Friday, July 9 2004
WHAT'S WRONG WITH KANSAS?:
George Will had an excellent column yesterday deconstructing Thomas Frank's new book "What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America."

Frank says "the pre-eminent question of our times" is why people misunderstand "their fundamental interests." But Frank ignores this question: Why does the left disparage what everyday people consider their fundamental interests?

He says the left has been battered by "the Great Backlash" of people of modest means against their obvious benefactor and wise definer of their interests, the Democratic Party. The cultural backlash has been, he believes, craftily manufactured by rich people with the only motives the left understands -- money motives. The aim of the rich is to manipulate people of modest means, making them angry about abortion and other social issues so that they will vote for Republicans who will cut taxes on the rich.

Such fevered thinking is a staple of what historian Richard Hofstadter called "the paranoid style in American politics," a style practiced, even pioneered, a century ago by prairie populists. You will hear its echo in John Edwards's lament about the "two Americas" -- the few rich victimizing the powerless many.

Frank frequently lapses into the cartoon politics of today's enraged left, as when he says Kansas is a place of "implacable bitterness" and America resembles "a panorama of madness and delusion worthy of Hieronymus Bosch." Yet he wonders why a majority of Kansans and Americans are put off by people like him who depict their society like that...

If you believe, as Frank does, that opposing abortion is inexplicably silly, and if you make no more attempt than Frank does to empathize with people who care deeply about it, then of course you, like Frank, will consider scores of millions of your fellow citizens lunatics. Because conservatives have, as Frank says, achieved little cultural change in recent decades, he considers their persistence either absurd or part of a sinister plot to create "cultural turmoil" to continue "the erasure of the economic" from politics. ..

Will hits the nail right on the head as to why liberal Democrats do so poorly away from the coasts and the big cities. President Bush's comment the other day goes right after this vulnerability:

I'm going to carry the South because the people understand that they share -- we share values that they understand. They know me well. And I am -- I believe that I did well in the South last time, I'll do well in the South this time, because the Senator from Massachusetts doesn't share their values, and that's the difference in the campaign.

While the "here" the President was referring to is the South, he could just as easily have been talking about small town Ohio, Montana or yes, Kansas. The Democrats don't seem to have absorbed the reality that the only two Presidents they have gotten elected in the last 35 years have both come from small southern towns.

But back to George Will's column. At the end he writes:

The economic problem, as understood during two centuries of industrialization, has been solved. We can reliably produce economic growth and have moderated business cycles. Hence many people, emancipated from material concerns, can pour political passions into other -- some would say higher -- concerns. These include the condition of the culture, as measured by such indexes as the content of popular culture, the agendas of public education and the prevalence of abortion.

A word of caution to Will and all free-market Republicans: it is far from certain that "we can reliably produce economic growth and have moderated business cycles, " at least all of the time. Capitalism and free markets have had a great run these last 25 years and there is no disputing that the benefits have far outweighed the negatives. But it is the height of arrogance to think that economic problems have "been solved."

It is true that we have solved most of the economic problems that have bedeviled industrialized economies over the past 200 years, but some of these solutions have created economic and financial conditions for which there are no historical precedents.

The amount of debt and leverage that has systemically crept into our entire financial system (and thus the economy) over the last 25 years presents a multitude of risks. While this is not meant to be a doom and gloom prophecy, it's only prudent to recognize these increased risks. One might ask, if it was so easy to reliably produce growth, why did the Japanese economy essentially stagnate for an entire decade after their enormous growth of the 70's and 80's?

I know, I know, the U.S. isn't Japan. But that's not the point. The point is that the business cycle and certainly the boom and bust cycle of the financial markets has not been repealed. And with a general population that has more and more of their wealth tied to the stock market, this is not a small concern. The concern is not only in the financial markets, but also a housing market that has encouraged the public to leverage up even further, with more and more refinancing and inflated appraisal values on top of a housing market that's, let's just say, not cheap.

While class warfare issues may not be driving voters in Kansas today, it would be a mistake to think that all economic problems have been solved forever. The key to Will's assertion - "the economic problem, as understood ...has been solved"- are the words as understood. The problem is what we understand today about the current economic/financial condition of the global economy might not be the same 10 or 20 years from now. - J. McIntyre 7:23 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Thursday, July 8 2004
LATE BLOGGING:
Come back around 1 pm Eastern for today's installment. In the meantime, go read this great post over at The Belmont Club. - T. Bevan 8:49 am

Wednesday, July 7 2004
A TALE OF TWO JOHNS: The more I think about John Kerry's choice of John Edwards yesterday, the more I wonder if the Dems aren't in a bit of trouble.

