Thursday, June 30, 2005

Dubya's No Dummy

Reading, via Glenn Reynolds, this portion of a Times of London interview with President Bush, I too, was struck because it reminded me of my brief brush with George W. Bush:
In person Mr Bush is so far removed from the caricature of the dim, war-mongering Texas cowboy of global popular repute that it shakes one’s faith in the reliability of the modern media.
Back in the 2000 campaign, then-governor Bush came to southwestern Missouri for a rally. As a political reporter for the student paper, I was dispatched to cover the event since as a weekly we had decided to package Bush's appearance with an article about a Joe Lieberman appearance a few days earlier

Not being one of the professional press, I wasn't allowed in to the media gallery earlier so I decided I was going to have to push the crowd and ask a question after the stump speech ended. I did so (in the process almost getting arrested because the Secret Service didn't like my palmtop computer) but finally I got to the front and shouted out that I was from a student paper and was wondering why young people should vote for him.

He didn't answer immediately, instead, he gave me a combination of a onceover and a stare like I imagine he must have given Vladimir Putin the first time they met. Finally, deciding I wasn't some sort of hippy student reporter, he said something about Social Security not being there unless it was changed.

From then on, I knew Bush was no dummy, regardless of his other flaws.

Why is it that some of the same people who correctly know not to prejudge people based on racial stereotypes can't refrain from doing so based on political ones?

Dems Fall Along with Bush

Ace notes another poll that proves my earlier point that Democrats' negative rhetoric is hurting them more than the president.

Dean on Hardball

I happened to flip on "Hardball" last night and noticed Howard Dean was on (transcript). Chris Matthews seems to be even more obsessed with the origins of the war than he normally is. It was amazing to see him chastise Dean and Democrats for not being sufficiently anti-war at this point when war-bashing is all the rage. Matthews was right, though, in noticing that some Democrats (i.e. the smart ones such as both Clintons) aren't bashing their heads against the wall in anger over Iraq since doing so is unproductive and potentially politically dangerous if things do turn out OK there. As a former political adviser to Democratic politicians, you'd think Matthews would be aware that gnashing your teeth ain't good politics.

Three other things I noticed last night: 1) Guesting on the show in the first time in a while, Washington Times editorial page editor Tony Blankley said something I'd been longing to hear someone on TV say: whether Iraq was right or wrong doesn't matter at this point, we need to figure out what to do from here. 2) Just days after her CNN show "Capitol Gang" got canned, Margaret Carlson the acerbic Time magazine columnist who is decidedly less vicious on television turned up on the panel along with Blankley. 3) The most unintentionally funny line of the night from Dean: "The problem with the kind of name-calling that you see in the right wing is it's polarizing.

Other reactions to what I think will be a much-discussed Dean appearance: Swanky Conservative, The Blue State, Political Discourse.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Should CNN Hire Rather?

The usually sane Verne Gay, TV critic/reporter of New York's Newsday writes a column in which he advises CNN to pluck my old friend Dan Rather out of obscurity and give him a cable show. Verne hopes that a Rather removal to the lagging second-place network will cause them to stop obsessing over missing young white girls.

I've got news for you, Verne, CNN hiring Dan Rather (which will eventually happen I've long believed) will do nothing to stem the tide of such trivial news especially since during the 1980s media frenzy of missing white boys, Rather toyed with the idea of having a daily segment on the "CBS Evening News" missing children's pictures were put on the air.

Hiring Rather probably would boost CNN's ratings temporarily but wouldn't do anything to solve CNN's real problems which involve a fundamental misunderstanding of why people watch television: to see people they like talk about stuff that interests them in a manner that's relaxing.

Elsewhere on the web, Garret Graf of FishbowlDC profiles the enigmatic yet ubiquitous Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz.

Being Hank Hill

Being out of executive power is a universal cause for soul-searching among political parties. Normally, in such situations, there really are three possible courses of action: 1) change the way the you market yourself, 2) change some of the people and ideal systems running the party, or 3) don’t change much of anything.

Barring some freak situation which caused the loss, a smart party does some of the first two and tries to avoid the third. Despite the fact that evidence has shown that the 2000 presidential election shouldn’t have been as close as it ended up being owing to the last-minute disclosure of George Bush’s DUI record, one cannot begrudge Democrats who believed that Al Gore’s loss was not portentous, and thus not necessitating drastic changes.

I bring all this up because after John Kerry’s defeat (which really began the moment “reported for duty” in the summer of 2004), it appears as though the Democratic Party elites seem to believe the national party is only in need a marketing makeover when more sweeping changes are what’s needed. This sentiment has been voiced in a variety of terms ranging from Howard Dean’s “God, guns, and gays” remark to the term NASCAR dads.

