Friday, February 27 2004
DEMOCRATIC DEBATE
: Edwards didn't do anything in the debate last night to shake up the basic dynamic of the race. To be fair, there probably is not a lot he could have done, and having Kucinich and Sharpton to his immediate right masquerading as legitimate candidates undermined any realistic chance he had to score points on Kerry.

However, Edwards' passivity makes me think he very much would like to take the number two slot on the ticket. At this stage you would think he has to be a very early front-runner.

OHIO, MISSOURI, & WEST VIRGINIA: If this election is close, these three states (and Ohio in particular) will probably decide the election. Gephardt might therefore be a better strategic choice for Kerry than Edwards, because Gephardt could deliver Missouri while also helping in the strong union states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and West Virginia.

Edwards, on the other hand, is a more attractive VP candidate than Gephardt but I don't think he would help Kerry win one southern state. If Kerry is going to win it is going to be with a northern electoral strategy carrying all of Gore's states plus New Hampshire, and then looking to pick off Bush in either Ohio, Missouri or West Virginia. Gephardt would be the best bet to help get it done in Missouri while also helping in Ohio and West Virginia.

MORE GAY MARRIAGE : Al Sharpton from last night's Democratic debate:

I think this is not an issue any more of just marriage. This is an issue of human rights. And I think it is dangerous to give states the right to deal with human rights questions. That's how we ended up with slavery and segregation going forward a long time.

I, under no circumstances, believe we ought to give states rights to gay and lesbians' human rights. Whatever my personal feelings may be about gay and lesbian marriages, unless you are prepared to say gays and lesbians are not human beings, they should have the same constitutional right of any other human being.

When I heard this it occurred to me that for those who believe that gay marriage is an issue about fundamental fairness and equality of the law, this is really the only intellectually sound position. If this issue is truly analogous to the old laws which barred interracial marriage in many states (a common arguing point for the pro-gay marriage side) then Sharpton is exactly right that leaving this to the states would be immoral and wrong.

Does anyone think for one second that this country today would stand for the argument that it is OK for Virginia or Alabama to pass laws barring interracial marriage? Of course not.

So if gay marriage is fundamentally about basic civil rights for all citizens in this country, then I don't see how gay marriage proponents can honestly argue for a "states-rights" system that would legally discriminate against individuals in some states.

FEDERAL MARRIAGE AMENDMENT: I understand the reticence to alter the Constitution, and I myself am unsure whether I would support the FMA. But it is disingenuous for Senator Kerry to say he is against gay marriage and that the issue should be left up to the states.

Given what is happening in the real world in Massachusetts and San Francisco, and given the Supreme Court's decision on sodomy earlier this year and the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution, the reality is that if you are truly against gay marriage and you want the laws of the nation to reflect that opposition, the only viable option is probably an amendment to the Constitution.

So where do you stand? If you think this is an issue of basic human equality then Sharpton is right and a "states-rights" position is morally wrong. If you are against gay marriage and want the laws to reflect that position then you are going to have to face the uncomfortable truth that a Constitutional amendment might be the only way to make that a reality.

A simple question to someone who is supposedly against gay marriage would be:

"Would you support an amendment to the Constitution enshrining marriage as between one man and one woman if that was the ONLY way to legally preserve the sanctity of marriage. Yes or No?"

If the answer is "no" then it doesn't seem to me from a public policy standpoint that that person is against gay marriage.

COMPROMISE: Like I said in my post on Wednesday, I'm conflicted on whether to support amending the Constitution. I don't think altering the foundation of our democracy is something that should be done lightly or impulsively. But I understand the President's reasoning and why he came to this decision. He is taking a lot of cheap and vicious shots from the left for what is in truth an intellectually sound and very reasonable position.

Personally, I don't see the problem with a compromise where marriage is legally defined as between a man and woman, but states are left to enact civil unions to provide all the legal equality bestowed by marriage to committed homosexual couples.

This of course would offend many on both the left and the right. But it seems to make a lot of common sense as a compromise, as marriage would remain between a man and a woman, yet committed homosexual partners would be able to receive the same legal rights as everyone else in society.

REVOLUTION BY FIAT: Charles Krauthammer has an excellent article in today's Washington Post on who really started this Culture War.

Bush had no desire to get involved in this issue. If not for the activism in Boston and San Francisco, it would not be an election issue at all. Boston and San Francisco have made the question very stark: We are going to have national gay marriage or we are not. "States' rights" is a phony -- and ironic -- alternative that will not withstand constitutional muster.

