On Wednesday, the election will (hopefully) be over and the fight over the rules of the game will resume. Here is what I think should be done:
1) Abolish the Electoral College
It's an undemocratic constitutional legacy that causes voters in 30-40 states to be ignored in favor of a handful of battleground states. People claim small states would be neglected without the Electoral College, but most of them are not getting much attention right now anyway (see Rhode Island, Wyoming, the Dakotas, etc.). And any candidate who shunned vast swaths of the country would pay a heavy price. We should give voters more credit - they will punish national candidates who run regional campaigns. The only way this will happen soon, of course, is if Kerry follows in Bush's footsteps by losing the popular vote and winning the presidency, but that is actually a distinct possibility.
2) Repeal McCain-Feingold
As Kevin Drum points out, it didn't limit the total amount of money in the system - that's an impossible goal (and not a desirable one). Instead, by banning soft money, it diverted funds into 527s that aren't politically accountable, freeing them to be as deceptive and nasty as they want. We should have unlimited individual donations and instant disclosure online, which would keep more money flowing to parties and candidates who are directly accountable to voters and make it possible for more challengers to wage well-funded campaigns. Let people make up their minds about the sources of campaign funds, rather than weakening parties.
3) Create Iowa-style non-partisan redistricting commissions and give free airtime to major party Congressional candidates
The freshmen I teach at Duke were stunned to find out how few challengers beat House incumbents. As David Broder argues in the Washington Post today, we need to level the playing field by creating competitive districts and giving challengers exposure. Combined with unlimited donations to parties and candidates, this could create more close races nationwide.
Unfortunately, it's much more likely that we'll go through another cycle of attempting to "reform" McCain-Feingold further by attempting to close its alleged loopholes. But the First Amendment makes it impossible to make campaign finance law as restrictive as its misguided proponents would like. And the unintended side effects - like turning 527s like America Coming Together into quasi-parties - are likely to continue to mount.
On Friday night, Kerry campaign officials reacted furiously to a discussion on Fox News in which a guest commentator, David Johnson, a Republican political operative, said of the videotape, "It looks like an endorsement by Osama bin Laden of John Kerry." A Fox commentator, Alan Colmes, interjected, "I don't think he's going to have a Kerry-Edwards sticker in the cave." But the anchor, Neil Cavuto, replied: "He's all but doing that. I thought I saw a button."
The Durham Herald-Sun finally ran its report on the Communist-hating sign maker and his opponents. It's a doozy. Once again, sign-stealing and hateful invective are wrong no matter what. This whole controversy is equal parts amusing and sad -- it almost seems like an article in The Onion parodying how extreme both sides of our political debate have become:
Fed up with people stealing roadside pro-Bush signs, a man erected new signs in Durham Monday saying communists stole the signs.
Steve Winter, an Apostolic pastor who lives in the Forest Hills neighborhood, had signs made that state, "THE BUSH '04 SIGN WAS STOLEN FROM HERE BY COMMUNISTS," and has put up about 10 signs in places where Bush signs disappeared, he said.
"A statement needed to be made ... that [stealing] was going on, rather than just replacing the stolen signs," said Winter, put the signs up with his family. "We were reporting a crime to the community."
He said he thought liberal Democrats were stealing the signs because they were desperate. Stealing political signs interferes with free speech and the electoral process and mirrors communist regimes of the past, he said.
"The liberal Democrat of today is no different than a communist ... they have no moral restraint, they are willing to break the law, intimidate people, willing to steal, and their viewpoints are a very left-leaning, socialist/communist agenda," he said.
But people who saw Winter's signs, like Kenny Mendez, 21, said they thought they were a joke.
"I think they're funny ... and the first time I saw one I nearly crashed my car," Mendez said.
Duke University graduate student Adam Hartstone-Rose, 23, said his wife called him after she saw the signs while driving.
"We wanted to know how they knew communists stole the signs, if they left a little red envelope or something," Hartstone-Rose said, joking.
The sign planted in an island of grass at the intersection of Chapel Hill Boulevard and University Drive has attracted a lot of attention according to a man who works at a nearby business.
"There must have been six people standing out there last night looking at it," says Mark Carder, who works at GTI Quality Auto.
Another sign posted after but near the "communists" sign on University states, "MY KERRY SIGN GOT RIPPED OFF RIGHT AFTER HE HUMILIATED BUSH IN THE FIRST DEBATE."
Carder, an undecided voter, laughed when he heard about the Kerry sign but took the other sign seriously. He didn't like it because he knew of Winter, who he said he had seen driving around the neighborhood in a car with a "BIBLE" license plate and thought he was a little extreme, he said.
Jeep Cross, owner of Carolina Banner, the company that made Winter's signs, said he was sympathetic with Winter's concerns about stealing signs.
"It's not funny. People have a message and want to have a way of getting that message out. I'd be upset too. He's spending his hard-earned money on that," Cross said, adding that each of the 25 signs Winter ordered from Carolina Banner cost about $5-$8.
Winter said several of his signs had already been stolen.
Melinda Ruley, who saw the signs while driving to a nearby gas station with her children, said she also understood Winter's actions, but didn't agree with the signs.
"I think it's right to protest -- I appreciate the sentiment of frustration -- I guess those signs just seem a little mean-spirited," she said.
Several local political candidates and political activists have also complained recently about having signs stolen.
"It's nothing new, but it's pretty frustrating when you think of the cost of these signs," said Becky Heron, a Democrat running for re-election as a county commissioner who said she wished signs were illegal because they were a pain to put up and take back down.
Political campaign volunteer and activist Charlotte Woods said she put a Bush/Cheney sign at the intersection of Cornwallis Road and University Drive every night, but it was always gone the next day.
"All the David Price and other Democrats' signs are left there undisturbed," she said. "I don't know who's doing it, but it's obviously not Republicans." Woods said she was so upset that she had printed decals for her signs asking people not to steal them.