The latest rephrasing of all this comes in a New York Times Magazine piece which posits the idea of “King of the Hill” Democrats, after the long-running Fox network cartoon hit about Hank Hill, a man living in a medium-sized Texas city and how North Carolina’s Democratic governor, Mike Easley, is trying to take political cues from it.

The idea is a great one—in theory. “King of the Hill” is probably the smartest and most original television show in decades and a good deal more realistic than the repackaged contest shows currently being marketed as “reality television.” And Democratic politicians do stand to learn to write television ads that don’t automatically assume the viewer cares about the Iraq war and thinks Bush is a liar.

Still, though, the author, former Newsweek political reporter Matt Bai, fails to grasp that not only do Democrats need to learn to talk more like Hank Hill and his neighbors, they need to be more like him, or at least not be so inhospitable to those within the party who are: respectful of the private sector but not afraid of governmental regulation, distrustful of political correctness, socially traditional, tougher in foreign policy. In other words, true American centrists. Democratic politicians of this caliber, think Scoop Jackson or Bill Casey, existed for the longest time up until the late 1970s when most of them seemingly went the way of Jimmy Carter (who, incidentally, was lampooned in a 2001 episode of “Hill”)

Things are much more different now. The idea of a Democratic politician even being hypothetically considered manly is really somewhat of a joke. Part of that is due to Republicans’ success in portraying Democrats as wimps, but successful marketing must always be based on some truth. The fact of the matter is, none of the recent Democratic presidential candidates have been rough-and-ready guys, nor have they possessed the ability to fake it.

All of this matters because the much-discussed “gender gap” is actually more of a Democratic “man problem” than it is a Republican “woman problem.” And no Democrat of stature seems willing or able to do anything about it. Bill Clinton often talked like a regular guy but was, in the end more Lothario than Hank Hill. What wisdom Clinton did possess on this account, however, has seemed not to have filtered downward.

The fact that he founded the Democratic Leadership Council, a group which seeks to move the party more toward the center, shows Clinton is aware of the problem—called the party’s “wuss factor” by one Democratic strategist—but the fact that he has not returned there seems to suggest his motivations were more about boosting his own fortunes rather than putting his stamp on the party as Ronald Reagan did with the Republicans.

This is why I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why Senate Democrats, the de facto face of the party, and their press allies are so eagerly pushing to talk about real and imagined abuses of prisoners. This is perhaps the stupidest long-term strategy the Democrats could take—while it does have the immediate effect of driving down President Bush’s approval ratings, it does nothing for their own, especially since most Americans seem to believe foreign terrorist suspects are being treated fairly.

Worse than that from a Democratic perspective, however, is that all this incessant talk about foreign policy is just the sort of thing that makes people hate Democrats. It is axiomatic: when Democrats talk about foreign policy they drive their numbers down. When Republicans talk about domestic spending, they do the same to themselves. Why? Because, generally speaking, Americans trust Democrats more with protecting their social safety net and Republicans with protecting the country from external threats.

Up until recently, the Bush White House has, consciously or unconsciously, virtually lived by this principle. Except for tax cuts, the president has largely gone along with the Democrats, at least on all the high-publicity domestic issues such as prescription drug subsidies, education spending, or campaign finance regulation while pursuing a foreign policy more to his own personal liking.

No doubt world events since September 11, 2001 have played a part in the administration’s policy direction, but recall, however, than much of Bush’s concessions were before the terrorist attacks. And it has been effective as a strategy. Only until the president decided to begin pushing for partial privatization of Social Security did his approval ratings head southward. He ventured onto Democratic turf and has begun to pay the price for it.

Democrats, meanwhile, have been making war on Republican turf for over two years now and have absolutely nothing to show for it. Besides riling up a bunch of their base, they have achieved nothing. The current strategy has lost a presidential election, failed to gain seats during off-year congressional races, and lowered the public’s opinion of the party leaders. And all people like Howard Dean et al. have to offer is repacking more of the same stupidity? Karl Rove couldn’t ask for a better opposition leadership.

Suffice it to say: until Democrats start at least reserving judgment on Iraq and the war on terrorism, put a gag on Michael Moore, and make room for people who aren’t social leftists within the party elites, they don’t have a chance of being a national force. Can or will anyone be able to pull the switch and set Democrats back on the track toward electoral solvency?

Others' thoughts on the Bai piece:

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Woman Sues Over Radio Gag Contest

This is too rich: a Kentucky radio station runs a promotion telling listeners that the tenth caller during the May 25 "American Idol" finale would win "a hundred grand." What they didn't mention is that by "hundred grand," they meant the Nestlé candy bar. Now, she's pissed and is suing for the full amount.

Left out by this article in the Lexington Herald-Leader is that more than likely, the station was inspired by a web animation featuring the exact same gag.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Someone sent me this great cartoon on Illinois senator Dick Durbin's comments comparing the actions of American soldiers to Nazis:

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


I was at a local Radio Shack yesterday and heard the following exchange between three employees.

