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Altercation

July 30, 2004 | 12:08 PM ET

A Triple with Three Men On:  Well, that was a relief.  More than a relief, actually, a genuine surprise.  John Kerry “reported for duty” and rose to the historic demands of the occasion.  This was, I swear I’m not exaggerating, the most important speech any American politician has given in perhaps half a century.  The election is tied between two extremely different alternatives.  Kerry was given exactly once chance by the network moguls who control our democracy to speak directly to the people who would be choosing America’s next president, a more crucial job than it has perhaps ever been.  Kerry had a terrible reputation as a speech-giver and nobody I talked to really knew what, exactly, he should say.

The speech itself was mostly a masterpiece, delivered competently.  It gets a strong A for content and a B/B+ for delivery.  The beauty of it was that it took the war into Bush’s territory and redefined the terms of the debate to Kerry’s advantage.  If you thought about national security this way, think again.  If you thought about the war on terrorism, think again.  If you thought about patriotism, think again.  It threw subtle but unmistakable red meat to the liberals who are apoplectic about Bush without alienating swing constituencies.  (The “Saudi royal family” line was the equivalent of a positive review for “Fahrenheit 911.”)  Every time during the speech I feared Kerry was forgetting something—talk about his “faith,” etc. —he came through brilliantly, this time borrowing John Edwards' use of Abe Lincoln’s “we're on God’s side” formulation.  Nothing is harder than transforming the terms of debate in American politics and Kerry’s triumph may not last but that’s what he pulled off.  The man really is a closer and just as tough as Karl Rove and company.

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Why just a triple?  Well, it was too long and the convention should have found a way to include more of the intro, the film, the girls and particularly Max Cleland’s introduction.  I’m not sure if I would have advocated the gamble of going into overtime on purpose, but you could have lost ten percent of the speech for Cleland’s near-perfect intro.  But with leadoff hits from Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, the speech did just about everything it needed to and then some.  Right now, this election is the greatest show on earth.  On to its greatest city…

Some “No Surrender” trivia:  Well, I would have preferred “Land of Hope and Dreams,” and while I couldn’t hear perfectly, that sure didn’t sound like any version of the song I’ve ever heard, still, it was a great choice.  (The music coming from the podium was surprisingly cool, mostly seventies soul and a lot of Sly.)  Bruce originally did not want to put the song on “Born in the USA.”  He was uncomfortable with it.  “You don’t hold out and triumph all the time in life.  You compromise, you suffer defeat, you slip into life’s gray areas,” he later explained. “But Steve talked me into putting the song on the album in the eleventh hour.  He argued that the portrait of friendship and the song’s expression of the inspirational power of rock music was an important part of the picture.  I don’t know if he was right but it went on.”  More here.

Here’s my latest “Think Again” column.  It’s a rumination on the word "liberal."  Don’t leave home without it.

I wrote this on the Nation Web site the other day. You may have missed it.:

I rented an apartment in Beacon Hill for the convention and aside from the problems I had with its Internet service, it’s a lovely place, just seconds from the Boston Common, a place of uncommon peace and beauty in so large a city.  The other day, I was walking through the Common to a party somewhere and I happened upon a breath-taking artistic installation of 907 pairs of combat boots, laid out on the grass, each one designed to symbolize a fallen U.S. soldier in Iraq.  I thought it a strikingly appropriate reminder of the tragedy taking place in Iraq—one that haunts this convention as a kind of ghost.  (The murder of 68 people this morning has temporarily pushed the convention off the front pages.) 

Meanwhile eighty percent of the delegates oppose the war but the Kerry campaign does not think that cutting and running is a wise or politically savvy strategy.  (And they may be right in both cases, and I hope they are, but I feel pretty strongly that they’re not.)  In any case, I’m all for whatever it takes to win, up to and including kidnapping Ralph Nader and sending him off in that silly space suit to Mars, but I’m glad for reminders of the war and the rest of those tragedies caused by the Bush administration that do not fit easily into swing-state vote-winning manuals.

I therefore could not believe the stupidity of this comment from a Newsweek/MSNBC.com writer who found this tasteful, moving installation to be “potentially scandalizing” because “the empty shoes are reminiscent of exhibits that have commemorated victims of the xx.”  Oh I get it.  Some exhibits have used similar tropes to represent a different tragedy and that makes it verboten to use them to represent this one.  The reporter does not even name which ones or why.  He just seems to think anything that once had a Holocaust brand on it is patented and will “scandalize” with its use anywhere else.  This is so stupid, it’s hard even to credit it as a thought.  It’s perhaps the single stupidest thing I’ve heard since I got here, and that includes USA Today’s decision to hire Ann Coulter.  You can read the whole thing here and decide for yourself if I’m over-reacting.  And if I am, well, that’s what blogs are for.

Here’s the Man:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc:
I don't know why this is, but the line that sank deepest into me this week was that lead from Barack Obama's peroration -- and I should point out that a respected Massachusetts congressperson told me that watching Obama was like "seeing Ali box at the 1960 Olympics," which was the best summation I heard -- in which he said, "We worship an awesome god in the blue states, and we don't like feds snooping into our library books in the reds."  It was so telling, I forgave him the reference to "My God Is An Awesome God," one of those horrible new gospel cuts in which, through the late Rich Mullins, American Christianity traded the towering spirit of Reverend Thomas Dorsey for that of Dan Fogelberg.

(And if the guy is the shining new hope of the party -- and wasn't John Edwards that very thing, about 14 minutes ago?-- can someone clue the Reverend Al in that the guy's name is NOT "Obama Barack"?  And, dammit, Al, when you cite civil-rights martyrs, will you please remember Medgar Evers?  Hardly anyone else ever does, and that's a whopping injustice, but you have no excuse.)

