Mourning In America

A New York Democrat on politics, journalism, and the Mets

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Friday, February 27, 2004
I'm Above Average! Just not in a way you boast about. The Census Bureau found that New Yorkers, on average, have the longest commutes in the nation -- 38 minutes. My 75- to 90-minute trip rocks that! Whoo-hoo!

Department of Silver Linings: Transit gadfly Gene Russianoff, head of the Straphangers' Campaign finds the bright side: "But what you lose in travel time, you make up for by being able to read a newspaper. By and large, it’s lower stress.” I wonder how long it's been since Russianoff tried to unfold a newspaper on a Lexington Avenue express during rush hour ...

Thursday, February 26, 2004
Debate Halftime The conventional wisdom coming into tonight's debate was that Edwards had the most to prove, but my gut is that Kerry's doing better. Sure, he's filibustering a bit -- and I fully expect the Kerry-haters in the media to overplay that angle in their criticism of his performance -- but he's looking reasoned, and clearly the senior statesman at the table (helped by the fact that Sharpton seems to be attacking Edwards more enthusiastically).

A couple of quick takes:

  • I would have loved to see Edwards jump down Ron Brownstein's throat when he tried to draw a distinction between "values" issues and economic issues -- what more fundamental value do we have in this country than economic opportunity?

  • Who watches CNN? A television commercial for a portable Oxygen generator? Is Larry King's entire audience made up of his contemporaries?

  • That said, King's doing a decent job.

  • The other reporters on the panel aren't -- they're too argumentative and fishing for "gotcha" moments, and in the closing moments of the debate, they forgot that they were there to listen, not talk.

  • Couldn't someone from the California Democratic Party have managed to maneuver Gray Davis out of the middle of CNN's main crowd shot? I feel bad for the guy, but do we really need to be reminded of the state party's disgrace every few minutes?

  • Postgame Update Just one of the reasons I was impressed by Kerry: He was very facile in showing his depth on the issues, repeatedly bringing up new topics that hadn't even hit the table yet, but doing it naturally. Case in point: at the tail end of a discussion about limiting the influence of money in politics, in which Kerry pledged to issue an executive order he said would limit lobbyists' influence, Larry King pressed him on the silly, procedural question of "Will this be the first executive order you sign?" Kerry sat back for a minute, contemplating the question, then said, "No, the first executive order I sign will be to repeal" the abortion "gag rule" on foreign medical clinics that receive U.S. aid.

    No one had discussed abortion to that point, and in the heat of the debate, it would have been very easy to agree with King's goading and say "sure." But Kerry didn't -- he listened to the question and took the opportunity to expand the debate. And as far as I can tell, he was the only one to land points on abortion last night, which is obviously a pretty potent Democratic-base issue.

    Will Saletan in Slate disagrees with me on that. He contends that Kerry's response was too obscure for anyone in the audience to know what he was talking about. Maybe, but I think the base was there with him. Saletan also makes an observation I meant to make: Kerry's response to King's question about the death penalty -- "Larry, my instinct is to want to strangle that person with my own hands." -- was the perfect justification for his position, and exactly the answer every Democrat wishes Michael Dukakis has given to a similar question in 1988.

    Alternative Read Kerry-hater Mickey Kaus has an interesting hypothesis on the debate fallout -- even though journalists who have watched the entire campaign thought Kerry won the debate, Edwards' likeable nature could help him attract a greater percentage of the undecided fence-sitters who are just starting to pay attention to the race. Kerry was more energetic and less morose than he can be, so longtime observers were impressed, but on an absolute scale, Edwards was still sunnier. In addition, presumably the late-arriving voters will be less impressed by the breadth of Kerry's knowledge and experience...

    FINAL UPDATE: The debate transcript is posted here.

    NASCAR Prez The Bush White House has been widely recognized for making its web site more interactive -- and a more effective political tool -- than it was under the Clinton administration. One particularly widely-noted feature is the weekly "Ask the White House" column, where users can have chats with administration staffers.

    That background doesn't quite explain how NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip ended up in the chair. Secretary for Speed? But we do learn that he's a fan of the ad for "The Passion of the Christ" that's been painted on Bobby Labonte's car:

    I think it is great. I’m a Christian and when I look up and see clouds and Christ’s name on his hood – it takes me to a happy place.

    I’m really glad that we have the ability to make decisions like that that are obviously influential in a positive way on lots of people.

    Wednesday, February 25, 2004
    Bush-Cheney Slogan Ideas Via Atrios, check out this entry in TBogg's slogan contest:
    Don't Change Horsemen Mid-Apocalypse

    Greenspan: GOP Warrior For months, deficit-hawks have been waiting for Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan to begin publicly chiding Congress and the Bush administration to begin the hard work of closing the Bush budget deficit. But when the time this morning, Greenspan took a dive.

    In testimony to the House Budget Committee, the chairman, once respected by most in Washington as a level-minded economic observer who was above politics, again chose to side with the Republicans on the issue of taxes, contending that spending cuts alone be relied upon to close the gap.

    His reasoning? In the words of the Bloomberg article:

    Any tax increase large enough to reduce the deficit would pose ``significant risks to economic growth '' he said. ``The exact magnitude of such risks is very difficult to estimate, but they are of enough concern, in my judgment, to warrant aiming to close the fiscal gap primarily, if not wholly, from the outlay side.''

    In so doing, Greenspan plays into the talking points on taxes advanced by the President. Too bad they don't reflect the reality of current law. The fact is that the Bush administration's feckless tax bills call for additional rounds of cuts every year for the rest of the decade -- cuts that clearly cannot be justified as necessary economic stimulus, given that Greenspan, earlier in his testimony, contended that ``The U.S. economy appears to have made the transition from a period of sub-par growth to one of more vigorous expansion.''

    Worse, Greenspan ignores the related issue of whether these tax cuts are the most efficient way of delivering fiscal stimulus -- most economists would agree that the early (and least expensive) waves, like the one-time tax credits that were delivered as advance refunds, were pretty effective, but that the pending cuts, especially sops to the rich like estate tax repeal and dividend-tax cuts, are not.

    Finally, Greenspan is silent on whether Bush's pending proposal to make these unnecessary and grossly inquitable tax cuts permanent is a good idea. Given that he actively endorses cutting spending and opposes "raising taxes," whatever that means, the impression is definitely left that he silently approves of Bush's policies, even though they do nothing to fix the deficit mess that this administration has created. Apparently, the chairman's preference for a GOP administration outweighs his desire for a fundamentally strong economy.

    But Greenspan's comments hear ignore the reality of current law, which includes several additional rounds of tax cuts that have yet to be phased in. Repealing those future cuts would