"That's my property and my First Amendment rights! If I saw anybody getting ready to pull up Kerry/Edwards signs, I would be just as upset about it," she said.
Johnathan Paul, a spokesperson for Democratic U.S. Rep. David Price's campaign, said the campaign had been pleased with its sign distribution.
"We've heard a few reports of certain instances [of theft], but it hasn't been widely reported, at least not to us," Paul said.
But Winter said the only signs disappearing were pro-Republican.
"Anybody with eyes can see this city is pasted with Kerry signs and you see very few Bush signs because they've been stolen," he said. "There may be Republicans out there [stealing], but they're a rare exception. Your average Republican is going to be a law-abiding, moral, quite probably religious person. In the Democratic Party, someone being a moral, law-abiding and patriotic person is very rare."
The stealing of signs is demoralizing for Woods, who thinks it is just one more example of the extreme polarization of the country, she said.
"I'm saying what I want to say with my signs, and we are Americans first. After that we're supposed to be family, friends and neighbors, and then on further down the line we can be Democrats and Republicans," she said.
Today's New York Times has an article on Kerry and Bush's efforts to appeal to Jewish voters by touting their support for Israel. In it, Stephen R. Weisman alludes to criticisms made of Kerry without actually presenting the details of what has been alleged, which means that readers don't get the context they need to fairly evaluate the charges:
[Republicans] cited the senator's praise seven years ago for Mr. Arafat and his suggestion earlier this year that Israel's barrier separating Palestinian and Israel populations might become "a barrier to peace."
...Kerry campaign aides, countering these charges, say that Mr. Kerry's praise for Mr. Arafat goes back to the high-water mark of peace negotiations, when terrorist attacks had subsided and shortly after Mr. Arafat had shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister, and Shimon Peres, the Israeli foreign minister, with whom he had reached agreement on the Oslo accords.
As for the barrier, Kerry aides note that the senator had criticized it as potentially harmful because at the time its route had sharply jutted into Palestinian communities, separating them from other parts of Israel. They further point out that Mr. Bush had also criticized the route as "a problem."
Weisman presents these charges as "he said"/"he said." But as we showed at Spinsanity, both are being taken dramatically out of context.
First, Kerry's alleged praise for Arafat as a "statesman" in his 1997 book The New War is being misconstrued:
The Bush campaign's suggestion that Kerry's book "calls Yasir Arafat a 'statesman' " is also questionable. In it, he quotes historian Paul Johnson as stating, in part, that "after the PLO and the other terrorist movements it succored racked up an appalling total of lives extinguished and property destroyed, how far have they progressed toward achieving their stated political ends?" Kerry then goes on to write that "only 11 years have passed since those words appeared in print. If nothing else, this indicates the velocity of change in the late 20th century. Terrorist organizations with specific political agendas may be encouraged and emboldened by Yasir Arafat's transformation from outlaw to statesman, while those whose only object is to disrupt society require no such 'role models.' "
In context, Kerry's characterization of Yasir Arafat as a statesman is more a comment on the Palestinian leader's image in the world than an unqualified endorsement. While Kerry's writing can be ambiguous, the Bush campaign's quotation of a single word unfairly strips out the relevant context, a problem both sides have had when discussing this book.
And here's the problem with the "barrier to peace" quote, which former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani touted at the Republican convention:
Giuliani said that, "In October of 2003, [Kerry] told an Arab American institute in Detroit that a security barrier separating Israel from the Palestinian territories was a barrier to peace. Okay. Then a few months later, he took exactly the opposite position. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post he said, 'Israel's security fence is a legitimate act of self defense.'"
Once again, the first statement is taken dramatically out of context. Kerry actually said, "I know how disheartened Palestinians are by the Israeli government's decision to build the barrier off of the green line, cutting deep into Palestinian areas. We don't need another barrier to peace." As aides explained in the Jerusalem Post article Giuliani cites, Kerry was describing the route of the fence as a "barrier to peace," not the fence itself.
Weisman can't even be bothered to explain the first charge, and the second is barely discussed. But he has ample room to pontificate about the political machinations going on. As always, it's process before policy, speculation and pseudo-analysis instead of facts and context.
The vaunted "Meet the Press" staff appears to have messed up the latest jobs figures slightly. On today's broadcast, they claimed the country had 132.4 million jobs when President Bush took office, but that it now has 131.5 million, for a total loss of 900,000 jobs. In fact, however, the correct numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the country had 132,388,000 jobs when Bush took office and now has 131,567,000 for a total net job loss of 821,000 jobs, which would round to 132.4 million - 131.6 million = 800,000 lost jobs. It's bizarre that MTP messed this up given that news reports with the correct figure are literally everywhere.
The New York Times has a useful story today that does yeoman's work attempting to sort through all the questions about the missing explosives from Al Qaqaa. Unfortunately, it's buried inside the newspaper like most useful policy stories. By contrast, anecdotal speculation about the impact of the OBL tape on the presidential race will no doubt be featured on the front page tomorrow. Thanks press corps!
For the next 72 hours, tens of thousands of people are going to spend a lot of time and energy worrying about what will mostly turn out to be statistical noise. Don't be one of them.
Most national and state polls will be moving around inside their margin of error. As such, in the absence of consistent movement across the board, you shouldn't worry about it. And even then, polls are only accurate to a degree. The combination of late-breaking undecideds and the varying effectiveness of the candidate's GOTV operations means that the final national polls are usually still off by a few percentage points on average. In a race this close, that means we're going to be in the dark until Election Night.
Three things really matter:
-The ground game - Who will get out their people? A surge in turnout for Kerry could make the difference.
-How the undecideds break - The much-debated "rule" that undecided voters tend to vote against the incumbent may or may not hold (I tend to think it will). If it does, Kerry will be in a strong position; if not, he's in big trouble.
-The Electoral College math - What combinations of states get you to 270?
You'll hear all kinds of nonsense before this is over, but remember, nothing else matters except the above three things. Silly prognostication won't change that.
