• May 14, 2004 | 1:16 AM ET
JAMES EARL KERRY?
Despite all of George Bush's troubles, the Kerry campaign can't seem to get any traction. Various people are wondering why not, and now there's even a poll that shows him with a mere one-point lead in California. That's got to be bad news for the Kerry Campaign, as California is normally safe territory for Democrats.
But I have a different worry. What if Kerry wins? I don't know if he'll take the right positions -- as I've noted here before, he's said some excellent things on Iraq, and some not-so-excellent things -- but my real worry is that his positions, good or bad, won't matter because, even if he's elected, he'll be too weak to govern effectively.
I think it's fair to say that if Kerry wins, he'll win based on anti-Bush sentiment among Democrats and swing voters. But although the anybody-but-Bush vote might be good enough to get him into office, once he's elected it will evaporate: the dump-Bush voters will have gotten what they wanted, and they won't have any special reason to support any particular policy of Kerry's -- or even Kerry himself. (And polls bear out that this is what's going on, as RealClearPolitics quotes from the Investor's Business Daily poll: "Intensity of support among Bush voters is much stronger than support for Kerry, the poll continues to show. While 68% of Bush's supporters say they support him strongly, only 38% of Kerry's supporters say the same for him.")
So Kerry might find himself elected, but with support that rapidly fades away, leaving him subject to Washington crosswinds and a slave to his party's interest groups. That's pretty much what happened to President Jimmy Carter. He owed his election to backlash over Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon, and the lingering residue of Watergate. But that turned out to be an insufficient base on which to govern. Carter's own party (especially, though not only, rivals like Ted Kennedy) cut him to ribbons. We lost ground both at home and abroad as a result.
I'm not as down on Jimmy Carter as some people are, but I don't think that many people regard his presidency as a high point in American history. If the Kerry Campaign is going to avoid that fate, Kerry needs to start putting together a program of his own, one that's got a more positive agenda than "I'm not George W. Bush." And -- here's the hard part -- he has to sell that to a lot of voters, so that if he's elected he'll have a mandate. Otherwise, a Kerry victory might leave the country with four years of weak leadership.
I doubt I'll support Kerry in November -- it's not impossible, but he'd have to convince me that he's strong on my biggest single issue, the war -- but even if I decide to oppose him, I don't want him to be a weak President if he's elected. No matter who's in charge, the country will need strong leadership, not drift, in the coming years. I hope the Kerry Campaign folks keep that in mind.
• May 12, 2004 | 11:14 PM ET
IRAQ FICTION AND TRUTH IN THE NEWS
As I wrote earlier, the charges of misconduct against American troops in the Abu Ghraib prison are serious, and deserve a full investigation. I can't help but feel, though, that the media have jumped on them a bit hard, perhaps because they offer an opportunity to make the Bush Administration look bad in an election year.
How bad have things gotten? Well, the Boston Globe ran pictures purportedly of U.S. troops raping Iraqi women. Trouble is, they turned out to be pictures that had been pirated from a porn site. You can read more about that here, here, and here. The Drudge Report has a scan of the actual picture the Globe ran (it isn't on the Globe website) but be warned if you go looking for it, it's pornographic.
The Abu Ghraib story, however, has lost some of its luster in the wake of the brutal beheading of American Nick Berg by Al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq. This has even anti-American Arabs unhappy, as this report from The Guardian notes:
"This shows how base and vile those who wear the robe of Islam have become," said Abdullah Sahar, a political scientist at Kuwait University.
The video was released on the Internet yesterday, but appeared too late for columnists in the Middle East to comment. But many Arabs said today that the grisly execution, attributed to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group, surpassed the US military's abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison, which has been the top story for the past 10 days in the Middle East.
"We were winning international sympathy because of what happened at Abu Ghraib, but they come and waste it all," Mr Sahar said of the militants responsible.
Of course, it's just as wrong to claim that this crime proves that all Arabs, or all Muslims, are murderous thugs as it is to claim that the Abu Ghraib incidents prove that all American troops, or all Americans, are evil.
Indeed, what we're missing in this is perspective and the sensation-driven news media -- too anxious to publish provocative pictures to check their authenticity first -- are making things worse. Instead, it's worth reading the Belmont Club weblog, whose analysis of Iraqi events has generally been more accurate than the Big Media's by a rather large margin.
Belmont Club notes today that facts matter more than emotion, and observes:
And the final fact is this. The only exit from war's inhumanity is through the doorway of victory. For while it may be mitigated, controlled and reduced to a certain extent fundamentally "war is cruelty, and you cannot refine it", though victory can end it. While it continues, as many in the Left who long for a 21st century Vietnam hope, it will unleash unpredictable forces which no one can control. Those who delighted in discovering the photographs at Abu Ghraib little imagined Nick Berg's video. And while we can safely grant Andrew Sullivan's plea and publish both, for reasons the media imagine are laudable, it is what comes next that I am afraid of.
Read the whole thing.
And here's another point: While reports of troop misconduct have bypassed government controls, so have reports from the troops of far more important events. Read this e-mail from a soldier in Iraq to get a picture of what's going on that's very different from the gloom-and-doom peddled regularly on the news.
• May 11, 2004 | 7:58 PM ET
EVER AGAIN: ANTISEMITISM RETURNS
In the heavily Muslim northern part of Nigeria, my brother often had variations on this conversation:
So, you're American. You're Jewish, right?
But aren't most Americans Jews?
Er, no. Maybe, like, two percent.
But they control everything in America, right?
No, not really.
Are you sure? Because I've always heard. . .
Sadly, this is becoming less unusual. After World War Two, people thought that anti-Semitism had been vanquished. In fact, it's thriving yet again -- even in allegedly liberal settings like American and European universities -- and you can't blame it all on Saudi-funded propaganda efforts, though there are far more of those than most Americans realize.
Ron Rosenbaum has edited a just-published collection of essays entitled Those Who Forget the Past: The Question of Antisemitism, that looks at the resurgence of anti-Semitism around the world, and especially in its place of origin, Europe. The authors include David Brooks, Frank Rich, Barbara Amiel, Larry Summers, Nat Hentoff, Philip Roth, and a host of other luminaries.
To my mind, a growth in anti-Semitism is an early-warning sign of more general societal decay. It's no surprise that it's widespread in Arab countries, where dictators since World War Two have used it as a way of distracting their people from misrule at home. What's more troubling is that anti-Semitism is arising in Europe, its original wellspring, once again. There are a lot of reasons to be worried about the political health of Europe, even without the disastrous history of European anti-Semitism over many centuries -- especially, of course, the 20th. But the resurgence of anti-Semitism is yet another reason to think that Europe continues to have festering political issues that might once again burst forth to trouble the world.
Rosenbaum's book won't solve the problem, but at least it's bringing some attention to it, from a variety of perspectives. Let's hope enough people notice.
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