Posts Tagged ‘Election 2004’

The Thinker

John Kerry: Yesterday’s News

John Kerry may have lost the 2004 election but he is clearly running for 2008. His consolation prize for losing was a couple million names on his email list. Since last November he has been busy stuffing my email box. It was vital to him that I knew he was doing his best to put kids first, stop John Bolton’s nomination as our U.N. Ambassador, keep Senate filibuster rules in place, submit bills to help Iraq war veterans, among other efforts. Occasionally I bite and sign an electronic petition. It’s a pretty painless thing to do. But I realize these efforts don’t amount to much. I understand what is really going on. John Kerry doesn’t want me to forget about him when he runs for president again in 2008. Next time he figures he doesn’t have to spend quite as much effort going house to house in key precincts in early primary states. Instead he can solicit those of us on his massive mailing list for campaign cash.

Well, I have news for you John. It’s not that I don’t respect you or your positions. You are a liberal Democrat after all. It’s just that, well, you are yesterday’s news. I like many other Democrats was lukewarm when you emerged from the Democratic pack. On the other hand there was the alternative: four more years of George W. Bush. So it was easy to write those checks. I sent you $450 in the last campaign. When I couldn’t give any more money to you because of election laws, I gave to the Democratic National Committee. And I gave lots more to MoveOn.org and other interest groups. But here’s the thing John: just because I gave you money didn’t mean I was enthusiastic about you as a candidate. And I’m sure not enthusiastic at all about you running for president again.

2004 was a year when a Democrat should have won the White House. George W. Bush had racked up an appalling record. But still you lost. I admit you did well in the debates. But you still bungled the larger campaign. Your campaign seemed to be run by a bunch of rank amateurs. They were clueless responding to organizations like the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. So much mud was slung at you but you didn’t know how to sling it back. For months you dithered over actions like calling Bush to task for his bungling on the war in Iraq. Maybe you spent too much time fretting that maybe it would make you look unpatriotic. Or perhaps you were too intimidated by the Swifties to simply acknowledge the truth that Howard Dean so eloquently and convincingly stated back in 2003. Whatever. Rather than setting the agenda you fell for every trap the Republicans put out for you. Rather than being on the offense you were continually on the defense. You could have acknowledged that your vote on the Iraq war was simply a mistake. Then you would have had credibility. Instead you tried to have it both ways.

You came across as an egghead because you are an egghead. I am sure you had your share of adversity in life, and I certainly acknowledge that you served honorably in Vietnam. But you come from a privileged and elite background and it shows. I’ve never seen anyone who looked more at home in a three-piece suit than you. You must have been born in a suit. So you didn’t connect with ordinary Americans. Whatever sense of empathy you tried to project, we could tell it was insincere.

And now with 2008 clearly in mind you are doubtlessly trying to follow your media handlers’ advice by trying to project the image of a new John Kerry. The new John Kerry seems to be markedly more anti-gay and “mainstream” than the one that ran in the election. Now you want to pretend you are a Washington outsider. Sorry John, you are so intimately connected with the inside the Beltway political establishment that you might as well be a zebra trying to change its stripes. You look ridiculous and insincere in this latest role. We all see through it. But somehow you find yourself saying stupid stuff like the Massachusetts’s Democratic Party made a mistake for supporting same sex marriage in their platform. You said it does not conform to the broad views of party members.

Are you sure about that John? My sense is that if you asked most Democrats they’d say they definitely support gay marriage. They might support civil unions, but not because they believe in a “separate but equal” status for gay couples, but because they realize it may be a pragmatic step toward ensuring that gays someday have the same privileges as any other citizen. In other words John, a mainstream Democrat believes passionately in equal rights and responsibilities for all. Who is the out of the mainstream Democrat, John? I would say you are, particularly because I don’t believe you really believe your own dogma. When you said during the campaign that you were for civil unions but not for gay marriage we Democrats sensed your position was just marketing. Your latest image remaking is bogus too.

You want to know why so many of us were drawn to Howard Dean? It was because he was the real deal: a man who said what he meant and was passionate in his convictions. It was obvious from the tone of his voice, his body language, his red face and his throbbing neck veins that he meant what he said. He didn’t mince words. He wasn’t afraid to call a spade a spade. He connected. You don’t.

So sorry John. I am sure you are a nice man and one of our better senators in Congress. But you really aren’t all that special and I don’t consider you presidential material. I am sure you would have been infinitely better than the bozo currently in the Oval Office. At least you have some critical thinking skills. But there are many better Democratic candidates out there. In match ups of potential Democratic challengers you are an also ran. Forty percent of Democrats surveyed prefer Hillary Clinton. You only draw eighteen percent.

John, if you are the Democratic nominee in 2008 you will likely get more money from me. We Democrats must remain united, even if our picks turn out to be somewhat odious. But I will be working for someone else during the primaries. Do not assume that because I sent you money that I am necessarily enthusiastic about you as a candidate. For most of us on your precious mailing list, you are yesterday’s news.

 
The Thinker

An Overplayed Hand

When you are in power one of the hardest lessons is learning to say, “Enough!” As Bush said shortly after his election last year, “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style.” He, like the four new Republican senators and the handful of new Republican congressmen, read way more into their electoral victory than was evidenced by the facts.

Bush, for example, claimed, “I’ve got the will of the people” when in fact he scraped by with a bare majority: 51 percent to 48 percent. 51 percent is not a mandate. In electoral votes, it was 286-252, the closest electoral college result in modern American history, despite running against the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate. 60 percent, maybe, is a mandate. 51 percent is not.

What about those new Republican senators? Democratic incumbent and former minority leader Daschle lost to Thune in South Dakota, a very red state, by two points. In Florida, Martinez wins by two points too. North Carolina: Burr wins by five. Republicans did better in the Deep South, winning decisively in Georgia, Oklahoma, Louisiana (after a runoff election), Oklahoma and South Carolina. But there were also some Democratic surprises. While Obama’s victory in Illinois was not in doubt, gathering 70% of the vote is stunning. And the red state of Colorado appears to be trending blue, picking mainstream Ken Salazar over Peter Coors by four points.

So the 2004 election was essentially about getting the power without really having the mandate. A more astute party would use the opportunity to cement their power through moderate choices. But instead the President in specific and the party in general have dramatically overplayed their hands.