Update: Just to illustrate how dead-even the polls are, UNC political scientist Jim Stimson's methodology for combining national trial heat polls and stripping out statistical noise shows Bush at 50.4% of the two-party vote and Kerry at 49.6%. But using an alternative methodology that only employs polls from the last two weeks and weights them differently, he has Kerry ticking up to 50.4% of the two-party vote.
Just say no to protectionism! Here's the latest on the Bush side:
On Friday, just days before the presidential election, the Bush administration agreed to consider a petition from a coalition of embattled textile manufacturers that would limit some imports from China.
American manufacturers and the labor union representing textile workers have been pressing for help in advance of the lifting of all trade quotas on textiles and apparel on Jan. 1, 2005, allowing for the free flow of goods around the globe.
Trade dislocation is sad, and we should do everything we can to help those affected. But there's just no way domestic textiles are going to stay alive without massive, counterproductive trade restrictions.
And unfortunately, this is one area where things are going to get worse no matter what happens Tuesday. Kerry has pandered like crazy on trade (more than Bush), and it's going to box him in if he wins.
Another senior Kerry aide, Mike McCurry, made it clear in an interview that Mr. Kerry had no intention of using these last hours of his campaign to talk about Mr. bin Laden.
"I think there's going to be a real reaction if news organizations try to make this the only story for the last few days," he said. "There's a lot at stake in this election. Theres' going to be a a lot of visible anger at the American media if this is the story for the whole weekend."
...And some Republicans even suggested that the White House would try to portray the videotape as an endorsement of Mr. Kerry - a bit of a stretch, no doubt, but hardly out of keeping with the tenor of this surly contest for president.
And here's Dan Bartlett yesterday:
Speaking to reporters outside the campaign rally here, White House communications director Dan Bartlett said that the tape should not affect the way Bush campaigns but that Kerry should have marked a 12-hour truce.
"You would think that there would be a, maybe, 12 hours to let the American absorb what has just happened today," he said.
Prodded on why, if the tape ought not to affect the campaign, Kerry should have stopped criticizing the president, Bartlett revised his statement, saying that the problem was that Kerry's attack had been "discredited."
From a profile of Jeb Bush and his political power in Florida:
Lew Oliver, chairman of the Republican Party in Orange County, a key swing area that includes Orlando, calls criticisms of Bush's role in the electoral process "a seriously bum rap."
"As usual," Oliver said, "the Democrats crawl around telling lies like Joseph Goebbels."
Here are what lies from Joseph Goebbels actually look like:
Every Russian, English and American soldier is a mercenary of this world conspiracy of a parasitic race. Given the current state of the war, who could still believe that they are fighting and dying at the front for the national interests of their countries! The nations want a decent peace, but the Jews are against it.
And Oliver isn't the only one tossing around Goebbels - so are Bill O'Reilly and a Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist, among many examples. It's getting totally out of control. Let's put an end to this loathsome practice.
Here's Ari Fleischer on the White House view of the press in The New Republic:
[T]he Bush administration does not regard the media as having a special role but rather as just "one of several constituencies to deal with," says former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. "It doesn't set them apart as more important." This more dispassionate view gives Team Bush greater freedom to play hardball, refusing access and info that it feels aren't in its best interest to provide or, in more extreme cases, shutting out outlets or reporters with whom it is displeased. Guilt isn't a problem because, from the Bushie perspective, the mainstream media serves as an unwelcome liberal--or at least hostile--filter on information that the campaign thinks Americans should know. (This is, after all, the president who boasts that he doesn't trust newspapers and so relies on his staff to tell him what's really happening in the world.) In this White House, stiffing the press isn't seen as thwarting the public interest so much as serving it.
This is the argument we made in All the President's Spin, which goes back to Ken Auletta's New Yorker piece on the White House. Bush and his staff don't believe the press has any special democratic function, and feel no particular obligation to answer questions or provide information, as Andy Card told Auletta:
"They don't represent the public any more than other people do. In our democracy, the people who represent the public stood for election... I don’t believe you have a check-and-balance function."
Meanwhile, as Michelle Cottle, who wrote the TNR piece, points out, Democrats have a strange and often pathetic obsession with being liked by the press that translates into excessive appeals to reporters and leaking to them (see: the Clinton White House). Isn't there a happy medium here?
This dumb Slate article gives the wink wink, nod nod treatment to people voting twice (italics in original, bold added):
At the same time, the Florida fiasco also made it clear how imperfect the vote counting process is—like "measuring bacteria with a yardstick," in mathematician John Allen Paulos' phrase—and sends the signal that your vote probably won't matter after all. So, Democrats try to register every warm body, since new registrants tend to vote Democratic; for the same reason, Republicans are sorting through voter-registration forms one by one, looking for signs of fraud. Some people might justifiably worry that their precious vote won't be counted—and vote twice.
For all the new concern about double voting, though, the odds of getting caught remain minuscule. Comparing voter databases county by county and state by state is a needle-in-haystack undertaking, even with the aid of computers. Why not vote twice then? Michael Moore probably shouldn't do it. But you probably could.
Just don't tell any reporters.
Why not vote twice? How about the fact that it's illegal and morally wrong? This is taking Slate's obsession with being counterintuitive to new, absurd extremes. Coming soon: The underappreciated virtues of drunk driving and grand larceny.
I saw this sign yesterday on my way home and took a picture of it this morning (it's at the corner of Vickers and University in Durham, NC):
Is it serious? Or a parody of our ridiculous political debate? You be the judge.
Update: Hey Tapped folks! Hope you'll check out the rest of the site...
Update 2: My wife heard a local reporter asking people about this - apparently there's a backstory involving a guy putting up about thirty of these signs. This appears to be his website, which contains the following insightful commentary along with a lot more pictures of these signs:
Communists in Durham, NC have been stealing Bush political signs and then vandalizing other signs for mentioning it. These photos are time stamped and were taken 10/27/2004 mostly in the Forest Hills area of Durham, NC.
