Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Terminated For Cause
There are issues where nothing is black and white. There are decisions where there is no clear-cut right or wrong. And then there's the issue of "Was Tricky Dick Nixon a fucking crook?" and the decision "Should that lying sack of shit have been thrown out of office?"
It's very simple: You either answer "yes" to both those questions or you aren't an American. Peggy Noonan, Ben Stein, Chuck Colson, Gordon Liddy, Pat Buchanan-- they've all shown, in the last few days, that they understand nothing about this country, that they are ignorant of the principles it was founded on and therefore were and are unfit for government service.
Stein's brief explains their position articulately: "Can anyone even remember now what Nixon did that was so terrible?... Oh, now I remember. He lied. He was a politician who lied. How remarkable. He lied to protect his subordinates who were covering up a ridiculous burglary that no one to this date has any clue about its purpose. He lied so he could stay in office and keep his agenda of peace going."
That's it. That's exactly why he was being fired; it's exactly why he deserved to be fired. It's called "termination for cause", and the cause was that Tricky Dick violated his employment agreement with the American People. Anyone who doesn't understand that fact is intellectually bankrupt on the subject of American Democracy.
Even if the laundry list that Stein and Nooner spit out weren't bullshit, it wouldn't matter in the slightest. Tricky Dick wasn't hired to save the jews or prop up the dominos. Article II of the U.S. Constitution, explains the powers of the Presidency. Section 1, Clause 8 clearly states what Tricky Dick's sole responsibility was:
Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:--"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Those six words: "Preserve, protect and defend the Constitution." That was his job. Let's try a little strict constructionism on for size: The Constitution of the United States comes before everything else. That includes political objectives. And every other cause except for the Constitution.
And I hate to break it to all the 9/11 assholes, but the Constitution even comes before human life. The founders-- who'd been occupied, tyrannized, jailed, tortured and killed for opposing the government-- knew that liberty took priority over everything else. And you control the amount of liberty you have by the laws you define and enforce.
So, no, even if Tricky Dick could have waved his magic wand and saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians (which he wouldn't have-- he would have had them barbecued and served on the White House lawn if it would have advanced his political career one iota), it wasn't worth the damage that his continued presence in office would have caused to the Constitution.
The President of the United States isn't empowered to selectively enforce the Constitution-- to make value judgments about when and where and in what circumstances to enforce its provisions. He's there to make sure it's followed.
And Tricky Dick Nixon didn't just fail to ensure that the provisions of the Constitution were enforced-- he actively tried to subvert them. The crooked motherfucker approved the breakin at Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate. He approved the burglary of the office of the psychiatrist who was treating Daniel Ellsberg. He approved the founding of the "Dirty Tricks" unit (some working out of the White House and others paid with illegally diverted campaign funds) that:
1. Started a rumor that Senator Henry Jackson (one of his prospective opponents in 1972) fathered a child out of wedlock.
2. Forged a letter claiming that the wife of Senator Edmund Muskie (another prospective opponent) was an alcoholic who referred to Canadians as "Canucks."
3. Performed opposition research on Ted Kennedy's career.
4. Sabotaged political rallies for Senators Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern.
He had White House staff compile a list of poltiical enemies who were to be targeted for retribution by the FBI and IRS.
He attempted to take over the CIA, FBI and IRS and use them for political purposes.
He advocated terrorism-- ordering associates to firebomb the Brooking Institution. (According to Henry "Dr. Strangelove" Kissinger, just another example of his madcap sense of humor.)
And when some of his cheap thugs got caught, the thieving cocksucker tried to order the investigation shut down. He decided to have Vernon Walters-- the CIA's Deputy Director of Intelligence-- call acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray and tell him not to investigate the Watergate burglary-- that it was a CIA covert operation that was critical to national security.
"When you get in these people when you...get these people in, say: "Look, the problem is that this will open the whole, the whole Bay of Pigs thing, and the President just feels that" ah, without going into the details... don't, don't lie to them to the extent to say there is no involvement, but just say this is sort of a comedy of errors, bizarre, without getting into it, "the President believes that it is going to open the whole Bay of Pigs thing up again. And, ah because these people are plugging for, for keeps and that they should call the FBI in and say that we wish for the country, don't go any further into this case", period!"
Any President who makes such a statement in the Oval Office immediately forfeits his right to continue to occupy it. I don't give a shit how many box tops and green stamps and brownie points the guy has collected or what anyone thinks he might do.
Trying to balance Tricky Dick Nixon's involvement in Watergate by citing his accomplishments as President is like reminding us that Mary Kay Latourneau was universally regarded as a wonderful art teacher, or citing the many hours that Dr. Jayant Patel's spent volunteering at the free clinic.
There are some cases where there isn't any "on the other hand", and this is one of them. And the guy who knew that best was Tricky Dick. He couldn't obey the law, but the evil bastard knew exactly what it required:
"Iin all of my years in public life I have never obstructed justice. People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook."
Yes, he fucking was. And that's why Mark Felt ratted him out. And it's why everyone alive in the 1970's who wasn't an ultraconservative ideologue fuck wanted him thrown out of office.
