Friday, June 4 2004
MORE JOBS:
U.S. May Payrolls Rise 248,000 It looks like the "jobless recovery" isn't so jobless:

US employers added 248,000 workers to payrolls in May, more than forecast, helped by the biggest gain in manufacturing employment in almost six years. The economy has now recouped all the jobs lost since the recession ended in November 2001. The unemployment rate held at 5.6 percent.

The increase follows revised gains of 346,000 jobs in April and 353,000 in March that were larger than estimated last month, the Labor Department said in Washington. Manufacturing employment rose the most since August 1998 and hours worked at factories were the highest since October 2000. Service and construction employment rose.

Needless to say this is going to complicate the storyline being spun by the Kerry campaign and the likes of the NY Times' Paul Krugman that Bush 's economic policies are an unmitigated disaster.

The timing of these job numbers are in many ways perfect for the Bush campaign, and despite all of the efforts in the press to create an atmosphere of gloom and doom this type of job growth five months out from the election will eventually seep into the general public.

Mort Zuckerman writes in US News and World Report:

It's the economy, stupid. for this presidential election, the Democrats revived the slogan that deposed the 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush, in the expectation that the 43rd, George Walker Bush, would be equally vulnerable, given all the jobs lost on his watch. But if the economy and not Iraq becomes the big issue animating voters, George W. Bush may have the last laugh since the economic news is as good as the Iraq news is bad.

That's because the economy is, well, on a tear. New jobs are being generated in large numbers, income is growing at twice the rate of last year, and the acceleration is such that we will probably see 5 percent growth in the gross domestic product. The jobs reports of the past few months have changed market sentiment. Sixty-one percent of private industries surveyed have added workers. That's the highest in four years. Business confidence has surged to a 20-year high, and business spending is exploding, with even American manufacturing joining the party. Companies that once saved every nickel are laying out more and more money on capital equipment to meet orders growing at double-digit rates.

Capital spending now constitutes over 20 percent of the growth in GDP, including spending on inventories, which are being cranked up after being drawn down to their lowest levels in years in relation to sales. A significant signal of tightening conditions is that we have the slowest delivery times for goods in years. At this rate, capacity utilization should hit the critical 80 percent mark by summer.

Today's numbers and the upward revisions to the already large job gains of the prior two months only confirms Zuckerman's point that the economy is indeed on a tear. Even if the naysayers are right that this is only a temporary surge due to the huge stimulus shoved through the system by the Bush administration and the FED's artificially low interest rates, any downturn will in all likelihood come to late to help John Kerry this fall.

Having said all that I still feel national security and the War on Terror will be the defining issue of the election. But the continuing expansion of the economy and more importantly the follow-through in job production is bad news for those trying to convince the American people that President Bush's economic policies are a failure. J. McIntyre 10:08 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend


TENET:
It was time. I don't mean that necessarily as a slap at George Tenet, but rather the timing made sense for him to step down. The Washington Post begins their lead story today with:

When three hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing thousands, no one took the fall in the Bush administration.

Should Tenet have been fired after 9/11? I don't know. I wasn't privy to all the information needed to make a well-informed judgment on whether Tenet deserved to lose his job.

I do know that President Bush couldn't have made any better choices than Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell for their respective positions. So based on the President's judgment on who he chose to be Vice President, Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State, the continued confidence he expressed in George Tenet carried a lot of weight.

While the CIA's many failures have been well publicized during Tenet's reign, its successes have gotten much less attention. The Washington Post reports:

The agency Tenet is leaving is far different from the one he took over. At that time, only a few dozen officers were training to join its clandestine service, which has the difficult task of recruiting agents in hostile countries. The foreign-language expertise of many of its employees lay mostly in languages pivotal to the Cold War, rather than the developing or failed states that now give rise to most modern conflicts. A scandal involving the agency's links to thugs in Guatemala had forced the ouster of some senior spies.

