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Well now that weve

Well, now that we've had the primaries, <$NoAd$>the convention, and the nail-biting debates, all that's really left now is the Karl Rove dirty tricks portion of the campaign, right?

As Josh Green writes in the current issue of The Atlantic (finally available free online), Rove's trademark is ferocious dirty-tricksterism in the final few weeks of dead-even campaigns ...

If this year stays true to past form, the campaign will get nastier in the closing weeks, and without anyone's quite registering it, Rove will be right back in his element. He seems to understand-indeed, to count on-the media's unwillingness or inability, whether from squeamishness, laziness, or professional caution, ever to give a full estimate of him or his work. It is ultimately not just Rove's skill but his character that allows him to perform on an entirely different plane. Along with remarkable strategic skills, he has both an understanding of the media's unstated self-limitations and a willingness to fight in territory where conscience forbids most others.


With Kerry coming out of the debates with the momentum, it really does come down to Karl now.

The voter registration shredding seems to have gotten upended, though a lot are probably already shredded. And I suspect we'll be hearing some interesting news out of New Hampshire in the next day or so.

But what else? It'll be like a 'where's Waldo' thing: Karl Rove Dirty Trick's Watch. (For examples, see the Green piece.) Who will be able to spot Karl's dirty tricks first? Who has the sharpest eye? Sit back in your seat. Get out the popcorn.

A couple more points

A couple more points about the Mary Cheney brouhaha. First, Mary Cheney isn't simply the vice-president's daughter. She's managing her father's campaign. She's Bush-Cheney '04's 'Director of Vice Presidential Operations.'

A reader (RS) notes another point -- a very perceptive one that I'm surprised no one else has noted. Lynne Cheney called Kerry's mention of her daughter "cheap and tawdry." Those are words redolent of associations with sexual deviance, not rough campaign tactics. She might have said what he did was 'mean-spirited', 'underhanded', 'devious', 'inappropriate', 'wrong'. She chose 'cheap and tawdry'. Interesting ...

And one other thing: how long will the Bush campaign push this issue since they've already made the strategic choice to run as the anti-gay campaign? That's a tough balance to hold.

A number of folks

A number of folks have noted an underlying <$Ad$>disagreement that came up several times in last night's debate. Namely, that in President Bush's worldview states remain central. Once terrorists are separated from their state sponsors -- as al Qaida was from the Taliban after the Afghan War -- the danger they pose diminishes dramatically.

Kerry, meanwhile, disagrees, believing that what is genuinely novel and dangerous about the post-Cold War world is the breakdown of sovereignty itself, which allows terrorist networks to practice catastrophic violence with little or no support from states.

The issue is discussed in an article in The Atlantic Monthly from this summer ...

From its inception the Bush Administration has viewed states as the key actors on the world stage, and relations among them as the primary concern of U.S. foreign policy. It is a mindset rooted in the realities of the Cold War, which defined U.S. foreign policy at the time when most of the president's key advisers gained their formative experience in government. The fixity of this mindset also explains why the Bush Administration spent its first months so heavily focused on the issue of national missile defense, and seemed so surprised by al-Qaeda's transnational terrorism. The Bush team didn't discount the problem of weapons of mass destruction; it simply expected trouble to come from an ICBM-wielding "rogue state" like Iraq or North Korea rather than from Islamic terrorist groups.

Viewed through this lens, the Administration's fixation on Iraq after 9/11 becomes somewhat easier to understand. As Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith explained to Nicholas Lemann, of The New Yorker, on the eve of the Iraq War, "One of the principal strategic thoughts underlying our strategy in the war on terrorism is the importance of the connection between terrorist organizations and their state sponsors. Terrorist organizations cannot be effective in sustaining themselves over long periods of time to do large-scale operations if they don't have support from states."

To the Democrats ha Kerry's orbit, this approach is at best inefficient and at worst akin to fighting fire with gasoline--for example, it has created terrorism in Iraq where little or none previously existed. Last fall, when I asked the presidential candidate General Wesley Clark about Feith's characterization of the threat, he said it was the "principal strategic mistake behind the Administration's policy." Clark went on, "If you look at all the states that were named as the principal adversaries, they're on the periphery of international terrorism today."

