Kerry and U.S. Troops

I'm sure by now most readers saw John Kerry's comments:

You know, education, if you make the most of it, if you study hard and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.

In case you haven't seen the video, you can watch it  here.

What struck me about this comment beyond the obvious fact that it is insulting to our troops, is just how politically incompetent John Kerry is.  Here we are,  a week before Election Day, Democrats  are favored to win back control of the House and possibly the Senate, so you'd think it would make sense  for the party's leaders to play it safe. Republicans have tried very hard to convince voters that Democrats don't support  our troops, a charge that Democrats have been countering by saying that they do support the troops, only that they oppose the war and want to  bring the troops home. But in this video Kerry, the party's  most recent candidate for President and one of it's most recognizable figures, is out there calling troops fighting in Iraq a bunch of morons.  The RNC should run  an ad featuring this video in every competitive race in the country. Just like his "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it"  helped Republicans portray him as  a flip-flopper, Kerry's recent remark  succinctly captures what Republicans have been trying to say about Democrats all along–that they are anti-military and can't be trusted on national security.    

r r

Bloomy and ’08

Bold prediction: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will not be our next president.

Richard Cohen has a column in today’s Washington Post speculating that the billionaire “might” run, and he bases this on some groundbreaking investigative reporting:

I say “might” because Bloomberg has gone from the firm “no” he offered me some months ago to a more intriguing “I’m considering it” that he offered someone I talked with recently. Indeed, among this city’s moneyed, journalistic (not, alas, the same thing), entertainment, financial and other sorts of elites, there are always one or two at the table who say, with great solemnity, that they happen to know Bloomberg will indeed run for president as an independent. Knowing my duty, I called the Bloomberg people and asked if that is the case. By press time, as they say in the movies, I had yet to hear back. I take that as a wobbly affirmation.

It’s difficult to think of a candidate that would have less appeal to anyone than Bloomberg. He’s a tax-raising lifelong liberal Democrat, which would mean he could forget conservative votes, and having governed as mayor with an R next to his name would turn-off many Democrats. His crusades against smoking and trans fats won’t endear him to any libertarian voters either.

Cohen argues that Bloomberg could do better than Ross Perot did in 1992 because he’s richer than Perot and “sane” rather than “deranged.” But there’s a huge difference between 1992 and 2008, and that’s national security. Bloomberg has absolutely nothing to offer on that issue whatsoever.

Bloomberg is a gambler, Cohen says, which means he may just be willing to bet a half a billion of his fortune on a longshot presidential run, just like he spent $74 million and $84 million in his 2001 and 2005 runs for mayor. But clearly, running for mayor cost much less money and offered a far greater chance for success than a bid for the presidency. He may be a gambler, but he’s also a businessman.

Re: 1994 vs. Today

Paul, just to add to your point about 1994 being different. Not only is there the national security issue this time around, but Democrats still haven’t run an ideologically-based campaign the way Republicans did in 1994. Democrats have largely benefited from Republican mistakes rather than advancing a broad agenda to reform Washington rooted in a governing philosophy. The closest thing they have to a “Contract With America” is the “New Direction For America,” but it reads like a laundry list: raising the minimum wage, negotiating lower drug prices, expanding college aid, etc. Of course, there’s one other important difference between the two election years. In 1994, Republicans needed to gain 40 seats (they ended up gaining 52), but this year the magic number for Democrats is just 15.

Re: Gridlock

If you only care about spending, then perhaps you can make the case for divided government. But, even then, it depends on the circumstances. The 1994-2000 period was a special case where you had a Republican Party that (at least early on) was dedicated to shrinking the size of government, and a Democratic president who was willing to triangulate. But should the Democrats gain control of one or both chambers of Congress, they certainly won’t be slashing spending, and President Bush has shown absolutely no interest in doing so either. Perhaps, as some have suggested, he would be more willing to veto spending bills coming from a Democratic Congress, but that’s a big question mark–after all this is the man who gave us No Child Left Behind and the Medicare prescrition drug benefit. Perhaps, in another time, it might be worth taking the risk and voting for divided government. But, as David pointed out, there’s that whole issue of fighting terrorism.