While there are a lot of good people in the Forest Hills community, the Forest Hills Neighborhood Association, for example, is dominated by fiercely anti-American types and anyone who speaks against communism, socialism, immorality etc. are banned from the Forest Hills Neighborhood Assn. email list. I am not sure if those running that list are that way or simply don't have the guts to stand up for what is right.
Here are some photographic examples of "free speech" Democrat / Communist style that we enjoy in the Forest Hills area of Durham, NC.
You can guess why he might have been banned from the neighborhood association email list.
And in news from agitprop central, World Magazine's voter fraud blog has already linked to my post with the tagline "Commies intimidate voters in North Carolina." Once again, you can't make this shit up. [Correction: World Magazine's voter fraud blog linked to this post under a humor category, so I guess they meant it as a joke, though it wasn't immediately obvious from context. Apologies.]
Disclaimer: Stealing or vandalizing signs is always wrong, but if it did happen here in Durham, I tend to doubt that Communists were the perpetrators.
Update 3: Here's the latest update on the Durham sign wars - this guy is getting some competition...
Update 4: The Durham Herald-Sun has now issued a report on the controversy...
UNC's Jim Stimson, the leading political science expert in public opinion time series data, has a running tally of presidential trial heat polls on his website that you should check out. Here's the latest graphic -- as you can see, it looks like Kerry is trending upward, though still slightly behind Bush:
It's based on methodology he's developed for combining polls that are only partially comparable and filtering the systematic component out from all the noise. Rather than getting caught up in tracking polls that are bouncing all over the place, check his page out instead - he updates it daily.
In an AP story today, Nedra Pickler offers this fascinating critique of John Kerry's speaking style -- when he says the line "I've got your back," he doesn't sound enough like a football player in the huddle:
Kerry's style is illustrated by a story he's been telling recently on the campaign trail about a woman who sent a message to him through one of his staffers: "Tell the senator we've got his back."
Kerry delights in this casual phrase, a grin bursting on his face when he tells it, and he throws it back at his audiences at nearly every stop. "I've got YOUR back," he says.
But there's a formality in the way that Kerry speaks, even when he's saying something as casual as this. He says the phrase slowly and carefully pronounces each word, so it doesn't sound like it would if it came from a friend or a teammate who made the promise in a huddle.
Thanks Nedra! That's some great reporting.
In an equally depressing turn of events, the Times voter guide section today is filled with gauzy, useless profiles focusing on the candidates' personalities and styles, and the spin watch article and policy comparison table are buried inside.
This bring us back to the fundamental problem with political reporters: most of them would rather be campaign staffers or psychoanalysts than journalists. They love to pontificate about strategy and the candidate's innermost thoughts at great length, even though they know little about either. And they skimp on the reporting of hard facts and policy that's supposedly their job.
Maureen Dowd, this is all your fault...
Karl Rove yesterday (washingtonpost.com):
"They had to roll Clinton out of the operating room and onto the campaign trail in order to basically help Kerry with the weaknesses he has among core Democratic constituencies," Rove said, taking liberties with his depiction of the former president as a near-invalid.
The New York Times had a disturbing article on judicial elections on Sunday. The upshot is that they are increasingly indistinguishable from the rest of our politics - nasty, partisan and money-driven:
Judicial elections, which used to be staid and decorous affairs, have been transformed this year into loud and vicious fights, fueled by money, venom and television.
Campaign spending has skyrocketed. In one Illinois race, two vying candidates have raised $5 million. In West Virginia, a group financed by business interests is spending $2.5 million to defeat a sitting State Supreme Court justice. About a third of the total spending nationwide comes from interest groups, much of it from the independent but partisan organizations known as 527's. Their main contributors are business interests and plaintiffs' lawyers, and their agenda is most often the election of judges who could help - or the defeat of judges who could hinder - efforts to impose limits on lawsuits seeking damages for injuries.
Voters in eight states are seeing television advertisements in judicial races for the first time. And the ads are as pointed as those used in races for legislative and executive positions. One charge, leveled in separate advertisements against sitting judges in two states, is that they released dangerous sexual predators.
When judges are not attacking their opponents, they are telling voters their views on the legal and political issues of the day, something they had avoided until a 2002 decision by the United States Supreme Court. Statements by judges on issues they might be called upon to decide were generally thought to violate codes of judicial ethics before that decision.
All these developments, many lawyers and legal scholars warn, threaten the reputation, independence and integrity of the judiciary in the 38 states that elect at least some of their judges. Even the people involved in some of the nastiest campaigns are critical of their own work, saying it is the upshot of an unfortunate but inevitable political arms race.
And the Independent here in Durham has a piece illustrating how the North Carolina judicial elections are going down the same track. With legal and ethical norms eroding, strategic candidates for the bench are going to play politics -- bad news for every citizen who wants an effective non-partisan judiciary. That's why all judges should be appointed. Let's hold elected officials responsible for the judges they appoint, rather than politicizing the law. It's the only workable solution.
For much of the last year, Fred Kaplan at Slate has been the go-to guy for debunking misleading GOP attacks on John Kerry's voting record on defense. He's partisan, but does the hard work other reporters often don't to get to the bottom of some complicated legislative issues.
That's why his article Friday on Bush's "Wolves" ad is such a puzzle. He didn't bother to find out which proposal of Kerry's the ad refers to when it claims "John Kerry and the liberals in Congress voted to slash America's intelligence operations. By six billion dollars." Instead, he says Bush may have been referring to one of two different proposals that would have cut intelligence funding. But the ad facts document posted on Bush's site, which are usually released along with any new ad, explains quite clearly that the ad refers to Kerry's 1994 omnibus deficit-reduction bill, not a 1995 amendment. Why didn't Kaplan go look it up?
[Note: The ad is misleading, as Factcheck.org explains.]
Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman in an email to supporters today:
The entire country of Iraq was a weapons stockpile. So far, 243,000 tons of weapons and explosives have been secured and destroyed. In addition, 163,000 tons of weapons and explosives have been secured and are awaiting destruction.