I welcome the debate on the constitutional amendment because it will shift the locus of this issue from unelected judges to where it belongs: the House and the Senate and the 50 state legislatures. In the end, however, I would probably vote against the amendment because for me the sanctity of the Constitution trumps everything, even marriage. Moreover, I would be loath to see some future democratic consensus in favor of gay marriage (were that to come to pass) blocked by such an amendment.

Nonetheless, that does not render the abusive, ad hominem charges made by the marriage revolutionaries -- that it is their opponents who are divisive and partisan -- any less hypocritical. Gay activists and their judges have every right to revolution. They have every right to make their case. But they deserve to be excoriated when, having thrown their cultural Molotov cocktail and finding that the majority of Americans have the temerity to resist, they cry: Culture war!

I couldn't agree more.  - J. McIntyre 7:12am | Link | Email

Thursday, February 26 2004
ONLY A MATTER OF THE TIMES:
The expected endorsement of John F. Kerry by the NY Times editorial page arrived today. The most striking sentence in the editorial, however, isn't about Kerry but about George W. Bush:

Mr. Bush himself was not well served by the thinness of his résumé when Sept. 11 occurred.

Come again? I'd love to have Gail Collins explain to the rest of us peasants just exactly how she thinks President Bush's response to 9/11 was deficient.

In fact, that sentence is just a straw man set up to contrast what the NY Times obviously feels is John Kerry's biggest asset: his foreign policy experience. The Times says:

Mr. Kerry, one of the Senate's experts in foreign affairs, exudes maturity and depth. He can discuss virtually any issue of security or international affairs with authority. What his critics see as an inability to take strong, clear positions seems to us to reflect his appreciation that life is not simple. He understands the nuances and shades of gray in both foreign and domestic policy.

Everyone got that? Inability to take strong, clear positions = intellectual depth.

It's not surprising that the Times fawns over Kerry's tendency to be both long-winded and wonkish (can't you feel the nostalgia for Clinton?) but their effort to dress up his lack of conviction and history as a master equivocator as a desirable quality to be leader of the free world fails miserably.

The only thing more laughable is this sentence:

His [Kerry's] positions come from mainstream American thought, centrism of the old school.

I suppose this sentence rings true if you're reading it in Manhattan, San Francisco, or Hollywood, but just about everywhere else in the country it seems absurd in the extreme.

GEORGIA PLUS WHAT?: Zogby is out with a new poll this morning confirming that Edwards is closing on Kerry in Georgia. Edwards is still behind by an average of about 12 points, but there is plenty of time and two debates between now and next Tuesday.

But Edwards is going to have to do much better than just a win in Georgia on Super Tuesday if he wants to stay alive. Ohio looks like it might be doable, but beyond that the pickings are pretty slim.

Who knows where Edwards would be if he had taken Hugh's offer?

THE CHENEY REPLACEMENT GAME: Rumors continue to swirl about whether Dick Cheney will develop "health problems" sometime this summer and take himself off the ticket. A Republican quoted in this Reuters article says it ain't gonna happen:

"There is a better likelihood that I will be abducted by aliens than that Cheney will get dumped from the ticket," said one Republican official.

Beware of the little green men.... - T. Bevan 7:52 am | Link | Email

Wednesday, February 25 2004
GAY MARRIAGE: The issue of gay marriage boils down to the question of whether homosexuality should be on an equal moral and legal footing with heterosexuality. The core of the gay rights agenda is to enshrine in law, as sanctioned by the state, the full and total equality of homosexuality in comparison to heterosexuality. Gay and lesbian activists want government policy from nursery schools to nursing homes to force homosexuality to be treated as totally equal to heterosexuality in everything.

The problem with this is the vast majority of Americans don't see homosexuality on par with heterosexuality. And guess what? That doesn't make them bigots or homophobes.

The truth is that even though most Americans are perfectly tolerant of gays and lesbians, that doesn't mean they want their third or fourth graders being taught that there is absolutely no difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality. It's not surprising that many people are uncomfortable at seeing homosexuality actively promoted in schools, glorified by the media, and now sanctioned by the state.

In fact, most Americans want the government out of the business of casting moral judgments and would be fine with the government remaining agnostic on the issue of homosexuality. That means the state should not punish or discriminate against gays and lesbians, nor should the government cede special rights to them.

Like most Americans, most gays and lesbians are good and decent people. They are entitled to enjoy all the rights, freedoms and privileges granted to every individual in this county. But they aren't entitled to have the government proactively endorse their lifestyle as on an equal footing with heterosexuality - unless a majority of the public's elected representatives in Congress decide it's the correct thing to do. And that's the rub.

