Friday, July 30 2004
THE KERRY MOMENT:
John Kerry didn't hurt his chances of becoming president last night. Problem is, I don't think he helped them very much either. What I saw was a man rushing through a rather long speech, as if he knew he had to get it all crammed into prime time lest he be cut off before the big finish.

Time and again Kerry plowed right over the audience applauding his best lines. There was hardly any ebb or flow to the speech; no place to catch one's breath, no moment where Kerry took his foot off the gas to try and slow down and get intimate with America. From about two minutes in, Kerry was full throated and full throttle, and the effort and pace at which he spoke showed in the way he began to perspire and his voice seemed to grow more and more strained toward the end.

As far as content goes, there's really only one question worth asking: did John Kerry convince enough moderates and independents that he is a credible alternative to the current Commander in Chief? For the moment I think the answer is "yes." But I also don't think it's an impression that will last.

John Kerry may have surrounded himself with veterans last night and said the right words about strengthening the military and fighting terror, but over the next three months the public is going to learn a great deal about Kerry's record that is at odds with the impression he tried to create last night.

The biggest mistake of the entire convention was not running the Kerry biographical video in prime time. It was brilliant. The footage of Kerry fighting in Vietnam was mixed superbly with clips that made him seem funny, warm, and strong. It was a powerful piece of propaganda - much more so than Kerry's actual speech - and most Americans never got a chance to see it.

Ditto Kerry's daughters, who I thought both did a wonderful job of opening an attractive, empathetic window through which people could view their father. Even Max Cleland gave a strong introduction that would have made a positive impression on voters.

In other words, one of the biggest problems last night is that America saw too much of John Kerry in person. Instead of speaking for 46 minutes, Kerry would have been much better off to speak for half that and to have used the video, his daughters, and Max Cleland and his shipmates as surrogates and character witnesses.

The irony is that the Kerry campaign already knows all of this. It's the strategy they've been using for the last nine months, ever since Mary Beth Cahill showed up to administer CPR to Kerry's presidential bid late last year. The simple truth is that others do a better job of selling John Kerry than John Kerry does of selling himself.

Last night the Kerry campaign decided to change the formula. The result is that Kerry's hour in prime time was not nearly as effective as it could have been.

Of the five major speeches at the convention this year I'd have to say Kerry's speech ranks fourth behind Obama, Clinton, and Edwards. The only person Kerry performed better than was his wife. But again, I don't think Kerry hurt his chances last night so much as he missed an opportunity to really put the pressure on President Bush.

We'll have to wait and see what the polls say. Zogby is out this morning with a poll taken July 26-29 showing a 5-point lead for Kerry.

Five points in the head-to-head race seems to me to be the break even point for the Kerry campaign, so keep your eye on the RCP Average. If Kerry and Edwards aren't averaging at least a 5-point lead in this next round of post-convention polls, I suspect you'll see the optimism and confidence of the Democrats start to give way to doubt. - T. Bevan 8:55 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Thursday, July 29 2004
AVERAGE JOHN:
Maybe my expectations for John Edwards were too high. Or maybe he suffered in comparison to Clinton and Obama. Either way, I thought Edwards' speech last night was solid, but not spectacular.

The speech finished a lot stronger than it started. Assuming that viewers on the East Coast managed to stay awake through the first 15 minutes - which included a bit of eye-glazing wonkery - they did manage to see Edwards finish the speech with a moving emotional allegory and some real passion.

So far as I could tell from the reaction of the pundits on television, everyone loved it. Chris Matthews gushed. John Roberts, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, Judy Woodruff, Mara Liason - they all felt the speech was effective. But watching from my living room last night, I wasn't so sure I saw Edwards at his best.

Bill Kristol called it the most hawkish foreign policy speech delivered at a Democratic convention since John F. Kennedy in 1960. Maybe this is true, but Edwards' hawkishnesss seemed phony to me. Kennedy was a real, committed cold warrior. John Edwards voted against supporting the troops in Iraq just nine months ago to try and better position himself to win the nomination.

Edwards' message to al-Qaeda that "we will destroy you" didn't strike me as particularly convincing either. The words sounded right but they seemed to lack a certain level of seriousness and gravity. Maybe this is because of Edwards' boyishness, I don't know.

In the end, the only thing that mattered about Edwards' speech is that he didn't make a catastrophic mistake. No one remembers vice-presidential acceptance speeches anyway. Can anyone recall what Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman said four years ago? Jack Kemp or Al Gore? Dan Quayle? Lloyd Bentsen? Me neither.

