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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Sunday, 22 August 2004

Topic: Photos

New Today!
Just Above Sunset now on line!

The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this web log, went online late today. That would be Volume 2, Number 33.

Hot topics in the news, or that should be in the news, peppered with comments from friends around the world. Published late in the day, as I was out of town yesterday and missed a day of production, and the hosting service today got a tad flaky on me.

Special items this week -

Joy Childs on the film you are NOT allowed to see.... (with photo)

Ric Erickson in a special column from Paris, with notes on Franco-American misunderstandings....

Bob Patterson with his weekly column (dry this week) and a book review....

Thoughts on the passing of Julia Child and Donald Justice...

Some spooky Hollywood Stuff...

And a new item in Links and Recommendations - Don Smith, Paris photographer and his Left Bank Lens

Along with political thoughts on the week that was....

In this week's quotes?

Try ROBERT A. HEINLEIN: Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.

Or WILLIAM GLADSTONE: Liberalism is trust of the people, tempered by prudence; conservatism, distrust of people, tempered by fear.

And here's a Hollywood ghost....

Posted by Alan at 21:36 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 21 August 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Attack Ads: the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and all that...

So many have said so much on this there may not be much more to say. And today I will be away from it all, at a family picnic in Poway, California. (That's here if you're curious.)

But this is news and Just Above Sunset does comment on the news.

Yes, there is this group that calls itself the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that has, as the New York Times puts it, "catapulted itself to the forefront of the presidential campaign." It has indeed advanced its cause in a book (by one Larry Thurlow), in a television advertisement, followed by a second released on the 20th, and on cable news and talk radio shows, all in an attempt to discredit John Kerry's war record. Over at Media Matters you will find a rundown of all the controversy with links to all appropriate items - who said what and possible political and legal actions. (Click here for that.)

The Washington Post investigating the claims and undermining them is here. The Times backgrounder the next day on who set this all up and how it was financed is here. The Kerry folks said, a day later - Friday August 20th - that they would file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, charging that a Vietnam veterans group had been illegally coordinating its ad campaign about Kerry's military record with President Bush.

The Annenberg Political Fact Check project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania has the most balanced assessment of the facts of the matter here. is useful, and on nobody's side.

And late in the week - this -
The commander of a Navy swift boat who served alongside Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry during the Vietnam War stepped forward Saturday [August 21st] to dispute attacks challenging Kerry's integrity and war record.

William Rood, an editor on the Chicago Tribune's metropolitan desk, said he broke 35 years of silence about the Feb. 28, 1969, mission that resulted in Kerry's receiving a Silver Star because recent portrayals of Kerry's actions published in the best-selling book "Unfit for Command" are wrong and smear the reputations of veterans who served with Kerry.
The Annenberg Political Fact Check project will be updating their page again.

Eleanor Clift in Newsweek adds this perspective regarding The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth -
They never understood this aloof figure, and the day that he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee--April 22, 1971--is as powerful a date to these veterans as the Kennedy assassination. They can tell you exactly where they were when they heard Kerry say he had witnessed war crimes sanctioned by commanders in Vietnam.

The fact that Kerry attributed the breakdown in military discipline to the policymakers in Washington is lost on these men, who take Kerry's words personally.

This is not about Kerry's performance in Vietnam; it's what he said when he came home. Kerry has never made extravagant claims about his heroism in Vietnam. He never said his wounds were serious, and he never said he didn't want to get out of Vietnam. After three wounds, under military rules, he was entitled to ship out, which he did after a combat tour of four months and 12 days. Nothing these so-called Veterans for Truth have come up with contradicts what Kerry has said, but that's not the point.

... The Kerry campaign was curiously passive as the veterans gathered force in the media--as though responding would dignify the scurrilous charges. Kerry finally broke his silence this week, perhaps mindful that a lie unanswered becomes a lie that is believed. Flanked by firefighters in Boston, Kerry stripped the mask of patriotic valor from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth by pointing out the source of their funding: a Texas Republican who wrote two checks for $100,000 to the group.

