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Altercation

October 15, 2004 | 11:59 AM ET

Eric Goes on Record: Not-so-Slacker Friday
Sure Kerry creamed him, but remember it matters not at all who won the debate.  What matters is who wins the election.  Slates’s election tracker has Bush winning the electoral college by two votes, giving Kerry no bounce whatever in the third debate.  The L.A. Times also has Bush ahead, though it is not calling it.  I am going to go on record here saying forget the polls, which were wrong last time and will be wrong again this time.  If Bush somehow wins, it will require an even bigger steal than four years ago.  Nobody who voted for Gore is voting for Bush.  The Democrats have registered millions of new voters who don’t show up in the polls.  Idiots who share Ralph Nader’s belief that there is not a “dime’s worth of difference” between the two candidates are far fewer than last time around.  And lots more people have cell phones and can’t be reached by pollsters.  I’m not saying Bush can’t win; I’m just saying I don’t think he can win honestly.

As for the final debate, I heard it on a car radio, coming back from a speaking gig at lovely Eastern Connecticut State University, and so only found out later, as our man Eric B. pointed out, that the pundits were unwilling to call Kerry’s victory, despite Bush’s many false statements, while the public clearly saw a winner.  By and large, the media has remained in the tank for Bush during this election; a combination of their unwillingness to track his campaign’s many deliberate deceptions for fear of appearing partisan and the result of their fear of being called “liberal” by the WSJ/Fox/Rush/Drudge/Murdoch machine that has so effectively muzzled even the most sensible among them.  This being slacker Friday, I am not going to go long and deep on this, but I do wish to point out four things I found to be amazing.

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1) ABC, for the second time in a row, disgraced itself by publishing a poll its own people could not have believed.  So eager were Jennings and company to go on the air with a poll that –just as they did after the Cheney/Edwards debate—they used a poll that skewed toward Republicans 38-30.  Since the election breakdown for the past two votes has been 34/34, they know this is nonsense.  But they used it anyway and came out with a phony tie, as opposed to the CNN Gallup poll which had a strong Kerry victory shortly thereafter.  If I were running that beleaguered network, I’d fire whoever made this decision before election night.  (And can you imagine if they did this to the Republicans?  Herein lies the value of working the refs.)

2) Fox disgraced itself, even for Fox, with commentators like William Kristol, once considered an honest conservative, who said “I think Bush knocked Kerry out tonight.  He just slaughtered him," and Morton Kondracke, who termed Kerry’s mentioning of Mary Cheney’s sexuality to be “dirty politics on the Kerry-Edwards campaign's part."  While her parents might be ashamed of her—judging by their attacks on Kerry for saluting her—did it occur to any of these people that Mary Cheney might be glad -even proud- to be gay?

3) I know they pay my salary here—or some of it—so I should really keep my mouth shut here, but can NBC News really justify Andrea Mitchell coming on and attacking Kerry for criticizing Alan Greenspan, without telling viewers that she is in fact, married to the man whom she was implicitly defending?  Can there be a more clear, concise illustration of a genuine -not the appearance of- conflict of interest?  Can you imagine the hell to pay if this had been done to Bush rather than to Kerry?  Me thinks Mitchell and NBC owe both viewers and the Kerry campaign an apology and she and Alan might want to think about taking a vacation for the next three weeks, lest viewers (correctly in my view) interpret everything she says in this light.  (And while I’m living dangerously, hey Mr. Kaplan, what’s with putting up four out of five pro-Bush pundits right after the debate?)

4) Since we are an equal opportunity critic here, what in the world is up with CNN's Candy Crowley complaining that the debate "was a bit of a wonk fest," followed by CNN's Jeff Greenfield complaining, "This was the least-satisfying debate, the most drenched in wonkery."  'Drenched in wonkery'?  First of all that's just about the worst mixed metaphor of the century.  But second, are the CNN pundits complaining that there was too much substance in a debate designed to help people determine who should be the most powerful person on the planet for the next four years?  Would they have preferred it if each candidate had done their best renditition of "Swannee River," or told Oprah their recovered memories of childhood trauma for ninety minutes?  Can the world have really come to this?  I don't know much about Crowley, but Greenfield, who has a TV reputation for intelligence and high-mindedness, wishing for more garbage in the system, is really depressing.  Really, every time you think our political system has reached a new low, it reaches an even newer low.

And speaking of Nader ruining America even further, there's this exchange in the current Nation. (I generally don't like to write this much for free, but I love my country.)

Alter-update:  Since as far as I know, I still do have a job here, I’ll let you know that as part of the official “When Presidents Lie/Don’t Vote for Nader” tour, I will be the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota, Fla on Tuesday at 7 and at Barnes and Noble at 660 Beacon Street in Boston at 7 on Wednesday night. 

I’ve got a new Nation column here, called “Anchors Aweigh: The Refs are Worked,” and a new Think Again column here called, “Ideas Have Consequences: So Does Money.”

I will also be on Tina Brown’s CNBC show, “Topic A,” on Sunday night, with my old friend Aaron Sorkin, talking about how he is so much richer, more influential, and handsomer than I am even though we started out pretty much even.

“Smile” was just wonderful and I’ll have more to say about it next week.  I say that now only to explain why I’m not letting Sal review it here.  I just love it too much and he doesn’t, and hey, I paid for this microphone.  I am letting him have his say on the new Tom Waits, however, even though I’m not sure I agree either.  I just don’t feel strongly enough to make a federal case about it, they way I do about Mr. Wilson’s masterpiece.  Here he is:

HONKIN' DOWN THE HIGHWAY
Usta be a plunger, a washboard, a hammer, a toy whistle, clothespins and some Dodge product lug nuts, were things found in your shed, not the basic backing tracks of a new Tom Waits CD.  But Tom has kinda taken a liking to these "instruments" over the last ten to fifteen years, and left such conventional means as a guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, and horns behind.  His latest, "Real Gone," picks up where 1992's clankfest "Bone Machine" left off.  Is that a good thing?  Don't get us wrong, we love Waits!  And "Mule Variations" had some incredible bits on it.  But, it's getting real difficult to listen to any of his recent releases.  When you need an electron microscope to detect any actual tunes amidst the wheezing and grinding, that's not necessarily a good thing.  At this point a Waits record is no more enjoyable than a traffic jam or eating lunch next to a construction site.  From his debut, "Closing Time," up until his masterpiece "Rain Dogs," a Waits record was something that needed repeated listenings to savor every story and heartfelt melody.  Now, one listen to any of his last five or six releases does little more than hurt your fillings.  We're sure he still has it in him to make some great songs, and for all we know he did it on "Real Gone."  It's just hard to tell when he's playing them on a carburetor.  Come back, Tom! By Sal, NYCD

Here’s the Man

Charles Pierce:  THIRTY DAYS OUT
Day 18 -- October 15, 2004
Doc --
An "angry mom"?  Well, yes, Lynne, but you're also a career McCarthyite academic hack.  And "angry father"?  Well, yes, Dick, and I appreciate how grateful you are to Mary for her noble efforts in getting conceived and born so you could avoid Vietnam, but you've also made a career in a party that sold its soul long ago to the worst theocratic hatchetmen in the history of the country, and now there seem be some consequences to that.  What's the subtext here?  That the national Republican party is the more sensitive of the two parties toward the gay community?

