• August 30, 2004 | 6:18 PM ET
POLITICS AND PROTEST
The convention is underway, and lots of bloggers are blogging it.
Others are protesting the convention -- and lots of bloggers are covering them, too. Ryan Sager has posted numerous photo galleries on his page -- just keep scrolling -- and you'll find more here. David Adesnik of Oxblog says that the protest reports in Big Media are doing an injustice to both the protesters and the protested -- follow the link to find out why, and scroll up and down on his page to see what he thinks ought to be covered.
Combining video with protest from the inside, the gay-rights group Log Cabin Republicans has posted a video commercial arguing that gay rights are in the tradition of the Republican Party.
Ronald Reagan appears.
Here's what I thought was an interesting point:
I think the punch we pack with our style is very powerful. That's why we've attracted a lot of college students and high-school students who are hungry for an outlet to do exactly this. They look like the type of person you would find at the antiwar protests, but that doesn’t mean they share the same ideology. Part of the appeal of the left up until now has been, "Look, forget ideology, we’re cool. We’re here to have fun." That really struck a chord with a younger generation. I think that's changing, and I think we’re part of evidence.
Another part of the evidence is the huge list of college and high school chapters that have appeared around the country.
Is the left losing its teen spirit? Some people seem to think so. But then, why shouldn't it be? Michael Moore isn't exactly teen-idol material, and the hippies of the '60s and '70s have become -- especially on campuses -- the authority figures against whom students want to rebel, not the rebels themselves. Does that make a difference? I think that it already has.
• August 27, 2004 | 3:46 PM ET
BLOGGING THE CONVENTION
I won't be there, but quite a few bloggers will be covering the Republican National Convention this week. Given that there's not usually much news at these things -- I don't think there's been a significant convention fight since my dad was in diapers -- I don't expect the bloggers to break much news themselves.
Nonetheless, they're likely to offer a perspective that you won't get from the mainstream media, especially since -- unlike at the Democratic Convention -- the press has gotten over the novelty of convention- blogging a bit and this batch of bloggers might actually spend more time blogging than being interviewed about blogging.
Blogging is a good thing, and my advice is for everyone to start a blog. (Just go to Blogger.com and follow the instructions -- it's free, and you can be up and blogging in 20 minutes). In part that's because -- as Robert Samuelson notes in this column on campaign finance "reform" and free speech -- the campaign finance laws have ensured that the only people who have free speech rights in an election are politicians and members of the media. The members of Congress who supported this bill, the journalists who editorialized in favor of it, President Bush, who signed it, and the Supreme Court, which upheld it, all have a lot to answer for.
In the meantime, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Start your own blog and become a member of the media. It may be the only way to get your voice heard.
• August 25, 2004 | 6:55 PM ET
MORE ON DISASTERS AND PREPAREDNESS
Inspired by S.M. Stirling's new disaster novel, Dies the Fire, I wrote another column on disaster preparedness this week. It makes some more general points about how society can prepare for all sorts of contingencies, without, in a way, even trying.
Meanwhile, less remote disasters loom. Twin plane crashes in Russia look as if terrorism might have been involved, especially as one of the planes is reported to have sent a hijack-warning signal before it crashed. (Was it brought down by Flight 93-style passenger heroism? It's too early to tell, but that seems possible.) With this in mind, it's worth reminding ourselves to be vigilant and prepared, as many people expect terrorists to try to strike the United States before the November election. As J.B. Schramm wrote recently in the Washington Post, "the best anti-terror force is us." That's because law enforcement and military folks won't be on the scene (at least, not if terrorists can avoid it) which means it's up to the people who are on the scene to respond. That means noticing suspicious things beforehand, responding during an event, and helping to deal with the aftermath.
It was, after all, ordinary citizens who caught the D.C. sniper -- after authorities accidentally released identifying information -- and it was ordinary people who stopped Mohammed Hadayet, the terrorist who shot up the Los Angeles International Airport, as well as shoe bomber Richard Reid. As September 11 recedes to almost 3 years ago, it's easy to get into a September 10 mindset. That's a bad idea, as a bit of September 11th thinking, before September 11th, could have done us a lot of good.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said that as of Friday 77,000 households had registered for disaster relief in Florida. The Red Cross is preparing 125,000 meals a day and says an estimated 2,200 families have been housed in shelters.
But it is the unofficial aid stations that have become a lifeline for many people.
Hurricane victims need travel only a few blocks on some major thoroughfares before seeing hand-lettered signs offering free water, ice, sandwiches, diapers, blankets and toiletries. Many Good Samaritans just pull up at the first big intersection they see to distribute their aid.
