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We Report... You Deride

Wednesday, November 05, 2003  
Damn... II

Finally got a look at the first 15 minutes of tonight's debate. So much for my speculation that Howard Dean's comments (about wanting to appeal to voters who fly the confederate flag) were some sort of well-thought-out, carefully-nuanced strategy to position himself as more moderate.

Dean tried to stick to his position and got fried by both Al Sharpton and John Edwards-- to the point where I'm now wondering if the tag of "too stubborn to admit a mistake" might stick with him for a long time. Can't believe he hasn't been able to back away from his statements morte gracefully. Or is the correct word won't?

2:14 AM

The Age of Ignorance II

How do you know when a wingnut is lying? One clue is that his lips are moving. But a telltale sign is when they aren't moving at all.

In case you didn't read Bob Herbert's column in this morning's Times, the National Institute of Health is under attack from a bunch of ignorant wingnuts calling themselves the 'Traditional Values Coalition':

Louis Sheldon, the founder, hails from Anaheim. He's a former aide to Pat Robertson, whose hot-button issue is outlawing homosexuality. In 1986 and 1988, he joined forces with Lyndon Larouche to push an initiative that would have established internment camps for anyone who tested positive for the HIV virus. In 1991, he proposed a constitutional amendment to outlaw civil rights protections for homosexuals. He also led the opposition to a school counseling program for gay adolescents.

According to their People For the American Way profile, Executive Director Andrea Sheldon Lafferty (his daughter), is "a former Reagan administration official who works out of the TVC DC office as a Capitol Hill lobbyist." She's a real prize:

* Spewing Boykinism after the 2000 presidential election by saying "We are so thankful that our Father did not give us the president we deserve... He gave us a better one, amen?"

* Opposing a bill that would permit the importation of prescription drugs (which would lower costs) because it might make it easier for women to get RU-486.

* Smearing Chuck Schumer (who's Jewish) as "anti-Christian".

* Accusing the people who protest Laura Schelsinger, Ph.D. of being "gay goose-steppers" who are "acting like Nazis."

* Distorting Senator Bob Kerrey's record on abortion by claiming that he supported selling of fetal tissues (which they charmingly term "baby body parts").

* Accusing NPR of being "a taxpayer-funded employment program for left-wing reporters" and claiming the network's "radio scripts are being written at" the Democratic National Committee.

TVC does business with direct-mail scumbag Richard Viguerie. The letter opposing prescription drug importation was written by a former aide to Tom DeLay. These are bad, bad people.

And now they're reviving a lowlife trick that I was hoping died with William Proxmire. The onetime senator from Wisconsin used to make political hay by awarding "Golden Fleece" awards to research projects that (according to Proxmire) were wasting government money. Proxmire would have his aides comb government documents looking for projects that could be distorted for political gain.

Suppose a scientist was trying to measure the rate of decline of the ecosystem in the Great Lakes, and noticed a strong correlation with the population of some form of marine life. If the scientist received a grant to help him project the amount of decline over the next five years by estimating the population growth of the animal, Proxmire would announce that "the Government is paying some mad scientist to study the sex life of the Zebra Mussel."

The key to making this shabby trick work was to do everything possible to deny the project equal time. For several days after the announcement, the senator would refuse to give the media any details of the project, making it impossible for them to call up the researcher and get a non-slanted description of its purpose. You'd have to comb through tens of millions of pages to find it-- by the time someone did, the meme would have taken hold.

TVC is trying the same tactic on their project list. You'll find a one-line-- sometimes less-- description of the project and the exact amount of the grant. But you won't find a grant number or a hyperlink to the project abstract.

The good news is that the Internet lets us shoot down this nonsense much more easily. If you type the keywords in their descriptions into the search engine at the NIH site, you can get to a page that gives you the abstract from the grant application. I present, for your pleasure, the TVC version and Planet Earth version of the first grant identified:

TVC Version: Study of sex and drug networks of U.S. long-haul truckers (studies gay truckers & prostitutes along the way): $333,045

Project Description: ">Study the sexual and drug networks of US long-haul truckers and their potential role in the acquisition and dissemination of sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections.

To understand why this research is important, you need to know that many researchers believe the AIDS outbreak can be traced, in part, to the promiscuous sexual conduct of a single flight attendant. There are 50,000 flight attendants and 3,000,000 truck drivers working in the US. Let the record also show that the US government authorized $775,000 to train truck drivers to help fight terrorism-- and that's the first year allocation of an annual grant.

