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    Friday, October 01, 2004

    Style and Substance 

    Random thoughts, all on style rather than substance:

    1. Going into the debate, most people - even diehard Kerry supporters - had all but conceded the style points to George W. Bush, but continued to hope that Kerry would win on substance. Amazingly, though, Bush lost on both. The cutaway shots of Bush looking annoyed that he was being questioned sharply were being shown on TV this morning, one after another, and they were devastating. They provided a perfect background to the spin of Joe Lockhart and others in the Kerry campaign today that Bush looked "petulant" and "frustrated" at having to face hard questions for the first time in a long time. Given the inarguable skill of the Republican campaign, and given the fact that Al Gore's deep sighs and rolling eyes made such a negative impression in the 2000 debates, it's incredible that the president would have fallen into the same trap.

    2. Democrats have not forgotten how, right after the first debate in 2000, all the polls showed Al Gore as the winner, but that a few days later, the Republican spin machine changed all that: Bush proceeded to get the biggest post-debate bounce in history.

    Without Kerry's strong performance yesterday, it would have meant little, but Democrats went all out to shape the post-debate spin: Hours before the debate, I got at least three e-mails urging Democrats to vote in online polls as well as write online letters to the editor to local newspapers. They responded. The Philadelphia Daily News' Editorial Page Editor Frank Burgos got more than 80 such pro-Kerry letters last night. On the unscientific CNN/Hardball poll on who won, at 2:29 p.m., there had been 2,116,564 responses, with Kerry getting 61 percent of the vote to Bush’s 39 percent.

    3. When I checked in with the Imus in the Morning show (my window to the world outside the echo chamber in which I live), Imus – who famously is for Kerry – was saying that he thought Bush did better than many of the pro-Bush people thought he did. He felt that Bush probably resonated with real people, and I think he has a very good point. A pro-Kerry friend who makes documentary videos thought Kerry's handlers had made a huge mistake by not telling him to look directly into the camera. Instead, he looked at Jim Lehrer, which made it almost impossible to see his eyes. (In fact, when he said that he would look us in the eye and say he would defend America, it was one of the few times he actually did that!) Bush did look into the camera and therefore could have made a stronger connection with viewers.

    4. In the end, though, the biggest plus for Kerry was that he energized the people who already were for him, but who had begun to despair. They’re now more likely to get involved in the voter mobilization efforts of America Coming Together and MoveonPAC, more likely to give money, etc. In swing states like mine (Pennsylvania), the key is not the so-called swing voters, but in getting the base out to vote.

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 3:06 PM

    About last night 

    After letting the debates sink in for half a day, I have a few parting thoughts:

    1. I wish President Bush had done better. There is a strong (and important) case to be made that the war in Iraq is a necessary part of the larger war on terror, that changing the dynamics of the Mideast is vital to the peace of the world, that we should keep our eye on the bigger picture and not be discouraged by the ups and downs of of one campaign in what will be a very long struggle. But I don't think the president made that case. He too often seemed defensive, at times even distracted, and Kerry looked polished and confident. It wasn't exactly a secret that Kerry was going to hit him very hard on the handling of Iraq. The fact that he wasn't better prepared to respond to the attack will have a lot of people wondering. This debate, will, unfortunately, influence a number of undecided voters who haven't been paying attention and can let 90 minutes of sound bites move them.

    2. Since I'm not one of those undecided voters, I will say that, on the substance, Bush still has the better case. I'm not convinced Kerry has a clue about what to do on the global war, let alone the will to engage the fight. He put a lot of things out there open to challenge as ill-conceived or downright delusional. He wants to go back to the failed policy of Carter and Clinton to "negotiate" one on one with North Korea while it lies and cheats and goes ahead and does whatever it wants to? He wants us to forgo a nuclear weapon and wishes we had provided nuclear fuel to Iran? That's insane. He plans to bring in all these allies while rudely dismissing the contributions of the ones we have now? He wants to convene a summit of the Muslim world? (Why? To ask the moderates why they haven't been strongly denouncing the militant extremists?) He wants to convince everybody we mean business in Iraq by establishing a timeline for when we leave? He wants a global test on defending America? Talk, talk, talk.

