Opinions, Context & Ideas from the TPM Editors TPM Editor's Blog

Not unexpectedly John Kerry

Not unexpectedly, John Kerry has <$NoAd$>made a big jump in this morning's ARG tracking poll. The Numbers: Dean 26%, Kerry 24%, Clark 18%.

The poll analysis reads ...

While Howard Dean has a 2 percentage-point lead over John Kerry in the 3-day average, Kerry has a 1 percentage-point lead in the 2-day average (sample size of 508 likely Democratic primary voters) and Kerry has a 5 percentage-point lead in the one-day sample on January 20 (the sample size of 302 likely Democratic voters, theoretical margin of error ± 6 percentage points). Also, from January 19 to January 20, Wesley Clark is up 1 percentage point and John Edwards is up 3 percentage points. There is no change for Joe Lieberman.


Zogby is also running a tracking NH tracking poll now and his numbers (Dean 25%, Kerry 23%, Clark 16%) are broadly similar.

We are extremely pleased

We are extremely pleased this morning to bring you TPM's interview with George Soros, which was conducted last Friday morning. We had initially intended to bring it to you yesterday. But certain logistical issues tied to reporting here from New Hampshire made that impossible. Yet, I think today is actually more appropriate, since it comes as a sort of rebuttal to points set forth yesterday evening in the president's State of the Union address.

Most of you are probably already quite familiar with Soros. He was born in Hungary in 1930, then emigrated to the UK in 1947 and finally to the US in 1956. He had an extremely successful and lucrative career running an investment fund. And beginning in 1979, and increasingly so after the fall of the Berlin Wall, he founded a series of foundations "dedicated to building and maintaining the infrastructure and institutions of an open society."

Recently, Soros has turned his attention to US politics, putting a good deal of money into the effort to turn President Bush out of office in this November's election. And he's authored a new book entitled The Bubble of American Supremacy, which is a critique of Bush administration foreign policy and particularly the 'Bush Doctrine.'

Soros has also agreed to field questions from TPM readers who've read his book, in a sort of moderated dialogue. And we'll be posting more details about that shortly.

For now, the interview, which was conducted last Friday ...

TPM: Let's get started. I've obviously read your book and have been following it. But for our readers who haven't, what is the essential problem that you see with the Bush Doctrine, both as a doctrine and how it's been practiced over the last two years now?

SOROS: Basically it asserts American supremacy, particularly military supremacy. It does so by combining two – it’s built on two pillars: One, that the United States must preserve and maintain its unquestioned military supremacy both globally and in any particular region. Two, the United States has a right to preemptive action. Each of these points on their own have some validity. It is desirable that we should have such military superiority, and under some circumstances it may be necessary to engage in preemptive action. But if you combine the two, it really establishes two classes of sovereignty: the sovereignty of the United States, which is sacrosanct and not subject to any international constraint, and the sovereignty of all other states, which is subject to the Bush Doctrine --- preemptive action by the United States.

So it is reminiscent of George Orwell's Animal Farm. You know, all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. And this is in contradiction of the values that have made America great. It is basically one of the belief in inequality. And it is unacceptable --- cannot possibly be accepted --- by the rest of the world, as demonstrated by the allergic reaction to the first practical application of this doctrine in Iraq.

TPM: There are a number of questions that I want to ask, but let me start with this one: There's obviously an ongoing debate about how the Iraq war took place, about how the lead-up to the UN happened, and comparisons with the Balkans, and so forth. And that conversation sometimes gets down to almost a fetish of the words "unilateral" and "multilateral." And we get into conversations about, you know, how large coalitions need to be before U.S. action becomes legitimate and so forth. It's like what that Supreme Court justice said about pornography -- you know it when you see it --- that is, whether you have a coalition that in some sense expresses some unity of will in the international community. But how do you codify this or create some sort of model, comparing our actions in the Balkans, which you supported in the '90s, to Iraq, and looking forward? Obviously, we didn't have UN sanction in Kosovo. What's the line? When does legitimacy come into our actions or not?