Seizing the reins of power must be addictive. It must be hard to think clearly when you can get pretty much what you want. Not much else can explain the stunningly bad choices made by the Republicans lately, and their inability to grasp the seriousness of the situation. By about a three to one margin Americans are appalled by the attempts by the President and Congress to intervene in Terri Schiavo’s case. Today’s Washington Post-ABC News Poll is one of many that should tell Republicans they are in serious trouble. Bush’s approval rating is at 47%. Only with the war on terrorism does he gets more approval than disapproval. (This still surprises me, based on how badly it was bungled.) On his handling of social security he has 64% disapproval. When asked which party better represents voters’ personal values Democrats lead Republicans by nine points.

When asked whether the Senate should “go nuclear” (changing Senate filibuster rules to make it easier to confirm Bush’s judges) 66 percent oppose the change and only 26% approve. Clearly majority leader Bill Frist isn’t paying much attention to polls. Instead he is courting Christian conservative voters, wackos like this guy:

Putting more evangelicals on the court will mean rulings more in tune with the religious convictions of churchgoers, said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.

“We are not asking for persons merely to be moral,” Mohler said. “We want them to be believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Meanwhile, over in the House of Representatives, Majority Leader Tom Delay puts in a new Ethics committee chairman who is his personal friend and tries to change the rules to make it harder to kick him out of power. He finds nothing wrong with his numerous ethical problems, despite being thrice admonished by his own Ethics Committee and despite this Washington Post article, which demonstrated that his 2000 trip to London was paid for by lobbyists. What an irony that “The Hammer” Delay was one of the boatload of Republican congressmen elected in 1994 in the Gingrich revolution. It was Gingrich’s Contract with America that promised term limits. That clearly failed to materialize. The Contract also promised lots of other things including reining in a government: “too big, too intrusive, and too easy with the public’s money.” And here we are with a government far more grandiose than any Republican could conceive in 1994. But most ironic of all, the Contract called for “restoring the faith and trust of the American people in their government.”

Instead we get tyrannical politicians nominated for the United Nations, extremists judges renominated for the federal courts, and anti-citizen legislation like the new bankruptcy law that screws the average American yet does nothing to require that creditors stop handing out credit cards like they were candy.

My sense is that Republicans have dramatically overplayed their hand. Rather than representing mainstream values they have shown they demonstrate extreme values. It is clear that they pander to corporate interests, not the people’s interests.

And the irony is I find myself cheering them on. Keep up the good work. Keep denying your ethical violations, Tom Delay. Keep chatting with Christian Conservatives like the weird Tony Perkins at the so-called Family Research Council, Bill Frist. And yes by all means try your “nuclear option”. This time the Democrats won’t be seen as obstructionists. Instead it will be clear which party is really outside of the mainstream and which party really stands for the average American. And thank you George W. Bush for nominating some of the most controversial people in the Republican Party for your top posts. By all means keep pressing for “personal” social security accounts. With every out of the mainstream move the opposition grows and ordinary Americans rethink their choices. They can see the Republican reality at last and it is not pretty.

Republican cannot see it, but the handwriting is already on the wall.

 
The Thinker

Election 2004 Postmortem

The body is not quite cold but it is definitely cooling. If I were John Kerry and John Edwards I would not necessarily concede defeat, but I would be preparing the concession speeches.

This election was hard for anyone to call since polls were almost always within the margin of error. I stepped out on a limb in a number of entries and predicted Kerry would win the election by a comfortable margin. In June I suggested a 5% spread. Instead it looks like Bush has about a 3% margin on the popular vote. It remains possible that Kerry could win the electoral vote, but it seems very dubious. There would be a certain karmic rightness if Kerry won the electoral vote and lost the popular vote, since it would essentially cancel out the 2000 election and restore a certain sense of balance and fairness.

But yesterday was clearly not what the Democrats hoped for. In addition to likely losing a very narrow presidential race, Republicans picked up 3 seats in the Senate and sent Tom Daschle home permanently to South Dakota. In the House although a number of contests have yet to be decided it looks like Republicans picked up four seats. The Republican lock on Congress looks like it will continue and extend itself for some time.

In the Retro vs. Metro war, Retro seems to have won this round.

In trying to understand the election what puzzles me the most is how Bush could possibly win. In any other election he would have been shown the door due to his dismal performance. So I felt it was a safe bet to say he would lose. The key I think was turnout. I think that people were voting this time not so much for candidates but as a statement of their values. I really doubt that all that many Bush supporters are truly enthusiastic about the guy. I never was terribly enthusiastic for John Kerry. But I did care about projecting my values and the values of my “clan”: internationalism, peace, respect for the environment, etc. The same was true for the Republican base. When it became apparent that the Democrats were waging a very effective get out the vote effort it became clear to anyone who cared to get involved. So both sides turned out their bases in droves. That was a wrinkle I did not expect and I suspect was the main reason my predictions were off. I need to keep this lesson in mind in the 2008 election.

Personally both my family and myself are very scared. To us George W. Bush has not just been a bad president; he has been a reckless president. Now we get to look forward to four more years of the same. If the past is any guide it won’t get better.

But karmic forces remain at work. Bush cannot undo the damage he has done. Iraq will continue to be a quagmire that will defy solution. He will be fortunate if his popularity in his second term ever rises above 50%. The fundamental problems he introduced remain and the way he has tried to solve them has exacerbated our problems.

So if there is a silver lining to this it might be that in 2006 voters will be a lot more motivated to change directions. Only time will tell how long it will be before we wake up as a nation and acknowledge the disaster that is the presidency of George W. Bush.

 
The Thinker

Selling Fear

For a left brained person like myself it is hard to understand how a couple weeks before the election, polls can show George W. Bush a few points ahead of Senator John Kerry. Kerry should be the obvious choice. In normal times he would be the obvious choice. But in this election the usual factors that would defeat an incumbent may not work.

