I've heard a lot of second-hand anecdotal evidence to the effect that the Democrats are really, really mobilized this November. Today, I got some first-hand anecdotal evidence as I went to the video store to rent Season 1, Episodes 1-3 of The Wire and learned that the store would be closed on Tuesday because all the employees are taking the day off to work for Kerry in Northern Virginia or Pennsylvania. My father reports that an unprecedentedly large number of his acquaintances (including, apparently, Sigourney Weaver) are taking to the road to work in swing states.
The Cult of Personality
Ed Kilgore is puzzled:
I can understand how some voters can rationally make a decision that Bush has done as well as he can on domestic and international issues, or that Kerry's record doesn't make him a desirable alternative. I can understand that some Americans really do believe that abortion is homicide, or that Republicans empathize with traditionalist cultural impulses more than Democrats, or even that Bush as a self-professed evangelical Christian has earned their support by rhetoric alone. There may even be a small percantage of voters who are convinced that erasing progressive tax rates and "starving the beast" of Washington by deliberate engineering budget deficits are valid and important goals. But that George W. Bush, of all people, has become the object of a cult of personality and of intense personal devotion for millions of Americans is harder to understand. Most of the serious conservative ideologues I talk to privately concede the president is a man of limited gifts who has united Republicans behind him as a matter of historical accident more than his intrinsic political or policy skills.But of course that's just the point, it's a question of overcompensating for your weaknesses. Viewed objectively, from the point of view of someone who knows what he's talking about, one of the least-attractive elements of the Republican Party is that it is headed by George W. Bush, a man who never seemed like the best man for the job and who has proven himself in office to have an extraordinarily poor ability to implement the ideas he stands for. Rather than concede this, it must be vehemently denied. Bush, rather than being a mediocre (at best) personality who just so happens to be the embodiment of the conservative movement is elevated to the status of Indispensible World-Historical Figure. It's a bit deranged, and out-of-step with what, as Ed says, are the actual views of conservative elites, but it's what they think must be done.
From The Annals of Banality
The Washington Post reports: "Handful of States May Decide Race." No shit. I also hear that third parties are unlikely to see their nominees win the presidential election.
Justin Logan has a striking, unargued for thesis he'd like to get out there:
Not only might the existence of a nuclear Iran fail to harm the U.S. national interest, but in fact it might help it. In a big, profound, far-reaching, remarkable, historic way.Why is he publishing this thesis in an unargued for way, rather than waiting until he can complete his (lengthy) argument?
It's an idea that I'm hearing that lots of people are considering, but are unable to do so publicly and openly, because of think tank and foundation politics and the general aversion to radical controversy.As one of the people from whom Justin is hearing that, I'd like to go on the record with my reporter hat on (taking a piece of advice from Eli Lake, I'm trying to avoid running off with half-assed proposals on Iran policy at the moment and just talk to people and get a sense of the shape of the debate) and say that I think it's interesting that there is a pretty large group of credible, semi-important people out there who think a nuclear Iran would (or at least could) be a good thing for the United States but who are basically afraid to say so out of fear that the ensuing controversy would damage their careers or the financial prospects of organizations with which they are affiliated.
After Bush II
One interesting post-Bush question is this. How can a President Kerry scale back some of the more egregious abuses of power Bush has committed without getting blamed for being "soft" on terrorism. Simply rescinding the "enemy combatant" orders isn't good enough, since the viability of that strategy depends on the Democrats winning every election ever which isn't realistic. Plus, it makes Kerry "soft." But what if he were to order the entire Republican congressional caucus to be arrested, shipped to Gitmo, and held imcommunicado? Then he could tell the GOPers that they're free to go as soon as they produce a bill putting some limits on, and oversight of, executive authority in this regard. It's be a Veil of Ignorance sort of thing -- what rules would you want in place if you knew that you were just as likely to be the victim as the beneficiary of the rules you create.
If only a bigger news organization would, you know, hire these guys we wouldn't have all these problems in the USA. As I say, thanks to the internets hopefully their many, many excellent stories on national security will get more widely read in the future.
