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    Monday, November 15, 2004

    What Now? 

    This Joel Pett cartoon captures my view of the election.

    I've read so many analyses of what went wrong -- or what didn't go right enough -- that I'm overwhelmed and still perplexed.

    One question: Why are upper middle class Democrats who vote against their own financial self interest for programs to aid the poor and middle class called "elites"?

    Why are Hollywood liberals blamed for the coarseness of the culture when the owners of the major media that create these programs -- not only Fox -- are Republican supporters?

    Why are Democrats chided for being "angry," when it's the right wing talk show hosts who are the most vicious? And why are Dems being warned against being obstructionist when that was the exact Republican policy in '92 and '96?

    If you had told any political operative that this year's election would draw 14 million more voters than 2000, he or she likely would have predicted a Kerry victory. In the past, people haven't turned out in large number to vote for the status quo. But they did this year. Why? Many were motivated largely by fear of terrorism, which the Bush administration fanned at every opportunity. I don't know whether, even if John Kerry had been a better candidate, he could have gotten a hearing from these folks.

    (Of course, John Kerry got 5 million more votes than Al Gore got in 2000, so the Democrats and other progressives were doing some things right -- just not enough. Now, if we could only agree on what those things were!)

    I do not believe Democrats should change their basic positions. I do think they need to be able to express them better and more simply.

    I was going to write about the linguist George Lakoff anyway, but yesterday's New York Times provides a good summary of view. Lakoff says that progressives need to frame their issues differently because people vote their identities, not their self-interest. One example: Framing the issue of the deficit as a "baby tax," since our kids will be paying for it.

    That's for the long haul, though.

    In the short term, I want to say thanks for reading and contributing.

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 1:33 PM

    Friday, November 12, 2004

    Looking back 

    Now that the election is behind us, and we've all had a chance to catch our breath, a few parting thoughts:

    1. The election was about the war on terror, economic issues and trust in George Bush from more than half the voters. Columnist Charles Krauthammer pretty much demolishes the idea that the results turned on moral values. Many on the left, of course, are going around today complaining that the "religious right" has hijacked the country, which I suppose means gay couples are going to be rounded up and thrown in jail. But if you ask many Bush voters what they mean by "moral issues," they are likely to tell you they think the nation has been hijacked by a "progressive" elite who don't care that public entertainment has become a sewer, that there don't seem to be any ethical standards anymore. They woke up one morning, and the rules had all changed, but nobody asked them for their opinion or vote. That's what elections are all about -- which set of ideas rule the nation; we each pick our set and work for our candidate.

    2. There is a lot of anger and bewilderment out there among the left, and until this fizzles out, people in that camp frankly aren't going to be good for much of anything. Until they finally get it -- that they have lost touch with average Americans and need to examine their approach -- they're just going to flounder in impotent rage. They need to get over it, so they can perform the function that's left for them as the loyal opposition. Their honest critiques are needed, their imformed dissent, their passionately offered ideas (rather than mere whining that the current administration "has it wrong"). Maybe this sounds harsh, but I speak from experience. This is the kind of getting over it I had to go through when Bill Clinton won a second term.

    3. Finally, a plea to the winning Republicans. Don't get too arrogant. Listen to those opposition ideas -- you might learn a thing or two occasionally. And don't drown out the voices of dissent on your own side. I know from my years on an editorial page that people who argue about ideas tend to build themselves an echo chamber in which our own voices get louder and louder; it gets harder and harder to hear opinions voiced by people outside the chamber. If you don't make a little room for disagreement, for the vetting of opinion that a healthy argument can bring, then the crazies on your side will take over, and you will lose next time.

    Thanks to all who put up with my rantings and ravings for the last few months. Free-Fire is going to shut down for now, but we might just see you again some time as our mutual search for truth continues.

    Bye for now,

    posted by Leo Morris at # 4:27 PM

    Tuesday, November 02, 2004

    Carol's Closing Argument 

    Instead of me going over again John Kerry's qualifications -- or the reasons to remove George W. Bush -- I want to let the hundreds of people who stood in line to vote this morning make my argument.

    As I've written before, the amount of energy and commitment being expended by ordinary citizens reflects what's at stake in this election.

    John Kerry and the Democrats have run a campaign that reflects the fact that America's future depends on including more people in democracy, and in the American dream.

    It depends on America modeling its values of justice and freedom to the world -- not only its military might. It depends on people caring for each other, especially those who have been left behind in this economy. It depends on working to have more voices heard, not demanding loyalty oaths or working to suppress involvement of certain people in the political process.

    Kerry isn't the perfect candidate by a long shot, but he represents a view of America in the world that gives hope: America might soon reclaim respect, not only from the rest of the world, but from our own people.

    A Fresh Start. That's what the people in line were voting for.

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 5:51 PM

    Leo's closing argument 

    Before my closing argument, just a couple of points, since Carol rebutted my rebuttal as well as my original post.

    1. During Kerry's time on the Gridley, it was posted "off the coasts of" the Phillippines and New Zealand as well as Vietnam. To call that "Vietnam service" is a stretch, but never mind. Believe it or not, there is also a USS Gridley page on the Web, with its own John Kerry page. About all bringing that up shows is that, well, gosh, John Kerry the war blowhard lied/exaggerated/self-aggrandized about that service, too.