SOROS: As you say, you know it when you see it, and so, you know, legitimacy is in the eyes of the beholder. Nevertheless, you can make some theoretical case and I develop such a case in the book. The problem is this: That sovereignty, the principle of sovereignty, stands in the way of intervening in the internal affairs of individual countries. Yet, in some circumstances, it is necessary to do so. To decide when it is necessary and legitimate, we have to re-examine the concept of sovereignty, because sovereignty is really an anachronistic concept. It goes back to kings and subjects.

And then, in the French Revolution, the king was deposed and sovereignty was taken over by the people. That made it more modern. So really sovereignty belongs to the people. But, in many cases you have got rulers that actually abuse the people over whom they rule. In these cases, there is a need for justification for external intervention. And this principle has now been recognized in the proposal--is it called, [The] Responsibility to Protect? This is a report submitted to Kofi Annan …

TPM: Right--I know which one you're referring to.

SOROS: The Canadian thing. The Responsibility to Protect. And that, I think, is the principle on which one can base intervention. But then, the question is: where do you find the legitimacy of the intervener, the international community? What constitutes the international community? Obviously, the United Nations has that legitimacy. And, whenever possible, the action should be through the United Nations. But it isn't always possible because you've got some countries with vetoes. And they may stand in the way.

In these cases, you can have a coalition of open societies, of democracies, that could constitute a source of legitimacy. In the case of Kosovo, NATO did constitute such a body, because Kosovo is in Europe, and NATO is basically an alliance of European countries. In the case of Iraq, NATO would not be sufficient, because Europe is no more legitimate than the United States as an intervener in the Middle East.

So you would need a broader coalition of other democracies --- developing countries, in Latin America, South Africa, India, and possibly some of the neighboring countries. That would constitute a legitimate source of intervention in the case of Iraq, in case the United Nations would not have been willing because of a French veto.

TPM: Now, and I'll use this as a sort of a general description, the neoconservatives--or just perhaps the hawks--in this administration, I think, would say that in some ways, their argument is closer to yours than the realists, who want to build an international state system where sovereignty is sort of the glue that holds everything together. And they are about overthrowing dictatorships and expanding democracy and so forth. But in the case of Iraq, well … I think that they would argue that the bordering states had selfish interests, let's say, for not wanting to upend the status quo in Iraq.

SOROS: Yes, and therefore you could have done it without the bordering states, if you had Latin America, South Africa, other African countries, and India, for instance, on your side. And in fact, you're also right in saying that, let's say, I have more in common in some ways with the hawks who do want to intervene than I have with the geopolitical realists, who are only concerned with the more narrow national self-interest. So I share some of the proselytizing zeal of the neocons--of the hawks. That is exactly why I'm so upset with them. Because I think that they are acting dishonestly and using the concern with tyrants, you know, that we can't tolerate tyrants, as an excuse for asserting American supremacy. And basically in promoting open society, they forget the first principle of open society: namely, that we may be wrong. That is my main concern.

TPM: In your book you talk about the hawks' vision of international statecraft and also American conservatives' ideas of how our domestic polity should be organized as a crude sort of neo-Social Darwinism, informing both. Can you elaborate on that? Particularly on the international stage.

SOROS: I think that the reliance on military power is sort of an excess of this Social Darwinist point of view. I had been opposed to market fundamentalism as a philosophy or as an ideology. Namely, that life is a struggle for survival, and the struggle manifests itself mainly in competition. And the competition is, who is stronger? And the survival of the fittest is basically the survival of the strongest in competition. But, in actual fact, survival also requires cooperation. And there is a need for having rules to which everybody agrees for us to survive. And there are also problems like the environment, that can only be … and maintaining peace in the world, that can only be achieved through cooperation. So there's a misinterpretation of the Darwinist theory of survival of the fittest --- that achieving power over others is the goal. And that is not really the basis of our civilization.

TPM: Well, it sounds almost like there's sort of a neo-Hobbesian view --- where the U.S. government is the Leviathan over the whole --- to create order through the world.

