Friday, April 23 2004
GUT SHOT:
Via Drudge, ABC News is reporting that Pat Tillman has been killed in action in Afghanistan. His death is tragic, though no more so than any of our other brave men and women fighting overseas.

But the choice Tillman made - to forego a career in the NFL and the wealth and fame that go with it to go abroad and battle terrorists - is an extraordinary example of putting America first. It's a choice very few people would have had the courage or conviction to make were they in his place.

That's the reason Pat Tillman was special and why he will be missed. The example he set, however, will live on forever. - T. Bevan 11:14 am

TRYING TO FLIP THE FLIP-FLOP WILL FLOP: Mickey Kaus suggests that since John Kerry has already been tagged with the label of being a flip-flopper, he might as well embrace it:

What's more appealing to swing voters--a prevaricating liberal who sees the other side and who might well come around to the center, or a doctrinaire liberal who'll never change? Kerry's stuck with the flip-flop label anyway (because it fits). He might as well get the good out of it. Maybe all he really needs to do is give undecided Bush-doubters some hope. When you've got a lemon ...

James Carville said something very similar in the RS article we posted yesterday, suggesting that Kerry's "flexibility" on issues is his biggest asset and the sign of a real leader:

Kerry's strength is that people in this country want change, and he's the man to bring it on. Kerry needs to turn his worst issue into his best issue -- he needs to say, "If I try this and it doesn't work, I'll try something else." He needs to stress that flexibility is good, and inflexibility is part of the problem.

But Frank Luntz, a well-respected pollster who's conducted more than his share of voter focus groups, says the strategy won't work: "Voters won't go for that. Being flexible translates into: John Kerry has no principles."

I have to go with Luntz on this one. Kerry would be better off to:

1) figure out an effective way to downplay his flip-flops, especially the biggies like his votes on the war. Suggestion: "My vote to authorize force was a vote supporting leadership role of the the United States in the international community. My vote on the $87 billion was a vote against President Bush's policy and did nothing to hurt our troops." I'm not saying this line will work (or that it's even true), but my point is that Kerry can certainly do a better job defending himself from a messaging standpoint than he's doing right now.

2) find a theme or issue where he can say he's delivered on a promise. Not only will this help to diffuse the flip-flop label, Kerry can also contrast it with the promises he says George W. Bush has broken. Surely Mr. Kerry can find a promise he's kept to use in his defense. Or can he?

3) Stop flip-flopping.

Ironically, point number three may be the toughest thing for Kerry to do. We just keep seeing story after story after story. At some point the issue will reach a critical mass and permanently damage his candidacy. He's not there yet, but he's getting closer by the minute.

ASIAN-AMERICANS SET ASIDE: Here is a must read. About six months ago the City of Chicago passed an ordinance allowing minority "set-asides" for construction contracts. The Builders Association of Greater Chicago sued.

Instead of defending the new quota program in court (which they really couldn't do) the city appointed a task force to address the "legal deficiencies" of the program as outlined by the judge in the case.

The result: Asian-Americans have been stripped of the crucial designation of being a "presumptively socially disadvantaged" group. Now only African-Americans, Hispanics and women qualify for the quota program.

Illogical and unfair, you say? According to Alderman William Beavers, kicking Asians-Americans out of the quota club is just a cost of doing business against racist white people:

"This is as good as we can get without jeopardizing everything. You don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater."

"We did exactly what the judge wanted us to do. We're not taking any chances. . . . White folks ain't going to give up. We expect them to come back with another lawsuit. We want to be prepared and be able to justify this ordinance."

Tell me again who is dividing America by race? - T. Bevan 1:30 pm | Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Thursday, April 22 2004
A CAUSE FOR CONCERN, NOT PANIC: Lots of discouraging news out this morning. Bad news in Basra. And Riyadh. It also looks like costs in Iraq are rising along with the level of violence.