    2. We can go back and forth about the domestic agenda and the economy till the end of time, and I don't think our basic views will change. Carol -- along with a legion of Kerry supporters -- obviously believes that the president and the federal government should dry every tear, remove every stone from our path, in all ways nanny us from the cradle to the grave. I believe otherwise. You can spin economic numbers anyway you want to, but would you really care to compare how things are now with how they were, say, during the same time period when Clinton was seeking his second term? You ask about talking to those "real" people suffering real hardship. If unemployment were only 2 percent, you could still find the same stories. Unemployment is, in fact, almost exactly where it was as Clinton was campaigning for a second term. Did you cry for those people, or do we just start playing the victimization card when it's a Republican in the White House? Are you going to seriously say that, until four years ago, we had nothing but wonderful jobs in this nation and that Bush has singlehandedly turned us into a nation of burger-flipers? There are global economic forces at work here, another issue on which the Kerry camp seems clueless.

    Now to the close:

    There are some undeniable facts about America and the world today than many Americans don’t seem happy about:

    1. America is the last remaining superpower.

    2. America is a stronghold of freedom and a repository of the wealth and decency freedom can generate.

    3. The world is a dangerous place in which freedom, wealth and decency are prized but scarce commodities.

    Acknowledging this reality is the only sane way for America to act in the current global landscape. The United States has the unrivaled ability to shape the world. If we believe we stand for what is right and good, we have the moral obligation to shape the world. If we accept that our power and sense of obligation make us the primary target of theocratic terrorists, despotic lunatics and nihilistic fanatics, we have the absolute necessity to shape the world.

    It’s fair to look back on Manifest Destiny and Pax Americana critically. But they were signposts on the path we have always been on, the path that has led us to this moment of choice. How much more “bipartisan” could the journey have been? Jefferson stretched us from sea to sea. Lincoln made our whole greater than the sum of its parts. Roosevelt put us on the world stage. Truman demonstrated our willingness to use our power, however terrible. Reagan left us the last superpower standing.

    George Bush, I think, understands that journey and the need to push on. Maybe he didn’t before 9/11, but that outrage seems to have transformed him more than anybody else. He sees not just one defensive battle at a time, but the need to adopt and commit to a comprehensive strategy. He has an accurate perception of the world as it is and a clear vision of what it can and should be. He is willing to pursue that vision and to try to make us see it.

    John Kerry wants to retrace our steps back along the path and, if possible, take a detour. He still lives in a 9/10 world in which we dare not act “lest we create more terrorists.” He would respond to attacks on us, but putting one piece of the puzzle in place at a time, not seeing the overall picture until it is far too late. He treasures world opinion above all, when it is blindingly clear we should be leading the world, not seeking its counsel. And while he works so hard to keep the messy world at bay, he would rededicate himself to every redistributionist strategy dreamed up from the New Deal to the Great Society, and then add a few more. We’re already facing bankruptcy when Baby Boomers tap into Social Security and Medicare? Never mind that, we can’t possible make any changes. And while we’re at it, let’s add universal health care, too.

    The choices have seldom been clearer than in this election, the stakes never higher. We are not just talking about 3,000 people who died on Sept. 11 or 1,000 who have died in Iraq. We are talking how billions of people will exist in a world now delicately balanced between chaos and civilization, and whether America will try to tip that balance or just sit back and let events unfold.

    Strangely enough, in this election full of odd and strange things, it is the “conservative” who wants to take the plunge and accept the risks, the “liberal” who wants to play it safe and hold back. But there you have it.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 3:19 PM

    Carol's Response 

    War on Terrorists. Notice the difference in terms. As the 9/11 Commission pointed out, we’re not at war against terror. Terror is a TACTIC. Our enemies are the people who have attacked us and want to attack us again.

    Yet, instead of actually finding and crushing those people, we changed focus to Saddam Hussein who, while vile, was being contained. We’ve done Osama bin Laden’s recruitment for him, creating murderous enemies where we didn’t have them before.

    Besides dropping the Big One, how do you fight terrorists in 60 countries? You can’t kill them all. What we can do is increase our defenses, cut off the funds of the terrorists, and FIX THE INTELLIGENCE APPARATUS. This is something that the House of Representatives now is blocking. Bush has paid lip service to the workable version of intelligence legislation proposed by the 9/11 commission – you know, the one that takes away the power of the Pentagon neocons who got us into Iraq. But if Bush wanted it to happen, it would have and it hasn’t. Look at Bush’s appointment of party hack Porter Goss and you see how serious he is about fixing the CIA.

    Economy: Why don’t we take Leo’s version of the economy – robust growth, more jobs, more money coming into federal coffers – and run it by, say, people in Ohio or Pennsylvania? You know, the ones whose unemployment benefits have run out, the ones who aren’t counted in the unemployment rate because they’ve stopped looking for work, the ones whose new job(s) pay $9,000 a year on average less than their old ones. Many of those who are not unemployed fear unemployment. Even if they don’t, they’ve seen their incomes shrinking in real terms, their health care benefits reduced or gone, and the cost of living going up.

    Bush doesn’t know any of these people, that’s for sure. If he did, he wouldn’t have answered that question in the debate by telling the person who had just lost a job to go to community college. (After the debate, we received several emails from unemployed engineers in Silicon Valley wondering which particular Associates’ Degree that Bush might think they should pursue.) I had to laugh when Bush waxed so poetic over education, since Republican administrations in the states blocked women coming off welfare from pursuing education to lift them above Wal Mart wages.

    Heck, why not run this vision of a rosy economy by any old economist who isn’t employed by the Republicans? It simply does not match reality. It was tax cuts, not 9/11, that brought us much of the monster deficit that has America in a bind, unable to move forward.

    Domestic Agenda: No Child Left Behind originally was intended as a back door to vouchers, but that didn't happen. By failing to fund it sufficiently, Bush crippled its effectiveness and imposed unfunded mandates on the states.

    Ask seniors trying to figure out the Byzantine rules of the drug prescription cards what they think of Bush’s great drug prescription plan. By forbidding Medicare from negotiating prices, Bush’s plan provided a windfall for drug companies and little help to anyone else.

