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The daily view from the oasis

August 27, 2004 PERMALINK
Not Like 1996
(posted Aug. 27 12:45 AM ET)

In August of 1996, Bill Clinton, the last prez to stand for re-election, was in a very good political position.

He had helped create 10 million new jobs. Cut the deficit by more than half. Reduced crime for four years straight.

His approval ratings had been in the 50s since February (after spending much time in the 40s throughout his first term).

He had a double-digit lead over Bob Dole (though Dole had made up some ground over the summer).

And the one avenue the GOP had -- his failure to date to keep his campaign promise of "ending welfare as we know it" -- Clinton closed off by signing a conservative welfare reform bill a week before his convention.

In turn, Clinton's 1996 speech was free of direct attacks on Dole.

There was no need. He wasn't looking over his shoulder.

For Dubya, it's a very different story.

He goes into his convention with the majority of the country believing he does not "deserve" re-election.

He has not created jobs. He has ruined the federal budget. The nation has turned on his Iraq policy.

It's not exactly entering the playoffs on a winning streak.

Of course, it could be worse for Bush.

If it wasn't for the Swift Boat Liars, this week would have been dominated by a debate over whether Rumsfeld should be held responsible for the sickening torture at Abu Ghraib.

As the Star Tribune (MN), Wilmington Star-News (NC) and New York Times have called for.

Nevertheless, Bush can't effortlessly tick off his successes next week.

He has to strain to twist the numbers in his favor.

He has no choice but to dole out talking points about foreign policy at odds with what Americans see on TV.

And he has to continue to tear Kerry down.

As he told USA Today, "Of course there will be some, you know, contrasts."

Clinton didn't need to have any "contrasts" at his convention, because his record spoke for itself.

Bush does not have such a luxury.

Finally, while Bush may have ducked Abu Ghraib this week (and got off relatively light on the latest poverty figures), he may have made one little slip-up to ruin his week.

Talking to the NY Times about North Korea and Iran and why he hasn't thrown down the gauntlet regarding their nuclear activities, Bush said:

I don't think you give timelines to dictators.

Well, of course not. That would be a very insensitive thing to do.

August 26, 2004 PERMALINK
A Bad Poll, What It Means
(posted Aug. 26 2:30 AM ET)

On the surface, the LA Times poll (here and here) that came out last night was bad news for Kerry.

But there is silver lining.

The poll, which had Kerry up 2 before the Dem convention, now has Bush up 3, 49-46.

A fat majority believes Kerry "fought honorably" and "does deserve" his medals (by a 5-1 margin among independents).

But Kerry lost ground on whether his war record showed the "qualities America needs in a president" (down 5 pts to 48%), and more said his protesting of Vietnam showed the opposite (up 5 to 37%).

His favorable rating also dropped 5 pts, down to 53% (tied with Bush, though Bush's unfavorable rating is still higher).

OK, so where's the silver lining?

Consider the following:

1. Snapshot Of A Fluid Situation

The poll ran from Saturday to Tuesday. Kerry's counteroffensive began two days prior to the start of the poll, and its still going.

In turn, the results don't reflect some the counteroffensive's recent successes: the resignation of a top Bush lawyer, the spreading news of John O'Neill's Cambodia lie or Max Cleland's (almost) hand-delivered letter.

2. Bush's Numbers Still Bad

Bush's approval rating in the poll was 52%, an insignificant increase of 1 pt from July. (And much higher than most polls.)

Furthermore, a majority disapproves of Bush's handling of the economy (51%), and Iraq (50%). A plurality (49%) says Iraq was not "worth going to war over."

Most damning, on the question, "do you think the country is better off because of...Bush's policies...or do you think the country...needs to move in a new direction," Bush loses big (43%-54%).

3. The Swift Boat Phase Will End, But Bush's Bad Record Won't

Perhaps less than the specifics of the Swift Boat Liars charges, some people were negatively influenced simply by witnessing Kerry on the defensive.

Not the posture an unsure voter wants to see a candidate in.

But that's fixable, by going on the offensive more often.

Bush's record is not fixable. It's a losing record, and he's stuck with it.

In turn, it is still Bush who is at the fundamental disadvantage.

As LO said earlier this week, the Swift Boat frenzy will likely end with the onset of the GOP convention (with Kerry apparently getting in the last shots.)

Then Kerry will have an opportunity to assume an offensive posture and get Bush on the defensive.

And the combo of Bush on the defensive with Bush's already frowned-upon record, will be devastating.

A final cautionary note: more polls are expected to come out before the week is done. We'll see if they are consistent with the LAT poll.

QUICK HIT

Cheney's Turn To Lie

Cheney had this to offer about Kerry yesterday:

I listened to what Senator Kerry had to say in Boston, and, with all due respect to the Senator, he views the world sometimes as if we had never been attacked on September 11th.