For all the outrage, and for all the silly snarkiness of modern political journalism, which is far worse, we really are all in this thing together, and when the One Great Scorer comes to write against their names, that's going to be the thing that gets the movement conservatives sent off with the rest of the goats into the eternal lake of fire.  The first national election I covered in 1980 was the one marked by the vicious campaigns constructed by that nasty closet-case, Terry Dolan, and his NCPAC goonery.  That was the first turn in the road that led to the impeachment kabuki, and what happened in Florida, and the ravings of Grover Norquist, and the continued public existence of Ann Coulter, and all the rest of it.  Conventional political mores -- to say nothing of more delicate constitutional substructures --  were abandoned.  Worse, they actively derided and spurned.  Now, almost a quarter-century later, we have political journalists who have never covered anything except this desiccated, blasted landscape.  Small wonder that the red state/blue state paradigm dominates.  It's being interpreted by people who have never seen a political dynamic in which people weren't fundamentally divided.

Which is why I'm all right with how the D's tried to do things this week.  I liked how John Edwards -- good, alas, not great -- picked up on the theme when he talked about race.  If they wanted to put a unified face so as to make the argument that we need more than ever to treat each other as equal lab rats in the Great American Experiment, and if that can somehow prevail against what is clearly going to be a wicked, un-American campaign from the other side, and if we can all pull back from the brink and develop a robust political culture in which bloodthirsty lunacy isn't quite as much of a career move as it is today, then the 2004 Democratic National Convention may be cited as the moment when the country took the first big step backwards from televised fratricide.

Of course, there wasn't any news here.

P.S. -- Of course, I probably should just give up.  I get home, and Little Russ is chatting with Tom Brokaw, and Little Russ passes along some wisdom from Big Russ -- "My Dad has a great phrase, `Size the man up.'"  Wow.  Roll over, Oscar Wilde! -- and The Man Who Discovered World War II replies that John Kerry hasn't had a "moment" in politics where "he turned his boat around and charged."  I guess Tom has forgotten how wildly popular Kerry's investigations into Contra drug-smuggling and BCCI were back in the 1980's.  Jeebus, help me.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to build a political strategy out of my Seinfeld-esque phone conversations with friends.  Do you think we talk about Iraq?  Sudan?  Education reform?  Nope - we talk about the homeless.  More particularly, the bums who crowd the door at McDonald's, approach our cars at stoplights, lob obscenities at women friends, etc.  When a white person gives an African-American beggar some money, what are the African-Americans walking by thinking?  Are the kids who bang rhythms on plastic buckets worse than bums if they annoy downtown businesses into moving to the suburbs?  Yadda, yadda, yadda.  We also talk about serious crime, like a serial rapist who went months without capture. 

Slate's William Saletan, blogging the convention, wrote that Bill Clinton's "most effective pitch" was lead by an attack on the GOP for taking cops off the street.  I think he's right: not only because it is true (New York City alone has lost thousands of officers in the past three years, the entire time with a GOP president/governor/mayor), it plays to what my friends and I viscerally care about.  If Kerry pushes the crime issue he might get a collateral boost for the war on terror -- voters may see the Dems as "soft," but Clinton's mantra of "100,000 cops on the street" still resonates.  Oddly this is the first presidential campaign I can think of where crime hasn't (yet) been an issue.

Quick update on the Indian Trust litigation: not much going on while some rulings are on appeal.  A law professor, Richard J. Pierce Jr. of George Washington University, attempted to have the lower court judge sanctioned for being too tough on government attorneys.  His complaint was summarily rejected, in part because it was based on anonymous sources.  In response, Professor Pierce urged the Judicial Counsel to subpoena "the scores of lawyers…[and] many non-party government employees" involved in the case and force them to testify on the record.  This Ken Starr-like dream died when Pierce's appeal was rejected, but it shows old habits die-hard. 

Name: Jeff Stivers
Hometown: Richmond, CA

Hey Doc,
For the inside scoop on why Medecins sans Frontiers (pardon my mangled French) left Afghanistan, go check out some French papers.  Or something filed by AFP.  The main reason they left was because U.S. troops were issuing leaflets saying medical help would be withheld unless people started turning in, or ratting out, those the U.S. considers terrorists.  MSF thought that to be very dangerous to their personnel.  To say nothing of offensive.  And I think they are right on both counts.

Keep up the good work, Doc.  You are a welcome breath of fresh air every day.

July 29, 2004 | 12:23 PM ET

“Hope is on the Way” is on the Way.
John Edwards’ speech last night was a bit of a paradox.  It was, by popular acclaim upstairs in the periodical press section, the worst speech we’d ever seen Edwards give.  On the other hand, I think that was intentional.  Edwards’ soaring speechgiving talents do not translate that well on television.  And even if they did, there would be the risk of overshadowing Kerry who is a plodding speaker on a good day.  I think Edwards gave the right speech for the moment.  The barnburner would not have sold those six swing-voters in Ohio, Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin upon whom this election appears to depend.  Edwards at 80 percent is a low B or a C+ for Edwards in person but it gets communicated through the cathode rays as an A- or better.  (And again, you don’t want to get too much better.) 

Meanwhile, I just love this metaphor, and the way it connects all of the Democratic themes simultaneously in the form of storytelling, which is, face it, what works in this crazy nation of ours.  Take a look for the textbooks: it’s a minor masterpiece.

[Edwards] speaks of a mother who can't pay her bills because her husband has been called up for National Guard duty in Iraq.  "She thinks she's alone but tonight in this hall and in your homes, you know what? She's got a lot of friends."  The crowd roars its approval.  In the next breath, Edwards promises not to bring our troops home but to "bring him home"—the woman's husband.  Everything is singular because stories are what people understand.  So when you return home and pass a mother on her way to work, he tells the convention, "You tell her, hope is on the way."