Big Spending and GOP Troubles

In an excellent essay in the Washington Post yesterday, Dick Armey made the case that Republicans’ current predicament stems from their abandonment of small government principles. Matthew Yglesias countered that the Iraq War is what’s actually hurting Republicans, pointing out that “all of the key policy steps that Armey’s citing actually came before the 2004 election, which went fine for the GOP.” However, Yglesias is oversimplifying things by neglecting to mention other developments during the past two years and ignoring important distinctions between midterm and presidential elections. In short, the spending problem has gotten worse since 2004, and because this year’s election is less consequential, disgruntled limited government conservatives seem more willing to sit out than they were when the presidency was up for grabs.

Here’s what I mean. By 2004, there was already plenty of frustration among conservatives with big spending Republicans, but the stakes were a lot higher in that election. The idea of John Kerry as president during wartime was all that was needed to energize conservatives and get them to volunteer and show up at the polls in large numbers. No serious conservatives were arguing in 2004 that it would be better if Republicans lost, but this year many prominent ones have made precisely that argument. While limited government conservatives may have been disappointed by Bush’s first term spending record, things got progressively worse in his second term. Congressional Republicans abandoned Social Security reform without putting up a fight, went on a post-Katrina spending spree, and passed the pork laden energy and transportation bills. Meanwhile, the true cost of the Medicare prescription drug benefit became more apparent. At the same time that the frustration with Republicans has grown, the consequences of defeat have diminished. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not arguing that this election is inconsequential, but just that the stakes are not as high as they were in 2004. This year, we are electing individual senators and representatives, not a commander-in-chief, so limited government conservatives may be less motivated to volunteer and more willing to “send a message” by staying home than they were during the last presidential election. It’s also worth noting that during midterm elections, turnout, on average, tends to hover around 40 percent, meaning that energizing the base becomes even more crucial. Therefore, the effect of disgruntled conservatives sitting out becomes magnified, and thus the spending issue becomes a bigger factor.

It’s also worth mentioning this poll, which suggests that frustration with big government Republicans isn’t limited to the conservative base:

A quarter century after the Reagan revolution and a dozen years after Republicans vaulted into control of Congress, a new CNN poll finds most Americans still agree with the bedrock conservative premise that, as the Gipper put it, “government is not the answer to our problems — government is the problem.”

The poll released Friday also showed that an overwhelming majority of Americans perceive, correctly, that the size and cost of government have gone up in the past four years, when Republicans have had a grip on the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House….

Queried about their views on the role of government, 54 percent of the 1,013 adults polled said they thought it was trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Only 37 percent said they thought the government should do more to solve the country’s problems.

Hunter and ’08

No, this story is NOT from the Onion:

With his prized committee chairmanship very much in peril, Rep. Duncan Hunter is poised to announce today that he is considering a long-shot run for the White House….

Hunter’s ambitions come as a surprise to other Republicans, none of whom had an inkling that he might look to jump into what is likely to be a crowded field for the GOP presidential nomination. But even more shocking is that he would do this a week before the midterm election that may shift control of the House to the Democrats and cost Hunter his chairmanship of the House Armed Services Committee. Hunter is running for re-election Nov. 7.

Via Hit and Run.

Dean on Iraq

It’s worth noting how Howard Dean toned down the anti- Iraq War rhetoric on CBS’s “Face The Nation” yesterday. Speaking on what would happen if the Democrats took control, he said:

“The president will still be in charge of foreign policy and the military so the influence of a Democratic Congress will be I think a positive influence but I don’t imagine that we’re suddenly gonna force the President to reverse his course. We don’t have the ability to do that, but I think we will put some pressure on him to have some benchmarks, some timetables, and a real plan other than stay the course.”