SOROS: Basically, as I say in the book, the ideology is that international relations are relations of power, not law. That law merely serves to ratify what power has achieved and accomplished. And this is not totally wrong, in the sense that, in fact, international law is very weak. It's certainly much weaker than the rule of law that prevails in the United States. However, this ideology is a self-fulfilling prophecy, because if the strongest power in the world decides that it's power that rules and not law, then in fact that's what happens. And that is, in my view, a retrograde step. It is contrary to what has made us prosper.

TPM: Let me ask you: I've obviously read your book and seen you interviewed a number of times on this topic. And you have explained your involvement in this election cycle partly by pointing to the importance of this next election as a referendum on the Bush Doctrine. And if the president is turned out of office, it will, this last few years will seem like sort of an aberration--in part, the shock of 9/11, and so on and so forth.

My question is this, though: Clearly, as we've seen, in a direct military sense, we can overthrow a government like Saddam Hussein's. Again, in a pure military sense, we can occupy it, we can at least in the short-to-medium term fund this occupation. And NATO may be strained, but it hasn't collapsed. And one could say similar things about our alliances in different parts of the world. And the reason I bring up the point about this coming election is that the argument I think that people like yourself have made --- and probably people like myself --- is that the consequences of what we are doing now probably won't be clear in their totality in the next year. They'll be clear five years from now, ten years from now. To the extent that you can, assuming President Bush is re-elected --- what do you see those consequences as being? When do they become tangible? People who are on the hawk side I think would say, yeah, there's a lot of opposition around the world to what we're doing, but, you know, so what?

SOROS: First, let me say that the consequences are already clear. It's only a question of recognizing it. Just today, the U.S. is turning to the UN to help in legitimizing the creation of an Iraqi government --- that’s today’s news. Which means that under the duress of the coming elections and the need to, let's say, correct the mistakes that we have made in Iraq, that we are now recognizing that we can't do it on our own.

I've been arguing this all along. It's now being admitted. Now, this administration will never admit that it has made a mistake. But anybody who looks at it can see that they are actually even trying to correct the mistakes that they have made by turning to the UN now.

So that's the first thing: the fact that their ideology of power and dominance is false. It actually doesn't work. That's number one. Secondly, it's profoundly un-American, because we have, you know, a belief in the equality of opportunities and the very principles of America are not ones of dominance. We don't believe in, you know, we fought the Civil War to abolish slavery. So, secondly, it's really un-American; it's a break with American values.

And there is another aspect that is coming into sharper focus to me, even since I wrote the book. That is that this administration has no compunction in misleading the people. It has no respect for the truth. This, I think, is a real danger. It is the danger of an Orwellian world. It's not new, because obviously, Orwell wrote about this fifty years ago. But what he wrote in 1984, you know, the Ministry of Truth being the Propaganda Ministry, the use of words meaning the opposite of what they are meant to mean. The Fox News, "Fair and Balanced," the "Clear Skies" Act for permitting pollution, the "Leave No Child Behind" [that] provides no money for the legislation. All these things I think pose a real danger to our democracy if they succeed in misleading the electorate. And there is only one remedy: an intelligent and enlightened electorate that sees through it.

Now, I find myself in a peculiar position, because having grown up or been exposed to the Nazi regime and the communist regime, I am very sensitive to this kind of propaganda. And the American people, not having been exposed to quite the same extent, seem to be more easily misguided. And that is something that I have been trying to say. And, as a result, I have been accused of calling Bush a Nazi. And that, to me, is itself a demonstration of how this propaganda machine works. That is a real danger, and I think that we really have to somehow become more sensitive to it, and reject it. So, I focused on rejecting the Bush Doctrine. But really behind it is this conviction that we must reject Orwellian Doublespeak. And that, in a sense, was why Dean had such great appeal because, he said, ‘what I say is what you get.’ He's losing some of that now that he's the front runner. But this is what people are really hankering after.

TPM: Let me ask you another question, sort of along these lines. I obviously follow politics very closely. And from what one can glean about public opinion from polls and so forth--and I know you follow politics very closely as well. A few months ago, say, September, October of last year, I think everybody would say that in terms of perception, at a minimum, things were at a nadir for how people were seeing the president, seeing Iraq, seeing the economy. And you could see that the President's poll numbers went down and so forth. And yet they never went really below 50 percent, even when things seemed to really be falling apart in Iraq. And I’ve asked myself this and I wonder what you've come up with--does it say something about the direction that this country's going in, its own culture, its own politics, that there's the kind of sufferance of the policies that we've been discussing?