More here.

I went to “Tina’s lunch for Hillary” yesterday and while I’ve always had mixed-feelings about my junior senator —tipping negative on the merits but positive on the lunacy to which she drives here obsessive adversaries—I’ve now tipped positive entirely, despite the fact that I think her politics are a bit too conservative for the state she represents.  She spoke at lunch with enormous charm, confidence and command of her material and did not dodge otherwise dodgy questions.  She has always had all those politicians’ touches but now she carries herself as a woman of substance as well, with a sensible hairstyle to match.  Anyway, in the Q & A session, I engaged her, as I always do in these things, with Iraq.  She did a fine job of defending the Kerry/Clinton position with which I disagree and no less important, she brought us back to Afghanistan, which is another emerging (but avoidable) catastrophe brought on by the arrogance/incompetence of the Bush administration’s foreign policy team. 

Doubt my words?  Read this.  Yeah, we liberated the place, but it’s just not safe enough for a group like Doctors Without Borders to operate there.  Nice work.  The Taliban Reunion Party will be meeting in Cave 18.

Now could we take a moment to consider the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe in at least half a century?  Remember how guilty everyone felt when they learned the truth about Hitler and the Jews?  What will be our excuse this time?

David Brock’s Media Matters proves its worth once again with its debunking of one of those nutty “World Exclusives."  In it, Brock notes, Drudge dredged up a discredited charge that Kerry filmed reenacted combat scenes for future political career.  He writes,

On July 28, Internet gossip Matt Drudge revived and expanded on a discredited charge about Senator John Kerry (D-MA).  On his highly trafficked Web site, The Drudge Report, Drudge reported that Kerry reenacted combat scenes on videotape during his service in the Vietnam War in order to enhance his future political ambitions.

He’s full of it, per usual. Read on.

Tim Noah is a “close Castro confidant.”

Quote of the Day:  “Did you get your own police cruiser?" Bono asked me backstage.  "Oh, a cab. Well, police cruisers are so passé.  Next year we'll all be in cabs.  This is the end of the police cruiser thing.”

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Leslie Foster
Hometown: Collegedale, TN

I'm not sure if this is the right forum in which to address this, but I'll go ahead. I enjoyed and agreed with your piece "More Liberal Media B.S." in your Nation blog, but your comment about "creationists and people who think homosexuals should burn in Hell sooner rather than later," caught my attention.

I know this may be a little nitpicky, and I don't think it was your intention, but as a Christian, I'm frustrated by constantly being lumped into the same category as the religious right.  I am a creationist and I am pro-choice, I hold what might be called traditional Christian values and believe in Gay rights and gays' right to marriage.  I hate this current war and deplore this current administration and I can be found in Church every Saturday.  I think the separation of church in state is highly important.

I guess I'm just tired of being categorized simply by my faith.  Life is more complicated than that.

Jim Wallis of Sojourners says it far better than I, in his article, "Recovering a Hijacked Faith" in the Boston Globe.

My quasi-rant is not really directed at the article, though it was triggered by it, it's really directed at the stereotype.

Thanks for listening, Eric, and thanks for continuing to provide a breath of fresh air and truth.

Name: Thomas Wilburn
Hometown: Centreville, VA

As you said yesterday, fire someone indeed.  It's not necessarily surprising that someone continues to give Ann Coulter airtime.  For some reason, those on the far right find her charming rather than vicious and a little frightening.  But what is shocking is who gave her acidic rantings airtime this morning: NPR.  In a story by Juan Williams about Kerry's Band of Brothers, I was surprised when it seemed relatively positive and fair-minded--not at all Williams' usual modus operandi.  How gullible I was.  Toward the end of the story, he mentioned Max Cleland, and then promptly granted airtime to Coulter, repeating her lies about how Cleland lost his limbs (she claims it was a drunken romp with a grenade and not a combat mission), including a recording of her accusing Cleland of "tall tales."  The kettle is black indeed, Ms. Coulter.  In the interest of fairness, Cleland was given a chance to respond, but of course by then the damage is already done and the point is only underscored by his indignant (and righteous) denial.

Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised, but I thought NPR had more integrity than that. Obviously, nobody thought to verify Coulter's statements before they treated her as a reliable source.  I look forward to tomorrow's feature, where they will probably interview the crazy guy who always stops me outside the Vienna metro to inform me that John Kerry is actually a cannibal lizard in disguise.  That's journalism, right?

Williams should be fired and Coulter should be charged.  The fact that they are not says all too much about our so-called liberal media.

Name: Gabriel Murray
Hometown: Edinburgh, UK

Hey Eric,
You were wondering if Nader might actually be insane?  Just listen to his stated reason for wanting to get inside the Dem convention:

"I would like to see the bazaar. I'd like to see the alcoholic-musical-political payoff bazaar of accounts receivable."

Okay, Ralph, you win. You're president now (maybe he'll believe it and leave us alone).

Name: Geoffrey Pope
Hometown: White Plains, New York

Eric,
Al Gore's speech was fine and, yes, he deserves credit for all the reasons you gave.  But while Bill Clinton stole the show -- as he nearly always does -- for content if not for impact I found, as a proud descendant of poor rural Georgians, that what President Carter said was not a drop less impressive.  Truth matters, our traditional American political and moral values matter, and we cannot lead in the world if we are misled and if we disregard human rights.  If the Bushistas knew that they would lose the 2004 election, and wished to screw up Iraq and foment so much hatred for America in the Arab and Muslim lands for reasons of sheer malice, solely to make it nearly impossible for a Democrat successor to Bush to effectively deal with those parts of the world, they could scarcely have done a "better" job.