But Tenet built up the CIA's clandestine service, sharpened its scientific capabilities, changed its schools and training programs, paid some of its Cold War veterans to retire, and sent hundreds of new operatives overseas without the benefit of traditional diplomatic cover. "People are no longer operating just out of embassies, but out of all the back alleys in the world where we need to operate," said former CIA general counsel Jeffrey H. Smith.

"The most important thing he did was restore morale and bring in a whole new generation of officers" whose skills more closely matched the agency's new priorities, Smith said. "He was universally admired" inside the building.

These are not inconsequential changes, and Tenet deserves more praise than he has received in helping change the culture of an agency that stagnated in the mid-90's after the fall of the Soviet Union.

However, with the Senate Intelligence Committee poised to release a 400-page report blasting the agency's performance on Iraqi WMD and the additional background noise of the 9/11 Commission and the Plame investigation, Tenet might have thought that this was as good of time as any to transition back to being a normal dad.

From a political standpoint, Tenet's resignation should help the Bush Administration. When the aforementioned reports are officially released later this summer, the White House will be able to focus on the future of how best to run our nation's intelligence apparatus rather than getting bogged down in who was to blame for the intelligence community's failures.

Tenet has had one of the hardest and most thankless jobs in all of America and seven years is a long time to deal with that kind of stress day after day. I have no doubt that burn out and a desire to spend more time with his family was central to his ultimate resignation.

It's easy to criticize in today's America and there is certainly plenty to criticize at Tenet's CIA. I suspect Tenet isn't as big a failure as his critics insist and at the same time is more culpable for many of the intelligence breakdowns than his defenders might want to admit.

His leaving on July 11 will in many ways put all that in the past. And while there is no question we need to learn from past mistakes, the White House and Congress need to focus on what to do - going forward - to fix and improve our nation's intelligence capabilities instead of fighting over who is to blame for its past failures. J. McIntyre 9:17 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Thursday, June 3 2004
WHAT'S IN A SLOGAN?:
A couple of weeks back I ripped John Kerry for using the phrase "let America be America again" in his speech celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Brown v. Board. David Halbfinger reported this weekend the Kerry camp has settled on the phrase, cribbed from a 1938 poem by Langston Hughes, as their theme for the upcoming campaign.

Timothy Noah points out a number of reasons this is a terrible campaign slogan: 1) it sounds "pompous and snotty" 2) it was written by a communist sympathizer and 3) it means exactly the opposite of what the Kerry camp suggests. The phrase isn't a fond rememberance or a longing to return to days gone by, it's really an ironic indictment of America, a claim that the "good 'ol days" never existed at all.

I'll add one final criticism. In addition to focusing on the past rather than the future - a risk the Kerry camp acknowledged in the Times article - the passive construction of the phrase makes Kerry look terribly weak.

"Let America be America again" doesn't impart any sense of action or leadership on Kerry's part, only the suggestion that if he does become President the world will naturally return to a state of equilibrium that's been upset by the Bush administration.

Kerry would be much better served to adapt the Hughes phrase into a slogan more befitting a presidential race. You know, a string of words that actually suggests he's going to do something: "John Kerry: Leading America back to greatness" or "John Kerry: Bringing the American dream alive again."

Slogans aren't going to decide the race for president. But they do represent a mission statement for the candidates and they should be constructed to resonate with as much of the national electorate as possible. "Let America be America again" may play well to the blue-state base, but for all the reasons we've just discussed, I don't think it's going to play that well in middle America. - T. Bevan 9:17 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Wednesday, June 2 2004
SOUTH DAKOTA NOTES:
So Herseth won in a squeaker. She'll have to give it another go in November, of course, but does her victory yesterday change the landscape in any significant way and will it have any future political ramifications?

This quote, attributed to political guru Larry Sabato and posted over at Jason Van Beek's site, suggests there could be one biggie:

"I also say that if Herseth wins, it's actually bad news for Daschle. South Dakotans don't want to be represented by three Democrats in DC. One is going to have to go---either Herseth in November or Daschle. That's my guess, anyway."

The Hill newspaper provides even more grist for the mill with a front page story today, "Dems Look Beyond Daschle:"

Close polls and an intense GOP drive to reclaim a prized South Dakota seat have presented Senate Democrats with a dilemma — they may have to find themselves a new leader next year.