Tracking down the actual descriptions and posting them online is one of those lengthy, detailed research projects that sounds like a job for uggabugga. (I'd do it, but I'm committed out the wazoo.) A quick inspection of four others suggests that they're all like this.

Worst of all, there is a high probability that TVC was aided and abetted by either congressional staff or embedded ideologues in the Department of Health and Human Services. In other words, the wingnuts in government are trying to damage the National Institutes of Health.

This is yet another reason that W. must be removed in 2004. The ridiculous ban on stem-cell research (virtually ensuring that the major breakthroughs in biotechnology will be made overseas) is the start. This is the next step. Give these guys a few years and your tax dollars will be going to Gregg EasterBork to study intelligent design and parallel universes. The wingnuts will turn this country into a banana republic in 20 years unless they are forcibly prevented.

12:19 AM

Tuesday, November 04, 2003  

At the end of the CNN debate tonight, they did a round-robin asking the eight candidates whether they'd ever tried dope. I'm not entirely sure (the people in the room exploded when they heard the first "Yes"), but if you count Carol Moseley Braun's refusal to answer as "Yes", a majority of the candidates-- including Howard Dean-- said they had.

They're either really brave or really crazy. Or both. Or maybe I'm out of touch with the world. No way in hell would I ever have answered "yes".

8:34 PM

Monday, November 03, 2003  
Dean: Clever or Stupid?

When something really controversial happens in a campaign, there's no point to asking the campaign what they're thinking. First they'll tell you they know exactly what they're doing-- that you don't understand. Later, if hindsight shows that it was a huge mistake, they'll tell you that they knew it wasn't going to work all along, but they got overruled.

So it's pointless to ask why Howard Dean said "I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks. We can't beat George Bush unless we appeal to a broad cross section of Democrats."

But let's study the reaction to that statement:

1. Everyone has been writing Howard Dean off as an ultra-liberal whacko-- the 21st-century George McGovern. After the statement, John Kerry, Dick Gephardt, Wesley Clark, Joe Lieberman and John Edwards called him a racist, gun-loving whacko-- the 21st-century George Wallace.

2. Al Sharpton is a divisive, racist demagogue-- someone who provokes an immediate, overwhelimng loathing among moderates. Before the quote, Sharpton was actively trying to frame himself and Dean as two political rebels in a pod. After the statement, he blistered Dean-- violenty dissociating himself from the man.

3. The Wall Street Journal, which normally spews active loathing toward Dean, came to his rescue: "Democrats usually smear Republicans with this kind of race-baiting politics, but it isn't any more justified when Democrats use it against one of their own. Dr. Dean is hardly sympathetic to the Confederacy, or Jim Crow, or apartheid or any other kind of racial discrimination. He was merely saying he'd like to win the support of Southerners who over the years have fled the Democratic Party represented by the Kerrys and the Dick Gephardts." The Faux News Channel also gave Dean good play.

4. Dean, who has been actively trying to position himself as a "non-traditional" Democrat and is claiming that his opponents are trying to distort his positions, has been able to react by accusing his opponents of racial politics and deliberate misinterpretation.

Now I wouldn't want to take this line of reasoning too far. As they said in Spinal Tap, it's a fine line between clever an\d stupid. If you read that story closely, you'll notice that Dean is starting to back away from his comment. Maybe it was just a misstatement or mistake.

But it's worth noting that the remark sure did put him in a very useful position. Right now, Dean is the best-positioned to tap the dreaded "malaise" vote.

11:11 PM

Sunday, November 02, 2003  
Buy Me to the Moon?

Digby at Hullaballoo links to this story about W's fundraising. He's much more worried about it than I am.

I share Groucho Marx's opinion about money: I've been rich and I've been poor. Rich is better. Money lets you try more things. It lets you recover from mistakes and lets you win even if you spend less intelligently. But if you don't know what you're doing, you'll just waste it. (q.v. The New York Mets and a jillion dot-coms)

Do W. and his minions know how to spend money? Since (a) they spent $65 million more (almost 50% more) than their opponents, (b) their opponent was running the most inept campaign since Hubert Humphrey in 1968, (c) they lost the popular vote and (d) needed assistance from some homers on the Supreme Court to win the electoral, I humbly suggest that they don't.

More importantly, there are some issues where public opinion can't be bought, and W. has saddled himself with almost all of them. But I'll have to get to that after tonight's game.

6:56 PM

The Man Who Invented the Presidency

In this me-directed universe, we rarely think about the number of people--most of whom we never even know-- who have an immense impact on our lives. People do things, in the course of their work, that materially change the course of our lives. But, whether we know it or not, we all live in the universe they helped create.

