a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Rove quashed Bulgegate?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 10th February 2005

Chris Shaw of adds another layer to the “Quashgate” (see below) angle of the “was Bush wired at the debate?” story:

Three sources have told Bush Wired (independently) that Karl Rove put in a call to the NY Times editors on Wednesday, Oct. 27 (the day before the story was scheduled to run), and that this was the REAL reason for the story being “killed”. While I have no concrete confirmation on this “scoop”, previously my sources named the writers of the killed NYT story correctly immediately after story was “killed” and several weeks before the writers’ names were made public.

It used to be “mau-mauing the flakcatchers” meant verbally bullying hapless government officials, if I recall correctly. We need a new term: “mugging the gray lady”, maybe?

No word yet on what Rove said exactly.* But it seems of a piece with other hardball “news management” tactics reported recently, like the RNC letter “urging” TV stations not to air a ad critical of Bush’s Social Security privatization plans. According to the South Bend Tribune, the letter said in part

The advertisement in question falsely and maliciously makes reference to ‘George Bush’s planned Social Security benefit cuts of up to 46 percent to pay for private accounts …’ […]
As an FCC licensee, you have a responsibility to exercise independent editorial judgment to oversee and protect the integrity of the American marketplace of ideas, and to avoid broadcasting deliberate misrepresentations of the facts. Such obligations must be taken seriously and I urge you to decline to broadcast this advertisement.

This letter places you on notice that the information contained in the above-cited advertisement is false and misleading. Your station should act responsibly and refrain from airing this advertisement.

(emphases added) (via Josh Marshall, who also demonstrates the Moveon ad is accurate).

Yglesias called it “Putinization” a couple of days ago. Sounds about right.

* Or, to remain careful, whether anything of the sort transpired. At the end of the day, Mr. Shaw is just one source claiming three more; on the other hand, his information fits with Lindorff’s story. Indeed, he seems to have received the same followup e-mail (“I can appreciate” etc.) from Times reporter Andrew Revkin that Lindorff published.

EDIT, 2/10: first 2 links fixed
UPDATE, 2/15: Daniel Okrent, the public editor for The New York Times, replies to my inquiry about the alleged pressure from Rove to quash the Nelson enhanced photo story:

Dear Mr. Nephew,
If this is true, it’s because “Bushwired” has much better sources than I do. I have never heard this, nor do I believe it.
Yours sincerely,
Daniel Okrent

Well, it wouldn’t be true because “Bushwired” has better sources; obviously there’s an implied “and I didn’t know about it” in there. Along with an implied “and I don’t intend to ask about it,” I think. (EDIT: Contrary to the first impression conveyed within this update, Okrent said in his 2/11 letter to FAIR, “It is not unreasonable to argue that The Times should have run the [Nelson enhanced photo] article.“)
UPDATE, 2/15: Chris Shaw of “bushwired” responds, citing the accuracy of his sources in the past.
UPDATE, 3/3: A New Yorker article describes (in passing) a Keller-Rove contact five days before the phone call is said to have happened.

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Bush debate cheating? Too controversial for the Times

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 9th February 2005

Looks like Bush really might have been wired to get outside help in his debates with John Kerry — contravening ground rules for the debates and making for a pretty brutal assessment of Bush’s skills by himself and his handlers.

I say “might.” The processed photograph to the right looks pretty convincing, but I can’t be sure. Trouble is, I’ll get no help from the news media; even the New York Times killed the story because it might affect the election, while other papers wouldn’t touch it unless Kerry raised the issue himself, for fear of being labeled “conspiracy buffs.”

You can read all about it on the FAIR website in “The Emperor’s New Hump,” by David Lindorff (via digby). Lindorff published a piece in Salon — Bush’s Mystery Bulge* — on October 8 before the election, but didn’t have the benefit of a satellite photo specialist’s expertise in photo enhancement (see image on the right). I read about it, but didn’t know how to evaluate a claim that didn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Wrong again. Far from ignoring the story, New York Times reporters William Broad, John Schwartz, and Andrew Revkin were in close touch with Robert Nelson, a NASA/JPL scientist who used methods normally used with probe and satellite images to highlight suspicious lines and bulges under Bush’s suit.

Even if this wasn’t definitive — alternative theories included a defibrillator and a bulletproof jacket — it would have moved the story forward. The enhanced image shows wrinkles nothing like those made by merely hunching forward (one claim published at the time). But with days to go before the election, the story was spiked. Lindorff:

In fact, several sources, including a journalist at the Times, have told Extra! that the paper put a good deal of effort into this important story about presidential competence and integrity; they claim that a story was written, edited and scheduled to run on several different days, before senior editors finally axed it at the last minute on Wednesday evening, October 27. A Times journalist, who said that Times staffers were “pretty upset” about the killing of the story, claims the senior editors felt Thursday was “too close” to the election to run such a piece. Emails from the Times to the NASA scientist corroborate these sources’ accounts.