First Guy: ... I think it was like 1985.

Second Guy: It was 1985. Nineteen eighty-five was a good year: the invention of the transistor and the fall of communism.

First: Are you sure communism collapsed then?

Second: Positive.

First: I don't know about that. I think it was 1981.

Second: You weren't alive back then, how could you know?

First: Yeah well you were like 5.

Second: Dude, I remember watching it on TV.

Third Guy [not me]: Two people arguing about a historical event when neither one of them was alive for it.

(Second guy goes to a computer to look it up)

Second: Oh, it was 1989.

First: See I told you you were wrong!

Second: Yeah well I was closer at least.

Third: So that makes you smarter or something? You did't even know who Mother Teresa was. (to First) You know who she was, right?

First: Yeah.

Incidentally, by most accounts, the transistor was invented in 1947.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

It Must Be Car Season

Summer is upon us which means car manufacturers are rolling out their next year's models, cable is replaying "The Fast and the Furious," and you can't avoid seeing a car ad on primetime television. Watching the latter end of Fox's animated show "American Dad" (it won't get renewed I predict), I could've sworn that every commercial was for a 2006 car.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Virus Writers Use Jackson Case to Spread Worm

Sure, they're jerks, but you kind of have to smile at the way some virus authors try to get unsuspecting email users to open up their infected attachments. The latest attempt seizes on the Michael Jackson case, telling the recipient that the embattled pop star has attempted suicide. E-Online has the goods. And FYI, the exploit takes advantage of an already patched flaw in Microsoft's Internet Explorer so keep your Windows system updated.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Putting New Blood into Open Source

Many students like to spend their summers in internships to earn experience and (hopefully) money as well. Many open source projects are cash-strapped but need more developers. What should be a perfect combination hasn't materialized because of the lack of funds. Things are different this summer, however, because the boys and girls at Google have decided to fill in the financial gap with their "Summer of Code" program to pay college students $4,500 grants to complete a project for an OSS organization. More info here.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Coming Soon: Another New Domain (for Porn)

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers just approved a new top-level domain for porn web sites: .xxx. No one will be forced to use the suffix, however and it will cost more than .com does. I wonder if this is another case of an oversight body enacting a policy just for back-patting reasons.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Book Questions

I'm mostly settled into the new place this week and what should happen but I get tagged by Tom Biro on the subject of books. Here goes:

Total number of books owned?

I'd say somewhere less than a hundred. I'm kind of abnormal on this account since for many years, I was a professional student (i.e. someone who changed his major a lot). As such, I've always had easy access to university libraries. Consequently, I didn't buy a lot of books since many more were right there for me.

The last book I bought?

It's been a long time since I bought a book since getting into PR and blogging. Basically every book I get now is free. I'd say the last book I bought was Arab Politics: Class, Power and International Involvement, but I could be wrong.

The last book I read?

Bad News by former CBS correspondent Tom Fenton. Really a great book, too bad no one in the TV news biz was listening. It's almost the kind of book I would have written if given the platform to write on the subject of television news.

Five (six) books that mean a lot to me?

Man of the House, the autobiography of Tip O'Neill, the Democratic Speaker of the House during the 80s. I came across the book when I was 13. I didn't understand everything in it but it set me on the road to being interested in politics. Rereading it since, I still enjoy it.

War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy's classic historical novel set during the Napoleonic Wars. I read it first in high school and remember admiring Tolstoy's insights into the human condition. I still do. I imagine my admiration for W&P is probably one of the main reasons I don't read a lot of fiction since most authors are miles behind a translated Tolstoy.

The Closing of the American Mind by Alan Bloom. It was the first philosophical book I ever read. Looking back, I don't like the book as much as I did at the time. Its real value lies in how Bloom tried to get people to question our shared assumptions, particularly with regard to democracy and popular culture.

Politics by Aristotle. Really the fountainhead of all of today's political analysis (whether you're aware or not). Like all of the surviving writings of Aristotle, the prose is more lecture note than anything else. Still, anyone who is interested in politics should read it and see just how long many of the debates we have nowadays have been around.

Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays by Michael Oakeshott. Probably the book that has most influenced my political thought more than any other. I came into it a committed rationalist liberal (in the classical sense) and left completely different, which is to say, I care more about the reasoning behind a particular policy than how it fits within someone else's ideological framework. This isn't the kind of book you can flip through on the beach but I highly recommend it.

The Stranger by Albert Camus. A great little philosophical novel with the message that being cynical isn't superior. Far better in the original French.

Now to pass along the tag to some folks whose answers I'd like to see (and who I hope have the time and inclination to reply): Eric Scheie, Ed Cone, Mark Tapscott, Alan Mutter and Sean Hackbarth.