... Questioning Kerry's heroism fires up the GOP base, but it leaves "solid undecideds" cold. They're not paying attention.

... For an incumbent president in as much trouble as Bush, fighting a war that's been over for nearly 30 years takes voters' minds off Iraq.
Perhaps so. But is risky. And it is getting even nastier.

Media Matters notes this
Michelle Malkin, syndicated right-wing columnist and author of In Defense of Internment: The Case for "Racial Profiling" in World War II and the War on Terror, appeared on August 19 on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews. Speaking about the recent allegations against Senator John Kerry by Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth regarding the injuries he suffered while serving in the Vietnam War, Malkin alleged, "They are [sic] legitimate questions about whether or not it was a self-inflicted wound."
What? A new line of attack? A careful analysis of these claims will show Kerry in Vietnam shot himself so he'd get some medals as part of a plan to run for president thirty-eight years later here? What a sly devil! Michelle Malkin, the cute Filipino-American columnist, is saying this may be true - you never know, and it has been said.

The Media Matters item contains the transcript of this interview.

Keith Olbermann, also of MSNBC, comments on the 20th - here-
Michelle Malkin, the unfortunate and overmatched author of a self-loathing book that attempts to justify our World War II internment and robbery of Americans of Japanese heritage, became the harbinger of the next mucky smell of low tide. She raised the story-- heretofore consigned largely to Robert Novak and everybody to his right-- in that delightful, Teflon way of modern politics: `I'm not saying that John Kerry shot himself. But in the Swift Boat Veterans' book, they ask whether or not his wounds were self-inflicted.'

If Ms. Malkin isn't seen on television, or moving on her own power, in the next few days, it's understandable. My colleague Mr. Matthews forced her to hang herself out to dry ten or eleven times (never prouder of you, Chris). He may have directed the momentum, but her wounds were ultimately, uh, self-inflicted.

As Chris rightly pointed out, nobody has produced an iota of evidence that John Kerry's wounds were anything other than the result of combat. Even in the book, the references to it are speculative and without provenance. Ms. Malkin wouldn't even go so far as to attribute the suspicion to herself. It was in the book.

Late Thursday, the Swift Boat gang announced a second commercial to premiere in the morning, and to this writing, nobody's been tipped about what it contains. Yet the Thurlow comment ("he had a plan") and Malkin's humiliating performance reek of a trial balloon. The story of the wounds will appear somewhere-- probably soon.

When I raised this prospect with John Harwood of 'The Wall Street Journal,' several viewers e-mailed to chastise us for not recognizing the difference between wounds that are "self-inflicted" and those that are deliberate attempts to injure one's self. Throw a grenade, wipe out an enemy enclave, and get a piece of shrapnel in your head in the blow-back, and you've received a self-inflicted wound. It isn't intentional and it isn't dishonorable.

But of course that's not what Thurlow said. He spoke of some vast Swift Boat Conspiracy in which Kerry steered not a crew of soldiers through hell, but rather, steered history. "A plan," Thurlow said. "Included not only being a war hero," Thurlow said. "But (also) getting an `early out'," Thurlow said.

He's not talking about an inadvertent blow-back wound. It was all a plan. And if the wounds weren't deliberately self-inflicted (again, kudos Chris-- he immediately told Malkin that such an act constituted a criminal offense), they must have occurred thanks to the timely cooperation of the Viet Cong, who were good enough to shoot Kerry on cue so he could go back home with all those medals and ribbons. You know, the ribbons he threw away in protest.

We'll save the logical disconnect that pops up right there for another time.

This is about the politics of the Smear Thrice Removed. I'm not saying this, but questions have been raised by others.

It is a perfected version of what many of President Bush's opponents have tried in the murky depths of his reservist days. It is execrable no matter who presents it, no matter which party benefits from it.