Jiminy Christmas, if they let Howard Raines go, they ought to let Bill Keller go, too, if Lindorff got this story right. What an absolute negation of everything a newspaper is for: sit around and calculate whether a story is too controversial to run. What a worthless rag. Ben Bagdikian, media observer and journalism dean at UC Berkeley, observed to Lindorff:

I cannot imagine a paper I worked for turning down a story like this before an election. This was credible photographic evidence not about breaking the rules, but of a total lack of integrity on the part of the president, evidence that he’d cheated in the debate, and also of a lack of confidence in his ability on the part of his campaign. I’m shocked to hear top management decided not to run such a story. […]

Cheating on a debate should affect an election. The decision not to let people know this story could affect the history of the United States.

Instead, the Times waited until after the election — and then still didn’t run the story. Instead, they put ace reporter Elisabeth Bumiller on the case. Result? “Cashmere and Kevlar? Bulge Affair has Tailor Miffed.

For one timeline of the “case of the bulge”, see Theories of the Bulge: The Timeline; among other sites, it links to the “Bush Wired” 11/21/2004 blog post by “icone” publishing correspondence to a reader by New York Times ombudsman Daniel Okrent:

Although I admire much of Mr. Lindorff’s work, without names or attributions I just don’t have enough to go on to enable me to find out whether, much less why, The Times “pulled” a piece on the subject.**

If so, what we have was Okrent basically saying “I’m too lazy to even send out a ‘To NYTeveryone’ e-mail to try to find out anything about this.”

File it under “Your Nation’s News Industry”; this is one of the most pathetic stories about the New York Times in quite a while. The only thing that comes close right now: why is Judith Miller still running her mouth as a New York Times reporter? But it’s not just the Times that looks bad; the Washington Post, the L.A. Times, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also punted when Nelson came to them with his findings.

Finally, memo to the White House: go ahead, use a wire — once Bush has some practice using it, maybe we’ll have fewer embarrassing moments like last Friday’s. I’m just trying to get with the program now that our national accountability moment has passed.

* The link leads to a reprint of the article in the Guardian.
** Lindorff refers to this in his “Emperor’s New Clothes” article; it took me until today to find this link to what he was talking about.

UPDATE, 2/9: A loose end tied up: the proprietor of writes to say that Okrent wrote his e-mail on 11/16/2004, replying to an 11/14/2004 e-mail by a reader who shared the response with Bushwired. He also says he “received “inside” information about the killing of the Bulge story on Oct. 29th, and immediately contacted the Times for an explanation. The Times did not respond to Bush Wired, and it wasn’t until December 19th when Okrent posted on his blog that the story was indeed killed.” He adds that by the date of the e-mail exchange Okrent had received other unspecified e-mails with details about the reporters and details of the quashed story. This is also a correction in that the Okrent post is what Lindorff refers to (see 2nd footnote above), not the bushwired e-mail reprint.

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On the outskirts of the inauguration

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 21st January 2005

I wound up dyeing a pillowcase black for the hood, and made the remaining accessories from several long black pipecleaners from my little girl’s art supplies. With the poncho I’d got at an army surplus store and a crappy little “Four more years!” sign I taped to it, I was ready to go, but it was a late start, about 11am.

I got off the Metro at Union Station, and made my way towards Pennsylvania Avenue. Knots of policemen and boy scouts — quite a disquieting touch, I thought — directed the foot traffic down a parallel street. I hadn’t had a very clear idea how to get to 4th and Pennsylvania; I saw now that I probably wasn’t going to.

My hopes picked up when I saw a tent with a large throng of demonstrators in front. A way through! The formalities of being frisked and wanded seemed a reasonable price to pay, the crowd was large but so was that tent — surely I’d be through shortly. I joined the crowd, and was soon immersed in chants — “hey hey, ho ho,” etc. Which I’ve never liked, so I didn’t join in. But I’ll admit it would have been a quiet, slow old time without them, because I never really got very close to that tent, which began to seem more like a crowd control stage prop than a functioning gateway after half an hour or so.

While the crowd was mainly sporting signs like “My president is a corporate whore” — my favorite, maybe because the woman holding it had such a sunny smile to go with it — not everyone was demonstrating against Bush. At one point a boyish fellow jumped up onto one of the traffic barriers channeling us toward the tent, arranged his fingers in a “W,” and shouted some slogans of his own. The chant leaders switched to a new slogan about abortion rights. “Save the soldiers, kill the babies,” muttered a middle-aged woman near me with a short bitter laugh. Her companion rolled his eyes, snorted a little, said nothing.