When a president’s approval rating hovers in the mid forties (where Bush is at currently) his reelection is usually in deep trouble. When this happens independents will usually break for the challenger, not the incumbent. Any impartial observer of this election would have a hard time understanding how anyone could vote for four more years of George W. Bush. His record is a disaster, both domestically and internationally. He has created the largest annual budget deficits in our history in just four years, after taking over a surplus. On the jobs front he will certainly be the first president since Herbert Hoover to actually lose jobs during his term. Middle class jobs are disappearing and those that replace them tend to pay less. Health insurance costs are going through the roof resulting in more people without health insurance. Gas prices are at all time highs. Internationally we failed to find and kill the person who carried out the 9/11 atrocities, invaded a country that was no threat to us and managed to earn the disgust of much of the international community. When handing out political favors Bush’s rich friends always get top preferences. So how could it be that Bush could possibly win this election?

It could be the liberal media isn’t liberal at all, which is pretty obvious to me. It could also be that Kerry is an incompetent campaigner. The presidential debates dispelled that notion. Not only did Kerry win all three debates but also Kerry comes across as presidential and very sober. Unlike Bush, Kerry actually has realistic plans for dealing with our current problems. Perhaps the “liberal” label pinned on Kerry still causes independents to recoil in horror. I don’t quite understand it because I don’t see anyone, Republican or Democrat, seriously talking about getting rid of liberal programs like Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. But it’s pretty clear that if there were a median scale with 1 being very liberal and 10 being very conservative, Kerry might rate a 3 but Bush would be a definite 10. In other words Bush is much further from the mainstream than Kerry could ever hope to be. At least Kerry actually advocates fiscal responsibility. The Bush solution is to open the treasury vault wide to all of his cronies. There is no limit to the amount of tax money he is willing to give away to special interests that will lend him support.

So why is Bush even competitive? The only thing that comes to my mind is that much of America is still gripped by fear. Why shouldn’t it be? Since 9/11 it’s been an “all fear, all the time” administration. To ensure that we are always fearful the Department of Homeland Security makes sure we always know the current fear level. Simply go to the DHS home page to see how fearful the government wants you to be today. Oddly it has never gone below “elevated” so we should always be on our guard.

Fear is a powerful motivator. Upon examining my own motives my fear of terrorism was one of the reasons I began an active search for a federal job close to home. Working in L’Enfant Plaza in Washington D.C. and having worked in the city on 9/11 I experienced some of the horror of that day personally. I was ultimately successful and now work three miles from the house at the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Virginia. So if fear can motivate a left brained person like me it likely can motivate a whole lot of others too.

In retrospect we understand that the 2002 elections were won on fear that our nation was going to be rife with incidents of Islamic terrorism. We were told that only the Republicans had the maturity and judgment to deal adequately with such a grave national emergency. Never mind that the Democrats had backed the same antiterrorism legislation as the Republicans. Republicans in general and Bush in particular were utterly shameless in their pandering to our fears. And we succumbed. As a nation we wanted to suck our thumb and pretend our Big Daddy would make everything right.

In poll after poll while Bush gets poor marks on domestic issues he gets high marks on national security. So as long as Bush can persuade voters that terrorism is still a major national problem he can keep riding the coattails of our 9/11 fear. To some of us trusting Bush to do right on national security seems ludicrous. A president who preemptively invades another country that had no connection to our national security or 9/11 logically is not demonstrating good judgment. But apparently what is at work here is not a left-brain analysis but a right-brain reaction. Lots of people are right brain dominant and are ruled more by their feelings than by dispassionate logic. If I had to guess I’d bet there are a whole lot more left brained Democrats than Republicans.

I think my reaction to find a job outside of Washington D.C. was an entirely logical response to 9/11. I had witnessed the smoldering wreckage of the Pentagon on 9/11 firsthand. So my fear that I might be a future victim if I worked in the city was entirely plausible. On the other hand to think that we are protecting our national security by invading countries that pose no threat to us is illogical. Yet it was an emotional response that many could relate to. It said to the world “Don’t mess with the United States or we’re going to squash your country like a bug.” The reality of course was something completely different. We can win a conventional war against any other nation except possibly China. But as we seem to be demonstrating in Iraq we are unlikely to succeed in the securing the peace phase following the war. But terrorism generally operates outside nation states and breeds the most in countries that most closely resemble anarchies. Logically to win the war on terrorism we should be securing nuclear and chemical stockpiles and changing the conditions that breed terrorists. But that doesn’t have a whole lot of PR value. It doesn’t satisfy our need to see some concrete results. When we have bunker busting bombs blowing apart alleged terrorist bunkers we feel better. “See? We’ve destroyed an apartment complex in Falluja today harboring terrorists! We’re winning the war on terrorism!”

If the Bush-Cheney team can keep us in fear and if it succeeds in populating the meme that its strategy is actually making our nation safer it might win the election. So this election may come down to whether Democrats can succeed in engaging the left brains of voters. If we can do this we should be able to win this election. If we don’t not only will we lose but also we actually put our national security in a lot more jeopardy. When times are tough and scary we need to think clearly and with reason, not succumb to “feel good” emotional balms for our fears. Let’s hope we can disengage the reptilian portions of our brain just long enough to throw Bush out of office on November 2nd.

 
The Thinker

Courage Lads!

It is nineteen days until Election Day and the polls could not be closer. Whether you are Democrat or Republican it’s nail-biting time. If you are a Democrat like me it is not time to whimper or whine. It’s time to display some courage. It’s time to have some faith. It’s time to show we have determination, grit and spine.

I believe we Democrats are on the cusp of winning. I believe we will win the presidency and I am optimistic we will take back the Senate. But as with everything about this election it won’t be given to us on a silver platter. In spite of the train wreck that is George W. Bush’s presidency there are lots of poorly informed and very scared Americans out there. Many of these voters will vote their fears and not their convictions. It takes courage to change presidents and change policies in turbulent times. We must complete the sale now.

Don’t be complacent. At a minimum if you have extra bucks to spare, and even if you don’t give to some worthwhile candidates or political action committees. At this point I would not give any more money to the Democratic National Committee. There is not much more TV and radio time they can buy up in swing states. However, there are progressive candidates on the cusp of victory. Throwing some money into their campaigns can make a real difference. Winning one house of Congress is vital because a president without one house of Congress aligned with him is like a boxer with one hand tied behind his back. The Senate is the better bet. Redistricting in Texas that will likely let the Republicans keep control of the House of Representatives. Show courage by throwing money at Ken Salazar in Colorado, Joe Hoeffel in Pennsylvania, Tony Knowles in Alaska, Erskine Bowles in North Carolina or minority leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. All these people are in very close races and most are trailing their opponents by a few points, or are a few points ahead. All the races are volatile. We need a pickup of just one seat to retake the Senate. If you can’t make up your mind simply make a contribution to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and let them do the thinking for you.

