Friday, May 7 2004
BUSH VS KERRY: In describing the results from the latest round of polls I heard a pundit say yesterday: "They (the American people) don't think the country is heading in the right direction, but they don't think Kerry can do a better job than President Bush." In many ways that sums up the disparate poll information and the direction of this election.

Here is the lead in USA Today on their most recent poll:

Americans are more dissatisfied with the nation's direction than at any time in more than eight years and President Bush's job approval rating has sunk into a tie for his worst-ever showing, according to a new Gallup Poll.

You would think that with more people dissatisfied with the direction of the country than at any time in the last eight years and the President's job approval tied for a personal low, Democrats would be giddy in anticipation of a blowout election.

Instead, the exact same poll shows Kerry with a 1point lead head-to-head, and tied with Bush in a three way race with Nader. Five other polls - including two released last night - show Bush ahead between 3-6 points.

This is the dilemma for the Democrats: The Anybody But Bush mindset is only going to get Kerry so far. Like most elections with an incumbent President, this one will be a referendum on George Bush and if he can keep his job approval around 50% or higher, he will win.

Contrary to the conventional political wisdom, however, Bush can still win with right/wrong direction numbers in the tank and a sliding job approval. The reason is people may not like the direction of the country but they don't think or trust Kerry to do a better job.

So Kerry has two choices if he wants to win. He can sit back and continue to run a listless campaign and hope the country utterly falls apart in the next six months. In this unlikely scenario he will win by default.

Kerry doesn't have to worry about the scenario where President Bush's job approval stabilizes and improves, because if that happens he will lose no matter what he does.

But if Kerry hopes to win in the environment we find ourselves in today where people are very concerned about the direction of the country and aren't overly enthused with the President's job performance, Kerry is going to have to provide some real leadership.

The problem for Democrats is there is very little in Kerry's 25 years of public service to suggest he's capable or willing to provide that kind of leadership.

Which is why the current trend in the polls is setting the Democrats up for a very bitter election night. The 2002 midterms showed that in a post 9/11 world many of the historical precedents and polling tools that aid in forecasting elections no longer work as well as they used to.

Conventional wisdom and past elections may suggest that a President facing right/wrong direction polls 2-1 the wrong way and a job approval below 50% is a sure fire loser.

But unless Kerry can provide the American people with some leadership and a compelling, believable program for the War on Terror there is going to be a lot of frustrated Democrats Nov. 3 staring at four more years of George W. Bush. -J. McIntyre 7:25 am | Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Thursday, May 6 2004
ABU GHRAIB AND BUSH'S JA: Two new polls out yesterday (Gallup and NBC/WSJ) peg Bush's job approval at 49% and 47%, respectively. Our RCP average shows him at 48.3%, which is still pretty decent shape considering the bad news out of Iraq but also portends a close election in November.

The growing scandal over the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib obviously hurts America's standing around the world and makes success in Iraq that much more difficult. But will Bush's response to Abu Ghraib help him at home?

The only reason I ask is because there are two headlines dominating the front page of almost every newspaper in America this morning: Bush condemning the mistreatment at Abu Ghraib in interviews with Arab media and Bush scolding his Secretary of Defense for not informing him of the seriousness of the matter and treating it with a higher degree of urgency.

Critics of the President are trying to paint the episode at Abu Ghraib as another example of a leader who is inept and out of touch, too willing to delegate and too stubborn to admit mistakes or handle bad news. But the flood of coverage today seems to impart just the opposite impression.

THE LOGIC OF RIBBONS AND MEDALS - PART II: Be warned, this is an extremely long post. But it's time to finish off the thought I started last Tuesday: why did John Kerry throw his ribbons in protest in 1971 but not his medals?

Kerry's answer to this question - at least since 1984 - is that he didn't have time to go home and get them. That answer strikes me as two things: impossible to disprove and less than convincing.

We know that from 1971 to 1984 Kerry clearly wanted people to believe he'd thrown his own medals. We also know that Kerry agrees with the widely held belief that there is no distinction between ribbons (which are representations of the medals) and the medals themselves.

So back to the $64,000 question: why ribbons and not medals?

One clue comes from an email I received last week:

I'm a retired Navy Captain with several medals and ribbons awarded to me as well as experience on a 4 star Admiral's Awards Board, etc., so I know a thing or two about military medals and ribbons...

If you are an authorized patron or with an authorized patron (active or retired service member, their dependents, and certain others), you can walk into any Uniform Shop on any base and buy all the ribbons of any pattern (representing any award) that you care to.

