Friday, December 19, 2003

Selling responsibility

Many of Dean's critics have made the (justifiable) argument that it will be hard to sell the America people on a domestic policy of eliminating all of Bush's tax cuts. It doesn't matter, the critics say, if Dean is right that most people really haven't seen a benefit from those tax cuts. They will still think that Dean is trying to take money out of their pockets and will vote for Bush instead.

I think Howard Dean is trying to push the idea that we should operate under the principal that taxes should be as low as possible but as high as necessary. The Republicans have successfully sold a political model that talks exclusively about the first half of that equation while purposively ignoring the other half. Dean is trying to change the dialog back to talking about the full consequences of taxation, not just the short-term equation of what it means to the taxpayers checkbook but the longer term equation of what it means to their entire quality of life.

Of course it is a harder sell! Responsibility always is (just ask any parent).

Does that mean it is foolish to even try? Isn't it even more foolish to simply concede the battlefield to the opposition?

The Bush Tax

How Much Is It Costing You?

This is the new web site from the Dean campaign that tries to explain precisely how much The Bush Tax has cost Americans. It includes links to information on the costs in individual states. Not all states are listed, but many swing states are.

Bush to break military tradition...

... in order to make a political point:

In a move that is increasingly unpopular with some of the nation's military personnel and retired veterans, the Pentagon has decided to award the same campaign medal to those serving in Afghanistan or Iraq. This decision, ultimately taken by politically appointed civilians from the Bush administration, is meant to subtly convey a central -- if increasingly controversial -- tenet of their worldview: that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are part of the same seamless global military fight against terror.

This unfortunate and politically inspired decision breaks sharply with military tradition and does a disservice to veterans of these two impressive military operations.

The problem is that the nature of the enemy and the rationale for war in Afghanistan on the one hand and Iraq on the other are substantially different, and some suspect that the decision on campaign ribbons is just part of a larger effort to blur these distinctions.

What is more, the decision to give the same recognition for service in two dramatically different regions breaks with a long military tradition of recognizing service in specific campaigns based on geography, not the political rationale or overarching ideology of the struggle.

Did the military award different medals in WWII for service in the Pacific and service in Europe?

Gore takes The Pledge!

If capturing Saddam has made us safer...

...why are we upping our troop committment in Iraq?

Signs of hope

I thought I'd pass on this bit of good news just to make people feel better. Recently, Jodi Wilgoren and other journalists have taken to using the word "smirk" to describe Howard Dean's smile. Some people have written Ms. Wilgoren objecting to the negative connotation of that characterization. Ms. Wilgoren has responded to these critics that "smirk", to her, is almost synonomous with "mischievous" and was not meant to imply anything disparaging.

A poster over on Table Talk named NicoleM also wrote to the NY Times editors about this. Today she received the following reply:

Thank you for your inquiry.

Other readers have also written to us with this concern.

The standards editor, Al Siegal, agrees that 'smirk' was inappropriate and has so informed the political editors.

Cheers, Arthur Bovino Office of the Public Editor The New York Times

This just goes to prove that complaining can produce positive results.

This is a war that will be won by winning the little battles like this one.

Quotes to remember

"I'd also like to say that whatever it is that Howard Dean knows, or whatever it is that he eats for breakfast every morning, if I could give it to every other Democratic office holder and would-be office holder, we would immediately become the majority in the Congress and we would have about 35 governors. (Applause.) I have to tell you, I think a big part of it is just producing for people, actually doing what you say you're going to do at election time. And I very much appreciate what he said about what we've tried to do here in Washington." -- Bill Clinton, November 12, 1997

Google News Democratic Primary Poll for 12/19/2003

  This Week (12/19) Last Week (12/12)
1 Howard Dean 9360 25.1% +0.9 1 9490 24.2%
2 John Kerry 5220 14.0% -1.6 2 6110 15.6%
3 Wesley Clark 5100 13.7% +0.3 3 5150 13.1%
5 Joe Lieberman 4730 12.7% +0.8 4 4670 11.9%
4 John Edwards 4150 11.1% +0.5 5 4180 10.6%
6 Dick Gephardt 3750 10.1% -0.1 6 3990 10.2%
7 Al Sharpton 2030 5.4% -0.2 8 2220 5.7%
8 Dennis Kucinich 1930 5.2% -0.6 7 2260 5.8%
9 Carol Moseley Braun 1030 2.8% -0.2 9 1180 3.0%

Dean goes over 25% for the first time in the poll's history. At this point Dean is pretty much in a tier all his own. Kerry drops dramatically while the remainder of the 2nd tier (Clark, Lieberman, Edwards and Gephardt) and 3rd tier (Sharpton, Kucinich and Braun) remain steady.