I've been wondering, naturally enough, about what happens to the GOP if Bush loses. At first I'd been inclined to agree with my colleague Sam Rosenfeld's remarks on this subject, but I was talking to my old roommate Jeff and he began to move me to the other side. Mark Schmitt makes some similar points and has me convinced. One of the things that's made the Bush's Republicans effective is that they've adopted a Lenin-style "democratic centralism" approach to running the show. The main flaw with this approach, which we've already seen, is that though it's effective in getting things done, it leaves you exposed to the risk of doing really, really crazy things. The other problem is that if Bush loses the White House -- and thus just about everyone who's played an important role in mapping out GOP strategy for the past few years loses his job -- it will effectively decapitate the Republican organization.
It's especially important to note that Bill Frist is not a man who has the respect of his colleagues or any knowledge or experience of how to map out a legislative strategy. He's a front man for the White House political shop, but with that shop both defunct and discredited, the Senate Republicans will now be really and truly led by an inept lightweight. Thus, even if the Democrats suffer minor losses in the Senate (big losses are another matter, but statistically unlikely) the Kerry administration should have sufficient momentum to start getting things through. Tom Delay then becomes the key leader of modern conservatism. Several House Republican moderates will have either lost in 2004 or else come much closer to losing than they care to. Simultaneously, Delay will have legal problems. He has, moreover, managed to discredit himself among the handful of principled conservatives in the House thanks to his behavior during the Medicare debate. With all that going on, can he keep his control over the caucus while simultaneously obstructing the Kerry agenda? Maybe, but my guess is that something would have to give. Either he would need to lead the House in a less heavy-handed way (thus avoiding pissing off his members, but letting Kerry pick up key votes) or else he'd find himself getting stabbed in the back by his colleagues. Soon enough, of course, the GOP will regroup, but I think it really might take a while.
An emailer notes that, according to the latest Washington Post poll, 48 percent of respondents intend to vote for John Kerry. 48 percent intend to vote for George Bush. But 53 percent say Bush will win, while just 33 percent say Kerry will win. Obviously, it's a tracking poll, so those numbers bounce around a bit, but the trend is consistent -- way more people plan to vote Kerry than believe he will win (a data point I confirmed anecdotally last night). I think anyone who tells you they know what's going to happen is lying. The outcome will be decided by turnout, fraud, intimidation, and judges.
The OBL Tape
If it weren't for the fact that there's an election on Tuesday, I think (or at least I hope) we'd be seeing more attention given to the message itself, which is really quite interesting. Peter Bergen makes one important point:
Since the 9/11 attacks bin Laden and his chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, have released more than two dozen audio and videotapes, an astounding average of one tape every six weeks. Tracing back the chain of custody of these tapes is the one guaranteed method of finding the location of al Qaeda's leaders. However, despite the fact that most of these tapes have been released to the al Jazeera television network, US intelligence services are seemingly incapable of tracing the custody of the tapes; an abject failure of intelligence-gathering. The release of yesterday's videotape was no exception to this pattern. According to Reuters, on Friday morning, Ahmad Zaidan, the Pakistan bureau chief of al Jazeera received a package at his Islamabad office containing the bin Laden videotape. Zaidan had received a similar bin Laden audiotape two years ago following the terrorist attacks on tourist sites in Bali, Indonesia that killed two hundred people. CNN's Barbara Starr reported Friday that Pentagon officials were not surprised that bin Laden would issue such a statement around the time of the US presidential election, yet there is nothing to indicate that American intelligence agencies were staking out the most obvious recipient of such a tape: Al Jazeera's bureau in Pakistan.This is very weird. The other thing is that Osama's message now clearly echoes what Mike Scheuer claimed he was after in Imperial Hubris -- a US withdrawal from the Greater Middle East and nothing more. The Washington Post editorial board seem to think is goes without saying that we shouldn't do this. I'm by no means so sure. The best reason for doubting it's a good idea is, I think, simply that there's no good reason to trust Osama on this topic, so taking him up on his "offer" is a bit of a moot point. Some men you just can't reach. On the other hand, insofar as this is defensible as a policy on its own terms, the fact that it at least might work as an anti-terror strategy has to enter into the balance of considerations. It's a tough question, I think, and one that deserves to be debated seriously and honestly and not just swept under the rug.
I just for the first time saw Bush's "Ashley's Story" ad, it's sweet. Indeed, it suggests to me that the president might want to consider quitting the job as American head of state, and take up a position he's more qualified for as a grief counselor. There are thousands of badly wounded soldiers who could use his help, thousands of relatives of dead soldiers who need it too, and tens of thousands of Iraqis who've seen their nearest and dearest die. How can the country deny all these suffering people George W. Bush's badly needed suffering-abatement skills?