Name: Donald Johnson
Hometown: Yonkers

I didn't see any big conflict between what you say and what Okrent said.  He was talking about the social issues, not politics or foreign policy and on that, you just said what he said (and what you said in your book).  That is, the NYT is liberal on precisely those issues where you'd expect an affluent, secular person to be liberal.  They don't want fundamentalists telling them they can't have an abortion or be the beneficiaries of stem cell research.

The problem with Okrent's column was in its opening statement, which will be cited now and forevermore.  But he can possibly redeem himself when he gets around to discussing political coverage and foreign policy. 

Not that I'm holding my breath.

P.S. Your friend (I think) Tina Rosenberg wrote a really great piece on Nicaragua in the NYT last Saturday.  It's worth remembering how well our last great "democratization" project by the Reaganites has turned out for the victims.  I was disappointed to see nothing about this piece in the lefty blogosphere--sometimes I think the left is almost as bad as the right when it comes to remembering relatively recent history.

Name: John Sherman
Hometown: Moorhead, MN

As long as you're on the subject of red flags, some versions of the old mine workers song, "Which Side are You on?" contain the following stanza:

The bosses ride fine horses
While we walk in the mud;
Their banner is a dollar sign
While ours is soaked in blood.

I don't know if I'd claim this as the best of the old lefty songs, but it's in the competition.

Eric replies: You know, that song from “Les Mis” is actually one of the best old lefty songs I ever heard, even if it’s an imaginary one. “Red, the blood of angry men….”

July 28, 2004 | 12:55 PM ET

Fire Someone.
This is a media convention (which is why I’m here) and not a political convention, and Tim Rutten has a useful observation about it here.

The most serious problem confronting the American news media today is neither creeping political bias nor the tensions between new and old technologies. Those topics may obsess media critics, but their significance pales alongside the greater issue, which is corporate managers' growing inability to distinguish between the public's interest — fascination with entertainment and celebrity — and the public interest — a deference to the common good.

Rutten makes these comments in what I think is the proper context, moreover, USA Today’s decision to hire Ann Coulter to cover the convention.  They got what they asked for, even though they were unwilling to print it, as you can tell from this.  I think it would be a healthy thing for journalism for someone to be fired over this.  I mean, for all the nonsense we’ve read during the past week asking the question of whether the legitimization of bloggers by the DNC is a good thing, it seems to me a journalistic institution that would pull a stunt like this one has no business telling anyone anything about professional ethics.  Ditto the cable folks.  Really, do Chris Matthews, Joe Scarborough, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity have anything to teach Josh Marshall, Brad DeLong or Atrios about how to distinguish illusion from reality and present it to an audience in an illuminating fashion?  I think not.  Journalism is committing slow-motion suicide.  The celebration of the likes of Ann Coulter is weapon of choice.  I will mourn the death of the body, but not of its killers.  Eric Boehlert is on the case as well.

Were you asking yourself what did Eric Rauchway like about Teresa’s speech?

Well, first of all, let's think about this systematically.  I watched Kennedy, Gephardt, Dean, Obama, and THK last night.  Gephardt, Obama, THK and to a lesser extent Dean gave speeches belonging to a now-typical political genre, the "How I got here" speech, perhaps better called the "Man from Hope" genre.  The speech gives some autobiography or at least backstory, unique enough to give us a sense of the speaker's personality, triumphs, tragedies, hopes, etc., but also framed broadly enough to sound notes of Americana.  You can call it Oprahfication of politics if you like, but I suspect it's a genre that evolved to deflect criticisms of politicians as "extreme," "liberal," what-have-you -- it shows you the speaker is just like you or at least someone you know (only, y'know, way too rich and powerful to show up at your block party).  You know of course that FDR would never have given a speech about how he overcame polio to be on this stage, and so can America overcome the obstacles to better healthcare -- but if he were running today, he'd have to (and probably, he'd be good at it).  Whatever the reason, this is the way our politicians talk today.*

Obama, f'rinstance, quite cleverly anticipated people would wonder how'd this guy get an African name -- and not only did he tell us, he told us that it also demonstrates his parents' and his faith in a tolerant America.

Long as we're on Africanness, THK told what is in fact a very American story about Africa, the coming-of-segregation story -- something no American now living remembers, but it did happen here; the fight against it is also something Americans, and particularly Democrats, remember as well.

Taken together, the two African themes were pretty good.  Which is why I liked THK ending with Lincoln; it was an appropriate note for African America -- and it was the same thing as Gephardt quoting W's "uniter not a divider" line against him -- but THK didn't step on either the language or the sentiment.

*Actually, I suspect to some extent this is the language of the Civil Rights movement, which sought to transcend racial divides by emphasizing common humanity and shared spirituality.

For the record I thought Obama was just terrific and it was a thrill to see a man emerge on the national stage who is genuinely the first credible hopeful to be a black president of the United States.  (Even if he is only half-black, he looks black, and that’s what counts.)  How sad that none of the broadcast networks thought it worth covering.  As for Teresa’s speech, I thought it interesting from a philosophical perspective and bizarre from a political perspective.  It’s just as well, from the Democrats’ standpoint, that the networks did not cover that one.

I’ve received a bunch of e-mail asking me to respond to Dan Okrent’s column on Sunday asserting that The New York Times is a “liberal newspaper.”  I wrote a short response for the Nation’s Web site yesterday.  Here it is if you missed it.

Here we go again:  Howie "Conflict of Interest" Kurtz is praising New York Times Public Editor Dan Okrent's admission that the Times is a "liberal" newspaper as "courageous."  Click here to read the Kurtz chat and click here for the Okrent column.