Full transcript (in PDF) here. Excerpts (in HTML) here.

I think this is indicative of two things. Even though the Iraq War has become more unpopular, Democrats are still worried about perceptions that they are the anti-war party. While I wouldn’t deny that growing opposition to the Iraq War is hurting Republicans this election year, I don’t think the electorate has become as anti-war as the media would have us believe. Take a look at the fortunes of Ned Lamont. In a race that was billed as a referendum on the Iraq War, Lamont barely won a Democratic primary against Lieberman, who is unabashedly pro-war. Lieberman has not backed off his support for the war, and yet, by all indications, is crushing Lamont in a blue state that Kerry won by 10 points in 2004.

I think Dean’s comments also reveal a desire to manage the expectations of the liberal base should Democrats win control of one or both chambers of Congress. Just as conservatives want to see action on their agenda when Republicans win elections, if Democrats are put in power, liberals will have demands. But if there’s one thing about Republican and Democratic leaders that’s the same, it’s that they will always choose politics over principle. I’m sure that should Democrats win, they will, as Dean said, “put some pressure” on Bush, but I think they would be fearful of going overboard with the much bigger prize up for grabs in 2008. This way, when they run in 2008, they can appeal to moderates by arguing that once in power, they disproved the Republican caricatures of Democrats as foaming at the mouth anti-war liberals. Meanwhile, they’ll rally the liberal base by saying they had their hands tied because Bush was still “in charge of foreign policy and the military” and the only way to truly change things is to win the presidency.

The Gathered Storm

Dave Weigel takes Rick Santorum to task for speaking of our modern day threats as a "Gathering Storm" akin to Hitler, and criticizes Republicans in general for blowing threats out of proportion. I'm closer to Santorum than Weigel on this one, but I differ with Santorum in that I think it's unhelpful to refer to terrorism as a "gathering storm." Terrorism (and Islamism in general), was a "gathering storm" in the 1990s, but now, we're already in the midst of the storm. Since 9/11, there have been major terrorist attacks in Bali, Madrid, London, and Mumbai, just to name a few. It's wrong to talk of Syria and Iran as if they were potential threats, given that they are already financing and providing weapons to insurgents in Iraq as well as militias that are fueling the sectarian violence (or civil war, if you prefer). They are also funding Hezbollah, which is not only a threat to Israel, but to a free and stable Lebanon.

Weigel complains  that "Pro-war Republicans refuse to take responsibility for the conduct of the Iraq war, refuse to consider alternative arguments in the 'war on terror,' and want to be taken very, very seriously." I have  no problem with  fair criticism of the logic behind the Iraq War and the war's execution. However, while I don't consider support for the Iraq  War  an absolute litmus test for  whether someone  is serious about fighting terrorism, I do think that many anti-war types use their opposition to the War in Iraq to disguise their underlying problems with the whole concept of a War on Terror. Too often, in anti-war circles, opposition to the Iraq War is a substitute for an actual strategy for fighting terrorism. Many anti-war types think that we should view terrorism as a manageable nuisance, but that was our long-standing policy toward terrorism as it grew exponentially starting in the 1960s. Others would argue that we should fight a lower-level war on terrorism, conscious of international law, based on covert operations and closer ties to other nations. They also argue that we should take on a more active role in negotiating peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But that was very close to Clinton's approach during the 1990s, and you still had the U.S. Embassy Bombings and the U.S.S. Cole — even if you honestly believe that 9/11 wouldn't have happened under Clinton's watch.

r r

Re: Webb’s Eroticism

Larry, thanks for the clarification on James Webb’s novels. My comment was more referring to the erotic parts, which read to me like a cheap romance novel. Looking back at my post, I shouldn’t have painted with so broad a brush. I also agree that it’s completely silly of Allen to try to make a campaign issue of this.