Yes, and I am the Tsar of all the Russias.

Welcome to the NFL, kids.

And, let us recall that the Avignon Presidency thought nothing of smearing John McCain's wife and child when it needed a win in South Carolina four years ago.  I mention that because it appears that McCain himself has forgotten it.

Outside of Dukakis in the tank, there never has been a more pathetic political image than McCain, apparently shot full of whatever it is they use to bring down a moose when it gets into the suburbs, dragged out to stand there with C-Plus Augustus for that transparently phony man-of-the-people stunt on Air Force One yesterday.  My God, John, how do you face your wife after that?  How do you face your child?

How much is a cabinet post worth?  How much is it worth to you to have the drooling racist nitwits on the Imus show kiss your ass?  How much is it worth to have Tim Russert think you're a hero?  How much will you sell to be who they say you are?  How big a toad will you consent to eat?

My God, Doc. There's nobody these people won't ruin to get what they want.  Screw it.  Until John Kerry is inaugurated, there are no rules.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to whine.  I want my flu shot!  And the reason most of us aren't getting one is because of conservatism, but you wouldn't know that from the debate Wednesday night.  When Bob Schieffer  brought up the shortage of flu vaccine Dubya lied and Kerry ignored it (he used the question to talk about health care in general).  Argh!!! 

(By the way, am I the only one who thinks Dubya should get a flu shot?  When you're at war, you don't want your Commander in Chief to be making decisions in a feverish misery that lasts for days/weeks.  Remember, he's operating "heavy machinery" (nuclear weapons -- now that's heavy!) --  he can't just take some Nyquil and go to bed!)

If all politics is local, Dubya's lie about vaccines is the biggest of his presidency.  The reason most drug companies don't make vaccines isn't fear of lawsuits.  It's the same reason they've only invented a single new antibiotic in the last 35 years: there are no profits in a drug people take only once a year.  The real money is in drugs that patients take daily the rest of their lives (e.g., anti-cholesterol).  That's why the government is providing money to develop vaccines for the Avian flu -- the drug companies won't do it alone.  Charles Krauthammer, where are you?  Three years ago you wrote that flu shots were important in fighting the war on terror.  That was back when we were opening the mail with gloves and there was a real chance that a letter might have some trace anthrax in it.  People were showing up at hospitals at the sudden onset of flu symptoms.  And then there are the billions of dollars flu sick-days suck out of the economy.  (Talk about not protecting small businesses!)  It was a no-brainer for the government to ensure some ***extra*** supply, especially when you know there are only two manufacturers and no way to make more if some goes bad/gets lost in a fire/whatever.  From what I've read that's what Canada did (insert obvious tangential rants here). 

Name: Butch Fries
Hometown: Pine, Colorado
One topic of the debate that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere but that struck me:  in last week's debate, President Howdy Doody said he didn't want drugs imported from Canada because they might kill us; last night, he said he was working with Canada on obtaining more flu vaccine.  So which is it?

Name: Donald L Feinberg
Hometown: Naperville, IL

We heard from the BBC on Monday (11 Oct):  "The Saudi interior minister has said women will not be allowed to vote in the country's municipal elections starting in February 2005."  In response to a question about women's getting the vote, Prince Nayef bin Sultan said simply: 'I don't think that women's participation is possible.'"

I see.  George W Bush's great admirers and allies, those eminent and stalwart  intimates of Clan Bush, the Saudis, are doing their Taliban impersonation.  I understand from this that the U.S. can legitimately aspire to force-feed "democracy" to some enemy or other, but strangely,  there's not a word said about the possibility of introducing democracy to a "friend," to whom we can, at least theoretically, talk.

Name: Solmaker
Hometown: Port Townsend
Dear Eric,
Val makes a palpably fallacious argument, claiming that submission by Jesus and subsequent Christians to martyrdom somehow constitutes a Biblical (moral) justification for capital punishment.  The martyrs chose their path of submission and were justified - that hardly justifies those who martyred them!

The real question about capital punishment isn't whether a Christian should submit to Caesar if capital punishment happens to be the status quo.  The relevant issue is - to the extent one has influence - whether a Christian should support or oppose capital punishment as a matter of state policy.

Val mentions nothing in his letter that's any kind of Biblical justification for capital punishment.  Perhaps something of the sort could be dredged out of the Old Testament, but New Testament prescriptions and the lives of the Saints argue strongly for radical forgiveness and cheek-turning.

Name: Barry Ritholtz
Hometown: The Big Picture

Hey Doc,
Here's the follow up to Wednesday's discussion on the true nature of unemployment in the U.S.  It's a less complex explanation, and may be more suitable for the numerically challenged.

Enjoy!

What is the Employment Situation Really Like?  (Hint:  Not good)
(mirror)

The conventional wisdom about Friday's disappointing Jobs data was that there was a little something in the release for each candidate - weak job creation data was bad for Bush’s campaign, and the low unemployment rate undercut Kerry's argument.  This turns out to be a false dichotomy.

Some savvy number crunchers are now looking askance at the unemployment rate. These analysts are arguing that this number dramatically understates how difficult the labor situation actually is.  The “incumbent friendly 5.4%” rate is in large part the result of a mathematical sleight of hand.  Depending upon which underlying assumption you use, the actual number may be closer to 6.4, 7.2 or 9.4%.

The reason the unemployment rate has stayed so low, these economists argue, is not due to improvements in hiring trends; instead, people are “dropping out” of the labor force.  The measure of this is the “labor participation rate,” and it has fallen to 66% from 67.3%.  While that decrease doesn’t appear large, consider it is applied to the over 140 million people in the labor force.  That 1.3% drop represents nearly 2 million additional unemployed people who are not showing up in the unemployment rate data.

ISI Group’s Tom Gallagher noted that “if the participation rate was at the older, higher level, then the unemployment rate would be around 7.2%.  Even using a 10-year average of participation rate yields a 6.4% unemployment rate."

