was one of many viewers who choked on the words “I suppose.” How exactly was getting rid of Saddam not a good thing? Why the need for supposition? Wednesday, Dean again laced his remarks with caveats. “Increasing numbers of people in Europe, Asia, and in our own hemisphere cite America not as the strongest pillar of freedom and democracy but, somewhat unfairly, as a threat to peace,” he said. Of Iraq, he added, “Although we may have won the war, we are failing to win the peace.” Somewhat? May have? Why the ambivalence? Why the uncertainty? What dawned on me as I stood in the room with Dean, watching his stony expression, is that these comments don’t reflect uncertainty. They reflect overconfidence. Long before the Iraq war, Dean made up his mind that it would be a failure and would rightly alarm other countries. In fact, the war was a swift success (even if the peace isn’t), and foreign depictions of the United States as a bloodthirsty empire are lies. The reason Dean inserts qualifiers such as “somewhat,” “may have,” and “I suppose” is that he hates to concede anything. That’s his story, and he’s stickin’ to it.
Mr. Saletan is befuddled by Howard Dean. He just can't figure him out. He can't figure out why Dean would even think of using qualifiers when assessing the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Everyone knows it was an unqualified success. Right? Mr. Saletan has come to the conclusion that the reason Dean uses those qualifiers is because he can't admit that he was wrong about the war in Iraq. He is to arrogant about his opinion on the matter to admit that he made a mistake. Of course, Mr. Saletan never even considers the possibility that Dean qualifies his comments on the success of the Iraqi operation because IT WASN'T AN UNQUALIFIED SUCCESS! Sure, we got rid of Saddam, but did we actually make the world safer from terrorism? Have we found and secured the WMD? Have we proven that Saddam was aiding an abetting terrorists with that alleged program? Have those weapons fallen into the hands of terrorists because we fucked up the post-invasion phase of the operation? Are the Iraqi people and the rest of the world more or less likely to turn against in the coming years? Is the rest of the world more or less likely to help us out if and when that happens? Who is the arrogant one here Mr. Saletan: Howard Dean, for pointing out the blemishes on the Iraq campaign or his critics for continuing to insist that it was an unqualified success?

The Google News Democratic Poll for 6/28/2003

This Week (6/25) Last Week (6/18)
1 John Kerry 2760 17.4% +1.8 1 1920 15.6%
2 Howard Dean 2590 16.3% +3.5 5 1580 12.8%
3 John Edwards 2270 14.3% -1.3 2 1920 15.6%
4 Bob Graham 2180 13.7% -1.8 3 1910 15.5%
5 Dick Gephardt 1830 11.5% +0.9 6 1310 10.6%
6 Joe Lieberman 1530 9.6% -3.5 4 1620 13.1%
7 Dennis Kucinich 1250 7.9% +0.2 7 942 7.6%
8 Al Sharpton 1010 6.4% +0.7 8 701 5.7%
9 Carol Moseley Braun 443 2.8% -0.6 9423 3.4%
Attention turned back to the campaign this week with everyone showing increased numbers (except for Braun). The biggest winner of the week is obviously Dean who came barreling back into the #2 stop with coverage of his appearance on Meet The Press and of his official announcement. John Kerry also apparently had a good week, though I'm not sure where the increased coverage came from. Edwards, Graham and Gephardt all fluctuated, but not dramatically (though Graham's star may be fading, which is unusual considering the increased air play the WMD issue is getting). Lieberman suffered the worse loss this week. I wonder if people are starting to question the viability of his candidacy. Kucinich and Sharpton continue to hang in there. I really have to wonder if Braun will even make it to the next year. Next week's possible news movers: MoveOn poll results. Q2 fundraising results are reported. Continued coverage of Bush's WMD problem. (Methodology: All numbers are taken from the hit counts when searching on the Google News Service for news stories containing each candidate's name. Click on each name to rerun the search. You will likely get different results as the numbers are constantly changing. I make absolutely no claim that these numbers have any real meaning.)