We will hear from the very jaded that it is nothing new. It was Winston Churchill, 70 years ago, who so succinctly, and so English-ly, noted "Politics are foul." But with instant communications, the internet explosion, and the 527 Groups, they are foul at warp-speed. The blur between an accusation with at least a thimble of evidence upon which it can rest, and the whole cloth fabrication, is so rapid as to appear as a solid line.

It is remarkable to think that we are living in the same country where a vast majority of the population never knew that Franklin Roosevelt was in a wheelchair, and where four different Republican presidential challengers, successively more and more distant of electoral chance and more and more desperate to close the widening gap, actually believed it inappropriate and unfair, just to mention it.

And that one was true.
This is all madness. As Willie Brown said in the Malkin discussion on MSNBC - "He volunteered twice. He volunteered twice in Vietnam. He literally got shot. There's no question about any of those things. So what else is there to discuss? How much he got shot, how deep, how much shrapnel?"

Well, that is now coming up, actually. And as much as all of this will damage Kerry, badly, it will remind people Bush himself has no medals, and his own service was a tad light, if not questionable. He checked the box on the form that said he'd rather not go to Vietnam, and that form is in the public record.

How will it all play out? Who knows? The Bush side is taking risks here - and the Kerry side is getting hurt at the moment. But it may be many weeks before we see who hurt whom.



One of my friends asked me exactly where is this Malkin person from?

Michelle Malkin according to Fox News -
Malkin, the daughter of Filipino immigrants, was born in Philadelphia, Pa. in 1970 and raised in southern New Jersey. [Pre-Journalism, if that's the term....] she worked as a press inserter, tax preparation aide, and network news librarian; she is also a lapsed classical pianist. Malkin is a graduate of Oberlin College.
What does she looks like? You could Google on the "images" tab using "Michelle Malkin" - but I like this one- where's she's sitting next to her husband, the shaggy white-bread all-American guy with the American flag pin on his blindingly white shirt. It's classic.

So Malkin thinks those Japanese evil folks really should have been locked up in WWII out here?
Well, of course. Don't get me started on how the folks from the Philippines feel about the other Asians - particularly about them Japanese. Her disgust with the Japanese is a Filipino thing. It's a long feud of many, many generations. They were on the right side in WWII, and the evil Japs were not. Thus this book, even if penned by an "Asian," is not surprising. These folks are the "good" Asians - or so they say. And their language, Tagalog, isn't Asian at all.

So you have to see this in context. And even now, out here in Los Angeles, these two groups never mix. Ever.

Odd? Not really.

Los Angeles is like that. I lived for years in San Pedro, a mostly Croatian port city, across the harbor from Long Beach. No Serbs anywhere. Out here the Serbs all live in the San Gabriel Valley - the biggest Serbian Church (Eastern Orthodox) is out there in Alhambra, two blocks north of the I-10 freeway. All the Croatians in San Pedro are, of course, good Roman Catholics (the real Church). The two groups despise each other - and the Church itself split in two in 1054 over the insertion of the filioque clause into the Nicene Creed by the Roman church, among other matters. Geez. And then too the Croatians use the Roman alphabet, while the Serbs write in that Cyrillic crap - even if the spoken language is pretty much the same. I listened to a lot of this animosity from my Croatian friends over the years. These two communities are fifty long miles from each other out here - and that's fine by them. Makes you kind of admire Tito - sort of - for holding the former Yugoslavia all together for so long.

So the Filipinos and Japanese don't get along - and we get the Malkin book. The Croats and the Serbs don't get along. One of my old bosses at Hughes, Annie, used to snort at the uppity Mandarin folks who would look at a string of ideograms and pronounce it utterly differently than she did in Cantonese. What was wrong with them? Jean Cocteau one said, of course, "When I was little I believed that foreigners could not really talk at all, but were only pretending." Annie would understand the Frenchman.