Turnout is the key in this election. For many months groups like Americans Coming Together have been doing the grunt work for this election by combing likely Democratic neighborhoods for new voters and registering them. They are knocking on doors, making phone calls and arranging to get voters to the polls on November 2nd. They can always use more money so send them some dough. I expect that polls will be very crowded this year. Turnout rates may exceed 60 percent and may be as high as 70 percent. This may well be the most important election in a generation.

If you are feeling vindictive there is no better Republican to get angry at than House Majority Leader Tom Delay. The House Ethics Committee has thrice reprimanded him for his shady and arguably illegal practices. This was the same man who called the Department of Homeland Security to have them track an airplane full of Democratic Texas state legislative representatives. They went to New Mexico to avoid a quorum vote on an out of turn federal redistricting of their state. This is a man under whose leadership Democratic members of Congress have been deliberately and repeatedly kept out of policy-making deliberations. In the world of Tom DeLay, Democratic congressmen don’t deserve even to be heard. Richard Morrison is running against DeLay and he has a real chance of winning and sending DeLay back to a day job of being a bug exterminator. I’ve given Morrison $50.

If you feel passionately about putting Democrats in office then commit your time and shoe leather too. Your local Democratic party is likely looking for people to work phones or to knock on doors to get out the vote. But your part doesn’t have to be so direct. You can simply volunteer to get people to the polls.

As for the presidential race there is still a lot of ambiguity in the race. Yet I remain convinced that Kerry will win it. The October Surprise may be a surprise that boomerangs in favor of Democrats. Bad news from Iraq makes me cringe but it just continually vindicates Kerry’s contention that Bush is incompetently running the war.

The dominoes keep falling for Bush. Today alone was a day of very bad news. The Dow is down 100 points and fell below 10,000 again. Ten people were killed in Baghdad’s supposedly safe “Green Zone”. 28 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan are accused of manslaughter and conspiracy in the deaths of two Afghanis. The official federal deficit for fiscal year 2004 was higher than anticipated and came in at $413 billion, an all time record. Bush’s chickens have been coming home to roost for a long time, and there have been more and more arriving as Election Day approaches. And with the consensus that John Kerry clearly won all three presidential debates (and Edwards won the Vice Presidential debate) and polls now showing a dead heat we are clearly on a winning streak.

But there are other signs that Bush will be trounced on November 2nd. The Republican National Committee and the Bush Campaign appear to have abandoned both Michigan and Pennsylvania, effectively admitting that the Democrats will win those states. Most polls are now showing Kerry holding a narrow lead in Ohio. Surprisingly Kerry is within the margin of error of winning in Arkansas, assumed to be out of play for Kerry. Kerry is neck and neck in Nevada.

You can also get a whiff of the future by simply watching the inept Bush campaign. Kerry has gone strongly for the middle. Bush isn’t even bothering. He and Karl Rove believe that rather than reach to the center their only chance of winning is getting very heavy turnouts from his Republican base. But that won’t work since there are more Democrats than Republicans nationwide and polls show independents are clearly breaking for Kerry. Bush has decided that image is everything. He won’t allow even a whiff of dissent at his rallies. That is why they are limited to only ticketed Republicans who pledge to vote for Bush. Rumor has it that lately to get into some Bush rallies attendees actually have to submit an essay of why they will vote for Bush. Kerry is talking about things that matter to average folks like health insurance, protecting jobs from outsourcing, getting Osama bin Laden and crushing al Qaeda.

Courage lads! The broadsides are coming at us fast and furious from the U.S.S. Republican Party. Although the sound of those guns is hellacious and the noise deafening, their gunners are pretty inept and most of them aren’t hitting us. But their ship is taking on water. The mainmast looks like it is about to fall. But this is no time to be complacent. Let’s keep all those guns firing. Do your part by donating money and time. Do it quickly, do it efficiently, do it smartly. Talk to your friends and neighbors today with conviction, quiet confidence and not a trace of hubris about why things must change. In the process of finding our courage we will find that uncommitted voters will follow us. And on November 3rd we will feel hope and optimism again. Our country will once again be on the way to being on the right track. And I hope on that day you will join me in lifting a glass of your favorite spirit and celebrating our hard won victory won.

 
The Thinker

No Escape from the Truth

I love presidential debates. It’s a shame we have to go four years between them because they are such fine theater. Despite attempts by the Bush team to control every aspect of the debate it turned out that the candidates came through in all their resplendent humanity. Unfortunately for George W. Bush the American people got to see the real Bush, not the stage-managed Bush. For Bush prior to last Thursday the 2004 Presidential Campaign meant reading from prepared scripts to partisan crowds meticulously screened to ensure zero dissent. The picture presented was fundamentally false as is almost everything else about George W. Bush.

But last Thursday we got to see the real W. And it was not a pretty sight. It turned out that the real Bush was peevish. Scowling. Haughty. Sneering. Aloof. Detached. He looked like a man getting a high colonic. And he conveyed all this without evening opening his mouth. When he did open his mouth he was rambling, repetitious, bumbling and at times wholly incoherent. I actually felt sorry for my Republican friends on Thursday night. I’d hate to have to try to sell swing voters on the virtues of George W. Bush based on this performance, viewed by 62.5 million Americans.

Not that Kerry had a perfect performance. He started out a bit rough but he improved as the debate progressed. While he took notes as Bush spoke Kerry wore a very slight but noticeable “cat that ate the canary” smile on this face. But I would have looked smug too. It would be hard not to smile while watching your opponent make such an utter ass of himself. But unlike Bush at least Kerry could put together a sentence with some nuance to it. This is a skill that Bush simply does not possess. About all Bush could say was “It’s hard work” ad nauseam. How would he know? Bush has never known hard work. Yet even if he had known hard work, what’s the point of hard work if it doesn’t achieve results? Of course it’s hard work to try to turn a flawed strategy into something viable. It’s hard work because you are going against inertia.