And it's a sickening comment on the quality of liberty available today that these retromingent cocksuckers can get a podium to preach their perverted brand of drizzly bullshit.
Thursday, April 14, 2005
Could someone answer a question for me? I'm being completely serious here.
Just who the fuck is Amy Sullivan?
I find it astonishing that anyone pays her opinions more mind than Hind Tit. There is no reason that she should command more rintellectual espect than Mann Coulter.
And this has nothin to do with her positions on issues. I have read over a dozen books written by Tricky Dick Nixon. I've done this because Nixon, who lacked almost all of the attributes usually needed for political success (good looks, charm, family connections, wealth) became Congressman, Senator, Vice-President and President. His success-- based solely on judgment and cunning-- suggest that anyone can benefit from reading his ideas about politics.
20 odd-years ago, Newt Gingrich analyzed the levers of power in Washington and proposed a strategy by which the wingnuts could gain control of Congress. It worked. When Mr. Gingrich tries to analyze Congress-- rather than spin for his buddies-- his predictions are almost always right.
In 1969, a young writer named Kevin Phillips wrote a book pompously titled The Emerging Republican Majority. In the book, he predicted that shifts in population (away from urban areas and toward the south and west) would enable his party to retain the Presidency almost indefinitely-- and eventually break the Democratic strangehold on Congress.
In the late 80's-- at the end of the Reagan years and beginning of Bush I's presidency-- Phillips wrote The Politics of Rich and Poor, which said that the economic excesses of the Republic Party would create a political climate which would permit a Democratic candidate to win. So you'd better believe that I pay attention to Phillips.
And I listen to what Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh say, because those guys have made a hell of a lot of money by saying things that resonate with an ungudly number of people. I've studied Roger Ailes's book on communications, because he made incredibly successful political ads-- and then reshaped the media with Faux News. I pored over Frank Luntz's wingnut playbook, because he's been right more often than not.
All of which is my way of saying that I can't fucking stand some people's politics but I'll pay attention to what they say when there's some reason to believe, based on their track record, that they aren't talking through their asses.
Can someone show me empirical proof, based on either her career or her past writings, that she's ever managed a politician who had to (a) respond to an electoral problem and (b) did so successfully? If she hasn't won a campaign (as she hasn't), what reason is there to believe that she knows anything about how to do it?
Failing that, can someone point me to ones of her articles that (a) analyzed a political landscape, (b) listed the strengths and weaknesses of various responses, (c) identified the probable consequences of each response and (d) had her analysis proved by the events that followed? There ain't any of those, either.
Sullivan's stock in trade is the "We're in a mess, here's how the liberals got us here and now we'll have to tack to the right to fix it" broadside. There's never any data-- tracking polls, election results, opinion surveys-- to document the truth of her claims. As Scott correctly notes, "she just projects her preferences onto some poorly defined demographic... You're not allowed to bring evidence of the actual effects of cultural products into the discussion; people believe what they believe, and one has to pander to that."
It's rather crass to call her "David Brooks with boobs". But it's also accurate-- the M.O.'s are the same.
When she does try to provide contemporaneous analysis, she's often astonishingly wrong. In the October 8 debate, John Kerry, was asked the following question: "Senator Kerry, suppose you are speaking with a voter who believed abortion is murder and the voter asked for reassurance that his or her tax dollars would not go to support abortion, what would you say to that person?"
Kerry answer-- taken from the official transcript-- follows:
"I would say to that person exactly what I will say to you right now.
"First of all, I cannot tell you how deeply I respect the belief about life and when it begins. I'm a Catholic, raised a Catholic. I was an altar boy. Religion has been a huge part of my life. It helped lead me through a war, leads me today.
"But I can't take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn't share that article of faith, whether they be agnostic, atheist, Jew, Protestant, whatever. I can't do that.
"But I can counsel people. I can talk reasonably about life and about responsibility. I can talk to people, as my wife Teresa does, about making other choices, and about abstinence, and about all these other things that we ought to do as a responsible society.
"But as a president, I have to represent all the people in the nation. And I have to make that judgment.
"Now, I believe that you can take that position and not be pro- abortion, but you have to afford people their constitutional rights. And that means being smart about allowing people to be fully educated, to know what their options are in life, and making certain that you don't deny a poor person the right to be able to have whatever the constitution affords them if they can't afford it otherwise.
"That's why I think it's important. That's why I think it's important for the United States, for instance, not to have this rigid ideological restriction on helping families around the world to be able to make a smart decision about family planning.
"You'll help prevent AIDS.
"You'll help prevent unwanted children, unwanted pregnancies.
"You'll actually do a better job, I think, of passing on the moral responsibility that is expressed in your question. And I truly respect it."
Typical John Kerry response-- he was asked a direct question and never gave a "yes" or "no" answer. As both James Carville and Roger Ailes say in their books, when you're asked a question in a debate, you must answer it immediately. Voters won't pay any attention to anything you say until they hear your answer-- the longer you take to say "yes" or "no", the more they believe that you're bullshitting them.