On the other hand, everybody remembers presidential nomination acceptance speeches. John Kerry will give one tonight. It will be his first real chance - and one of his only chances between now and November - to speak directly to a large part of the country and convince them he's the guy. It may not be that all of Kerry's marbles are riding on tonight's speech, but a lot of them certainly are.

UPDATE: Okay, okay. So some of you do remember what former VP nominees said in their convention speeches. Judging from the emails I've received, two most memorable were Dick Cheney's, "It's Time For Them To Go" speech in 2000 followed closely by Al Gore's 1996 exploitation of his sister's death from lung cancer, which came as a bit of surprise given his previous boasts about having grown up on a tobacco farm and the fact he'd taken contributions from tobacco companies throughout his political career.

No one seems to be able to remember a thing about Quayle or Bentsen - except for the famous "you're no Jack Kennedy" line in their debate.

WHY BILL O'REILLY SHOULD READ RCP: Unfortunately, it looks like Bill O'Reilly doesn't read our site. If he did, he would have beaten Michael Moore senseless during their "big debate" on the O'Reilly Factor Monday night. As it turned out, O'Reilly choked time and again as Moore hammered him with the patently disingenuous question "would you sacrifice your child to secure Fallujah?"

In addition to making the obvious points (which Michelle at A Small Victory emphasizes here) that our military is composed completely of willing volunteers who are all adults pursuing what they believe is a vital service and noble calling, O'Reilly should have used the example of Iwo Jima that Karl Zinsmeister referenced in our interview to flip Moore's question around and point out just how preposterous it is when put in the proper historical context: "Would you have sacrificed your son to secure Iwo Jima?"

Over the course of 36 days in February and March 1945, six thousand eight hundred and twenty-five of America's sons died to secure a two-mile by four-mile piece of volcanic rock in the middle of the Pacific in an invasion historians have described as "throwing human flesh against reinforced concrete." Not everyone thought cost of Iwo Jima was worth it at the time.

Furthermore, in every war there are hundred of unheralded battles that take the lives of soldiers which, when viewed in isolation look disconnected from the whole. But trying to rip individual sacrifices out of the overall context of a given war not only demeans those sacrifices but distorts the war itself. The securing of Fallujah is an important mission, and one that will probably be seen as even more important 50 years from now.

Obviously, Moore would respond that Iwo Jima was part of a justified war, whereas Fallujah is not. But that's simply Moore's opinion - one that isn't shared by more than half the country, by the way.

It also gets us back to the central question of whether Bush lied about WMD, which is the issue that continues to make Moore look like a partisan buffoon by refusing to accept or even acknowledge the continuing stream of evidence confirming that Bush acted in good faith on the best information he had at the time. - T. Bevan 9:55 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Wednesday, July 28 2004
BARACK OBAMA:
More on Obama in a bit, but it appears the hype surrounding this new face in the Democratic Party is fully justified, something not a surprise to us here in Chicago. Unquestionably the best speech of the convention so far.

THE CANDIDATE'S WIFE: Tom's post from yesterday on Teresa'a Troubles makes for an interesting read in light of her prime-time speech last night in Boston.

I've always felt Teresa was going to be a liability, if for no other reason than she is just not the average American's vision of what a First Lady should be like. Whether that is fair or unfair is another issue - and largely irrelevant to the discussion of her political impact. The bottom line is that together the accent, the money, and the attitude produce a package that isn't always flattering to middle America.

Personally, I've always found Teresa Heinz Kerry to be interesting not only because she is so opinionated and outspoken, but because in some ways she doesn't seem too self-absorbed by the importance of the campaign. That attitude can be refreshing in a primary campaign with multiple candidates. It's nice to have someone who is a little different. At some point, however, you would expect her to understand the gravity and importance of the situation that potentially awaits her should John Kerry win.

Last night was an opportunity for her to shed the impression that she feels she is more important than her husband and let the country see that she appreciates the magnitude of what it means to be President of the Untied States. She blew it. Last night's speech was all about Teresa. The more you read, apparently, Teresa is all about Teresa. Coincidentally it is eerily similar to the rap Kerry has in Massachusetts where people always say his famous initials stand for 'Just For Kerry.'

Putting aside the psychoanalysis, it would have been nice to hear a little more about the man who wants the country to elect him president and a little less about Teresa's struggles on her farm in Africa. I was struck by her comment that the Peace Corps represents "one of the best faces America has ever projected."

To me, one of the best faces America has ever projected is the face of a Peace Corps volunteer. That face symbolizes this country: young, curious, brimming with idealism and hope, and a real, honest compassion. Those young people convey an idea of America that is all about heart, creativity, generosity and confidence, a practical, can-do sense, and a big, big smile. For many generations of people around this globe, that is what America has represented: a symbol of hope, a beacon brightly lit by the optimism of its people, people coming from all over the world.

