Friday, October 3 2003
RECALL MANIA: We felt Gray Davis had a small chance (very small) to survive the recall if he could get his "No-on-Recall" numbers up to 45% in our RCP average prior to election day. However, only one poll has shown his numbers above 45% during the entire race (LA Times, 9/6-10) and the most recent batch of polls, including the Times', show Davis's numbers slipping badly. Our RCP average has the recall currently favored to pass 59-38 and at that level, with less than five days to go, Davis is all but finished.

Bustamante's only hope was for a post-debate surge by McClintock to siphon just enough conservative votes away from Arnold to give the him a shot at winning on Question 2. It's not going to happen. Arnold leads Bustamante by more than 12 points in our RCP average, and that's with McClintock polling at 16%. Given that we expect Arnold's final numbers on election night to be better than our RCP average, Bustamante should start looking for a new job.

Clearly, since last week's debate this race has broken Arnold's way. At the beginning of the week it looked as if Arnold might well outpoll Davis's recall total and even had a slight chance of reaching 50%. We'll have to wait and see if the recent stink bombs dropped by the LA Times and ABC News do anything to slow his momentum. Even if these late hits do take a toll on Arnold, odds are this will mean Schwarzenegger still wins, but in a much closer race. And there's a very real possibility - especially when you see pieces like this (and kudos to the LA Times for publishing it) - that the media's last-minute dumping on Arnold will backfire with voters.

While there have been many twists and turns these last two months, the reality is Schwarzenegger became the heavy favorite against Bustamante as soon as he announced on Jay Leno. Overall, Arnold has run a darn good campaign and done nothing to diminish his chances. Bustamante, on the other hand, has run the pathetic campaign we anticipated from him, and whatever momentum Davis may have had was blown out of the water by the 9th Circuit's political interference with the election. Californians should get ready for Governor Schwarzenegger. - J. McIntyre & T. Bevan 7:58 am

Thursday, October 2 2003
IS THIS WHAT THEY MEAN BY LIBERAL MEDIA BIAS?: Somebody get Eric Alterman on the phone or pull one of his books out of the remainder bin. This morning the LA Times performs the slimiest, most overt political hatchet job on Arnold Schwarzenegger you can imagine.

We knew the dirt was coming. What we didn't know is that instead of just publishing some sleazy tidbit passed along by a Dem operative, the LA Times would actually go out and dig up the political dirt themselves, source it anonymously and drop it on the Thursday before the election.

If there was any doubt left that the LA Times was a liberally biased, ideologically driven "news organization" it should be gone now. Does anyone believe the Times would perform the same knee-capping of a Democrat? In fact, I suspect if the Times had devoted the same amount of energy to investigating Gray Davis's legitimate ethical problems in office there wouldn't even be a recall happening today. It would have happened last November.

Here's the good news. I don't think the ploy is going to work. By the time the polls close and voters have made Arnold Schwarzenegger the new governor of California, this story, along with the reputation of the LA Times, will be lining birdcages all across the state - which is exactly where they both belong.

LIBERAL MEDIA, PART II: You think you're having a bad week? Try being Rush Limbaugh. First, he's run out of the ESPN studio for his comments regarding Donovan McNabb.

I was actually watching the show last Sunday morning and his comments definitely caught my attention, not because I thought they were necessarily racist but because I they struck me as a tremendously shitty analysis of football.

Rush's problem (which I think a lot of conservatives experience from time to time, including myself) is that he's become so hardwired with the idea that the media is rife with liberal bias that he assigned the motive of liberal bias to a situation where there obviously wasn't one. It made him look bad, insensitive, and in some people's eyes, racist.

Today's New York Daily News is a different matter altogether. Now, I realize that the Daily News is more or less a tabloid. They (like the NY Post) run screaming headlines and big color photos on the front page of all sorts of gossipy items. But as long as I've been doing this I don't believe I've ever seen them pick up a front page story from the National Enquirer.

The story is about Rush Limbaugh's alleged use and abuse of prescription pills. The cover features a big picture of Rush with a cigar sticking out of his mouth next to the two-word screamer: DRUG RUSH. The teaser is even more loaded:

Talk-radio titan Rush Limbaugh is being investigated for allegedly buying thousands of addictive painkillers from a black-market drug ring. The moralizing motormouth - who quit his ESPN gig in the midst of an uproar about his racial comments - was turned in by his former housekeeper.

Read the story and you'll see the Daily News has done minimal reporting. They've basically reprinted and paraphrased the National Enquirer article with all the lurid details.