    As for a safety net, Bush is cutting funding for subsidized housing, has cut after school programs, and wants to increase work requirements for welfare recipients while NOT increasing help for child care. His administration has made several runs at reducing the effect of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a support for working people that even Ronald Reagan championed.

    (BTW, Kerry served more than a year in Vietnam, for which he volunteered: the first, about a year on the USS Gridley, and then four months on Swift Boats.

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 2:16 PM

    Leo's rebuttal 

    War on terror: I said Kerry was the candidate for those who wish we hadn’t gone to war in Iraq and who don’t see the war on terror as something more than simply getting Osama bin Laden. I see I was correct. I hear nothing as an alternative to George Bush’s approach, just criticism that he is “diluting our power” in such a way that it’s harder to implement homeland security. In the first place, that exactly illustrates the defensive vs. offensive approach to terror that defines this election. In the second place, I notice we have not been attacked on our soil since 9/11. In the aftermath of that atrocity, there was widespread agreement that we would be.

    Domestic agenda: I don’t know how anybody who pushed through No Child Left Behind and the prescription-drug plan, which enraged Bush’s conservative base, could be accused of “just pushing a far right agenda.” And I’m sorry, I just don’t see the evil that liberals paint on Bush’s domestic plans. Is there anyone who doesn’t think this nation is serious about a safety net? Perhaps you mean you would like to turn back President Clinton’s welfare reform that has started breaking the cycle of welfare dependency? Environment? Look at the facts on clean air, water, etc. I agree that if you want a federal government that tries to do absolutely everything, vote for Kerry.

    The economy: Even Bush-haters admit 9/11 changed America’s position in the world, though they disagree with his response. But it also changed things domestically – a million jobs were lost as a direct result, for God’s sake. If you want to look at the economy – in a recession when Bush took over, by the way – look at what happened after he took action with his tax cuts. Robust growth, more jobs, more money coming into federal coffers.

    The Supreme Court: All it did was stop the endless Florida recount, which study after study (including by the media) have shown would have resulted in a Bush win, even without the Republican voters who went home after the media called the state too early. We are to despise the five who voted one way but allow the other four credit for being noble? Boy, that’s not too partisan. Bush won by virtue of the electoral college; you don’t like it, change it.

    The Cabinet: What’s to say here? Presidents appoint people to implement their programs. They talk to them and listen to them, no matter what two disgruntled former members of the administration say. It doesn’t matter to me, but it seems to to the other side, so I’ll mention that Bush has one of the most diverse Cabinets in history. All the speculation I’ve seen on a Kerry Cabinet focuses on old, white men. And I’ll take Condy Rice over any 10 people Kerry can come up with.

    The men: I have despised John Kerry since 1971, when he betrayed the men he served with. He was against the war, then fought in it – very briefly, coming home after getting three very questionable Purple Hearts – then was against it again. This was the first time – though God knows not the last – when Kerry has tried to have it both ways on an issue. Bush says what he means and means what he says. You might not like what he stands for, but at least you don’t have to wade through layer after layer of nuance to figure it out.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 8:33 AM

    Monday, November 01, 2004

    For Kerry, and a Kerry administration 

    The nation’s on the wrong track, and the fool who is driving refuses to ask directions, let alone turn around. It’s time to take away his keys.

    I knew the George W. Bush persona that campaigned in 2000 as a “compassionate conservative” was a fake. But I allowed myself to believe that -- after being chosen in 2000, not by the people, but by the U.S. Supreme Court with the opposite of a mandate -- Bush would have no choice but to govern from the center. Instead, Bush & Co. pushed a rigid, far right agenda.

    That agenda has upended our economy, put our environment at risk, endangered the separation of church and state, and the right to privacy. And it has led to the disastrous war in Iraq which, in turn, has depleted America’s capability of defeating the terrorists who attacked us on Sept 11: Osama bin Laden (alive and well) and al Qaeda (alive and recruiting).

    It’s a tragic joke to suggest that, by setting Iraq ablaze, we will somehow corral all the terrorists there and get them to stand still and fight us. We can fight the newly-minted terrorists and insurgents in Iraq until forever and that doesn’t mean we won’t have to fight them at home (or that they won’t get past our still-insufficient homeland security.) All we've done in Iraq is dilute our power.

    I’ve liked and admired John Kerry ever since he burst upon the national scene in 1971 as a passionate and effective spokesman for Vietnam Veterans Against the War. As a senator, he made a difference especially in investigations of crime, corruption and drug trafficking but also in health care for children and in veterans’ issues.

    As a presidential candidate, he offers a set of doable programs on both the international and domestic front that represent to me the kind of America that I want to live in: An America that “goes it alone” internationally only as a last resort, one in which our children are sent to battle against the correct enemy, and only if it is necessary, one that has taken the right steps to guard against attack.

    I want to live in an America in which we believe in economic justice for workers as well as for employers, where working fulltime means not being poor, one in which there is a safety net for the less fortunate, one that takes responsibility for itself and doesn’t pass on its bills to the next generation, one which protects our beautiful land for Americans of the future -- and one in which my Constitutional rights are protected, even in a time of war and even if some people think my choices are misguided.

    When we vote for a president, we vote for more than a person. We also vote for an administration (and also for a Supreme Court). The screaming irony is that George W. Bush touts himself as a strong leader but hasn’t proven himself competent enough to lead his own appointees.