Don't get me wrong, the Peace Corps is great. But I thought this was a telling difference between where the heart and soul of the Republican and Democratic parties are today. To the activists in that hall last night and around the country, the vision of young, idealistic Jimmy Carter protégés building huts in impoverished villages around the world is exactly what they think America's role in the world should be.

But while Teresa and the Democrats were dreaming of the young peace Corps volunteer I was thinking of our servicemen overseas putting their lives on the line every day. I was thinking of the hundreds of millions of people in the world today over the last century who owe their freedom to the blood,sweat and toil of the United States military.

To be fair, the Peace Corps and the U.S. military are both important faces of what is the ultimate strength of this great country, but it is very telling that in a time of war, when we have over 150,000 young men and women on the field of battle in Iraq and Afghanistan the prime-time speaker at the Democratic convention chooses to emphasis the smiling Peace Corps student in Ecuador or Mozambique rather than the gritty Marine in Fallujah.

Back to Teresa Heinz Kerry. I don't think people vote for President because of the candidates spouse, but after last night's speech it seems clear that Kerry's wife is going to be a liability for him. The real question is how much and will it matter. I'm not suggesting this is a big vote mover, but in a race that could be extremely close, even 0.3% in states like Ohio and Wisconsin could make all the difference the world.

STEM CELLS: James Pinkerton touched on this subject on Monday and George Stephanopoulos on ABC's Good Morning America said that Republican strategists felt it was the most politically damaging speech to President Bush. Now I suspect when they say the most damaging speech, that is in the context of a night of speeches that did almost no damage to the President. However, given the way the press covers the stem cell issue it does have the real potential to be a wedge issue for the Democrats that might be useful in moving some of that critically important undecided 10%. J. McIntyre 8:10 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Tuesday, July 27 2004
TERESA'S TROUBLES: Teresa Heinz Kerry is getting it with both barrels. There's this in the Boston Herald and then this from the July issue of Boston Magazine:

And there's another trait that Heinz Kerry possesses, one that the interviews have yet to capture, but which is known to her employees, the sales clerks at stores where she shops, and her Beacon Hill neighbors (and even their children) — and which is likely to be exploited by her husband's rivals for the presidency as the campaign intensifies:

Her temper.

At private as well as public events, Heinz Kerry sometimes appears to operate at the very edge of what is considered acceptable behavior, according to many people who have seen her. At a campaign event in Boston earlier this year, Heinz Kerry riled her husband's aides by dominating the conversation.

"The problem," says one woman who attended the event, "is that she just doesn't stop talking." Kerry's attempts to get a word in proved futile. Finally, he gave up and went to the appetizer table. A few of the guests rolled their eyes; one says she could swear she saw Kerry rolling his, too.

For all the negative publicity Heinz Kerry has received, the issue of her temper has been left unexplored. She has a sharp tongue and has been known to use it, particularly when dealing with people in her or her husband's employ. Former staffers for Senator Heinz, campaign workers for Kerry, and salespeople at chic clothing shops frequented by the heiress say she doesn't hesitate to voice her displeasure. This conduct is so widely known in the retail world that a woman who works in one Newbury Street boutique says she's grateful Heinz Kerry does so much of her shopping in Washington, and not here. Heinz Kerry complains about everything from the kind of food and wine being served to the time at which people telephone her home at night. And she voices those complaints loudly and publicly, say those who claim to have been humiliated by her.

I recently talked to a friend of mine who interviewed Teresa and had nothing but good things to say about her. My friend said she was warm, funny, strong, and likeable in private. Unfortunately, Mrs. Heinz Kerry doesn't project nearly the same image publicly, if indeed that's really how she is.

Either way, another couple of outbursts like the one yesterday and her behavior could become a liability for Kerry. It won't help that the scrutiny of Teresa's temper will stand in stark contrast to Laura Bush, who rarely (if ever) has a bad word written or said about her.

People don't vote for first ladies, but candidates' wives can certainly leave either a positive or negative impression on voters (as Hillary did in 1992 with "let them stay home and bake cookies") which may help or hurt on the margins. In an election that could be razor-thin - especially in the traditional, values-oriented Midwest - John Kerry's wife could end up costing him some crucial votes. - T. Bevan 1:45 pm

CONVENTION NOTES: Let's just say the Dems are lucky the majority of the country got to see Bill Clinton and not Al Gore and Jimmy Carter. Clinton was his usual self: captivating, persuasive, funny, and empathetic. His speech was partisan and tough, but delivered without the eye-bulging, vein-popping shrillness that has characterized the Dems for the last year or more. Last night's line, "strength and wisdom are not conflicting values" could and should be the signature of John Kerry's campaign on the issue of national security.