Richard Neustadt, who died this week, was one of them. Neustadt literally invented the modern American presidency-- that is, he defined how it behaves, and explained how it should behave. Since 1961, you have been governed by men and women who followed (to some degree) his ideas.

Neustadt's life would make a pretty good TV special. He graduated from Berkeley at 20, got his Masters from Harvard at 22 and was working in the Roosevelt Administration's Office of Price Administration by the same year. When World War 2 began, he quit to enlist in the Navy (unlike the chickenhawks running this government).

After the war, Neustadt went back into government-- first at the Bureau of the Budget and then at Harry Truman's White House. Somehow, in that period, he got his Ph.D. from Harvard. After Eisenhower took office, Neustadt spent the 50's teaching at Cornell, Columbia and Princeton-- and fuming about how ineptly Eisenhower was using the powers of the presidency.

Eisenhower ran the country very much the way he ran the Allied forces in World War 2-- other than a few strategic objectives, the generals (cabinet officials) had carte blanche to fight their battles. With few exceptions, the Eisenhower White House declined to tell John Foster Dulles (at the State Department) how to manage foreign policy or set budget priorities for Treasury Secretary George Humphrey.

(The major exception to the 'hands-off' rule was Vietnam. Eisenhower, who let the Cold Warriors have free reign everywhere else, absolutely would not permit them to send troops to the region known as Indochina. Apparently, he said something to the effect of "Goddamnit, I might not be the smartest guy in this place, but I do know war, and I'm not sending American boys to die in a jungle.")

Ike's White House behaved as if it was illegal to even make suggestions to the legislative branch; they nominated judges without troubling themselves to determine ideology (Ike appointed both Earl Warren and William Brennan to the Supreme Court). It rarely gave press conferences and never tried to mobilize public opinion to any goal.

The 'hands-off' approach infuriated Neustadt, and he decided to do something about it. He conducted scads of interviews with Truman and Eisenhower officials and published Presidential Power early in 1960.

Presidential Power is arguably the greatest work of political analysis since Macchiavelli's The Prince. In less than 200 pages, Neustadt analyzes every major decision made by the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, distilling them into some basic principles of how presidents govern. Here is Neustadt on what is needed to issue a presidental order that gets immediate results:

"At least five common factors were at work. On each occasion, the President's involvement was unambiguous. So were his words. His order was widely publicized. The men who received it had control of everything they needed to carry it out. And they had no apparent doubt of his authority to issue it to them... These are the factors that produce self-executing orders. Lacking any one of these, the chances are that mere command will not produce compliance."

It's as true today as it was then. If you want to know why the man who leaked Valerie Plame's identity is still working, all you have to do is look at the number of factors that W. didn't follow.

The whole book is like that. The original edition is one of the 10 essential books about American politics. (If you don't have the book, look for a used edition of either the 1961 or 1964 paperbacks. Later eiditions are less valuable, because Neustadt began inventing exceptions to account for the lapses of presidents whose policies he liked.)

By publishing during the 1960 campaign, Neustadt hoped the book might have some impact on whichever man took office. He hit the jackpot when John Kennedy won. Depending on your reverence for Kennedy, he either read the book himself or Arthur Schlesinger brought it to his attention. In either case, Neustadt was invited to join the transition team and then to serve as a consultant to the State Department.

Neustadt worked for Truman, Kennedy and Johnson. He served on the transition teams for both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. And when he wasn't doing that, he taught at Oxford University and Harvard. He proposed establishing the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, which is probably the main reason that school is considered the font of all wisdom for politics.

He wrote other books. Thinking In Time: The Uses of History For Decision Makers is an attempt to show politicians (or business leaders, if you adapt some of the framework) when to pay attention to the past and when not to. If you're gonna talk about whether Iraq is Vietnam without reading it, the odds that you'll say anything intelligent to are greatly reduced.

Report to JFK: The Skybolt Crisis in Perspective is the full text of a recently-declassified report (written for JFK at his request) on a major foreign policy snafu. Preparing to Be President: The Memos of Richard E Neustadt contains the text of his transition memos for Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton and Dukakis. They're period peieces, but they're pretty fascinating.

Neustadt's biggest influence, though, were the number of authors he influenced (an Amazon search reveals 968 books that cite him by name) and the students who attended his classes-- and the students of those students. Everyone who governs nowadays has absorbed his ideas.

Through his work, Richard Neustadt defined the modern presidency-- to think that he dies less well-known than morons like Ann Coulter or Michael Moore really disturbs me.

11:43 AM

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