But even if Bush had the gift of glibness that night Kerry had one other weapon in his arsenal for which there was no adequate response: the Bush Record. I thought Dick Gephardt was being charitable when during the primaries he called Bush “a miserable failure”. All Kerry had to do was articulate his failures so those who had spent the last four years detached from politics could hear them. It wasn’t so much Kerry who was devastating to Bush. It was Truth: pure, unadulterated and unembellished truth plainly articulated that really turned the tide for Kerry. You cannot BS the truth.

Yes, Kerry had W metaphorically pinned right down on the mat. How can Bush possibly claim that Saddam was a threat to the United States when there was no evidence to support it? No weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq despite pre-invasion claims that Saddam was reconstituting weapons of mass destruction. It turned out that in spite of complete assurances to the contrary that there was no connection at all between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. We have nine thousand troops in Afghanistan where the enemy of 9/11 still lurks and 115,000 troops in Iraq, which holds no national security interest to our country whatsoever.

It was a brilliant stroke for Kerry to quote back Bush’s own father on the dangers of trying to take over Iraq. It was also brilliant to quote Bush’s own Secretary of State on the “Pottery Barn Rule”: You break it (Iraq), you own it. Every time Kerry uttered yet another simple but obvious truth about Bush’s inept war on terror the fog cleared a little. By the end of the debate it had lifted entirely and Bush was naked. We could see George W. Bush for who he truly is: a pretty pathetic, fraudulent and spineless guy high on rhetoric but short on accomplishments.

And it will not get any better for either Bush or Cheney. I have little doubt that John Edwards will clean Dick Cheney’s clock in tomorrow night’s debate. It is certainly advantageous that Edwards is an ex trial lawyer and a maestro at debating. But again it won’t take much for him to show the fraud that is Dick Cheney either. There are too many quotes out of Dick Cheney’s mouth to possibly take him seriously as an authority to be trusted. As the leader of the neoconservative wing of his party and arguably the real power behind the presidency he has nothing good to show for it. All of his assertions have proven completely wrong.

The Bush team can only hope that prejudice and hubris will win them this election. That’s all they’ve got: their committed base. But it’s not enough to win. There are more Democrats than Republicans in this country, and the Independent vote is going to skew toward Kerry. Although it is hard to see a month before the election, only the most improbable of events or the most inept last month of campaigning by Kerry and Edwards will keep John Kerry from the presidency.

 
The Thinker

Bush: hoisted by his own petard

On the word history of petard:

The French used petard, “a loud discharge of intestinal gas,” for a kind of infernal engine for blasting through the gates of a city. “To be hoist by one’s own petard,” a now proverbial phrase apparently originating with Shakespeare’s Hamlet (around 1604) not long after the word entered English (around 1598), means “to blow oneself up with one’s own bomb, be undone by one’s own devices.”

Is George W. Bush starting to sound a little shrill on the campaign trail? I’d call it more than a little shrill. He is starting to sound more than a little scared and desperate.

Bush has a big problem. He wants to win reelection in three months but he has no record of accomplishments to run on. I’m not sure he realizes it. But I suspect his campaign advisers have figured it out. Bush is in deep doo doo. His hand is poor and he has to hope that some combination of luck or events will boomerang in his favor. You would be wise not to take this bet.

Bush’s list of “accomplishments” is thin. He can say he gave tax relief. Unfortunately the vast majority of it went to the wealthiest 1%. For the rest of us the tax relief we received probably didn’t make up for increases in our taxes from our state and local government. For those who became unemployed it was moot. In just four short years he took our country from the largest budget surplus in history ($236B in 2000) to the largest deficits in history ($445B projected for 2004). That’s a $681 billion dollar gap in just four years! So clearly he can’t run on fiscal responsibility. Fiduciary? He never heard of the word.

Bush is also touting the 1.5 million jobs created since last August. That sounds great except for two minor matters. First, he is still 1.2 million jobs in the hole. He stands an excellent chance of being the first president since Herbert Hoover to actually have fewer jobs at the end of his term than at the beginning. Anyhow at its peak Bush was down 2.7 million jobs from when Clinton left office. It would take an economic miracle to fill those last 1.2 million jobs by Election Day. Second, even in the unlikely event he manages to put job growth in positive numbers, it doesn’t mask the plain reality that most of these new jobs pay less than the ones that were lost. Real wages have been declining for two years in a row. So he can’t run on a record of job or wage growth.

But Bush is a strong leader who will keep us safe from international terrorism, right? Unfortunately the 9/11 Commission faulted his administration for missing numerous warnings that a 9/11 type event was likely to happen. This is like you getting into an accident because you are chatting to your wife on the cell phone instead of paying attention to the road. Yes, the other guy might have caused the accident but it might have been avoided if you had been concentrating on the road. The warnings were there. But once engaged he allowed the war on terrorism to lose focus. Instead of concentrating on destroying al Qaeda he largely gave up trying to track down and find Osama bin Laden. Instead he led us into an unnecessary war against Iraq. Meanwhile real problems like North Korea and Iran’s nuclear capacities festered into much larger problems. Now we can’t deploy our forces in these countries unless we want to condemn Iraq to wholesale anarchy.

Bush can say (with fingers crossed) that no new terrorist attacks have happened in the United States since 9/11. That could change at any time, but it certainly hasn’t kept terrorists from striking us overseas. Rather than contain these forces our War in Iraq seems like it has stirred them up instead. There is nothing like injecting over 100,000 predominantly Christian troops into the middle of the Islamic World to make the lines long at terrorist recruiting centers. It doesn’t help when Bush talks about the war on terrorism as a “crusade” either. At best Bush’s handling on the war on terrorism has been inept. Pretty much anyone with any lick of common sense could have done a better job. And then there is the minor matter that he blew up most of our bridges to the international community. As Kerry rightly pointed out one nation can’t create world peace. It takes lots of nations working together.

Bush was going to be a united, not a divider, remember? That’s why many Democrats and Independents voted for him in 2000. He quickly showed that he had no idea what bipartisanship meant. Rather he used control of government to push the most extreme aspects of his agenda. These include giving obscene tax breaks to the wealthy and our tax money to religious charities. So any attempt to pretend he can govern in a bipartisan manner will be laughed at. Those who voted for him for this reason in 2000 certainly won’t during this election.