The most disturbing thing I read this morning, however, didn't come from a news story but a blog. Dan Murphy, a CS Monitor reporter on assignment in Iraq, wrote in a post yesterday:

Sitting with a group of friends here a few nights ago, I realized how blasé we'd become about the new conditions. None of us had eaten out in the evening for at least a month. We agreed that the two-hour drive south to Najaf had become too dangerous to attempt. The journalists among us agreed that our work increasingly relied on phone calls to Iraqis on the scene, rather than real reportage of what we could see and touch. And everyone nodded knowingly when two NGO workers said they'd be leaving the country because it has become too dangerous to conduct their reconstruction work here.

In essence, I feel we've become boiled frogs. Toss the frog into boiling water, and he jumps right out again, or at least tries. But put him in lukewarm water and slowly turns up the heat and he barely notices until he's cooked. Rather than overestimate the problems (a common journalistic temptation), I've begun to wonder if we're not understating them, notwithstanding the letters from readers who accuse our paper, and many others, of being Chicken Littles.

To be sure, in a wartime environment like Iraq's there is rarely a constant arc of progress, or descent into chaos. Violence ebbs and flows, incidents flare and then almost inexplicably, vanish. This froggy is leaving on a reporting trip outside Baghdad today - the first trip out of the city in more than a week. It feels safer again. Or it did, until a few hours ago, when news arrived of three coordinated car-bombings in the southern city of Basra that killed more than 60. More worrying, British troops were stoned by local citizens as they moved to secure the scene.

Over the past few months, it's become common for average Iraqis to turn on foreigners whenever an attack has occurred - blaming the foreign presence for the lack of security, seemingly more than they do the people carrying out the attacks. Everyone hopes those attacks will be the last, but no one believes it; while coalition spokesmen insist from the podium in Baghdad's Green Zone, an area that most coalition officials rarely leave (and never without heavily armed escorts), that things are better than they seem.

One of the things that bothers me about many who oppose the war is that they refuse to acknowledge the significant progress we've made in Iraq over the last year. We've exerted a tremendous amount of positive effort and influence there through physical reconstruction and establishing the building blocks of a legitimate, functioning civic society.

Those of us who support the war shouldn't make the same mistake by ignoring the facts and claiming that all is going along swimmingly in Iraq. It isn't.

The situation is extremely tenuous and difficult. It is requiring more troops, more money, and it will certainly cost the lives of more U.S. soldiers over time.

Certainly the biggest disappointment of the campaign to date is the hesitance of the Iraqi people to step forward in a larger, more substantial way to denounce the violence and terrorism being perpetrated against them and to help the Coalition round up the Baathists and jihadists. It is happening, but the pace is too slow and the effort is much too feeble.

All of this should cause concern. What it should not cause is panic. My response to the situation in Iraq is similar to Andrew Sullivan's: we must maintain our focus and our resolve against the thugs and terrorists trying to prevent the emergence a free and democratic Iraq. We've got to continue to fight - and fight to win. - T. Bevan 8:30 am | Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Wednesday, April 21 2004
FLORIDA IS STILL FLORIDA:
This is going to be one wacky election:

With a photo of President George W. Bush taped to the back of his t-shirt, David Gorge stood out in the crowd at a rally for John Kerry Monday at Palm Beach Community College in Lake Worth.

But he didn’t make any effort to be inconspicuous.

“Vote Bush,” the PBCC student yelled at a passerby. An older woman in an orange and white top walked over and shouted, “Shut your mouth.”

Despite Gorge’s efforts, another anti-Kerry person took the award for most outrageous. A man dressed in a dolphin suit walked through the crowd carrying a sign that said, “I’m a flipper, too,” a reference to Kerry’s alleged flip-flopping on some political issues.

“Just call me Flipper,” the man in the dolphin outfit said when asked for his name.

