Sunday Thoughts

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Kerry was on Meet the Press this morning, and didn't really say anything new.

He still doesn't have much of a plan for the war in Iraq -- despite saying his approach would be radically different -- apart from "I'd be nicer to our allies and get them to help us." I dunno, that doesn't really go far to convince me he'd be different. But on the other hand: if he gets more specific, would that win him more votes, or does he pretty much get all the antiwar people already? Or maybe he is better off enumerating the specifics as we get closer to the election, since the situation will surely change significantly in the next several months?

But even his broad, inspecific plan has problems. He keeps saying the point is to get UN and NATO and allied support, that this is the main problem with how Bush went in; but that ignores the apparent truth that we wouldn't have gone in at all if we had waited for such support. The real political issue, I think, will come down to not how we went in, but whether we should have gone in. If we were right to go into Iraq, then whether or not we had support is insignificant. If we were wrong to go into Iraq, same thing. This is the one area where I think Dean would have made a more effective candidate against Bush, because he made this point fairly well. Of course, since Kerry supported the war, he can't really make that point, so he needs to make a much weaker point, that will convince far fewer people.

Kerry did own up to making mistakes in the early 70s, with his statements about the UN controlling US troops, and his attacks on the actions of US troops in Vietnam. He said he was young, angry, and said stupid things, and that as a Senator, he's never said, thought, or voted along those lines. As far as I am concerned, that ends the issue. But many people have much longer memories than I do, and hold grudges ... or are just looking for an excuse to beat up on Kerry.

He also came out in favor of Israeli actions against Hamas, moreso than Bush has. Bush basically says, Israeli policy is their own business, where Kerry said he supports the rights of the Israelis to defend themselves from terrorists like Hamas. I suppose, as a Senator, he has that luxury moreso than Bush does; it will be interesting to see if Kerry can grab the pro-Israeli, anti-Palestinian-terrorist, vote. I doubt it -- especially since Kerry even said he supported Bush's policies in regard to Israel, giving back settlement land, etc. -- but at least Kerry won't lose any ground there.

Now, Kerry is right when he says Bush is distorting his record -- I am not going to go over that $87b vote yet again, except to say Kerry is not answering the question well -- but he makes it sound like he hasn't distorted Bush's record. He tries to take the moral high ground, as though his side is shiny and pristine and the other has a bag full of dirty tricks. He's been distorting Bush's record since last fall, and he even when he's not, Media Fund or MoveOn is. Both sides do it. Get over it. I am not saying he shouldn't respond -- he should -- but to whine about it as though he is the victim is annoying and tiring.

One of Kerry's distortions -- said many times by him and other members of his party -- is that Bush's budget is deceptive because it relies on revenue generated by growth from tax cuts. But Kerry's budget promise -- to cut the deficit in half -- relies on the exact same thing. He dismisses this criticism with (essentially), "well, my policies will result in growth, and his won't!" Even if that were a reasonable response, it would be uninteresting, because it is merely predictive, and the whole point is therefore whether you believe Bush will create growth, or Kerry will, not whether one is being deceptive (similarly to his criticism over international support in Iraq).

And it is not a reasonable response anyway, not at this stage, because we are seeing significantly increased growth under Bush. The "misery index" (inflation + unemployment) is lower now (7.8) than it was in Clinton's last year of his first term in 1996 (8.0); unemployment itself is the same (5.6); unemployment peaked at a much lower rate (6.3) than the three previous recessions (1979 at 7.9, 1982 at 10.8, 1990 at 7.8); and since Bush's tax cut last May, the Dow and NASDAQ are way up, GDP and productivity and housing starts are very strong, and unemployment has dropped significantly while job growth is now looking quite good.

Surely, the economy is not where it needs to be, and you can play with the numbers to make it look like Bush is worse than these numbers make him look, or worse than he actually is. But two things are indisputable: since Bush's tax cuts last May we are doing significantly better, and most of the economic problems we see in Bush's administration were things that began, or were the inevitable result from conditions existing, before Bush took office (the stock market began "crashing" in 1Q 2000; the job market began contraction in the 3Q 2000; the recession was coming and could not have been prevented in the 1.5 months Bush was in office before it began; the shift to outsourcing and offshore manufacturing began many years before Bush and were exacerbated by the other economic conditions; etc.).

So we know Bush inherited a bad economy, and that since his economic policies were fully implemented, the economy has done better. That's not to say he's been perfect: I disagree with his high spending and budget deficit, and surely the Iraq war -- right or wrong -- slowed any potential recovery. It's fair to say those things have harmed the economy, but it is just as fair to say that his other policies have helped cause the gains.