SOROS: Yes it does. And I focus my ire on Bush. And I hope that we can pin the shortcomings of our culture and of our attitudes on Bush. And that would be a wonderful way out, because we could have blamed Bush for it. And it was an aberration and we rejected it.

But the fact is, maybe we don't reject it. Maybe we are complicit. Maybe the general distrust and resentment of the United States is more justified than I would like to see it. So there is a real danger here. Now, September 11th has a lot to do with this, because after September 11, the Bush administration very cleverly used the terrorist attacks and the war on terror as a patriotic rallying cry, when it became totally unacceptable to be critical of anything that the administration did. You have the quote from Ashcroft, "Anybody who opposes the USA Patriot Act is giving aid and comfort to the terrorists." You have Bush saying, "Those who are not with us are with the terrorists."

And that, temporarily, stilled any kind of criticism of the president. It was practically impossible for a politician to be critical. Then, in the absence of critical process, the administration abused its mandate by attacking Iraq. And that became obvious. And that sort of led to a breakdown of the taboo. It became legitimate to criticize, because the deception was just too obvious. And there was a rising criticism. And that's when Bush started sinking. But the propaganda machine is fabulously well-functioning. It's really very successful. And Karl Rove is a superior strategist. And so the Bush administration has regrouped and is now again, I think, managing to deceive the people. And that's what's happening.

TPM: You've obviously been involved in democracy-building of a non-military sort in Central and Eastern Europe for, I guess, almost fifteen years now. And now you've become directly involved in politics in the United States. And this has been written about and you've talked about it and so forth. But, can you explain, what is your experience of direct political involvement been thus far? You're writing a book, you're funding various organizations and so forth. What is jumping into the fray? How have you experienced it?

SOROS: Well, this is a novel experience for me. I've never had this before. And I can't say that I'm particularly successful or comfortable in doing it. But, I feel that I have an obligation to do it. A sense of obligation or responsibility, because I believe that really, we are going in a very dangerous direction and, because the United States is so powerful, it endangers the prospect for the world and for our civilization.

TPM: How does it--I mean, obviously you've been on the receiving end of attacks of various sorts. How does--

SOROS: How does it feel?

TPM: Yeah.

SOROS: I'm quite human and I'm not a politician, so it doesn't leave me unaffected. I'm affected by it. But it actually strengthens my resolve. Because, I'm in a rather unusual position to be able to take it. However, it does intimidate, I think, others. And I think that one of the objectives is to intimidate others from joining me.

TPM: Let me jump back for just a last question about what we spoke about before. You have spoken about as a child and an adolescent living, sort of experiencing firsthand the two great power ideologies of the last century: Nazism and Communism. And you've spoken about the echoes you sense of that. There's a new book out by Chalmers Johnson where he lays out a whole argument that is similar, in some ways, to yours. He talks about the nexus between the sort of power ideology that he sees as embodied in the Bush Doctrine, and deception. That it's not a coincidence that these two come together, and operate together: ideologies of power, and the need for systematic deception.

SOROS: Who is it?

TPM: Chalmers Johnson. It's called 'The Sorrows of Empire.' It's new out. It's been out for a month or two, or something like that.

SOROS: Unfortunately, I don't have time to read; I only have time to write. Anyhow, I'd like to see it.

TPM: But what do you make of that?

SOROS: Look, open society is always endangered. But the dangers are different in character. So, it was endangered by Nazism, it was by fascism, it was endangered by Communism. And now it is endangered in a very unusual, in a very unexpected way, from a very unexpected quarter, which is the United States. I have never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would be standing up to defend the principles of open society, which are in the core of American history and tradition, in America. But, it doesn't mean that the threat that is present today is identical with the threat that came from Nazism or Communism. By saying what I'm saying, I'm not comparing Bush to a Nazi. I'm not calling Bush a Nazi. I want to make it very, very explicit that I'm not. And I don't think that the comparison is helpful. In fact, I think it's harmful.