Whether you disagree with his politics or despise him personally, you have to respect Clinton's political skills. He's simply the best at what he does. He's the Michael Jordan of politics and (to push the analogy deep into the weeds of basketball trivia) when he's in the game Republicans always end up looking like the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Unlike 2000 when the country wanted him to just go away, Clinton is going to be a valuable asset for John Kerry this time around. The question is just how much effort he's inclined to exert on Kerry's behalf given that it may possibly thwart his wife's single minded ambition to be President for an extra four or eight years.

The Dems have to hope Clinton's performance was enough to wash away the day's glitches. First, there was the Teresa Heinz-Kerry "shove it" story, complete with video that played in a loop all day long. Second, there was the Washington Post/ABC News poll released yesterday evening showing Bush jumping back ahead of Kerry by 2 points and regaining solid leads on some key internal numbers. Finally, yesterday the public was exposed to this rather unflattering picture of Mr. Kerry:

Not exactly the kind of stories you want in the news on the opening day of your big convention.

Meanwhile, this morning Andrew Sullivan gushes over Jimmy Carter's performance last night. I can only describe this as inexplicable and deluded analysis from a Thatcherite gone wobbly. Anyway you want to slice it, Jimmy Carter standing center stage talking about strong national security is an absolute caricature and a disaster for Democrats.

Wherever he is, I bet Karl Rove was doing back flips last night when Carter started lecturing America on how to deal with North Korea:

North Korea's nuclear menace -- a threat far more real and immediate than any posed by Saddam Hussein -- has been allowed to advance unheeded, with potentially ominous consequences for peace and stability in Northeast Asia. These are some of the prices of our government's radical departure from the basic American principles and values espoused by John Kerry!

Right! And Carter's got the Nobel Prize to prove it! Except for the tiny, inconvenient fact that the 1994 Framework Agreement was a total sham and the North Koreans played Carter and "dancing" Maddie Albright for stooges. That's some message, "John Kerry will return us to the days when we felt more safe and more secure because people were lying to us."

Jimmy Carter is a nice guy. A sweet man. But I would think it rather counterproductive to trot him out to undecided voters in battleground states as an example of "security and strength at home and abroad" or whatever the Democrats' theme is. Who are they going to bring out next to project strength, Warren Christopher and Janet Reno?

Another note: it looks like the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review had to shut down the comments on Colin McNickle's convention blog due to "inappropriate language" and personal attacks. Seems like some Democrats are doing as Teresa does, not as she says....

Lastly, a reader sent the following email last night:

I was watching Chris Matthews and he had a panel of political commentators. One of the commentators was Ron Reagan Jr.

Ron was commenting on Al Gore's speech which had just ended. Ron said and I quote:

"Now we know that Al Gore won the 2000 Florida election."

When he was questioned by Matthews regarding this statement, Ron proceeded to state that a consortium of News organizations held a recount and concluded that Gore won the vote count in Florida.

Chris dropped the topic.

I happened to be watching the exchange and I also couldn't believe that neither Chris Matthews nor any of the other panelists - including veteran reporter Howard Fineman - took issue with or corrected Reagan's remark, which is the exact opposite of the truth.

It's tempting to think Reagan knew the facts and tried to mislead people about the outcome of the 2000 election. I'm inclined to believe the opposite: that he's just a sloppy partisan who made a buffoon of himself and wouldn't be anywhere near a television camera to comment on politics if his last name wasn't Reagan.

Okay, one last thing. You'll want to check out our revamped poll page which we've designed to be a cheat sheet for the coming election. It contains snapshots of everything you'll need to stay on top of the numbers. We've added the "send to a friend" feature to the page so be sure to, well, send it to your friends. - T. Bevan 8:40 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

Monday, July 26 2004
SO SAYS SUELLENTROP: Here's a bold sentence from Chris Suellentrop this morning:

The referendum on the incumbent is over. President Bush already lost it. This presidential campaign isn't about whether the current president deserves a second term. It's about whether the challenger is a worthy replacement.

Really? I'm sure that's going to come as news to44-45% of the public who are rock solid in support of his reelection and the 49 percent of the public that currently approves of the way President Bush is handling his job.