Photographers, policeI saw that people were just walking by the lines I was in, and decided to try my luck wherever they were headed. That took me down to near 7th and C, where things got a little dicier. A group came marching down the street waving red and black flags, turned the corner, and were lost from my view — if I’d had one, I had the hood on as they went by. I then made what was nearly a bad mistake and followed them — in time to see several PVC pipes and assorted other sticks (used to hold banners) tossed high in the air and towards a line of police. I believe I said “Oh boy.”

The police responded promptly, forming a line and sweeping the demonstrators back down the street — towards me. I saw one policewoman squirt a little bottle of something at one demonstrator, and saw another get a bit of a charge out of pushing people with his nightstick. I got jammed against a wall, and then pushed up the street and around the corner with the rest of the crowd.

Police sweepBut to the relief of most of us, the confrontation fizzled pretty quickly, and I was soon able to drift back to where I’d been, near a second tent-entrance to the Pennsylvania Avenue zone. When the police made some last adjustments to how they wanted the crowd positioned a group of Republicans finally had a go ahead to proceed to wherever they were headed. My hood and sign earned me a few chickenshit shoves from the fur and cowboy hat set as they passed by.

I settled in for just standing at the intersection, as a mix of demonstrators and Bush supporters milled by. I got photographed a few times (it seemed like just about every other person had a digital camera along) asked what I was about a few times, and whether it bothered me that some people seemed to think I was for Bush; I just said “I think most people get it.”

I can report that having a hood on for any length of time is fairly unsettling — and my black pillowcase let through some light, so it wasn’t the real deal. You develop a feeling that something is about to happen to you, and you keep seeing something in the corner of your eye — it’s just the hood of course, but it’s hard not to keep turning to see what “it” is. I preferred to look up toward the sky for light. Up there, helicopters flew patrol. Down here, a huddled mass of demonstrators ranted impotently against victors all but oblivious to them, well beyond the barriers between us. I’m satisfied that I went, but it was kind of a sad day, all in all.

UPDATE, 2/10: Natalie Davis and Tim Dunlop had similar experiences, at least as far as not getting very close to much of anything. I kept meaning to mention this before now, but never got around to a “followups” post.

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The road back, continued

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 23rd December 2004

I’ve come across another couple of Mother Jones articles worth reading, via Blog for America.* The first one, “Life of the Party,” by Michael Kazin, had a lot of good points, but I want to highlight one good general point and one good specific one. The general one was about the decline of labor:

Since the 1960s, the decline of organized labor has eaten away at the Democratic Party’s populist foundation. Strong unions didn’t just furnish Democrats with an ample supply of precinct workers. They established social class, rather than faith or “moral values,” as the crucial difference between their party and the GOP.

This echoes one of the principal points of a great book I’ve just read, Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” The book has been viewed by some as a diagnosis of red-state-itis; that’s true in some ways, but it’s really more about how a national disease has progressed furthest in places like Kansas — Frank’s home state, and the one he can report about best. The disease flourishes in places where unions seem to have lost their last footholds, and Democrats have little to offer people who separate “business” from “politics” about the same way many Democrats do: business cycles and practices are forces of nature, politics is about everything else — abortion, Hollywood, liberal elites, and so forth.

Kazin’s specific point might have been a little mundane, but it’s a practical illustration of a moribund organization that I could vouch for, too:

I spent Election Day making calls from my Washington suburb to inner-city Clevelanders whom the Democrats believed to be currently registered. The list I was given was rotten with the deceased and the departed. At least half the phone numbers on it were wrong.

I had much the same experience day in and day out, both at Kerry’s headquarters and on the final day of the campaign at the AFL-CIO phone bank. Now some of this is to be expected, but it persisted well into the GOTV phase, and led me to believe the phone number lists are not well maintained between elections and not very well processed during campaigns either.

And if the lists were bad at those two locations, they weren’t going to be great elsewhere, either. I did a bit of phonebanking at Harrisburg after coming back from the door to door canvass. Again: way too many wrong numbers, disconnected numbers, strongly pro-Bush voters — especially at that point in the campaign, with only days left before the election. Kazin speaks aptly of a movement that was “haphazardly coordinated and badly in need of the direction only a strong, motivated party can provide.” There’s too much emphasis on brief, unsustained bursts of energy, and not enough on the long, patient accumulation of strength. Phone lists should be culled, refreshed, sorted, and evaluated every quarter, not every four years.

Todd Gitlin’s “A Gathering Swarm” provided the flip side of that assessment. Call it the early days of a better nation, or at least a better Democratic Party. Using Scranton, Pennsylvania as his example, he described the sense of enthusiasm and getting-back-togetherism of what he calls “machine” and “movement”– the old Democratic Party union stalwarts and new anti-Bush enthusiasm.

Volunteers fell into distinct issue camps. Locals tended to care most about jobs seeping away; visitors were more preoccupied with Iraq. But during canvassing expeditions, they all stuck to the discipline — don’t get involved in heavy discussions on the block, just figure out which way people are leaning and move on.