When it comes down to it, people will judge the President, in regard to the economy, based on how well we are currently doing (using measures -- objective and subjective -- similar to the misery index, which is pretty good right now) and in what direction we are currently headed (which over the past year has been almost all positive). I don't think Kerry really wants to run on the economy, in the end. Maybe he's hoping the current trends will reverse before the fall.


I just finished Bush at War (in audiobook), and now Woodward's got a new book coming out. He is one of the few people to whom I grant wide latitude, in terms of using anonymous sources, because he has proven himself reliable over the years. It will be interesting to read (or listen to[*]) what he's got to say.

I do find it interesting how much of a double-edged sword the book will be, as Woodward's books usually are (it's common for both parties to use different parts of the same Woodward book to make their case). So far we've heard much made, already, of a supposedly secret meeting Bush had with Rumsfeld, about two months after the 9/11 attacks, telling him to start pulling together a plan to go after Iraq. I don't know if this proves any point in particular, but people are attempting to make it sound like it does. We'll see.

And then there's Woodward's telling of a meeting where Bush expressed doubts about the case the CIA was making that Hussein had WMD, and Tenet saying the evidence was a "slam dunk." It strikes directly to the heart of the one of the primary claims by Bush-haters that Bush ignored and even distorted the evidence of the CIA to make his case for war. I think, frankly, that this may put the final nail in the coffin of that idea, which never had much evidence supporting it to begin with.

I am drawing no firm conclusions, though I am obviously leaning in certain ways. But it seems the question should not have been whether Bush ignored or manipulated the evidence, but why Tenet still has a job. Maybe so he wouldn't have time to write an unfair, mean-spirited, tell-all book?


Much has been made of Bush's press conference last week. The problem with it is that Bush didn't give many specifics, and the press didn't ask many good questions. Of course, he failed to answer some good questions, but they failed to ask very many of those to begin with. They asked him how he "felt." They asked him to evaluate himself. Those aren't news conference questions. That's fodder for Diane Sawyer or Barbara Walters or Larry King, or a first-year J-school student: not serious journalism.

You don't ask the President if he feels like he's made a mistake, or if he's made any mistakes. Those questions are not designed to get an intelligent response of any importance, but to get soundbites. It used to be that the media would cut down important news stories into soundbites; now they cut down news events themselves, that they provide only soundbites to begin with.

It's really obscene laziness. It's hard to explain things, it's hard to interpret events for people, so they shifted from explanation of complex events to quoting people out of context to hopefully make their explanation for them. Now, they try to obtain quotes without context, so there's no context for the quotes to be taken out of.

Just this morning, Tim Russert said to John Kerry: "We'll get to the nuance later, but right now, tell me yes or no ... ." Sorry, but that is not how the world works, Tim. Sometimes, answers need nuance, need context, need explanation. Sometimes there is no simple yes or no that is adequate. Sure, Kerry could have answered yes or no, and it would have been logically reasonable, but millions of people would have taken that yes or no and used it as though it were his categorical answer, because that is what we've learned to do. To his credit, Kerry didn't play along.

A good question for Bush would be: "you said there were WMD; were you right? if not, where are they?" That sort of thing. Being specific and trying to get actual information, instead of trying to express or elicit expression of feelings or decontextualized pat answers. The press justifies this by saying there's a feeling out there that Bush is arrogant or unreflective, so that is the question they ask; but that sort of psychoanalysis is for the op-ed page (if there), which can be based on the answers to good questions, and should not be the subject of questions in a press conference. It's useless and foolish.


More people are coming out and saying the 9/11 Commission should be disbanded, that its verdict can't be trusted, and worse. I think the publicity it's received has only hurt it. I think the effort to educate the public has served the cause of education very little, and has served partisanship greatly. I think we'd have all been better off if we just waited for their results.

But in the end, I don't think it will matter much. Their conclusions probably won't suprise us at all, will be fair and even-handed, and focus primarily on the failures of our intelligence agencies and the lack of urgency of America -- from both Clinton and Bush and their administrations, and in Congress, and in the media -- to face the threat. They will have sweeping recommendations for how to move forward, and we will evaluate them on their merits.

In the end, the Commission's publicity problems, the public hearings, and the rest won't matter much. There's no reason to disband them merely because they've damaged their own credibility. Their recommendations would have had more force if they'd not had so much publicity, but either way, we were going to evaluate them on their merits.


Tomorrow is a very big Patriots Day in Boston (celebrating the start of the Revolutionary War by wearing funny suits and playing/watching sports). Enjoy! And perhaps read the Longfellow poem while you're at it.

*I listen to and read books, and want a single verb to describe both. I like "receive," but that makes it sound like I am being given the book, not that I am listening to or reading it. Any better ideas?

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<pudge/*> (pronounced "PudgeGlob") is thousands of posts over many years by Pudge.

"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

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This page contains a single entry by pudge published on April 18, 2004 8:23 PM.

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