Yesterday I tried to explain as carefully as I could why I am almost certainly voting for President Bush.
The NY Times, whose editorial board endorsed Kerry yesterday, is concerned about Kerry’s Mary Cheney remark in the final debate:
- a single remark by Mr. Kerry, noting that Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary is a lesbian, has shadowed his strong performance and given Republicans an opening to slow the momentum Mr. Kerry got from the debates, some Democrats say.
Amid signs of Democratic concern, Mr. Kerry’s advisers acknowledged Sunday that some voters perceived Mr. Kerry’s remark as an invasion of Ms. Cheney’s privacy, a gratuitous personal insult, or a crass political calculation by which Mr. Kerry was trying to drive a wedge between Mr. Cheney and conservatives unaware that his daughter was gay.
And Republicans were quick to seize on the exchange to reinforce their effort to portray Mr. Kerry in these closing days of the presidential race as a man who, as Mr. Cheney put it, “will say and do anything in order to get elected.”
“He shouldn’t have done it,” said Matthew Dowd, a senior adviser to Mr. Bush. “It was inappropriate. I just don’t think you should bring up people’s children in the course of a campaign. And it wasn’t just accidental that he did it – he’s not an accidental guy.”
….as the fallout continued this weekend, some Democrats were clearly concerned, aware that there has rarely been a presidential campaign as close as this one. Three organizations released polls on Sunday showing that Mr. Bush had improved his standing. Time magazine showed him with a lead of two percentage points while Newsweek found he was ahead by four percentage points. The latest Gallup poll said Mr. Bush had a lead of eight percentage points.
Considering that most polls found that viewers judged Mr. Kerry the clear winner of all three debates, some Democrats said the most likely explanation for these results was a sharp response to the remark
….As is frequently the case in campaign episodes like this, the real damage is a function of whether they reinforce existing voter concerns about a candidate, like when Bill Clinton, at the very time he was being mocked as “Slick Willie,” talked about smoking marijuana and not inhaling.
Translation: we think Kerry won the debates, we think Kerry should be president, but if he doesn’t win this could very well be why. You voters, especially Bush voters, are stupid.
Another clue: on the same day the Times endorsed Kerry, yesterday, they ran a piece in their Week In Review section speculating upon what might be expected from a second Bush term:
- If the president is still Mr. Bush, would a second term be marked by pre-emption on steroids, unilateralism in a silken glove, or the kind of alliance-building Mr. Bush talked about in the three debates?
..the answer hinges on who would stay in a second Bush term. The personalities matter more than usual because Mr. Bush, more than most recent presidents, has tolerated – even encouraged – a constant battle in his administration over how to shape its approach to the world.
There is Donald H. Rumsfeld, once called a “rock star” by the president, whose cheeky defense of a lean, muscular America made him the voice of pre-emption and the man who offended Old Europe. There is Condoleezza Rice at the National Security Council, speaking the realist’s vocabulary of America’s national interest, who stepped in to take the coordination of Iraq policy away from Mr. Rumsfeld but has been accused of being insufficiently skeptical about the intelligence that fueled the drive to war. And there is the house moderate, Colin L. Powell, who as secretary of state lost many battles, but has begun to win a few, over how to deal with North Korea and Iran and how to rebuild burned bridges with allies.
….”Rumsfeld is the key to this whole thing,” said one senior administration official. If he leaves after the election, it would free up many places on the chess board. One possibility is that the Pentagon will no longer be a base for the neoconservatives and hawks who pressed for the invasion of Iraq and backed Ahmad Chalabi as its next leader.
For now, though, the best guessing in the Pentagon is that Mr. Rumsfeld does not want to go anywhere. To leave now, some of his aides say, would be to appear to accept the blame for Abu Ghraib, and the failure to monitor the interrogation techniques used by military intelligence officials and others from Afghanistan to Iraq. He also wants to stay until his main legacy – the transformation of the military – is well under way.
If he did leave, though, one theory is that he could be succeeded by Ms. Rice, with whom he has often clashed. That would probably signal a significant change. It was Ms. Rice’s office, administration officials argue, that urged Mr. Rumsfeld more than a year ago to pay attention to how detainees were being treated. And it was Ms. Rice, acting on the president’s behalf, who created the Iraq Stabilization Group inside the White House in September 2003 to take command of an occupation that clearly had gone awry
….The widespread assumption inside the State Department is that Mr. Powell has tired of the infighting and the hours, and doesn’t need the aggravation anymore. But if he is the only one to leave, one senior Republican adviser said, it would remove “the only respected countervailing voice that gets heard” in the White House. “It would be more of the same, only more so.”
….Perhaps this game of musical chairs will matter less than it appears, if Dick Cheney continues to be a separate power altogether. The nation’s chief hawk has a national security staff of his own, headed by the intensely loyal L. Lewis Libby. If there is a second term, watch where Mr. Cheney’s loyalists land. If they get major posts, that’s where policy would be going.
The key job to watch would be national security adviser. Perhaps Ms. Rice would stay. Her aides think she might, if Mr. Bush pressed. If her job opened, it could go to her deputy, Stephen Hadley, a careful, hardworking lawyer considered unlikely to cross Mr. Cheney.