But, the only way to get the actual medal is to have it awarded by the appropriate senior commander (usually a Flag Officer).

If you lose it, you must request a replacement from the appropriate military service headquarters giving ample and convincing justification for a replacement. This usually is hard to do successfully.

In other words, it turns out there is a striking difference between ribbons and medals: Ribbons are easily replaceable, medals are not.

It's probably fair to assume the military would not find throwing your medals away in protest as "ample and convincing justification for a replacement."

Clue number two comes in the form of Kerry's own behavior.

It is well documented that by the time John Kerry left Yale and shipped off to Vietnam, he was carrying with him not only the initials of John F. Kennedy but the political aspirations as well.

By that time Kerry had also expressed grave doubts about the war in Vietnam, most notably on June 12, 1966 when he said in an oration to his fellow students, "We have not really lost the desire to serve. We question the very roots of what we are serving."

Yet even though Kerry didn't believe in the political reasons for the war and was an outspoken critic of the tactics used to fight it, during his 4 1/2 month tour of duty Kerry was known for being an extremely aggressive commander - even to the point of being reckless.

More telling was Kerry's desire to document his exploits. Kerry was so interested in doing this he bought a movie camera that he even used during battle. In a profile of Kerry in The Boston Globe, October 6, 1996, reporter Charles M. Sennott wrote:

That Kerry took the trouble to film his war experience strikes many veterans, including some of his closest friends, as extraordinary -- even strange.

Kerry says he shot his war footage on a Super 8 camera he bought at the PX in Cam Ranh Bay. Asked how he filmed in the heat of battle, he demonstrated, gripping an imaginary ship's helm and thrusting his camera hand out to the side. "I'd steer, or direct, or fire my gun, and hold onto it when I could," Kerry says.

Indeed, after Kerry's swift boat was attacked on February 28, 1969 - an event in which Kerry's action led to his being awarded the Silver Star - Kerry returned to the scene of the incident the next day with his movie camera to re-enact exactly what had transpired - for the record.

Sennott described the footage of Kerry as a "young man so unconscious of risk in the heat of battle, yet so focused on his future ambitions that he would reenact the moment for film. It is as if he had cast himself in the sequel to the experience of his hero, John F. Kennedy, on the PT-109."

Sennott captured one other moment worth mentioning. Hours after his victory over William Weld in November, 1996, Kerry gathered a bunch of his fellow swift boat veterans together at his home where they watched his movies and reminisced fondly about Vietnam well into the morning. Sennott wrote:

[Fellow Vietnam veteran Thomas] Vallely teased Kerry about the films, which some have felt revealed that even as a young lieutenant, Kerry was so intent on his future political ambitions that he made sure he had his heroics captured on film. Kerry looked at Vallely over his bifocals and smirked.

Recent articles in the Boston Globe and elsewhere have detailed how persistent Kerry was in pursuing a citation for his first Purple Heart, despite questions about the severity of his injury and whether or not his boat actually took hostile fire on December 2, 1968.

There is no doubt Kerry served his country in Vietnam. But the record also indicates he had an intense focus on serving himself. Even among his fellow soldiers and shipmates Kerry was explicit about his ambition to become "the next JFK from Massachusetts," and he seemed conspicuously anxious about achieving (and documenting) personal recognition for his exploits in Vietnam.

I don't necessarily begrudge Kerry any of this, by the way. Vainglory doesn't disqualify a person from being President of the United States. But all of this does provide some additional background that makes the ribbons/medals controversy that much more troubling.

Because when Kerry returned home from Vietnam, first accused huge numbers of his fellow soldiers of committing war crimes in Vietnam on a daily basis and then used his ribbons as a public display against the war, he specifically told America - but especially his fellow soldiers - that the "perversion" of Vietnam "denied us the integrity those symbols [military medals and ribbons] supposedly gave our lives."

By keeping his medals after making such a statement John Kerry created a contradiction that remains irreconcilable to this very day. He publicly denounced the value and integrity of the ribbons, medals and service of all Vietnam veterans in 1971, but he continued to hold onto his medals and to use his service in Vietnam in future years as a reference point for his own personal integrity and a central tool for advancing his political career.