Maybe Malkin would too.

Such madness.



Bob Patterson, who appears here as the World's Laziest Journalist, throws in a baseball analogy (Kerry on the mound and Bush taking a long lead of first) -
If Kerry is ready to "put everything on the table" and rake Bush over the coals about his military record, this could be like when a pitcher lures a runner at first base too far off the bag. There's a point where if the base runner takes one more step, he will be too far away from first to get back safely if there's a pick-off throw.

A good pitcher can sometimes "psych" a runner into taking that step.

Now, if Bush takes it to "everything on the table" and Kerry fires back with all the details of Bush's training, he can win. If Kerry isn't careful, the runner will be half way to second base and Kerry will be lobbing the ball over to first.

Kerry is either very, very clever and about to spring an ambush, or he is very, very dumb and inept. If Kerry tags Bush during the Republican National Convention, he could "turn the tide" - i.e., turn the corner. If he does not have a good counterattack ready to go, then he deserves to lose.

Isn't watching history unfold fascinating?

Posted by Alan at 08:25 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 22 August 2004 07:11 PDT home

Friday, 20 August 2004

Topic: The Culture


As most everyone knows, that famous woman from Pasadena, Julia Child, passed away this week. I still have my late mother's old copy of The Art of French Cooking somewhere or other, although I hardly ever open it. Like most guys, I work from intuition and improvise - although I have consulted that book from time to time on things that puzzled me. But Julia Child was one fine woman.


Someone I know, Louisa KL Chu, on her website Movable Feast: Diary of an Itinerant Chef has a funny story of what it was like to interview Julia Child. You might check it out here. Louisa, by the way, holds Le Grand Dipl?me from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris (2003) and then staged at Restaurant Alain Ducasse au Plaza Ath?n?? also in Paris. And she will be staging at El Bulli in September until the end of the season 2004 - think foam, of course. She is contracted with Les Ambassadeurs at the H?tel de Crillon in Paris after that, but her French work visa is pending. I believe bureaucracy is a French word - they invented the concept - and I wish her luck. Anyway, Louisa's interview will give a good sense of Julia Child.

And you might want to check out this appreciation. It hits the mark.

Julia Child's Lessons in Living
She combined a Puritan work ethic with a love of life.
Amy Finnerty - Opinion Journal (in The Wall Street Journal), Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Some nuggets from Finnerty?

Julia Child as subversive of the American ethic -
She addressed one glaring flaw in the American ethic--our aversion to actually enjoying what we've labored for. In this she shifted the focus of pride at American tables away from the heartland clich? - that of "plenty," the visible fruits of labor" - toward an emphasis on quality, and the senses. A purring palate was more important than a piled-up platter.

Many food trends have come and gone since she became famous, and she remained unmoved, deriding the anti-butterfat lobby and other bores. Health-food zealots were a baffling irritation to Ms. Child, and she delivered a consistent message over the decades: Ignore them. No wonder our feelings about her are still so passionate, several decades after her most oft-cited accomplishment (bringing coq au vin to Peoria).

Food was the medium, but the message amounted to a philosophy of life. She did something more important than teach us to cook; she taught us to eat, and some of us in the new Atkins World Order could still use a few lessons. She knew how to indulge, in moderation: food of all kinds (in normal portions); drink (but not drunkenness); smoking (until she did the mature thing and quit); and the company of men (she was a happily married flirt).
That about sums it up. Lighten-up and relax - and enjoy life. Fine by me.

And had she not been involved with food?
... she might have found greatness in other ways, through her ability to subvert Americans' love of suffering.
What? America's love of suffering?

Well, surveying the week in politics, watching the not-quite-hard-bodies staggering out of Crunch Gym down on the corner, where aerobic suffering is a specialty, listening to the din of coverage of the trials of Scott (murder) and Kobe (rape) and Micheal (child molestation)... this Finnerty woman has nailed it there too. We do love suffering. It ennobles us, and entertains us.