It's a different threat. And it's actually a very strange, unexpected [threat]. If you go back to this Doublespeak and the threat of deception, the Goebbels propaganda machine had a total monopoly of the media. The Soviets had such control that they could actually erase people from history, airbrush out leaders who fell, who were disgraced. The deception in America is practiced while you do have pluralistic media. You do have, you know, different channels that are available. Nevertheless, something is going on in the way of managing the interpretation of reality that is actually successful and poses a danger to open society. And it has been spearheaded by the conservative movement. But, it's not confined to the conservative movement. In other words, it's a cultural phenomenon. And it permeates, let's say, the Democratic primaries as much as it does the propaganda of the Bush administration.

TPM: Can you expand on that? Are we talking about demagogy?

SOROS: There is a cultural phenomenon --- an unscrupulous pursuit of your cause with disregard to truth. And because of that … I mean, you always had adversarial relations, and, you know, it's not a new phenomenon. But it has lost its anchor because of the disregard of the truth.

TPM: OK.

SOROS: It comes back to my theory of boom, bust, and bubbles, where the process gets out of hand. And I think that the political process, and political debate, has gotten out of hand in the United States. You had a similar phenomenon in the financial markets, where you had a boom, where it wasn't a matter of what the earnings were, but how they could be dressed up. So you had these excesses of deception and shenanigans and cheating. But that came a cropper. That has been corrected. But the political arena, it hasn't been corrected.

TPM: Final quick question: are you optimistic about this election coming up?

SOROS: I'm hopeful. And I think that right now, right this minute, things don't look so good, because you don't have a Democratic candidate. But I think that will change once you have a candidate, and you have a real debate between two sides.

END OF INTERVIEW

As usual, we will soon be posting a .pdf version of the interview for convenient downloading.

Let me note a

Let me note a few more thoughts about Howard Dean's speech this morning.

Dean led off his speech with the following analysis and it seems now to inform a good bit of his strategy, or at least the packaging of his post-Iowa campaign.

What Dean said was that when he got into the race (actually part of the reason he got into the race) was that the other Democrats weren't willing to confront Bush administration or stand up for the values and policies Democrats believe in. But now the other candidates, he says, have come around to his position. They're confronting the White House and standing up for those values and policies and so forth. So now he (i.e., Dean) needs to go back and focus on policy prescriptions, his experience as an executive, and his record in Vermont.

(One of the subthemes the campaign seemed inclined to advance was that with the other candidates coming around to Dean's sort of combativeness, he didn't stand out as much, or his message was muted.)

This strikes me as a really counterproductive approach.

Doesn't it amount to his conceding a good bit of the raison d'etre of his campaign?

If you concede the premise that he has pushed the other candidates in this direction (and there's certainly an argument to be made), then it almost reads like saying he's acheived his historical purpose (pushing the Dems to confront the Bush) and now, well, what's the point? Maybe he pushed them in that direction, but he's not the best one to actually run against Bush. And if Kerry and Clark or Edwards have now adopted Dean's approach, why do you need Dean?

It's almost like he's painting himself in advance into a corner as the Gene McCarthy of the race, a la 1968.

Needless to say, you could flesh out his point in different ways. But what I'm trying to point to is that this doesn't seem like a point Dean can really concede. As it is, the rest of his speech was focused on his role as a governor, what he'd accomplished in the state, and how executive experience sets him apart.

Now, those are all good things. He did accomplish a lot as governor of Vermont. But are those the sorts of themes that are going to propel him through the next week?

It doesn't seem so to me.

Because of the rush

Because of the rush of events up here in New Hampshire, we're running a tad late on the George Soros interview. But we should have it to you a little later this evening.

Another quick update. This

Another quick update. This evening after the Kerry event I hung around as various voters asked Kerry questions of this sort and that. One came up and said simply that he liked him but was still trying to decide who to vote for. What could Kerry tell him to convince him?

Two things. One: Kerry said he has both the decades of experience in foreign policy as well as decades of experience with domestic policy issues. Two: He's been fighting this fight or fighting these interests for thirty five years. Both answers struck me as addressed to Clark. Nothing addressed to Dean.