Gitlin summarizes:

There was a rising. It was defeated, but it was not a figment of a utopian’s imagination. It was a popular upwelling. An actual movement is not only a sum of names, mobilizations, celebrity riffs. It is the sum of acts undertaken by persons who, one at a time, feel called in a thousand little ways to do something.

Amen. But there was also this bit of truth:

This year’s mobilization was galvanized by a rare convergence of two huge circumstances: a grand emergency combined with a live chance that focused interventions might just avail. Before Election Day, on one of those effervescent days when the stream of volunteers was steady and strong and a Kerry presidency did not seem hallucinatory, I asked a number of Scranton visitors whether they could imagine turning out to lobby, say, for health care legislation stuck in a recalcitrant Congress, or for some other liberal objective. A few said yes, but many more said, realistically, no. And that was under an optimal assumption.

That will need to change. On a related note, I wholeheartedly approve of Josh Marshall’s idea of punishing any elected Democrats who support Bush’s Social Security abolition plans, by denying them funding and even opposing them in primaries. And I’ll put some money down on that the first chance I get. But more importantly, I want to support Democrats who will fight Bush on this. How do I do that? Where do I sign up? How do we do it?

* BfA poster Tara Liloia says you’ll need to use the access code access code “MJCH5A” to read these articles by Thursday.

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Where the buck stops

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 22nd November 2004

Near the end of Timothy Burke’s review of reactions to his earlier polemic — “The Road To Victory” — he writes some very true words:

Bush voters, the buck stops at your desk. You’re in charge, collectively, and your representative is in charge of the reins of government. You can bitch and moan all you like, sometimes justifiably, about the sins of the other side, about Michael Moore and bad liberal blogs and so on. The fact is that in some crucial sense, none of that matters now. I charged you collectively with responsibility for what happens next, good or bad, because you are responsible. I blamed you, harshly, and I’m sorry if that offends you. Make it a positive charge rather than a negative accusation. You are responsible, and so you must be better than your perception of those you oppose. If you want to live up to the decision you have made, then you have to respect evidence more than they, you have to be bound by facts more than they, you have to be more gracious and tolerant than they, you have to reach out more than they, you have to concede more than they. Don’t come whining that little Jonny hit you first: you just became the grown-up in the room, so act like it. You have the power now: you cannot hide behind a cloak of marginality, you cannot complain about liberal media and liberal Hollywood and liberal professors. Nothing is keeping you down. You are the Man now, no longer an underdog in any sense. If you do not hate and you do not preach divisiveness and you have the interests of all at heart, if you do not aspire to dominate your fellow countrymen and if you pursue a particular foreign policy in the tempered, justifiable, rational belief that it will produce better results, now is when you must prove it.

The ongoing “beleaguered right” theme really is a little ridiculous and whiney at this point. Mark Schmitt points out one example, a friend whose blog sports pointers to “TGWW” stickers — a “thank God Dubya Won” secret handshake for your blue-state Bush voting brethren — and whose blurb promises “vital information about Euro-snobbery.” I’m also reminded of Glenn Reynolds’ post before the election, recommending a Bush vote if only to stick it to the French and Germans (if I recall correctly).

Unless something drastic happens to the European subcontinent — and academia and “activist” judges and Hollywood, etcetera — such folk may have a nice, permanent grievance to nurse into their old age, quite independent of Bush’s actual, you know, performance over the past and next four years. It would be nice if they’d try governing instead of bemoaning their opponents’ characters, or setting aside their remaining ethical scruples. But I won’t hold my breath waiting for it.

Burke on the election
Timothy Burke has been writing some very good reactions to and analyses of the 2004 election; see also “Six Degrees of Condescension,” and “And another thing.” That’s not to say I agree with him 100%, although I gave his arguments far too short shrift in a “buck up” kind of post of my own. I have to rely on Burke’s account of the book, but I suppose I’m more in the Thomas Franks (author of “What’s the matter with Kansas?”) school of “give ’em something to vote for you for” red-state/county outreach. That is, I don’t agree with Burke that

…The red-staters are the people who have stayed behind while everyone else has left because they do not want to or cannot live the blue-state way, because they have an idea of moral economy that scorns getting ahead, rejects meritocratic values.

…and that therefore they are immune to outreach along the lines of my “Wal-Mart” notion (however unpromising that particular notion might turn out to be). These people, Burke seems to say, are made of sterner, uncompromising stuff — mere economic blandishments will be met with rejection and scorn.

And well they might be, if there’s simply an implied quid pro quo “deal” for votes. But if it’s a matter of solidarity within those communities, the story might turn out differently. People have often supposed westerners, mountaineers, or farmers aren’t capable of progressive politics, and they keep forgetting how and why they’ve often been wrong.

