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Theres some good news

There's some good news in the latest Annenberg Election Survey for President Bush. His overall approval rating in the poll, conducted June 8-21, is at the stratospheric level (for him these days) of 52 percent. (Note, however, that the latest Washington Post poll, conducted at the very end of the Annenberg period, June 17-20, pegged his approval rating at 47 percent, the Post poll's worst rating ever for him.)

The poll also found Bush's approval rating in specific areas like the economy and Iraq slightly improved over their late May levels, though still solidly net negative. And on a series of personal characteristics like "inspiring", "trustworthy" and "shares my values" Bush's ratings are generally up over their May values.

The bad news for Bush is that, among "persuadable voters"--that quarter of the electorate who seems open to changing their minds about which candidate to support--he has gone nowhere. In fact, on that series of personal characteristics I just mentioned, his ratings among persuadable voters have almost all gone down, not up, since the last Annenberg survey.

Moreover, only 27 percent of persuadable voters currently think the country is headed in the right direction, identical with the May figure. Bush's approval rating has actually slid a point--down to 44 percent--among these voters. And his approval ratings of the economy (31 percent approval/59 percent disapproval) and Iraq (26/68) are also slight declines from his already-abysmal May ratings.

And check out these figures for persuadable voters on Iraq-related issues, all more negative than they were last month. Only 34 percent of these voters feel the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over, compared to 59 percent who feel it was not. Just 17 percent believe the war in Iraq has reduced the risk of terrorism against the United States, compared to 71 percent who believe it has increased that risk. And a mere 37 percent of persuadable voters want to keep the troops in Iraq until a stable government is formed, while 57 percent now say they want to bring the troops home as soon as possible.

I guess you could say the persuadable voters haven't been persuaded.

I agree with my

I agree with my friend and esteemed co-author, John Judis, that Kerry would be well-advised to put aside the "personal comfort" criterion in choosing a running mate. As John points out, the historical justification for ignoring that criterion is solid, while the justification for putting it front and center is thin.

So: back to politics. Who would help the ticket the most? Again, I agree with John that Edwards would likely help the most. I believe he would make a substantial contribution to increasing the ticket's appeal among white working class voters in culturally conservative swing states, especially where it is most necessary--outside of the unionized working class. Even if one assumes that Gephardt has appeal to the unionized rank-and-file of the working class, as opposed to labor leaders, that still leaves out the vast majority of the white working class--well over four-fifths. And it is among these non-unionized white working class voters that Democrats have had the most trouble and where Gore got really hammered in 2000.

One particular trouble spot is among those with some college--the upwardly striving working class. Because of severe underperformance among whites with this educational credential, Gore lost the group as a whole by 6 points in 2000. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, won them by 8 points in 1996.

Where is Kerry right now? Gallup data indicate that he has gone from a 6 point deficit among some college voters in early May to a 9 point advantage among this group in their early June poll. That's largely responsible for the overall shift in the horse race from a tie in early May to a 5 point Kerry advantage in the June poll.

Kerry needs to keep those some college voters down on the farm. One way that would help would be to select Edwards as his running mate. Regardless of whether he enjoys drinking beer and shooting pool with the guy.

For those who missed

For those who missed it yesterday, an excerpt of John Judis's new book is available in the July/August Foreign Policy.

Thanks to all the

Thanks to all the people who wrote in response to my first attempts at blogging. As Josh will testify, I was a bashful bride who had to be wooed with flattery. But I am glad I did it. I learned something about the vitality of this medium. It is an important replacement for the vanishing soapbox, union hall, and neighborhood pub. I hope you support this site, as I do, by occasionally clicking the “contribute” button at the bottom. It’s free to view this site, but it’s not free to produce, and Josh shouldn’t have to depend entirely on advertising to support it. (I suspect it will also get harder to attract advertising after the elections are over.) I now leave you in the able hands of my friend and sometime collaborator, Ruy Teixeira.

Speculation is rife about

Speculation is rife about whom John Kerry will choose as his running mate. Newsweek reports that Kerry "is engrossed in the final shortlist of veep picks. Kerry sources say the choice is narrowing to Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and former House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt, and that the candidate remains personally uncomfortable with Sen. John Edwards." I have no idea whether this report is accurate, but if it is, the Democrats are in trouble.

There are different criteria Kerry and the Democratic convention delegates should use in choosing a running mate, but they should not include whether the candidate is "personally comfortable" with whomever he chooses. If John F. Kennedy had used this criterion in 1960, Richard Nixon would have won the election. If Ronald Reagan had used it in 1980 and chosen his friend Nevada Senator Paul Laxalt rather than his leading challenger George Bush, Reagan might have lost that election. Gore did use this criterion in 2000, and it's one reason why he lost. In the final tally, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman didn't bring Gore a single electoral college vote. Kerry has to choose a running mate who, above all, will help him win states in the Midwest and South that he may not be able to win on his own.

