Month: October 2006

The Veer Towards Smear

We knew things would start to get ugly as November 7th approached and the Republicans got more and more desperate, didn’t we? The Washington Post has an excellent article, The Year of Playing Dirtier , that describes the depths to which negative advertising has sunk this election year:

On the brink of what could be a power-shifting election, it is kitchen-sink time: Desperate candidates are throwing everything. While negative campaigning is a tradition in American politics, this year’s version in many races has an eccentric shade, filled with allegations of moral bankruptcy and sexual perversion.

Unlike much of the MSM, who try to be “balanced” by claiming both parties equally guilty even though they can’t find any actual examples of negative ads on the Democratic side, the Post places responsibly right in the lap of the GOP.

The result has been a carnival of ugly, especially on the GOP side, where operatives are trying to counter what polls show is a hostile political environment by casting opponents as fatally flawed characters. The National Republican Campaign Committee is spending more than 90 percent of its advertising budget on negative ads, according to GOP operatives, and the rest of the party seems to be following suit.

Perhaps the best (worst?) example of the politics of desperation is the “Osama Bin Laden is coming – Be very afraid” ad sponsored by the Republican National Committee.

The RNC has raised eyebrows with an ad consisting almost entirely of al-Qaeda videos starring Osama bin Laden and his top deputies. There is no sound except the ticking of a bomb before the final warning: “These are the stakes. Vote November 7th.” John G. Geer, a Vanderbilt professor who has written a book defending negative political ads, said he told a well-connected Republican friend in Washington that the ticking-bomb ploy seemed like a desperation move. The friend e-mailed back: “John, we’re desperate!”

As seems to be the case every week, Keith Olbermann hits it out of the park with this video.


NCLB – The Football Version

A. G. Rud has a funny analogy comparing football with NCLB. Well, funny in a sad, sad way.

NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND—The Football Version

1. All teams must make the state playoffs and all MUST win the championship.
If a team does not win the championship, they will be on probation until
they are the champions, and coaches will be held accountable. If after two
years they have not won the championship their footballs and equipment will
be taken away UNTIL they do win the championship.

2. All kids will be expected to have the same football skills at the same time
even if they do not have the same conditions or opportunities to practice on
their own. NO exceptions will be made for lack of interest in football, a
desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities or disabilities of themselves or their parents.

3. Talented players will be asked to workout on their own, without
instruction. This is because the coaches will be using all their
instructional time with the athletes who aren’t interested in football, have
limited athletic ability or whose parents don’t like football.

4. Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in the
4th, 8th, and 11th game. It will create a New Age of Sports where every
school is expected to have the same level of talent and all teams will reach
the same minimum goals. If no child gets ahead, then no child gets left behind.
If parents do not like this new law, they are encouraged to vote for vouchers
and support private schools that can screen out the non-athletes and prevent
their children from having to go to school with bad football players.

The Blinders of Madison County

Rick Davis BYU-Idaho Humanities ProfessorRick Davis- Humanities Professor, BYU-Idaho

Tim Grieve had an interesting column in Salon about “The reddest place in America,” Madison County, Idaho, home of BYU-Idaho. Some of the quotes from members of the faculty at BYU-Idaho caused my jaw to drop. For example:

As BYU-I English professor Dawn Anderson tells me, it’s important to understand that most voters in Madison County are Mormons, and that “everything of a political nature” has to be understood in that context.

“The climate surrounding faithful membership in this organization is not always conducive to challenging authority,” she says. “People here are reluctant to openly criticize the president and his administration, even if they privately disapprove of his job.” And many of them don’t disapprove, even privately. “After 20 years of teaching Mormon students, I’ve learned that the majority of them have little knowledge of issues outside the Republican platform. They only know that Democrats are lesbian baby-killers.”

Those critics of academia who believe all college professors are liberals should listen to Rick Davis who is (ironically) BYU-Idaho professor of Humanities.