I'm not saying there isn't a story here. The National Enquirer has been known to be right from time to time. And the Daily News did independently confirm there is an investigation going on. But it is fairly obvious that the Daily News was hot to run this story, so hot in fact that they ran it on the same day the Enquirer did.

It's hard not to conclude that the main reason they made the choice to piggyback the Enquirer is because the target was Rush Limbaugh. Would they have done things the same way if the subject were a liberal icon like, say, Hillary Clinton? No. That, I'm afraid, is a case of liberal bias. - T. Bevan 8:00am

Wednesday, October 1 2003
A GRANT OR A LOAN?: That's the question the Senate will debate today regarding the $20 billion for Iraqi reconstruction contained in President Bush's overall $87 billion supplemental spending request that passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday.

Right now Democrats, and a small but seemingly growing number of Republicans are saying that any money we give to Iraq be paid back in full using future oil revenues. This certainly sounds reasonable to most Americans and therefore is attractive to these Senators politically. The problem is that it's also really bad policy.

First, consider the fact that we've got to set aside a certain percentage of money to cover the loan in the event that a country defaults on its obligation. The percentage of money we have to set aside is calculated based on the credit rating of the country we're loaning the money to. Guess what the commercial credit rating of Iraq is? Exactly. So we'll have to set aside close to $20 billion anyway - nullifying any savings or short-term benefits associated with a loan.

After we've added another $20 billion of crushing debt to the Iraqi people and their economy - on top of the massive debts they are already carrying from the Saddam era - we can send out the bill collectors to hassle Iraq about repayment and watch the interest fees pile up. In a few years Bono will show up at the White House in a dashiki and ask us to write it all off anyway - which is exactly what we'll end up doing.

Much more important than the fact that a loan makes little practical sense, it will present a terrible image of the United States abroad and call into question our motives and morals regarding the war. There's going to be an international donor conference later this month where we are going to ask countries from around the world to chip in money to help rebuild Iraq. Are we really going to show up with a fresh $20 billion Iraqi IOU in our hands and then ask the Russians and the French to forgive their debts to Iraq?

Here's another good question: the anti-war left in this country and a number of irresponsible Democrats in the Senate went on record not so long ago saying the entire war was about George W. Bush getting his hands on Iraq's oil revenues. So why is President Bush now the one insisting we give Iraq this reconstruction money with no strings attached let them use their vast oil wealth to better their own lives and it's now the Democrats who are insisting that we force the Iraqis to pump their crude to pay us back every penny? Pretty ironic, huh?

The irony is lost on Robert Byrd, who would rather demagogue the issue:

"The president squandered the good will of our allies after Sept. 11, and now he is asking Congress to shovel money into the hole he has dug for himself in the international community."

And Dick Durbin:

"As we put more money into Iraq, we take it out of our schools, our hospitals and our Social Security trust fund."

Whatever you thought of the merits of the war, undercutting America's effort to build a stable, prosperous democracy in Iraq to try and score a few cheap political points is a few notches below shortsighted partisanship. I'm sure George Marshall is turning in his grave watching these people.

FINALLY: Anyone else out there that couldn't wait until Arianna was gone? I wish it had happened about 38 days ago. - T. Bevan 8:22 am

Tuesday, September 30 2003
ONE THING FOR CERTAIN: Watching a scandal bloom in Washington is like watching a tornado touch down. There are almost always signs, precursors, scraps of info floating around in the atmosphere that don't seem too important at the time or get passed over that suddenly coalesce and come crashing down with a force, a fury, and a frenzy that's simply amazing to behold.

This is certainly the feeling you get with the Wilson/Plame affair currently gripping the nation's press corps and causing spasms for every Democrat within shouting distance of a microphone.

Personally, I don't think we know enough about what's going on yet to declare this a true scandal. And I'm too tired to play the Washington parlor games or recite all the specifics of the case which have already been thoroughly dissected, parsed, summarized, and spun.

But I do think this is a serious matter that requires urgent attention from the White House. If the charges are true then the guillotine needs to come out quickly - even if the head that eventually rolls out the front door of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is an indispensable asset to the administration like Karl Rove.

One thing is certain: the Bush administration is involved in the most serious and important work this country has faced in the last half-century and it absolutely cannot be compromised or distracted by a lengthy investigation over anything - let alone a scandal created by a damn press leak.

So my advice to the administration is this: get to the bottom of it quickly and get on with business. If the charges are true, take your medicine and put an end to the matter as a political issue. There's a political silver lining in taking swift action.

If the charges are false, take whatever steps are necessary to produce proof of innocence, accept vindication with humility and move on.

