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    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


    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.

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