    As former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and former anti-terrorism czar Richard Clarke have told us, Bush doesn’t ask questions, doesn’t read memos (including one very important one from Aug. 6, 2001). As he himself tells us, he doesn’t read newspapers and he gets advice from a very small coterie of people. Unfortunately, they happen to be the worst collection of advisers in modern memory: the neocon crew of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, and Rice – and that’s only on foreign policy. Look at the domestic side: Gale Norton in Interior; Elaine Chao in Labor; Rod Paige in Education; Tommy Thompson in HHS and the unspeakable John Ashcroft.

    John Kerry can be expected to name smart and principled people to his administration. More importantly, he will lead them rather than the other way around.

    And if there’s a mistake or an error, he won’t spend all his time trying to cover it up, as Bush has done with the Sept. 11 attacks – stonewalling the 9/11 Commission every step of the way. He won’t blame underlings as he has with Abu Ghraib and with the disasters of Iraq. .

    George W. Bush is a president who has demanded loyalty oaths from his audiences. Government agencies under his control have rejected or distorted inconvenient scientific facts. A recent study suggests that his supporters like him because they don’t know what he stands for. No wonder his campaign success depends on a low turnout.

    John Kerry represents the “fresh start” America so desperately needs.

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 11:47 PM

    A vote for Bush 

    (Note: Carol and I have decided to wind up with a mini debate. We will each post the case for our candidate. Then we’ll each post a rebuttal and a closing argument. This is my case for Bush)

    Two moments from this campaign stand out with stunning clarity – the first words out of the mouths of George Bush and John Kerry at their respective conventions.

    Bush: “I’m George Bush, and I’m proud to accept your nomination.” Straightforward and no-nonsense. Here is who I am.

    Kerry, with his goofy salute: “I’m John Kerry, and I’m reporting for duty.” Calculated and pretentious. Here is who I want you to think I am.

    As in, “Let’s pretend I am a fit commander-in-chief in a time of war.”

    He is not. Never has been. Never will be.

    Kerry supposed his Vietnam-hero narrative – based on four months out of a very long public life – would divert attention from everything else he has ever said or stood for. “I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend it as your president.” But, in fact, that chapter of Kerry’s life shows precisely why he is now the wrong candidate in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    He did not claim at the time that he was defending his country. He claimed that he was taking part in an illegitimate war during which American troops – including himself – routinely committed atrocities with the knowledge of, if not the downright encouragement of, those in the highest leadership positions. He went before Congress to demand an immediate and unconditional withdrawal from Vietnam, echoing exactly the sentiments of the Communist propaganda machine in Hanoi. It might not be true, as some contend, that Kerry’s actions prolonged the war and cost more American lives. But it certainly true that he was in large part responsible for the deep wounds in this country over Vietnam – wounds he now says must be healed, after he opened them up all over again.

    And Kerry has not changed since then. During the Vietnam War, he demonstrated a profound distrust of the use of American power. That distrust has never gone away. Kerry showed it when he voted against the first Gulf War, though it met every condition he says the current war in Iraq lacks. He showed it when he voted against the efforts of Ronald Reagan that brought the Soviet Empire to its knees. He showed it in a 20-year Senate record (which he seldom refers to, understandably) that was aggressively anti-military, anti-defense, anti-security. He has shown it by voting to authorize force against Iraq, then professing shock that force was actually used and voting against the money needed to sustain the effort.

    We simply cannot afford, in a time of war, to have a commander-in-chief so mistrusting of American power, so much more concerned with world opinion than with American well-being. And we are in the war of our lives.

    George Bush understands that. He knows that the evil we face – as dangerous as any enemy in our history – goes beyond 9/11, beyond Afghanistan and al-Qaida, even beyond Iraq. Civilization is at war with barbarism, modernity with tribalism, democratic pluralism with theocratic despotism. John Kerry is the candidate of those who wish we had not gone to Iraq, who believe we can go back to a 9/10 world when there were no difficult choices requiring patience and sacrifice. George Bush is the candidate for those who realize we can never go back. Those who still call Afghanistan a failure despite the astounding achievement there, who call Iraq a quagmire despite the foothold of freedom we are establishing in a land that has not known it, cannot quite come to terms with the world as it is. If we give up on this struggle – and if we elect John Kerry, that is how the world, which also distrusts our power, and our enemies, who finally have a reason to fear it, will see it -- the darkness we are attempting to push back might engulf us.

    Certainly there are domestic issues in play this election. I think I could argue that Bush has been more right than wrong in this area and that his second term holds promise. But considering the best information we have – Bush’s first term and what Kerry promises for a first term – the evidence is mixed, and rational arguments can be made for either candidate. I simply don’t think the domestic agenda matters much this election. It’s not that the issues are inconsequential, not that the candidates’ differences in some areas aren’t considerable. But if we are not secure as a nation, the rest is moot.

    “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” was a popular question in the ’60s. The answer, for those who know history, is: Then the war will come to you. John Kerry would, I fear, wait for that war and react, too little, too late. George Bush, for all the mistakes he has made in prosecution of the battles, is willing to take the war to our enemy. That makes all the difference.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 4:59 PM

    Mortality, Part 2 

    Chief Justice William Rehnquist missed today’s session of the U.S. Supreme Court. News reports that he is receiving chemotherapy has experts speculating that he has a rare, more serious form of thyroid cancer.

    Both liberals and conservatives like to point out
    that it's been 10 years since a new justice – Stephen Breyer -- was named to the court, the longest interval since James Monroe was president in 1823.

    So the nation is due for several vacancies in the next four years. So the president who appoints those justices will influence the course of this country for much longer than his term.

    As far as I’m concerned, none of the five justices who stopped the vote counting in Florida in 2000 deserves to be on the Court. In a remarkable story in last month’s Vanity Fair magazine, which hasn’t gotten enough attention, clerks to the justices broke silence and talked to reporters. They say that the five decided the outcome in advance and then came up with (extremely tenuous) reasons for it, sacrificing both integrity and credibility for politics.