Among those prospects currently being discussed, there are only two who are sufficiently battle-tested and who could help Kerry where he may not be able to help himself. These are Edwards and Gephardt. In the primary, Edwards showed a Clintonesque ability to appeal to both of the constituencies with whom Kerry is going to have trouble--the white working class voters who used to be described as "Reagan Democrats" and the independent upscale suburbanites who have been trending Democratic, but are leery of the party's leftwing. Edwards could help Kerry be competitive in Florida, North Carolina, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Ohio. (In a Mason-Dixon poll last month pairing Bush and Cheney against Kerry and Edwards in North Carolina, Bush was only ahead by 46 to 45 percent.) He could force the Bush campaign to expend resources in regions it would have liked to take for granted. Gephardt might help Kerry with white working class voters in Missouri, Iowa, and Ohio. But Gephardt's appeal may be more limited than Edwards'. Gephardt is very popular among labor leaders, but, as this year's primary made clear, not necessarily among the rank and file or among non-union workers. He would also reinforce Kerry's image as a Washington insider, making him less attractive to upscale suburbanites.

There is another reason to hope that Kerry puts aside his "comfort level" and picks Edwards. In 2004, 19 Democratic Senate seats are being contested, compared to only 15 Republican ones; and five of the nineteen are in Southern states where Democrats are retiring. Republicans could conceivably win all these seats. If they won even three of them, Democrats would have an almost impossible task of winning back the Senate in 2004, and would face an uphill challenge in 2006 when more Democratic than Republican seats are again up for grabs. Democrats have an interest in fielding a presidential ticket that has credibility, if not popularity, in the South. With Edwards as the vice presidential candidate, the Democrats could put forward a Southern face. If Kerry picks another Northern liberal like himself, Democratic candidates in the Carolinas, Florida, Louisiana and Georgia will be put on the defensive and forced to dissociate themselves from the national ticket. My advice to Kerry: forget chumminess, choose Edwards.

The Justice Department attempted

The Justice Department attempted to dissociate itself from an August 2002 memo condoning the torture of prisoners. But it didn't dissociate itself from the memo's author, former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee. As TPM reader Hope P. reminded me, George W. Bush nominated Bybee as a judge on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Seventeen Democrats, citing Bybee's opposition to gay rights and his highly restrictive views of the First Amendment, opposed his nomination, but he was confirmed by the Repbulican Senate in March 2003. This man, who advocated that the United States ignore international law--and some might say, commit war crimes--now holds a lifetime appointment on the federal bench.

Business schools like to

Business schools like to analyze the reasons for famous flops, such as Ford's Edsel or the merger of AT&T and NCR. Perhaps in the future, foreign service schools will study the Bush administration's flop in Iraq. What they'll find is an administration utterly blinded by ideological illusions. To find precedents, one has to look at the Soviet Union after the revolution or perhaps China of the Great Leap Forward or Cultural Revolution, where, as in Iraq, many people were killed on behalf of bizarre theories of historical change.

In a week, chief administrator Paul Bremer will leave his post in Baghdad. In his appearances before Congress, Bremer projects an air of rational purpose. He was, it seemed, faced with an impossible task in Baghdad. But it is becoming increasingly clear that Bremer, who worked under the supervision of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, was living in a kind of neoconservative dream world and had no understanding of the obstacles he faced.

Bremer arrived in Baghdad in May after the Pentagon fired General Jay Garner. According to Garner, the Pentagon objected to his plan to hold early elections before Iraq's economy had been privatized. Bremer's mandate was, above all, to privatize. In June, as Bremer returned to Baghdad aboard a U.S. military transport plane after speaking at an international economic conference, he discussed his plans for Iraq with Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran. According to Chandrasekaran, Bremer spoke of privatization "with such fervor that his voice cut through the din of the cargo hold." "We have to move forward quickly with this effort," he said.

Bremer's economic program wasn't confined to selling off state enterprises. Bremer saw privatization as part of the broader conservative economic agenda that Reagan had endorsed in the 1980s. It would include supply-side tax cuts and elimination of import duties. And he proceeded to get his way. In September 2003--against the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention that require occupying powers to respect existing laws--Bremer got the Iraqi Governing Council to issue an order privatizing state companies and abrogating Iraqi laws that prohibited private ownership of "national" resources and the "basic means of production." Later, he also got his way on taxes and import duties.

You might think that in the face of the continued insurgency, the absence of electrical power, and of elementary safety on city streets, Bremer would have seen these measures, in the words of the poet Blake, as "sand thrown up against the wind." But this month, as he was about to leave his post, Bremer told Chandrasekaran that "Iraq has been fundamentally changed for the better" by the occupation. He said that "among his biggest accomplishments ... were the lowering of Iraq's tax rate, the liberalization of foreign-investment laws and the reduction of import duties."