In the end, Kerry didn't throw his medals in 1971 for two reasons. The first is because he was proud of them - not because they symbolized the pride he had in his country at that time but for the pride he had in himself for winning them. The second reason is because Kerry knew there would come a day when he would not only want his medals but need them to fulfill his dream of becoming "the next JFK from Massachusetts." - T. Bevan 8:30 am | Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Wednesday, May 5 2004
KERRY'S VEEP DERBY: From a political standpoint, Kerry has two basic approaches for selecting a Vice-President. One option is to pick a candidate who he thinks will help deliver a key state in the electoral college - preferably a state that Bush carried in 2000. Or Kerry can take a more national approach and place someone on the ticket who will give a boost to the general campaign.

Given the polarization in the American electorate and the red state/blue state divide, Kerry's best bet is to try and hold all of Al Gore's states and try and flip one or two of the Bush states in 2000.

New Hampshire is a prime candidate for a switch because of its geography, and if the rest of the states hold to the 2000 results, that would leave the electoral vote Bush 274 - Kerry 264.

After New Hampshire, Kerry's best states to try and flip are Ohio, Missouri, West Virginia, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, and to a lesser degree Louisiana, and Arkansas.

West Virginia and Nevada have only 5 electoral votes, so even though they might wind up being important in the final electoral tally, they are probably not big enough to justify a VP selection. That leaves Ohio, Missouri, Arizona and Florida for Vice President consideration.

If John Glenn were twenty years younger he would be a slam dunk pick, but unfortunately for Kerry the Democratic bench in Ohio is rather thin.

Rep. Dick Gephardt and Missouri's 11 electoral votes is an obvious choice and I suspect he is the front-runner.

Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico has three things working in his favor: 1) he would appeal to a core Democratic constituency, the Hispanic community, 2) he'd solidify New Mexico for Kerry and 3) he would put Arizona very much into play.

Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona (10 electoral votes) would have some cache as the second woman on a national ticket and, more importantly she would probably be able to deliver Arizona. The drawback with Napolitano is that she might be considered somewhat of a lightweight.

In Florida (27 electoral votes), Kerry has the option of the two Democratic Senators: Bob Graham and Bill Nelson. Longer shots would be Senator Breaux from Louisiana or Wesley Clark from Arkansas.

Kerry would be wise to stay away from the South and adopt a northern electoral strategy which would argue against selecting Graham, Nelson, Breaux, Clark, and John Edwards for that matter.

That leaves Gephardt, Richardson and Napolitano as the remaining choices if Kerry was looking to steal a state from Bush's 2000 column. I suspect Kerry will view Napolitano as too much of a risk and is leaning towards either Gephardt or Richardson.

Throwing out all of the electoral math, the wild card choice that would truly turn the election into a red state vs blue state cage match is Sen. Hillary Clinton. Despite all of her public protestations to the contrary, I suspect the Clintons might be very open to the idea of Hillary being VP.

This would help Kerry in all of the blue states and would allow Bill Clinton to campaign furiously and publicly for the ticket which would help Kerry in the African-American community. How much it helps in winning Missouri, Ohio, Arizona or otherwise getting John Kerry to an electoral majority is another story. - J. McIntyre 9:02 am | Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Tuesday, May 4 2004
Temporarily lost in all the shock, embarrassment, shame and outrage that rightly poured forth over of mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib is the fact we are still engaged in the most humanitarian-focused military action in history. Victor Davis Hanson does some helpful reminding.

Meanwhile, everyone else is doing their best to make sure the matter is dealt with properly. We can't change what happened, only condemn it and strive to ensure it never happens again.

VIETNAM FLASHBACKS: John Kerry must feel like he's the target in one of those "free-fire zones" he complained about back in 1968. John O'Neill delivers a devastating critique of his fitness to be Commander-in-Chief in today's Wall Street Journal.

Later today O'Neill will be part of a press conference unveiling a letter from some 200 veterans - including every commanding officer Kerry had during his time in Vietnam - delivering the same message.

As far as politically damaging attacks go, this should rank right up there among the most potent ones imaginable. It would certainly be a political disaster of thermonuclear proportions if all of George W. Bush's former commanding officers in the National Guard condemned his fitness to be CIC.

But I suspect this story won't get very much play (except in the blogosphere) and whatever attention it does generate in the mainstream press that might potentially influence swing voters in battleground states will be seriously diluted by Kerry's massive $25 million ad buy that began yesterday touting his service in Vietnam.

In other words, the Veterans' press conference and letter may not have much of a short-term impact on Kerry's numbers.

But it will be a different story after Labor Day when the Bush camp puts clips from the letter and footage from the press conference into an ad of their own and spends enough money in those same battleground states to make it hurt.