    When both liberals and conservatives discuss the makeup of the Court, they often focus on abortion, gay rights and school prayer. But as People for the American Way has detailed, a more conservative court could undo a lot more rights than those.

    For one thing, the president wouldn’t be stopped, as he was this year, from indefinitely detaining U.S. citizens without any rights on American soil by naming them “enemy combatants.” Who knows how many other rights we would lose during this eternal war?

    Also at risk: affirmative action, voting rights, protection against discrimination, the right to organize, patients’ rights against HMOs, protection of pension and retirement benefits, environmental protection, disability rights, protection against age, gender, race and religious discrimination, separation of church and state, laws against sexual harassment.

    We elect more than a president tomorrow. Much more.

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 3:56 PM

    Mortality, Part 1 

    Doctors in Paris say Yasser Arafat’s condition has stabilized, but his collapse last week reminds us that he is mortal and will be gone some day.

    If that day should be soon, there will be chaos among the Palestinians.

    And it's clear that the United States is way out of position to take advantage of new leadership among the Palestinians to help negotiate a peace.

    Few would argue that Arafat was interested in peace following his choice of violence over the peace process in 2000. But the Bush administration's decision to first ignore the Israeli-Palestinian situation and then to take Israel's side in one dispute after another has made matters much worse.

    Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft - who worked for President George H.W. Bush - went so far as to say that the current President Bush has been "mesmerized" by Israel's prime minister Ariel Sharon.

    "'Sharon just has him wrapped around his little finger," Mr Scowcroft said . . . "When there is a suicide attack [followed by a reprisal] Sharon calls the president and says, 'I'm on the front line of terrorism', and the president says, 'Yes, you are. . . ' He [Mr Sharon] has been nothing but trouble."

    Israel doesn’t need the U.S. as an uncritical ally; it needs America as an “honest broker” to bring a final settlement to that region, one that includes a viable Palestinian state and security for Israel. The Bush administration has squandered American credibility in this area, and it’s hard to imagine he could ever restore it.

    That’s another critical reason for a “fresh start.”

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 2:31 PM


    There's no question there will be a record turnout tomorrow, just a question of how much of a record.

    I believe there is no downside to that, and not only because these new voters tend to support John Kerry.

    Elections are not only about the moment, but also about the next election(s). Candidates know who voted last time, and in what numbers, and they are certain to pay more attention to the concerns of people who they know represent a sizable voting bloc. What will happen in this nation if politicians pay attention, not only to big contributors, but to ordinary voters? For sure, the phenomenon of internet fundraising has impacted theories of campaign finance, balancing out -- at least somewhat -- the power of big givers and a great many smaller ones.

    And the record number of volunteers in this election suggests that Americans are more engaged, feel less helpless, and are less cynical than they have been in a long time. That may diminish somewhat after tomorrow, but not entirely. Once stirred, that energy will be focused on other parts of the community. Get ready.

    George W. Bush and his administration pointedly ignored a huge opportunity to bring America together after the Sept. 11 attacks.

    Nearly everyone, including this diehard liberal Democrat, was ready to follow him, and pitch in to make the country safer, and our people more united. I remember thinking at the time about a discussion our editorial board had with Robert Putnam, the author of "Bowling Alone," several years before. Putnam talked about the golden age of civic involvement, in the early part of the 20th century, when organizations like the Y, the Boy and Girl Scouts, Kiwanis, etc. were founded. He spoke about expecting a "click," a moment when Americans would come together again and be willing to sacrifice for their communities and rebuild our social capital.

    I thought Sept. 11 would provide that "click." It might have, if Bush had enlisted us in a movement to become independent of foreign oil, or to involve ourselves in endeavors to make our country stronger internally and to unite us. Instead, he told Americans to go shopping, be afraid, and shut up if they didn't agree with him. We also now know that Bush & Co. were determined from the very beginning to use the fear over Sept. 11 to push through the rest of their agenda.

    So now I'm thinking that this election might be the "click" Putnam predicted, if we harness the empowering feeling we get when we get out and work for what we believe in.

    Some GOTV (Get Out the Vote) tidbits:

    I got back from the grocery store yesterday to find, not only the usual letter from my precinct captains, but a note from MoveON telling me to make sure that I vote, but also to tell the MoveON person at the polls when I do, so he or she will not waste time sending somebody out to find me later in the day.

    A request went out over a community listserv Friday for 50 volunteers to get on a bus and be driven to north Jersey where they would each get a van to drive back to Philadelphia for use in transporting voters to and from the polls.

    In suburban Montgomery County, they're turning away volunteers -- or, rather, sending them to Republican areas. The Election Protection project which, until recently, was pleading for volunteers, now says they don't need any more.

    And it's beginning to look as if Republican openness about wanting to suppress voter turnout in minority, urban areas is beginning to backfire. It's losing court cases and it's got Democrats even more energized and determined.

    As Bill Clinton likes to put it: If one side wants you to vote and the other side wants to keep you from voting, vote for the side that wants you to vote.

    Finally, this email from a volunteer in Florida to Talking Points Memo confirms that something historic is happening.

    "At today’s early vote in the College Hill district of East Tampa -- a heavily democratic, 90% African American community — we had 879 voters wait an average of five hours to cast their vote. People were there until four hours after they closed (as long as they’re in line by 5, they can vote).

    Here’s what was so moving:

    We hardly lost anyone. People stood outside for an hour, in the blazing sun, then inside for another four hours as the line snaked around the library, slowly inching forward. It made Disneyland look like speed-walking. Some waited 6 hours. To cast one vote. And EVERYBODY felt that it was crucial, that their vote was important, and that they were important."