One of Anderson’s BYU-I colleagues, a conservative professor of humanities named Rick Davis, offers a different sort of testament to the appeal of the area and the politics of its residents. Davis has lived in a lot of different places, he says, and he knows that people are different all over. Even Mormons are different. Davis contrasts his neighbors with Massachusetts Gov. and potential GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Romney is a “Boston Mormon,” notes Davis, not to be confused with “Rexburg Mormons,” who, he says, are “so red that you just bleed.”

Davis is definitely a Rexburg Mormon. I ask him about his thoughts on George W. Bush, and he launches into an explanation about how much worse off we’d all be if Al Gore had moved into the White House six years ago. “Oh, heaven help us,” he says. “No leadership, zero, which is the way Clinton was, too.” Clinton got away with a lot because the press is so liberal, Davis insists; Bush is “damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t” because people just don’t understand that we could all be at the mercy of nuclear-armed terrorists if the United States doesn’t prevail in Iraq.

People in Madison County? They get it, Davis says. He’s been around, after all, and he’s come to understand that “anything that’s cosmopolitan is liberal, and anything that’s small is conservative.” But why is Madison County so overwhelmingly conservative? “There’s more Mormons here, and they’re better educated,” he says. “We have a very high education level in this town, a very high income level in this town. Now, that equates with being conservatives. We’re fiscally aware of where the money comes from, and that it doesn’t grow on the great tree in Washington. We don’t have any welfare state in this area at all. We don’t have blacks in this area to speak of. We’ve had them, and they’ve come and gone. Not to say they were driven out; they’ve just felt uncomfortable because there aren’t enough of them — like you and me moving to Montgomery, Alabama.

I wonder why he talks about welfare and then immediately mentions blacks? I guess blacks are all on welfare, aren’t they? “Blacks weren’t driven out, they just felt uncomfortable…” This is the language of covert racism that so frequently infects small insulated communities like Rexburg. Of course, as Grieve points out, Davis is wrong about Rexburg Mormons in terms of both education and income.

Davis may overestimate Madison County’s standing on the income and education fronts. According to 2003 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the county’s median income is substantially lower than the median for Idaho or for the nation as a whole. Its educational accomplishments are pretty average: 24.4 percent of the county’s adult residents have at least a bachelor’s degree — a number that’s exactly equal to the national one. As for Madison County’s racial breakdown, Davis is pretty much spot-on.

Grieve concludes his article by noting that, even though the citizens of Madison county are content to keep their blinders on and obey authority, Republican support in the rest of the state is starting to show signs of weakness. He mentions the tight race between Grant and Sali as well as Mike Simpson’s hypocrisy in supporting Sali, who he once threatened to throw out of a window.

All in all, a thought provoking article well worth reading.

Fail the Course


At yesterday’s press briefing, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was asked about “Stay the Course” and why Bush has suddenly decided to stop using it. Here is what he said:

Q Why would he stop using it?

MR. SNOW: Because it left the wrong impression about what was going on. And it allowed critics to say, well, here’s an administration that’s just embarked upon a policy and not looking at what the situation is, when, in fact, it’s just the opposite. The President is determined not to leave Iraq short of victory, but he also understands that it’s important to capture the dynamism of the efforts that have been ongoing to try to make Iraq more secure, and therefore, enhance the clarification — or the greater precision.

Q Is the President responsible for the fact people think it’s stay the course since he’s, in fact, described it that way himself?


Notice what Snow is trying to do here. According to this spin, the President’s policy has always been dynamic and responsive to the situation in Iraq while the goal, victory, has remained the same. The truth is pretty much the opposite. The strategy has remained the same while the goal has constantly shifted from capture WMDs, to regime change, to democracy in the middle east, to free elections, to fight the terrorists there so we won’t have to fight them here, and so on. When the Bush administration unveils the plan to withdraw American troops from Iraq after the elections (and they will), it will be interesting to see how they will interpret the “victory” they will claim to have achieved.

Notice also that Snow claims Bush and other White House talking heads have no responsibility for this misunderstanding even though they have been drumming “stay the course” vs. “cut and run” into our heads for the last two years. After all, the president would never use a slogan like “stay the course” for purely political/rhetorical purposes. Now that it has become apparent that the term “gives the wrong impression” about the flexible and ever responsive policy in Iraq, the White House is trying to “enhance the clarification– or the greater precision”.