    3. Iraq consumed so much of the debate that the rest of the world barely got a mention. Little bit of North Korea, little bit of Iran, very little bit of Darfur. The two realities right now are the war on terror and the fact that the United States is, even if some people don't like the fact, the biggest kid on the block. That lets us have the biggest say in the world, assuming we can get a handle on terror, of which we will continue to be the most frequent target. We'd better start talking about the shape of things to come.

    Finally, a little back-and-forth with readers who want to zing me, perhaps forgetting that I get the last word:

    Gary Carson says Bush side-stepped global warming in the debate, having made "a total reversal of policies on the global warming issue" during his administration. A reversal of what policies? During the Clinton administration, 95 senators, including John Kerry, voted for a resolution urging changes in the Kyoto protocol so it would include developing countries. Clinton, perhaps realizing compliance would devastate this economy, never submitted it to Congress for approval. And, this just in: Japan fails to meet Kyoto standards.

    Cindy Tobisman thinks the debate showed Bush's attempt to divert attention away from his failed policies that will not work beyond the 30 second misleading attack ad. Labeling Kerry a "flip-flopper" can only take him so far to avoid talking about what a disaster his four years in office have been. John Kerry, on the other hand, laid out a clear strategy for winning the war on terror and fixing the mess Bush created in Iraq. On the flip-flop issue, I agree. I got tired of that almost as quickly as I did John Kerry bringing up Vietnam. On the "winning strategy," no, no, no. Kerry's plan on Iraq is largely what Bush is already doing, and Kerry still thinks terror can be handled with diplomacy and legal action, as long as we make sure the world still loves us.

    Adena asks, How long were we to contain Saddam Hussein and engage in diplomacy rather than start a war in which our soldiers died? Well, let's see - how about as long as we did so against the USSR? So that would be about 45 years. Only, Saddam probably would not have survived that long. Personally, I would trade our 1,000+ soldiers for that no-fly zone and a few small garrisons of troops in the desert. It's risky to play the numbers game, but what about the millions who died in the gulags and from relocations and general thuggery while we engaged in diplomacy with the USSR for 45 years? And Saddam would have survived long enough to fill more mass graves and chop off a few more hands.

    Piero Brewer responds to my "Kerry really thinks we should not have another nuclear weapon because it would send the wrong message to the world? Why would anyone not want us to be the best-armed country in the world? It's scary out there." Maybe because it will make it easier when we have to go to Russia, the UK, France, but in particular Israel and ask them to disarm. Things are getting way too close to becoming the world according to Timothy LaHaye. Kerry is absolutely right, nuclear proliferation is the number one threat. There can be no qualifiers as Mr. Bush attempted to include, "in the hands of terrorists." Of course, any country with nuclear weapons could easily be considered a terrorist country. Israel can be quite the terrorist country given that it has its own Constitution and a free reign thanks to the United States. Their action in Gaza today, tanks against hordes of civilians in a crowded bazaar, might be considered an example of this. Then again, perhaps you believe you will be one of those "left behind." Call me a hooligan, but I still think "I've got the biggest gun" is a better defense than "I'll put down my weapon if you put down yours." Israel has been fighting for its very existence for a long time, against the same kind of militant fanatacism we are now facing and lately doing a pretty good job. The wall seems to be working. Israel isn't going away; get over it.

    Colleen Christensen observes, Wrong war at the wrong time. Seems to me that I heard that phrase half-a-dozen times from GWB tonight! Yeah, but we've heard it scores of times from Kerry in the last few weeks.

    Jim Kane'ala and Helen Terry say they watched the debate and thought Kerry hit a home run. He made Bush look very defensive. When Bush has to defend his foreign policy, he doesn't have much to back it up, his foreign policy is nonexistent. We can't wait for the next debate, Kerry was so inspiring and strong. We'll be watching. If you want to see a debate in which neither party backs down or looks defensive, check out the vice presidential bash Tuesday. Bet there'll be more sparks than in all three presidential debates combined.

    Idigman served two tours in Vietnam and notes: At one time we were winning until the politicians and churches and news media made a mess; after that it all went downhill. In Iraq we either need to win along with our allies (if we have any left) or get out. Either turn the war over to the military and keep the news media and politicians out, or go for the white flag. I couldn't agree more. Put up or shut up. Stay the course, is the way I think Bush puts it.