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 1:36 PM

    You promised blood in the streets and all we got was this lousy video 

    The reaction to Osama's October surprise has been as divided as the presidential election in general. The taped message will obviously help Bush because it reminds Americans that terrorism is a real threat that Kerry just doesn't know how to fight. The message will obviously help Kerry because if reminds Americans that Bush took his eye off the ball by going to Iraq instead of finishing of OBL. Bottom line: It's a wash. Most people have made up their minds, and the tape won't affect them one way or another; the few undecideds won't be able to process this any better than they have anything else.

    Two things in the tape bear commenting on. One is the notion -- expressed by William Safire, among others -- that bin Laden seems almost conciliatory; that's not something a winning general does. He also is vehement in his denunctiation of Bush and complaints of how intrusive America has been (elections in Afghanistan went on without bloodshed, alas!). I can't see this as anything but good for Bush in the election.

    The other thing is that if you really listen to the tape, OBL is trying to broaden his message to bring in "moderate Islam" instead of just relying on fundamentalist fanatics. This shows what a real threat he is and will remain. If anyone had doubts that the fight against terror will remain the biggest challenge we face in the foreseeable future, this should remove them. I have my beliefs about which presidential candidate can best meet that threat, and you undoubedly have yours.

    Osama also puts front and center the issue that has barely been commented on in this race: Israel. Our commitment to that country will be tested as never before.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 11:10 AM

    Divided America 

    To expand a little on something I mentioned earlier, the possible effect of the democratization of information on the commonweal after the election:

    Because of wall-to-wall election coverage for the last year in both the "old media" -- i.e., newspapers and TV -- and "new media" -- i.e., cable, talk radio and the blogosphere -- there has been unprecedent interest in this election, which could result in a record turnout. This is both good and bad. It is good because democracy thrives on the informed consent of the governed; the more people who participate, the healthier our republic. It is bad because it will leave the nation more bitterly divided than ever. At least half the electorate on Wednesday morning (or later, depending) will be furiously disappointed, and the first and most difficult job of the president, whoever wins, will be to knit the nation back together. This won't require something as grandiose and impossible as "healing our wounds"; but we at least have to start pursuing, more or less, the same goals.

    This coming-back-together was once much easier. Yes, this campaign has been bitter and divisive, but it's not as if there's no historical precendent; past campaigns have been equally contentious, some of them more so. But the fight was generally among members of the political elite. (Some of us have a naive belief that the country started out with a system designed to get ordinary Americans into politics for a time, then back into real life; but the truth is that we've had a political ruling class right from the beginning.) The electorate listened the verbal battles or -- more likely until recently -- read about them. They took sides, but not with such an intense passion that they couldn't move on afterwards. This has been the case even though the nation has pretty much always been divided down the middle -- it's the rare presidential winner in our history who won by 60 percent or more, the rare loser who got 40 percent or less.

    Now a greater percentage of Americans have become totally immersed in the process, and it will be harder to leave it all behind after the election. As the blogosphere becomes more important -- and it WILL -- that means we will be following our own agendas rather than just accepting the scant information let through by the gatekeepers. We are becoming increasingly suspicious of those who act as filters in the news process and, frankly, their performance in this election has not inspired confidence. Whether George Bush wins or loses this election, a continuing story will be how many in the mainstream press were perceived to have finally given up all pretension of objectivity and actively tried to get Kerry elected. This perception, unfortunately, is not too far off the mark.

    One of the functions that has been performed by the press in our past has been to act as a unifying agent, however partisan it might become at times. We had a common narrative that journalists helped tell. Whatever else we pursued, we had an "American story." I don't see the press performing that function any longer, and it's hard to see where it will come from. The blogosphere, perhaps, as it matures; there are signs that some sites are already acting as filters and gatekeepers. (Americans like to have things sorted for them; how else to explain the continued success of America online in the wild world of the Internet?) But I'm skeptical about this, too. Most of the really big bloggers are succesful in other areas -- they are journalists or lawyers or professors. There are signs already that we're drifting into an elite blogging class as well, and I think the new reality will make us suspicious of them, too.

    Perhaps a unifying force or agent will come from somewhere we don't even suspect now. I hope so. Or perhaps we are destined to remain fragmented. Considering the challenges we face in the 21st century, I pray not.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 12:10 AM

    Friday, October 29, 2004

    At least Evan Thomas told the truth 

    If I want to bash Kerry, I really have to work at it. I don't have nearly the support staff that the bash-Bush crowd has. After this is all over, a lot of people in my profession have go some 'splainin' to do.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 3:34 PM


    Yes, there really are some thoughtful undecideds out there. One has just written about her thinking process and how she came to finally choose guess who. And here's an endorsement that will drive John Kerry right around the bend. Oh, my god! It's all over now. Even Dan Rather thinks Bush will win.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 3:24 PM

    Thanks, there wasn't nearly enough hype yet 

    Of course there's no chance at all that the Lancet report is another piece of partisan poison from the get-Bush hit squad. I'm surprised it wasn't reported on 60 Minutes.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 3:02 PM

    The Real Message 

    Leo, the missing munitions story -- now pretty much confirmed with an April, 2003 tape from an embedded ABC News affiliate -- is about more than explosives. It's about how the White House didn't plan for the post-invasion period, didn't send enough troops and how -- time after time after time -- it has fudged the facts and sought to escape responsibility.

    In fact, Bush & Co.'s multiple responses and attacks since the story broke Monday is a great example of how he has operated for four years -- especially Bush surrogate Rudy Giuliani blaming the troops.