I remember listening to Kerry's nonsense and looking at the faces of the audience and thinking "Jesus, he just completely blew that. I'm not 100% sure I even know what his answer means. In fact, I think what he said boils down to I have very strong beliefs that abortion is murder, and if elected, I have no intention of acting on them.
Which, of course, is almost exactly what W. replied: "I'm trying to decipher that. (pause to allow for laughter) My answer is, we're not going to spend taxpayers' money on abortion... I signed the partial-birth -- the ban on partial-birth abortion. It's a brutal practice. It's one way to help reduce abortions. My opponent voted against the ban. I think there ought to be parental notification laws. He's against them."
The next day, I got a look at the dials and the overnights. They indicated that my initial judgment was accurate. Religious voters hated that answer-- they thought it was insincere and disingenuous-- and Kerry's support among them cratered.
Five days after the debate-- given half a week's review time and the hindsight provided by polls-- Sullivan's assessment of Kerry's answer was: "John Kerry's answer... struck me as almost perfect... What was more important in terms of picking up those moderate Catholics who are still not in the Democratic camp yet is that for the first time in recent memory, the Democratic candidate expressed respect for pro-life views and acknowledged them as legitimate in a political forum.
And I'm sure it did. seem perfect to her It was exactly like a typical Sullivan article. It stammered and rambled. It offered sanctimony without substance. There was nary a tangible proposal in that morass of verbiage.
And the bottom line is that it didn't work. In fact, it backfired. Kerry did what Sullivan wanted him to do and he lost voters.
I'm not going to go all Somerby on you and ask why people pay attention to her. Amy Sullivan is a pretty girl with an earnest manner and the habit of framing fundamentally conservative views in the form of helpful suggestions to beleaguered Democrats. She's got a pundit boyfriend with almost identical views (Noam Schieber, of The New Republic) and I'm sure they make a dynamite impression on the Georgetown Cocktail Party Scene.
But if you assess the merit of her ideas, she has no more intellectual credibility that Daryn Kagan. Show me a documented case where Amy Sullivan's advice actually helped a candidate and maybe I'll pay listen. Until then, she's no more reliable than her brother-in-arms Andrew.
Saturday, April 09, 2005
Hail to Thee, O Bloggers of Gossip
Since I wasted 90 minutes of my life on the National Press Club's debate on Who is a Journalist (choose the 9:30 event), I might as well try to get some value out of it:
1. Unless chosen carefully, panels are almost always annoying. This was no exception. On a six member panel, two people will be godawfully stupid (Jim Gueckert and Julie Davis) and two will be intellectually capable but boring (John Stanton, Matt Yglesias, the moderator). Since they try to make sure everyone gets the same amount of time, the two who are either bright or insightful (in this case, Garrett Graff and Ana Marie Cox) get slighted.
If you download the "Good Parts" version from Crooks and Liars, you'll get all the fireworks and miss only a few minutes of insight.
2. You can sometimes get more flies with vinegar than you can with honey. I thought the amount of abuse directed at Garrett and Cox (who received invitations even though they deal in gossip and rarely put any serious thoughts in print) was richly deserved. But they responded to the criticism by rising to the challenge. Their opening statements were carefully prepared and their responses to questions showed that they had both thought very hard about what they might be asked and what they wanted to say.
The other people were more or less winging it. Jim "Lady Marmalade" Gueckert had prepared a few setpieces; Yglesias had worked out a couple of bloggy ideas. The lack of preparation and/or presentation skill showed. Davis (who sounded like a giddy high school girl) was especially annoying.
3. I agree with the consensus: Cox stole the show. She did it the old-fashioned way-- by knowing what the hell she was talking about. When Lady Marmalade began whining about how mean the liberals had been to him after he asked his question at W's press conference, Graff called him on it-- pointing out that the objections were to the quality of his journalism.
When he started caviling about that, Cox barbecued him by asking "Do you think you would have served your readers better--that mass of red and green (don't ask) if your question had been factually incorrect?"
From the looks on the faces of the other panelists, they seemed to have trouble remembering that Gueckert's question cited a falsified quote from Harry Reid.
She also ridiculed his claim that he couldn't remember-- even to a remote degree-- how long it had taken him to get into the press room ("Was it days? Weeks? Months?"). Very impressive performance, and it's a shame you never get that level of skill on her site.
4. Graff, on the other hand, gets the Lloyd Bentsen commemorative award for prodding his target into humiliating himself. In pointing out that the level of professionalism-- not political views-- was the issue, he said "I mean, there are no widespread calls to kick Fox News out of the White House Pressroom--"
"Well, you can hardly call Fox News conservative," Lady Marmalade replied, earning the biggest laugh of the night.
5. I love Digby dearly, but his analysis is just dead wrong about Lady Marmalade's chances at a career. Wingnutry is welcomed at Faux News. Hostility and abusiveness is an asset. Ignorance and anti-intellectual behavior is de rigeur. But they won't tolerate people who produce bad TV.