It serves me right.  Just last week I had lunch with a Times editor and I defended Okrent for doing an excellent job as public editor, despite a few mishaps.  Now he goes and does this.  Let's get this straight everybody.  Journalists are socially liberal, just like every single well-educated, well-paid group of urban professionals.  On occasion this shows up in the coverage, when it comes to say, creationists and people who think homosexuals should burn in Hell sooner rather than later.  But even on this issue set, where attitudes are consistent, there is evidence of considerable effort to bend over backwards to be nice to Bible-thumpers.  On most political issues, however, journalists are not only not liberal, they are often more sympathetic to the conservatives than to the liberals; this is in part a reflection of their economic status and in part a reflection of the fact that they are but a weathervane of the force of gale winds attacking them and until recently, just about all the attacks have been coming from the right.

Add this to the fact of corporate demands that no major segment of the audience be offended and you end up with coverage that politically speaking, favors the right almost every time.  Look at the impeachment coverage and Whitewater.  Look at the 2000 election.  Look at Florida.  Look at the run-up to this horrific war.  Look at the coverage of this extremely moderate if not downright conservative Democratic convention.  Don't believe me?  Click here to read my man Eric Boehlert.

If Chris Matthews and Wolf Blitzer constitute the "liberal" media then we really do need to find another country.  Now remember that this time.  I'm getting tired of explaining it.  You too, Dan.  (Howie, I realize you're a lost cause so you can go back to partying with your buddies Andy, Jonah, Rich and all of those wonderful Republican clients of your wife.  Nahh, no conflict of interest there.)

The SCLM in Action, part XXXVI:  11:41 am CNN Daryn Kagan interviewing Dem Congressional candidate Steve Brozak:

"I have to say, when I was reading about you my first thought, and maybe this is a stereotype, but why isn't a former, and just recently retired Marine, why are you not a Republican?"

Correspondent’ Corner:

Name: Richard Thompson
Eric:
Read your blog everyday at work, in between working and enjoy it thoroughly.  I would like to bring up something that the major media outlets have failed to cover fully.

In all the hoopla about GW Bush's military service, no one has asked to see the man's DD 214 which details the entire military service of an individual on one piece of paper.

I understand that John Kerry has posted his DD 214 on his Web site. So if the Bush loyalists want to prove their man completed his National Guard service, then all they have to do is produce is DD 214 and the matter would be settled.

Or would it?

Name: Kristy
Hometown: Columbus, OH

Eric,
Love the blog!  I am currently an Ohioan, via Florida, via DC, via WV.  You said you wanted to know what was going on in the battleground states.  My husband and I are currently Dems but were Reps in the 80s (ah, youth).  Most of our friends are Reps and I work for a major utility where most co-workers are Reps.  Of these voters, I have had many say that they voted for W in 2000 but aren't going to vote for him in 2004.  Their reasoning, as Carville so eloquently stated "it's the economy, stupid!"  Others say it is because he has gone away from basic Rep values (e.g., fiscal conservatism, immigration, etc.).  None of our Dem friends are making the switch to W.  I'm hoping, nay praying, that this holds true in other states as well.

Keep up the good work.  I quote your blog daily to friends and family and forward the great links to many!

Name: S.E. Sanders
Hometown: San Antonio, TX

I agree that Monday night's speech was Clinton's finest, but don't forget Carter's.  Carter summed up with great clarity Bush's disaster as commander in chief.  Our boy king truly has isolated us, jeopardized our world clout, and set the Muslim world on fire, creating fresh enemies from which Al Qaeda can draw new recruits.  I am appalled that any Americans can believe that Bush is better equipped to handle terrorism.  The American press has failed to tell us the truth as to how we are viewed around the world.  This was one of Carter's major points...

America has lost status, and friends.  We are feared more than respected.  This is not good!!!

Name: Michael Padnos
Hometown: Vauvenargues, France

Just for the record, the line is "The people's flag is BLOODSTAINED red", as in (to the tune of O Tannenbaum):

The people's flag is bloodstained red,
It shouded oft our martyred dead.
And ere their limbs grow stiff and cold
Their life's blood died its every fold.
So raise the scarlet banner high
Beneath its folds we live and die
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer
We'll keep the red flag flying.

A beautiful, moving song, the best of the old lefty songs, bar none, IMHO.

July 27, 2004 | 12:53 PM ET

“Sealing the Deal”
The genuinely exciting thing going on here in Boston is that nobody really has any idea who the hell is going to win this election.  This has never been true in my adult experience, at least since 1988 when everybody thought Dukakis would win.  (Everybody thought Gore would win too, and they were right.)  But it’s not only the suspense of who will win that matters, it’s that the election matters more than any election has mattered since 1964, when it wasn’t even close.  The Republicans have been taken over by the most extremist elements of their constituencies—religious fundamentalists, neocons, armchair imperialists and mega-corporations, and stand to go even further in that direction if not held in check by the prospect of another election.  The Democrats, meanwhile, are far less dysfunctional than any time in recent memory, but have nominated a candidate who, while well-qualified, is completely charisma challenged, and cannot shake the pesky Naderite nipping at their heals to elect Bush while maintaining an incongruent air of moral and ethical superiority.

I missed Al Gore’s speech last night—I do think that man deserves tremendous respect for his personal and political growth and courage since screwing up the election enough to allow the Nader/Republican alliance to take it away from him—but I could not help but be impressed by the brilliance of Clinton’s appearance.  It was by far the best speech I’ve ever seen him give—though I missed his famous Memphis church talk—and even in the savvier-than-thou press section people were enthralled and shaking their heads in near awe at the political talent on display in uniting that room, communicating the case to the country, and creating a context into which John Kerry may step and, as the official cliché of this convention goes, “seal the deal.”