- T. Bevan 5:31 pm | Link | Email | Send to a Friend

BUSH'S BUMP IN THE POLLS: A series of new polls have come out in the past few days and three out of four of them show 4-6 point leads for the President. In a three way race with Nader, Gallup has Bush ahead by 6 pts, ABC News/Washington Post has Bush up 5 pts, and TIPP/IBD has Bush up 4 pts. Zogby has the race tied. As I said earlier, these polls are going to bump around a lot and it would be a mistake to read too much into a 4 or 5 point lead for either side until after Labor Day.

However, this series of polls is interesting because they contradict much of the conventional political wisdom of the last few weeks. Democrats had hoped that the 9/11 Commission hearings, Richard Clarke's revelations, the chaos and death in Iraq, and what they perceived as a poor performance by President Bush at his prime time press conference would translate into bad poll numbers for the President. It hasn't turned out that way.

What many partisan Democrats and political observers in the media still don't quite understand is that the more the political conversation is about Iraq, al Qaeda, bin Laden, terrorism, 9/11, etc....the more it helps President Bush and the Republicans.

When the Richard Clarke/ September 11 Commission news cycle failed to take down the President's numbers, the press turned their attention to the chaos in Iraq and suggested that that was where the President was really vulnerable. So after all the recent bad news from Iraq it is shocking for them to see fresh new polls that actually show the President gaining support.

The pattern that is beginning to emerge is the press is simply incapable of accurately handicapping this race because they have an inherent, ideological opposition to President Bush and his approach to the War on Terror that is completely out of whack with the majority of the American people.

Reporters see Iraq as a debacle and a quagmire and just assume it has to hurt President Bush. They watch the President's news conference and become more convinced the President is an idiot, while the average American watches the same press conference and sees a resolute and determined leader.

I opined a while back that what the Democrats should really be hoping for success in Iraq and the overall War on Terror because success breeds complacency, and complacency would allow the American people to focus on a whole myriad of issues that would work more to the advantage of Senator Kerry and the Democrats.

When it comes to the overall War on Terror, the American people are with the President. The bad news from Iraq keeps the public focused on the serious times in which we live and that works to the political advantage of President Bush. This may over a longer period of time change, but barring an utter and complete meltdown in Iraq (far worse than anything we've seen these last few weeks) it is an advantage that President Bush will keep all the way through election day. - J. McIntyre 7:11 am | Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Tuesday, April 20 2004
THE INFLUENCE OF AMBITION:
Today we'll start with a quote:

"We must recognize that there is no indication that Saddam Hussein has any intention of relenting. So we have an obligation of enormous consequence, an obligation to guarantee that Saddam Hussein cannot ignore the United Nations. He cannot be permitted to go unobserved and unimpeded toward his horrific objective of amassing a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. This is not a matter about which there should be any debate whatsoever in the Security Council, or, certainly, in this Nation."

This isn't Tony Blair or George Bush in 2002. It is Senator John Kerry on the floor of the United States Senate in late 1997 delivering a powerful and convincing speech titled "Why We Must Be Firm With Saddam Hussein."

(Some of you may have seen some or all of the speech before but I expect there are many who haven't. It's long, but very much worth reading so I've copied the entire speech from the Congressional Record into an RCP page so you can not only read the full text but also have the ability to forward it to others)

Read today, the case Kerry made in 1997 for dealing with Saddam is impressive not only for its boldness and firmness but also for its prescience.

More relevant to the current political discussion, however, Kerry's speech also stands like a virtual roadmap for how President Bush approached the issue in 2002:

Kerry's Analysis: Saddam was a formidable threat to peace, stability and security because of his relentless pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, because of his past action of invading Kuwait, and because he had "set himself outside international law" by ignoring the will of the United Nations for more than a decade.

Kerry's Response: Kerry called for the United Nations to pass a Security Council resolution that mandated a "strong U.N. military response that will materially damage, if not totally destroy, as much as possible of the suspected infrastructure for developing and manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, as well as key military command and control nodes" and that the military action "should not be a strike consisting only of a handful of cruise missiles hitting isolated targets primarily of presumed symbolic value."