Crunch Gym stands on the spot where Schwab's Drugstore used to be - where Lana Turner was discovered - a pretty young teenager in a tight cashmere sweater sipping a high-carb, real-sugar soda many decades ago. Times have changed. The sweet young things on that corner now, exhausted from their workouts, looking grim and a bit mean, could easily toss any Hollywood agent who gets too fresh through a plate-glass window - and they sip cold no-carb coffee-like stuff at Buzz Coffee on the plaza outside the gym - and you don't want to mess with them.

Julia Child would just not get it.


One other -

The American poet Donald Justice died August 6th after a long illness. He was extraordinary. One of my favorites.

Here is a quick bio -listing all the awards and such.

And everyone is quoting his most famous poem -
Counting the Mad

This one was put in a jacket,
This one was sent home,
This one was given bread and meat
But would eat none,
And this one cried No No No No
All day long.

This one looked at the window
As though it were a wall,
This one saw things that were not there,
And this one cried No No No No
All day long.

This one thought himself a bird,
This one a dog,
And this one thought himself a man,
An ordinary man,
And cried and cried No No No No
All day long.
Short and to the point.

William Carlos Williams, another American poet (Patterson, New Jersey in fact - but he was in Paris with Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and the rest of course), said this - "It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there."

Yep. And I think Julia Child knew something similar about food.

Slow down. Enjoy. Drink it all in.

Posted by Alan at 17:35 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Thursday, 19 August 2004

Topic: Couldn't be so...

From the department of Oops! - Need some spin here, and some damage control....

Three items - sex, soccer and religion....


Markos Moulitsas Z?niga (known as Kos) points out an event here - the Bush administration's "point man" charged with getting Catholics to vote for Bush, and get the Church to deny Kerry communion and maybe get him excommunicated, has just resigned. The fellow's name is Deal Hudson. It seems he fondled two underage students and engaged in public sex with a third, all in one night.

This qualifies as an Oops. And how did he get that first name Deal?

Kos points to the Catholic Reporter here - they broke the story.

The matter-of-fact New York Times item is here.

He also points to commentary here in the Revealer arguing the Times underplayed it.
... we think it should be huge on the front page. Not because Hudson turns out to be a hypocrite [...] but because of what even a perfunctory investigation reveals about the administration's approach to the Catholic vote. "'If you wanted to get something to the top inner circles of the White House from a Catholic perspective, you could contact Deal Hudson and it was delivered.'"
Maybe so. But this is not a big deal. There's war on, after all. And everyone is trying to figure out whether John Kerry faked his service in Vietnam and is really a cowardly wimp and secretly French and all that.
Kos himself says this -
... Hudson hardly represents mainstream American Catholicism. As readers of his magazine, Crisis -- or his frequent email blasts -- know, he's the Ann Coulter of Catholicism, a profoundly angry writer who expresses his faith via vitriolic denunciations not just of liberals, but of anyone within the Catholic Church who doesn't conform to Hudson's rulings. He's a punisher.
It's easy to see why he fit in nicely in the Bush administration.
Ah, but he's left the Bush administration. It seems good Catholics have these problems with sex, even the priests (or especially the priests). There is a reason all of us guys in high school loved those girls from the Catholic schools, in those cute uniforms with the tiny skirts. Such conflict and guilt meant action. It is all most curious.

For background on the Bush administration's efforts to turn the Catholic vote from Kerry, a Catholic, to Bush, a born-again evangelical Methodist, see Just Above Sunset:
April 25, 2004 - The Vatican Rag
May 9, 2004 - On your knees, America!
July 4, 2004: Heresy - In the Specific Religious (and Los Angeles) Meaning of the Term


Just out in Sports Illustrated (part of Time-Warner, the parent company to CNN and all that) we find this -

Iraqi soccer players angered by Bush campaign ads

Say what?