The truly intolerant in this debate are not the mean and evil "religious right," but rather the activist left that demands the rest of the country accept their view. Contrary to what some may say, the President didn't seek this out as an issue, activists judges in Massachusetts and leftist politicians in San Francisco thrust their minority views in the country's face.

Personally I'm conflicted about altering the Constitution and I wonder whether there are less draconian ways to maintain the sanctity of marriage. However, the activist courts and the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution, maybe the FMA is the only way that will effectively work.

My gut tells me that the majority of Americans would like to see marriage remain between a man and a woman, but are open to having the states deal with the issue of civil unions on a state by state basis. This seems to me to be an amiable compromise that protects the ancient tradition of marriage while also allowing individual states to pass civil union laws that provide legal equality to homosexual couples.

In many ways this is exactly what President Bush has done by calling for a constitutional amendment protecting marriage.

America is a free society, which limits the role of government in the lives of our citizens. This commitment of freedom, however, does not require the redefinition of one of our most basic social institutions. Our government should respect every person, and protect the institution of marriage. There is no contradiction between these responsibilities. We should also conduct this difficult debate in a manner worthy of our country, without bitterness or anger.

Contrast this with the reaction by Andrew Sullivan, a leading proponent for gay marriage:

The president launched a war today against the civil rights of gay citizens and their families. And just as importantly, he launched a war to defile the most sacred document in the land....

This president wants our families denied civil protection and civil acknowledgment. He wants us stigmatized not just by a law, not just by his inability even to call us by name, not by his minions on the religious right. He wants us stigmatized in the very founding document of America. There can be no more profound attack on a minority in the United States - or on the promise of freedom that America represents....

This president has now made the Republican party an emblem of exclusion and division and intolerance...This struggle is hard but it is also easy. The president has made it easy. He's a simple man and he divides the world into friends and foes. He has now made a whole group of Americans - and their families and their friends - his enemy. We have no alternative but to defend ourselves and our families from this attack. And we will.

If you read the the President's statement and then spend a few minutes reading Andrew Sullivan's blog it becomes rather clear which side is the intolerant one. - J. McIntyre 6:41am | Link | Email

Tuesday, February 24 2004
BY THE NUMBERS: I spent a good deal of time yesterday gathering up all the latest polling data. In case you missed them, here are links to the new pages: Super Tuesday Polls | More California Polls | More Ohio Polls | Illinois Polls.

Another new page we created yesterday shows the Bush v. Kerry and Bush v. Edwards matchups on a state-by-state basis. What's especially cool about this page is that we've laid in the final vote totals from 2000 to give a real tangible sense of how the candidates are faring. I've reproduced a truncated version of the chart below to show you what I mean:

State
Poll/Date
Bush
Kerry
Spread
2000
Vote
AZ
52%
44%
Bush
+8
Bush
+6
CA
40%
53%
Kerry
+13
Gore
+11
IL
41%
53%
Kerry
+12
Gore
+12
 
38%
52%
Kerry
+14
 
IN
51%
45%
Bush
+6
Bush
+16
KS
52%
44%
Bush
+8
Bush
+21
KY
57%
41%
Bush
+16
Bush
+16
 
55%
38%
Bush
+17
 
MI
46%
51%
Kerry
+5
Gore
+5
NH
38%
53%
Kerry
+15
Bush
+1
NV
49%
48%
Bush
+1
Bush
+4
PA
45%
50%
Kerry
+5
Gore
+5
WA
43%
55%
Kerry
+12
Gore
+5

As you can see, we currently have data on 11 states; 6 won by Bush in 2000, 5 won by Gore.

Right now, President Bush is faring the same or slightly better in only two of the states he won in 2000 (AZ + 2 points, KY even or +1), a little bit worse in one state (NV -3 points), and considerably worse in three states (IN -10 points, KS -13 points, NH -16 points)

On the other side, of the 5 states Gore won in 2000, John Kerry is doing as well or better in every single state (CA +2 points, IL even or +2, MI even, PA even, WA +7 points).

It's also worth noting that none of this changes anything from an electoral college perspective. In fact, due to reapportionment, even if the election were held today and Bush lost New Hampshire to Kerry he would still end up with a net gain of 1 vote in the Electoral College because of reapportionment in these eleven states.