If that sounds bad, consider what happens when we add the "so-called marginally attached workers and part-timers who really want to be working full time.”  Barron's Alan Abelson (quoting the Liscio Report) concluded: counting these marginally attached and part-timers would send the unemployment rate to a formidable 9.4%.  “Using history as a guide, [Liscio] reckons that "we're now 9.3 million jobs below where we'd be in a 'normal' recovery."

The shrinking labor force is why we have been enjoying a “deceptively modest unemployment rate.”  In a post-bubble environment, job creation is an ongoing structural problem.  Thus, these changes cannot be blamed on President Bush - at least not entirely.  We questioned whether the Tax Cuts were over-emphasizing the stock market, to the detriment of the broader economy, over a year ago.

That turned out to be fairly prescient:  We now see strong corporate profitability combining with anemic job creation to create a range-bound, exigent stock market.

Forget about the Presidential elections for a moment, and consider this: Without organic job creation, any economic recovery is doomed to failure sooner rather than later.

October 14, 2004 | 12:11 PM ET

Correspondents Eric Rauchway and Charles Pierce trade notes on third and final presidential debate in the 2004 campaign.

Eric Rauchway

Well, I imagine this note finds you weeping into your Sam Adams over the mighty Rivera.  Nevertheless, let's talk about last night's other game.  It wasn't a slugfest, it was percentage baseball on both sides, pushing forward by increments and inches.  I scored the President with three major E's, though, and I suspect they'll tell.

The first came right off the bat -- after both sides rattled off their pat routines about terror, Senator Kerry mentioned that the President had claimed he was "not that concerned" about Osama bin Laden.  The President committed a doozy of a boot, saying, "I don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. That's kind of one of those exaggerations."

Lord knows the Internet must've lit up with everyone e-mailing everyone else this link from the White House's very own Web site on March 13, 2002, quoting the President saying, "I truly am not that concerned about him."  The President did, of course, spend a longish time explaining that bin Laden wasn't worth our attention -- not worth as much as Saddam, anyway.  I fully expect to see these two clips side-by-side on The Daily Show, if not elsewhere in the SCLM.

The second, and deeper, error came later, and was the one that had the missus irate.  The president explained that his answer to anyone whose job was outsourced was,

Here's some help for you to go get an education.  Here's some help for you to go to a community college.
...
We want to help pay for you to gain the skills necessary to fill the jobs of the 21st century. 

Mr. President, 'round here we have an industry called software design and programming.  Folks in it have college educations -- heck, some of them even have Ivy League degrees -- and they thought they held the jobs of the 21st century till they saw 'em go to India.  Community college won't do them much good.  With respect, sir, do you have another answer?

The third was the one that stung me, and it came up under the heading of Social Security.  The President said that seniors will continue to "get their checks.... We'll honor our commitment to our seniors.  But for our children or grandchildren we need to have a different strategy." 

Which sounds to me like to the younger folks -- i.e. me and my kids -- we won't be honoring our commitment.  (So much for constitutive commitments.  Professors Sunstein and Vaidhyanathan: are you listening?)

CNN/USA Today/Gallup's poll of debate watchers gave Kerry the win at 53-39, with 36% R, 36% D, and 28% independents in the pool.

What'd you see?

Charles Pierce

Major League Baseball's decision in 1993 to realign its leagues into three divisions and include the team with the next-best record in the playoffs was considered heresy by the purists, particularly because it copied a concept from football, of all things. 

The only baseball owner to vote against the change, which took effect in 1994 before the postseason was canceled by labor strife, was from Texas. 

"I made my arguments and went down in flames.  History will prove me right," said then-Rangers owner George W. Bush
...
"This is an exercise in folly."  
(From the historical bowels of USA TODAY)

Eric - So, if it were up to Himself, the Red Sox wouldn't even be in the playoffs.  (Not that they're going to be there long.  Everything now hangs on Bronson Arroyo, which is kind of like the way they leave one Cabinet guy in the White House during the state-of-the-union speech. If the unthinkable happens, the Secretary of Agriculture is ready to lead.)  And, no, the man cannot admit when he's wrong.  Ever.

I left the world of debate after an amped-up and ubiquitous Karen Hughes -- I think she closed out the night bellowing at strangers on the sidewalk in Tempe -- told CNN that John Kerry was the real Herbert Hoover in this race because of his "isolationist" foreign policy and his "protectionist" stance on trade.  History should not be left lying around where anybody can pick it up and start using it as a ballpeen hammer.

To be completely honest, I thought this was C-Plus Augustus's best shot.  He was calm, not visibly wired, and he put forth every bit of political and performance skill that he has.  (Of course, he and Bob Schieffer should just, you know, get a room some place.  All that phony Pecos bonhomie -- which would've made Lyndon gag --  startled Kerry, I think.  He looked like he was waiting for a line-dance to break out.)  The problem is, of course, that he's running as the incumbent this time around.  The fundamental dynamic of these things has been that Kerry seized the role of the incumbent in the first encounter and never let it go.  "Why should we ever trust you again?" is the great unspoken question of this campaign, and C-Plus occasionally appears to be trying to return his own serve.  And, no, sir, given what’s happened over the past three-years-and-change, I don’t think “Look at all the great stuff coming down the pike in ‘06” is going to cut it.

Which is why Kerry is reckoned to have won easily last night, despite what I think was a torpid performance.  He looked tired.  He sounded tired.  In fact, both guys look like they're staggering to the wire.  Somehow, we went right from catching Osama to catching the flu and, in the latter, Kerry talked about health-care and Bush talked about tort reform.  God, men, just rest in bed and drink plenty of fluids, will you?

You know, though, I don’t know what I’d do if I were, say, a Deaniac, given how unwilling Kerry was to have anything to do with the “Massachusetts liberal” tag.  I mean, if he didn’t want to embrace it, the least he could have done was hang Tom Delay and the rest of the House radicals around the presidential neck a little more firmly than he did.  The hijacking of the national GOP by its nuttier fringes is one of the great unexamined issues in this campaign.  A couple of good whacks in that direction at least would have sent a little message to the base – especially considering that C-Plus did nothing but that for two full hours.

Look, America, I am a Massachusetts liberal.  So is Barney Frank.  So is Ted Kennedy.  John Kerry is not.  Just ask the rest of us.  The ongoing effort to Dukakis-ize him is going to flop.  Hell, DUKAKIS wasn’t a “Massachusetts liberal.”  And he is not “to the left of" The Senior Senator.  Not even the GOPAC crowd believes that one.  And you, Andrew Card,  proud son of the Commonwealth yourself, know it.  