First, consider what Kerry gains from picking Edwards: youth, enthusiasm, and a bit of sizzle (to use the Wall Street Journal's phrase). All important things for a campaign, to be sure, but nothing substantive.

Liberal pundits who favor the Edwards pick also argue that Kerry gains a surrogate who can "reconnect" with rural and working class voters in the Rust and Bible belts. Or as Bob Kuttner condescendingly put it in today's Boston Globe, Edwards will be able to "enlist culturally conservative, white, working class voters who may be gun-toting, abortion-hating, Arab-bashing, tub-thumping fundamentalists." And people wonder why Democrats ever lost touch with this constituency.

Edwards is a very likable guy and it's probably true that he will generate a connection - either real or imagined - with some rural and working class voters. Whether he can pass that connection on to John Kerry is another matter altogether. In the end voters will still have to look up at the top of the ticket and pull the lever for an aloof, patrician New Englander as their choice to run the country.

The other thing Kerry assumes by picking John Edwards is his "Two Americas" message. Granted, it's a lot better than Kerry's brand of class warfare populism, and it will unburden Kerry from dealing with those overzealous speechwriters who keep forcing him to use the phrase "Benedict Arnold CEO's." Still, it's class warfare nonetheless and it's now going to be a central theme of the Kerry campaign.

Now match these gains from picking Edwards against the biggest issues in this election: Iraq and the economy, in that order. Both are improving, and that's bad news for any Democratic ticket, no matter who's on it.

But what Kerry's pick indicates to me most is that he still doesn't get it. The ghosts of 9/11 and national security are going to loom large in this election and by selecting Edwards, Kerry is essentially saying he thinks he's fine on the issue of national security. He isn't, and his 20-year voting record proves it.

Liberals are fawning over Kerry's for having the "courage" to pick someone as charismatic as Edwards as a tacit acknowledgment that Kerry recognizes his weakness as an aloof, stand-offish personality. And he is both of these things.

Kerry's true weakness, however, isn't so much his personality as it is his position on national security. There are indications he recognized this weakness as well (flirtations with McCain, Biden, Cohen, Clark, et al), but in the end Kerry decided likeability was more important than enhancing his credibility on national security.

Maybe this will end up being a smart political decision on Kerry's part. People do want to like their president. I happen to think it's a mistake, not only because it's a longshot to think John Edwards is going to have enough charisma for the both of them, but because after 9/11 people want a leader whose top priority is protecting the country. T. Bevan 7:36 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Tuesday, July 6 2004
EDWARDS:
He's been the favorite for weeks so this should come as no surprise, though to be honest I didn't think Kerry would tap Edwards. What's interesting about this pick is what it tells you about how the Kerry camp views the state of the race. I suspect that despite all of their public declarations about how they love their current position, there was a realization behind the scenes that the status quo was leading to a Bush reelection.

Edwards is tacit acknowledgment that they needed to do something to give the campaign an adrenaline shot. But while this pick may play well in the next three weeks I don't know how well it is going to work after Labor Day when the real contest begins.

You may see polls in the next few weeks showing Kerry competitive or even ahead in North Carolina, forget about 'em, the Kerry-Edwards ticket will carry no southern states. Edwards may be enough to solidify a Bowles victory in the NC Senate race and help on the margin in a couple of the other open Senate seats in the South, but he is not going to turn Georgia, North Carolina or Florida into Kerry wins.

The Edwards pick is a poll-driven mistake. At the end of the day they probably kept coming back to all of their internal polls showing Edwards giving them a bigger bump than all of the other possibilities. Don't get me wrong, Edwards is not a disastrous choice. The press is going to love it, and there is no question he will bring a youthful vibrancy and vigor to the Kerry campaign.

Chris Matthews was suggesting a couple of weeks ago that Edwards will clean Cheney's clock in the VP debate with his trial lawyer expertise. Well, we'll see. Everyone keeps forgetting about that little event three years ago in September, and I suspect Cheney's supreme competency and seriousness will provide a stark contrast to the boyish charm of Senator Edwards.