Still, that's very little comfort for a White House that has to be concerned watching Bush's numbers deteriorating around the country. - T. Bevan 1:15 pm | Link | Email

THE MISSING QUESTION: Yesterday the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published excerpts from an interview with John Kerry. Today on their political weblog they published the full interview, including this final question:

AJC: Long-ball question:What's going to be this country's biggest foreign policy challenge 10 or 15 years from now?
Kerry: It's the challenge of terror, but the challenge of terror is more than just terror. It's the challenge of how America meets its overall responsibilities in the world, which have an impact on people's choice about terror. How we deal with the Middle East peace process. How we deal with economic development in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where 60 of the population is under the age of 30 and 50 percent under age of 18 -- and they're uneducated and unemployable -- is pretty critical. If all they do is go into madrasas [schools] and learn how to hate people, we're in trouble for a long time to come. I don't think this administration has made America safer in these last years, and I think that this rhetoric about the war on terrorism is mostly that, and some very bad decisions about how we have engaged with the world. I think we need to reintroduce ourselves to the world, personally, and that's how we'll meet the challenges of 20 of 30 years from now. (Emphasis added)

"The challenge of terror is more than terror." "The war on terror is mostly rhetoric." "We need to reintroduce ourselves to the world." Hmm. I don't know about you, but to me this response is just dripping with the sort of "root cause", world-village Cumbaya stuff that scares me to death.

Kerry says he's tough on national defense. But he has a 20-year voting record in the U.S. Senate with plenty of examples that say otherwise. Just last month he stated the threat of terrorism was "exaggerated" and that the War on Terror should be "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation." Now he says the War on Terrorism is "mostly" rhetoric.

Kerry tells us he'll be as tough as President Bush on terrorism, yet every piece of evidence we have at our disposal to make a judgment about him suggests exactly the opposite. Unless I see or hear something different there's only one conclusion to reach: when it comes to national security, John Kerry is a sheep in wolf's clothing.

"SHINGATE": Politics is weird. You just never know where a race is headed or what you might end up talking about next. For example, in the Illinois Senate race right now, everyone is fixated on Brenda Sexton's shin. I kid you not.

On Friday, Blair Hull, gazillionaire trader and current leader of the Democratic primary field, revealed (or, more accurately, was forced to reveal) that during his divorce back in 1998 he had a fight with his now ex-wife. The police were called, a report was filed, and the following day the woman filed for an order of protection against Hull.

The court records remain sealed (alert to Kevin Drum!!!!), but Hull's statement on Friday contained the following sentence that has the press corps scratching their collective head: "The police report from that night says that I hit her shin."

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn explores Shingate in more detail in his blog.

DANA BURIES THE LEDE: Dana Milbank's piece in today's Washington Post is quite a piece of work - and I don't mean that in a good way. First let me unbury the lede, which starts about six grafs into the the story:

Economists agree that economic forecasts are often unreliable, but they say there is at least one plausible explanation for the discrepancies of recent years: The Bush administration, like the Clinton administration before it and like most private economists, assumed that tax revenue and jobs would rise or fall with the gross domestic product in the same proportions as they had in previous recoveries.

But, because of structural changes in the economy such as soaring gains in productivity, the historical patterns have not held. Job growth and tax receipts were badly underestimated in the boom of the late 1990s, and overestimated since 2000, even as the economy has begun to improve.

Robert D. Reischauer, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, said that the administration has been "a little exuberant" in its forecasts but that the problem is more a statistical one. "The patterns that prevailed before don't seem to be holding in this current recovery," Reischauer said.

Figures released by the White House show that its overestimate of job creation in 2003 was the largest forecast error made in at least 15 years, and its 2002 underestimate of the deficit was the largest in at least 21 years. But the statistics show that forecast errors began to increase considerably around 1997, under the Clinton administration.

By contrast, the Bush administration's GDP forecasts have been relatively accurate, indicating job growth and tax receipts have shed their historical correlation to GDP growth.

"The old theories on predicting revenue proved themselves wildly wrong in the late 1990s and early 2000s," said White House spokesman Trent Duffy. "Nobody saw this happening -- not Wall Street, not Vegas, not Poor Richard, not Nostradamus."

After reading these six paragraphs any objective person would expect a headline that read something like, "Changes in Economy Defy Traditional Forecasts" or even "White House Struggles to Predict New Economic Patterns."

What do we get instead? "White House Forecasts Often Miss The Mark" with the subhead, "The administration has repeatedly overstated fiscal health, job growth."

Even worse, however, is that before Milbank gets to the rational, nonpartisan explanation for why the White House is having such trouble with economic forecasting, he lays down what could literally be talking points from Terry McAuliffe's desk, including a mention of WMD and a nice plug for John Kerry:

These are not isolated cases. Over three years, the administration has repeatedly and significantly overstated the government's fiscal health and the number of jobs the economy would create, but economists and politicians disagree about why.

