Friday, July 16 2004
Fascinating and scary read. (Hat tip to Hugh Hewitt) J. McIntyre 7:33 am

The quickest way for President Bush to move from being the favorite to win reelection to the underdog in this race would be to dump Vice President Cheney. Charlie Cook seems to have restoked the Cheney rumor in his column earlier this week:

While I still expect Vice President Dick Cheney to remain on the Republican ticket, I am beginning to have some doubts about this for the first time this cycle. The dynamics of this race do not look good for President Bush. The political mortality rate for well-known, well-defined incumbents tied at 45 percent is extremely high, even if there are 3 percentage points or so that are likely to go to independent and third party candidates. The mortality rate for incumbents with 48 percent job approval ratings is not much better. While this is almost certainly going to be a very, very close race, I'd rather be John Kerry today than George W. Bush....the president badly needs something to shake this race up, and I can think of just one thing. Cheney may need to watch his back.

Then yesterday the New York Times ran a front page story "Hear the Rumor on Cheney? Capital Buzzes, Denials Aside. In the article Elizabeth Bumiler quotes an unnamed Republican House member who says "watch Cheney" and then another unnamed GOP member of Congress who says Cheney is "increasingly viewed as a political liability." Apparently just acknowledging in the first sentence that the whole story is a "conspiracy theory" and "far-fetched" is all that is necessary to then get front page treatment.

First things first: it's summer time in Washington, Kerry's already picked his VP and a lot of this "buzz" is simply a bored press corps killing time until the Democrat's convention later in July.

On the other hand, much of the dump Cheney buzz does have the intended effect of sowing seeds of doubt among Republicans about the strength of the Bush/Cheney ticket.

Cheney's problem is that he has more or less given the press and his political opponents (which in most cases are one and the same) a free ride in painting a caricature of a dark and secret man who, besides being a warmonger, has as his only goal in life to funnel money to Haliburton and other "big oil" companies.

Because the White House is sensitive (and rightly so) to the other press caricature that Cheney really runs the whole show, they aren't in a position to put him out front and center to defend himself. So all of the noise about Cheney's unfavorable ratings has to be put into context of this unanswered assault on his character week after week for years.

While the Cheney unfavorable ratings are a fact, their impact on the Presidential race will be negligible. In some ways these unfavorables will create an expectation game that will work well for the Bush/Cheney team in the Vice Presidential debate where the beautiful, eloquent trial lawyer is supposed to talk circles around the mean, balding Vice President. Don't be surprised if Cheney wins that debate.

But the VP debate isn't going to decide this election. Contrary to the scuttlebutt that Bush needs to shake up the dynamic of the race, Kerry is the guy who was worried about where the election was heading - which is why he went for the charisma pop with Edwards as opposed to Gephardt or Graham who might have actually helped him win a state that would matter.

While there is still time for the Democrats to build up their bounce from the Edwards pick and the convention, the first round of polling showing the race tied to a 5 point lead for Kerry has got to be a little disappointing to the the Kerry campaign.

Here's my question to all those people who think George W. Bush is in such big trouble: if that is really true, how come all of the betting sites, where real money is changing hands, have the President as the favorite? J. McIntyre 7:17 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Thursday, July 15 2004
I get accused all the time of being a full-blown Bush apologist with nary a bad word for the President. If it isn't already apparent to those of you who read this space regularly, I admit that since 9/11 I've become darn near a single issue voter (okay, dual issue) on national security and the War on Terror. I also admit that I tend to favor the President's approach to these issues more than his opponents.

But the Bush administration has made mistakes - a number of them, in fact. The problem with John Kerry and John Edwards is that instead of making reasonable arguments against the way Bush has waged the War on Terror they are trying, at the behest of a feverish base of antiwar Bush-haters led by a fat, filmmaking demagogue, to sell the public a version of events that turns reality on its head.

BUSH LIED!!!! is a little phrase full of outrage that fits nicely on the protest signs (right over the photoshopped picture of Bush with the Hitler mustache in the SS uniform). But most rational people understand at a gut level the charge isn't true, and in practice it feels more like Kerry & Edwards are two used car salesman trying to convince people that the VW Beetle they're selling is really a Porsche.

What Kerry & Edwards need is to make an effective critique of the war that rings absolutely true with voters, especially those in the middle.

The "Bush should have built a broader coalition" doesn't do it. Most voters recognize we already have a number of countries with us in Iraq anyway. Even worse, this argument always makes John Kerry look like he's pandering to Kofi Annan and Jacques Chirac.

The "Bush team mismanaged the occupation" doesn't get the job done either. People intuitively understand war is a messy, chaotic business, and that by any historical measure we've made a good amount of progress in Iraq over the last year and a half.

So what argument can effectively be made against Bush?