Can Kerry “seal the deal?”  Nobody knows.  That’s what’s so crazy about this place.  The Washington Post seems to say “NO” in a big way this morning.  But look at this e-mail I got this morning from the Gallup Organization:

Gallup polling data show that from May 20 to July 19, the 14th quarter of his presidency, Bush averaged a 47.9% approval rating. That included his term-low individual rating of 46% in a May 7-9 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll. Since that time, his approval rating has stabilized in the high 40s, within a narrow band of 47% to 49%.

Since peaking at a record-high level in the fourth quarter of his presidency (after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks), Bush's quarterly average scores have maintained or declined, but have not improved from one quarter to the next. The 14th quarter marks the 10th consecutive quarter in which Bush's average approval rating has not improved. In those 10 quarters, Bush's average has shown significant decline six times, while holding steady the other four. The last time his approval average improved from one quarter to the next was in late 2001/early2002, when a 68% third-quarter average spiked to 86% in the fourth quarter. That 86% quarterly average is the highest Gallup has recorded for a president since 1950.

The truth is I just don’t know enough about what’s happening in the battleground states to move voters and neither, insofar as I can tell, does anybody else.

I have a 10,000 word piece in the September Atlantic Monthly about the world of progressive fundraising in Hollywood, which they released early.  It’s here.

The Nader Item:

"I wouldn't urinate down his throat if his heart was on fire."

--Democratic consultant James Carville, referring to independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader during a speech before the Michigan delegation today.  Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm -who addresses the convention Wednesday night- later told the Detroit News that while she appreciated Carville's goal, she parted company with his rhetoric.  Nader, widely blamed by Democrats for the defeat of 2000 presidential nominee Al Gore, has won a spot on this year's Michigan general election ballot -- thanks to some help from Republicans.

Now here’s the man.

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc --
Because every day, even days when John Breaux stalks the streets of my town, is Slacker Friday, Part XXXI.

There's already too much talk about Democratic extremism hereabouts -- and about how nothing said from the podium should in any way harsh C-Plus Augustus's mellow prior to nappy-time in Crawford.  Except for my personal to-hell-with-all-that, Kinsley pretty much buried this foolishness yesterday.

Except that, as long as we're on the subject of extremism, you should dig this: last week, the House Republicans (with the unspeakable connivance of 20-odd Democrats, who should be visited by the angry shade of LBJ every night until they goddam DIE) passed a bill that would bar the courts from hearing lawsuits regarding gay sex and marriage, based on the provisions of Article III of the Constitution.

Make no mistake.  Among constitutional scholars, this is a tactical nuke -- a beloved part of wingnut wet-dreams going back past the White Citizens Councils and all the way back to the Articles of Confederation, because Article III is pretty clearly a legitimate loophole.  In theory, under this interpretation, Congress could pass a law rescinding, say, the Clean Air Act, or the Voting Rights Act, or the First Amendment, and then pass another law stripping the jurisdiction of the courts to pass judgment on the first law.  It de facto reverses Marbury v. Madison, and is a recipe for institutional chaos -- which is why both parties tacitly agreed to leave it alone, back in the days when the GOP was run by responsible people, and not by theocratic vandals.
What can be done?

Glad you asked.

The brainiac behind this move is Rep. John Hostettler, of Indiana's Eighth District. As it happens, my friend Jon Jennings is running against Hostettler this fall.  I think Hostettler should pay a price for even partly opening this lunatic Pandora's Box.

A post-Night One P.S. -- The Big Dog was, as always, stratospheric.  The "Send Me" lick has gotten better, and the bit about "his" tax cut is beginning to sound like one of those old Andy Griffith party records.  Clinton's gone real Southern in his retirement.  But the most fascinating part of the speech was the riff at the beginning where he was talking about how D's and R's all have the same dreams for their children etc. etc.  It rang a bell and then I realized -- the sumbitch was doing JFK's American University speech, except he was talking about the Republicans instead of about the red Russians.  Damn, the man's good. 

Also, Dems, when it's Patti LaBelle singing "A Change Is Gonna Come," the greatest of the great Sam Cooke's songs, don't leave the hall, you soulless pack o' bastards.

Name: Paul Lukasiak
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Hi Eric!
I just finished my study of Bush's Texas Air National Guard payroll records, and guess what?  A whole bunch of the pay and points he got were bogus!  The "smoking gun" on this is found in the "incomprehensible" data found at the bottom of the payroll records.  (The White House probably doesn't even know what those lines of data contain, and their significance.)

Here's the link, in case you'd like to take a look.

And here is the summary from the piece:

On February 10, 2004, the White House released George W. Bush’s quarterly payroll summaries for his last year in the Texas Air National Guard, claiming that they proved that Bush had “fulfilled his duties” as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces.  However, an examination of these records within the context of laws and policies of that time reveals that at least half (and as much as two thirds) of the pay and “points” credited toward Bush’s mandatory monthly training were fraudulent.  When one deducts these fraudulent points from Bush’s records, Bush does not achieve the minimum number of points under the White House’s own (erroneous) criteria.

It is likely that the White House is unaware of what the payroll records reveal, because the most damning information is buried in lines of “incomprehensible” data found at the bottom of the payroll reports.  This article breaks that code, and shows that Bush repeatedly claimed credit and pay for performing “substitute training” for mandatory monthly drills with his unit that was well outside the time limits set for “substitute training.”  And although he was required to get advance authorization for all training, the public record shows that Bush could not have received the necessary authorizations for “training” performed in Alabama.

Name: Dave
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Eric,
Let no one tell you that you're making an "error" in calling Bush states "blue" and Gore states "red."  You're obviously aware that blue is the color of the right - UK Tories, European Christian Democrats.  Red is the color of the left - Labour, the French Socialists, the Canadian Liberals, and pretty much every social democratic party on earth.  Our media, for reasons never fully revealed, switched the colors just at the moment when they became important.  But they are wrong, and you are right.  Please keep it up.