I hate to say it but this is almost getting boring.

The following is a chart of the Google News Media Share over the last few months:

(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 get different results as the numbers are constantly changing. I make absolutely no claim that these numbers have any real meaning.)

You want to know why Democrats lose?

Just read this comment from Leon Panetta in today's NY Times:

"It's not just Dean, but all of the candidates who ran against the war in Iraq are going to be weakened by the events of the last few days," said Leon Panetta, chief of staff in the Clinton White House. "For Dean in particular, it makes it even more imperative that he has to make an adjustment in terms of his positions so he's not viewed as weak on national security."

Mr. Panetta, listen carefully to what I have to say. Weak politicians follow the mood of the country. Strong politicians change the mood of the country.

That is what Dean is attempting to do. By strongly asserting that capturing Saddam has not made America safer he is attempting to wrestle control of the dialog away from the Republicans. What Bush and Rove want more than anything else is for people to believe that Hussein's capture has made America safer, regardless of whether it has or not. They are trying to change the mood to match their political goals. Democrats like Panetta are saying we should go along with the attempt.

What Panetta doesn't understand is that Dean's position is in the mainstream of American thought. The CBS poll I pointed out yesterday says 78% of voters say that Saddam's capture has not made us any safer (some even say it has made us less safe). And what does the Times article say about the opinion of Americans?

[...]  The latest New York Times poll showed that the capture improved Americans' view of President Bush and his handling of the war but also that 60 percent said the United States was as vulnerable to terrorist attack as before the capture.

Dean's argument since the beginning has been that the Iraq war was a distraction in the war on terrorism. It is the heart of his argument that Bush is weak on foreign policy. Bush can win this fight only if he can convince the voters that Iraq was an essential part of that war. Democrat's like Panetta want to concede this point before the battle has even begun. If Dean were to go along with Panetta's advice then it would destroy Dean's entire foreign policy argument.

That is why Democrat's like Panetta lose.

Fortunately, this article suggests that Democrat's like Panetta are on the losing side of the argument within the party as well:

"There is some anxiety," said Pat Griffin, who was President Clinton's liaison to Congress.

Such concern, Mr. Griffin said, was "a legitimate part of the process" but "it would be a mistake to say that people have drawn a conclusion that Dean's candidacy can't work."

At least Mr. Griffen seems to understand that all this talk about Dean's unelectability is a non-starter and potentially very dangerous.

Some saw Dr. Dean's remark on Mr. Hussein's capture as a sign that he would remain defiant toward President Bush, a quality that his supporters greatly admire.

"We don't want a wimp in this part of the country," said Representative Marcy Kaptur, Democrat of Ohio. "Everything I've read that Dean has said about Saddam seems to be right on point. Our people have struggled to make a living and they want a fighter. They don't want some kind of Hollywood production with hair spray."

The time for figuring out how to "adjust" our views to "match the mood of the country". Is over. Democrats have adjusted enough. It's time for us to start insisting that other's adjust as well.

Timing is everything

Anyone besides me find it odd that the story of Bremer surviving an ambush is coming out now rather than when it actually happened? You don't suppose the fact that reporting it before the capture of Saddam might have fed into the increasing sense that things were out of control in Iraq had anything to do with it not coming out until now do you?


Thursday, December 18, 2003

Does Jodi have a sense of humor?

Dean campaign staffers have a little fun with the press:

In converting the Gulfstream jet that carried Dean from California into a press charter, the candidate's aides were careful to remove all campaign materials and transfer them to his new aircraft. However, when a group of four reporters took the seats occupied the night before by Dean and his top aides, they discovered a red folder on which the campaign's political director Kate O'Connor had written the following message: "Gov: Here's the final Iowa caucus plan. Please do not lose this, Kate."

Of course, curiousity got the best of the bunch of reporters, and one of them opened the folder. Inside was a piece of paper addressed to Newton native Jodi Wilgoren, the New York Times reporter assigned to the Dean campaign. The note read: "Jodi, We knew you couldn't resist. Ha Ha!"