Most Americans are concerned about the environment and support common sense treaties like the Kyoto protocols. Unfortunately for Bush’s reelection prospects he doesn’t. He withdrew support for the protocols, opened old growth forests for logging and reduced emissions standards for power plants. As a result we get to deal with more, not less, mercury in our atmosphere today, along with other pollutants. Any attempt to run as an environmental president will be laughable.

Success on the diplomatic stage? Not much. For our war on Iraq he convinced major powerhouse nations like Palau to join us. Instead nations with real armed forces like Spain are pulling out our so-called “coalition of the willing”. It’s pretty much us and the Brits there now and the Brits may be getting antsy.

If there is any accomplishment Bush can boast about it is that interest rates have been at all time lows. This was largely true when Clinton was in office too, but the situation improved during his tenure. This made home buying more affordable to many people. But this is not an accomplishment that he can take credit for. Rather it is a direct result of the Bush recession. It was the Federal Reserve that kept cutting interest rates, desperate to keep the economy from sputtering back into recession. Most people would have preferred good jobs and steady income to a couple points lower interest rates.

Bush has no record of accomplishments. He does however have a long record of failures and mismanagement. He cannot speak with conviction because he has not demonstrated much in the way of results. Metaphorically he is a petard: a large discharge of intestinal gas. High on words, low on results. He’s a big gaseous and pompous windbag. Given his lack of results it doesn’t take much brainpower to figure out that Americans will decide it would be almost impossible for anyone else to do worse. So they’ll vote against him, and not necessarily because they love John Kerry.

And that’s why on January 21st, 2005 John Kerry will be president and Bush will be flying home to clear brush.

 
The Thinker

Why Bush Will Lose in 2004 – An Update

It was about a year ago (July 4, 2003) that I wrote what at the time seemed to be a rather fantastic prediction: that Bush would lose this year’s election. Judging from the number of hits and comments it has received this entry turned out to be one of my most popular entries. A year ago even the most rabid Bush haters were stewing in silence. None except perhaps Howard Dean really thought Bush could realistically be defeated. His reelection seemed like a slam-dunk.

I think most of us realize now that Bush’s chances of staying in office are at best 50/50. As I said a year ago (and still believe) there are always last minute factors that could tip the election to Bush. I still think it is possible that some horrible September 11th type event, timed perhaps in mid October, could produce an emotional response that would reelect Bush, though not validate his governing style. We will all be hoping and praying that this does not happen. One of the few positive things I have to say about Bush was that I thought his approach to dealing with terrorism within the United States has been decent. It is by no means ideal. Our borders are still pretty porous. There are significant security gaps in our ports and in our air cargo system. But border security is much better than it was. I’d rate this aspect of the war on terrorism as a B, while I’d give others like securing nuclear stockpiles a D or an F.

The economy perked up a bit more than I expected. Bush hasn’t erased the three million jobs lost during his watch but he has perhaps a 50/50 chance of at least ending his term with no net loss of jobs. It’s unlikely that this is the sort of statistic he can use to ensure his own reelection. As others have pointed out the unemployment rate hasn’t changed much these last few months, in spite of the new jobs. This is because those who gave up hope of finding a job are more hopeful now and have put themselves back in the market. But there is also the disturbing problem that the new jobs tend to pay on average less than the old jobs. And though wages are rising, these don’t feel like good times yet to those who are coming off unemployment. And at least so far this year inflation is rising faster than wages. That of course means a net loss in income for the average worker. Gas prices that are likely to hang around or over two dollars a gallon won’t help Bush either.

Those on the top enjoying Bush’s large tax cuts are living large and have seen real income growth. Those on the bottom end of the income scale pay little or no income taxes and consequently haven’t seen much improvement in their standard of living. Most of them are paying markedly higher housing costs that have actually put them further behind.

Howard Dean has been vindicated on tax shifting. When taxes are cut in one place they tend to rise elsewhere. Most of us see it on the state and local level. I haven’t done a personal study of my own income. But I am willing to bet that my federal tax cut has been offset by other tax increases. Our house just keeps rising in value. Just this year alone I can expect to pay several hundred more dollars in property taxes. Over the course of Bush’s term in office I am likely to see my property taxes go up by about $1000 a year. And then there are those other taxes. For example our Virginian Republican legislature decided to raise taxes effective July 1st, in spite of pledging never to do such a thing. Miscellaneous taxes continue to rise too. My telephone bill is about 30 percent taxes. So for the vast majority of us tax cuts on the federal level have at best kept us even in our overall level of taxation.

Most of the trends I noticed a year ago are still true today. Iraq became the quagmire I predicted. Actually it is worse than I imagined a year ago. Not only is our war in Iraq a failure but also our war on terrorism in general is a failure. Our only success was overturning Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, which supported al Qaeda. But despite this Osama bin Laden remains at large. Al Qaeda has launched many attacks on our allies and on us. Liberating Iraq doesn’t really count because it was never a threat to our national security and was never allied with al Qaeda. Our erstwhile “ally” Saudi Arabia is in a virtual state of siege.

Meanwhile the Taliban in Afghanistan are resurging. We don’t really have enough troops in Afghanistan to do more than ensure the Taliban can’t take over the country again. Planned elections in Afghanistan look dicey at best. Female poll workers are being killed. The country, unfortunately, is not yet at a mature enough place where true democracy for all can flourish. Iraq’s culture is more contemporary, but it must fight its own civil war with puritanical Islam before it can take root, if it ever does. Iraqis are more used to strongmen as leaders and are likely to revert to that model. If democracy happens in Iraq it is likely to be a long and violent process. If you can remember what a bloody place Beirut was in the 1970s and 1980s you have a pretty good idea of what Iraq will be going through for many years. And sadly it won’t be alone. Predominantly Islamic Countries all over the Middle East need to complete a soul-searching process. It will likely be violent and last for decades. Much the way the Soviet Union finally got the clue that communism was unworkable, eventually these countries will figure out that theocracy won’t work. Eventually and inevitably these countries will discover what we learned long ago: that a certain amount of secularism is required to enjoy the benefits of a modern state.