Some of the bitterest sustained union fights in American history happened in the West (Cripple Creek, Ludlow) and the Appalachians (Matewan, Blair Mountain) — peopled “though” they were with often deeply religious, generally highly independent, decidedly non-urban folk. Some of the most progressive impulses in American history came from or found strongholds in the farming heartland — abolitionism, the Chautauqua movement, the Progressive Party itself. I’m a poor enough student of this kind of American history that I can’t better support these contentions. But I’m a good enough one to suspect Burke hasn’t quite got his “red-staters” right — if history is still a guide.

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He regrets the error

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 16th November 2004

David Brooks, “The CIA versus Bush,” New York Times, 11/13/2004:

Not that it will do him much good at this point, but I owe John Kerry an apology. I recently mischaracterized some comments he made to Larry King in December 2001. I said he had embraced the decision to use Afghans to hunt down Al Qaeda at Tora Bora. He did not. I regret the error.

(Via Bob Somerby) Here’s what Brooks regrets — from “Osama Litmus Test,” New York Times, 10/30/2004:

But politics has shaped Kerry’s approach to this whole issue. Back in December 2001, when bin Laden was apparently hiding in Tora Bora, Kerry supported the strategy of using Afghans to hunt him down. He told Larry King that our strategy “is having its impact, and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will. I think we have been doing this pretty effectively, and we should continue to do it that way.”

But then the political wind shifted, and Kerry recalculated. Now Kerry calls the strategy he supported “outsourcing.” When we rely on allies everywhere else around the world, that’s multilateral cooperation, but when Bush does it in Afghanistan, it’s “outsourcing.” In Iraq, Kerry supports using local troops to chase insurgents, but in Afghanistan he is in post hoc opposition.

(emphasis on “strategy” added) The relevant part of the Larry King 12/14/2001 interview with Kerry (again, via Somerby):

CALLER: Hello. Yes, I would like to ask the panel why they don’t use napalm or flame-throwers on those tunnels and caves up there in Afghanistan?

KING: Senator Kerry?

CALLER: My golly, I think they could smoke him out.

KING: Senator Kerry?

KERRY: Well, I think it depends on where you are tactically. They may well be doing that at some point in time. But for the moment, what we are doing, I think, is having its impact and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will. I think we have been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way.

(Emphasis on “tactically” added.) So Kerry was saying there might be better tactics than flamethrowers, he wasn’t saying anything about the wisdom of relying heavily on hired Afghan warlord troops.

Just all for the record. See Somerby for appropriate commentary, especially about the spectacular hackery of Tim “I’m the sorriest excuse for a journalist ever, Big Russ” Russert. But yes, Brooks gets a brownie point for admitting what a sorry hack he is. Does anyone ever check the record, or do they just all regurgitate what ever the fax from the White House says?

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The road back isn’t all that long

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 12th November 2004

51-48. Four more years. Gloom. Doom.

The defeat last week looms large, because of the bare-knuckled way the victors will cash in, if experience is any guide. It was heartbreaking to come back from so far down, to appear to be within reach of a win — and then lose after all.

But it was still just a three point loss; Kerry came within one state of winning the whole enchilada, “moral values” voters or not. There’s no need for Democrats to rend their garments and gnash their teeth. There’s just a need to get those three points. (Well, and six Senate seats. And/or a ton of House seats …. rend … gnash. Where was I?)

Tim Burke — a sociology professor whose “Easily Distracted” blog is always worth your while — wrote an impassioned article last week titled “The Road to Victory Goes Through the End of the Democratic Coalition.” Contrasting his approach with his friend Russell Arben Fox’s (alleged) vision of an “anti-capitalist, protectionist, anti-globalization” coalition, Tim Burke’s road “gives up on the red-staters, or at least on the people trapped in old dying rural communities.”

Well, that wouldn’t be hard, because as far as I can tell, a lot of Democrats never even got started with people and communities like those, let alone do anything to give up on. My point is, let’s not give up on people in the red states and counties of this country — at least not on all of them. Detailed maps of the 2004 election results — corrected for population density and shaded for percentage instead of winner-take-all blue or red — show that there were a lot of Kerry votes in nominally red states and red counties.* We needed a few more, that’s all – just 3 percent more nationally , even less than that in Ohio.

And the time to get busy with that is right now, all across the country. I kind of agree with Diana Moon that it would have been better if Kerry had waged a national campaign. (In a subsequent post — an excellent reader e-mail from Texas — Moon noticed that Howard Dean appears to agree.) I made a similar point to hers in my volunteer feedback to the Democrats:

I’d also say that [Kerry and Edwards] nearly backed themselves into a minority presidency. I realize resources are limited, but spending time in CA or NY might have jacked up the votes [especially turnout in CA — ed.] there to make it even closer than 51-48 — maybe even 49-50. And running ahead in the national polls is worth something, just as being a minority president is worth a little less than otherwise.