In other words, they are searching for a new slogan that can replace “stay the course” as they devise an exit strategy. Some possibilities come to mind. How about “cut and saunter” or “leave the course to the caddies” or “divide the course into three parts and then run”? Unfortunately for Bush and the Republican party, the grades are already in and they have “failed the course.” It is up to the voters to hand out the report card in three weeks.

Pathological Liars on Parade

The blogosphere has been debating whether Bush is a psychopath. See here and here, here, here, and here, for example. Personally, I lean toward pathological liar. How else can you account for his claim Sunday, on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, that “We have never been stay the course…”?

UPDATE: White House Counselor Dan Bartlett appeared on CBS this morning and made the claim that the Bush Administration has “never” had a “stay the course” strategy. See Think Progress for the video. Do these people not understand that their words are actually saved on video tape to be replayed later? Or, do they think the American public so stupid they will believe each “big lie” if only it is repeated often enough by those right wing hacks in the media who parrot whatever happens to be the current White House spin?


Rushing off a Cliff

The New York Times ran a great editorial today that states, in no uncertain terms, the historic folly Congress is engaged in by passing the so-called “anti-terrorism” legislation.

Here’s what happens when this irresponsible Congress railroads a profoundly important bill to serve the mindless politics of a midterm election: The Bush administration uses Republicans’ fear of losing their majority to push through ghastly ideas about antiterrorism that will make American troops less safe and do lasting damage to our 217-year-old nation of laws – while actually doing nothing to protect the nation from terrorists. Democrats betray their principles to avoid last-minute attack ads. Our democracy is the big loser.

Republicans say Congress must act right now to create procedures for charging and trying terrorists – because the men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks are available for trial. That’s pure propaganda. Those men could have been tried and convicted long ago, but President Bush chose not to. He held them in illegal detention, had them questioned in ways that will make real trials very hard, and invented a transparently illegal system of kangaroo courts to convict them.

It was only after the Supreme Court issued the inevitable ruling striking down Mr. Bush’s shadow penal system that he adopted his tone of urgency. It serves a cynical goal: Republican strategists think they can win this fall, not by passing a good law but by forcing Democrats to vote against a bad one so they could be made to look soft on terrorism.

Last week, the White House and three Republican senators announced a terrible deal on this legislation that gave Mr. Bush most of what he wanted, including a blanket waiver for crimes Americans may have committed in the service of his antiterrorism policies. Then Vice President Dick Cheney and his willing lawmakers rewrote the rest of the measure so that it would give Mr. Bush the power to jail pretty much anyone he wants for as long as he wants without charging them, to unilaterally reinterpret the Geneva Conventions, to authorize what normal people consider torture, and to deny justice to hundreds of men captured in error.

The editorial goes on to describe the major flaws in the bill including: 1) an overly broad definition of “illegal enemy combatant” that would allow the President to arrest and detain indefinitely, with no possibility for appeal, anyone he wants. 2) The repudiation of a half-century of international precedent by allowing Bush to decide on his own what abusive interrogation methods he considered permissible. And his decision could stay secret – there’s no requirement that this list be published. 3) Detainees in U.S. military prisons would lose the basic right of Habeas Corpus. 4) The elimination of Judical Review. The courts would have no power to review any aspect of this new system, except verdicts by military tribunals. The bill would limit appeals and bar legal actions based on the Geneva Conventions, directly or indirectly. All Bush would have to do to lock anyone up forever is to declare him an illegal combatant and not have a trial. 5) Coerced evidence would be permissible if a judge considered it reliable and relevant. Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Bush chooses. 6) The use of secret evidence will be permissible. American standards of justice prohibit evidence and testimony that is kept secret from the defendant, but this bill eliminates that standard. 7) The definition of torture is unacceptably narrow and will undoubtedly be used as an excuse for actions against captured American troops a some point in the future.

Unfortunately, with the mid-term elections only a few weeks away, many Democrats are following Republicans in voting for the legislation in order to avoid being called “soft on terrorism.”