Mourning In America

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

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Friday, September 03, 2004
I Should Have Mentioned This Earlier The lowest point of "Gov." Pataki's speech was when he laid sole blame for failing to deal with Osama Bin Laden before 9/11 on the Clinton administration.
"How I wish the administration at that time, in those years, had done something. How I wished they had moved to protect us. But they didn't do it."

If we're going to play that game, How I wish that the administration in power in the Summer of 2001 had listened to Rand Beers and George Tenet and taken the same, cabinet-level approach to coordinating anti-terror strategy that its predecessor did.

If you're going to point the finger, there's a lot of blame to go around. Be careful, "Governor:" Torpedoes sometimes run circular paths.

Employment Report: Middling The Labor Department reported 144,000 new jobs in August, which is just strong enough to allow Bush to honestly state his claim that the economy continues to create jobs. The bigger surprise was the drop in the unemployment report to 5.4%, but it needs to be noted that that drop was almost solely the result of 152,000 people giving up on looking for work.

Thursday, September 02, 2004
PrezSpeech Live Blog But what's he going to do?

Promises Without Payments -- He said he'll restrain spending, but all I've heard is growth in government. New spending on job-training and community colleges. Enrolling more kids in publicly funded health-insurance programs. More spending on community and rural health clinics. More spending on Pell Grants. All that, plus the revenue hit from making his tax cuts permanent. And more spending on the military. What exactly will he cut? It doesn't add up. The only hint is in his social security proposal -- "We'll always keep the promise of social security for our older workers" -- everyone else, you're on your own.

Meanwhile, he's promising to reform taxes in a "bipartisan" manner -- but providing no details. In the vacuum, should we assume that his sales-tax comments a few weeks ago reflected his true feelings? If so, that's an issue.

The education section of the speech was a mess.

  • "I say to every child ... Your school will be the path to promise of America." Huh?

  • We're setting standards ... but local people are in charge -- if you're setting the standards and writing the tests, then they're not really in charge.

  • The Federal government is providing poor schools with a "record level of funding to get them that help" --- Maybe (I'm not really sure), but Federal funding is still a drop in the bucket of education budgets.

  • And I'm glad that principal in Georgia is doing a good job running his school, but in the absence of any comparison about how they were doing before the No Child Left Behind Act took effect, it's all pretty irrelevant. The reality, of course, is that a good principal is the key to success at any school -- and NCLB didn't do anything to help principals do their jobs, or to figure out how to train new ones.

  • 11:00 -- And he's not done yet.

    He should have stopped. Comparing Iraq today to Berlin in 1946 is dangerous. The truth is that in 1946, the occupation was in serious trouble. U.S. military presence had waned, and the communists were on the march -- that's why in 1947 we came up with the Marshall Plan. If he's calling for a Marshall Plan for Iraq and Afghanistan, I'd consider supporting it. My guess is that he's not, and he possibly doesn't realize how important it was to the happy ending we saw in the post-WW II era.

    Did anyone read this speech all the way through? He just lurches from theme to theme -- there's no structure to the talk. And at this point, the audience is so confused, they can't even figure out where the applause lines are -- witness the reaction to "liberty's century."

    Brokaw on the "Ownership Society" -- "If they re-worked that section several times, I'd hate to see the original draft."

    Bob and Weave Let me get this off my chest first: When did "Gov." Pataki go blonde -- maybe it was the lights, but...

    And good thing he attacked Kerry as a flip-flopper -- That's an important point that no one else had made at this convention.

    The speech got better. It had a few good lines, but he looked amateurish, breaking into a relieved smile every time an applause line worked, fidgeting from foot to foot, and constantly turning his head back and forth -- but only rarely addressing the camera. You'd think 10 years as Governor of the state that is the media capital of the world would have made him savvier. Maybe if he had actually governed...

    Not Like Father... The GOP is billing tonight's nomination-acceptance speech as "visionary." We'll see. I can't imagine Bush really talking about his second-term vision -- Social Security privatization and a national sales tax (tax day every day!) are not really what the American people are looking for. My guess is that the text will lean much more heavily on the themes from last night. Either way, I think the expectation-setting is a mistake ("Visionary?" Bush? The same way he envisioned Democracy sprouting from every crack in Baghdad as soon as Saddam was removed?)