But I digress. If you want to know why Bush is likely to lose look not just at his poll numbers. Look also at how Americans are feeling overall about the economy and the war on terrorism. The only area where Bush gets positive marks now is his overall handling on the war on terrorism, and there he holds only a slim majority. When asked about particular aspects, like the War in Iraq, he no longer gets majority approval. And now it is clear that this will not change substantially before the election.

Red states will still vote bright red and blue states will vote bright blue. But Republicans will not vote passionately for George W. Bush. Many of them will stay home out of apathy and disgust, much as Democrats did for Carter in 1980. But apathy won’t be the case with the Democrats in this election. A lot of people, and not just Democrats, really really don’t like George W. Bush. Karmic elements are at work. The sort of rabid hatred Republicans heaped on Bill Clinton for marital indiscretions is about to be returned on George W. Bush doubly by Democrats. Democrats finally have a Republican they just can’t stand. Basically they just hate the guy. And hatred while not the most noble of our emotions can be very strong.

Although it’s too early to say for sure we can perhaps see the future in the weekend’s new box office hit, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. Even in bright red states like Texas shows are selling out days in advance. Many of the people I know who voted for Bush in 2000 have changed their mind and won’t vote for him again. Many are doing so as a protest. They just feel he has totally screwed up.

And we feel that America has changed for the worse. This is not the country we remember. We expect our president to act from deliberation and consideration, not from prejudice and instinct. We expect our president to keep an open mind. We expect dialog from our president, not one sidedness. We expect presidents to find synergy with our international partners, not piss them off. We expect most of all: moderation. Lack of moderation is really the key to Bush’s downfall. Moderates win reelection. Radicals don’t. And the swing voters are, as always, the moderates. Bush promoted himself as a moderate but he was a chameleon. Now they know better. Bush will paint Kerry as a left-winger but Kerry will sensibly steer toward the moderate middle. Bush can no longer claim that territory. Through his actions he has shown that he is not a moderate.

Bush will be hit by a tsunami of disgust from large numbers of very angry voters. They will be telling their friends not to vote for Bush, and their friends will be telling their friends. The moderates will be seeking anyone who will actually steer toward the middle in this election. Kerry is the only choice for them. So I put the odds right now at 85/15 for a Kerry victory. And I predict when the popular vote is counted it will be Kerry 53%, Bush 45%, and Nader (plus miscellaneous candidates) at 2%. This is a minimum. I suspect Kerry’s number will actually trend higher.

Come back November 3rd and see how I did.

 
The Thinker

No Time for Deaniacs to Sulk … Time to Get Busy

Many of us who supported Howard Dean should be having a mixture of feelings right now ranging from hurt, anger, rage and general sulkiness. But if we withdraw from political life at this time we are making a deep mistake. The country, and particularly the Democratic Party needs our talents and energy now more than ever.

Dean always said the campaign was not about him but about us. By “us” he means the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. If we fail to assert ourselves now within the party then we have failed in our true mission. Getting Dean elected was a great goal but the odds were always very long. There were lots of candidates out there and only one can be the nominee. We wanted a revolution but we got an evolution. This should come as no surprise. Now we must complete the mission: we must bring progressives back into prominence in the Democratic Party. We must make the Democratic Party the Democratic Party of old again.

We should not descend into an internecine war. We should not try to topple the Clinton Democrats, or those who follow the Democratic Leadership Council. In truth the DLC has not done well either. Its poster child Joe Liebermann never polled out of the single digits. The DLC wing of the Democratic Party is already a fading memory. We Deaniacs can be proud that we have rushed in and occupied their space.

To start with we need to continue occupying this space. Howard Dean told us it is important to keep voting for him even though he is no longer campaigning. This is because this gives us delegates at the national convention, and that gives us a say in the party platform. It is there that we can make our voices heard. It is in Boston that we can assert that our party should be passionately committed to equal rights for all (and particularly for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trangenders). There we will also stand up and fight for platforms that call for progressive energy policies that emphasize renewable energy sources and conservation. We can insist that our nation do something real to reduce global warming and respect the world ecosystem. We can also press our party to be fiscally responsible and to work for true universal health insurance for all Americans. We should insist on a fair tax code that does not penalize either the poor or the working poor and requires the rich to provide more of their income in taxes again. In doing we also show that Democrats are truly a party of the people again.

It is also crucial that our country become mainstream again. Our country must be eager to work with the United Nations and other countries to create pragmatic broadly supported international solutions to world problems. We must lead the party and our country toward a longer vision that is not so parochial and recognizes the complexity of the world we live in.

In the short term it is important to work to elect not only a Democratic president but to elect a Democratic congress. We should enthusiastically endorse and fund John Kerry’s campaign, if he turns out to be our nominee. We should work among ourselves, but also with progressive networks like MoveOn.org to turn the election into a rout of Republicans in general. We should be inclusive and let bygones be bygones. We should work with the Kerry, Edwards, Kucinich and even the Sharpton camps to push common goals and values. We need to assert our progressive values, but we need to be nice and persuasive about it.

We need new goals. Our short-term goal must be to remove Bush from office and to elect a Democratic congress. We have the ability to seriously tackle both of these with our existing network. Our long-term goal should be to keep America moving in a progressive and mainstream direction.

Dean for America needs to evolve. It needs to become the Democratic Progressive Network. We need to promote the DPN as an alternative to the Democratic Leadership Council. Howard could be our spokesman, but he doesn’t have to be. There is plenty of new talent among us that is there and could be easily harnessed.

As for Howard Dean, John Kerry would be wise to work to have him on his team. Howard Dean has unique talent and energy that no other candidate has. He would be ideal as the new head of the Democratic National Committee. He should be stumping the country not necessarily for Kerry, but to stir up activists to vote for Democrats in state, congressional and senatorial campaigns. If Kerry were elected, as I fully expect, Dean would make an excellent cabinet secretary. He would be a natural as the head of Health and Human Services, but let’s not rule him out for other key posts. I could see him as Secretary of Defense or Secretary of State. From my perspective Howard Dean’s future continues to look very bright. His talent should not be allowed to atrophy.