    Thomas Baldwin has two points. 1) Mr. Kerry continually bashes the president for not building a "coalition" to deal with Iraq. Yet, when dealing with North Korea, Mr. Kerry wants bilateral talks. The president states he wants multilateral talks to include China, Japan, South Korea, etc. If Mr. Kerry is truly interested in the U.S. "passing the Global Test," then why would he suggest bilateral talks with NK? His position here seems contradictory. 2) Correct me if I'm wrong, but hasn't Mr. Kerry said recently on numerous occasions that the U.S. needs to send more troops to Iraq? Yet during the debate, he claimed he would start pulling troops out in six months. If he would pull troops out in six months, why would he send more over? By the time the extra troops arrived, he'd be pulling troops out. You, sir, are a gentleman and a scholar.

    Oh, well, I will give Rebecca Richardson the last word, since quick wit should be rewarded. In response to a post from Carol that Bush had undercut Powell early on, I wrote, "Powell isn't president. Bush is." Rebecca replied: "Karl Rove is president."

    posted by Leo Morris at # 11:34 AM

    More reader reaction 

    Barbara Lulich: "The President continues to assert in his domineering style that his way is the only way. It is not. We need our allies with us, not alienated. This President has achieved alienating most of the world against America. And he has the audacity to state 'I know the way the world works'."

    Susan L. Smith: "President Bush's rigid, "Just take it from me," broken-record message didn't hold up to Senator Kerry's willingness to discuss the REALITIES with clarity and depth."

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 1:02 AM

    Thursday, September 30, 2004

    Closing thoughts 

    Before tonight, and especially at their convention, the Bush-Cheney campaign did a masterful job in turning John Kerry into a cartoon character, a "French" long-winded dilettante who wouldn't be able to keep to the time limits and would change his position every time he opened his mouth.

    They may have done the guy a favor - because the John Kerry who showed up tonight was none of those things. He spoke directly, simply, and really pointed toward the future, with a plan for Iraq. He looked like a president. This might make the folks who only knew the caricature start to wonder whether they can believe other things the Bush-Cheney campaign is telling them.

    In a way, it reminds me of the days of the legendary Mayor Frank Rizzo in Philadelphia. Every year or so, there would be a story or column in the papers that we came to call, "Reporter finally meets Rizzo and finds out he's not a monster." Call it: America finally sees John Kerry and finds out he's not a flip-flopper. ... Besides, his tan looked normal, at least on my TV.

    President Bush did not make any huge errors, but it was clearly past his bedtime. He was on the defensive and hyper-repetitive. How many times did he talk about being commander in chief, and mixed messages? And just saying he has a plan doesn't mean there is one.

    Of course, that's only tonight. Who knows what the post-debate spin will make of all this?

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 11:20 PM

    Three more votes for Kerry 

    Gloria Romero Roses: John Kerry's intellect, command of information and heart came across honestly and steadily. George Bush came across stubborn and out-of-touch with the complexity of the challenges facing our country.

    Tim Kelly: I actually do despise even looking at George Bush right now. He's utterly incapable of doing anything other than repeating his approved debate talking points at every turn.

    John O'Connor: I'm still not convinced that we should change horses in midstream, but I'm afraid the horse we are on is about to drown, and I am seriously thinking about it. Kerry has moved up considerably in my opinion.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 10:55 PM

    Another view 

    Reader Damian Cecere disagrees with me: Kerry killed it. It's apparent that he was captain of the debate team at Yale and that 'W' got in because he was a wealthy legacy. Bush looked anxious and was clearly out of his element. I counted 14 "ums" in the last 30 minutes. When Bush spoke Kerry could be seen diligently taking notes for his rebuttal. When Kerry spoke Bush squints his eyes and looks around as if everything Kerry said was wildly profound. Kerry spoke from the heart, was factual and impromptu - Bush reiterated the same 2 or 3 bullet points per question that were written on his flash cards. I won't be surprised if Bush chickens out of the last debate to go play golf. I agree that Kerry was more relaxed, Bush more nervous. But on substance, neither got off the talking points. It's kind of silly to keep calling these things "debates."

    posted by Leo Morris at # 10:48 PM

    Post-debate thoughts 

    A wrapup for tonight, then maybe more tomorrow.