What Kerry is, was, and always will be is someone who can always make the other guy on the stage look like he’s applying for a night manager’s job at a Gas ‘n Sip somewhere.  I think they’re discovering what every one of Kerry’s opponents always discovers – that there is too much substance to the guy to cover with easy labels.  Sooner or later, people just decide to hire the guy who looks most like he’s up to the job.  I mean, look at the answer to the “How does faith inform what you do?” question, in which Schieffer served up a bigger meatball than the one Pedro left over the plate against Olerud last night.  One guy rattled off some vaguely faith-based talking points as though he were doing calisthenics.  The other guy sounded like Teilhard de Chardin with PAC money.

The Tony Soprano line was well delivered, and that little pat on the head about the immediate aftermath of 9/11?  Who’s your Daddy, beee-yotch?  Now the ground game, and the ugly phone calls, and the nasty flyers, and, I suspect, a whole bunch of lawyers getting all kinds of rich.  And, Bronson Arroyo, come to save the world for truth and beauty, God, it’s going to be a long month.
________________________________________

Pierce,
Which was worse, Karen Hughes writing history or Andrea Mitchell criticizing Senator Kerry's criticism of Alan Greenspan without mentioning (and without having Chris Matthews mention) that the Fed Chairman and onetime Social Security fixer is her husband?  I'm glad I don't write media criticism, but Eric B. does over at Salon. 

Since you mentioned things unmentioned, let me mention my most-missed topic from last night:  civil liberties.  This is an area where the administration's record is such as to leave Antonin Scalia exercised, not just the libruls at ACLU.  Would this not have been at least as appropriate a subject as Bob Schieffer's tribute to their collective female descendants?

Because I think it's slightly unbecoming, I won't link to the various pundits whom I generally respect who described domestic policy as inherently boring.  I hope and indeed believe most Americans want the provision of cheaper, better healthcare and the best job-producing economy possible.  I should think that Americans in the middle of their lives watching television in their living rooms don't want to be told "Listen, the No Child Left Behind Act is really a jobs act, when you think about it."  They know they're neither under-educated nor young enough for that to do them any good.  And so whatever they felt when told to "listen" to that, I imagine it wasn't boredom.

It's going to be a long three-or-so weeks now, and as we depart from the relatively high-minded debates we descend, assuredly, into the world of misplaced registrations and vote-early-and-often and hanging chads and but for the grace of God the Electoral Count Act of 1887.  It's what Frank Skeffington would recognize as, finally, time for serious politicking.  As my high-school history teacher used to say, borrowing from Martin Luther, "Go now and sin boldly, but also rejoice."
___________________________________

Eric --
Some of the blame for the things unmentioned has to go to Schieffer, for whom the day has arrived for him to go to the dogtrack with his name pinned to his sweater.  I, too, would have loved to see a spirited discussion of the future of the Bill of Rights, although Kerry did make a feint at it when he was talking about judges.  He even counted up a few amendments while he was at it.

But, face it, except for cranks, gifted historians, and sportswriters on the dodge, the Constitution has come to serve a largely ceremonial function in our politics.  In the popular culture, and particularly in the terrorist-porn beloved by TV over the past three years, it is regarded as a superannuated anthology of loopholes and technicalities.  To the go-go politicos, the second or third generation to have their minds poisoned by all that Neustadt, it's come to be regarded as a naive impediment to the public good.  The very notion of the Tonkin Gulf remix for which Kerry voted, and with which the Avignon Presidency set about dropping its "values" into the desert as though they were MRE's, would have been laughed at by any country that took its Constitution seriously.  And the Patriot Act, for which Kerry also voted, would have been dismissed as unAmerican before it ever got to the printer.

We don't want a serious discussion about civil liberties because, as a national polity, we don't take them seriously.  Which is too bad, considering the Supreme Court -- which, I understand, deals with topics other than abortion -- is about to determine whether the world's most highly advanced democracy can snuff teenagers.  Pity.

October 13, 2004 | 2:29 PM ET

This just in: Actual -big even- news from The Nation (already translated into Chinese).

October 13, 2004 | 2:22 PM ET

Sivacation
It's Siva Vaidhyanathan again, asking the question: What will the SCLM's reaction be when Sinclair Broadcasting rejects a pro-Kerry filmmaker's offer to air his documentary, free of charge?

This Sinclair story is rather more complex than many pundits and bloggers seem to allow.  There have been many calls for the FCC or FEC to step up and investigate whether this proposed broadcast is an "in-kind" contribution to the Bush campaign or some violation of communication law.  I think such calls are inappropriate and unwise.  I think it's important to distinguish between consumer/citizen uproar -- which I applaud cautiously -- and FCC or FEC intervention, which I oppose.  We should not be comfortable with policies and habits that make media more timid, regardless of political orientation.  I don't think either federal agency should be policing content as much as they do now.

We need a serious, bold politically engaged set of political voices on our airwaves, regardless of orientation.  We need real conservative media and real liberal media (and perhaps libertarian media and socialist media and Silly Party media).  Right now we have boring, spineless media.

If local stations are going to push themselves into politics, more power to them (even if they do so on orders from corporate headquarters).  I wish more local stations spent real money or pre-empted shows like "The Bachelor" in favor of political content, even propaganda.  Let them deal with the fallout.  Jay Rosen has a better idea.  He says Kerry should accept Sinclair's offer to respond.  I agree with Jay.

Our broadcasters are timidly conservative.  This is not acceptable on either count.  Let's encourage rich, loud, messy engagement with politics, even if it means allowing shallow, dishonest propaganda once in a while.  We should just answer back with better information and more attractive answers.  Sorry folks.  This is what democracy is all about.

Vote Again, Before the Ink Dries
OpenDemocracy.net continues its series of "letters to America" with an exchange between an Iraqi mother and a former U.S. Marine.  It's moving.  Meanwhile, openDemocracy.net's voting series commenced this week with my examination of global trends toward electronic voting.  I wrote the article just before the inspirational (yet troubling) Afghan election of last Saturday.  Let's be clear about this.  Millions of Afghanis risked their lives to vote.  Many cheated, rubbing the ink off their thumbs to be able to vote more than once.  Registration was a debacle.  But the electoral process generally worked.  The Afghan people have faith in the process and the results.  And for this we should all be grateful.  Afghanistan needs much work.  It might get worse there before it gets better.  The Taliban is on the march, having been pushed away but not defeated by our short-attention-span leaders in Washington.  Drug lords and war lords rule much of the country.  And Al Queda still commands respect and protection in the mountains that traverse Afghanistan and Pakistan.  But in this little way, those of us who deeply believe in democracy can find some hope in the future of a nation that has always deserved better.