If I were advising Kerry & Edwards this is what I'd say: Bush is most vulnerable to a charge of negligent leadership, not for deciding to invade Iraq or for managing the occupation since, but for failing to take swift and aggressive measures to hold people accountable for the fact our intelligence on Iraq was faulty.

If what is in Bob Woodward's book Plan of Attack is true, I'd make the exchange between President Bush and George Tenet on Iraq's WMD's the centerpiece of the campaign:

"George, how confident are you?" the president asked Tenet.

"Don't worry, it's a slam-dunk," Tenet said.

The fact that George Bush chose not to fire Tenet, instead letting him stay on as DCI for more than two more years and then praising him in June of this year as having "done a superb job on behalf of the American people" is, to my mind, a rather devastating argument.

I don't care how nice of a guy Tenet is and I don't care how much the President liked him or valued his loyalty. Given what the public has learned about the quality of the intelligence information coming out of the CIA it's almost indefensible to have left Tenet in charge.

It's patently obvious that Bush isn't responsible for the CIA producing information that turned out to be sketchy in some cases and bogus in others. What he is responsible for, however, is kicking ass, taking names, and making sure it doesn't happen again. Americans understand that that's how it works. Even more importantly, it's what they want and what they expect in a leader.

Financial guru Jim Cramer made a similar point earlier this week explaining why he has decided to vote for Kerry over Bush:

He [Bush] had terrible intelligence and bad homework, stuff I fire people for regularly and always have.

The fact that not a single person has lost their job in the aftermath of both the worst terrorist attack and the worst intelligence failure in our country's history is where John Kerry and John Edwards could really hurt Bush. And they could do it by sounding like they wanted to be tougher and more competent in protecting the country from future attacks.

So that's what I would do if I were advising the Kerry campaign. I'd have signs made up that said "Slam-Dunk Bush in '04" and I'd have John Edwards saying at every possible opportunity that Bush is lucky Edwards wasn't still a practicing attorney because he'd take him to court and sue him for negligence for not firing Tenet - and he'd win.

I don't know if this strategy would lead to a Kerry victory or not, but it would certainly ring a lot more true with those in the middle and it would probably be a lot easier and more productive than what Kerry and Edwards are currently doing: trying to convince voters that night is day and black is white.

DITKA'S OUT: Democrats rejoice over the news. I don't know anything about Ditka's positions or his ability to articulate them, so it's hard to say whether would have made the race close or just made a total buffoon of himself. It sure would have been fun to watch, though.

Looks like the Illinois GOP is back to square one. - T. Bevan 7:30 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Tuesday, July 13 2004
You don’t often find an entire election summarized in one or two sentences, and you’re even less likely to find it on a Sunday morning political talk show. But here it is, from Meet the Press:

Tim Russert: Do you see Bush being re-elected?

William F. Buckley: I don't think that Bush has done anything disqualifying him. He had a lousy intelligence system, manifestly, but nobody thinks that he acted capriciously. I think if we all had been told exactly what he was told, it's pretty logical that we would have proceeded to do what he did.

Ron Brownstein: Look, I think that the Senate Intelligence Committee report does frame what I believe is the central issue in this campaign. And I differ a little with Bill Buckley because I don't think that all Americans agree that any president would have made this decision based on this information. I think that goes to the crux of the choice that they face.

Brownstein is exactly right, and contrary to what he and other liberals in the press might think, it’s the single biggest weakness in John Kerry’s candidacy.

What Brownstein is saying, and what is obvious to anyone who has been paying attention to politics over the last year is that no Democrat – with only one or two exceptions in the entire elected party – would have looked at the exact same intelligence Bush looked at with respect to Iraq after 9/11 and done much of anything - even though they agreed with Bush at the time that Hussein was a serious threat.

This isn’t some wild hypothetical, it’s a historical fact. Ten days after Saddam Hussein issued an edict in October 29, 1997 kicking U.S. weapons inspectors out of Iraq, John Kerry stood on the floor of the United States Senate and said:

"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."

Kerry went on to argue that the threat Saddam posed was so serious that it justified unilateral military action, 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."

Only days before, President Clinton had “drawn a line in the sand” with Iraq over the expulsion of U.S. inspectors, saying the U.S and the U.N. had to “be very firm” with Iraq.

The rest, of course, is history – and not a very pretty one at that. Read through this timeline of events and you’ll see that while there were lots of meetings, discussions, debates, and negotiations that offered the illusion progress was being made, problems were being solved, and threats were being dealt with, nothing of any substance really took place.

In the end, after all of the sharp rhetoric, threats and negotiation, the "line in the sand" was washed away with no consequence for Hussein. Saddam played cat-and-mouse with the U.S. and the U.N. for nearly a year before finally booting UNSCOM out of Iraq altogether in August 1998.