Frankly, I believed then and I believe now that Saddam Hussein, who supported global terrorism, slaughtered hundreds of thousands of his own people, permitted horrific atrocities against women, and used weapons of mass destruction, was himself a weapon of mass destruction.
Somewhere, an English professor is dying...
Two major political stories in the New York Times ran today. One is about policy, one is about process. Guess which one got buried?
Yes, the article listing the final battleground states and analyzing the Electoral College calculus is on the front page. And yes, the article analyzing the candidates' policy differences - crucial information for any voter, especially now - is buried deep inside the A section. I'm a political junkie, so I love getting the dirt, but process stories just aren't that useful - things change too fast and the analysis is too shallow. Sadly, though, they're what the press loves (see Note, The). And then we wonder why voters are so poorly informed...
Our local alternative mag here in Durham, the Independent, has issued its election endorsements. Many of the local ones seem thoughtful and a few even back Republicans or more conservative candidates (shockingly enough). But this claim about the presidential election is totally out of line:
At stake in this election is most of the social progress made in the United States over the last 50 years. In the long run, that is the most important reason to elect John Kerry. Racial integration and reconciliation, women's rights, the environmental movement, separation of church and state, gay rights, health care, civil liberties, workers' benefits, corporate oversight, gun control and open government are all areas in which the ideologues of the Bush administration are relentlessly, methodically and ruthlessly turning back the clock. The president and, we fear, some of his supporters want to take us back to the days when "family values" meant women, African Americans and gays and lesbians were second-class citizens, or worse.
What possible evidence is there to back this up? Is Bush calling for a return to Jim Crow laws? A ban on women in the workplace? Nationwide anti-sodomy laws? Talk about a baseless attack.
And in other evidence of questionable judgment, they ran a cover that's going to raise hackles about voter fraud: "Vote now. Go to an early voting site and vote for John Kerry and the rest of our endorsements. Then urge someone else to vote. Then do it again." "Then do it again" is in about the same size font as "Vote now" and everything else is smaller, so when you see it, the first thing you see is "Vote now...Then do it again." Not a good idea.
Slate's Mickey Kaus suggested Saturday that "the normal tendency of voters to 'go with the winner' [might] be magnified this year because many voters who don't feel strongly about the candidates do feel strongly that they don't want it to be a close election with all the attendant Florida style recount madness. They will cast their vote to try to give the front-runner a 5 percent win instead of a 1 percent win."
Now, there may be some small bandwagon effect, but a) Bush tried this idea in 2000 and it certainly didn't work and b) there's no reason to think almost any voters are going to try to maximize the winner's margin because of Florida, especially when the election is probably going to come down to the wire and it won't be clear who is going to win. For now, the default public opinion is that Bush is going to take it, but that should change as the press starts to (finally) do the Electoral College math.
I put Kaus's speculation in the same category as Peter Beinart's story a few weeks ago claiming Howard Dean would be doing better than Kerry in the race against Bush, which is just ridiculous. Kerry is a terrible candidate who is crippled by his record and senatorial speaking habits, but candidates who set themselves up as anti-war liberals from Vermont don't win national elections. The problem is the journalistic emphasis on always having to say something new and counter-intuitive leads to a lot of dumb stories.
This poll of prominent libertarians by Reason magazine reveals that many will be casting protest votes for Michael Badnarik, the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate and a potential Nader-esque spoiler for George W. Bush. NPR just profiled Badnarik for "Morning Edition," and this is the endorsement they got of him from a grad student supporter:
We think of course drivers' licenses and things are unconstitutional. And he doesn't have one. And he's been arrested several times for it, and he just will not submit to something that he thinks is wrong. I respect that. A lot of people think it's crazy, but the idea of having someone in this country who's actually willing to stand up for principle I think is worthy of respect, not of being laughed at.
That says it all, doesn't it? Protesting drivers' licenses?
I have a new post up on Kerry's bogus claims over at Spinsanity. Check it out. Apparently, the fact that Social Security scare tactics are a hoary cliche of Democratic politics is no obstacle to another go-around.
The current headline on Drudge is "VOTE FOR DRUGS: KERRY/EDWARDS PASS OUT 'PILL BOXES.'" But the wire service photo that he's linking to just shows someone handing out Kerry/Edwards pill boxes. There's no proof there are drugs inside them -- campaigns hand out trinkets with the candidate's logo on them all the time. It must be fun to have millions of readers and just make things up whenever you want...
That this twice-delivered low blow was deliberate is indisputable. The first shot was taken by John Edwards, seizing a moderator's opening to smarmily compliment the Cheneys for loving their openly gay daughter, Mary. The vice president thanked him and yielded the remaining 80 seconds of his time; obviously it was not a diversion he was willing to prolong.
Until that moment, only political junkies knew that a member of the Cheney family serving on the campaign staff was homosexual. The vice president, to show it was no secret or anything his family was ashamed of, had referred to it briefly twice this year, but the press - respecting family privacy - had properly not made it a big deal. The percentage of voters aware of Mary Cheney's sexual orientation was tiny.
But Edwards's answer in the vice-presidential debate raised that percentage. Because Cheney refused to react and the media did not see the spotlight on lesbianism as part of a political plan, the opening shot worked.
Emboldened, members of Kerry's debate preparation team made Mary Cheney's private life the centerpiece of their answer to the question, especially worrisome to them, about same-sex marriage. Kerry was prepped to insert her sexuality into his rehearsed answer: "If you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian. ..."
But in this second time around, the gratuitous insertion of Cheney's daughter into an answer slipping around a hot-button social issue revealed that it was part of a deliberate Kerry campaign strategy.
Now, it may be true that the answer was a strategic choice by the Kerry campaign, but there's absolutely no proof in the column that Safire knows that to be true. Yet the bolded paragraph above is written as if he knows what the debate prep team told Kerry. Unless he has a source that's not mentioned above, this is just rank speculation presented as fact.