Why did elections work so well in Afghanistan, yet seem destined to fail in Iraq? Three reasons:

  • Karzai is not a thug and an American stooge like Allawi is;
  • Afghanistan yearned for liberation from the Taliban and welcomed the clear signals that coalition forces had no designs on long-term occupation and exploitation (unlike the signals Iraqis get about their oil reserves, their markets, and their land that seems destined for permanent U.S. military posts);
  • NATO ran the security operations and the UN supervised the elections in Afghanistan -- a real coalition with broad global support.

Coming to Terms with Torture
The more I think about the frequent revelations that my country tortured hundreds of innocent people on orders (or with complicity) from those high up in the Pentagon, the more I become convinced that John Kerry will have a far tougher time succeeding with his plans in Iraq than he leads on.  Needless to say, Bush cannot ever achieve his goals in Iraq.  As soon as the world saw those photos from Abu Ghraib the game was over.  It will be a generation before the United States has the moral credibility to sway vast numbers of people in the Middle East that we mean well, even when we mean well.  Please read Mark Danner's outstanding analysis of the effects of torture on opinion in Iraq and the rest of the world.  Part of me wishes that torture and human rights abuses had made their way into the campaign mix this year.  But part of me realizes that this is a downer issue, a no-win issue for either side.  Sadly, campaigns are no place for searing truths.  Still, more horrible truths keep coming out.  If we don't deal with this now, we will have to deal with it later.

Unoriginal Intent?
Does it frighten you that George Bush considered taking a firm stance against slavery to be an adequate explanation of his vision for the next Supreme Court?  It should.  Bush fumbled his way through a rather stupid (yeah, I said it) explanation of the Dred Scott case in the last debate.  Yes, it was code for Roe v. Wade.  And anti-abortion forces increasingly see themselves as postmodern abolitionists (see Tom Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas for the story on this).  It's also a classic case in the argument for "original intent" in Constitutional jurisprudence.  Bush thinks he supports original intent.  He does not, or at least the jurists he respects most do not.  Please check out Yale Law professor Jack Balkin's blog entry on Antonin Scalia's twisted version of original intent.  All Bush has to do to see that he really does not believe in original intent is read the most "activist" and politically guided decision the court has ever issued: the one that appointed Bush president in the first place.

Department of Panic
Bush probably should have consulted his attorney general before coming out against slavery.  After all, John Ashcroft is a notorious Confederate apologist.  Ashcroft, of course, has been too busy cranking up our panic nerves over the past few years to actively support a restoration of the Stars and Bars.  Remember when he declared Yasir Hamdi such a deep threat to our nation's security that granting Hamdi an audience with his lawyer or a fair trial -- or even criminal charges that he might be willing to refute -- was considered too risky?  Yeah.  Well, it turns out, Hamdi was not so much of a threat after all.  Ashcroft let him go free.  That's right.  Ashcroft royally pissed him off for two years then let him go back to Saudi Arabia, where we can all be sure he will lead a model life, never consorting with those who would attack us again.  Hey Yasir, I know you were a radical Islamist with allegiances to the Taliban.  But no hard feelings, huh?

Not to worry, Ashcroft is after the real threats to our way of life: those who share music over the Internet.  It seems a federal task force has recommended using federal prosecutorial powers to combat song swapping.  Ashcroft said the Justice Department was prepared to build "the strongest, most aggressive legal assault against intellectual property crime in U.S. history."  It makes you wonder if the FBI and CIA circulated a memo entitled "Music Fans Determined to Attack United States."

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program
Last week Eric Rauchway and I started a conversation about the merits and demerits of Cass Sunstein's new book, The Second Bill of Rights: FDR's Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need it More than Ever.

In the discussion we outlined what Sunstein calls "constitutive commitments," principles of governance that might or might not be codified in a constitution, but serve just as important a role in guiding policy and clarifying citizens' expectations.  Here is the rest of the argument, with Rauchway getting the first and last words this week:

Dear Siva,
Of course I agree with you that the ideas FDR articulated and which Sunstein now celebrates had a long history of percolating, among the smart folks in cities (like Herbert Croly) and among the people who knew hard times in the countryside (like Leadbelly).  I don't want to blow my own horn excessively, but I wrote a book (The Refuge of Affections) about three years ago about how Croly's ideas reflected the real experience of a certain class of Americans.  In writing that book, though, I found that those ideas did not translate well into American politics, which tends to favor the small-bore fix over the grand constitutive commitment.

The problem I've tried to identify with Sunstein's sunniness is not that the ideas weren't around or influential, it's that the ideas possibly weren't and almost certainly aren't as widely accepted as he says.

Alterman wrote a book (Who Speaks for America?) a few years ago in which he argued that the American people, if let to speak, would favor a foreign policy that went lighter on the intervention and more democratic.  If Alterman's America existed pre-9/11, it doesn't anymore.  And if Sunstein's America (and Texas) existed in 1998, it doesn't anymore.

The question is, if you want it back, how will you get it?  The first bill of rights went into abeyance between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement.  The Warren Court brought it to life, but the Court's methods generated considerable backlash.  How do you see the Second Bill returning?

-Eric Rauchway

Dear Eric R.:
The first Bill of Rights did go into abeyance in practice (as did the 14th Amendment, which gave it teeth and allowed for its subsequent and remarkable incorporation by the states) for most of its history.  But its constitutive commitment remained.  Despite frequent prosecutions and deportations of dissenters like Eugene Debs and Emma Goldman, Americans still professed to believe in the principles of free speech, free exercise of religion, and due process.  Thousands were lynched and many more thousands of innocent people were denied due process when losing land or liberty to state control.  But the space between the commitment and the reality steadily closed over two centuries.  Without a blunt expression of a set of values -- no matter how far they stand from practice -- there is no way to progress toward them.  By the time we showed up, the country was relatively just.  This long, strange trip should not be undervalued.  It did not have to turn out as well as it has.  A more ambitious agenda of principles and goals need not be realized in even one century.  But it's important to embrace such statements anyway.

Sunstein's case for the widespread (yet unacknowledged) acceptance of the Second Bill of Rights rests on the lack of a concerted reaction to Roosevelt's speech.  Sunstein takes that silent acquiescence as evidence for the case that the principles Roosevelt expressed were not so radical.  Sunstein's major point here is to make us realize that too often we assume that Americans have been committed merely to negative liberties (freedom from state influence or control) and allergic to positive liberties (commitments that empower citizens).  In fact, for much of the 20th century, we steadily adopted policies that rest on positive liberties -- universal public education first among them.