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 2:26 PM

    Ignorance is bipartisan 

    Well, I guess it wouldn't be an election without the self-styled elite letting their moral preening and intellectual vanity bubble to the surface and harp on their favorite "Republicans are dunces" campfire song. Never mind that there might be something a little more subtle going on. Since liberals lead with the heart, and conservatives insist on thinking about things -- i.e., people move from liberalism to conservatism as they grow up and see the world as it really is -- an appreciation of subtlety is probably too much to ask for.

    I'd at least have supposed that the "country is going to the dogs because the morons don't have sense enough to vote for those of us who are superior" crowd wouldn't try to prove the point by quoting the founding fathers who believed the same thing. The fact that it hasn't happened yet might just undercut the argument.

    And they might be a little more humble, considering the (already posted) evidence that their guy isn't as smart as our guy. Tom Brokaw asked Kerry about this, by the way: "Someone has analyzed the president's military aptitude tests and concluded that he has a higher IQ than you do." Kerry's response: "That's great. More power. I don't know how they've done it, because my record is not public. I don't know where you're getting that from." Hmmmmn. Hasn't Kerry said repeatedly that all his military records have been released?

    If you're going to claim the intellectual high ground, don't be so shy about it. Have the nerve to go all the way, as Seymour Hersh did: "I think one thing you have to face up to is the fact that there are roughly 70 million people in America who do not believe in evolution -- and those are Bush supporters."

    posted by Leo Morris at # 2:23 PM

    Here's some candy; now go away, kid 

    Read a report that some people are so caught up in the election that they're going to turn their kids into campaign billboards for Halloween, plaster them with Bush or Kerry buttons and stickers. I'm not sure this is a great idea. They'll probably run into a lot of mean old men like me.

    To a Kerry-supporter trick-or-treater: Hey, kid. Looks like you got a lot more candy than any of the other children with you. Give it to me. Here now, we'll give some to Johnnny and some to Melissa and some some to Inez. Sure, I know you have more candy because you knocked on more doors and worked harder. But we have to be fair. Welcome to my world, kid.

    To a Bush-supporter kid: Hey, do you really live near here? You don't look like anyone I know. Are you sure you're not too old for this? The age limit is 12, you know. Where's your mother? Does she know you're out this late? Sorry, kid, you're not authorized.

    I really shouldn't be beating the Bush side up over the widespread perception that they're going to try to get a lot of Kerry voters disqualified or at least indimidate them so they give up without casting ballots. It's about the only tactic to use when the other side is outright telling people to go ahead and vote twice; you'll never get caught.

    Oh, well, at least the kids have lots of other options for costumes, unless, of course, they live in Canada.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 1:50 PM

    Not such an explosive issue 

    Why in the world has the Kerry campaign settled on the "missing" explosives in Iraq as its last-minute-push issue? Tommy Franks is amazed, too. The United States has managed to destroy about 400,000 tons of explosives since it's been in Iraq, while it was deposing Saddam, rebuilding the infrastructure, keeping insurgents at bay. Now, 380 tons, one-tenth of one percent -- MAY be missing, in the chaos of war. It may have gone missing before or after our arrival. We might even have destroyed it. Nobody knows. Even Bush says so. But this is proof that Bush is incomeptent?

    All it really shows is how incompetent Clueless Kerry is about articulating anything coherent about Iraq. There WERE weapons of mass destruction there, and he's arguing they may be in the hands of people who want to do us harm. Guess it wasn't the wrong war in the the wrong place at the wrong time, after all.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 1:35 PM

    100,000 dead -- and counting 

    The folks who continue to justify the Iraq war -- and the way the Bush administration has conducted it -- usually begin (and often end) with the fact that Saddam Hussein was a monster who had killed thousands of his own people -- and the Iraqis are better off with him out of power.

    Now comes a study by the British medical journal Lancet that may undercut even that argument. It concludes that the American invasion has resulted in about 100,000 civilian casualties killed by military action or the violence that has followed. Here is a news story about the study and here is a link to Lancet (you have to register -- it's free) to get its report and comment.

    Even if "freedom" really were "on the march" in Iraq, think that would make much difference if one -- or, most likely, many -- of those 100,000 souls were people you knew and loved?

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 1:34 PM

    All the Polls that Fit . . . . 

    I don't get all my news from "The Daily Show," but last night's appearance by pollster John Zogby (the only guy who got it right four years ago) had me making late night phone calls to friends.

    Jon Stewart asked Zogby who is going to win and he said, "Kerry," without equivocating. His reason? Bush is not polling high enough for an incumbent. In fact, as Zogby said, if the election were between "Bush" and "Not Bush," "Not Bush" would win going away. "Not Bush" might even beat Kerry.

    Of course, a lot of the polls say something else.

    But this election has raised so many questions about the whole art/science of polling . . . and the rollercoaster ride is so anxiety-producing . . . and, anyway, I'm not going to change my vote or the passion behind it . . . And so I'm officially adopting this strategy through Tuesday:

    I only believe polls that make me feel better.

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 11:56 AM

    Thursday, October 28, 2004

    Decline and fall 

    This article from the American Prospect crystallized something important for me.

    I don't hate George W. Bush. Really. But I do hate what his success says about the United States of America. In an earlier post, I mentioned a study that suggests that a disturbing number of Bush supporters are unaware of basic facts about Iraq and the view of America in the world. In addition, an overwhelming majority of them believe that Bush's positions on many international issues are exactly the opposite of what they really are.

    In the Prospect article, Jim Sleeper notes the Bush campaign's success with turning war heroes like John McCain, Max Cleland and John Kerry himself into traitorous cowards. Then he writes:

    "The republic has survived excesses like that, if barely. What really scares some of us is the foreboding that, this time, it won't outlast the swooning and the eerily disembodied cheering at those Bush revival rallies. Something has happened to enough of the American people to make some warnings by this country's own Founders leap off the page as never before.