Well, if you click here you can see the television ad the Bush folks have been running concerning the Iraqi soccer teams tearing up at the Olympics. Yep, the really are winning big. In the ad you see the flags of Iraq and Afghanistan. The voice-over - deep and resonant and male - intones, "At this Olympics there will be two more free nations - and two fewer terrorist regimes." Bully for our side. Bully for Bush.

Many of us have seen the spot here and there on the major networks.

But the Iraqi players are ticked off.

From the Sports Illustrated interviews -

Iraqi midfielder Salih Sadir - "Iraq as a team does not want Mr. Bush to use us for the presidential campaign. He can find another way to advertise himself." And this: "I want the violence and the war to go away from the city. We don't wish for the presence of Americans in our country. We want them to go away"

Ahmed Manajid, who played as a midfielder on Wednesday - "How will he meet his god having slaughtered so many men and women? He has committed so many crimes." And this - as he is from the city of Fallujah. He says coalition forces killed a cousin, who was fighting as an insurgent, and several of his friends, and adds tha if he were not playing soccer he would "for sure" be fighting as part of the resistance. "I want to defend my home. If a stranger invades America and the people resist, does that mean they are terrorists? Everyone [in Fallujah] has been labeled a terrorist. These are all lies. Fallujah people are some of the best people in Iraq."

Iraqi soccer coach Adnan Hamad - "My problems are not with the American people. They are with what America has done in Iraq: destroy everything. The American army has killed so many people in Iraq. What is freedom when I go to the [national] stadium and there are shootings on the road?"

Scott Stanzel, a spokesperson for Bush's campaign - "The ad simply talks about President Bush's optimism and how democracy has triumphed over terror. Twenty-five million people in Iraq are free as a result of the actions of the coalition."

Free, perhaps. But not exactly happy.


Lieutenant General William G. Boykin has come up before in Just Above Sunset - see November 23, 2003: Why We Fight.

He's the fellow who gave all those speeches in churches, in uniform, that said this was a religious war. Our God against theirs. My favorite? Why we won the first war so easily and the second war so quickly - when he directed the battle against this enemy "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.''

Boykin also said the enemy in the war on terror was Satan and that God had put President Bush in the White House.

By the way, Boykin is deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence - no small irony there, and he works closely with his boss, Douglas Feith - one of the most famous neoconservatives. (Many believe the Abu Ghraib business and our torture-as-policy comes from these two guys)

Cool. And for additional detail check out David Corn in The Nation on November 24th last year - Ann Coulter's Religious War - Republicans and conservatives say the darnest things - as it's kind of funny.

But the Associated Press is reporting this -

Probe Examines General's Remarks on Terror
August 19, 2004

A Pentagon investigation has concluded that a senior military intelligence officer violated regulations by failing to make clear he was not speaking in an official capacity when he made church speeches casting the war on terrorism in religious terms, a senior defense official said Thursday.

... The Boykin investigation report has not been publicly released. Its findings were described Thursday by a senior defense official who is familiar with its conclusions. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because the report has not been acted upon yet by acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee.

... The Washington Post, which first reported the conclusion of the inspector general's investigation in its Thursday editions, said the probe determined that Boykin discussed his involvement in the war on terrorism at 23 religious-oriented events since January 2002 and that he wore his uniform while speaking at all but two. He spoke mostly at Baptist or Pentecostal churches.

The Post also reported that the investigation concluded that Boykin violated a regulation by failing to report reimbursement of travel costs from one of the sponsoring religious groups.

After the controversy erupted, Boykin later issued a written statement apologizing to those who were offended and saying he did not mean to insult Islam. He has remained at his intelligence post during the investigation.
Ah, fudging the expense reports and saying things that inflame our enemies and enrage those of our friends who haven't yet found Jesus?

Well, he said he's sorry. But he's still on the job.

Dick Cheney this week said, "Those who threaten us and kill innocents around the world do not need to be treated more sensitively. They need to be destroyed."