Your reticence about accepting Roosevelt's manifesto as historically important is understandable.  It points to a paradox of pragmatism.  Sunstein goes out of his way to link Roosevelt explicitly with the main currents of American pragmatism, most successfully through the legal realists.  Repeatedly, Sunstein emphasizes Roosevelt's impatience with grand theories, hatred of socialism, and obsession with experimentation.  But pragmatism, by its nature, resists big, broad goals and principles.  Yet it depends on shared values, generated through consensus, to have some moorings.  In this sense, the Second Bill of Rights was out of character for Roosevelt.  It's always risky for American progressives or liberals to declare such a clear set of goals.  Such audacious declarations seem to invite blowback and heartbreak.

The American Revolution did not end until 1965, the year before I was born.  Only then did we have a functional democratic republic with voting rights for all and a widespread consensus about liberties and duties.  I believe we are fighting off a counter revolution now, but that's another issue for another time.  In this time when myths of laizes faire dominate (and limit) our political imaginations, Sunstein's book serves as more than an analysis of what Roosevelt meant for America.  Sunstein provides a starting point for a bold articulation of the duties of the state in a diverse republic striving for a sense of justice.  Perhaps Sunstein misses his mark by relying on Roosevelt's experiences and blaming Nixon (and, by extension, those who chose not to support Humphrey for fear of supporting a "lesser of two evils") for the retreat from these principles.  Maybe he should have articulated a fresh manifesto of his own, one that spoke directly to the dominant themes and concerns of Americans.

Siva:
Here's the thing:  If I want to see a constitutive commitment, where do I go?  Can I find it in a zoo or museum?  Sunstein's constitutive commitments, like Gunnar Myrdal's American Creed, are both everywhere and nowhere.  And if you can't scratch a window with it I don't know if I'm going to accept it.  Ask a Texan if he thinks the government should ensure everyone has a job, and odds are he'll say yes.  Ask him if he wants his taxes raised to make that possible -- ask him if he wants individual right of free contract compromised to make that possible -- will he still say yes?

Sunstein knows that constitutive commitments, democratic processes, and even constitutions all sport such vulnerabilities.  In his view, constitutions have a kind of extrapolitical, cultural standing -- he says "countercultural," because he sees them principally as limiting.  Where you and I differ in reading this book is, I think, in how hardy we think culture is.  I think it's pretty vulnerable, for some of the same reasons Grover Norquist does.  The generation that took a conscious part in affirming FDR's presidency and the commitments for which it stood is dying, and being replaced by the generation who associate FDR with the vanished world of their fathers, and their children who might -- just -- have noticed FDR on the dime.

To say, as Sunstein does, that the second bill cannot and ought not, per FDR's own wishes, be enforced as law but upheld through the democratic process is to say that somebody who does believe in it, or even part of it, needs to win an election every now and then.  It hasn't happened much lately.

Best,
ER

Hey, Pierce: Who's Your Daddy Tonight?
I am sure Eric will soon regret giving the keys to this page to a Yankee fan like myself.  But that's the risk you take here in New York City.  Mariano Rivera inspired us all last night, leaving a funeral, flying all day, and pitching a save in game one.  Hideki Matsui showed how powerful the sixth-best hitter on the Yankees can be.  Mike Mussina was perfect through six.  Amazing game, as always.  And, as always, the Yankees walked out triumphant.  It is the way it must be.  Sorry, Red Sox fans.  The curse remains powerful and real.  Pity poor Pedro tonight.

Here is Charles Pierce, who is right on all matters save baseball:

Charles Pierce -- THIRTY DAYS OUT

Day 20. October 13,2004

Doc --
Jeebus, all the way back to 8-7, and Bernie Williams -- who's hitting about a buck-seventy-five -- hits one the other way over Manny's head for two more, handing The Hammer Of God a three-run lead into the ninth.  Pedro tonight, though, and a howling mob in the Bronx.  I may be a little distracted during the debate tonight.

Can I point out for the record that Chris Matthews is making a galloping jackass of himself with this idiotic Withered Pundits Over America Tour that he's running?  ("Hey, Red Dog.  Which case does Andrea Mitchell go in?")  Essentially, because everything comes back to sports, what Matthews is doing is the College Game Day shtick that ESPN brings to some football-silly campus every Saturday, thereby giving permission to the creme de la Auburn to get sockless drunk at nine in the morning.  Except, instead of Lee Corso's putting on the USC Trojan's helmet, we get Matttews trolling for opinions on stem-cells among the younger set.  Actually, he looks more like a narc than Gordon Liddy ever did.  Chris, you are not cool.  That's why you made a career in politics.

Hate to say it, but I guarantee that C-Plus Augustus wins the spin contest tonight.  They've got the dosage right by now, and I'm sure they'll do a better job hiding the wires than they did before.  He's going to yell, "Liberal, Liberal Liberal!  Boogedy-Boogedy!" like it's 1988 or something, and at least one member of the Hardball intelligentsia will mention how much "the base" loves the grunt and the squeal of Himself and his manly-man verbs.  Watch it happen, and it will happen.  I don't care if he replies to a question about global warming with a chorus of "The wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round."  We'll hear how deftly he's appealing to the security moms.  It's a good thing that Kerry's primary asset as a candidate is his simple doggedness.  A more imaginative politician might be picking flowers off the wallpaper by now.

October 12, 2004 | 1:29 PM ET

The Altercation team is flying from San Francisco back to the city this morning, in the hopes of landing at Carnegie Hall before Brian Wilson does the “Smile” part of the show.  In the meantime, we’re just chock full of great stuff; so full, it’s almost scary, given how little I had to write of it.  First off there’s Our Man on the Trail:

Charles Pierce THIRTY DAYS OUT
Day  21 -- October 12, 2004

Doc --
That Springsteen fellow can play the guitar a little.  I have great hopes for him.  (And I never hear "Badlands" without being reminded what a pivotal album "Darkness" was for him, and not just because that song proved a decent source for, you know, book titles and the like.  It was on that record where he really started to write.)  And big Ups to the whole ensemble for choosing the Elvis C. tune for the almost-finale.

As we all keep moving along through the Nuisance business, it behooves us to remember that C-Plus Augustus told us all to do exactly that in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities.  Remember?  Go to Disney World!  Take a plane trip!  Hit the malls!  What is that but treating terrorism like a "nuisance" and not like a "war"?  The Avignon Presidency is not interested in allaying fear.  It is interested only in its political utility.  For three years now, it has arrogated to itself not only the right to tell us when we should be afraid, but also the right to tell us how we should respond to that fear.  (Shop! Re-elect us! Invade Iraq!)  For three years, it has claimed exclusive ownership of the events of  September 11, 2001, and to their immediate aftermath.  Never particularly fond of political self-government, it found itself resentful of emotional self-government, too.  Which is partly why my old friend Andrew Card made that wacky statement about C-Plus's seeing the country as a 10-year old.