    I think they both did a pretty good job. Both pretty much stayed on message, nobody made a big goof. Kerry held his own, which he needed to. I doubt this will change many people's minds. The debate was, predictably, too intensely focused on Iraq. They barely got around to mentioning Darfur. Oh, yeah, well, it's a genocide all right and guess the U.S. should do something.

    The focus on Iraq did, at least, make pretty clear where the candidates stand. Kerry wouldn't have gone into Iraq and doesn't think it's a legitimate part of the war on terror. Bush sees a bigger picture. That, I suspect, is what the election will turn on, whether the American public sees that bigger picture or thinks the president is wrong.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 10:39 PM

    It could be worse  

    Besides George Will, Kerry could also have quoted John McCain, Chuck Hagel, Dick Lugar ...

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 10:27 PM

    Low blow 

    Is it really fair for John Kerry to be quoting George Will, one of OUR guys? I think Bush should get one Maureen Dowd quote for free.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 10:25 PM

    Different strokes 

    Re: Korea and Iran and Iraq:

    How long were we supposed to be diplomatic in Iraq? Would we still be just talking? It's becoming pretty clear that Iran and Korea aren't responding to diplomacy, so I'm not sure that IS the right answer. It's a little trickier to confront someone with nuclear weapons, though. They're still scarier than chemical or biological weapons.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 10:21 PM


    Carol: Powell isn't president. Bush is.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 10:20 PM

    A scary world 

    Holy cow! Kerry really thinks we should not have another nuclear weapon because it would send the wrong message to the world? Why would anyone not want us to be the best armed country in the world? It's scary out there.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 10:17 PM


    Reader Michael Benedetti asks: On the issue of Korea, what does your comment mean? Is it that you find fault with both candidates' position? Just curious. No. I'm not really sure any talks by anybody can change North Korea's course. A nuclear country is being run by a madman. I don't know what we should do about that scary situation, and I surely would like some guidance from one of the candidates.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 10:08 PM

    Move it along 

    A reader asks: Will they ever talk about something other than Iraq? For instance: Latin America, Sudan, China, outsourcing, immigration, United Nations. Amen to that. I think we have to put some of that blame on Lehrer. They can only answer what they are asked.

    Wait, did I just hear that right? Bush wants to keep the multilateral talks with North Korea going? That means many nations, right? And Kerry wants just bilateral talks? That's rich.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 10:03 PM

    Which begs the question ...  

    If diplomacy is the way to go with North Korea and Iran, who actually HAVE nuclear weapons, why was it so preposterous in Iraq?

    Kerry makes excellent points on North Korea and how Bush undercut Powell early on.

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 10:01 PM


    We could have gotten Osama at Tora Bora but sent in the second team ... so he got away, continues to plot - and worse, to recruit - and now, if we somehow cornered him again, where would we get the troops to get him?

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 9:57 PM


    Sen. Joe Biden said yesterday that he met with Khaddafi when this happened and that the deal for Khaddafi to disarm was in the works before Iraq.

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 9:56 PM


    Leo: More diplomacy with Iraq could have gotten more inspectors and shown that there were no WMD.

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 9:55 PM


    Allawi as the George Washington of Iraq? A guy who couldn't even write his own speech?

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 9:52 PM

    Who is the enemy? 

    Kerry clearly thinks Iraq is "the wrong war in the wrong etc. etc." He emphasizes bringing the troops home, chides Bush for saying "the enemy" attacked us so we invaded Iraq and everybody knows it as al-Qaida etc. etc. He clearly sees the war on terror as one isolated incident after another. I still don't think he gets the global threat. Bush flinched, though, in ducking the question about preemption. It's either the right policy or not.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 9:51 PM

    How many times has he said that? 

    Bush is the commander in chief, he's the commander in chief, he's the commander in chief. ... Kerry made a good point, quoting Powell about "you break it, you own it." Now we do own Iraq and we've got to get serious about figuring out what to do there, not just say things are great ...

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 9:46 PM

    This just in 

    Oh, Kerry just said he understood what it meant to lose people in combat. I guess he was in Vietnam! That changes everything.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 9:45 PM

    What's next? 