    Losing the Press It's obviously too soon to tell how the RNC is playing in the nation at large. From my informal observations, the convention thus far has played very well among the angry white males who already support the ticket, although women particularly have been put off by the stridency. But as Noam Scheiber illustrated, it has not played well with the press.

    If for no other reason than that more people are watching the Republicans than watched the Democrats, I'd expect Bush to leave this week with a lead. He'll probably hold it going into the debates, but Kerry won't fall out of striking distance.

    But I think the Bush campaign will ultimately regret pushing the truth envelope too far this week. The press is waking up to the outright lies and misrepresentations in every speech, and that could be a running theme this fall.

  • Read Will Saletan in Slate: "The 2004 election is becoming a referendum on your right to hold the president accountable."

  • Read Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post: "Giuliani's Criticisms of Kerry Lack Context; Meaning of Democrat's Comments and What's Being Cited Often Don't Match"

  • Read Tom Curry on MSNBC, truth-squadding Dick Cheney's speech: "Cheney made a far less conclusive case for Bush as a superior war-time commander ... If even hawks say that there were missteps, why didn’t the battled-hardened Cheney intervene to prevent some of them?"

  • Read hawkish-but-gay blogger Andrew Sullivan on Zell Miller: "Remember who this man is: once a proud supporter of racial segregation, a man who lambasted LBJ for selling his soul to the negroes. His speech tonight was in this vein, a classic Dixiecrat speech, jammed with bald lies, straw men, and hateful rhetoric."

  • Read Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune on last night's speeches: "The scurrilous implication behind the speeches last night and this and other letters I'm getting today is that Democrats don't care about the safety of your 11-month-old granddaughter ... and would gladly pursue tactics designed to make the world less safe (defening our nation only with "spitballs") in order to advance the partisan hunger for power.
    It's an infamous allegation; a wild and irresponsible charge."

    Best Line on Zell Comes from Atrios:
    Wow, I never thought Zell would be able to improve on the original German version of Pat Buchanan's '92 speech, but he did.

    Excelsior! Noam Scheiber at The New Republic's convention blog has a good post on the state of the Republican Convention. He saves his best line for last:
    Maybe I'm just naive about these things, but I'd like to think you should be able to walk into the convention of a major party and occasionally feel like someone is trying to inspire you.

    That's the difference between Boston and NY. The Democrats, despite the criticism they've received for being non-specific, were looking forward optimistically and positively. I won't accuse the GOP of looking backwards -- given their record, who would want to? -- but they sure as hell aren't being positive or optimistic. The message is more along the lines of -- the world is scary, and this is as good as it gets.

    In portraying the President as the only leader capable of holding the terrorists at bay (as he said earlier this week -- you can never defeat them), the GOP is selling freedom from attack. The Democrats need to sell Freedom from Fear.

    Since they're here, they'd to well to remember the NY State motto -- Excelsior! Ever higher. (A frequent feature of former NY Gov. Mario Cuomo's oratory).

    Quiet in the Hall Scheiber also confirms something I noticed on TV -- the hall seems awfully quiet, at least compared to the Fleet Center. Scheiber attributes that to the fact that many delegates aren't bothering to show up. I'd be equally willing to attribute that to the extensive construction that went on inside, and the possibility that the fake floor, etc., are made of noice-dampening materials.

    But I think it's also fair to ask whether it also reflects the audience's fundamental unhappiness with the roster of moderate speakers they are witnessing (at least in prime time). After all, the crowd reaction for McCain's line about Michael Moore -- dwarfed anything else in the speech. They could be heard when they wanted to be.

    Lou Dobbs Will be Happy Teresa LaPore, the Palm Beach County elections supervisor who designed the "butterfly ballot" that created several thousand "Jews for Buchanan" in the 2000 election, lost her bid for re-election on Tuesday.

    Apparently, the voters decided that her record (which had been largely unstained before 2000) was no match for her opponent's mathematical prowess ...