Boykin is safe.

Posted by Alan at 18:31 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 20 August 2004 06:08 PDT home

Topic: Election Notes

Listen to the Women: Points to Consider

Dahlia Lithwick, the attorney who writes a column for Slate on legal issues and provides insider views of the give and take at sessions of the Supreme Court, and who now and then appears on the news show as an expert on legal matters, is doing a turn as a guest columnist at the New York Times. Yes, a few of the regular Times columnists do take summer vacations.

Here she takes to task critics who portray George Bush as a kind of child, or, shall we say, as a childish frat-boy.

Babies and Bath Water
Dahlia Lithwick, The New York Times, August 19, 2004

Her point is that we should not be framing a national conversation about the president this way, as it doesn't do his opponents any good at all.

What she's talking about?
It cannot have escaped anyone's notice that much of the current Bush-bashing aims to infantilize him. The most devastating segment in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," for instance, features the president - just after he learned of the second attack on the World Trade Center - perched on a chair in a Florida classroom, looking glazed and confused as he listens to a reading of "The Pet Goat." Mr. Bush's aide might well have whispered the news to one of the assembled students to greater effect, and the implication is inescapable: for seven long minutes, the president was Not a Man.

A glance at the top 150 ads selected by for its recent political advertising contest, "Bush in 30 Seconds," similarly reveals the extent to which childishness is woven into the current Bush-bashing. While children have long been used in political ads to represent the future, many of the MoveOn entries use them to satirize the actual candidate. Several of the proposed anti-Bush commercials use kids to condemn the president for unsophisticated thinking, for an infantile worldview, for the fact that his daddy purchased his every big break and for the fact that he is desperately beholden to the wealthy and powerful grown-ups surrounding him. The clear message is that Bush is more a child than an adult.
Ah, guilty as charged here.

But Lithwick says that thinking of Bushas a not-particularly-smart third grader make me look bad. Why? Because "it plays to every stereotype of liberals as snotty know-it-alls who think everyone in a red state is anti-intellectual or simple-minded. It answers name-calling from the right with name-calling from the left."

That is perhaps true.

And Lithwick also points out that this is an implicit insult to anyone who voted for Bush last time around. Those who maintain this Bush-as-petulant-child view are just sneering, as she says, and saying a little under half of all voters last time around "voted for a kid - and a dumb kid at that."

Well, if the shoe fits....

Then Lithwick discusses this in relation to the Bush-Gore debates four years ago and suggests Gore's behavior - the deep sighs and the eye rolling and all that - shows how dangerous such a view is. Gore came off badly.

[The media watchdog Bob Somerby here suggests this was not the case at all.]

Be that as it may, she says there is a bigger problem than Bush opponents of this sort coming off as arrogant, smug, condescending twits -
... the campaign to cast Mr. Bush as a bumbling child ignores the very grown-up machine that stands behind him. Infantilizing the president shifts the focus away from the Cheneys, Rumsfelds, Ashcrofts and Wolfowitzes. These are the men who promised us short, easy wars and painless little suspensions of the Geneva Conventions. These are the men of the secret energy-policy meetings. They aren't a bunch of rowdy juveniles. They represent one of the most secretive, powerful administrations in recent memory. Whether the president could outscore your kids on the SAT is a distraction from that fact.
Oh yeah, those guys, the old white men who run the country. Almost forgot about them.

The she lays another one out there - the psychological consequences of pointing out that the president is, perhaps in fact, an incurious frat-boy.
With each attempt to cast Mr. Bush as a baby, we craft excuses for his childish behaviors. If Mr. Bush misled us into a war in Iraq, it's because children have trouble telling the truth. If Mr. Bush sees the world in too-stark terms, it's because nuanced reasoning isn't easy for children. With each comparison between the president and a youngster, we subtly lower national expectations and exonerate bad behavior.
Hey, who said anything about exoneration?

