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Bottom Line

While this was hardly a crushing victory to Kerry, it's hard for me to see it as anything other than an unmitigated win. What, exactly, did Bush accomplish here? Argue that Kerry's a flip-flopper? But that's been all over the place -- everyone in America's heard it already. This time people at least got to see Kerry's response. Will it convince all of them? No, but it'll convince more of them than get convinced by one-sided media coverage. Meanwhile, Kerry got to bring home some points that haven't gotten a lot of play so far. Things like we should be killing Osama bin Laden and the president doesn't know what he's talking about, a deft and, shall we say, nuanced handling of the dishonesty issue. A Kerry win -- not a big one, but a real one -- and it's a game of inches.

September 30, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (126) | TrackBack


Sadly, these days a debate is more about images and atmospherics than about the substance of what's actually said. Also sadly, tonight's effort didn't see the emergence of a brand-new hyper-charismatic John Kerry. On the other hand, I think Kerry did reach a minimal-acceptability threshold for presidential behavior as he's often does. Bush, on the other hand, was looking mighty odd except during his two minute closing statement. And under the circumstances, even the dramatic improvement in his tone and demeanor for that portion came off as looking weird. It was simply jarring to see how different Bush-the-real-time-responder and Bush-the-prepared-text-deliverer are. They used to say Al Gore wasn't comfortable in his own skin, but it was clear that Bush's comfort level correlates directly with the extent to which he's donning Karen Hughes' skin. Out there alone under the lights he looks confused and disoriented.

UPDATE: Reenforcing those who agree with my spin! ABC News:

Bush appeared perturbed when Kerry leveled some of his charges, scowling at times and looking away in apparent disgust at others. Kerry often took notes when the president spoke.
Dan "I'm Undecided" Drezner:
After an awful start, I thought Kerry and Bush got stronger as the evening wore on. But Kerry got much stronger -- his criticisms of Bush got sharper over time. Bush stuck to the message, stuck to his message, and stuck to his message. I'll be curious to see how the ratings look -- whether people stuck with the debate for the entire evening. If they tuned in early but then tuned out, Kerry is in trouble. If people came in halfway through, Kerry gets a boost.
I agree!

September 30, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Must Read Post

Julian Sanchez kicks ass, takes names. Why does the president of Poland hate America?

September 30, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Mixed Messages

The president's repeated contention that you win a war by speaking clearly and consistently is something that has to warm any writer's heart. The pen, as they say, is mightier than the sword. Sadly, though, I doubt this is an accurate assessment of military strategy. Sending a message is one thing. Killing Osama bin Laden is another. Sending a message is one thing. Retaking Falluja is another. Sending a message is one thing. Halting genocide in Darfur is another. Sending a message is one thing. Preventing a hostile Iran from going nuclear is another. Sending a message is one thing. Warding off the looming Iraqi Civil War is another. Results matter. The real world matters.

September 30, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Too Fair

Chris Betram is far too fair to a person who chooses to describe his political opponents as "Western supporters of the Iraqi 'resistance.'" Betram brushes this vile characterization aside and proceeds to demolish the assinine substance of the smear-artists remarks. But to steal the other side's talking points, people who persist in addressing their opponents in this manner cannot be compromised, negotiated, or reasoned with. They have, like the president they've followed into war, simply abandonned any connection with empirical reality and are lost fighting battles that exist only within their own minds while in the real world the corpses pile ever higher.

September 30, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (34) | TrackBack

Afghan Credit

In commenting on the post below regarding Afghan elections, a lot of folks on the right are upset that I'm not giving credit to the Bush administration whose decision to invade the country is, of course, what set the stage for the upcoming vote. Well, sure. But how much credit are they supposed to get for this? Bush -- despite his bizarre efforts over the past six months to pretend otherwise -- didn't invade Afghanistan in order to end the Taliban's dictatorship. He did it to get Osama bin Laden. That's while, as you'll recall, he was willing to not invade if the Talbian would hand OBL over. That's also why, coincidentally enough, planning for invasion started right after September 11, 2001 a date on which some kind of noteworthy event took place in New York City. But of course Bush didn't capture OBL (or Mullah Omar) and hasn't yet smashed the Taliban. Nor has he followed through on his pre-war promise of a "Marshall Plan for Afghanistan." Nor has he invested substantial US forces in providing security and stability to Afghanistan. Instead of doing any of those things he invaded Iraq. He did this, or so he said, because there was a strong chance that if he didn't Saddam Hussein would give al-Qaeda a nuclear bomb that they would use against the United States. That was bullshit.

September 30, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

When You're Right

You're right, and Alex Dryer is right about this except I don't think he should knock the noble tradition of "waving the bloody shirt" to stoke anti-southern sentiment in the late nineteenth century. The South in the late nineteenth century was a region that heartily deserved to be subjected to some hostile sentiments. Nothing pissed me off more than my high school history textbook's many disparaging references to these insidious "radical Republicans" in the late-1860s and 1870s who had all these nutty ideas like "black people should vote" and "treason should be punished." I'll even go whole hog and say that if Andrew Johnson had been removed from office we'd be living in a better world.

September 30, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (35) | TrackBack

Memoires of the Dean Campaign

Young Ezra Klein's review of Joe Trippi's book in The Washington Monthly makes a whole bunch of good points about the Dean campaign. On the other hand, I think it's wrong to get overly deterministic about this stuff. Dean lost because he did poorly in Iowa after having had his Iowa expectations built up so high. It's possible that a defter campaign would have just said that the Iowa demographics were no good for Dean, focused on more Dean-friendly New Hampshire, and then stormed into the weirdness of the southern primaries where you're dealing with a very small Democratic primary electorate and won. Who knows?