And, honey, this woman was just sad. There were half a dozen instances where a well-timed riposte left Gueckert stammering out a response. If they gave him a show at Faux, he'd get wiped by even the strawmen they book to espose the liberal views. Alan Colmes might be able to make him his bitch.
Could he surface at MSNBC? Sure, but only because they have no clue about how to win viewers. Nobody will watch.
6. Digby is also out to lunch about Yglesias. He has no chance at a career as a talking head. If you watch the show, you'll notice that his face is flushed and his voice keeps cracking as he's trying to respond.
Them's the telltale signs of someone who's trying his best to score points, realizes that he isn't succeeding and is getting frustrated by his failure. You can almost see the words "God, I wish I had time to write out what I want to say.
You never know-- he could develop the skills when he gets older-- but at this point he's a writer, not a speaker. And that's not necessarily a knock on the guy.
I could say more. Maybe tomorrow I will.
a press members, that no one else remembered that the asked him if -- and I'm calling her that because this time she didn't behave like a Wonkette--
They both thought quite had very hard justifed. bother to display any serious thought in prionon their sites) document and demonstrate an ability to think in print) haven't documented their don't have documented credentials as
2. 1/3 , and 1/3 will either offer insight or sound bites. This was no or dull, 1/3 will be interesting dreadfully stupid This was no
Friday, April 01, 2005
How the Other Half Lives
"I hope you and all your communist friends are proud of yourselves!" The voice of my friend (conservative with patches of wingnutry) was so choked with bitterness, frustration and rage that it took me a second to identify him and put the pieces together.
"I take it she's dead?"
"And I'm sure you're thrilled to hear it!"
"Actually yes. I've been concerned about a suicide bombing, a kidnapping or some act of coup d'etat, and this reduces the probability of it. She died in 1990, my man-- get over it."
"You and your friends killed that poor woman! Her blood is on your hands. I don't know how you can live with yourselves!"
"I'm remembering exactly what you told me, dude. There's a higher principle at stake here, and that takes priority over the smaller human tragedies. And I'll bet hearing that really stings like a bitch, huh?"
"You fucking sunovabitch--"
"Well, fuck you too, you wingnut hypocrite! Fuck you and all your Abu Ghraib loving friends! Now you know what I felt like last May! Bite the pillow and deal with it!"
In the 48 to 72 hours. the usual suspects-- that unholy coalition of talking heads, wingnuts and Whiptioncrats-- will gear up the Mighty Wurlitzer to focus our attention on the "crisis that threatens to tear the moral and political fabric of America apart." And I absolutely do not want to hear a word about it-- particularly the need for us to work together to heal the wounds.
I know exactly how the religious right feels. I felt the same way when I saw my country wage a preemptive war against Iraq-- and again when I learned that we'd tortured people to death and weren't going to do anything about it.
It makes you sick and angry to realize that your fellow citizens can support actions that you find morally repugnant-- that offend you to the core of your being. It feels like a vitally-important part of what your country stands is gone-- that something you believed fervently in has been thrown away, and that you will never, ever get it back.
But I don't remember WIlliam Bennett, Madame Nhu-nan or Holy Joe Lieberman being worried about how I felt. I don't remember hearing them say it was important for the wingunuts to reach out to me. I can't recall any expressions of sympathy for my deep beliefs, or acknowledgement of my principles.
What I did encounter was a great deal of concern about how my beliefs could damage the foundation that our government was built on. The best I got told was that the events were regrettable, but there were issues far more important than my personal feelings--and that I couldn't allow my anger to destroy our country's ability to function.
And since my feelings about preemptive war and torture are based on considerably higher moral ground than the Ellen Jamesians, I see even less need to extend an emotional tampon to the other side.
Terri Schiavo had fifteen years of legal proceedings-- thousands of hours of experts doing their best to identify (a) the facts of the situation, (b) the motivations and morality of the perticipants and (c) the most equitable solution, given the circumstances.
One may question the motives of Judge Greer, Dr. Cranford and Michael Schiavo (though you must make scads of unsupportable assumptions to do that). But there's absolutely no doubt that they showed more deliberation and thoughtfulness-- with far greater consideration for human life-- than Lynndie England, Janis Karpinski, Albert Gonzales or Donald Rumsfeld.
And the stakes are higher here. It will be impossible to regain what Dwight Eisenhower once called "the standing of the United States as the most powerful of the anticolonial powers"-- people will always remember that we went crazy at the beginning of the 21st century and didn't correct our excesses when we had the chance. They'll never trust us completely again, because they'll always be on guard for a repeat performance. But we can at least make sure that it doesn't happen again.
But if we cannibalize our system of laws-- if we destroy one of the three branches of government-- we'll never get our country back. We'll be condemned to live as a fundamentalist republic.