    We're now 45 minutes in. No mention of Iran yet. Only one of Korea, and nothing from either of them about what to do.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 9:43 PM

    What's this about the same intelligence? 

    Bush keeps on saying that he and Kerry looked at the same intelligence, but can that be true? Would a senator have gotten the same intelligence that the president got? For example, did Kerry get the message from the CIA in October 2002 that the Niger uranium buy wasn't supported by our intelligence? I don't think so.

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 9:38 PM

    Going into Iraq 

    Does anybody really believe further diplomacy would made any difference with Saddam? Everybody - including John Kerry - thought he had weapons of mass destruction. Bush never said Iraq was an imminent threat. He said we had to go in BEFORE it was an imminent threat. If Kerry wouildn't have gone into Iraq, which he is pretty clearly saying now, what WOULD he have done in the next step in the war against terror?

    posted by Leo Morris at # 9:38 PM

    Did you hear a plan? 

    Bush says there are going to be elections in January. Who really believes that? There are 87 attacks A DAY in Iraq, our people are confined to quarters in the Green Zone. For sure we're not going to fix things there if we don't admit to the reality.

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 9:35 PM

    Allies, we got your allies right here! 

    I still would like Kerry to tell me one nation he could bring into this that now doesn't want to be in it (and how many soldiers does he think they can bring in?). The nations that are not in it have their own interests, and often they diverge from ours.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 9:30 PM

    The magic word 


    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 9:30 PM

    Stop it! 

    Come home from Vietnam, John!

    Enough with the flip-flops, George!

    posted by Leo Morris at # 9:30 PM

    Tit for Tat 

    Carol: How about Teddy Kennedy's "a vote for Bush is a vote for us to be attacked with nuclear weapons?"

    posted by Leo Morris at # 9:28 PM

    Money should be no object 

    Bush asks how Kerry's going to pay for the homeland security that we so desperately need ... I remember Reagan used to say, we find out what it takes to be safe - and pay it.

    Kerry says we didn't need the tax cut - in fact, this nation has never had tax cuts in a time of war. Bush has no answer.

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 9:25 PM

    Memo missed? 

    A reader asks: What's this with Sen. Kerry wearing a red necktie and President Bush a blue? Did they miss the memo? I can't really criticize them for their taste. I'm in my pajamas.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 9:23 PM

    One out of two 

    Kerry right: We can't walk away from Iraq

    Kerry wrong: Bush didn't plan for the peace. This is war. All you can plan for is that things will not go the way you think they will.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 9:20 PM


    Carol: They are part of the same part of the "ideology of hatred." Their motives might be different, but we defeat them the same way.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 9:18 PM

    Isolated, huh? 

    Notice how Bush didn't condemn this insidious campaign by his surrogates to suggest that a vote for Kerry is a vote for terrorism. Part of his character: Let other people make the attacks.

    ... Osama Bin Laden is ISOLATED? That's news to most of America, I'll bet ... When do the troops leave for the Phillipines?

    Leo: So we should attack the Chechens/Filipinos, etc?

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 9:15 PM

    Boo boos 

    Bad for Kerry: It took him about 14 minutes to say he was in combat; I thought it would be sooner.

    It took Bush about 16 to point out a Kerry flip-flop ... that's enough; let's move on.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 9:15 PM

    What other allies? 

    John Kerry is wrong. Iraq was not a distraction. It is an integral part of the overall war on terror. And we have a lot of allies. Who else does Kerry think we can get? Germany? France?

    posted by Leo Morris at # 9:09 PM

    There he goes again 

    So now - according to Bush - Sept. 11, Iraq, and the Chechens in Russia are all part of the same "ideology of hatred," when in fact they have widely divergent motives (and pose widely divergent threats to the United States).

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 8:56 PM

    To the heart 

    Well, with the first question, we get right to the heart of their policy differences. Kerry talked about "alliances" and Bush defended preemption.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 8:35 PM

    Keeping the Faith 

    I couldn't agree more with Leo's first post: The stakes in this debate are very high, both for the country and the world.

    So why is Lynne Cheney making jokes about John Kerry's tan? And why do Bush ads joke about Kerry's windsurfing?

    The answer, of course, is because focusing on trivial stuff has worked in the past - it hurt Al Gore, destroyed Michael Dukakis, and has stunned Kerry.