First as a military negotiator in Bosnia and later as NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during the second Clinton Administration, Clark was one of the figures at the center of the process that shaped current Democratic foreign-policy views. In its early years, rhetoric aside, the Clinton Administration hewed closely to George H.W. Bush's policy of studied non-involvement in the Balkans, even as Yugoslavia slid into chaos. But over time that region became a forcing ground for re-evaluating Democratic beliefs about foreign policy. The Balkans proved that soft-sounding concerns like human-rights abuses, ethnic slaughter, lawlessness, and ideological extremism could quickly mount into first-order geopolitical crises.

By the mid-1990s this had led the Clinton Administration to focus on terrorism, failed states, and weapons proliferation, and as it did, its foreign-policy outlook changed. The key threats to the United States came to be seen less in terms of traditional conflicts between states and more in terms of endemic regional turmoil of the sort found in the Balkans. "The Clinton Administration," says Jonathan Winer, "started out with a very traditional Democratic or even mainstream approach to foreign policy: big-power politics, Russia being in the most important role; a critical relationship with China; European cooperation; and some multilateralism." But over the years, he went on, "they moved much more to a failed-state, global-affairs kind of approach, recognizing that the trends established by globalization required you to think about foreign policy in a more synthetic and integrated fashion than nation-state to nation-state"

As Winer argues, the threats were less from Russia or China, or even from the rogue states, than from the breakdown of sovereignty and authority in a broad geographic arc that stretched from West Africa through the Middle East, down through the lands of Islam, and into Southeast Asia. In this part of the world poverty, disease, ignorance, fanaticism, and autocracy frequently combined in a self-reinforcing tangle, fostering constant turmoil. Home to many failed or failing states, this area bred money laundering, waves of refugees, drug production, gunrunning, and terrorist networks--the cancers of the twenty-first-century world order.

In the Balkans, Holbrooke, Clark, and other leading figures found themselves confronting problems that required not only American military force but also a careful synthesis of armed power, peacekeeping capacity, international institutions, and nongovernmental organizations to stabilize the region and maintain some kind of order. Though the former Yogoslavia has continued to experience strife, the settlement in the Balkans remains the most successful one in recent memory, and offers the model on which a Kerry Administration would probably build. As Holbrooke told me, the Bush Administration's actions in Iraq have shown that the Administration understands only the military component of this model: "Most of them don't have a real understanding of what it takes to do nation-building, which is an important part of the overall democratic process."

A key assumption shared by almost all Democratic foreign-policy hands is that by themselves the violent overthrow of a government and the initiation of radical change from above almost never foster democracy, an expanded civil society, or greater openness. "If you have too much change too quickly," Winer says, "you have violence and repression. We don't want to see violence and repression in [the Middle East]. We want to see a greater zone for civilization--a greater zone fur personal and private-sector activity and for governmental activity that is not an enactment of violence." Bush and his advisers have spoken eloquently about democratization. But in the view of their Democratic counterparts, their means of pursuing it are plainly counterproductive. It is here, Holbrooke says, that the Administration's alleged belief in the stabilizing role of liberal democracy and open society collides with its belief in the need to rule by force and, if necessary, violence: "The neoconservatives and the conservatives--and they both exist in uneasy tension within this Administration--shift unpredictably between advocacy of democratization and advocacy of neo-imperialism without any coherent intellectual position, except the importance of the use of force."