For several days, Audrey Brooks of Fort Myers loaded up her minivan with bags of bread, peanut butter and other supplies and drove 25 miles to the damaged area. On Thursday, she brought 25 gallons of bleach so people could disinfect their homes, and it was all snapped up in about 30 minutes.
"I am just doing what I can," Brooks [said] while her 6-year-old son Timothy napped in her car. "It's sad. It hit in along an area where people don't have a lot anyway."
With some restaurants and grocery stores still closed, the spontaneous showing of compassion by ordinary people - and some businesses - has helped many people get back on their feet.
That's the spirit. Try to make sure that you're in a position to help out when things go wrong. Everybody will be better off if that spirit spreads.
• August 25, 2004 | 12:46 AM ET
CAMPAIGNING BEHIND THE CURVE
My colleague Mickey Kaus suggests that one of Kerry's problems is that his campaign isn't ready for the Internet age:
Let's assume that a certain amount of hype is standard procedure in military write-ups, especially when medals are involved. The problem is that Kerry is running for president on this official hype of a more-than-honorable record (one reason he's constantly referring reporters to his official medal citations). He's not only running on the hype but pushing it to the limit, milking it for all it's worth. That's dangerous in, yes, the Internet era! Obsessive fact-checkers can smoke out the exaggerations and get them past the ex-gatekeepers. Unfortunately, it's more or less all Kerry's got. It wouldn't be so important if Kerry had a) a discernable ideology; b) a political message; c) a record of achievement; or d) an appealing personality!
In the old days, this wouldn't have mattered. The fact-checking would have been harder, and the fact-checkers would have had a hard time getting the message out. The Internet has changed everything, but the Kerry Campaign hasn't seemed up to the task of responding. (What, they couldn't have hired ex-Dean Internet guru Joe Trippi?) In fact, this report from a couple of weeks ago -- which seemed dubious at the time -- now seems to have been right, and to illustrate just how far behind the curve the Kerry campaign is:
"We took some of the most glaring examples, like the Christmas in Cambodia story, and presented them to senior staff, and we assume that those things were put in front of Senator Kerry," says the source. "We haven't heard a word about it. All we were told is that it was being taken care of."
The campaign source said that the book was not considered a "serious" problem for the campaign, because, "the media wouldn't have the nerve to come at us with this kind of stuff," says the source. "The senior staff believes the media is committed to seeing us win this thing, and that the convention inoculated us from these kinds of stories. The senior guys really think we don't have a problem here."
Oops. In fact, the Christmas in Cambodia story has broken out. Even this Washington Post editorial, which is quite critical of the Swift Boat Vets, nonetheless points out Kerry's problem here:
Mr. Kerry's conflicting statements about where and when he was in Cambodia remain troubling. He has backed away from repeated claims that he spent Christmas Eve 1968 in Cambodia, a memory that, he said in a 1986 Senate speech, is "seared -- seared -- in me." This does not undermine Mr. Kerry's military bravery, but it does raise an issue of candor. It's fair to ask whether this is an episode of foggy memory, routine political embroidery or something more. Indeed, the Kerry campaign ought to arrange for the full release of all relevant records from the time. Mr. Kerry granted historian Douglas Brinkley exclusive use of his wartime journals and other writings; the campaign should seek to be freed from that agreement and to make all the material public. Though the ads are being underwritten by longtime Bush partisans, the Kerry campaign's claim of illegal coordination between the Swift boat group and the Bush campaign is unconvincing.
Others -- also writing in the Post -- are even harsher:
Most of the debate between the former shipmates who swear by John Kerry and the group of other Swift boat veterans who are attacking his military record focuses on matters that few of us have the experience or the moral standing to judge. But one issue, having nothing to do with medals, wounds or bravery under fire, goes to the heart of Kerry's qualifications for the presidency and is therefore something that each of us must consider. That is Kerry's apparently fabricated claim that he fought in Cambodia.
Two weeks ago Kerry's spokesmen began to backtrack. First, one campaign aide explained that Kerry had patrolled the Mekong Delta somewhere "between" Cambodia and Vietnam. But there is no between; there is a border. Then another spokesman told reporters that Kerry had been "near Cambodia." But the point of Kerry's 1986 speech was that he personally had taken part in a secret and illegal war in a neutral country. That was only true if he was "in Cambodia," as he had often said he was. If he was merely "near," then his deliberate misstatement falsified the entire speech.