Eric replies: I think I agree with this, and anyway it explains why I keep screwing up.  As my friend Richard Rorty likes to say, “The people’s flag is deepest red.”

July 26, 2004 | 12:44 PM ET

Remember Abu Ghraib
Remember the torture scandal?  It destroyed what little remained of the reputation of this nation in the Arab world for generations, but the media have mostly moved on.  The Times editorial page offered this appropriately blistering editorial over the weekend, “Abu Ghraib, Whitewashed.”

In it the editors note,

The authors of this 300-page whitewash say they found no "systemic" problem - even though there were 94 documented cases of prisoner abuse, including some 40 deaths, 20 of them homicides; even though only four prisons of the 16 they visited had copies of the Geneva Conventions; even though Abu Ghraib was a cesspool with one shower for every 50 inmates; even though the military police were improperly involved in interrogations; even though young people plucked from civilian life were sent to guard prisoners – 50,000 of them in all - with no training.
...
The inspector general's staff did not dig into the abuse cases, but merely listed them. It based its findings on the comical observation that "commanders, leaders and soldiers treated detainees humanely" while investigators from the Pentagon were watching. And it made no attempt to find out who had authorized threatening prisoners with dogs and sexually humiliating hooded men, to name two American practices the Red Cross found to be common. The inspector general's see-no-evil team simply said it couldn't find those "approach techniques" in the Army field manual.

It will certainly happen again.

Actual News, convention edition:  At the party for George McGovern last night, I bumped into Barney Frank to follow up on my interest on whether he’s still planning to run for senate, which, as I noted months ago, would be an added bonus of a Kerry presidency.  Barney recently experienced a violent tragedy in his extended family and I would not have been surprised if he decided he was not up to the fight.  But I was wrong.  Barney told me he would almost certainly run in a special election to fill Kerry’s seat unless the Democrats take back the House.  His opponents would be Ed Markey and Marty Meehan.  It would be a hellova race offering, in many ways, the best that liberalism has to offer.  Here’s hoping….

Everybody see thisBruce Springsteen, Neil Young, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Steve Earle, the Dave Matthews Band, the Dixie Chicks, Bright Eyes, Ani DiFranco, Death Cab for Cutie and International Noise Conspiracy are going to do a series of swing-state tours in September/October to raise consciousness about voting and raise money for MoveOn.org.

Let’s hope they reach some of the idiots who fail to understand the implications of stories like today’s “Ralph is a Republican”  item that begins like this:

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader's quixotic presidential campaign says it submitted about 5,400 signatures to get on the Michigan ballot, far short of the required number of 30,000. Luckily for him, approximately 43,000 signatures were filed by Michigan Republicans on his behalf…

Quote of the Day:  “In a polite society, you don’t go up to a person and look at them in the face and say, 'You’re a liar,'" Cohen said in a telephone interview before arriving in Spokane, the next stop on the Pants on Fire Tour.  “We think it’s a lot more dignified and there’s a lot more decorum to say, ‘Excuse me sir, your pants are getting a little warm, don’t you think?”'  Here.

Sharon infuriates French Jews, inflames relations, From Ha’aretz

And the heads of the Jewish community in France also reacted angrily.  Sharon, they charged, is pouring oil on the flames of the tension between Jews and Muslims in France.
...
Sharon's comments deserve a double condemnation: for their political error, and because of the damage done to the Jews of France. And indeed, a third condemnation as well, for the sweeping slur of Muslims.

More lectures please, from the official American Jewish organizations (aided by a few ignorant bloggers), about how only they know best…

Corresponents’ Corner:

Name: Aaron Good
Hometown: Philadelphia

Dear Eric, I am longtime Altercation reader and fan of your columns and books.  I work for the Grassroots Campaigns of the DNC in Philadelphia.  We canvass neighborhoods to raise money for get out the vote initiatives and election monitoring.  We also get people registered to vote and we talk to undecided voters.  It's a grueling full-time job, but it's worth it because we must defeat Bush.

Anyway on to my point:  Today in downtown Philly, we were approached by a canvasser.  He was collecting signatures to get Nader on the ballot.  Not a good thing to be sure, but it gets more disturbing.  It turns out that this guy was in a homeless shelter when some people came there offering $200 a day for them to collect signatures for Nader.   As you know, Nader's campaign is being funded in large part by the GOP.  That makes this guy's situation so sadly ironic that my mind reels.  The economic and social policies created in large part by Bush and other conservative leaders have produced a willing supply of people like this guy- a black homeless man who claimed to have college degree.   Now he is being cynically used by the same people who in large part are responsible for the situation he represents.  His efforts will work only to divert the electoral power of people who want real progress in America, but are too stupid to ignore Nader's Siren's song.  It's a sad state of affairs.

Name: Jerry
Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Eric,
I just read the Thomas Franks article in your "Think Again" column that you linked to from "Altercation."  While I thought it was a great piece, and I am very pleased to see that you and others and providing some good publicity for "What's the Matter with Kansas" after the unfair trashing it received in certain SCLM quarters, it pains me to point out that your piece contains one egregious error.   Eric, one last time, the "Blue" states on the coasts are the ones that are occupied by the latte-sipping elitists who tend to vote Democratic.  The "Red" states are the states in the Midwest/heartland and the South that tend to vote Republican and that represent, or so we're told, traditional American values.  You made this same error in "What Liberal Media?"     

Name: Barry L. Ritholtz
Hometown: The Big Picture
 
Hey Doc,
Yet another quantitative look at a different voting bloc: This one comes from the WSJ, and focuses on swing voters and their concerns with the challenger's National Security credentials. The bottom line is that despite being behind on this key issue, the Kerry still enjoys a small lead. If he can resolve this perceived weakness positively during the convention, the lead may become insurmountable. Of course, there's quite a ways to go, and I suspect, an October surprise or two still in store for us.