 
The Thinker

Some Thoughts on the Upcoming Presidential Primaries and the Election

The presidential primary season is about to begin in earnest on Monday. That is the day when Democrats in Iowa will caucus. Eight days later New Hampshire voters will go to the polls to select their favorite candidate. Whoever wins these primaries will doubtless hope to ride these early victories all the way to the nomination. However, if history is any guide many of those now campaigning like mad in both states might have been better off skipping these states altogether. That’s because neither Iowa nor New Hampshire has a great track record picking the candidate who ultimately will win the nomination. So Wesley Clark may be smart to avoid Iowa. Let the others throw money at each other while he conserves his cash, organizes the key southern states, then hits them big on February 3rd and on Super Tuesday. It’s a smart strategy.

I found online results of both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary going back to 1972. I excluded those years when an incumbent was running, and looked only at the Democratic primaries in these states. Both states are batting .500 in picking the eventually nominee. In baseball terms this is a great score, but not here. The best that can be said for winning in these early primaries is that the name recognition may improve a candidate’s odds. But that’s about all that can be said for it. It costs a hell of a lot of time and money to even compete in these states. Part of this is because there are a plethora of candidates for the party out of office in these early caucuses and primaries. If Iowa and New Hampshire have a job, it’s to winnow the candidates’ list down.

The primaries on Feb 3rd should be far more telling. Why? Because the states participating are more moderate states than either New Hampshire or Iowa. On that date Democrats in Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Carolina will vote. If I had to pick a bell weather state among these, I’d pick Arizona. Traditionally a fairly conservative state, it has been trending Democratic more and more these days. This is due to a very fast growing population, many of whom migrated from northern states. If I had to bet money (and of course I am rooting for Howard Dean) I’d say the Democrat that wins Arizona will win the nomination.

I proclaim no special prognostication skills when it comes to the primaries and the general election. The tightness of the race in Iowa, according to polls, indicates it is up for grabs. My sense is that Howard Dean will win Iowa. I suspect he will win it by about 5%. I believe it because he has a fanatical youth following. They will turn out for him and work for him in droves. My sense from attending four Dean Meetups is that this will be the real big surprise of the 2004 election. Both parties will wake up and discover that a critical mass of younger adults (those under 30) is now politically engaged. It’s about time Generations X and Y woke up from their lethargy. Maybe they were too young to remember Reagan, and took the wonderful and prosperous 90s for granted. Perhaps now they have woken up to what Republicanism has done to our country. It appears that they don’t find it very agreeable.

In the longer term the odds will still favor Dean simply because he has a network in place and he has the money (and can get a lot more when needed). Dean’s biggest problem will be his mouth. The campaign in Iowa suggests that going negative against his fellow Democrats is turning away voters. He will have to tone down those remarks in the future and direct his anger at the Republicans instead.

I’ve thought for about a month now that the Democratic nomination will eventually be fought out between Dean and Clark. I don’t think we will get run of the mill Capitol Hill politician as the nominee this time around. Voters seem to be saying they want someone different and unconventional. If I have been surprised lately it is how quickly Wes Clark is catching up in the polls after having been drubbed down to near the back of the pack after his initial fast start. His campaign has finally come together. He is generating serious money from a large network of supporters. This is causing the Dean campaign to look over its shoulders in worry. Although Dean is still ahead in New Hampshire, I would not be surprised if Clark ultimately wins in New Hampshire. New Hampshire has a history of loving mavericks, as it did in 2000 when it picked John McCain over George W. Bush. But it likes conservative mavericks more than liberal mavericks. Although Dean is really a centrist, Clark is perceived as a centrist and that may be the critical factor in New Hampshire.

Once the nominee is decided then the real battle for the general election begins. It will be a tough campaign for Democrats to win, but it could easily swing either way based on a number of topical issues, such as the ever-present U.S. economy or happenings in Iraq. As much as I like Dean, I tend to agree with the Clark people that Clark has better odds of fairing better against Bush on national security issues in the general election. So if Clark wins the nomination I won’t shed too many tears for Dean. I could back Clark enthusiastically. He just seems a bit suspicious to me because he only recently became a Democrat. I don’t know where his heart really lies.

Clearly the election will be fought over two issues: national security and the economy. On the national security issue Bush will appear to have the advantage, but either Clark or Dean are smart enough to know how to expose the fraud that is our war in Iraq. Clark is more likely to pick off Southern states for the Democrats. But I am dubious that the Democrats need the South to win this time. Based on the popular vote in 2000 we didn’t need the south, except Florida. If we can hold what we won in 2000 and pick up a couple states we can win the election. Bush is beatable. So don’t give too much credence to polls this far out from the election. The vast majority of Americans can’t yet name a single Democratic candidate for president.

The best issue for the Democrats on the economy will be the large net job loss (likely to exceed two million jobs) during Bush’s term. He will be the first president since Herbert Hoover to have a net job loss in his term, and it’s hard to see how that will work to his advantage. Numbers like the December employment statistics (where jobs grew by only 1000 jobs) must make Karl Rove nervous. This appears to be a jobless recovery. The result is a lot of unemployed people competing for the same number of jobs, playing a dispiriting game of musical chairs with each other. Democrats will need to get them to the polls.

I tend to agree with my friend Frank Pierce that the Democrats need to play up the issue of outsourcing. We’ve been outsourcing blue-collar jobs for decades, but outsourcing white-collar jobs is a new phenomenon and troubling for many of us who felt secure with our college degrees. Those who have been outsourced more often than not find themselves making half of their previous income. Democrats need to paint the vision of a nation of clerks working at Wal-Mart if the Republicans stay in charge.

It is a shame the voters won’t focus as much on the federal deficits (which are the largest in history) or Bush’s exorbitant tax cuts for the rich, or the way he is wrecking our environment. Voters as a class seem to care more about short-term than long-term issues. Doubtless the Democrats will leverage them if they can. Of all these issues the federal deficit is the most compelling. Traditionally voters have agreed that the government should live within its means. It is ironic that the Democrats can make the better claim of being the party with a track record on financially responsibility.

Ultimately the Democratic nominee must simply promise more pragmatic and progressive stewardship like Bill Clinton delivered. His was a legacy of real prosperity unmatched in over lives. It should make the difference in many swing states. An appeal to a return to the “Great 90s” might swing the election.

 

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