Because Afghanistan was the Bush Administration's first order of business following the 9/11 attacks, the results of this policy have advanced the furthest there. And because Kerry is on record as saying he would increase the number of U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan, it's probably the clearest measure of how a Kerry Administration would differ from Bush's. Afghanistan is a subject that Kerry's advisers and other senior Democrats turn to again and again. When I interviewed Joseph Biden in late March, he recounted a conversation he'd had with Condoleezza Rice in the spring of 2002 about the growing instability that had taken hold after the Taliban was defeated, in late 2001. Biden told Rice he believed that the United States was on the verge of squandering its military victory by allowing the country to slip back into the corruption, tyranny, and chaos that had originally paved the way for Taliban rule. Rice was uncomprehending. "What do you mean?" he remembers her asking. Biden pointed to the re-emergence in western Afghanistan of Ismail Khan, the pre-Taliban warlord in Herat who quickly reclaimed power after the American victory. He told me: "She said, 'Look, al-Qaeda's not there. The Taliban's not there. There's security there: I said, 'You mean turning it over to the warlords?' She said, "Yeah, it's always been that way.'"

Biden was seeking to illustrate the blind spot that Democratic foreign-policy types see in Bush officials like Rice, who believe that if a rogue state has been lid of its hostile government (in this case the Taliban), its threat has therefore been neutralized. Democrats see Afghanistan as an affirmation of their own view of modern terrorism. As Fareed Zakaria noted recently in Newsweek, the Taliban regime was not so much a state sponsoring and directing a terrorist organization (the Republican view) as a terrorist organization sponsoring, guiding, and even hijacking a state (the Democratic view). Overthrowing regimes like that is at best only the first step in denying safe haven to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Equally important is creating the institutional bases of stability and liberalization that will prevent another descent into lawlessness and terror--in a word, nation-building.


For all those who say there's no difference between the candidates on foreign policy, this is a critical one.

RNC payments this year

RNC payments this year to Sproul & Associates. About 125k, according to FEC records.

But they didn't do anywhere near as well as [all caps] SPROUL & ASSOCIATES,INC. They got about a half a million RNC dollars.

Special sleuthing thanks to TPM reader JW.

Also check out this petition about the RNC's registration shredding wizards.

A couple days ago

A couple days ago we posted a link to this database of Sinclair Broadcasting advertisers. Unfortunately, at least at first, there seemed to be some problems accessing the site. Now, though, those problems seem to have been resolved and everyone should be able to access the site and the database without any problems.

It's been steadily updated and contains many more entries than it did only yesterday.

The big groups have been surprisingly, painfully cautious about getting into this. So if this is important to you it will have to be picked up on the local level.

If you're wondering if it helps, see this ...

Meier said his restaurants began receiving calls on Tuesday and the volume picked up on Wednesday.

"I took most of the calls, and the people were very polite and well-behaved," said Meier. "But most of them said they were long-time customers and they weren't going to come in as long as we continued to advertise on Channel 47."


See the rest here ...

I want justice. Theres

"I want justice. There's an old poster out west, as I recall, that said, "Wanted: Dead or Alive" ... I just remember, all I'm doing is remembering when I was a kid I remember that they used to put out there in the old west, a wanted poster. It said: "Wanted, Dead or Alive." All I want and America wants him brought to justice. That's what we want."

Bush on bin Laden September 17th, 2001

"A fellow came the other day to the office and said, 'Well, are you worried about Mr. bin Laden?' I said, 'No, I'm not too worried about him. He's the guy that needs to be worried.' [Laughter] But I want to assure you, the objective is not bin Laden. Oh, we'll get bin Laden. There's only so many caves he can hide in, if he's still hiding in caves. My attitude was, once we get him running, it's just a matter of time before we bring him to justice."

Bush on bin Laden January 22nd, 2002

"As I say, we haven't heard much from him. And I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure. And, again, I don't know where he is. I -- I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run. I was concerned about him, when he had taken over a country. I was concerned about the fact that he was basically running Afghanistan and calling the shots for the Taliban. But once we set out the policy and started executing the plan, he became -- we shoved him out more and more on the margins. He has no place to train his al Qaeda killers anymore."

Bush on bin Laden March 13th, 2002

A number of Republican

A number of Republican party-liners are trying to whip up a hue and cry over John Kerry's mention of Dick Cheney's daughter. Carl Limbacher ludicrously calls it "Kerry's 'Lesbian' Attack."

In Pennsylvania, Lynne Cheney called it "a cheap and tawdry political trick" and said Kerry "is not a good man."