A friend of mine who studies social theory flagged this annoying New York Times op-ed called What Derrida Really Meant. Shockingly, three weeks before the election, what Derrida "really meant" apparently has a lot to do with how President Bush sucks and how he's similar to Islamic extremists in his religious fundamentalism. Check out the coded language:
1) A defense of nuance
Like Kant, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, Mr. Derrida does argue that transparent truth and absolute values elude our grasp. This does not mean, however, that we must forsake the cognitive categories and moral principles without which we cannot live: equality and justice, generosity and friendship. Rather, it is necessary to recognize the unavoidable limitations and inherent contradictions in the ideas and norms that guide our actions, and do so in a way that keeps them open to constant questioning and continual revision. There can be no ethical action without critical reflection.
2) An attack on religious fundamentalists on all sides who embrace certainty (aka Bush and the Islamists)
During the last decade of his life, Mr. Derrida became preoccupied with religion and it is in this area that his contribution might well be most significant for our time. He understood that religion is impossible without uncertainty. Whether conceived of as Yahweh, as the father of Jesus Christ, or as Allah, God can never be fully known or adequately represented by imperfect human beings.
And yet, we live in an age when major conflicts are shaped by people who claim to know, for certain, that God is on their side. Mr. Derrida reminded us that religion does not always give clear meaning, purpose and certainty by providing secure foundations. To the contrary, the great religious traditions are profoundly disturbing because they all call certainty and security into question. Belief not tempered by doubt poses a mortal danger.
As the process of globalization draws us ever closer in networks of communication and exchange, there is an understandable longing for simplicity, clarity and certainty. This desire is responsible, in large measure, for the rise of cultural conservatism and religious fundamentalism - in this country and around the world. True believers of every stripe - Muslim, Jewish and Christian - cling to beliefs that, Mr. Derrida warns, threaten to tear apart our world.
Now, I know very little about Derrida, and I'm sure he personally hated Bush, but this strikes me as a very political and reductionist attempt to put his work into a box relevant to the election. Does everything on the New York Times op-ed page have to be a shot at Bush? Bob Herbert is tiresome enough.
Sighted on Friday in Durham - a sign that said "Support President Bush & Our Troops." These attempts to suggest that opposition to Bush is disloyal are totally out of control.
Update (10/25): I'm also not a fan of the bumper sticker I see quite a bit here that says "Defend America. Defeat Bush." Ridiculous.
Kerry is back to the rhetoric about stem cell research being banned:
Three years ago, George W. Bush put in place a ban on federal funding for stem cell research – a ban that’s tied the hands of our scientists and shut down some of our most promising work on spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer’s, Diabetes, Parkinson’s and other life-threatening diseases."
... And right now, there is such possibility for treatments that could transform our lives – but because of the stem cell ban, they are still beyond our reach.
...When I’m President, we’re going to stop saying no. We’re going to say yes. We’re going to lift the ban on federal funding for stem cell research once and for all.
Don't believe him. Federal funding for stem cell research is not banned - Bush simply limited the number of lines that are available for federally funded research. Whatever you think about the issue, those are not the same thing.
Update (10/21): He did it again today.
Time Magazine, 3/1/04:
The Bush political team, though, believes it is getting the kinks out of the system. One example: campaign and Republican National Committee (R.N.C.) rapid-response makers had been labeling Kerry a "Massachusetts liberal," not knowing that Bush likes attacks to be more specific.
"He doesn't like it because it doesn't tell you anything," says a top Bush aide. "Tell people what that means. That's what he wants." Result: the campaign no longer uses the shorthand phrase Massachusetts liberal.
He [Kerry] talks about PAYGO. I'll tell you what PAYGO means, when you're a senator from Massachusetts, when you're a colleague of Ted Kennedy, pay go means: You pay, and he goes ahead and spends.
...You know, there's a main stream in American politics and you [Kerry] sit right on the far left bank. As a matter of fact, your record is such that Ted Kennedy, your colleague, is the conservative senator from Massachusetts.
...And secondly, only a liberal senator from Massachusetts would say that a 49 percent increase in funding for education was not enough.
Ken Mehlman, Bush/Cheney campaign manager, on "Meet the Press," 10/17/04:
I think people looked at those debates and they saw some important things. They saw that John Kerry is, in fact, a Massachusetts liberal who will increase taxes and who will increase government involvement in health care.
...And the middle class understands when a liberal from Massachusetts like John Kerry says "I'm just going to soak the rich," they better grab their umbrella.
I guess the idea is that these are more specific attacks? Or did they just change their mind?
In an appearance in Los Angeles to showcase a new federal antipiracy effort, John Ashcroft somehow managed to link the issue to the terrorist threat. As my Spinsanity co-editor Ben Fritz reported in Variety (his day job):
The attorney general even drew on the scariest of associations, warning that due to the lucrative nature of the crime, intellectual property theft "risks becoming a potential source of financing for terrorists," although he cited no examples of a connection.
Now it's certainly possible that terrorists could engage in intellectual property theft to finance their operations. But in the absence of evidence to support that claim, this looks more like Ashcroft invoking the terrorist threat for political leverage -- behavior that is not acceptable from anyone, let alone the Attorney General of the United States. At this rate, we're going to hear any day now that we need to block John Kerry's health care plan so that the terrorists can't get government-subsidized health insurance...
People my age are obsessed with Jon Stewart. It's a cliche at this point. But I have to give my own personal hallelujah here. In addition to being hilarious, the show is very important (as we explain in the conclusion of All the President's Spin) because of the way it publicly shames the media and politicians for fecklessness and dishonesty. (We try to do the same thing at Spinsanity in a very different sense.) In the last few months, Stewart has taken his critique to a whole new level by openly blasting the national press to their face in interviews.
Yesterday, on "Crossfire," he just embarrassed Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson, mocking the show as bad political theater rather than serious political debate. And he did the same thing to Ted Koppel on "Nightline" during the Democratic convention, challenging Koppel and the national press to confront political spin rather than just providing a platform for it. The response from the establishment media in both cases was to criticize Stewart for his show not being up to journalistic standards, but as he says, it's a comedy show. Koppel, Begala and Carlson are the ones doing allegedly serious political shows. So why can't they get it right?