Kerry & National-Security  (Mirror)

As the Democratic convention gets underway this week, the WSJ raises what may be a crucial issue for the Presidential challenger in the minds of the undecided voters: National Security.

Despite polling well otherwise, voters still give Kerry weak marks on the central issue of "Defense" and "Terrorism:"

Voters remain wary of Mr. Kerry on national security, the issue looming over the contest as U.S. troops remain in Iraq, and post-Sept. 11 fears of new terrorist attacks at home haven't faded. Just 36% of those surveyed rate Mr. Kerry highly on "being strong in protecting American interests overseas," while 35% give him poor marks. By contrast, 62% rate him highly on "being smart and intelligent," and 48% credit him with being "knowledgeable and experienced enough" for the presidency.

During the primary, Kerry's greatest perceived strength as a thrice decorated war hero was his perceived ability to withstand a concerted GOP attack on his National Security's credentials. There is some irony here that this remains an issue. The flip side, however, is that a candidate with lesser strengths on the subject might not even be in the running at this late date.

For the incumbent, this is a mixed blessing: His record on Terror is front and center, and voters have a fairly clear idea of his positions. Indeed, it's the Iraq invasion hangover -- bad intelligence, poor post war planning, questionable judgment -- that continues to weigh on his re-election chances.

For Kerry, the week offers a clear opportunity: If he can show Defense chops, build National Security street cred, and allay the fears of undecideds, he wins the Presidency. Allow the "wishy-washy" tag on Defense to stick, and risk losing.

It's just that simple.

The Journal notes the risks and rewards he faces:

John Kerry enters next week's Democratic Convention in a better position than any presidential challenger in a generation -- but still needing to show more strength on the national-security issues that underpin President Bush's support.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows the Massachusetts senator in a virtual dead heat with Mr. Bush as Democrats gather here to nominate him as their presidential candidate in the Nov. 2 election. Not since Ronald Reagan's 1980 bid to oust President Carter, according to Gallup, has a challenger approached his nominating convention even with or ahead of a White House incumbent.

Yet the poll also shows that voters remain wary of Mr. Kerry on national security, the issue looming over the contest as U.S. troops remain in Iraq, and post-Sept. 11 fears of new terrorist attacks at home haven't faded. Just 36% of those surveyed rate Mr. Kerry highly on "being strong in protecting American interests overseas," while 35% give him poor marks. By contrast, 62% rate him highly on "being smart and intelligent," and 48% credit him with being "knowledgeable and experienced enough" for the presidency.

Some other fascinating details emerge from the WSJ/NBC Poll:

After seeing his job-approval ratings erode since January, Mr. Bush has rebounded moderately:

  • 48% now approve of his performance, while 46% disapprove; in June, a 49% plurality disapproved;
  • 47% say Mr. Bush doesn't deserve re-election, down from 50% last month.

The contours of national opinion are positive for the party out of power:

  • By 48%-36%, voters say the country is on the wrong track;
  • A robust 58% majority sees the U.S. economy heading for trouble rather than prosperity;
  • Voters now say Democrats would do a better job on the economy by an 8% margin.

The intensity of support for the challenger has edged up to similar levels as the incumbent:

  • 72% of those backing Mr. Kerry now say they "definitely" will vote for him, up from 64% in June.

Potential for growth:

  • One-third (33%) of the electorate says it still knows little "about John Kerry and what he stands for;"
  • one-fifth (20%) are neutral in their opinions about him;
  • 42% of voters who are not now supporting Mr. Kerry say there's some chance they will vote for him;
  • 34% of non Bush supports say they might vote for him.

The horse race continues . . .

Source: Kerry Faces National-Security Hurdle Bush's Challenger Fares Well in Poll, but Voters Give Democrat Weak Marks on Central Issue By John Harwood and David Rogers The Wall Street Journal, July 23, 2004; Page A4

Name: Jeff Cisneros
Hometown: St. Petersburg, Fl

Dear Doc,
I just can't stand it anymore. I am a retired member of the U.S. military and after seeing the calculated whitewash the Army Inspector General calls a report on prisoner abuse, I have come to the conclusion that this administration thinks we are a bunch of blithering idiots.

I am intimately familiar with Army TRADOC (Training Doctrine) and U.S. Air Force Training standards. The whole argument that these 94 "alleged" incidents of prisoner abuse are "aberrations" is the worst type of official lying and calculated c.y.a. I have seen.

The Army is asking us to believe on at least 94 (maybe more) occasions, enlisted and warrant grade personnel took it upon themselves to abuse prisoners under their care while officers remained blissfully ignorant.

Balderdash.

It is clear to me that the timing of this report was designed to get lost in the shuffle of the 9/11 report. I do not have room to give you direct specifics, but if you like I strongly recommend you read the Soldier's Manual of Common Tasks, the Army Officer's Code of Conduct, and other career spanning training documents that the U.S. Army uses.  It will become rapidly apparent to you that the Army uses a "top down" management style, and crucial decisions such as prisoner interrogation, treatment, adherence to the UCMJ, routine adherence to the GPW (Geneva Prisoner of War Convention), and Torture Ban Treaty are decisions that MUST be made by General Officers, Senior DoD management, and National Command Authority.

Enlisted and warrant grade personnel are not running amuck and taking it upon themselves to torture and abuse prisoners, this was NOT a large number of "isolated aberrations," it was clearly policy. Now that the brass hats have been caught, they are now engaged in the oldest game in the military.

Calculated career protection.

Shameful.

Keep up the good work Doc.


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