Of course, being a minority president is also worth a lot more than being a defeated candidate. I’ll just point out that these things are rarely that cut and dried; once you see your guy is behind in the national polls, you start to pay more attention to why, and things start slipping in the Ohios and Floridas, too.

Anyway, the beauty part is right now that doesn’t matter any more — we have the freedom to wage a national campaign, and we should now. Let’s not wait until 2006 or 2008 and be tempted or “forced” to concede whole states and regions to the GOP again.

What I’m not for, and what I sense in a number of “whither Democrats” articles I’ve read, is despair and exhaustion. I sense a tired willingness to give up on a truly national party, and/or a willingness to throw folks off the Democratic sled to keep ahead of the GOP/Christian right wolves — whether they’re gays looking for full equality, exploited employees looking to organize themselves, or other groups we may not yet even realize are on the menu. The wolves will feast — and then they’ll keep chasing the rest of us in our weaker sled. Democrats would deserve to go extinct if that happens.

All that said, I’m actually a centrist too on a number of these push-button domestic issues. I prefer cultural evolution to cultural revolution; negotiations to strikes or boycotts; a right to abortions that are safe, legal and rare. The thing to do is see where some give and take is possible on these issues, without either selling out the relatively powerless or conceding whole swathes of the nation to the other side.

The way to do that is to get out there and talk with people, particularly in red states and counties, and prove to more of them that Democrats and liberals are on their side on issues that matter. I’ll be sharing some ideas about that soon.

* Via cousin Kate and blogger Iris; thanks!

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Moral values trump strengthlyness

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 8th November 2004

Reliably angry centrist Jeff Jarvis is having none of it — this whole “moral values” voting thing is a myth:

And one more issue, as Glenn Reynolds points out, is that big media and the left will latch onto this faux statistic to argue that all the people who voted for Bush are actually religious reactionaries, which is unfair to them and ultimately condescending to the electorate and brushes off all the other real issues that voters considered. It’s also a tactical mistake, for it only makes it seem as if the religious reactionary fringe is much bigger than it actually it (sic); this complaint only thus gives them more clout in media and politics.

As usual, Glenn is only right when it’s all but unavoidable: if anyone ever argued that “all” Bush voters are actually religious reactionaries, that would of course be wrong. The actual argument is that this group gave Bush the essential core group for his victory.

Let’s look at the numbers: according to CNN, 22% of voters polled listed “moral values” as their top concern, and 80% of this group voted for Bush. The next highest concerns were the economy (20%; 80% voted for Kerry), terrorism (19%; 86% for Bush), and Iraq (15%; 73% for Kerry). Do the math, and you see that about 18% U.S. voters voted for Bush mainly because of “moral values”, while about 16% voted for him mainly because of his perceived edge in fighting terrorism.

The effect is even clearer in Ohio where 20% of Ohio voters chose Bush on the basis of “moral values,” compared to the 15% who chose him because terrorism was their main concern. Add in the factor of evangelical volunteer fervor,* and it’s clear that the “moral values” crowd won this election for Bush.


Jarvis has a second line of defense against what he considers the “moral values” fallacy, namely that they’re vague and meaningless, and that everybody has moral values. As to the latter, of course, he’s right; we urban dwellers often have moral values as nearly fully developed as God-fearing folk anywhere.

But the argument that “moral values” is vague neatly ignores facts: this allegedly vague identifier broke overwhelmingly for Bush. So a group of people with a clearly (self-)definable characteristic — voting for Bush — agreed much more often than their Kerry counterparts that this thing called “moral values” was their most important reason for supporting Bush. There’s something there. It ain’t Iraq, it ain’t terrorism, and it ain’t vague. It’s just undefined by the exit poll.

Now, I’m not completely sure what is meant by “moral values” either (cough homos cough), and more study certainly couldn’t hurt (cough getting married free as you please cough). I do know Bush made a pitch for the FMA back in the spring; far from alienating a moderate center of the electorate as I once hoped, the strategems seem to have brought far more of a crucial “moral values” demographic to the polls. That, some nice weekly roundtables at the White House with Christian conservatives* and a round or five of robo-calling that must have cost someone a bit of change.

Folks on the right like John Cole consider this view of the election disproven too. While I intend to read even the unbearably smarmy David Brooks’ take that Cole links to, I haven’t got through all of them. But here’s the key part of one analysis, by Paul Freedman, that Cole cites:

Much has been made of the fact that “moral values” topped the list of voters’ concerns, mentioned by more than a fifth (22 percent) of all exit-poll respondents as the “most important issue” of the election. It’s true that by four percentage points, people in states where gay marriage was on the ballot were more likely than people elsewhere to mention moral issues as a top priority (25.0 vs. 20.9 percent). But again, the causality is unclear. Did people in these states mention moral issues because gay marriage was on the ballot? Or was it on the ballot in places where people were already more likely to be concerned about morality?