So I don't want to hear any Dr. Phil horseshit from the Peter Beinarts and Harold Fords of the world. I expect David Broder and Joe Biden to condemn the fundamentalists and the wingnuts as starchily as they did with the human rights movement. If I remember my Andrew Sullivan right, it's outrageous to show any sympathy to or try to draw any moral equivalency with people who constitute a fifth column
It sucks to read the polls and discover that your moral beliefs are at odds with a large majority of your fellow citizens. But, in the immortal words of Hind Tit, these people aren't just misguided or misinformed-- they're on the other side. So they-- not we-- need to get with the program.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
I'm accustomed to the dual standard that the media shows the two parties. They insist that the Democrats must to propose an alternative to W.'s "Kill Social Security Plan"-- when they never required the wingnuts to do so-- in order to be taken seriously. They repeat wingnut bullshit about Social Security teetering on the brink of collapse-- but when someone prepares a detailed rebuttal, they call it a claim that can't be verified, because it would be too hard to check the math.
There's the false equivalence. W. can lie like a fucking rug, but that's excusable because Democrats sometimes oversimplify complex issues. It's OK for Tom Delay to turn Congress into the Politburo and purge anyone who didn't vote to acquit him. But it's the scandal of the century when someone suggests that Holy Joe Lieberman has no party loyalty-- or if Bob Casey doesn't get a prime time spot to make an in-kind contribution to the Republic Party.
And, of course, Lady Marmalade-- a tax-dodging gay hooker-- is a fully qualified journalist who deserves a lifetime pass to the West Wing and the full support of everyone in his chosen profession. But someone with an advanced professional degree--who uses the Internet to share his professional judgment--is some kind of dangerous crank whose ideas can't be trusted.
Irritating, to be sure. But this story just galls me beyond belief, because of what it doesn't say. It's quite true that Constantliar Rice has absolutely no chance to be elected in 2008-- but it has absolutely nothing with her position on abortion.
It's as simple as this: Wingnuts will never, ever elect either a "colored" or a "broad". They're rascists and they're miscogynists. They display confederate flags--which aren't any damned different than swastikas. They belong to religions which state flatly that women are inferior to men and that whites are superior to all other races.
I will not entertain dissenting opinions on this subject, for the same reason I don't debate the existence of Easter Bunny. It is unlikely, I submit, that a state that has never elected a black or a woman to the U.S. Senate will put someone who is both in the White House. And most states haven't done either.
There have been exactly five black Senators in the history of the United States. Three belonged to the Republic Party. Hiram Revels and Blanche K. Bruce got to represent Mississippi shortly after the Civil War ended-- when state legislators elected U.S. Senators and Carpetbaggers controlled the legislature. Black senator #3 was Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, who was a peer of Ted Kennedy's. Does this suggest that the wingnuts are ready to give the keys to the country to a minority?
(The last two are Barack Obama and Carol Mosely Braun--both from Illinois. You knew that, right?)
Only 33 U.S. Senators have had vaginas. 20 of them have been Democrats. Of the 13 Republic women, three have hailed from Maine, two from South Dakota, two from Nebraska, two from Kansas and one from Alaska. Not exactly the bible belt.
Of the three who hailed from wingnut country, Paula Hawkins of Florida was a one-term senator. She won 52-48 in the Reagan landslide of 1980 and lost 55-45 in 1986. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas got into office by winning a special election to replace Lloyd Bentsen. She won the primary with a whopping 29% in a primary with 24 candidates. She has been re-elected, but she wouldn't have been there if two guys hadn't split the wingnut male vote 50-50.
Then there's Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina. She was running to replace Jesse Helms, who'd won 53-46 the last time he ran. Helms worked for her. Her exceptionally well-known husband Bob actively campaigned for her. Her opponent was Erskine Bowles, who was Bill Clinton's former Chief of Staff. Her campaign outraised and outspent Bowles--even though he contributed $6.8 million to his kitty and she kicked in only $30,000.
Given all those advantages, she won 54-46.
I am just sick up and fed listening to horseshit about how Democratic interest groups use litmus tests to hold moderate candidates hostage. To have to endure speculation that a black women might have trouble getting support because she is perceived as being pro-choice. It's slightly more credible than suggesting that she can't win because she's snaggletoothed, and southern voters place a high value on proper dental care.
I think Mudflap is correct, when he says that he "don't know how many northern Democrats who have tolerance for my kind." The reason we don't is that we don't know many Southerners who have tolerance for anyone but their kind.
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
How Not to Run a Pop Stand
Damn, it's going to be a long time in the wilderness. Unless the wingnuts go completely over the top-- lose touch with reality so grossly and heinously that even the sheep in the media and the crypto-wingnuts abandon them-- the "D"s will end up living in cardboard boxes, hoping not to be hunted down and killed by the attack squads of the radical right.
What makes me think so? Stuff like this, for examples. And this. And also this. And let's not forget this. And let's not forget the decision to raise the national debt limit, and the "make Tom Delay immune" and a few other things.
When you're out of power-- when the other side can do whatever it feels like without having to cater to you one bit, you have exactly two options. One is to waste your time trying to devise moderate policies in a vain attempt to recruit allies. You waste weeks of time and burn what little political capital you have trying to produce alternative solutions that might be acceptable-- only to get slapped aside by the majority.
That's what the House Republicans did in the late 50's, in the 60's, in the 70's and the early part of the 80's under leaders wike Charlie Halleck, Jerry Ford and Bob Michel. And they were rewarded by being systematically punked by the majority.