In many ways the Edwards pick is the Kerry campaign's attempt to recreate the magic of the Clinton-Gore ticket in 1992. The Democrats' problem is we live in a very different world today from the 1990's, when the collapse of the Soviet Union had relegated national security to the backseat.

This is a very serious election, and the Bush-Cheney campaign will make that abundantly clear. Kerry would have been better off with the safe, solid choice of Dick Gephardt who at least would have helped potentially win Missouri.

Edwards will give Kerry the bump in the polls they were looking for, but on election day Erskine Bowles is the real winner from this pick, not John Kerry. J. McIntyre 8:23 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend


VEEP DAY:
Kerry is scheduled to announce his choice today. The NY Post says it's Gephardt - and it very well could be - but there are still a few tidbits of information floating around suggesting otherwise.

One reader pointed us to this aviation bulletin board site saying Kerry's plane has been repainted with "Kerry-Edwards." Another reader emailed to say he heard the BBC report that Vilsack is going to be the guy.

The bottom line is that we won't know until we know. However, I'd be surprised if the NY Post would stake their reputation on a hunch. They certainly must have some reliable sources for the story.

We've already chronicled the reasons why Gephardt makes the most sense for Kerry. The downside to Gephardt is that he's such a bland, well-known quantity among the press his selection isn't going to generate nearly as much interest in the ticket as a fresh, outsider pick would have.

Then there's Gephardt's support of the war. In the midst of a Michael Moore-induced spasm of paranoid, antiwar fever, Kerry is serving up to the base as his running mate a guy who famously stood "shoulder to shoulder" with the President on Iraq. The response will probably be something akin to when a hyperactive five year old is told by his parents to sit down and eat his vegetables.

In the end, however, even though Kerry might get more excitement out of his base and more hype in the press by picking someone else, that isn't what he needs. What Kerry needs is to win over middle-of-the-road union workers in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. On that score he'll get more mileage out of Gephardt than anyone else. And, by the way, winning Missouri would be nice as well.

We'll be back with more after the pick....

BLOG GOODIES: Lots of good stuff in blogosphere while I was away. John Hinderaker has a touching story about he and Scott Johnson taking two U.S. servicemen and their wives to dinner at a steakhouse in Minneapolis.

Meanwhile, Arthur Chrenkoff has more good news from Iraq that you won't see in the mainstream media. - T. Bevan 6:22 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Sunday, July 4 2004
VEEP BUZZ:
Mark Halperin on This Week with George Stephanopoulos suggested that Kerry had a face-to-face meeting with his VP choice Thursday night at Madeleine Albright's house in DC. He then said that of the three major contenders most often mentioned (John Edwards, Richard Gephardt and Tom Vilsack) only Dick Gephardt was in Washington. Halperin added that Senator Joseph Biden, and former Defense Secretary Bill Cohen might have been in DC as well.

ALLAWI & SPINNING BUSH'S JOB APPROVAL: At the beginning of the program Iraq's interim prime minister Iyad Allawi was interviewed and I found him to be very impressive. The interview today jives with the other times I have seen Allawi and it appears that Iraq, and the United States, might have found a real leader who will set the stage for some real progress in Iraq.

I've been steadily impressed with Stephanopoulos program and he does a good job of having serious guests and usually informative roundtables However, he can't help himself sometimes to get in a partisan cheap shot. Today's was the graph and discussion of the President's job approval where he referenced the latest CBS News/NY Times poll to make the argument that President Bush was in trouble.

By highlighting the CBS/NYT poll number of 42%, Stephanopoulos was able to frame the story line that Bush's job approval is more in the realm of presidential losers like his father, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. The problem here is the most recent polls from ABC/WP, NBC/WSJ, CNN/Gallup, FOX/OD, Annenberg, Battleground, Rasmussen, Harris, Pew, LA Times, NPR and AP/Ipsos ALL have the President's job approval between 45% and 52%.

He could have just as easily taken the Battleground poll, a well respected bipartisan poll that was released last week that showed the President's approval at 51% to make the argument that based on historical job approval President Bush was actually closer to winners like Nixon, Reagan and Clinton.

Stephanopoulos had an agenda to frame the conversation in a way that made President Bush look weaker than he really his and that is why he cherry picked the NY Times poll to highlight. Matthew Dowd spoke the truth when he suggested that in reality the President's approval rating is currently in a gray area between where incumbent Presidents are usually comfortably reelected and where they normally lose. J. McIntyre 4:22 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend

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