I think the demographic point is an important one, because Deanism represented one of the two growing demographic constituencies for the Democratic Party -- well-educated professionals drawn to the Democrats over social issues, the party's new identity as fiscally responsible party, and its support for environmentalism. (The other growth point is Latinos who didn't have a clear candidate in the '04 primaries). It's important to keep in mind that the 'net-centricity of the Dean campaign wasn't just about the internet -- it also has demographic elements. Gephardt, whose core constituency was older blue collar union members simply couldn't have organized his people in that way -- they, like the Iowa electorate as a whole, would have found it weird and off-putting, not cool and inspiring. Insofar as Democrats rely more heavily on the Web, they're going to be relying on a disproportionately white, disproportionately wealthy, disproportionately well-educated, disproportionately young sub-set of the party's base.

When it looked like Dean had the big mo', of course, he picked up additional support from the basically opportunistic AFSCME and from the SEIU whose president, Andy Stern, is always looking for The Next Big Thing and thought he found it. But this new bloc of people who have a basically different set of concerns never got well-integrated into the campaign. Stern's kept up his interest since then of wedding the labor movement (or at least the slice of it he controls) to the dynamism being exhibited in other spheres of the progressive movement. That's exactly the right thing to be doing and everything, I think, hinges on its success. Mark Schmitt was asking a while back if there could be a successfull progressive politics without strong unions at or near its core, and I'm pretty sure the answer is "no." At the same time, progressives clearly need to harness the power of 21st century technology and the ability of "post-material" issues to move certain segments of upscale voters into their column. It's a pretty hard circle to square, but so are all political coalitions at the end of the day.

September 30, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Afghan Optimism

I'd meant to do a post a little while back about how I'd read a post from Oxblog's Afghan correspondent which answered about 75 percent of what had puzzled me about Peter Bergen's "things are better than you think in Afghanistan" op-ed. Somehow or other, it didn't get done, but then yesterday I got an email from none other than Oxblog's Afghan correspondent making some valuable points:

I read with interest your recent blog post criticizing Peter Bergen's optimistic NY Times Op-Ed. Like him, I think the coming elections will be surprisingly successful -- in levels of participation, as a starting point for Afghans learning democratic practice, and in producing a legitimate president -- and am impressed by Karzai's recent achievements in taking on the warlords. There's much to hope for in Afghanistan. And it's happened despite Bush administration neglect of the country, not thanks to any bold neocon democratization plan. The real heroes of the election so far are the UN workers for the Joint Electoral Management Body and the Afghans who registered in the millions, all at risk of their lives, and despite the fact that we didn't put enough troops on the ground to protect them.

Bergen's more right than wrong. You've highlighted exaggerations in his piece, but I don't think they rise to the level of factual errors. Dostum continues to spar with his opponents in the north, but the intensity of their conflict has toned down noticeably since (a) Dostum declared his presidential candidacy, and (b) Karzai demoted Atta Mohammad (the main Tajik commander in the north, one of Fahim's boys) from his army post.

And while I agree that it's too early to describe Khan and Fahim as "neutralized," they have lost a great deal of face by backing down from their confrontations with Karzai. Though Fahim is still Defense Minister, he is no longer Vice President; and it's clear that he can expect to lose the Defense Ministry if Karzai wins as decisive a victory as the polls indicate. (Only if Qanuni did well as a candidate would Fahim stand much chance of keeping the Defense Ministry -- and I'm betting that Dostum will be the second place candidate, and thus the man to negotiate with).

For his part, Ismael Khan has suggested that he might accept a Kabul post once the election is over, and if he's offered a ministry "more suited to his talents." My friends working in Herat concur that Herat is now Karzai's to lose. Khan had been losing popularity in the area for a while, and unless the new governor manages to antagonize a lot of Heratis very quickly, he'll have several months' goodwill time to start rebuilding and gain legitimacy.

I'm dismayed that a successful Afghan election will almost certainly be a prize for the Bush re-election machine. It doesn't deserve to be. I've been astonished by the ineptitude of Bush foreign policy on nearly every front, and (unlike my friends at Oxblog) have absolutely no hesitation in voting to replace him this November. But I do think Afghanistan is headed in a hopeful direction, thanks to the profound desire of the average Afghan to live in peace after the horrors of the last 25 years.

Keep open eyes, and an open mind. I'll be posting a sad retraction on Oxblog if things go badly.

I basically agree -- things are a lot better than it looked like they would be a few months ago., though in part that owes a lot to how bad it looked like things would be a few months ago. One important point to note is that the outcome of the presidential election -- a Karzai victory -- has never been in serious dispute, which has helped aid the process. On the one hand, it reduces the incentives to use fraud, intimidation, and violence to alter the outcome, since Karzai's margin is so big. On the other hand it means that such fraud, intimidation, and violence that will take place is less significant than it might otherwise be. The parliamentary elections, that have been delayed several times and may yet get delayed again, will be another stort. These races should be close in many jurisdictions, and we'll have to see what happens then before the country will really even have a semblance of an up-and-running democracy (a democracy without a legislature, after all, isn't much of a democracy). Surely, the results will be imperfect. But how imperfect? It will be interesting to see. Best of luck to the people of Afghanistan and the brave men and women in the international aid community in making it work.

September 30, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (41) | TrackBack


So the District's getting a baseball team, which would be more exciting if I were a baseball fan. Now all the talk is over whether to revive the doomed "Senators" team name. But why not stick with "Expos"? What did that even mean in the Montreal context?

September 30, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (65) | TrackBack