One other thing: Kerry's voice. In the same informal questioning and answering, toward the end he kept stumbling over coughs that came more and more frequently. And they were agonizing coughs that trailed off into some sort of vaguely high-pitched sound that was somewhere between a high whine and a wince. Toward the end several people half-begged him not to answer any more questions and to lay off his voice.

Here at Kerrys first

Here at Kerry’s first major event of the day. He came into New Hampshire overnight or in the morning. I think he basically hit the sack for most of the day and now we’re at a ‘chili feed’ at a school in Pembroke, I think about a dozen miles north of Manchester. A good crowd, three or four hundred people.

Right now we’re in the Q & A. At about 6:40, a woman stands up and starts her question. “I think you’re qualified to be president. But there’s one other candidate who I think is qualified…” And who is it? Is she torn between Kerry and Dean? Is it between Clark and Kerry? ‘fraid not. It’s between you, John, and Lyndon LaRouche.

Uggh. Actually it wasn’t as bad as you might expect: a human story tied in with her LaRouchism. Kerry heard her out, though he didn’t touch her request to throw out the “real devil in the White House.”

A quick update from

A quick update from the morning after in Iowa.

This morning my friend Alex and I went to see Howard Dean in his first big event in New Hampshire. I’m here now. Dean is taking questions. We’re at the Holiday Inn in downtown Manchester.

More analysis later, but for now a few thoughts.

It’s a fairly small venue, a smallish ballroom. There are two or three hundred supporters. Perhaps more. I’m not good at estimating crowd sizes. After looking around I was struck that most of the people sitting in the audience looked like they were in their forties or fifties.

If you thought Dean in New Hampshire would be anything like his full-throttle speech last night, you’d be mistaken. The crowd is getting a bit more lively now that he’s taking questions and loosening up. But he started the speech calmly, either listless or measured depending on your interpretation.

He said there’d be no red meat (his words), and that he wanted to give a policy speech. He said it would be a “different kind of speech.” And it certainly was.

He didn’t talk much about the war. It was mainly balanced budgets, health care, etc. He seemed to be working at least in part from prepared remarks. It was nothing like the speech I saw down in DC a few months ago, a raucous rally.

It was hard to call it a rally. It was, as Dean said, a policy speech.

Dean's rationale for this was as follows: he said he got into the race because he thought Democrats weren't standing up for Dem principles, that they weren't taking the fight to President Bush. He said his opponents are now doing that -- something he took credit for. So he'd go back to discussing policy issues, what he did in Vermont, what he'd do for America, etc.

This was the event I was most interested in seeing today. I wanted to see if Dean --- and just as much his supporters --- could take a punch. Last night was one helluva punch.

Can he and his supporters maintain their energy and organization? Will they lose morale? The flip side of bringing in new blood is that they may not have a lot of campaign experience. They may not be able to keep up their focus when things get rough. Just think what it was like to keep working away for Kerry six weeks ago ...

(Now Joe Trippi is standing next to me. A quick look. Now he’s gone.)

This is just one event. But from sitting here it seems like a pretty low energy affair. It’s not at all the kind of event where the supporters seem charged.

One other thing: barely a mention of the campaign in New Hampshire as a campaign. What they have to do to win. We need to do this, we need to do that, etc. Some hits at his opponents for not having the right position on the war. But not by name and not much more than that.

Things are picking up now a bit. And it's coming from questioners. And Dean is feeding a bit off them.

Just now a woman got up and asked a question attacking Fox News (“an embarrassment to this country”). She hopes that all Fox News employees lose their jobs. Dean picks up the riff and notes how Fox News viewers have the highest rate of believing that Saddam was behind 9/11.

Late Update: Dean definitely picked up steam toward the end of the Q & A with the audience. Now we're waiting for his press availability.

Check out Fareed Zakarias

Check out Fareed Zakaria's Tuesday column in the Washington Post. The issue is legitimacy. And what's happening in Iraq. Zakaria touches upon some issues that I'll be getting into in my review essay about empire, which will be coming out shortly.