Option #2 is to do what the wingnuts began to do in the late 80's, under the leadership of Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, Trent Lott and several other scumbags. You can recognize that you will never be allowed to govern-- that you won't get anything through-- and realize that you don't have to worry about the consequences of any or your ideas becoming law, so you can be as irresponsible as you like.
You don't need to make sure your proposed laws are constitutional-- much less if they can be reasonably implemented or easily enforced. able be responsible. In fact, you don't need to offer alternatives at all. All you need to do-- in fact, all you should do-- is stage public events designed to make your opponents look bad and make you seem reasonable and principled.
One of the ten best books ever written about American politics is John M. Barry's The Ambition and the Power. His chronicle of Jim Wright's speakership-- and Newt Gingrich's successful campaign to destroy Wright-- is brilliant. You'll never find a better book about the inner workings of Congress and the mindset inside the beltway.
The depth of the access that Barry got is mind-boggling. Wright gave him senior staff status. Gingrich didn't go that far, but he gave several long interviews and answered scads of questions at every milestone.
When he isn't bloviating about his wingnut beliefs, Gingrich is an astonishingly astute observer and historian. Given a chance to explain his vision, his strategies and his tactics to an intelligent observer, he laid out the whole plan and the reasons behind it.
And, boy, did it work. Came off almost exactly the way Gingrich plotted it, with only a few topical variations and missteps.
It's all there-- how to get the allies, how to work the media, how to dragoon non-profits and "good government" groups into carrying yiour water. The book tells you the blend of policy and political expedience you need to make it work, and how you sieze upon events to bolster your ideas.
You can argue that it's merely empty gestures-- the worst kind of divisive partisan politics and class warfare. But the problem is that it works-- it broke the Democratic stranglehold on the House, after decades of control. And given the mood of this electorate, it seems to be the only thing that will work.
By sitting on their hands-- by failing to start taking the fight to the opponents even after they've been given scads of ammunition-- the Democrats are off to a terrible start. The failure to put the gifts to their best use is disturbing-- it shows that the tactical skills just aren't there.
The failure to do anything suggests that they either don't understand how the strategy works, or they can't get into the right frame of mind to execute it. Neither is a terrib ly promising sign, given that they have a ten-year journey ahead of them.
Maybe they're just getting organized. Or maybe they just suck. Until I see something that demonnstrates the abiulity to be clever and forceful, I'm not going to ascribe one iota of intelligence or cunning to our side.
How to Run a Pop Stand, Part II
The most interesting part of NBA Commissioner David Stern's press conference was what he didn't say. After suspending the players, he stated emphatically that the fans have the right not to be molested by the players-- no matter what they might have done to provoke them.
But Stern also indicated that he wasn't done addressing the problem-- that the NBA Office intended to do other things. I'm pretty sure the other shoe will be "The players have the absolute right to play without being molested by the fans. No matter how horribly the players behave on the court, the fans have no right to physically abuse them." Here's what he's probably going to doto enforce that:
1. Announce that the NBA will insist that every fan involved-- anyone who threw things or went onto the court-- be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. No alibis, exceptions or mitigating circumstances allowed.
2. Starting today, any fan who throws anything at a player will be ejected and prosecuted, whether the object landed or not.
3. If the fan has season tickets-- or the seats are part of a season ticket package-- these seats and/or seats licenses will be immediately revoked without compensation.
4. The NBA will be drafting a set of laws-- the Fan Conduct and Behavior Act-- that makes unruly behavior at games (including shouting obscenities and public drunkenness) a crime. No need for "which local laws of did these guys break?" huddles with the local D.A.-- it'll all be spelled out with penalties attached.
5. All cities where NBA arenas are located will be required to pass the FCBA before the local team will renew its lease with the arena.
Nasty and vile as many of them are, the players are entitled to play without worrying about getting hit by flying objects. And yes, that includes fighting with each other. Which leads us to the last issue on the list:
6: Beginning next seasonm all tickets will contain a clause stating that "(a) any fan who leaves the seating area and enters the court does so at his own risk and without right to sue for any losses or injuries that occur after entering the playing area and (b) players on the playing area have the right to protect their physical safety-- including, if it appears necessary, force." In other words, if you leave your seat, it's your ass.
Probably going to take a while for that to come down-- the league's lawyers will have to look at a bunch of local and states codes to make sure they write something that can't be overturned. But it's got to be done-- it's only fair to the players.
How to Run a Pop Stand, Part I
. A long, long time ago, I talked with several senior people about violence and pro sports. It didn't take much effort for us to solve the problem-- it's a simple logic problem.
David Stern gets it. If you are running a professional sports league, there are two thoughts that you absolutely cannot allow fans to think-- two ideas that will kill your league in an instant:
1. "There's no reason to go-- the games are fixed."
2. "It's not safe to go to the games."
The NBA can't let fans think-- even for a second-- that the league will allow psycho players to go flying into the stands, punching the lights out of anyone they set eyes on. If people are afraid to buy tickets, you're screwed.