If you scan over the right-wing press, they're using terms like 'outed' and 'attack' and other words like that.

They doth protest too much.

Not only is Mary Cheney not closeted, her professional life has been explicitly tied to her sexuality. She did outreach to the gay and lesbian communities when she worked at Coors.

It is a delicate issue -- since it's inherently personal and deals with one of the candidate's children. But it was brought up in the context of a question about whether homosexuality is a choice. And more to the point: what's the problem exactly unless you instinctively believe that homosexuality is something to be ashamed of?

If one of Cheney's children was, God forbid, paraplegic and Kerry referred to him or her in the context of a question about people with disabilities, would there be a problem?

I suspect not.

From what some are saying, you'd think he brought up her criminal record, her problem with shoplifting, the unspeakable problem with pills.

Now to follow up.Various

Now, to follow up.

Various mistatements get made in debates. Some clearly intentional; others because of poor memory or confusion. But the president gave the Democrats one helluva gift with that remark about bin Laden.

As you'll remember, it came from this exchange ...

KERRY: Yes. When the president had an opportunity to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, he took his focus off of them, outsourced the job to Afghan warlords, and Osama bin Laden escaped.

Six months after he said Osama bin Laden must be caught dead or alive, this president was asked, "Where is Osama bin Laden?" He said, "I don't know. I don't really think about him very much. I'm not that concerned."

We need a president who stays deadly focused on the real war on terror.

SCHIEFFER: Mr. President?

BUSH: Gosh, I just don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. It's kind of one of those exaggerations.


Now of course about a thousand wire stories have made crystal clear that the president said precisely that.

As the AP put it in a story out just after the debate ...

Kerry accurately quoted Bush as saying he does not think much about Osama bin Laden and is not all that concerned about him. The president protested: "I just don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. It's kind of one of those exaggerations."

But in March 2002, Bush indeed said, "I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run." He described the terrorist leader as "marginalized," and said, "I just don't spend that much time on him."


It's actually worth reading the passage in its entirety. It comes from a press conference the president held on March 13th 2002, just as the build-up for the Iraq war was getting underway ...

Q But don't you believe that the threat that bin Laden posed won't truly be eliminated until he is found either dead or alive?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, as I say, we haven't heard much from him. And I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure. And, again, I don't know where he is. I -- I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run. I was concerned about him, when he had taken over a country. I was concerned about the fact that he was basically running Afghanistan and calling the shots for the Taliban.

But once we set out the policy and started executing the plan, he became -- we shoved him out more and more on the margins. He has no place to train his al Qaeda killers anymore. And if we -- excuse me for a minute -- and if we find a training camp, we'll take care of it. Either we will or our friends will. That's one of the things -- part of the new phase that's becoming apparent to the American people is that we're working closely with other governments to deny sanctuary, or training, or a place to hide, or a place to raise money.

And we've got more work to do. See, that's the thing the American people have got to understand, that we've only been at this six months. This is going to be a long struggle. I keep saying that; I don't know whether you all believe me or not. But time will show you that it's going to take a long time to achieve this objective. And I can assure you, I am not going to blink. And I'm not going to get tired. Because I know what is at stake. And history has called us to action, and I am going to seize this moment for the good of the world, for peace in the world and for freedom.


Not only is the quote accurate. But the broader context is <$Ad$>entirely on the mark. This wasn't some stray comment taken out of context.

Setting the narrow gotcha issue aside, though, there are three reasons why the Democrats can use this effectively against the president.

First, this isn't some insignifcant matter like whether Dick Cheney ever met John Edwards. This cuts to the essence of what the election is about: terrorism and whether the president kept his eye on the ball.

Second, the president's honesty is also a central issue. In particular, honesty about terrorism and bin Laden and Saddam. This cuts to the heart of that too: the president not leveling with the public about what's happened in the war on terror.