More to the point, the morality gap didn’t decide the election. Voters who cited moral issues as most important did give their votes overwhelmingly to Bush (80 percent to 18 percent), and states where voters saw moral issues as important were more likely to be red ones. But these differences were no greater in 2004 than in 2000. If you’re trying to explain why the president’s vote share in 2004 is bigger than his vote share in 2000, values don’t help.

There’s a lot to take on here, but in brief: 1) Freedman’s suggestion of simultaneous causation (moral issues mentions caused by initiatives? or initiatives caused by moral issues concerns?) is interesting — but at any rate concedes that this variety of morality drove the vote for this segment of the electorate. 2) The fact, if true, that the “morality gap” was no greater than in 2000 proves next to nothing: (a) it’s arguable the “morality gap” helped give Bush the election in 2000 as well, and/or (b) at any rate, it’s not the gap, it’s the quantity. If “morality gap” voters turned out heavily perhaps even more heavily than in 2000, whether the gap stayed the same width isn’t all that important.

That is, even in the (unlikely) event that the anti-gay initiatives themselves added little to turnout or changing voter’s minds about their presidential vote, “moral values” voters appear to be one of the largest and most fervent blocks of Bush supporters.

Why all the fuss?

What’s at issue is the underlying hierarchy of reasons Bush voters voted as they did, because that shapes the kind of ‘mandate’ Bush has. As things now stand, and whether his confused anti-terror/pro-Iraq-war allies believe it or not, Bush is likelier to cut and run from Iraq than he is to cut and run from the FMA or bible-thumping judicial appointments. His most numerous and fervent backers care more about the latter, and I assert that Bush’s desire to push his domestic agenda is foremost with him, too.

As Michael Kinsley pointed out on the Tavis Smiley Show the other day, the great thing about (relatively) close elections is that everybody’s right — it doesn’t take much for your pet hypothesis to provide the straw that broke John Kerry’s back. So why are generally sensible if hypermoderate people like Jarvis, and honest if hyperpartisan people like Cole tying themselves in knots to deny the likeliest interpretation of these results?

One explanation is obviously that “moral values” voter undercut the favored tough guy interpretation of Bush’s already narrow win — roughly, anti-terror strengthlyness (TM). Another is that the sub rosa, nudge-nudge-wink-wink style of campaign and coordination with religious leaders* is in itself an indictment of the way Bush campaign and their supporters see democracy — not an open campaign of ideas, but a process to be gamed away from prying eyes. I may try another time to connect this particular dot with others, like the police-assisted “Miami model” intimidation of protesters at Bush rallies and drive-throughs, or structural shenanigans like the Texas redistricting saga, but for now, see Jonathan Chait.

To me, this looks like more of a “moral values” presidency and political coalition than it is a “terror fightin” one. I hope I’m wrong. But if not, it will be interesting to see which “you just don’t get terrorism” libertarians (like Glenn Reynolds, at least nominally), conservatives (like Tacitus), or “Bush Democrats” (like Michael Totten) will realize first that it won’t be them, but the Christian right who Bush will “dance with who brung ya” when push comes to shove.

Of course, they could always join Charles Johnson and start banging the “Islam: Religion of Peace” drum. Onward Christian soldiers! It’ll be a crusade after all.


* Evangelicals Say they led Charge for the GOP,” Alan Cooperman and Thomas B. Edsall, Washington Post, 11/8/2004. See also Bush Secured Victory in Florida by Veering From Beaten Path, by Abby Goodnough and Don Van Natta, New York Times, 11/7/2004.

EDITS, 9:45pm: subtitles added, 11/9: minor edits – “compared to”, “(sic)”, Jarvis link correction.

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Pledge this

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 5th November 2004

On the evening of the election, I watched CNN’s Aaron Brown solemnly recite Jeff Jarvis’ popular if somewhat sanctimonious pledge:

I promise to… Support the President, even if I didn’t vote for him….. Criticize the President, even if I did vote for him….. Uphold standards of civilized discourse in blogs and in media while pushing both to be better…. Unite as a nation, putting country over party, as we work together to make America better.

I have little problem with any but the first part, but that’s enough. (I’d also quibble that I just can’t unite as a nation, but whatever.) Clearly, a lot depends on what you mean by “support.” In an addendum, Jarvis explains what he means is

…acknowledging that the president is the president and especially in a time of war, we need to stand together against our enemies — namely, Islamofascist terrorists — and not act, as too many have during this administration (and the one before it) that the enemy is in the White House. No, we’re on the same side.

No, we’re not on the same side. Has Jarvis — who gave Kerry his lukewarm endorsement — really been paying attention the last four weeks, let alone the past four years?. His pledge is possibly appropriate for a first-term president, but not for an incumbent one who ran the kind of campaign Bush did, and has the kind of track record Bush does.