The transcripts of both interviews are below. Both are hilarious, but deeply cringe-inducing. The media isn't used to people criticizing them to their face, and it gets very awkward. [Update: Here's the video of Stewart on "Crossfire" - it's a hundred times more uncomfortable than the transcript. Yikes.]
Bob Somerby is right - it is shockingly lazy that Bob Scheiffer didn't look up the exact quote for this question:
QUESTION 18 (of 20): Mr. President, let's go to a new question. You were asked before the invasion, or after the invasion, of Iraq if you'd checked with your dad. And I believe, I don't remember the quote exactly, but I believe you said you had checked with a higher authority. I would like to ask you, what part does your faith play on your policy decisions?
How can a professional network host not bother to check what Bush had actually said? What if he had gotten it wrong?
And on the subject of laziness, I continue to see able-bodied Duke students using the wheelchair access button on their way into the gym because they're too lazy to open the door without assistance. No wonder our society is getting so fat.
One of the most striking things about this campaign has been the quality of news coverage of the presidential and vice presidential debates. In particular, the AP and Washington Post have published long and thorough fact-checking articles within hours of the end of each debate that effectively help voters to sort through the spin. The Post online team has even created a "debate referee," which is a real innovation in online political coverage (for instance, check out their annotated transcript of the third presidential debate).
So we know that they can do good fact-checking when they make it a priority. Here's my question – why don't we have political coverage like that every day, especially now? Four times every four years surely isn't good enough. It's clear that reporters are outgunned on a day-to-day basis, but they have shown that the tables can be turned.
Let me add a note of caution. The danger is that this sort of fact-checking can become perverse, as it did in 2000, when relatively trivial inaccuracies from Al Gore set off wild feeding frenzies that obscured much more serious policy deception. We've seen the same thing this year after the vice presidential debate, when Dick Cheney's false claim to have not previously met John Edwards received vastly more attention than other, more serious falsehoods. (Josh Marshall even endorsed a reader suggestion to re-run the anti-Gore campaign in reverse, calling Cheney a compulsive liar, mentally ill, etc. with a focus on that silly mistake.)
Another risk is false equivalence, which ABC's Mark Halperin warned of in a memo leaked to Drudge. As he put it, "We have a responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest, but that doesn't mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides 'equally' accountable when the facts don't warrant that." In short, all deceptions are not equal, and reporters do not have to treat them as such, as they often do in debate stories.
All that said, however, the post-debate coverage we've seen in the last month has been the closest I've seen to the ideal the press should aspire to. Maybe we can build on that in the future.
At Spinsanity, we hold the media to a high standard, which we lay out in detail in All the President's Spin. The nation's press corps has a responsibility to fact-check the claims of politicians and expose any that are misleading, whether it's the first time the politician has made the claim or the 500th.
Unfortunately, the media often fail in this regard. Many faulty claims are not adequately debunked when first introduced, and then those claims become old news that are ignored even as politicians endlessly repeat them. To see if the press is doing any better in this regard, I looked first at two tired bits of deception from the two candidates -- George W. Bush's claim that John Kerry voted 98 times to raise taxes, and Kerry's claim that the country has lost 1.6 million jobs under Bush -- and then a newer claim, Bush's assertion that Kerry would subject US national security decisions to a "global test" that he characterizes as a foreign veto.
Peter Feaver, a professor here at Duke who is pretty much the nation's leading expert on civil-military relations, published an op-ed in the Washington Post on a new Military Times poll showing 70+% support for President Bush among active duty troops as well as the National Guard and Reserves.
Feaver, who is a crafty point guard in department basketball games, places a good deal of blame on Kerry's campaign, saying "Kerry's scorched-earth critique of the Iraq war may excite the base, but it alarms the military. The point is not that members of the military are blinded to mistakes or difficulties in Iraq. Rather, the point is that Kerry has unwittingly revived two specters that haunt the military" -- "the ghost of Vietnam" and Clinton's tenure as president.
But the larger issue is what these poll results represent. Feaver is concerned that Kerry will be mad at the military and this will harm his ability to serve as commander-in-chief:
I worry about poll findings that show such a large tilt in favor of one candidate because they risk politicizing the military further, especially when it rebuts so decisively a central theme in one candidate's marketing campaign. I worry also because of the reaction I have gotten from Democrats when informed of the poll results -- there's an abrupt shift midstream from crowing about how the military would turn on Bush this year to decrying the partisan Republican tilt of the military. The Democrats have wooed the military more ardently (though perhaps not more wisely) than ever before. Does the fury of a spurned suitor prepare someone to be a good commander in chief in wartime?
More important, though, is the political vulnerability these imbalances can create, which can undercut civilian control of the military when a Democrat is in office, and thereby threaten our national security. I challenge anyone to read Richard Clarke's book and not wish that Bill Clinton had had more leverage to force the Joint Chiefs to undertake aggressive operations against Al Qaeda. Kennedy averted a similar power play by the Chiefs during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The President - no matter who he is - should be served by the military, not the other way around.
Today's New York Times op-ed page has more proposed debate questions for the candidates from various public figures, including Charles Murray (aka Mr. Bell Curve), who offers this:
You promise to create millions of jobs, but many people who run businesses say that nothing in your life has taught you how much effort, risk and sometimes heartbreak goes into creating one real job. Could you describe your experiences when you last had to meet a payroll, or when your boss had to meet a payroll?
There's nothing better than people who live off think tank sinecures lecturing politicians on the virtues of the free market. I don't see any significant private sector experience in Murray's bio (hence the "many people who run businesses" attribution).
More importantly, what does Kerry's private sector experience (or lack thereof) really tell us? Murray clearly has very strong beliefs about the market and how it should be regulated even though he hasn't run a business. Should we dismiss them for that reason? Surely not.