Cheney’s daughter is a lesbian, by the way.
The Times concludes:
- “Honestly, I can make a more reliable prediction about what Kerry’s foreign policy would look like than I can about our own,” said one senior American diplomat who has spent considerable time with President Bush over the past three years. “I could argue that you’ll see Dick Cheney’s revenge, or that the President will determine that the hawks got him in deep, deep trouble, and he’d better turn this around.”
Hmm, we just came full circle and learned approximately, um, nothing. I think it more informative that the subject was brought up at all. Intentionally or not, I think it tips the Times’ hand that they think Bush is going to win, which, also unintentionally, makes it more likely that this will happen – the Heisenberg Uncertainly principle in action.
Along parallel lines, ABC News’s The Note is particularly important and penetrating today. After the debates, which by consensus Kerry “won,” Bush seems to have actually pulled ahead. Did he win by losing, or is it that Mary Cheney thing?
- By nearly every credible indication available, President Bush seems to have moved, post-debates, into a small but potentially meaningful lead over Senator Kerry.
….As for the polling that shows the president ahead, here is what the Chattering Class believes about it:
A. Because the polls moved slightly in Bush’s favor after the debates, there must be a reason, and the only two reasons they have been able to come up with are (i) the Mary Cheney remark; and/or (ii) the nation, having considered the totality of the debate round robin, decided it wanted a steady, likeable leader — rather than a voluble debating champion — to be the honcho of the free world.
My own feeling is that when Edwards addressed Dick Cheney directly in their debate about Mary Cheney, that was fine and there was little or no suspicion of ulterior motives; but when Kerry picked up the same theme, with Cheney himself nowhere in sight, it didn’t feel quite right and suspicion rose that the compliments were backhanded and in fact a “tactic.”
Regarding public perception of the debates in general, I think Bush might have in fact won by losing in that the public saw him improve with each debate – which was at least subliminally reassuring that he CAN learn from his mistakes and change accordingly; and that although Kerry is the better speaker and debater, with time to let let it all sink in, a certain portion of the population has decided that Kerry might be TOO slick of tongue and that his pretty words might be just that – especially since there is consensus that his economic figures don’t add up. A goodly segment of the nation is wary of silver tongued “city slickers,” and Kerry is nothing if not glib and urbane.
Using myself as an example, I came away from the debates liking and trusting Kerry much more than before and I believe he could ably helm the nation and the free world, but I am STILL not going to vote for him. This is a purely personal reaction and evidence of nothing in particular, but if I feel this way others might also.
The Note also notes that Kerry has gone negative, joining the Bush campaign down this dubious path:
- Kerry’s over-the-top efforts — on the stump and reinforced with paid media — include over-the-line allegations regarding the draft, the supply of flu vaccine, and Social Security.
As with the more extreme Bush lines attacking Kerry, there is some truth underlying the charges, but the Bush people have a good case to call them lies and scare tactics.
The military is currently overextended; any incumbent administration bears some responsibility for things such as the vaccine supply; and President Bush has never acknowledged that the very purpose of the type of Social Security reform he supports is to lower the guaranteed minimum benefit paid to future beneficiaries in order to take pressure off of the trust fund, and that in the transition period there would be an enormous shortfall that would have to come from general revenue or some changes in benefits.
But the president has said repeatedly that he has no intention of reinstating the draft (and Congress wouldn’t go along with it, even if he did); the roots of vaccine shortage are not unambiguous; and the Social Security scare tactics that are de rigueur for Democratic campaigns — and are just starting to be trotted out — are, as the Bush campaign rightly points out, based on the thinnest of “sourcing” from a journalist whose record of going after the Bush Administration is well established — and the president has ruled out any cuts in benefits or private accounts for current retirees or those close to retirement.
Of course, the mirror image of all this continues to be the Bush campaign’s attacks on Senator Kerry on health care, taxes, and the right to use unilateral force.
All three Bush charges are under girded by some reality — Senator Kerry’s proposals on health care would indeed be enormously expensive, and there are real questions about how parts of it would be effectively administered; Senator Kerry’s overall philosophy — despite occasional flirtations with fiscal restraint— has been to increase taxes to pay for bigger government; and the Bay Stater’s frequent “votes and quotes” before and after he entered the presidential race put him clearly on the opposite of a divide from President Bush regarding the balance between unilateralism and multilateralism.
But the hyped-up rhetorical charges (“government takeover” of health care; Kerry will have no choice but to raise taxes on the middle class; and “global test”) go well beyond the evidence and remain central to the president’s closing message.
The president’s campaign continues to try to win by distorting, taking things out of context, and making purposeful misstatements about Kerry’s record and statements. Kerry’s campaign is now doing many of the same things. Both campaigns should expect equally aggressive reporting on misrepresentations.
….The press has the responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest. That’s why unbiased vigilance is required every day, the rest of the way, for both sides. Further, the press cannot be afraid to point out when one campaign is more aggressively misrepresenting the facts than the other, even when charges of “unbalanced press coverage” come flying in from partisan observers.
Absolutely right – I couldn’t agree more – a pox upon both of their campaign houses.