Now, that's what we call "gotcha" journalism. (For the record, Wilgoren was not the scribe to open the folder.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Out of the mainstream?

There are times when two news stories put in perfect relief how out of touch the establishment is in this country. The Washington Post has an editorial today in which they try to argue that Dean is out of the mainstream:

Yet there are important differences between the Democratic front-runner, Howard Dean, and the other five. In his speech Monday, Mr. Dean alone portrayed the recruiting of allies for Iraq as a means to "relieve the burden on the U.S." -- that is, to quickly draw down American forces. Only he omitted democracy from his goals for Iraq and the Middle East. And only Mr. Dean made the extraordinary argument that the capture of Saddam Hussein "has not made Americans safer."

Coincidentally, CBS has a new poll today in which they ask the public specifically about this:

Dean has said that while he applauds the U.S.' capture of Saddam, it will not make the U.S. any safer, and most voters agree. 85 percent of Democratic primary voters think the threat to the U.S. will either rise or stay just as it is following Saddam's capture -- a feeling shared by 78 percent of all voters nationwide.

Dean's position is only "out of the mainstream" of establishment thinking on Iraq (represented by the Post editorial board). A full 78 percent of all voters agree with Howard Dean! It is the establishment that is out of the mainstream.


Josh Marshal has this update from that radical left-wing organization called the U.S. Army:

Today's Philadelphia Inquirer reports that a intelligence report prepared for the US military in Iraq argued that "seizing Hussein could provoke more attacks by making the insurgency more acceptable to Sunni Muslims who were not members of Hussein's Baath Party elite."

Again I ask, who is out of the mainstream here?

Perhaps I've become to jaded...

... to believe that something like this will actually become the big news story it deserves to be:

For the first time, the chairman of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks is saying publicly that 9/11 could have and should have been prevented, reports CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston.

"This is a very, very important part of history and we've got to tell it right," said Thomas Kean.

"As you read the report, you're going to have a pretty clear idea what wasn't done and what should have been done," he said. "This was not something that had to happen."

Appointed by the Bush administration, Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, is now pointing fingers inside the administration and laying blame.

"There are people that, if I was doing the job, would certainly not be in the position they were in at that time because they failed. They simply failed," Kean said.

....Kean promises major revelations in public testimony beginning next month from top officials in the FBI, CIA, Defense Department, National Security Agency and, maybe, President Bush and former President Clinton.

(Courtesy Kos and Kevin Drum).


It just became harder for the Bush campaign to use Civil Unions against Dean.

Bush Appears to Open Door to Same-Sex Unions

President Bush on Tuesday appeared to open the door to same-sex unions that stop short of marriage, by saying people should be able to make "whatever legal arrangements" they want as long as a state recognizes them.

Bush, who has steadfastly opposed gay marriage, said in an ABC News interview for the first time that he would support a constitutional amendment enshrining heterosexual marriage. "If necessary, I will support a constitutional amendment which would honor marriage between a man and a woman, codify that."

However, he also said, "The position of this administration is that whatever legal arrangements people want to make, they're allowed to make, so long as it's embraced by the state or at the state level."

He said marriage should be a state issue, "except and unless judicial rulings undermine the sanctity of marriage. In which case, we may need a constitutional amendment."

His comments indicated that Bush, as he heads into his reelection campaign, was walking a fine line between the interests of his social conservative base which favors a constitutional ban on gay marriage and other voters who have shown more acceptance of same-sex unions.

That may be the best news the Dean campaign could hope for on this matter. I have serious doubts that Bush's nuanced approach will play well with his base. The reason they want FMA is to prevent legal sanctioning of homosexual relationships. Bush has affectively said they can have their amendment, but only if it only has symbolic meaning.

In the mean time, it will now be much harder for Bush to use gay marriages as a weapon against Dean. He can still try (and no doubt will) but Dean can turn the attack back on Bush by asking Dubya to explain, in excruciating detail, how their positions differ. The more Dean can keep Bush on the defensive on this matter the better.

Another Pledge

Sign the Unity Pledge.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Dean asks the important, if controversial, questions

Dean gave a foreign policy speech yesterday that was decidedly more wonkish than his usual speech. It has generally been getting positive reviews from those who were not already inclined to spin anything Dean says in a negative light. However, attention has been focused on one comment in particular:

"The capture of Saddam is a good thing which I hope very much will help keep our soldiers safer. But the capture of Saddam has not made America safer."