    "As soon as King George III was gone, the Founders took one look at the American people and became obsessed with how a republic ends. History showed them it can happen not with a coup but a smile and a friendly swagger, as soon as the people tire of the burdens of self-government and can be jollied along into servitude -- or scared into it, when they've become soft enough to intimidate."

    Sleeper says that, at the time of the Constitutional Convention, the Founding Fathers were all reading Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 2:26 PM

    Is It a sign? 

    Is there a cosmic message in this year's World Series? The Boston Red Sox destroyed the Curse of the Bambino by winning the World Series for the first time in 86 years. And they did it in the most historic way ever -- coming back from being down 3-0 to the despised New York Yankees and then going on to sweep the Series. That's eight wins in a row.

    It's often been true that an American League win in the Series is followed by a Republican win in the election.

    But maybe the fact that the Red Sox broke their curse in the year that a Massachusetts senator is vying for the White House means a special alignment of the planets (not to mention last night's lunar eclipse!)

    Besides, this year the Red Sox and Kerry availed themselves of some pretty strong medicine. On Opening Day the Sox flew in a Navajo code talker to bless them, and that same man, Chester Nez, gave his blessing to Kerry in Albuquerque Tuesday night.

    It won't replace a successful Get Out the Vote effort, but it sure can't hurt.

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 1:19 PM

    Wishing and hoping 

    Leo, the missing explosives bombshell has not fallen apart -- not by a long shot.

    In fact, the White House's shifting stories about when they knew about it and what might have happened to those munitions provide even stronger evidence that they're desperately-seeking excuses. (Talking Points Memo has several excellent posts looking at the various tall tales.)

    Wishing won't make it so. But that's what the White House folks continue to believe. How about Dick Cheney saying that Iraq is a "remarkable success story"? Then again, I'm just a member of the "reality based community."

    BTW, I never said Bush hates women. In fact, I think he probably likes to have them around. He just doesn't like them as much as he likes his corporate and religious-right sponsors who don't want to pay decent wages and who believe wives should be subordinate to their husbands.

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 11:46 AM

    Wednesday, October 27, 2004

    October surprise 

    Now that the "missing explosvives" bombshell has fallen apart faster than a Bush National Guard memo, and the New York Times joins CBS news at the bottom of the "We're for Kerry and don't care how we have to get it done, so get out of here with your stupid credibility nonsense" pile, Kerry clearly needs a different October surprise. Maybe he should try this, which is right up there with the flu-vaccine shortage. I'm sure Bush knew about this -- in fact, he was probably warned and chose to ignore it, despite the terrible hardships it will inflict on the Americn people. Carol, you can add this to the list of reasons to hate Bush. It's not up there with "he clearly hates women," but I'm sure it could get some traction.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 5:49 PM

    It wouldn't be ALL bad 

    Now that I've mentioned the horrifying possibility of a Kerry win, I should note that there are at least two reasons conservatives won't have lost everything if Bush doesn't win re-election:

    1. Kerry in the White House cuts Hillary Clinton off at the pass for a 2008 presidential bid

    2. The likelihood of a Republican Congress will tie Kerry up in gridlock and keep domestic spending and government growth in check.

    There might be one or two more reasons to find a silver lining in a Kerry presidency, but I honestly can't think of any right now.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 5:37 PM

    Please, please, please 

    Obviously I want George Bush to win. But I have an almost equal wish: that whoever wins, either Bush or John Kerry, wins big, at least by 3 or 4 percent, so we can head off the recounts and the lawsuits and the wrangling that goes on for (at least) the rest of the year. I would like to go to bed Tuesday night (or get up Wednesday morning) with a president-elect and a losing candidate who has conceded gracefully. It goes against a lot of my local-is-better, libertarian leanings to say this, but we're LONG overdue for some sensible and uniform national election guidelines. At the top of my wish list: voting that goes on for 24 hours, or maybe even or a weekend.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 5:32 PM

    Another W.hopper 

    Here's another W.hopper to add to the collection: "W. is for Women."

    In fact, the Bush administration has reversed, or is attempting to reverse, many of the major gains made by women in the past three decades -- enforcement of equal pay laws, laws against sexual harassment, gender equality in education and sports.

    Bush's war on the poor affects women -- and children -- disproportionately: The majority of low wage earners are female, and the government "safety net" programs that offer lower income households the best chance of survival are being shredded.

    And that's before we get into issues of reproductive rights. A study last April by the National Women's Law Center provides details. It's called "Slip-Sliding Away: The Erosion of Hard Won Gains for Women Under the Bush Administration . . . ."

    But, you say, Bush seems like such a nice, compassionate conservative. Yet another study, this one by the National Council for Research on Women, suggests how he's managed to pull it off: The Administration simply has not posted the data the might provide proof of discrimination or pay inequality, or removed it from government Websites.

    So while the Bush administration uses the supposed new "freedom" of women in Afghanistan as a cover, it's doing its best to reduce the freedom of women here at home.

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 3:35 PM


    On the left: Carol Towarnicky, chief editorial writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, from a liberal point of view.

    On the right: Leo Morris, editorial page editor of the Fort Wayne (Ind.) News-Sentinel, from a conservative point of view.

     Latest posts
       •  What Now?
       •  Looking back
       •  Carol's Closing Argument
       •  Leo's closing argument
       •  Carol's Response
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       •  For Kerry, and a Kerry administration
       •  A vote for Bush
       •  Mortality, Part 2
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       •  09/26/2004 - 10/03/2004
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