Bush plans to use a “mandate” mainly supplied by people who hate gays, believe there were WMD in Iraq, believe Saddam had something to do with 9/11, and/or believe Swift Boat ads have a bearing on any of that to launch the domestic agenda that may well have been his principal war goal all along. From Bush’s Thursday press conference, that will mean putting Social Security money in the stock market, “reforming” taxes (like taking out the state and local taxes as a deduction!), and limiting medical lawsuits — none of which figure in much of anyone’s estimate of Bush’s 51% “mandate.”

The time to oppose him on these things is absolutely right now, and therefore Bush will definitely not get my support right now.

That may seem to miss Jarvis’ point: he’s talking about the fight against “Islamofascist terrorists”, not the one to “reform” tort law or wreck Social Security. But Bush has abused his undeserved stature with respect to the former to pursue the latter. So I shouldn’t and won’t say “let’s see how he does for a while with Iraq or with Al Qaeda,” because I already know how he does: he and his crew are screwups who have the gall to call their screwups successes, and the great good fortune to have an unscrupulous Rove campaign machine to help confirm them in that. I certainly support the troops in Iraq and elsewhere, and I hope for real progress with, say, democratizing Iraq, or in taking down Al Qaeda instead of growing it. But by now it’s approaching the same kind of hope I’d have waiting for a chimp to type Hamlet.

So I pledge to (now) remain somewhere between highly skeptical to actively hostile to any plan coming out of the White House. And that’s that.

Matt Welch has a similar reaction, but with different reasons — he mainly just doesn’t like pledges, although I guess that’s a lot of my reaction, too. Welch concludes:

…when you confuse your own justifications for voting with some kind of serene Adulthood, you are not “uphold[ing] standards of civilized discourse”; most likely, you are fooling yourself while spouting nonsense.

And it’s not that I’m above any of that, no matter how I sporadically try. It’s just that reading a thousand fiercely partisan webloggers suddenly reciting “peace pledges” about Elevating Discourse after 18 months of tar-and-feather is like watching a kleptomaniac lecture a bum about not stealing. I wish them much luck, expect very little, and pledge only to keep writing like I always have. Except maybe with more curse words.

He got that shit right.

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Thank you, John Kerry

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 5th November 2004

Cricket and I happened to be in the car together on Wednesday just as John Kerry made his concession speech:

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. You just have no idea how warming and how generous that welcome is, your love is, your affection, and I’m gratified by it. I’m sorry that we got here a little bit late and a bit short. […]

I’m proud of what we stood for in this campaign, and of what we accomplished. When we began, no one thought it was possible to even make this a close race. But we stood for real change, change that would make a real difference in the life of our nation, the lives of our families. And we defined that choice to America.

When she stepped out of the car I was a little surprised to see Crickey had misted up. “I liked him,” she said simply. “I liked him a lot.”

Kerry grew on me, too. I’ve come to recognize him as one of the decent, smart, and tough people in politics today. And more than that, he ran a good race. He pulled ahead, he won his debates, he seemed to have momentum in the final days, he laid into Bush for the things he should have — Iraq, the economy, the war on terror. Maybe he and his pros shouldn’t have been blindsided by Christian ‘values’ voters the way I was. I actually thought Iraq and the war on terror were the top issues; shows how much I know.

Thank you, John Kerry. For fighting a good fight, for fighting it so well there was a decent shot at winning it, and for doing that with intelligence and dignity. Thanks for just having the guts to wage a campaign when it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Bush would win in a landslide. Thanks for having the stamina to continue to wage it confidently when the slime began to fly. Thanks for the pleasure of comparing you with Bush on the same stage, and thinking “wow — he really wouldn’t just be better, he’d be great.” If others criticize and carp, I’ll be having none of it. And for what it’s worth, I see a lot of people agree with that.*

Because Kerry proved there’s no point in giving up. Really, all the Democratic figures of the past year did that, and I hereby strongly applaud all of them: especially Howard Dean, John Edwards, and Wesley Clark, but Bob Graham, Al Sharpton, Carole Mosely-Braun, and Joe Lieberman as well. They all tried, and the way I see it John Kerry in particular left it all on the field. The least I can do is try a little more myself.

The first thing I’ll be doing is to pledge a regular contribution to the Democratic Party, the best institution for defending the political and, yes, the moral values I support, among which are respect for the Constitution and civil rights, tolerance, reason, and helping those who need it. I urge all Democrats and all Americans who read this to do the same.

I also plan to not just give the Democrats money, but also some volunteer time between elections, if only so I’m not so tongue-tied the time I head out on one of those canvassing buses. I almost regret that I don’t live in a “Red State.” I’m getting ready for 2006 and 2008 starting right now, and I hope you will, too.

* Mark A.R. Kleimann, tactically, at least; Mark Schmitt unqualifiedly; Josh Marshall parenthetically, Rollins Teel straightforwardly. This list may be updated. The John Kerry button will eventually be redirected to the Democratic Party web site.

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