Yes, jokes may not be useful, and she cites the one about Laura Bush tying the president's shoes each morning before she points him toward the Oval Office. But the "child" thing may be absolutely true, and at the same time, no one is excusing anything here.

Jeff Popovich here says he agrees with most of the Times essay, but says what's wrong is the implication is that the portrayal of Bush "as a dope" is strictly the screeching of the left. He suggests the Bush team is using this image carefully.
I myself waver between thinking 43 is a mindless puppet or an evil political genius. Whether one or the other or somewhere in between, what seems clear to me is that someone in Bushco understands the dynamic that Lithwick presents and has deliberately courted the Bush as dope portrayal. Hence the demonization of the word "nuance" and its sneering use in describing Kerry's positions, as if having grown-up, sophisticated thought processes is a sign of weakness. The left may call 43 a child, but Bushco calls Kerry much worse: an adult. Bushco is making the comparison.
Curious. Our Bush may be a spoiled, nasty child, just as you say, but your Kerry is an old man and wimp?

That may be a successful ploy. Energy, however mindless and destructive, is always more interesting than plodding and dull thoughtfulness. And that thought comes to you from out here in Hollywood. It is the first law of the box office - just basic marketing.


Molly Ivins, the Texas liberal (a strange species) has a slightly different take. She takes us back to Thucydides writing about the day when the leaders in Athens watched their fleet leave port to go off and conquer Sicily. That would be 2,419 years ago, if you keep track of such things. And of course, the Greeks got trounced - they lost the whole fleet. Oops.

Thucydides had this to say -

"To think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just another attempt to disguise one's unmanly character; ability to understand the question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action; fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man... Anyone who held violent opinions could always be trusted, and anyone who objected to them became a suspect."

Nothing much changes, does it? Ivins runs with that idea.

What. A. Mess.
Molly Ivins - Creators Syndicate 08.19.04 -

She sets the stage thusly -
Remember what it was like just before the war? Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction -- Colin Powell told us to the pound how many tons of this, that and the other -- Saddam had a reconstituted nuclear program, he had numerous ties to Al Qaeda, and he was an imminent threat.

As the president put it, we couldn't afford to wait until the smoking gun was a mushroom cloud.
Well, she goes on to explain that her gripe is that Kerry is running such a cautious campaign that Bush can get away with falsely claiming that Kerry would have supported the war even if he had known then what he knows today.

And she thinks this is just painful, given how things are going in Iraq - thus the title of her essay.

But what to do now?
What we need to figure out is why so many of us then became so invested in this awful enterprise. As the president says, fool me once, shame on, uh, somebody or other. John Kerry isn't going to remind any of us we were wrong -- that would be rude. (Sooner or later, someone is going to ask Kerry the question he so famously asked about Vietnam: "How do you ask someone to be the last man to die for a mistake?" He'd better have an answer ready.) The reason Kerry won't "blame America first," as the Rush Limbaughs would put it, is not just because none of us likes to have our nose rubbed in our mistakes, it's a political calculation. In case you hadn't noticed, John Kerry is winning this presidential race -- that's why he's running such a cautious campaign.

... Wretched excess always accompanies war fever -- in World War I, "patriots" used to go around kicking dachshunds on the grounds that they were "German dogs." As I have noted elsewhere, people like that do not go around kicking German shepherds.

Some of that bullying, swaggering tone remains with us, in our politics. To treat with contempt any effort at "nuance" or "sensitivity" -- in one of the most fraught and sensitive situations we've ever been in -- is just ugly know-nothingism. As Republicans used to say to Democrats abut the election debacle in Florida last time, "Get over it."
It seems she is counseling Kerry and his folks to flaunt this "nuance" or "sensitivity" business, just as the other side flaunts the opposites. And let the people decide which approach will get us out of this mess.

Lithwick and Ivins? We need more such women.

Posted by Alan at 11:04 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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