(At this point, it looks like the guy Ron Artest grabbed didn't throw anything-- though he might have been screaming obsecnities for all I know.)
And the suspension absolutely must be for the rest of the year (or a full year, if this happens 30 games in). And the sentences absolutely must run concurrently-- even though it turns Indiana (which was a championship contender) into a lottery team. And the sentences absolutely must not take provocation into account-- or remorse or pity or anything else.
Why? Very simply-- it's the only thing that works. 90 years ago (in the 1910's) gambling and game-fixing were fairly common in major league baseball. Once baseball's first commissioner-- Kennesaw Mountain Landis-- instituted a "no excuses, zero-tolerance death penalty", the problem ended.
If players (or their teams) think they can get around the punishment by pleading or bargaining or suing or making their case to the public, they'll keep doing it. If they know they're going to miss a full year, they won't.
The National Hockey League is always talking about how terrible it is to have fights in every game-- how much they want to make it stop. The day they announce that fighting will result in a mandatory 10-game suspension-- and that anyone who injures a player will lose ten games plus the amount of time the other guy is unable to play-- the problem will stop.
Actually, I think the other two guys-- who got 30 and 25 games-- got off lightly. Anyone who goes into the stands for any reason really deserves a year off without pay.
Stern's statement couldn't have made it any clearer: "Our players must not enter the stands whatever the provocation or poisonous behavior of people attending the games." That's how you keep the fans safe.
Friday, November 12, 2004
Three Simple Rules For Beating a President
Yes, I think John Kerry lost the election. And, yes, we do need to talk about why. It's good that everyone has been talking about pulling together in the wake of the defeat. And a nasty public bloodletting only gives the wingnuts the joy of schadefreude.
But if you don't understand what went wrong, you're likely to make the same mistakes again. And I'd just as soon not lose again, thank you. And this doesn't have to be vicious.
In 32 years of work on campaigns, I have learned three simple rules:
1. A re-election campaign is always a referendum on the incumbent. The candidates aren't on an even footing-- the choice isn't "Who do we want to pick?" but "Do we want to keep this guy?"
2. Incumbents rarely lose. Voters dislike uncertainty and they hate to admit they made a mistake. The urge to maintain the status quo-- to say "things really aren't that bad"-- is why most incumbents ger re-elected.
You can't win by hoping that an incumbent's gaffes will wipe them out. Unless it is glaringly obvious that an elected official is entirely to blame for something-- and the issue is an open-and-shut case-- he or she will be reelected.
3. Point two being the case, if a challenger loses, it means he or she didn't make a compelling case for change to enough voters.
That can happen because people felt things were going well and didn't see any reason to change. It can happen because the challenger got outspent and the message for change wasn't heard.
Since neither of those things were true about Bush-Kerry, it leaves only one other option: the challenger didn't do the job right.
I have seen challengers try dozens of different strategies to take out an incumbent, I have only seen one that has ever worked consistently. It has three very simple components:
1. This is what the incumbent is doing wrong.. You can't win without being negative-- voters won't make a change without it-- and it must be easy to understand and agree with. Negative is about 25% of the battle.
2. This is what I can do right. This is the positive message. The challenger has some new ideas or different skills (which the incumbent lacks) that will make things better. The positive message also has to be easy to digest; it's also 25% of the package.
I don't think Kerry per se did well on either count. But he wasn't out there alone, either. The combination of Kerry-Edwards, the DNC and the 527s did a great job on the negatives. He won that battle.
The positive ads, frankly, stunk. But since W. didn't have anything positive to say, I'd call that one pretty even.
So why'd he lose? Because he completely blew the third leg of the tripod-- the part of the message that's the most important one:
3. There is a fundamental difference between me and the incumbent and this difference is why you must elect me.
The ability to draw a sharp, clear contrast-- what some people call the "change message"-- is the thing that wins elections. If you can sum up the difference between the two of you in ten words or less-- and people agree-- you win.
In 1976, Jimmy Carter boiled the differences between himself and Gerald Ford to one proposition: "I think Washington has become corrupt and out of touch with our values and I want to change it. My opponent does not."
Four years later, he lost because Ronald Reagan turned the election into a referendum on a clear vision for the country and strong leadership. In 1984, thanks to the suicidal decision to nominate Carter's vice-president, Reagan was able to say "Re-elect me unless you want to go back to the way things used to be."
And you'll never get a better example of how this strategy works than those legendary 13 words from the 1992 campaign:
Negative: The economy, stupid.
Contrast: Change v. more of the same.
Positive: Don't forget health care.
You'd have to go back to "Give 'em Hell, Harry" or Lenin's "Bread, Peace, Land" to do better.
Kerry lost because he couldn't or wouldn't come up with a tough, clear contrast between himself and W. The closest he came-- at least, the one he repeated most often-- was "George W. Bush won't work with other governments to fix Iraq-- I will."
Not a terribly whelming message in and of itself. The Bush message-- "I have conservative moral values and he doesn't" was simpler, it covered a lot more ground and it was exactly what at least some people wanted to hear.