Ouch. Counting on the professional press for protection -- even if they do, as Evan Thomas famously pointed out, and as others have been echoing, want Kerry to win -- is an outdated strategy. As The Belmont Club observes:
Before the Gutenberg printing press men knew the contents of the Bible solely through the prism of the professional clergy, who could alone afford the expensively hand copied books and who exclusively interpreted it. But when technology made books widely available, men could read the sacred texts for themselves and form their own opinions. And the world was never the same again.
Yes, and now another professional interpretive class is finding itself eclipsed by technology. I think that's a good thing, and that its importance, in fact, dwarfs that of the current election.
• August 23, 2004 | 10:05 PM ET
When John Kerry was in Vietnam, I was still wearing pajamas with feet on them. But here we are, talking about Vietnam. And Kerry has no one to blame for that but himself.
Had Kerry not made his four months of Vietnam service the centerpiece of his campaign, stories about what he did when wouldn't have traction. (Here's a look at how things might have played if Kerry had taken a different approach.)
Even his now-retracted claims to have been in Cambodia on Christmas Day, 1968 wouldn't matter much. Kerry, however, chose to bring Vietnam front-and-center.
As this interesting essay suggests, by doing that Kerry violated the unspoken truce that had kept both parties from ripping at the scab over the Vietnam experience. (They picked at it a time or two, but no more). Now we're talking about things he'd rather we didn't.
Heck, even Bob Dole is talking about it:
"One day he's saying that we were shooting civilians, cutting off their ears, cutting off their heads, throwing away his medals or his ribbons," Dole said. "The next day he's standing there, 'I want to be president because I'm a Vietnam veteran.
"Maybe he should apologize to all the other 2.5 million veterans who served. He wasn't the only one in Vietnam," said Dole, whose World War II wounds left him without the use of his right arm.
Elsewhere on this site, Roger Franklin argues that Kerry's war record deserves scrutiny:
So why pick on Kerry? Only this: Harkin doesn't want to be President.
While voters will never know -- can never know -- if Kerry deserved those medals and his early ticket home, they can be absolutely sure that he did worse than merely embroider his exploits in the years that followed.
Kerry threw his medals over the White House fence -- except he didn't.
He slept out on the Mall in Washington, D.C., with anti-war protesters -- except he didn't, having actually bunked down in a borrowed townhouse with Newsweek reporter Robert Sam Anson, according to an investigative story in the New York Observer.
And most troubling of all, Kerry has said he spent the last days of 1968 on a secret mission in Cambodia, under fire and listening to President Nixon deny that Kerry or any other U.S. servicemen were operating on the wrong side of the border. In one version, it was the Khmer Rouge doing the shooting. In another, drunken South Vietnamese troops celebrating Christmas, which isn't even a good fable, since Buddhists generally don't get too excited about the birth of the Christians' Messiah.
Franklin argues that Kerry's evident desire to "gild his reputation as a man of action" might lead him, like it led LBJ, to rash action as President. That's possible.
Other media people have started looking at this story. John Leo writes in U.S. News of how the media tried to ignore this story, but failed. So does Michael Barone. And an editorial in Investor's Business Daily noted:
After all, it was Kerry himself — with the smart salute and "reporting for duty" opening of his convention speech — who made his military service the keystone of his campaign. And it is Kerry who has repeatedly compared himself favorably with President Bush on that score.
In so doing, he's all but ignored his undistinguished 20-year career in the U.S. Senate and his decade as an anti-war activist.
Fair enough. Now we have questions about Vietnam.
If Kerry thinks he's being slandered, he should answer with facts —not with insults, threats and lawsuits.
We have questions, Senator. We're ready for your answers.
Kerry could clear this up by releasing his full military records, and by answering questions directly. It's past time that he did.
What's puzzling is that the campaign seems to have dropped the ball so thoroughly here. As law professor Ann Althouse notes, this whole flap was foreseeable:
What is to stop this story from being the central story of the Presidential campaign? The Kerry camp has relied heavily on expressing indignation and outrage that the issue ever was raised, on pointing to old questions about Bush's military record, and on fussing over who connected to the ad is connected to someone with a connection to Bush, but this hardly seems capable of pulling the candidate out of the quicksand. It's distressing that the candidate did not take this foreseeable problem seriously. Dole's remarks today (on "Late Edition") included the fact that he warned Kerry that he was going "too far" with his use of Vietnam. How could the Kerry people have blinded themselves to the risks they were taking?
Good question. But then, as this timeline illustrates, the past month has been one of near-continuous missteps and embarrassments for the Kerry campaign.
If there's any comfort out there for Kerry supporters, it's that he's still neck-and-neck with Bush after what has to count as one of the worst months any Presidential candidate has had. But can he take another month like this? As I wrote here almost two weeks ago, Kerry needs to try some straight talk, before it's too late.
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