Although no Democrat is predicting that Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle will lose his re-election battle, the fault lines of a potential leadership struggle within the Democratic Caucus are already visible. A Daschle loss would set off a scramble to succeed him as leader, as well as contests for other leadership posts.

Key Democrats say they believe Daschle will prevail in November and brushed aside one recent poll that showed the race in a virtual dead heat.

“It is totally inconsistent with any of the polls that have been out,” said Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.).

The independent poll, by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader and KELO-TV, showed Daschle with a mere two-point lead over former Rep. John Thune (R-S.D.), despite spending more than $5 million on the race. However, a more recent Zogby poll had Daschle up 13 percentage points, as did a Daschle poll earlier in May. (emphasis added)

Note to Dems: you may want to take another hard look at that KELO-TV poll conducted by Mason-Dixon. Their final poll in the South Dakota House race, conducted among 625 likely voters between May 10-12, had Herseth's lead over Diedrich narrowing to nine points (49-40) - along with this important qualifier:

Among the 455 poll respondents who say they will "definitely" vote on June 1, Herseth's lead shrinks to three points, 47 to 44 percent.

Zogby's final poll, on the other hand, conducted nine days later using a sample of 503 likely voters, showed Herseth's lead decreasing from 16 points six weeks earlier to 12 points, with only seven percent remaining undecided.

In other words - and to put it kindly - Zogby missed this one by a bit. The fact that his independent polls in the SD Senate race are tracking with Daschle's internal ones should be viewed as more of a red flag to people than a confirmation that Daschle is really running that far ahead of Thune. - T. Bevan 8:05am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Tuesday, June 1 2004
WHO HAS THE BIGGER BASE PROBLEM?:
Two stories of note today in The Washington Times. The first is this one by Donald Lambro suggesting that John Kerry's base has "yet to unify" behind him.

Lambro points to a number of factors, including the continued presence of Ralph Nader (see Matthew Continetti's piece for more on this) and the fact that polls show about 12% of Democrats leaning in favor of Bush, indicating that Kerry isn't enjoying the level of party unity - at least at this point in the race - that many Dems have been crowing about.

The second piece worth reading is Bill Sammon's dispatch titled, "Bush to Wage Ideological Campaign." Sammon reports the Bush campaign is billing this year's race as a "stark choice between liberalism and conservatism" and more or less a repeat of Reagan-Mondale.

Ken Mehlman, Chairman of Bush-Cheney '04, is quoted as promising that, "if you're a conservative Republican this campaign is doing what you wanted."

This strikes me as a conspicuously overt reassurance to Bush's base and an indication the Bush campaign is concerned there's an element of truth to the plethora of stories suggesting an "erosion" of the President's support among hardcore conservatives (see here, here and here).

Last week Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg suggested (link via Political Wire) that Bush is losing support across all slices of the loyal Republican electorate and is currently running about 4% behind where he was in 2000.

On the other hand, according to Greenberg Kerry is equaling or outperforming Gore's 2000 vote totals among all core Democratic constituencies except one: African-Americans.

Yet even in Greenberg's own polls, Kerry has been unable to open up a significant lead of any kind. Over the course of the four Democracy Corps surveys conducted this year, Kerry and Bush are tied at 48.25%. As we mentioned previously, other recent polls have shown Bush's support to be consistently solid.

So who is having a worse time with their base, Bush or Kerry? As long as Ralph Nader stays in the race, it's hard to argue Kerry doesn't have the tougher job keeping his base together. Kerry's move to the right on Iraq, including his call last week for 40,000 more US troops in Iraq, is giving the antiwar wing of the party heartburn and testing the limits of their commitment to support "Anybody But Bush."

There's no doubt conservatives of all stripes have their complaints with President Bush, but at this point it's hard to imagine enough of them will sit on their hands or defect to somewhere else to cost him reelection. It's certainly possible, but things would have to deteriorate rather dramatically between now and November. - T. Bevan 1:31 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend

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