And now, comes that pesky Constitution again and, suddenly, people are speculating openly -- and in large numbers, too -- that these clowns don't own 9/11.  That the response to it truly is 120 million different responses, and that the administration's stewardship of those events is as open to question as is their stewardship of the federal economy or the national parks.  Beyond the now-customary dishonest paraphrase -- and, yes, Mark Halperin, stay strong, my brother --  you see a White House desperate to regain the emotional momentum it so squandered.  More than anything else, this election will turn on whether or not we have the courage to be a self-governing people, to govern ourselves both in our politics and in ourselves.

And did I really hear Tom Harkin on the floor of the Senate yesterday criticizing C-Plus's fiscal policies by comparing them to the dangers presented by "a reckless driver"?  Yow.  That's got to leave a mark...

Wanna see how New York Times says Bush lied?

But the scathing indictment that Mr. Bush offered of Mr. Kerry over the past two days - on the eve of the second presidential debate and with polls showing the race tightening - took these attacks to a blistering new level.  In the process, several analysts say, Mr. Bush pushed the limits of subjective interpretation and offered exaggerated or what some Democrats said were distorted accounts of Mr. Kerry's positions on health care, tax cuts, the Iraq war and foreign policy.

Yeah, I had trouble following that too.

Quote of the Day: General Brent Scowcroft, Bush 41 National Security Advisor and Bush 43 appointee to the Forum for International Security--

Can we win the war on terrorism?  Yes, I think we can, in the sense that we can win the war on organized crime.  There is going to be no peace treaty on the battleship Missouri in the war on terrorism, but we can break its back so that it is only a horrible nuisance and not a paralyzing influence on our societies.
--"9/11 a Year On" conference, Sept. 2002

Hey Look, the New Yorker discovers a great new book (I’ll have plenty to say to/about Mr. Hart in the not-so distant future.)

When Presidents Lie, by Eric Alterman (Viking; $25.95).  In 1964, as Congress prepared to vote on the Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing the use of force in Vietnam, Senator William Fulbright said that he simply did not “normally assume” that “a President lies to you.”  That was a mistake, according to Alterman’s compendious history of Presidential lying.  Alterman, a columnist for The Nation, refers to the Bush Administration as a “post-truth Presidency,” but in general he is hardest on Democrats.  He writes of Roosevelt’s “deliberate mendacity” at Yalta and Kennedy’s “nasty double game” during the Cuban missile crisis—tactics that, respectively, he claims, started and deepened the Cold War.  Alterman argues that such behavior, whatever its justification, invariably exacts a price—L.B.J.’s lies about the Tonkin incident consumed his Presidency—and that the greatest dangers come when an Administration starts to believe its own lies.

It’s Economy Day Here at Altercation.  Here are three smart pieces to get you up to speed.

First off, Mr. Nobel Laureate, Joseph Stiglitz, "Bush is dead wrong."

And Mr. Nobel Nice Guy, Jonathan Cohn, who notes,

Bush's campaign proposals would produce $3 trillion in new debt ($2 trillion of it from social security privatization) even as he postures as a fiscal conservative.

Kerry's proposals, including his big health plan, would add just $1 trillion and probably a lot less since Kerry -- unlike Bush -- says he'll scale back plans as necessary if that's what it takes to get the deficit under control.  Naturally, Russert and the rest of the media have decided that Bush and Kerry are equally unserious/dishonest when it comes to budget politics.

That’s here

Third, there’s Nobel Altercation Correspondent Barry R. at The Big Picture:

Hey Doc,
The standard media line about Friday's disappointing jobs data is that there was a little something for each side -- weak job creation was bad for Bush campaign, and low unemployment undercut Kerry's argument.

This turns out to be false.

According to some savvy number crunchers on Wall Street, the unemployment rate of 5.4% dramatically understates how bad the labor situation is.  That incumbent friendly number is actually the result of mathematical sleight of hand, and analyst research states that the actual number may be closer to 9.4%.

This does not come from political partisans; Rather, it comes from economic analytical services who make their money advising huge institutions (mutual and hedge funds).  These real dollars at risk are unconcerned with "politics," -- they focus instead on investment performance.  That means there's no room for overly rosy scenarios -- it's "all reality, all the time."  It has to be when there are (literally) trillions of dollars at stake.

So what do the analyses conclude?  It turns out that the real reason the unemployment rate appears so low is that people are dropping out of the work force.  The labor participation rate has fallen to 66% from a high of 67.3%.  There are over 140 million people in the labor force, and that 1.3% drop represents nearly 2 million additional unemployed people not showing up in the data.  We have reached a decade long low of civilian, unemployed working-age population who are actually looking for work.

Here are the specifics:

Employment Situation: Worse than it looks
(Mirror)

After the September Jobs numbers came out, we mentioned that drilling beneath the headline numbers may reveal structural problems in the labor market which might be overlooked.  This is no big surprise -- we have continually commented that in a post-bubble environment, Economists err when they apply the usual presumptions about typical recession/recovery cycles.  This environment is the exception to the usual rules.  That is my best guess as to why the dismal scientists have been so wrong by so much for so long.

Now, we see several reports are suggesting exactly why the labor situation is even worse than it looks:

Tom Gallagher, head of policy research at ISI Group, points out that part of the decline in the unemployment rate has come from people dropping out of the work force.  The so-called labor participation rate has fallen to 66% from a high of 67.3%, meaning a smaller share of the civilian, working-age population is looking for work. It's hovering near 15-year lows.

Mr. Gallagher offers that if the participation rate were at the older, higher level, then the unemployment rate would be around 7.2%.  Even using a 10-year average participation rate yields a 6.4% unemployment rate.

That's only 'modestly' bad news -- consider what happens if we add in the "so-called marginally attached workers" and part-timers who really want to be working full time.  Barron's Alan Abelson notes the Liscio report's conclusion that under those circumstances, the unemployment rate would actually be a "formidable 9.4%."

The Ableson excerpt:

There's little cheer in the employment picture. That was evident on Friday when the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its September employment report, and it was just plain ugly. But, please, don't blame those meteorological serial nasties, the hurricanes. There was kind of a wash, if you'll pardon the expression, between the number of folks who couldn't get to work and those who, in the wake of the big  winds, hired on to clean up the mess and rebuild.

Actually, as Philippa Dunne and Doug Henwood point out in their excellent review of the data in the Liscio Report, the overall tally doesn't by any means tell the story of just how skimpy job creation in the private sector was last month -- all told, it accounted for only 59,000 of the total. The rest -- more than one-third -- came by grace of the federal and state governments.