Kerry finished by saying that while multilateral action was preferable, the threat posed by Saddam Hussein was great enough to require unilateral action by the United States if necessary:

"while we should always seek to take significant international actions on a multilateral rather than a unilateral basis whenever that is possible, if in the final analysis we face what we truly believe to be a grave threat to the well-being of our Nation or the entire world and it cannot be removed peacefully, we must have the courage to do what we believe is right and wise."

It simply boggles the mind that John Kerry could feel so strongly about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein in 1997 that he would advocate unilateral US military action but would then oppose taking action against the threat posed by Hussein (with the unique twist of also being on record of voting in FAVOR of giving the President the authority to take action) after the events of September 11 and with the support of allies like Britain, Australia, Poland and Spain.

So here's the question: what's the essential difference between the man who stood willingly on the floor of the Senate in 1997 arguing we should deal a terrible blow to Saddam and the man we see today whose policies, if followed, would have left the threatening, brutal despot in power? The answer, unfortunately, is that one was a Senator and the other is a candidate for President of the United States.

Ambition is a necessary thing for someone who wants to be President. And the ambition that drives someone to seek the highest office in the land invariably leads to some conflict between the positions the candidate has held in the past and some of the ideological requirements of the candidate's base. This is the way the game is played in politics: positions have to be "tweaked" to appeal to party activists on both the left and the right.

But there is a line with this sort of thing and I think John Kerry crossed it sometime ago. After all, we're not talking about fudging on the issue of abortion or mealy-mouthing an answer about the Confederate flag flying over the state house in South Carolina, we're talking about war, peace, and the national security of the United States of America. There isn't any issue more important, nor is there any place where a candidate's position and consistency matter more.

That's what is so disturbing about Kerry. Whatever convictions he may have about US national security seem to have been overridden by his ambition to become President. He supported the war until the going got tough during the primary and he was on the verge of heading into a Joe Lieberman-type of oblivion. No problem: switch positions, start attacking the President and vote against funding the war - and the troops.

Same thing with the quote posted below. Kerry made a pledge not to criticize the President during the fighting phase of the war as a show of support for the troops. He broke it. Kerry simply could not stand letting Howard Dean have the antiwar, Bush-bashing stage all to himself. The fighting in Iraq only lasted three weeks. But Kerry's ambition to be President prevented him from being able to hold his tongue longer than two. - T. Bevan 8:45 am | Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Monday, April 19 2004
KERRY'S MEET THE PRESS LIE:
I didn't think I heard it right, but I did. Here is John Kerry yesterday on Meet the Press:

MR. RUSSERT: You've been, obviously, extremely critical of President Bush's handling of foreign policy and his role as commander in chief. A year ago in March you made a commitment, and this is what you said. You "voted to authorize military action but has accused President Bush of rushing into war, [but he] said he will cease his complaints once the shooting starts. `It's what you owe the troops,' said a statement from Kerry. `I remember being one of those guys and reading news reports from home. If America is at war, I won't speak a word without measuring how it will sound to the guys doing the fighting when they're listening to their radios in the desert.'" Are you concerned that you're sending the wrong message to the troops by not showing solidarity in terms of the war in Iraq? And have you broken your pledge?

SEN. KERRY: No, I haven't. Because, number one, I did adhere strictly to that through the period of the success of the war, when we finally had taken control of the country.

Yeah, right. This must be a different John Kerry than the one who said on April 3, 2003 that ""what we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq, but we need a regime change in the United States."

Fox News even described the remark by saying, "Kerry's lapse from a pledge to refrain from criticism may have been a crowd pleaser intended to fight off the narrowing gap that former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is eager to close."

Just to get the timeline nailed down, the invasion of Iraq began on March 20, the statue of Saddam fell on April 9, and Tikrit fell on April 15 which was when the Coalition effectively declared the war over. - T. Bevan 4:15 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend

A GOOD DAY FOR AMERICA: My phone rang early Saturday evening. John had just returned from dinner, flipped on the news, and learned that Israel had taken out Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi.