Third, as Kevin Drum rightly notes, this is an excuse to play that video clip again and again and again. And for the president that's not a good clip at all. In that passage, when the president says that bin Laden has become marginalized and that he's moving ahead with the war on terror, what he's talking about -- more or less explicitly -- is shifting from bin Laden to Iraq. He's describing how he took his eye off the ball. And seeing what we're now seeing in Iraq, that really says it all.

Looking back over these

Looking back over these four debates I realize that in two of the cases my judgment was significantly different than what the consensus judgment turned out to be. In the first debate I thought Kerry put on a solid performance while the president was wobbly. I thought Kerry won; but my initial impression was not that it was a rout, as the consensus judgment eventually determined. I thought the veep debate went much better for Edwards than many thought.

Having said that, I thought John Kerry won this debate. And I say that in the context of the debate itself as well as its role in the campaign now unfolding. It wasn't a trouncing. Bush did okay. But here are several reasons why I think Kerry bested the president.

Kerry looked more presidential than the president. I don't know how else to put it.

He seemed collected and forceful through the whole thing. The president, meanwhile, seemed excitable, edgy and sometimes ungrounded. Again and again with the banging the table. Perhaps after one question you can get away with a cocky look of sarcastic disbelief after your opponent stops talking. But not every other time.

At one point in the debate, after Kerry referred to two leading news organizations rejecting the president's attacks on Kerry's plan, Bush looked back at Bob Schieffer and made a crack about trusting "leading news organizations."

I don't doubt a few media bias obsessives (and probably a few CBS execs) understood that this was a dig at Scieffer's employer, CBS. But I suspect it went right over most people's heads. As well it should have. Not everyone lives in wingerville. And the president's habit of roughing people up with jocular derision doesn't work as well when the trappings of power aren't all around him.

Again, to recap, Kerry seemed more presidential than the president.

Another point struck me as similar to the first debate, very similar. Kerry controlled the tempo of the evening. He kept the president on the defensive. He landed his key points about the budget deficit and the president's avoidance of the job issue several times. On health care there was more of a tussle. But I don't think the president framed the evening in the way he and his advisors wanted -- defining Kerry as an out-of-the-mainstream liberal. He did better at that in debate number two than he did tonight.

Let me draw back now and say something about timing and the progression of the debate. I thought both candidates came out to fight. The president came in hitting hard. But Kerry stood toe-to-toe with him. And after maybe 15 or 20 minutes I thought some of the ummph went out of the president.

I watched on CSPAN, where you have the benefit of the permanent split screen. And right there at probably about the half hour mark, there were a few times when Kerry was talking and the president was looking over at him, neck slightly craned, with this odd look on his face. (My dad would probably call it a sh-t-eating grin.). And with that look of edgy hesitation the president seemed to be saying, 'You're guttin' me like a fish.'

At some level the president seemed to wobble after that. His hits about the 'global test' seemed half-hearted and poorly delivered, as did other attacks. They even struck me as a tad desperate. Sometimes he'd tack on a catch-phrase after not being able to put together an actual answer. He talked about being strong but he didn't seem strong.

A few other miscellaneous points.

The president should have used humor more. It works for him. And I mean actual humor, not the jabs at the moderator.

I thought President Bush landed some punches with his attacks on leadership as well as when he hit Kerry on spending in the abstract after Kerry was discussing so many different new programs.

On the other hand, as was the case with the veep's debate, the president just told a number of untruths. And I think that'll be used against him in the coming days. Kerry is better at thinking on his feet than using prefab lines from the debate coaches. The Tony Soprano line? ehhh ...

As for the broader context of the race. If you look at the polls right now they are about as close to an absolute tie as they could possibly be. Even a standard margin of error should -- or one might expect would -- have created a little more of a spread in the numbers. But if these guys go into election day dead even in the mid- or high 40s, that's not good at all for the president. And there does seem to be some very slight poll momentum moving in Kerry's direction. As was the case with the first debate I think the key to tonight's performance was that the public saw a very different John Kerry than the president, his vice president and their surrogates are portraying on the hustings.

The president needed to land some punches tonight. I don't think he did. I think a tie would be a narrow win for Kerry, given the broader dynamics of the race. And I don't think it was a tie.

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