The response? On September 9, 1998 the UN Security Council passed yet another resolution “condemning” Iraq’s lack of cooperation with inspectors. Three weeks after that the United States Congress passed (and President Clinton eventually signed) The Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, making regime change in Iraq the official policy of the United States government.

Finally, on December 16, 1998 the U.S. launched Operation Desert Fox, a four-day bombing campaign against military targets in Iraq. Two days after Desert Fox concluded, Fred Kaplan (no rabid right-winger, mind you) wrote:

One question has emerged in the aftermath of President Clinton's four-day bombing campaign against Iraq: What was that all about?

If his aim was to put a dent in Saddam Hussein's ability to produce chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons, the dent was not a large one.

If, as some of the air war's targets suggested, Clinton was trying to destabilize Hussein's regime, he did not hit its foundations hard enough.

Speaking of the Pentagon's estimates of damage, John Pike, a specialist with the Federation of American Scientists, said Saturday night, ''It doesn't look like they did anything on what they said they were going to do, and not enough on what they were actually doing.''

According to the Pentagon's most recent figures, the attacks hit a total of 97 targets over the four days. The strikes damaged beyond repair only a few of the targets - the weapons sites, military headquarters, and industrial facilities that Pentagon planners thought had to be hit to accomplish the mission.

''I'm mystified why they stopped the campaign just as they had amassed sufficient force to complete the job,'' Pike added.

More forces, including another aircraft-carrier battle-group and more than 70 additional combat planes, had just arrived Friday.

''You don't deploy 70 aircraft halfway around the world just so they can fly one combat sortie,'' Pike said.

Iraq's nuclear and chemical materials were not attacked...

In any event, yesterday morning, Hussein, who lived through it all once again, claimed victory - which, from his point of view, might outweigh Clinton's claim that the Iraqi leader stands ''degraded'' and ''diminished.''

It probably won't surprise you to learn that on the very same day Kaplan's article appeared in the Boston Globe, the NY Times reported this:

Sunday in Paris, President Jacques Chirac of France called for a prompt lifting of the oil embargo. His country's major oil companies have for years been eager to return to work in Iraq, although record low oil prices make this less attractive now.

In fact, three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (France, Russia, & China) responded to the limited use of military force against Saddam for his continued violation of UNSC resolutions by calling to lift the economic sanctions against Iraq and disband UNSCOM completely. And that was basically the end of the whole affair.

We've seen the same pattern from most Democrats this time around. First, we saw near universal acceptance of US intelligence estimates (which we've since come to learn were badly flawed), followed by grandiose speeches in late 2002 full of sharp rhetoric and talk of consequences for Hussein, followed by.......absolute and utter outrage at the President of the United States for actually taking action.

I don't think there is any question that neither John Kerry, nor John Edwards, nor any other Democratic candidate who ran for President (except Lieberman, of course) would have aggressively pushed to take out Saddam Hussein. I also don't get the impression that any of them would have had the political will or courage to take such a course of action over the objections of their party or certain allies (you know who I'm talking about) even if they felt it was the right thing to do.

Indeed, far more damning than Bush acting on evidence almost everyone in the world believed to be true is to look at a hypothetical in reverse: What if all of the WMD intelligence on Iraq had been spot on and John Kerry were President at the time and chose not to act because of pressure from his party or the objections of allies? I think most Americans would find that prospect deeply disturbing.

As John Podhoretz ably points out this morning, Kerry let the cat out of the bag on '60 Minutes' Sunday night that the hypothetical I've just described might not be so hypothetical after all. Kerry believed Saddam had weapons, said so, voted in favor of taking action against him, and now thinks the whole thing was a big fat mistake.

Democrats know how terribly weak this makes their party and their candidate look, which is why they must now convince voters that the action Bush took in invading Iraq wasn't based on good faith and a desire to protect the country but on lies and deceit. Simply put, it's the only way Democrats can get the public to swallow the idea that after September 11, 2001 doing nothing with respect to Iraq (and thus leaving Saddam in power despite of our belief that he had WMD, supported terrorists, etc.) was the right thing to do.

And so the full court press is on to use the Senate Intelligence Committee report to paint Bush as a liar (here, here,and here) rather than a victim of bad intelligence. The media certainly seem to be doing their part, chipping in for the cause. Whether the public buys it or not is another matter.

But getting back to the original point, Ron Brownstein is absolutely on the mark: the basic question of this election is whether a majority of voters want to reelect a President who, based on the best information he had at the time, saw a threat and was willing to take action to deal with it, or not. Everything else is just noise. - T. Bevan 1:36 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Monday, July 12 2004
EDWARDS BOUNCE SLIGHTLY BETTER THAN A DEAD CAT: You've probably heard the saying, "Even a dead cat will bounce if dropped from high enough." Well, John Edwards is giving the Kerry campaign a bounce, but it sure isn't that big. I suspect both the Dems and the GOP were expecting something a bit larger.