Dean's comment has drawn fire from the likes of Lieberman and Kerry who are trying to paint it as yet another indicator that Dean doesn't know what he is talking about. So we have to ask, has Dean made another gaffe that will hurt him?

I think not.

I think Dean made this provocative comment deliberately. He did it in order to get the dialog off the Bush/Rove theme that everything is going great now that Saddam is in custody. He did it to get the American people to ask the truly important question: has Saddam's capture really made us any safer?

As much heat as Dean may take for saying this, it will inspire a lot of water-cooler conversation. It is necessary for the Democratic candidate, whoever ends up getting the nod, to get people talking about these important questions. It is absolutely vital to get the media cycle off the preferred Rovian script and Dean, by his comment, is doing just that.

It ultimately may not work, but if we just went with the typical Democratic strategy of avoiding controversial questions like this then I can guarantee you that we will lose.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Defining victory

William Saletan knows a little something about prematurely calling a presidential election. He very prominently wrote an article in late 2000 saying that "Bush was toast". He is now warning his colleagues not to make the same mistake with respect to Dean, especially since the Governor seems to understand precisely how Bush managed to run against and defeat a successful administration:

[...] You dissolve the successes into history and ask what the administration has accomplished with those successes. You move the goalpost.

Dean seems to understand. "Our troops are to be congratulated on carrying out this mission with the skill and dedication we have come to know of them," he said this morning. "This development provides an enormous opportunity to set a new course and take the American label off the war. We must do everything possible to bring the U.N., NATO, and other members of the international community back into this effort. Now that the dictator is captured, we must also accelerate the transition from occupation to full Iraqi sovereignty."

Notice how Dean repeats every element of the 2000 Bush approach. Somebody other than the president—in this case, our troops—gets the credit. The mission becomes history. Capturing Saddam becomes a means to a more difficult end: getting the United Nations into Iraq, and getting the United States out.

I also noticed Dean's ascribing of the capture of Saddam to the troops and specifically not to Bush. I hadn't noticed that Dean, at the same time, moved the goal-posts for defining what success means. Sweet!

Dean seems to understand, better than any other Democratic politician today, that he who defines what "victory" means is the one who will eventually achieve it.

Reasons for taking a break

Yesterday, when the news of Saddam's capture broke, I made a conscious decision to suspend discussion of the political implications for 24 hours. Generally speaking, long-term speculation while breaking news is still breaking is liable to leave you open to making a lot of foolish comments. (This is also why I generally avoid watching the commentariat during such periods). There is also the fact that I didn't want to let my partisan impulses influence my writing during the course of a story that should be celebrated for the good news that it is. There are times when politics just have to be left at the door and yesterday was one of them (I was glad to see that Howard Dean took essentially the same tack. To bad a few other candidates did not.)

Note that this rule applies regardless of whether the news is "good" or "bad" for your side. This means that those who have gloated about how this hurts Democratic chances in 2004 are just as bad as those Democrats who tried to portray it as meaningless. They are all trying to put political spin on news that is apolitically good.

Now, while 24 hours have passed, I'm still not much in the mood for political speculation on this point. I'm sure the mood will return, but I'm not going to force it.

In the meantime, I recommend this post from Jesse at Pandagon:

Does it strike anyone else that major reaction on much of the right (internet, print and TV) yesterday to Saddam's capture was about Democrats, liberals, and anti-war folk? It's almost as if they only cared about the War in Iraq as a means to cement domestic political power rather than...nah.

This kind of proves my point about how the 24 hour rule should apply to all sides. The "winners" embarrass themselves when they deliberately go looking for people to whomp on when things like this happen. I know it is hard to resist the temptation to gloat, but really, do you think you are helping your side at all when you talk as if the primary benefit of the capture of Saddam is that it might improve Bush's re-election chances?

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Saddam Captured

It's a good thing. Congratulations to those in the field that made this possible. You deserve it.

I'm not going to talk about the political implications of this because those kind of discussions should be left to the long term, not the short term and it tempts the fates to much to make political speculations in the short term.

Let those who deserve to celebrate celebrate. Politics will take care of itself.

Besides, I've got something else to celebrate today: my son's 10th birthday.

We'll talk later.