Is this daffy? Set aside for a moment the actual condition of the country. If Iraq's streets were safe and lighted, and its pipelines pumping oil to Western Europe, it would still be better off with the kind of managed economic approach that worked in East Asia rather than the kind of economics that Reagan recommended for post-Carter America. But Bremer's schemes weren't even relevant, let alone appropriate, to the country he was supposed to be administering. What does reducing tax rates do in a country that lacks income and profits and is entirely dependent on foreign aid to run its basic institutions? What good does it do to offer up businesses for sale when no foreign company would dream of investing capital in the current Iraq? The only businesses that have profited in Iraq are those like Haliburton that are funded by American taxpayers. Reading Bremer's reflections on his tenure makes one wonder whether, even in the face of chaos and possible civil war, post-Saddam Iraq wouldn't have been better off without the Bush administration's bureaucrats and the Pentagon's military in charge.

During the Cold War

During the Cold War, American officials discovered that one of the best ways to promote democratic capitalism at the expense of communism was by luring foreign students to American colleges. Some of these foreign graduates returned home to become the leaders of reform movements in their countries. Others stayed in the United States and contributed their skills to the great postwar boom. The same reasoning that prevailed during the Cold War should prevail during the war on terror. The United States should be eager, one would imagine, to expose students from abroad to democracy and religious pluralism, as well as to take advantage of their skills. But not the Bush administration and the Republican Congress. They are oblivious to any foreign policy measures that aren't repressive. Their response to anti-Americanism is to wall off America from its potential critics.

In the wake of September 11, the Bush administration tightened visa rules for foreign students. Prospective students have had to pay a $100 fee to file a visa application. And it has taken up to eight months to process the applications. As a result, foreign applications to American colleges have plummeted. According to the Financial Times, graduate school applications have declined 32 percent this year. "The word seems to be out that you can't get a visa to come and study in the US, so why bother," said Liz Reisburg, who helps recruit foreign MBAs.

Undoubtedly, some aspects of this new visa program were unavoidable in the light of how the September 11 terrorists entered the country. But one would hope that the Bush administration would be trying to streamline the program, and to reduce the delays, so that students would once against be drawn to American universities, as they were during the high-tech boom of the 1990s. Instead, the administration is on the verge of putting still another and greater obstacle in the face of foreign students.

The legislation establishing the Department of Homeland Security included a provision creating "Sevis." a database for keeping track of international students. Each student would have to register with the Sevis. Last October, the Department of Homeland Security proposed that in addition to the $100 visa fee, every prospective student would have to pay another $100 to fund Sevis. The payment would have to be through a credit card or dollars. Universities have not objected to the program itself; but they have objected strenuously to imposing another fee on foreign applicants. "Having yet another thing students have to do to come to the US that they don't have to do in any other part of the world will drive more people away at a time when enrollments are declining," said one official from the Association of International Educators.

The universities, of course, are understandably worried about declining enrollment, but what is most disturbing about the administration's program--and about its general approach to foreign students--is its hostile attitude toward the outside world. It's fortress America applied to educational policy. Such an approach won't necessarily prevent terrorist attacks, but it will in the long run encourage the anti-Americanism on which al Qaeda and other terrorist groups feed.

Hello TPM readers. This

Hello, TPM readers. This is editorial assistant Zander Dryer with a quick update. As Spencer announced below, John B. Judis will take over guest blogging later today. He'll be followed tomorrow afternoon by Ruy Teixeira. Hosting two great political minds in two days is an honor for TPM, and Josh is delighted to have John and Ruy fill in for him during the remaining few days he's away. He has said that they are two of the people whose political analysis he respects most.

As for Josh himself, he sends his greetings from Antigua. He is having great luck learning to snorkel, but he managed to embarrass himself in front of the locals by getting seasick on a deep sea fishing exploration. He'll be back at the keyboard soon. In the meantime, enjoy our guests.

One final word about

One final word about "Shakir," and thanks to reader R.S. for pointing this out to me. The al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist known as Hambali--Riduan Isamuddin, the commander of Jemaah Islamiyah--is not, as I mistakenly wrote, dead. This jihadist murderer was captured last August and turned over to the tender loving care of U.S. interrogators. That means we have three actual attendees of the January 2000 Kuala Lumpur terrorism summit in custody, whose accounts of "Shakir" we should be able to use to determine Saddam Hussein's links, if any, to the meeting.

Anyway, TPM readers, this will be my last post. It's been a blast, and I'd like to thank Josh for providing me with the opportunity to guest-host. Thanks as well to TPM behind-the-scenes wizard Zander Dryer, who ensured that I did no lasting technical damage to the site and fixed my mistakes. Thanks especially to all of you who wrote in with your kind words and your criticism. I hope to see you over at my TNR blog, IRAQ'D.

I leave you in the extremely capable hands of my TNR colleague John B. Judis. Judis is occasionally willing to gamble with his formidable reputation by collaborating with me, so let me show my gratitude by sneaking in a plug for his truly excellent forthcoming book. It's called The Folly of Empire: What George W. Bush Could Learn from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and it examines both the historical precedents for our occupation of Iraq and how two great American presidents dealt with and learned from them. You can read an excerpt in the just-released issue of Foreign Policy magazine. Take it away, John...