In the six polls taken since Kerry announced his VP choice on Tuesday, Kerry/Edwards has moved ahead of Bush/Cheney by 5.4% in the head-to-head race. Compared to the average of the last 6 polls conducted prior to Kerry's announcement, that represents a net gain of 4.3%.

It's about the same in the three way race. In the five surveys last week that included Nader/Camejo in the mix, Kerry/Edwards is averaging a 2.2% lead over Bush/Cheney. Compare this to the last five polls leading up to Kerry's announcement and you see a net gain of only 3.6%.

Matthew Dowd made news last week by predicting that John Kerry could possibly have a fifteen-point lead by the end of the month, after basking in the glow of positive press coverage of his VP choice and the Democratic National Convention.

Clearly Dowd was highballing for the sake of the expectation game, and Kerry strategist Tad Devine did his best yesterday to try and curb any excessive expectations and put as happy a face as possible on the numbers.

Right now the numbers suggest John Edwards is a mediocre pick. One argument in his favor is that the lack of bounce from Edwards is less of a reflection on him or the Dem ticket than it is another reminder of just how polarized the electorate is this year between those who support Bush no matter what, those who support Kerry no matter what, and those who don't know and still aren't paying attention. In other words, there just isn't the traditional amount of room in the electorate to generate the sort of bounce we're used to seeing.

But Kerry's recent flirtation with McCain - and the polling we saw as a result - puts the lie to that argument. Kerry did have an opportunity to do more for himself with his VP pick, though he certainly could have done worse. Just as a point of reference, not only for the Edwards pick but for how far left the Democrats have moved as a whole in the last four years: Joe Lieberman gave Gore more of a bounce in 2000 than Edwards did this year.

The question of the moment is whether the meager lift Edwards has given the Kerry campaign will hold through the Democratic convention. Gallup has an article this morning that takes a look at historical convention bounces and determines that they're basically equal. It's interesting reading for political junkies but really meaningless when viewed in isolation of the polls. So what if Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale and Barry Goldwater got bigger convention bounces than their opponents?

What matters is who is ahead in the polls after Labor Day. History says that the candidate who is leading the race after Labor Day almost always goes on to win in November. There have only been three exceptions to this rule since 1936: in 1948, when Truman trailed Dewey in September, in 1960, when Nixon was still ahead of Kennedy after Labor Day, and most notably in 2000, when Al Gore carried a small lead out of the Democratic National Convention into September only to surrender the lead to Bush during the final weeks of the campaign after a series of disastrous debates.

As with so many other things this year, however, conventional wisdom could be terribly wrong. The debates could once again prove decisive. Events such as a terrorist attack either at home and abroad could dramatically shift the dynamic of the race in the final weeks or even days. One of the ironies of having such a closely divided electorate is that the race is just as likely to be an electoral wipe out as it is to being a cliffhanger - a shift of just a couple of points toward either candidate at the close of the race could swing a majority of the battleground states their way.

MARSHALL'S PLAN: This must be some scoop. About a month ago Josh Marshall proudly announced:

I and several colleagues have been working on a story that, if and when it comes to fruition --- and I’m confident it shall --- should shuffle the tectonic plates under that capital city where I normally hang my hat. So that’s something to look forward to in the not too distant future.

Now, I could be wrong, but it's becoming more and more clear that Josh's big story is about the Niger uranium brouhaha. I must say it's been a bit of comedy watching him try to put his fingers in the dyke and protect his big scoop, lashing out at anything or anyone who might lessen the impact of the impending "tectonic" shuffle.

First, there was The Financial Times article from June 28 that reported some rather eye-popping news:

The FT has now learnt that three European intelligence services were aware of possible illicit trade in uranium from Niger between 1999 and 2001. Human intelligence gathered in Italy and Africa more than three years before the Iraq war had shown Niger officials referring to possible illicit uranium deals with at least five countries, including Iraq.

Josh immediately jumped to discredit the article, suggesting as a "hypothetical" that the story was a plant from the Bush administration and that the FT - a well-respected paper that generally opposes Bush's invasion of Iraq - published the story out of incompetence, naivete, or worse.

Then the other day Josh attacked Susan Schmidt of the Washington Post for writing an article raising questions about Joe Wilson's credibility based on information contained in the recently released Senate Intelligence Committee's report. Josh derisively compared Schmidt to "Mikey", the boy in the Life cereal commercials, and suggested that she's nothing more than a shill for beltway Republicans.

So be warned. If you're planning to write or report anything on Niger that gets in the way of Marhsall's big story, prepare to be attacked. As I said, it must be some big scoop. - T. Bevan 12:01 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

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