"What do you think about it?" he asked.

I told him that while I didn't feel any anguish over the death of Rantisi, I was a bit edgy about the timing of the assassination and the international reaction it provoked, especially among important allies like Britain. Then I asked John what he thought.

"Any day a terrorist dies is a good day for America and for the world" he said.

It occurred to me John's response is not only simple and true, but it's probably exactly how the President of the United States would have responded had I been speaking with him in private.

John's comment also brought to mind a truism worth considering: we do not live in a static world. Every day we are either gaining ground or we are losing ground in the War on Terror.

When you strip away all of the speculation and mumbo-jumbo about this policy nuance or that programmatic detail there is a very real truth lying at the core: the actions our government takes and the actions other governments around the world take either make things easier for terrorists to operate or they makes things more difficult.

There is an obvious partisan divide over what constitutes progress. Generally speaking, those on the left think that aggressive actions, but especially aggressive military actions (with the almost universally recognized exception of Afghanistan ) make the world "less safe."

The primary rationale of the "less safe" argument is that aggressive action "creates more terrorists." This claim is not only speculative but, even if true, impossible to quantify in any meaningful way.

Madrassas in the Arab world have been churning out radical Islamists for decades and there is simply no way to determine how many more would-be terrorists there are today as a result of actions taken in the War on Terror. Thus the "creates more terrorists" argument is more rhetorical than substantive, and probably isn't the best way of thinking about things.

Now let's go back to Rantisi for a moment. Did Rasisi's death make life for the rest of his fellow terrorists easier or more difficult? Again, the response from many on left is the theoretical assertion that Rantisi's assassination is counterproductive because it serves to inflame Arabs and "create more terrorists."

What's not theoretical, however, is the observation that as the leader of a militant terrorist organization, Rantisi's death makes it more difficult for Hamas to operate and decreases their ability to inflict terror. In both practical and symbolic terms, Rantisi's death is ground gained in the War on Terror.

A MAN OF ACTION: The left's new line of attack against the President is that he's a crazed missionary who thinks God has told him to bring peace and freedom to the world - and to lie, cheat and steal in the process. Contrary to this silliness that's been concocted from Bush's public rhetoric, I think the answer is much, much simpler: President Bush is not a crazed missionary, he's a man of action

As previously mentioned, I don't think there is any question President Bush views the War on Terror in terms of daily gains and losses. At his press conference last Tuesday, one answer in particular struck me as the best evidence of this:

The lessons of 9/11 that I -- one lesson was, we must deal with gathering threats. And that's part of the reason I dealt with Iraq the way I did.

The other lesson is, is that this country must go on the offense and stay on the offense.

We all know President Bush sees the War on Terror as a long-term engagement and a battle for the soul of civilization. He's flat out told us as much.

What he also knows - but hasn't told us - is that we are sometimes a complacent, forgetful, and too forgiving people. What he knows is that without the constant focus and determination the War on Terror demands of us, we'd quickly be back to the sort of self-centric navel-gazing that makes us extremely vulnerable to terrorists and eventually costs the lives of innocent Americans.

I think one of President Bush's biggest fears was that the focus and support for aggressive action against terrorism in Congress and the public would wane quickly and that America would miss the window of opportunity to implement a policy that would achieve real and lasting progress against terrorists and their patrons. Toppling the Taliban was a response, not a policy. In Bush's mind, it was not enough.

In Iraq, however, the President not only saw a body of historical evidence that demonstrated it was a gathering threat (an analysis, by the way, that all his critics agreed with at the time but now cynically deny ever existed), he also saw the opportunity to take action that did not exist with any of the other threats in the world like North Korea or Iran.

In other words, we did Iraq because Iraq was doable. And by doing Iraq, President Bush has not only made progress in the overall War on Terror, he's made sure as a matter of policy that battling terrorists and the regimes that harbor them will remain a central focus of the United States government for years to come. - T. Bevan 10:55 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

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