The opposition has sought to portray the economic forecasts as evidence of Bush's dishonesty, similar to the claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that have not materialized. "Every day, this administration's credibility gap grows wider," Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), the leading prospect to challenge Bush in November, said Friday. "They didn't tell Americans the truth about Iraq. They didn't tell Americans the truth about the economy. And now they're trying to manufacture the 2.6 million manufacturing jobs they've destroyed."

Thanks for the DNC advertisement in the middle of my Washington Post story, Dana. Next time just the facts will do.
CORRECTION: In the above post I mistakenly referred to Dana Milbank as a female. I got him confused him with Dana Priest. Sorry.

PAIGE MISTAKE: I like Education Secretary Rod Paige a lot and I think the NEA as an organization does more harm than good to help educate kids in the country, but you just can't cross the rhetorical line that Paige crossed yesterday. - T. Bevan 8:00am | Link | Email

Monday, February 23 2004
PATRIOT GAMES:
Don't be surprised if John Kerry fires off a whiny letter to Joshua Muravchik for his op-ed in this morning's Washington Post critiquing Kerry's voting record on defense: "You wanna to debate Vietnam with me, neocon think tank pretty boy?"

Kerry's sudden infusion of machismo is as disturbing as it is pathetic. Votes in the United States Senate have consequences. Kerry's job as a candidate for president is to defend his voting record, to explain his decision making process to the American people, and to try to provide us with the context in which those decisions were made. It's not an easy thing to do, especially when many of his votes now look especially troubling in a post September 11 world.

Hence Kerry's decision to stick his chest out and walk around like a lanky, French-looking version of Robert Conrad with an Eveready Battery on his shoulder, daring anyone to come over and knock it off. He's decided to use his service in Vietnam as both a bludgeon and a shield.

Dems are excited that Kerry is "being tough", "fighting back" and "showing some spine," but we'll have to wait and see whether the public approves of Kerry's act or not.

In the meantime, the downside to Kerry's strategy is that it will invariably lead some on the right (though not anyone associated with President Bush's campaign I hope) to the conclusion that if they're going to be charged with "attacking Kerry's patriotism" whether they actually do it or not, then they might as well go ahead and do it. I suspect this is going to be a long, ugly campaign season.

TINY JOHN: The upside to Kerry's macho man routine is that it leaves John Edwards looking quite small and lonely at a very critical point in the race. Edwards only has eight days left to find a way to win somewhere and Kerry sucked up much of the media oxygen this past weekend with his public tête à tête with Bush.

Sending a letter to the President challenging him to a debate over NAFTA isn't quite as sexy. And that, in a nutshell, is Edwards' problem: he's built his campaign around an issue that just doesn't have enough horsepower to capture the nomination. To finish a close second in a few places, yes, but not to win.

I'M NOT ALOOF, I'M FOCUSED: Can't resist this clip from Todd Gillman's nice feature on John Kerry in today's Dallas Morning News:

But in the midst of a tough race, he blocks out everything but the task at hand and is entirely capable of walking past a relative or aide without noticing.

"Especially with politicians, people might take that as someone being aloof or dismissive ... but that ability to focus is what makes him such a relentless, ferocious campaigner," she [former Kerry staffer Mary Anne Marsh] said.

You must be as shocked as I am at this revelation: people who are ignored by John Kerry actually see him as "aloof" and "dismissive."

There's also this great line from Tufts University professor Jeffrey Berry describing Kerry's haughty manner: "He doesn't feel your pain, but he's thinking about it."

MONEY WOE$: The Boston Globe reports that despite raising a mind-blowing $50.3 million, Howard Dean will end up more than half a million dollars in debt.

Meanwhile, the FEC says that Al Sharpton is just a few bucks shy of that same figure himself but shows no signs of quitting the campaign - or paying off all of his debts:

Sharpton owes $38,000 to Kevin Gray, who ran his South Carolina campaign.

Sharpton's current manager, Charles Halloran, said, "I have no current plans to pay Kevin Gray. . . . I can't see any value for what he was allegedly doing over there in South Carolina..."

Despite running in the red, Halloran said, "it's a campaign built on faith and trust and commitment."

Yeah, right. What else would one expect from a scam artist like Sharpton, who has used and abused the Democratic party's most important forum to promote himself, stay at $1,000 a night hotel rooms, eat caviar and drink champagne? - T. Bevan 8:34am | Link | Email

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