How will Kerry be able to effectively rebut this letter when the time comes? Very good question.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The race is close and will remain close due to the divided and polarized nature of the country. You will get 45-46 percent of the vote no matter what you are for or against. This is not like the Reagan years when you had 20 percent of the vote you could move. Today, there is about 8 percent you can move. Our range is very small. We have two goals: Motivate our base and get a share of the swing vote." - Matthew Dowd, President Bush's pollster.

RCP Q&A: A few people have emailed asking why we've "dropped" Rasmussen polls from our National Presidential Race Page. The answer is, we haven't. We have two running tallies for the Presidential Race: one showing a head-to-head match up, and one that includes Ralph Nader. Since Rasmussen has never polled for Nader, it didn't make sense to keep him listed in the three way tally.

Sorry for the confusion. We've tried to make things more clear by breaking the polls out into two different pages. Here is the new head-to-head page, and here are the numbers for the three way race. - T. Bevan 8:30 am | Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Monday, May 3 2004
IS SHARON FINISHED?: Sharon's disengagement plan goes down hard in a vote among Likud members. It's a blow to Sharon and also a blow to President Bush, whose support of the plan was designed to help get the Israeli Prime Minister over the hump. Now instead of strengthening his position, the vote has put Sharon in limbo:

It was unclear whether Sharon and his government could survive the defeat. Sharon last week had characterized the referendum as a vote of confidence in his government, and in a television interview Friday he said that new elections were likely if voters rejected his plan.

Another Israeli political analyst, Hanan Crystal, said Sharon had two options -- calling for new elections or calling for a nationwide referendum on his disengagement plan, which polls indicate about 60 percent of the general public supports.

Sharon has said that he would continue to push for implementation of the plan -- including seeking approval from his cabinet and parliament -- despite his earlier promise to abide by the decision of his party in the referendum. But Crystal and Likud Party stalwarts said the vote has weakened Sharon and that it was not clear that he had the political clout to push the plan forward without changing it substantially.

Whatever you think about the disengagement plan, you've got to give Sharon (and Bush) credit for taking a political risk neither of them really needed to take to try and move the process forward.

So it's back to square one - at least for now. I wouldn't be too surprised if Sharon managed not only to survive, but to eventually find a way to get the plan through.

For the moment, however, instead of leading to a possible change in the dynamic of the conflict, the vote goes down as just another example of the endless intractability of the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

KERRYNOMICS: Kerry discusses his economic views with the Wall Street Journal (via Instapundit). He also brings famed investor Warren Buffett on board as an advisor.

BATTLE OF THE SMEAR MACHINES: Fred Barnes writes that Mort Kondracke asked the DNC for the goods on the vaunted the Bush smear machine. They didn't deliver. Both the Beltway Boys came away unimpressed.

On the other hand, John Berlau recently took an in-depth look at David Fenton and the smear machine on the left.

Read both pieces and decide for yourself who is doing the better job of smearing.

FOR THE RECORD: By the way, one of the "smears" cited by the DNC against Kerry is the claim, made by RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie in this address to CPAC on January 23, that during the 1971 protest against the Vietnam war Kerry slept in a posh Georgetown apartment rather than down on the mall with his fellow protesters.

Kaus recently touched on the subject, including a link to this scorching January 24 press release from the Kerry campaign titled " Bush Official Uses Nixon Tactics to Smear John Kerry; RNCís Gillespie Uses Exact Same False Charge As Nixon White House Did in 1971."

While doing some research to finish a follow up to my post from last Tuesday (it's almost complete and will be up later this week, in case you're interested), I ran into this graf in a fairly exhaustive, 4,757- word profile of Kerry by Charles M. Sennott that appeared in The Boston Globe on October 6, 1996 (link in pay archive):

Kerry was a leader among this angry band (of war protesters), but also not quite part of the group. Most were more outwardly rebellious, with longer hair and much more willingness to confront the powers that be. While they stayed in tents, Kerry spent most nights at a Georgetown townhouse owned by the family of George Butler, an old college friend and fellow veteran. There, Kerry was able to work the phones and lay his plan.

Maybe Sennott got it wrong. Maybe there is a correction floating around out there, but I can't find it.

Now, the issue of where Kerry slept and where he said he slept 33 years ago may or may not matter to you. It doesn't to me.

But does pointing out a discrepancy in the record between what Kerry said and what has been reported by his hometown paper and the Associated Press constitute a smear?

And does discussing Kerry's sleeping habits in 1971 constitute an attack on Kerry's military service or his patriotism? - T. Bevan 11:30 am | Link | Email | Send to a Friend

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