The job of the Commander-in-Chief, as Senator Kerry said in his convention speech, is to use America's military strength to respond to attacks.

But September 11th showed us, as surely as anything can, that we must act against gathering dangers, not wait for the next attack.

Hmmm. Cheney must not have listened too closely.

Here's the relevant part of the Kerry acceptance speech (emphasis added):

...we need to rebuild our alliances, so we can get the terrorists before they get us.

I defended this country as a young man and I will defend it as President.

Let there be no mistake: I will never hesitate to use force when it is required.

Any attack will be met with a swift and certain response.

I will never give any nation or international institution a veto over our national security. And I will build a stronger American military.

By the way Kerry has been saying we have to "get them before they get us" for some time.

August 25, 2004 PERMALINK
Lying O'Neill and Lame Media
(posted Aug. 25 1:30 AM ET)

Two (and hopefully, final) points on the Swift Boat Liar controversy.

1. Still Think Kerry Can't Play Hardball?

You may not have heard yet, but yesterday, Kerry's team applied a late-night smackdown on chief Swift Boat Liar John O'Neill.

O'Neill has repeatedly challenged Kerry's statements regarding his crossing of the Cambodian border.

O'Neill said Kerry would have been "court-martialed" for such an act. Further, that he did the same patrol two months after Kerry and it only ran "50 miles from Cambodia. There isn't any watery border."

But yesterday, the Kerry campaign alerted both Fox (extra chutzpah points) and CNN to a taped conversation between O'Neill and Richard Nixon where O'Neill explicitly says the opposite:

O'NEILL: I was in Cambodia, sir. I worked along the border on the water.

NIXON: In a swift boat?

O'NEILL: Yes, sir.

Can they get any more discredited?

Yesterday, LO argued that the whole Swift Boat storyline was winding down.

(Which still appears to be the case, NBC Nightly news led with Abu Ghraib last night, ABC World News Tonight with Cheney's "gay daughter" comments.)

But of course, you want the storyline to end with you on top.

Ergo, a good whack during the denouement is mighty fine timing.

So we know that Kerry can effectively play rough when he wants to.

But is more in store? That brings us to point #2.

2. Newsflash: The Media Is Really Lame.

If there's one lesson the Kerry campaign and the rest of us should take from this sorry Swift Boat Liar episode is how lame the media will be this election season.

The inability to cut off media oxygen to people who are clearly discredited shows how the media hasn't learned any lessons following its vapid 2000 coverage and its embarrassing Iraq war coverage.

Sure, there's one NY Times TV critic who understands that the media (actually, she only rapped cable TV) have abandoned truth-squadding, in favor of mindless repeating talking points from opposing sides sans context.

But not that, and not the collective yawp of the blogosphere, will reform the media between now and November.

Case in point: just yesterday, after all these Swifties have been repeatedly discredited, NBC's Lisa Myers and her "investigative unit" legitimized known liar Larry Thurlow with a fresh Nightly News platform and minimal "other side" representation.

OK, so the media sucks. Does that mean Kerry's doomed?

No. It just means the campaign strategy has to take the media's lameness into account.

When the media is almost nothing but a conduit for attacks, and when it levies almost no penalties to attackers, the guy who initiates attacks will get more media love.

And it's a hell of a lot better to be regularly delivering attacks to the media, than regularly explaining away attacks.

If Kerry tries to just drill messages about jobs, health care and Halliburton, he won't be able to. He'll just be knocked off message over and over.

Unless he's applying pressure to Bush by spooling out his own attacks.

(Of course, Kerry can distinguish himself by basing his attacks on facts and not distortions.)

Now, a more offensive campaign may already be the plan, with Kerry just waiting until Labor Day to unload.

But if it isn't right now, the campaign should take a hard look at how lame the media has been this month, and reassess. Before Labor Day.

August 24, 2004 PERMALINK
Fighting Smears
(posted Aug. 24 12:30 AM ET)

Maureen Dowd, like many backseat campaign managers, has never had to defend against a smear campaign.

Addressing a smear is one of the hardest, trickiest, most delicate things in politics.

Condemn it too early, you raise its profile and spread it places where it hadn't been heard yet, and may never had been heard.

Wait too long, and it becomes perceived truth.

And there's no textbook timeframe how long to wait, because every smear's trajectory and potency is different.

Managing the timing is art, not science.

Those like Maureen Dowd -- who said on Sunday that Kerry seemed to be "caught off guard" by the Swift Boat Liar attack, because he waited to respond -- don't know what they're talking about.

Kerry surely knew this was coming.