    More than half the feature stories I've seen on the debates today dwell on things like "likability," body language, and sweat. My colleague Signe Wilkinson's cartoon today captures the sad situation: It shows a man with a score sheet for the debate, with boxes for "Hair," "Clothes," "Smile" and "Tan." At the bottom, in tiny type is the word "Ideas."

    To tell the truth, the jokes have influenced me. I'll probably be looking at Kerry's skin tone first thing - Does his tan look substantially different from the normal one he sported at a rally in Philadelphia last Friday?

    Then, though, I'll be looking to see if Kerry can make the case that I heard him make then. "This president took his eye off the ball, took his eye off the real war on terror, which is against al Qaeda, against Osama bin Laden, against terror in 60 countries," he said. "He invaded a nation where there weren't any terrorists, but there are today."

    And I'll watch to see how Bush tries to finesse the fact that everybody but he and his neocon pals see that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating fast.

    And I'll try to have faith that the other folks watching will do the same.

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 5:02 PM

    Two points 

    A couple of thoughts before we kick things off tonight.

    1. Some of us who think Iraq is a necessary part of a much larger conflict get frustrated with the Bush administration sometimes because we don't think they always make the case as well as it should be made. It might help if they stopped talking about a war on "terror," which is just a tactic, and identify the real enemy, which is rabid, militant Islam.

    2. This larger conflict has created whole new categories of likely Bush supporters, such as the Security Moms, the Koch Democrats, and the group I should probably count myself a member of, the Libertarian Hawks.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 1:04 PM

    Wednesday, September 29, 2004

    What I'll be looking for 

    I have a strong libertarian streak, which tends to push me to the conservative side on fiscal issues and the liberal side on social ones. I'd like to see a smaller federal government that sticks to the few things it should do and does them well and otherwise leaves us pretty much alone. It should stay out of the boardroom and the bedroom. Under ordinary circumstances, that perspective would be uppermost in my mind in looking at presidential candidates.

    But these are not normal times, and our circumstances are anything but ordinary. The war on terror is so important as an issue that it overshadows everything else. This is a fight for the future, against murderous thugs who play by no rules. If we don't get it right, civilization itself is at risk.

    The preliminary buzz, unfortunately, makes it sound like the debate is going to focus so heavily on Iraq that this larger perspective might be lost. If all we hear about are that Iraq has been mishandled (gee, mistakes, in a war? do you think?) or that we can do this and that to get out of a stabilized Iraq, both Bush and Kerry will have missed the point. If this truly is a global war and Iraq was a logical step after Afghanistan (I happen to think so), the appropriate thing to ask is, what next? What about North Korea? What about Iran and the rest of the Mideast? How do we balance the continuing need for safety with civil-liberties concerns? How do we persuade the rest of the world that it is in its best interest to be on the right side in this war? (Not, I would suggest, by sending ones sister to our strongest ally and telling its people they are fools for standing with us.)

    I'm tempted to say John Kerry is simply not serious about the need to get this war right, but the truth is that I simply don't know. The problem isn't so much that he flip-flops but that he uses "nuance" as an excuse not to take a clearcut position; he wants to have it both ways and, depending on his audience, emphasizes one portion of his position or another. I think he's been fairly consistent - invading Iraq would have been OK at some time, but at a later time in a different way - and mostly wrong.

    I do think Bush is serious about the war, and I hope he has the courage to say what should be said: We'll have to be in Iraq for the long haul. It's not a stopping-off point but a launching point. We do need to bring the troops home - but through Tehran. That rogue state is the next-most imminent threat in the war on terror, and the idea that it will negotiate something honestly with the rest of the world is ludicrous.

    Before anyone asks, yes, my world view has been shaped in large part by Vietnam. The lesson I took away from that national trauma was: Never go to war except as a last resort; once you're in it, the only moral choice is to commit everything you have to winning it as quickly and decisively as you can. I believe the day we left Saigon, after more than 50,000 Americans died, saying to the Vietnamese people, "Sorry didn't mean it; just kidding," was one of this nation's darkest days.