In his relentless quest to sound reasonable and presidential-- to not polarize the contest and risk offending people who weren't going to vote for him anyway, the two winning themes he had:
1. "This president conceals facts, tells lies and threatens people who tries to tell the American people the truth. Elect me if you want honest government."
2. "The president never admits mistakes and refuses to change course no matter how bad things get. Elect me if you thing things are going wrong and you want to change."
I know he said both things at times. He didn't say them often enough or loudly enough or clearly enough and he didn't make them the rock on which he built his campaign.
Which was better? They both would have worked, but option #2 was much, much better because it also addressed Kerry's biggest weakness-- his perceived tendency to flip-flop.
Most contrast themes are vague and hackneyed. The thing that makes them work are the issues and feelings you can tie them to. The ability to say one simple thing-- which voters can interpret in many different ways-- is what wins.
Take Clinton's "change v. more of the same." They're not original. If you take them literally, they don't mean anything. And they're potentially naive. Going from the frying pan to the fire isn't making things better.
What made them a genious strategy was they hit on so many levels:
* People thought the economy was getting worse and that George Bush hadn't done anything to fix the problems.
* Congress was struggling to get meaningful legislation passed and Bush was vetoing the stuff that did come out, like extensions of the Clean Air and Voting Rights acts.
* Bush had continued-- in fact, enhanced-- some of the most noxious social policies of the Reagan administration. (Specifically, the court appointments.)
* Bush won the 1988 election by relentlessly sliming his opponent.
So every time Bill Clinton said "change v. more of the same", people heard the words "jobs and inflation", "gridlock", "Clarence Thomas" and "Willie Horton."
When you can say one thing and mean four, you've got a killer message.
But it got even better than that, because every time Bush used one of his attacks, he simultaneously made Clinton's case. Every time he used the words "tax and spend", "big government", "liberal" and "character", he just drilled home the "this guy just isn't going to change" message.
Had Kerry hammered W. for being arrogant and stubborn and continuing to dig holes, the flip-flop charge starts to boomerang because it reminds voters that W. believes he's never made a mistake.
Better yet, it gives Kerry the chance to gut Bush on experience, judgment, being trapped in the politics of the past:
"Folks, I've been working for change since the 70's and the things we've seen in that time have been incredible. We've seen nations rise and fall, some movements end and others begin. We've all had to adapt to meet these new challenges and question a lot of our old assumptions about people and policies.
"So, yeah, I've changed my mind about some things in the last 30 years. Sometimes I've changed the way I voted because times have changed. I'm not ashamed of that because it's important to change when you need to. The safety of our country and the future of our children depend on it.
"Maybe the problem is that the president hasn't been in politics that long, so he isn't aware of all the changes. And because he wasn't involved, he hasn't seen what can happen to nations and leaders who aren't ready to change."
Which gives you the opening you need to hammer people who don't change, even when the facts show that they're wrong. And that opens up theme two: how the only person worse than someone who won't admit he's wrong is someone who lies and covers up and bullies and threatens the people who try to speak up, so they can make sure no one finds out the truth.
You get to hit the "dumb" issue without actually saying it. You can talk about how W. spent 2001 focusing on missile defense instead of terrorism because he was trapped in the policies of the past, and he's in Iraq because he hasn't realized that, in the decade since the Gulf War. Osama bin Laden has become a greater danger than Saddam Hussein.
You get to say that the tax cuts were a good idea when we thought we had a huge surplus (so I'm lying-- bite me, I'm trying to get elected) but they stopped being a good idea when we started running deficits and we had a recession.
When you need to go positive, you talk about how some things haven't changed. Things like truth, justice, the American way and the NATO alliance. You can bloviate at length about how containment tied up the Soviet Union and brought them down ("a threat far more imminent and far more deadly than Osama bin Laden"). It's all good.
Then if you're dead-set on talking about fxing Iraq by becoming butt-buddies with the cheese-eating surrender monkeys, then you can do that.
Problem is that you can't do any of that unless you have people a lot smarter and more in touch with the country than "Massachusetts Bob" Shrum running your campaign.
I'm going to enjoy only two things in the next four years. One is watch W's house of cards implode. The other is sneering at the people who told me that I'd cruelly and foolishly misjudged a brilliant political mind. Cold comfort, really-- but it's all we got at the moment.
More Rewarding Than a Rectal Probe
It's a humbling occasion when you realize just how flawed you really are. In a stunning display of my lack of character, I went dark months ago because people connected to the Kerry campaign were beginning to suspect me.
I should have let myself get fired. But I drank the Atrios/Kos Kool-Aid: "This election is so important that we all must all doodily-doo, doodily-doo what we must, muddily-must, muddily-must."
As a result, I actually followed instructions given to me by people who reported to Bob Shrum. Worse than that, I kept telling myself that my judgment of events and issues might be totally wrong-- that these people might possibly know more than I did.
It's humbling to realize that you're really that gullible. But at least I know I'm not driven by a blind ambition. Because I didn't for a moment believe that John Kerry would win.
More on that later. Right now, let me just show you this really neat T-shirt I got on the trip:
I'm tired of eating a bullet so you can eat your cake.