Similar attacks began in February of this year. And he has successfully fought off such attacks in past campaigns, with the help of fellow vets.

Kerry was on guard. He simply was patient, trying to sense if the smear was gaining traction.

And he wanted to stick to his post-convention plan, touring battleground states, driving his messages from his acceptance speech, completing his introduction to the public.

Dowd quotes Bill Clinton to argue Kerry was too slow:

Bill Clinton implied two weeks ago that Mr. Kerry was acting sluggish.

"Whenever they hit me, I hit 'em back," he told Jon Stewart. "And whenever they came up with a charge I didn't believe was true, I answered back."

First, it is Dowd who assumes Clinton was knocking Kerry's timing. He said nothing of the sort in that interview.

Second, Dowd sloppily takes Clinton's generalization too literally.

For example, Clinton didn't publicly lash out at the makers of "The Clinton Chronicles" video for accusing him of being a murderous drug-runner.

Because the charge didn't spread beyond hard-core Clinton-haters, there was no need to fire back in haste.

Kerry wasn't hasty either.

And he didn't wait so long that the charge had metastasized.

(According to the only poll we have on this, taken Aug. 9-16, 57% had seen or heard of the ad, and slightly less than half found it "very" or "somewhat believable," a group probably heavily GOP. Not good, but not yet sweeping the country either.)

The key question for those who think Kerry should have fired back quicker: what would have been different in this case?

Most likely, nothing.

We'd be going through the same sifting through of the charges in the media, just a few days earlier.

(Which may have stepped on his post-convention battleground tour in local media.)

To those who say the Kerry's off-message because of this, well, sure he is.

But this attack was going to happen at some point, no matter what Kerry did.

And to be off-message in mid-August sure beats being off-message in October.

Furthermore, this skirmish is unlikely to last into September, let alone October.

It will probably run its course this week, be crowded out by the GOP convention next week, and become old news by Labor Day.

Finally, Kerry appears to be beginning the process of putting Bush on the defensive with a speech today, which will reportedly lay out the history of nasty campaigning by the Bush family.

The more news Kerry can make with such a speech, the more Kerry can make it part of the narrative, the harder it will be for Bush to play rough throughout the fall.

Because Dubya would then be dogged with questions about dirty campaigning whenever he goes negative in any degree.

(And with his approval numbers, he needs to go negative to have any hope of winning).

This move partly fulfills two things LO suggested last week, "expose the tactic" to mitigate the effects of Bush's attacks, and "land original punches" to control the dynamic and put Bush on the defensive.

Having said that, there's more Kerry can do on this score, building on today's work.

He can expose not just the sensational tactics, but the more mundane, day-to-day tactics of giving false impressions of Kerry's statements (which the media often repeat).

And he should land original punches that are not reactive, but proactive, with (seemingly) new information that can create news and knock Bush off-balance.

A good whack right after the convention, blunting any bounce (like the Bushies tried to do with the help of Pakistan) would be well-timed.

QUICK HIT

Too Much Information From Bob Dole

After his outrageous comments on Sunday that Kerry did not bleed in Vietnam, Bob Dole returned to CNN Monday to defend himself.

When trying to argue he was not dispatched by the Bush campaign, he revealed a little too much about how the Sunday Talkshow game works:

DOLE: I never had any contact with the Bush people.

They have a little number you call in before you go on these shows I guess if you want to get briefed for Sunday shows.

[But] I didn't talk to anybody. I don't think I needed to talk to anybody.

Wolf Blitzer was just shocked, shocked!

BLITZER: You said that there's some sort of recording you can call up and get information before you go out on these Sunday shows.

What exactly does that mean?

DOLE: I think when anybody's going to be on a Sunday show, there's a conference call number if you want, I guess, get updated on the facts.

At least I got some e-mail saying if you want to get any information, call a certain number.

I didn't do that. I don't know if anybody else does that.

But I guess it's just probably to stay on message, whatever.

We mock. But of course, based on what LO has seen of Dem performances on Sunday, they should be copycatting this tack.

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

Slate: Kerry was in Cambodia

Daily Kos has Plame rumors

Balkinazation has a guest blogger: constitutional scholar Mark Tushnet

Skippy has the roundup on possible FBI harrasment of RNC protesters

via Political Wire: Kerry leads by 7 (up 3, w/Nader) in Economist poll, Kerry leads by 3 (down 3, no Nader) in CBS poll

eRiposte has the comprehensive Swift Boat Liars resource page

Slacktivist explains to Dubya what tribal sovereignty is

Alas, A Blog: Feminazis? Try, Anti-feminist Nazis (via Rox Populi)

Intel Dump says Lt. Gen. Boykin should go

To The Barricades has the Nebraska reaction to GOP Rep. Bereuter's repudiation of the war

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