Suellentrop is trying to be cute, of course, but he's also got it wrong. This election this November is still going to be a referendum on Bush - though only for the ten percent or so of the electorate who remain truly undecided. John Kerry may end up winning the support of these voters on election day, but it's preposterous to say Bush has already lost them - given that we haven't had either convention or held any debates yet. - T. Bevan 5:01 pm

BEFORE WE GET TO THE BIG SHOW: We'll have more thoughts on the convention later today. There are new state poll numbers (see here, here, here, and here) as well as some national poll results that came out over the weekend. Part II of our interview with Karl Zinsmeister can be found (here).

We posted Part I of the Zinsmeister interview over the weekend (here) and if you can find an extra twenty minutes or so, I highly recommend you read both parts. Karl's experience, insight, and historical perspective produce the most forthright and illuminating discussion of the situation in Iraq you're likely to find anywhere.

To show you what I mean, here's a clip from Part II where Karl discusses the various factors that play into the press coverage coming out of Iraq which many Americans (including yours truly) find to be negatively biased toward the war, the Bush administration, and good news in general:

Another factor that comes into play is a desire for instantaneous results in the American public generally, not just in the press corps. We’ve gotten used to these kind of painless, antiseptic, immediate-gratification wars. We’ve been spoiled in the Balkans and Grenada and some other places and we’ve started to think about war the way we think about the rest of our life: you pick up the cell phone and you dial in the request and it’s delivered to your front door and two days later you move on to something else.

That’s not the way wars go. Wars are much slower and sloppier enterprises. Iraq is a very typical war and it’s been done well, but I wonder if the public understands or remembers anymore what a well-fought war is like.

I’ve been looking back at World War II recently and remembering, for instance, the Battle of the Bulge. In the Battle of the Bulge, American soldiers were sent to fight in waist-deep snow with no winter clothing, and I’m thinking to myself, “today, that would be reason to hang somebody. What commission is going to attack them for that?”

Look at Iwo Jima. I believe 7,000 men were killed at Iwo Jima. It's a four-mile by two-mile island in the middle of nowhere with no resources. I wonder, would we, in our contemporary worldview be able to look at that and say, "that’s a glorious triumph for the US Marine Corps," or would we say, "somebody’s got to be court-martialed over that screw-up?"

I think we’ve forgotten. One of the lines I quote in my book, from a journalist named Michael Kelly, is that you’ve got to accept death to defeat death. And any society that’s lost track of that is in a very precarious position because you can’t fight really determined and ferocious enemies like Nazis or kamikazes or mujahedeen unless you are equally ferocious at some level and at some point.

If you treat a war like a Superbowl, where you blow the whistle, have your three hours and then blow the whistle and go home again, you’re going to be frustrated and disappointed because that’s not the way a difficult war gets prosecuted.

Our mutual friend Michael Barone has talked about the "zero-defect" standard the media has today, where any mistake or any disappointment or any mess-up in war is interpreted as a disaster and somebody’s fault. Somebody’s got to be blamed.

I sometimes don’t know whether to giggle or cry when I see this, when people in the media say, “Why did we allow the looting to take place?” and I’m thinking to myself, “Well, I guess at some level we could be held to account for that but that’s like saying, why do we let human beings be selfish and do wicked things or be evil?” That’s just the way human beings are!

And there are some things you can’t control. Why didn’t we anticipate the roadside bomb threat? Well, it had never been done before. This is a new thing, you have to adjust. In four or five years from now we’ll have figured it out, but in the meantime you just have to gut it out.

There is this impression among a lot of these reporters that there was a bad postwar plan or there wasn’t any postwar plan. My experience with combat is that the plan goes out the window about five minutes after the fighting starts. That’s the way combat goes, and that’s the way combat always has gone. If you have this pointy-headed expectation that a war is something you can plan out in advance, write your thesis about and bring to a conclusion, you’re going to be disappointed.

Part of this impression is a reflection of the fact that so few reporters have any contact with military people or military life anymore. It didn’t used to be the case. It used to be that there was a lot of back-and-forth between the elite colleges that produce our top rank reporters today and the military. For example, seven hundred Harvard graduates died in World War II. There was not a Chinese wall that separated the world reporters came out of from the world soldiers came out of.

Today, unfortunately, that’s no longer the case. Most of the reporters I met in Iraq don’t have any friends at all who were in the military. They don’t have any Uncle Louie who served. They have no contact with the military whatever. They have very little knowledge of who military people are or what military responsibilities are, and that often leads them to unreasonable expectations and bad reporting.

So it’s a mixture of factors, but I think the first step is for the media to acknowledge that they’ve got a problem, that they’re not doing a very good job, that the public is recognizing the problem, and that they’ve got to figure out better ways to write about wars in the future.

There is much, much more. Don't miss it. - T. Bevan 8:45 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

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