Before the results came

Before the results came out this evening, I went to one campaign event --- one at the Clark campaign. The other choice was Lieberman. But, given the direction things seem to be going in, I thought that might just be too painful.

Clark spent the day in South Carolina. And the premise of the event was that at 7:45 PM he was coming back from the airport with a stack of pizzas for his hardworking staffers and volunteers.

Anyway, I thought it was supposed to be a rally of some sort. But by the time I got there at about 8:00 PM it seemed to be pretty much campaign workers and a slew of traveling press. Calm, more or less. A phone bank. A bunch of people milling around. Some volunteers whipping up signs with magic markers.

The Clark campaign headquarters is several rooms of computers and desks and one main central room where there’s a phone bank. And there --- with a bunch of reporters, a few cameramen, and a sound boom or two hovering over him --- was Clark chatting up a series of New Hampshire voters. I hunted up a space where I could crouch down and listened and watched some typical campaign theater --- Clark chatting on the phone, seeming oblivious to the dozen or so reporters scribbling into their notebooks with that typically awful reporters’ handwriting.

One thing that struck me as odd is that Clark wasn’t talking about the campaign really. He seemed to be talking about the Kosovo campaign or his military career, or something like that, and going on at some length.

After a while I realized there was no point in listening to this. So I started milling around, talked to a couple friends and then made my way into a back room where E.J.Dionne and Al Hunt (luminaries who weren't in Iowa!) were chatting up Eli Segal, who’s the campaign chairman for Clark.

(Matt Bennett, the communications director, was hovering around in the background, answering the occasional question.)

These little chat sessions are classic moments of campaign kabuki theater. We’re asking Segal questions. But we’re not really asking questions --- as in asking questions in the sense that we think we’re going to hear what he thinks.

What we’re doing is tossing out questions so that Segal can tell us what the campaign’s spin is. Everybody has a wink in their eye because everyone knows what the deal is.

So people asked this question and that. Segal defended the decision not to contest Iowa. And then I piped up with the question I wanted to ask. What about Kerry? He’s rising as fast as you guys were a week ago, I said, and now he’s going to come out of Iowa with tons of momentum.

(This was before the results came out, say about 8:30 PM.)

Segal gave the standard answers, one campaign at a time, etc., etc., etc. But his real answer came at the end. He pointed to money and organization after New Hampshire, arguing that Kerry doesn’t have the ground organization in those states or the money to play everywhere at once in those later contests. Segal already seemed to be planning for the possibility of a Kerry resurgence in New Hampshire -- setting up the argument that maybe he could sustain coming in behind Kerry?

(Tonight's ARG poll has Kerry ever so slightly in second place again (Numbers: Dean 28%, Kerry 20%, Clark 19%.)

A bit later Clark was on Larry King Live. And they set up an impromptu studio with Clark set in front of the phone callers as a sort of a backdrop.

At this point we didn’t know what the results would be. And we could not hear Larry or whoever else was interviewing Clark. But we could hear Clark reacting. And it became clear fairly quickly from Clark's responses that Kerry and Edwards were big winners.

This went on a bit longer. Clark finished. His volunteers cheered and went nuts. I talked to a few more people. Grabbed a slice of pizza at the Clark campaign’s expense and then hit the road.

Just a thought. I

Just a thought.

I wrote the first iteration of this post about 6 pm this evening when it wasn't clear where he'd come in. But I've been struck for a while by something that happened after Gore endorsed Dean.

First, there was Gore's endorsement. Then Bradley. Then Harkin. And then just recently, kinda sorta, Carter.

It had sort of the feel to me of Gore's campaign circa mid-1999, when he was sitting on his lead, running a top-heavy campaign and relying heavily on endorsements by big-time Dems. It's too early to say now.

But I'm curious what the strategy was rolling out the endorsements like that. Certainly, at some level he was reaching out from his core of support, trying to bring in party regulars by getting the endorsements of high-profile Dems. But it communicated some sort of passivity, I think. Some aspect of playing on the defensive. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, like people, campaign's not busy being born are busy dyin'.

TPMLivewire