    The winner? Arthur Anderson!

    Does this mean we should get ready for allegations of "Enron Accounting" from the losers in any future Palm Beach recounts?

    Observed 8:45 a.m., at the bottom of the escalators into the Grand Central subway station, a tall, fifty-something white man with a shock of white curly hair holding a large sign that read: "Repent. Jesus Died for Our Sins."

    I didn't realize the RNC was caucusing in the subway.

    Wednesday, September 01, 2004
    RNC Musings I'm not really qualified to assess the value of GOP speeches -- I sure as hell am not their target audience. I have to think that the electorate generally will be turned off by the levels of negativity and anger that are on display, not to mention the fact that the President's much ballyhooed "second-term agenda" appears likely to add up to platitudes rather than solutions (primarily because the actual ideas (cutting Social Security benefits, imposing a regressive consumption tax) are too repulsive.

    But a couple of thoughts -- I'm going to run against the conventional wisdom and predict that Rudy's presidential run ended on Monday night. Watching him, I was struck by how much he seemed to have aged since leaving office in 2001, although he eventually got rolling and found more energy. On a pure staging note, the huge backdrop of the Empire State Building was a mistake -- it made him look very, very small, especially in the wide shots.

    And although I generally don't worry too much about the "discipline" of holding to the schedule (the swashbuckler in me likes the idea of playing chicken with the networks -- daring them to cut off a major speech), it's clear that campaign professionals do -- Giuliani's gleeful ride through the 11 PM barrier won't endear him to the "professionals" in the party.

    As a New Yorker, I found the re-emergence of the nasty, pre-9/11 Rudy a bit surprising -- isn't this the guy we had all grown pretty tired of? -- but I guess for out-of-towners, that act's still got some string left to play. Interesting juxtaposition, by the way: The party that insists terrorism isn't a law-enforcement issue being rallied by a figure who's major claim to fame is his law-enforcement record.

    As for McCain I found his delivery half-hearted. Much as I'd like to chalk that up to lukewarm support for the ticket, I think it's probably more the result of having a speechwriter (possibly forced on him by BC 04?) who didn't really understand how to channel his voice. Other longtime McCain watchers I've spoken to have said that the big-room format is just not his strong suit.

    Arnold was Arnold -- funny, enthusiastic, and painfully non-specific. Still, I'm not sure the right message on the economy is to say, "suck it up and deal, girlie-men."

    More later...

    Monday, August 30, 2004
    Hiding Their Spots Against the advice of my physician and others concerned with my blood pressure, I've been closely watching the Catholic League's web site for the last couple of weeks, expecting them to hit back against the National Catholic Reporter for exposing former Bush adviser Deal Hudson's forced departure from a tenured professorship at Fordham University in 1995, after charges he seduced one of his 18-year-old students.

    It seems my vigilence wasn't constant enough. Amy Sullivan, Managing Editor of the Washington Monthly, spotted a Catholic League press release on Hudson that was promptly removed from their web site. Luckily, she's saved and posted it here.

    Amy's right to label the press release "nasty" -- it refers to Hudson's transgression as "behavior with a drunk almost a decade ago." But my guess is that civility isn't the reason for the League's second thoughts -- the league's decision to refrain from supporting its friend has more to do with its pocketbook.

    More than a few Catholic League supporters "look like" its leader, Bill Donohue, a fifty-something Irish Catholic from Long Island. More than a few of them have 18-year-old daughters who attend Fordham or other similar Northeastern Catholic universities.

    I have to believe that EVERY ONE of their fathers would be pretty angry at a professor who misuses his position of authority to encourage their daughters to come out to a bar, and then seduces them. And that anger could spill over to a decision not to support groups that defend that professor's behavior (let alone those that would call their daughter "a drunk").

    This decision to set aside principle when it conflicts with business would be in character for the League. Remember their support of Mel Gibson's movie The Passion in the fact of a conflict about whether the Pope had commented on the film? The league sided with Gibson over the Vatican, and later disclosed that it had purchased blocks of tickets to the movie for re-sale to its members.