Using history as a guide, Philippa and Doug reckon that "we're now 9.3 million jobs below where we'd be in a 'normal' recovery." Adding in  the benchmark revisions still leaves the count nine million below the aggregate payroll addition we should have seen.

They also offer some pertinent observations on the incredibly shrinking labor force, a phenomenon that's largely responsible for the deceptively modest unemployment rate. The labor market seems to be suffering, in their parlance, "serious withdrawal symptoms." In September, even though the population grew by 264,000, the labor force  shrank by 221,000. Over the past year, it has expanded less than half as rapidly as has the population and a mere one-third of the rate it  enjoyed from 1980 to 2000.

Thanks solely to what they term "the massive withdrawal" from the labor market, the unemployment rate has held steady. Suppose, instead  of contracting, the labor force had grown over the past two months at the same pace as it did in the previous two. Further suppose the dropouts had been counted in the ranks of the unemployed. The result  would be a jobless rate of 6.2%, not the relatively benign 5.4% that  was reported. And, we might add, if one includes the so-called marginally attached workers and part-timers who really want to be working full time, the unemployment rate weighs in at a formidable 9.4%.

The future job picture doesn't shape up as exactly rosy, either. The placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas tallies some 107,000 planned lay-offs announced in September. That was up 45% from August and 41% from September 2003. What's more, the dirgeful bell continues to toll: Last week Bank of America targeted 4,500 jobs for jettisoning and AT&T, 7,400. 

Pretty grim stuff.

There are several graphics illustrating the point here.

Correspondents Corner:

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY

Dear Eric,
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has weighed in on the Bush Administration. The report should be required reading for anyone interested in this issue.

Name: Kristy
Hometown: Columbus, OH

Interesting piece in the Columbus Dispatch this weekend, a writer conducted "the barbershop poll" in Central Ohio.  He called 26 barbershops to find out who their clients were voting for.  The outcome was 60% Kerry to 39% Bush.  (I'm not posting the link because the Dispatch is a subscriber service.)

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Pierce--
Bite your tongue; there'll be no term 2, and hence no holographic presidency.  Here's why: urban voters.

Since Illinois is not in play, I canvassed in Milwaukee's 11th ward on Saturday where African-American voters of all ages show that they're motivated, knowledgeable, and not falling for the Bush smears.  A large number of those I met talked about what they saw on the debate on Friday night with astute political wisdom (that's right, they agreed with me, but in ways that I hadn't appreciated).  These are voters who know that the Duelfer report said that Saddam Hussein was a diminishing threat and not, as Rice prevaricated on Fox Sunday, a "gathering" threat.  With record numbers of new voters concentrated in urban areas, the predictions of a close election will be blown away.  Urban voters know a con job when they see one.  They're not fooled, and they're ready to vote.

The topic for Wednesday's debate offers Kerry the best opportunity yet to put this one away.  Neither Bush's record nor his de-contextualized distortions of Kerry's record will hold up to scrutiny.  The economy is not creating jobs to keep pace with the population.  Bush can boast all he wants about 2 million jobs created, but he said that his tax cuts would create 5 million jobs.  Meanwhile, earnings have fallen and benefits have been cut while fat cats enjoy bloated compensations and perks.  And all this while our debt soars.  With interest rates rising, that deficit's about to explode.  Steve Earle's got it right--The revolution starts now.   Not surprising, considering the source... regardless, still very persuasive

Name: Jeff Myhre
Hometown: Ground Zero, NYC

Eric,
As long as we're playing "do you remember" in the Iraq quagmire, does anyone remember a fellow named Andrew Wilkie?  He was an Australia intelligence analyst who quit his job just before the missiles flew over Baghdad.  This link is one of many a search engine will turn up.

Mr. Wilkie said in this interview on March 12, 2003,

Iraq does not pose a security threat to any other country at this point in time.  Its military is very weak, it's a fraction of the size of the military at the time of the invasion of Kuwait.  Its weapons of mass destruction program is very disjointed and contained by the regime that's been in place since the last Gulf War.  And there is no hard intelligence linking the Iraqi regime to al-Qaeda in any substantial or worrisome way.

I guess Mr. Bush didn't hear of this because he doesn't speak Australian.

October 11, 2004 | 11:35 AM ET

Our policy here is to respect all holidays, patriotic, religious, exploitative, imaginary and the like.  But not Pierce.  Here he is and may God bless him.

CHARLES PIERCE -- THIRTY DAYS OUT
Day 22 -- October 11, 2004

Doc -- Fogerty's still got chops.  He burns through the 30th anniversary season debut of the invaluable Austin City Limits.  Two observations: 1) along with Chuck Berry's "coffee-colored Cadillac," the finest writerly image in rock is JCF's "Walking along a river road at night/Barefoot girls, dancin' in the moonlight;" and 2) the Ongoing Situation has now produced two terrific protest songs, Steve Earle's "The Revolution Starts Now," and Fogerty's "Deja Vu All Over again."

You've got to give it up to the Times, boy.  Considering the entire adult career of the incumbent -- Harken!  Spectrum!  Tom Hicks!  Ken Lay!  Whoo-hoo! -- a headline that reads, "Wealth Of Others Helped To Shape Kerry's Life,"  pretty much buries the needle on the Accidental Satire meter.

Why doesn't every executive at Sinclair Broadcasting just go to Madison Square Garden so Dear Father Moon can marry them all to each other?  Imagine if Colin's Kid were as concerned about this as he is about nipples at a football game?

There's nothing worse than C-Plus Augustus with a new catchphrase.  He takes it out back and chews on it and plays with it and tosses it up in the air, and he'll run and go fetch it from dawn until dusk, or at least until Karen Hughes' brawny arm gets tired.  Which is why we are all going to grow quite sick of the word "nuisance" between now and election day.  Of course, what Kerry meant was that fighting terrorism needn't necessarily involve ramping up unreasoning fear every time your poll numbers begin to tank.  But "nuisance" will get tossed around like "global" was.  I don't believe any campaign ever has depended as much as the Avignon Presidency does on every voter being either a) as fundamentally duplicitous as Enron Ed Gillespie, or b) as willfully uninformed as the candidate himself.

Last Note From The Old Confederacy: Much as I hate the "I talked to my cabdriver" school of political analysis, I note that I had a long conversation with a cop in South Carolina who said he didn't like Kerry at all, but that watching the alternative left him "embarrassed to be an American."  Remember, this week's debate may well be the last time we ever see C-Plus Augustus in any forum where spontaneity is in danger of erupting.  By Year Two of Term Two, the man might well appear before his handpicked audiences only as a hologram.


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