In the end, personal experience is great, but it doesn't tell us very much about the kind of leadership a candidate would offer. Kerry has more military experience than Bush, but I doubt Murray would support him on that basis. The same applies here. Let's hope Bob Scheiffer doesn't follow Murray's lead tonight.
Today's Washington Post features a Howard Kurtz story under the headline "Bush's Health Care Ads Not Entirely Accurate." You think? It's right up there with the headline on Dana Milbank's 2002 article "For Bush, Facts Are Malleable". What are the editors so afraid of? And this is from the Post, which has been the most consistent critic of Bush's dishonesty in the national press (see the conclusion of All the President's Spin). With this sort of punch-pulling, it's no wonder politicians don't pay a significant penalty for deception.
Update (10/17): Post ombudsman Michael Getler criticizes the paper today for its wimpy fact-check headlines and ledes, though he's much too gentle.
The Washington Post's Dana Milbank recounts how George W. Bush's memory of an event after Sept. 11 appears to keep changing:
Will the "guy" from Ground Zero please identify himself? Bush has had some difficulty with his recollection, used to finish almost every speech about his moment on Sept. 14, 2001, atop the rubble of the twin towers. Back in February of this year, as the Web site Salon documented, Bush remembered "a guy pointing at me and saying, 'Don't let me down.' " In May, the figure became "a guy in a hard hat" and then "the firefighter." In June, he became an ensemble of "tired firefighters and police and rescue workers," who said, collectively, "Don't let us down." In July, it was "a fireman or a policeman, I can't remember which one, looking me in the eyes." Presently, Bush added to the tale, saying the guy "grabbed me by the arm." He then added "bloodshot eyes and sweat pouring" to the portrait.
In August, Bush said the fellow, "a firefighter or a policeman," was "looking through the rubble for one of his buddies." The "buddy" morphed into "a loved one" and "somebody that he worked with," then back into a "buddy." By September, Bush had dropped the buddy but developed new recollections about the guy. "I remember a guy grabbed me by the arm, a big old burly firefighter, I guess he was a firefighter. He said: 'Do not let me down.'"
This bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the "trifecta", Bush's false claim to have publicly listed three exceptions under which he might run federal budget deficits during a 2000 campaign stop in Chicago, which we show in All the President's Spin morphed repeatedly between its introduction in October 2001 and its final appearances in June 2002 (see Appendix C). The question prompting the alleged statement, which no one, including the White House, can document, came variously from "somebody," "a fellow," "a reporter," "a male reporter," "the guy," and "they". Bush frequently told audiences that he remembered the event taking place while he was campaigning in Chicago and even lectured the press corps about what he "told the American people" during the campaign. As it turned out, Bush adviser Lawrence Lindsay did say in 1998 that Bush would support the list of exceptions, which was originally proposed by Al Gore. But the story about Chicago is apparently apocryphal, which makes the shifting details of Bush's supposed anecdotes all the more disturbing. That's not to say that the story about 9/11 is necessarily false, of course. Still, a healthy dose of skepticism is certainly in order.
The Palestine Solidarity Movement is holding its annual conference at Duke this Friday to Sunday, which means that all hell will be breaking loose momentarily. PSM supporters and critics are flying in to yell at each other from all over the world, including - of all people - Debbie Schlussel, the poor woman's Ann Coulter, who is introducing Daniel Pipes at an event Thursday night. There's a credibility enhancer.
In all seriousness, I oppose many of the ideas I've seen associated with PSM, but Duke did the right thing by deciding to let the conference go forward. Academic freedom is precious; the answer to bad speech is more speech, not censorship.
And unfortunately, all the nonsense threatens to obscure just how serious the issue is. A Jewish student group is currently sponsoring a visit to campus by Bus 19, a powerful and moving traveling exhibit of an Israeli bus that was blown up by a suicide bomber. Then tonight, I found out that one of my PhD classmates in political science at Duke had a friend die on that bus. I'd encourage everyone in the Raleigh-Durham area who has a chance to stop by and see it.
Here's the cover of the latest edition of the Limbaugh Letter - there's something very disconcerting about these fawning Great Leader portraits that he has painted every month:
First of all, the way he is portrayed looming over Bush and Kerry is bizarre. And he's in a general's uniform, even though he famously sat out the Vietnam War with a cyst in his ass. Apparently, his readers are paying to help him work through some issues.
This full-page ad from Rock the Vote was included in the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated On Campus, which is handed out with college newspapers as an insert:
"Off to college or off to war? It's up to you. Could you be drafted? It's just one of the many issues that could be determined this election."
The not-so-subtle message is that if Bush wins, there will be a draft, and if he doesn't, there won't be. That is just a ridiculous oversimplification. Given the hard realities of our current military overstretch, a draft can't be ruled out by any responsible leader, but neither side is proposing one, and a Bush defeat wouldn't magically resolve the problem.
These scare tactics are a lousy trick, especially from an allegedly non-partisan group that purports to speak for the youth of America. We're not that stupid, guys. Come on now.
Elizabeth Duncan can say it loud: she's bronze and she's proud. The sophomore with a penchant for Nelly and the life sciences has another passion -- basking in the artificial light of a tanning bed.
"Obviously I like laying out in the natural sun better, but this is so much easier with my schedule," Duncan said from behind the wheel of her sunburn-red Pontiac Firebird. "You see people laying out on the quad while reading -- I'd rather sleep or relax in the tanning bed. I just can't read and tan at the same time."
I have the same problem.
I am an assistant professor in the Department of Government at Dartmouth College. I received my Ph.D. from the Department of Political Science at Duke University in 2009 and served as a RWJ Scholar in Health Policy Research at the University of Michigan from 2009-2011. I also tweet at @BrendanNyhan and serve as a media critic for Columbia Journalism Review. Previously, I co-edited Spinsanity, a non-partisan watchdog of political spin, and co-authored All the President's Spin. For more, see my bio or academic website.