Bush: "give me the power" vs. Dean: "You have the power"

Anna Private presents an interesting contrast between the rhetorical styles of George W. Bush and Howard Dean. She bases her argument on this excellent analysis of Bush's use of rhetoric by Renana Brooks Put simply, Bush is all about scaring people into surrendering their will to an all-encompassing daddy who will protect them from the bad things of the world while Dean is all about empowering people to work together to solve the problems that we all face. In order for Dean to win he has to convince the majority of the electorate that the latter vision is a more viable path for the future of this nation. Simply saying that the people have the power won't work if the people don't trust themselves to wield the power correctly. This is how Bush wins: by playing to people's fears of their own inadequacy.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Giving credit where it is due

I talked previously about Democrats re-taking the moral argument. Emma, the one who brought this argument to my attention, commented on that post. So I figure I owe her a link to her whole thesis.

No Excuses

Paul Krugman issues a challenge to his fellow members of the establishment: stop making excuses for Bush.
So why are so many people making excuses for Mr. Bush and his officials? Part of the answer, of course, is raw partisanship. One important difference between our current scandal and the Watergate affair is that it's almost impossible now to imagine a Republican senator asking, "What did the president know, and when did he know it?" But even people who aren't partisan Republicans shy away from confronting the administration's dishonest case for war, because they don't want to face the implications. After all, suppose that a politician — or a journalist — admits to himself that Mr. Bush bamboozled the nation into war. Well, launching a war on false pretenses is, to say the least, a breach of trust. So if you admit to yourself that such a thing happened, you have a moral obligation to demand accountability — and to do so in the face not only of a powerful, ruthless political machine but in the face of a country not yet ready to believe that its leaders have exploited 9/11 for political gain. It's a scary prospect. Yet if we can't find people willing to take the risk — to face the truth and act on it — what will happen to our democracy?

Inspiring America

David Kusnet has a rather glowing review of Howard Dean's announcement speech from yesterday. He makes the point that Dean has elevated his message from being a simple attack on Bush and on his rivals for not fighting back enough to one that inspires people to believe that they can achieve something better than what is currently being offered to them.
Gone were the attacks on his Washington-based opponents and the claims that, as a physician and former governor, he understands health care and other domestic issues better than anyone else. Instead, Dean offered himself as the champion of everyday Americans who have lost their retirement savings and are in danger of losing their jobs and health coverage, to boot, but worry most that they are losing American democracy to wealthy special interests and secretive preemptive warriors.
I think this is a message that really can resonate. I commented previously that the Democrats have lost the moral argument in American politics and have become to focused on issue politics. Dean, with this speech, has reclaimed the moral standard for the Democratic party.
In his only boast about his accomplishments in state government, Dean expressed his pride in "Vermont, where we balanced our budgets [and] made sure that every child had health coverage." But he devoted more time to quoting the nation's founders, including John Adams, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, and even a founder of the Massachusetts colony, John Winthrop. All were cited as believers in a citizenry who govern themselves, care for each other, and don't dream of imposing their will on the world. Making a conservative argument against world empire, Dean recalled, "Our founders implored that we were not to be the new Rome. We were not to conquer and suppress other nations. . . . We were to inspire them."
It's not just a simple matter of whether one is for or against the war on Iraq, cutting taxes or universal health coverage. It is whether one is for an America that hammers on those who disagree with us or an America that tries to change the world by "inspiring" everyone to do better. I think Dean said it best in his speech when he said that America has to be more than just "might makes right". It has to be both "might AND right".
While one speech doesn't define a campaign, Dean's announcement can rescue him from being the latest in a line of losing Democratic candidates whose appeal was based on their being intellectually and morally superior to their rivals and, implicitly, their fellow citizens as well. Starting out as refreshingly free from political cant, Bill Bradley, Paul Tsongas, Eugene McCarthy and Adlai Stevenson all ended up appealing to affluent voters who saw politics as an expression of their cultural identities, not a way to improve their own lives and others'. With this announcement speech, Dean has the opportunity to reverse his predecessors' path and inspire at least a segment of those discontented voters whom he gracefully admits understand the nation's problems better than he did when he began his campaign.
I have been complaining for years that our "leaders" don't seem to understand just how pissed off and frustrated we have become. We keep trying to tell them this, but they just don't seem to listen. Dean set out on his campaign to push a few select agenda points. But in the course of his campaign he discovered that there was a more fundamental problem, a heart-sickness that was eating away at the American soul. It is to his credit that he recognized this problem and adjusted his campaign to address it. It is also to his credit that HE gives the credit for this change to the people he has talked to.