    The stakes are so much higher this time around. We dare not flinch.

    posted by Leo Morris at # 3:48 PM

    Through the Filter 

    Among the bigger questions in tomorrow's debate is whether any substance will get through what President Bush calls "the filter." This year, Democrats as well as Republicans are ready with pre- and post-debate spin, but it's clear that Democrats are rank amateurs while Republicans are pros: They can tell lies with straight faces, secure in the belief that even legitimate (that is, non-cable, which already is hopeless) media is so tied up in a "he said/he said" model that it simply can't make itself call a lie a lie.

    Still, Sen. Joe Biden offered some sharp debate "pre-spin" this afternoon in a conference call with Pennsylvania and Ohio reporters – and it sounds like Kerry and the Democrats are (smartly) going to focus on the (un)civil war that has been going on in the Bush administration for years. It’s the neocons – Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney – vs. Powell in the State Department, the uniformed military, Republican senators like John McCain and Chuck Hagel - and even the CIA. The continuing struggle results in broad-based paralysis -Biden kept repeating the word - and that means mixed messages from the United States to the terrorists, the insurgents, the nuclear proliferators and even Russia's Putin. (Is one reason the Bush administration isn’t screaming at Putin's backsliding from democracy because W. is envious that he can’t do the same?)

    One thing Biden said that impressed me. Imagine that another genocidal Milosevic emerged, or the North Koreans rattled their nuclear sabers. Can you imagine the international community, the Congress or the American people OKing military action led by these bozos? Bush knows it, too. When asked recently what he planned to do about North Korea's new nukes, he shrugged.

    ... But here's something Kerry ought to mention tomorrow: Yesterday in Springfield, Ohio, Bush said, "... the Taliban is no longer in existence."

    Wow. Sure could have fooled us.

    Wait: He has fooled a lot of us.

    posted by Carol Towarnicky at # 3:31 PM

    Who is Leo Morris? 

    Leo Morris, a native of Eastern Kentucky and the son of a coal miner, is editor of the Fort Wayne (Ind.) News-Sentinel editorial page.

    After high school and a year and a half at Indiana University, Morris joined the Army, which included a tour of duty in Vietnam. After his Army service, he finished his journalism degree at Ball State University on the GI Bill.

    "Writing is the only thing I've ever wanted to do," he says. "I had asthma as a kid, and scribbling in a notebook was what I did when I couldn't go outside and play. When I was a sophomore in high school, a friend talked me into working for the student newspaper. I was hooked."

    Morris has worked on Indiana newspapers for 30 years, including 15 at The News-Sentinel. He has won numerous awards, and was a Pulitzer finalist for a series of editorials on abortion.

    Write him at the News-Sentinel, 600 West Main Street, Fort Wayne, Ind. 46802-1498, or e-mail

    posted by Jim Van Nostrand at # 3:27 PM

    Who is Carol Towarnicky? 

    Carol Towarnicky is chief editorial writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. Except for brief intervals on maternity leave and on strike, Towarnicky, 55, has spent the last 30 years at the Daily News. She has been chief editorial writer of the Daily News since 1992, writing editorials on a wide variety of issues, including reproductive and civil rights, poverty and welfare, and local and national politics.

    With Sandra Shea, Towarnicky co-wrote editorials that were a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2002. She was the winner of the 1993 Eugene C. Pulliam Fellowship for Editorial Writers.

    She has won national awards for editorial writing from the National Women's Political Caucus and Planned Parenthood of America and her fiction writing has been recognized with grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Leeway Foundation.

    Write her at the Daily News, 400 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, Pa. 19130; or e-mail

    posted by Jim Van Nostrand at # 3:23 PM

    Tuesday, September 28, 2004

    What's Free-Fire Zone? 

    American politics is a contact sport. Raw. Loud. Brutal. Dirty. Welcome to Free Fire Zone, where any political issue is a legitimate target.

    One very liberal writer (Carol Towarnicky) and one very conservative writer (Leo Morris) will duke it out from their from-the-edges perspectives on the U.S. presidential campaign. This no-holds-barred effort, delivered with a smile and a teaspoon of venom, will continue through the election in November.

    posted by Jim Van Nostrand at # 5:52 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
       •  Leo's rebuttal
       •  For Kerry, and a Kerry administration
       •  A vote for Bush
       •  Mortality, Part 2
       •  Mortality, Part 1

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