And if the truth lies somewhere in between - which is usually the case and I suspect it's probably the case here too - err on the side of caution. I'm not suggesting the administration toss someone overboard just to placate the bloodthirsty partisan sharks now circling the waters. But Bush & Co. simply cannot allow themselves to be trapped in a hopeless gray area, spending all of their time and energy trying to parse and defend someone's actions - even if those actions constituted just a serious case of bad judgment and not a violation of law. It will be death by a thousand cuts. - T. Bevan 9:10 am

Monday, September 29 2003
TED'S DREAD: Well, we've had a pretty good run as a species but I guess it's just about over. At the AP Managing Editors seminar last night Ted Turner predicted the end of humanity - sort of:

"If I had to predict, the way things are going, I'd say the chances are about 50-50 that humanity will be extinct or nearly extinct within 50 years. Weapons of mass destruction, disease, I mean this global warming is scaring the living daylights out of me."

Now, before you take Ted's bet and blow little Johnny's future tuition money on a new car, you may want to consider one of Ted's other predictions:

"I said 20 years ago newspapers wouldn't be around in 10 years, and I was wrong."

Nostradamus he's not.

CONFIDENCE OR CONSTERNATION?: There are two strikingly dissimilar portraits of the Bush '04 campaign in the press this morning. In the NY Times, Richard Stevenson and Adam Nagourney write that the Bush team is in good shape: guarded but confident, raising tons of money, and developing an unparalleled grass-roots reelection effort. Here are three money grafs:

"Members of the president's political team said they were not overly worried about signs of deterioration in his standing. Mr. Bush is still in a stronger position now in the polls, they said, than either Ronald Reagan or Mr. Clinton was at this point in his first term."

"Still, uncertain about how events might shape the race over the next year, and always remembering the fall from political grace experienced by Mr. Bush's father, campaign officials said they were taking nothing for granted."

"To a large extent, though, this is a confident campaign, and its assuredness reflects its assessment that the Democrats have produced a weak field."

On the other hand, in the Chicago Sun-Times this morning Bob Novak says the President's recent performance on Iraq and his dipping poll numbers are causing serious concern among GOP faithful and starting to effect Bush's fundraising efforts:

Dramatic deterioration in the outlook over the last two weeks is reflected in the experience by a Republican businessman in Milwaukee trying to sell $2,000 tickets for Bush's only appearance this year in Wisconsin on Oct. 3. In contrast to money flowing easily into the Bush war chest everywhere until now, he encountered stiff resistance. Well-heeled conservative businessmen offered to write a check for $100 or $200, but not $2,000. They gave one reason: Iraq.

So which is it, confidence or consternation? I suspect it's a little of both. The war has created a volatility in the electorate that we haven't seen for a long, long time. Round-the-clock reporting keeps the situation absolutely fluid, and to the extent we continue to receive conflicting reports about progress in Iraq (or lack thereof), the public remains confused and concerned about what's going on and where we're headed.

This could all change in an instant, of course. We could wake up tomorrow and find that U.S. forces have captured Saddam Hussein. Bush's approval ratings would shoot up a dozen points and the same businessmen Novak quotes in his article would be writing out $2,000 checks like a traffic cop writes out parking tickets.

The problem with the situation as it stands, however, is that it's extremely difficult for small victories in Iraq to outweigh the impact of small defeats. The death of a U.S. soldier will always get page one treatment but the opening of new hospitals, schools, forming of governing institutions, etc. will hardly ever generate the same attention in the press.

Theoretically we could reach a tipping point where progress in Iraq is undeniable and the coverage turns positive, but I doubt it. The press's addiction to the "quagmire" story line is too strong, as is the immutable truth that chaos and death sell papers and generate ratings. Next year will be no different, and any positive news on Iraq will almost certainly be overwhelmed by stories about casualty counts, etc.

Which brings us back to the President's reelection. Leaving aside the economy, what's most difficult about Bush's political situation is that there are only a handful of things that can provide the sort of blockbuster news coverage and tangible proof of success in the War on Terror that will move the public opinion needle for him in a serious way. The administration needs to either: 1) find and/or kill Saddam Hussein, 2) find and/or kill Osama bin Laden or 3) find WMD's.

If any of the three happen Bush's reelection is almost guaranteed. And isn't it ironic that 95% of the Democrat party, including virtually every single candidate for President of the United States, is hoping desperately that America doesn't accomplish any one of these three things in the next year.

If Bush & Company aren't able to accomplish at least one of these things by next November, the President's approval rating will most likely continue to bump along and it will be a very close election. The President will have to convince the American people that all of the small victories in Iraq have added up to significant progress and that they've been well worth the lives and treasure we've spent - and will continue to spend - to achieve them. - T. Bevan 9:22 am

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